The first friend that Newt Scamander makes at Hogwarts — well, his first wand-bearing friend, as opposed to one with fur or too many legs, which is only a distinction that needs to be made to people that don’t know better — he doesn’t meet until the Easter term of his second year, when Leta Lestrange comes back from a six-week absence with a different haircut and an ebony prosthetic where her right arm had been.
She’s in his year, a Slytherin, and Newt’s impression of her up to this point was the same as his impressions of everyone else; a vague familiarity with her collar, the back of her head. But now she’s got an enchanted wooden arm the same sleek brown-black as her hair, fitted into a brace that buckles around her shoulder, and everyone wants to talk to her about it. Newt is no exception to this, turns around in Charms that week and finds her right behind him and blurts it out, “what happened?”, without thinking that she might be sick of the question.
She glances at him — swift, angled downward, the kind of look reserved for the things stuck to the bottom of other people’s shoes.
“Dragon bit it off,” she says shortly.
“What?” says Newt. Then, in wonder, “— really?”
He almost trips over himself, launching into a volley of questions — how did it happen? What was the provocation? Why was she facing a dragon alone, and why just the arm, why didn’t it eat her whole? Did it hurt? Some of the smaller breeds of dragons are supposed to have paralytic saliva, you know, so they can bring down livestock without the livestock being aware that they’re in pain even while they’re being slowly consumed — and doesn’t let up even when Leta’s face changes in that familiar way, the one that means people don’t want to deal with him anymore.
After class, he follows her all the way down to the Great Hall because he has new questions, and at the bottom of the grand staircase, she snaps.
“Of course it wasn’t a dragon!” She flings her arms wide; the prosthetic moves a stiff half-second behind the other. “I’ve been making up stories all week, how stupid can you be!”
“… oh,” says Newt faintly, ears ringing like she’d slammed a pot over his head and knocked it with a spoon. The Slytherins nearby burst into laughter, and suddenly it’s the only thing he can hear, an awful surround chorus. He slinks past them, shoulders hiked up and head scrunched down, and makes his way to the Hufflepuff table, where they’re good enough to pretend the laughter isn’t happening. Theseus frowns at him over a length of cold cuts, a forkful of potatoes protruding from his mouth and doing an excellent job at forestalling brotherly concern, which from Theseus comes in exactly two shades: “what did you do now?” or “it doesn’t belong indoors and you know that, don’t look at me.”
That night, he asks around the common room and compares notes on what he hears, then puts the curiosity of Leta Lestrange aside, and it seems like within the week everyone else does, too.
Next they run into each other, it’s in the corridor coming up from the Slytherin dungeons — she’s walking fast, her head down, and Newt’s got his down too, daydreaming about spring and everything that’s going to come up, so they almost collide as they come around the corner, except he’s got ease of practice when it comes to dodging feet. He slices a quick look upwards even as his stomach shrinks, recognizing the wooden fingers clutched around the strap of her bag — and sees that her eyelashes are wet.
“Are you —” Newt starts, and then freezes.
It's too late, of course; she's crying and he's called attention to it.
Instinctively, caught, they both look back the way she came.
Seeing them looking, the other Slytherin second-years make a show of drawing their arms into their robes and flapping the empty sleeves about.
Leta hisses between her teeth, and the venom shocks Newt into looking right at her. He usually only hears that kind of language from Mr Zemberforth and the other men Mum hires to muck out the stables during show season.
“If — “ blurts out of him, a big fat drop of a word that falls between them with a nearly audible plop, the kind that makes you want to step back to avoid the mess of it. “— if you were bitten by a dragon, what kind of dragon would you want it to be?”
Leta swivels her head, fixing him with a look.
Her eyes, he notices, are the same color as her hair and her arm, deep and dark.
Newt only realizes he hasn’t looked away from them when she decides, abruptly, “The scariest kind. With teeth as long as my whole body. Green, of course,” she adds, like that should be obvious. “And silver.”
“A brooding mother,” Newt volunteers. “Very protective of her eggs. And you were —“
“I wanted one, of course. One of the eggs. What girl doesn’t dream of hatching her own dragon?”
Newt lights up, because — yes! That’s it exactly.
Trying to keep dragons as pets or livestock is improbable, of course, and irresponsible, and also illegal in Britain, but when Newt was younger (well, all right, not much younger than he is now,) and asked to picture the future, he imagined it much like it already was: a farm like his mother’s, with the same kinds of trees and wide blue-grey skies, but also a barn kept as hot and humid as a sauna for the clutch of dragon eggs inside. A whole sanctuary, where dragons could be dragons without worrying about jumpy wizards and their Stunning Spells. He hadn’t imagined someone else would want to be a dragon keeper, too.
They aren’t friends that fast, of course, but over the rest of the year they encounter each other occasionally in the Owlery late in the evenings when she’s just been released from her remedial catch-up class. He introduces her to everybody’s pets. The owls are a class of their own, of course, and toads are always neat, but Newt likes the rats best. He doesn’t think much of the Hogwarts students that bring their rats to be their familiars only to lock them in a room with their own natural predator, and he thinks even less of the caretaker who decided the Owlery is the best place to put a rat cage. Rats are dreadfully clever, and don’t deserve that.
It’s on one of these evenings, after a weepy fifth-year has finished composing a letter to her parents faking her own death before they could get the preliminary results of her OWLs, that Leta turns to him suddenly under the soft hooting of wakeful owls and says, “It wasn’t a dragon.”
“— no,” Newt agrees affably, caught in the middle of a story about the Diricawls they’ve got on the farm — short, flightless birds that can Apparate short distances, which among fledglings often means to the top of the Scamander’s barn right after Newt spent painstaking hours carrying them down. “But I don’t think they like Josephine, either — that’s Mum’s oldest, remember —“
“No, I mean,” and she stretches her arm out in front of them, turning it over to study the pattern in the grain of her palm. “It wasn’t a dragon.”
“Oh,” says Newt. Then, “yes, I know.”
She gives him a hard look, but he isn’t ruffled.
Leta Lestrange’s twin brother never came back for the Easter term. Word in the Hufflepuff common room is that he’ll be finishing the rest of his schooling at Durmstrang. For a family like that, the decision’s unremarkable, but Newt can’t help but notice that Durmstrang is as far away from his sister as European wizarding schools will allow.
It wasn’t hard to figure out, if only you were willing to give it a little bit of effort.
Leta likes bugs, and toast with grape jelly, and jinxes that have multiple layers of complexity. She also likes Josephine, who is so advanced in years her beak’s gone grey and cracked like an old woman’s fingernails. Of Newt’s mother’s showbreeds, she’s by far the most imperious. Leta gets along with her smashingly.
“When you said you lived on a farm and your mom had hippogriffs, I thought you were joking,” she says to Newt, who’s sitting on an overturned pail behind her and watching her stroke the lightning streak of gold that runs between Josephine’s eyes.
He’s aware that he’s grinning goofy, but Josie’s got arthritis and gets snappy when the weather changes and it’s gratifying to see her like this, eyes half-lidded and lax as Leta painstakingly combs through her feathers. She won’t let Newt do that, probably because she’s known him all his life and still thinks of him as a particularly hapless fledgling that she needs to care for and fluff, instead of visa versa.
Professor Switch, who teaches Magical Creatures, wouldn’t dream of letting any of them go near a hippogriff until sixth year at least. He’d probably swear up and down all of Merlin’s body parts if he could see them now, but Professor Switch’s lessons are all about fumigating for pixies and how to trap and cook crups when you’re out camping, and he’s never brought a live creature to class in his entire life. Newt still hasn’t forgiven him for that disappointment, that the class he had to wait until third year to take is less about magical creatures and more about how to keep as many of them out of your life as possible.
“Why would I be joking?” he asks, a beat late.
“Never mind,” she says.
Newt lets it go. “Mum’s a breeder — official breeder, she’s registered with the Ministry,” and Leta spares him a droll look, but too many people assume that Mum’s a hobbyist or otherwise illegal because … well, actually, he doesn’t know why. It’s something of a sore spot for Newt. “She does shows all over England, and sometimes on the continent. Josie’s her best friend, she helps keep the others in line.”
“I’d like to see that sometime,” Leta says wistfully.
“It’s a circus,” Newt agrees. “We’ll usually take about seven or eight hippogriffs with us if it’s a big show, so it’s very loud and there’s a lot going on and nobody ever remembers the exact right paperwork, and almost always there’s a fight that breaks out because someone else can’t keep their hippogriff from making eye contact, when they’re already keyed up from all the strange people and strange wands, and —“
“Is that why you never meet anyone’s eyes? You think it’s a challenge because you were raised by hippogriffs?”
“Oh, funny,” says Newt, but he’s still smiling.
They leave Josie in her stall to see the others — Leta wants to try giving them a treat, which Newt thinks means she’s as intrigued by the rows of dead ferrets on hooks as anything else, except all the hippogriffs are on strict diets since the females start brooding soon, so he takes her out to show her the rest of the farm instead. There’s the training ring with the post where Newt’s mother puts the showbreeds through their paces, their trots and canters and swoops, and the millpond with no mill, and the gardens where the squashes are just coming in, like little flesh-colored noses sticking out of the green. Newt’s never had anyone over to visit before, and he doesn’t know what she’d want to see, so he shows her everything. It makes his heart feel like a prism, like he keeps turning it over when the light hits it so it casts a whole sparkling array of color all inside his chest.
Dinner comes together as the same raucous, noisy affair it always is. Leta flounders, hopelessly out of her depth.
“What’s it like at your house?” he asks her, curious.
She opens her mouth, but Abel hollers, “Newt, quick —your mate doesn't get the funnies about cheese, right?”
“Um —” Newt says.
“Too late!” Odin shouts. “Sorry, girlie!”
“Oh, Mum.” In order to be heard, Theseus raises his voice with all the care a bull hippogriff would have for Helga Hufflepuff’s china. “At the table, really?”
“Quieter,” is all Leta gets in, edgewise.
Abel and Odin became Mum’s regular stablehands after they left Hogwarts, and they cook, too, since if it was up to Mum they’d all eat sandwiches whenever she remembered, which would probably be at ten in the morning or the middle of the night. They elbow into their spaces at the table, Abel clever-faced and green-eyed, Odin built thicker than a horse’s hindquarters. Dwarfed in comparison, Newt’s brother Theseus budges over, wearing one of his Hufflepuff socks like a makeshift bandage around his wrist and frowning at Mum, who’s still oblivious. She pokes at a pile of scat she’d brought in wrapped in a handkerchief, her other hand holding a spoon half-lofted towards her mouth, promptly forgotten.
At the sound of Leta’s voice, however, she looks up.
“Mum,” Theseus tries again. “Not at the table!”
Newt’s mother has stocky shoulders, a face that goes as patchy red as her hair in the sun, and a braid as thick around as her wrist, slung forward over her shoulder like a particularly well-fed and lazy snake. She wears gold prospector’s denim tucked into her galoshes at a time when the only women who wore trousers were Americans who wanted to be shocking in the newspapers, and has a habit of blinking roundly at people who try to tell her she shouldn’t do something for this reason or that, until they stop doing it.
“You getting enough to eat, girl?” she booms.
Newt looks at Leta and sees the same look on her face that had been there while she was combing Josie’s feathers; a near-painful desire to stay in this exact moment, to stick it in a jar with holes punched out for air and a couple twigs and watch it bumble around.
No one has asked her about her arm all day.
She says, “Yes, ma’am, thank you,” and it’s Newt who beams so wide he forgets his mouth is full. He dribbles sauce all down his front.
Charms is the only class that the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins share, which is lucky because it’s the only class in which Newt unquestionably excels.
He’s done all the coursework for the year by November, much to the frustration of Professor Zhou, who is endlessly patient with struggling students but utterly out of her depth with those ahead of their year since Headmaster Dippet has no interest in making a special exception for him, and so Newt goes back to the beginning and starts over again, this time trying variations on his Hovering Charms and his Mending Charms to see what he can do. He keeps all his experiments in the cubby by his bed — the other Hufflepuffs in his burrow already avoid him because he was a bit too free showing off the things that wiggled or had too many eyes, but now they give him an extra-wide berth because there’s no telling when one of his spells will go off.
The arm that Leta Lestrange lost at age twelve was her wand arm. Everyone tells her she’ll adjust to being left-handed, but she hasn’t, and being told something should be easy tends to always have the opposite effect. Like bad handwriting, her spellcasting lacks precision. She’s the last person in her class to get her Transfigurations right, but she says that at least Professor Dumbledore is nice about it.
So Newt helps her in Charms and she helps him with Arithmancy, which involves no wandwork if you don’t want it to.
With her to help him focus, he has an easier time of making the numbers to stay put on the page. Left on his own, he’s more likely to duck away from them like they’re angry hippogriffs staring him down.
“I don’t know what’s so difficult about it!” she says to him, sharp with frustration. “You’re going to need to know how to do this in whatever career field you pick!”
“I’m trying,” he says back.
And, “I’m sorry,” even though he can tell it’s not really him she’s mad at.
Her parents had taken her aside over the holidays to start lecturing her about her future, and when she told Newt about it, she shrugged it off with the casual condescension universal to all fourteen-year-olds on the subject of their parents, but it’ll come up involuntarily like gooseflesh nonetheless. At holiday break, all Newt’s mother wanted to know was if he was washing behind his ears properly. He doesn’t know what to say to help, so he bends his head over his Arithmancy textbook instead.
Leta tries out for the Slytherin Quidditch team and gets a position as Beater. During her first match, the uproar from the opposing team nearly gets her disqualified, and after that, she exclusively swings her club with her left arm so no one can accuse her of using her enchanted arm to gain an advantage.
Newt goes to all her matches and sits in her section so she knows where to look, even the ones that are Slytherin vs. Hufflepuff, which does nothing to endear him to his own house; Hufflepuffs have a tolerance for these things up to a point, and Quidditch is one of those points. Leta tells him he should try out, he has the build for a Chaser, and he says no thank you. Anybody who’s been weaving between the legs of hippogriffs and wrangling harnesses since they were old enough to walk would have to be passably athletic — but flying on broomsticks is another kettle of fish. Broomsticks have no eyes, nothing with which to gauge their personalities, and it always leaves Newt unsettled, a weakness that every broom he’s ever ridden seems to sense automatically. No, leave those to the professionals, and stubborn people like Leta. Besides, he likes sitting as high up as possible in the stands, imagining himself a dragon perched on top of her mountain watching the strange yellow birds chase the strange green birds.
Ice makes the goal posts glitter, and Newt feels both strange and content.
When winter in the highlands finally breaks, the last of the snow melts into the lake, the trees sprout buds that unfurl into fat green leaves, and the sun makes a single, curmudgeonly appearance. He and Leta are the first ones out to brave the muddy grounds for something other than the routine dispirited trudge towards the Herbology greenhouses.
After a cursory attempt at studying, they abandon their bags and homework so they can go hunting for bugs. For months, Leta’s been making a list.
They develop a system: Leta finds a tree she thinks is likely, Newt lays down a plastic tarp, and she throws a Stunning Spell, which at their age is not powerful enough to damage their bark or the growing rings beneath. It does give the branches a good hard shake, however. Newt darts around the base, picking up everything that falls onto the plastic — caterpillars and leaf beetles and Billywigs still in their larval stage. Leta hands him the phials they’re supposed to take to Potions, filled with an alcohol concoction that smells the same way cold steel does, and drops the best specimens inside, corking them shut. At Newt’s insistence, they put the rest back.
He doesn’t know what she does for Potions, since she never returns those phials to their original purpose — maybe she bullies a Gryffindor into sharing with her.
Her own house avoids her now that her arm isn’t interesting anymore. They won’t let her forget she’s got one to their two, making her the “other” they can feel superior to. Newt doesn’t think it’s very Slytherin of them. Surely they can see how cunning she has to be sometimes?
“Why do you like bugs so much?” he asks her, watching her make labels in her crude, left-handed script. The enchantments on her ebony arm are unlike anything Newt’s ever seen, allowing her a range of motion, sensation, and strength beyond what her lost arm was capable of, but it can’t cast spells or write — he’s thought, once or twice, about offering to take a look at it to see if he could tweak the charmwork, but surely if it’s something a scrawny, uncomfortable Hogwarts fourth-year could do, the enchanters at St Mungo’s would have already done it.
She thinks about it, blowing on the ink to get it to dry.
The specimens are all labelled by species, date captured, and which tree they fell from. She’s got a theory that proximity to Hogwarts castle changes growth behavior, especially in the species that undergo chrysalis, what with all that adolescent, uncontrolled magic leaking everywhere. So far, the evidence matches up — the caterpillars Newt plucked off the trees closest to the castle itself have bigger, brighter spots and curious mouthparts. Newt and Leta could look at them for hours.
Even better, they go back to the trees and Transfigure magnifying glasses for themselves so they can watch the real things crumple their fuzzy bodies up and down, looking not unlike dozens of tiny discarded socks. They peer into the foliage and point out their prizes to each other.
“You’re just pointing, that’s not very — Eughh! Leta!”
Because, of course, it’s also just an excuse to stick wet fingers in each other’s ears.
Leta keeps the phials lined up above her bed in the Slytherin dormitories, and when she’s got too many, she passes along her least favorites to Newt, who likes them a lot less dead and preserved than he does alive and crawling over his hands. He gives them to Theseus instead.
He prompts her again. “Leta?”
Finally, she picks up the next label and answers.
“You remember in Astronomy our first year, being told that the planet we’re on is hurtling around the sun at speeds too great for our bodies to comprehend?” He nods. She tilts a phial, and the pickled specimen inside bobs slowly to the top. “I wonder if it’s like that for bugs, being around us. Can they comprehend what we are, or do they live their whole lives with us acting on them like planetary motion, too big and just — too big? Do they have any concept of us at all?”
There’s a pause, while they both study the pihial’s contents.
Leta’s voice gets quieter. “To solve our problems, wizards invent new spells, Muggles invent new machines, and the whole insect kingdom changes itself to grow the parts it needs. How quick it all is.”
She tilts the phial right side up again, and catches the look Newt’s giving her.
Instantly, her face changes, goes defensive.
“What?” she says.
Full of feeling, Newt leans over and bumblebees his mouth against her cheek. “You’re very clever, Leta Lestrange.”
Leta’s complexion won’t easily show a blush, but she presses the backs of her knuckles against the place Newt’s mouth touched, the way people check mugs they’ve forgotten to see if their Warming Spells worked.
“Oh,” she says. “Well, my brother likes to pull their legs off. He likes how their exoskeletons are all connected to their inner parts, so when a leg goes, all the guts go with it. He likes that they can still live after that point, can still crawl away, even missing everything else.”
Newt considers this.
“I am very glad,” he decides, “that you are not your brother,” and Leta’s dimples appear, as big as the spots on the caterpillars.
That summer, Mum invites Leta along for the World Summit in Calais.
Well. “Invites.” What actually happens is that she hears Leta speaking French to her father in the fireplace two days into her visit, and decides right there that Leta’s coming with them. Between herself, her sons, and Abel and Odin, their schoolyard French is barely passable and Mum wants to know what the showbreeders in Calais are saying about her hippogriffs behind her back.
“Does this mean she has to wear the outfit?” Theseus demands. “We had to wear the outfits.”
“I don’t mind the outfits,” Newt pipes in loyally. “They match.”
“Just tell me who I need to hex,” Mum rumbles to Leta.
And Leta, whom Newt is relatively certain would walk across hot coals for his mother with very little prompting, beams with anticipatory glee.
They come home with a blue ribbon for Best in Show, but without Hecate, a glossy all-black hen that Mum sold to a breeder from the Arabian peninsula. Selling and trading is the other reason for bringing seven or eight hippogriffs to shows like this, despite the hassle, the sleeplessness, and the what-did-I-forget misery of travel. In addition to gold, they’re promised the first of Hecate’s issue, and Newt’s looking forward to it. It’s strange to be old enough that the very first hippogriffs he helped hatch are having clutches of their own.
At the boat terminal, they wait to be taken with all their luggage back across the channel. Abel and Odin are all but asleep on top of their trunks, having already flown the rest of the showbreeds back. As they went, they checked on Mr Zemberforth, who’s been managing the farm while they’re gone.
But that leaves the hippogriffs who can’t be flown: Fishes Swim Lightly, their first hen from the new flightless breed favored by what Mum calls the “lily-livered” (who if they’re so scared of flying hippogriffs should just bloody well stick to horses and save everyone else the indignity,) and Nettles, who’s never been flown, led, or directed in his entire life. They’re belled and hooded to keep them from making eye contact or from pulling out their feathers from stress, and Newt finds himself humming to them mindlessly outside their trailer hitches as he freshens up the Muggle-repelling Don’t Notice Me Charms.
Their ship is late. Adin, Odin, and Leta attract too much attention in a Muggle crowd — Abel and Odin for their age and Leta for her arm — so Newt leaves them with the hippogriffs, and goes to find his mother.
She’s sitting on a bench by the dock, wearing her second-best galoshes with her elbows braced on her knees, twirling a sable feather as long as her forearm. It’s one of Hecate’s. Mum has kept a flight pinion from every hippogriff she’s ever raised, wrapped in Mrs San-Witch’s Extra-Strength Magic Tissue to keep them from getting shabby and tucked in a drawer in the workshed.
She sees Newt approaching and leans back, briskly whisking the feather out of sight.
“It’s the blasted ban, I suppose,” she grunts, pulling her braid forward to sit on her chest, thick as a link of sausages. Rivulets of silver cut through it.
“I suppose it would cause delays, yes,” Newt agrees, sitting down.
He tucks his gangly knees under his chin. You don’t have to be a part of the Muggle world to see that something’s going on, but the Ministry of Magic upholds its time-honored, thumb-twiddling tradition of sitting back and letting the Muggles sort out their own messes, no matter how many times the Seers warn them this Great War will crack a fissure in the very landscape of the world wizards are trying to live in. He doesn’t know it yet, but there’s a village close to Newt’s farm in Dorsetshire that, shortly after Britain joins the fighting, will lose every young man they have between the ages of eighteen and thirty in one fell swoop. A whole generation of boys, taken right out of the village tapestry like viscera hooked neatly out through the nose of a taxonomical specimen. Abel and Odin stand out, now — eyes follow them, wondering when they’ll be in uniform, a judgment Newt escapes by virtue of being spotty, pigeon-toed, and clearly on the cusp of puberty. Theseus, who took his NEWTs in June, couldn’t come with them to the show because he and his friends joined a Society for Young Activists. They’re doing something for Muggles in London, which is all very vague, but Mum says that’s how young activists tend to be.
The Muggle boats on the channel show no sign of sorting out their mess anytime soon, and after a long time sitting side-by-side in companionable silence, Mum heaves a sigh and reaches out.
Newt burrows into her shoulder. His mother rests her chin on top of his head, goes “ppfffblt” when she gets his flyaways in her mouth, and hugs him as he laughs.
To reciprocate, Leta invites him along to a wedding later that summer.
It’s her sister’s, the Lestrange’s oldest daughter. Newt had known that Leta and her brother had an older sister, but it was the same way he knows a lot of vague historical facts, like standing in one spot and being told that some long-ago knight had his Order of Merlin presented to him here. She’d been done with Hogwarts by the time they started, so she might as well have been hundreds of years removed from them.
Until now, Newt’s never spent more than a minute or two in the Lestranges’ presence. Just however long it took to say hello and good-bye to her parents in front of the Hogwarts Express each year, never lifting his eyes from Leta’s shoes, which would turn and point when she was trying to extract herself, or the high brick walls of St Pancreas, encrusted black with filth from the coming-and-going of the steam engines. He never saw the brother at the station — either Durmstrang’s term starts earlier than Hogwarts does, or he never bothered to come with the family to see Leta off.
The image keeps distracting him: the Lestrange son, his face level with some insect he has pinned down. He pinches one of its legs and pulls it off, slow enough to see the slide of guts that come with it.
Only instead of an insect, it’s always Leta he sees — struggling to escape as her brother rips her arm out of its socket.
Newt wonders if he’ll run into him today. He hopes not.
Mum always told him the Lestranges were incomprehensible because they were French, and had once believed that by waging a Muggle war, Napoleon would usher in a golden age for wizards like the kind that hadn’t been seen since the founding of Hogwarts (this dream died quite bitterly in the Siberian wilderness, of course, but for families like the Lestranges who staked all their wealth, fame, and standing on it, it’s less humiliating to stick to this point than it would be to let it go.) If they weren’t incomprehensible because they were French, they were incomprehensible because they were pureblood, and Mum’s opinion on that was always, summarily: “pish” and “tosh.” You’d have thought pish and tosh were scantily-clad women smoking cigars in a club, what with the shocked way Leta reacted to them.
The whole Lestrange bunch, Newt finds, are very French, and very pureblood, and remind him of nothing so much as the millpond on his farm, the one with no mill, all that uncanny deep dark stillness and a sense of being watched.
It chills him to the marrow. He sweats under the dress shirt, armpits clammy, even as the sun burns his scalp.
The man the Lestranges decided to handfast Leta’s sister to is a Zabini, and Newt hears all about them while waiting for the ceremony to start, his collar tied high enough that his throat presses uncomfortably against the knot every time he swallows.
The Lestranges around him say, it’s a pureblood family. Which is the only thing that makes this wedding an acceptable one to have in a public venue. Can you imagine what people would say if a Lestrange dared to show their face under the arbor with a half-blood? Or worse —
No, the Zabinis are a fine choice. New blood, sure, and that’s unfortunate, but pureblood.
It leaves Newt sitting there, silent and faintly puzzled, because at least with hippogriffs, new blood is always preferable — it strengthens the gene pool, minimizes the risk that any malformations will multiply, creates all sorts of interesting mixes of coloration and feathering — but he thinks this is probably not a very polite thing to say about people, so he lets it go.
Afterwards, he looks for Leta. Being part of the honor guard, she wouldn’t have been able to sit with him during the ceremony, but she promised she’d be free afterward. He doesn’t know anyone else here. All the shoes and all the voices are unfamiliar.
“You must be Newt,” says someone behind him, startling him. He whirls around.
It’s the bride, her eyebrows arched up, inquisitive.
Persefene Lestrange — Zabini now, he supposes — is what Leta would look like if someone aged her up and then made a monument out of her, carved and cold and observant. He knows that there must be extensive Glamour Charms on her today, of all days, but it’s easy to think that she just always looks like that, so removed from the proceedings. The embroidery at the hem of her dress is of snakes and belladonna, with little silk pillbug flowers. They move when she walks, and the trick is you’re not supposed to know if it’s the needlework or if it’s an enchantment.
“Yes,” he says, belatedly.
Persefene thinks about it.
“Scamander?” she decides, like she’s scrying the name up from somewhere murky and indistinct.
“Yes,” says Newt.
“Any relation to Theseus Scamander?”
“Yes,” says Newt, only a little resignedly.
He’s used to this. Theseus does everything first: first magic, getting the hippogriffs to trot on a lead, new robes, wands, being Sorted into Hufflepuff. He’s smarter than Newt, more well-liked than Newt, isn’t intimidated by the complicated act of eye contact like Newt. All that weight he put on at school has now found somewhere to go; he grew up tall, broad-shouldered, with hair that’s trimmed and parted on one side to let it swoop to the other, as neat as the pictures of young men on the recruitment posters.
But Newt can’t resent him for these things, any more than he can resent the hippogriffs for their scat or their smell or the need to bow to them on their terms. Theseus is an older brother, and that’s typical behavior for his species.
Persefene looks at him sidelong. “Leta says you like animals?”
“Yes,” says Newt.
She nods, like they’re in any way having a conversation. A vague sense of humiliation’s starting to flush up from underneath Newt’s collar, but it’s as if he’s forgotten every basic platitude he’s ever known. What does he say? “I hope you’ll be happy” is standard for these things, but it also sounds like a condolence. Like, we hope, but we don’t have high expectations.
Oh, Merlin, how come he can’t think of anything else to say?
“That’s good,” she says. “I think most people get it wrong. They’re scared of the big animals and they look down on the little ones. They want them to go away. But the big ones don’t care about us and the little ones …”
She trails off. Her mouth pulls, revealing a glimpse of her teeth as her lip curls up, and only then does Newt realize he’s made eye contact.
“We had bloodhounds, when I was younger,” she says abruptly. “They weren’t particularly magical animals, as these things went, but my father trained them to go out with us. They would meet people at the gates. They would bay in alarm if anyone Apparated too close to the property line. They were good dogs,” and she doesn’t elaborate on her use of the past tense. “They weren’t a very big part of our lives. People treat children like that sometimes, with that same condescension. As if they think small creatures must live small lives. But to them … to them, we were life-sized. You know?”
Other guests are trying to get Persefene’s attention, but she stays where she is, her face still but alert, urgent, like she’s waiting for something.
“Yes,” says Newt, in perfect understanding.
As soon as Leta finds him, she pulls him over to the food table and they load their napkins with tiny cakes stylized with the Lestrange and Zabini crests, as many as their pockets will hold. It’s probably more than they’ll feel comfortable eating, but food both loses and gains value when it’s free.
While they eat them, stretched out so as not to get crumbs on their fancy clothes, she tells him all about the traditional jinxes they had to learn to be part of the honor guard. At first, Newt thinks it’s for protection against outside forces — after all, honor guards are phalanxes of witches and wizards tasked with guarding the bride and groom during the ceremony — but Leta tells him it’s also in case one of them tries to do a runner or use magic to alter their partner’s willingness or participation.
There’s one, she says with relish, that has consequences inside consequences, like nesting dolls inside one another. Of the guard, only an old matron from the Zabini side managed to get it right. Leta, with her bad spellcasting arm, almost crushes one of the little cakes in her envy, describing it.
“What’s that used for?” Newt asks.
“It’s in case the bride or groom is found to be using the Imperio to get the other under the arbor.”
Newt thinks that’s sad, that this happened enough times that it’s now an accepted part of the wedding ceremony, and tells her so. Leta smiles, pleased, because she’s at the age where sad things are intrinsically more interesting than things that aren’t sad.
They sit in silence for a long time. Leta kicks her legs out in front of her.
Newt’s dress clothes are pretty much identical to his regular clothes, except they weren’t Theseus’s first, but Leta’s in a flouncy dress, and the brace holding her prosthetic arm in place is a different, fancier version of her functional one. It’s got silver buckles and an intricate pattern along the wing. It makes Leta look like she’s wearing breastplate and armor, like old portraits in the Hogwarts corridors of the knights they sent to kill dragons, brandishing swords.
“Who do you think your parents are going to marry you off to?” she asks him suddenly.
After a beat, Leta peers at him sideways.
“Didn’t your dad leave any instructions? Most of us are handfasted to each other since birth — Zabini was a last-minute substitution for Persefene,” she nods in the direction of the bride and groom, by the food table with little plates in their hands, politely listening to the haranguing of some young witch in a hat with a stuffed vulture pinned to it. “The previous one became unsuitable.”
“I … don’t know,” says Newt.
Mum hadn’t told him anything. Then again, Mum always said that she found Theseus among the elderflowers when he was a baby, and that’s how she became a mum. That she’d gone out one morning before even the hippogriffs were awake, plucking the stems topped with their little white flowers with the idea of mixing them with lemon balm to make a salve for her sore muscles. She pulled aside the largest of these in preparation to cut and there he was, so she picked him up and tucked him inside the bib of her overalls, and carried him home. Newt she says she found when one of the pumpkins in her garden grew to the size of a small bear, and when she cut it from the vine, it broke apart and there he was inside, covered in pumpkin seeds and squalling. Theseus used to insist that he remembered this, even though Mum tells him he couldn’t, he was still too young.
Objectively, Newt knows enough about breeding mammals to know this is probably not how it happened, but he doesn’t think a Mr Scamander ever existed, much less that he would have any say in who Newt married.
“I don’t know,” he says again, helplessly, and then sees the question for what it really is. “Are your mum and dad going to marry you to someone?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Leta says, in that way that means yes. “Probably Leto.”
At school, the caterpillars they left in June are now swarms of butterflies, ranging from shabby, cabbage-white ones to ones as large as Newt’s palm, patterned with large, frightening faces, so that standing underneath them in the shade of the trees makes it look like you’re being watched by a host of masks. The more you follow them with your eyes, the more they appear and disappear among the leaves. Dragonflies skid across the lake, and Billywigs bumble sightlessly against the classroom windows.
On weekends, and sometimes on Thursdays when their free periods match up, Newt and Leta grab nets from the caretaker’s office and go out bug-catching.
Leta preserves the full-grown specimens differently than she did their larval stages. Gone are the phials and the alcohol that smelled like cold steel. Instead, she’s got corkboards and little pins, and once Newt finds out what food each kind likes best, they can even dispense with the nets.
“Wait,” he says to her, when one large butterfly finishes tickling his palm with its proboscis and she rocks forward to stop it from taking off. “We’ll put a Tracking Charm on it. I made some changes to the one that Professor Zhou showed Zedekiah Longbottom so he’d stop losing his wand.”
“Oh, okay,” she says reluctantly, her face keen with want.
By the time the weather cools and Quidditch season starts, Leta has several boards of pinned insects and Newt has more notes on the behaviors of butterflies, dragonflies, and Billywigs than he thinks he knows what to do with.
Next he sees Professor Switch, he stops him to show him, thinking if anyone could find a use for them, it would be the Magical Creatures teacher. But Switch just flips through the pages distractedly. He doesn’t even look at the Billywig cross-section, which Newt spent a solid two hours charming so that it moves on the page, showing the way its exoskeleton contracts with its wingbeats.
“Fascinating,” he says, and hands the notes back.
He says it in that way that means the opposite, and Newt doesn’t know why he bothers.
Lifting the flap of his satchel, he starts shoving the pages inside, except then a voice says, “May I take a look?”
Coming through one of tapestries that covers a hidden corridor going straight to the Divination tower (but only on Wednesdays that are also full moons,) is Professor Dumbledore, the Transfiguration teacher who has never, not once, berated Leta for being unable to switch wand arms. Newt hesitates, but only for a second, and holds out the pages.
“Albus.” Professor Switch tips his pointed hat in greeting, and quickly extracts himself.
“I apologize for my colleague, Mr Scamander,” Dumbledore says to him in a low voice. Behind his spectacles, his eyes twinkle conspiratorially, and Newt doesn’t feel so scared meeting their gaze. “Arcturus Switch has never had much patience for his subject, and I’m afraid that as we grow older, we lose tolerance for everything except what makes us feel the most content.”
“You’re not that old, sir,” Newt blurts without thinking.
Dumbledore chuckles. He’s got hair like Mum, pulled back and tied at the nape of his neck, red flyaways at his scalp, only his isn’t turning silver the way hers is.
Newt rocks on the balls of his feet, nervously plucking at his robes as Dumbledore considers the pages. He does so studiously, making occasional remarks like, “Truly?” and “I did not know that, I wonder if it can be arranged to plant more of that by the castle walls, it’d be nice to have more of these around. I love how iridescent they are.”
“The closer to the castle, the more pronounced their natural mutations become,” Newt reminds him.
“Quite,” Dumbledore agrees, and pauses for a long time on the moving sketch of the Billywig, one finger crooked and poised above it, like he’s waiting for it to lift from the paper and brush his fingertip.
Slowly, he says, “Have you considered yet, Mr Scamander, what you will do as a career once you leave Hogwarts?”
“Oh, the farm,” says Newt. “Mum raises hippogriffs, see, and my older brother is — well, he’s all right, but he isn’t really suited for it, so I’ll be taking over as she gets older. We do shows all over the continent,” he adds, not knowing why he feels the need to defend this. “We almost always take Best in Show.”
“Is that so? Fine beasts, hippogriffs. And as I’m to understand it, they’ve become quite the status symbol among those who’d rather not keep a sphinx. Understandable — in their adolescent stages, sphinxes indulge in that frustrating feline quality of climbing to the highest point in the house and then crying to be let down. Can you imagine passing a bookshelf and suddenly being forced to solve a complex riddle in the middle of the night when all you wanted was to see if there was any cheese left in the larder? No, I understand why people prefer the fancy hippogriffs.”
“Sir,” Newt acknowledges, slowly relaxing.
He tilts his head. “You know, I do think I attended a show once. The blue ribbon went to a most magnificent grey-speckled beast, with lightning bolts between her eyes. She sticks in the memory as she was named, satirically I would hope, after the wife of would-be emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.”
“Oh, Josie! Yes, she’s my mum’s favorite.”
Smiling at that, Dumbledore hands the notes back.
“And Miss Lestrange?” he asks, with sudden insight. Newt’s thoughts had been about to turn towards her. “Perhaps a naturalist’s life appeals to her?”
“Oh,” says Newt, who hadn’t thought of that possibility — the farm being a home base, Leta being the one who’d travel all over, returning with her pockets full of caterpillars from the south of France and spiderwebs from the famous spinners in Bavaria. “I’ll … I’ll ask.”
“Naturalist?” Leta frowns. “Isn’t that what they call Americans that don’t believe in clothes?”
“I’m pretty sure those are nudists,” Newt says thoughtfully, balancing his chair back on its hind legs. “And anyway, aren’t nudists Greek? That’s what I heard.”
“Don’t know. Persefene says American women wear trousers, that sounds like the same thing.”
“My mother wears trousers,” Newt reminds her.
“Not like American women do,” says Leta primly.
She makes a stabbing motion with her wand, but the bucket whose contents she’s supposed to be Vanishing remains stubbornly full of slop, its stench increasing in a sullen, defiant kind of way. She stabs twice more, then sets her wand down on the desk, a muscle visibly jumping in her jaw.
“Do you know what you want to do after Hogwarts?” Newt jumps in to ask.
“My parents have a Society of some kind set up for me, I suppose,” Leta replies. “And from there, whatever Ministry position can grandfather me in, if they don’t go ahead and decide that working outside the home is a tawdry half-blood thing to do.”
She sounds so matter-of-fact about it, and nothing at all like the person who harangues Newt about his Arithmancy exams every year. He keeps his eyes on her, so she won’t see him looking around the room, even though he thinks they’re both aware she’s the only one in the class so far who hasn’t managed to Vanish her bucket even once.
“All right,” he says, “but what do you want to do?”
“Oh, I would run the farm.”
Thunk. The legs of the chair hit the floor.
“And you would go — oh, all over, probably. Visiting other breeders, bringing me back updates on Hecate and St Elba and Cross Not Thistles and every other hippogriff we ever sold. You’d bring me bugs as gifts. I’ve always wanted to see a Bowtruckle,” she adds, wistful. “I heard they’re dead useful.”
Newt works his mouth fishily.
Before he can think of anything to say, the Charms professor materializes behind them, making them startle like rabbits.
“Scamander! Lestrange!” she barks. “Your Vanishing Spells, please!”
They snatch their wands up off the desk and stab in unison, with so much force that the bucket lifts straight off the ground and drops back down, spinning, its insides immaculately clean.
The rest of the class is quiet, in a way that Newt recognizes instinctively as unfriendly. He stares sideways at Professor Zhou’s slippered feet, wondering what they did wrong.
Slowly, she arches an eyebrow.
“Good show,” she tells them. “I can’t say you lacked feeling. Now, try it again, separately. Also,” somehow, her voice goes even dryer, “with the proper wands this time.”
Newt and Leta look down, registering that the wands they’re holding are not their own.
Given permission, the class erupts into laughter, sharp-edged and unkind. Newt feels his whole face flare red, and he shoves Leta’s wand back at her. His own in his hand feels warm, but then again, so had hers.
If either of them had ever entertained the idea of becoming friends with the housemates in their own year, he supposes that, in hindsight, that was the moment they lost the chance.
They’re at the age, now, where such a thing carries an intimacy that wouldn’t have been suggested when they were younger. Children swap wands sometimes — and steal their parents’, too, and it’s almost unheard of for a parent’s wand to harm a child, even in self-defense. But once you’re no longer a child, it’s … your wand isn’t supposed to work as well for any other wizard but you. Wands choose the wizard. Singular.
That Newton Scamander, that Leta Lestrange, they’re so weird their own wands can’t even tell them apart. Haven’t you seen them? He’s a Hufflepuff, what do you expect, but she should know better.
Don’t you think they’re too close?
Aren’t they eerie?
Aren’t you glad you’re not like them?
The summer before their seventh year, Newt and Leta discover three new things.
The first is that Abel and Odin know how to make ice cream the way Muggles do, with ice and salt and a hand crank, and it tastes completely different from the kind you can Conjure to go with the Sunday roast, like the effort that goes into it somehow makes it taste better.
“No — that’s probably the vanilla,” Abel points out, grinning his sharp little grin.
The second is a hitherto unknown species of earwig, living underneath the old paving stones by the millpond and nearly invisible against the black soil. They know it’s unknown, because there’s no mention of a color-changing earwig anywhere in Leta’s tattered entomology guide, and after watching one turn salmon-colored to match the skin on Leta’s palm, they send an owl to the Ministry and stay up all night, giddy with excitement and talking about what they’re going to name it.
The third is sex.
Which, honestly, is not that different from what discovering the earwigs had been like. The lazy curiosity that had them pulling up loose stones by the millpond with no mill, the embarrassment of suddenly seeing wriggling naked things where there shouldn’t be, and then the dawning realization that they’ve discovered something no one else has discovered before.
Newt supposes it must feel that way for everyone, though, or else why would they keep doing it?
Later, he’ll be surprised at how quickly it all happened, how they went from talking about it in a disinterested, theoretical way to kissing — which feels a lot like using each other’s wands does, the warmth and the electric sensation in your fingertips and the idea that you might get sparked at any moment. From kissing, hands get involved, and where hands go, mouths are sure to follow. Once they’ve done one thing, there doesn’t seem to be any good excuse not to do the next.
It makes complete sense at the time, the series of events that get them from one place to another, from damp, bumblebee kissing in the kitchen doing the cleaning up, to the picnic blanket by the elderflower patch, Newt propped on his elbow with a hand between Leta’s legs.
Her skirt’s hiked up high on her thighs to make room, and the sight of her bare knees above her stockings is somehow just as surprising as the rest of it.
Newt wants to put his hands on them, to see if hers are as ticklish as his, but the closer she gets the more she pushes into him, keeping his wrist pinned at an angle that’s now bordering on uncomfortable. It makes him want to laugh, so he does.
“What?” Leta says, half on top of him and more inelegant than he’s ever seen her.
She puts a hand against his face, thumb pulling at the corner of his mouth, which is still smiling wide, and says it again, quieter. “What?”, lip slipping from between her teeth so that she can show dimples.
“You,” Newt tells her, with feeling.
When she does — well, whatever it is she does, it isn’t anything so much as it is her falling, utterly silent as she shudders through it. Her spine contracts, bringing her face close enough that Newt kisses it helplessly: the baby hair at her hairline and the flushed lobe of her ear.
“Was that good?” he wants to know, when he thinks she’s caught her breath.
With careful movements, she puts herself back into her own body, stretching out her legs and her one good arm in the same manner she’d slip on a coat in winter. He sways with her, feeling attached to her by strings, every shift of hers pulling him along in its wake. Or like she’s got hooks in him, with him dangling from her fingertips like ferrets for the hippogriffs.
He asks, “Leta?”
“Oh,” she says, soft. “Why haven’t we been doing this all along? Let’s never do anything but this, ever.”
Then she pushes him back onto the blanket with her wooden arm, hiking herself further up onto his hips. The elderflowers make firework-shape bursts behind her head, the sky sugar-spun and blue, and Newt feels damp and realizes that it’s her, soaked through not only her own underthings but all his layers as well. It hits him on a near taxonomical level, like everything inside of him has been sucked straight out to make room for it.
“Oh, Newt,” says Leta, still in that same astonished voice. “You’ve got ants crawling on you.”
And, quieter than that:
“My two favorite things.”
It turns out there’s a frustrating lack of literature on the subject.
Now that he’s got an area of study to pursue, he does so doggedly, but what little he can get his hands on is so shrouded in euphemism that he doesn’t know what it’s talking about half the time. The animal husbandry handbooks in his mother’s workshop are more frank, but not in-depth enough to answer the serious questions: what should he be doing with his tongue, once he’s got his mouth where Leta wants it? Moving it, he knows, but like — in shapes? What about his hands? What’s the etiquette on kissing her afterward?
These are questions for married people, so after considering his options, he approaches the closest to that he has on hand. He waits until Mum’s busy putting the hens through their paces in the ring and the three of them are hefting fresh straw in the stables in relative privacy.
Abel and Odin take one look at him and burst out laughing so hard they almost fall onto their pitchforks.
“Never mind,” Newt says hastily, and beats a quick retreat. St Andrew and St George hook their heads over the tops of their stall doors and watch him go with the judgmental superiority that only hippogriffs and some Gryffindors can manage.
Next, he tries his brother.
It must have occurred to Theseus sometime around puberty that his mother and little brother possessed exactly nothing in the way of charm or charisma or social self-preservation, which meant all of it must have gone to him, so he grew straight into it, seemingly overnight. Theseus could have anyone he wants.
That summer, Newt’s brother spends most of his time in his room with the door closed, writing letters. They can all hear the rattle his window makes at every coming and going of his owl, with little regard for the hour. When he’s not upstairs, busy forgetting about his chores, he’s pacing around the house with his shirtsleeves undone, gesticulating his way through an argument with some unseen opponent. If he wins, he throws on his waistcoat and strides out the door, Disapparating once he hits the gate.
Newt imagines he’ll go through something similar, when he finds a cause the way Theseus has a cause.
A shout answers his knock. “What is it!”
Newt lifts the latch and lets himself in.
His brother’s room glitters. Theseus has a whole line of boards mounted behind glass hanging on his wall. They’re all the insects Leta didn’t want to keep for herself that Newt passed along, the butterflies with their camouflage patterns, the Billywigs with their papular bodies and wings like stained glass. When the sun hits them, it almost looks like movement, like Newt is in a living enclosure.
Theseus looks up from his writing desk. It takes a moment, and then Newt’s presence registers through his preoccupation.
“The feed!” he yelps, chair banging backwards. “Oh, no, the hens have got to be indignant, I’m sorry, I forgot, I’ll be right —“
“It’s okay,” Newt interrupts. “I already took care of it.”
“Oh.” Slowly, Theseus eases back down. “That’s damn good of you, Newtling. Thanks.”
“I … actually, I wanted your advice.”
This earns him a curious head tilt. “Shoot, I guess.”
In less than a minute, Newt has been summarily bundled up and hustled from the room by a horrified Theseus. The door slams behind him.
Puzzled, he sits down at the top of the stairs and tries to think it through, wishing this was something he could take notes on, like a naturalist observing atypical behavior in a familiar species. Then he goes back downstairs to find Abel and Odin. They’ve come indoors, beating the dust off their clothes and filling the shady kitchen interior with the familiar smell of straw bales and birds. They leave their boots by the side door, heels lined up alongside each other.
“Is my brother like you?” he asks them.
They exchange a look.
“Be more specific,” says Odin.
“Is he charming like us?” Abel strikes a pose. “Witch Weekly handsome like us?”
“Able to lift an ox one-handed?”
“You’ve never even seen an ox,” Newt feels the need to point out, and Odin shrugs, like, why should that matter?
Newt realizes he’s being misdirected.
“No,” he starts, and then hesitates, unsure how to put it. It’d be nice if there were words for anything he’s been trying to say — to Leta, to them, to Theseus, to anybody! But if everyone else has managed along so far without them and lived long lives, then so can he. “You … you go into the same bedroom at night and you come out of the same bedroom in the morning. Is — is Theseus like you?”
It would account for the way Theseus reacted, if girls weren’t really part of his equation.
He’s expecting more mockery, so it surprises him when Abel and Odin sober up, exchanging another look.
“I don’t think that’s our secret to tell, Newt,” Abel says. “He’s the only one who can answer that.”
So Newt lets it settle. He and Leta spend the next few days acting like nothing has changed — beheading ferrets, raking weeds out of the garden and mixing up fertilizer potions, watching Mum put the hippogriffs through their paces. They are not subtle in their attempts to sneak away, no matter what they think, but Newt likes it that they can take care of their responsibilities, be friends, and do this, too.
A couple nights later, after he and Leta tug her skirts into order with a lot more giggling than it requires, fingers tangling when they try to straighten out the braces for her ebony prosthetic, she slips out. Newt flops onto his back on his bed, feeling dizzy and giddy and so stupidly lucky.
A minute later, Theseus slips in.
Shocked, Newt scrambles to his feet.
“Don’t,” Theseus hisses, coming towards him. Newt is suddenly, keenly aware that they didn’t bother to address his own disheveled state. “Just. Here. Take this. Don’t ask where I got it.”
“This” is a potion in a nondescript bulbous bottle. Newt holds it up, giving its contents an experimental swirl. It’s —
Oh, he knows what this is.
He starts to tell Theseus that Leta already takes it, but he’s interrupted again.
It’s a slim booklet, more of a pamphlet. A Progressive’s Guide to Scenarios Most Indelicate and Other Acts. The publication date on the inside cover is from 1911, which is centuries more recent than all the other books Newt had been flipping through. The wizarding world isn’t especially known for being up-to-date.
Is this something your Society just has on hand? he wants to ask, even as he thinks that yes, actually, the Young Activists might genuinely want to publish and distribute something like this.
He glances up, and catches the expression on Theseus’s face.
“Thanks,” he says, instead of any of that, and his brother relaxes marginally. “And I’m sorry. That. I thought … it was something we just don’t talk about it, but should. I didn’t know it was something you didn’t want to talk about.”
“It’s not even that,” Theseus tries, and sighs, and switches the subject. “Her sister’s in the Society with me. They’re the only good thing about that whole family.”
“Well?” Leta asks, when Newt explains this to her after breakfast the next day. “Is he? Like Abel and Odin?”
She tilts her head and considers it, her careful updo shifting against the sparkling band she’s using to hold it back. The expression on her face tells him she’s doing the same thing he did at first, unraveling every interaction she’s ever had with Newt’s brother to try and guess how many times she’s put her foot in her mouth.
“I don’t think so,” Newt answers, but doesn’t elaborate: that this, at least, is the first thing he’s done that his brother hasn’t done first. That Theseus simply isn’t interested at all.
It’s not hard to figure out, if you know what you’re looking for.
It takes longer than he thought it would to pack his trunk.
Only three weeks into term, and Newt has somehow managed to spread out everything he owns over his space in the boys’ dormitories, his cubby and earthy low-slung bed with the coverlet in Hufflepuff stripes, just to the right of the cheery round yellow door.
Leta stands behind him as he charms his robes into folding themselves, tugging out the creases in his trousers and rolling his socks into neat little balls.
He flicks his wand and his textbooks go next, lining up like teeth in a smiling face.
Guests aren’t supposed to go any further than the Hufflepuff common room, and certainly not this far into the boys’ burrows, but nobody stopped her. Not for this.
“They can’t do that,” she tells him, flat and uncomprehending.
“Headmaster Dippet said the vote was unanimous. There’s no arguing it,” Newt tells her apologetically. It won’t be until years from now, when Dumbledore finds him wearing a stolen Austro-Hungarian uniform in a command tent in the Carpathian mountains and stops him to ask about dragon’s blood that Newt will learn that Dippet lied. That there had been one person in his corner, who fought for him. The vote to expel Newton Scamander hadn’t been unanimous at all.
Leta says, “That’s stupid. They can’t.”
But this had been parceled out to Newt in the same neat, precise way one would fold their clothes.
“I knew the rules,” he says. He’ll be saying this a lot, he bets. “I’d been warned multiple times not to go into the Forbidden Forest. It would set a bad precedent if they didn’t uphold the rules now.”
“Surely this is the exception that proves the rule is stupid.”
“Leta,” he says softly, as his toothbrush and toothpowder join the rest. “It’s all right. I was pretty much done with schooling anyway.”
She draws in a breath in preparation to speak, then releases it slowly. He watches her shuffle and discard several possibilities, each one more … well, more Lestrange than the last.
What she eventually blurts out, however, surprises her as much as him.
“I’ll come with you.”
“What?” he says.
Their eyes catch against each other with all the sharp, sudden pain of touching a hot stove. They look away.
One beat passes, and two.
Then she jerks into movement, and next he knows, she’s got her arms around him, the prosthetic like a heavy wooden crook around his neck.
Newt goes still. It’s different, somehow, having Leta in his arms here in his dorm, surrounded by his Hufflepuff hangings, than it had in the corridor outside their bedrooms at the farm, the shed by the barn, the flower patches with their curious insects. That had been summer. This was —
“Wherever you go,” she promises, sudden and reckless and right against his neck. “I’ll go with you.”
“What?” says Newt again, baffled, while his free hand absently pats her back in a kneejerk need to reassure. “Leta, no. You’ve got to get your NEWTs. Remember all those lectures you gave me in the fourth year when I couldn’t focus on Arthimancy? If you don’t, then — then what are you chances of employment without them? You’ll be dependent on your family, you can’t —“
“Don’t leave me here alone with them,” she whispers. “Please.”
Newt drops his wand on his bedspread and wraps her up in his arms, tight enough to lift the toes of her boots off the ground.
“You’ll be okay,” he tries, and he knows it’s weak. Wanting to make up for it somehow, he turns his chin, pressing a hard kiss against her forehead. “There isn’t long left. You can join me afterwards. I’ll be relying on you to be the respectability for both of us.”
After a moment, she pulls away and offers him a watery smile.
“What else is new?” she says.
In June the following year, he writes to her from the deck of a boat on the Mediterranean, listening to the Turkish wizards at their folding metal table argue heatedly about Quidditch, their wands with their sickle-shaped, moon-and-stars design strapped into the holsters under their overcoats. It’s their tea break, and they won’t be roused from it for love or money; Newt had always thought his people could be a bit silly about their darjeeling and their china black, but that was before he met an Ottoman Turk.
Off the starboard side, the salt-white cliff faces of Cyprus look as baked as the back of his neck feels in the midday sun. He’s Transfigured the bottom of the boat into glass, strengthening the Repelling Charms so that he can watch the sirens below — proper sirens, not merfolk. An altogether different classification, he’s trying to argue. Sirens are to merfolk what apes are to humans, and there needs to be a change in the protective legislation, because netting for sirens is harming the merfolk, more than the increased naval traffic on the Mediterranean already is.
She writes him back. Her letter arrives a week later, following a terse, short notice from his handler with the Society: the Turks have announced their intentions to join the War.
Against the British. It is suggested that he relocate, with haste.
He puts that letter aside, picks up Leta’s.
The less said about my practical exams, the better, she tells him, her script blockish, left-handed. But I bet you already figured that. You’ll never guess which NEWT I wound up with!
NEWTs aren’t like the OWLs, determined with a letter grade ranging from Outstanding to Troll. It’s a pass/fail. You either get a NEWT or you don’t. Newt, because the world is nothing if not ironic, will never have any. He rather hopes that Leta got more than one, however.
But that’s it! I’m done! This stuck-up ritzy place need never see my face again!
And anyway, where are you now? I want to get out of here so bad I can’t even describe it to you, and I’ve got this NEWT and my Apparator’s Certificate and everything saying I am an independent adult, so I’ll join you as soon as I get through my brother’s graduation from Durmstrang. Got it?
Oh — if you’re sending a reply, please don’t do it by owl. Leto will be snooping about. I don’t want him to get a whiff of what I’m about to do.
With love, Leta.
He burns one letter and keeps the other, folded so that the valediction with Leta’s love presses inward, against his chest. He kneels down next to the glass-bottom panel and bids the sirens behave themselves, watch out for the nets, and he’ll be back to see the start of the rainy season, when they do most of their courtship rituals.
“Won’t miss it,” he promises to their lilting, farewell chorus — or, well, what he can hear of it. It’s still best to put wax in your ears around sirens.
Then he goes above-decks to say good-bye to the Turks. This doesn’t involve nearly as much singing.
“You got plans, little salamander?” they ask him.
“Oh,” says Newt to their boots. “Yes, I imagine so.”
He has a hundred plans. He shelves them the same way his mother kept her prized feathers wrapped in tissue paper in a drawer, the way other mothers keep baby teeth, the way Theseus keeps all those insects they collected for him.
Newt Scamander and all of his dreams, lined up in glass phials with careful labels, every one of them containing a live firefly pulse for Leta Lestrange.
He spends the winter of 1915 in the Tatras, the sharp-shingled mountain range that forms part of the western border of Russian Poland. Newt is expecting something like the Swiss Alps, high altitude and the kind of views that make you heavy with the realization that you can never hope to conjure a magic like this, but Puzak tells him that wanting any part of the Carpathian Mountains to be like the Alps is like hoping to meet a beautiful witch and instead getting a grumpy goblin in a pillowcase.
The Society for Young Activists teamed him with Puzak because she’s part of a sister group of activists in Poland.
“Are there many of you?” he asks her curiously.
She snorts. “Who isn’t an activist in Poland these days?”
“Even the wizards? Is that dangerous?”
“What do you think?”
His boot slips on the slick rocks. He skins his palms, and asks, “Then why do you do it?”
She pauses, and glances back at him. Newt tries to stifle his panting, but can’t do anything quick enough to mask his flushed face or the trembling of his calves. He is not unaccustomed to hiking, but Puzak leaves him behind with no effort, and doesn’t believe in using Apparition for convenience. All the cracking makes the mountains sound wrong, she says. Personally, Newt thinks she’s making it up because she wants to suss out his character before they reach their destination, but doesn’t know enough about this particular mountain range to argue.
She doesn’t answer him then. Instead, she tells him about the mountains, the childhood trips she took with her family to watch the shambling adolescent Ironbellies learn to hunt. It’s why the Society picked her for this campaign. It’s why they sent Newt to her.
“Do you have much experience with dragons, then?” she asks him, with a note to her heavy accent that suggests she very much doubts it.
“I … raised hippogriffs,” Newt offers. “With my mother.”
Puzak’s nostrils flare, but otherwise her expression does not shift. He’s not sure it can. Her features are so stretched and arching that her skin looks translucent, plastered on, like a change of expression would require phampleteer’s glue and something preprinted, like those paper dolls that come with detachable charms so you could change their outfits. Walking next to her in her austere uniform, her severe hairstyle, Newt feels practically foppish.
He’d joined the Society for Young Activists shortly after his expulsion, at Theseus’s urging.
They don’t care about your schooling, Newtling, he promised, which Newt appreciated even though he’s pretty sure it was a lie. Besides, you know it’s not fair that Hogwarts has been solely responsible for the education of 90% of our wizarding community. That’s roughly the same fifteen faculty members, shaping how our country learns magic. That’s not smart. It doesn’t encourage diversity. Isn’t that what you were saying about Professor Switch? That because of him, so many Hogwarts graduates won’t know anything about magical creatures beyond how to exterminate them? Don’t you want to change that?
His first campaign was with the Turks, among whom a young wizard named Sulliman spoke Mermish and was willing to act as Newt’s interpreter as he tried to untangle the siren/merfolk confusion, a topic on which wizardkind knows very little unless they have direct contact.
But then the war, with Newt’s thesis half-finished, and now this.
Quite publicly, the High Wizengamot summoned all its draconology experts from around the globe. After centuries of wanting nothing more than to drive dragons from their lands, they now hope to find a way to weaponize them. To end the fighting. Quickly, by any means necessary.
The Society sent him to the Eastern Front, to Puzak, with the instruction to find an alternative.
They aren’t the only ones in the mountains. The Russians use that winter to catch the Austro-Hungarians off-guard, unprepared, driving them down the western slopes of the Tatras into Slovakia and winning back the territories lost over the summer. Newt would have thought this would please Puzak, to have more Russian soldiers about — some of them wizards, even — but her face remains as grey and pinched as ever.
“Likely? They are some sliver of a faction that would fight each other as soon as they’d fight the enemy,” she hand-waves at the encampment below them, disgruntled men bundled up in drab colors. “Communism in Russia will not help Poland.”
Newt knows only a little about Polish nationalism, all second-hand from Theseus. He nods, says nothing, and they slip away under the cover of an Illusionment Charm.
I wonder what you’re doing now, he thinks wryly in the direction of his brother, wherever he is. Last he heard, Theseus was acting as liaison to a bunch of American Aurors — and by working, he means probably picking fights about that stupid segregation law they have, or how they treated goblin protestors in 1909, or Roanoke, or anything, really. Theseus has a lot to say about a great many things, and Newt will hear about it if he gets hexed. But for right now, he needs to concentrate.
Illusionment Charms are difficult to maintain for longer than about twenty minutes, and so Newt spends a shift on watch not doing a very good job of keeping watch, using the dying firelight to craft a new charm. They can pin it to their clothing and it will automatically adjust their uniforms to match those of whichever camp they have to sneak through or if, Merlin forbid, they’re captured.
He shows it to Puzak when she wakes, and her eyebrows do something that might, if you were being very optimistic about it, be called impressed.
“How can you keep your identities separate?” she says to him, in response to the question he’d forgotten he asked: why do you do it? “You are a wizard, and you are British. I am Polish, and I am witch. Thus, I am a nationalist. I cannot make those things different any more than I could separate what is breath from what is air.
“Your Ministry,” she points at him. “Said that the problems of British Muggles are for Muggles to sort out, and now they are scrambling because the Muggle War has washed the bodies onto your shore. That is luxury. That is arrogance. You ignore the plight of those less fortunate than you and tell yourself it’s not your business, and then you wonder why the water you drink is poisoned.”
Newt watches her face change, a metamorphosis as slow and glacial as chrysalis, and thinks that even if they never find the dragons, he’s already met the real Ironbelly of the Carpathians.
It’s here that he hears the name Gellert Grindelwald for the first time.
The German Seer. He wasn’t anything else yet, not then — not the Mad Seer, not the Terror of Europe, not a name on the back of Albus Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog. Just a man, who made himself a nuisance to his government by selling his power of prophecy to Muggle occultists.
This is largely considered to be somewhat gauche among the Gifted, and made him persona non grata among the other Seers in Europe, for sinking so low.
But the real damage didn’t become obvious until the Great War, when Grindelwald emerged from obscurity like a stick pinned upright on top of the Austro-Hungarian war table, already ingratiated with the Muggle generals, their policy-pushing bureaucrats. All his loyal believers positioned exactly where he wanted them. Suddenly, it became very important to the Wizengamot and the I.C.W. that Grindelwald use that influence to sway them in a way that favored wizardkind.
Only, the problem isn’t that Grindelwald is difficult to persuade. It’s that he’s impossible to find.
There’s another rumor, too, that he spent too much time in the north while the Russian aristocracy were drinking themselves into insanity, that he’s gone Dark.
“My mother Saw him,” says Virginia Bones, who’d been among the first recruits that came when Newt and Puzak explained what they intended to do. So far, she’s Newt’s only fellow countryman, and ones of the Bones to boot. Everyone’s related to a Bones somehow. There might have been one in Newt’s year at Hogwarts, another Hufflepuff, but he isn’t willing to ask in case it was her, and if he spent six years and three weeks in the same classes with Virginia Bones and has to ask her who she is, he’ll exile himself to Siberia out of sheer humiliation. “If Muggle numbers are why we have to live in secrecy, then he plans to diminish those numbers. He seeks their annihilation, for our betterment. The other Seers ignored her — it was more fun to turn up their noses at the German Seer than it was to take her warnings about him seriously.”
Newt picks up a scouring brush as long as his leg, trying not to look too closely at the grime caked to the end. Next he writes Mum, he’s telling her he’ll take hippogriff scat over dragon toe jam, any day.
“Do you think he’s a threat?” he asks, turning the brush under her Cleaning Spell.
“I’m not copacetic,” says Bones, and lifts the spell. She tilts her head back, following the shadow that blots out the sun. “If my mother could See him, then who’s to say he couldn’t See us? Couldn’t See them?”
Newt does not see Leta Lestrange for nearly two years.
She moves around almost as often as he does, he thinks, judging by the conditions of the owls — and once, memorably, an American homing pigeon — who arrive, bedraggled and damp, at their operation in the Tatras, where any promise of rest is immediately dashed by Minnie shoving her snout at them, growling suspiciously.
He sends his letters back to her through Persefene Zabini at the Society. She has a better chance of secreting them to her sister and keeping Leto none the wiser than Newt would have from across the continent.
No, he’s here to stay, Persefene tells him, when he asks how long they can expect Leto to be this hyper-vigilant about who Leta contacts. Our families believed Leta and Leto have been destined for each other since birth, if you couldn’t tell by those unfortunate names. They won’t intervene.
Stay safe, Newt writes back to her, for her alone, and almost chews the end off his quill in frustration.
He's found that it's easier to express himself in writing, when he doesn't have to worry about what his face or hands are doing, but it still seems impossible to find something to say to Persefene Zabini that doesn't feel woeful and inadequate. Stay safe? It carries all the sentiment he means, but it sure does look like useless advice, written there.
Leaving Leta in that situation, a thousand miles away, makes Newt itch like a cored-out wand, like he’s coming up splintered, but Leta is his best friend and she was also a Beater on the Slytherin Quidditch team for three years running — he trusts that if things suddenly got life-threatening for her, she would take her enchanted ebony hand and shove it so far down her fiancé’s throat she could pull his guts out of him by the fistful.
They’d probably send her to Azkaban for it, but dementors had been part of Newt’s POW training. They’re creatures just like any other, so he’s relatively certain he could stage a break-out if need be.
It seems like the quicker people try to end the war, the more it drags.
Life in the mountains gets harsher with each year, but not, Newt hears, as bad as it gets in the trenches on the Western Front where Muggle soldiers pack in like sardines in a tin, or in the cities where refugees crowd together in desperate and increasingly unsanitary conditions. Military delousing stations materialize along all the main roads; too little, too late.
Disease will claim a higher death toll than any act of war-making, he bets.
That spring, the Ministry drafts three hundred of its most talented witches and wizards, puts them in uniform, and sends them to aid the Allied soldiers in France at the appeal of Prime Minister Asquith. Both Prime Minister and Minister of Magic agree that the war needs to end, and this will be the place where it ends, with magic.
It’s all the Daily Prophet talks about for weeks. Even Newt and the other wranglers hear about it, sequestered away in their mountain camp.
Theseus is among those recruited, of course, and Newt worries that Abel and Odin might be too, but when he writes to Mum, she tells him that they’d emigrated, quietly, back in October, and won’t tell him where in case her letter goes astray. To help her with upkeep around the farm, the cantankerous Mr Zemberforth moved down from his messy old stone tower in wizarding Cotswolds.
No one will dream of recruiting us, Mum assures him. We’re unsuitable in every way.
On April 11, 1916, the much-lauded combined wizard-and-Muggle infantry meet the bulk of the German contingent some forty-five miles northwest of Avignon —
Where they are summarily executed.
For decades, after, nothing survives in those fields except for the poppies that bloom unseasonably, coming up a thick dark red and turning their puffy faces towards the road, like commuters waiting for a train.
It’s every fear written into the Statute of Secrecy come true: that for all their magic, their history, their surety and strength, wizards can still be overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers.
In the messy, disorganized retreat, Theseus takes command of a splinter group of roughly one hundred people and keeps them alive until they reach a safe Disapparation point, pairing the magical with the non-magical to go Side-Along, and for that, he’s awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his outstanding act of bravery.
Newt writes Leta to invite her to the ceremony.
Her reply arrives two weeks after the presentation is already over and done with, Newt in his stuffiest collar and his blistered hands in their stuffiest gloves, sitting next to his mother. The Theseus in the center of the chamber is the cabbage-white version of the impressive specimen Newt’s used to seeing; he seems confused as to why he’s there, says “what?” and “thank you” too loudly. Newt doesn’t stay long, takes a Portkey back to the Ironbelly operation the next day.
I can’t, Leta writes, her letters assembled in blocky chunks. My sister and her husband were among those killed. With our parents gone, too, my brother and I are the only family who can care for the children. They’ve had enough upset in their lives lately. If it had been me, I wouldn’t want anyone adding any more.
Which is how Newt learns that Persefene, Mr Zabini, and the Lestranges are dead.
The first is fresh, and it hurts enough that he curls around it in his cot that night, trying to muffle his weeping and failing: he wakes with Minnie’s weight on top of him, her snout propped on his ribs and her wobbly eyes watching him worriedly. He spends the next day looking no higher than the laces on everyone’s boots, but no one says anything to him directly. Grief means the same thing across all language barriers.
The second is no less shocking, but apparently is old news. Neither Leta nor her sister ever mentioned it. How did it happen? Should he have asked?
No. Her parents upset her, and they unsettled him, so he never made a habit of it.
I understand, he writes back. I’ll see you when all this passes over.
As if the Great War is merely an inconvenience, the kind of cloudburst that delays a picnic to the consternation of nobody but the host. He gnaws on his bottom lip, then addresses the letter to the Lestrange manor, for lack of any better option. Surely if Leto intercepts the owl, he can’t fault Leta for wanting to see a friendly face after everything they’ve been through — even if that friend is a drop-out Hufflepuff of questionable blood status.
He lays down in his cot that night, turning his back on the steady luminescent glow of the Tentajelly in its bubble, and tries to remember what he’d been doing when all this had happened — training, probably.
Yes. It had been him and one of the other wranglers, swooping back and forth underneath an Ironbelly’s … well, iron belly, lobbing a Lumos spell to one another and keeping just within the dragon’s peripheral vision. The goal being to teach her to ignore bright distracting lights and angry shouting, except Newt still maintains a mutual animosity with every broomstick he’s ever been on, and kept throwing the ball with way more force than necessary.
“Is this what you got expelled for?” Cynznyk demanded loudly, after a particularly vicious pass nearly unseated him. “Aggressive Quidditch?”
“That has never gotten anyone expelled at Hogwarts ever,” Newt yelled back. “And no, it was for misconduct with a unicorn!”
“A — what?”
With an annoyed puff, the Ironbelly flicked her tail and Cynznyk had to perform a very acrobatic stunt to avoid being knocked out like a sparrow.
“Good girl!” Newt called to her laughingly, and across the continent, everyone’s family clocks flipped at once to “mortal peril” and the young Allied soldiers, magical and otherwise, walked out onto a field in France and were pitilessly mowed into the ground. It was the Zabini children, told days later that they were orphaned. It was Theseus Scamander, looking down the muzzle of endless German artillery and realizing it will turn him into a corpse; not a neat one, with a board and a collector’s pin, but a mess of parts like scat from a hippogriff.
Wizarding Britain hasn’t suffered a loss of that magnitude since Cromwell.
When he dreams that night, he dreams of them on the farm, passing Leta one of the big spotted Hogwarts caterpillars, which scrunches up and down her fingers.
They’re by the millpond where they discovered the self-Transfiguring earwig, the water as dark and preternaturally still as it always is, unclogged with algae or any other living thing. When Newt looks into it on accident, an unpleasant shock jolts through him: there’s Mr and Mrs Lestrange, their dead white faces right under the unmoving surface, open-eyed with their robes floating rotten around them.
The owl that delivers Leta’s next letter is one-eyed, unhappy, and Newt puts on gloves to brush her down and sets her down to roost next to the warmth of his lamp.
Leta’s note is short.
I don’t like Leto.
(Hector Fawley is a glorified errand boy for the Department of Magical Catastrophes and everyone knows it. He has the weak chin, prematurely receding hairline, and accent sitting prudishly in his pinched mouth that speaks to generations of saying things like, “Oh, but my grapes aren’t peeled. Send this back to the kitchen and make sure something’s done to that house-elf’s hands for its clumsiness.”
He’s vile, it is on his recommendation that Newt’s wand remains locked up until it’s proven that … that he is not a traitor to Great Britain.
“So you understand why your cooperation is of upmost importance to this investigation, Mr Scamander,” Fawley reminds him mincingly.
Newt despises him.
“I have a follow-up question, regarding the incident in France with your brother, Mr Scamander,” and, curled up on his side in his cot, Newt suppresses a snort and wonders whether Fawley is addressing him, or identifying Theseus. After years of correcting people that Mr Scamander doesn’t exist, and did you mean Mum, now it’s become a question of which Mr Scamander are you referring to, him or his brother?
Fawley continues, “Do you believe Leta Lestrange’s actions were a response to that incident? After all, her sister was killed in the same tragedy where your brother won his commendation. Perhaps she blames him for not saving her sister’s life?”
Newt blinks, and lifts his head, at last stirred out of his apathy by the absurdity of it.
Outside, he can hear Pernelle Flamel’s booming voice, directing the others as they adjust the alchemical equipment. All the wards on them will need to be changed, thanks to Newt.
Inside the makeshift medtent, Fawley’s watching him with his lip curled up, making no attempt to hide his disdain. Newt has not left this tent for days and it smells like it.
“Theseus didn’t get Persefene killed,” Newt says flatly. “She was what her family called unsavory. They didn’t talk about her. She submitted legislation restricting fishing in waters with established colonies of merfolk. She believed Muggles were people.”
His voice, unbidden, goes fierce.
“If you want to know who got Persefene Zabini killed, then you should start by asking the Lestranges.”
It wasn’t hard to figure out, if only you just looked.)
And so he isn’t expecting it, standing in the lean-to with a tin full of abysmal instant tea, missing his mother and the Turks and the house-elves in the kitchens at Hogwarts and honestly anyone who can make a better cup than this, when Dougal suddenly grabs his pant leg and keens.
Startled, Newt sloshes his drink over his fingers and curses, more in resignation than any real distress.
He glances down and finds a worried face turned up to him.
“What is it?” he asks, but uselessly; Dougal’s eyes flash crystalline blue and he evaporates from sight.
He tugs once, invisibly, on Newt’s pant leg, but there’s really no way of knowing what he does after that. Newt rescued him from the shelled-out remains of what had once been a hallowed grove before the Muggle artillery got to it. He knows enough to recognize a Demiguise, but it’s Puzak who points out the sullen slouched posture, the acne he keeps picking at, and suggests he might be an adolescent — Demiguise live in breeding pairs and raise one offspring at a time, and this one probably isn’t ready to live independently. Somehow, that makes him Newt’s responsibility.
“We’re going to need to work on that,” he comments to no one in particular, and then becomes aware of raised voices outside.
Curiosity piqued, he steps out of the lean-to. After pausing to reassure the Diricawls (kept in a coop at everyone’s insistence in spite of Newt’s constant reminders that Diricawls can Apparate,) he looks up in time to see a sudden burst of flame between the tents, followed by sharp female voices crying out in reprimand, “Minnie!”
Shaking his head and smiling, he heads in that direction.
He sees Puzak first, the slicked-back feathered edges of her short grey hair and the pattern of the flame-retardant mail under her overcoat, and then Virginia Bones at her elbow with her wand out, crossed in front of her in warning. Minnie weaves between their legs, the bumpy growths along her dorsal ridge quivering with agitation.
And, between them —
Newt comes to an abrupt halt. Inside his chest, his heart flips over and does a neat job strangling itself.
She’s changed her prosthetic, he notes dazedly.
It’s still an astonishing deep ebony wood, darker than her hair, darker than her eyes, but now it’s been inlaid with veins of silver. The braces and buckles holding it in place gleam in the pale sunlight, every inch polished to a formidable shine. There’s too much buzzing in his ears to properly hear what she’s saying, but he can tell from her face that she is at her most scathing, every inch the cold, imperious pureblood witch.
No wonder Puzak and Bones look ready to hex her.
The conqueror-in-armor. Leta Lestrange.
She sets her jaw, draws in a breath to say something —
And then her eyes slip past them, landing on Newt.
Both Puzak and Bones have their wands ready, their faces serious and simmering angry, but she knocks them both aside and Newt doesn’t care, doesn’t think about a Shield Charm as Puzak’s wand comes up in response — he hurtles for Leta as fast as she’s coming towards him.
They collide in their middle, arms knocking and wand holsters banging into each other.
He has instant bruises from the buckles on Leta’s brace, but it doesn’t matter because he’s swinging her feet off the ground and he’s got his face in her hair and everything inside of him is golden summer grasses, pumpkins sitting like treasure chests in the garden, the familiar snuffle of hippogriffs in their stalls. It’s three years ago, he and Leta on their backs while the leaves waved overhead and the insects droned, hands on each other’s wands and their breath a little short and stunned.
Leta gets her feet under her, pulling back, and Newt catches a glimpse of her eyes up close and the freckles on her cheeks and nose and realizes she’s been somewhere sunny.
You’re here! he wants to say. You’re really here!
And he’s honestly just happy to have her in his arms, except then Leta tilts her head, and —
— is suddenly kissing him so deeply Newt wonders if she might try to hook his brains out through his sinuses, the way they do to mummies. The fingers of her wooden hand are hard against the back of his neck, their faces crushed together. Newt feels like he’s a hundred feet in the air, even with both feet on the ground.
Distantly, he’s aware they’ve drawn a crowd — he can hear the other wranglers catcalling, and Bones exclaiming as Minnie gets overexcited and flames again — but they fade to the same level of inconsequential that crickets are in summer, as Leta detaches her mouth from his with difficulty.
“You —” she informs him. “— stink like something unspeakable.”
“Oh,” he manages, and grins from ear to ear. “Hello, Leta.”
“You’re kidding!” Cynznyk’s voice booms out, loud and joking. “Is there snow falling in the desert? Are Muggles flying? Newt the Salamander made eye contact with a girl?”
“Dunno, mate,” another voice chimes in. “I still don’t think we saw any eye contact. Tonsil contact, maybe.”
Red-faced, Newt rubs the back of his neck, brandishing his other hand about good-naturedly and waiting for Puzak to finish interrogating their guest so he can have her to himself. He needs to see her eyes again. He needs to ask her, much more gently: please tell me what you have survived to be here with me today.
“ — did you find us?” Puzak is saying.
“The Society for Young Activists had a new intern, so I tortured the location out of him,” Leta’s voice says, sounding bored. Newt can see her profile turned like a stamped coin. Then, “what? No, of course I’m joking.”
“You did not sound like you were joking.”
“Sorry. That was in bad taste. I’m very good at finding things, ma’am, and it’s not exactly a small operation you’ve got here.”
Newt thinks this is probably true. Leta was an entomologist before she was anything else; she’s the one who looked around at all the trees on the grounds at Hogwarts and saw precisely where the bugs she wanted would be. If belly-crawling roaches are what they want, maybe the Ministry should hire her to find Grindelwald.
Minnie leans against his legs, and Newt leans down to give her sides a good thump, saying, “atta girl.”
She looks up at him in delight, her tongue lolling. Smoke curls from her nostrils.
He says, “that’s not good for you,” and takes out a handkerchief to scrub the ring of soot that’s started to build up on the soft ridges above her nostrils. She protests this indignity with a betrayed-sounding bleat, tucking her snout into his boots where he can’t easily get to it. Newt laughs and lets her make a game of it, chasing the movements of her head as she flaps at his hands with the webbed membranes over her ears, which is not unlike getting hit with a flyswatter.
“Fine,” he says to her indulgently. “If your kin in the wild manage to survive without ever wiping their noses, I suppose you’ll make it.”
She snuffles at him, but then her head comes up in response to something he can’t hear, and she streaks off between the tents. Newt listens, but doesn’t hear her raise the alarm, so it must be all right.
Several minutes later, Leta ducks out of Puzak’s tent. Her earrings swing with the movement, winking in the light.
Newt clambers to his feet, and she glances towards him — and her face changes.
For a second, Newt doesn’t recognize the expression, but then it’s gone and Leta lifts her arm to wave to somebody behind him, with a smile as sparkling silver as the rest of her.
The place Newt and Puzak picked to be the base for the Ironbelly operation sits in a depression between two roughshod craggy rises, largely hidden from view by alpine camouflage and Newt’s charmwork. It’s only accessible by a steep footpath that snakes into the northern end of the campsite, and indeed, two figures are currently picking their way down it — that accounts for Minnie’s sudden interest, anyway, since guarding the pass is her job. Only long practice allows Newt to spot her, now sitting obediently at her watchpoint at the top of the path, as bumpy and silver-grey as the geography around her.
The red-headed figure lifts his head at Leta’s call, and then says something to his companion. They crunch their way over the loose rocks between the tents to reach them.
Leta grips Newt’s sleeve. It’s a nervous gesture, and immediately contagious.
The woman with Dumbledore is Pernelle Flamel, the alchemist. Newt and Leta’s Advanced Potions curriculum included the majority of publications from her husband, Nicolas Flamel, and Newt’s embarrassed to admit how long it took him to realize that they were all Pernelle’s works — and that sometimes she just got tired of fighting for recognition under her own name.
The two of them join up with the operation each summer. The other handlers call them the bloodflies, and there’s a beat, every time, where it scandalizes Newt to hear it. (But then again, no Romanian or Slav or Russian-trained Polish wizard would have a Brit’s kneejerk awe and respect for Albus Dumbledore. He’s just another man to them. “That’s so uncanny,” Newt whispers to Bones, who whispers back, “you’re telling me.”) They don’t wrangle the dragons themselves, but they leap at any witch or wizard who comes back to camp with dragon’s blood on them. Hence, bloodflies.
You do all the hard work, Dumbledore has a habit of reminding them, in his kindly way. We’re just taking advantage to further our own research.
“Is that Leta Lestrange I see?” he says now. And, “no, it’s quite all right, Madame Puzak.”
Today, he’s dressed in the same canvas boots and heavy overcoat the rest of them are, but where they’d be wearing chain mail, he’s got on a suit like the kind Newt’s seen them wear in London — except violently purple, with an underlay in gold in a swirling sun-and-moon pattern. It’d be ostentatious on anybody else, but manages to look like it belongs on Dumbledore. Abel grew up with Muggles and he would say it’s the kind of outfit you can’t get off without help. Non-magical help, he’d stress, doing something pointed with his eyebrows.
(Newt’s fairly certain that Dumbledore is the way Abel and Odin are, but it’s never come up and he’s learned his lesson about asking.)
“I wouldn’t have expected to see you here, Professor,” Leta says.
“To be perfectly honest, I expected to see you sooner,” he replies, eyes dropping to the place where Newt and Leta are almost, but not quite, holding hands. “And between you and me, my dear, you already have your NEWTs. You can call me whatever you like — Dingus Dumbledore, I find, has a nice alliterative ring to it. I am not your teacher anymore. I have no authority over you.”
Leta steps forward, bracing herself with her artificial hand on his arm, going onto her tiptoes. “You know that’s not true, Professor,” she says, and kisses his cheek. “And I only got one NEWT.”
Behind her, Newt’s gone dizzy with the knowledge that his favorite people are in the same place as his favorite creatures, and hears himself say, with no input from his brain, “Yes, she does.”
And then has to endure the indulgent, smiling looks he’s given, from everyone.
After that, the others all want to meet her.
On one hand, it’s nice to see Leta slowly relax and fold up all her defensiveness, shedding that pureblood persona buckle-by-buckle and becoming the witch Newt remembers best, the one who once bent Theseus’s arm straight back when they both went for the last bit of roast chicken at the same time. It could be any get-together after a hippogriff show; all the dragon wranglers affably shouting each other down as they pass food around, the campsite smell of leather and woodsmoke and damp socks, Pernie Flamel near weeping with joy when she hears Leta speaking French. As soon as Leta admits she used to help the Scamanders with showbreeds, and that the only NEWT she passed was Magical Creatures, they fold her into their ranks without hesitation.
“Rank of what?” Newt wants to know, glancing around. The faces (or, more accurately for Newt, the shoes) present are the same eclectic mix the Eastern Front itself is; what else would Slavs, sorcerers from Petrograd, Polish nationalists, and Arithmancists from Mesopotamia have in common, besides their adoration for the Ironbellies?
Bones licks the last bit of salt out of her foil. “People who’d rather die than see other people use animals for mispurpose, salamander, keep up.”
But on the other hand, it’s impossible to get a moment alone with Leta, and Newt can feel his frustration mounting.
He doesn’t know how much time they have. How long can she be away from home? How much can she tell him, so he knows what they’re facing when they go back to England? Please, won’t people stop wasting what little time they’ve got?
It isn’t until twilight that they manage it, Newt coming back from the latrines and almost colliding with Leta in the narrow strip of shadow behind Cynznyk’s tent. With startled apologies, they start to step around each other, and then simultaneously seize hold of each other as recognition strikes.
“Oh, thank Merlin,” she says with feeling, and Newt makes a wordless noise in response.
In the dark, the silver of her prosthetic practically glows, but Newt’s looking at the gleam off of her eyes, her teeth.
“Was that strange?” she wants to know. “That felt strange. I didn’t like it.”
“I’m not used to sharing you,” Newt agrees. “At school —“
She huffs, surprised. “You’re right. At school, no one wanted anything to do with us. We didn’t have to worry about anyone else wanting to spend —“
“— any time with us. I don’t know how to handle it now that they do!”
With a laugh, she puts her hands on his face and kisses him rapidly, several times in quick succession without giving him much chance to kiss her back.
“Okay,” she says, when she’s had her fill. They’re both laughing now, standing on each other’s toes, helplessly giddy. Newt feels like she took the lines of his face and smudged them, so it’s as if his mouth takes up twice the amount of space it usually does, every inch of it aching. “I’ve heard what everyone else does here. What do you do?”
And Newt grins at her, slow.
“Want to meet a Ukrainian Ironbelly?”
Her eyes spark and flare like a struck match. “Is that a question?”
He takes her hand in his and pulls her back the way he came, over the detritus that piles up around people’s tents and up the steep path that leads out of camp. At the top of it, where everything opens to the sky, they stop.
“Tada,” he says grandly.
Minnie’s got her head under her hind leg, licking at her private parts, and only surfaces so she can give them a quizzical look.
“Wow,” drawls Leta. “I can see why it takes a whole phalanx of you to train them.”
“This is Minnie,” he says, and she thumps her tail in acknowledgement, like, yes, that’s me. “She’s our watch-wyvern. Because they present such drastically different characteristics, wyverns used to be considered a separate species from dragons, but it turns out that’s not true!”
He goes on to explain: wyverns are flightless, sterile, pygmy dragons that occur when dragon eggs miss a critical component in their developmental stages (and typically don’t survive long in the wild, as their siblings often mistaken them for prey.) It’s not clear yet which stage this is; a nest left to cool for too long, maybe, or jostled too much? It’s an avenue for future research — at some other time.
“If you ask them, Dumbledore and Pernie could probably make a genetic map and match Minnie to half the dragons we’ve got in the valley.”
Leta’s eyebrows hike up, surprised. “You can do that now?”
“They’ve made surprising strides in the field of blood magic — ethical strides,” he hastens to add, when her face scrunches up in that familiar way. “This isn’t one of Tsar Nicolas’s extravagant revels. We’re not Grindelwald.”
“I would hope not,” she says, very quietly.
The next morning, they set out early — before anyone else is up, and since dragon wranglers who are also life-long mountaineers are, by habit, chronic early risers, this is very early indeed.
Mist gathers heavily around them as soon as they crest the ridge past Minnie’s watchpoint. Dew suffuses the ground, pearling against their boots and dampening the hem of Leta’s skirt. While they walk, Newt tells her about the Carpathian Mountains, how the Tatras form the highest peaks in the chain — and even that’s not very impressive, honestly — and how they manage to give the appearance of remoteness while actually being very accessible. They make for a permeable border between Slovakia and Russian Poland, ideal for smugglers and soldiers, of which the Ironbelly operation has had to deal with its fair share.
“Sounds like it would be hard to hide dragons here, then,” Leta says.
“You’d think,” Newt allows.
He can feel her dry look scrape off the back of his head. “I notice we’re not really anywhere near the Ukraine. How come they’re called Ukrainian Ironbellies, then?”
“Oh, migration,” he says. “The dragons that live here have always been more approachable than their brethren — proximity to people, I suppose, Puzak says her family’s been coming up here to watch them for generations. It’s what caught the Ministry’s attention, back when they wanted to see whether or not dragons could be trained to go somewhere on command. Puzak and I got here first.”
It had been a sleepless, mad scramble, because when the Ministry of Magic decides it wants something, holding them back is like sticking your finger into the crack of a dam.
Queen and country bless the zeal of Young Activists, then.
“But they wanted an aerial contingent. They wanted dragons they could direct — they wanted firebombs. Even if they could make that happen, the war won’t last forever and dragons are very long-lived. What are you going to do with them once you’ve taught them to be your weapons and nothing else? You can’t re-release them into the wild, you can’t keep them — it’d be slaughter.” He makes a sharp gesture, breathless. “It’d be a waste.”
It hadn’t made them very popular at home, Newt knew, that they were willing to put a dragon’s comfort above protecting good European witches and wizards.
Leta pushes back the hair around her temples, which is frizzing in the damp. “But you compromised?”
“Yes,” says Newt, not without pride.
They continue to climb. Ironbellies, as could probably be guessed by the name, have thick grey hides that’s nearly impenetrable — not only to spells, but also, it turns out, to Muggle anti-aircraft artillery. They spend most of their lives airborne, hunting, playing, mating, and so it’s really only a matter of encouraging them to fly where you want them to go. Then use them as escorts.
“Very little meddling with the natural order is involved, since all you’re doing is altering a path they’d already be willing to take,” Newt says. “They’re perfect if you’re traveling somewhere too unpredictable for Apparation or Portkey. The Ministry now sends their dignitaries and war generals to us. We put ‘em on broomsticks and stick them behind a dragon. No better protection than an Ironbelly.”
“That’s … very Slytherin of you,” Leta says. Her teeth flash. “Are you sure the Sorting Hat put you in the right house?”
“The Sorting Hat didn’t even hesitate for a second,” Newt answers ruefully. “You had to drill cleverness into me, as I recall — at wandpoint.”
“How is your Arithmancy going, by the way?” she asks, and laughs when he groans.
They clamber past the last bits of vertical-clinging alpine growth, and then suddenly everything falls open like a picture book, the terrain flattening out onto the tableland, dotted with loose piles of stones and hunching, creeping shrubbery. The mist lifts quickly as the sun comes up, tinting everything with a pale glow, as if it’s being seen through stained glass. As they set off across it, they instantly become the tallest things there.
“My brother had a friend at Durmstrang who hunted dragons,” Leta says thoughtfully. “He was always bragging about it, wanting us to see his trophy hall where they had all the heads stuffed and mounted. When I told him I wanted nothing to do with him, Leto asked me how it was any different from what I did wth the insects.”
“That’s —“ Newt starts, indignant, but Leta keeps talking.
“Dragons are apex predators. They’re the lynchpin in system of who eats who. They hunt the deer and the Erumpets that keep the weeds at manageable levels. They eat the cats that eat the birds that eat the mice and the insects. Remove a single predator — whether for sport or to protect your own livestock — and you’re dooming that ecosystem to be overrun.”
Again, there’s something strange in Leta’s voice, like when she saw Pernie and Dumbledore. It’s unsettling to Newt, that there’s a part of Leta Lestrange he doesn’t recognize.
“You need to keep the apex predator at the top,” she says softly. “Nothing works without it.”
Newt opens his mouth, but a distant noise interrupts him. He turns his head. Coming from behind them is a steady burr, growing louder, not unlike the droning of an insect. Newt realizes with a jolt that he needs to craft a uniform charm for Leta, the one that’ll adjust her appearance if they have to suddenly mingle with Muggle soldiers. He reaches out, tugging her low to the ground and pulling his wand out for a hasty bubble charm. From above, they’ll look as opaque as the rock around them.
A few minutes later, a biplane passes harmlessly overhead. It’s still too dark to make out any insignia that may identify it. Soon, it’s nothing but a distant speck, heading in the other direction.
He catches Leta smiling after it.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks.
“Bugs,” she answers. “Do you ever think about the ones that get caught on those things? To get hurtled through the sky that fast by a set of wings that aren’t yours — just to wind up somewhere utterly foreign to your entire genetic history?”
Newt smiles. “Aren’t you the one that told me that’s what it’s like, being a human on this planet? Does that make us the bugs, propelled through space in a speeding celestial vehicle?”
She takes her hands and pulls at her face so it wrinkles up grotesquely.
“We’re moving so fast it kills us. Dying,” she adds. “Dying, just a little.”
It doesn’t take long to cross the rest of the tableland, cutting diagonally towards the eastern-most point. As they near the edge, Newt says, “we’re almost there,” and “here, we’re going to need to do this —”
Unthinkingly, he steps into her space, drawing her wand from its holster under her coat.
As soon as he closes his fingers around its handle, however, it electrocutes him. He stifles a cry of pain, hand opening reflexively — she rescues it when it drops, mouth pulled up in exasperation as he sucks on his fingertips and, maybe, possibly, sulks a little bit. That hasn’t happened since they were children.
“What,” he says to her wand in mock indignation as she reholsters it. “Don’t you recognize me anymore?”
“Ask first, handsy,” she reprimands. “What did you need it for?”
“There’s a spell barrier up ahead. Your wand needs to be magicked to get through. But maybe I’d better wait for Puzak — the sanctuary is her family secret, after all. Here, hold my arm, I should be able to Side-Along you through.”
Shortly after that, they’re standing at the edge. Leta cranes out eagerly, and then throws Newt a squint-eyed look.
“Is … this it?” she asks, dubious.
Newt grins. “What do you see?”
“Nothing. There’s a very distinct lack of dragons here, Newt.” He waits, and with a huff, she continues, “There’s more of those rodents with the stripes, and — oh, look, a fox!”
Surreptitiously, Newt waves his wand low to the ground, murmuring the last keyword in the spell chain.
The vista in front of them shimmers, and then tears straight down the middle like parchment. Leta gasps, jerking back a step.
What had been unremarkable rolling hills is now a canyon, ripped out of the landscape like a sudden stab wound, and if she’d gone forward any further, she would have pitched right off into nothingness. The tear of it goes so deep the bottom is still obliterated by shadow, and only the vaguely sulfurous smell wafting up from it suggests there are caves down there, where dragons breathe fire over their eggs.
There’s a rumble from the ledge right below them — Leta snatches Newt by the sleeve, as kneejerk as Mum yanking them out of the way of an aggressive hippogriff, and since it’s her wooden hand, Newt spares the briefest thought for the integrity of his clothes — and the flat golden eye blinks at them disinterestedly. It’s as wide across as they are tall.
“Is that —“ Leta starts, breathless with wonder.
Slowly, with a sound like links of chain mail unspooling, the Ukrainian Ironbelly tips forward, sliding off the ledge.
Newt knows enough by now to recognize a lazy take-off, but it’s still impressive if you’ve never seen one before — Ironbellies are the size of several houses clumped together, bumpy and craggy and fourteen different variations of grey, looking not unlike they’ve been beestung and have swollen up from the allergic reaction. They’re that way over their whole bodies, even their stomachs, which on other species of dragons is generally where the softer skin is. If there’s soft skin on an Ironbelly, Newt has yet to find it.
They are, Newt thinks with inordinate fondness, phenomenally ugly creatures.
The Ironbelly swoops away, further into the canyon. Her movement stirs other ledges, which suddenly become dragons themselves, lifting their heads to follow her progress.
“Oh,” says Leta, like the sight of it has snatched the sound right out of her mouth.
Later, when the day gets warmer, they’ll be visible above, too, riding the thermals and snapping at the obnoxious little wizards who are trying to acclimate them to distractions.
There’s a moment, Newt watching Leta watch the dragons, where they’re twelve years old again, sitting side-by-side in the Owlery and picking down off their robes, making up stories about the dragon that bit Leta’s arm off.
When she turns to him, her smile transforms her whole face, and he knows his has, too.
“I can’t give you the key to the spell barrier,” his words catch, and he clears his throat, trying to sound casual. “I think there’s some variation of a Secret Keeper’s protection on it, so I’ll see if Puzak won’t tweak your wand for you to get through on your own.”
Leta looks back to the dragons, her expression crystallizing, turning both painful and wistful at once.
“I won’t betray this,” she says. Then, louder, more firmly, “I won’t betray this.”
Newt nods, a little off-put by the ferocity.
“Well, I know that,” he says, trying for a reassuring smile. “It’s her we’ve got to convince.”
Her eyes swivel, refocus on him.
“I broke out,” she says, abrupt. “I had to. My brother was … called away, and I couldn’t stay there, in our parents’ house. It felt like nothing in it was alive, not even me.”
“I’ll be married soon.” The way she says, slow and sinking and cemetery-quiet, reminds Newt of how it felt to lie on his side and practice saying the words to himself: Persefene Zabini is dead. It’s the same as the look on his mother’s face, twirling Hecate’s feather between her fingers. It’s the way Theseus mostly just looked confused, the day they presented him with his Order of Merlin. “When Leto has the time.”
And that’s enough of that.
He steps in front of her, too close, forcing her to tip her head back to maintain eye contact.
“No, you won’t,” he tells her, adamant, and this is why he’d much rather speak to people’s shoes and lapels and wand arms: it’s absolutely terrifying, the look in her eyes, the way the black in them widens and changes because of him. “You’ll marry me. You don’t ever have to go back to that house. That world will never touch you again. You can have that. You could — could always have had that, whenever you wanted it. You know that, right?”
Leta reaches up and cards his forelock out of his eyes, dumping it to the side.
But the gesture, instead of being a comfort, just feels peculiar and strangely maternal, like she thinks he’s being childish.
“And my sister’s children?” she says to him, inexorable. “There are two of them, you know — you never asked. A boy and a girl. I won’t leave them with him. If they’re with me … I can protect them, I think, from the worst of it. Are you prepared to care for them, too?”
She keeps petting him as she talks, fingers moving from his hair to his temple to the side of his face, and he cranes his head into her touch and opens his mouth to say yes —
And closes it again.
There are all his odds and ends — Dougal and the Diricawls in the coop and the Tentajelly and even Minnie — and all his haphazard ways of caring for them. He can’t leave them any more than Leta could leave the Zabini children, but he knows from years of experience that traveling with a circus of animals is exhausting.
He needs to get more organized, establish a proper system if he’s going to keep this up, he knows that, but a life can’t be shoveled into neat little compartments like they go into a suitcase, can they?
He’s let the pause go on too long.
Hastily, he tries to find something to patch it, but Leta’s already smiling, resigned, like she can see the answer from the sample set: the mandible size, the spotted camouflage pattern.
“Just a little bit longer, then,” he blurts. “Please, Leta, I’ll come up with something, I’ll —“ Inspiration suddenly strikes. “Go to Mum. Take the children and stay with my mother, she loves you, she’d love them, she’d —“
“And if Leto and the rest of them decided to come get us? That’s the first place they’d look, Newt. Would your mother be able to stand up to them? Would Mr Zemberforth? Abel? Odin?”
He doesn’t think she means to sound so scathing, but she has a point.
“Josephine would disembowel any of them on the spot,” he promises weakly. “Leta —“
He holds out his arms and she steps against him, letting him wrap her up in an embrace and pressing his cheek against the top of her head. Her hands clutch at him just as tightly, her wand a solid line against his ribs.
They sway together. Below, the canyon fills with the sound of wingbeats.
“Every future I’ve ever imagined has you in it, Leta Lestrange,” he murmurs to her, raw and peeled back, the last thing he has to offer. “That’s always been true. If that’s what you need, that’s what I’ll do. Marry me or not, Leta, I’ll feather this nest however you want it.”
“Oh, Newt.” She tilts her head back. “What can I do to convince you not to?”
He doesn’t dignify that with a response.
To whom it may concern, she bunks with Bones, but Bones traveled a thousand miles to work with dragons and to finally have a space that isn’t cluttered with other Bones, so Leta spends her nights in Newt’s tent, where Dougal pets her nice boots and croons.
Two years in the mountains means that Newt’s got it down to an exact science, how much space he actually needs inside his own tent for his daily tasks, which allows him to use the rest for his collections and creatures. Newt hasn’t had reason to be embarrassed before — at least he’s not like Tonia, who’s spelled the faces of the Romanian monarchy on the outside of hers in a fit of imperial pride, which makes walking to the latrines a more judgmental experience than it needs to be — but the downside is that, once inside, Leta has about enough room to stand on the rug but no more.
“Hmm,” she says.
“Sorry,” Newt says.
“Won’t be a problem,” she decides, and with a flick of her wand gets the tent flap to close and tie itself shut.
Then she turns around, fast enough that Newt has to stretch a hand out to catch her before she collides with him, and from there it would be harder not to pull her in. In an instant, they’re pressed flush, and when Newt ducks his head to kiss her, it’s sloppy, off-center, and makes them laugh. His heart feels messy, too swollen, like maybe someone should have thought of better containment methods so that he wouldn’t be standing here, leaking affection all over Leta Lestrange. She has to feel it, the way the proximity of her heart has his leaping for her.
“Why can’t we do this all the time?” she wants to know, kissing him in all the silly places — his eyebrow and the side of his nose, his top row of teeth. “I know I’ve asked that before, but it seems like a waste, everything we’re doing that isn’t this.”
“Responsibility,” Newt replies, against the divet in her upper lip, the scratchy embroidered edge of her headband. “Mum said if we can’t use the nice new thing responsibly, it gets taken away from us.”
“Compromise,” Leta agrees. “Separates the adults from the children. Fine, I guess. Our work, then this.”
And suddenly, it’s not so silly anymore, and Newt’s hands slide from the back of her dress to her hair, before he wraps his arms around her head to create a cocoon between them, a small dark space between their faces just for them.
Into it, he confesses, “I missed you, I missed you, it seems like every day I’m turning around to tell you something, Leta, I have so much I want to give you.”
And she says, “Shh, sh. Newt Scamander, I am not done taking things from you yet.”
They stay close together for one moment, then another, and when they pull away, their faces are damp.
Newt knows from experience that the cots they sleep on make a truly prodigious amount of noise with every toss and turn made in the middle of the night, and warns her as such.
Leta, of course, has to test it; she crosses the rug and sits down. Her eyebrows pop up as the canvas creaks.
“It’s all right,” Newt hastens to assure her. “it wouldn’t have fit both of us anyway.”
She flashes her teeth at him. “Are we wizards or not?”
“Correction, my tent wouldn’t fit me casting an Extendable Charm on it.”
“Don’t know until you try.”
Which is how the two of them wind up squeezed together in the middle of the cot, knees mashed together and faces so close they go cyclopsian. It’s not comfortable. They keep giggling anyway.
“Okay, okay — that’s enough, you’re right, let’s fix it,” Leta says, struggling to get up.
They’re both asleep fifteen seconds later, and wake up with the worst cricks in their necks.
The second night’s the same, when they’re still wobbly from their confessions above the canyon, but the third night, after Leta’s spent the morning with Pernie Flamel and Dumbledore, then an afternoon on a broomstick after Puzak shouts that she might as well do something useful, she follows Newt into his tent and casts a Silencing Spell with intent.
“Finally,” she murmurs, and Newt’s stomach goes swimmy with anticipation.
He watches her as she slowly looks around, like she hasn’t actually registered what’s in here yet. Her hair’s as windswept as it’s ever been after a Quidditch game, and if Newt had to cast a Patronus tomorrow, this is probably the memory he would pick: Leta midair on a broomstick, an Ironbelly extended full-flight behind her, the both of them roaring.
She marvels at the shell fragments he collected from the Ironbellies’ nests, the Tentajelly in its suspended bubble of water (kept because its stingers secrete a neurotoxin that, while lethal to humans, cause only the most mild case of apoptosis in dragons and thus can be utilized as a memory-training aid — Bones says he’s insane for keeping the thing in the same vicinity to where he changes his underclothes, but Newt is thinking of naming it Professor Binns for the soporific effect of the sound it makes at night,) the articulated skeletons of the perfectly non-magical marmots that live in the area, and the tree under the lights he’s thinking of bonsai-ing into a Bowtruckle habitat. Apart, they all make perfect sense, but now that Newt’s looking at them through Leta’s eyes, they make his tent look cluttered, uncanny.
And then she remarks, “you never change,” with a voice gone low and wondering.
“Ah,” says Newt, airless. “Is that good?”
She turns her head to look at him, mouth hooked wryly in one corner. Then, one-handed, she folds his cot up and throws the blanket down onto the rug, where she pins Newt down and marvels him instead.
It’s different from the last time they did this, the summer before they turned seventeen. Their bodies have changed. When Leta gets everything off of him except for his linen undershirt, she takes her time using that new bored voice of hers to categorize each burn he’s gotten — dragonfire being stubbornly resistant to magical healing — ranking them one to five on how impressive they look, until Newt’s laughing so hard he has to struggle to steal snatches of air. There’s one, though, that he’s almost proud of, across the wings of his shoulders where you can practically see the fabric pattern of the shirt that all but fused to his flesh from the heat. He drags his cheek against the blanket so he can look at her face as she probes the contours of it.
The expression there unsettles him, and so instead of asking, “Well? Impressive, or offending Josie levels of stupid?”, he reaches for her, rolling them over nearly to the edge of the blanket, where they run the risk of spilling onto her discarded skirt. Newt wants to avoid that; he’s out of practice with his Anti-Wrinkling Charms.
He props himself above her, twisting one loose lock of her hair around his fingertip, and she spares him a smile so fond he’s almost willing to believe he’d imagined the look that had been there.
His hands are covered with nicks, long white lines, stubby bumpy scars — but then again, they always had been.
“Well?” she lifts her eyebrows. “Are you coming down here or not?”
He plans on spending at least a day kissing Leta from head to toe, if not longer; the insides of her knees and underneath the scarred stump where her right arm had been, her freckled cheeks and the bruised skin under her eyes, and he’s going to, everyone else be damned, except then she draws her knees up, opening her legs around his waist and he thinks, oh, yes, what a good idea, let’s do this instead.
“Leta?” he murmurs, throaty.
She nods, once, twice, three times, and lifts a hand to his face, thumbing at his bottom lip, his chin. “Yes,” she says. “I need — I want — please, Newt.”
Something sparking, white-hot, surges through him. Groaning, he ducks his face into her palm, kissing the grain there. He moves down, past her wrist, the smooth banister feeling of her forearm with its veins of silver dragging sudden and cold against his bottom lip. Then he takes it and holds it against the floor, their fingers intertwining, which allows his mouth to descend to her shoulder, her neck. Her other hand slips between them, positioning herself and then him.
“Leta,” he says again, watching the color darken in her cheeks.
Her hair, still unkempt from her flight earlier, falls into disarray as she lifts her hips, meeting him.
They both vocalize it this time.
Merlin’s festering bones, there’s nothing in this world like Leta Lestrange.
He drags their joined hands close, propping them under her head so he can kiss her, open-mouthed, affectionate. He keeps moving, going as slow as he dares. He wants every second to be its own sensation.
“When you’re my wife,” he says against her mouth, and she makes a stifled noise, which might have something to do with his words but also with the angle he just found. Her hand digs into the small of his back with renewed urgency. He can feel the tracks her nails make.
He ignores the hint, taking care to concentrate on her face as he shoves up again, slow enough to make her moan — frustrated, over-stimulated.
“When I am your husband,” he continues, “we’ll have a proper bed, thick enough to get lost in. And we’ll do nothing but this. For days.”
“Newt,” she keens.
Bracing his weight, he gets his fingers between them, and from there it’s only another minute or two of lazy stroking before she’s there, her head thrown back, mouth open, thighs squeezing down.
Newt kisses her throat and waits for her to come back.
Contemplatively, he asks, “Say, how many times can you do that in a day?”
And Leta swears, loudly, and next he knows, she’s twisted her ebony arm back at an angle a regular arm wouldn’t have gone and uses it as leverage to flip them over. She holds him in place, both hands against his flushed chest under his open shirt, and he doesn’t have to look to know that the bright, telltale red of his skin is mottled by scars. He remembers her asking once, do you always blush this much? and saying something embarrassing and heartfelt in response, like, please find out.
In all the slipping about, he’s come dislodged, a loss he feels at every nerve ending. She stops him from reaching for himself.
“I like the idea,” she tells him. “But in all likelihood, our bedroom would have been this.”
She gestures around them.
“Tents, cold drafts, bugs biting —“ Her mouth twitches with amusement, and she points. “— creatures watching us.”
Newt follows the trajectory of her finger, and yelps, “Dougal!”
His necktie hangs suspended in midair, left there by something invisible that had been in the process of diligently folding it up, and at Newt’s shout Dougal startles and reappears. Newt catches a glimpse of wide grey eyes, peering out from underneath that shaggy hairstyle he’s been favoring like he thinks it’s rebellious or something, and then he disentangles from Leta and scrambles to his feet.
“Out!” he says emphatically, “out, out,” and, “I will explain privacy to you at a later date, I promise, but right now you need to leave.”
It’s another minute or two before he’s absolutely certain that Dougal’s gone, and when he turns back around, Leta’s still laughing, loose-limbed and naked on the blanket.
He huffs, putting his hands on his hips.
“I will be very glad when he grows out of that phase,” he comments. “We were never like that as adolescents, were we?”
Leta just laughs harder.
He opens his mouth and almost says, just you wait, your sister’s children will be that age before you know it, and then we’ll see who’s laughing, except some belated and not well-formed sense of self-preservation rears its head in time to stop him, and so instead he just says, “Leta,” because that’s enough. It’s a versatile word, all-encompassing, the kind that’s translatable in all languages. Newt Scamander can say Leta’s name and it can mean a hundred things.
Slowly, her laughter trails off, and they’re left watching each other.
She props her chin on her fist and remarks, “You’re not hard anymore.”
“Oh,” Newt replies, looking at her. “That won’t take long.”
She snorts, and he’s still grinning when he drops to his knees beside her. She quickly pushes herself up to meet him, so they’re both kneeling when her arms go around his neck and they kiss — or something, it might be more that they’re pressing their smiles against each other, but that’s better, almost.
There’s that prism feeling inside his chest again, like one shining thing is being shot into it and it splinters into a dozen more, stretching his skin drum-tight over his ribs with the effort of containing it. It’s as if he’s trying to make room for all the versions of himself that have ever loved Leta Lestrange: he’s twelve and they’re talking about dragons, he’s fourteen and they’re writing a thesis on proximity to Hogwarts and chrysalis, he’s sixteen and an earwig turns the same color of Leta’s palm, and he’s nineteen and he’s here, he’s here, and he’s going to need an Extendable Charm just for everything he’s feeling.
“Hey, Newt.” Leta’s teeth are against his jaw. “Let’s try something fun.”
“Oh, yes,” says Newt, wide and joyful.
There’s everything in Leta’s smile — a vision so strong it makes Newt believe there might be something to Divination after all.
Dizzy with it, he sees hippogriff feathers, dragon scales, Zabini children standing upright on fenceposts with their faces turned up towards the sky, Leta with silver earrings and flowers in her hair. He sees elderflowers blooming against the fence and pumpkins in the garden. Their farm bathed in sunshine so thick you could suck on it like candy.
She looks him in the eye, and whatever she sees there — he’s making no attempt to hide what he’s feeling — makes her smile widen, dimples appearing.
With her wooden hand, she pushes him over onto the blanket, straddling his waist.
And Newt Scamander of all people should recognize the signs, but even when she stretches towards her clothes and draws her wand from its holster, he doesn’t feel fear. He isn’t thinking of what she said above the canyon: what can I do to convince you? Leta Lestrange mucked out stables with him every summer. Josephine always nibbled curiously at her hairbands, and she let her. What has he ever had to fear from her?
She widens her legs, puts the tip against his throat.
He slides a hand up to her knee, the hard ridge of her kneecap, his thoughts bumbling and slow.
“Crucio,” she says.
Once, when he was small, a Ministry man came to the front gate to call upon the Mr Scamander “of great renown,” and Mum said to him, “Well, I know you en’t talking about my sons, unless the renown you mean has something to do with flatulent noises one can make with one’s wet hand and an armpit.”
And the man blinked his puffy red eyes at her (“hay fever,” he explained, “all this fresh air is positively noxious to the sinuses, you know,”) then down at Newt, peeking out from behind his mother’s overalls.
“The famous hippogriff breeder?” he queried.
“Oh, that Scamander,” Mum said. “That’s me.”
And Newt watched the man’s face do something strange and a little distasteful. He’ll see it a lot over the years, as Mum forces people to adjust to her; they all think she must be working on behalf of her husband, that surely she isn’t licensed? The Ministry releasing a permit to a … to a … well, you know … ? They couldn’t find anyone more suitable?
Once he decided there was nothing for it and he might as well get on with it, the man from the Department of Hereditary Affairs told them that a Collector of Fine Curiosities, all capital letters audible, had recently passed away with no one in trust of his estate. Among the belongings now in the Ministry’s care was a hippogriff, and would she please come take a look at it?
So that’s how Newt and Theseus met St Patrick, who turned out to be barrel-chested and as spotty brown as a wood finch, with no mites or liver conditions that often present in neglected animals. Along with St Andrew and St George, St Patrick would be one of Mum’s favorite bulls. “Flying the Union Jack” was her euphemism for studding them out to the hens at the right point in their brooding cycle.
It wasn’t his condition that made Mum go apoplectic, but his attitude.
His flight pinions weren’t cut, but it had simply never occurred to the hippogriff that he could fly. No one had trained him. He’d been chained to a post in the courtyard when he was still a fledgling and never outgrew the idea of it: that his helpless imprisonment would of course continue for all of his days.
“So he’ll never be a showbird, Ed,” Newt overheard Mr Zemberforth saying to Mum one night, after he was supposed to be in bed. “S’all right, innit?”
“There’s nothing wrong with him!” Mum hissed back. “If only he’d just — why can’t he — “
“It’s not that simple, and you know it,” Mr Zemberforth murmured, with more gentleness than Newt had ever heard from him.
It’s this thought that will follow him for the rest of his life, from here to Egypt to Equatorial Guinea to Sudan to the rubble in a subway in New York City —
That he’d go to all these places, without a moment’s hesitation, for the sake of a creature trapped and in pain, but not once in his whole life did it occur to him to leave Dorset for the next county over to try and rescue Leta from the chains of her own home, her harness and buckles, to see the post for himself and convince her that she wasn’t hopelessly bound to it.
That there was nothing wrong with her, that she could fly.
She could bloody well fly.
“The good news is,” Cynznyk tells him. “It is a rare person who knows how to torture others — properly — and your glitzy bird was no exception. Once this develops scar tissue, it can’t be hurt the same, so I imagine in the future you’ll have … eh, a so-so resistance to the Cruciatus.”
“Oh,” says Newt dully. “That’s good.”
“It could have been worse, pal. She could have been good at it!”
He flicks his wand, says, “here, bite down on this if you need to,” in a bracing kind of way, and ducks his enormous shoulders back out through the tent flap.
Cynznyk is the closest thing they have to a mediwitch (when asked by Puzak if, because of his family name, he’d studied with the old healers in Ljubljana, he blinked and said, “what, Slovenia? Oh, no, I’m from Michigan,”) and so far, he’s the only person still speaking to Newt after they found him huddled in his tent, naked from the waist down and Leta long gone. With a sigh, he lets his head fall back on the cot, watching the light through the sloped canvas change shape. He shivers uncontrollably.
Next he wakes, he finds he isn’t alone.
Dumbledore, clearly travel-worn, sits at his bedside in a plush velvet armchair that looks like it might have been Transfigured from one of Newt’s old pairs of trousers. He’s reading a book whose front cover has been lovingly embossed with the image of a shirtless Scot leaning against a unicorn.
Involuntarily, Newt spasms, a full-body twitch that makes Dumbledore’s finger pause above the page he was about to turn.
Without looking up, he says, “If I’m not mistaken — and, between you and me, Newton, I think you’ll find I am very rarely mistaken — Miss Lestrange’s objective was to infiltrate our operation and abscond with all the work we’ve curated on the uses for dragon blood, of which I am now confident to say there are twelve.”
“Sir,” Newt manages. “Sir, I’m —“
But his throat closes up, and he knows that if he says it, he’ll come apart. He’ll start howling.
He’d already done that. He remembers it, painfully clear, waking up with two thoughts steel-cut in his head: Leta Lestrange used an Unforgivable Curse on him, and their dragons were in danger.
The dragons, he’d cried out — were the dragons all right? Were they hurt? Were they taken?
After he’d been reassured of the good health of every last Ironbelly (Leta had never gotten the last part of the spell chain, no thanks to Newt,) he’d fallen into a stupor, relentlessly kept awake while his limbs alternated between a persistent fine tremor and sudden jackrabbit jerking, as his body to heal the nerve damage left by an overpowered Cruciatus Curse. His mind feels no different, raw and overexposed, pulling and twitching him from one track to another.
How did this happen? How did this —
Dumbledore closes the book, leaning forward in the armchair.
“I suppose I should be flattered,” he says, still in that same low, thoughtful tone. “That Gellert Grindelwald considers our research important enough for such subterfuge, but I’m afraid it was never in much danger. I keep those things very carefully warded, and as you and I both know, Miss Lestrange is incapable of the finesse required in a ward-breaker. So, my boy,” he gives Newt’s ankle a vague pat where he’s got his legs drawn up under his field blanket. “No harm done.”
Speak for yourself, Newt thinks, bitter.
It earns him a minute flinch, behind the spectacles. For the first time, Newt wonders if Dumbledore has some natural skill as a Legilimens.
“You are young, and you were in love, and you really couldn’t have known it would come to this,” he tries. And, “they made their choices. Ultimately, they’re the ones responsible for it.”
And Newt admires Albus Dumbledore, he really does, and he’s grateful for all he’s done for him — but he’s pretty sure they’re not talking about Leta at all.
The Ministry descends, and that’s even worse.
It’s Hector Fawley, Department of Magical Catastrophes, showing off his stylized little card and trying to keep the mud off his expensive black shoes, and he’s nothing but questions.
Mr Scamander, did you know that Leta Lestrange believed in Gellert Grindelwald’s visions?
Did you know she was one of his followers?
Did you give her information? Have you been passing information to her?
What did she say to you?
She told me she was disappointed that I couldn’t stay hard, Newt wants to tell him, just to wipe that look off his face. His mind is fragmented with it; Leta’s mouth on his, teeth bloodied from where he’d bit his tongue. She kept him pinned down with her enchanted arm so he couldn’t get away. She wanted me to, told me it wasn’t fair that she’d come twice and I hadn’t at all.
I would have, if I could have. I’d have given her anything at that point.
Do you think this is revenge?
Revenge for what?
Her parents’ death? Her brother’s arrest and abrupt requital? Her arm?
“What does this have to do with her arm?” Newt says blankly. Then, a beat later, “You think she joined up with Grindelwald’s fanatics because she thinks she needs to be whole?”
“It’s a powerful motivator,” Fawley points out, with all the blind conviction of someone who’s never put himself in another person’s shoes in his entire life.
A hundred memories flash through Newt’s head; that first encounter with Leta’s Slytherins, as they flapped their empty sleeves about and laughed at her. The vague pity on their teacher’s faces when her left-handed spellcasting always came up mediocre. The incandescent look on her face when she was in Slytherin green, high on a broomstick and swinging a Beater’s bat. Even more painfully, he remembers those times Leta let him remove the prosthetic so he could examine what the enchanters at St Mungo’s had crafted for her. He’d thought — someday, as they got older, he could make her replacements for her as she needed them.
But never, not once, did Leta say anything about wanting to be fixed.
“I think,” he says, very coldly. “That says more about what your prejudices are than hers.”
No, Newt answers, again and again.
No, and no, and no.
No, I didn’t know.
I didn’t know.
“What do you know, Mr Scamander?” Fawley presses, growing derisive. “If anything?”
He presses his hands into his eyes, his lungs shuddering.
“She’s Leta Lestrange,” comes out of him, his voice broken in half like a traitor’s wand. “She likes bugs, and toast with grape jelly, and my mother. Her family’s insane. They always were. They killed her sister because she and her husband were Young Activists. They let her twin brother Leto blow her arm off when they were twelve years old.
“They’re pureblood and they’re awful. They believe Leto and Leta were one person who developed too much magic in the womb and became two. They think twins are born together and should live together and die together.
“Leto will make her marry him. They will be Mr and Mrs Lestrange. And I —”
— did nothing.
I did nothing. I let it happen.
How can I change the minds of wizards about dragons and Demiguise and sirens if I can’t even change the mind of my best friend?
“You’re very protective of someone who almost tortured you to death, Mr Scamander,” Fawley comments, still in that detached tone. “Mid-coitus, no less. Are you quite sure you’re not an accomplice?”
“Go. Away,” Newt snarls, before he does something stupid like haul off and hit a Ministry employee and get himself dunked in Azkaban faster than you can say “knock a kneazle.”
Why can’t you see it! he wants to shout — at Fawley, at Cynznyk and his pitying looks, at the stiff iron rigidity of Puzak’s spine as she deliberately turns her back on him. It’s camouflage! Have you never stood in the woods and felt like you’re being watched? It’s typical prey behavior. She’s doing what she has to to survive in her environment. She can’t leave it, not with two children in her care. She can’t — not even for me.
There’s no point, though.
It wouldn’t change the facts: whatever her motive, Leta Lestrange went Dark.
(He can picture her laughing at that, teeth on display. I was always dark, she’d say, pointing at her face. Now I’m just unethical. Get it right.)
Several days pass.
Cynznyk declares him as healed as he’s going to be, with potential for lasting effects.
“You might — ah, develop a bit of a tic, but honestly, it won’t be much different from the amount of twitching you already do,” he points out, cheerful.
Other men have endured worse torture than this and so will he, so there’s no reason to keep lying here.
But he does, and they let him.
Nobody knows what to do with him. Leta might not have reached her objective in stealing the blood magic research, but she knows all about the Ironbellies now, and that puts not only the lives of Ministry officials at risk, but the dragons themselves. That’s what everyone involved with the operation cares about more. But until Fawley’s investigation clears him, this is as good a place to hold him as any. Without his wand, he can’t go far.
Outside his tent, the fabric of the world changes again.
Bulgaria joins the war, creating an unbroken supply line from the Ottoman Empire to Germany, bringing in fresh weapons and troops. The famously-neutral Aleksa Skalon, Supreme Mugwump, world-class mediwitch and Transfigurative healer known for being so good at her art that she can give a man a new face so foolproof it’d trick his own mother, is found dead in her cabin in western Ukraine, done in by the Killing Curse. Newt listens to the dragons roaring, Ministry officials shouting back and forth as they rush off to wherever this sends them: is it a message? If so, to whom?
Russia splinters further. By the sound it, the whole country will be in open revolt by spring. Puzak curses, pacing back and forth between the tents. Newt watches her shadow fall across the canvas and knows she’s scanning the skies, hoping for news from home: how will this hurt the Polish people?
Newt lies on his side in his cot and doesn’t move, not for any of this.
One day, shortly before dawn, when he’s listening to Minnie scrabbling over the rocks and hunting marmots for her breakfast, gentle fingers take hold of the edge of his blanket.
They tug it up to his chin, tucking him in. Newt blinks.
Close at hand, something croons at him, and with difficulty, he brings the face in front of him into focus.
“Dougal?” he asks hoarsely.
With a low hum, Dougal holds up something for his inspection; it’s an awful, constricting crush inside his chest, realizing that it’s his necktie, the one Dougal stole from him, now folded into a vague approximation of the bow he usually tried to tie it in. Behind it, Dougal is unkempt, his eyes round and worried.
Somehow, this is what does it.
“Oh, Dougal,” leaks out of him, and he gets his elbows under him and shoves himself upright. “I’m so sorry. Who’s been taking care of you? What about the others — are they —”
Dougal lets out a bark, padding to the end of his cot and gesturing for him to follow.
So Newt puts his feet on the ground and pushes himself up, with a sensation like whole crusts of skin are cracking and falling off. One step after the other, he lurches after Dougal, out through the tent flap into the grey, still gloom of dawn. Together, they check on the Tentajelly, the Bowtruckle tree, the Diricawls. Minnie yips at the sight of him and all but sits down on top of his feet, snuffling eagerly at his hands.
With each passing minute, Newt feels more real, like he’s been floating up above his body ever since the moment Leta put her wand to his throat and only now has he been stitched back inside his skin.
He hears a voice inside his head speak.
You tried, it says. It sounds like his mother. You showed her compassion. You know you saw it in her, too. She knew love, at least for a little while, and nothing Leto Lestrange or Grindelwald can do will undo that. What do you think her life would have been like, without that?
You entered someone's life and made it a better place for being there. Now go out there and do it again.
Dougal reaches up to him, and without hesitation, Newt scoops him up and sets him on his hip, where he gratefully buries his spotty face into the collar of Newt’s shirt.
“You’re all right,” he says to him. “I’m here.”
They’re underground in the New York subway system, surrounded by American Aurors and the floating scraps of Credence Barebone, and the mad German Seer looks right at him.
He has eyes the color of bone, broken wet marrow, his teeth short and stubby like tiny headstones.
“Will we die,” he murmurs. “Just a little?”
Every hair on Newt’s body stands on end. The wrongness of Leta’s musings in Grindelwald’s mouth, like it’s a familiar territory —
— of little insects, hurtling through space so fast it kills them.
“Perhaps it would be best,” Fawley suggests to him, in that horrible, mincing accent of his. “If you left the country for awhile.”
Newt lifts his head, alarmed, stopping just shy of making eye contact. “Sir?”
Oh, comes the quick assurance, he’s not officially being charged with treason, but there are places in the world not touched by the demands of this war that could use his unique skill sets. That would probably be best, don’t you think?
Tell me where, Newt thinks, sharp as pin going through the back of a Billywig, nailing it to a board. Tell me where hasn’t been dragged into the war. You’ve been farming the Empire for bodies ever since the Ministry got all of the bright young witches and wizards killed in France.
“I’m not sure if you understand what’s on offer here, Mr Scamander,” Fawley persists, when Newt bounces his knee and says nothing. “You would be a Ministry representative, with a Ministry stipend, going abroad to pursue … oh, I don’t know, that for you to discuss with your handler. Researching dung as fertilizer, most like. You must see that this is hardly an opportunity you’d get otherwise, with your education gaps.”
Listening to him is not unlike stepping into a slick, oily patch when you’re not expecting it. Newt resists the urge to twitch away and inspect his boots for slime.
Outside, there’s a pop! and startled squawk as one of the Diricawls Apparates itself out of the coop. Newt smiles in spite of himself.
“Of course you’re right,” he says quietly.
Fawley lifts his eyebrows.
He’s got a face like someone’s always put a little too much lemon in his tea, and the next Newt sees him, it won’t be for years, when he receives a polite letter from the Department of Hereditary Affairs followed by a panicked one from his mother, and does a fairly credible job of teleporting from the Congolese forests to Great Britain as fast as he can find stable Portkeys, and pulling an exhausting string of chain-Apparations where he can’t. Fawley meets him on the other end of that last jump, putting him right inside customs. It’d be disheartening to realize they must have an alert rigged to go off should he ever stepped foot on British soil again, but Newt is dizzy from days of travel and stunned with grief and can barely manage more than a flicker of distaste at the sight of Fawley striding towards him, like being unable to look away from roadkill fast enough.
At the time of this encounter, Fawley won’t be a clerk anymore. He’ll be the Head of Magical Catastrophes, and a good contender for office.
“I’m sorry, Mr Scamander,” he’ll say, with that same insincere expression. “You’ll have to come with me.”
We’re sorry, Mr Scamander, but we have to ask these questions. It’s procedure. Where were you that night? Do you have anyone who can corroborate that statement? No, your Demiguise is not a credible alibi. Have you had any contact with British nationals in the weeks leading up to the attack?
“The deceased, a — “ Fawley flicks a page with the tip of his finger. “— Mr Zemberforth? Had you known him for long?”
“All my life,” Newt answers numbly.
“It says here that he and your mother both attended …”
And there’s that pause, the one that Newt has hated for as long as he’s ever known how to hate anything — the one people make right before they say her name like it’s a question, when they’re looking at Mum’s thick jaw and thick braid and she’s waiting patiently for them to adjust their assumptions.
“… Dorsetshire School for Boys?”
“Yes,” says Newt, and puts his head down between his knees as heartsickness makes the ground swamp beneath his feet.
Mum said that everyone had known since they were wee things that Mr Zemberforth wasn’t going to be accepted into Hogwarts, and while maybe she would be, she wasn’t going to be accepted at Hogwarts, so they did what any children do in that situation: they linked elbows and went their own merry way. When they were grown, it was Mr Zemberforth who traveled with Mum to Lisbon for her Transfiguration procedure, which the mediwitches at St Mungo’s wouldn’t perform without evidence that her life was at risk.
No, Newt’s never heard of the group behind the attack — some bastardization of the Societies they all had, sounds like, pumped-up and self-righteous and thinking they were some how doing the wizarding world a favor, attacking an old Squib. Unnatural, unwelcome, and so they razed the whole farm —
— spellfired it, the millpond choked with feathers and ash —
— a severe devaluation of your property, the Department of Hereditary Affairs said.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Fawley says again. “Some livestock, too, wasn’t it? Sign here, thank you — you’ll be issued a visa so you can spend time with your mother and brother.”
“Do you think …” Theseus will say in the quiet of his London flat, Mum asleep by the fireplace with a blanket pulled up to her chin, waiting for Abel or Odin to Floo her back. They can hear the occupants of 18b above them arguing with the wireless, but in 18a Diagon Alley there's hardly any sound at all, just the crackle of the flames and the mugs washing themselves in the sink. “Leta might have … ?”
“No,” says Newt flatly.
“All right,” says Theseus.
“She loved Mum. She loved Josie. She loved the farm. She'd hex those Magic First people herself if she heard, she’s still my — “ He’s trembling hard, and talking too fast, unaware of it until Theseus reaches out and rescues his mug from his hands, setting it aside. “Thanks. Besides, she thought Mr Zemberforth was our father.”
It works: Theseus lets out a startled laugh, failing to muffle it into his collar in time.
Quickly, they glance towards Mum, but she doesn’t stir. Theseus turns back to him.
“What, really?” he says, teeth peeking out from around his fingers, but after a moment his face changes. “Actually. As a kid, so did I for a bit, before I knew better. He knew Mum wanted to be a mum, so …”
Every year Mr Zemberforth came down to watch the farm for the season while Mum ran the show circuit, and for the children he brought jam in squat glass jars, and swears in squat wordy clumps that tasted just as good, and there’s a moment where Newt pictures it perfectly: Mr Zemberforth leaving Theseus among the elderflowers, Newt in the pumpkin patch, and pretending to be very surprised when Mum found them and brought them inside.
His nose prickles in a tell-tale way.
“Oh.” And suddenly Theseus is there, pulling him close so they can wrap their arms tight around each other. They’re the same height, which surprises Newt on some detached level: he’s so used to thinking of Theseus as bigger, brighter, more fleshed out than he is. He shudders, and hides his face against the side of Theseus’s head until the horror of it doesn’t loom so close, with all that loss. Theseus’s ear is warm against his cheek.
They killed all the hippogriffs. How could they do that, what does that do for anyone — slaughtering a bunch of creatures and a Squib?
He pulls back, dashes at his face with the heels of his hands.
“Talk to me about something else,” he says quickly. “Tell me about … oh, I don’t know, what the Americans did to their goblins.”
“Ugh,” Theseus responds, with feeling, and in that noise Newt hears years of one-sided arguments in the kitchen, Theseus carrying himself around by the force of his gestures alone while a good-natured Odin tried to keep him from knocking any of the pots off the stove. “What haven't the Americans done to their goblins? How are you with broken bones and torture?”
“Er,” Theseus says.
Newt just looks at him.
His brother lifts his hands and waves them about sheepishly, like, sorry, what do you expect? I wasn’t trying to remind you that the woman you loved pinned you like an insect and pulled your guts out. Anyway, about those goblins …
But that hasn’t happened yet. It’s still in the future.
Right now, Newt is nineteen years old, and all he says to Fawley is, “yes, sir,” and accepts the job the Ministry gives him to go away, already thinking about the way the Mediterranean Sea looks like at midday and the siren courtship season, and he hopes that no idiot ever elects this man Minister of Magic.
Somehow, ten years pass.
His mother saved a flight pinion from every hippogriff she ever showed, kept them wrapped in tissue paper and charms so their gloss wouldn’t fade, because she loved them.
Theseus kept butterflies and dragonflies and Billywigs, dried into delicate casings of themselves and pinned to elegant wooden boards in rows according to class and color. The best ones he occasionally brought out at the parties his publishing company put on, because he loved his brother.
Nobody has to ask what it is Newt collects, because he’s got a suitcase with the world’s most complicated series of Extendable Charms on it, exhibits and safe havens pressed into each other like a child’s pop-up book. In places where a magizoologist wouldn’t be welcome, he says he’s a peddling charms salesman: weather charms, illusion charms, bubble-head charms and nesting charms, heating and cooling and aerating, all of them layered and complex and requiring regular maintenance. He has a half-dozen backlogged submissions for the Spell Patent Office, for things he created for the comfort of his creatures.
But in the shed where he works, he keeps a picture of Leta Lestrange.
It’s the same for people who talk about the war. With respect for the catastrophe of it, and almost embarrassed wonder for its horror.
It sits on the desk where he does his finances, his calculations, and the theoretical parts of his experiments, scowl pinched as tightly between his brows as his quill is between his fingers. The Leta in the photograph frowns at him whenever his Arithmancy is wrong, shaking her head to catch his attention. “Thanks,” he says, like a grouchy fourth-year, just to make her smile like they're still friends.
After all, losing something is one way to keep it forever — under glass, in a phial, a snapshot of yourself in the developmental stage you were in when you knew her, with all your spots and your strange mouthparts.
When Porpentina Goldstein speaks, she doesn't move her mouth much, like an underfed thing.
It’s 1926, it’s America, and Newt is twenty-nine years old. It’s been only hours since he was sentenced to death and it will be only hours until a heartfelt Cruciatus pins him to a set of subway tracks, bent backwards and choking on his own tongue.
They’re waiting for an informant, a goblin she knows named Gnarlak.
Since the quickest way to make Theseus go from standing still to moral outrage had always been to ask him why goblins don’t run American banks the way they do Gringotts, Newt’s fairly certain he knows what they’re dealing with here, can give the timeline: an outbreak of Dragon Pox at the turn of the century, goblins protesting the economic slowdown, and in typical overblown response, MACUSA banning them from having anything to do with wizard gold ever again.
Any goblin caught with so much as a copper dragot could have their fingers broken and bent backwards.
It allowed wizards the chance to hoard their own money and not share the profit — a trend that cannot continue, the economy won’t support it, but since the economy was built by goblins, who’s going to tell MACUSA that except people who won’t be listened to? All Newt knows is he doesn’t want to be in America in, oh, give it about five more years or so.
It also left goblins hard-pressed to find any gainful employment whatsoever. Many turned to crime, and there are Gnarlaks even among them, willing to betray their own to the very people who left them no choice.
The Goldstein sisters seem to treat him the same way you would a panhandler — a little disgust, mixed with the sense of guilt that it’s your fault they’re in that situation, collectively as a society if not personally.
Newt wants to see his fingers.
Newt wants to ask him what his interests in magical creatures are.
Newt wants to ask him if Tina Goldstein arrests everyone she later befriends.
Newt wants to ask him what he knows about MACUSA’s Director of Magical Security. Did Mr Graves ever serve in France? When the Minister of Magic shook hands with Prime Minister Asquith and sent three hundred of their best witches and wizards to a field outside Avignon with the instruction to stop the Germans there by any means necessary, and only a handful walked away — thanks to Newt’s brother — was he left among the rest, to be crushed down to feed the poppies or picked up by the Germans?
Is that where Grindelwald bent his ear?
Convinced him to play a long game? To go home and to teach?
Is that the moment America lost her Aurors?
It won’t be until the tunnel, the Cruciatus, that Newt will even begin to suspect the truth — that it’s not one of Grindelwald’s fanatics they’ve uncovered. That it is not Mr Graves at all.
The apprentice always mimics the technique of the master, whether they mean to or not. It’s why so many of Newt’s contemporaries know nothing about magical creatures: all Professor Switch taught them was apathy. It’s why he sees Albus Dumbledore in every wizard he knows: Dumbledore has taught them all, one way or another.
Likewise, he’ll throw his head back against the tracks and wonder, distantly, when did this man teach Leta Lestrange how to Crucio someone?
(It’s not hard to figure out, if you’re willing to make the effort.)
When Porpentina Goldstein speaks, it makes everything in Newt want to go still and listen.
She puts her elbows on the table, and the expression on her face is utterly undefended when she tells him the Second Salemers beat their children.
It’s been a long time since Newt’s had a friend who doesn’t have fur, or a duck bill, or very specific courtship rituals, so it takes him a moment to realize that what he’s seeing here, coming up beneath all of her camouflage and her strange mouthparts, is the orphan. Tina lost her parents when she was just old enough to start knowing that she needed them. No wonder she hates the Second Salemer woman — to have the opportunity to be a parent and then choose to be a terrible one is …
This is her cause. The way Theseus had a cause, the way Newt has a cause.
“If there’s no room in the Law for them —“
He can hear the capital letter of Rappaport’s Law in her voice like a death sentence, and thinks, too, of Persefene Zabini saying, people treat children like that sometimes, with the same condescension they treat animals, of Puzak the Ironbelly saying, you pretend their plight is none of your business and then you wonder why the water you drink is poisoned.
“— if there’s no place in the Law where we can stand up and defend them — all of them, everyone who’s too small to defend themselves — then the Law is wrong.”
And with one hand over the Bowtruckle in his breast pocket, Newt looks across at her and thinks, yes, that’s it exactly.
And sees sunlight, sees elderflowers, for the first time in years.
In the art of flower arranging, elder was often used to symbolize compassion.