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The Thing In The Mirror

Chapter Text

It is only under the greatest duress that I defy the ban on speech related to the incidents in the fishing town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts in late October, 1927. I believe that it is time at last for magical society to understand the terrible truth behind our power, the reason behind our very existence. The struggle to uncover ever greater secrets of magic risks more than the world knows, and though it may have terrible consequences for me, I must speak out now.

To uninquiring souls, this occurrence has passed by as only a grace note in the cacophony of the No-Maj government and its striving to abolish the evils of liquor. Of course there have been other accounts, of the incidents of July 1927 and what followed from the No-Maj government in the winter of 1927-1928; but the grim horrors to which I bore witness in October were another facet of the horrific truth evident behind the curtain of shadows that lie over Innsmouth.

At the time, I was a young man of only twenty years old. I remain famous for my status as an eldritch thing even in magical society, but at the time my notoriety was at an all-time height. I was only newly acquainted with the circles of New York, and even then only through my friends the Goldstein sisters. I had few other acquaintances and no other friends, for very few people would be seen to speak with me even under dire circumstances. I was a self-admitted hermit, preferring any other company than that of my fellow men. In my small apartment I had a cat, a small black creature with eyes that glowed in candle-light, and this was company enough for me.

After the terrible events at the end of 1926, I was recovered from a hole under a building on the northern end of Manhattan Island as merely a small heap of shadows and torn-up magic. Though I was put back together, I could not very well go out on my own again. For a while, in order to restrain my singularly unpredictable and dangerous nature, I was kept in a drugged stupor by the doctors. My dreams were strange and nebulous, filled with visions of weird things and terrible histories. Later I learned from certain books, forbidden to all those who do not swear to the study of the deepest mysteries of magic, a possible name of the landscape I wandered in my dreams. Kadath, the abandoned city, unknown to all but dreamers of the strangest and most horrid sort; but then again, that may have been only the terror of memories which haunt me still.

And names, whispered again and again in my ears, as in adulation. I write it now with trepidation and only because I have sworn myself to absolute honesty in this narrative. Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the Dweller in Darkness…strange names, true; and found in the literature only in connexion to Dark witches. Rumours still abound of unhallowed rituals performed by Gormlaith Gaunt; haunting stories whisper between the learned of Antioch Peverell’s alien writings; and the weird heterodoxies of others put fear into hearts under the pale solstice moon—but I will not speak of them here.

When I was finally released to the custody of the Goldstein sisters, I found myself in a world I had previously not dared to imagine. My grim existence was ennobled amid the cavalcade of marvels and splendors that even now transport me with delight. Does any witch know how truly exceptional it is to speak the words “Wingardium Leviosa” and see a teacup arise into the air? I suppose that at least one does, for I am a witch, and I have the privilege of witnessing such miraculous events.

For the first time in my life, I took up a wand. I was tutored, mentored, and brought into the light at long last, and only when the first blush of joy faded did I realize that I was also under constant guard. I was not free of my cursed shadow—and I never will be—so could never truly be a part of the world I so dearly craved.

I was given a job at the Woolworth Building, as a filing clerk. My early days at the job were filled with a mundane kind of terror, the kind that only leaves a man light-headed and breathless, with spots dancing before the eyes. I never before experienced work without punishment, and with every error I expected to be whipped or worse. But I grew used to this new kindly treatment, and so it continued. I made timid overtures of friendship to a kind girl who worked at the next desk, and before long it was a custom of ours to take lunch together. We never spoke of matters of real substance, but it was quite enough for me; and, when her sweetheart at last proposed to her all of a sudden on an unremarkable Tuesday morning, I believe that I was the first person she told.

Only one obstacle remained, it seemed, to my perfect happiness: the funereal figure of the man who haunted me in the witching hour. Percival Graves was returned at last to the apotheotic halls of MACUSA, despite the hand tremor which rumour had it prevented his casting any great magic and the limp which left him permanently in need of a cane. His piercing dark eyes would fix upon me the moment he entered any room in which I was, and I quickly came into the habit of departing swiftly the moment that I heard he was on the way.

In those days he always seemed to be “on the way”; the Director of Magical Security must know the building and all its occupants as well as he knows himself. This is a lesson of security which MACUSA had the great misfortune to learn at his expense, and Director Graves took an extremely personal interest in ensuring that the lesson was thoroughly beaten into the heads of even the lowliest janitor. He was almost never to be seen in his office any more. Rather, he stalked the halls with a fearsome scowl and an eye for every sort of trouble, no matter how miniscule.

My feelings for him were complicated—to say the very least! I convinced myself time and again that his gaze struck every person the way it did me, that his handsome looks were nothing to me when I was simply a lowly filing clerk, that the slight smile he gave me on one never-to-be-forgotten day was no more than a courtesy. When I feared him, I reminded myself that the man I had tried to adore was not this man, that this man was truly Percival Graves, and not some imposter. So I nurtured small affections in silence, beat back my fears, and resolved myself to look upon him as only a distant idol. And for a time this all worked, and I was happy.

But malignant things stirred in the corners of America, brought out of the mythic days by the machinations of the evil forces abroad in our time. In late August 1927, I was asked to participate in filing reports on objects—some cursed, some not—recovered from a house in the backcountry of Tennessee. I handled one piece after another, and it was only when two hundred artifacts had been catalogued did I discover that every curse identified had been identified only by me, and only by a single touch. My connexion to dark forces, researchers explained, gave me the singular ability to identify curses and dark magic which made me far too important to leave as a lowly clerk.

Overnight, I ascended from a position in the shadows of MACUSA to a place amid the highest seats of power. Without training or certification, I was brought into the circle of the best curse-breakers the Auror Office had. Yet I was an ornament to these great echelons of power, nothing more. I did my duty and obeyed orders, and kept my head bowed in reverence of those about me. My pay increased significantly, and I was at last able to purchase more than cursory furnishings for my small apartment.

Unfortunately, this dramatic ascent brought me into far closer contact with Director Graves than I could ever have wished. When the Senior Aurors brought back terrible cursed objects from their raids, or when unknown curses afflicted innocent souls, I was called upon to identify the magic. In many cases, I was also asked to remove the magic—for, on occasion, this was something I could do. Upon touching the object or person, I would draw the curse into myself, letting it be torn apart by the Obscurus. I disliked the task, for it left me clammy and shaking for hours afterwards, as if I had consumed something nauseating, and still I did it when the Director so commanded.

And he truly never spoke a word that was not in command. He bore himself with the gravitas of one whose power is inextricable from their very being. Yet still I knew that his power was neither selfish nor indiscriminate. Director Graves was a hard man, but not cruel, and certainly not unfeeling. Indeed, I came to realize that he felt more deeply than I had ever imagined. He concerned himself with the well-being of every person in the Woolworth Building, from the house-elves in the elevators all the way up to President Picquery herself, and took it upon himself to defend them.

Many missed this, because he was not soft. But I saw him many times go out of his way to look after some injured soul. An Auror whose mother was on her deathbed was suddenly given authorized leave because he had no more sick days; an elderly witch with dementia who violated rules of secrecy was given an official pardon and sent home to her family rather than being locked up; and so on, and so forth. His hand was never obvious in these events, but there all the same, for eyes that could see.

In the Auror Office, I often saw Director Graves at his kindest. A young woman with terrible nerves burst into tears at her desk after a nasty run-in with would-be modern Scourers and was called into the Director’s office: half an hour later, she emerged with a wobbly smile, a handkerchief monogrammed “P.G.”, and three days of paid leave. A young man working himself past the limits of health to categorize and prepare memorandums of conversation for an upcoming hearing related to awareness of Grindelwald’s followers within MACUSA arrived at work one morning to find that every single required form had been completed and filed: the Director was seen that day to nearly fall asleep at his desk.

All this is to merely say that I was privileged to bear witness to many facets of Director Graves’ exemplary character. If I had looked favorably upon him before, my sincerest admiration was now his. In the beginning, he rarely spoke to me unless to give a command. But my desk was near to his office, and it seemed that we kept similar sleepless hours. I was and remain a chronic insomniac, for nightmares are not conducive to sound sleep, and I arise early because even now I cannot rid myself of the perception that laziness is an ultimate sin. After a week or two at the job I realized that the Director was in much the same situation. I arrived at the building in the morning just before he did, and would leave only slightly before at night. Somehow, by God’s own miracle, he came into the habit of giving me a “good morning” and slight smile as he swept past my desk; eventually, I became bold enough to look in on him before departure and give a quick “good night”.

Such a contact was enough to intoxicate me. I came daringly to believe that I, perhaps, knew the man. For I had never seen him give such greetings to any others in the Office, not even to his most trusted Senior Aurors. Around others, for all his subtle kindnesses, he was cold and hard and unfeeling as stone. Director Graves rarely smiled at anyone. Positioned as I was, so near to him, I was able to observe him closely, and see that the smiles he granted me were truly rare and precious indeed.

Again, I would have been content with this state of affairs. My standards for happiness were abysmally low, based as they were in a lifetime’s worth of abuse and fear. I questioned nothing. If all that I would ever receive from the man who was the object of my most ardent affections, who occupied my dreams at night and stood phantasmally by my side in my darkest hours—if all that I would ever receive was a smile, that was to me the most singular of treasures. I was, indeed, happy.

October dawned gelid and grotesque, as is the custom of the month. All throughout the opening weeks of the month, I felt myself under the gaze of some unearthly force. I began to have the premonitory sensation that my perfect happiness was soon to draw to a close. Thus, when rumours began to creep through MACUSA of the acquisition of strange jewellery, recovered under the most mysterious and eerie of circumstances, I instantly knew that I was to become personally involved with the case.

The summons from Director Graves, when it came, was of no surprise. I collected myself and went immediately to meet with him. He had taken one of the heavily warded rooms reserved for magical experimentation and awaited me alone. He stood in the center of the room, beside a pedestal upon which rested an object covered with cloth. Leaning upon his cane, he could have passed ably for a portrait of an aging king. Despite the gravity of the moment, I could not help but admire him anew.

“Mr. Barebone,” he said by way of greeting. In his clear preoccupation, he did not smile. I was unaccountably disappointed.

“Director Graves,” I said, unable to hide the timidity with which I must always approach the great man. “I’m sorry for my lateness…”

He waved a hand, dismissing the thought. “The artifact I’m about to show you came into the possession of MACUSA barely twenty-four hours ago. So far, no one has been able to identify exactly what kind of magic is laid on it. Don’t let me down.”

It did not escape my notice that he said ‘me’, rather than a customary ‘us’. “Of course, sir,” I said, and stepped forward beside the pedestal. “What is it?”

With a single swift motion, the Director pulled the cloth from the artifact. For a moment, I could only stare, rendered mute by the phantasy before me. It was some sort of a tiara—it could be nothing else—with a band curiously elliptical and irregular. The front was tall, a rectangular projection as long as my forearm. It was chased all round with reliefs of unusual designs, puzzling geometries and fluid marine motifs, worked with precision and mature skill. The metal of which it was constructed was clearly gold, though the weird whitish opalescence hinted that there was another metal whose name I did not know alloyed with that gold.

I could have studied the thing for hours, but there was no time for that. “At your leisure, Mr. Barebone,” Director Graves said.

With great care, I placed my hands on either side of the tiara, holding the bands lightly. The thrum of strange magic was in the metal and seemed to call to me, for my blood raced in response. As trepidatious as ever, I shut my eyes tightly and reached out to that magic.

How can I begin to explain the sensation of this process? It is not touch and it is not sight, two of our most familiar senses; and though there are elements perhaps of the auditory or olfactory, it is closest in description to taste. But that is still not enough to convey the precise nature of my action upon the artifact. I cannot even declare this to be the fabled ‘sixth sense’, for that is mere intuition. No, this is a seventh sense, one that may be peculiar to me.

The sickly taste of the magic upon the tongues of mine was enough to make me retch. It was nothing I had ever encountered before, and yet its strange familiarity twisted at my nerves. I sought its source, for all magic has that. An enchanter must leave traces of himself, his ‘fingerprints’, upon that which he touches. His mark is plainly evident to eyes that can see. But whatever magic was upon this tiara—for it was not a curse, not as I then knew curses—had no source. There was no mark of a human caster. There was nothing at all. There was only the magic, springing from the object itself.

And then it reached out to me. I felt an exploratory touch upon my magic, the kiss of some vile alien body, and I cried out in alarm. I tried to pry my hands from the tiara, but I could not. I only clutched it more tightly, the metal biting into my palms and fingers. The wet contact of that magic, the stygian sound of things moving about me, closing in upon me, was utterly horrifying. I wrenched myself away, cocooning myself in shadows, petrified beyond words, and finally got my hands away from the tiara.

I collapsed to the floor, burning and bleeding, sobbing with fear and agony. At the first touch of hands upon me, I flinched away. But then I realized that Director Graves was the one trying to open my clenched fists and heal them. I stared into his face in incomprehension, at the lines of worry between his brows and his striking dark eyes, and felt that I was looking into the face of an alien being.

“Credence!” he said, brushing my hair from my eyes. “Are you all right?”

“Director,” I choked, clutching at the man’s jacket, “that’s not human magic.”

“What is it, then?” he demanded. His voice was sharp, but his hands were gentle as he gathered me up and bore me toward the door.

Visions of empty stars and things writhing beneath the serene sea filled my eyes. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.”