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Sin Eater

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Percival Graves did not go down without a fight. He has the damage to prove it: broken bones, deep lacerations, and the hideous ache that comes from repeatedly taking the Cruciatus. He reminds himself of that when he starts to despair: at least he fought back. There’s no shame in being bested in single combat by one of the most powerful wizards of his generation.

He tells himself that a lot.

He tells himself that when Grindelwald tortures him for information while wearing Graves’ own face. He tells himself that when Grindelwald leaves him immobilized in the dark for days and weeks at a time which is somehow worse than the torture. He tells himself that when Grindelwald brings him out of his prison just to gloat over how well his plans are going and how no one has noticed the swap.

At least he didn’t go down without a fight. He’s going to go down as the greatest traitor in wizarding history, but at least he fought back.

It’s very cold comfort.

He is alone, immobilized, trapped in the dark. He thinks he’s in his own travelling trunk, but he’s not certain. He waits. To be tortured, to be taunted, to be cut and clipped for potions ingredients. And then he waits some more. But Grindelwald doesn’t appear. He has been abandoned.

Graves thinks about beating his head against the inside of the trunk until he either gives himself brain damage, or dies, but he can’t even do that much. He’s frozen in place, unable to heal, unable to move, he is hungry and thirsty, but not unto death. If no one comes, Graves fears he will live forever, trapped, slowing losing his mind.

He’s not sure how much time has passed when the lid of the trunk cracks open again and a new face, one he’s never seen before in his life, peers into the prison.

“Gosh,” says the face. It has a British accent and a mop of curly red hair. The owner of the face looks over his shoulder at someone else. “I think you’d better come see.”

The lid opens all the way and then Graves sees the most beautiful thing in all the world: It’s a rescue.

“Finite Incantatem,” says a new voice.

And then he is starving, he is parched, he is in blinding agony.

Graves has a moment to be grateful that he’s not screaming in front of his subordinates before he passes out.

xxx

He wakes up to clean, cool sheets and the gentle chiming of medical charms. Graves opens his eyes and he’s not imaginative enough to come up with such a realistic picture of a medical wing. He tried, he tried to take himself away while he was trapped in the dark, and he couldn’t. He couldn’t. There was nothing but the darkness, and the stale air, and the sound of his own breathing, and his own stubborn heartbeat that wouldn’t just give up, he couldn’t just give up, but all the ancestors he can’t move…

The chimes start to ring out an alarm and then there’s a mediwitch next to the bed, gentle hand on his arm—the arm that isn’t swaddled in bandages—and says, “Easy, Director Graves. You’re safe. You’re in Manhattan Wizarding Hospital being treated for your injuries.”

Everything is very bright, and soft, and he isn’t in pain any more. Graves sucks in a deep breath and starts coughing.

The nurse gets him a glass of water and holds it to his lips. “Slowly now,” she says. “There you go.”

A single clear thought rises from the jumble: He’s free. He’s actually free.

“Grindelwald?” he croaks out.

The nurse pats his hand. “I probably shouldn’t tell you, but in your shoes, I’d want to know. They caught him.”

Graves closes his eyes against the hot, prickling feeling there. Mercy Lewis, he’s safe. He’s saved.

Slowly, his thoughts begin to untangle themselves. “Seraphina?” he asks.

“The president?” the nurse sounds surprised. “She’s fine. On her way here to see you, in fact.”

Graves relaxes a little more and sips the water the witch holds up for him. After a few minutes he realizes that he’s not in any pain at all and, in fact, is quite fuzzy-headed and not just from being trapped in a small, dark space for ancestors only know how long. That’s worrying. If he was wholly healed they wouldn’t be casting painkilling charms on him.

“How bad is it?” Graves manages to say before he has to stop and cough again.

“You’ll have to wait for the Healer,” the nurse says.

He waits for the Healer, drinks a little more water, and tries to put his thoughts back together.

By the time the Healer has arrived, Graves feels a little bit less like his head is a sack of broken glass, and more like an actual person again. He can think in a linear fashion, he can recognize his reality.

He needs to be up out of the bed. He needs to be fighting fit because next time he’ll make the bastard kill him first. And also, he has a department to terrorize the holy shit out of for their failure. They’ll let him go back to work. He’ll make them.

“I’ll tell you straight, Mr. Graves,” Healer Indali says. She’s a no-nonsense looking witch with a thick Brooklyn accent, a severe grey bun, and kind brown eyes. “You were pretty beat up when they brought you in. You’ve been in stasis for two days. We’ve replenished your fluids and brought your weight back up. The skelegrow has taken care of those broken fingers for you, and the broken leg. Most of your cuts were superficial and have been healed accordingly…”

She looks down at her notes. Graves is pretty sure Healers are supposed to have better poker faces, but maybe he’s just spent too long as an Auror.

“However,” she says, which is pretty much what he was expecting. “Some of your injuries were caused by curses and what with the time it took to find you, they’ve settled in. Not to mention, the wizard who attacked you is a lot stronger than our curse-breakers. We’ve done what we can, but there will be some permanent damage.”

Graves has never run from a fight. “Just tell me,” he says and is proud that his voice is steady.

“You have a tremor in your right hand,” Indali says, like that isn’t the hand he holds his fucking wand in. “Caused by nerve damage in your arm that we’ve been unable to wholly repair. Although we healed the breaks in your leg, the bone simply will not align properly so you’ll likely have a limp as well. Probably some pain.”

Graves takes a deep breath. “What else,” he says, because she’s still got the same crumpled expression.

“One of the cuts on your arm is infected. We’re working on that but, again, it will likely scar. I’m afraid it damaged your tattoo.”

His wampus. He’s had the stupid thing since he was an impulsive sixteen-year-old with access to too much money and not enough sense. Figures. It’ll be frozen forever then, like no-maj ink. More importantly, she’s stalling.

“Just tell me,” Graves says, even though his mother is likely rolling in her tomb at hearing her son snap like that at a lady.

“Your face,” she says, very gently.

Graves remembers that one clearly. The lash of the spell across his face, the blood that dripped into his eye, half-blinding him. He took that one fighting back.

“Mr. Graves,” she says, frowning at him. He realizes he’s smiling. It pulls a little funny and that makes him smile more until he’s sure he’s grinning like a lunatic.

“Hell with that,” he says because he’ll wear it as a badge of fucking honour so that others can see. It’s not the same face. This face fought back. “I want to see.”

She Summons a mirror and shows him.

Someone’s taken the time to groom him. His hair is neatly brushed, although it’s growing out in a way that he’s not very fond of. He’s been shaved, as has always been his preference. Although there are dark circles under his eyes, and he looks a little gaunt, it’s the same face that Grindelwald stole. Except for the scar. The scar is ugly. It cuts in a curve down his forehead, bisects an eyebrow, runs down one cheek, and slices through both lips, stopping just before his chin. It’s red-raw and raised but he loves it. It’s the best thing he’s ever seen.

Fuck his leg. Fuck his tremor. This is his face. This is his scar.

Graves waves his steady hand. “Thank you, Healer,” he says. “I’m ready for my public now.”

She is too senior to roll her eyes at him, but he knows that look. He’s made it himself enough times.

xxx

Seraphina Picquery is the first in line and she’s accompanied by two Aurors with their wands in their hands, and Queenie Goldstein, the tea girl.

“We need to make sure it’s really you,” Seraphina says. She looks exhausted. He hasn’t seen her run so ragged since the Dragon Pox outbreak in 1913 long before she was president.

Graves clenches his fist so none of them can see how his fingers tremble now. “Of course,” he says. It’s a formality at this point, but he’s eager to get it over and done with. He’s had enough of people wanting inside his head. “How would you like to proceed?”

Seraphina ushers Queenie forward because, as it turns out, the tea girl at MACUSA is probably the most skilled, natural (and unregistered, for pity’s sake) Legillimens that Graves ever encountered. She’s had access to the entire MACUSA and could have read anyone who wasn’t an Occlumens. National security was at risk every time someone had a goddamn cup of coffee. She’s a looker so most of what she was picking up was probably lewd and unhelpful, but Goody Hobbs’ muff, what a disaster.

He can’t even be angry at other people for this. Queenie started working under his directorship and he never noticed either.

“You’ve got a mind like a bank vault, Director,” Queenie says, nervously wringing her hands. “I can’t see nothin’ if you don’t relax a little.”

Graves has spent the last ancestors-know-how-long doing everything in his power to keep Grindelwald out of his mind. It’s hard to ease up now, but he does his best to relax his Occlumency enough that she can get a read on him.

“Oh,” Queenie says, her pretty face crumpling. “Oh sugar, I’m so sorry.”

“Get her out of here,” Graves says tightly. He doesn’t want pity. He wants to beat the ever-loving fuck out of Grindelwald with his bare hands.

Seraphina hands Queenie her handkerchief because Queenie has started to cry a little. “Thank you, Miss Goldstein,” she says.

“It’s him,” Queenie says, probably unnecessarily, mopping at her eyes. “It’s the real Mr. Graves. He’s not working for Grindelwald, Madam President. He’s really not.” She turns to him, lovely and beautiful, and kind, like he hasn’t seen in half a year. “Sweetie, you’ve gotta tell someone about it. You can’t stay in the dark.”

“Get her out now,” Graves says.

Queenie lets herself be ushered out, with thanks. The Aurors leave with her.

Graves and Seraphina regard each other for a long moment and then both try to speak at the same time.

He says, “How long have I been gone?”

And she says, “I’m so sorry, we didn’t know.”

Graves can count on one hand how many times Seraphina has apologized to him.

“How long?” he says.

She takes a seat on one of the hideously uncomfortable chairs that hospitals always provide. She is stately and reserved as always, but they’ve known each other long enough that he can see the cracks. She’s tired. She’s very tired and very angry. “You’ll need to be interviewed,” Seraphina says. “It’s a mess, Percival.”

“Don’t call me that,” he says. “You only call me that when you think I’m dying and I’m not fucking dying. The last thing I remember is fighting for my life against Gellert Grindelwald before he stuffed me in my own trunk and tortured me. So how about you cut the shit and tell me what happened.”

“When did he take you?” Seraphina asks. She’s not gentle. Unlike the healer, and Queenie Goldstein, she doesn’t have that sort of gentleness in her. Not for him. Their relationship has never been one of softness, only one-upmanship, war and blood, and then endless bureaucracy.

Graves is having trouble keeping his fist clenched so he tucks it under his thigh instead. It hurts his arm, pressing on the infected cut, but at least she can’t see it. “August fifth.” There is frost on the window that Graves has been steadily ignoring. “When did you figure out it wasn’t me?”

Seraphina does him the courtesy of meeting his gaze. “We didn’t. There was a…larger incident. I can’t discuss it with you until you’ve been debriefed.”

“What do you mean you didn’t,” Graves says between his teeth.

“It’s mid December, Graves,” she says. “Grindelwald was revealed a week and a half ago. He let it slip to one of the interrogators that you were still alive, and we immediately started looking.”

“How,” Graves says. “The fuck. Did you not know it wasn’t me!” By the end he’s nearly shouting, but he can’t help it. “A genocidal lunatic has been wearing my body like a skin suit for five months and you didn’t know! We have known each other for almost thirty years and you didn’t know it wasn’t me!”

Seraphina purses her lips. “Don’t get excited,” she says. “It can’t be good for you right now.”

“Fuck what’s good for me,” Graves snarls.

He’s startled her, he can tell. She looks away, out the window, where it’s winter now. He’s missed half the year. Seraphina traces a protective sigil into the frost almost absently as she says, “His imitation of you, in retrospect, was not without flaws. He was unforgiving where you might have been lenient, he was dismissive when you might have listened, and he was cruel when you might have been kind. But he also indicated personal matters were behind his moods and you do not have friends at work who would have looked for deeper truth.”

That stings. It’s meant to.

He bites down so he doesn’t lash out in response and is surprised when Seraphina apologizes again.

“I’m sorry, that was poorly said. They’re going to want burn one of us at the stake for this. And I think, perhaps, I owe you this one.”

Graves sits up in the bed despite the chimes warning him to avoid that very thing. His improperly healed leg aches with the movement. “Don’t mistake me,” he says. “I’m furious. I’m apoplectic that no one noticed it wasn’t me. But it wasn’t me. And it wasn’t you. And I’ll be damned before they scapegoat either one of us. Grindelwald did this. Grindelwald is the one who should burn.”

Seraphina takes a package out of her robes and puts it on the bed next to his leg. “Well,” she says. She doesn’t smile, but she isn’t quite so sad either. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve always been a stubborn son of a bitch; Gravelbelly Graves, picking fights with things twice his size. I’ll be back to debrief you. For now, get some rest.”

“Don’t call me that either,” Graves complains as she leaves.

There aren’t a lot of dragons left in America but the Appalachian Shrike Dragon, more commonly known as a Gravelbelly for their habit of eating pebbles like a chicken to help digest food in the gizzard, continues to thrive out on the mountain range. Only about the size of a cat, they’ve been seen taking down prey as big as a deer.

None of which is why the MACUSA Aurors and the odd congresswizard call him Gravelbelly behind his back, despite Seraphina’s insinuation. He’s very aware that they call him that because the beasts are also known for having extremely small, extremely selective hoards that they will defend to the death unlike some species which will abandon their hoard if it looks like they’ll die over it.

It’s annoying, but it’s not wholly inaccurate either, which is one of the reasons it’s annoying. He is protective of his people. He does get very attached whether or not the other person reciprocates. Seraphina, for example, is one of his people. He still considers most of his ex-lovers to be under his protection and would step in to help them in a heartbeat. There’s one or two Aurors who he’s taken in over the years.

And none of it helped. Grindelwald still got to him, and he didn’t even have to kill him. He could have killed any one of the people Graves considers to be his. And he would have done it with Graves’ face while Graves was helpless to do anything to stop him.

Graves opens the package on the bed to stop his thoughts spiraling away from him, and has to press his trembling hand to his mouth. It’s his wand. He curls his fingers around it. The wand shakes. Its length makes the tremors all the more noticeable.

“Fuck,” Graves says, dropping it onto the sheets. He doesn’t try casting a spell. He doesn’t want to know if his wand will still respond to him.

He lies back in his hospital bed and thinks about all the things he’s going to have to replace: his clothes, his house, at least half the fucking Aurors at MACUSA. Everything Grindelwald touched has to go. He’ll burn it all out. If he has to get a new wand, so be it.

Graves hears the soft chime of the painkiller charm and lets the soothing waves of medicine drag him under into sleep.

xxx

Later that day, Graves orders himself a haircut and a new set of pyjamas and robe that he can convalesce in, instead of the scratchy pyjamas provided by the hospital. He feels a bit more like himself again and after spending more time than is probably healthy staring at his own face in the mirror tracing the scar, he gets a mediwizard to bring him a pen and some paper so he can start planning out his changes to the Department of Magical Security to ensure this never happens again.

Graves also gets to meet his saviour, a little before visiting hours at the hospital are over. It’s Theseus Scamander’s little brother, of all people. Newton is lankier than his brother, more ginger, and much more awkward. He’s not good at eye contact, but not in a shifty way, in a way that suggests he’s just uncomfortable talking to people, always.

“I have you to thank for finding me,” Graves says. His own Aurors couldn’t do the job, but this Hogwarts drop-out managed to save his life. He’s going to rain down unholy hell on his staff the minute he’s out of the hospital.

“Well,” Scamander says, looking pleased. “I did have some assistance. And you know what they say about Hufflepuffs.”

Graves does not know what they say about Hufflepuffs, but it hardly seems important now.

Unlike Seraphina, Scamander is extremely susceptible to gentle persuasion and it doesn’t take long to get some of the story out of him: an Obscurial, a suitcase full of illegal beasts, a monstrous fight, the reveal, and then—with a little help from a mildly prophetic and extremely nose-sensitive Rattus Rex named Mildred that Newt had in his suitcase—the rescue.

“I really thought I could get the Obscurus out of the boy,” Scamander laments. “The other one is quite secure now and I’d hoped for some company for her.”

Graves, who has decided that the less he knows about Scamander and his suitcase the better, does not ask how he has a second Obscurus in his possession or if anyone else knows about it.

“Er…” Scamander says. “That is to say…”

“Mr. Scamander,” Graves says. “Please stop talking before you talk yourself into handcuffs. You may go.” He waves him away.

The poor man seems grateful to be dismissed. Graves worked hard to have that effect on people and it’s nice to know he hasn’t entirely lost his touch.