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The first time he lays eyes on Credence in person, he is not what Graves expected.

            From what he read in the file, he expected shy. He expected reserved, hunched over. He expected a young man who was entirely inward.

            Instead, the man across from him is fully in control of himself. He sits with his hands folded in his lap, head inclined downwards, but he does not fidget or blush or act as though anything is out of the ordinary.

            It is Graves’ first time at the prison. He knows he should have come before now, but…the truth is, he finds it difficult to reconcile the things done by the man who wore his face with the reality of his actual self. People see him and they will forever think ‘world’s wickedest wizard.’ He has tried to move past that. He wants to move past that.

            But this…

            “Thank you for seeing me,” Graves says.

            With a slow blink, Credence replies, “I do what I’m told.” It sounds disingenuous.

            Graves pats his hands against one another on top of the desk. He is sitting in the warden’s office. He didn’t want to go into an interrogation cell. They’re grey and cold and not where this conversation should take place.

            Two guards stand by the door. Graves told them to go, but it’s policy. He would rather have this conversation in private, but it’s a difficult situation. Everyone would rather be safe than sorry.

            “You didn’t reply to the letters that were sent.”

            “No.”

            “Did you read them?”

            A single nod. His hair is longer than in the photos. It’s grown out along the sides of his head where Graves knows it was once shaved to the scalp, and it falls across his eyes.

            “So you know why I’m here.”

            “Yes.”

            Graves waits to see if Credence will say anything more. When nothing more is forthcoming, he says, “I want to appeal to the—“

            “No.”

            “Sorry?”

            He did not expect Credence to look him in the eyes. Not from the descriptions of him. But he does. Black eyes gaze at him from under a fringe of hair.

            “I don’t want any appeal. I read the letters. I don’t want anyone to do anything. I’m supposed to be here. That’s it.”

            Leaning forward, Graves says, “It’s not—“

            “I killed my mother,” Credence says flatly. “I killed my sister. I killed a lot of other people too. I’m supposed to be here.”

            Patient, Graves says, “You weren’t in control of yourself—“

            “I’m glad she’s dead,” Credence says, and Graves stops. The young man with the black, black eyes stares at Graves, unwavering. “Bet that doesn’t fit into everybody’s story about what should happen here. Poor Credence. Didn’t know what he’s doing. There’s a reason I did what I did. There’s a reason I’m here. Stop writing letters. Don’t come back here.”

            He stands up, his manacles clanking together, and the two guards immediately step forward, one reaching for his wand.

            Graves, off his guard, says, “We can teach you how to control this.”

            For a moment, Credence just gazes at him, and something almost like a smile moves across his lips. But then it looks more like a smirk. “You know, Mr. Graves—I don’t think I want to.”

            He turns his back on Graves and walks away.

            Graves is not used to anyone walking away from him.

 

He comes back.

            This time, Credence says nothing. Graves goes through the reasons why he thinks the whole situation is ridiculous—everything done behind closed doors, a guilty plea given without any representation, a man of only twenty-two years put behind bars when all he was guilty of, really, was not knowing. He hadn’t understood what was happening, and he reached out to the wrong person, and things snowballed until it became a full-on avalanche.

            People are to blame—there are so many people to blame, including Graves himself—but he does not believe that Credence is one.

            The young man sits across from him, expression half sullen, half knowing, and he holds his tongue.

 

So Graves come back a third time, and a fourth.

            He isn’t sure why he’s doing it. Assuage a guilty conscience? Had he been more vigilant, had he been the man people expected, this might have never happened. Head of Magical Security, and he was kidnapped and replaced by the worst person in the world. It’s a terrible joke, and it’s at his expense. And Credence’s.

            It must be made right. It should be, and it has to be.

            He talks. He makes his arguments. He pleads. He reasons.

            Credence sits with his hands in his lap and his eyes on Graves and he doesn’t do what he’s told.

 

On the fifth visit, Graves cracks.

            “Out,” he says to the guards.

            They’re about to argue, so he lifts a hand. The door opens, and they are whisked out into the hall by invisible forces. Graves throws the door shut after them, shaking his head.

            Getting to his feet, he tugs on his vest, then walks around the side of the desk. He summons a chair, sitting in it. He twirls a finger, turning Credence’s chair so that they’re facing one another.

            He is gratified to see Credence finally look taken aback. He has been too self possessed. Graves wants to rattle him. He knows that’s a terrible idea—who knows what this kid is capable of, and the suffering he’s endured is unimaginable—but Graves is annoyed, and he’s at the end of his rope.

            “Do you want to die in here?” Graves asks. Self possession settles back onto Credence’s face, and Graves loses his temper. “Let me help you.”

            Somehow, he knows it is the wrong thing to say the second it comes out of his mouth, because those black eyes narrow. Credence leans forward, over his shackled hands, and looks Graves square in the eyes.

            “The last person…with that face…who said he was going to help me…ruined everything.” Credence stares at him another moment, then says with finality, “Fuck you.”

            He gets to his feet, turning away.

            About two seconds later, Graves is up, and he grabs Credence by the arm. He feels nothing but skin and bones, and there’s not much to squeeze, but he does it anyways.

            “Stop,” he says, and he watches how the young man immediately relaxes in the grip. Almost as soon as it happens, Credence’s eyes go blank again, and he tries to move away. So Graves grips harder. Pain flits across Credence’s face, but there he goes again, almost melting into the touch. Staring him down, Graves repeats, “I said stop.”

            “What are you going to do?”

            This time it doesn’t come out quite as defiant, but a mix of that and curiousness and…

            Graves doesn’t let himself explore that possibility. “Sit,” he commands, dragging Credence back to the chair.

            He’s surprised and gratified that Credence does so. But Graves doesn’t let go, and Credence doesn’t stop looking at him. He’s gazing upwards, almost expectantly.

            Credence leans further into Grave’s touch.

            Graves hears footsteps coming down the hallway and lets go. He moves away, returning behind the desk, and when the warden comes in, demanding Credence be returned to his cell, Graves doesn’t let on that he’s relieved for him to go.

            Well. Perhaps not only relieved.

 

He stands at the window, looking down into the yard.

            The prisoners all move away from the door when it opens. Credence walks into the concrete yard. He walks with his arms crossed, his eyes on the ground. He seems to be deep in thought.

            Everywhere he goes, the others move back from him. Thieves, murderers, all manner of evil men—and every single one stumbles backwards from Credence’s approach.

            Does he like the power? Does he even notice? He doesn’t look at anyone, doesn’t let on that he’s even in the same world as the rest of them.

            For five minutes, he walks in laps around the yard, the prisoners coming and going around him in waves, and Graves watches him, wondering how this creature can be reached.

            Credence passes under the window, and looks directly at Graves. He looks at Graves as though he isn’t even there, and continues walking.

           

Graves pays an exorbitant amount to a guard to get himself into the prison proper, by himself. They walk down hallways under disillusionment charms, and Graves asks himself repeatedly what he’s doing.

            He has no answer.

            When they come to where Credence is alone, methodically swishing a mop back and forth over the ground, Graves leaves the guard’s side, ending the charm. Credence raises his head, surprised, then goes cautious.

            He bites his lower lip, furrowing his brow at Grave’s approach. Graves walks slowly, not wanting to startle him. Not wanting to startle himself. He does not know what he’s doing. That is a terrifying thing to admit to oneself.

            Credence sets the mop against the wall, and Graves takes him by the front of his uniform. The ugly, striped prison uniform that’s too large for the slender body underneath. He moves Credence backwards, around a corner, where the guard told him people went when they don’t want to be seen.

            “What do you want?” Credence says as Graves maneuvers him into the dark. It’s the first time he’s been with Credence without his hands chained. He wants Credence to do something with his hands, and even now it’s hard to admit what he wants those hands to do.

            Pushing his head forward, Credence growls, “What do you want?”

            He doesn’t know. God, he doesn’t know.

            He closes his eyes when Credence suddenly moves forward. He burrows his face in the crook of Graves’ neck, the tip of his nose grazing over his skin.

            “Is this what you want?” Credence whispers. He moves Graves’ hands, so that one is to the back of his head, the other to his shoulders. Graves holds him, realizing that yes, this is what he wanted. Credence tilts his head upwards, words ghosting over Graves’ ear. “This is how he held me. Is this what you wanted to know?”

            Thrown, Graves tries to move away, but Credence grabs him by the tie, stopping him in place. He brings his mouth close to Graves’, eyes searching his face.

            “Do you want to know—what I thought of this face? Do you want to know—all the sinful things I thought of—when I thought of this face?” Credence’s breath whispers against Graves’ lips, and when he tilts his head, Graves follows. “Terrible things. Things I had no names for. All the things I wanted to do to him—I could do them to you. You want me to do them to you, don’t you. You want to know the things I wanted to do.”

            Graves can’t answer. He parts his lips, wanting to taste, wanting to take those words into his mouth.

            “All those times I wanted to touch,” Credence whispers, his other hand grazing down the front of Graves’ vest. His fingers linger on the waistband of Graves’ pants.

            Then they dip lower.

            Graves gasps. He brushes a thumb against Credence’s sharp cheekbone, dipping his head.

            Slender fingers cupping, teasing, Credence says, “I thought about this—this in my mouth. This in me. This making me hurt. I wouldn’t mind that. You know—I wouldn’t mind that at all. And you wouldn’t mind hurting me, would you. Would you, Mr. Graves.”

            Swallowing, trying to think, to breathe, Graves grabs onto Credence’s arm. He can’t reply. He can’t speak.

            Credence nuzzles his cheek against Graves’, then pushes his nose against Graves’ face, forcing his head up. Graves thinks for a moment that Credence is going to kiss him, and he opens his eyes, wanting to look into that beautiful black gaze before he does.

            Instead, what he sees is shining and white.

            With a strike of terror, he tries to shove away, but Credence has his tie in a vise grip.

            For the first time, Credence smiles at him, really smiles, and it’s horrifying.

            “You really think you could control me? Think I’m some poor misunderstood boy who just needs someone stronger to put him in his place? He thought that too.” Credence leans forward, his hand beginning to burn through Graves’ tie. “I don’t think there’s anyone alive who could control me. Do you?”

            He shoves Graves away, and he stumbles back, struggling for breath.

            Credence watches him with his nothing eyes, light swirling around his head. He smiles that gruesome smile and says innocently, “Do you want to help me, Mr. Graves? Do you really want to help me? Or do you get it yet?”

            He gets it.

            He runs away. He does not return.