It’s high summer, mid-July, and though it isn’t the warmest day Credence has ever experienced, the sun beating down out of the brilliantly blue sky is keeping him warm. He’s up to his knees in the tomato plants, which are frankly growing out of control at this point, producing more tomatoes than it’s physically possible for two men to eat. The pail is three-quarters full, and there are three full pails sitting by Percival where he’s lounging in the shadow of the house.
Credence finishes filling the pail and hauls it back over, setting it down by its fellows, and collapses in a hot heap beside Percival, face down on the ground. “Your back injury,” he mutters into the grass, “does not excuse you from helping me out.”
Percival runs his fingers through Credence’s hair, heedless as usual of the sweat that’s making all the loose bits stick to Credence’s neck. “You could do all this by magic.”
“I like work,” Credence says. “Magic doesn’t solve that problem.”
“Yes, well, when I’m not much help—”
“You only don’t help because you’re lazy, admit it.”
At that, Percival laughs. “If you really want my help, just say so.”
“When the plum tree figures out that it should bear fruit, you get to hold the ladder.”
“Maybe you could help me deal with the raspberries. Because if I have to spend another six days bent over the damn bushes, I will go mad and tear off into the mountains to live as a real hermit.”
“And leave me alone here to deal with your overabundance of potatoes? Credence, love, I think you’re overestimating me.”
Credence turns his head just enough to see Percival, who doesn’t stop combing Credence’s hair with his fingers. He’s got that stupidly fond smile, the one that always makes Credence feel very young and very happy. “I am not,” Credence says. “I know exactly what you can do, and the fact that you’re not helping more is only because you know I can do it all too.”
“And who am I to overstep the bounds of your competence?”
They’ve had this same argument three years running. It’s the summer of 1930. Credence has just turned twenty-seven and Percival is approaching forty-four. The last time they left this house, both of them, was last year for an adventure that lasted from September until May of this year. They otherwise haven’t left much. That’s how Credence has gotten so invested in the garden. He’s had three whole years to work on the damn thing. The plum tree is a year old now and still new, but the raspberry bushes, the tomatoes, the potatoes and other root vegetables, the herb garden, and the cucumber vines—that’s all old hat at this point. They have overproduction problems every year. That’s what comes of using magic to keep everything watered, pruned, and protected from pests and rot, Credence supposes; there are some things that get worse when magic is applied.
He really should be looking after the raspberries. They’re literally going to be eating preserves from now until next July at the rate Credence’s bushes are producing. Percival has gotten much better at domestic magic, now that he has the time and reason to practice, and he takes the same kind of fierce pride in being good at domestic magic as Credence knows he does in all the other kinds of magic. He’s the one who worked out how to save all of the produce Credence keeps hauling into the house; the one who cast Undetectable Extension Charms on the pantry and the root cellar and the icebox so they could fit it all; the one who actually does the work of canning tomatoes and making jars of preserves and pickling the seemingly endless cucumbers.
All the work all comes to fruition during the winter, of course, when neither of them want to walk down half a mountain to get anything else; and really that’s why Credence doesn’t needle Percival too much about not helping in the garden. It’s not as though Credence honestly has any idea of how to save everything that comes out of his garden. He’s useless in the kitchen, unless they’re doing things the No-Maj way.
With a sigh, not really wanting to leave the shade or move away from Percival, Credence gets to his feet. He takes three steps back to the garden and stops in place. There’s someone—someone he doesn’t know—coming up the path toward the house.
“Percival,” he says, and something in his voice must be enough of an alarm because Percival scrambles to his feet immediately. Credence just nods down the hill, at the approaching figure. He doesn’t go for his wand, because that’s still not his first instinct—it’s not his nature, the shadow that sits still under his feet is a much better weapon if it comes to a fight, though they’d both rather avoid that—but Percival’s is already in his hand.
“Damn,” Percival says. “We weren’t expecting anyone?”
“No,” Credence says.
Side by side, they watch the figure approach. It’s a woman, Credence can see that now, dressed in dark, plain robes, with a headdress and carrying a large satchel at her side. When they can make out her face, Percival stiffens and half raises his wand. “Fuck,” he says, and the uncharacteristic curse is enough to mildly startle Credence. “Go inside. Now.”
“No,” Credence says, “I’m not just going to—”
“That’s Seraphina Picquery,” Percival says tightly, already stepping in front of Credence, doing that thing he does, which Credence loves and hates in equal measure. “You don’t need to be around her. Well. She doesn’t need to be around you.”
Credence sighs and doesn’t argue, but also doesn’t move. He stands relaxed, hands in his pockets, while Percival visibly steels himself for a fight. Credence can’t help the flutter of fear at the approach of this woman, who he only knows by a certain kind of frightening hearsay, but he tamps it down. There’s no time to be afraid. That can come later. For now, all he will do is wait.
He feels his shadow shift beneath his feet, as it always does whenever he feels a flicker of anything resembling fear or anger. Credence takes a deep breath and pushes that away, too. Better not to bring down the mountain on top of them just yet.
The woman picks her way up the path with poise and grace. She sees them, standing there watching her, but doesn’t give them notice until she’s ten feet away. There, the woman stops. She looks noble, with keen eyes that remind Credence of Tina and Percival, the way they sweep over the whole scene. Credence wonders what she sees. Percival, in shirtsleeves and suspenders, still managing to look like a knight-errant ready for a fight with his wand in hand; Credence, looking like an overgrown Huckleberry Finn behind him, barefoot with green stains on his skin from handling plants and hair escaping from its tie. They must make a ridiculous picture, but the woman never raises an eyebrow.
“What do you want?” Percival demands after a moment.
“To talk to you,” Picquery says. She doesn’t look at Credence once.
“You’ve done that. Now turn around and go back to wherever you came from.”
Credence lays a hand on Percival’s upper arm. “Don’t be like that,” he admonishes quietly. He’s not happy, but—he doesn’t see Aurors anywhere. She came alone. That’s something, anyway. “Let her speak her piece.”
Percival also doesn’t look at him, but Credence feels his posture shift. He’s listening, even if his words don’t match at all. “It’s not safe.”
“We’re never really safe,” Credence reminds him.
“Stop making sense.”
Picquery watches the exchange impassively. And she doesn’t seem at all surprised when Credence steps past a mutinously silent Percival and offers his hand to her. “Credence,” he says, by way of introduction. “I’m not sure I can say this is a pleasure, but I think you know that.”
She shakes his hand. Her grip is firm, strong; the hold of a woman who knows just how powerful she is, and believes she holds the cards. “Seraphina Picquery. Have you got a last name?”
“None that I like to go by,” Credence says. He’s well aware that she knows what and who he is, that this is the woman who gave the order to have him killed. Percival will hate her for that, but Credence does his best to be pragmatic. If his incredibly hazy memories serve him well, he rather wanted to be killed at that point, and would have taken it as a kindness. Being the Obscurus hurt, especially before he gained control of it. “If you’re here for a long conversation, I think it’s best we take it inside.”
“Right,” Percival says, and turns on his heel. Credence can’t help but roll his eyes. He loves the man, but God, will Percival never get over his habit of holding grudges?
Credence makes an ‘after you’ sort of gesture, and follows Picquery to the house. It’s strange, to have her there, in their small living space. Judicious use of Undetectable Extension Charms has made it slightly larger, but with just Percival and Credence living there it’s not like they need much space. They spend altogether too much time closer than any two people have a right to be, and when they do want to be separate they’re both quite good at finding other things to do miles away inside adjoining rooms. But Picquery makes the space seem small.
She sets a letter on the table, addressed to them and marked from Jacob in London, and shrugs when asked why she has it. “I thought it would be polite to bring your mail,” she says.
But after that no one quite seems to know what to do. Percival visibly wants to use a Hurling Jinx to put the woman through the wall, Picquery’s frosty silence evokes images of impending blizzards, and Credence is so tense at this point that he’s halfway to going up in smoke just to get it over with. Prosaic small talk does not seem to come naturally to a single one of them. And the silence is going to become deadly, so Credence makes a desperate bid to keep the house intact.
“I,” he announces after fifteen minutes of people staring at each other across the table, “am going to finish what I was doing in the garden. Percival, you are going to sit here and talk this out, and if I come back inside and you’re still glaring at each other, I will pick you both up and dump you in the lake to cool off your tempers, which you should both be aware that I can do if I want. Am I clear?”
Percival gives him a flat look. “As ever.”
Credence nods resolutely. They’re probably going to have an argument later, what Newt likes to call a “domestic”, but for now he’s satisfied. He turns around and walks outside, banging the door shut pointedly behind him as he goes. Sometimes, it’s nice having Percival wrapped around his little finger, as Jacob so eloquently puts it. He gets away with a lot.
He makes his way out to sit under the plum tree. Credence was entirely lying when he said that he was going to work: he’s actually going to eavesdrop. But he doesn’t need to be in the next room for that. In fact, it’s much better that he’s far, far away.
Taking his time, centering himself, Credence sits down deliberately. He leans back, resting his head against the tree, breathing deeply and slowly, as if he’d put himself to sleep. He closes his eyes, soaking in the warmth of the sun, trying and failing to fight off the frisson of fear. This is nerve-wracking every time, though he hasn’t made a mistake yet.
When he’s sure that every muscle in his body is relaxed, that he’s completely calm, Credence lets the Obscurus out.
It doesn’t explode. A casual observer might not even realize something had changed. But Credence knows, feels the black wisps of his magic curling through the grass, racing out from him like a spider’s web. It grants him awareness, the ability to perceive things at a distance. It’s a skill that Percival doesn’t know he has. No one knows he has it, actually, and Credence plans to keep it that way.
He’ll just use it for now to listen in on what Percival and Picquery are talking about.
The Obscurus winds under the door and slowly, through the shadows, into the kitchen. He picks up what’s happening mid-sentence:
“—bother with us?” That’s Percival. Barely restrained rage. And they say Credence has anger issues.
“Because I’m curious.” Picquery. Calm, cool, collected. Every inch a politician.
“There’s nothing to be curious about. Credence and I are harming nobody.”
“I never said you were.”
“Your visit implies a hell of a lot.”
A heavy sigh. “I’m not here because I’m worried about what your Obscurial—”
“—your Credence is going to do.” That’s funny. ‘Your Credence’. It’s true, really. “It’s pretty damn clear after all this time that he’s not what we should be worrying about. I’m curious about you.”
A chair scrapes violently. Percival moving: Credence can imagine him, leaning back in the chair, arms folded, glaring forbiddingly at Picquery. “What do you want to know about me? I haven’t got any secrets these days.”
“I want to know why,” Picquery says, voice soft.
Well, that’s unexpected.
“To know why what?”
“Why you took Credence. Why you did…everything.”
“Tell me. Please.”
“Why should I?”
Picquery pauses. “You owe it to me,” she says after a moment. “I’m not the President anymore, I have no stake in this, no dog in the fight. I lost the election two years ago, you know that. But—you and I—we weren’t friends, but I thought I knew you.”
“Not well enough, given all of nineteen twenty-six.” Hot damn, Percival must be mad. He never plays the Grindelwald card. Ever.
“Then help me, even if it’s too little too late,” Picquery says, level. “Make me understand why the man I thought you were would do everything you did.”
There’s a long, long moment of dead silence. Finally, Percival says, very quietly, “All right.”
Credence perks up a bit. He’s never had the courage to ask Percival about his motives, the reasons why he’d helped Credence and done all he’d done. That was never really necessary: deeds were quite enough. But now, given the opportunity to know, he’ll gladly take it.
“I was broken, Seraphina,” Percival says. “I did a fair job hiding it, I think, but…at one time I might have been the man you knew, but whoever that man was, Grindelwald tore him apart. I’m borrowing what someone else told me, but when I got out I had to put myself back together again, and the pieces didn’t fit back together the same way.”
It was Queenie who’d told him that, on the beach in Mozambique last year. Much like this conversation, Credence wasn’t supposed to hear, but he wasn’t very well going to sit up and interrupt them. Percival had been very quiet the next day. Maybe, Credence thinks, it’s not going to be an argument later. He suspects there’s a long night ahead of them.
“I went looking for Credence because I was angry,” Percival says plainly. “At you. At Grindelwald. At myself. I still don’t know what I was planning to do when I found him, but…God, you should have seen him. He was starving, the Obscurus was ripping him apart from the inside, he was afraid. I couldn’t hand him over to MACUSA, not when…”
“I know,” Picquery says quietly. There’s the sound of shifting, of fabric rustling, and Credence imagines her crossing her legs, her long robes brushing over the floorboards. “Go on.”
Percival pauses again. Credence knows him well enough to imagine his expressions, the furrow between his brows, the way his shoulders are tight and strained. “I couldn’t hand him over after that either. He was…you saw him outside! That…I could see what he was going to become, even then. He was going to be the best of us, but because of that damn parasite you’d never have given him the chance.”
“We wouldn’t have,” Picquery agrees.
At least it seems Percival appreciates her honesty, because he sounds like he’s smiling at least a little. “I knew that. So I hid him. Got him out of your way. You know by now that the only reason you knew I had him was because Abernathy worked it out.”
“Thank you for blowing his head off, by the way,” Picquery says, interrupting. “Saved me a forest’s worth of paperwork.”
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Percival says, and Credence can hear that he’s got a full-blown grin on his face. “It was the only good thing to happen that night. Traitorous son of a bitch…”
Picquery laughs. “Tituba’s bones, I’ve missed you.”
“I missed you too, these last few years,” Percival says, sobering. “We were…good partners.”
There’s a moment of silence. Credence wonders: are they looking at each other? Meeting eyes and considering all the things that might have been? Or are they looking away from each other, unable to confront everything?
“So you ran off with him,” Picquery says at last.
“Right,” Percival says.
Percival laughs, a real laugh, and Credence can’t hold back his own laugh. “Oh, God, no,” they say, synchronous though Percival can’t hear Credence at all.
“If anyone had suggested that I would have probably gone to Antarctica just to escape the accusation,” Percival says, still chuckling. “Far as I was concerned, he was a lovely young man, a little terrifying, objectively handsome, but not…”
“Tell me, were you making cow eyes at him back then, too?”
“Yes, you were,” Credence murmurs, smiling a little. He remembers the first time he’d noticed—the first time that he’d realized that Percival really only smiled when he looked at Credence. It had made him go hot and cold all over and he hadn’t realized just what that meant until much later.
“Ask anyone, they’ll tell you I was. I maintain that I kept my dignity, but no one believes me.”
Picquery’s voice is dry. “I wasn’t even there and I don’t believe you.”
“I was around when you and McGuinness were together, remember. You thought you were being professional and dignified then, too.”
Percival snorts. “Well, I was younger and stupider then.”
“Well, go on,” Picquery says, audibly amused.
“I wanted to teach him to control his power,” Percival says. “I…made the assumption that teaching him to really harness his magic wouldn’t get rid of the Obscurus, but might give him the ability to tame it, a little. I was right. And he was more enthusiastic and driven than any wizard-raised child half his age has ever been.”
“Well, he never had to deal with an Ilvermorny professor. Of course he was enthusiastic.”
“Fair enough. But still, it didn’t take long before he was coming out of his shell. I was stunned, a little, because of how injured he was when I found him. I’d expected meekness, shyness. I was wrong and so was anyone else who thought of him that way. Any man with the rage to power an Obscurus, to direct it like he did, is anything but meek. He was smart. Hiding who he was. What he was. Building himself up in secret, waiting for a chance.”
“When did you…”
Percival sounds wistful, happy. “I was walking down a road in the middle of Nebraska. Hot day, sunny. I looked at him, and a sunburn he was getting because he refused a hat, and thought about how I could watch him smile forever. And…I realized.”
There’s quiet for a long moment.
Credence’s heart tightens in his chest.
In all this time…Percival had never told him when, exactly, and what he’d thought when he realized what he was feeling. Credence remembers that day. He remembers how daring it had felt when, a couple of hours after the moment Percival described, he’d decided it was worth the fear to try to take Percival’s hand. Standing dripping wet on the bank of the river, offering the man a hand, and watching something change in Percival’s eyes. Feeling hope expanding in his chest and bursting into joy when Percival finally took his hand.
What a pair they make.
Picquery sighs heavily. “You really got yourself right into it. Explains how everything else happened, I suppose.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Percival says, quiet, softly certain.
“I wouldn’t ask you to.”
Credence cocks his head. What now?
“What now?” Percival sounds mildly alarmed.
Even though it’s not really audible, Credence can hear Picquery’s shrug. “I know how accidents like this can change a person,” she says wryly. “An accident is why I’m here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Picquery says, voice laced with some kind of emotion Credence can’t identify, “that I’m traveling to Canton after I leave you two.”
There’s a long, long moment of silence. Credence furrows his brow. What is going on?
Finally, he hears Percival exhale. The sound brings to mind the image of Percival running a hand through his hair, looking tired. “On your own, or did she invite you?”
Percival snorts disbelievingly. “Just…don’t be stupid about it.”
“Have you ever known me to be stupid?”
“We’ve covered that.”
Picquery pauses for a moment and then laughs. “I deserved that!”
“You did. But be careful. I’m a walking display of what happens when you think that you can’t be affected by love.”
There’s another brief pause.
“I’m not in love with her.”
“You told me,” Percival says heavily, “that you trusted her.”
“…you’re too perceptive. How long did you know?”
“I knew the second you first met her that she was going to be trouble,” Percival says. “I’m not entirely blind. It was my job to keep you safe, and if you’d have gotten inappropriately close and threatened American security…I’d have had to step in.”
Picquery sighs. “I know. And I would never have put the community at risk while I was in office.”
“Then it’s a good thing Grimsditch won.”
“Why would you…Graves! Stop looking at me like that!”
Percival laughs, really laughs, and Picquery does, too. Credence decides that’s enough, and slowly and carefully pulls the Obscurus back in. It hums in his bones, content. There’s nothing to worry about now. He stands up and stretches, enjoying the sun a moment longer, before heading back to the house.
He comes in the door, banging it loudly to announce his arrival. In the kitchen, they’re already talking of the election. “—money from the Weiss family?” Percival is asking in disgust. “Did the entire Twelve band together for this?”
“Your…what is it, second cousin once removed?…yes, she also funded his campaign,” Picquery says, rolling her eyes.
Credence swings into the seat between the two of them and smiles. “I see tempers have cooled and there’s no need for the lake,” he says.
Percival just gives him a look. Flat, but affectionate. “There might be if you keep being impertinent,” he says.
“I’ll just sit quietly,” Credence says. He pauses. “Or—well, no, what’s this about a second cousin once removed?”
“I do have family. Terrible people, mostly, proud of the bloodline and not much else. All of them furious that I was the only one in the direct line of descent with access to the money.” Percival shakes his head and looks at Picquery. “Did Delilah get the family fortune?”
“Except what your grandfather locked up in trust for you,” Picquery says. She smirks. “When they brought the bank to court last year, I made damn sure they didn’t get it.”
Percival laughs. “You’re a good woman.”
“I try,” Picquery says. She looks at Credence and studies him keenly. “I owe you an apology for being rude to you.”
“Thanks, but no offense taken,” Credence says with as easy a smile as he can. He’s rather used to it. And he doesn’t blame her; last time they met he was a screaming cloud of destructive magic. He’d be wary of that too.
“Stay for dinner,” Percival offers.
She looks surprised. “If you’re offering.”
Credence elbows Percival. “Overnight,” he says. “Wherever you go from here, it’s a long way.”
The afternoon and evening are pleasant. Picquery—Seraphina, she insists on being called after a while—has a wholly different perspective on the events of the world, and doesn’t mind being grilled for news. She and Percival dissect the entire election and measure the merits of the new President Rovius Grimsditch and his Director of Magical Security Abigail Harding.
“And he’s got a different Head of MLE,” Seraphina says. “Ishtar Vaughn—came out of retirement for it, can you believe?”
“At least she’s competent,” Percival says. “I’ve seen that firsthand.”
Credence talks with Seraphina about the current state of the world, discussing the strange occurrence of English boys going missing, attacks in Australia, and so on. Particularly interesting is a dust-up in the Assembly of the International Confederation of Wizards because the Norwegians took exception to some testimony by a group of Korean Aurologists who were called in as expert witnesses on a case involving an international necromancy cabal.
While they’re talking, Percival fixes dinner. It’s a far nicer meal than they usually eat, because they have company. Credence had no idea how desperate they really were for another voice in the house, but it’s wonderful to have Seraphina’s voice filling the house along with theirs. Although it suddenly feels crowded, it’s also wonderful.
She sleeps on a Transfigured couch that night, and next morning has breakfast with them before she leaves. They walk her out as she heads down the pathway toward the village and the way out. A few steps down, Seraphina pauses and turns back to them.
“I didn’t mention it, but—rumor has it that there are very powerful people taking an interest in Credence,” she says. “I’m not in a position to get names. Still, I trust the people who brought the rumors to me implicitly. Be careful.”
“We will,” Credence says. “And you, too. Safe travels.”
“And good luck,” Percival adds. “Affairs of the heart can be complicated.”
Credence looks at him askance, but Seraphina just sighs. Without a goodbye, she turns and makes her way back down the pathway, away from them. They stand side by side and watch her until she fades from view entirely.
“That was an interesting visit,” Percival says.
“Yes, it was,” Credence says. A thought occurs to him and he turns toward the house. “Interest’s not over yet. We still haven’t opened that letter she brought.”
In the kitchen, they open the letter and Percival reads it out. When he’s done, he drops the paper in the middle of the table and they just stare at each other. The piece of paper, so innocent on its surface, sits there, full of something dreadful.
“What do we do?” Credence asks.
Percival shakes his head. “I don’t like this,” he says. “But…it looks like you’re going to London.”