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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.

Chapter Text

Graves checks himself out against medical advice with instructions not to over-tax himself, an ugly crutch that he transfigures into a handsome cane and still hates with a passion, a wand he can’t bear to touch, a home he can’t bring himself to set foot in, and possibly no job. It’s not exactly the highlight of his life and that’s counting the time his father walked in on him as a teener jerking it to a picture of silent film star Rudy Gloxinia and hexed him so badly he couldn’t sit down for a week.

He has to sneak out the back of the Manhattan Wizarding Hospital because there are reporters waiting outside, and also possibly an Auror or two who will undoubtedly want to escort him to MACUSA. If they think he’s up to leaving then they’ll think he’s up for an interrogation. Graves has every intention of going, but he’s got a few things he needs to do first.

His leg hurts like the blue blazes every time he puts his weight on it. No kidding it didn’t heal straight. He wonders if he wouldn’t be better served having the damn thing off and just getting a false one. Time will tell, Graves decides, no need to make rash decisions on his first day of freedom in five months. Except for all the rash decisions he has planned…

When he was in his thirties, Graves inherited the family estate. He has more money than he knows what to do with, since he’s a workaholic bachelor with, as Seraphina pointed out, no friends. He is extraordinarily grateful for that now because he has ample funds to shed himself of Grindelwald.

The first stop is the easiest and is mercifully close if he uses the public Floo. He goes to his tailor, tells her he needs new everything, and gets what he wants. He’s well aware that there’s precious little difference between his old suits and the new ones, but he’s not about to change his own personal style and he’s also not putting anything on his body that Grindelwald wore. The tailor keeps any comments about his altered gait to herself. He walks out with a few off the rack items and her promise that everything else will be delivered posthaste.

Then he goes to his realtor’s office. “Sell it,” he says, of the house he’s lived in for fifteen years. “I don’t care about the listing price, I just want out. And I’ll need a new house. Rental is fine for now.”

Mathilde Ixone looks at him over her horn-rimmed spectacles. “Mr. Graves,” she says disapprovingly. “It took us nearly two years to find that house for you. You were very particular.”

He’s had a lot of practice ignoring disapproving looks. “I think somewhere with a view,” he says. “And high ceilings. Lots of windows, lots of light. Spacious and airy.”

Miss Ixone brightens. “Well,” she says. “I believe I have just the thing.” She pulls a file from a toppling stack and shows him the pictures. “It has a lovely north-west facing view, so you’ll get plenty of sunsets and a great deal of afternoon sunshine. The previous owners were very modern so it’s got a fully updated kitchen and water closet. All the cabinets are new and I believe the floors were just refinished.”

It’s a pretty place, all blond wood and white paint, light pouring in through floor to ceiling windows. It’s not an airless, dark, claustrophobic box. “Great,” Graves says. “Let’s do that.”

She is already reaching for another folder. “If that doesn’t suit you,” she’s saying before she registers what actually came out of his mouth and not just hearing what she was expecting.

“I beg your pardon,” she says.

“That one’s fine. I love it. Have to have it. Etc. Etc. Where do I sign?”

“Mr. Graves,” Miss Ixone says, clearly alarmed. “Is that really you? Are you possessed?”

Graves laughs so hard he almost cries.

The last stop is much harder but he can only go so long with wandless magic alone.

He affects a casual lean against the counter of Qunitana’s Particular Wands to take the weight off his aching leg even though it’s incredibly rude. Graves puts his wand down on the stand provided and informs Mr. Quintana that he needs a new one.

“But there’s nothing wrong,” Quintana says, puzzled. He picks it up, turning it end over end and then peering down the length of it in a way that seems grossly unsafe to Graves. “Ebony wood, white river monster spine for the core, fifteen inches, surprisingly swishy. Clean lines, silver accents. As exceptional as the day it was made. And I should know, because I made it.”

“Nevertheless,” Graves says, because he needs a new wand and does not enjoy being called ‘surprisingly swishy,’ even by association.

Quintana frowns at him. “Ah, of course,” he says at last, and the frown smooths out into a sympathetic expression that Graves has no time for. “It’s been mishandled. Perhaps you wonder if its loyalty has changed.”

“Will you find me a new wand or not?” Graves says. He thinks that the worst part of his whole ordeal is having to put up with all the sad faces and sympathy. He’s tempted to flee into no-maj New York just to have a break from it all.

“It did not betray you,” Quintana says, handing it back. “I was brought in to consult after Grindelwald was caught. To examine this very wand.”

Graves does not flinch at the name although his fingers tighten around the wand and it shakes in his grasp.

Quintana continues, “It’s nearly impossible to transfigure a wand, they don’t like it, so he simply used yours when he had to. You both have an affinity for wandless magic, so it was easy for him to pass undetected. Did you not wonder how young Scamander survived his attacks? Grindelwald could not kill him with your wand. He ordered the death of Miss Goldstein and Mr. Scamander not because it was the proper way of things, he did it because he couldn’t kill them himself. It fought him.

“He tried, in the end, to kill them both. With everything he could muster with this wand.

“Ebony wood, white river monster core. Very stubborn. Very loyal. No, my boy, this is not the sort that would give up or be swayed from purpose. Not even under duress. Sometimes it’s better to bend than break, young Percival, and this wand is also ever so slightly springy. Just enough.”

Graves’ whole arm feels like its shaking with how tight he’s holding his wand, he’s half-afraid of setting off a spell accidentally, but under that is relief and gratitude. He clears his throat. “Thank you, Mr. Quintana,” he says. “Really. Thank you.”

Quintana harrumphs uncomfortably. “Yes,” he says, “well.”

Graves leaves so neither of them have to deal with his emotional breakdown. He does go to no-maj New York though, and sits in Central Park. He watches some grubby kids kick a ball back and forth while they shriek at each other. A flock of pigeons are bobbing around a trash can. A nanny is scolding her charge. Graves takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

Tina Goldstein appears before he can draw another. “Hello, sir,” she says and takes a seat on the bench next to him, even though he didn’t invite her to, and hands him a hot dog. “It’s not made of actual dogs,” she says with some weariness, like she’s had to explain that to people before.

It’s Graves’ understanding that hot dogs might not be made of dogs, but they’re barely made of real meat and are not considered very sanitary. He doesn’t care. He’s hungry for something that isn’t a nutritional potion or hospital food and he’s ready to embrace everything no-maj just to spite Grindelwald. He takes a hesitant bite of the hot dog and manages not to grimace. It’s not very good. Although… He takes another bite. Maybe it’s not so bad. “Auror Goldstein,” he allows.

Goldstein grins at him nervously. “I was demoted, but since it wasn’t actually you that did the demoting, I figure maybe I might get my job back.”

Of course, Grindelwald demoted her. She’s nosey, and asks too many questions, and especially since she has a Legillimens in the family.

“Although, the whole thing was sort of my fault,” Goldstein says.

Graves ignores any implication of fault because he can and because a great deal of his job is pretending not to hear things he might have to take action on. “I can’t promise I’ll be in a position to reinstate you,” Graves says. “But I’ll see what I can do. It would be poor thanks indeed to leave you languishing in…”

“In the wand permit department,” Goldstein says.

Graves licks the last of the green pickle-like residue off his fingers and wipes his hands on his handkerchief. “That’s a bit extreme,” he says.

“I think that’s sort of his thing, sir,” Goldstein says and doesn’t need to explain what she means by ‘his.’ “He also tried to have me killed, so I think permits was a kindness.”

“Goldstein,” he says. She has red sauce on her lapel and she’s wearing a practical skirt for once but her stockings are twisted so the seams run unevenly. Graves has a moment of supreme fondness for the witch who helped save his life. “I owe you a debt.”

“Oh no, sir. You really don’t.” She’s shamefaced when she says, “I didn’t know it wasn’t you.”

“From the bowels of the permit department?” Graves says. “No, I imagine not. You’re one of the only people I’m not judging for that. Who figured it out?”

“Newt. That is, Newton Scamander. When you—when Grindelwald found out about the other Obscurus he said, ’So it’s useless without the host,’ and Newt was horrified. I guess it didn’t really sink in until later, but I know you, sir. You’re not like that. I think he saw us figuring it out, so he had us taken off to be…to be killed. After his speech in the subway everyone knew something wasn’t right but Newt was the one who cast Revelio.”

“Everyone needs to stop telling me about this second Obscurus,” Graves says, rubbing his scar. “Eventually I’ll have to hear you and do something about it.”

Goldstein tips her head back and gazes up at the trees blowing peacefully in the wind. “It’s good to have you back,” she says, a faint smile trembling at the corners of her mouth.

Graves decides it’s in everyone’s best interest if he ignores that too. “Goldstein, do you know what they say about Hufflepuffs?’’ he asks instead.

She looks at him like he might be trying to tell her a dirty joke. “No, sir.”

“Me neither. It’s not in any book I’ve ever read,” Graves says. “Oh well.”

She leaves him alone after that. Gone off to do something reckless and wonderful no doubt. He’ll see her reinstated if it’s the last thing he does.

One of the little no-maj kids kicks their ball wild and it comes to rest at Graves’ feet. He regards it and the children for some time.

“Hey, mister,” one of the bolder children says. “That’s our ball.”

Graves isn’t sure his leg can handle kicking the ball back so he just ignores the child, gets up from the bench, and walks away.

“Hey, mister! You’re an asshole!” the kid shouts after him.

Graves hasn’t been called that, not to his face anyway, in years. Everyone knows him. He’s far too important to be yelled at. He grins and feels it twist around the scars, and grins some more.

xxx

MACUSA is a shitshow, which was to be expected. Everyone stops. Everyone stares. He keeps his head up, ignores the whispers, and goes in search of the President.

Seraphina is in the Ellipsoid Office when Graves tracks her down. He suspects she might be hiding. Not from him, but from the overall mess MACUSA is in. Her secretary really ought to have stopped him, or at least announced him, but the poor man has a terrible crush on him and is so busy apologizing and telling him his scar makes him look very roguish, that he completely fails to do more than wave him through.

There is an assortment of uncomfortable chairs for people to perch on but the Ellipsoid Office also has a wonderfully comfortable settee he knows Seraphina has slept on more than once. Graves takes the settee. He stretches his leg out to ease the pain and puts one arm over the back of the settee just to annoy her with his louche posture.

He appears to have interrupted her lunch. “Graves,” Seraphina says, around a mouthful of stuffed celery. “You’re supposed to be in the hospital.”

“I got bored,” he says. “Five months in a box will do that to you.”

He’s going to be able to throw that in her face until the end of time and they both know it. She’s too calculated to scowl at him, but he can see her nostrils flare in irritation. Good. He’d rather she be annoyed than pitying.

“And yet you seem oddly cheerful. Celery?”

“Absolutely not,” he says. “I’m going to go to the Ritz, eat a steak so raw it’s practically alive, and then get fantastically drunk against medical advice. The reason I’m cheerful is because I’ve been complaining about the security processes here for as long as I can remember. Congress has fought me every step of the way. Right now, I’m just about the only person who is categorically not working for Grindelwald and also has the power to do something about it. I’m not happy, Seraphina, I’m downright gleeful.”

“Grindelwald will doubtless have supporters in congress,” Seraphina warns him.

Graves rotates his ankle to see if it eases some of the muscle cramping. “Of course he does. Half those pureblood boobs think he’s right, they’re all for his particular brand of fascism, but not one of them is going to stick their necks out now, not while Grindelwald sits in handcuffs. We have an opportunity to affect real, vital change.”

“You can’t fire everyone,” she says.

“Not everyone,” he agrees with studied amusement because if he doesn’t stick the landing, he’s never going to get over what was done to him. He needs this, he needs to wrest control of his life back, or he’ll spend the rest of his days living in fear of being stuck in that fucking trunk.

Seraphina looks at his shaking hand where it rests on his cane. “I will only ask you this once,” she says, “and I will respect your answer. Can you physically handle this?”

“If I can’t,” Graves says, “I’ll retire and come back to haunt you as a member of congress.” He has no intention of retiring. He’ll cut off his own damn leg. He’ll petrify his arm in the duelling position if he has to.

He’s almost certain Seraphina knows he’s lying but all she says is, “Very well. Welcome back, Director Graves.”

Then they debrief and Graves gets to hear everything Grindelwald did while wearing his face. It’s a creeping, wretched feeling, knowing that so much damage has been done, and been done in his name. Seraphina gives him a moment to grieve.

“There’s a lot to do, Graves,” she says after a while. “I don’t trust that you’re ready, but frankly, I need you.”

xxx

On Graves’ insistence, Seraphina takes him to Grindelwald’s cell, saying, “I suppose you have to see him eventually.”

It’s a mistake, he knows that, they both know it; he’s not likely to get much out of the man. But if he learned nothing else from five months in captivity with no one but Grindelwald for company, he does know that Grindelwald loves the sound of his own voice. And so, he goes.

He gets, more or less, what he thought he would: A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, as the poet would have it.

He expects Grindelwald to make some comment about the walking stick, or his scarred face, but why go for a stinging hex when you can cast a Killing Curse.

“Such a shame about the Obscurial,” Grindelwald sighs from inside his cell.

They’ve taken Graves’ suit away from him and put him in a standard-issue prisoner’s uniform, but Graves remembers the last time he saw Grindelwald, wearing his face, wearing his clothes, wearing his life while he tortured Graves.

Grindelwald is stuck behind as many magic-dampening wards MACUSA has and he’s in goblin-forged, cold iron cuffs designed to prevent magic usage. It doesn’t feel like enough. Graves wants to draw his wand. He doesn’t feel safe.

Grindelwald’s mis-matched eyes bore into Graves like he’s trying to flay him open with his mind alone, or like he can see every broken thing inside of Graves. Maybe he can, he’s spent enough time ripping into him.

Graves gets as close as the bars and no further. He’s out of reach. There’s nothing Grindelwald can do to hurt him. He still feels cold sweat break out under his arms, and on his brow.

He doesn’t have to say anything at all. Grindelwald is happy to continue: “I’ll admit, I was wrong about that one. Credence Barebone, the Second Salemer, of all the wretched creatures in this world. He was so twisted up with it, I had no idea. You would have liked Credence. He’s not my usual type, too young, too pathetic, too needy. But you enjoy that sort of thing, don’t you, Director? Isn’t that just your idea of a good time? And he was so fond of your face and your hands, and other things…How he shuddered under your touch.”

Graves grits his teeth and doesn’t go into the cell so he can punch Grindelwald until he feels better. “I don’t believe you’d lower yourself to bed a no-maj,” he says.

“But it wasn’t me,” Grindelwald says, grinning like a sphinx. “It was you. And Merlin knows it was never in a bed. He let you have him in the same filthy gutters he lived in. Poor little Credence, just wanted some kindness. He cried at first, you know, ‘Oh, Mr. Graves, it’s so big!’” Grindelwald laughs in Graves’ face. “He squirmed like I’d put the Cruciatus curse on him when you stuck it in him. Pretty little slut. If I’d known he was the Obscurial…oh the things you would have done to him.”

It’s not the rumour he’d have chosen but ‘Director Graves has an enormous whang,’ is better than ‘Director Graves might be secretly evil.’ It’s puerile and lewd, and Graves bets in a week it’s all half the department will be talking about. If he could put a tracking spell on the way gossip spreads through MACUSA he’d have access to the most efficient communications network in the world.

“No need to flatter me,” Graves says modestly. “I’m sure it’s perfectly average. But I have more important things to do than talk about myself and a poor dead boy. Thank you for your time.”

He turns his back, even though it makes his skin crawl.

Grindelwald is nothing if not an arrogant, self-centred fuck. He can’t bear to let Graves have the last word. “He was the most powerful being I’ve ever seen and he cried when you turned him away. Even now, if he survived, I bet he’d come crawling.” He sounds wistful.

“Credence Barebone is dead,” Graves says, without turning around. “Because you’re too arrogant and too prejudiced to see past the nose on your face. No matter what that nose looks like.”

He leaves before Grindelwald can reply, because he’s petty and a bit of an arrogant, self-centered fuck too, and he also wants the last word.

Seraphina is nowhere to be seen, but Tina Goldstein is waiting outside.

“Are you following me?” he demands.

She looks very guilty. “No?” she says.

“Please stop.” He sighs. “What did you want?”

“Mr. Graves,” she says. “I was the one who first saw Credence. I saw what they did to him. What everyone did. His mother made him wear the belt she beat him with. I couldn’t just—it wasn’t right! I was the one who made Grindelwald aware of him. I fed him to Grindelwald. And I was the one who couldn’t save him.”

Graves isn’t used to comforting others, but he pats her awkwardly on the shoulder and it seems to help.

It boggles the mind to think that a wizard could have been so overlooked by Ilvermorny. There’s a serious flaw in the system if such a magical child could slip though the cracks like that. Graves adds it to the list of problems he’ll need to solve.

“Goldstein,” he says, as carefully as he can. “You did what you could.”

“But it wasn’t enough!” Goldstein says, like it’s been torn out of her. “Grindelwald—”

“Grindelwald is a maniac, and a bigot, and a danger to us all,” Graves says. “He abused the boy because it amused him, and he demoted you because he was afraid of your insight. You did enough, Goldstein. You did what you could.”

Goldstein sighs. “You know, sir,” she says. “I’m not sure any of us did.”

Graves would like to argue with that, but he’s too tired to come up with a clever lie.

Chapter Text

One of the first things Graves does upon reclaiming his life and his office is to requisition a new chair. The second thing he does is fire his secretary because, honestly, of all the people who should have known.

Then he fires the Chief Auror, Finneus Bottlesmire, an officious blowhard whose only real talent is that of failing upwards. Graves always hated the man and it gives him great pleasure to find out Finneus had kept up their bi-weekly appointments and therefore had significant contact with Grindelwald. Finneus’ intense surprise and insistence that he had no earthly clue that anything was amiss is enough to warrant his expulsion from the department of magical law enforcement.

Then Graves has to go through everyone else who so much as looked at Grindelwald to find out if they’re complicit or just stupid. No one’s job is secure and everyone knows it, so it rather tempers any excitement people might have had about having Graves back. A few people pop by his office to say hello, but mostly they slink past his door, avoiding his eyes.

It’s going to take the rest of his life to sort out the mess Grindelwald made of his paperwork, Graves thinks, despairingly. The man might be a dictator-in-waiting and a charismatic leader, but Grindelwald is also unused to the responsibilities and daily grind of the Director of Magical Security. He’d make a lousy leader of the wizarding world. He doesn’t have the patience for it.

There’s a half-empty bottle of top shelf whiskey in his desk drawer that Graves didn’t put there. When he goes to his new home at the end of the day and can’t sleep for fear of waking up back in the dark, and when his leg hurts enough to make him foul-tempered, he thinks about Grindelwald stuck in meetings with officious blowhards like Bottlesmire, desperate to hide in the office he stole and console himself with alcohol. It’s enough to get Graves through the days even though he wonders if the more intense torture sessions came after those bi-weekly meetings.

By the end of his first week back, Graves has reinstated Goldstein to her position as Junior Auror, fired three senior Aurors, demoted eight, and put four on very strict probation. Late on Saturday afternoon he gets to Birgit Copperhead. Of all the idiots in the Auror department, she’s at least somewhat competent and although he’d go to his tomb before admitting it, he likes her gumption and her out-of-the-box thinking. He wants her to take over the job of Chief Auror so she’d better have something to say for herself.

Copperhead slouches in, hands in the pockets of her slacks. “You made Doreen cry,” she says, taking a seat. Copperhead crosses her legs at the knee in a way that would make Graves’ dear departed mother mutter under her breath about ‘modern girls,’ and lights a cigarette with her wand.

“Doreen always cries,” Graves says, transfiguring a pen into an ashtray for Copperhead. “That’s why I avoid meetings with her.”

“She’s not going to be happy you’re back. She didn’t cry after her one-on-ones with Grindelwald,” Copperhead says.

Actually, Doreen Gillyflower, a junior Auror and one of Copperhead’s “knitting circle,” (which Graves has long suspected is just a funny way of saying the MACUSA sapphics) had been so happy to see him she’d actually hugged him. “You weren’t yelling at me any more! I thought you just gave up on me, Sir,” she’d said, sobbing. “I thought you were going to fire me.”

Graves hadn’t had the heart to pink slip her after that.

“Yes,” Graves says to Copperhead. “Let’s talk about Grindelwald and how displeased I was to find out you didn’t notice I had been replaced by an imposter, for five months.”

Copperhead sighs out smoke. “I can’t blame you for being mad,” she says. “But look at it from my perspective: what’s more likely? That you were acting like a prick, or that you’d been replaced by an evil European nutjob?”

“This is the Department of Magical Security. It’s our job to investigate suspicious, potentially magical things.”

“You being an asshole isn’t suspicious, Boss. No offence.” Copperhead taps her ash in what seems like a very pointed manner.

Graves refrains from hexing her into next week because punishing subordinates for factually accurate statements is not the way to promote honesty.

“He cancelled a lot of meetings. We cleared our cases, we submitted our reports, we got new cases,” Copperhead says. “In all honesty, I think the fact that he wasn’t riding Bottlesmire about our numbers should have been the sign he wasn’t you. I’ve been thinking about it, and I figure we were small potatoes to him in the grand scheme. He was kind of shitty to us, but also way more relaxed about the job. He went home at five o’clock, he took a lot of long lunches. We thought you were seeing someone, and it was wildly tumultuous. Then you sent Tina down to permits and we thought maybe she was the affair, but then Aber….er…someone said you were, uh, Twilight Aristocracy. And then there was a whole thing about that.”

“Copperhead,” Graves says.

“You know how the rumour mill is here. By the time everyone dragged what they knew of your history into the light and agreed that you’re a wolf and probably not breaking code 18.c section iii to have an illicit affair with Tina Goldstein there was the whole ‘Grindelwald is coming to America’ problem and then of course the ‘buildings being ripped apart’ problem and no one was really wondering why you’d started taking lunch breaks.”

“Birgit,” Graves says. “Firstly, I am your boss, for the love of everything you hold sacred, stop speculating on my sexual preferences. Secondly, try to remember that it wasn’t me and adjust your language accordingly.”

“Sorry,” Copperhead says, unrepentant. “Next time you stop calling me in to give me the eyebrows—yeah, those ones—and chastise me for my recklessness, I’ll check for imposters.”

Graves pushes the folder on his desk towards her. “I hate to disappoint, but our little chats about your recklessness are going to have to be cancelled for the foreseeable future. The Chief Auror needs to curb her own recklessness.”

Copperhead nearly drops the cigarette, managing to get ash all over her coat. She’s distracted for a moment, patting herself down in case of stray embers and then says, “Are you serious? You want to promote me? To desk duty?”

“Bottlesmire made it a desk job,” Graves says. “I had to pick up the slack. There’s nothing that says the Chief Auror can’t take cases.”

“You son of a bitch,” Copperhead says. “If I take this job my wife will kill me. And she’ll kill me if I don’t.”

“We live in dark times,” he says consolingly. “I doubt any of us will have the luxury of desk duty in the long term. You might as well enjoy the promotion since nothing is safe.”

She hesitates, but eventually stubs out her cigarette and takes the folder. She flips through it, and gives a low whistle. The salary is generous. She’ll get her own office. She’ll run the entire American Aurors division. There’s no way she’ll turn it down and they both know it. “Okay…okay, Gravelbelly, you win.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“I’m gonna be really mad if I’m not one of the hoard now,” Copperhead says.

“There is no hoard,” Graves lies. He leans back in his chair, hands folded over his stomach. “There is only what can only be described as a bureaucratic clusterfuck,” he says with a mean smile. “We’re overhauling everything we can get our grubby hands on. I’ll see you Monday, bright and early, for our 8:30am meeting on Ilvermorny’s contact/no-contact policies.”

Copperhead stands up in a swirl of leather trench coat. “You know, Director,” she says, pointing an accusing finger at him, “I’m not saying Grindelwald was more fun than you, but it wouldn’t kill you to take a long lunch every now and then, either, if you catch my drift.”

“Get out of my office before I change my mind, Chief Auror Copperhead,” Graves says, and waves her out. She flips him the bird and goes.

xxx

When five o’clock comes, Graves takes Copperhead’s advice. It’s Saturday, after all. He might as well get home at a reasonable hour, even if he’s got nothing to go home to.

It’s a nice day out, and he’s spent five months trapped in a dark box, so he decides to walk a little. His leg protests, but Graves has had about enough of its complaints and figures any future pain is the problem of his future self.

He’s barely two blocks away from the Woolworth building when he hears the sound of a heavy wind crashing through trees combined with a ghostly scream and a roar like a dragon, or a train. Graves ducks down the nearest side-street and pulls his wand instinctively, turning around and putting his back to the brick building behind him. He’d have trouble hitting the broad side of a barn door the way his shaking hand affects his aim, but at this point he’s ready to start throwing punches if he has to.

There’s nothing dangerous there though, except for a wretched creature made of ragged clothes and skinny, pale limbs that stumbles towards him. It’s just a boy.

“Mr. Graves,” the boy says in a whisper as thin as parchment.

He doesn’t know this boy—a young man, he sees now—who sags to his knees at Graves’ feet like it’s taken every ounce of strength for him to get that far. He’s not a threat, so Graves lowers his wand.

“I’m sorry,” the young man says. “Please, don’t send me away.”

His fingers hover over the hem of Graves’ trousers and the shine of his shoes, like he’s been brought too low to even dare to touch that much. He’s nearly prostrate, his head bowed down, his thin back a trembling curve of tension, scarred and sore underneath his tattered clothing. Graves doesn’t know what to say. He’s never met this kid before.

“I’ll be good for you,” the kid says and then he’s tipping forward and his mouth is pressed worshipfully to the toe of Graves’ shoe. “I’ll do anything you say,” he promises the leather.

More than a little horrified, Graves stumbles back until he’s pressed against the wall, but the kid takes it the wrong way and reaches out after him, desperate.

“Please don’t abandon me,” he begs.

Graves remembers what Grindelwald had said: Even now, if he survived, I bet he’d come crawling.

“Proctor’s saggy asshole,” he mutters. “Credence Barebone.”

The kid looks up, not all the way, not at Graves’ face. “Sir,” he says, but nothing else seems to be forthcoming.

There isn’t going to be an easy way to do this, Graves realizes. He squats down on his heels, ignoring the way his leg screams at him, and touches the Obscurial’s face gently. The Obscurial leans into his hand, presses his cheek into Graves’ palm and lets out a ragged breath, eyes fluttering closed.

“Thank you, Mr. Graves,” he says prayerfully. “I’ll never disobey you again.”

The Brits are arguing to have Grindelwald extradited to face justice there but the stupid fuckers don’t have the death penalty. Graves wants to cast the killing curse himself so the last thing Grindelwald sees is the face he stole.

Credence Barebone is not his fault, Graves reminds himself. He didn’t do this, the same way he didn’t try to kill Tina Goldstein and Newt Scamander, the same way he didn’t murder innocent people.

“Come with me,” Graves says, as kindly as he can, which isn’t very, and stands. Barebone rises with him but despite being taller than Graves he’s so hunched in on himself that he’s practically a head shorter. Upright, the Barebone boy is an awkward creature. He’s like a dog that’s been kicked one too many times, or one of the nags that pull the no-maj hacks, too beaten down to do anything but haul their burdens all over New York City.

He takes Credence’s arm, ignores the flinch, ignores the warning bells of his own common sense, and Side-Alongs an Obscurial to his new house.

Credence looks a little green around the gills and Graves nearly falls over when his leg fails to hold his weight. They both manage to retain some dignity; Credence doesn’t vomit, and Graves doesn’t fall, so he considers it a success.

Graves walks him straight through the wards, hoping that nothing is going to set Credence off, and deposits Credence on the living room sofa while he rummages around trying to remember where he put his medical supplies, grabs his dressing gown, and magics up a hot chocolate and doses it with whiskey. It’s hell on his leg to have to get everything himself but Grindelwald murdered his House Elf to avoid her spilling the beans about his identity and Graves hasn’t had the heart to replace her. Keely had served him for fifteen years, loyal as anything. She hadn’t deserved to die.

He’s not surprised to find that Credence hasn’t moved so much as a hair by the time he limps back into the sitting room.

“You’re not dead,” Graves says, because it bears saying.

“No,” Credence agrees. “For a while I thought I might be.”

Graves knows a little about that. “A lot has happened,” he says. Credence is shaking, arms wrapped around himself. He’s not crying, but his breathing is ragged and too-fast. “We’ll talk about that later…” Graves doesn’t even know where to start. “Are you hurt?”

Credence blinks up at him. “The light tore me apart,” he says. He’s not so young-looking when Graves can properly see his face. Credence has the same old, haunted eyes that Graves saw on the men on the Front. “Have I been purified?”

Graves knows very little about the details of the no-maj Bibble. He knows the usual stuff about how Jesus sounds a whole lot like a wizard who didn’t know he was a wizard, the concept of heaven, the spectre of hell. Most of what he knows comes from being shouted at on the streets by lunatics as he hurries past them, but the details, not so much. He’s been told there’s a lot of begats and one bit about not eating owls, which seems like good advice to him. But mostly wizards don’t have a lot of truck with no-maj religion and he’s no different.

“I don’t think it works like that,” Graves says. “I think they tried to kill you, and I think you were very strong, and very brave, and you survived.”

Credence does cry then, silently, fat tears rolling down his cheeks. “I know you tried to help,” he whispers.

It makes Graves feel a little bit sick to think that Credence isn’t talking to him, not really. He thinks he’s talking to Grindelwald. A man who, by all accounts, mostly just lied to the kid and would have broken him with ease if he’d known what Credence is. And Credence just threw himself at Grindelwald’s feet. What a mess.

Graves puts the dressing gown over Credence’s thin shoulders and Credence crumples into him, collapsing like wet paper. Graves barely manages to avoid spilling hot chocolate over them both when Credence’s forehead hits his shoulder. Carefully, he Levitates the cup over to an end table and then, for lack of any better ideas, puts his arms around the Obscurial and holds him for a while.

It doesn’t take very long for Credence to shyly pull away but Graves is still no closer to figuring out how he’s going to tell the boy the truth. The wards on his new house are strong, but he’s not sure they can contain the Obscurus if Credence loses hold of it. He pushes the hot chocolate into Credence’s hands with strict orders to drink up.

“I need to make a…uh…” He needs to make a firecall but he’s not sure how much the Obscurial knows about magic and it doesn’t seem like the time for a lesson. Graves resolves to spend more time catching up with no-maj technology. They’ve come up with a few things that put magic to shame and he feels like a complete dunce groping about for the name of a common tool. “Acoustic telegraph?” He tries not to make it a question. “I’ll return shortly.”

Credence clutches at his sleeve. “Are you going to turn me in?”

“Into what?” Graves says, distracted. “Oh, no, but there’s someone who can help you, help us. That thing inside you…he knows a lot about it. You don’t want to hurt anyone else, do you?”

“No, sir.”

“Good man,” Graves says and levers himself to his feet. “I’ll be right back.”

Credence stares at Graves’ leg, and finally, at his face. “Did I do that to you?”

Graves sighs. “No, Credence. You never hurt me. Like I said: a lot has happened.”

He doesn’t flee to his study, but it feels a little bit like fleeing.

Chapter Text

Graves firecalls his new secretary and tells him that he needs to get hold of Newton Scamander immediately and bring him back to New York on the first available portkey. Whatever it takes, Scamander has to be in front of Graves in under 24 hours, and never mind that it was nearly Sunday. Sunday be damned!

Then he gets the address for Goldstein only to be informed that he can’t firecall her because she lives in a no-maj building and there isn’t a fireplace to call to. Cursing, he Apparates to her building, storms up the stairs ignoring the shouting of the landlady and the screaming of his leg, and bangs on the door.

“D’you mind!” Queenie Goldstein says, opening the door with a flourish. “Director?”

“No men!” the landlady shouts. “Out! Or I call police!”

Graves turns on her angrily. “Ma’am, I am the police, and this is a national emergency so you will kindly close your head before I have you arrested for impeding an investigation.”

When she demands to see identification, he Stupefies her. Tituba’s bones, what a pain. He Obliviates her and floats her back into her own apartment.

Tina has appeared in the doorway, looking tremulous. “I don’t think you ought to have done that, Sir. Mrs. Esposito’s been Obliviated quite a bit. I think it’s started to have a detrimental effect.”

“Auror Goldstein,” Graves says, stepping rudely into the apartment and shutting the door behind himself. “I need you and your sister to come with me to my residence, immediately.”

He rattles off the address and Apparates back to his house.

“Credence,” he says, hurrying back into the sitting room. “You remember Tina Goldstein? The woman who tried to help you.”

“She stopped Ma from beating me,” Credence says. “And then, in the subway, I think she was there. It’s hard to remember what happened. Things get jumbled when I’m…when…”

“It’s called an Obscurus.”

“I remember,” Credence says, showing a bit of spine for the first time. “You told me already.”

“Right,” Graves says. “About that.” He’s saved by the ringing of his doorbell. “I invited Tina and her sister over to see you. I think she’d like to know you’re safe.”

Graves lets the sisters into his house saying, “Credence Barebone is alive,” before ushering them into the sitting room. It’s probably a bit less warm-up than he should have given them but he’s not happy about leaving Credence alone, even for a moment.

“What!” Tina says and then, “Oh!”

It’s probably the most cowardly thing Graves has ever done in his life. He sits on a chair, within reach of Credence, but not on the sofa next to him, and lets the Goldstein sisters explain that the Mr. Graves Credence knew was in fact the Dark Wizard Grindelwald, and that Percival Graves himself had been stuck in a trunk for five months. He reasons that it will sound better coming from a third party so that the sheer outlandishness of the situation can be corroborated. And also, Queenie can voice the questions that Credence can’t.

For his part, Credence takes the news rather well although that might be shell-shock. Mostly he’s just sipped his drink, clutched the dressing gown around him, and stared at Graves as though Graves will vanish on him.

“I know it must seem very strange,” Tina is saying.

Credence shrugs a little. “I can turn into a smoke monster,” he says. “A magic disguise doesn’t seem so far-fetched.”

Well, Graves thinks, when you put it like that.

“I should have told you right away,” Graves says, “but I didn’t want to upset you.”

Credence blinks at him, dark eyes shining in the lamplight. “Because I kill people when I’m upset,” he says, voice pitching up as his throat tightens around some big emotion. “I’m a danger to everyone around me.”

Queenie glares at Graves. “That ain’t what we’re saying,” she says. “Is it Mr. Graves?”

“He has been lied to quite enough,” Graves says, and then to Credence; “Yes, it is what I’m saying. We need to be sensitive to your emotional state because the unstable nature of the Obscurus makes you dangerous. But Auror Goldstein’s friend, Newt Scamander, might be able to get it out of you and then we can sit around telling each other upsetting things all day, just the two of us.”

Credence’s face crumples but he’s dry-eyed. “You’re funny,” he says, like his heart is breaking. “He was never funny.”

Graves thinks his own face might crumple a little too. He’s heard a lot of excuses as to why people didn’t notice he’d been replaced, and almost no one had more to say about it than to talk about his professional conduct versus that of Grindelwald. It feels like Credence might be the first to notice that he is, he hopes, quite different from Grindelwald as a person.

The corner of Credence’s mouth turns up into something like a smile but utterly devoid of happiness. “I guess he didn’t have to pretend to be you when he was with me.”

“Good,” Graves says briskly. He reaches over and pats Credence on the knee. “Then you should have no trouble telling us apart.”

Credence squirms in his seat, tucking the dressing gown more tightly around himself and Queenie looks at Graves with a slight frown on her face. He takes his hand back, chagrined. Of course, Grindelwald probably manhandled the poor kid.

Credence opens his mouth as though he’s about to say one thing but then changes his mind. “I thought I am the Obscurus. How can you separate me from myself?”

Graves and the Goldstein sisters exchange a series of speaking looks. “It’s more like…The Obscurus is like a little animal living inside you, and it eats up all your magic,” Tina says, making the attempt to explain something that none of them really understand. “And my friend Newt, you saw him in the subway, he said he could detach it from you so your magic can grow properly. It was a bit over my head.”

It’s a bit over everyone’s head, Graves doesn’t say since he’s running this circus, so he’s got to at least pretend he knows what he’s doing.

“What if he can’t get it out?” Credence says. “What if I’m stuck like this?”

Graves is very glad Queenie can’t read his mind because if they can’t separate the Obscurus, Credence is a danger not only to himself and others, but to the entire statute of secrecy and congress will try to have him executed. Or it will eventually just consume him, the way an Obscurus does to every other Obscurial. Either way, it’s a death sentence.

“We’ll Incendio that bridge when we get to it,” Graves says with a confidence he doesn’t feel.

xxx

It is agreed that Credence will stay/hide with Graves until Scamander can get to New York and remove the Obscurus, at which point there will be a lot more choices. They don’t know each other, but the only other option is for Credence to bunk with the Goldsteins and he doesn’t really know Tina either, and men aren’t allowed at the tenement.

“I don’t want to put you out, Mr. Graves,” Credence argues. “You’re a busy, important man. I can come back tomorrow.”

“You are not sleeping on the streets,” Queenie says.

Credence is impoverished even by the standards of the average no-maj transient. All he owns are the clothes on his back, and they’re half shredded. He’s scared, alone, and practically has a sign flashing over his head saying that he’s an easy target. Five minutes on the streets and someone with an eye out for the main chance will be the cause of the second major Obscurus attack on New York City.

“If it was going to put me out I would have suggested a hotel,” Graves says, although he absolutely would not have, but he’s started to notice that kindness seems to hurt Credence almost as much as cruelty. At the very least it makes Credence desperately uncomfortable. “I have a guest room, more linens than a bachelor reasonably needs, and I won’t hear another word about it, am I clear?”

Tina gives Graves the stink-eye, but Credence seems relieved by the firm handling. “Yes, Mr. Graves,” Credence says. It’s not quite in the same worshipful tones that he used in the alley, but it’s not far off either.

“I’m not sure—” Tina says but is stopped by her sister.

“It’s awful late,” Queenie says, even though it’s barely seven-thirty. “And Teenie and I ought to be getting home now.” She kisses Credence on the cheek, quick as a flash, before he can flinch away. “It’s so nice to meet you, honey. I’m sure we’ll see you again soon.” Then she’s dragging Tina away even as Tina stammers out a goodbye.

Graves has very good hearing and no scruples about eavesdropping so he hears Queenie hiss, “That boy’s got nothin’ and no one except his bad memories. Mr. Graves settles him and you’re not going to ruin that because of some prudish notion of propriety!”

They show themselves out, the wards sealing shut behind them, and then it’s just Graves and his incredibly dangerous houseguest.

“Mr. Graves,” Credence says. “Do you know where my sister is?”

Graves has seen the files but he was more interested in what Grindelwald was doing rather than what happened to the no-majes. It takes him a minute to remember. “There were two in the church—”

“That was Ma, and Chastity,” Credence says, choked up and ashamed. “I killed them.”

“You did not,” Graves says, firmly. “The little girl hasn’t been found. She wasn’t in the church and she would have been Obliviated—you won’t remember that. Every no-maj in New York had their memories erased. She won’t remember what happened. Special Investigations are looking for her. They want to make sure she’s not magical, like you.”

“We’re not related by blood,” Credence says. “I don’t know if she’s like me. She had a wand. She said it was a toy. But Modesty’s only eight, she won’t know what to do. She had family but they died, and then Ma adopted her. She doesn’t know how to be on her own.”

Graves gets the distinct impression that even if Credence hadn’t been so beaten down by Mary-Lou he would have stuck around just to protect the little girl as best he could. “They’ll find her,” Graves says. “And as soon as they do, I’ll make sure she’s taken care of. Magical or not. I’ll put a bug into Tina’s ear and she’ll speed things along.”

“Thank you,” Credence says. “I know I scared her. She hid and I took Grindelwald to find her and…” He covers his face with his hands, hunched in on himself in a miserable little ball.

Graves doesn’t know what to do with himself, and Credence seemed to like physical contact before, so he perches on the arm of the chair Credence is in and tucks the boy against his side in a sort of half-hug until Credence uncurls again.

“You don’t smell the same as him,” Credence says hesitantly, into the quiet. “The same soap, the same cologne, but you smell different underneath.”

The part of Graves’ brain that still thinks like an Auror notes how good Credence is at finding things to say that he thinks will make people happy. In this case, Graves likes knowing the differences between himself and Grindelwald, and Credence is now making himself less of a target by being pleasing. It’s a clever survival tactic, and probably one he doesn’t consciously know he’s employing.

The rest of Graves doesn’t like to think how close Grindelwald got that Credence knows that.

“I need to ask you a few questions,” Graves says, shifting over to the sofa, “and I thought it might be better if they were private. Grindelwald had frequent contact with you, is that right?” He already knows the answer, but it seems better to ease into it.

“At least once a week, sometimes more.”

“And when he approached you, when he was with you…” Graves tries to be delicate. It’s probably not very fair of him to ask this now, but he has to know. For his own peace of mind, he has to know. “Did Grindelwald inopportune you?”

Credence looks up then, confused. “What?”

So much for delicacy. “I mean, did he touch you?” Graves asks, because he can’t bear to say, ‘Did he make you service him? Did he fuck you? Because we both know you would have let him have you. You would have given him anything, the monster with my face. You would have thanked him for it.’

Credence flushes a beautiful pink. “No, Mr. Graves. Not how you mean.”

Graves doesn’t sag back into the couch but it’s a near thing. It must have just thrilled Grindelwald to know that he and Graves shared the same proclivities. He could have been fucking wizards up and down the eastern seaboard and no one would have been too surprised. Graves had been almost a hundred percent sure that he wouldn’t demean himself to fuck a squib or a no-maj, but it’s a relief to have confirmation. He doesn’t have to make that up to Credence at least.

“Once,” Credence says. His hands fist in his lap. His cheeks and ears are scarlet now.

“Credence,” Graves says, as gently as he can. “I won’t be angry.”

“He could see into me and once he said what I wanted wasn’t a sin,” Credence whispers. “I know now he was a liar. He was the devil. And he was just using my sins against me.”

Graves wants to put his head in his hands and scream a little bit. Just a little bit. Because of course Credence isn’t just a wizard raised to hate wizards, he’s also a homosexual who has been raised to hate homosexuals. Graves is certainly not sorry Credence’s horrible wretch of a mother is dead. He’d be tempted to hex her himself if she stood in front of him.

“I need you to be very clear with me. Grindelwald never touched you inappropriately?”

“No, sir.”

“But he implied that the wizarding world was accepting of men who love other men. And he said that because?”

“Because he knew what was in my heart.” Credence smiles at him hopefully. “When Mr. Scamander takes out the Obscurus, will I be healed of that too?”

Graves wishes uselessly for a time-turner so he could go back to before Mary-Lou got her hooks into Credence and save him from the Obscurus and the bigotry and lies. No-majes are savages.

He’s grateful to be from an old wizarding family. They had their own prejudices and other nonsense—his own father was angry that his son was fonder of broomsticks than cauldrons, so to speak, but only because he was old and hidebound—but his father never disowned him, or abused him, or kept him from his birthright. The odd hex here and there, and once or twice with a cane, but what boy didn’t get a few licks from time to time? He’d taken his share at Ilvermorny too. Nothing like what Tina had implied Credence was subjected to.

“Grindelwald is a liar, and a murderer, and a generally miserable excuse for a human being. But things are different in the magical world.” Graves casts about for relevant examples. “Women have the same rights as men. They can vote.”

Confused, Credence says, “But women can vote. They amended the Constitution and Ma said it was unnatural and a good Christian woman is supposed to be the helpmeet of her husband and under his rule and not be engaging with worldly things.”

Big talk coming from an unmarried woman who ruled over her own miserable kingdom, Graves thinks. And also, again, that he needs to start paying more attention to the no-majes.

“It was in 1920,” Credence adds, as though he suspects Graves doesn’t believe him. “Even the Indians.”

“I wasn’t aware,” Graves says. “Well, good for the no-majes for catching up with civilized people. We also don’t segregate by colour. Our president is a woman of mixed race.”

Credence’s eyes seem to grow to the size of saucers. “That sounds like a fairy tale,” he says, tremulously.

“I’m the Director of Magical Security, Credence,” Graves says sternly. “I wouldn’t waste my time spinning you nonsense. As for what Grindelwald said, we have laws against consorting with no-majes but nothing about witches loving other witches, or wizards loving other wizards. When all this is done with, if you wanted, you could court another man. You could marry another man. Hell, if you’re a determined enough fool you can have a child with another man. A lot of purebloods frown upon magically induced offspring, but they’re a bunch of inbred nellies so I wouldn’t pay them any attention.”

He realizes he’s gone off on a bit of a tangent and winces. It’s too much information for Credence, all at once.

“Never mind all that,” Graves says because Credence is starting to look a little pale and panicked. “It’s a lot. Let’s get you cleaned up and find you something to wear.”

Credence looks down at himself. “I don’t need anything, my own clothing…” Clearly the boy has been raised not to lie, and his clothing is in rags so he can’t reasonably say that they’re in good condition. “It’s fine,” Credence says at last.

“The hell it is,” Graves says companionably. “Come on, I can’t have my first houseguest looking like I don’t take care of him. What will the neighbours think?”

xxx

Getting Credence out of his rags, into a bath, and into a spare pair of Graves’ night things is more of a trial than he thinks either of them are really prepared for.

Firstly, Credence is reluctant to give up his clothing. Understandable, since it’s literally the only thing he owns, but magic can only do so much and Graves has no doubt the suit was offensive to the eye even before it was shredded. Graves has to promise he will return it before Credence will take it off.

“It doesn’t even fit you properly!” Graves complains from the other side of the folding screen while Credence disrobes.

“I lost m-my belt,” Credence says.

Credence creeps out from behind the screen, wrapped only in Graves’ dressing gown. His bare feet are pale and thin as the rest of him. Long toes curl on the tiled floor even though it’s not cold underfoot. He clutches at the neck of the gown, holding it closed at his throat with one hand. The other holds the dressing gown tie as though to make sure it doesn’t somehow unravel from the careful knot he’s put in it. He looks like a maiden aunt afraid for her virtue and Graves has a moment to feel a great deal of affection for Credence before he remembers what Tina had said about that particular belt.

“We’ll get you some suspenders,” he says, even though the problem is not that the trousers are too big or falling down, but that they’re second-hand and made for someone else, and also, they’re in rags.

He waves his hand over the bath and it fills with clean, warm water. Credence gulps and takes a step back.

“Mr. Graves,” he protests.

“If baths are sinful, wasteful, or otherwise forbidden I don’t want to hear it,” Graves says, rubbing a hand over the scar on his mouth. “Please, just get in. There’s soap and shampoo, towels are over there. I’ll be in the sitting room when you’re done. Do you shave?”

Credence nods. “Beards are for Jews, heretics, and bums,” he says without a hint of guile.

Graves doesn’t have the time, energy, or the patience to deal with that. “You can use my razor,” he says instead, gets it out for Credence, and is about to leave when he says, “If the mirror talks to you, don’t worry about it. It’s got a lot of opinions but very few are worth listening to.” Then he leaves Credence alone to bathe.

For a while, Graves stands outside the bathroom door and listens. It takes a minute or so, but eventually he hears the soft splashing of Credence getting into the tub and the quiet exclamation of pleasure that he makes.

“Mr. Graves?” Credence calls out, just loud enough that the only way Graves could hear it is if he was standing outside the door listening in. Which he is.

“Yes, Credence?” Graves replies, because he’s not going to be ashamed of giving a damn in his own home.

There’s a small pause, the sounds of water, and then, “Thank you.”

Graves lets himself smile at that. They’re going to have a long, difficult slog ahead of them but at least this went right. “You’re very welcome,” Graves says. “Take your time, the water won’t get cold.”

He figures Credence will be alright in there for a while, and goes to find something to write on so he can pigeon Goldstein and tell her to hurry up on finding Modesty Barebone. Then he has to find something that isn’t ugly no-maj rags to put Credence in, and then he’ll have to find something for them to eat. Merlin knows they both look like they could use a good meal. He’s feeling surprisingly cheerful about the whole matter. It’s been a long time since he’s had something useful to occupy himself with when he’s at home.

Chapter Text

Grindelwald drags him out into the light, and it’s so bright, it’s too much after so long in the dark. His eyes water and Grindelwald mocks him for weeping.

Graves can’t even cast wandlessly with the cold iron handcuffs on, but he tries to headbutt Grindelwald, aiming for his nose. He misses by inches.

Pain is made more bearable when you are able to make noise. It’s why people curse when they stub their toes. Any noise will do.

Grindelwald locks his voice up and breaks his leg in three places.

Graves wakes up in the middle of the night with a scream caught in his throat. He’s sweating through the sheets and his leg aches fiercely.

He throws on a nightshirt over his naked body and tries to get out of bed. It’s not very successful. He has to use the cane to make it to the bathroom. Maybe he could have just clung to the walls and furniture, but there’s a guest in his house and he won’t be caught looking anything less than fully capable. Not even by poor Credence Barebone who would never say a thing.

He runs the cold tap and splashes water on his face and rakes his hair back. His scar stands out livid red against his pallor and his stubble is coming in unevenly around it. Graves scowls at himself. This is his face, he tells himself. This is his scar.

The old mirror is from the wizarding court of the Sun King in France and was a gift to his great-great something. It tuts at him. “It’s three o’clock of the morning,” it says disapprovingly with a French accent. “You look dreadful.”

“Thanks,” Graves says, and doesn’t smash it because he can’t deal with any more bad luck, because his mother loved the hideous thing, and because it told him it was good to have him back when he was freed from Grindelwald. At least his mirror knew the difference.

He doesn’t think he’s likely to get much more sleep any time soon, and he doesn’t have to go to MACUSA on a Sunday if he doesn’t want to (and with an Obscurial in his spare room he does not want to) so he hauls his sorry corpus to the living room and pours himself a generous glass of firewhiskey before settling on the sofa with a book he’d been reading before Grindelwald upended his life. He can’t remember what was happening so he flips back to the beginning and starts again. Graves isn’t sure how much time has passed before he hears a nervous tapping on the wall.

“Mr. Graves?” Credence says, peering into the room. “I thought I heard you up.” His hair is standing up on one side of his head, like he’s been tossing and turning.

Graves had transfigured a union suit for him out of an old shirt from the back of his closet so it was soft and broken-in, and opened up the spare bedroom for him. The sheets were new and crisp, the mattress was pleasantly firm, and a fire burned steadily in the grate. He’d hoped Credence would sleep well.

Graves sighs into his glass. “I’m sorry I woke you,” he says.

“I was already awake,” Credence says. “I had a nightmare.”

Fair enough, Graves thinks. Even a perfect mattress can’t stave off nightmares. Graves tips his glass in an ironic little toast. “Come and join me. We can be sleepless together.”

Credence doesn’t choose one of the chairs. Instead, he perches on the couch next to Graves. He’s got the dressing gown on over top of the union suit, for modesty. It occurs to Graves that Credence is used to sharing space with three women, one of whom was a miserable, spiteful tyrant, and he is likely desperately ashamed of his body.

“Will you go to church tomorrow?” Credence asks, watching the fire.

Graves manages not to laugh. “I’ve never set foot in a no-maj church in my life and I don’t intend to start now,” he says. “It would probably be safer if you missed a few…lessons? Lectures?”

“Sermons,” Credence says. “Don’t you fear hell?”

“Don’t believe in it,” Graves says, although he enjoys employing it as blue language. He picked it up during his tour in the Great War from some no-majes and never quite lost the habit. “I was raised by traditional wizarding standards. It’s more akin to the veneration of ancestors that anything else. That’s why we swear by Merlin, Morgan, Mordred, and the twelve, as well as others of our own kind.”

Credence does not look very happy about that, but he doesn’t say anything to contradict him. Instead he looks sidelong at Graves, as though he can’t quite bring himself to meet Graves’ eyes. “What do you dream about?” Credence asks.

Graves downs half the whiskey. “Being trapped in the dark,” Graves says. “How about you?”

Credence flinches. “I dream about being the dark,” he whispers. “It hurts. When it comes, it hurts.”

It’s a damned shame he can’t tell Credence that it’s only a dream, the same way Credence can’t say the same to him. “You want some whiskey?” Graves asks, although he already knows the answer before Credence shakes his head ‘no.’

It seems rude to go back to his book, not that he was giving it all due attention, so Graves just puts it to one side and waits to see if Credence has anything else to say. The young man has a wonderful capacity for stillness. He doesn’t fidget, or sigh, or do much more than sit there and breathe and watch the flames.

“I’m sure you have questions,” Graves prompts. “Maybe about the wizarding world? About me? Magic?” He swallows down his distaste. “About Grindelwald?”

Credence chews on his thumbnail for a moment before snatching his hand from his mouth and clasping it in his lap. Graves doesn’t comment. They’ve got enough to be getting on with for one night, without trying to fix all the damage Mary-Lou did.

Finally, Credence turns a little in his seat and asks, “Why are you being so kind to me? You don’t know me. You don’t know what I did.”

Graves finishes his firewhiskey, refills the glass, and considers his reply. He doesn’t want to make Credence any promises. He doesn’t trust them himself. Words are cheap and he’s been disappointed enough, he can only imagine Credence has had it worse. He also doesn’t want to lie. Most importantly though, he doesn’t want to unleash the Obscurus.

“I keep telling you, I’m the Director of Magical Security. I know these things. From what I hear it was mostly property damage. A few buildings. A lot of automobiles.” He reaches out and smooths Credence’s hair down into place. It’s surprisingly soft. Thick, like it might curl if it was allowed to grow longer.

He hasn’t had a drink in almost six months. He might be a little bit drunk now. He might be much drunker than he intended to be.

Credence freezes like a rabbit in front of a hound for a second before he leans into Graves’ touch and a small noise comes out of his mouth. Not quite a sigh, not quite a whimper. The drink got Graves into this mess, but it’s also the reason his reflexes are dulled and doesn’t jerk his hand away in surprise. He pets Credence’s hair one more time and then takes his hand back.

“Credence,” he tries again. “I know what happened. I also know a little about how the Obscurus works. You aren’t to blame.”

“I killed people. Not just the Senator, or Ma, or Chastity. People died in some of those buildings. They said it was a freak earthquake but it wasn’t. It was just a freak. I’m a one-man war,” Credence says, despairing.

Graves is very good at getting scared soldiers and Aurors to pull themselves together. He’s rallied non-combatants. He’s inspired people to push a little harder than they even thought they could. He is decidedly bad at being comforting. He hasn’t had to do it in years. Decades, maybe.

Credence seems starved for affection though so, very carefully, projecting his movements, Graves scoots closer on the sofa and puts his arm around Credence. Credence lets himself be held, tucked in against Graves’ shoulder.

“I’ve been to war,” Graves says. “You’re nothing like it. You aren’t to blame.”

“If he had been kind to me, like you’re kind to me, I would have done what he wanted.” Credence’s voice is filled with bitter self-loathing. “I came to you because I thought you were him.”

Graves sighs and tugs Credence in a little closer. “The Obscurial doesn’t control the Obscurus, that’s what makes it dangerous,” he says. “It’s very probable Grindelwald would have simply hurt you to get what he wanted.”

Credence makes a low, wretched noise. “I was going to give him one of the children,” he says. “I was going to give him Modesty.”

Mercy Lewis, Graves thinks, he is not making this better.

“Credence, listen to me,” Graves says. “The wizarding world is supposed to protect magical children, and we failed you when you were left with Mary-Lou. She failed you when she treated you like a whipping boy. She failed you when she instilled such fear and guilt into you that it created the Obscurus. Wizards failed you again when they tried to kill you instead of saving you. You have survived, against all odds, with your empathy and kindness still in tact. You are a miracle. Don’t confuse yourself with the creature inside you.”

“Mr. Grindelwald said—”

“He’s a liar and a master manipulator,” Graves interrupts.

“He called me his miracle, too,” Credence says.

Oh.

Graves takes a long swallow of whiskey.

“Well fuck us both then,” he says. “I’m sorry, Credence, I keep putting my foot in it.”

Credence sits up enough that Graves’ arm slides across his shoulders so he’s holding the back of Credence’s neck instead. “You’re wrong,” he blurts out. “I’m not kind. I’m glad he stole your face. If he hadn’t I never would have met you, and you’re the best man I’ve ever known. I’m selfish, and greedy, and angry, and you don’t even know me, but you think I’m good, and I’m not.”

It strikes Graves that it’s profoundly sad if he’s the best man Credence has ever met, especially since they’ve known each other less than 24 hours and mostly what he’s done is get the kid a bath and then upset him.

Credence’s eyes turn milky white and he starts to leak black smoke.

“Stop that right now,” Graves says, giving him a little shake. “Good or not good, I know you’re a considerate house-guest and you don’t want to tear up my home, so why don’t we put that aside for the time being.”

Credence hiccoughs and all of a sudden, he’s back to being a skinny young man in a borrowed housecoat. “You’re not scared of me,” he says.

“I’m pragmatically cautious,” Graves says, thumb rubbing gently over the short hairs at the base of Credence’s skull. “But no, not really. I’ve faced down things a lot scarier than your friend there.” He takes his arm back because he has the sinking feeling he’s being a little too handsy. “It’s late, we’re neither of us at our best right now.” He remembers his book and holds it up for Credence to see. “I could read to you?”

Credence looks like he wants to curl up and put his chin on his knees but is too polite to put his feet on the couch. Graves decides to let it go.

“I would like that,” Credence says, relief evident in his voice.

Graves gets comfortable, stretching his aching leg out and propping the book up on one knee so he can use his non-shaking hand to hold the book. “To Mrs. Saville, England. From St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—,” Graves begins. “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings...”

He drinks, and he reads, and eventually Credence’s eyelids start to droop and he slides down the couch until he’s curled up on his side, head on one of the throw pillows. Graves tucks a blanket over him and decides he might as well try to get some sleep as well.

Standing up is a mistake.

He’s very drunk, he realizes, and the room starts spinning unpleasantly. Graves manages to make it to the water closet and cast a Muffliato before he throws up into the toilet.

The mirror sighs. “What would your maman say?” it scolds him.

Graves heaves a little bit then rests his head on the cool porcelain. “She’d be glad I lived,” he says. He feels weirdly peaceful. Credence is sleeping. The house is secure. Everything in its place. “She’d tell me, ‘Whatever else you do, you are the last of the Graveses. You must survive.’ The same thing she told me when I went to war.”

The mirror doesn’t have anything to say to that.

xxx

The next morning, Graves feels like he’s been run over by a herd of wild buffalo. At least he passed out in his bed and not in the water closet where Credence might stumble over him. The clock tells him it’s still early and, at first, he can’t figure out why he’s woken up, but then the fireplace makes another noise.

“Fuck me with a splintered broomstick,” Graves complains. Credence still has his dressing gown and it’s too early to be polite, so he just staggers over to the fireplace in his nightshirt and has done with it.

“What?” Graves snaps, taking the firecall.

Seraphina appears in the flames. “Good morning to you too, Director,” she says.

Graves sneers at her. His head is throbbing and all he wants is a greasy breakfast and a hangover potion. “What do you want?”

“Birgit Copperhead signed the paperwork. Queenie Goldstein didn’t. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want to be an Auror of any kind, but she doesn’t seem to really believe that she cannot continue in her current position. I need you to impress on her that she takes the new position, or she will be let go.”

“It’s not like you to be so involved with staffing concerns,” Graves says.

“It’s not like you to fire half the Aurors in New York and start sending me new program ideas and statute changes, and every other idea that crosses your mind either. We live in interesting times,” Seraphina says. “I thought you would be here this morning.”

“It’s Sunday,” Graves says. “I’m entitled to my one day a week.” He thinks about asking if she gave Grindelwald so much earache about taking a day off and decides that it’s not her fault he’s hungover and she doesn’t deserve him taking out his temper on her.

She holds up her hands in surrender. “Will wonders never cease.” Then she’s looking past him with an expression of extreme disapproval. “Who is that?”

Graves turns around and sees Credence standing in the doorway. Credence’s eyes go very wide before he stammers out an apology and flees the room.

“No one,” Graves says, grateful that Seraphina never saw Credence in person, just the Obscurus. He’s not so pleased that he has to lie directly to her face.

“Leveau’s eyes, Graves,” Seraphina says. “I know you’ve been through a lot but he can’t be more than twenty.”

Graves scowls at her. “He’s not a rent boy. I wouldn’t…Do you know me at all?”

“I didn’t say he was a rent boy,” Seraphina says. “I said he was half your age. I know you well enough, Graves, and he’s young, even for you.”

To Graves’ extreme displeasure and mortification, not one, but two rumours are going around MACUSA. The first, he has an enormous whang, which is an exaggeration. The second, he likes wizards and he likes them young. Which is not an exaggeration, but isn’t quite right either.

Graves has been circumspect ever since he got a government position because he cares more about his job and his reputation than he cares about getting his dick wet. It’s not that he prefers younger wizards, so much as he enjoys having the position of authority. He likes inexperience because he likes to be a guiding force, he likes a certain amount of submissiveness because he likes to be in charge, and those things are easier to find in wizards younger than he is. He knows it’s not an attractive trait, or necessarily a very moral one, but it is what it is. He’s made his peace with it.

His last serious long-term relationship was before he made Director and was with a poet, Fergus Blackquill, ten years his junior who he liked to dress up and take out to nice places and then take home and tell him how beautiful he looked, and how good he was, and how jealous everyone was of Graves for having such a perfect man on his arm, while fucking him over every reasonably supportive piece of furniture and one or two items that collapsed under them.

Fergus was clever, and had a biting wit suited for dinner parties, so Graves took him to dinner parties. He was beautiful and loved to dance so Graves took him dancing. He introduced Fergus to important people and found him patrons. It suited them both very nicely.

They lived together for almost five years and it came to its inevitable end because Graves got promoted and became something of a workaholic with no friends and Fergus was a sociable young man who wasn’t ready to settle down. Graves liked to think they parted on decent terms and that he left Fergus better than he found him.

It’s not so simple as ‘liking younger wizards’ but that’s the reputation he’s going to be left with.

There is no possible way that Seraphina didn’t know about his preferences before the rumours began. Not only have they known each other for going on thirty years, but it’s not a secret, and it seems like the sort of thing she’d want to know about her right-hand man. The rumours have likely refreshed her memory on the subject.

Credence is his usual type and there he is, standing there in his underthings and Graves’ own dressing gown.

He’s not surprised she jumped to the conclusion that she has, but he’s not happy about it either.

“We’re not talking about this,” Graves says. “Absolutely not.”

She sucks her teeth but holds her peace. “Well. Enjoy your day off, I’ll see you Monday.” He thinks she’s going to end the call but then she says, “Try not to have too much fun.” And then she’s gone before he can yell at her.

Chapter Text

Newton Scamander portkeys into New York a little after noon, which mercifully gives Graves enough time to eat, bathe, and make himself into something resembling a functioning wizard before the magizoologist and the Goldstein sisters arrive.

Graves didn’t feel like performing a whole song and dance about breakfast so he just made enough eggs, toast, bacon, and coffee for two and put one plate in front of Credence. As he’d suspected, Credence didn’t argue with what had already been prepared, just thanked him and tucked in gratefully, eyes wide when Graves insisted he butter his toast and put milk and sugar in his coffee.

He convinced Credence to borrow one of his suits since he couldn’t manage to repair Credence’s own (he didn’t try especially hard) and managed to pull off a not-completely-shoddy tailoring job. Despite Graves’ lack of tailoring ability, Credence still looks much better than he did when he first stumbled into the alley.

Really, what he’d like to do is take Credence shopping and get him into something nice that’s been cut to fit him. A little bit of care and polish and he bets Credence could be truly something else to behold. Maybe it’s better that Graves doesn’t get his way. He doesn’t need to be paying any more improper attention to Credence.

Then it’s noon and the Goldsteins and Newt are congregating awkwardly in the front hall. Newt is clutching a battered leather suitcase in both arms and is staring at Credence with naked fascination.

“Credence,” he says, shifting his grip on the suitcase so he can offer his hand. “It’s so good to see you. I’m Newt, I don’t know if you remember me.”

Credence has shrunk back into himself, hunched up, but he musters up his courage and shakes Newt’s hand politely. “A little,” he says. “Mr. Graves says you might be able to fix me.”

“I’ll do my best,” Newt says.

Graves appreciates that he doesn’t lie and promise things he can’t be sure of. He does not appreciate the suitcase. “Mr. Scamander—”

“Newt, please.”

“Mr. Scamander. I hope you have not brought a suitcase full of illegal beasts into the home of the Director of Magical Security. I especially hope that it does not contain a second Obscurus.”

“Oh, they’re quite harmless once they’re removed. They can’t go from host to host, you see.” Newt quails a little when he realizes what he’s admitting to.

Tina looks like she wants to laugh but doesn’t dare. “Director, I think what Newt means to say is, no of course not, he would never do such a thing, but if he did, the locks would have been changed so they’re much better now and it’s very unlikely that anything, were there anything, which there is not, could get out.”

“Tituba’s ghost,” Graves mutters. “Please, stop talking. And stop loitering in the door like uninvited salesmen. Come in.”

They troop into the sitting room, suitcase and all. Graves is honestly a little surprised that Credence sticks close to him. He would have thought the young man would prefer Newt’s company. From what he’s heard, most people seem to like the man, and he’s been informed that he himself is not an especially soothing presence.

“I’ve never been to a doctor,” Credence whispers to him, walking as slowly as he can. “Does it hurt?”

Graves ushers him along with a hand between his shoulder blades. Credence’s own hands are badly scarred and from what he’s seen through Credence’s torn up suit, his back is just as bad. He’s not surprised that the woman who beat him raw never took him to see a doctor.

“Newt isn’t a doctor,” Graves says. “He’s an expert on Obscuri. If he does anything you don’t like, you can tell him to stop and he will.” Credence frowns at him doubtfully, and Graves hears himself adding, “And if he doesn’t stop when you tell him to, I’ll stop him.”

It’s a stupid thing to offer a young man capable of levelling a city without hardly trying, but the reassurance of help and support seems to bolster Credence’s courage and he lets himself be steered into the sitting room without protest.

Tina and Queenie take the couch, Graves one of the chairs, and Newt has Credence lie down on the carpet.

“This shouldn’t take long,” Newt promises, setting the suitcase down within reach. “I’m not going to try and take the Obscurus out yet, this is just to have a bit of a look at it and get the lay of the land. It won’t be bothered, so no chance of it making an appearance.”

Newt is thorough. He mutters spells over Credence, pokes and prods at him, and even checks the inside of his mouth and presses his ear directly to Credence’s stomach, like that’s going to be useful. He scribbles unintelligibly into a notebook, and makes a lot of noises, little, “Ah ha’s” and “Hmms,” as he goes along.

It’s incredibly frustrating to watch. Graves knows a great deal of magical theory, and he’s got more spells up his sleeve than the average wizard, but what Newt is doing is beyond him. He has Credence sit up and drink a potion that is a violent shade of pink and makes Credence’s eyes go milky white again. They shade back to brown after a minute or so and Credence doesn’t seem to have noticed the change at all.

“How very interesting,” Newt says at last, putting his wand away.

“Newt,” Tina says. “Only Queenie can read minds.”

“Oh, right.” Newt holds out a hand for Credence and helps him up off the floor. “Well, it’s good news and bad.”

Credence folds himself down onto the chair closest to Graves. “Am I dying?” he asks. He’s remarkably calm about it.

Newt looks very alarmed. “Not that bad!” He abruptly sits on his suitcase which had starting to bulge a little, like something is pushing on it from the inside. “Let me explain. A muggle, that is, a no-maj, er, someone with no magic, is zero percent magic. A squib is about—”

“A squib is a wizard who can’t do any magic,” Queenie says. “They can see magical things and go to magical places, but they can’t cast spells.”

“About 20 to 30% magic,” Newt continues. “Let’s put wizards at 50%, a House Elf is around 60%, and something like a unicorn is perhaps 80% magic.”

Credence lights up like the sun coming over the horizon. “Unicorns are real?” he says, breathless with excitement.

“As real as you or I,” Newt says. “Would you like to meet one? They’re usually quite shy but I think Laurence would take to you very well.”

Graves coughs pointedly.

“Not that I have a unicorn,” Newt says. “But maybe I could show him the unicorn I don’t have a bit later.”

“Get to the point,” Graves says. He would like to see the unicorn too, but he probably shouldn’t admit to it. He’ll just be sure to supervise the visit.

Newt fidgets nervously and Graves thinks he can see a Bowtruckle creep out from under his collar and into his hair. “Well, from what I can see, Credence is about 80-100% magic. I think the Aurors did a lot of damage and they might not have killed him but they gave it a jolly good try. Credence, for lack of a better way to explain, put himself back together from shreds. There’s not much left in him that survived other than his magic and the Obscurus. They’re holding each other together so removing it would almost certainly kill him. The Obscurus and Obscurial have become a symbiote instead of a parasite and its host. I’d like to know what a Healer has to say. It’s all rather fascinating, actually.”

It’s all rather revolting, Graves thinks. All this talk of parasites and hosts is too biological for him.

“Am I a squib?” Credence says. “Mr. Grindelwald said I was. That I was unteachable.”

“Is he?” Graves asks, although he’s highly skeptical.

Newt looks up in that awkward, slightly sideways way of his. “Oh, gosh, no,” he says. “No, I imagine it’s quite the opposite. I can’t predict how his magic will manifest now, but maybe don’t try anything too explosive at first.”

“He started turning into the Obscurus just last night,” Graves says. “If they’re so meshed, how is that happening?”

Newt flips through his notes. “Well, I’m only theorizing, of course, but I suspect he’ll be able to transform voluntarily once he gets the hang of it. The Obscurus form, if I’m correct, will be a great deal smaller than it was, but still quite powerful.”

“You said the Obscurus eats magic,” Tina says.

“That’s the basic principal, yes,” Newt says. “But Credence isn’t an Obscurial and an Obscurus any more, he’s something else. An…Obscurius, perhaps. An Obscredence.” He chuckles a little.

“You’re not a freak,” Queenie says, fiercely protective. She reaches out and takes Credence’s scarred hands in her own. “You’re unique. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

The words carry a weight to them that Graves recognizes, although he doesn’t know what she’s quoting. Whatever it is, Credence grips her hands tightly.

“Are you a Christian, ma’am?” he asks.

Queenie shakes her head. “Teenie and I are Jewish,” she says. “Guess that ain’t much better than a witch, huh?”

Credence holds on when she seems like she might let go. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. You’re helping me, Miss Goldstein. You’re all trying to help me. I don’t know much more than what Ma told me, but I do know the story of the man who calls to God for help and then refuses it when it comes because it doesn’t look like what he thought it would. I won’t turn my back on a miracle when it comes my way.”

Queenie smiles at him prettily. “Aw, sweetie, that’s very kind of you. I’m no angel though.” She gives him a wink and Credence blushes up to his hairline and takes his hands back. It’s unfortunately attractive. Graves is slightly ashamed of himself for noticing.

“More to the point,” Graves says, because he suspects that they’re quoting the Biggle at each other, “I think what Auror Goldstein is asking is this: if the Obscurus eats magic, how will Credence be able to do magic?”

Newt has been frowning at Tina like he’s trying to figure something out. Graves has had approximately five minutes to assess the situation, but he can already tell that the answer to Newt’s question is that Newt is, as the Brits say, arse over teakettle for Tina and he has absolutely no idea. He’ll work it out eventually. Now though, he drags his attention back to Credence.

“Imagine Credence is butter, for example, and the Obscurus is chocolate,” Newt says. “Two separate things. But if you heat them up they will blend together and become one. The crucible of the subway was the heat. It bound the two together.”

That’s a weirdly culinary analogy but Graves is willing to accept it. In all honesty it sounds like a fancy way for Newt to say that he has no idea what’s going on. “Right,” he says. “Well, we can work with that. What do you think, Credence?”

Credence’s shoulders square up. “If you think I can,” he says.

It’s probably too much to ask that the boy have a little faith in himself, but Graves can take the weight of his trust while he learns. “I do,” he says. “You did it last night, you can do it again.”

“What happened last night?” Tina asks suspiciously.

Credence turns those big, sorrowful brown eyes of his on her and says, quite straight-faced, “I had a nightmare. Mr. Graves talked to me and when I calmed down, the Obscurus went away.”

He’s a little liar, Graves thinks, feeling proud of him. Although none of it is untrue, it’s also misleading and what he’s implying is not at all what happened. Credence is probably used to talking around anything that might get him into trouble, but it’s a small rebellion nevertheless, and Graves can’t help but see it as a good sign. He gives Queenie a speaking look and she doesn’t call Credence out but she does raise her eyebrows at Graves in a way that suggests they are going to have A Conversation at some point in the future.

“That makes sense,” Newt says, making a few more notes. “You’ll probably start performing accidental magic as well. You should get a wand before that happens.”

Graves had been hoping that Newt could get the Obscurus out without too much trauma and then he could bring Credence to Seraphina and tell her the problem was solved. Credence would have been just another wizard. A very late bloomer, but nothing a good tutor and time in the wizarding world couldn’t correct. He’s less optimistic about Seraphina’s reaction to whatever Credence is now.

“Here’s the plan,” Graves says, with a great deal more confidence than he feels. “Mr. Scamander, I would ask you to remain in the US for the time being. We may need your help with Credence and I suspect you might like to have the opportunity to make more notes on the subject. If Credence has no objections I don’t see why our goals can’t align. Otherwise, we are keeping this between the five of us until Credence has a measure of control. Once that control can be proven, I’ll bring him to MACUSA and deal with the President.”

“Then what?” Credence asks.

“Then,” Graves says, “the world is your oyster.”

xxx

Since Credence can’t be out in public in case someone recognizes him, (or, worse, something sets him off) they have lunch at Graves’ house. It’s not Graves’ preference, he doesn’t want to encourage his underlings to think they’re friends, but he also doesn’t want to isolate Credence, and the Goldsteins and Newt are basically the only people Credence has in the world at this point.

Graves exhausted the limits of his cooking abilities with breakfast, and is happy enough to admit it, so Queenie takes over the food preparation. Newt makes a graceless comment about how everyone ought to know how to fend for themselves and Graves can see Tina gearing up to say something, although she’s visibly torn between defending her boss and host, and not scolding the man she clearly has a massive crush on. To Graves’ endless surprise, Credence is the one who sticks up for him and his bachelor ways.

“Mr. Graves made me a wonderful breakfast this morning,” Credence says loyally. “He’s just being modest.”

Graves is not prone to fits of modesty or braggadocio. He prefers honesty. “Credence is very kind,” he says, and realizes he’s got his hand on Credence’s shoulder again. He’s really got to stop doing that. “But I’m sure none of us hold a candle to Miss Goldstein.”

Queenie flashes him a strained smile. “Why don’t you come show me where everything is,” she suggests to Graves, and he suspects that they’re about to have A Conversation right then.

Graves gives Credence’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, leaves him to the tender mercies of Tina and Newt, and follows Queenie into the kitchen. He casts a Muffliato and opens his cupboards with a wave of his hand so it at least looks like they’re preparing lunch.

“All right,” he says. “Let’s have it.”

She opens his pantry and says into the interior, “I’m in a relationship with a no-maj.”

Graves isn’t the director of magical security for nothing and he knows what she’s attempting, poorly, to do. “Are you blackmailing me?” he says, trying not to smile.

Queenie takes a deep breath and turns to face him directly. “Yes, yes sir, I am. Jacob’s a good man, and we love each other, and it ain’t fair. I’ll help Credence, and I won’t tell anyone, but I want you to keep your hounds away from Jacob and me.”

“Oh dear, Miss Goldstein,” Graves says, “that’s not enough. You should ask me to change the laws, or write you an exemption.”

She boggles at him. “What?” she says.

Graves leans against his countertop and looks through the open door to where Credence and Tina and Newt are sitting. Newt is waving his hands about like he’s drawing a picture in the air. He’s probably talking about one of the animals that aren’t in the suitcase and certainly aren’t pushing up against the lid so that occasionally Newt rises up a few inches before dropping back down again.

Credence is enraptured. He’s leaning forwards, mouth a little open. He looks like the very picture of a scholar, eager to learn, young and bright and bound for great things. Graves thinks he’d do just about anything to make sure Credence gets to keep looking that way. He’s not sure if it’s penance for what Grindelwald did while wearing his face, or if it’s a disgusting crush on a man who is vulnerable and much too young for him, or some combination of the two, but Graves is determined to make sure he doesn’t ruin Credence’s second chance out of selfishness.

“Things are changing, Queenie,” Graves says. “I suspect there will be another war. Either the no-majes will start one and we’ll join in, or we’ll start one and they’ll get dragged in as well. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. If you’re in love with a no-maj…well, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last. Hold on to what you love.”

“Are you going to change the laws?” she asks.

“I’ll be lucky if the President doesn’t blast me until there’s nothing left but a smoking crater when she finds out about this stunt,” he admits. “I can’t promise you anything except that I’ll do my best to keep your name out of it when I tell her about Credence. If that doesn’t blow up in my face, then I’ll have a look at the laws. But to be honest, you’d do better moving somewhere where no one cares about that sort of thing.”

Queenie sighs. “Thanks anyways,” she says. “It means a lot that you’d try.” Then, “Be careful with Credence. Not the Obscurus, I figure you’ll have that in hand sooner or later, but with Credence. He’s…”

“Impressionable?” Graves supplies. “Alone in the world. Abused and abandoned? Fragile and easily manipulated?”

“Yeah,” Queenie says. “And he’s imprinting on you like a chick without a mama hen.”

Graves thinks of the way Credence begged in the alley. The way he is starved for even the slightest human kindness and affection. The glimmers of spirit he shows and the fearfulness. There is no way on Earth that Graves is the right person to be looking after Credence. He should be in hospital, under the supervision of mediwizards and mind healers. A workaholic, inappropriately attracted older wizard, who looks almost identical to the man who abused him and unleashed the Obscurus, should not be his caretaker.

“I’ve never wished so badly I could read someone,” Queenie says. She floats several food items out of the pantry and with a flick of her wand sets them into motion. “D’you think a quiche is okay?”

“I have never mustered an opinion on quiche in my life and I don’t intend to start now. Should I tell Credence to go with Newt?” Graves asks. “Pack him off into that suitcase and ship him out of America before MACUSA gets wind of him? I can’t be the best option.”

She grabs his arm. “You mustn’t!” Queenie says, immediately letting go again. “He trusts you. As much as he can trust anyone right now. If you send him away he’ll lose that little spark of hope he’s got left. It’s so fragile right now. One breath too hard and it’ll snuff right out. Mr. Graves. Percival. Just be careful with him.”

“Graves is fine,” he says. “No one calls me Percival unless I’m dying.” He watches eggs crack against each other and an onion peel itself. “I’m not sure I know how to be that gentle with anything.”

“I think you’ll find he’s surprisingly tough,” Queenie says, a smile smoothing away her worry. “You don’t have to hold him with kid gloves, just be careful, that’s all.”

“It would be easier if you just told me what it is you’re worried I’m going to do,” Graves mutters.

Queenie just shoos him back into the sitting room where Newt has to quickly stop describing the utter menagerie he’s illegally transported into the United States. Again.

Chapter Text

Graves musters an opinion on quiche. Or, Queenie’s quiche at least, which is delicious.

Credence is the most fastidious diner that Graves has ever seen. He eats quietly and neatly, neither too fast nor too slow, and there’s nothing left on his plate when he’s finished. Not even a crumb. Graves cuts him a second piece and puts it on his plate.

“Don’t argue,” he says. “If you’re staying with me, then you’re going to eat enough to satisfy you. I remember being your age and I was hungry all the time.”

Credence is visibly torn until Queenie points out that satiation is not the same as gluttony. He hasn’t complained about her constant monitoring of his thoughts, but that’s probably because he hasn’t been allowed to have a thought of his own for most of his life. It’ll be a good step for him when he asks her to keep out of his head. Graves considers offering to teach him Occlumency. Credence seems the type to be good at it.

“Magic is like any other activity,” Graves says. He does not take another slice of quiche because he is on the far side of forty and doesn’t get as much exercise as he used to. He’s not vain, exactly, he just likes to keep fighting trim. “It requires energy. If you haven’t eaten enough to do physical exercise, then you haven’t eaten enough to cast spells.”

“He’s right,” Newt says. There’s a muffled thumping sound from the suitcase underneath the table where Newt can keep his feet on the lid. Everyone pretends they didn’t hear it. “And wizards live much longer than muggles, so it’s very possible you’re still growing.”

“About a hundred and twenty-eight,” Queenie says. “But Teenie and I had a great-great uncle who lived to a hundred and eighty-nine.”

Graves rolls his eyes. “Everyone has an ancient great-great uncle who is too mean to die. It’s practically wizarding tradition.”

“There must be a lot of wizards,” Credence says. “If they live so long.” He doesn’t seem to have grasped that, as a wizard, he himself could live well past his hundredth year. It makes Graves happy to think that, if Credence was a muggle, he might only have another thirty years left, but now he has a hundred or so to rectify the mess that Mary-Lou made of his life.

Newt, who has his head stuck under the table so he can look at his suitcase, re-emerges. “Actually, wizards make up about one tenth of the human population. We’re a small minority. Low birth rates, you see. Often wizards struggle to produce more than two children, no matter how many fertility potions they take. We’re not sure why.”

“We’re like a very large, very inbred family,” Graves says. “Everyone knows everyone else. And everyone is at least distantly related by blood or by marriage. Which might explain the low birth rates. It’s better here than in the UK since the Native magical population had no qualms about mixing with no-majes, but they’re understandably reluctant to mix with us.”

“Mr. Graves!” Tina protests.

Graves gives her a stern look. “Auror Goldstein, the wizarding world is literally magical, but that does not mean that it is without flaw, or trouble, or prejudice. If we don’t tell the truth, who else will?”

“I don’t mind, Miss Tina,” Credence says. He’s already finished his second slice of quiche. Graves makes a mental note to order in for dinner to ensure Credence gets enough to eat. “I want to know.”

“Why doesn’t Newt tell us more about unicorns instead,” Queenie prompts. She winces like Tina has just kicked her under the table.

“Ma said that the unicorns all drowned in the Flood,” Credence says.

“What flood?” Newt asks, confused. “Why would a flood cause a globally found species—different subtypes, of course—to become extinct?”

“I can’t take this,” Graves says, putting his napkin down with enough force that Credence and Newt both startle a little. “Show him the damn unicorn.”

Newt pulls the suitcase out from under the table and opens it up. There’s a brief tussle with a niffler that seems determined to escape, but Graves is fast and has skill with wandless magic so he catches it before it can get away. It tries to appropriate his collar pins and he tucks it under his arm where it can’t get into trouble although it makes a game attempt to reach his pocket watch and then sulks when it cannot.

Everyone is staring at him.

“Take a photograph,” he suggests and is delighted when Credence very nearly cracks a smile.

“Are you sure?” Newt asks, awkwardly.

Graves realizes, as he’s standing there with a niffler under his arm, open suitcase in front of him, one foot poised to begin his decent, that he’s about to voluntarily go into a magically extended, windowless, dark space. He could be trapped again. They could leave him there for another five months. For forever and no one would know where to look for him.

“I have a headache,” Queenie says. “I’ll stay out here. In case the case gets knocked.”

He can hear the offer in what she’s saying. It means trusting she won’t try and trap them. Oddly enough, he does. Maybe because she helped fight Grindelwald. Maybe because she’s been so kind to Credence. But knowing she’s there to let them back out steels his resolve.

Graves nods gratefully and steps into the suitcase, niffler and all, and descends the ladder. “Come along, Credence,” he says.

The suitcase is so much worse than he thought it was going to be. He’s never seen extension charms so carefully and expertly applied. Graves stands in the epicentre of what is probably half a dozen separate enclosures, at the very least, and is reluctantly impressed. Newt might be unconventional, but he’s like the rest of their merry band of misfits: much cleverer and more magically talented than he initially appears to be. Credence fits in well with him and Queenie and Tina. Graves is the odd one out and he’s not sure he likes it.

It’s never served him to be underestimated. He wields his power the same way Seraphina does, without fanfare, but without humility either. But it was the Goldsteins, Newt, and Credence who defeated Grindelwald. Probably because he underestimated them. It’s something to think about, at any rate.

Tina is practically wringing her hands. “Mr. Graves,” she says, once both feet are on the ground.

“Courage, Goldstein,” he says cheerfully. He lets the niffler go and puts his hands in his pockets so he doesn’t try to pet something that will bite him. “I’m not going to arrest your boyfriend. I’m just here to visit Mildred. I never got the opportunity to thank them personally for their role in my rescue.”

“Who’s Mildred?” Credence asks. He comes and stands a little too close to Graves, looking around with wide, wonderous eyes. “It’s…it’s like a whole world in here.”

Newt beams at them all. “Mildred is a Rattus Rex, they were very helpful in finding the Director. Would you like to meet them? But first, there’s someone I want you to see.”

“A Rattus Rex is both a singular and a plural,” Graves explains as they follow Newt through the suitcase, sans Queenie who has, as she says, seen it before and is starting to get a bit of a headache. “Which is why they’re called Mildred, but there’s more than one.”

“That’s…” Credence says.

“It’ll make sense when you meet them,” Graves promises.

Newt ushers them into a snowy enclosure. Credence holds out a hand and flakes melt on his fingertips. He looks at Graves and opens his mouth as though he’s going to ask something and then shakes his head wonderingly.

“What?” Graves asks.

“It’s magic,” Credence says.

Graves has never seen anyone so delighted by magic in his entire life. Magic, to him, is common, useful, practical, and frequently dangerous. It hasn’t been wonderous…has it ever been wonderous? Credence makes him see it in a new light. Snow. Produced from thin air. In a suitcase big enough to hold a formal ball in that can be carried in one’s hand.

Perhaps it is wonderous.

From the fog, a bubble appears. Swirling within it is black smoke and a storm of red electricity, the crackle of ozone and static; Newt’s second Obscurus.

“This one grew in a little girl I met in Sudan,” Newt says sadly as it floats over towards them. “I tried to save Sara, but she was very weak by the time I got to her and she didn’t survive the separation. I call her Obscurus Omnia bint Sara Malik.”

Credence reaches out and puts his hand on the bubble that holds the Obscurus. “Hello, Miss Omnia” he says. “I’m Credence. I’m like you.”

The Obscurus sparks and shifts.

“Can she hear me?” Credence asks.

“I like to think so,” Newt says. “I’m still trying to figure out how to take care of her, but she’s rather indifferent to me.”

Credence goes a little smoky at the edges, tendrils of Obscurus reaching out to the bubble. He doesn’t seem to notice. “I hope she’s not lonely,” he says. “I hope she’s not so angry any more.”

Graves wonders how it’s possible to be so generous and empathetic after so much misery. He’s not sure he would be capable of it. No, he knows he wouldn’t be capable of it. He endured five months of despair and is about ready to burn the world down around him, he’s so angry. But watching Credence slowly creep out from under what’s been done to him does wonders for making him less furious and it’s been hardly any time at all.

“Credence,” Tina says. “You’re…leaking.”

Credence looks down at himself and realizes what’s happening. Before anyone can start to panic, Graves catches him by the back of the neck, thumb tucked into the soft place just behind Credence’s ear.

“Remember to breathe,” Graves advises. “And keep steady. You’re not hurting anyone.”

Credence takes a few shuddering breaths, whole body turned towards Graves like he wants to rest his forehead on Graves’ shoulder but isn’t sure of his welcome. Graves hauls him all the way in and provides something solid to lean against. Credence grabs his lapels with both hands and holds on as though he’s afraid he might float away if he doesn’t. It’s not a wholly unreasonable fear.

“Deep breaths. Just be here. There you go,” Graves says softly, rubbing Credence’s back as the Obscurus retreats inside him again. “You’re getting very good at that. That’s nice, sweetheart, you’re all back together now.”

Tina’s eyes are very wide and she looks like she has about a hundred things she wants to say. Graves frowns at her and she keeps them to herself.

He realizes Newt is scribbling into his notebook and frowns at him as well. Newt puts the little book away before Credence can see it. The last thing Credence needs is to be treated like a side-show freak. Graves waits until Credence has lifted his head and then lets go with a pat to the shoulder.

“Very good, my boy,” he says and Credence’s posture straightens, like he’s a plant sucking up water. A few words of praise and he’s shored up. “I imagine pulling back is going to be much harder than letting go, and you’re already half-way to mastering it.”

Grindelwald thought he could keep Credence on his knees, if only he’d known, and Credence seems sure that he would have been Grindelwald’s weapon, but he’s got a resilience and a solid core that hasn’t been corrupted or destroyed no matter how hard everyone else tried. Graves is pretty sure that Credence is a force to be reckoned with, and one day he’s going to realize that about himself, and then they’ll all be in trouble, one way or another. Graves suspects he’s already in significant trouble.

He wants to tuck Credence away, like he is actually a dragon with a single, precious gem to hoard. To polish him until he shines. It’s total arrogance of course, to think he could provide what Credence will need, but he’ll enjoy what time he gets.

Sara’s Obscurus floats away again and Credence watches it go before he sighs and turns to Newt. “I’m sorry you couldn’t get mine out of me,” he says. “Maybe she could have had some company.”

Newt shrugs awkwardly. “Don’t be sorry you’re not dying,” he says. “Would you like to see Mildred next?”

Credence still looks a little shaken by the whole experience so Graves walks alongside him with a comforting hand on his back. He seems to like the physical contact and it’s such a small thing to give. Tina’s still making faces behind them, he can tell, but since he doesn’t have to look at it, and more importantly, neither does Credence, he’s happy to ignore her.

Mildred is in an empty Occamy nest grooming themselves. Since Occamies tend to eat rats, Graves suspects that this is a great big fuck you to the previous occupant, which he can respect. Mildred perks up when she hears voices—namely, Newt assuring Graves that the Occamies have been rehomed, and have not escaped the suitcase.

Mildred looks up at Graves with all eight of their faces. They’re very strange to behold. Eight black female rats, joined at the tail in a way that at first makes it look like someone has tied them together before you realize each tail is connected to the other at the very tip. As far as he knows they have collective thoughts and individual thoughts both. It hurts his own head if he thinks about it for too long.

“Hello, Percival,” they say. He’s never met them before, not that he remembers anyway, but since they were instrumental in sniffing out his prison, he’s fairly sure they’ll be able to recognize him by scent for the rest of his life.

He doesn’t correct them on the name. Royalty generally gets to call you whatever it wants. Even if that royalty is a rodent. “I wanted to thank you for your part in my rescue,” he says but Mildred is already bored with him and is moving over to peer at Credence. Sixteen beady black eyes fix on him, whiskers trembling, noses going a mile a minute.

“Mr. Graves, can all rats talk?” Credence whispers to him and not Newt, even though Newt is the beast expert. Graves isn’t sure why he’s so pleased by that.

“Of course they can’t,” Mildred says. “We’re no common rat. Just as you are no common wizard. An Obscurus and an Obscurial who have found a way to live together. I should like to tell you your fortune and your future, if you’d be so kind as to lift me up.”

“Just pick them up and put them on your head,” Graves says. “Like a hat.”

“Like a crown,” one of Mildred corrects, while several of the others mutter about common hats.

Credence does as he is bid, and soon Mildred is sitting on his head, each rat at full extension from the joined tail, facing outwards. It does look rather like a crown. A crown of rats, but still a crown.

The one in front stands up on her hind legs and speaks. “The pain that has sunk into you cannot be removed. But you can feed it, with rage and darkness and power. Grow strong, grow stronger, grow to such immense power. With this comes a price. Or learn to live with it, not to be controlled by it, and seek instead compassion and find strength through joy. Each a choice, each a path. Your power, and your pain, and your power. An ouroboros.”

Credence shudders as they run down his back and back onto their perch. “What does that mean?” he asks.

Mildred huddles up, conversing amongst themselves. “Don’t be afraid of what you want,” one of them says, another adds, “One of the strongest wizards in a generation.”

Another snaps, “One of the weakest,” and is hushed by the others.

Credence’s shoulders are starting to rise again as he hunches back into himself. They stop when Graves puts his hand on Credence’s back.

“Mildred,” Newt scolds. “You’re being very mysterious.”

“We don’t interpret prophecies,” one of them complains. “Everyone always wants directions like we’re mapping out the way to the post office. That’s not how the future works.”

“I’m sorry,” Credence says. “Thank you.”

Newt is doing his best to apologize to Credence and also to Mildred and simultaneously scolding them both. He calls himself mummy when he refers to his animals. It’s bizarre and strange but his patter is soothing and Credence lets himself be led towards the unicorn’s enclosure with promises that it won’t tell him anything at all. Tina trails after them, half talking over Newt and both of them young and stupidly in love but unable to see it in the other.

Graves turns to follow but one of Mildred catches his sleeve with her little pink claws. “I don’t need to read your future to know your future,” Mildred says. The others pull her back. “You are bound to his fate.” Mildred’s eight faces turn to stare at him, unblinking. “Don’t fuck it up,” they say in unison. Then Mildred hops out of the nest with surprising agility and scurries off out of sight.

Graves has never been fond of divination, prophecies, or other future-seeing nonsense. But ‘don’t fuck it up’ is generally sound advice so he holds his peace. He has to lengthen his stride to catch up with the others, and it hurts, but he schools his face so no one will notice.

“That’s the thing about most animals,” Newt is saying. “They aren’t evil, or mean, or cruel. A cat doesn’t hate a mouse. The wampus doesn’t hate the deer. They’re just trying to survive. I think the inherent struggle with the Obscurus is that it both oppresses and protects the Obscurial but its motives are simpler than that. Survival. The reason yours was so dangerous is because it grew so large on your magic. Most are small, like Omnia. Sara only had a little magic, since she was so young, so it never grew very large. But you’ve got so much magic to feed on—”

“That’s quite enough of that,” Graves says. “Poor Credence hasn’t even had the opportunity to try a single spell and everyone’s telling him what his magic will be like when they have no idea at all.”

Whatever else Newt had to say about magic in general and Obscurials in particular never gets said because Newt is showing them into the unicorn enclosure; a tiny little forest. In a suitcase. At first glance there’s nothing to see, but Newt whistles between his teeth and produces an apple from a pocket.

From behind the trees, Graves catches a glimpse of the beast. It’s remarkable.

The unicorn is young, still patches of gold where it will eventually turn blinding white, and the horn is a little stubby. It’s the most amazing thing Graves has seen in a long time. He’s still sore he missed seeing the Thunderbird. At least Copperhead got to see it. Her grandmother’s people are Mamaceqtaw and consider the bird to be sacred.

“They don’t usually care for boys,” Newt says as the beast approaches cautiously. “I’ve had a hard time getting him to trust me. But I think he likes you. Maybe you’d like to give him an apple?”

Credence looks like he’s about to weep with joy. “Yes, please,” he says, taking the apple like it’s a sacred chalice.

“Flat palm,” Newt says, stepping back so Credence is at the front of their little group and pushing him forwards. “Keep your fingers together.”

He pulls the rest of them back to the edge of the enclosure. “He really doesn’t like adult males very much,” he says apologetically to Graves. “I’m less worried he’ll run off and more that he’ll um…He’s not aggressive, it’s just…maybe stand back.”

Graves wasn’t intending to try and get any closer; he doesn’t want to ruin it for Credence by startling the unicorn and scaring it off. “Don’t tell me you have an aggressive juvenile unicorn in New York,” Graves pleads. “I’m not seeing any of this. I’m hearing even less.”

The unicorn has no qualms about gently lipping the fruit from Credence’s hand, and when he tentatively reaches up to stroke its nose, it whiffles softly, snorts at him, and then starts nuzzling him. Credence laughs, a bright, startled sound that surprises Graves with how free and easy it is.

Tina sidles up to Graves. “It doesn’t like me either,” she admits. “Newt says Laurence is especially truculent.”

“I’m not upset that a unicorn isn’t interested in a grown man,” Graves says. He’s not. He’s delighted just seeing it. Not for the first time he wonders what disservice they’re doing to Americans by trying to kill or outlaw magical beasts. “And I’m not surprised it’s fond of Credence. He’s a magical creature too.”

“And probably a virgin,” Newt mutters mostly to himself.

Graves watches Credence and doesn’t think about that at all. He lets his mind go totally blank, compartmentalizing as he learned to do when studying Occlumency.

“That’s something I hadn’t considered in its affinity for…” Newt trails off, pulling out his pencil and paper so he can make more notes. The bowtruckle is now sitting on the very top of his head, holding his hair like it’s steering him.

“Mr. Graves!” Credence calls back. “It’s a unicorn!” He’s beautiful when he smiles.

Chapter Text

Graves kicks the Goldsteins and Newt out of his house because he’s had about enough company considering it’s his day off. “I’d better not hear a single peep out of or about that suitcase,” he warns before he shuts the door on them.

Since Credence already knows how badly he limps, he lets himself lean on his cane as he makes his way to the sofa. Graves has to use his hands to get his leg up onto the cushions. The muscles are locked tight and painful and he rubs at his thigh, trying not to be angry at the stupid thing.

“Come, sit,” Graves says. “You’re too tall for me to be staring up at.” Credence startles like he’s never actually considered the fact that he’s tall—taller than Graves at least.

Graves’ leg is taking up all the additional space on the couch, so he assumes Credence will sit on one of the chairs, but instead he folds himself up and sits on the floor in front of Graves. Proximity to the familiar, Graves thinks. Even though he’s not really familiar at all.

“I know there’s been a lot to take in,” he says. He wants to put his hand in Credence’s hair and pet him a little. He keeps his hands to himself. “Do you have any questions?”

“Your leg hurts, doesn’t it?” Credence says. “I thought…” He shakes his head, staring down at his own scarred hands. “Can’t witches heal things?”

Graves digs his thumbs into the muscle trying to get at least one of the knots to release. “Not everything. It’s curse damage, not a regular physical break, so the bone won’t align properly. There’s a specialist in France I could go see, but if it becomes a problem I’ll just cut the damn thing off and get a prosthetic. Since the War there’s been amazing work done and I doubt my mobility could get any worse.”

He can only see the side of Credence’s face, but he looks very skeptical about that solution but is too polite to tell Graves that cutting his leg off is maybe not the next step.

“Can you heal regular scars?” Credence asks. “Or is it too late by then?”

“Is it your hands or your back?” Graves asks in careful tones.

One hand comes up to touch the back of his own neck. Credence’s thumb tucks down into the collar and Graves figures he’s touching at least one scar that cuts over his shoulders. “It doesn’t hurt,” Credence says. “It’s just ugly.”

“I’m glad it doesn’t hurt,” Graves says.

He’s fairly certain that turning back and forth from the Obscurus form could take care of the scars, but Credence would have to have control of his own image, he’d have to coalesce in a form that had no scars. The body has memory, a certain solidity to it, which is why most people aren’t Metamorphmagi. But scars aren’t part of the original makeup, so in theory Credence should be able to transform without them. A lot of advanced magical theory though, for a young man who’s never performed a single spell on purpose.

“I’m not much of a healer, but I could take a look at them if you want?”

Credence puts his hands back in his lap. His cheeks are pink and he turns his face so Graves can’t see it. “No thank you, Mr. Graves,” he says. “Maybe another time.”

“You don’t have to call me that,” Graves says. “Just Graves is fine. Or Percival, if you like.” He’s not sure why he offers Credence his first name. Maybe because no one uses it and Credence gets so few things that haven’t already been someone else’s first. Even Fergus, his longest relationship, mostly called him Graves.

“What if I can’t control it?” Credence says, voice low and scared. “I thought I’d either get better or die, but now…I can’t stay here forever.”

Graves doesn’t ask him why not. He knows why not. Credence is a young man with a new world in front of him. Just because Graves has realized he’s lonely and enjoys a little company with someone who understands, doesn’t mean Credence is so limited. Credence could go anywhere. He could do anything he wanted.

He thinks about the classifications of beast Newt was telling Credence about. Percival ‘Gravelbelly’ Graves; XXXX dangerous/requires specialist knowledge/skilled wizard may handle; prone to fits of jealousy over people he has just discovered; frequently has foot-in-mouth disease around handsome young men; mostly solitary, ill-tempered, and not suitable for company.

“You can stay as long as you like,” Graves says. “It’s not charity, Credence. Or pity, or penance. Grindelwald did a number on both of us. I think we can help each other.”

Credence turns then. “I can’t help you,” he says. “I don’t have anything to give you.” He’s worried. More than worried. It’s written all over his face.

Graves doesn’t know how to explain that helping Credence is helping himself. He can’t fathom explaining that feeding him, clothing him, showing him that there can be kindness and gentleness in the world means that Graves gets to provide, he gets to be kind and gentle, he gets to hoard something precious just a little longer.

Credence kneels up and lurches gracelessly towards Graves. For a split second, Graves thinks he slipped, but then Credence is kissing him, clumsy and desperate. It’s lovely. He’s lovely.

Graves gently pushes him back.

“Credence,” Graves says. He holds on to Credence’s shoulders because he’s afraid if he doesn’t Credence will turn into smoke and disappear forever. “You don’t have to do that.”

“It’s the only thing I have,” Credence says, crimson with shame. “I know I’m nothing to look at but—”

Graves puts a finger over Credence’s lips. He doesn’t want to know what horrifying comparison to Grindelwald Credence is about to make. He doesn’t want to know what Credence sees that makes him think Graves would want that.

Well, he would want it, if it was a genuine offer, but it’s not. Credence is scared and alone and Graves might be a bit of a wolf, as Copperhead said, but he’s not a monster.

“That’s enough of that,” Graves says. “I’m not prone to selflessness, you can ask Tina. Let me help you. I want to help you. You can give me that.”

He waits for Credence’s nod and then shifts so he can slide his leg off the couch. It has the unfortunate side effect of leaving Credence kneeling between his spread thighs. He catches Credence by the elbows and together they both stagger to their feet.

“Right,” Graves says. “Too much talking and thinking and pondering our navels. I’m going to teach you some magic.”

“Right now?” Credence says, embarrassment and shame turning quickly to nerves.

“No time like the present,” Graves says with desperate vigour. They are standing too close. He is too old to be getting wayward erections. “Hold on to me.”

Credence grabs his arms in mirror-fashion and Graves Side-Alongs him to the first place he can think of where they can throw spells around like idiots and not break the Statute: the wilds of Upstate New York.

They land poorly, clutching each other for balance.

“I didn’t want to warn you,” Graves says apologetically. “Sometimes it’s easier not to know.”

Credence puts his hands on his knees and hangs his head down, breathing slowly like he’s trying not to be sick. “Grindelwald did the same thing,” he mutters, completely solving Graves’ unwanted erection problem. “I like to know things. Please, tell me so I can…” He stops, makes a small gagging sound, but recovers, straightening up. “What’s it called?”

“Side-Along,” Graves says staggering over to a fallen log so he can sit down again. “When a wizard does it just themselves, it’s called Apparition, when they bring someone with them it’s a Side-Along. I’m sorry, I won’t do that again without asking first. The problem is that if two people are thinking different things the spell can get confused.”

“I’m very good at not thinking about things,” Credence says. Which is sad, but also is another point in Graves’ mental tally in favour of the idea that Credence would make an excellent Occlumens.

Credence realizes where they are and looks around as if he’s back in the suitcase. “We’re not in New York!” he says, staring at the snow-dusted trees.

“We’re in New York State,” Graves says. He wishes belatedly that they’d stopped to put on coats. It’s cold upstate. Colder than in the city, and much colder than his house. He still expects it to be August.

Graves claps his hands together and the sound startles a bird which shrieks at them and takes off. “It would be much easier if you had a wand, but that will have to wait.”

He could offer to lend Credence his wand but every part of him cringes away from that idea. He only just got it back, there’s no way he’s handing it over to someone else now. Credence has no idea wands can be lent, so he, at least, won’t wonder why Graves isn’t offering.

“What would you like to try first?” Graves tries to remember what he learned his first year at Ilvermorny and draws a bit of a blank.

Credence’s breath steams in the air. “I don’t even know where to start,” he says. “I don’t know what’s possible.” He looks at the miles of forest with no one around.

Newt’s suggestion to not try anything too explosive is in the back of Graves’ mind. It seems to Graves that just about anything might be explosive if Credence is as powerful as everyone thinks he could be.

“Lumos with a wand causes the tip of the wand to glow. But it can be done without one.” He clasps his hands loosely, like he’s holding a small bird, and channels his magic into his palms. “Lumos” he says and releases a ball of light that floats gently in the air in front of them.

“Let there be light,” Credence says, reverently.

He’s looking at Graves now like he’s something more than magic, even though it’s a spell any eleven-year-old can perform. It makes Graves want to do foolish things, like transfigure a summer bloom from the frosted leaves, or take Credence out to wizarding New York in the middle of the day so he can see all the everyday magic that Graves forgot was anything other than ordinary. He can’t do the latter, and he doesn’t do the former.

“Can I touch it?” Credence asks. “Is it hot?”

“Go ahead,” Graves says. “It’s not a flame, you’ll be fine.”

Credence pokes at the light ball with one hesitant finger and it wobbles in the air. “It’s fuzzy,” he says. “Like static.”

Nox” Graves says, waving a hand, and the light dissipates in a shower of harmless sparks. “Now, the trick is you have to feel your magic. Despite what you’ll hear, lots of people cast wandlessly since wands are a mostly European invention. You feel your magic in you,” he reaches up and puts a hand on Credence’s chest, just over his heart. “And you push it into your hands, and you think very hard about what you want. It’s a matter of will, like all magic.”

Credence looks down at his chest and Graves stuffs his hands into his pockets so he’ll stop touching Credence. Mercy fucking Lewis, he’s got to stop doing that, he’s twisting the poor kid up. No wonder he thinks Graves wants him to prostitute himself.

“That seems very simple,” Credence says skeptically.

Graves shrugs. “It’s very complicated if you get down into the details, but I don’t think you need an hour-long lecture on the metaphysics of energy transference and the theories on wand versus wandless magic and spoken versus unspoken spells.”

“Um,” Credence says. “No, I don’t think I do. Thank you.”

Graves’ mouth pulls up into a crooked smile. “You’re welcome,” he says, teasing a little. “Now, see if you can feel your magic in you. Not to do anything with it. Just to notice it, like you can notice your own heartbeat if you pay attention.”

Credence puts his own hands on his chest and focuses intently. “I can feel my heartbeat,” he says. “I can…” He frowns. “And…and the Obscurus. I know it.” One hand moves down and curls into a fist just under his breastbone. “It’s always there.”

“That’s okay,” Graves says in the same low, soothing voice he used to use back in his day as an Auror on colleagues who were badly injured and needed to be kept calm until help arrived. He stopped when Copperhead, a Junior Auror at the time, told him it actually made things worse and that everyone said you knew you were really fucked when Graves used The Voice. He eventually just started cussing at them and telling them they were reckless idiots, which they seemed to like better. But Credence doesn’t know that, so Graves continues.

“That’s part of you now, so just know that it’s there and that it’s just fine. We’ll practice with that later. Now, close your eyes, and relax. We’re safe here. There’s no one around for miles and no hurry. We have all day, and all tomorrow, and all of the days after that. You don’t have feel it right now.”

Credence does as he is told, eyes fluttering shut. His fist gradually unclenches, shoulders relaxing.

“That’s good,” Graves says. “Nice and easy.”

“I…” Credence says. Then, soft and wondering, “Mr. Graves. I think…”

“There you go. That was always in you, too. You don’t have to be afraid of it now, just enjoy it. Let it feel good.”

Credence is trembling, head to toe, but he doesn’t seem upset and he’s not leaking Obscurus so Graves carries on.

“Can you feel it all through you? In your blood, in your breath, in your body. Now, think of light, think of turning that power into light.” He’s about to remind Credence that the spoken component is ‘Lumos’ but before he can do so, Credence starts to glow. His whole body lights up from within like a paper lantern.

Without opening his eyes, Credence cups his hands like he saw Graves do. “Lumos,” Credence says and opens his hands.

The world goes white.

When the sun-spots have cleared from Graves’ vision, he can see that Credence isn’t glowing any more, but there’s a ball about the size of a Quod hanging in the air, bright like a magnesium flame.

“Well,” Graves says. “Would you look at that.”

Credence opens one eye, and then the other. “Did I do that?” he asks.

The ball of light is too bright to look at directly so they’re both squinting unattractively at it and at each other.

“Credence, my dear, that’s magic.”

It might have taken twenty-two years and a dark wizard, but he got there in the end, thinks Graves. He’s so proud of Credence he could burst. It feels inexplicably like a blow against Grindelwald. Like Credence’s victories are his own.

But Credence doesn’t seem happy. He’s still holding out his hands, pale and scarred and shaking. He looks wild-eyed, and a series of complicated emotions twist his mouth. “All this time,” Credence says, ragged and raw. “All this time she told me it was evil, and I was evil, but it’s beautiful. I was so afraid it would be what she said, and it would make me what she said, and it’s not. It’s unicorns, and light, and she took that from me, she took everything, look at what she turned me into!

Credence’s voice rises up into a shout, he’s half bent over, clutching at his own head, pulling on his hair, and Graves can only watch as Credence tears himself apart into the Obscurus. The ball of magical light disappears into the black and is swallowed up with an ugly popping sound.

He never saw Credence’s Obscurus before MACUSA tried to blast him out of existence, but by all reports he was huge; a roiling cloud the size of a thunderhead. Now he’s much smaller. Still dense black smoke, grinding and churning, red lighting tearing through the dark, but perhaps only the size of a city bus now.

It’s terrifying. To think Credence lived for so long with that thing sucking him dry, bloating itself on magic strong enough to impress even Graves, who has worked with Picquery all his life. But Newt said it wasn’t its own creature anymore. This is Credence, not just his rage and his sorrow.

Graves doesn’t get up. He stays where he is, body language neutral, even though the electricity is making all the hair on his arms stand on end. He doesn’t want to look like a threat.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, keeping his voice calm and even, while Credence rages above him. “It’s not fair. And I wish I could fix it, but I can’t do it for you, darling. Please come down.”

The lightening subsides and slowly, so slowly, the cloud drains back down to the ground and eventually coalesces into Credence again. He collapses at Graves’ feet, puts his head in his hands and sobs.

Graves gets down on his knees in the frost and pulls Credence into an embrace. “Grindelwald might be a raving lunatic but even a broken clock is right twice a day,” he says, voice low, just for Credence to hear. “And he was right, and I was right. You are a miracle, Credence. I know it hurts, but you did it, you survived. It’s over now.”

Credence clutches at him, his whole body shakes with the force of his anguish, but he’s staying solid.

Graves puts a hand in his hair, cupping the curve of his skull. “You can rest now, let me carry it for a while.”

Eventually Credence seems to tire himself out. He slumps into Graves with a wobbly sigh. “Thank you,” he says, more of a vibration than real sound.

“You’ll have to help me up though,” Graves says ironically as Credence pulls away scrubbing at his tear-stained face with his sleeve. He smiles at Credence’s startled expression. “I think my leg locked up.”

Credence bolts upright, and immediately starts helping Graves get to his feet. It’s embarrassing how little weight the damn thing will take.

“Here,” Graves says, once he’s standing, and hands Credence a handkerchief.

Credence wipes his face and then awkwardly offers the handkerchief back.

“You can hold onto that for now,” Graves says. “I’ll get you a few of your own.”

Credence carefully folds it and tucks it into a pocket. “Thank you,” he says again and it sounds like he’s thanking Graves for more than the bit of cloth. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Do what you like with it,” Graves says. “It’s a handkerchief, not the Declaration of Independence.” He’s inordinately proud of himself for his no-maj reference when it makes Credence smile, just a little.

“I’d like to try again,” Credence says. “The light.” He clenches his jaw. “I want to keep practicing. I’ll control myself this time.”

“Of course,” Graves says. “As many times as you want.”

Credence takes two steps back and holds out his hands. “Lumos,” he says, fierce and brave and a wonder, as the light flares in his palms.

xxx

They return to the house, cold and damp, but it feels like something snarled has pulled smooth again by the time Credence decides he’s mastered wandless Lumos and Nox.

Mastered is one word for it. He didn’t get tired. Not after nearly a half hour of charm after charm. He was able to make it smaller, and bigger, and dimmer, and brighter—so bright it hurt Graves even with his eyes shut. Credence has stores of power like Graves has never seen before. No wonder he lasted so long as an Obscurial.

Graves runs Credence another bath (and ignores Credence’s fears that so much bathing is wasteful and possible unhealthful) while he rummages around in the boxes he hasn’t got around to unpacking yet, and unearths his old Ilvermorny textbooks. He’s pretty sure a charms or potions textbook can’t go so out of date as to be useless, but he hasn’t actually looked at them since he graduated. He leaves the history textbooks in the box because he’s heard multiple lectures from Copperhead about The History of Wizarding America vol-1-7 and how they’re revisionist, whitewashed garbage not fit to light a fire with.

He trades places with Credence, leaving him in the study with the stack of books, with instructions not to try out any of the charms by himself, while Graves has a bath to warm up and relax the muscles in his leg. The pain is a constant throbbing ache which he chooses to believe is because of the cold, and not because he’s been running around on it like an idiot.

When he emerges, feeling more like a person and not just a collection of curse damage, he joins Credence in the study.

Of all the rooms in his new house, Graves likes the study the most. In keeping with the rest of the house, the room is light and airy, blond wood shelves and soft couches the colour of blue Wedgewood. The realtor filled the reading nook by the window with plants. It’s perhaps a touch more feminine than Graves would have picked out for himself, but Grindelwald never sat in this room, which is all he really cares about.

Credence is curled up on one of the bigger sofas, buttoned back up into his borrowed suit but with his shoes off, feet tucked up under him. Graves feels somewhat underdressed in just his shirtsleeves and slacks, but he’s not wearing full dress in his own damn house on his day off. Credence is staring intently at one of the pictures but he glances up when Graves comes in.

“Do you…” Graves hesitates for a second. “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask if you could read.”

Credence blinks up at him with wounded pride. “I worked the printing press,” he says. “And before that I was a shop boy, so I know my numbers as well.”

Graves bets Mary-Lou made him quit when she realized that a job meant interactions with other human beings and an income, and an income and social ties meant the potential for freedom. He doesn’t say as much. Instead, he stretches out on his back, on the nice thick carpet in front of the fire to let the heat soak into his leg. His whole outfit needs to be laundered so he doesn’t feel bad about the wrinkles.

“Why did you ask?” Credence wants to know.

“You were looking at the pictures,” Graves says. It sounds stupid when he says it out loud. Why shouldn’t Credence look at the pictures.

Credence shrugs a little. “They move,” he says. “I’ve never seen books do that before.”

Graves resolves to do a some digging and see if he can’t unearth a few of his more illustrated editions. He managed to acquire a nice collection of poetry and short stories and the illustrations are second-to-none. He suspects Credence will like the poems as well.

“Most wizarding books have moving pictures,” Graves says. He tucks his hands behind his head and stretches a little. His back pops obligingly and Graves settles down with a tired groan. “Even the novels. They’re cheap and easy to enchant and they can charge more for an illustrated edition.”

Credence is staring at him. Well, Grindelwald never lazed around on the floor in front of him talking about marketing novels to the average wizard, so it’s probably a bit jarring still to see his face doing new things.

“Um,” Credence says, chewing on his thumbnail.

“Why don’t you read to me for a while,” Graves suggests. “It’ll remind me of what we covered back in the dark ages when I was at school, and give me ideas for what things you can learn first.”

Credence nods and sticks his nose back into the book. “Incendio is a conjuration suited in purpose for the lighting of small fires. A singular jet of red and yellow flame will issue from the wand…”

His voice is soft and hesitant when he reads, but gradually grows in confidence as Graves just lies there and lets him carry on without interruption.

It’s been a long time since anyone read to him anything more than a report, and ancestors knew that wasn’t exactly enjoyable listening. He closes his eyes and tries to focus on the words, and not think about Credence glowing in the forest, about the Obscurus devouring the light, and about what Grindelwald will do if he gets his claws back into him.

Chapter Text

Monday morning means that Graves has to be at work. He isn’t happy about it, but he can’t bring Credence with him, and he can’t take the day off without arousing suspicion. He’s already preparing himself to get grief about his supposed liaison from Seraphina. He may have to lie to her face again and she’s going to hex him rotten him when she finds out what he’s doing.

He reminds himself that she owes him. If he wants to trade that for Credence’s safety, then that’s his affair.

For his part, Credence seems perfectly happy to stay in the house wrapped up in one of Graves’ old Wampus house Quotpot sweaters he didn’t have the heart to get rid of (mostly because he figures Grindelwald didn’t wear a raggedy old house sweater), and read his textbooks. He’s got a pantry full of food, pen and paper with which to take notes, and the wireless if he decides he’s bored with studying.

It doesn’t soothe Graves’ nerves one bit.

He puts a charm onto his pocket watch so that a touch will alert him. He sets it in front of Credence.

“If anything happens,” Graves says, “anything at all, I want you to touch this pocket watch. It’s like an alarm. I’ll know, and I’ll come get you.”

Credence tugs a necklace out from under his shirt. “Like this?” he asks.

Graves knows the symbol hanging from the end of the cord. Grindelwald is fond of it; the Deathly Hallows. And Credence has had a summoning charm around his neck the whole time. Merlin’s fucking beard, Grindelwald probably knows he’s alive and where he is and…

“Fuck,” Graves says, drawing his wand. “Credence, don’t touch the pendant, but I need you to take it off and set it down, very carefully.”

Credence takes it off, with a great deal less care than Graves would like. “There’s no magic left in it,” Credence says casually, tossing it onto the table. “I used it already. He gave it to me to call him, and I did. And now it’s empty.”

Graves reaches out with his magic and finds the necklace is as inert as Credence claims. His adrenaline has spiked though and he can’t just relax. He wants to burn it up, he wants Credence to use his huge store of magic to Incendio it out of existence even though with the way Credence works he’d probably fireball the whole block. Graves swallows down his panic and tries to keep calm.

“We’ll talk about how you knew that later,” he says because that’s advanced magic and no one, as far as he knows, has told Credence anything about it. “For now, can I have it?”

“I only kept it because I didn’t know what else to do,” Credence says. “I don’t want it. I don’t want his promises.” He turns away from it, like he has to let go with his whole body or it doesn’t count.

Graves tries not to show how relieved he is. He carefully picks the necklace up with his handkerchief and tucks it into his pocket. “Thank you, Credence,” he says. “For trusting me with this.”

There’s something old and tired in Credence’s expression. “Don’t thank me,” he says. “I’m a terrible judge of character.”

Graves doesn’t have an answer for that. It hurts, more than he thinks Credence meant it to. But Credence isn’t wrong. He is a bad judge of character, and he’s stuck with Graves not because Graves is his best bet, but because Graves is all he has. For all Credence knows, Graves could be the next person to try and break him into whatever form he wants him in. Only time can prove him better. He thinks about Credence trying to prostitute himself for safety and wants to scream.

“If you need me,” he says again.

Credence waves a hand at the pocket watch. “I’ll call you,” he says. Even though there are legitimate threats hanging over Credence’s head, Graves feels very dismissed. Like nothing can hurt Credence any more, and not because he’s strong, but because he’s used to the abuse.

Graves shouldn’t, he knows he shouldn’t, but he takes Credence’s hands into his own. “I’m serious,” he says. “No matter how small. Even if it’s just to ask how the wireless works, even if it’s just because you’re bored. I want you to call me if you want something. Anything. Please.”

Credence tugs a little, not like he’s trying to take his hands back, but like he’s testing the hold. Graves isn’t sure what’s worse: letting go or holding on. He lets go.

“Please,” he says again. “For my peace of mind.”

That seems to get through. Bless the man, he’s more attuned to the hurts of others than to his own damaged psyche.

“I will,” Credence says. “Even if it’s just the wireless.”

“Maybe not the wireless,” Graves says, to make Credence smile.

“Go to work, Percival,” Credence says. He looks up at Graves slant-ways, body a little hunched, like he’s sure that he’s going to get in trouble for the familiarity.

It’s enough to let Graves breathe again. “Don’t sass me,” he says fondly. “I’ll see you this evening.”

Graves leaves Credence to his books and Apparates to MACUSA. He should have taught Credence to Apparate, licence be damned. He should have taught him combat spells, not how to conjure a pretty light.

It’s too late to fix that now, so he stalks into the building and prepares to make several lives very miserable indeed.

He starts with giving Grindelwald’s necklace to the curse breakers. They want to know where he got it but he’s the Director so he tells them to mind their own business in bureaucratic terms, and goes about his day.

Then it’s Queenie’s turn. He summons her to his office via official Auror escort. If he has to be worried and in pain then by the ancestors he’s going to spread it around.

There’s a small collection of artifacts on his desk which had been impounded when Grindelwald’s deception was revealed. In fact, the whole office had been stripped down to the studs, but so far nothing has come of the investigations. Graves suspects they’re hoping one of the items is Grindelwald’s wand in disguise. They still haven’t found the wretched thing.

Graves puts the artefacts back on the shelf where they belong. Piece by piece, he’ll claw his life back from Grindelwald’s hands. He thinks about Credence, tucked away safely behind his wards, beautiful and powerful and terribly dangerous. And safe, for now, he’s safe.

Graves sends a message to his secretary requesting the biggest pot of coffee they can get him, and is only halfway through his second cup when Queenie appears.

“Miss Goldstein,” he says, once she’s seated across from him. “The President tells me you have turned down your transfer to the Auror department, and that I am to impress on you the seriousness of your situation.”

“You didn’t say anything to me while I was at your house,” Queenie says. She’s got her coat in her arms, and a small box of personal items at her feet.

Good, he told the Auror to make her pack up. It should help Queenie get the full picture.

“Because you were never at my home, and you certainly didn’t see an Obscurus, or Credence Barebone, are we clear? That never happened. Now that I am seeing you on a work day, for the first time since Saturday when I left MACUSA, I am telling you that you need to consider your options very carefully. You cannot be unregistered. You cannot work as a tea girl. What else you decide to do is up to you, but those options are closed to you.”

Queenie deflates a little. Even her hair looks less shiny and bouncy. “I can’t be an Auror,” she protests. “It’s so ugly, Mr. Graves, it’s too much.”

“Have you considered learning to guard your mind from others? It would be less ugly if you spent less time in everyone else’s head.”

“I’ve never been able to keep from looking,” Queenie says.

“That’s because you’re nosey,” Graves says, sipping his coffee. “And untrained. Neither of which are problems I can help you with.”

Queenie flushes and looks away. “That’s unkind,” she says.

“I’m not kind, I’m the Director, and you’re stalling. You have until Friday to accept the transfer and training, or offer another plan, but until then you are not to be on the premises without an escort. You’re on paid leave until then, after which we will either discuss a new salary, or your termination package. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Director,” she says.

He can feel her at the edges of his thoughts and deliberately pictures Grindelwald attempting to tear into his mind. He doesn’t picture the torture that followed, just the searing headache and the pain of someone trying to dig in where they’re not wanted.

Queenie goes very red and then very pale.

“Don’t play that game with me, Miss Goldstein, you’re not as tough as Grindelwald.” he says. “And you will lose.”

He paces around the office once she’s been escorted out. Sitting too long hurts his leg. Standing hurts his leg. Walking hurts his fucking leg. His shoes are very loud on the tiled floor. He thinks maybe he should get some carpet, or replace the desk with something that isn’t grey. Abruptly, Graves is sick of his entire office. It’s big enough, but it’s dark and shadowed, and he wants light, he wants colours.

Graves transfigures his desk into a nice cherry wood and adds some art deco flourishes that don’t clash terribly with the rest of the office. It’s better, at least. It’s a start.

Then it’s 8:30 and he gets the Principal of Ilvermorny in, along with the head of Records, and newly minted Chief Auror Copperhead. He rakes the headmaster and Records over the coals for a solid ten minutes before he figures they’re properly ashamed of themselves and their policies that let an Obscurus flourish in New York City.

“Someone’s got to fix this, and you know the most about the current system so I’m making it your job,” Graves tells them.

Copperhead, out of her Auror leathers an into a rather daring plaid suit with plus-four knickers, and a fedora planted on her head at a decidedly rakish angle, says, “You’re going to get pushback from the Southern states. ‘It’s our right to homeschool, it’s not necessary to keep track of every magical child, it’s our right to kill no-majes, and mixed-blood children, and squibs.’” Her impression of a Southern Pureblood Matriarch is flawless. Graves thinks her wife might be Old South.

Graves waves that away. “I’m sick of hearing it. And we’ve looked away, we’ve looked the wrong way, for too long. I don’t care if I have to find another Obscurus to bring this building down around me to make them see sense, we are getting on top of the welfare of our children. And I want you to find out who the hell Credence Barebone was supposed to before he got lost in the system.”

Bellamy Burson frowns at Graves over the tops of his glasses. He’s blotchy with embarrassment and no little bit of anger at being scolded like a child. He’s been the principal of Ilvermorny for going on fifty years, he was there when Graves was a tearaway pureblood troublemaker, and from his expression he’s not any fonder of Graves now than he was back then.

“Director Graves,” he says.

Graves folds his hands on his desk. “Principal Burson,” he replies. “This is not a suggestion. I need actionable plans to protect magical and squib children from abuse and neglect, and to prevent them from disappearing into the no-maj world where they are unprotected.”

“I have enough on my plate ensuring the well-being of the children in my care,” Burson protests.

Copperhead doesn’t bother hiding her smirk. “Oh dear,” she says.

Graves narrows his eyes. “Mr. Burson are you suggesting that a little extra work is too much to ask, when the lives of children are at stake? Or that the orders of the Director of Magical Security are a mere whim? Are you not a citizen and subject to all the rights and protections that MACUSA offers? Do others not deserve the same rights and protections?”

“No…” Burson says, confused and visibly humiliated. “Yes?”

“Good.”

Elaine Fiche, a statuesque woman with a careful, soft voice, is smart enough not to argue. In fact, she has a serious frown of contemplation. “Perhaps,” she says, “I believe the no-majes have formed some sort of society. They claim it’s to help children but mostly they seem to be about preventing young men from buying cigarettes or…blue material.” She blushes. “That’s not the point. I think, perhaps, a small division of Aurors whose only investigative duties are to ensure the welfare of children. They could keep track of births and deaths, and do checks regardless of if the child shows magical aptitude.”

“That won’t stop the old guard from running off anyone with a no-maj bastard,” Copperhead says. “If the Obscurial was adopted from a no-maj orphanage there would have been no way to track him.”

“We can’t test every child in America for magical aptitude,” Burson protests, like he’s going to be the one to have to go out and find abused and abandoned children.

“We can’t,” Graves agrees, “but we can make a start. I like this idea. Copperhead, anything else?”

“There’s nothing in the budget for a new department,” she says. “But I’m guessing you can take care of that.”

“Loop Auror Goldstein in,” Graves says. “She did well with the Obscurial, I bet she’ll have some ideas. And tell her to mention it to her sister; it might solve our errant Legillimens problem.”

The meeting runs late as they hash out the details of how many Aurors would be needed, what their qualifications ought to be, and what, exactly, they were going to do with any children who they found that could not be left where they were but were too young to be fostered at Ilvermorny.

When Graves finally dismisses them from his office, Copperhead doesn’t go.

“You’re distracted,” Copperhead says, looking with a little too much interest at the changes he made to his desk. “You’ve been distracted all morning.”

“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” Graves says.

She snorts. “Right. Because you’re not Mr. Compartmentalization. You’re not a stone-cold Occlumens or anything.”

Graves frowns at her. She’s not impressed by it.

“And Madam President has been in a queer mood all morning too. Told me to remind you…er…of your age and the dignity of this office. Which, I mean, you know her better than I do.”

“She saw me with a young man and made a few incorrect assumptions,” Graves says, because Copperhead is a fucking menace when she wants to know something and he’s not fooled by her casual tone. Her doggedness is one reason he made her Chief Auror, but it’s not something he enjoys having turned on himself.

“Sure,” says Copperhead. “Good for you.”

“Go away now,” Graves says, with a sigh.

She’s half out of the chair when the threat level clock on Graves’ desk spins wildly, alarms going off which he can hear echoed in the hallway from the main lobby. The hands land squarely on Emergency.

Copperhead swears so expressively that Graves has a moment to think at least he’ll always know if she’s herself. No one else would think, “Mandrake fucking, jizz gargling, piña blanco,” never mind say it out loud.

“Round up the Aurors,” Graves snaps, drawing his wand. “Protect Picquery, and meet me in the War Room.”

“Yes, sir,” Copperhead says, unholstering her own wand.

“I’m going to make sure our guest is still where he’s supposed to be,” Graves says, and heads for the cells.

xxx

There are only three people that have the ability to open Grindelwald’s cell: The President herself, Graves, and Copperhead. Anyone else who wants access has to go through one of them. It’s foolishness to go down to the cells. Graves would know if Grindelwald had broken the wards, and no one has opened the cell for him. No one can.

There’s no way Grindelwald got out. Graves knows it. But he has to go, he has to see for himself.

He has to.

He wants to go home and make sure Credence is safe but he’s a paranoid fuck and he knows that if anyone is tracking his movements he’ll only be leading them right to Credence. People go for what they treasure most in an emergency. If he wants to keep Credence hidden he can’t go rushing straight for him the second there’s a little trouble.

Grindelwald is still in his cell. Of course he is. Graves still breathes easier knowing it for a fact.

He’s on his feet this time, pacing the limits of the little room. “Director,” Grindelwald says mockingly. “Is that an alarm I hear?”

“I like to run drills,” Graves lies blandly. “It’s good practice to keep everyone on their toes and ancestors know you didn’t do any real work for five months.”

“Of course, a drill,” Grindelwald says. His expression is intensely smug. “It’s obviously not a disturbance in Mid-Town. Tell me, have you found my wand yet?”

Graves raises his eyebrows in a manner that he’s been told makes him look exactly the opposite of innocent. “I’m sure I couldn’t say. Actually, I came down here because I wanted to thank you.”

That throws Grindelwald. Only for a second, before he recovers. But Graves gives himself a point anyway in their hideous, dangerous little game.

“Oh?” Grindelwald says, taking a seat on his cot, crossing his legs casually.

“Without your help I would’ve been stuck with Bottlesmire as Chief Auror for another two decades at least. Thanks to you I finally got to do a clean sweep of all the idiots and, my goodness, so many policy changes I can barely keep up. You did me a real favour.” Graves smiles with all his teeth.

All your cronies and patsies are gone, Graves is saying. All your legal loopholes are closing. You don’t know what I’ve done. You don’t know what I’ve found.

“I’m very fond of doing you favours,” Grindelwald says serenely. “Don’t you remember?”

Graves remembers being alone for so long he was going mad. When Grindelwald pulled him out of the trunk he’d been so grateful. In the end, when Grindelwald was finished torturing him, Graves had begged for more pain instead of the dark. Grindelwald had broken two of his fingers, “So you have something to keep your mind occupied.” And Graves had been grateful for that too.

Point to Grindelwald.

“How’s that extradition paperwork going?” Grindelwald asks. It’s the weak link in the chain. If he’s going to make a move, it’s going to be during the custody transfer.

“Buddy, don’t even worry about it,” Graves says in the most obnoxious drawl he can manage, just to watch Grindelwald grind his teeth a little. “If you avoid having a tragic accident before you get out of my city I’ll eat my hat. What’s it the no-majes call it? We’ll get you fitted for a Chicago overcoat.”

“Ouch,” Grindelwald says. “So much for American hospitality.”

“You’re thinking of Southern hospitality,” Graves says, heading for the door. “No such thing up here; Only thing New Yorkers are known for is being real assholes.”

Point to him.

xxx

The disturbance was in Mid-Town. There were three big explosions, in quick succession, magical in origin but little else. The problem is that the British are coming, and so are the ICW, and Grindelwald is in MACUSA, and everyone is nervy and on edge.

The meeting in the War Room goes swiftly. Copperhead implements checks done every 48 hours by a Legillimens. Wands have to be scanned. The President’s security is doubled.

Graves can’t avoid getting his own protection detail, including plainclothes Aurors outside his fucking house. But the incident has been contained and there’s nothing to suggest that any of the locations were meaningful, even to the no-majes. A warehouse—two casualties—a haberdashery—eight casualties—and a tenement block—sixty casualties, mostly women and children. The loss of life is tragic but not overly remarkable.

There’s nothing to chase. No leads to follow. Copperhead has a squad of Aurors out, but she’s not hopeful.

The alarm has gone back to Level Four: Danger.

Seraphina has Grindelwald’s pendant in front of her on the big table in the War Room. “How did you get this?”

“It was mixed in with my things,” Graves says. “I just shook it out of one of my suits.”

“Curse-breakers cleared it,” Copperhead says. “Spell residue says it was some sort of summoning charm, but it’s used up. Just an ugly necklace now.”

“On the same day that there’s an explosion you bring a pendant of Grindelwald’s into MACUSA,” Seraphina says.

Graves tries not to be insulted and fails. “Yes, Madam President, also the same day that I skipped the Sports page in the paper because my team keeps losing, the same day that I forgot to bring a lunch so I’ll have to risk the cafeteria food, and the same day that I wore black socks not blue. I don’t see what my schedule has to do with it.”

“Don’t be facetious, Graves,” Seraphina says irritably. “It’s beneath you.”

“I resent the implication that I might be working for Grindelwald.”

“So do I!” she says. “But the first thing you did was to go down to the cells by yourself.”

Graves makes his shaking hand into a fist and jams his knuckles into the ache in his leg so he doesn’t get up and do something he won’t be able to take back. “I had questions,” he says.

“Graves,” Seraphina says. “I can’t protect you from speculation and rumour if I don’t know the truth.”

“I had to know!” Graves says. “I had to know he was still there.”

Seraphina does him the courtesy of meeting his eyes. “You shouldn’t be at work.”

He digs his knuckles in hard enough to make his leg cramp unhappily. “I have to be here,” he says. “I don’t trust…” He sighs. “I don’t trust the Brits.”

“You don’t trust us,” Copperhead says. “Fair enough.”

Seraphina glares at her. Copperhead is equally unmoved as when Graves does it. “It is not ‘fair enough’ Chief Auror Copperhead. It is a big problem. If we three can’t hold the line then I don’t know what hope we have.”

Graves does his best to look like a functioning and productive Director of Magical Security. “I’ll cope,” he says. “We all will. Grindelwald knew where the attack would be, that tells me he set it up ahead of time. And he mentioned his wand. It’s very possible this was a recovery mission.”

“It’s equally likely he’s just pulling your tail,” Seraphina says. “He’s got to know you’re compromised.”

“It’s part of the game,” Graves says grimly.

Copperhead starts to light a cigarette but puts it away again when Seraphina shakes her head. “If we assume Grindelwald is behind the explosions, wand or not, what’s his end-game? If we bring in reinforcements he’s less likely to make an escape. Unless the plan is to draw the Aurors here and then do something in another city once it’s unprotected.”

“It won’t do him any good to start something in East-Nowhere Kansas,” Graves points out. “We can contain that. Even if he hit Chicago or Boston, or further west, Los Angeles maybe, or somewhere else with a lot of people around, we’ve already proven we can Obliviate an entire city if we have to. Even if Grindelwald knows how we did it, it’s not impossible that we could do it again.”

“We don’t have that ability,” Seraphina says.

“But he doesn’t know that,” Copperhead agrees. “Not for certain. He can’t bank on it.”

The problem with Grindelwald, Graves thinks, is that he’s a genocidal racist, but he’s also a lunatic and utterly fearless. He impersonated the right-hand of the President, he faced down a furious Obscurus and then tried to dual the President and half a dozen Aurors with a stolen wand he could barely control. It’s hard to guess what he’s going to do, since he’s crazy as a sack full of cats.

Graves can be devious when he wants to be, but not like that. He tries to imagine what he would do if he didn’t care about the cost of human life, wizard and no-maj alike, and had a reckless disregard for his own safety.

“What if…” Graves says. “What if it’s the exact opposite. What if he’s counting on having all the hitwizards and Aurors in one place.”

“Shit,” Copperhead says, as she realizes what he’s saying. “Get the best dualists and curse-flingers into New York. Set something off to panic the no-majes, which will panic the Aurors. At least one of our trigger-happy idiots, or theirs, will do something stupid and it’ll turn into a bloodbath. It’s one of the most densely populated cities in America. The casualties will be astronomical.”

“Unignorable,” Seraphina says.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Graves agrees. “If he times it right, half the city will have telephoned, or radioed, or hopped on a boat to tell the rest of the world. We won’t be able to contain it fast enough.”

“Okay, so we send everyone home,” Copperhead says.

“Then when something happens we won’t have enough Aurors to contain it.” Graves rubs his scar. “Either way, he wins.”

“At least he doesn’t have the Obscurus anymore,” Copperhead says. “What a fucking disaster that would be.”

He wants to tell them the truth. But that would also be a fucking disaster. Credence would be in great danger. Once Grindelwald is gone, then he can tell them. They’ll listen then.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day is an agony of waiting until Graves can go back home.

Graves walks sedately out of his office at five-thirty and stops to chat to a few of the senior staff on his way out. He Apparates and takes note of where the Aurors are stationed outside before heading inside, still at the same sedate pace.

He wants to call out, but he doesn’t do that either. He’s got to keep it together. Even when no one can see. If he gives in, even to himself, then he’s losing control to Grindelwald.

Graves hangs up his coat and scarf by the door and checks the living room. No Credence.

He’s not in the kitchen either.

Graves doesn’t panic. He keeps his pace steady as he goes into the study.

Credence is standing in the middle of the room in nothing but a towel. He’s done something to himself; his hair is long, down to his elbows and there’s a pile of hair at his feet and a pair of scissors in his hand. Several books lie open on the floor. He turns at the sound of Graves’ shoes.

“Um,” Credence says, as Graves’ heart-rate returns to normal.

He’s there. He’s safe. He…looks guilty as hell.

“Sorry,” Credence says, gesturing helplessly at the room. “I didn’t mean to.”

Graves is still standing in the doorway, mouth agape when Credence makes a low, frustrated sound, and Graves can literally see his hair growing. He hacks at it with the scissors and another clump drifts down to join the pile on the floor.

“I’ve made such a mess of it,” Credence says wretchedly. “First the room and now this, and the room won’t go back, and my hair won’t stop growing, and I’ve tried everything I dared.”

It’s the first time Graves has seen so much of Credence’s skin. His back and a significant portion of his chest are hidden by all the hair, but his arms are scarred up to the elbow.

Graves can do something about the hair at least. “It’s not a spell,” Graves says, “you need the counter-potion. C’mon, leave the scissors.”

He takes Credence into the bathroom. The tub is full and cloudy with what must be the hair growth tonic Graves keeps in case of inflammatory damage to his hair while on the job. He drains the tub with a wave of his hand and refills it. Credence is lucky it only works on one’s head or he’d look like a puffskein.

“I thought it was shampoo,” Credence says.

Graves tries not to laugh but can’t hold back his smile. Credence’s hair is down to his waist now. He looks like he’s been pushed to the point of anger, flushed with frustration, and so lovely with his dark hair curling around him like a renaissance painting.

“Didn’t the mirror help you?”

Credence scowls at it. “It was laughing at me,” he says.

Graves hands him the counter-tonic. “I’ll be in the study,” he says and wags a finger at the mirror. “And you,” he says, “very inhospitable.”

The mirror makes a rude sound.

Graves manages not to laugh until he’s back in the study. And then he’s too busy being confused to laugh. Quite apart from Credence’s little misadventure with hair-growth tonic, there’s the matter of what he’s somehow done to the study.

With no little bemusement, Graves Vanishes the pile of hair and then he just stands there, hands on his hips.

The whole room has been transformed, down to the fittings.

Where the bookshelves were blond wood they’re now a mahogany colour. The chairs are deep brown leather. The blue Wedgewood colour scheme has been replaced with rich wine reds. It’s a lot like the study in his old house had been. A little darker than before the transformation, but warm and homey.

“I thought I would try transfiguration,” Credence says, buttoned up into his suit, holding the new length of his wet hair in the towel. “Just something small. Like a pen. But then this happened and I can’t turn it back! I’m so sorry, Mr. Graves, I didn’t mean to.”

“You tried to transfigure a pen and instead accidentally transfigured my entire study,” Graves says faintly.

“I was thinking about…it’s just…the room didn’t really suit you, but I was looking at your pen, which is very nice. And it seemed like something you’d write with, but I couldn’t picture you doing it at the old desk, and then the pen didn’t change, but everything else did!” Credence is clearly upset. “I shouldn’t’ve tried to change your nice pen.”

Graves has to sit down on one of the new chairs. It’s exceedingly comfortable. There’s even a footstool so he can put his leg up. “Credence,” he says. “Do you know how…”

But Credence doesn’t know. He has no idea the sort of concentration that goes into transfiguration. He doesn’t have any notion that the average wizard has to focus on one item at a time, or that they need to have incantations and specific designs. His magic just did what he was thinking of. And, apparently, he knows Graves better than Graves had thought anyone could guess in a few days. He loves the room. It’s what he would have picked out for himself eventually.

“You have no idea how powerful you are, do you?” Graves says at last.

Credence squirms a little at the praise. “It wouldn’t go back,” he says.

“No, I expect not. You would have had to want it to.”

“I did!” Credence protests. “I just though this would suit you better, but I didn’t want to change your things without asking, and I didn’t…”

“You didn’t want to get in trouble,” Graves fills in. “Did you really think I would be angry?”

Credence scrubs at his hair and won’t meet Graves’ eyes. “No,” he says.

“So why would the furniture turn back? I’m not mad,” he adds. “I love it.”

Credence straightens up, pleased. “Really?”

“Really.” Graves props his elbow on the arm of the chair and puts his chin on his hand. “But, my sweet boy, what on earth made you do that to your hair?”

Credence sighs and sits down on one of the other chairs. “I tried changing the furniture back, but it wouldn’t go. So, I decided I’d clean the rest of the house to make up for it. And the kitchen had some sort of nest in it. And I had to catch all the creatures that ran out. I didn’t kill them. I just shooed them out the window. But they made a mess, and when I was done I was a mess, and I didn’t want to dirty up the house again, so I thought I’d bathe, but then it wasn’t shampoo and it wouldn’t stop growing and there was nothing in any of the books, so I just started cutting.”

The words pour out of him like water. He hasn’t heard Credence say so much about anything. Graves does chuckle a little, a soft, fond thing because it sounds like Credence has had a difficult afternoon, but nothing bad happened, and now Credence will have fun, harmless stories to tell himself about when magic goes wrong, but doesn’t go wrong.

“Well,” Graves says, “now you can do what you like with it. You’ve certainly got enough of the stuff.”

Credence frowns down at himself. The growth stopped just at his hipbones. Graves was right. It curls. “Ma always cut it the same.”

“Why don’t you ask Queenie, the next time you see her,” Graves offers, surprising himself by committing to inviting Queenie Goldstein into his home again. “I bet she’ll have some ideas.”

To his further surprise, Credence just sighs and begins to braid it back. When Credence catches him looking he blushes. “I used to braid Modesty’s hair for her.” He stills. “Have you heard yet?”

“No,” Graves says. “There was a minor emergency at work, but I told you, Tina’s on the case. She’ll find her.”

“I believe you,” Credence says. Then, somewhat forlornly, “This is too much hair.”

xxx

For a few weeks there’s a fragile peace. Everything settles down into routine. Graves and Credence experiment with transfiguration and it turns out Credence has a lot of opinions about interior decorating and Graves’ personal style that align very nicely with Graves’ own preferences. Credence has such a remarkable reserve of power that is so desperate to rush out of him and be of service that sometimes it’s hard to predict what it will do.

It’s nothing at all to teach him the charms to make the dishes do themselves, or to lay the fire, or to clean their clothes. Things leap up joyously to do his bidding. Graves has never seen dishes be cheerful before. But the house fairly hums with domestic magic and Credence shines with every task he’s able to perform.

“I like to be useful,” he’d said shyly. “And this is the nicest place I’ve ever lived.” Dust had leapt off the shelves in a tiny tornado and whisked itself out the window and Credence hadn’t even seemed to notice.

He blazes through first-year charms like it’s nothing. Credence is focused and eager and even without a wand he’s able to channel his magic fairly effectively.

Graves doesn’t try to get him to do anything that requires delicacy or real finesse, he’s not sure Credence can pull back his power enough for that. But he’s skilled at disarming and at shield spells which goes a long way to soothing Graves’ constant paranoia.

They both spend more nights than not on the sofa, taking turns with whose nightmare was worse, reading to each other: textbooks, literature, poetry, whatever Graves thinks Credence might like. It doesn’t make sleep any easier, but it makes the waking from dark dreams much more pleasant. More than once they both fall asleep together on the sofa, backs sore and necks cricked.

Newt comes by to feed Credence potions and monitor his health and show him his menagerie of illegal animals, but mostly he’s satisfied that Credence is stable and there’s nothing he can do. He doesn’t seem in any great hurry to leave New York, muttering something about the first proper sighting of the rare Cloaca Crocodilia.

Graves thinks his reluctance to leave has more to do with Tina Goldstein than any lizards living in the New York sewers. Graves is invested in the welfare of his employees so he doesn’t suggest that Newt take the opportunity and leave the city before MACUSA notices he’s back.

Tina finds Modesty before anything dire can happen to her. She’s grubby and hungry and terrified of life on the street, and accepts Tina’s help with some misgiving. But Tina is a woman, and kind, and gives her a letter from Credence. She doesn’t get to keep it, since Credence has to be kept secret, but it goes a long way to earning her trust and Tina is happy enough to pass letters back and forth.

They place Modesty in a children’s home that mostly houses the bastards of wealthy no-majes where she is treated kindly and fed properly, and MACUSA can watch her for signs of magic. Graves can tell Credence misses her, but it’s not safe for them to visit. Not with Grindelwald’s maniacs on the loose. Not with Grindelwald still waiting in the bowels of MACUSA while the Brits and ICW and Seraphina battle for custody.

Copperhead and her Aurors scour the city but there’s no sign of the arsonist. They decide to keep all the Aurors in their usual cities, although she and Graves both know they’re fucked either way.

Graves won’t feel safe until Grindelwald is dead. More than once he’s caught himself headed for the cells, telling himself it would be worth it, to murder the man. Even if he was executed for it. But then self-preservation and common sense get the best of him, and he goes home where Credence will be waiting with a glass of whiskey for him, and then dinner, and questions about his studies.

He lets Credence rub the pain out of his leg when it gets too bad to bear, and he thinks it’s doing some good, because it aches less. Graves suspects Credence of minor magic, because his wampus tattoo woke up and, even scarred, it has resumed its patrol over Graves’ arms and shoulders.

He doesn’t say anything because it sounds a little bit crazy. Credence might be powerful, but he can’t cure curse damage just by rubbing Graves’ leg.

Queenie joins the first division of Wizards for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Wipocc as it’s known as in about five minutes. She gets a shiny new desk and shakes Graves’ hand happily.

She also fixes Credence’s hair situation, trimming it to just below shoulder-length and giving him a pretty array of ribbons to tie it back with. She’s a damn sight better at the tailoring charm than Graves is, so he orders a selection of suits from his tailor in colours and styles that would suit Credence and gets her to fit them to him.

He lies to Credence and says he had them already. He’s pretty sure that Credence knows he’s a liar but Credence never calls him on it, and so Graves gets to dress him up the way he’d wanted to. And no one, not even Queenie, gets to know how much satisfaction that brings him.

In nice clothes, properly groomed and properly fed, Credence looks like a young, old-blood, wizarding scion. A Lestrange or a Black by his colouring. He’s beautiful, actually, and even the mirror, which is a bigoted old thing, takes to cooing at him over how handsome he is, and offers arcane grooming techniques which Credence does not take up. It also takes to making sly remarks to Graves whenever he’s in the washroom, most of which are extremely lewd and give Graves a rather too detailed look into the sexual practices of the French Court the mirror was made for. He threatens to break it half a dozen times and it sulks, but stops.

Credence, for lack of a better word, flourishes in captivity. And Graves isn’t a fool: Credence is a captive, for all that it’s a nice enough prison cell. But Credence doesn’t seem to see it that way. At least, he never says anything, and Queenie says she’s picked up nothing Graves needs to know.

Mercifully, Credence doesn’t try to kiss him again. He seems to have accepted that Graves actually does want to help him, without repayment. Or maybe he’s just happy now that he can keep the house, and considers that doing his part.

Before Graves knows it, three weeks have passed and Credence squares his shoulders, tucks a curl behind his ear, and says, “I want to try turning into the Obscurus.”

xxx

Graves takes him back Upstate. This time they’re both properly dressed for the weather—coats and hats and gloves. Credence’s nose and cheeks turn pink almost immediately. Graves tries not to stare.

They should have Newt along with them, Graves knows that, but he’s selfish, and he wants to do this for Credence himself.

“Do you promise I won’t hurt anyone if I lose control?” Credence says.

“I won’t let you hurt anyone,” he says. “I’ll put up a shield.” Graves is fairly sure that he doesn’t have enough power to hold Credence, but he’s also betting that Credence doesn’t want to hurt him, and he’s already talked Credence down once before.

“Not even you,” Credence says, suspiciously.

“Especially not me,” Graves says with a smile. “I’m very fond of myself.”

Credence frowns a little, like he’s not sure if Graves is joking or not, but he takes several steps backward and wraps his arms around himself. “I only let it go on purpose the once,” he says. “Every other time it just came out of me.”

“Why did you let it go?” Graves has found that Credence has a sharp mind and he does best when allowed to work through his problems aloud.

“I was angry,” Credence says. “At Grindelwald. I wanted to hurt him the way he hurt me. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I flew away.”

“And when you were in Newt’s suitcase, looking at the other Obscurus, why then?”

Credence tips his head back so he can look at the sky, a merciless blue above them. “I was sad for the little girl who died, for Sara. But I didn’t feel it that time.”

“Maybe it’s because of the integration,” Graves suggests. “Was it painful last time we were here?”

“I don’t remember,” Credence says. “I was so angry.”

“Perhaps it won’t hurt any more,” Graves says.

Credence closes his eyes and lets his hands drop to his side. “I’d like that,” he says.

For a moment nothing happens. An expression of anguish crosses his face and Graves doesn’t think. He grabs onto Credence.

“Stop!” he says, holding Credence’s face in his hands. “Whatever you’re doing, stop!”

Credence catches hold of his wrists, eyes flying open. “I wasn’t doing anything!” he says, alarmed. “I was just thinking of bad things.”

Mordred’s wrinkled ballsack.

“Why?” Graves asks, even as he figures it out. It’s what calls out the Obscurus.

Graves read a play by a no-maj that had circulated around the department back in the day. Some moron thought someone had broken the statute and that was how the play got written. There was nothing in it that suggested the author knew a damn thing. But he remembers that no-maj children flew after a dose of fairy dust and by thinking happy thoughts. It was the sort of play where death was an awfully big adventure, and a story could defeat a pirate, and children could fly if only they thought of happy things.

No one ever read Credence Barebone anything like that.

“Don’t,” Graves says. “If that’s what it takes, don’t do it. Don’t feed it any more of yourself.”

They stand there, staring at each other, both a little wild-eyed.

“I think it would work,” Credence says. “I think pain makes it stronger.”

Graves presses their foreheads together. “Don’t,” he says again. “Please.”

Some queasy, suspicious part of him wonders if Credence’s integration means he could feed it with the pain of people other than himself and thinks of the rat king’s prophecy. He wonders if Credence could deliberately grow the Obscurus. If he could gorge himself on misery and grow to such size and such power that he could swallow the world if he wanted to.

Credence gently pulls Graves’ hands away and takes a step back. “Okay,” he says with a crooked smile. “I’ll try something else.”

Credence stretches out his arms wide, fingers splayed, legs planted shoulder-width apart. He tips his head back again, eyes shut, mouth slightly open.

The woods are silent like the shadow of a hawk is passing overhead.

Graves feels something moving in the air, a pressure like an oncoming storm. He wants to reach for his wand, but it feels familiar. Not quite like when Credence practices his spells, but very similar. Then it breaks and Credence dissolves into black smoke.

Credence hangs in the air like a murmuration of starlings. Not lit up with red electricity. Not diving towards Graves. Just floating prettily in the cold air like a black silk sheet.

“Oh, darling,” Graves says, without listening to himself. “Look at you. Look how magnificent you are.” The Obscurus comes towards him like the movements of a perfectly calibrated watch, like a dance. “Can you change back now? You did so well.”

The smoke collapses into Credence’s usual form. But now his back is straight, and he’s grinning, a goofy, wild thing that makes Graves’ poor old heart thump in his chest so loudly he’s afraid Credence will hear it.

“Percival!” Credence says, delighted. His eyes go white and he turns back into the Obscurus. And then back again so fast he stumbles and trips and lands on his ass in the frosty dirt. “It doesn’t hurt at all!” He looks down at himself ruefully, long legs sprawled out. “Well…”

Graves hauls him to his feet. He can feel his own stupid grin split his face. “Never mind the landing!” he says. “That was remarkable.”

Credence turns back into the Obscurus and shoots up into the sky, fast as a mortar, fast as lightning. He spreads out, thin as a sheet, then comes back together, swirling up above Graves before he thunders back down, flashing around the trees. He’s playing, Graves realizes. He’s controlling where he goes.

Credence comes back to himself, and back to Graves. He’s somehow lost his hat and his hair is a windswept mess, cheeks pink like he’s just come back from flying a broom. He’s got to be the only wizard who isn’t an animagus who can fly.

Graves realizes he’s run out of superlatives to describe what Credence can do. “Remarkable,” he says again. “What did you do?”

“I thought about when we were here before. When I did magic and you gave me your handkerchief. I thought about standing in the forest, creating light from nothing, with a man who would just give away his things because someone needed it. It made me sad, then, but it’s not sad. I’m here. I’m free. I’m magic. It’s okay to let go now.”

Selfishly, Graves wishes he didn’t know what it feels like to kiss Credence because now when he imagines catching hold of his beautiful face and kissing that smile, he knows exactly what it would be like.

“It was just a handkerchief,” Graves protests.

“Not to me,” Credence says.

Chapter Text

Graves shouldn’t be surprised when Credence corners him in the kitchen, two days later, but he is.

It’s a calculated ambush. Graves isn’t at his best. He’s exhausted from nightmares, still in his shirtsleeves, groping about for coffee, and Credence is in one of his new suits, hair loose around his face, looking dangerous and handsome and very determined.

Credence really is very beautiful, Graves thinks, extremely distracted. He was right, a bit of care and polish and Credence is shining. He’s going to be the ruin of high society. With Graves to introduce him and show him around the right parties and dinners and shows, he’ll be the talk of society. Powerful, handsome, young. No money, but Graves can take care of that. And he’s not an insufferable bore with nothing to say for himself like so many young rakes these days; he’s clever, and kind, and very attentive.

It might have been a while since Graves dragged his sorry old corpus out to see and be seen in wizarding high society, but his name opens doors. And he wants to show Credence everything that’s behind them. He can introduce Credence to the right people. They’ll show him magic like he’d never thought to see and wrap it in luxury.

“Would you like some breakfast?” Graves manages to say.

“You should take me to MACUSA,” Credence says with studied casualness.

“Absolutely not,” Graves says, startled out of daydreaming about Credence at a ball, charming all the heiresses.

“I can do first-year spells,” Credence says.

“No,” Graves says.

“I can turn back and forth from the Obscurus on purpose.”

“No,” Graves insists. “It’s not safe.”

“From who? From what?” Credence says. “You said MACUSA wouldn’t hurt me if I could prove I was stable. I’m stable, Newt said so. What aren’t you telling me?”

Credence has to understand. Graves can’t protect him if he leaves.

“It’s not about MACUSA,” Graves says. “You’ll be welcomed, I promise, you’ll pass whatever stupid tests they give you with flying colours.”

Credence takes his hands. “Then what is it?”

“Grindelwald,” he says. “I need you to stay hidden. I can’t let him hurt you.”

“Will I be any safer once he’s gone?” Credence asks. “He can escape from England just the same as from here.”

Graves feels sick, and desperate. They’ll never be free of the man until he’s dead, and they’re not going to let him do it. Grindelwald will live. He’ll come for Graves because he’s petty, and he’ll want to finish him off, and then there won’t be anyone between Credence and the things Grindelwald will do to break him.

He’s going to see how much raw power Credence has and he’ll do anything it takes to get it for himself. There’s no curse too Dark, no degradation too vile that he won’t subject Credence to.

“Percival,” Credence says. “You need to breathe.”

Graves sucks air. He feels like he’s dying.

Credence puts one big hand on the back of Graves’ head, thumb gentle against the short hairs.

“Does this help?” Credence asks. “It helps me when you do it.”

Credence presses their foreheads together and it does help. Graves tries to match Credence’s steady breaths.

“I know what he did to you, Tina told me, even though she said she shouldn’t. I know you’re just trying to protect me, but I can’t hide forever. It’ll drive you crazy not knowing when we’ll be found out.” Credence’s voice is a low, soft rumble. “Please, Percival, let your people help you.”

“Not yet,” Graves bargains. He finds he’s able to let go of Credence, already embarrassed by his weakness. “A week. Two at most. Just until Grindelwald is gone.”

Credence sighs when Graves lets go of his hand. He keeps his hold on the back of Graves’ head.

“The worst thing is, I know it’s hurting you and I’m still not sorry,” Credence says; a guilty secret. “I’m still glad it was you.” He leans in and kisses Graves.

Graves feels shaky and off-guard and Credence is so solid against him. Not Grindelwald’s broken creature. He’s confident this time, angling Graves’ face up, and for one desperate, terrible moment, Graves lets himself be kissed.

But he can’t. He can’t do that to Credence.

Graves turns his face away, even as his hands fit themselves to Credence’s hips. “Just because I’m familiar, doesn’t mean you actually want me.”

“I do.” Credence says. “And you’re not familiar.”

“I’m too old for you,” Graves protests. He’s wrong-footed and he’s not sure how to get right again.

“I don’t know that twenty years matters, if wizards live so long,” Credence says. He kisses the hinge of Graves’ jaw, lips scraping over the stubble. “When you’re eighty, I’ll be sixty. When you’re a hundred, I’ll be eighty. When you’re—”

“I see your point,” Graves says. “But you’re not sixty, and I can’t. It wouldn’t be right.”

Credence pulls back. “I know you want me,” he says. “You do.”

Graves doesn’t want to lie to him. “Don’t ask me for this, please.” There are a hundred reasons for them not to do it but he can’t think enough to vocalize any of them.

Credence makes a wordless sound of frustration, then sighs. “All right.”

Somehow Graves doesn’t think he’s heard that last of this, but he’ll be late for work if he doesn’t get moving. He retreats back to his bedroom to finish dressing and ignores the fact that both hands are shaking as he fastens his stickpins. Credence will get over it. It’s just a crush. He’d be a monster to take advantage of him.

On his way out, Graves hesitates in the hallway. “If you need anything,” he says, awkwardly.

He’s not expecting Credence to smooth his lapels and kiss his cheek again, right over the scar. “Go to work, Percival,” he says gently.

“You’re a hazard,” Graves says, and leaves before they can get into it.

xxx

Everything seems to be ticking along quite normally until around noon. Graves spends half the morning yelling at congress and the other half holding back the things he really wants to yell at congress. It’s very therapeutic.

He’s considering ordering a Chesapeake bouillabaisse from a nearby wizarding establishment that makes an exception to its No Delivery rule for him when a page practically storms his office.

“The President needs you,” the page says. He’s gasping like he’s run the whole length of MACUSA. “Right now.”

Seraphina is not in her office. She’s not in any office at all.

She’s down in the cells.

The bottom drops out of Graves’ stomach. If Grindelwald had escaped, Seraphina wouldn’t be hanging around an empty room. She’d be in her office, there would be an alert. It wouldn’t make any sense to summon him to the cells if Grindelwald got free so it has to be something else.

He’s just about managed to get his anxiety under control when he is escorted to one of the more secluded rooms. He’s about as far from Grindelwald as he can get and still be in the holding area, but it isn’t anything like far enough when Graves sees who’s in the cell.

Credence is sitting on a narrow cot, calm and clear-eyed. They have him in fucking handcuffs and Graves loses all ability to speak he’s so enraged.

Seraphina is standing outside the cell. She’s not alone. There’s a squad of hitwizards with her, including one Gregory the Grim as he’s known around MACUSA for his incredibly merciless dueling style and his utter lack of sense of humour.

Copperhead is nowhere to be seen. Of course, she’s his hire, Seraphina would want to separate them. Likely Copperhead’s being asked a series of uncomfortable questions by one of Gregory the Grim’s delightful colleagues.

Credence gets to his feet. “Don’t be angry, Mr. Graves,” he says, brave and stupid. So, so stupid. “I had to.”

“You, be quiet,” Seraphina snaps and Credence startles back. “I was pulled out of a firecall with the Prime Minister of Great Britain because an Obscurial walked out of your house, Director Graves, and turned himself in to the custody of the Aurors outside. And if I’m not mistaken that’s the same young man you lead me to believe was nothing more than an ill-advised dalliance.”

Graves opens his mouth but she cuts an impatient hand at him. “Think very carefully before you speak, Director,” Seraphina says. “You are close to treason.”

“He’s not a dalliance,” Graves says. “He’s Credence Barebone and I’ve been hiding him in my home for approximately a month. He’s not an Obscurial any more.”

“You lied to my face,” Seraphina says.

“I did.” Graves doesn’t try to split hairs with Seraphina about a lie versus a misdirection. They both know what he did. “The last time you saw Credence you tried to kill him. I thought I’d give him the opportunity to have the Obscurus removed before any life or death decisions were made for him by the very people who should have protected him in the first place.”

“Don’t get sanctimonious with me,” Seraphina says. “You would have done the exact same thing.”

Graves shrugs with a casualness he doesn’t feel. “I guess we’ll never know,” he says.

“Don’t you dare,” she says.

“Because I was trapped in a trunk for five months while you sat around talking to Grindelwald and couldn’t tell the difference.”

Seraphina clenches her jaw so tightly he can see a muscle jump in her cheek. “Director Graves—”

“Please don’t yell at him,” Credence says fretfully. “It’s not his fault.”

“You will address me when you have been asked a question,” Seraphina snarls at him. “And until that time, you will remain silent, Mr. Barebone.”

Credence, as Graves might have predicted, does not do well with being yelled at by a woman.

His eyes go white and he turns into the Obscurus, completely slipping out of the handcuffs due to a distinct lack of wrists or hands for them to lock around. They drop to the floor with a rattle.

Seraphina goes stiff with anger. “Not an Obscurial?”

Credence shifts restlessly in a cloud at the top of his cell. Even his Obscurus form looks anxious.

“It’s complicated,” Graves says. “He’s safe. It’s integrated. It’s not dangerous. It’s under control.”

“It doesn’t look under control,” Seraphina says.

Graves takes a step forward towards the cell and the hitwizards lift their wands meaningfully. He puts up one hand to show he’s unarmed, the other clenched on his cane.

“Sweetheart, that’s probably not a good idea right now,” Graves says. “Can you come down please? She’s just mad at me, she’s not going to hurt you.”

Credence churns in a circle before draining back into himself. “Sorry,” he says, awkwardly picking up the handcuffs. “Sorry, I…”

“Oh, I see,” Seraphina says. “You meant under your control.”

“Mr. Graves isn’t making me do anything!” Credence says.

Graves remembers that Credence has spent recent years acting as a meat shield between his sister and his mother. It’s possible he’s now turned that protectiveness towards Graves, which is a real Gift of the Magi of a situation since the whole wretched plan was supposed to let Graves protect Credence

“He took me in, even though he didn’t have to, and he hasn’t asked for anything at all in return.”

Seraphina’s stare could turn lesser men to stone. “Is that so?”

“It is,” Credence says. “And either I’m a witch—a wizard—and Mr. Graves says MACUSA protects wizards. Or, I’m a regular person, in which case I’m an American and you can’t just murder me.”

“Credence.” Graves shakes his head. “Not helping.”

“It’s not right! The normal President isn’t allowed to just machine-gun people down in the streets!” Credence protests. “Not even murderers and gangsters. Why should the magic President get to do it differently? I’m a human being. I’m not a beast.”

Graves thinks of all the times for Credence to show his spine, now was not perhaps the best occasion he could have picked.

“I’m staying in this cell because Mr. Graves said there would be a process,” Credence says to Seraphina. “But I don’t have to.” He deliberately draws himself up, every lanky inch of him shaking but determined.

His hands and arms turn to smoke and then rematerialize so he’s back in the cuffs. It’s a neat trick that Graves hasn’t seen before. Obviously, Credence has been practicing.

Graves rather sternly reminds himself that now is not the time to be proud of Credence. Now is the time to be worried, and a little bit angry. It is especially not the time to find him extremely attractive.

Credence continues. “Mr. Graves has been very kind. But I don’t have to stay here, or let you hurt me. Not any more.”

One of the hitwizards strangles a laugh into a cough. “He’s one of Gravelbelly’s that’s for sure. Saucy little thing,” she mutters.

Gregory shushes her like a beleaguered school teacher.

Suddenly Graves gets the feeling that Gregory’s title of ‘the Grim’ is less to do with being cruel or unfriendly and is more to do with his extreme weariness towards his fellow Aurors. He has a pang of sympathy and makes a mental note to do some follow-up—assuming he still has a job when all this is done.

“My office,” Seraphina says to Graves. “Now.”

“I’ll wait,” Credence says primly and sits back down on the cot like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

xxx

Graves is escorted to the Ellipsoid Office by several hitwizards but they’re made to wait outside, so either he’s in the clear, or Seraphina doesn’t want an audience when she disembowels him. She probably won’t disembowel him. The carpet is an antique.

She tells him to sit in the uncomfortable chair she reserves for dignitaries she doesn’t like.

Graves is too much of an old hand to be intimidated by the big desk, the imposing edifice behind it, or by Seraphina’s pageantry, but he is also enough of an old hand to respect the office, and the power she wields. He sits.

Seraphina doesn’t ask Graves to explain himself. That would give him too much opportunity to lie to her.

“You knowingly concealed Credence Barebone from me.”

“Yes,” Graves says.

“To protect him.”

“Yes.”

“You had him examined and I assume have detailed notes on his Obscurus status.”

“Er,” Graves says.

“Do not mention Mr. Scamander’s name to me. I know it has to be him. We’ll talk about that insubordination later. I want to know what you were thinking while you were lying to my face, walking the knife-edge of treason, and playing dress-up with the biggest threat to our national security next to Gellert Grindelwald.”

“I am not ‘playing dress-up,’” Graves protests. “I bought Credence clothing because he had one suit and it was in rags.”

“You bought him clothing because he’s a handsome young man and you’re a sentimental fool,” Seraphina says. She idly taps one finger on the desk, the only sign that she’s starting to find the whole thing less explosively infuriating, and more mildly annoying. “Honestly, Graves, it’s a little embarrassing. Did Copperhead know?”

Graves is grateful he can spare Birgit at least. “No,” he says. “I didn’t want to split her loyalties, or put her in a position where you couldn’t be sure of her. The Twelve know how much longer I’ll be Director, but she’s a good choice for Chief Auror, she should outlast me.”

“So, to sum up: You conspired because you’re an idiot, but not malicious or traitorous. Then Barebone slipped your chain and turned himself in and is now threatening to break out of the most secure cells in the city. Have I missed anything?”

“No, that about covers it,” Graves says. “Although, I’m not sure he can actually get out of the cell. I haven’t really explained warding to him yet. More likely he thinks he can just slip between the bars.”

Seraphina does not look reassured. “I see,” she says.

Graves considers everything that’s happened since Credence came crashing into his life. “Oh,” he adds. “The pendant I brought in. Grindelwald had given it to Credence. It was inert by the time Credence found me.”

“That’s one mystery solved, at least,” she mutters. “How stable is he?”

“He’s capable of doing all first-year spells wandlessly.”

She frowns. “You taught him?”

Graves looks down at his own shaking hand. “I didn’t want to lend him my wand,” he admits. “Partially because I thought he might burn up the core, but also…” Graves waves that away. Seraphina isn’t an idiot, she’ll know why he won’t let anyone else touch his wand. “It doesn’t matter. He’s very focused, honestly, I think he’d make a good Occlumens, so he’s able to channel his magic without one.

“And he can transform back and forth from the Obscurus form at will. Mostly at will. We haven’t done any potions work, but I don’t see why he’d stumble there. His housekeeping charms are second to none. And he’s remarkably gifted at transfiguration.”

“Housekeeping charms is it?” Seraphina slumps back in her chair. And now she’s not the President, she’s Graves’ old school pal who thinks he’s a bit of an ass. “You’ve got Grindelwald’s weapon, who can perform first-year spells wandlessly after less than a month, without any formal training, whiling away his days as your house elf?”

Graves is smart enough not to answer that in a way that might incriminate himself.

She sighs. “Very well, on your head be it. He’ll have to be tested and he’ll have to prove he’s not a danger. Once Grindelwald is gone, we’ll bring it to the courts. I assume there will be lawsuits but, in the end, MACUSA will likely owe Mr. Barebone a small stipend and help getting on his feet.

“I am officially making this your problem, Director Graves. Credence Barebone is hereby in your custody until such a time as a court declares otherwise, and you are in charge of his welfare and his good behaviour. He puts one toe out of line and I will throw you both in jail. Do I make myself clear? Keep an account of your costs. Keep them reasonable, please. You’ll be reimbursed from his compensation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Graves says, although he has no intention of submitting any monetary claims. Any money coming to Credence will go to Credence. “Thank you, Madam President.”

“Don’t you fucking start with me,” she says. “I ought to have your head mounted on a spike outside my office. Take your Obscurial out of here before he tries to break out of his cell and come find you.”

Graves hesitates before he leaves. “He’ll want to go out. Of my house I mean.”

“So take him out of your house, for pity’s sake, I know you know how.”

Graves chews on the scar on his lip for a second. It feels less fibrous than it used to. “Should I wait until Grindelwald is gone?”

Seraphina doesn’t laugh in his face, but it looks as though she wants to. “Yes, that worked out so well for you before. Take the poor boy wherever he wants before he does something even more rash than turning himself into MACUSA. Trust me to keep Grindelwald in his cell, just as I’m trusting you not to unleash an Obscurus on New York.”

xxx

Copperhead has been released from whatever momentary interrogation she was under and is the one to come and let Credence out.

She curses Graves up and down both sides of his ancestry for not telling her about Credence, and then blesses him up and down both sides for keeping her out of it because now she doesn’t have to worry about her new job.

She apologizes to Credence for trying to kill him and Credence apologizes for tearing up the city. And that seems to be that. They’re both, apparently, the forgiving kind.

Copperhead then proceeds to thoroughly and gleefully embarrass Graves in front of Credence by declaring Credence pretty as a peach, and then refusing to call him anything but ‘your young man’ or ‘your Mr. Graves’ depending on who she’s talking to.

At least while she’s embarrassing him, she also has Credence run through some spells just to verify he has magic and that he has at least some control over that magic, then has him turn back and forth from his Obscurus form. Satisfied that he’s not going to expose them all accidentally, Credence is let go.

Credence thanks her and shyly tells her that he likes her suit and that’s done it, they’re fast friends. At this rate the whole of the MACUSA knitting-circle will have adopted him by the end of the day.

“You better come and visit us again when it’s all settled,” Copperhead says. “We can swap stories.”

“Perhaps,” Graves says, and gets Credence out of there before Copperhead can suggest coming to her house for dinner to meet her wife.

Credence walks out the front door, unescorted by anyone but Graves. He’s a free man. Unofficially a free man, at least until the paperwork clears, but still.

“Ignore them,” Graves says, in regards to everyone in the lobby staring. “They’re just a bunch of nosy gossips with better things to be doing.” He raises his voice at the last so that at least the offenders in earshot are shamed enough to skulk away.

Credence’s shoulders keep curling in and then he’ll catch himself and straighten back up. “I’m not used to it,” he says. “Usually people avoid looking at me.”

Graves puts a hand in the small of Credence’s back and steers him out the door. “Usually you were trying to hand out pamphlets no one wanted. Keep your chin up, this is how it goes when a new wizard appears. We’re an insular bunch, they’ll be trying to figure out who you are.”

They’ll be trying to figure out a lot more than that, since Credence entered in handcuffs, accompanied by hitwizards and left without handcuffs accompanied by the Director of Magical Security. But none of that is presently Graves’ problem, so he bids the doorman a jaunty “Good afternoon!” and walks out into the sunshine.

Chapter Text

Graves has been idly contemplating all the places he’d take Credence if he had his druthers and now Credence is free, he can actually do some of them. But now Graves has too many choices and doesn’t know where to start. He knows better than to just throw such an open-ended question Credence’s way so for a moment they just stand outside MACUSA like two bumps on a log.

“I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast,” Credence says, obviously reluctant to mention it but Graves made a pest of himself making sure Credence eats three square meals a day and it looks like the lesson took.

“Excellent,” Graves says, decision made. “We’ll go for a real wizarding lunch.”

Credence follows gamely after him. “Is that different from a normal lunch?”

“I’d suggest saying ‘no-maj’ instead of ‘normal’ but no. Not really.”

Graves can think of a few minor differences but nothing very startling he needs to warn Credence about. It’s more that he suspects Credence has never eaten anywhere more exciting than an automat, if that. A formal dinner would be too much to spring on him but an upscale luncheon should be just the ticket. There’s nothing wrong with Credence’s manners, and he’s dressed nicely. Yes, Graves thinks, feeling positively cheerful, just the ticket.

He takes Credence to Fontaine’s which is known for catering to wizarding high society. It’s not especially fashionable any more. It was, but a newer place opened up and interest has waned, which means it won’t be too crowded.

It’s been done up in the new style, which Graves can’t say he’s fond of, but Credence seems to enjoy. As if in response to all the mechanical misery of the Great War, wizarding society—or at least the more fashionable set—are turning away from new technology in favour of traditional means. Instead of electric light, the restaurant is illuminated by floating candles and there’s a ghost string-quartet instead of a live band.

Graves prefers to move forward in life, not backwards, and he likes his modern conveniences. There’s nothing wrong with a pen instead of a quill, or even a typewriter for that matter, and he absolutely will not go back to impractical, floor-length robes when there is perfectly good indoor heating in modern housing. But none of that matters because Credence is staring up at the candles with delight and the ghosts with confusion but also a lot of delight.

“It’s so good to see you Mr. Graves,” the hostess says brightly.

He bets it is. The second word gets out that he took Credence here every busybody in New York will want a seat in the hopes they come back. This is about to become the hottest lunch ticket in the city.

He just smiles blandly and steers Credence after her to a quiet little corner.

“Some privacy for you and the gentleman,” she says, and he’s pleased she doesn’t make a meal out of guessing who Credence is.

The best part is that she remembers Graves’ preference for a table with clear sightlines to the rest of the room, and a wall Graves can sit with his back to. It goes a long way to helping him relax.

Credence touches everything. The tablecloth, the linen napkin, the silverware. He doesn’t seem to notice he’s doing it. He’s a tactile little thing, that’s for sure. Graves busies himself with his menu so he doesn’t sit there staring at Credence’s hands.

“Do wizards have their own money?” Credence asks after a while, as he frowns down at the menu.

“Dragots instead of dollars, why?”

“Are they worth the same?”

Graves realizes that Credence is trying to figure out how expensive the restaurant is. “Not remotely,” Graves says. “Don’t worry about it, the prices are very reasonable.”

Credence’s expression goes inexplicably fond and soft. “You’re not a very good liar,” he says. “But if I forget afterwards, thank you for lunch.”

“You’re very welcome,” Graves says. “It’s my pleasure to be able to show you things.”

“Are you sure you aren’t mad?” Credence says.

Graves looks up from his menu. “About you turning yourself in?”

Credence shrugs a little. “You told me not to.”

“You’re a grown man,” Graves says. “And you’re not my prisoner. You’re entitled to do anything you want, you don’t have to ask my permission.”

“But you said not to,” Credence says, bewildered.

“I was wrong,” Graves admits. “I wasn’t thinking strategically. You’ve charmed Copperhead, and she’s a good woman to have on your side in the clutch. I should have remembered to trust my own team. Or, at least the ones who aren’t idiots and Grindelwald supporters. And I should have trusted you to make up your own mind.”

He’s almost certain there’s a pair of undercover Aurors being seated at the table not too far from them. Someone, probably Copperhead, upped their security detail. Accounting is not going to be happy about the expense report.

Credence doesn’t have anything to say to that until after they’ve placed their orders. Overwhelmed by the number of dishes he didn’t know, Credence asked Graves to order for him. Graves tries not to enjoy that as much as he wants to.

“My Ma,” Credence says hesitantly. Then, braver, “Mary-Lou was never wrong.”

“Even when she was wrong,” Graves interprets.

Credence nods glumly. “Especially then. It’s strange, people apologizing. Important people.”

Suddenly Credence goes very pale.

“Oh, God help me,” he moans, “I was rude to the President.”

Graves is startled into a laugh. “I was wondering when all that would sink in.” He quirks an eyebrow. “I’m very important too, you know.”

“Don’t make it worse!” Credence begs. “I can’t bear it.”

They’re sitting close enough that Graves can reach out and put his hand over one of Credence’s. He means it to be a friendly pat on the back of the hand, but Credence rotates his wrist, their fingers slide together, and they’re holding hands.

“Thank you,” Credence says. “I keep saying so, but I mean it.”

The waiter takes that moment to reappear, floating their starters behind him. Credence goes very pink indeed but his fingers tighten around Graves’ like he’s determined not to let go. The waiter pays no attention to it at all.

Credence looks like he wants to scream either with joy, or fear, or relief, or all three. “They don’t care,” he says when the waiter has departed.

“No,” Graves says. “They really don’t. I’ve personally seen two rejected proposals, one duel challenge thrown down, and a woman trying to hex her mother-in-law in this restaurant and only the latter caused a stir because she missed and turned a fellow diner into a pig. I told you, Credence, you can hold hands with whomever you like.”

Credence takes his hand back. “But not you.”

“I can’t,” Graves says. “I would be taking advantage.”

Credence looks down at his plate. “If I wanted to I could tear this building down around us,” he says softly. “I could kill everyone in this room. I could storm New York and break the secrecy law.”

Graves, despite all his training and all his years as an Auror, doesn’t feel threatened. This isn’t a threat, he’s sure of it, just a statement of fact.

“I know,” Graves says. “But that’s not the same thing. The strength of your magic isn’t the same as experience.”

Credence meets his eyes. “I don’t think that’s a problem for you, Mr. Graves,” he says. “It isn’t for me. I want you to be the one to show me. I like you. You’re handsome, and you’re kind, and—”

“Please,” Graves says. “Credence.”

“You’re not the first man I could have gone with,” Credence says.

Graves nearly chokes to death on a sip of water. “What?”

Credence takes a bite of his Oysters Rockefeller and makes a very strange face. “What are these?” he asks.

“Oysters,” Graves says. “I wasn’t sure you’d like them, but I thought you might like to try something new. What do you mean other men?”

Credence takes another bite. “No, it’s good. I just wasn’t expecting that.”

“Credence,” Graves says.

Credence keeps his face tipped down towards his plate. “There were a lot of them, when I was very young. Strange men coming around who promised to take me away from the church. They’d try to lure me away with things: sweets and toys usually. But I knew what they wanted. Most of them ran brothels.

“Fewer men wanted me when I grew up and got so tall but there were still enough that Mary-Lou beat me whenever she thought I encouraged them.

“Mr. Graves,” he says. “I know what you want. You…” He looks up, half hiding behind the fall of his hair. “I want you to do it to me.”

Graves wants a lot of things.

Not just to take Credence out and show him the wizarding world, and set him up with nice things, and treat him kindly. He also wants what Grindelwald accused him of: he wants to make Credence cry, just a little. He wants to see Credence squirming on his cock and hear him say, ‘Oh, Mr. Graves, it’s so big!’ in that choked up, tearful way he has. He wants to fuck the boy raw, until Credence is swollen and sore, and even Graves’ tongue on his little pink hole is too much. And there is no way he can explain that sort of thing to Credence.

“I don’t think you want to hurt me,” Credence says, like he can see what Graves is thinking. “I know what that looks like.”

“No,” Graves admits.

“You said you trusted me to know my own mind. Trust me now. Don’t you like giving me what I want?”

“You wretched man,” Graves says tenderly. “You know I do.”

“Well then,” Credence says. He applies himself to his oysters with a focus that seems to indicate the discussion is settled.

xxx

After lunch, Graves suggests a walk through some of wizarding New York but Credence declines.

“Honestly, I’ve had a lot of excitement and I don’t think I’m ready for it.” He gestures around them. “This has been more than I’ve ever dreamed of.”

Graves pretends his heart doesn’t break a little at that. “Very well, let’s go home.”

Credence takes Graves’ arm. “Okay,” he says in determined tones.

Graves can’t help but smile at that. “Okay,” he echoes and they set off towards the nearest Apparition point, their Auror detail trailing discreetly behind them. He doesn’t try to take his arm back; let them look. The cat’s halfway out of the bag anyway.

It snowed a little, and the streets are cold and wet. Graves keeps forgetting what month it is, and he’s wearing the wrong shoes for a long walk anyway. His leg aches less than it should, less than he deserves after running around MACUSA all morning, but it’s probably wise not to stress it further. He should see a healer but he doesn’t want to be told any improvement is in his head. He knows what his prognosis is: irreparable curse damage.

By the time they reach the Apparition point, Graves’ socks are soaked through. Credence is unbothered by the weather, his nose and cheeks are pink but he’s smiling faintly, hand warm on Graves’ arm, even through the layers of clothing. Seeing him so free and easy is almost enough to make Graves forget his wet feet.

They Side-Along to Graves’ street and this time no one stumbles.

“I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Credence says. He doesn’t look seasick so he’s probably right.

He keeps his hold on Graves’ arm all the way up the front steps, then he tucks his hands into his pockets and watches the street while Graves unlocks the door.

“What?” Graves says, because he knows what it looks like when someone is holding something back.

Credence just quirks a smile at him. “Inside,” he says.

Credence waits until the door is closed behind them and the wards are secure. Graves takes his coat for him and hangs it up next to his own. He’s in the middle of wondering what, exactly, it was Credence wanted when Credence steps into Graves’ personal space and says, “Please kiss me, Mr. Graves.”

He doesn’t wait for Graves to answer, he just leans in and kisses Graves first.

Wholly without his say-so, Graves fists a hand in Credence’s hair. Not to pull him away, just to hold him there. Credence presses against him, full body, so close that their feet bump together.

Graves pushes him back and crowds him up against the front door.

“Have you decided to stop arguing with me?” Credence asks cheekily.

There are a hundred thousand reasons not to do this. Graves has gone over all of them. If he thought Credence was still trying to pay him back, or was otherwise propositioning Graves out of some misguided attempt to ensure Graves would keep looking after him. But Credence doesn’t seem hesitant, or desperate, he’s smiling at Graves shyly, warm and sweet, and Graves likes to think he’s a good man, but he’s not going to say no to everything he wants when it’s handed to him on a platter.

“Yes,” Graves says. “No more arguing.”

Graves pushes a thigh between Credence’s legs and kisses him to stop any more saucy comments. Credence makes a soft, startled sound and grabs onto Graves’ lapels. Graves can feel his erection through their clothes and he flexes his thigh in to hear Credence make the sound again, licking it out of his mouth.

Credence tips his head back against the wall. His mouth is already red and wet, and a little raw from Graves’ stubble. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he confesses. “This is about as far as I dared to imagine.”

“You said you’d like me to be the one to show you,” Graves says, trying not to be too visibly excited by Credence’s admittance of sexual inexperience, or the idea of him imagining anything at all.

Credence looks at him, clearly surprised. “You remember that?”

“Darling, I do listen when you talk.”

Credence flushes a little. Apparently it’s a new experience, being listened to. Merlin, Morgan, and Mordred, Graves thinks, he is going to fuck this up, and he’s still going to do it and damn the torpedoes.

“I would like to be the one to show you,” Graves says. “As much or as little as you want.”

Credence smooths his hands down Graves’ chest to the bottom of his waistcoat. “I’d like to look at you,” he says, thumbing over the last button. “If that’s okay.”

“You can have anything,” Graves promises.

Graves genuinely enjoys dressing well. He doesn’t make time for a lot of little pleasures but a well-tailored suit is something he can indulge in and still work an excessive number of hours. Never in his life has he regretted wearing so many layers like he does now.
He takes off his own stickpins, cufflinks, tiepin, and tie with a wave of his hand, sending them flying away across the house off to their proper places while Credence carefully unbuttons Graves’ waistcoat. It gives him lots of opportunity to get in Credence’s way. He pushes Credence’s suit jacket off and sets into his shirt front.

Credence bats his hands away with a playfulness Graves hadn’t expected but quite likes. “Stop that,” he says. “I’m supposed to be undressing you.”

Graves’ smile is pulled crooked by the scar. “All’s fair,” he says, without thinking, and is relieved when Credence doesn’t know what he means. “Never mind, go ahead. I promise to behave.”

“I doubt that,” Credence says, blushing, but doesn’t protest when Graves shrugs his own vest off. He just starts unbuttoning Graves’ shirt.

Graves has adopted the modern style of two-piece underclothes so he’s in short sleeves when Credence gets his shirt off. Graves speeds up the process by taking the undershirt off himself.

Credence puts his hands flat on Graves’ chest. “You’re so…” he says, fingers carding through the greying hair.

“Hirsute?” Graves supplies.

“Handsome,” Credence sighs.

Graves reaches down and cups the base of Credence’s erection through his trousers and underclothes. Credence tips forward so his face is tucked into Graves’ neck and shoulder, their chests pressed together with Credence’s hands trapped between them. He makes a sort of hiccupping whimper that Graves is determined he’s going to hear again before the day is out, and pushes into his hand.

“Mr. Graves,” Credence says.

“You don’t have to call me that,” Graves says, rubbing Credence’s erection through his tousers and his smallclothes. It feels like quite the sizable package.

Credence presses wet, open-mouthed kisses to his neck. “I know,” he says.

Well, all right then. Graves isn’t going to protest that one very hard either.

He catches Credence’s mouth with his own and bites gently at his bottom lip. Credence tries to hold onto Graves, clutching at his chest. Even pressed back against the door like he is, he’s trying to push against Graves’ hand, hips moving in fretful little jerks. Graves’ isn’t sure Credence is aware he’s doing it.

Credence abruptly tries to pull away, but he’s stuck between Graves and the door.

“You have to stop, please, I…I think,” he says. “I…ah!”

Graves doesn’t have a chance to take his hand back before Credence moans, forehead thudding down against Graves’ shoulder, and he feels warmth and wetness spreading under the fabric beneath his hand.

“Oh,” Credence says, panting a little. He’s shaking, a fine tremor Graves can feel vibrating against him.

Graves can practically feel Credence about to apologize so he turns his face so he can speak low into Credence’s ear, “Was that good, darling, did you like that? You did so well.”

Credence shudders. “Thank you,” he says automatically. So polite.

“It’s my absolute pleasure,” Graves says and gently bites Credence’s earlobe. “I think for the next one I’d like to have you in my bed, so I can look at you properly.”

“The…next one?” Credence says, looking up.

Graves smiles at him. He’s not sure it’s a reassuring expression. “I bet you’ve got a few of those stored up, hm?”

“I thought you might…” Credence says, biting his lip. “You can have me if you want.”

Mercy Lewis save him from well-intentioned innocence.

“I’m not going to fuck you your very first time,” Graves says. “Let’s just enjoy each other for now.”

“Oh,” Credence says, sounding a little disappointed and a lot relieved. “You could.”

“I could do a lot of things,” Graves says. “But I’d like to suck your cock, if think you might like that.”

Credence makes a pained sound and hunches up. Graves can feel Credence’s cock swell again although it hadn’t gone fully soft. He’s got more than a few stored up, if Graves is any judge. Good. He already has some ideas about how he’d like their afternoon to go but mostly he just wants to make sure Credence is a well-satiated puddle of a man by the end of things.

Step one is getting out of the hallway and out of the rest of their clothing.

He pulls Credence away from the door. “Can I take you to bed?”

Credence swallows hard enough that Graves can hear it. “Yes, please,” he says.

Graves doesn’t bother picking up any of his clothing. He’ll do it later when he’s not more interested in getting out of what he’s still wearing and seeing Credence spread out on his bed equally naked.

He kicks his shoes off as he goes, leading Credence up the stairs to his bedroom. His wretched leg continues to hold up under him, only aching a little on the incline.

Their height difference is more pronounced with Credence in his shoes and Graves in stocking feet.

“Come down here,” Graves says, catching hold of Credence by the back of his head, hand buried in Credence’s hair, so he can kiss him again. “You’re overdressed,” he says against Credence’s mouth.

Graves unbuttons Credence’s shirt with a gesture of wandless magic and does the same to the buttons on his union suit. He stands behind Credence and pulls his suspenders down and then both layers off his shoulders and arms until he’s bared to the waist. The scars on his back are multitudinous, some very old, some more recent. Graves kisses his shoulders, not wanting to fuss about the scars.

“Why don’t you get on the bed and I’ll see what I can do about the rest of these layers.”

“It’s not very nice to look at,” Credence says, hesitating.

“I don’t mind your scars,” Graves says, stroking his fingers down Credence’s back, just to watch him shiver. “No, that’s not true, I do mind. But only because I’m angry you were hurt. You’re beautiful.”

Graves presses up behind him, nudging his ponytail aside with his nose so he can kiss the back of Credence’s neck, arms around Credence’s waist so he can start unbuttoning his flies.

“No,” Credence says. “I mean, yes. But not my back. It’s my you know. It’s unsightly.”

Graves’ eyebrows go up a little at that. He has the sneaking suspicion that Credence might not have actually seen another adult male naked. It doesn’t seem like a good time to ask about Mary-Lou and the travails of puberty but Graves is equally worried that Credence might not even masturbate. While on the one hand he’d like to talk Credence through that particular exploration of the self, the other hand knows it would be very sad indeed if a twenty-two-year-old had never touched himself.

“Well, we’re none of us the David,” Graves says. Then, “It’s a statue.”

“Like King David?” Credence asks. He leans back into Graves as Graves finishes unbuttoning him.

“I don’t know,” Graves says. “It’s just a big statue of a naked man some no-maj made a long time ago. Why don’t you sit?”

He maneuvers Credence so he can sit on the bed, and gets down on his knees in front of him. Credence protests, citing Graves’ leg which only hurts a little, and his knees (which are just fine, thank you very much), and then he protests again when Graves starts unlacing his shoes for him.

“I like doing this,” Graves says. This close, he can faintly smell Credence’s semen slowly drying on the fabric of his suit. He wants to put his face to the wet patch and inhale, but Credence is already nervy enough. “It’s not a chore,” Graves adds.

He gets Credence’s shoes and socks off, and presses a kiss to the bony curve of one ankle.

“Why?” Credence says.

“Why do I enjoy it?” Graves smooths his hands up Credence’s lovely long legs so he can get his fingers in the waistband of his trousers.

Graves has tried to explain his desires before and has never quite managed to articulate them. Others have come up with a few descriptions over the years—he’s bossy, a wolf, possessive, controlling, smothering—some of them more mean than accurate.

Credence touches his hair, like he’s not sure he’s allowed, and Graves presses into his hand.

“Oh,” Credence says, like he’s realized something. “It’s okay, I get it. You can have as much of me as you want,” he says.

Graves lets out an explosive breath. “Don’t offer me things like that,” he says, hauling Credence’s trousers off and tossing them on the floor. “You don’t know what I’m like.”

Credence runs his fingers through Graves’ hair, careful not to upset its styling. “I’ve got some idea,” he says.

“May I take this off?” Graves says, tugging at the union suit Credence is still wearing.

“Okay,” Credence says, and lifts his hips to make it easier for Graves to pull the last of his clothing off.

Credence’s cock is so flush and heavy with blood that without the pressure of fabric keeping it in place, it falls forward, nearly hitting Graves in the cheek. It might be the biggest cock that Graves has ever seen. He’s not a hundred percent sure he’s going to be able to get the whole thing in his mouth.

“Sweetheart,” he says. “’Unsightly’ is not the word I would use.” He fists his hand around the base of Credence’s cock and his fingers don’t quite touch. “Impressive. Substantial. Generous.” He punctuates each adjective with a quick lick to the head. “I’m running out of synonyms.”

Credence tips backwards, hands fisting in the sheets as his head hits the mattress. “Oh, God, Mr. Graves.”

Graves doesn’t reply because he was taught not to talk with his mouth full. And by the powers is it ever full.

Credence’s cock is smeared with the remains of his first orgasm, and while the taste isn’t exactly good, it’s proof of what happened in the hall. He made Credence come. He gave that to Credence. Something he thinks no one has ever given him before.

Graves does his very best to relax his jaw and take in as much as he can. He wraps his fist around the length he’s not comfortable fitting into his mouth and strokes the base, the other hand gently rolling Credence’s testicles in case he doesn’t like it. He himself isn’t fond of the sensation and prefers his partners to just leave them alone.

Credence doesn’t share his disinclination because his knees come up, and his thighs tremble around Graves’ ears.

“Is that good?” Graves asks, pulling off so he can talk and rub his stubbled cheek against Credence’s soft, pale thighs. “Do you like it?”

“Mr. Graves,” Credence says, a little desperately. “Please don’t stop.”

Graves hooks Credence’s legs properly over his shoulders and winks at him. “You can pull my hair if you like,” he says and fits his mouth back down over Credence’s cock.

Credence doesn’t pull his hair because he’s a nice young man, but he does touch his hair, and the side of his face. Graves lets Credence’s cock push out against his cheek so Credence can feel it in his mouth.

Credence makes a wonderful whimpering noise and pushes his heels against Graves’ back.

Graves tips his head down and swallows as much as he can, three quarters of Credence’s cock shoved down his throat, and he can’t breathe, but Credence is shaking and grinding his head against the sheets, saying, “Please, please, Mr. Graves.”

Graves makes a humming sound, and Credence curls up convulsively over him, hands so careful and gentle on his head, and comes.

Chapter Text

After several rounds of exertion, Graves suggested a break to eat and hydrate. Credence had a minor heart-attack at the thought of eating in bed so Graves managed to get them both into dressing gowns without manhandling Credence too much and distracting them back into bed.

And so, they demolished several plates of sandwiches and decamped to the living room to lounge about like aristocrats with nothing better to do of an afternoon. Refuelled, Graves was man enough to admit he needed a bit of a break.

“Ma always told Chastity and Modesty that men were only ever after one thing,” Credence says.

He’s sprawled out on the couch wearing nothing but the housecoat Graves had bought for him, since every man needs something he can sit around in. It’s knee-length silk with a floral Japanese design that’s popular with the young set these days and Credence looks very fetching in it.

It might, maybe, be a little more decorative than practical, and it probably shouldn’t be worn outside the bedroom, and certainly not in company. But Credence doesn’t know that, and he practically cried with happiness when he felt the silk on his bare skin, so Graves figures he did a good job picking it out.

Credence isn’t wearing anything underneath it, and it’s fallen open to the waist so Graves has a great view from where he’s standing at the liquor cabinet pouring himself a glass of whiskey.

He’s a little ashamed to realize the whiskey is older than the man he was just in bed with. Not that ashamed. Not enough to regret it.

“Is that so?” Graves says. He considers joining Credence on the couch but decides on one of the chairs so he can keep looking at him instead. He puts his leg up on a footstool pre-emptively, but it doesn’t actually hurt, for once.

Credence shrugs and one shoulder of the robe slides down, exposing a lovely pink nipple. Graves sips at his whiskey, eyebrow quirked, and waits. Credence doesn’t bother to cover himself. “I don’t know,” he says. “I thought you would want...”

“To despoil you, steal your virtue and toss you out on the street, a fallen woman?”

Credence rubs a bit of silk hem between his fingertips. “No,” he says, blushing. “Maybe.”

Graves has been the first notch on more than one bedpost, and he’s got a few opinions about how much is too much for a first time. Going from the cruelty and ascetism of the Second Salemers to being sodomized by a wizard seemed like a bit of a leap. Credence is no Ilvermorny graduate, used to adolescent fumblings. It’s all, not to make too much of a pun, virgin territory.

Graves’ primary goal was to make sure Credence had fun, and wasn’t worried about how he looked or sounded, and he thinks he succeeded admirably in that regard. True, Credence did incinerate his curtains with accidental magic while Graves was coaxing a third orgasm out of him, but he sees that as a positive sign.

“I liked it,” Credence says shyly, looking at Graves from under his eyelashes. “Being despoiled.”

Just about anyone else and Graves would think they were being deliberately coquettish, but he doesn’t think Credence has the guile to pull that off.

“Good, I’m glad,” Graves says. He means it. He’d be heartbroken if Credence was upset by what they’d done.

After Credence had recovered from his very first suck job he showed a surprised amount of gumption, pulling Graves up onto the bed and demanding he take the rest of his clothing off as well.

He’d been fascinated by the moving tattoo on Graves’ skin and had chased it across his shoulders with kisses, finally abandoning his pursuit when Graves rolled him over and settled mostly on top of him.

“That tickles, you wretched thing,” Graves complained without meaning it as a complaint at all.

Credence had gone wonderfully lax underneath him, thighs scratched pink from Graves’ stubble falling open to make room for Graves between them. They’d spent some time just kissing and rolling around in the sheets together while Credence got used to being allowed to touch, and be touched.

He was fumbling and unsure, initially, petting Graves’ cock like he was afraid he’d hurt it. Graves showed him how he liked to be touched and the slight instruction, instead of putting Credence off, bolstered his courage. He soaked up Graves’ praise and encouragement like a sponge.

And then, without prompting or hinting from Graves—who in his younger days had a partner who liked to rudely shove at his head to point him in the preferred direction and didn’t care for the experience and refused to do it to others—had curled up over Graves’ lap and tried to stick the entirety of Graves’ cock down his throat.

He’s not as big as Credence, but it’s still too much for a first attempt.

“Slowly, darling, take it easy,” Graves says, when Credence chokes. “We’re not on the clock.”

“Sorry,” Credence says, wiping his mouth and coughing.

Graves strokes Credence’s hair back from his face. “Just take your time, if you like it. If not—”

He never gets the chance to finish that thought because Credence is already making another attempt. And it’s not the best suck job Graves has ever had, but it’s certainly enthusiastic.

Credence sucks cock with his whole body, his hands, and his mouth, and the way he keeps blinking up through tears at Graves to see how he’s doing.

Graves was very appreciative of Credence’s initiative. And yet more appreciative when he got Credence to finish himself off by rubbing against Graves' thigh, propped up over him on shaking arms, as Graves stroked his back and told him how beautiful he was, how good for him, how much he liked to watch Credence enjoying himself.

Now though, that they’re taking a break, he wants to make sure Credence enjoyed himself enough that he’d be willing to repeat the experience. Even if he doesn’t want to do it with Graves himself.

“Do you think it’s something you’d like to do again?” Graves asks, aiming for casual. He’s almost certain he misses casual by a hundred miles.

Credence looks at him, baffled. “Didn’t you like it?” he asks.

“What? Of course I did.”

“I don’t know,” Credence says. “You keep asking, in different ways. And you’re sitting so far away.” Suddenly self-conscious, Credence tugs the dressing gown closed

Graves has a moment of brilliance. “Come and sit with me then,” he says, putting both feet flat on the floor.

Obedient as he is, Credence is up and off the couch before he stalls in front of Graves’ chair. “I…” he says.

Graves tugs him down onto his lap. Credence goes very stiff on his perch. “Just relax,” Graves says, “I have you.”

Credence shifts awkwardly, but for all that he’s tall and Graves is feeding him up as much as he can, he’s still a lot lighter than he ought to be and it’s hardly a taxing weight. “The sofa is much bigger,” he says, like Graves maybe hasn’t figured that out.

“But now you’re very close,” Graves says, sliding a hand into Credence’s dressing gown to tweak a nipple and make him squirm. Credence is so busy being shy about the shameless flirting that he stops trying to hold his weight up and relaxes back into Graves. “Much better.”

Credence presses a kiss to the grey hair at Graves’ temple. “No one’s ever wanted to take care of me before,” Credence says, and then frowns. “I don’t need to be taken care of. I’m not a child.”

“Well that’s good news,” Graves says, “considering what we just did.”

Credence wrinkles his nose. “I’m serious,” he says.

“You seem to have gotten away from your own point,” Graves says, “which, if I can put words into your mouth, sounded a lot like you were going to be pleased I want to take care of you but then talked yourself out of it.”

“I was. I did.”

Graves sips thoughtfully at his whiskey. “Hm,” he says. “I like your first reaction best. I don’t see you as a child, or childish, Credence. I think you were neglected and if I were in your position I might want the opportunity to be looked after a little bit, too.”

“But you wouldn’t,” Credence says. “You’re not like that.”

“Which is why we get on so well,” Graves says with a crooked smile. “It’s the inverse for me, you see. I get a great deal of pleasure from doing the looking after. It’s a favour to me, really.”

“I think you’re under the impression I don’t know what you’re doing when you say things like that,” Credence says. “But if you say so.”

They listen to the wireless together—some music by a saxophonist with more style than talent, and a radio play where neither of them can figure out what’s going on—and by the time Credence is hiding his yawns, Graves is about ready to hit the hay himself.

“Credence,” he says. “You’re very welcome to share my bed if you want, but…”

Credence shakes his head. “No, thank you.” He won’t meet Graves’ eyes. “I think with my nightmares, I’d better not.”

It was his own nightmares Graves was concerned about, but he supposes it doesn’t matter much either way.

Graves kisses Credence goodnight at his bedroom door. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he says.

xxx

He sees things, in the dark. He hears them.

The darkness is absolute. He doesn’t know if his eyes are open or shut. Lights appear and disappear, patterns and colours, like he rubbed his eyelids too hard. He knows they aren’t real, but he feels as though he’s seeing the inside of his own head, all his thoughts are visible sparks to be seen and snuffed out.

People whisper to him. Some he knows, some he doesn’t. The voices are cruel and kind by turns, they berate him, they curse him, they beg for help. He hears his mother’s voice, but he’s frozen in place and cannot cry.

He can smell himself, unwashed and ripe with pain sweat and blood. He can smell his own breath, sweet from hunger.

He tries to think of familiar stories, or songs, or even a children’s skipping rhyme but words rush away from him, out of his grasp.

Every time he is left alone it takes him longer and longer to find his tongue again. His memory is shot. His mind slips away from him.

Grindelwald stands over him, wearing his skin, wearing his face.

He has no face of his own. The darkness has stolen it.

“I’ll be good to you if you only let me in,” Grindelwald says, tearing at the fragile stronghold of his Occlumency.

It doesn’t make sense any more. He can’t remember what it is he’s fighting.

He can’t even find the words to beg. He doesn’t know what he’d beg for.

A scream cuts through the darkness.

xxx

Graves sits bolt upright in bed, heart a jackhammer in his chest.

For a second, he’s disorientated. His wand is in his hand and he doesn’t remember grabbing it from the nightstand.

Outside his room, somewhere else in the house, something crashes and breaks.

Graves has had a lot of training to fall back on, and his body keeps moving without his say-so, out of bed, bare feet for speed and silence. His leg is mercifully stable underneath him, despite the ache.

The scream came from Credence’s room.

Graves catches up to himself, as he prepares to blast open the door, and has one clear thought: This is not reasonable. This, he realizes, is an overreaction.

“Credence?” he calls out.

He strains in the dark of the hall, listening, and then he hears the rush and crackle of the Obscurus.

Graves tries the doorknob and finds it unlocked. He casts a Lumos with his wand and pushes the door open.

Credence is a cloud of smoke and lightning; the room is a shambles.

“Oh sweetheart,” Graves says. He puts his wand away and turns on the electric lights. “You’re having a nightmare, you’re safe, I promise.”

Credence collapses back down into human form, huddled up small and shaking on the floor. He looks at Graves, eyes wide and shining in the dark, and then bursts into tears. “Thank God,” he says. “Thank God, it’s still you.”

Graves goes down on his knees as Credence half gets up and stumbles towards him. They collide with no little force and wind up clutching each other on the carpet.

“I’m here,” Graves says, not sure which of them he’s reassuring. “I’m still here.”

Once they’ve composed themselves enough to be have shaken off the night terrors, they shuffle out to the living room, since neither of them is in any fit state to fix the things Credence broke, and neither of them is likely to get back to sleep after all that.

“So much for that idea,” Graves says. He wants another glass of whiskey, but one more isn’t going to help, he’d need half the bottle for that, and he doesn’t want to get sloppy in front of Credence. He doesn’t want to get drunk in case he has to fight.

“Do you want to read or should I?” Credence says, holding up the book he’s been studying and a novel they’re both interested in. He sounds as exhausted as Graves feels.

“You do it,” Graves says. His eyes feel gritty and sore. He wants to sleep, but he’s afraid, and he’s ashamed of his fear. “Maybe the scintillating information in your second-year potions textbook will have the same effect it did back in school.”

Credence chuckles a little and curls up next to him on the couch. “The Girding potion bestows increased endurance upon he who consumes it. Such effects last up to one- and one-half weeks…”

The textbook does indeed have the same wonderfully soporific effect that Graves remembers from his school days.

He wakes up the next morning, slumped over on the sofa with a blanket tucked carefully around him, to the sounds of Credence making coffee. He’s surprised he got back to sleep. They might have made the wrong choice sleeping in separate bedrooms after all.

xxx

At a more reasonable hour, Graves summons Wipocc to his house so their caseworker for Modesty Barebone can escort Credence to the orphanage so they can see one another. He could have brought Credence back to MACUSA but that seems like a lot of fodder for gossip that can easily be avoided.

He’s not surprised that Queenie Goldstein shows up as one of the team. He thinks he sees Copperhead’s hand in her assignment. He owes Copperhead at least one expensive dinner, or maybe a nice bottle of that disgustingly sweet European wine she’s so fond of.

Copperhead also made the sensible decision that Auror leathers would not be appropriate for dealing with children and so Wipocc Aurors are plainclothes, either wizarding or no-maj depending on the situation. Queenie is in plainclothes, for a given definition of the word ‘plain’ and certainly does not look like she’s about to visit an orphanage. Graves wonders if it’s worth putting in a word with Copperhead and decides it’s not a battle he’s prepared to fight (and is slightly worried he would lose). She’ll figure it out.

Queenie’s partner is an older Auror nearing the point where most either die in the field or retire to another department. He’s smart enough to have picked the latter, it seems. Graves knows Auror Yancy pretty well and the man has something like four children, almost unheard of for wizards, and if the man’s half as good at dealing with children as he is at producing them, he’ll do well in Wipocc.

He shakes Graves’ hand but waits outside to smoke while Credence finishes getting ready.

It’s drizzling, a nasty, freezing rain, so Queenie comes inside to keep dry. “You’re looking well, Mr. Graves,” she says, nervously patting her damp hair. “I heard what you did at MACUSA.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Graves says, hunting around for his scarf. He was sure he left it on the coat stand but the coat stand is shrugging and doing some sort of little pantomime that’s supposed to tell him where it went.

“They say you threw yourself on your sword for Credence.”

Graves sighs heavily. “I’m sure that would have been much more interesting. I simply informed the President that Credence is not dangerous and, since he is a wizard, we owe him our help, and she released him into my care.”

“Sure you did, honey,” she says. “Thanks for not peaching on me and Teenie.”

Auror Goldstein,” Graves says. “I am your boss.” He relents a little. "Besides, I'm the one who asked for your help. It would be poor thanks indeed to ruin your careers for something I made you do."

Credence comes down the stairs, still pulling his hair back with one of the ribbons Queenie gave him. He’s dressed down as much as he can, but the suits Graves got him are too nice to be anything but what they are. He’s also the scarf thief. It’s hanging around his neck and Graves has to school his expression before he starts beaming at Credence like the besotted twit he is.

“Queenie!” Credence says. “I didn’t know you’d be coming.”

She gives him a kiss on the cheek. Her lipstick must be spelled because it doesn’t come off on his skin. “Don’t be silly, I’m always happy to see you. And don’t worry about your clothes, you don’t have to look like a sad wet crow to be her brother.”

“It’s not the clothes, Miss Queenie,” Credence says. “I haven’t been able to tell her much of anything, she doesn’t know where Ma went, or why I won’t come get her. I don’t know what to tell her now.”

“Don’t worry, we’ve come up with a few things to explain it all. We’ll go over it in the car.”

“In the…car.” Credence looks over at Graves like he’s going to have something to add.

Graves shrugs. “Enjoy it,” he advises. “I have to go talk to Copperhead, I’ll see you later.”

Queenie bids him goodbye and heads for the door. When her back is turned, for all the good that will do, Credence sneaks a kiss from Graves.

“Will I see you for lunch?” he asks.

“Probably not,” Graves says. “If we keep doing that I’ll never get any work done in the afternoons. Go, see your sister.”

Credence goes a bit pink. Likely he had just been thinking about lunch and not wasting away half the day in bed. Graves shoos him out the door before Queenie can turn around and say something about whatever Credence is thinking.

Graves Summons a different scarf and heads out for his rendezvous with Copperhead.

She’s waiting for him at the bombed-out haberdashery. There’s still no-maj police standing around making sure no one runs off with the copper wiring, or gets crushed under unsafe timbers, but a Notice-Me-Not spell takes care of them.

“This was the primary location,” Copperhead says without fanfare and then, “Boss, your face.”

“What is wrong with my face?” Graves says with a sigh.

Copperhead waves vaguely at him. “It’s better. I mean, the scar looks better.”

The mirror had said the same thing to him that morning.

“Yes, thank you, Copperhead, I had noticed.”

She frowns at him. They both know it shouldn’t be possible. “Sure,” she says. “So, this was the target. I came back to check the sites personally and boy oh boy were the no-majes excited. It wasn’t something magic stored here. It was a whole shipment of Tommy guns. This was a Gambino Family mob front.”

“Fuck,” Graves says.

“Yeah. I’m having a closer look at the warehouse too, and the tenement. This theft stirred up the city good as kicking a hornet’s nest. Everyone’s mad at everyone else. I called up some contacts and they say there’s already been two hits. The Italians are blaming the Irish, the Irish are blaming the Jews, and the Jews say it was the Lucchese Family and internal to the Italians and so nothing to do with anyone else. The cops are blaming everyone except the Irish, which is making the Jews and the Italians very angry. I’ve got the Aurors who investigated this location under my personal watch to make sure they didn’t miss this on purpose. I hate having to be this paranoid.”

“Constant vigilance,” Graves says ironically. “It’s possible this has nothing to do with us?”

Copperhead barks out a laugh. “Not a chance, Boss. The explosions were definitely magical. Grindelwald’s people stole the guns. Who knows who’re they’re going to give them to.”

“At least we know we’re on the right track,” Graves says. “He’s going to turn this city into a bloodbath. Why aren’t we having this discussion in my office? Or yours, for that matter.”

“Because you’re right. We shouldn’t trust MACUSA, there could be ears anywhere. It’s you and me and Seraphina to hold the line.”

“And the Goldsteins,” Graves says. “They helped me with Credence.’

Copperhead grimaces. “I’ll bet you haven’t told the President.”

“She’s less forgiving than you are,” Graves says. “I didn’t want to burn their careers over my orders.”

“Well, five is better than three,” Copperhead says with a sigh. “Six, if you count your young man.”

Graves makes sure to hold her gaze so she doesn’t mistake him. “Credence isn’t getting anywhere near Grindelwald. Over my dead body is that maniac getting another crack at him.”

“Wow,” Copperhead says. “That’s not even hyperbole, is it? Everyone said ‘Once old Gravelbelly decides someone is one his hoard there’s no getting his claws out.’ I thought it was mostly bullshit but you really don’t have a moderate bone in your body.”

“I’m very moderate,” Graves says. “I’m extremely even-tempered and moderate.”

“That’s such a load of shit I can’t believe my ears,” Copperhead says. “Okay. I’ll tell the Aurors to reinforce the shield charms on their clothes. I don’t want anyone catching a bullet.”

“What a mess,” Graves says. “Get FBCVNO on it, and tell them I want a full report on mob activity and who, exactly, we can speak to, to prevent all out war. What’s the old expression? Someone knows something.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” says Copperhead. “But it’s not us.”

xxx

His day gets worse when he’s summoned back to MACUSA. The ICW and the British envoy have convened in the Pentagram Office and Seraphina is losing her bid to have Grindelwald tried in the United States.

Graves isn’t called on to speak. He doesn’t have to, all his memories from his time as a prisoner have been copied into a pensieve for all and sundry to look at.

“You don’t have to be here,” Seraphina said, before his memories were exposed.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “They’re my memories, and when this is over, I want the entire pensieve destroyed. I don’t need this hanging around forever as evidence. You have my written testimony and my sworn statement, they should serve.”

Seraphina nodded. “I’ll destroy it myself if I have to. I’m sorry, Graves.”

“Don’t apologize,” he said, “it’s not your fault, and it worries me when you do.”

She smiled thinly at him and they went to face the ICW shoulder to shoulder.

A room full of bureaucrats watch an hour of selected moments.

They watch, for an hour, while Graves is made to relieve his interrogations. They don’t show Grindelwald torturing him for fun, at least, but someone wants to make him look complicit.

He’s got a few ideas of who that might be, but going after anyone in congress for being a partisan hack and a Grindelwald supporter would not help Seraphina’s case that they should be the ones to try Grindelwald.

He bites his tongue and clenches his shaking hand until it aches. What does it matter to him that his colleagues and the International Wizarding Committee see first-hand what Grindelwald is capable of. It’s not about his torture, it’s not about seeing himself crawl, it’s not about watching himself break.

Graves thinks very hard about nothing at all.

He drifts.

People are talking but the words are just noise. Colours and shapes move in front of his eyes without meaning.

“Director.” Someone is touching his shoulder. “Mr. Graves.”

He comes back to himself, slowly, aware of his own body and then of the person who is talking to him.

“Tina,” he says, blinking to focus his eyes again.

“It’s over for now,” she says. “Everyone’s on a recess.”

He looks around and realizes the Pentagram Office is empty save for himself and Tina. “I know,” he lies. “I was thinking.”

“My sister was looking for you,” she says. “I’ll tell her it can wait.”

Graves gets up. He feels like he’s a hundred years old.

Then he remembers what assignment Queenie had been on and a jolt of worry cuts through his numbness. “Absolutely not, she can see me in my office. Immediately, Goldstein.”

Queenie meets him there and sits down across from him, glancing at her sister with a frown on her face as Tina leaves.

“Mr. Graves,” she says. “Is now not a good time?”

“How’s Credence?” he says, because he doesn’t want to talk about the hearing and he’s only got a few hours before the recess is over and he has to go back.

“It went fine,” Queenie says. “Modesty Barebone is mistrustful, and angry, and hurting, but she’ll be okay. As much as anyone can be in a situation like that. She was glad to see him, under everything. It’s all in my report. That’s not why I’m here.”

“Oh?” Graves says, the adrenaline going out of him in a rush. He feels shaky and cold.

“You know I can’t read you, Mr. Graves, but Credence is another kettle of fish. I told you to be careful with him. And you promised.”

“What,” Graves says, confused.

“I knew he had thoughts about you, but I didn’t think you’d ever…and I can’t—”

He finally figures out what she’s talking about and holds up a hand. Queenie goes silent.

It’s too much. Graves can barely put two and two together but to have someone come to him and push him abut Credence; he can’t bear it.

“Credence is an adult by both wizarding and no-maj standards. Please, spare us both the details, but did anything you see indicate that Credence was coerced, or unhappy? Did he want to stop?”

“No,” Queenie says reluctantly.

“Then my personal arrangement with Credence is, in fact, what?” He hears himself from far away and is vaguely proud of himself for his own defense.

“None of my business?” Queenie guesses.

“Well done,” Graves says. “You may go.” He waits until she’s at the door but hasn’t yet opened it and says, “If you go poking about in his head, you’re going to see me in ways you might not like. How you feel about that is your own affair, I’m not in the business of policing the thoughts of others, but if I hear one word about this from anyone else, including your sister, I’ll know who it came from, and you won’t like what I’ll do. Am I clear, Goldstein?”

“Yes, Mr. Graves,” she says. “And I hope I’m clear too. If you hurt him, I’ll make you wish you’d stayed in that trunk.”

Graves has a crystalline moment where he thinks: if you try, I’ll kill you or myself first.

It obviously slips through his Occlumency and he can't imagine what else got through because Queenie’s face collapses into grief. “Oh honey, I didn’t mean it.”

“Get out of my office,” Graves says. “Before I fire you.”

“Director, you’ve got to talk to someone.”

“I don’t have to say anything; everyone at MACUSA knows what he did to me,” Graves says through a throat that feels increasingly tight. “Don’t tell Credence.”

Queenie sits down again. “He’d understand, but I won’t, if you don’t want me to.”

“I told you to leave.”

“I know, Mr. Graves, but I don’t think you should be alone right now. I can just sit here real quiet and do some paperwork, while you do yours, or whatever else. It’s nice to not hear every thought in someone’s head. Occlumens are so peaceful to be around.”

Graves opens his mouth to tell her again to leave, or to fire her, but he can’t quite get the words out.

Queenie pulls out a stack of files from her bag and sorts through them. Despite her stated intention to be quiet, she says, “Tina always said you were a good boss. She likes working here. I thought it was awful dangerous, and I took the job as tea girl so I could keep an eye on her. After our parents died we were all alone together. I just couldn’t bear to think of her out here on her own.”

Graves puts his elbow on the desk and covers his face with his hand so she can’t see the way he’s falling apart.

“But it’s so noisy, you know, the city. Everyone’s got some tune in their head, or some problem they’re fretting over. I get headaches; I don’t like Teenie to know how often I get ‘em but she worries anyway. Even Jacob gets a little loud. He thinks such sweet things about me. He loves me in the morning before I’ve done my hair, and before I’ve brushed my teeth. But sometimes you just want a little peace and quiet.”

She talks for a while, about being a Legillimens, and about her no-maj, about Wipocc’s slap dash training and the strange mix of Aurors and bureaucrats that makes up their ranks. Eventually, Graves pulls himself together.

He wipes his eyes while she busies her own gaze with her paperwork, a nice little illusion of privacy. She must be used to that, Graves thinks, pretending not to see.

“I learned Occlumency when I was still at Ilvermorny because Seraphina bet me I couldn’t,” Graves admits.

“Ha!” Queenie says, looking up. “I always thought you two must’ve been real trouble at school. Rivals or friends?”

“Yes,” he says. “Is the answer. I think we got more detentions and awards between us than Ilvermorny had ever seen. We counted coup for both, to be honest.”

“I can’t picture Madam President in detention,” Queenie says, managing to imply that she is very capable of picturing him in trouble with teachers.

Graves manages a weak smile. “That’s what made her dangerous, none of the teachers quite believed their prize pupil was also a prize pain in the ass. Is one of those the files on Modesty Barebone?”

“Would you like me to tell you how it went, or would you prefer to wait for Credence?” Queenie says gently.

“She’s a person of interest,” Graves says. “I will have to see the report, whether I wait for Credence to tell me or not. Just read it to me.”

“She’s too young to tell if she’s magical,” Queenie says. “And I didn’t think now was a good time to start testing her. She’s very confused about what happened…”

Chapter Text

The second half of the convention of the ICW and MACUSA is marginally less painful to sit through, but decidedly more irritating.

Seraphina is losing. No matter how well she argues, no matter the mountain of evidence they put forward that Grindelwald deserves to be tried in an American court of law, the ICW has too much on Grindelwald to agree. He was their problem first, they say, and he’s a citizen of Germany. America has no right to execute him, they say. Civilized nations don’t do that any more.

Graves doesn’t tell them what he thinks about that.

He also doesn’t ask them what right Grindelwald had to steal his face, and his life.

And the ICW win.

And Grindelwald will leave.

Graves walks out of the Pentagram office and doesn’t stick around to hear them hash out the particulars. He can read the memo later.

He can feel Seraphina watching him as he goes, but he doesn’t turn around to look at her. She doesn’t need his help; he’s going home.

Credence does not seem fooled by his façade when he returns to the house. Graves thought he’d managed to put a brave face on the day, but he’s barely through the door before Credence is demanding to know what happened.

“It was a long day,” Graves says, letting Credence take his coat and scarf although he kind of wants to hang onto them. It’s not actually cold in the house, it can’t be cold, Credence is barefoot. Credence likes to be barefoot so Graves makes sure to keep the house nice and warm.

He still feels cold.

Credence reaches up and smooths a strand of Graves’ hair back into place for him. “Not that long; you’re home early,” he points out. There’s something complicated going on with his expression and Graves doesn’t feel smart enough right in that moment to figure it out.

Credence holds out a hand and then Graves’ dressing gown and house slippers are flying gracefully over to him. He’s never actually taught Credence how to Accio, it’s a fourth-year spell, Credence just does it instinctively because he’s seen Graves do it. Wordless, wandless magic comes to him as easy as thought.

“Why was it long?” Credence says, offering Graves the housecoat and putting the slippers down for him.

Graves feels a little stuck in place. He wants…he doesn’t know what he wants. He doesn’t want to sleep. Or eat. Or do anything at all.

“Grindelwald will be sent back to Europe to stand trial. It doesn’t matter now. Queenie said your visit with your sister went well. Would you like to tell me about it?”

Credence kisses his cheek and mouth. “Okay,” he says, leading Graves down the hallway. “Maybe in a bit. Do you want a bath?”

“Yeah?” he says, a little confused, and follows after Credence.

Credence runs the bath while Graves tries to figure out his own layers. Everything is so complicated he lets Credence unbutton him, lets him manually remove his cufflinks and tie, and all the pins stuck in it.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m sorry, darling,” Graves says. He almost forgets to take his socks off before getting into the water.

He gets in and is very surprised when Credence strips down too and climbs into the old clawfoot tub with him. It’s big enough, but he certainly wasn’t expecting it.

“What?” Graves says, shuffling back to make room for Credence.

It occurs to Graves that he’s in his bathtub, stark naked, and Credence is sitting in front of him, also very naked, knees two pale cliffs rising out of the water, the ends of his hair wet and sticking to Graves’ chest.

“Oh,” Graves says.

“Hey,” Credence says, leaning back against him.

Graves wraps his arms around Credence and buries his face in his hair. “Hay is for horses,” Graves says automatically, his mother’s voice coming out of his mouth.

He’s pretty sure he’s not going to get it up himself, but there’s still lots of things he can do for Credence. He slides his hand low on Credence’s stomach, the skin warm and smooth except for the line of hair from bellybutton to groin.

“Did you want something, sweetheart?” he asks.

Credence puts a hand over his, stopping him from going any further.

“When things were very bad with Ma…with Mary-Lou,” Credence says, “I used to go away sometimes. In my head. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. But it didn’t hurt so much, when she…I didn’t have to be there.”

Graves kisses the damp skin of Credence’s shoulder and neck. “I’m so sorry,” he says. “I wish I could take it for you.”

Credence turns a little, twisting so he can see Graves properly. “That’s not what I mean,” he says. “I’m saying I understand what you’re doing. Right now, you’re going away somewhere. And I want you to come back to me. I want you here, where I can help you.”

“I’m just tired,” Graves protests. Although he realizes he’s clutching Credence to him, grip a little too tight.

“Please don’t lie to me, Percival,” Credence says. “I can’t stand it.”

Graves tucks his face into the bend of Credence’s neck and shoulder and holds on. “I’m trying,” Graves says, “I want to be here with you.”

“Good,” Credence says, settling into Graves’ arms. “You can wash my hair for me, please.”

Graves seizes onto that gratefully, focusing on the texture of Credence’s hair slick with shampoo, the heat of the water, the weight of Credence’s body against his own, the smell of soap, the ticking of the clock on the countertop. By the time he’s gently rinsed out the last of the conditioner that makes Credence’s hair so soft and wavy, he is there, in the tub, with Credence, and not stuck in the trunk anymore, not floating halfway out of his own body.

He’s so enamoured of Credence. This brilliant, beautiful, empathetic man. Graves can’t even put into words the things he wants because the feeling is just too big. He wants to carve out his own heart and give it to Credence, he wants to hide him away where nothing can ever hurt him again, he wants to bind them together so no one can ever take Credence away.

But he can’t do any of those things, so he settles for what he can do.

“And how about this?” Graves says, wrapping a hand around Credence’s cock. “Would you like me to wash this too?”

“Yes, you may,” Credence says mock-primly and Graves bites him just a little to warn him about sassing.

Graves hooks Credence’s thighs over his own and then puts his own feet flat on the bottom of the tub, knees apart, so Credence is spread out. “You’re a demanding little thing, aren’t you,” he says. “Are you going to tell me more about what you’d like?”

Credence’s body jerks a little as he tries to close his thighs and can’t. “No,” he says, drawn out and breathy when Graves rubs his thumb around the head of Credence’s cock, carefully pushing his foreskin back.

“Are you sure?” Graves says. “You had a lot to say earlier.”

Credence reaches back and lifts an arm so he can hold onto the back of Graves’ neck, it stretches him out even more, rubbing his pert little ass against Graves’ cock which is actually starting to take some serious interest in having a beautiful naked man in his arms. He’s relieved that Grindelwald and the ICW didn’t manage to spoil this for him.

“I just want you,” Credence says.

Graves decides then and there he’s going to get Credence to give him a bit of dirty talk some other night, but he’s still feeling fragile at the edges and right now he just wants to make Credence scream his name.

“Hold on with both hands,” he says, and Credence does as he’s told, long fingers linked behind Graves’ neck.

Fuck, he’s beautiful, and he’s stretched out in Graves’ lap, wet and waiting. Graves thumbs at the head of his cock, teasing, until Credence whimpers and shudders.

“Please,” he says and moans when Graves strokes him properly to reward him for being so sweet and kind and polite about it.

“Just relax,” Graves says. “I’ve got you. You don’t have to do anything at all, just let me look at you. I’ll give you what you want.”

He doesn’t get Credence to scream his name, but he comes pretty close.

That night, Credence doesn’t go to his own room. He curls up around Graves and holds on, keeping him there, in the bed, in his body, in his mind.

Graves doesn’t think either of them sleep especially well, not with all the lights on, and Graves’ need to get out of bed every few hours so he can check the wards, but at least they sleep a little.

xxx

The next day, Graves has a name to go investigate. Bless the Aurors for doing their job for once. He doesn’t want to be at MACUSA right now, so it’s perfect timing.

“I don’t like it,” Credence says.

Graves buttons up his coat and Summons his cane—his leg is steady enough to be getting around the house with, but the streets are wet and he doesn’t trust it to hold up in the cold. “You don’t have to like it. You’re welcome to be extremely displeased about it, but it’s my job.”

Credence crosses his arms, stubborn. “No, it’s not,” he says. “The chief of police doesn’t go running around doing raids on the gangs. That’s what constables and sergeants are for.”

“We’re a much smaller organization than the no-maj police. Remember how few of us there are. And, right now, I can’t trust my constables and sergeants,” Graves says. “So, I’m going.”

“What about Miss Copperhead.”

“Mrs.,” Graves corrects absently. “Chief Auror Copperhead to you. She’s busy at MACUSA.”

Credence doesn’t let that slow him down. “Or Tina, or Queenie? Or—”

Graves holds up his hands in surrender. “I hear you,” he says. “But in all honesty, they’re women and I can’t take a woman where I’m going.”

“What about Newt.” Credence makes a face. “No, never mind, not Newt. Anyway, you have magical disguises!” Credence says. “Use those!”

“Darling, I don’t have time to argue about this. I have an opportunity, I need to take it.”

He kisses Credence goodbye, and leaves the house with Credence still protesting. There’s nothing for it though, he wasn’t lying, there’s no one else he trusts to bring with him.

Graves heads uptown to Lindy’s Diner on Broadway, between 49th and 50th Street. It’s a no-maj place, and one he’s never been to because it’s so far outside of his realm of notice he’d never even heard of it.

Arnold Rothstein, no-maj mobster and racketeer, is standing on the corner outside Lindy’s talking to someone Graves should probably recognize, but doesn’t, because he’s unfamiliar with most of the no-maj mobsters and bootleggers in the city.

“You’re a funny looking sort, aren’t you,” one of the bodyguards says, as Graves approaches.

“Hilarious,” Graves agrees. “I’m here to speak to your boss.”

“Let him through,” Rothstein says appearing from behind the bulk of his bodyguard. “I’m always happy to make new friends.”

Graves shakes his hand and says nothing into the expectant silence.

“Can I help you?” Rothstein prompts.

“I’m not going to stand outside like a little match girl,” Graves says, nodding at his cane. “If we’re going to talk I’d prefer to do it inside. And I’ve heard the cheesecake is excellent.”

Rothstein looks him up and down, considering. “All right, pal,” he says. “But no funny business. I like this joint.”

Graves submits to a needlessly rough pat-down by one of the bodyguards to make sure he’s not armed. They miss his wand, of course, but since he doesn’t have a gun, they’re satisfied.

They’ve all just turned to go into the diner when Graves hears his name being called.

“Mr. Graves!” Credence pushes gracelessly through pedestrians and comes to an abrupt stop next to him. “I thought I’d miss the meeting, so sorry.” He holds out his hand to the first bodyguard who gets in his way. “Credence…Um. Mr. Credence.

“Who the fuck is this?” the bodyguard says.

Credence wilts a little, taking his hand back.

Graves sighs heavily. “Didn’t you hear? It’s Mr. Credence.”

Rothstein laughs at them. “This your boy?”

“Something like that,” Graves says, because he’s not entirely sure if Rothstein assumes Credence is his son, his lover, or a junior partner in whatever racket Rothstein thinks he’s running. “He’s supposed to be at his studies.”

Rothstein winks at Credence. “I like a young man with a little chutzpah, c’mon kid, you can learn a thing or two.”

Inside, it’s pretty quiet, too late for the morning rush and too early for lunch. Most of the servers are lurking near the back, talking amongst themselves while the few diners are invariably the elderly, nursing coffee and doing the crosswords.

Graves pulls Credence as close as he dares as they walk. “What are you doing?” Graves hisses.

“You needed backup,” Credence says, unrepentant, but equally quietly. “I’m a man, and since I can turn into a giant smoke monster I’m not too worried about bootleggers.”

Graves doesn’t have the time to ask exactly what Credence knows about gangsters. He also doesn’t have the time to explain that the whole point of the meeting is to prevent any monsters, smoke or otherwise, from exposing all of wizardkind and starting a war. He just gives Credence a thunderous look.

“We’ll talk about this later,” he says.

Credence takes a seat at the table, next to Graves, across from Rothstein. “Thanks for meeting with us, sir. It’s real swell of you.”

Rothstein examines them both. He doesn’t look like a dangerous man at first glance. Just another guy in a nice suit, with his bow tie and glasses. But there’s something predatory in his eyes. He’s one of the sharpest men in New York, and he’s ruthless, moneyed, and connected.

He’s also, according to Graves’ limited intel one of the men in town who is willing to work with not just his fellow Jewish gangsters but also with the Italians and the Irish as well. If anyone can mediate over the missing Tommy guns, it’s him.

“All right, Mr.… Graves was it? That’s cheery. And you, kid, you look familiar.” His tone suggests that he knows exactly who Credence is.

Credence frowns down at the formica table. “Credence Barebone,” he admits. “I was with the Second Salemers.”

“That’s right, the anti-witch kooks. What happened to them anyway?”

Credence hesitates so Graves steps in. “Mary-Lou moved on,” he says. “Along with her daughters. Credence is with me.”

Rothstein waves down a waiter and orders three slices of cheesecake without asking Graves or Credence for their opinion. “And now he’s with you,” he echoes in skeptical tones.

His gaze lingers on Graves’ scorpion stickpins and the cut of his jacket, which Graves is very aware is not entirely usual for no-majes. Nor is Credence’s newly long hair. They both look slightly off from everyone else in the diner. It’s been a long time since Graves had to deal one-on-one with no-majes and usually they’re not in a position to question his fashion sense.

Rothstein takes his glasses off and sets them on the table. “What kind of kook are you, Mr. Graves?”

The waitress swings by and deposits their food and a few glasses of water. She doesn’t seem alarmed by the table next to them being full of bodyguards who aren’t ordering anything. She just asks if they want some coffee and then makes herself scarce.

Graves tries some of the cheesecake. It is really very good. “I’m the kind who likes my privacy,” he says, “same as the rest of my people. I’m skirting a lot of our laws that prohibit talking to outsiders.”

“Taking Orthodoxy a little far,” Rothstein says, like he knows what Graves is talking about. He gives Credence a sympathetic look. “You jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, huh?”

“He’s not a kook,” Credence says. “And we’re not part of a cult.”

“Sure you’re not,” Rothstein says agreeably.

Graves honestly couldn’t care less what kind of religious nonsense Rothstein thinks he’s involved in so long as he listens. He gently nudges Credence’s foot with his own, to keep him quiet. “My organization was interested in the explosion at the haberdashery and found out that the Gambino family just lost a certain shipment of ‘hats.’”

“I see,” Rothstein says. “I don’t suppose you know where those hats ended up.”

“We’re looking into it,” Graves says. “But no. My theory is that the people who took them don’t actually want the hats at all. They want the families to fight. And when tensions get high enough, they’ll leave the hats somewhere that will spark a war.”

“You think someone stole four thousand dollars worth of hats and they’re just going to give them to someone else,” Rothstein says. “What kinda looney does something like that?”

Graves does some quick mental arithmetic and figures that’s about ten thousand dragots. He had no idea guns were worth that much. That’s two years’ rent on Park Avenue. Mercy Lewis. No wonder the gangs were so upset.

Rothstein gives him a shrewd look. “You look surprised, Mr. Graves.”

“We try to stay out of the world,” Credence says. “Mr. Graves doesn’t concern himself with things like money.”

Rothstein raises his eyebrows. “Don’t lie to me, kid, you don’t dress like a fashion plate and not care about worldly things.”

“I didn’t know hats were so expensive,” Graves says, cutting in. “But it’s very unlikely the people who stole them know that either. Or care. They don’t want money because their cause doesn’t require money. They’ll frame someone for the theft. Maybe more than one someone. And they’ll time it so that everyone’s armed and dangerous and out for blood and they’ll kick off a riot.”

“You seem very sure of that.”

Graves shrugs. “I’m not sure of anything, Mr. Rothstein, only that neither you nor I want a bloodbath in this city. You’re the only man I’ve heard of who can prevent the families from becoming part of this plan.”

“Okay, Mr. Graves. How do I get hold of you if I come by any interesting news? Since you obviously know how to find me.”

Graves produces a card with a telephone number on it. “Leave a message here,” he says.

It’s the number to the only telephone at MACUSA, which is still being installed, and currently the only people who know about the line are Graves, the people installing it, and now Rothstein. The men installing the phone are going to be Obliviated as soon as it’s done. So then only Graves and whoever he gives the number to will know.

“I’d sure like to know what your racket is,” Rothstein says. “If it’s not hats…booze, horses, girls.” He gives Credence a hard look. “Boys.”

“I work for the government,” Graves says, because he’s been accused of a lot of things, but never of being a pimp.

“And you don’t know how much a Chicago typewriter costs? Pull the other one.”

Graves smiles at him with all his teeth. “I didn’t say which government, Mr. Rothstein.” He gets to his feet and Credence quickly stands too. “You have a nice day now.”

He doesn’t hurry as he leaves but the skin on the back of his neck is crawling. He casts a silent Protego over himself and Credence and doesn’t breathe easily until he’s outside the diner.

xxx

Graves drags Credence back to the house so fast he’s not sure his Auror detail keeps up.

“What were you thinking?” Graves says, the second the front door is shut behind them.

He takes Credence by the shoulders, not shaking him even though he wants to, just holding on. “What would I do if someone hurt you?”

Credence doesn’t quail in front of him, just puts his big, gentle hands over Graves’. “Percival,” he says. “I can take care of myself.”

Graves hauls him in, awkwardly squashing Credence’s arms between them, elbows digging into their chests.

“I know,” Credence says. “I know. But you can’t make me a prisoner of your fears. Let me be brave too. Let me fight at your side.”

“I don’t know if I can be brave knowing you’re in danger,” Graves admits, even though it hurts to say it.

Credence kisses his scarred mouth and shuffles his arms around until they’re embracing properly. “You can,” he says with conviction. “Because you know that courage isn’t a lack of fear, it’s being afraid and doing it anyway. And you’ve made me stronger, and braver, and I want to do that for you. I want to help.”

“You scare me,” Graves says. “I’m very fond of you and you’re so determined not to let me protect you.”

Credence sighs and rests his head on Graves’ shoulder. “You’re so sweet to me,” he says. “I know it hurts you, but please, let me look after you, too.”

Then Credence pushes him back so they can look at each other properly. “Mr. Graves,” he says. “Percival. I’d like you to take me to bed.”

Graves doesn’t have an especially big imagination, but it helpfully provides him with half a dozen ideas.

“Okay,” he says, a little hoarsely. “If you’re sure.”

Credence takes off his jacket and casually drops it on the floor, although Graves knows it must pain him to be so cavalier about his clothing. He takes such care of his things. “I’m sure.”

He takes Credence to his bedroom and doesn’t have time to question the wisdom of his decision because Credence is kissing him, and unbuttoning his shirt.

He strips them both down and settles Credence on the bed, on his back. He wants to look at Credence’s face when he does this. He wants to see every second.

Credence is already pink and embarrassed, but he doesn’t suggest closing the curtains, or darkening the room in any way.

“Should I…”

“You don’t have to do anything right now,” Graves says.

Credence is already hardening, his cock getting thick and full as Graves sits back on his heels and looks at him. He reaches for Graves, pulling him closer so they can kiss, arching up to press himself full-body against Graves.

Graves pushes him down gently and says, “Tell me if there’s anything you don’t like. Not everyone likes this, you know.”

There are, of course, spells for this sort of thing, but Graves doesn’t think Credence is quite ready for that sensation. It’s a bit…strange.

Instead Graves conjures up some lubricant onto his hand and rubs his fingers against Credence’s hole. “How’s that?”

Credence shifts about, hands on his forehead, like he wants to cover his face, but also wants to see. “Wet,” he says.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Graves says. He pushes a little, and the first finger slides in sweet and easy.

Credence gulps air and grabs onto his shoulder. “Please,” he says.

Graves rubs the pad of his middle finger against Credence. “Yeah?” he says, and pushes it in too.

Credence drags him back down into another kiss, panting a little against his mouth while Graves finger fucks him.

“Would you like me to fuck you now? You have to say it, Credence.”

Credence opens his eyes and blinks out tears. They slide down his face like sweat. “I can’t,” he whispers.

Graves slips his fingers free and gives Credence’s cock a little tug, just to see him choke on his words.

“You can,” Graves says, kneeling between Credence’s thighs so his legs are spread wide over his knees, and takes Credence’s jaw in his hand so he can’t look away. “You will.”

Credence licks his lips and struggles against Graves’ hand before he says, “I…Please, I want it so much. I can’t say it.”

Graves wants to keep Credence like this, always, desperate with pleasure, lovely, and so sweet. “Credence,” he says. “You can do it.”

“Please,” Credence says. “Please put…put your…” He blushes, and squirms, and tries to look away. “I want…”

“Go ahead,” Graves says.

“I want you to fuck me. I want you to put your cock in me,” Credence gasps, his own cock blurting out a thick string of precome.

“That’s my good boy,” Graves says. “You did so well.”

Credence’s pupils are blown wide and his lashes clump together wetly. “Mr. Graves,” he says when the head of Graves’ cock pushes into him, and it’s choked up and tearful, and everything Graves wanted and really shouldn’t be getting. “It’s so good. You’re so good to me.”

Graves presses Credence’s left thigh back until his knee is resting over his shoulder. Credence honest to Merlin whimpers and clutches fretfully at the sheets. “Sweet boy,” Graves says. Credence shudders and clenches down, so Graves pets his hair back from his face and says, “My sweet boy,” just to feel him do it again.

Credence gulps air when Graves pushes the rest of the way into him. His leg kicks a little and he grabs onto the headboard with both hands. Graves props himself up on one arm so he can pinch Credence’s nipples a little, to reward him. He’s got a great deal of his weight resting on Credence, but he seems to like it. Credence presses up and back again, and then again, shivering every time he can’t move more than an inch in any direction.

“There you go, sweetheart,” Graves says soothingly. “That’s all of it now. You took it so well for me.” The muscles in Credence’s arms stand out when his back bows, He’s so lovely, settling himself onto Graves’ cock, and Graves tells him just that.

“Oh, God,” Credence moans. He’s flushed with arousal and exertion, and probably quite a bit of shame.

Graves isn’t a good man, he knows that. He licks the tears off Credence’s face, bending the poor kid in half but Credence is young and flexible and he takes it so beautifully.

Graves starts off slow and careful, letting Credence really feel what it’s like to be fucked. Credence’s legs are shaking already and Graves presses a kiss to the knee over his shoulder.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Graves says, which of course makes Credence squirm with embarrassment. It feels exquisite on his cock.

“Please,” Credence says. “Harder. I can take it.”

Graves lets go of Credence’s face so he can brace himself on the headboard and really put his back into fucking him. And Credence can take it. He pushes back into it as much as he can in this position, straining up for a kiss which Graves gladly gives to him. Every thrust makes Credence’s cock bounce against his belly, until he’s wet with his own precome. He clutches at Graves’ shoulders, at his hair, and at his back.

“I couldn’t even imagine this,” Credence says. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know it would be so good.”

“Tell me,” Graves says.

Credence closes his eyes, mouth open and wet. “I love it,” he says. “I want it so much.”

That’s too much for anyone to hear.

Graves pushes into Credence, as far as he can, and grinds into him. “There you go, sweet thing, there you go,” he says, nonsense words as he comes into Credence.

He lets Credence’s leg down, easing it over his hip and down the sheets. Credence whimpers a little at the change of angle but otherwise doesn’t move. Graves pulls out, which makes Credence shudder and reach for him.

“Please,” he says. He’s unfocused and clumsy when he pets at Graves’ face, angling for a kiss. “Please, Mr. Graves.”

Graves runs his fingertips down Credence’s neglected erection, other hand slipping his fingers back into Credence’s swollen hole and pressing mercilessly against his prostate.

“Would you like me to suck it for you?” he asks.

Credence covers his own mouth with both hands to smother his moan and comes all over himself.

Maybe not.

Credence is very receptive to being aggressively cuddled afterwards, which is good, because Graves hates to fuck and run. He likes to bask in the afterglow, and the slow comedown with a partner in his arms is part of the whole engagement. He lies on his back with Credence tucked up against his side, head on Graves’ shoulder, one arm resting on his chest, playing idly with his chest hair.

“Um,” Credence says.

Graves waits patiently to see if anything else is forthcoming.

“I’ve been wondering about my Obscurus.”

Not what Graves was expecting. “Oh?” he says, encouraging.

“Do you remember what Mildred said to me? The Rat King?”

“Not word for word,” Graves admits. “But then again it was a little vague.”

Credence props his chin up on Graves’ shoulder so they can look at each other. “I’ve been thinking about it. And before, the Obscurus was feeding off my magic, but now it’s not because it can’t. But do you think it could maybe eat other magic?”

“Maybe,” Graves says, thinking of the way it swallowed up Credence’s first attempt at Lumos. “Would you like to experiment with it?”

Credence touches Graves’ cheek. “You said your scar was caused by a curse, right? Only, I was asking Queenie, and she said dark magic can linger.”

“She’s right. Why do you ask?”

“Because your scar is gone,” Credence says and under his fingertips, Graves realizes, is whole, unscarred skin. “And I think I did it.”

Chapter Text

Graves stands in front of the mirror and stares at his own face. The scar is gone. And his leg doesn’t hurt.

Credence lurks by the door, holding Graves’ housecoat for him since he jumped out of bed without it. “I’m…Should I be sorry?” Credence asks. “I didn’t mean to.”

Graves watches his wampus tattoo come around to the front of his bicep. It’s not scarred any more either. All the damage done by dark magic has been scrubbed away. He holds out his hand and it doesn’t shake. He stands on one leg. On his bad leg. Nothing. The pain is gone. The weakness is gone.

He feels like a bit of an idiot, standing there on one foot, naked, so he sheepishly takes his housecoat and shrugs it on.

“How on Earth?” he says, wondering.

Credence dares to come a little closer now that he can see Graves wasn’t angry when he leapt out of bed, just startled. “Mildred said I could feed it darkness and rage and grow stronger, but they didn’t say whose. And Queenie said dark magic is rooted in bad feelings. You have to mean evil.”

“That’s the basic principal of the thing,” Graves says. He can’t look away from the mirror. He’s not sorry about his leg, or his hand, but he’s not sure how he feels about his face.

He touches his mouth and cheek and thinks about fighting for his life against Grindelwald. It was proof. Everyone could see he wasn’t Grindelwald, who had stolen enough that Graves had to accept change to his own face to feel like himself again.

Credence stands behind him, putting his hands on Graves’ hips and his chin on Graves’ shoulder so they can look in the mirror together. He looks very serious. “It’s yours, you know,” Credence says, “it was always your face. And you never remind me of him. He was nothing. He’s a shadow.”

Graves turns in Credence’s arms and kisses him soundly. “I’m not sorry either,” he says. “If everything I went through is the price I had to pay to have you here with me, I’m not sorry it happened, and I’m glad it was me.”

Credence’s chin wobbles a little so Graves kisses him again until he’s smiling.

“Tell me about your Obscurus theory,” Graves says, leading Credence back to the bedroom.

They shed their robes and crawl back between the sheets. A small part of Graves wants to go sprinting down the street, because he can now. He can throw the cane out the window and never see it again. But mostly he’s happy to get back into bed with Credence and tuck him back against his chest. His wonderful, magical, exceptional young man.

“I found a book on magical theory in your library,” Credence says. “And a lot of it doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t seem to apply. But, I thought, since it comes from fear and pain and that’s what dark magic is. And I’d noticed that your face was better the first time we…

“I think the Obscurus has been leeching off the dark magic in your wounds,” Credence says, forging on. “When I touch you, I think its been drawing out the dark magic. And Mildred said…they said it came with a price. I think they meant I’d lose control of the Obscurus again, if it gets out of balance with the rest of me. What happens if it absorbs enough to overpower me again? If it gets stronger than me?”

“We’ll have to consult with Scamander,” Graves says. “I’m a little out of my depth here. I’ve never seen anything like what you can do.”

Credence sighs heavily. “Sometimes I wish I was normal. I used to want to be special, and worth notice, and worth saving.” He catches sight of Graves’ wampus tattoo creeping over his shoulder and gently strokes it with a fingertip until it curls up happily. “Now everyone keeps saying I’m unique and it’s not as nice as I thought it would be.”

Graves was a somewhat exceptional pupil, but he fought for every inch, he was always neck and neck with Seraphina. And she usually beat him. Being strong and magically gifted is not the same as being like Credence. He will always be the only one of his kind. Not quite wizard, not quite magical beast. It must be terribly frightening and terribly lonely.

Graves holds onto him more tightly. He can’t do anything more than be there, but he’s determined to do just that: to be right there at Credence’s side, supporting him, being his ally and his advocate. He kisses Credence’s head and tries to remember which countries have which laws about magical beings. They might have to leave America to keep him safe.

“You were always worth saving,” Graves says. “Even if you were a no-maj, or a squib, or an ordinary wizard. You’re a good man and you didn’t deserve any of what was done to you.”

Credence scratches his fingers through Graves’ chest hair and Graves thinks he can feel the slightest shape of a smile against his chest. “Do you have to go back to MACUSA?”

It's not even noon, Graves realizes. He hasn’t skipped so much work in years.

Graves puts one hand behind his head, the other on Credence’s back, stroking gently over the scars. He can heal dark magic long settled, but not his own marks. It doesn’t seem fair, but then Graves suspects not a lot of things in the world have come out favourably for Credence.

“No,” he decides. “I do not.”

Credence looks deeply skeptical but keeps his peace.

“We should go out for dinner,” Graves says. Because nothing says ‘untouchable’ like wealth and style. And he wants to make Credence untouchable. “I’ll take you somewhere nice. Wizards have their own version of…what’s it called…white tie. Much more flair. Do you like to dance?”

“I’ve never been dancing in my life,” Credence says. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Graves closes his eyes. The shock of Credence’s little revelation is wearing off and he’s just going to take a little nap, and then he’ll teach Credence how to at least waltz.

“Mmm,” he says, already half asleep, sunlight pouring in through the window to warm the bed. “Years of comportment classes, I’ll at least get some use out of them.”

xxx

After an afternoon of Credence stepping on his feet while they danced, and an evening at a restaurant where he sucked Credence off in the very fancy restroom before they had desert, Graves fairly floats into MACUSA the next morning.

He makes it as far as the hallway his office is on when he’s cornered by Copperhead. She’s giving him a very strange look and, for a second, he thinks she’s going to make a crack about finally getting laid. Instead she unholsters her wand and points it at him.

“Okay, Boss,” she says in dangerously calm tones. “You’re going to have to explain a few things.”

And then he remembers that no one knows he’s sleeping with anyone, never mind Credence. All she knows is that his limp and his scar are gone. Fuck.

“I’m not Grindelwald,” he says, putting his hands up. “I just healed.”

“Sure,” she says. “But we’re going to get you looked at anyway.”

He doesn’t enjoy being held at wand-point, but he submits to examination by a Legillimens and having his wand checked.

By the time Seraphina catches wind of what’s going on and storms in with her bodyguards trying to keep up, he’s been confirmed as himself.

“How?” Seraphina says, not one to mince words.

Graves reclaims his wand from Gregory the Grim with a nod of thanks. “Not here,” he says.

Seraphina, Copperhead, and Graves decamp to a no-maj automat where it’s very unlikely they will run into Grindelwald’s supporters or any of the ICW.

They stick out like sore thumbs; Seraphina and Copperhead are the only dark-skinned people in the automat, Copperhead’s the only woman in trousers, and they all are dressed strangely for a no-maj business. Graves casts a Notice-Me-Not and the waiters, who were edging towards them, get a vacant look on their faces and then go about their business.

They find a table and sit. Seraphina glares at Graves. “Well,” she says.

“Credence can absorb dark magic,” Graves says. “We think the Obscurus is eating it. And, in the process, it healed me.”

Seraphina puts a hand over her mouth. Copperhead, who was watching people get food from the vending machines with great curiosity, turns back to Graves, stricken.

“What the fuck, Boss,” Copperhead says.

“Do you realize the implications of this?” Seraphina demands.

“I’m not an idiot,” Graves says. “Of course I’ve realized how valuable he is. He could be the greatest threat we’ve ever seen. Or, he could just be a traumatized young man who needs our support and care.”

“Don’t get sentimental, Gravelbelly,” Seraphina says. “He’s a weapon.”

Graves does not care one whit for the gleam in her eyes. He’ll put himself between her and Credence if he has to. He’ll throw his career away to protect Credence from MACUSA and the burdens they’d try to make him carry. He won’t let them make Credence into a weapon any more than he’ll let Grindelwald do it.

“He’s a person!” Graves says. “He’s a wizard like the rest of us.”

Seraphina gives him a pitying smile. “No, he’s not. I appreciate your noble intentions but he isn’t a normal wizard and we can’t pretend that he is just because you’re fond of the boy. As soon as Grindelwald is out of the country I want Scamander to do a full assessment and bring me a copy.”

“Yes, Madam President,” Graves says in a way he hopes expresses his displeasure.

He’s not too worried about the report. Newt may not be his man to call on, but he’ll protect Credence just the same, because he protects all his beasts, and seems to have adopted Credence along with his Obscurus. If Newt has to lie on the report to save Credence, then he’ll lie on the report to save him.

Copperhead looks between them with an unhappy frown. She’s smart enough to know what’s going on and she’s smart enough to be very aware that she’s going to have to pick a side, sooner or later, if the Director decides to subvert the President’s commands.

Seraphina is a good woman, and a powerful witch. She’s calculating enough to be a fantastic president and she’s adept at using people for the greater good.

Graves is not so good, or so powerful, and he’s more loyal than he is calculating. So far, his loyalty has been to Seraphina and MACUSA, and to wizardkind in general. But then, no one’s ever asked him to choose between the people he loves.

Graves has no idea which one of them Copperhead will pick. He’s proud of his decision to make her Chief Auror, she’s already proven to be good in the position. She should serve for many years to come. Decades, even, if she likes it. Part of him hopes she sides with Seraphina, for her sake.

He can use the Graves name to hold them off. Hell, there are still Graveses in Ireland, and Sweden if he goes back far enough to the Greifi, not forgetting all the bloodlines who married in from Albany to Zamalek. He’ll take Credence out of America and MACUSA’s clutches if he has to, to save him.

“Fuck’s sake,” Copperhead mutters, and both Graves and Seraphina pretend not to hear her.

xxx

There are anti-Apparition wards in the foundations of the Woolworth building and for a block around them. They’re not something that can be taken down, even if MACUSA wanted to.

In order for the ICW to transfer Grindelwald to Europe, they will have to take him out of his cell, through MACUSA, and out onto the street. From there, they will have one block to cover before they can get him to the Portkey that will take him directly to whatever dismal place the ICW wants to throw him into while he awaits trial. And then he’s Europe’s problem.

Graves takes a seat at the Auror briefing, but lets Copperhead handle the details. All he wants to do is punch Grindelwald’s teeth down his throat until he chokes on them, and he doesn’t think that suggestion will be appreciated.

“You really think he’s going to try escaping during the five seconds that it will take us to drag him that one block?” one of the Aurors says, during the briefing. “Why wouldn’t he just wait until his trial? Guy’s a blowhard, bet he’d be happy to get his five minutes of fame before busting out.”

“Yeah,” Copperhead says. “Let’s assume he’s not going to try anything. In fact, why don’t we just all take the day off? How’s that sound? Pipe down Peterson or I’ll send you to be an Auror in East-Nowhere Ohio and see how that takes you.”

There’s some good-natured ribbing amongst the Aurors. They’re not taking this seriously enough.

“How many of you fought in the War?” Graves asks and the chattering stops.

A few hands go up. Hardly any. Most of those who came back weren’t fit for duty afterwards.

“That’s what I thought. If you would like to continue on that way, not having fought in a war big enough to span the globe, then I suggest you pay attention to Chief Auror Copperhead. And if that is too abstract for you, I invite you to watch the pensieve from the ICW convention two days ago and see what happens when a dark wizard gets hold of you.”

There’s a low muttering of apology. They’ve probably all seen it already. Those who didn’t do it out of professionalism would have done it out of puerile curiosity.

“Apologies for interrupting, Chief Auror,” he says. “Please, continue.”

Auror Peterson puts his hand up.

“Yes?” Copperhead says with a sigh.

“Where’s your scar, Director?” he asks, like maybe he’s the only one to notice the change.

Graves crosses his legs, drawing attention to the fact that he doesn’t have a cane any more. “Do you remember being demoted?” Graves asks. “It’s because you’re always asking the wrong questions. Copperhead, please.”

“Right,” Copperhead says. “We’re going to have to clear the street of all no-majes, so we’re planning to do the transfer at night when the streets’ll be mostly empty. One Obliviator at each exit point to turn away anyone who might want to walk that way.”

A page coughs discreetly to get his attention. “Sir, your secretary has a message for you.”

Graves slips out the back of the briefing and goes to find out who wants what.

There are, in fact, two messages. The first is from Rothstein and says only: Lindy’s, I’ll be there all day, you’ll want to hear this.

The second is from those guarding the cells; Grindelwald wants to talk to him before his transfer.

“Grindelwald can wait,” Graves says. “He’ll have to get used to that now he’s going to rot in prison for the rest of his life. You can tell him I said that or not, as you please.”

“Er…” his secretary says.

“Don’t talk to Grindelwald,” Graves amends. “I’ll be back for him.”

xxx

Rothstein is waiting for him at Lindy’s, like he said.

The bodyguards are much nicer about patting Graves down this time, but they still go through the motions. He’s escorted inside where there’s a cup waiting for him and a pot of coffee that Rothstein has on the table, ready to fill it.

“You’re going to want this,” Rothstein says. He pours Graves a cup and then pours himself more from the same pot. Nice of him to assume Graves might be worried about poison.

“Didn’t you used to have a scar?” Rothstein asks. “And a limp?”

“Deep cover.” Graves smiles wanly, knowing it’s not a believable lie. He adds some milk to his coffee because he’s probably one pot away from an ulcer and he’s hoping a little dairy will help.

Rothstein just looks at him for several long moments. Graves has no idea what he sees. The inner workings of a no-maj are beyond him. He can’t imagine going through life blithely unaware of magic and all the things that exist in the world.

Eventually Rothstein must reach some sort of decision because he says, “You’re a gas. Okay, keep your secrets, I just thought you and your mysterious, out of the material world pals might want to know about the upcoming rioting.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“No kidding it ain’t good. I talked around to some of the families and tried to put the word out that any conflict is the result of outside forces. Mostly people were receptive. I’ve managed to quiet down some of the more…irritated parties and they’re willing to wait and see. So that’s not a problem. No families plan on showing up. What is a problem is this: it ain’t just the Irish or the Italians, Mr. Graves. It’s the unions. Someone’s got them all fired up. There’s demonstrations planned.” Rothstein grimaces. “If that kicks off it’ll make Five Points and the City Draft Riots look tame.”

“Around the Woolworth building?”

“I ain’t gonna ask how you know that,” Rothstein says. “But know I don’t like it.”

“I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do to stop this?” Graves says.

Rothstein shakes his head. “I can do a lot, but not that. It’s too big. I got the families to cool it, but when I talked to the union bosses it was like they’d been hypnotized. Nothin’ I said would change their minds. Whatever’s going on that day is going to happen whether we like it or not. You think someone’s gonna start shooting?”

“I can guarantee it,” Graves says, wondering if it’s too late to end whatever Imperious the union bosses are under in time to stop the strikes. “We’re transferring a prisoner.”

“What the fuck government do you work for?” Rothstein says.

Graves sighs. “Maybe one day I’ll tell you,” he says. “It would be useful.”

Rothstein doesn’t much care for that answer, Graves can tell. He bets sooner or later he’ll be getting another call from him.

“You think you might want to hold off for a day or two,” Rothstein says.

“Even if we do, it won’t matter. The disruption will escalate. There will be…outside factors. Not the unions, or the Mob or the Pinkertons or the police. But others.”

“What do you suggest we do?”

“Stay as far away from there as possible. Evacuate as many buildings as we can.”

“That’d be some trick,” Rothstein says. “Middle of the day, middle of the week, emptying out several New York City blocks. Good luck to you.”

“I’ll do my best,” Graves says. “That’s all we can do.”

He can also assign Aurors to clear the buildings with the strongest no-maj repelling charms they have. And Oblivate anyone too stubborn to leave.

Rothstein sips at his cup of coffee. “Where’s the kid?”

“Back at his studies,” Graves says. “He’s a very smart young man and I wouldn’t like to think anyone…unsavoury was taking too close an interest.”

“Easy, sport,” Rothstein says. “No one’s traying to steal your boy. Ain’t my type.”

Graves wonders if Rothstein is sharp enough to guess the truth of his and Credence’s relationship and decides he doesn’t care, so long as the mob and the gangs stay far away. Not that Credence can’t protect himself, but everyone is susceptible to being conked on the head and kidnapped.

“Take care of him,” Rothstein says, strangely earnest. “Kid’s been through the wringer. No one took the leaflets, but we’ve all seen him, watched him get more wretched and beaten down each year. Lucky even offered to take him on, offered to keep it on the more law-abiding side of things. He’s hardworking, no one can say otherwise, but he turned Lucky down flat. Now that he’s finally out, don’t like to think there might be people taking advantage.”

“Trust me when I tell you, no one will ever lay a hand on him again without his say-so.”

Rothstein nods approvingly. “You sound like you mean that. I’ll tell my guys to leave him be. So long as you take my call next time I ring. One good turn etc.”

Graves offers him his hand and they shake. “I’m in your debt,” Graves says, getting up to leave. “I know it doesn’t mean anything to you, but it does to me. Use it wisely.”

“Something kooky comes up, you’ll be the first man I call,” Rothstein promises. “Good luck.”

xxx

Once he’s returned to MACUSA, Graves doesn’t go straight to Grindelwald after that. He’s got bigger fish to fry and he’s enjoying making Grindelwald wait.

He drags Copperhead back to the automat under a hasty Notice-Me-Not and gets them both mediocre sandwiches from the dispensers just so she can enjoy the experience before he ruins her day.

They claim a table in a corner and he lays it out for her. “I know what Grindelwald’s plan is. There’s going to be a no-maj riot outside the Woolworth building. No-majes are going to be packed in like sardines and ready to kick off at the slightest provocation. It’s going to bring out the Pinkertons and the police, and I’d lay money on that missing shipment of Tommy Guns making an appearance. That many people, that agitated, that ready for blood…if something magical happens, even something small, it’s going to cause mass panic. It doesn’t matter if Grindelwald tries to escape or not, he won’t need to. We’ll be revealed.”

Copperhead grinds a knuckle into the corner of one eye like she has a nasty headache she’s trying to get rid of. “What sort of magic, do you think?”

“Does it matter? It could be harmless conjuration at that point. Anything flashy or attention grabbing. The second someone gets hurt the no-majes will blame it on the unexplained and not the mundane. If someone lets it slip that MACUSA is full of wizards we’ll be overrun. Grindelwald could reveal us with a handful of wizards barely more than squibs.”

The sheer magnitude of expletives that Copperhead unleashes is astounding, even to Graves. He surreptitiously strengthens the Notice-Me-Not.

“We’ll need to evacuate the entire block, including MACUSA,” Copperhead says. “Cast repelling charms on all the buildings so we can minimize the number of people there. We don’t want bystanders seeing it all happening and calling out on the telephone.”

Graves nods in agreement. He’s not happy about any of it, but they know now, they can plan a counter-attack. This is what he’s good at. This is how he can keep everyone safe. “Put up more wards around the area, people can get in but not out, use the empty buildings to corral the no-majes, have a dedicated team of Oblivators there, send the rioters out once they’ve had their memories wiped. No matter how bad it gets, if we can contain it…”

“How do you know all this is going to happen?” Copperhead asks.

“No-maj contact,” Graves says. “They’re very useful, we should do it more often.”

“Take it up with congress,” Copperhead says, then: “This is going to be an absolute shit-show, you know that right?”

Graves wants to smile. He has something he can do now. He can get out there and fight. He’s pretty sure Copperhead will have him dragged off to the loony bin if he smiles though, so he keeps his expression neutral. “When isn’t it?” he says.

“You’re a maniac,” Copperhead says tiredly. “I have no idea why I like you.”

Chapter Text

Graves returns to MACUSA, lets his secretary know he’s going down to the cells, and then proceeds to stand in his office, not going.

He doesn’t want to hear what spiteful garbage Grindelwald has to offer. On the one hand, listening to Grindelwald gives him power, but conversely, not hearing what he has to say could mean losing out on valuable intelligence. Assuming Graves can make out what’s useful from what’s just noise.

For a long, long moment he thinks about just ignoring Grindelwald and leaving him down in the cells to rot until the ICW comes for him. It would serve him right, stuck in that dank little hole. The ICW will take him off to some crumbling European edifice. Then he’ll know what it’s like, to be forgotten. Graves wants him dead but he’s willing to settle for Azkaban with their filthy dementors. Let Grindelwald be stripped of his magic, and every ounce of joy. For Graves. For Credence. For every other poor fuck he ever came into contact with.

But MACUSA needs every scrap of information they can get about the upcoming disaster. And Graves is sworn to protect MACUSA. In the end, that’s what decides him.

Graves screws his courage to the sticking place and heads down to the cells. He doesn’t bother making a new cane, or faking his scars, or limp. Let Grindelwald wonder. Let him ask.

He thinks someone is following him on his way down, but he’s also fairly sure it’s Tina. She’s got a real talent for showing up at the most dramatic possible moment that he doesn’t want to discourage. Also, he hasn’t actually seen her, and he’s very impressed at her ability to tail someone as paranoid as he is.

Grindelwald is already smiling when Graves comes in to the anteroom off his cell. “Hello, Percy,” Grindelwald says. “I see you’re taking good care of my Obscurial.”

Graves feels like the bottom has fallen out of his stomach. “What?” he says.

“My Obscurial,” Grindelwald says. “Credence. You know, the sad, pretty one. Was I right? Did he beg you for help? Did he cry?” Grindelwald comes up right to the bars before pacing away again. “Oh, keep your hair on, I had a vision, no one told me.”

Graves is only half certain that Grindelwald actually has the visions he claims. Which means he’s half certain that someone at MACUSA is feeding Grindelwald information. And it’s also very possible that Grindelwald is just lying and seeing if Graves will give him information just to prove him wrong.

It’s an interrogation tactic Graves has used himself. He wasn’t born yesterday.

“Credence Barebone is dead,” he says, reaching for a calm he doesn’t feel and can’t find.

“Don’t be tedious,” Grindelwald says. “We both know he’s not.” He sits down on his cot and beams up at Graves. “Now, tell me everything. The vision was exceedingly useless other than revealing him to me. Rather literally.”

“Credence Barebone,” Graves says again, enunciating like Grindelwald is an idiot. “Is dead.”

Grindelwald sighs. “Percy, you’re boring me and trying my patience. And we both know what happens when you do that.”

Graves does. He is intimately familiar with how it feels to be grateful for pain.

He knows what happens when Grindelwald is displeased.

“Do you want to know what I saw?” Grindelwald says. “I’m pretty sure someone’s listening in, but if you don’t mind them hearing your business, then I don’t mind.”

Graves can’t move. He can’t think of anything to say. All he can think about is what Grindelwald will do to Credence if he gets hold of him. He feels like he’s going to pass out, the blood rushing in his head.

“Very well,” Grindelwald says. “Your blushes etc. Let’s see, for starters, I do like his new haircut. The length is very flattering and I guess it’s nice to have something to hold on to. Although, I think it’s a bit much that you make him call you Mr. Graves while you’ve got your cock in him. What was it he said? ‘Mr. Graves, it’s so good. You’re so good to me.’” His impression of Credence is breathless and simpering. “And to be honest I’m a little shocked at how well endowed he is. That’s something best saved for special occasions, don’t you think?”

“Shut up,” Graves says, stricken.

How dare Grindelwald try to steal this from him. How dare he make something wonderful into something shameful.

And he saw. He saw them together. That perfect, private moment. Grindelwald was there.

There’s nothing of his that Grindelwald hasn’t managed to take.

“And he likes those little pet names of yours: sweetheart, good boy, darling. Good to know.”

“Shut up,” Graves says again. “The only thing you know is that you had him in your grasp and you were too stupid to hold on.” He’s sucking in air like he’s run a marathon and he can’t catch his breath.

Grindelwald smirks, a nasty little expression. “I’m going to take your face, and I’m going to put you back in that trunk. And then, my poor, useless, terrified Percy, I’m going to finish what you’ve so helpfully started. A little loving persuasion and Credence will do anything I say. Like I said, not really my type, but the greater good and all that. I’m sure I’ll manage.”

Graves points his wand right at Grindelwald’s face. He doesn’t remember unholstering it. There’s nothing at all in his mind but white noise. He feels as brittle and sharp as obsidian.

Graves says, “Avada Kedav—”

Tina bursts into the room and grabs his wand hand, hauling him back. “You’re done in here,” Tina says. “This interrogation is over.”

She drags him out bodily, the door slamming shut on Grindelwald’s laughter.

“What are you doing?” Tina says, wide-eyed. “What the hell were you doing?”

Graves wrenches his arm away. “Stay out of my way,” he snarls, trying to get back into the cell.

“Get a hold of yourself!” Her voice is high and panicked. She shoves at him, holding him away from the door.

Graves isn’t worried. He’s stronger than she is, he won’t have to hurt her very much to move her and there’s no way she can keep him out of the room.

Tina hauls off and punches him in the face hard enough to make him stumble.

He was not expecting to get hit. It’s enough to startle him out of his killing calm.

His knees, suddenly unsteady, go out from under him, and he sits down on the floor, arms and legs heavy and weighted. He feels cold all over, like he might shatter.

The world feels very far away. Like he’s watching it all from above, behind a bubble. Like Newt’s Sudanese Obscurus, he’s just floating indifferently.

“I need to leave.” Graves’ voice sounds strange to his own ears. “I need to find Credence.”

He thinks his face should probably hurt. It doesn’t. He can’t feel anything at all.

“Did you do it?” Tina says. “Tell me you didn’t sleep with Credence.”

Graves can’t muster up the energy to lie. “I did. I am. Since he came to MACUSA to turn himself in. I…” He’s still holding his wand. Graves puts it away and sits there, staring at his hands. “I’m in love with him,” Graves says helplessly.

She sits down next to him, both of them with their backs against the cold stone wall. “Oh,” she says.

Graves doesn’t have an answer for that.

“What now?” Tina says. “Do I take you in for attempted murder?”

Graves swallows bile. He’s so stupid. All he’s done is give Grindelwald the key to hurting Credence.

“Do what you have to,” Graves says. He’s exhausted. Grindelwald is just a wall away and he can’t even do anything about that. Not to kill him, not to crawl away from him. “I don’t know any more.”

xxx

Tina drags him to Copperhead’s office and pushes a cup of tea into his hands that’s more milk and sugar than tea. He thinks she might leave for a few minutes because the next time he looks up she’s gone. And then when he looks up a second time, she’s back again, and she has Copperhead and Seraphina in tow.

“Grindelwald knows about Credence,” Tina is saying. “We have to get him out of the city.”

Graves dredges up his voice from who knows where. “I’m not safe,” Graves says. “He’ll use my face to lure him away.”

Seraphina rubs her temples. “Well this is a fine kettle of fish,” she says. “Copperhead?”

“Graves isn’t wrong,” she says. “If Grindelwald does get out, now or later, I’d bet good money on him going for Credence, now that he knows he’s alive. Even if he doesn’t use him to wreak havoc on the city, he’ll want him for a hundred other reasons.”

“He trusts me,” Graves says, despairing.

“Pull yourself together,” Seraphina says sharply. “Barebone needs you and, more importantly, I need you. I’ve seen you fight with half the bones in your body turned to jelly. Don’t tell me a few ugly words are all it takes to bring you down.”

“It’s shell-shock, Ma’am,” Tina says. “I think he’s really deep in it.”

Graves wants to protest that he’s not shell-shocked. He walked away from the Great War without shell-shock, he certainly doesn’t have it now. The words are heavy on his tongue but he can’t quite spit them out.

“All right. I’ll get someone to look him over. Goldstein, find Barebone and…he can’t come here.” Seraphina looks to Copperhead and Tina for suggestions.

“Newt Scamander can take him,” Tina says. “He’s got his suitcase.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Seraphina says. “Get the Obscurial in along with all the other hundreds of wild beasts I do not want in this city and get them out of here. Don’t tell me where Scamander is going. Don’t let him tell you where he’s going and keep him away from your sister. Put him under a Fidelus and send him away.”

“He’ll argue,” Graves says. “I should…maybe a letter?”

“I think he trusts me,” Tina says, and then she’s gone again.

Graves isn’t going to see Credence again. He won’t have to say goodbye. He isn’t sure if he feels better or not.

“Graves.” Someone is saying his name.

He thinks he might be weeping, how strange.

“Percival.”

“Don’t take me to the hospital,” he says. “They’ll make me retire. I need to do this. It’s all I have.”

“Oh, Gravelbelly,” Copperhead is holding his head against her chest, head tucked under her chin. She’s holding him there, touching his wrist, listening to his heartbeat.

They’ve done this once before back when they were both Aurors. When he had a massive chunk taken out of him by a dark wizard and was bleeding out on the dirt with only her constant, desperate spells keeping him alive until a mediwizard could get to him. He feels like he might be bleeding out now.

It doesn’t matter. So long as Credence gets away.

He survived the dark once, he can do it again.

xxx

Graves feels like an idiot.

“I’m perfectly healthy,” he says to the mediwizard who keeps trying to check his pulse and shine a light in his eyes.

“Your blood pressure is a little high,” the mediwizard says.

“That’s because you keep shining—stop that right now!—a light in my face.”

Copperhead’s office is a mess of paperwork, and there’s a board on her wall covered in information about Grindelwald supporters where she’s keeping track of the leads her Aurors bring her. She’s made the space into her own little war room, and he’s proud of her.

He’s not so proud of her transfiguration abilities because the couch he’s sitting on, made from one of her guest chairs, is awful. He doesn’t know why there’s a spring sticking into his backside when the chair didn’t have springs in the first place, but there is.

Now, she’s sitting behind her desk, smoking furiously, watching him get looked over. Seraphina, whose day is planned out in five-minute increments, had to go right away.

“But he’s okay now?” Copperhead says to the mediwizard.

The mediwizard gives up trying to look in Graves’ eyes again. “Physically, he’s fine. Cut down on the coffee. Eat more. Get better sleep. And you, stop smoking.” He sighs. “Not that any of you ever listen.”

“Thank you, you can go,” Copperhead says.

The door closes behind him and they are alone.

“Okay, what the fuck, Graves,” she says.

Graves leans back on the horrible couch. A spring digs into his spine. He lets it, just to feel something. “I might have a little bit of shell-shock,” he admits.

Copperhead has a picture of her wife on her desk, and the image shakes her head disapprovingly and looks up at Copperhead as if to say, “Can you believe this guy?”

“A bit of shell-shock,” Copperhead repeats. “You tried to AK an unarmed prisoner, and then collapsed.”

Graves is too tired to defend himself. “Also, I slept with Credence.”

Credence will be gone, who-knows-where, and he’ll never see him again. He’ll never get the chance to say goodbye properly. It’s too much to think about. He tries to structure his thoughts the way he learned to do for Occlumency but he can’t, they run away from him like water. He can’t focus on any one thing, and he can’t even think of nothing. It’s an endless spiral of what-ifs, and should-have-dones, and none of it is useful. None of it will stop Grindelwald.

“Yeah, Goldstein said as much,” Copperhead says. “I don’t think Madam President’s any more surprised by that than I am, and neither of us are going to do you the disservice of blaming that decision on the shell-shock. But you’re just...” She won’t meet his eyes when she says, “You should have taken medical leave and not come back to work immediately. You’re not right, Graves, and you should have said so.”

Graves doesn’t need to be a Seer to know that eventually the corner of Seraphina’s heart that is soft and gentle, that she guards so carefully, will urge her to make him retire, for his health. For his sanity. And Copperhead is going to help.

They’ll be right, but it will kill him nevertheless.

He isn’t sure how he’s going to navigate his empty house, and his empty bed when he goes home. There’s nothing there he really cares about. He thinks, for his health, he should get rid of all his alcohol and maybe hire another house elf, just for company.

He resolves to sleep in his office for the first night at least. While it’s still his office. There’s always someone around: cleaning staff, or someone pulling an all-nighter. He won’t be alone, and he won’t have to be alone in an empty house.

His transfiguration isn’t as good as Credence’s but it’s a damn sight better than Copperhead’s and he can make something into a camp cot easily enough. It won’t be the first time he’s slept in his office, and it’s certainly not the worst place he’s ever slept. He got caught in a trench in the Great War, surrounded by no-majes, and spent the night in the mud, trying to stay awake so he could turn aside any incoming shells, but eventually passed out exhausted, curled up on a split sandbag.

And he’s only just forty. Not even middle-aged yet. They won’t let him be Director any more, so he’ll have lots of time to go out and meet people. Be social.

The thought makes him feel vaguely sick. He puts his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

“You can’t go on like this,” Copperhead says gently. “You know you can’t.”

“Give me until Grindelwald is gone,” Graves begs. He’s too tired for his pride to be stung. “I’ll take a medical leave and then…I’ll be fine once he’s gone,” Graves says.

Copperhead sounds very tired when she says, “I don’t think that’s how it works. I don’t want to take this up the ladder, but I will if you make me. And Picquery will back me up. Don’t be fired, Graves, retire with dignity and become a politician, or go teach duelling at Ilvermorny, or take up painting. I don’t know.”

Graves looks up. “You need me,” he says. “Right now you’re stuck with me, even if I crack down the middle. You can’t force me out before the transfer. It would be political suicide.”

“I don’t care about that,” Copperhead says. “I’m worried about you.”

“When Grindelwald is out of America,” Graves says. “We’ll figure it out then.”

Copperhead is just opening her mouth to argue with him when the door bangs open and Credence bursts into the room like a human-shaped hurricane.

“What, I pray you,” Copperhead says, “the absolute fuck.”

Tina slinks in after Credence, looking deeply sheepish.

“It’s funny, Auror Goldstein,” says Copperhead. “This seems to be the exact opposite of the plan.”

Tina wavers under the approbation. “I couldn’t get him to come with me,” she says.

“Tina said I wasn’t allowed to see you again,” Credence says, stalking over to Graves, ignoring Copperhead and Tina completely. “She said I had to go away forever.”

“He threatened to find the Director in Obscurus form if I wouldn’t bring him here,” Tina says to Copperhead. “I didn’t know what else to do!”

Copperhead stubs out her cigarette and gets up. “Goldstein, wait outside,” she says. “And you two. Say your goodbyes because Credence is leaving with Scamander if I have to put him in the suitcase myself. Am I clear?”

Credence glares at her. He looks like he’s run the whole way, hair a wild curling tangle and his face flushed with anger. “I don’t have to do anything,” he says. “Not anymore.”

“Credence,” Graves says.

“No,” Credence says as his eyes go milky white and he starts to smoke at the edges. “I don’t think any of you understand. Tina can’t make me do anything or go anywhere. Copperhead can’t make me. Grindelwald can’t make me.”

“I’m the Chief Auror and he’s the Director of Magical Security,” Copperhead says, “acting on the orders of the President of the Magical United States of America. So, legally, we can.”

Credence turns to look at her, more and more of him crackling with electricity. “And I’m the only living adult Obscurus, so legally you can try, but practically, I think you’ll fail.” His voice is a low, dangerous thing, full of threat and anger. Graves can practically see the Obscurus growing inside him.

Copperhead glares at Graves. “I’m giving you five minutes, and when I come back, he’d better be ready to go.” She nods at Tina and the two of them leave Graves and Credence alone in the office. The door clicks quietly behind them.

“Don’t think you’ve scared her off,” Graves warns. “She’s tough as nails and more stubborn than a mule. She’ll conk you on the head and drag you to Timbuktu herself if she has to.”

“Why are you making me go?” Credence says mournfully, the threat display from the Obscurus drawing back under his skin. “I thought you wanted me.”

Graves steels his heart. “You have to go because Grindelwald knows you’re alive, he knows everything. You can’t trust my face, you can’t trust anything I say. He’ll come for you and he’ll use me to get to you.”

Credence kneels down in front of him and takes Graves’ face in his hands. “He wouldn’t be able to fool me. I know you,” he says. “I know you down to your bones.”

Graves presses their foreheads together and closes his eyes. “You have to leave,” he says. He can’t argue, he can only stick to the one point that he has: Credence must leave. If he tries to say anything else he’s going to break down again.

“For how long?” Credence demands.

Graves can’t answer that.

Credence pulls away, furious. “You don’t get to make that choice for me!” he says, getting to his feet. He’s so tall, with his back straight and his shoulders squared. Graves is so proud of him, he’s so brave, and Graves is never going to see him again.

“Seraphina will have you killed if she has to,” Graves says quietly and Credence jerks like he’s been slapped. “She’d see you dead before letting Grindelwald get hold of you.”

“She can’t.”

“She can,” Graves says. “I love her dearly, but she will order your execution.”

“Didn’t work last time,” Credence says.

“I will not stand by and watch you be murdered, or worse!” Graves says, getting to his feet. He grabs hold of Credence’s shoulders, desperate to make him understand. “I can’t. Don’t ask me to. I couldn’t bear it. Please, Credence, just this once. Let me protect you.”

Credence looks him over and Graves isn’t sure what he sees. “Okay,” he says. “But only if you promise to take care of yourself while I’m gone.”

“Darling,” he says. “Credence.” He kisses Credence, a chaste, soft little thing. The last one. The last time.

Credence gives him a crooked smile. “I’ll let you know if the unicorn still likes me,” he says wryly. “When I come back for you.” He steals a last kiss and then walks out. “I’m ready,” he says to Tina, like he didn’t just storm MACUSA and declare himself ungovernable.

Graves loves him so much he feels like his heart will split open.

He sits back down on the uncomfortable couch and stares at the empty door, and just breathes for a little bit.

Chapter Text

The day of the no-maj brouhaha dawned vaguely grey and threatening snow, but not nearly cold enough to make people think twice about taking to the streets. Especially not people under Imperious.

Since there’s multiple union marches planned outside the Woolworth building, even the ICW has to admit that it’s a bad time to transfer Grindelwald. All the visiting Aurors are seconded in to be stationed around MACUSA while Copperhead and almost every Auror in New York City are out on the street in plainclothes, ready to prevent anything magical from occurring. The rest are also stationed in MACUSA in case one of the ICW are Grindelwald plants.

All non-essential personnel have been given the day off and banned from the premises. All other prisoners have been transferred. Even the house elves are gone. MACUSA will as empty of potential victims as possible.

No-maj repelling charms have been put on the neighbouring buildings but it’s not working as well as Copperhead would like, since the buildings are so tall and they simply don’t have enough personnel to clear them out quickly and thoroughly, but they’re working on it. She’s called in Aurors from some of the quieter wizarding cities, but it’s still possible there’s more action planned in another city, and they can’t spare the people from, say Chicago, or Philadelphia. The Manhattan Wizarding Hospital is on standby.

There’s nothing they can do about the planned action. Union riots aren’t their problem, Copperhead argues. So long as Grindelwald stays locked up and magic stays secret, the no-majes are welcome to take to the streets for whatever reason they want. A five-day work week, votes for women (Graves smugly tells her that they already have the vote), or the end of Prohibition, it’s not their business.

Graves doesn’t bother to remind her that the union bosses are all likely under Imperious since it’s really a moot point. There will be rioting. And the Aurors will be outnumbered at least ten to one.

Seraphina is far away from New York in case of an assassination attempt. It’s an ideal opportunity for her to take a tour of the West coast and visit some wizarding communities out there. She went, but she complained the whole way.

“That woman cannot stand being away from the action,” Copperhead says to Graves in one of the lesser-used break rooms in the small hours before dawn. “I didn’t have the authority to tell Madam President where to shove her leading from the front nonsense when Credence was breaking half of downtown, but by the ancestors it feels good now.”

“If she wanted to be at the front of the pack, she should have been Chief Auror, and not gone the political route,” Graves says, drinking what might be his sixth cup of coffee. He hasn’t really slept since Credence left. Since he made Credence leave.

His cot bed was fine, but he woke up screaming twice, and then the head house elf on night shift complained that he was upsetting the other house elves.

Copperhead had come into his office, rubbing her eyes. “You’re not the only one bunking here tonight,” she’d muttered. “I haven’t seen my wife for more than a quick ‘hello’ for a fucking week and now you’re keeping me up. Move over.”

Graves had expanded the cot bed before she could do so and make it lumpy and uncomfortable.

Copperhead had climbed on and settled down, back to back with him. “You better not spoon me,” she said, yawning.

They slept for a few hours like that and when Graves woke up, she was spooning him. She’d shrugged and got up to make them both coffee.

Now, Copperhead rolls her eyes. “Don’t throw stones about leading from the back, Director. Your house is very…glassy.”

“I have made every promise that I will stay inside this building and do my paperwork like a good Director and not go anywhere near the ICW, Grindelwald, or the union rioting. What more do you want?”

They could use him if there’s a fight; he’s a fantastic duelist and he’s familiar with staying calm under gunfire. He’s never cracked up in a fight and for all that he fell apart in front of Grindelwald, Graves is fairly sure that any other idiot with a wand or a Tommy gun wouldn’t slow him down at all.

He thinks Copperhead is afraid he’ll deliberately put himself in danger. Not so much suicide, as a lack of caring if he lives or dies. But that isn’t in Graves. He didn’t die in the Great War, or locked in his trunk. He didn’t die watching Credence leave. Some two-bit fanatic or no-maj won’t do the job. He’s a Graves, too stubborn and stupid to know when he’s beat and, as his partner when he was a Junior Auror used to say: “You ain’t got no quit in you.”

He wouldn’t act recklessly in the field because it wouldn’t just be himself in danger, it would be the rest of the team. They’re his team. Every one of them are his Aurors and they’ll be his until they make him retire. He wouldn’t do that to them. You have to trust everyone out there is trying as hard as you are to win, and live, and return home.

“I’d prefer you take the day off and go see a show or something, visit out-of-state relatives, take a cruise somewhere hot,” Copperhead says. “But we both know that isn’t going to happen.”

“You’re right about that,” Graves says, and takes his coffee back to his office where he’s determined to spend the rest of the day. And possibly sleep there again.

xxx

Graves can’t hear anything happening outside from his office, and he knows if he hunts someone down and asks how it’s going, he’ll want to go and help, so he just paces around his desk, tries to do paperwork, and worries about Credence. Where he is, if he’s happy, if he’s safe. It’s not a good morning, but it’s not the worst of his life either.

Then an explosion rocks the entire building.

Graves staggers and nearly falls. Things slide off the shelves and smash on the floor. Alarms start howling throughout MACUSA and he can hear people shouting in the hallways.

Graves draws his wand and heads out.

There’s dust in the air, and the memo-mice are running for cover. He can hear the lobby eagles screeching unhappily. He’s heading for the elevator, trying to remember how to work it, when he sees Red is there, at his post, ready to throw the switch.

“You’re supposed to be clear of this place,” Graves says.

“Take the stairs,” Red advises. “There’s been an explosion.”

There’s a strange tremor in the building. Not another explosion, but a worrying creaking, like MACUSA is the mast of a ship, swaying in the wind.

“You should probably get out there,” Red says grimly. “We’re headed to the basement. Make sure the foundations are steady.”

“We?” Graves says.

“MACUSA goblins,” Red says. “Keep the foundations strong. All that steel, all that scaffolding. You think a wizard did that?”

Graves had honestly never thought about the construction of the Woolworth building beyond the spellwork. He realizes he’s worked at MACUSA for going on twenty years and the elevators have never been out of service. Metalwork. Seems like the goblins are adapting to the modern age faster than most wizards. “I guess not,” he says. “Thanks, Red. Hold the line.”

“Always do,” Red grumbles, throwing the elevator switch. It drops down out of sight and Graves heads for the stairs. He’s sixteen floors up and can’t Apparate inside the building. Fuck’s sake.

By the time he hits the streets everything is chaos. He stands in the door of MACUSA and tries to figure out what the hell is happening.

There’s so much stone dust in the air that Graves can barely see. Paperwork is floating down like ash.

It looks like the explosion did massive damage to the no-maj side of the Woolworth building and the only thing keeping it standing is the magic half. Masonry has fallen down on a full-scale riot, crushing people to death, even as several Aurors are Levitating bricks and stone away as fast as they can.

The Aurors have put up a magical barrier keeping people from leaving without being Obliviated but that caused panic and the rioters are forming a crush. People are screaming, he can see at least one man go down and get trampled before an Auror Levitates him free. The Aurors are clearing the rioters out as fast as they can: dragging injured and Stunned people into the mostly empty building across the street where they can be kettled before a Healer and an Oblivator can get to them and send them on their way.

It’s a bloody, confusing, dangerous mess and every no-maj there has seen something magical. If one of them gets out, if one of them manages to call in reinforcements, they’re done for.

He thinks he sees Queenie pulling a no-maj policeman out from under a toppled car only to be grabbed by other policemen. He hits the no-majes with a stunning spell and leaves them for her to deal with.

Then there’s another explosion and the Woolworth building creaks ominously.

Graves casts Protego and narrowly avoids being crushed to death by a chunk of stone the size of a Model T.

He prays the goblins can keep the structure upright and pulls his scarf up over his nose and mouth to protect him from all the dust. It smells like Credence.

The screaming intensifies but he can hear Copperhead’s voice, magnified, sending Aurors to hold the building steady. Some of the no-majes take that to mean they’re the ones causing it to fall down.

Graves hears the rattle of machine gun fire, two Aurors drop to the ground and then there’s a third explosion, this one from inside MACUSA and he knows, he just knows this is it. It’s a jail break. The Aurors are spread too thin. He should have called in reinforcements. Too late now.

He waits, staying in the doorway, even as the building groans and shudders overhead. Grindelwald will come out this way. No matter how much of the Woolworth building he brings down he still can’t Apparate within the block around MACUSA, he’ll have to fight his way through the riots and the Aurors, and the barrier itself. And he’ll have to step over Graves’ dead body to do that.

Graves is ready this time. Grindelwald won’t catch him off guard. He’ll die before he goes back in that trunk, before he lets him get a crack at Credence.

There’s more gun fire and he can see the flare of shields, some around the Aurors, some around groups of no-majes. He can’t worry about that.

He hears Copperhead’s voice instructing the Aurors—hold the line, keep the building up, kettle the no-majes, and get those fucking guns out of play!—but stays where he is. His help won’t make a difference there.

He steps to the side of the door and waits.

Graves has time to Stun a handful of no-majes who take exception to him not doing anything, and to crumble some of the larger bits of stone that are still raining down before they can crush anyone. Then Grindelwald is storming out of the doors with a pack of followers. At least one of them is from the ICW.

Grindelwald is wearing Graves’ face again, his clothes, walking out of his fucking place of work.

Graves hits two of the followers with the Cruciatus and they go down screaming. Grindelwald has a shield up and it blocks the curse from getting to him. He smiles at Graves and lifts his wand.

Of course.

And then Graves is duelling for his life. Gregory the Grim and Tina appear through the dust and smoke and take on some of Grindelwald’s followers, but they’re both looking back and forth between Graves and Grindelwald and he knows they’re moving too fast for Gregory or Tina to tell which is which by their wands.

“Copperhead!” Gregory bellows, taking one of the followers out at the knee before throwing a car at the others. They dodge but they’re occupied.

It doesn’t matter. Grindelwald is good, he’s strong, he pummels Graves with curse after curse, but Graves is incandescent with rage and he knocks them aside, not worrying about who they might hit.

Graves doesn’t have the luxury of looking away, but he hears Copperhead turning the air blue with her swearing. “Don’t kill them,” he hears her say as other Aurors rally around them, and now he’s fighting on two fronts, keeping their immobilizing spells off him as well as trying to get something to smash through the shields Grindelwald throws up as easy as breathing.

Graves doesn’t bother telling them he’s the real Percival Graves. They can’t tell and it doesn’t matter.

Grindelwald fires off the killing curse, but that doesn’t prove anything either, Graves tried to kill him only yesterday.

He hears more machinegun fire and Copperhead goes down, the flare of her coat making her vulnerable to the hail of bullets.

He nearly gets hit by Grindelwald’s next Cruciatus, distracted for a split second, but he grits his teeth and knocks it to the side. It hits Tina and she drops, teeth gritted against a howl of pain.

Sweat drips down his face. Grindelwald is pushing him back, even as the mob parts around them, the no-majes smart enough to get out of the way. He’ll push Graves back to the barrier and blast through if he can. Graves has to stop him before they get there.

There’s a weird change in the pitch of the screaming and shouting of the crowd and then Graves hears a trumpeting whinny and even Grindelwald turns for just a second to see what the hell is making that noise.

“Oh my God,” he hears the nearest no-maj say before an Auror hits the man with a Petrificus Totalus and hauls him away for Obliviating.

Laurence, Newt’s aggressive juvenile unicorn, is stampeding towards the line of Aurors at full gallop, sparks coming off his hooves where they hit the pavement.

Credence is sitting on his back, holding on to his mane for dear life.

Newt lags behind them; he’s long-legged and fast, but he’s got his suitcase in his hand and it’s slowing him down. He casts an Accio at Credence, and it pulls at Credence’s coat, hauling him back until he lets go of the unicorn’s mane long enough to slip out of it. He loses his seat and tumbles off Laurence’s back, landing hard, but he gets up and starts running.

“Bad!” Newt is shouting, voice amplified by magic. “Very bad boy! Laurence, come back here immediately, Mummy isn’t cross, just please come back!”

Grindelwald’s face splits into a nasty smile and he sneers at Graves, panting in the clouded air. “What a sweet boy,” he says. “Running straight into my arms.”

Graves tries with everything he has to AK him but Grindelwald’s shield is too strong and it holds up.

Laurence hits the barrier, horn first, and it splits around him, everyone diving for cover.

An Auror aims his wand at Laurence and the unicorn kicks him in the head before turning and goring a no-maj.

“Get that thing out of here!” Graves hears Gregory shout, but Laurence is already panicking, or maybe unicorns just like a good fight. His nostrils are flared, ears pinned to his head, the whites of his eyes showing all around. Instead of running away, he wades into the crowd, taking down anyone he decides he doesn’t like. And apparently aggressive juvenile unicorns hate just about everyone. He’s a one-beast battering ram, horn soaked in blood, kicking and biting anyone who gets close enough.

The no-majes start running towards the building across the street, some primitive part of the brain finally kicking in and suggesting that cover would be sensible. It will make it easier for the Obliviators.

The barrier is starting to come back up as Credence gets close enough to run through, Newt picking up speed, so as not to be left behind.

One of the Aurors points their wand at Credence but he flashes into Obscurus form and blows past them, knocking them down, before dropping back into human form, still running, and the spell goes wide.

Grindelwald is wide-eyed with joy. “Look at him,” he says, delighted

Credence holds out his hands and Graves realizes what he’s about to do.

Graves makes his shield as strong as he can and turns his head away, covering his face as Credence starts to glow.

Lumos!” Credence says, and the world goes white.

Even with his eyes shut, the flare of light is disorientating.

When he opens his eyes, he can see Grindelwald is blinded for the moment, along with half the crowd, but that won’t slow him down long.

Avada Kedavra!” Graves tries again, but the man’s shield holds.

Queenie, of all people, seizes the opportunity first. She lunges forward from between two big chunks of stone and grabs hold of Grindelwald’s head with both hands, painted nails digging into his skin hard enough to draw blood. He didn’t see her coming, didn’t think to put up a second Protego.

“See this,” she snarls.

Grindelwald’s eyes go wide and sightless. He staggers and she stays on him, riding him down until he’s on his knees in front of her and she’s standing over him, ten feet tall in her torn dress with her hair wild around her.

Graves was wrong. She might not have the sort of power Grindelwald does, she’s not a combatant, but she’s not weak. Graves just hadn’t measured strength in terms of what you can carry. He can’t imagine the things she’s heard in the minds of others. And now she’s pushing it on Grindelwald.

“You think you’re tough,” she says. “You’re nothin’. You wouldn’t last a day in my pretty shoes. All the things I’ve seen.”

Grindelwald howls and throws her off with a blast of power that flings her into a chunk of stone. She crumples, one arm at a bad angle. Her nails have raked deep scratches down Grindelwald’s face, blood beading red on his white skin.

She barely rolls out of the way in time to avoid a crack of lightning where she’d been lying a second before. Tina’s back on her feet now, jumping in to save her sister from the next attack, and she puts up a shield in time to protect them both.

Credence rises up, a churning, howling cloud overhead. Grindelwald doesn’t even hesitate. Graves doesn’t know the spell he uses, but it’s like Newt’s containment bubble.

It snaps around the Obscurus and Graves can’t hear Credence any more, can only watch as the Obscurus slams uselessly against the barrier.

Credence is trapped.

Graves blasts Grindelwald with a series of curses as Credence turns back into his human form, floating in the bubble, mouth opened in a shout no one can hear, fists hammering at the bubble.

Grindelwald fights back, and Graves takes a whip of lightning to his right arm but he holds on, hand clenched tight on his wand as his blood makes the grip slippery.

Credence stops pounding on the barrier and flares back into the Obscurus. There’s a horrible sucking, tearing sound as the Obscurus absorbs the magic and Credence comes screaming out of his cage towards them both.

Grindelwald throws up a new shield just in time for Credence to smash himself against it, roaring back up into the sky, churning with lightning.

“Hey! Over here!”

There’s a rattle of machinegun fire and Graves turns around to see Copperhead, sitting propped up against a toppled car, bleeding badly from her stomach, holding a Tommy Gun and firing it at them both. She knows Graves wanted clothing reinforced against bullets. It’s a ballsy move, he’ll give her that.

Grindelwald’s shield sparks where the bullets are pounding into it. It won’t break through, but it’s draining his power to keep it up, and Graves can appreciate a good distraction when he gets it.

He charges towards Grindelwald ready to take advantage the second his Protego falters, even as Credence comes howling back down, and the unicorn charges straight for them. They all crash together at the same time, and Grindelwald’s shield cracks. He avoids being gored, but he can’t avoid getting swallowed up by Credence. Neither can Graves.

For a horrifying, disorientating moment Graves is held suspended inside the Obscurus along with Grindelwald.

No one can tell the difference between them. The imitation is flawless.

Lightning crackles around them in the dark and then Grindelwald screams, his disguise pulled away like it’s his own flesh being stripped from bone not just an illusion, and his wand splinters in his hand.

Graves and Grindelwald are dumped onto the ground and Credence is gone back into the sky roaring over the crowd, herding them towards the Obliviators.

Graves hits Grindelwald with a body bind and shoves him down onto his knees. He stands over him and thinks about that sickening moment in the cells. He could AK Grindelwald now. No one would stop him. Even the ICW would look the other way now that some of their own have been revealed as plants. The damage is ongoing, the injuries significant, the death toll too high, and Graves could say that Grindelwald reached for his wand. No one would question it.

He doesn’t have to.

It feels like a weight the size of the Woolworth building has been lifted off him. Grindelwald managed to take him down because he was alone, but he’s not alone any more. He has people who will come for him, who will hold back the dark with him. Credence knows him. He knew him and he didn’t even hesitate.

“You won’t kill me. You don’t have the courage,” Grindelwald sneers. “I know you Percival Graves, and you’re a weak man.”

“I don’t have to kill you,” Graves says, decided, “and you don’t know your ass from third base. You’re going to prison because that’s what you deserve. It’s your turn to sit alone and helpless in the dark, but the difference is that no one will look for you, no one cares enough to help you. Sorry to spoil your plans, Gellert, but I’m not going to make you a martyr.”

“I’ll get out,” Grindelwald says.

Graves shrugs. “And I’ll put you back.” He considers for a moment. “I do owe you, though,” he says.

Grindelwald has a moment to look confused before Graves punches him in the face, knocking him back onto the ground.

Graves shakes out his fist and feels himself starting to smile. He stops the second he sees Credence, human again, coming towards them through the masonry dust. The debris has turned them all into ghosts; Credence’s hair is dusted white and his usually fair skin is deathly pale. His eyes are white as well, tendrils of black coiling around him. Lightning crackles over him for a moment before it settles again. The unicorn follows tamely after him, snapping at anyone who tries to get close. Laurence’s muzzle and horn are dripping red with blood.

“Credence,” Graves says.

“It’s okay, Percival,” Credence says. “I just wanted to see him before he goes away.”

There’s an uneasy feeling in Graves’ stomach, but he has to trust Credence. The man who stormed MACUSA, and convinced a unicorn to fight for him. The man he loves more than anything.

Credence crouches down next to Grindelwald. “Do you know what I can do?” Credence says. “Do you know what I am?”

Grindelwald’s eyes cut back and forth from Graves to Credence. “You can control it,” he says.

“More than that. I can grow it on dark magic, pull evil out of where it lives and devour it.” Credence smiles faintly. He touches Grindelwald’s bloodied face with the utmost tenderness. “And you’re nothing but dark magic. Nothing but corruption and ill intent. I can take that from you. I can take everything.”

Graves realizes what Credence is saying and startles forward a pace. “Credence,” he says. “Don’t do it. You’ll lose control of the Obscurus if you do that.”

Grindelwald catches on at about the same time. “Someone theorized dementors and obscurii were similar beasts,” he says, mismatched eyes gleaming covetously.

“I don’t know what that is,” Credence says, unconcerned. “But I could rip your magic from you and leave you as hollow as you made me feel.”

Grindelwald, the absolute maniac, doesn’t seem concerned. “But you won’t, will you, darling,” he says. “Because you’re afraid of the power. You’re afraid to lose control. I could help you.” He tries to sit up and Graves shoves him back down with his foot. “You could be the greatest magical power in the world and you’ll starve the Obscurus down to nothing because of him?” Grindelwald snarls.

Credence strokes Grindelwald’s hair back from his face. “It’s not nothing,” Credence says. “It’s me. And know that if you ever escape again, it won’t matter. You can’t fool me, or hurt me, or make me your weapon. I’m free, and I’m done with you.”

He stands up and walks back into the fray.

Chapter Text

The Woolworth building is barely upright and the streets are still in chaos but Graves isn’t hanging around waiting for the wheels of government to grind slowly onwards. He sends Gregory the Grim to carry Copperhead to the nearest healer and waves Tina over.

“I’m promoting you to Acting Senior Auror,” he says. “Follow me, keep the no-majes off us.” And then he personally slaps a silencing charm on Grindelwald, Levitates him, and heads for the waiting Portkey.

He doesn’t wait to see if she’s listening but from the clear path that appears before him, no-majes being swept out of his way, he’s sure she’s on his six.

They take the Portkey together, him and Tina and Grindelwald, since it’s primed for two accompanying law enforcement agents.

Graves had forgotten how much he hates long-distance Portkeys. It’s an endless twisting, wrenching, gut-churning sensation and he thinks he hears Tina give a little scream before they’re deposited safely in England.

The long-distance travel makes both Tina and Graves upchuck on the floor of England’s arrival platform but cleanup isn’t his problem so he straightens up and soldiers onwards. Tina is stalwart and solid at his shoulder, while the UK Auror who’d been paying no attention at all and had, in fact, been reading a racy novel, flaps about uselessly, squawking about paperwork, and timetables, and unannounced Americans.

Graves marches straight to the office of the Head Auror, Grindelwald in tow, Tina behind them, and opens it without bothering to knock.

“I believe this is for you,” he says, and dumps Grindelwald on the ground without fanfare. “You and the rest of the ICW will be hearing from me about his recent escape and I’m warning you now that any more collusion from your governments will be taken as an act of aggression towards the Magical United States of America and, since you lost the last war we fought, I recommend you take my warning very seriously.”

“I beg your pardon,” the man says, setting his quill down.

“The ICW have already shown themselves to be traitors and idiots to boot,” Graves says, “so consider this your formal notice that America is extremely angry and you’re going to be getting an earful from our diplomats as soon as they’ve been made aware of the situation.”

“Grindelwald wasn’t supposed to be transferred until—” the man starts but Graves has a riot to contain, Rappaport’s Law to uphold, a Chief Auror to check on, and an Obscurial, a unicorn, and Newt’s Fucking Suitcase to worry about.

“Would you just sign the paperwork and take him!” Graves says, slapping an impatient hand down on the man’s desk. “I’m in the middle of a full-scale magical disaster and you’re costing me precious time.”

“Mr…” the man says, officiously.

“This is Percival Graves,” Tina says. “Descendant of Gondulphus Graves, and the United States of America’s Director of Magical Security. That Percival Graves.”

She holds out her handkerchief and he realizes he’s still got blood dripping from his arm and he’s leaving a mess all over the floor and the desk.

“Thank you, Senior Auror Goldstein,” he says.

She’s got such a sense of occasion, he’s going to fast-track her on the path to promotion. He’s going to give her and Queenie anything they want. Surely, Queenie and her no-maj squeeze have earned themselves an exemption. Even Seraphina will sign the paper when he tells her what she did to Grindelwald.

“Listen pal,” Graves says, as obnoxiously New York as he can manage, “I have a no-maj riot to contain, a half-destroyed building to stabilize, an aggressive juvenile unicorn to corral, and an Obscurial I need to apologize to and beg to take me back. Not counting all the injured and dead because this genocidal fuck doesn’t know when he’s beat.” Graves leans in, masonry dust falling out of his hair to land all over the man’s desk. “So dig up the god-damn paperwork, sign it, and get me a portkey back to New York right fucking now. Do I make myself clear?”

The man behind the desk gulps and calls for backup.

It takes more than fifteen whole minutes before someone takes custody of Grindelwald and Graves is about ready to start cracking heads together if it takes one more second.

Tina is practically vibrating at his side, she’s so ready to get back to America. Her sister is still on the front lines. He wants to tell her that Queenie will be fine, she’s proven she can hold her own, but they’re trying to look tough right now so he holds his peace.

And then finally, finally, he and Tina are back to New York and vomiting on the familiar streets of their home.

In the fifteen minutes it took for them to get there and back again most of the rioting has been contained and the building is at least stable. Graves is approached by a Hitwizard telling him that there’s an Arnold Rothstein and a whole gang of armed men outside the magical barrier who are there to ‘help contain the kookiness’ and don’t believe the illusion that they’re looking at is true.

“Let him in,” Graves says. “We need all the help we can get.”

The mobsters take direction exceptionally well, and with their help backing up the Aurors things start to settle down pretty fast.

“I’m going to have to erase all their memories,” Graves says apologetically to Rothstein. They’re standing on the sidelines of the chaos, directing the others. The adrenaline from his duel with Grindelwald has worn off and he’s suddenly exhausted. He sits down on a chunk of stone and takes a little break. “You must have figured that out.”

Considering he’s just learned that magic is real, seen an actual unicorn, and watched the Aurors rebuild the Woolworth building one stone at a time, Rothstein seems to be taking it all pretty well.

“So, that old crank Barebone was right, there actually are witches in America,” Rothstein says.

“Wizards, if they’re men,” Graves says. “But yeah.”

“Huh,” Rothstein says, putting his hands into his pockets. “Well. I guess I know what government you work for now. You planning on erasing my memory too?”

Graves wipes sweat and masonry dust off his face with his scarf. “Probably not. I could use a liaison in the no-maj world and you seem like a man to know. No-maj means no-magic. A non-wizard.”

“Yeah, I got that.”

They watch as Newt finally corrals Laurence back into the suitcase while giving Credence a dressing down that Graves can hear quite clearly because Newt is so upset he’s yelling. How beasts are not war weapons, and it wasn’t right to endanger Laurence…Graves tunes him out. He can’t be mad about something that probably helped win the day. Credence has his arms crossed and looks deeply unimpressed but is taking all the shouting with great equanimity.

The street’s a wreck, everyone standing is bloodied and dusty and tired, and it’s chaos. But Graves can’t take his eyes off Credence. If Graves wasn’t so tired he would go over there, and kiss him in front of everyone. His beautiful, remarkable, wonderful man.

Rothstein clears his throat and Graves drags his attention back to him. “What are you, exactly, in this magical government of yours?” Rothstein asks.

Graves wracks his brain to remember how the no-maj government works. “The Federal Bureau of Investigations?” he says at last. “Is that right? I’m the head of the magical version.”

Rothstein gives a low whistle. “Didn’t think I’d ever have someone like that on my side.”

“Well,” Graves says, “we don’t have Prohibition and our government isn’t concerned with no-maj crime so long as it doesn’t have anything to do with us. We keep to ourselves.”

“I can see why,” Rothstein says. “Folks don’t generally care for people who are different than themselves.”

Graves smiles as Credence finally gets clear of Newt and makes his way over to them.

“Hello, Mr. Rothstein,” Credence says and the two shake hands. “Thanks so much for coming.”

“You called him?” Graves says, incredulous.

The last of the no-maj rioters are being taken into the building across the street to be Obliviated and set loose. There’s a wizard Vanishing all the dust and debris that have turned the street white as ash. In an hour or two there’ll be no sign anything happened at all.

Credence shrugs. “When I was in the suitcase, Newt was explaining Rappaport’s Law to me. He said the reason wizards were so scared was because of the numbers. And Miss Tina told him that there was going to be a big riot. I don’t think I was supposed to hear that bit, but I thought if the wizards were so outnumbered you’d need backup. And I didn’t know who else to call.”

“I thought he was nuts,” Rothstein admits.

Graves frowns at him. “So why did you come?”

“I told him he could keep the guns,” Credence says.

Graves looks around. Somehow all the Tommy Guns have mysteriously disappeared. “They’re not getting out of here without going past the Obliviators,” he says. Legally, he has absolutely nothing to do with no-maj affairs but morally he’s not sure he wants a whole shipment of fully automatic submachine guns out on the streets of New York. “You can’t keep them.”

Rothstein chuckles. “I didn’t figure I could after seeing all this. But the offer made me curious enough to come.”

“I’m glad you did,” Graves says, and offers his own hand. “But you keep this to yourself, understand?”

“I don’t like threats, Mr. Graves, but I get your point,” Rothstein says. “And you owe me another.”

“Deal,” says Graves.

xxx

He takes Credence home with every intention of going right back to MACUSA but Credence is having exactly none of it. He stands in front of the door, bodily blocking Graves from leaving.

“It’s late,” Credence says. “You’re exhausted.” He pushes Graves a few paces back with a hand on his chest and then starts stripping down in the hallway because they’re both filthy.

Graves stands there like a lump, watching instead of doing anything, and then remembers he can just use the Scouring charm on them both. He’s too tired for wandless magic, and even the thought of using his wand makes him droop a little. The duel and two long-distance portkeys drained him and he’s not sure he could so much as light a candle right now.

“Everyone’s tired,” Graves says. “I’m the Director, I have to be there.”

Credence, down to his union suit, stops undressing himself and starts helping Graves out of his clothing. “Are you going to help fix the building?” Credence says, slipping Graves’ cufflinks out of the buttonhole. “Or heal the wounded?”

Graves frowns a little. “No,” he says.

“Are you going to Obliviate the remaining no-majes?”

“No,” Graves says. “Credence—”

Credence glares at him. “Are you going to do anything other than wander around getting in the way of people who already know what they have to do? Because I think it would be better if you cleaned up, ate something, and rested, so that tomorrow you can go back to MACUSA and deal with the people who caused the explosions.”

It’s a pretty compelling argument. Seraphina is already on her way back to New York. She can hold the fort for the night.

“Besides,” Credence says, “we need to talk about the fact that you sent me away when you needed me the most and nearly died.”

Graves has the sinking feeling he’s about to get the chewing out of a lifetime. “Darling,” he says.

“Don’t,” Credence snaps. “You’re going to listen to me and you’re going to answer my questions.”

Graves holds out his hands in a placating gesture. “I was trying to protect you.”

“I know that,” Credence says. “Tina says you have shell-shock. Is she right?”

Graves tugs at his tie, forgetting to take off the pins first and nearly strangles himself. Credence bats his hands away and does it himself.

“Do you have shell-shock?” Credence says.

“Yes,” Graves says. There’s no point in denying something they both know is true. Credence has seen his nightmares, and the way he was after the ICW showed his memories, and he saw him collapsed in Copperhead’s office. He can’t hide it any more.

“Are you going to do something about it?” Credence says and starts unbuttoning Graves’ shirt.

His initial reaction is to say ‘no’ and that he doesn’t need to because Grindelwald is gone now. But he’s not an idiot and he can see Credence is about two seconds away from being really angry with him.

“I probably should,” he hedges.

Credence looks extremely displeased.

“I’ll see a healer,” Graves says.

Credence undoes Graves’ belt and the buttons of his fly. “And you’ll do what they tell you? You’ll promise me?”

Graves shrugs out of his vest, and shirt, and undershirt. “Okay,” he says. “Okay, sweetheart. I promise.”

Credence doesn’t seem placated. “You sent me away,” he says again. He strips out of the rest of his own clothing, sweaty, and dusty, and a little bit bloodspattered, and drags Graves after him to the bathroom.

Graves follows meekly after him and gets into the tub when Credence points at it.

“This is where you explain yourself,” Credence says, and gets in as well.

Graves never wants to think about what Grindelwald said to him in that cell ever again, but he tells Credence what happened as they scrub the dirt and dust off. “I had to protect you,” Graves finishes.

Credence, who is facing him at the other end of the tub passes him the shampoo with more violence than Graves thinks is warranted. “I survived being orphaned, and Mary-Lou, and Grindelwald, and I survived the President and several Aurors trying to kill me. And that was before I knew I was magic, and how to protect myself.”

Graves can’t meet his eyes. “He was going to pretend to be me.”

“And you thought I’d be fooled?” Credence sighs and leans back in the tub. “You thought I’d be fooled.”

“Even if you weren’t,” Graves says. “I was afraid he would hurt you.”

“I’ve been hurt before,” Credence says dismissively. “And you would come and get me.”

Graves isn’t too tired to be a little bit angry as well. He looks up then, catching hold of one of Credence’s hands. “I had Seraphina on one side and Grindelwald on the other, both thinking you could be their weapon. I knew I could hold the President off, she’s not a maniac, she’d be swayed by laws, and reasonable arguments, but what if Grindelwald captured me? What if he threatened to hurt me? Would you do what he wanted then? Would you let Seraphina turn you into something monstrous?”

“No,” Credence says and Graves is surprised. Credence actually rolls his eyes at him. “I’m not like you, I’ve learned to ask for help. I would have gone to Copperhead, and Tina, and Queenie, and Newt. And Copperhead would get the rest of the Aurors, and we all would have come to get you back.”

Graves doesn’t know what to say to that.

Credence reaches out and pushes a stray strand of hair off his face. “Oh, Percival. It’s not weakness. Why is it weakness if you need help but not if someone needs your help?”

He doesn’t have an answer for that either.

Credence scoots closer and kisses him. “You should apologize to me now,” he suggests.

“I can’t,” Graves says. “I won’t apologize for trying to keep you safe.”

“Then apologize for being a stubborn idiot,” Credence says, but his expression has lightened and he’s smiling, just a little thing at the corner of his mouth.

Graves pulls Credence closer until they’re together at the centre of the tub, Credence in his lap. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he confesses. “I thought you’d disappear from me and I thought Grindelwald would kill me, but at least he wouldn’t have you. I thought Newt would take you to that fortress of a school in England.”

Credence wraps his arms around Graves and holds on. “You should have told me,” he says. “You should have asked me what I wanted.”

They sit like that for a while before the day catches up with them both and Credence yawns. He pulls back, looking surprised at his own tiredness.

“Take me to bed,” he says. “Promise you won’t push me away any more.”

Graves helps him out of the tub and wraps them both in towels. “I’m sorry I’m a stubborn idiot,” he says. “I’ll try not to be.”

Credence yawns again, nearly tripping over his own feet as he shuffles towards the bedroom. “You’re not supposed to test God by asking for miracles,” he says. “But as long as you try.”

Graves swats him on the backside for his sass and crawls into bed. Credence flops over him, head on his chest, tucked in against his side.

“What do you want?” Graves asks.

Credence hums softly, settling in. “I want this,” he says. “I want you.”

“Okay.” It’s easy to promise to give Credence something he already has. “I love you,” he says.

Credence huffs out a little laugh. “Don’t sound so surprised,” he says. “I’ve known that for a while. Are you going to be surprised when I tell you I love you too?”

“No,” Graves says, even though he is, a little bit.

xxx

When Graves gets to MACUSA the next morning it’s like nothing ever happened. The building is in pristine condition. He hunts Red down and demands to know how that’s even possible, and how much of it is a temporary illusion.

Red glares at him like he’d insulted his mother. “Wizards,” Red scoffs. “Don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.”

He takes Graves up to Seraphina’s office and basically kicks him out of the elevator.

It’s early, barely five am, but she seems more surprised that he’d gone home to rest at all. “I went to see Copperhead at the hospital and she filled me in,” Seraphina says and pours him a coffee. “She’s fine, resting at home now, and that’s only because her wife came to the hospital and threatened divorce if she didn’t come home for at least twenty-four hours.”

Graves slumps a little in his chair. He hadn’t expected something as mundane as a few bullet wounds to kill a powerful witch, but he’d been a little worried anyway. “Good,” he says. “We could all use a break.”

Seraphina laughs in his face. “I think that boy is actually good for you,” she says. “I haven’t heard you so laid-back since things were going well with Blackquill.”

He scowls at her and she only laughs harder.

“I’m taking a vacation,” he says to spite her, and then realizes he means it.

She blinks, startled. “You’re serious,” she says.

“As an Unforgiveable,” Graves says. “As soon as the reports are filed, and I’ve made my statements to MACUSA, I’m taking Credence somewhere hot and we’re going on vacation.”

Seraphina recovers admirably. “If you think that’s going to get you out of being evaluated by a healer then you’re sorely mistaken. If you’re not fit for duty then I’ll have to fire you. But take your holiday. We can do that when you’ve had a rest.”

“No rest yet,” Graves says and they both sigh. “What’s the damage?”

In the end, Graves, the Aurors, and Rothstein’s surprisingly helpful gangsters contained everything by the skin of their teeth and Rappaport’s Law was upheld. The final toll is a thousand dead and eight thousand injured.

MACUSA is upright, although the goblins are pissed off about their handiwork being blown up and the eagles in the lobby are all screeching at people whenever someone tries to polish them.

There were three Grindelwald supporters at MACUSA and one in the ICW. One of them is dead, the rest are imprisoned. Certainly some of those helping Grindelwald escaped since no one was sure who they were, but Graves isn’t worried about that. The Aurors will run them to ground.

“Where was he hiding his wand?” Graves asks.

“Apparently he’d stashed it in the Lost and Found,” Seraphina says.

“Well,” Graves says. “We never would have found it in there. That place hasn’t been cleared out since the building was erected.”

Seraphina looks like he wants to hit him, just a little bit

“All things considered,” Graves says. “It could have been worse.”

“We needed help from an Obscurial, a unicorn, and a no-maj criminal,” Seraphina says. “We need to do better.”

“Credence is a wizard,” Graves says.

He doesn’t care for the expression on her face. The sooner he and Credence go on holiday the better.

xxx

Newt comes to Graves’ office later that day, nearly in tears, because British laws say that he has to put Laurence down since he’s killed both magical and non-magical humans, and he’s afraid to release him in America because of their laws about magical beasts.

“I don’t know what to do,” Newt says, hugging his suitcase to his chest. “I won’t let them kill him because Credence talked him into becoming a war horse. It’s not right!”

Graves, who has been writing letters to the families of the fallen Aurors all day, has had about enough of death. “Give him to me,” he hears himself say, without really thinking about it. “My family has an estate with a lot of wooded land and there’s no one there but some House Elves who keep the place standing, and the usual ghosts. He can live there.”

Newt blinks up at him, eyes wide and wet. “What?” he says.

“I said I’ll take him,” Graves says figuring he might as well be hanged for a sheep than a lamb. “There aren’t any other unicorns, but at least he’ll be alive.”

“Male unicorns are solitary,” Newt says. “The females form herds but the males usually keep to themselves. He’ll be fine.” Then, “Really?”

“Really,” Graves says. “But only if you get that suitcase out of my city before Seraphina sees you and takes it from you, because I am going to use up every bit of her goodwill keeping Credence out of MACUSA’s clutches, and she’s not happy about the illegal animals you have in there. I won’t have enough capital to save them too.”

Newt actually tries to hug him.

“I won’t forget this, Mr. Graves,” he says shaking Graves’ hand over-enthusiastically. “And if you have time maybe we could talk about some of the laws about all the creatures that America is endangering…”

Graves takes his hand back. “Write me a letter,” he says. “From England. Invite Tina to come visit you. I bet she’d say yes.”

Newt goes bright pink. It clashes with his hair.

xxx

Graves goes home at the end of the day, tired, and sad about the dead Aurors, and the sudden owner of a unicorn. He’ll have to take a trip out to the old family manor which he’s not exactly excited about. He hasn’t been there since his mother passed.

But when he gets in the door, Credence is waiting for him with a whiskey and a kiss and it all seems a little bit more manageable.

“How do you feel about boats?” Graves says, trading his shoes for his slippers and then pushing Credence up against the door like that first time and getting his hand into Credence’s trousers.

“Boats?” Credence echoes, clutching at his shoulders. “Um…They’re…fine?”

Graves kisses him. “Great,” he says. “Let’s do that, then.”

“What?” Credence says and then moans when Graves starts stroking him off. “Mr. Graves what about boats?”

“Three weeks,” Graves says because it’s going to take about that long for everything at MACUSA to settle down and he wants to buy Credence a suitable wardrobe for warm weather. And he wants to spend a little bit of time in his city, in his home, in his bed. Just to convince himself this is all real. “You’ll find out then.”

Credence nods, but Graves is pretty sure he isn’t really listening any more.

It doesn’t matter. They’re here. After everything, they’re still here.

Chapter Text

It’s cocktail hour on the beach and Graves is sitting at a table watching the sun sink towards the water, backlighting the ship he and Credence are taking their cruise on, along with thirty or so other wizards. They’ve currently on Lanzarote at a small wizarding enclave enjoying first-class service and a spectacular view from a little ‘drinks and hors d'oeuvre’s’ cabana.

A few hours ago, Graves was floating on his back in bathtub-warm, chest deep, clear blue water thinking about nothing at all except how peaceful it was, until Credence swam up underneath him and dunked him.

Of course, that lead to Credence trying to swim away before Graves could grab hold of him, but utterly failing. Credence is one of the worst swimmers Graves has ever seen. He’s all elbows and knees and he splashes around like he’s drowning. It was nothing for Graves to catch him and punish him by groping him mercilessly until Credence stopped trying to get away and started breathlessly trying to convince him to go back to their cabin on the boat.

“And have everyone see you in such a state?” Graves had said, rubbing Credence’s erection through his swimming costume. “What a scandal you would cause.”

Probably not more or less of a scandal than him stroking Credence off in semi-public, but he doesn’t think anyone saw them. And this particular group of vacationers are…not shy about public displays. Graves has caught more than one couple in semi-secluded areas and has politely walked the other way. He expects the same courtesy will be applied even if someone does spot them.

Now, they’re seated at cocktail hour. Graves is in the grey and white suit he swapped out for his usual black and white, since it’s too hot for all that, and Credence is wearing the light pink linen suit Graves picked out for him but has his jacket thrown over one shoulder in a very casual sort of way that Graves finds wildly attractive. They’ll change into black tie for dinner, but for now it’s much more casual. Credence is tan, and healthy, and has cultivated a tidy little Van Dyke beard and moustache that Graves privately thinks is delightful even though it’s a bit wispy.

Graves doesn’t have anything to do other than swim, eat, drink, play silly games with the other passengers, and walk around beautiful locations with a beautiful man on his arm (and fuck him silly in beautiful locations, and in the ocean, and in their cabin on the boat, and anywhere else they can reasonably find privacy). He’s had time to read several books and write letters to friends he’d lost touch with over the years to re-establish contact, and he’s wondering if he ought to write to Seraphina and admit how much he’s enjoying being on vacation. The nightmares haven’t stopped completely, he and Credence still wake each other up, but it’s not every night now, maybe three out of seven. He thinks the rocking of the boat helps their brains remember they’re not where their nightmares say they are.

However, for all that things have been tranquil and idyllic, there is a tiny paper umbrella in Graves’ drink and he’s not entirely sure what do to about it.

It seems like it’s probably going to take an eye out if he tries to get to his beverage without removing it, but he’s not sure of the etiquette. Is there one? Who decided to start decorating cocktails?

Credence reaches over and plucks it out of his glass and tucks it into his own hair, behind his ear. The pink looks striking in contrast to his dark hair, like an exotic flower. “You can’t pick a fight with a paper umbrella,” he says, laughing. “No fights on holiday.” He laughs a lot more these days and Graves’ heart aches sweetly every time he hears it.

“I’ve forgotten the rules,” Graves says, teasing. “I haven’t taken a real holiday in…Not since my Grand Tour after I graduated Ilvermorny.”

“Which means you haven’t taken a holiday for as long as I’ve been alive,” Credence says. “Neither have I, and I’m not scowling at inanimate objects. You just don’t know how to relax.”

Graves raises his eyebrows. He thought he’d been doing very well. “You’re going to teach me how to relax?” he says. “With your vast experience?”

Credence reaches out again and steals the cherry floating in Graves’ drink. He pops it in his mouth, white teeth bared as he plucks out the stem. “Percival…” His eyes go wide. “Oh! It’s sweet!”

“It’s a maraschino cherry,” Graves says. “And you may have all of mine if you like them.”

Credence chews thoughtfully and then wrinkles his nose. “No thank you,” he says.

“You were explaining your expertise on the subject of relaxing,” Graves says. There are no more strange objects in his drink so he takes a sip. It’s sweet, and creamy, and he’s not entirely sure he likes it.

“I,” Credence says with great dignity, “have learned to swim—don’t make that face at me—and can do three and a half different ballroom dances without stepping on your feet. I caught a fish, and pet a tiger, and played shuffleboard and badminton, and have made several new friends, one of whom taught me how to smoke a cigar. I am very adept at relaxing now.”

“Who taught you to smoke a cigar?” Graves says in what he thinks are very casual tones.

Most of Credence’s new friends are young men his own age who like to scandalize him and try to make him as coquettish and silly as they are every opportunity they get. The majority have partners as old or older than Graves himself or seem to be looking for that very arrangement. But there’s one or two unattached older wizards and he suspects that they might be behind this lesson.

He’d let his secretary handle a lot of the booking arrangements and he’s beginning to suspect they’ve been sent on a cruise specifically for older gentlemen and their younger partners. He’d be writing a sternly worded letter, but he thinks it’s done Credence some good to know that they’re not exactly unique. Although, Credence isn’t some silly chit trying to flirt his way into pocket money, and Graves has no intention of trading him in for a younger model even when Credence is old and gray and Graves is older and greyer.

Credence, who has been barefoot like a feral child every opportunity he gets, drags his toes up the inside of Graves’ shin. “Don’t be jealous, Gravelbelly,” he says.

“Hm,” Graves says. “I wish Copperhead hadn’t told you about that.”

“I like it. I think it’s sweet, Newt sent me pictures and you do make the same sort of face as the dragon does when something gets too close to its hoard.”

Sweet not a word anyone has ever used to describe Graves. And now he’s going to have to see these pictures for himself. Ancestors, he’s never going to live that nickname down.

Credence leans over to kiss him, his mouth sticky with the taste of cherries and rum. “It was one of the boys who taught me,” he says, “not who you’re thinking. Charlie said you’d think it looked keen, but it tasted terrible and I said I didn’t need to make you keen.”

“No,” Graves agrees, “you don’t. I’m plenty keen on my own.”

“Hm,” Credence says, mocking. “I don’t know. You might have to show me later.”

“You’re turning into an awful flirt,” Graves says. “They’re a bad influence on you.”

Credence takes Graves’ drink and sips at it. “I suspect you enjoy that,” he says. “Not like this drink. It’s way too sugary for you. Just order a whiskey.”

Behind Credence, the sun hits the dark line where water meets sky. The sky is a soft pink and orange. A breeze stirs the trees and the curls of Credence’s hair. Graves breathes in the ocean air and realizes he’s smiling.

“What?” Credence says, smiling back reflexively.

Graves waves for a waiter so he can order himself a whiskey. “Nothing,” he says. “I’m just happy.”

Credence laughs at him, because he’s terrible, and Graves loves him fiercely.

“I know you are,” Credence says, with great affection. “I am too.”

 

The end.