"You handsy cocksucking son-of-a - "
"Don't be rude," Graves says, swiping up the last of his silver pens from the Niffler's pouch. He's rewarded with a stream of invectives that make him grimace, and shakes the little menace again for good measure. A stray sickle falls to his desk. "Good lord, was your mother a Jarvey?"
The Niffler's mouth closes abruptly and it treats Graves to a suspicious stare. He sighs, still holding the Niffler at arm's length by its feet, and wonders about the easiest way to summon Scamander. "You wouldn't know where Newt Scamander is, would you?"
"That motherfucking gold-stealing bastard - "
"Never mind," Graves says, giving the Niffler a dark look. He transfers its feet to one hand as he grabs his pen and opens his memo pad, which is when his office door slams open in a brightly-coloured whirlwind.
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Graves, but I seem to have lost - "
Scamander's voice trails off, his eyes wide and his face flushed, as he sees Graves and his captive. Graves says dryly, "Yes, you have."
Abashed, Scamander ducks his head and hurries to take the Niffler off Graves's hands; it insults him, his brother, and his entire family line in the process until it catches Graves's sharp glare. "I am really very sorry, Mr. Graves," Scamander says quickly, "but Bandit's a Niffler, you know, and it's just in his nature - "
"I'm well aware, Mr. Scamander," Graves says, staring pointedly at the Niffler, "but if I see that menace taking anything of mine again - "
"Fuck if I won't," the Niffler - Bandit, apparently - grumbles, and Graves grits his teeth.
"I'll watch him much more closely," Scamander says, frowning down at Bandit, who looks up belligerently. "I promise, there's no need for - for anything drastic, he can be controlled - "
Graves looks at him then, at the barely repressed panic on his face, and he closes his eyes and sighs. "Mr. Scamander," he says, "it's your Niffler I'm threatening, not you."
"Hah! As though you'd have the fucking balls - "
"Mr. Graves," Scamander says, looking shaken but resolute, "threatening my Niffler is threatening me. They're - all my creatures, they're my friends, too."
"Piece of shit pushover," the Niffler says, and Graves pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Your loyalty is commendable, but I don't think this one appreciates it."
Scamander's mouth firms. "Even so."
Graves feels himself crumble a little at that look, and shifts his gaze to raise his eyebrows at the Niffler, who wilts slightly under his stare. "Well," he says, "I suppose punishment is always an option. Nifflers like to collect, don't they? Maybe a full-body-bind in a glass case, surrounded by trophies or coins or these damnable pens that keep going missing..."
The Niffler lets out an audible squeak that Graves thinks even Scamander can interpret as it ducks into the cover of his arms. "All right, all right," the Niffler mumbles, muffled, "you've made your fucking point."
Scamander's expression is odd, almost surprised, but after a blink he smiles, so sweetly Graves feels - startled, strange. "Um," he says, "thank you, Mr. Graves, I'll certainly keep that in mind."
Graves gives him a twitch of a smile. "See that you do, Mr. Scamander. Was there anything else...?"
Scamander's cheeks flush and he drops his head. "No, nothing, Mr. Graves, I'll just be - " and he scurries out the door, but not before Graves hears the Niffler's muffled: "Coward."
Strange, Graves thinks, dragging his gaze from the door and the swirl of blue coat disappearing around it, and banishes his half-started memo away.
"And what are you doing here?" Graves says to the basket of Occamies sitting in his office; he's spent the entire morning in meetings and hasn't heard anything about Scamander all day. Surely they must be his, but Graves can't imagine why they're here of all places. "Did someone forget you, hm?"
"Mummy!" cries one of the smaller ones, as the eldest raises its head and stares at him for a moment.
"So you're the one," she says diffidently, and Graves raises his eyebrows curiously as he hangs his coat up by the door.
"The one what?"
The Occamy does a very obvious double-take, her head twisting to stare at him as he settles in his chair. Graves looks back and tries not to let his amusement show on his face. "I - you - " she splutters.
"Argh!" She ducks her head into the basket, hidden by the unfurling of her wings, and the rest of the small Occamies start chirping curious questions.
"Ah," Graves says conversationally as he waves his hand to shut his office door, "I have an Auror who does that, too. Hiding from trouble."
"I'm not hiding!" the Occamy exclaims, her head peeking out through her wings, and then she retreats again. "Mummy never said you could talk."
"And what is Mr. Scamander doing? Apart from, apparently, leaving a clutch of you here?"
"Busy," she says, sounding dejected. "I don't know, he didn't say. Something about customs? Human stuff."
Graves considers, writes out a short note to Goldstein and sends it flying out under the door. The Occamy watches it go with the intensity of someone ready to pounce, but her smaller siblings, full of questions, distract her from it immediately. "Why are you talking to him? He's not Mummy!" one of them exclaims, and Graves says dryly, "No, I'm not."
"Sorry, sorry," the elder Occamy says, managing her younger siblings with a flash of feathers and teeth. "But you're Mr. Graves, aren't you? You know, Mummy mentions you all the time. 'Oh, Mr. Graves'," she starts, oddly high-pitched, and Graves thinks he doesn't quite manages to clear his bemused expression when Goldstein bursts through the door.
"Mr. Graves, sir, you're - you're back, I'm so sorry - "
Pointedly, Graves says, "Goldstein," and she freezes in place like a startled deer. "While I certainly can't expect civilians to maintain proper procedure, you are an Auror. Please act like it."
She flushes. "Yes, sir. Newt - that is, Mr. Scamander - his case is being processed again through customs today, seeing as the last time it was done by - well..."
"Grindelwald wearing my face?"
"Um, yes, sir," she says, but she seems to relax at his slight, wry smile. "But Johnson's running the process, and Newt was a little worried - Johnson had apparently said some things about the Occamy eggs, you see - "
"Occamy eggs?" Graves interjects, and Goldstein, pauses, her mouth twisting.
"He, ah, was apparently indicating there might be a tax on their possession, sir."
Graves can't quite hide his head-movement toward the basket in the corner of his office, where the Occamies have fallen completely silent, their background chirping conspicuously gone. "Really."
"Um, it was hearsay, sir, but... yes. And then Chang told me you were going to be stuck in meetings all day, so..."
"You suggested my office for storage," Graves concludes, repressing a sigh. He tries to remember Johnson - young, he thinks, weedy, and - "Isn't Johnson probationary? Why is he the lead?"
"He was promoted to full Auror," Goldstein says. "A month ago?"
Graves actually sighs this time, rifling through papers in his desk as he pulls out the right form. "Please inform Johnson he is no longer in charge of Mr. Scamander's customs processing and is, in fact, receiving a formal reprimand. This obviously needs to be handled by an experienced Auror," he adds darkly, almost under his breath, and Goldstein straightens in front of his desk.
"Sir? If you don't mind - "
"Goldstein," Graves says, "as much as I'd appreciate the assistance, please remember your current position." Newly reinstated, after Grindelwald's disaster reshuffling of his department, but that means Goldstein has to wait another month for any major assignment. And considering the reports Grindelwald had submitted of Scamander's suitcase, this is definitely something major. She deflates.
"Who will be on the assignment, sir?"
Graves checks his pocketwatch after sending the form, the paper twisting itself into something almost like an occamy in his annoyance as it flies out his door. "I'm afraid, Auror Goldstein, that this is probably best handled by myself."
"Really?" she blurts, and then abruptly looks like she wants to melt into the floor. "I just mean, you must be very busy, sir - "
"Yes," Graves says, rising to his feet, "I'm afraid Chang was right, I'm booked for the rest of the day. But I'm sure you can let Mr. Scamander know about the reschedule...?"
She nods quickly, stepping toward the basket of Occamies. "I'll just," she starts, but as soon as she reaches toward them they start hissing, on-edge.
"No, I'm not going!" cries the eldest Occamy, "You can't take them!" and Graves is reminded that even if she's nearly double the size of her siblings she's still not much more than a child.
"Hush," he tells them, and they shuffle and grumble but do. "Goldstein, tell Mr. Scamander I'll be back at my office at six, for his creatures' return."
"Yes, sir," she says, giving him an oddly penetrating look, and Graves glances again at the Occamies, wondering if he was too forceful. But no - most magicals take speaking to animals as an affectation, don't they? "Thank you."
"It's my job," Graves says, raising his eyebrows curiously as he grabs his coat, and she pinks and ducks her head as she follows him out his door.
It is, perhaps, a little later than six when Graves finally makes it back to his office, though Scamander is nowhere to be found. "You haven't seen him, have you?" he asks the Occamies, not particularly expecting a response as they shift sleepily in their makeshift nest. "Now, what was all this nonsense about eggs?"
"Mummy," says one of the smaller ones, and Graves can feel his mouth twitch into a smile despite himself.
"Still no," he says. "Now, if you could stay still for a moment..."
Occamies usually bite when threatened, but these ones are used to handling, and so when he carefully shifts them aside most of them barely make a murmur. The eldest starts sleepily coiling up his sleeve, her eyes half-lidded, and Graves eyes her carefully as he checks the bottom of the nest. And there; Goldstein was right, four entire eggs, warm to the touch, and Graves can feel his mouth twist as he shakes his head.
"You won't take them, will you?" asks the Occamy now twined around his arm, and Graves sighs.
"We do have breeding laws," he says. "But I assume you're a rescue?"
She bobs her head. "All of us."
"Then that won't be necessary," Graves says. "We don't make a habit of removing creatures from their caretakers unless they're being inappropriately handled."
The Occamy studies him for a moment, her tongue flicking out to taste the air around him, and then she says, "You're not so bad. I guess you'll do."
"I'll 'do', will I?" Graves says dryly. "From a creature who calls Mr. Scamander 'mummy'."
"Mummy!" the smallest one chimes, and Graves resists the urge to sigh.
"Your Mummy's not here yet," he says, at the same time the eldest Occamy suddenly exclaims, "Mummy!" and leaps from his arm.
Graves spins on his heel, already grasping for his magic - a choranaptyx would be devastating to his furniture, not to mention the paperwork - but she spreads her wings and lands quite safely in Newt Scamander's arms. Scamander's expression is odd and too thoughtful, shadowed in the dark.
"Mr. Scamander," Graves says, his throat dry. Scamander, head tilted, is smiling.
"Mr. Graves. Tina told me what you did - thank you for taking care of them."
"I was barely here," Graves says. "But if any Auror threatens you, please remember that it is illegal for them to do so."
"And come to tell you?" Scamander asks. He's stepped closer, one hand on the Occamy now twined around his shoulders, one hand outreached to the basket on the floor as they call for him. "Yes, yes, Mummy's here now," he says, crouching down, his tone careful and soothing. "Come on, back you get."
He slants a look up at Graves, and belatedly Graves says, "If you wish. Or Goldstein - she seems to have a decent head on her shoulders."
"She'll be glad to hear it," Scamander says, as the eldest Occamy slowly settles her way back into the basket. Scamander lifts it, deceptively easily, as he stands and there runs his tongue across his lips, leaving them glistening in the diffuse light through the window. "I - I was just wondering, Mr. Graves - "
"Mr. Graves! You're so great!"
Graves isn't sure what he's expecting, but having a sudden green-legged stick - no, bowtruckle - make a jump for him isn't it; he takes a startled step back and nearly banishes the poor thing when Scamander plucks it quickly out of the air. "Pickett! What are you doing?"
Pickett pounds on Scamander's fingers, twisting himself into a knot trying to escape. "I want to see Mr. Graves! Mr. Graves!" he announces, apparently having seen him. Graves's expression is hovering around abject disbelief. "Wow! It's really you! Can you really talk? You're so tall! Where are your leaves?"
"Humans don't have leaves, silly," says the eldest Occamy, her head lifted, and Graves thinks she sounds amused.
"Pickett!" Scamander, after a struggle, shoves the errant bowtruckle in his pocket. "Sorry, I - I'm sorry, I thought he had attachment issues, he really loves coming out with me, but this has never happened before." He buttons the pocket with one hand, the basket of Occamies precariously in the other, and Graves lends him a balancing hand. Scamander straightens his waistcoat, face flushed, and takes back the basket.
"Will you be all right?" Graves asks, bemused, and Scamander bites his lip and nods.
"Yes," he says, "I'll be fine." He starts for the door, and Graves can hear Pickett's muffled voice and the chirp of Occamies saying goodbye, and -
"I'm tied into the wards," he says, "I can Side-Along you from here if you want."
Scamander exhales, his smile when he looks back at Graves tinged with relief. "Oh, could you? Thank you. I'm, ah, at the Goldstein's at the moment, if you know where they live."
Graves isn't sure what to think of the odd feeling that gives him, but thankfully doesn't have to as Scamander lays his hand on Graves's arm and he Apparates them away.
"Mr. Graves!" chirps a bright, terribly-familiar voice. "Wow, it's Mr. Graves!"
Graves closes his eyes for a long moment, then opens them reluctantly to scan the room. Pickett the bowtruckle is hanging from his bookshelf, already clambering over, and Graves wonders briefly whether he can get Scamander to take him back. But Graves is meeting Scamander later this afternoon, only an hour or so away, and surely - surely he can deal with this until then.
Graves's office is empty. He clears his throat and says, "Yes? You're Pickett, aren't you?"
"Wow, you really can speak!" Pickett exclaims. From Graves's light-fixture he jumps to his desk, a barely-visible streak of green. "That's amazing, Mr. Graves! You're so cool!"
More than a bit dubiously, Graves says, "Thank you."
"And you told off Bandit! And helped Hera and Hephastios and - "
"Pickett," Graves says, trying to be patient, "why are you here?"
"I wanted to see you again, Mr. Graves! I love you so much!"
"Not that I don't appreciate the thought," Graves says, feeling awkward, "but - "
"Wow, Mr. Graves! You appreciate me!" Pickett jumps to his hand, the lightweight skittering of his movement like an insect on his skin. "That's so great, Mr. Graves! No one else has said that to me!"
"Not even Mr. Scamander?" Graves says, and then shakes his head, sidetracked. "I only mean, Pickett, that I'm unable to reciprocate your feelings."
Pickett hangs onto his sleeve when he tilts his arm, hoping to get the bowtruckle to drop back to his desk. "That's okay, Mr. Graves! I can love you like friends! Or even like family! You can join our home tree and stay with Mum forever, it'll be great!"
Graves pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. "That's not really how humans work."
"Wow, really?" Pickett exclaims, clambering upright, heading for Graves's elbow. Graves takes pity and holds out his hand, letting Pickett climb on before lifting the tiny bowtruckle to his shoulder. Pickett looks delighted to be there, clinging to Graves's collar. "How do humans work?"
"It's complicated," Graves says, picking up his pen and starting on the pile of waiting paperwork. "Not at all like bowtruckles, I'm afraid."
"Does that mean you can't be my family, Mr. Graves?" Pickett asks, his voice wobbly. "Mr. Graves, that's terrible! I love you! You have to be!"
"Unfortunately," Graves starts, but is quickly interrupted.
"But Mum is family!" Pickett says. "And Mum is human, too! Can't you be family like him?"
Graves hears a whisper of a sound, something by the floor mumbling, "-ing moron," in a familiar voice. Spinning around, magic at his fingertips, Graves scans the floor and surrounding furniture. His bookshelf appears normal, empty of stray creatures, but Pickett is suddenly, suspiciously silent.
Graves turns slowly back to his desk. There's something conspicuously missing. "Pickett," Graves says, "have you seen my pen?"
"N-no, Mr. Graves," Pickett says very loudly, and then, in the tiniest hint of a whisper, "Left."
Perhaps Pickett isn't so bad after all. Graves's magic comes to him easily and he flicks it out, paralysing the Niffler holding Graves's entire container of shiny silver pens. The Niffler stares at him, only looking sorry to be caught.
"What did I say about my office?" Graves says darkly. "It's the box for you."
"No," the Niffler says, dragging the word out into a cry as Graves pulls out his wand, starting a conjuration. Graves raises an eyebrow and doesn't stop. "Pickett, you fucking snitch - "
"Mr. Graves is amazing!" Pickett cries, dangling from Graves's arm. "Why are you so mean to him?"
"He's a motherfucking asshole and all of you are too blinded by that wimpy cock-sucking - "
"Don't you dare call Mum that!" Pickett shakes a tiny green fist. "I'm telling Rosie!"
"What, that you're so fucking smitten with 'Mr. Graves' that you want that rule-abiding bastard to be your Daddy - "
"Mr. Graves is perfect!" Pickett cries. "Mr. Graves would be - "
"'Mr. Graves'," the Niffler drawls, "is the worst - "
"Mr. Graves is the best!"
"'Mr. Graves' is a fucking - "
"If you could stop calling me that," Graves says, very tiredly, and is welcomely rewarded by both Pickett and the Niffler shutting up. The glass box is a masterpiece, if he says so himself, and he settles it to the floor and only then notices the man peering in through the door. Scamander's expression is very odd.
"Um," Scamander says, "then - what would you like to be called, sir?"
Graves has to resist the urge to close his eyes and wish everything away, or to banish the Niffler into the box the way he so resoundingly deserves. "I apologise, Mr. Scamander," he says. "I've had people asking for me all day."
"Ah," Scamander says, starting to smile. "I suppose that might get tiring, yes." He steps inside at Graves's lackadaisical gesture, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. "I, um, find myself feeling similarly, sometimes, you know - I mean, you don't have to call me 'Mr. Scamander', my name is Newt."
With Newt's head ducked, his pale blue eyes peeking up through his eyelashes, Graves really can't say no. "Of course," he says. "Newt. I suppose you're here to tell me you've lost a Niffler?"
Newt's eyes widen suddenly and he follows Graves's gesture to the Niffler, still petrified. "Oh, you found Bandit!" he exclaims, then seems to notice the position the beast is in. "Um, could you release him? I promise I'll keep better track of him this time."
Graves looks at the Niffler, who stares unrepentantly back and opens his mouth. Already tired of the stream of invectives that will no doubt result, Graves wandlessly silences him and raises his eyebrows at Newt. "Will you," he says doubtfully, and Newt wrings his hands a little.
"I - I could take your box? It's very nice," Newt adds, as though the compliment might make Graves more lenient. "Perhaps - perhaps some time-out will help him learn."
"Mum," Pickett says very seriously from Graves's desk, "you're too nice."
It must come out as a sound, because Newt looks down to the desk, eyebrows furrowing before his expression clears. "Pickett! I was wondering where you'd been." He reaches out toward the bowtruckle, but Pickett takes a hesitant step back. "Pickett?"
"You're not going to put me away again, are you?" Pickett asks. "I want to stay with Mr. Graves!" He finishes this by clinging to Graves's sleeve. Graves looks down at him and sighs.
"I-I'm very sorry, Mr., I mean, um..."
"Percival will do," Graves says wearily. "He seems quite attached."
"That's because I love you, Mr. Graves!"
"Percival, then," Newt says, sounding hesitant, and Graves has to offer him a wry smile to stop that look on his face, wary and uncertain; Newt, tentative, smiles back. "I really am sorry about Pickett, I don't know what's gotten into him - he does have the worst attachment problems - "
"Mr. Graves is great!" Pickett exclaims, and clambers to the top of Graves's wrist, sticking what passes for a tongue out at the silenced Niffler. "And he'd be the best Daddy ever, so there!"
Graves has no idea what to make of that, so he tries not to make anything of it at all. "It's fine," Graves says, feeling tired, "but he is rather distracting, and I do have work to do." He looks down at Pickett rather pointedly, where Pickett sways and falls flat to the cloth of his sleeve.
"I - I'm so sorry, Mr. Graves!" Pickett wails. "I just thought you were so awesome and cool and smart and magical - "
"I can see how that might be the case," Newt says, tentatively reaching out to Pickett again. "Pickett, you know Percival can't keep you forever."
"He was very helpful against that beast of yours you call a Niffler." Graves says, feeling a little guilty at Pickett's mournful sobbing. "But I'm not really equipped to deal with a bowtruckle, no matter how - helpful. Or attached."
Pickett perks up at that, grasping onto Newt's thumb as he gradually lifts the bowtruckle away. "Really, Mr. Graves? Wow, you're even more amazing than I imagined! You really are the best Daddy ever!"
Graves has to struggle not to make a face, something tied between wry amusement and dismay. He manages a shred of a smile at Newt's relieved expression as Pickett goes peacefully back to him, and Newt says, "Ah, well, I'm very glad he didn't bother you overly much."
Newt's eyes are bright and he's smiling, crooked and fond, but when Graves meets his eyes he looks down, cheeks pinking. Graves clears his throat. "No, but I can't say the same about that Niffler."
Newt bites his lip again, and Graves drags his gaze away to look at the Niffler, still petrified and staring at him angrily. It's significantly better without the colour commentary, at least. "I, um," Newt says. "Well, you were planning on examining my case today, weren't you? I can - take him back, and..."
"Discipline?" Graves offers, and Newt's mouth turns down.
"It's just, Mr. - Percival," he corrects himself, "I don't think, I just couldn't - "
"Newt," Graves says, and sighs again. "You do understand that the problems you've been having with his escape are due to your own reluctance to force any boundaries - "
"I know," Newt says, looking miserable, "but..."
You're too nice, Pickett had said, and the bowtruckle was completely right. "Maybe I'll keep the box," Graves says, wryly. "For the time you're here."
"I'm really very sorry," Newt says, glancing at him hopefully. "I'll try to keep my case better-locked. And you," he directs to the Niffler, still petrified on the floor, "need to stop taking things."
As Newt steps toward the Niffler, Graves rises to his feet. He levitates the Niffler with a flick of his wrist back to Newt's waiting grasp, then reluctantly releases the petrification. The Niffer makes an attempt at a struggle under Newt's scolding glare, but when it opens its mouth absolutely nothing comes out.
Graves doesn't even bother hiding his smug smile when the Niffler turns to stare at him, incandescently furious. "I do hope you'll be more successful this time," he says. "You said you were having trouble with the locks?"
"Yes, well, it's just a bit broken, really," Newt says, and Graves keeps Newt talking about his case and his creatures as they head out the door. Newt's - startling, like this, bright and expressive, a clever glint to his eyes when Graves poses an interesting question, and with the way that he sometimes glances at Graves through his eyelashes, well. Graves wonders.
But there's a case to inspect, creatures to register, and Newt's leaving, soon. Whatever it is, Graves thinks, it'll have to wait.
Newt's suitcase is a marvel of Undetectable Extension Charms, Graves quickly discovers. He can hear dozens of voices already, the background noise of more magical beasts than Graves has ever seen at once, and as Newt opens the door to his habitats it becomes quickly obvious that they all know who he is by the way conversation suddenly stops. Newt gives him an oddly shrewd look as Graves glances around and the noise gradually restarts, and Graves presses his tongue to his teeth and resists the urge to sigh.
"You made all this yourself?" he asks, already taking mental notes of the creatures Newt has; a small flock of diricawls leap by, playing a game of tag.
"Ah, yes," Newt says. "Well, the case already had an expansion charm, but I did some... modifications."
Modifications that, unless Graves misses his guess, are fairly restricted in Britain. Graves eyes him and Newt ducks his head, looking embarrassed. "It's quite impressive," Graves says instead, and startled, Newt smiles.
"Oh, thank you. It wasn't much, really."
There's a chime in the air, bright and sharp, and the noise around them escalates. "Food!" the Erumpent trumpets, and Newt checks his pocketwatch and says, "Oh, I'm very sorry, it seems to be feeding time - do you mind?"
"I'll need to visit all your habitats regardless," Graves says, wryly. "Go ahead, I'll find my own way."
"That's good," Newt says distractedly, rummaging for his wand in his coat. "Be careful around Rosie, will you, she hurt her paw the other day and I can't seem to figure out how so I can fix it properly, so she's been quite irritable lately - "
Newt disappears behind a swinging magical curtain, the charms that separate them blocking out the sound of his voice, and Graves stares after him with some bemusement. "Mr. Graves!" Pickett says, suddenly right by his ear. "You have to come meet everyone!"
"When did you - " Graves pauses and exhales, still feeling startled. "Merlin, some warning, please."
"Oh," Pickett says, enthusiasm dimmed, "sorry, Mr. Graves."
"Just remember it for next time," Graves says, already feeling like he's been too harsh. "Would you like to show me around?"
"Me? Help Mr. Graves?" Pickett perks up again, sounding delighted. "Of course!"
And so Graves is led with cheerful commentary around the entire space. He's reintroduced to the Occamies, some now graduated to sentences from the time Graves saw them last. The eldest, apparently named Hera, actually laughs when Pickett introduces him: "And this is Mr. Graves, he's our new Daddy!"
"Please, no." Graves pinches the bridge of his nose. "Pickett, what did I tell you about human families?"
"Complicated," Pickett repeats dutifully, "but that's you and Mum! We're not human, so you can still be our Dad!"
"He's got you there," Hera says, amidst chirping laughter, and when one of the baby Occamies calls, "Daddy? Daddy!" Graves relents enough to offer his hand for her to smell, her tiny tongue flicking across his skin.
"You're a menace," Graves tells Pickett, and the bowtruckle giggles delightedly in his ear.
Newt really does have a menagerie in his suitcase, including beasts that Graves has never seen before in his life. The murtlaps grumble at him, a bioluminescent creature curls a tentacle around Graves's wrist before declaring him 'fine', and the mooncalves squeak in excited delight. Graves has to extract himself carefully after being completely mobbed by them as Pickett continues to call him something he's not. "No," Graves says for the dozenth time, "no, it's Graves, or Percival if you must, not - "
"But - but - " Blue the mooncalf looks up at him with huge, pleading eyes.
The Erumpent, at least, is too soon after her heat to press him. "Sad. Hungry," she says, drooping, after Graves offers a greeting. "Nice man brings food."
"It's Mummy, silly," Pickett chirps, and the Erumpent droops further.
"Could be mummy," she says, "but no mate."
Newt's creatures are mostly rescues, Graves knows. "I am sorry," he says, and the Erumpent flops to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust.
"No," she says. "Nice man saved me. There will be more chances for a mate, but want something... new. Like nice man and you."
"We're not," Graves says, and she opens one large eye and stares at him implacably through his excuses until Pickett tugs on his ear and pulls him away.
There's a dozen grindylows in bubbles, trying to outdo each other telling taller and taller tales, and a pair of lobalugs that must be friends with the Niffler, at least by the extent of their colourful language. The sheer expanse of the Nundu's habit is breathtaking, though the Nundu herself is lying outside the forest, studying her paws; when Graves approaches warily her gaze fixes on him and he's reminded, again, of how easily they kill their prey.
"So you're him," she says, "the beastspeaker."
"That's what they call it, yes," Graves says. "Percival Graves."
She rises to her feet, all long lines and muscle and threatening spikes of fur, but when she steps toward him he sees she's limping. "Mum calls me Rosie," she says, dropping to her haunches only a foot away and lifting her left paw to lap at it, the ruff of her throat expanding with every breath. "I suppose it does well enough."
"Rosie," Pickett says, sounding chiding, but when Rosie fixes her golden-eyed stare on him he squeaks and hides behind Graves's neck.
"Newt said you were hurt," Graves says, and he can see already the pad of her paw is turning pink and irritated. "Is there anything you want me to tell him?"
"It's just a splinter from that dumb bird," she says, eyeing him even as she tilts her head toward the patch of open sky. "Frank's been molting."
"I'm not much of a healer, but I can get Newt," Graves offers, and she huffs and drops her head to her paws.
"I've met humans like you," she says, and yawns, exposing her long, hideously sharp teeth. "Always thinking they can control us."
Pickett says, indignant, "Mr. Graves wouldn't - " but when Graves holds up his hand he falls begrudgingly quiet. Rosie watches them with sharp eyes.
"I have no intention of trying to."
She stares at him for a moment longer "No, you wouldn't, would you?" Rosie huffs, exhaling entirely clear air. "But you haven't told him yet."
"I wouldn't," Graves says, and is unsure how to explain it, to a Nundu who's probably spent most of her life in the wilds of Africa. It's unusual, it's strange, his mother said, keep this a secret, Percy, you know it's a bloodline coveted and Dark, and so Graves has. It hasn't particularly been a problem until a magizoologist with a suitcase of magical creatures stumbled into his life. "It isn't something to flaunt."
Rosie makes a thoughtful, purring sound, turning her gaze to her irritated paw. "Mum'll work it out soon enough. If he hasn't already."
"Even so," Graves says. The thought of it makes him feel a tight thread of anticipation, of something close to but not quite dread. If Grindelwald had known - but he doesn't. Graves is, at least for now, safe.
From his shoulder, Pickett says, "Mum?"
Graves spins on his heel to see Newt, holding a bucket, watching him with a curious smile. "Ah, Rosie hasn't bothered you too much, I hope?" he asks, then to the Nundu: "Darling, what's wrong with it?" as he steps forward, crouching down beside her.
Rosie flicks Graves a glance, but offers up her paw for Newt's perusal. "Perhaps it's something caught under the skin," Graves offers, and Newt hums in thought, the green magic of a diagnostic spell bathing the area in light.
"It doesn't seem to be - " Newt frowns, eyes narrowing. "Actually..."
A low growl rumbles up from Rosie's chest when Newt pulls out his wand, but she says, abashed, "Sorry, reflex," when Graves stands to attention and Newt immediately stops moving.
"Careful, now," Newt murmurs, "I'm sorry, this shouldn't hurt too badly." Moving slowly, Newt bring his wand to her paw, and finally manages to extract a sliver of dust-brown feather. Newt heals it over with the application of some paste from a tiny jar, watching the irritation soothe and diminish, and when he rises to his feet again his eyes are bright. "It looks like Frank's been terribly busy blowing feathers everywhere," Newt says, glancing at Graves for a moment, "and he's next on my rounds - would you like to come meet him?"
Graves is caught by the picture Newt makes, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows exposing tanned forearms marked with thick, ropey scars, the flush of energy on his cheeks and the sparkling excitement in his eyes. "Frank's the thunderbird, correct?" he says, falling into step with Newt as they brush past another magical curtain, Newt still with the blue bucket of food in his hands.
"Yes, that's him." When they step into the next area it's a wonder of desert and sky, and Graves's gaze is drawn up. He'd heard of the thunderbird, of course, from reports of the entire Grindelwald incident slowly collecting on his desk, but to see the bird in person, its sheer size as it drops down to the ground, is entirely different. Its dust-brown feathers shimmer in the sand, slow moving patterns like a reflection across their vanes, and Newt steps forward as the thunderbird lowers its head toward him. "Hello, Frank," Newt says fondly, and glances at Graves, looking expectant.
Amused, Graves says to the thunderbird, "Hello."
Tilting his beak toward him, Frank huffs a laugh. "So you're him? You've got everyone excited, don't you?"
"Come on," Newt says, gesturing Graves forward, "I don't think he'd mind, would you?" He directs the last at Frank, his tone softening. "And what've you been doing, you've been sending feathers everywhere!"
"It's not my fault," Frank grumbles, as Graves takes a step forward, two. He's in arm's length of the thunderbird, his sharp, pointed beak just out of reach, and Frank trills a quiet noise as Newt places his hand on his head.
"I'll have to get you home, soon," Newt says, his voice quiet, "won't I? You'll be able to molt all over Arizona."
"It's not bad here," Frank says, "but you're right. I do need to get home."
Graves says, "So you'll be leaving soon."
Newt glances at him quickly, and looks away. "Well, I mean, I must be causing you lot quite a bit of trouble, it's probably best if I - " and he's cut off as Frank nudges him. He looks at the thunderbird, bemused and smiling. "What's wrong? Honestly, you."
Frank nudges him again from the far side, where Newt's holding the bucket of food. "What, are you that hungry?" Newt says, amused, and there's a glint of something in Frank's eyes that has Graves bracing for - he doesn't know what, but the next nudge from Frank sends Newt stumbling, bowled over, practically into Graves's arms.
As if the Daddy comments weren't enough; Graves is starting to see a pattern here. Newt says, "Oh Merlin, I'm sorry, I don't know what's gotten into him."
Graves steadies him, his hands on Newt's waist. "Attachment problems?"
"Ah," Newt says, "I mean, I don't think so, but," and that's when he seems to realise how close they are, meeting Graves's eyes for a moment and then ducking his head as he steps back, face flushing. "Oh. Well. I - I'm really very sorry." Newt turns his head, eyes narrowed, to look at Frank, who's faux-innocently preening. "Everyone's been terribly rude."
"What?" Frank asks, lifting his beak from under his wing, and Graves huffs a laugh, shaking his head.
"It's all right," Graves says. "Are you stopping by New York again? I imagine you would head directly to London after Arizona."
"Oh," Newt says, "well, yes, I do have a meeting with my publisher I've delayed quite a bit. But after that, all I'll be doing is finishing my manuscript, which, ah." He glances at Graves again. "It's just writing it, really. And I already told Tina I'd be back once my book is published - so I'll be returning for that, at the very least."
"If you do find yourself at loose ends," Graves says, smiling slightly, "MACUSA could always use your expertise."
"Mr. Graves!" Pickett exclaims, sounding delighted. Newt looks at Graves and smiles again, quick and bright.
"Thank you, I'll certainly keep that in mind."
He feeds Frank, then, tiny balls of lightning kept safe by magic, and then takes Graves to the graphorns, throwing large hunks of meat into the expanse of their starry plains. All the creatures’ voices overlap like a crowd, odd accents and different tones and yet nothing that Graves doesn't understand; it's strange, knowing that Newt's gentle introductions and conversational tone isn't because he can hear them respond. And they do, from ambivalence to adoration, a wellspring for Newt's easy confidence as he moves from habitat to habitat.
When Newt is feeding his aquatic animals, levitating tiny fish up to the grindylows, Graves notices the demiguise ambling along toward them on the floor. Newt follows his gaze and says, "Oh, Dougal, Mr. - ah, Percival, I’m sorry - this is Dougal. If you’d like, I’m sure he’d be happy to take you around."
"Hello," Graves says to the demiguise, who stares up at him with clear blue eyes and latches one hand tight onto his sleeve. "Ah - "
“Dougal!" Pickett chides. "What are you doing?"
Dragging Graves away, it seems, and Graves follows the tug of the demiguise's hand until it seems certain he'll follow and releases him. Even then it heads away with purpose, and Graves follows it curiously. Pickett hangs onto Graves's collar and says, sounding worried, "He's not normally like this, Mr. Graves."
"And what is he normally like?" Graves asks. "More talkative?"
"Oh, no. Demiguises are Seers, you know." Pickett's tiny leafy fingers suddenly tug hard at Graves's shirt and he peers over at the bowtruckle on his shoulder. "Wait, Dougal, you know you can't - I'll tell Mum!"
Mystified, Graves says, "Tell him what?" as the demiguise stops in his tracks to look up at them with magic-gleaming blue eyes.
"He'll help," Dougal says, and nothing else.
"Even if Mr. Graves is really great, Mum said - "
Dougal turns away, heading for another habitat, and Graves raises his eyebrows as Pickett makes an incoherent noise of frustration and throws himself to a nearby tree, scampering away. When he turns back, the demiguise has already disappeared, the edge of a magical curtain swaying slightly in its wake.
Graves pushes it aside and steps through, and the cold air and whirling snow steal his breath away. But more than that, it's a black swirling mass of magic encased inside a transparent bubble; more than that, it's the tiny girl's voice that says, quietly, "Hello."
What makes a creature, he's always wondered; why can some be understood and some not? An Obscurus was human once, and it sounds it to Graves's ears, with none of the reverberation of animal noise behind it; no, it's completely silent here except for the sigh of the wind. "Hello," he says, equally quiet, "I'm sorry, I hadn't realised you were here."
"Dougal, have you gone already?" The Obscurus swirls for a moment, then settles to an odd quiescence. "Who is this? Why are you here?"
Graves feels - tired, abruptly, lost. "He brought me here," he says. "My name is Percival Graves, and I can understand you. What's your name?"
"You…" He gets the sensation of it watching him now, of its focused attention as its magic writhes. "You… understand me?"
"Yes," Graves says. "Yes, I do."
"Oh," says the Obscurus, in the same small voice. "Hello. Mr. Graves."
"Percival is fine," he says, and sees the flash of the demiguise's blue eyes past the snowbank ahead. "You said you were friends with Dougal, didn't you? Does he come visit you often?"
"I - friends? He… he comes to visit, sometimes. I like it when he does, even though he doesn't talk much. But no one else does, and I don't think they hear me, not like..."
"Does Newt come by?"
"Newt," says the Obscurus, as though trying out the name. "The sad man who everyone calls Mummy? He tells me stories, sometimes - it's nice, when he tells me stories. But he's always so sad. I… I don't think he likes me very much."
Gently, Graves says, "He does. But I think he's worried you might hurt some of the other creatures if they came to visit. Would you?"
The Obscurus twists and flows, black like an oil spill against the white of the snow. "I - I don't think so. I don't want to, but sometimes… I can't do anything but think about Before. And it hurts, and I get so ANGRY - "
It writhes against the magic encasing it, the bubble lighting in patchy shimmers under the assault. Graves says, "Careful," chiding but not harsh. "Would you like more visitors? Or more stories?"
It calms, slowly, under his tone. "I… could I really?"
"Of course," Graves says. "I can tell Newt." Somehow, he thinks, but the details seem unimportant in the face of the Obscurus's tentatively hopeful voice. "Has he read you much of the Tales of Beedle the Bard? I don't have a book with me, but my mother's favorite was the Fountain of Fair Fortune, and I believe I remember most of the tale. It starts like this…"
It takes him back to his childhood, his mother's calm voice, him as a boy pouring over the fairytales as if they had something to hide. There are mentions in tales of people not-quite like him, phoenixes who share thoughts and humans stuck in their Animagus forms, the story of parselmouths and exotic animal speakers grown with the land. Graves tells the tale like he remembers, halting at first and when he reaches portions he's forgotten, but he remembers the end clear as a bell: the Fountain isn't real; heal yourself.
The thought kept him company through long nights suffering from Grindelwald's spells, gave him the strength to break his bonds when his captor, one night, hadn't returned. And when he left he ran straight into a small contingent of Aurors, into Newt Scamander, wide-eyed and so empathetic it hurt, holding a priori incantatem on Grindelwald's hateful wand.
"...and none of them ever knew or suspected that the Fountain's waters carried no enchantments at all."
When Graves finishes, he drags his attention back to the real world to see not only the Obscurus, settled calm in its incandescent bubble, but a bevy of creatures sitting in the snow, surrounding - Newt himself, too. Newt rises to his feet and dusts snow off his pants as he pushes a mooncalf's nose away; his smile is tentative and his eyes bright, and Graves feels terribly, terrifyingly warm and can't quite look away.
"That was lovely," Newt says, "thank you."
Graves clears his throat. "Your demiguise led me here - "
"No, it's all right," Newt says. "You would need to see her anyway, wouldn't you?" He steps forward, toward the Obscurus, and raises a hand to it before letting it fall. "She's probably been lonely, here. I suppose - I hadn't really considered that before. And… I've said she couldn't hurt anyone; it's probably time I believed it."
"I think," Graves says, "you should stop blaming yourself," and Newt looks at him, eyes wide and a startlingly clear blue.
"Perhaps you're right," he says after a moment, and smiles, quiet and wry. "But it's difficult sometimes, don't you agree?"
Graves looks away. "It can be," he admits, and looks over to the demiguise, silvery fur blending into the white snow. It's not invisible, not yet, but as he raises his eyebrows at it it flickers away, until not even an outline of it remains. "I… I believe that's everything. Thank you."
"Oh, no," Newt says, "you've saved Hera and her nestmates, and brought Bandit back to me, and - well." Newt's smile softens. "You've been - remarkably nice about all of this, I know I'm hardly the most, ah, organized of people, with creatures running everywhere."
"It wasn't a hardship," Graves says, "well, except for the Niffler," and Newt, startled, laughs.
"I'll try to keep better track of him when I come back next time."
"I'll be looking forward to it," Graves says, and he remembers Newt's resulting quirk of a smile for days.
When Graves makes it back to his office he's already nearly dead on his feet, the bureaucracy of MACUSA and the problem of his Aurors' allegiances and capabilities still running circles in his head. He opens the door and the lights flicker on, but two steps inside he sees - that Niffler, again.
"Good evening," he says, mood lifting considerably as he closes the door behind him. He rounds his desk, flicking his wand at the mess, and all his objects walk neatly back into place as the Niffler, caught and petrified and completely silent, glares.
It'd taken quite some effort to find something that would work specifically enough Graves's purposes - he'd visited the flock of British Thestrals at the zoo until he found one who'd talked to a kneazle who apparently knew some things about Niffler-traps - but he can't say he's disappointed with the results. Graves twirls his wand in his hand, eyeing the Niffler speculatively with more thought than considered action, and is just incanting a colour-changing spell when his door is thrown open in a rush.
"I'm really very sorry," Newt starts, looking like a brightly-coloured dream from the top of his messy red hair to the sharp blue of his coat and his muddy brown boots, and Graves quirks an eyebrow at him and lets the spell fly. Newt makes a choking sound that's half laughter when he sees the result, his Niffler now an eye-catching orange. "Really, Mr. Graves. Percival," he corrects himself, and makes an attempt at a reproving look entirely ruined by the fetching flush to his cheeks.
"It's a warning for the Niffler, not for you," Graves says, "not that he'll listen." He reluctantly relinquishes the menace into Newt's practiced grasp, where the Niffler struggles ineffectually, swearing.
"You fucking - "
"No," Newt says, then more firmly again, "no. You behave, or I'll leave you that colour." He stares the Niffler down for a long moment, and the creature huffs and looks away.
"Like you would, you bleeding heart," it grumbles, but at Graves's narrow look pointedly shuts its mouth to leave blessed silence as Newt opens his case's latches and puts it away.
"I really am sorry," Newt says again as he rises back to his feet. "I didn't actually want to see you again quite like this, I'm afraid."
Smiling despite himself, Graves shakes his head. "This is becoming a habit, you know. If you kept better track of that beast…"
"He does seem to target you unduly," Newt says, "I - well, I'd suggest perhaps keeping your shiny objects out of sight, but you do seem to have found a solution - please do be careful, though, I'd hate for him to be hurt." He drops his chin, smiling tentatively, and Graves lets out a largely performative sigh.
"If you insist," he says. "But it's good that you've come - I have something for you." Newt meets his eyes for a brief moment as Graves studies him, the dishevelled state of him perhaps not entirely from chasing after creatures all day. "Did you just come in?"
"Oh," Newt says, "yes, Bandit decided to make a break for it as soon as I left customs. Again." He runs a hand through his already-messy hair. "I thought - he seems to be rather attracted to the challenge, honestly."
"I could hardly stop providing that," Graves says dryly, and Newt gives him a quick smile as Graves picks his coat off the hook and shrugs it on. "I suppose you haven't eaten?"
Drawing forth his magic, Graves waves his hand in an absent gesture and catches the paper files that fly toward him, the cabinets again sliding gently shut. "Neither have I," he says. "I hope you won't object if we do this over dinner?"
Newt starts, slightly wide-eyed. "No, I - that's fine."
Graves shrinks the paperwork, slides it into his pocket, and then holds out his hand. Newt meets his gaze only briefly before he takes it, and Graves takes quick stock of him before Apparating them away.
They arrive in a quiet alleyway not too far from the Woolworth building, and only two streets away from a restaurant Graves has visited before. Newt, fingers tight around his case, looks around curiously as Graves leads him inside. "Is this a Muggle place?"
"Not entirely," Graves says, as they're brought to a table, cosy and tucked away in one corner. The lights are low, the table candlelit, and Graves wonders briefly if he should have chosen somewhere else as Newt glances at him again, something coy in his crooked smile. It's too late, of course, now that they're here, and after they place their orders Graves distracts himself by pulling out the folders as he raises a quick privacy ward, his wand tucked discreetly up his sleeve.
"This is for me?" Newt asks, as Graves slides them across the table, returned to their original size. He opens the first and skims the text, eyes widening. "You really - did all of this?"
"Theseus sent me a letter," Graves says, "which said, I quote, 'please don't lead my poor little brother on if you're not planning on following through' - "
"Dear Merlin, did he really? Please don't listen to him," Newt says, cheeks pink but eyes dancing. "He's completely terrible."
"I have met him before," Graves says, smiling, "and he wasn't actually wrong. Your new consultant position, Mr. Scamander, now exists if you choose to take it."
Newt's smile widens as he closes the folder and sets it aside. "Thank you. I can't imagine you'd need a magizoologist particularly often, though."
"You'd be surprised," Graves says. "Even with our informant at the Blind Pig, there are a lot of imports we miss, which we find out much later in generally explosive ways."
"Do tell," Newt says, amused, and so Graves does.
It's easier than he'd expected to talk to Newt like this, without the pressure of keeping secrets or the rules at MACUSA looming over his head. Newt's sweet and startlingly clever, and Graves finds himself watching him more often than not, the absent way he gestures when he's talking about some new creature, the sparkle of humor in his eyes. He has a brief scuffle with an escaped Pickett halfway through: "I want to see Mr Graves!" Pickett declares, tiny voice surprisingly loud as Newt frowns at him reprovingly; he ends up peering out of Newt's pocket after that, with an abashed apology from Newt.
"It's all right," Graves says, "I wasn't sure I recognised you without him."
"You," Newt says, obviously repressing a smile, "are just as bad as he is; stop encouraging him. Pickett needs to learn I don't play favorites."
Graves visibly considers. "No," he says, "you definitely do. But I think Pickett is, too - I'm fairly sure I've supplanted you as his favorite."
"Mr. Graves!" Pickett exclaims with delight, and he leaps the table and won't move from Graves's side for the rest of the night.
They stay there until dessert has come and gone and their magically-supplied wineglasses are empty and Graves can't think of any more excuses to stay. The waiter knows well enough to put it on MACUSA's tab, and Graves lifts Pickett carefully off his shoulder when they head outside into the bracingly cold air, where Newt glances up at the slow-falling snow. "Thank you for tonight," he says, as Pickett clings to Graves's index finger. "Come on, Pickett, you can't bother Mr. Graves forever."
"Can too," Pickett mumbles. He's drooping tiredly, and Newt peels him away Graves's hand like unwinding an uncooperative vine. Standing there, watching the glow of the streetlamps casting a halo of light over Newt's hair and the snow melting into his collar as he stuffs Pickett into one of his pockets, Graves doesn't quite want to let him go.
"Are you busy this weekend?" he asks impulsively, and then mentally kicks himself for the lapse. Newt meets his gaze briefly, startled.
"Ah - I don't think so? Was there…"
Graves searches for an explanation. "I was planning on visiting the Yellowstone Dragon Reserve - not exactly official, but we usually do a bi-annual check of their populations for our records. I thought perhaps…"
"You'd appreciate having me along?" Newt asks. There's something sweetly curious about his smile, and that makes it sound terribly like - well. Graves casts his gaze over to behind him, the light reflecting from falling snow. "I would like that. Not exactly officially."
"Well," Graves says, and clears his throat. "Thank you. I hope you have a good evening, Mr. Scamander. Newt."
"I did," Newt says, "thank you, Percival," and Graves Apparates away to the lingering afterimage of his smile. He swears to himself as he leans against his door, pressing a hand to his eyes; then he exhales, stares up at the clouded sky, and leaves the snow behind.
It's only two days before Saturday rolls around, two days in which Graves has to send a quick pigeon, express, to the Reserve which usually prefers a pre-booked appointment, already set two months from now; he gets a curious but willing response in return, which is one hurdle passed. The other is the realisation he doesn't have Newt's address, Floo or mail, and he debates between checking if Newt's yet completed the consultant paperwork or just waiting to see if Newt can manage to find him. It's only on Friday evening that he remembers Newt had been earlier staying with the Goldstein's, and while he deliberates over asking one of them, pacing the MACUSA hallways, he finds he's slowed to a stop directly outside the Auror office.
He clears his expression as Goldstein, looking about to leave for the night, stops at the doorway. "Ah, Director Graves, sir? Was there something you needed?"
Graves says, "Not at all, Auror Goldstein," and turns on his heel, about to head back to his office - and he stops, closing his eyes briefly and hissing an irritated breath at himself through his teeth. "No, wait a moment. You're acquainted with Mr. Scamander, yes?"
"Newt?" Goldstein looks curious. "Yes, of course, sir."
"Then you're aware of where he's staying?"
"...yes?" Goldstein says, and Graves eyes her flatly as realisation dawns across her face. "Oh, of course, I'll just - " and she summons a notepad and pen, scribbling it down. "But - why do you need to know?"
That's none of your business, is not only too rude but will just invite more unhelpful questions; Graves says, instead, "Mr. Scamander forgot to note it on his application forms."
"Already?" Goldstein says, startled. "But he said he'd come by on… Monday..."
She trails off under Graves's flat stare, and examines him a little too curiously for his peace of mind before handing the address over. "Thank you," Graves says, electing to ignore the thoughtful twist of her mouth, and leaves again for his office as he walks away. If his purposeful stride is a little faster than normal; well, only he has to know.
Newt is apparently staying at a small Muggle hotel. Graves sends a pigeon with the time that evening and knocks on his room door as the next day dawns bright, straightening his cuffs as he glances down the hall. Newt's voice comes from inside, muffled: "Come in!" and so Graves does, sensing the ripple of magic from wards as he crosses the threshold.
Newt's not visible at all, but his case is on the floor, the lid open. Graves steps forward, wondering if he should follow, but then the top of Newt's head appears, red hair messy and wand stuck between his teeth; he shoves an occamy at Graves as he says something incomprehensible and Graves barely manages to catch it.
Her, Graves realises, as Hera stares at him after finishing a wide yawn. "Hello," he says, as Newt's head disappears again, and the occamy winds herself around Graves's shoulders, rubbing a scaly head against his neck.
"Are you really taking Mummy out on a date?"
"I - what?" Graves can feel warmth rush to his cheeks, and he swears under his breath as he rubs a hand over his face. "Who told you that?"
"No," she says, "really?" She peers at him and Graves scowls at her, though without true feeling. "I suppose you'd do all right. Daddy," she says, as though testing the word, and Graves sighs.
"I'm never going to get away from this, am I?"
"Do you want to?" Hera asks, and Graves shuts his eyes and forces himself to ignore her as she preens.
Newt appears again about five minutes later, hair mussed and shirtsleeves askew; he's buttoning his waistcoat and trying to shrug on his overcoat at the same time, and as Graves takes pity and holds a sleeve for him, Newt sends him a grateful glance. "I'm sorry," Newt says, "I was a little caught up," and as he finally struggles into his coat, his gaze drops to the occamy curled around Graves's collar. "Oh, Hera - Merlin, I entirely forgot, here, let me - "
He takes the occamy with the ease of long handling, and she slides into his hands and pecks absently at his hair. Graves bites back a smile as Newt bats her beak away, protesting half-heartedly as he drops her carefully into his case, but he thinks he isn't quite successful in hiding his amusement by the look Newt slants up at him, full of sparkling delight.
"I think that's all of them now," Newt says as he straightens, and he peers over at the mirror on the wall and casts a few futile spells on his hair. It finally settles into something a little less haphazard and he steps back, picking up his case as he does. "I hope it's not a problem if I bring my creatures along?"
"As long as they don't mind Portkey travel," Graves says. "I'm afraid getting there otherwise is a challenge."
"Oh, no, they'll be fine," Newt says, and closes his hand around Graves's, holding the delicate origami crane of the Portkey, and gives him a quick smile as the Portkey whisks them away.
They land in a small clearing designated for magical transport, next to a rushing river and not far from the mountains looming overhead. Graves catches the eye of the Director as Newt looks around, and she waves one of her attending dragonkeepers to them as she turns back to the Vipertooth she's attempting to calm.
"Is that an Antipodean Opaleye?" Newt says, hand raised to shade his eyes as he squints into the sky. "All the way up here?"
"We think it came over centuries ago, there's a whole subspecies of them living around these mountains, and a few spread across to the Rockies, too," says the woman who approaches them. "Percy! Fancy seeing you again."
It takes Graves a moment, but her wide grin and mess of braids are unmistakable for all that the last time he'd seen her she was barely into her teens. "Don't call me that, Gabrielle."
"I mean," she continues blithely, "I guess we were expecting you, but that was in a month or two."
Graves clears his throat. "Newt, this is Gabrielle. I was her mentor at Ilvermorny. Gabrielle, Newt Scamander, magizoologist."
"Oh, you're interested in dragons?" Gabrielle says, and sends a wink to Graves that Newt entirely misses, watching the dragons in the sky. She sidles up to Graves instead, and says not quietly enough, "I think the last time I've seen you like this was with that Durmstrang girl in third year - "
"I," Graves says, "will not listen to this slander, thank you, unless you want all your coworkers to know about that time you came to me crying about that terrible Valentine - "
Grinning, she raises her hands in surrender. "All right, all right."
"You must have had some crossbreeding," Newt says, and if he heard any of their conversation, he doesn't seem to care. "With the local Vipertooths, I would usually say, but that flight behaviour seems more reminiscent of the Ridgeback - do you have the Norwegian's problems with egg-hatching too? I was talking with the keepers there and they're having problems keeping the populations stable, I was wondering if diluting the bloodline might help."
Gabrielle's eyes light up. "You do know your stuff," she says. "Yeah, we've got some ideas about their lineage - the Director was thinking they might have a bit of Welsh Green, too. Here, one of our nesting mothers fell ill recently so you can come see - "
They wander off entirely heedless of Graves's presence, but he can't bring himself to mind. Newt is in his element here, a spring in his step and a tight-laced energy to his gestures, and Graves watches him surreptitiously as he heads over to ostensibly get some data for MACUSA's records. The Vipertooth's calmed by now and the dragon keepers have moved on, and Graves casts a curious eye over her far-flung nest.
"Go away," she spits, and Graves takes a deferential step back as she hisses at him. "I don't need more stupid wizards here. Checking on my hatchlings, ha!"
"What do you think they're doing?" Graves asks. "They do generally mean well, for all that their execution might be lacking."
She eyes him for a long, studied moment while Graves holds her yellowed-eyed gaze, then huffs a breath and turns her head away. "They want to take them away," she says, "they always do. If a hatchling isn't strong enough to eat it isn't meant to survive, that's how the world is! But then you take them away and - what? Use their hearts for your sticks? Their skin for your shoes?"
"Or," Graves says, "they're raised separately from your clutch, given the care and attention they need to survive before being transferred somewhere they won't face the same competition." She twists her head to glare at him, and he sighs. "I'm not saying wizards haven't done it before - Merlin knows people are opportunistic at best - but it is actually against our laws, which we try to enforce as best we can."
She lets out an irritated noise and drops to the ground with a huff. "So she'll be taken care of?"
Graves says, "As much as we can."
As silence falls, his eyes find Newt across the valley. His blue coat is a bright spot against the long grass, the melting patches of snow; he's gesturing, Graves thinks, deep in conversation with a small group of dragonkeepers as an Opaleye peers at them from a nearby clifftop. Graves thinks he can picture Newt, if he tries: the intensity of his sky-blue eyes and the fond quirk of his smile.
Newt looks up. Perhaps he's smiling, but Graves feels almost caught out as he forces himself to look away. "Mating problems," the Vipertooth says sagely, and Graves slants her a flat look, mostly unamused.
"Then what is it?" she says, and lifts her head an inch from her curled position on the ground. "The bright one, yes? Bright colors are good for a mate."
Graves says, "He doesn't even know I can talk to you."
"Then tell him," she says. "Is it so hard?"
"We hardly know each other," Graves says, feeling irritated, though he's not certain why. "He's a good person, certainly, and I can't say I don't - appreciate him, but it's far more complicated than that."
"Why?" the dragon asks, and Graves sighs.
"It's the way we are," he says. "Just as wearing bright colors and fighting off the competition works for you."
"You could fight off competition," she tells him, entirely missing the point. "You reek of magic, wizard. Perhaps you should fight against the other one to prove yourself to your mate."
"The other… what?" Graves says, bemused.
"The wizard. The one who wanted our eggs. I fought him off," she adds, preening, "but the other one got hit by some of your magic. She smells terrible now."
Graves says, "The wizard. What did he look like?"
"Like all wizards." The dragon peers at him. "Like you, a bit. It was dark. His head-fur was white like the snow."
Graves looks out across this tiny section of the Reserve, the dragons dotting the cliffside, Newt and the dragonkeepers coaxing one toward them with all the expertise life has given them and remembers pain so overwhelming he couldn't hear himself scream. "Thank you," he says. "How many days ago did he come?"
"Eight suns," she says promptly. "My eggs started hatching the very next dawn."
Eight days. Graves hasn't been told for eight days.
He comes back to himself holding Newt's arm in a vice-tight grip. Newt's voice filters through to him as though from a great distance; it's his tone, first, calm and even, reassuring in its steadiness, and then he registers the words: "I'm here, Percival, there's nothing here that will harm you." Graves stares at him, blank at first, and then awareness crashes down on him with a full-body tremor and he jerks away, forcing himself to remember to breathe.
Newt says, "Is everything all right?" There's nothing but compassion in his gaze but Graves feels like he's been stripped bare. He squeezes his eyes shut as he shakes his head, exhaling as he tries to collect himself again.
"No," he says, "no. I have to..."
But it's already been eight days. Graves scrubs at his face and only then notices they're pulled into a small nook, barely a cave in the side of the cliff; the rest of the workers here aren't in direct sight. "I apologise," Graves says, and it comes out stiff and too harsh but Newt presses his hand to Graves's arm, no fear or pity in his face.
"Should we leave?"
"Yes," Graves says, and forces himself to look at Newt, the freckles across his nose and the hair falling into his face. "Did you help that dragon?"
"Elissa? Not quite." Newt pauses, glancing at Graves briefly. "I think - well, we were considering that she might be cursed. It's quite delicate, if so - I was hoping to ask your assistance, but if this is important - "
"No," Graves says, "well, yes, but - " He sighs. "It isn't urgent. Let me see."
Newt leads them out to where the other dragonkeepers are attempting to corral the dragon, a beautiful pale-scaled creature starting to lose her sheen. Graves doesn't know exactly how he'd led Newt away but it evidently wasn't too egregious, as none give them more than a second glance. "We don't want to use calming spells," one of the keepers says, "but if you could…"
Graves raises his wand as he steps forward. "I'll be fine."
"You," the dragon snaps, furious, afraid -
The Vipertooth was right. She reeks of magic, a sickening-sweet stench of familiar power that turns his stomach and makes the gorge rise in his throat. Graves says, "Sorry, nothing personal," and begins the incantation.
His magic feels like lightning under his skin. There's a trick to cursebreaking, a delicacy of wandwork and knowledge, but any curse can also be broken with enough power and will, and Graves has plenty to spare. He pulls it up from the core of him, until he can taste it in the air, and funnels it purposefully toward Grindelwald's curse.
There's a joy in it, in tearing that man's work apart. Graves can feel himself smile as Grindelwald's curse starts to crumble under the onslaught, as the dragon stills, wings spread, and Graves's magic eats the curse away. He can hear his heart beating in his ears, the breath shuddering through his lungs; his wand feels warm in his hand, and as the last remnants of the curse fragment and disappear Graves slowly lowers his wand.
He feels the weakness from too much magic use lingering in the ache of his limbs, and when he turns around he raises his eyebrows at the small crowd he's drawn. "Well, you sure showed it," Gabrielle says, bemused, and pats his shoulder in a comradely manner, but Graves can only endure her and her coworkers' thanks for a moment.
The anger still itches at his throat. Newt is watching him as Graves approaches him, studying his face with an odd intensity Graves isn't used to. "Was it," Newt says, and stops. "Was it Grindelwald?"
"Yes," Graves says. "It was. I'll need to have a heart-to-heart with Seraphina about that. And… you might also be in danger."
Newt's mouth twitches in an unhappy smile. "Because I lost him his Obscurus?"
"Because you stopped him and unmasked him," Graves says, "and he's the type of person to hold a grudge." He exhales, hearing the irritation in his voice, and forces himself to calm. "I'm sorry. You haven't signed your contract yet, have you? If you returned to Britain…"
Newt says, "Do you - think that would actually help?" He glances at Graves for a brief moment before dropping his gaze. "I don't think I would, regardless."
"For your own safety," Graves says, "at least let me organize something. A desk at MACUSA, wards at your home - "
"When I find one, you mean," Newt says, but the quirk of his smile is somewhat wry. "Do you think it's that urgent? Elissa - the Opaleye - has been sick for a week already. If he was here then..."
Graves shuts his eyes, scrubs a hand over his eyes, and feels abruptly tired. "Yes, of course. You're right." Seraphina would have mentioned it if he were still in New York, wouldn't have left him unknowing unless there was definitive proof he was gone. "Please be cautious, though."
"Of course," Newt says, "A desk at MACUSA might be nice. And I'll tell you once I do find an apartment; I'm sure wards couldn't hurt at all."
"You don't need to coddle me." Graves looks at him for a moment, raising an eyebrow, and Newt flushes.
"No," he says, "but it is a good idea, isn't it? I - well." He glances back toward the dragon, then at Graves again. "If he does come back, it'd be better to know there's backup. With what happened."
"I apologise," Graves says, again. "I didn't…"
Newt meets his eyes for a brief moment, and reaches out tentatively, curling a hand around Graves's wrist. Graves can't bring himself to move. "You wanted to go back to MACUSA, didn't you?"
Graves exhales. "Seraphina won't be in unless there's an emergency. Apparently this doesn't count as one."
"Then," Newt says, "worrying won't do anything about it now. We can go back to New York if you like - I've taken down practically everything I need already, and I can always come back. Or…"
"Or?" Graves says.
"Or," Newt says, more firmly, "it's after noon, we could do lunch."
Newt's expression is considerate but stubborn, and Graves finds himself almost smiling in response. "Well," he says, "who am I to object? Lunch it is."
"Good," Newt says, offering a small, tentative smile. "Shall we go?"
With the haze of his anger and blank despair fading, Graves finds himself thinking back again to the Vipertooth he talked to, to her tiny pile of hatchlings. "You might want to meet someone first."
Newt follows along easily enough as Graves heads back outside, and it's only a quick word to Gabrielle before she's nodding, thoughtful, her expression still curious and sly as she looks between them. "Yeah, sure," she says, "come on, we'll see what she thinks. Hey, Newt, you said you'd looked after rescues before?"
"Of course," Newt says, giving Graves a curious look as he falls into step slightly behind them. "From poachers and traffickers, mainly, but I had a Fireball hatchling who lost her mother for half a year. Oh, do you have - "
"Yes," Gabrielle says, slanting Graves a speaking look, "we've got a runt in this clutch. Poor things already starting to be bullied out. The mother's still protective, but if you can get it out - "
"If it wants to come with me, you mean," Newt says, but there's a brightness to his expression Graves had worried was lost. "I'll see what I can do."
And perhaps Graves should be worrying, still, about everything: about Grindelwald, about MACUSA, about his own deteriorating life. But there's something arresting about watching Newt approach the dragon with a steady confidence, a careful touch. The Vipertooth squints at him as he steps forward, then grudgingly steps aside and lets him through.
When Newt has the dragon hatchling tucked inside his coat the Vipertooth confronts him again; Graves can see Gabrielle reach for her wand but the dragon dips its head as Newt meets her gaze fearlessly, then looks over to where Graves is still standing, outside the range of her poison. "If you're not right," the Vipertooth says, and Graves inclines his head.
"Don't worry," Graves says. Gabrielle scowls, but Newt retreats unharmed, except for an extraordinarily dangerous tiny dragon trying to nip at his fingers.
Newt is gently chiding the baby dragon as he returns. "Thank you," he says. "I'll take care of him."
"Oh, don't thank me," Gabrielle says breezily, "you've saved us weeks of finding a reserve willing to take a hatchling." Her mouth quirks. "You can thank Percy all you like, though."
"Percival," Graves says drolly, "at least."
"Oh, I will," Newt says, and gives him a sweet, sly smile that makes Gabrielle laugh as Graves forces himself to look away. "But even so. Thank you."
They leave on that note, with the dragon still tucked carefully inside Newt's coat. He opens his case as soon as they return to his hotel room, gesturing Graves in as he clambers down; Graves follows him after setting up a bevy of wards. There are some differences inside: no Arizona, this time, and the thunderbird is gone; the Erumpent, too, has left to some distant home. Newt appears to have lost a bowtruckle colony and a few grindylows, too, and as he starts casting in an empty curtain-framed space Graves finds his feet taking him past the grasslands to the snow.
Newt's improved it, in more ways than one. The Arctic tundra still stretches out, but the artificial barriers are all but gone; the space opens out onto the nearby moonlit hill, the carousing mooncalves peeking at Graves again. He pets them as they chatter at him, raising his eyebrows at the demiguise watching him from a tree, and says, "Yes, yes, I'm here again," as they welcome him back.
The Obscurus says, "Hello!" when he stops in front of it, and Graves finds himself smiling almost despite himself at the cheer in her tone.
"Has Newt been treating you well?"
"Of course," she says, "Mum's been the best. He comes and tells me stories every day, now, did you know? And all of them are different! But my favorite is still yours."
"It's a common enough tale," Graves says, "but it's my favorite, too."
"Will you tell it again?" the Obscurus asks, at the same time as one of the mooncalves; Graves huffs a wry laugh and conjures himself a blanket.
"I suppose I can't say no."
He sits down, gestures the mooncalves over, and begins the fable again. It's easier this time, and as Graves finishes he finds even the lingering disquiet has all-but-gone. Perhaps Newt is right, in saying worry isn't useful at all; perhaps, Graves thinks wryly, he should put more faith in the systems he's set up, in Seraphina in knowing when to share.
"Do you think," the Obscurus says, tentatively, "the witches might not have found the fountain, even if they tried?"
"Yes," Graves says, "circumstance can cripple anyone. But not even trying - giving up before you make the attempt… It's important to keep fighting."
"To keep fighting," she repeats, and sounds terribly human, terribly young. "She did, didn't she? She made me, because - she did. And then I…"
"If anyone can be held responsible," Graves says, "it's the people who forced her to suppress her magic, not what was left in her wake. Guilt is hard to manage at the best of times, but - would she have blamed you?"
"...no," she says, quietly. "No, I was… I was her friend."
Graves exhales, looking away from the swirling black depths of her to the mooncalf nudging its head against his palm. "Friends," he murmurs, half to himself, and then to the mooncalf, "What, not enough attention for you?"
There's a tiny flock of them surrounding him, and Graves's mouth quirks despite himself as they all nudge and clamor for his attention. They lose interest soon enough, crying for their 'Mummy' as Newt approaches, and Graves rises to his feet and straightens his shirtsleeves as Newt obviously bites back a smile.
"Lost your new hatchling already?"
"Eustace has been taken under Hera's wing, I'm afraid," Newt says. "Dougal decided he wanted to feed them crickets and shooed me away. And you - telling another story? I think they like yours more than mine."
"It's only the one," Graves says. "The Fountain of Fair Fortune." Newt glances at him, curious but not pressing, and Graves finds himself adding, "It was my mother's favorite."
"Mine loved making up hippogriff stories," Newt says, smiling. "Not nearly as moral, I'm afraid. I do like that one - but all of Beedle's tales are really quite sad, aren't they? None of the witches would have made it there alone - and isn't it the height of hubris to think we can solve all our problems if we try? I much prefer the Tale of the Three Brothers for that."
"The first, who thinks himself unbeatable?" Graves asks.
Newt looks distant. "It's something to keep in mind," he says. "Thinking we can accomplish anything - no. Some things can't be done. Some things can't be saved."
And Graves understands him, then. There's a careful edge to Newt's words as he glances at Graves and away. Graves says, "We can still try."
Newt's mouth twitches with a slight, wry smile, and he meets Graves's gaze for a moment that feels like forever. "Yes, I suppose we can."
Perhaps, Graves thinks, Newt understands him, too.
There's something to be said for the slow, tentative approach Newt takes to their relationship, and Graves is happy to follow his lead. He's fallen in love before, or something like it; that head-over-heels feeling for a Hungarian exchange student at Ilvermorny, or the flush of ill-advised attraction to a French wizard during the war. But this is something different, and not just for the way Newt's smile lingers, the way Graves feels oddly light every time they meet.
He kisses Newt only a week after, careful until Newt laughs and pulls him close. But it's a month before he wakes up to Newt's face in the morning, before he has Newt in his home and his bed and thinks: I want to keep him here.
Graves learns the names of all Newt's creatures, one by one. He knows their favorite stories and what they call Newt and himself, learns their voices until he's almost certain of each one. The mooncalves take a joy in overwhelming him, the occamies in pretending they're one another and finding amusement in his frustration. And Newt's tiny dragon grows swiftly with the season, from a mere handful of scales and sharp teeth to the size of a baby graphorn, then one full-grown, still acting precisely like a kneazle wanting to play.
Graves brings his own copy of Beedle and the Bard once, with worn pages and folded corners and the stain from a potion he'd accidentally spilt, and it stays there, tucked away beside Newt's own. He negotiates a wary truce with the niffler who treats none of the items in his house with the respect they deserve, and particularly not a tiny velvet box sitting in the back of an abandoned drawer that Graves weighs in his hands for a long moment before putting back away. Newt transplants a wand-wood tree at the front of Graves's house and he wards it against danger as the bowtruckles peer out, and every so often, Graves sits down in the snow and listens to embodied magic talk of her first friend, a small, terribly unfortunate girl.
Seraphina dodges his questions at MACUSA even as Graves starts to work around her; Newt's apartment gets a full set of wards and Graves vets all his Aurors one by one, until he's certain there are no traitors in their midst. "It's being handled," Seraphina says, flatly, when Graves asks. "We're monitoring the situation, and we need you here, Percival, not chasing after a trail gone cold."
"Grindelwald is a threat to the magical world," Graves says, with rising irritation, and her expression closes off.
"Yes," she says, "he is. Which is why there's an international taskforce working to catch him - one, I might remind you, is not run by your department or MACUSA at all."
Writing to Theseus Scamander, later, Graves taps his pen on the paper and ends up scrawling a question in the post-script. Theseus keeps their mail mostly professional, for all that his tone of bright insouciance shines through, and after that request sends him regular updates by owl, a quick contextless note every week or two. Word is the Eiffel's some destination, he writes. Someone's gone to the coast. Looks like a magical disturbance to your south, but it might be another bloody distraction.
It helps, but when Graves presses his face into the mess of Newt's hair or watches him, carefully coaxing a runespoor out of a smuggler's cage, he's not sure even this is enough.
Newt stops biting his tongue when Graves starts giving him things imbued with protection charms, when he starts spending long nights runecrafting and adjusting the wards around his house. "It isn't," he says, carefully, "entirely necessary, is it? I'm hardly going to run headfirst into danger."
"If there's something you want to save," Graves says, "I think you'd run into more than that."
Newt presses his lips together, the corner of his mouth turning up. "Even so. All this precaution - "
"Please," Graves says, because he can't say more, and Newt closes his eyes when Graves kisses him, winding a hand into Graves's hair and breathing his sigh into his skin. "Allow me this."
"Of course," Newt says, quietly. "But - we're safe for tonight, aren't we?"
Graves's protest sticks behind his teeth as Newt kisses him again, as he pulls gently on Graves's wrist and Graves inevitably follows. But the tight feeling in his chest doesn't fade, the thought of losing him -
No. He won't.
It's another brisk spring day of MACUSA bureaucracy when Graves notices his door crack open. He lets his wand slide into his hand as he rises to his feet, and then raises his eyebrows at the Niffler standing stock-still in the doorway.
"If you're planning on stealing again..."
"Still don't see why it has to be me, should have been the fucking stick-insect, at least he likes that boot-licking piece of wood," the Niffler's muttering, but its eyes widen as Graves lifts his wand, magic coming to his call. "No - gold above, wait! I'm supposed to tell you - there's fucking trouble about, don't - "
"What." Graves's blood runs cold. He's by the door before he realises, the Niffler levitating in the air, limbs akimbo; Graves says, "Where is he?"
The Niffler takes one look at his face and says, "Central Park."
Graves Apparates straight through the wards. The Niffler swears as his spell fails, rolling into a ball as it falls to the ground; Graves ignores it as he lifts his wand and casts, more intent than searching spell, and Apparates again.
It's him. Of course it's him, his magic a nauseous taste on the back of Graves's tongue, a visible whirlwind of force in the air. Graves slices his wand through the air with a blank sort of violence, his magic a shockwave passing wide -
"No, don't - "
Newt's hand brushes his elbow and Graves whips around, the sudden onslaught of horror a palpable feeling in his chest but - no. He's safe, though his expression - "Please," Newt says, quickly. "It's not working, he's controlling them - "
Graves's spell splashes against a barrier - no, a whirling black form, growing stronger, wilder with the magic Grindelwald's feeding into it. "What?"
"He took my case," Newt says. "Queenie - she's all right," he adds, "but we're trying to corral Eustace, if Rosie gets out - and none of our spells are passing through - "
It's only then Graves notices the graphorn-sized dragon, spitting venom that melts through Tina's hasty silver shield; Newt flicks up an earthen wall and she skids around it, expression tight. "Newt, if this keeps up - "
"Don't kill them," Newt says, "if we can stop him. This can't be his final goal."
"A distraction?" Tina asks, and she and Newt share a quick, troubled glance. "You don't think - "
"Please," Newt says.
"How is he controlling them?" Graves asks. "Imperius?"
"No, you can't Imperius magical creatures, we're not mutually intelligible so they can't understand any orders - he's using some sort of charm," Newt explains quickly, as Graves throws up a quick barrier around Eustace, who cries out in a tone of loud and unmistakable pain. "They're hurting, they're struggling - a bind, I would say, I've seen smugglers use some objects - "
"The compulsion enchantments?" Tina asks. "If he created one - but Newt, we can't get past the Obscurus. Once backup comes - you got my alert, right, sir? - we can try casting all at once - "
"And do to her what we did to Credence?" Newt snaps, then winces, peering around their wall. "No, I'm sorry, but Tina, please - "
Graves weighs his wand in his hand. "The Obscurus is absorbing your magic," he says, slowly.
"Yes - but sir, one person can't, even with the three of us, we'd need to have a larger group to overload it - "
"Even if we get past her," Newt says, and there's the slow, rumbling sound of a wordless, growing Nundu roar.
"Newt," Tina says sharply, "which is more important - the safety of magic or a few of your creatures?" and Newt's face is a study, unreadable. Graves looks at him for a moment as Newt looks back, and Graves drags his gaze away and rises to his feet.
"I'll handle her," Newt says, quietly, and Graves says, "Wait."
His magical theory is sound enough. There's a scale of compulsion, from the delicate easy-overridden charms to the more lasting bindings, but there's a reason the Unforgivables are called such. The Killing Curse kills instantly without sound or effect, the Cruciatus always lies on the maximum edge of conscious pain, and the Imperius -
It feels disquieting, coming from his wand. Dark magic feels like a sticky residue against his magic, too attuned to natural force, and this curse particularly sinks a terrible feeling like goosebumps along his skin, a peculiar taste like bile in his throat. The Imperius flies and a portion of Graves's attention with it, as it hits the Obscurus and sinks in -
"- told you it won't work, sir. You know I can't hold him off forever, Newt, what should I - "
"Please," Newt says, "just a minute longer - Percival, you'll come hold Rosie off with me, won't you?"
Graves follows Newt's hand on his arm as Newt twists his wand, frowning, a hasty ward rising up around them, then a bubblehead charm that distorts his features and he hears -
It hurts. Please, Daddy -
The warmth of the Imperius's artificial happiness floods through the curse as Graves focuses, trying to ignore the way the magic makes his teeth ache. Do you know how he's controlling you?
The Nundu roars again, louder. Graves's ears are ringing. I don't - I can't -
Think, he presses, please- and then, as Newt steps forward, mouth pressed in a thin, stubborn line as he faces down a creature maddened - Graves orders, Find what controls you and destroy it.
He drags his attention away long enough to flick a shield in front of Newt as his Nundu breathes out, as Newt faces her with only a flimsy protection charm and determination. She's angry, entirely mindless with it, and Graves raises his wand and thinks of her wary disdain, the promise he made and the consequences of breaking it -
"Please," Newt says, entreating, "listen to me," and he steps forward, hand outstretched, wand useless by his side -
Rosie freezes. The Imperius curse sticks to Graves's wand.
"Please," Newt says, again. "You know me, don't you?"
Graves's gaze flicks from Tina, balanced to Apparate on her feet and the dragon watching her, poised still, to the swirl of magic in the center of the park, the darkness of the Obscurus spiraling black like oil, the magic beneath it nearly visible, a shimmer of power rising in the air -
"Stop," he says, thinks, commands.
The barrier falls. Graves turns on his heel.
He Apparates directly into the eye of the storm as the Obscurus freezes; Grindelwald is picking himself up from the ground, incandescent with fury, his long-form ritual held by a thread of magic that Graves breaks as he pushes force out with his off-hand and snaps his wand down, fire spooling out like a whip. "You," Grindelwald says, as he raises water that turns into a cloud of steam, and Graves smiles.
"Me," he says.
"However you got past our dear little friend," Grindelwald says, teeth bared and grinning wild, "at least she won't survive - "
Graves snaps, "Go!" and breaks the curse holding the Obscurus under his sway as Grindelwald thrusts his arms wide, his magic a shockwave roiling outward; Graves pulls up a shield and grits his teeth against the girl's wailing cry. "I'll stop you," he says, and it comes from deep in his chest, the place where his magic comes so easily to his fingertips. "Now."
"You can try," Grindelwald says, and raises his wand.
It's a whirlwind of magic, no - more than, as Graves reaches inside himself and draws out power seeded with hate; Grindelwald had taken him in, the first time, pretended to be a No-Maj until he cast a body-bind at Graves's unprotected back and perhaps the reason why, Graves thinks, is because he feared him. Grindelwald's wand crackles with lightning as Graves throws back torrential jets of water, scalding - a fountain spell misappropriated - and he sends a wave of fire again, hiding conjured spears. Grindelwald's shield is hasty as he casts his wand wide and creatures appear, all Newt's but wordless, voiceless - apparitions, no, transfigurations as Graves's curse hits and sends one reeling - and Graves spells the earth and lets them all sink into the ground. "You don't think you can beat me," Grindelwald says, a ferocious laughter in his eyes, and Graves says, through gritted teeth:
"I'm certainly going to try."
Curses, then; dark and darker, and Graves conjures when his shields fail, transfigures when that isn't enough; the earth turns into a golem Graves layers strengthening charms over to a nundu roaring large when that falls, to a swarm of tiny, buzzing doxies that sweep the space between them and turn on Grindelwald with all of Graves's fury given life -
Grindelwald sweeps them all away with a whirl of power, casts flashes of Avada Kevadra green between curses so dark Graves's nerves feel alight; his shield falters and as his blood boils under his skin Graves pulls up more magic, unwinds the curse with nothing more than will as he glares into that man's hateful, rictus grin.
The sound of multiple Apparations breaks through the blood pounding in Graves's ears, and he gets a curse off that Grindelwald struggles to catch, not fast enough, and Graves must have the power for this as he presses his advantage, a series of spells, irritants made deadly through force and intent as a bludgeon snaps Grindelwald's arm, Graves's next spell ringing loud against Grindelwald's metal shield as it cracks -
"I'm afraid," Grindelwald says, cradling his elbow, as he draws up another shield and Graves steps forward, "your death will have to wait."
"You - " Graves starts, which is when Grindelwald Apparates away, not a moment before the wards rise up and Graves loses the trace of him.
He curses. The spells come to him sluggishly but he casts them, direction and intent and enough magic to trace him - if he's fast enough, he can follow to this destination and the next -
"No, don't hurt her!"
It's Newt's voice, clear as a bell through the static in Graves's head. Graves glances back. Newt's standing still, arms outstretched and wand not at hand, though there are a dozen pointed directly at him -
No. Pointed at the wisp of a creature behind him.
Graves can't see Newt's expression, but he knows what it would be: that terrifying stubbornness that overtakes him, the firm line to his mouth and the determination in his eyes even as his wand hand shakes. Graves drops the trace of Grindelwald's magic and lets all his breath out as he forces himself to turn back, and points his wand at his throat for a sonorous. "Wands down!'
The Aurors freeze with enough time for Graves's long strides to close the distance between them. "Sir," Li starts, and he cuts his hand through the air; there's no magic behind it, but she falls immediately silent.
"You, Li," he says, "and Abernathy, and get Goldstein, too - Grindelwald's Apparation needs to be traced. Come back to me with the location. And Mercy Lewis, what did I tell you, wands down!"
"Sir," Kettering starts, "the Obscurus - "
"For fuck's sake, she's not dangerous!" Graves snaps. "We have a consultant for a reason." A consultant who, when Graves looks over, has turned around, hand outstretched to the remnants of - Graves swallows when Newt glances back over his shoulder, his expression solemn. "Go - you know the procedure for clean-up. Or you should."
He ignores the shifting feet and slow-rising wands behind him as he heads to Newt's side. He gets out, "I'm sorry," as he stops beside him, and Newt looks from the wisp of the Obscurus to meet Graves's eyes. His mouth pulls tight.
"You did what you could, didn't you?" he says, searching. "And that's - that's more than anyone could ask."
The Obscurus's voice is a whisper on the breeze: don't worry, she murmurs, it's all right.
Graves huffs an unamused laugh. "Nothing's all right," he says, to her and to Newt, and looks away. "I Imperiused her and forced her to my will. And for what?"
"To stop him," Newt says, simply. There's no surprise in his eyes, and for all that Graves had wondered, it feels now less a confession than a curse. "To stop him from hurting anyone else. And you did."
Graves says, "I…"
I'm sorry, she whispers, I wasn't strong enough. But it didn't hurt until the end.
It's his own single-mindedness, Graves knows. Grindelwald wasn't even here for him; he still knows precious little of his motive. "I still - shouldn't have," he says, and his voice comes out oddly flat, echoing in his ears. Newt winds his fingers around Graves's wrist, and Graves can't quite face the simple compassion in his gaze.
"What's done is done," he says, quietly. "But - could you tell her I'm sorry?"
"She knows." But Graves looks at the wisp anyway, the black of color fading to a soft grey, as her voice falls, soft and fading. "She - thanks you, for trying to save her. And for the stories."
"She should thank you for that," Newt says, and Graves slides their palms together and entangles their fingers as Newt looks blankly out across the park, then up at the clouded sky. It's snowing, faintly, tiny flakes of it riding on the breeze.
Newt shudders, once. Graves pulls him in close and closes his eyes against Newt's skin as Newt's fingers clutch at the lapels of his coat. He can feel Newt's slow sigh, his muscles relaxing in tiny increments. "Percival," Newt says, barely a protest, "the rest of my creatures - "
"They're fine," Graves says, but reluctantly pulls away to check on them anyway. Eustace is curled up in a ball of exhaustion, Kettering eyeing him from a safe distance as he leads a few Aurors around; Rosie, too, has dropped to her haunches as she peers up into the snow falling from the sky. Graves sighs. "But you're right. You should, and I should - "
Newt smiles at him. "Then home?"
"Yes," Graves says, and lets him go.
The light dusting of snow makes everything look strange, almost ethereal as Graves goes back to work. He leads the careful drop of the wards, shimmering magic dissipating in the air, after the No-Majs are all obliviated and Newt's creatures all corralled, and then hears Tina and Abernathy's report: the trail lost, again. "Do you know why he was here?" he asks, and Tina shakes her head.
"He took Newt's case from Queenie, she was looking after it for him. I think - he seemed to have some sort of locating spell, but..."
Graves thinks to the careful spell he was working, the reason he'd suffered under Grindelwald's wand. "Ask your sister to report in," he says. "Is she well?"
"Shaken," Tina says. "She, ah, went home. Oh, I should let her know - "
She looks at Graves, and he inclines his head. "Dismissed," he says. "I'll finish up here. Thank you."
By the time he Apparates home the sky's starting to darken, the snow a faint blanket of white. He remembers the Niffler abandoned at his earlier Apparation only when he sees the creature again through the window, stuffing as many of his miscellaneous heirlooms as it can manage into its pouch; he narrows his eyes and Apparates silently inside, directly behind it. "What did I tell you about stealing?"
"I," the Niffler says indignantly, "did not thieve a single fucking thing from a single fucking store in your stupid fucking city - you cock-sucking bastard!" It yelps when Graves picks it up by a hind leg, shaking out his belongings - and some others - in a rapidly-growing pile, and flails as it tries to snatch a few from the air. "I agreed to your bloody terms - "
"You agreed," Graves says, "and then decided to steal it anyway - "
" - haven't taken anything for a month, I'll fucking die from it - "
"Language," Graves says wearily, and raises his wand in a threat. "Or I'll silence you. For a week, at least. A month, if you test my patience."
"Like you'd get away with that, you pissant - "
They both stop at the sound of Newt's startled laugh, but Graves says, "Quiet," to the Niffler as it opens its mouth once more, then gives Newt in the doorway a wry smile. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, no," Newt says, a sweet light to his smile. "Have you had to deal with him all this time?"
"I really have to know," Graves says. "Was he actually raised by Jarveys?"
Newt presses his hand to his mouth, a sparkling amusement in his eyes. "I really couldn't say," he says. "I picked him up about to be exterminated by a rather non-understanding wizard type. I suppose - he was rather vicious with his words."
Graves thrusts the Niffler at him. "You deal with it."
"Fucking milksop - "
"Stop that!" Pickett chides, peering around Newt's hair. "Daddy told you not to. Mr. Graves! Did you really fight off the most dangerous wizard ever? I always knew you were - "
" - bloody bootlicker - "
" - the most awesome," Pickett continues, unfazed. "But wow!"
"Both of you," Graves says, "please," and Newt gives him a thoughtful smile.
"It's for all of them, then?" he asks, and takes the Niffler from Graves's hands, his case coming to him with a wave of his wand as he shoves him back inside. "I can't imagine."
"It's… not something I've really thought about," Graves admits. As Newt straightens, Graves sets a hand on his hip and pulls him close; Newt kisses him and Graves is subject to Pickett's startled eep! as he ducks behind Newt's collar. "My apologies, Pickett - "
Newt laughs again, startled and shading to melancholia. "I'm sorry," he says. "Today's been - "
"Terrible," Graves says. "Let's pretend none of it happened. When did you know?"
"For - quite some time," Newt admits, and kisses him again, brief and sweet. "But I've never been certain. And - you could understand the Obscurus, too?"
"I don't know why," Graves says, but Newt's expression is thoughtful, distant for a moment before he blinks and it's gone. "I should have told you."
"You're allowed secrets," Newt says, and presses his smile to Graves's jaw. "I'm afraid I'm keeping some from you. But - tomorrow. Come to bed?"
"As long as you lose the bowtruckle," Graves says, and takes him there, presses him back to the mattress and kisses him until he laughs. The melancholy lingers, still; but there's more than that, Graves has realised, and hopes that Newt does, too.
The next day dawns bright and cold, dew turned to ice on the windowsills. Newt has his hands stuffed in his pockets as he leads Graves onward, down the familiar streets until he stops at a bakery with pastries being stacked in the window. Some of them look vaguely familiar, like something Newt's brought home before. "Breakfast?" Graves asks, and Newt blinks at him and smiles, brief and hesitating.
"I - yes," he says, "but… no. Not exactly."
He pushes open the door to the smell of butter and sugar and baking bread, the bell on the door ringing as it shuts. The sign on the door is flipped to closed but the young dark-haired woman taking pastries from a tray only spares them a glance. "Good morning, Mr. Scamander."
"Good morning," Newt says, and pulls Graves through the empty kitchen to the stairs.
Graves stops in his tracks when Tina steps out of a door in the hall, and she does, too; she looks from him to Newt and back. "Newt?"
"Percival might be able to help," he says. "I'm sorry, I know you wanted to keep this secret, but - "
"Queenie's still here," she hisses through her teeth. "Sir, I'm sorry, Newt's gotten rather mixed up - "
"He won't - " Newt starts, and stops. "Even if - Percival can't look the other way, if he can help - what's more important, Tina?"
Tina looks from him to Newt to Newt's hand around his wrist, and pinks violently even as her mouth firms. "I'm sorry," she says. "But sir, I can't let anyone be obliviated today."
Graves closes his eyes briefly, pressing a hand to his forehead. "Please," he says, "someone tell me what's going on, or I'll obliviate myself."
Newt gives Tina a mulish look and says, "There's someone here I think you should talk to."
"Talk to," Graves repeats. "You don't mean - " and his mind whirs. "The Obscurial boy? He's alive?" He pauses, looking around at the non-magical building, the lack of any wards. "Here?"
"There," Newt says, "the secret's out. Please, Tina," and she sighs and steps aside.
The apartment's small and cramped, entirely lacking in magic. There's the flash of TIna's sister quickly closing a door, but Graves's attention is caught by Newt, gingerly pushing on another that creaks as it opens, the young girl staring at them flatly from a child-sized bed. And in the other -
He's not much older than a boy, Graves realises, though he's seen pictures from the files Grindelwald left on his desk. Credence Barebone lies deathly still, face pale and bloodless, the only sign of life the gentle rise and fall of his chest, and Graves says, "He's been like this since…?"
"We've been trying to get through to him," Newt says, quietly, and steps forward. "Credence, you remember we told you about what happened? This is him."
"Hello," Graves says, matching Newt's tone. "Credence. It's nice to meet you. I'm Percival Graves."
There's nothing but the blankness of the boy's face, the empty sound of the room. The girl on the bed scoffs. "He can't help," she says.
Then, a whisper in the air. Modesty, it says, chiding, a young man's voice, and then: I know who you are. Mr. Graves.