Grindelwald could have hexed him into some sort of stasis, or compelled him to drink scheduled sleeping draughts. There is no need for a subject to be conscious in order for one to obtain the necessary material needed for a polyjuice potion, or to claim accessible memories for an impersonation.
But, Graves thinks, if he’s learned anything from this enforced stint of imprisonment, it is that Gellert Grindelwald loves an audience.
After all, where’s the fun in inciting an outright revolution if there’s no one to listen to you gloat?
Periodically, he’s updated on the progress of Grindelwald’s cheerful success. The ease with which his friends and colleagues let a wolf in amongst their flock (“Not very personable, are we, Director?”), and the laughable excuse for security within MACUSA, seem to amuse the dark wizard to no end.
“In truth, I expected more of a challenge from you blustery, self-absorbed Americans. It has all been so simple, even the greenest of witches could have managed on their own. I have to say,” And here he pouts, eyes mocking and cruel. “I’m more than a little disappointed, Mr. Graves.”
His slow, nasty smiles burn like dragon’s fire.
The days stretch into weeks, and the weeks into months, or at least that’s what it feels like since being locked in this room with the windows charmed to reflect constant darkness only serves to make Graves assume he must be trapped in some unending nightmare.
There are days, however, when Grindelwald isn’t so successful, and Graves is forced to listen to his mad rants as he complains about one fouled Auror or another sticking their noses where they don’t belong, and even though Grindelwald turns his raging, impressive fury on his prisoner, Graves manages to hide a triumphant grin behind his bloody teeth and scream through the pain.
He does not expect to survive this – whatever this is. Master plan. War to end all wars. The biggest ego-trip the world will ever see.
He does not expect to survive.
And so, when rescue does eventually come through the door, he glares defiantly from his place chained and kneeling on the floor, waiting for Grindelwald to dispel the illusion with a taunting smirk as he has done so many times before.
He loves to let Graves hope, if only for a brief moment, and watch it die away as he confidently explains exactly why help will never come – because the inability of individual thought for their own kind has been crushed under Anti Exposure Laws and the Statute of Secrecy, making them weak, clueless, and unable to embrace their own evolutionary right.
And then he likes to pat Graves’ cheek once, comforting, but hard enough to feel like a slap of reprimand.
“Don’t fret, my friend. I am here to change that outdated way of thinking.”
Only this time it isn’t Grindelwald coming through the door. It isn’t his prickly goaler come to mock and hurt or give another speech, depending upon his mood.
It’s a team of Aurors he vaguely recognizes, and in front is a man he does not. A man with a suitcase and ridiculous windblown hair.
They take him to the MACUSA hospital wing. There, he is subjected to a whole new round of torture at the hands of the medical staff as they imbibe him with dose after dose of Skele-gro and healing potions that twist and burn his stomach, reopening each wound as he writhes in pain.
They discover his cuts and bruises have been inflicted by cursed weapons, rendering them immune to whatever restorative liquids were pumped into him initially. He suffers silently under treatment similar to what a No-Maj would endure, stitched and bandaged with hopeful salves and medicines.
He’s reassured everything will heal, given time.
But there may be scars.
He doesn’t say that there’s even more beneath the surface.
Belatedly, he’s informed of the events that have transpired in his absence. It’s all very clipped and formal, delivered by a senior Auror named McKinnon, and over in a matter of minutes. He’s told that Madam President will be arriving at a later time to speak with him as well.
He tries to take it all in, to make sense of the Obscurial boy and the Englishman who is responsible for – this. All of this. His rescue, his discovery, the gift of life when there had most assuredly been none. That Grindelwald had nearly done them all in and destroyed MACUSA from the inside. Like a parasite.
It’s overwhelming, the amount of dept that they now owe to a foreigner.
Congress must be chewing their hats out of sheer frustration.
He’s sleeping when Madam Piquery arrives, but snaps quickly awake at the sound of her heels clicking across the tiled floor towards his bed. She seems tired; robes rumpled and bruises beneath her eyes, as if she’s missed a few nights sleep. She holds her chin high, though, and is just as formidable-looking as ever.
He manages to carefully prop himself up into a sitting position as she takes a seat by his side. “Good evening, Madam President.”
Her lips thin. “Director.”
He gets the uncomfortable feeling she is assessing him, looking for the back lash he must surely feel the need to unleash upon her and every other person in MACUSA for what he’s been through.
He doesn’t know how to tell her there’s nothing left. That all the despair and contempt he had felt during the last six months over his superiors and acquaintances never once realizing he’d been replaced by an imposter, that the real Director was only so far away as his very own townhome, had eaten a hole through him and left him hollow.
All that’s left to fill it is acid.
“Percival, I –“ She stops herself and looks to the side, staring at the wall, and gives a slight shake of her head. After a long moment, she looks back and he can see the barely contained emotion lurking inside. “There are no excuses for what has happened. There are no words. I don’t expect you to ever forgive any of us for what has happened, but I hope that someday you might.”
Graves runs his tongue along his teeth and remembers the taste of blood. Can almost feel Grindelwald’s fist connecting and splitting skin over the red-stained enamel.
He nods. “Thank you.”
It’s all he can manage at the moment.
Her eyes wince very slightly in a grimace of guilt before disappearing altogether. She gathers herself, pulling her imperious mask back in place, and recounts the events of the past six months in their entirety herself, leaving nothing out. When she finishes, detailing his rescue and Mr. Scamander’s involvement by use of a strange creature that tracked via magical signature, Graves stops her.
“I want to meet him.”
She dips her elegant head in begrudging agreement. “Of course. He is still currently in the city for the time being. I will have him sent for later in the week.”
“In the morning.”
“I wouldn’t advise such a visit so soon. You need your rest, and Mr. Scamander tends to bring an unforeseen element of excitement wherever he goes,” she adds dryly, disapproval writ all over her face.
“In the morning,” he repeats, stubborn. “I owe him my life.”
Her eyes harden, clearly reluctant, but finally she agrees to arrange the meeting while standing to leave. “We will speak again soon. Get some sleep, Percival.”
He ignores the lingering look she gives him in favor of inspecting his bandaged fingers, carefully clenching and unclenching them as she leaves the room.
A part of him is sympathetic toward MACUSA over what happened, a small part that is able to recognize and compartmentalize their honest mistakes as just that, mistakes.
But a larger part is more affronted than understanding, aghast that such highly trained and skilled witches and wizards let someone dark invade their ranks, tear it all to pieces from the ground up. They had allowed themselves to be violated, in the most heinous and literal meaning of the word.
It had been such a massive, destructive breach of security that it could take months, if not years, to fix.
He finds himself agreeing that it is disappointing, how easily his people fell. How boring. To be able to infiltrate and infect an organization responsible for the entire American wizarding society in nothing but a mere matter of weeks.
No wonder Grindelwald felt so put out.
Graves feels his blood freeze at his own line of thinking, and has to physically suppress a shudder. To empathize with such a dark, disturbed wizard. Maybe MACUSA wasn’t the only thing Grindelwald had infected with his gross corruption.
Swallowing thickly, he maneuvers himself, careful, onto his less injured side, though admittedly not by much, and squeezes his eyes shut with a grimace of pain. He wants to sleep. Wishes he could sleep. He doesn’t want to think of Grindelwald, or of the past excruciating months of his life. He doesn’t want to think.
He’s still awake when the birds begin singing outside his window.
His first impression of Newt Scamander is that the man is horribly unkempt in his appearance, almost harried, and that he has a serious aversion to looking someone in the eye for longer than a few seconds at a time. He also holds his body strangely, angled slightly away, and hunched forward as if he is trying his hardest to appear smaller.
For all that, Graves does not get the impression that Newt is afraid or nervous, just distinctly uncomfortable with being forced into a social situation with a man who’s doppelganger had only just sentenced him to death barely a fortnight ago.
“Mr. Graves,” Newt says, soft and unobtrusive, as he takes the same seat Madam Piquery had sat in the day before. “It’s good to meet you. Officially.”
“I hope I’m an improvement over the last,” Graves answers, only somewhat sarcastic.
Newt seems to relax and turns more in Graves’ direction, chuckling with a tilted, unsure little smile. “I’m sure it won’t be that difficult to achieve. He was rather unpleasant, honestly.”
Graves feels himself warm toward this stranger who saved his life.
As they attempt a stilted, painful conversation, Graves can’t help but stare, searching for – for that something, anything, which could explain to him how it was possible for this charmingly awkward wizard to do what the best Aurors in the nation could not. What the Madam President could not.
He finds it difficult to imagine such an unassuming, unchallenging individual, a magizoologist, of all things, had taken on the most powerful dark wizard in existence. And did not quail.
It transcends all logical understanding.
“…alright? You – look in pain.”
Graves blinks, coming back to the conversation abruptly. Newt is sneaking glances at him, cheeks pinked from the intense scrutiny, and appears just as unnerved as Graves feels. Maybe he’s not quite sure what to make of this, either.
“Sorry.” Graves scrubs his face with one injured hand, winces at the sting of still-healing wounds, and fixes Newt with a self-deprecating half-grin. “I’m sorry. No, I’m fine. I just.”
Newt gives him an interested look, head tilt reminiscent of a golden snidget.
Finally, Graves sighs, frustrated. “How?” he asks. “How did you know?”
“Ah,” Newt drops his eyes to the space somewhere in the vicinity of Graves’ elbow, eyes a little distant. “Well. That is. I’m not sure…” He trails off uncertainly and Graves feels his shoulders tense with agitation.
“I don’t understand how people who have known me for years,” he mutters gruffly, “people I would go so far as to consider friends, could not, for the life of them, see anything different about me. For half a year. But you, a complete stranger, you figured it out almost immediately. How is that possible.”
It isn’t a question. Graves knows he sounds unjustly accusing, commanding someone he has no right over. Newt has done nothing wrong. In fact, he’s somehow managed, despite his suitcase full of illegal beasts, to do everything right, all things considered.
Yet Graves feels wronged anyhow, if not by Newt Scamander, then by the world at large. And with nothing to shoulder the responsibility for his spurned ego besides one unrepentant maniac in a secure holding cell, and an organization that can’t even look him in the eye, he feels infuriated.
Graves sighs again.
He thumps his head back against the metal railing of his hospital bed and stares up at the ceiling. “I’m compromised,” he says quietly, after a pregnant pause. “When they look at me, all they will see is a weak point in the defense system. I’m tainted by him.”
He grimaces as the bile rises high in the empty hollow of his soul.
The truth burns more than he imagined it would, voicing it aloud. A broken link in the chain of justice he’s worked so hard to keep wound tight and secure. It’s crumbling around his feet. Nothing but rust.
Regardless if MACUSA pulls it all together again, he’s not so sure he can follow.
“I once had an acquaintance of mine suffer from a Doxy bite,” Newt says, suddenly. Graves shoots him an incredulous look, nearly suffering whiplash from the quick change of topic.
“They are quite venomous, you know. It wasn’t a terrible bite, but it was bad enough that he had to quickly apply the antidote lest his symptoms become dangerous. He had started to break out in the most painful looking boils, you see. An allergic reaction.”
“That – That must have hurt.” Graves fumbles after an awkward silence.
“Oh, yes, very much so. The boils were slow to heal even after applying the antidote, and so he was visibly scarred for many days afterward.”
Bewildered, Graves waits for him to continue, slowly raising expectant eyebrows when Newt only smiles tremulously back. “I’m sorry, but what has this got to do with – anything?”
“Right, yes,” he stutters, tripping over his own words. “What I mean to say is – my acquaintance, his colleagues handled him with kid gloves because he was so unsightly. Naturally, they didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable, but their treatment had the opposite affect and he became quite surly and reserved. He withdrew to his home until the boils healed and he could return to his normal life as before.”
Newt shifts in his seat, one hand curling around the wrist of the other, and frowns as he seems to struggle with arranging his thoughts into an order that would make sense to someone outside of his own head.
Slowly, he says, “I think, Mr. Graves, that everyone will treat you differently at first. And, considering what you have been through on their behalf, I also believe it would be inconsiderate if they didn’t. Despite what Grindelwald did to you – despite what you have suffered, you can heal. You will heal. Given time.”
Newt watches him carefully, as if Graves is one of his more unpredictable creatures that must be approached softly and with caution. His green eyes are so vibrant, so earnest, and Graves thinks he’s never seen such an open and honest face in his life.
After a long moment, in which Newt begins to fidget more and look distinctly uncomfortable, Graves feels a small, broken grin curling the edges of his bruised mouth.
“Did you just compare the world’s most notorious dark wizard to a Doxy bite?”
Newt reddens impressively, and Graves struggles with a few painful laughs at his expense.
“Of course, that was a horrible analogy,” Newt mutters, grinning wryly as Graves’ wheezing chuckles settle. “I am so very sorry. I don’t intend to make lightly of him or your situation by any means. I just. Well. I’m not exactly the best with conversation, I suppose.”
“You’re much better company than what I’ve had to endure so far.”
That earns him a warm, shy smile and Graves is surprised to feel his stomach pitch pleasantly in response. Well, he thinks wondrously, that is somewhat unexpected.
They are interrupted by a mediwitch striding into the room with a tray levitating sedately behind. She guides it gently with her wand to the other side of Graves’ bed and gives them both an easy smile as the lids remove themselves from a few small dishes, and a glass fills itself with water.
“I’ve brought your lunch, Mr. Graves. And your medicine. Do you feel up to eating?”
He starts to refuse the bland food, his diet having been severely restricted since living only on the most meager of meals during his imprisonment, but his belly chooses that moment to give a traitorous sound of hunger at the smell of the freshly baked rolls. Newt smiles wider and stands from his seat.
“I should be going anyway,” he says, ducking his head from Graves’ eyes. “I didn’t realize the time.”
A small, curious piece of himself wants to ask for Newt to stay, having enjoyed their morning together, but instead he only nods and apologizes for taking up so much of his time.
“Oh, no, I quite enjoyed myself, really,” Newt says, sliding him a quick, pleased glance as he turns to leave. Graves unthinkingly reaches out to grab his wrist, holding him still.
Newt blinks in surprise and turns those arresting green eyes back on him again, expectant.
“Thank you,” he manages. “For – well, everything, I guess.”
The smile that meets his words is just as warm, just as private, as the one before and does curious things to Graves’ chest.
“It was no trouble.”
Graves lets him go, thrown by the idea that Newt considers stopping mass slaughter ‘no trouble’. As he watches him leave, taking a little of the brightness from the room as he does, Graves tries not to feel too disappointed in the empty space left behind, and begrudgingly swallows down the vile concoction pushed into his hands by the attentive mediwitch.
But, just as quickly as Newt had left, he suddenly reappears again, looking even more harried than before as he swings back into the room.
“That is. I was thinking. Perhaps. Would it be all right if I came back tomorrow?” he asks, voice halting and unsure. “A close friend of mine owns a bakery not far from here. I could bring a few of his pastries for you to try. They really are quite good.”
Graves’ throat clicks as he finishes the potion, and he gives a quick, jerky nod, taken off guard. “Yes. Of course.”
A smile of delighted relief breaks across Newt’s face and he ducks his head again, as if he’s trying to keep the pleasure of Graves’ answer to himself.
“Right. Good.” He turns again for the door, the soft smile still curling the edges of his mouth. “Tomorrow then.”
Graves watches him leave the room for a second time, stunned, but more than a little pleased by the promise of a second visit.
That night the tremors begin.
It starts in his fingertips, and then spreads up his hands to his arms, shoulders, and chest. In moments, he feels his whole body quivering like a lone leaf stuck out on a branch that’s been caught in the wind.
He clenches his fists and grits his teeth against the rattling of his bones, fighting off the sense of rising paranoia that fizzles and blurs the edges of his vision.
Anger and fear dampen his body in a cold sweat and he squeezes his eyes shut when the filtered moonlight tricks him into thinking someone stands in the shadows. Watching his struggle. Smug with ambition.
A groan tears itself from his lips.
He feels like a prisoner all over again, trapped inside his own treasonous body as it suffers through the shock of memory. Grindelwald is there and he’s laughing, the curses he flings out scorch lightning strikes across Graves’ broken and battered skin.
He’s shaking and grasping for control when a mediwitch finally floods the room with light. He swings out an arm, wild and powerful, and wandlessly disarms her before she can even properly get her bearings, startling a yelp of fear from her and sending her scrambling along the floor to retrieve her wand.
Another pained sound rips from his chest, and he struggles to separate what’s real from what he thinks is real.
God, but it hurts.
“I’m so sorry,” the mediwitch says, and in the next instant Graves feels himself blanketed by soothing warmth. The shaking stops, his hammering pulse stutters and slows. When he manages to open his eyes, sluggish and drugged, she is finished depressing the needle, and carefully removes it from his arm.
She presses her cool fingers against his too-warm forehead, and he turns his face away from the apology and concern radiating out from her matronly face.
“Oh, dear,” she murmurs softly. “Just get some rest now. I promise it will be better in the morning.”
Graves chokes on his own shame.
The following morning, he doesn’t really expect Newt to make another appearance. Their talks from the day before and the promise of return seem ridiculous and beyond the realm of feasibility when looked back on without Newt’s distracting presence there.
Graves has nearly convinced himself that his own depraved, damaged mind had made the whole thing up when, miraculously, suddenly, there he is.
Newt stands just inside the doorway with a box wrapped in brown paper and tied off with twine clutched in his hands. He shuffles uncertainly, and then takes quick, measured steps back to the seat by Graves’ bed.
“I hope this is still alright?”
Graves feels himself nod, and curl his fingers into loose fists to hide a tremble that isn’t there. “I didn’t expect you to actually come back.”
“That’s a rather low opinion of me, don’t you think?”
He huffs out a surprised chuckle at Newt’s impish grin and dips his head toward the box. “Does MACUSA know you still contact the No-Maj?”
The smile is quickly replaced by a look of forced indifference as Newt says stiffly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re a terrible liar.” Graves chuckles, taking the box from Newt’s hands and untying the twine with a snap of his fingers. “I heard the debrief. As far as I’m concerned, that man, Kowalski, isn’t it? He’s partially responsible for Grindelwald’s capture, and I owe him a great debt.” He waits for Newt to glance up and holds his stare. “I truly am sorry he had to be Obliviated. They will hear nothing about this from me.”
Newt blinks and slides his glance away, though a grateful smile curls the edges of his mouth. “Then, thank you, Mr. Graves.”
Newt hums curiously and again meets his eye. Graves smirks, thinking he’s got a good record going if this awkward wizard is managing to look at him for more than a few consecutive seconds at a time.
“Just Percival is fine. I’m not here in an official capacity. And, besides, you’ve brought me breakfast. I believe we’re past the formalities.”
“Then I have to insist you call me Newt,” he smiles, fingering the cuff of his coat distractedly. “Mr. Scamander was beginning to sound terribly pompous.”
They share a friendly look as Graves waves the brown packaging away and opens the small bakery box in his lap. Inside are a few delicious looking pastries, some slathered with icing. It is their curious shape however that captures and holds Graves’ attention, and it only takes a moment before he realizes why they look so familiar.
“Are you certain he was completely Obliviated?”
Newt innocently picks imaginary lint from his coat and refuses to meet Graves’ eye. “Of course he was.”
“Of course.” Graves repeats, blinking down at the creature-shaped Paczkis and croissants glistening from the box, half expecting them to start moving.
“You should try the Demiguise first. Jacob’s recipes are really quite extraordinary. It’s the one with all of the icing,” Newt says when Graves looks at him askance.
The taste is a little too sweet, but admittedly still surprisingly pleasant when he pops the small moist cake into his mouth. He nods in agreement that Jacob Kowlaski’s bakery will prove to be the finest establishment of its kind, and tilts the box for Newt to make his own selection.
The next one he picks is rounder and with less icing, though sticky with honey. Two eyes are picked out with raisins, and when Graves chews he crunches on a few sugared almonds and roasted pecans baked into the filling. Belatedly he recognizes the pastry as a Niffler, and has to silently applaud the ingenuity of a No-Maj.
“I tip my hat to the baker,” Graves chuckles, nodding gratefully as Newt conjures him a steaming cup of rich coffee, and then one with a heady smelling tea for himself.
“He is very talented.” Newt finishes chewing the last bit of the breakfast and chases it with a sip from his mug. “Most mornings there is a line outside the doors. He is getting rather popular.”
Graves hums his agreement and focuses on carefully swallowing the scalding coffee. He knows it won’t be long before he comes to regret such a lavish, full-flavored treat after being forced on simple, tasteless foods since his rescue.
“Are they all based off your creatures?” he asks.
Newt’s lips thin, as if he’s debating on whether or not discussing such things with him is safe.
He tries not to let that sting too much, and clears his throat. “I’m not trying to question you,” he ventures. “I’m just. Curious, I suppose. About the creatures that helped save the city. And me.”
“I do believe he draws most of his inspiration from repressed memories of my creatures, yes,” Newt answers, cautious. “Though I don’t believe it’s harming anyone. The muggles seem to thoroughly enjoy the experience.”
“I’m sure they do.”
He watches Newt stare down into his mug, avoiding eye contact and looking increasingly uncomfortable again. He wonders what it must be like to sit with a person who had been someone else entirely only a handful of days ago. How disorienting it could be.
Newt peers up at him from behind the fringe of his ridiculous hair. “May I ask you something?”
“I’ll try my best to answer.”
He hesitates only a moment. Careful. “What will happen to Grindelwald? I’m aware that MACUSA’s policy is drastically different than the Ministry’s when it comes to dealing with criminals such as – such as him.”
Graves winces and tries not to jostle the shoulder he still has in a sling, but also trying to physically distance himself from the question. “I’m not entirely sure. I imagine MACUSA will hand him back over to the Ministry to deal with. He’s not one of ours. We don’t have the authority to order his execution.” He glares, and continues roughly, “Despite his attempt on your life and the apparent ease with which others were going to let it happen, it is, in fact, illegal. And punishable on an international level.”
“I imagine that must be difficult for you. That he may avoid a death sentence.”
He makes a noncommittal sound and vanishes his still mostly-full coffee. “I’d say it’s difficult for a lot of people.”
“There are worse things, you know. I’m sure there are unimaginable horrors awaiting Grindelwald, wherever he may find himself.”
“One can only hope for his death,” he mutters, mostly to himself, but judging by the carefully guarded look on Newt’s face it’s obvious he’s heard. “You don’t?”
Newt chews the inside of his cheek, and Graves can’t help but feel his hackles rise.
“I believe doling out death sentences gives a person too much power over another. It makes a man believe he is a god, and then you’re no better than Grindelwald himself.”
“No better than – do you really believe that? Have you seen what he’s done?” he asks, stunned. “No-Maj’s are nothing but cockroaches to be crushed beneath his heel, and those who don’t follow his beliefs are little better. He cares nothing for the value of human life. But you would see him keep his?”
A beat of silence.
And then, softly, “Yes.”
Graves feels the rich pastries roll queasily in his stomach. “You’re a better man than I will ever be, Mr. Scamander.”
“Newt, please. And I don’t think that’s true,” he murmurs, again giving Graves that careful look, as if he might be a muzzled beast. And behind that muzzle are razor sharp teeth. “Tina speaks very highly of you.”
“Newt. Right.” He frowns. “What has Goldstein been saying?”
“She says that you present a very rough exterior, but she knows you would leave half of your lunch out for the stray dog that hangs around the Woolworth Building. Before your disappearance.”
“I find that says a lot about the kind of person you are,” he stammers. “More than wishing for revenge upon the man who quite literally stole your life and put you through incredible pain in the process.”
“Really, now?” Graves drawls, quirking an eyebrow in disbelief.
“Yes.” This time Newt sounds more sure, stubborn even, and he meets Graves’ eye with a defiant glint. “In fact, I do.”
The conviction in his voice sets off a low, pleased humming in the back of Graves’ head, itching with subdued delight. He tries not to look too deeply into the comment, yet he finds himself curious in wondering what else this strange man thinks of him. In fact, it very quickly grows from simple curiosity to an impatient, persistent need.
“What else has Tina told you about me?”
Newt fidgets beneath his penetrating look, but Graves can see the amused tilt of a smile fighting to come out. “Not much more than that, I’m afraid.”
He huffs, amused. “Of course not. If she had known more about me, perhaps she’d have noticed I’d been replaced.” Though a small piece of him twists at the truth behind his words, Graves grins crookedly, taking the bite from them.
Even he has enough self awareness to realize that he never quite managed to appear that approachable. Before. Perhaps that can change, now that he’s been taken back down to the very foundations of his existence.
“She may have mentioned you used to be quite a bore, some days,” Newt teases, seemingly reassured by the lightheartedness of his tone, and detraction from Grindelwald’s execution. “I find I have to disagree.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he says dryly, amused by the bewildered look on Newt’s face, as if he can’t quite believe his own mouth had given such a fumbled, flattering remark.
He falters. “Yes. I mean. It was meant as one. As a compliment.”
The wavering, shy smile Newt wears blooms a path of warmth through Graves’ chest to his lower belly, and he silently chides himself for being so horribly inconvenient as to develop feelings for the first person to show him a bit of kindness, to speak with him as if he’s not damaged goods, since his belated rescue.
“I’m glad you think so,” he says, hoping he doesn’t sound as flummoxed as he feels. “I’d hate to have bored you to death during these visits.”
“Not at all.” Newt interrupts quickly. “Truly. I’ve had a nice time talking. With you.”
Graves chuckles and looks down at his steady hands, thoughtfully folding the pastry box sitting on his lap into a small square without moving a finger. Not for the first time, he relishes in the freedom of tapping into his magic and finding it capable and present once more.
There is nothing so uncomfortable and painful as having your magic forcibly suppressed for months at a time. The searching for that hidden well inside and finding it inaccessible – like being locked in a cage and reaching between the bars, only for escape to be just at the edge of your fingertips.
Idly, he wonders if the Obscurial boy had suffered such agony. Though it was probably much worse, he thinks, and grits his teeth in empathy.
After a quiet, contemplative moment, Graves looks back up into those brilliant, intriguing green eyes and breathes a sigh through his nose. “You’re a strange man, Newt.”
“I am, yes,” he agrees easily, seemingly familiar with the remark. “People find me disconcerting. Or annoying. It’s why I would rather be around creatures. They are forgiving, and demand nothing more than you are willing to offer.”
He chuckles and nods his agreement. “I imagine that must be quite a relief, escaping into your suitcase of wonders to get away from – this.” He gestures vaguely at the room around them with his good arm, encompassing the world as a whole.
There must be something on his face, something lost and broken, because Newt’s eyes suddenly seem to glimmer with an iron resolve and he looks at Graves, contemplative, curious, before nodding the slightest bit to himself and leaning forward.
“Would you like to see?”
“I could smuggle my case in tomorrow. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was expressly forbidden for me to bring it here, or anywhere for that matter.” Graves bites back a smirk at the hint of sarcasm in his tone. “But, if you like, I could bring it in the morning.”
“Where is it now?” The thought of creatures breaking loose again is enough to raise the fine hairs on the back of Graves’ neck and along his arms. He gives Newt’s coat a suspicious once over.
Newt smiles ruefully at his once-over. “I’ve asked Tina and Queenie to keep an eye on it while I am away.”
“Is that where you’re staying?”
“For the time being. Would you like me to come back tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Graves answers, perhaps a little too forceful, because Newt smiles even wider and drops his eyes. “Just. Don’t let anything escape. I’ve only recently gotten out of one prison, I’d like to avoid getting thrown into another so soon.”
When Newt laughs, it’s muffled and mischievous, like a child who has gotten away with stealing a piece of candy, and it tickles across Graves’ skin until he feels like he is broken out in pleasured goose flesh.
“You have my word,” Newt promises.
Once more, as full night settles in and the shadows dance in the corners of the room, Graves fights the shaking that shudders through his body in waves, and drowns him in panic.
The inability of control, the sudden lack of perspicacity, leaves him reeling.
He’s almost grateful when the mediwitch rushes in to put him out of his misery.
Before Grindelwald, Graves believed himself to be made of stone.
Not because he had some kind of blown-up, exaggerated opinion of his own strength, but because he had felt unmoved and devastatingly unimpressed by the life around him. At some point over the years, he’d become blind. The artistry and elegance of magic no longer existed. There was no beauty in wizardry.
There was only the law.
There was only justice, and the power it took to uphold those edicts.
Disillusionment, of course, was a common side effect of becoming an Auror; to rise as far as Graves did, however, to become the kingpin of MACUSA, it had been an absolute necessity.
There had been no room for anything except cold, calculated clarity.
And yet, somehow, against all of Graves’ logical and rational understanding, Newt has managed to rip away the blindfold that has been his crutch for so many years, and make him see.
There is an entire life inside his suitcase, one breathless, adventurous life that leaves Graves feeling very small. They somehow manage to stumble inside carefully, Newt supporting his weight, and he leans against a large, thrumming tree dominating the center space of where they stand.
There are creatures all around – some he’s only ever believed to be fabricated tales. He knows someone should be questioning the legality of it all, that he should be that someone, yet he can’t even find it in himself to care.
Not with Newt’s hand still resting against his side, comforting and reassuring. Not when Newt is staring at his world, at his beloved, wonderful world, with such devotion and warmth that Graves suddenly understands exactly what it was that he willingly sacrificed to become an Auror.
And bitterly regrets it.
They stay there, quietly, for some time, lost in their own respective thoughts, and Graves is loathe to break the silence. He stares down at the barely-there tremble in his fingers and wonders at the possibility, the impossibility, of never leaving.
“Here, come with me,” Newt interrupts his thoughts, once more taking Graves’ weight as they lean together. “It’s more comfortable in the Mooncalf habitat. You must still be quite sore.”
Graves grunts in agreement, trying not to wince too noticeably as Newt maneuvers them into an open meadow shrouded in night, the moon softly glowing above. Slowly, he’s lowered onto the ground and has to marvel at the silky softness of the meadow grass folding beneath them.
Just ahead, a rock formation rises out of the meadow, and Graves spots a few pairs of luminous, iridescent eyes blinking from its shadow. The Mooncalves chuff curiously at their presence from against the rocks, and a few pick their way down from the top, becoming eager and excited only when Newt reaches into his pocket.
“They’re shy at first, but they warm up quick enough if you give them a treat,” he explains, offering a handful of feed to Graves.
The strange creatures happily crowd close, though oddly conscious of Graves’ injuries, and chirp impatiently as he offers his hand, palm up. “Greedy little things.” He chuckles, their velvety lips and quick little tongues make short work of the treats.
“Yes. I regret to say I might have spoiled them a bit.”
“Just a bit?”
Newt grins around a self-conscious laugh.
The treats gone, the calves content themselves with scenting and churring softly against Graves’ hair and chest until, eventually, they settle around himself and Newt, large orbs directed upward toward the moon’s light, as if listening to some melody meant only for their ears.
Graves runs his good hand over the neck of one of the smaller calves who has taken up residence in the space between his legs, head pillowed in his lap. It blinks slowly up at him and chirps, once, pleased by the attention.
When next he looks up again, Newt glances quickly away, but not before Graves catches the contemplative pleasure in his eyes, and he has to bite his cheek to keep from asking why. Why look away? Why do you always look away?
“How long do you plan on staying in the city?” he asks instead, idly rubbing his fingers in scratching circles against the calf’s neck, much to its cooing delight.
He doesn’t want to acknowledge that Newt must leave New York – either by his own volition or by Madam Piquery’s forceful insistence, no doubt – since that will be the end of this little game of theirs. No more visits, no more teasing, no more being able to feel himself slowly becoming a person again.
Because once Newt is gone, so is the magic of this place, and all that will be left behind is the cold awkwardness of his colleagues and their forced indifference, as if ignoring a problem will make it all go away, forgotten, like it never happened.
For just a moment, Graves thinks of the No-Maj baker and is envious of his clueless life, scourged of every memory involving Newt and his friendship. But, just as quickly as the thought forms, Graves takes it back, regrets the feeling immediately, because in truth he wouldn’t trade these last few days for anything.
He feels a little like a newborn animal, venturing forth on trembling, unstable legs and feeling overwhelmed by the life he now faces alone. Before his capture he’d been so sure, so confident, detached from those around him because being alone was so much more preferable to anything anyone else could ever offer.
But now. Now there’s Newt and his bright colors and his contagious snicker. There’s this wonderful existence tucked neatly away inside a suitcase, exciting and comforting all in one. An escape. There’s tentative companionship, a blood debt, and something small and sweet hiding, just there, growing between them and just waiting to be explored. And Graves wishes he could have more time to figure it all out, to be with Newt a little longer, because simply letting it go seems like an unforgivable crime.
He hears Newt give a quiet sigh. “Soon, I believe. I’m having my book published and I need to get back to London.”
“I imagine it will be nice to go home after all of this.” He smiles, but he knows he sounds every bit as despondent as he feels.
Newt hums and shrugs a shoulder, leaning back against one of the more curious calves nuzzling into his hair. “I take home with me wherever I go,” he says, glancing around the habitats. “London is just another place to drop in on occasion.”
“Sounds…exhausting,” Graves finally decides on. “Always living inside your work.”
“Yes,” he chuckles, and as Newt shifts to a more comfortable position, they lean into each other as an afterthought, using the other to stay upright with a Mooncalf warm and solid against their backs. “It can be quite tiring, sometimes.”
“Have you ever thought of putting down roots somewhere?”
For some reason, the question seems to make Newt sad. He bites the inside of his mouth, drawing his lips into a thin, uncomfortable line, and rubs the inside of his wrist with a distracted thumb. He looks uncommonly vulnerable as he nods, once, almost uncertainly.
“I’ve considered it before – recently, even, since my book is nearly finished. But. There are still creatures out there that need help. And. Well.” He clears his throat and a funny, doubtful little smile plays around the edges of his mouth, doing nothing in the way of convincing. “Really, where’s the point in it when there’s nothing to return to besides an empty house?”
Graves swallows thickly, fighting the pressing urge to ask if Newt ever thinks about finding someone to settle down with. The question feels too personal, too quick, for the delicate balance of closeness newly built between them. Rather, he nods in understanding and rubs a scrape on his jaw that’s still trying to heal, distracted.
“It can be lonely,” he says eventually, thinking about the empty townhome waiting for him once he’s released from MACUSA’s hospital care. The horror imbedded in the walls that will undoubtedly accost him the moment he steps through the door. “And, I’ve learned, dangerous if you’re not careful.”
Newt shoots him a speculative look, concern mixing with understanding in his expressive gaze. “Will you be all right?” he asks, and the question is so loaded, so full of genuine worry, that Graves can’t help but chuckle.
“Yes. I think.” He smiles wider as Newt frowns, unconvinced, and steers the conversation away from their shared loneliness. “Will you find your way to the city again someday? I know you’ve probably got a sour opinion about it from this visit, but it’s not always so…”
“Aggressive?” Newt supplies, huffing a soft laugh as he nods. “Yes, I have plans to come back. I’ve promised Tina a copy of my book. In person.” He clears his throat again and avoids Graves’ eye in favor of staring at a grazing calf. With obvious forced indifference, he says, “I could bring you one as well. If you wanted.”
Graves blinks, thrown for only a moment, before quickly grabbing the proverbial olive branch. “I would like that very much.” Newt’s pleased smile is so warm, so inviting, that Graves feels as if he’s toppling from a precarious ledge and plunging headfirst into a hot spring. “Perhaps you could come and visit more often. MACUSA is in need of a little consultant work when it comes to magical creatures, if you ever feel up to it.”
Newt stares, surprised at the offer, as Graves gives him a searching look.
“We’ve broken up a few illegal imports in the past,” he elaborates. “Though it never ended well for the creatures, and there are always black market deals going down. We could use your insight, if you ever feel inclined to come back and assist.”
Newt looks lost, but also sorely tempted. Graves glances away, back to the cooing calf in his lap. “Just think about it. While you’re in London. There’s no pressure either way, of course.”
“I will think about it. Of course.”
He can hear the smile in Newt’s voice, and it’s more reassuring than even his agreeing to consider the offer. A small part of Graves feels hopeful, already imagining how different things would be if Newt were to become a part of MACUSA, however temporary.
The idea is certainly appealing.
“Thank you,” Graves says at length, after they have sat quietly for some immeasurable stretch of time, each lost in their own respective thoughts. He nods out toward the other enclosures when Newt glances at him from the corner of his eye. “I’m sure it’s not easy letting strangers in a place like this.”
Newt shrugs. “I don’t consider you a stranger. And the creatures love visitors, to be honest.” He gives the calves a pointed look.
“Then what do you consider me?” He hears himself ask, and is surprised at his own daring, though not so much that he wishes to take the question back, or brush it off as some kind of ill-timed joke.
Newt frowns, thoughtful, and then says simply, “A friend, of course.”
It shocks a laugh from him, the innocence behind it. The naïvety. As if they are children in the school yard sharing a toy for the first time, or have the same color shirt, or just look at the other and nod, decisive, confident in their decision that this person, this particular person, for whatever reason, is the one that they want.
He sees the humiliation creep up and stain Newt’s cheeks, and he’s almost not fast enough to grab Newt’s arm, jostling the calf in his lap and getting an irritated, plaintive sound in protest, before Newt can turn and distance himself from the confession, as if it’s something to be ashamed of.
“I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you,” he says quickly, berating himself severely for not keeping in check. “Honestly. I’m not. I…I consider you a friend as well.”
He’s surprised by how difficult it is to admit it, and yet how unburdening, as if a weight as been lifted, and he suddenly feels much lighter.
But Newt keeps his eyes firmly pinned to the ground, refusing to look him in the eye, and Graves feels the muscles in his body clench with nerves and twist with a tremendous amount of guilt for having ruined everything.
“I’m sorry,” he says again. “Please. I only laughed because it’s been three days and, somehow, it feels much longer than that. I’ve never been. I don’t – didn’t – have.” He sighs, gesturing awkwardly with the arm in the sling at the space between them, keeping a firm grip on Newt with the other. “Obviously, I’m not a very friendly person, and in light of recent months, I’m even less inclined to be. But, for some crazy reason I can’t pretend to understand, you’re the only person I’d want to consider being friendly with.”
He grimaces, knowing it’s coming out stilted and awkward, and, Mercy Lewis, isn’t this the worst offer of friendship anyone has ever been subjected to?
And yet it’s funny, he thinks, because in truth he believed himself too jaded and too empty to ever come to this point – ever. Before Grindelwald and after, moreso after, since those long months of isolation had only proved his theory that companions were a liability at best, something to be used against you, and a disappointment at worst, when they showed themselves as uncaring and oblivious as you always feared.
But Newt isn’t like that. Newt, with his beautiful eyes of unfathomable depths, always glancing away at the very moment Graves thinks he can read something inside. A stranger, a foreigner, who saved the city, saved him, and stayed just because a broken, desperate man asked him to. And he’s coming back – not because he has to, not because he feels obligated, but because Graves asked and –
There’s something there, something that sings softly out to Graves’ battered, bitter soul. Something that fills that gaping, acid-seeping hollow inside with light, fills it with gentleness, and itches at the back of his brain because he still can’t figure it out. And maybe friendship isn’t what Graves had been hoping for, what he is longing for, but it’s more than he ever expected to be given.
Newt bites his lip on a grin, chuckling, and Graves relaxes into his own self-effacing smile as he loosens his hold around Newt’s arm.
“Well, then,” Newt says, and though his shoulders are subtly lifted and pitched forward, and his head angled down so that he has to peek up at Graves, and his voice is quiet, unobtrusive and just this side of shy, Graves catches the warmth in his eyes, the pleased tilt to that hidden smile, and the amusement bubbling just there beneath his words. “Since we’re in agreement that we are, in fact, friends. Would you mind if I came to visit again tomorrow?”
Two Years Later
He still has trouble settling, sometimes.
Even though he has been across the Pond long enough that he really should be used to American ways, he still finds some of their behavior absolutely barbaric. For instance, their prejudices run very deeply, Muggles and wizarding society alike, and he has considerable difficulty wrapping his head around their attitude toward women.
That’s not even touching on the views and opinions associated with the creatures he’s sworn to protect. It has taken two full years for MACUSA to finally relent and re-establish The Body for Protection of Magical Beasts, a division that had been disbanded and railroaded ever since the Barefoot incident.
With the organization back in place, and the new laws regarding the safety and care of magical beasts being slowly but surely implemented, Newt finds a great many witches and wizards uncooperative and even outright hostile toward his attempts in stopping illegal importing and poaching.
The effect on populations from such absurd, deplorable behavior is utterly devastating, and most days Newt is left reeling in equal amounts of shock and righteous indignation. Were it not for Graves and his formidable influence – which is due, in large part, to his terrifying power and the ease with which he unleashes it upon those he finds breaking the new laws – Newt knows it would be impossible to go at it alone.
The wizarding society of this strange country is so rooted in their fear of discovery, so panicked of any peeking behind the veil, that they balk at having to protect the ‘liability’ of a magical creature, and prefer destroying it outright, before it can become a threat to their existence.
It’s a difficult mindset to go up against, but with Graves, and Tina, and a growing show of support spreading throughout MACUSA, the battles get easier and easier, and Newt’s suitcase has to be expanded a number of times to accommodate the new arrivals.
The work is enough to keep him nearly constantly busy though, and has provided more than enough content for a second book, which he hopes to finish soon – if Dougal would stop using his notes from the manuscript as padding for the newborn Jackalopes.
“You are making it rather difficult for me, do you know that?” he says, hands on hips and frowning down at one unrepentant Demiguise. “I do appreciate how helpful you’ve been with raising them, but honestly, those are my only copies and I’m sure there are much better options available for bedding.”
Dougal blinks slowly, soulful, as if to say Newt’s complaint is completely reasonable, but rather than give back the notes, they are immediately crunched up and tucked into the burrow around the blind and deaf Jackalope kits, comfortable as you please.
Newt sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.
A chuckle comes from behind him, and when Newt turns, Graves is making his way through the foliage of the habitat with his hands casually tucked into his pockets and the sleeves of his shirt rolled up over his arms.
He feels his face heat up just the slightest, pleased at the sight of Graves and the look in his eyes, as if Newt is the single most precious thing in the world.
“Hello,” he says, only slightly awkward, and smiles warmly into the toe-curling kiss Graves pulls him into once he’s near enough.
He feels Graves wrap an arm around and hold him even closer, sighing quietly through his nose, seemingly worn out from an unbearably long day only to finally get exactly what he’d been wanting all along: Newt, and the little pocket of happiness they’d made managed to create together.
“You’ve been down here a while,” Graves murmurs, and Newt gets a little tongue-tied as fingers from one hand work their way into his hair and another slides down his spine, nearly dragging forth an involuntary purr.
“Y-yes, I was just. Dougal – my notes were missing. And the kits needed a feeding,” he stammers out a little helplessly, thoroughly flushed, but reaching to get his own hands on Graves as well and marveling, not for the first time, at the broadness of Graves’ shoulders in comparison to his own slight frame.
That, and the fact that he’s allowed to touch them in the first place.
It had been more than a little baffling, in the beginning – for the both of them, Newt believes. Graves had been so careful, so attentive, that Newt nearly missed the signs, and inadvertently caused a few humiliating moments between them he’d rather not think about. Ever.
But eventually it became clear for Newt that this quietly confident, serious, firm-handed man was treating him with gentleness because he returned the insistent feelings Newt himself had been struggling so desperately to hide.
And, well, after months of separation in which Newt traveled back to London for his manuscript and Graves painfully integrated himself back into MACUSA, their corresponding letters proved to be an outlet for all the things they couldn’t bring themselves to admit out loud to one another before he left.
By the time Newt returned to America, falling into Graves’ patient arms and being held so tightly, so adoringly, he found himself feeling as if he’d finally come home. A place he could truly settle – somewhere to finally return after his weary travels.
Newt hadn’t realized something was missing until Graves tilted his chin up with a thumb and claimed his lips with a kiss so full of promise and hope that he stumbled helplessly as they left the port together. Somehow, it felt as if a piece to a puzzle had been slotted into place.
Even now, he felt strangely complete, as if the two of them were always meant to be pressed so close, locked together like a vow.
“Are you coming up soon?” Graves asks, bringing Newt back to himself by gently scraping blunt nails over his tingling scalp.
Newt hides a smile against his neck, nodding. “Yes. I’ve finished all I need to down here. Dougal can handle the rest.”
Graves hums with pleasure and presses another kiss into his hair, curling an arm around his waist to lead him back up the stairs. Back home.