Credence goes south. That's all he knows, lost in the haze and fury. Time has less and less meaning than it did before, and he prefers it that way. There’s no start, so there’s no end.
The wind whips around him, through him. Form has less meaning as well. Ever since the wizards hit him with the light that shredded and scattered him, he’s had trouble maintaining either of his two normal shapes for very long, stuck in a strange half life instead. Half man, half boy. Half whole, half smoke. Half alive.
Terrain, weather, they all change. Credence keeps going, pushing himself away and away from all of it. His mother, his sisters- Graves. The man pretending to be Graves.
Credence flies south, and stays there.
“I’m not sure this is edible,” he murmurs, turning the fruit over and over in his hands. He’s in enough of his solid shape that he has hands, up a tree about fifty feet off the ground with no way down but to drop, or fly. There’s no one else to talk to, so he talks to Modesty. “Then again, I don’t know if I have to eat. I don’t think I have. Maybe if I knew how long-”
A ripple runs through him, bunching and stretching his muscles, and he cuts himself off with a gasp, folding over to press his forehead to his knees. The magic rips through him at will, unconfined now that he knows it’s there. The fruit slips from his fingers, dropping down and down. He’s already exploding by the time it hits the ground, unfolding from his shape and fading into the air.
Credence disperses himself, spreading out as thinly as possible before drawing back in. It’s ironic that this is the side of himself he has the most control over now, when he didn’t even realize it was happening before. He tries to say as much to his sister and realizes that he doesn’t have a mouth. Cold fear runs through him, and he coalesces against his will, becoming a man again as suddenly as he had stopped.
The bare ground is cold against his back. Credence looks up at the sky blankly, now spread eagled on the forest floor. It’s almost silent. His outburst has scared every animal away for miles. The only sounds are the wind and the water.
He sits up, caught by the momentary point of interest. “Water?” Last he knew, he hadn’t been anywhere near the giant river he found before. It’s the most interesting part of his existence now, the sudden changes. Here, the worst it will be is the sudden shock of finding a dead animal or coming back to himself in a strange place. There are no people to hurt here.
Credence picks his way over to the rushing sound as his bones shake and his muscles fight their solid ways, halfheartedly trying to avoid the worst of the thorns and bushes. It makes no real difference. His clothes are ruined beyond repair already, and any wounds he sustains seem to fade on their own in between smoke and flesh. His palm tingles with memory and he clenches his hand shut as he finds the place where the trees thin out.
When he does, the sight strikes him dumb. The river is wider than the Hudson by tens of meters, and wider than the stretch of the river he had seen before, if it even was the same one. The rawness of it, the power he can feel under the surface. He drifts forward, coming to the edge. He could live in the water, stay as smoke and let the current carry him straight into the ocean.
Credence reaches the edge and leans forward, then startles so badly when he sees his reflection he nearly falls in. He pulls away, heart pounding, and then leans back. Shouldn't he have aged? He feels along the lines of his face, curiosity getting the best of him. He doesn't know how long it's been, but surely it had been long enough to change him.
He shakes his head. “No.” Hadn’t he seen the forest change? There are no seasons, but should there have been? He bites his lip, backing away from the edge. “How long-”
Had he only been here for a few weeks? Days?
Credence turns and lets go all at once, rushing back into the trees where it’s safe, and never goes back to the river again.
But time does pass. He knows this because eventually Graves, or that Grindelwald wearing his face, finds him.
“Credence?” Graves calls out, as though he had just stopped by the house for a visit. The sight of him burns. It’s Graves as Credence had known him in New York. The same voice, the same face.
Credence watches from above, trying to stay still and silent, gripping the tree branch so hard he feels the bark dig into his skin. Below, Graves continues to walk along the forest floor, wand out even as he keeps calling his name. “Credence, are you here? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Credence presses his lips together, old pain bubbling up to the surface. With it comes a fierce longing, so much so that his fingers itch with the desire to touch, to come down and go wherever the man asks. But Credence had seen him change into a different man, a more dangerous man. He doesn’t know what to do. Graves stops, arm raised and head cocked as if Credence had said it out loud. Maybe he had.
Graves looks up, and Credence explodes into smoke and energy, surging down to the ground.
He puts up a fight, all instinct and fear, and loses.
Credence wakes up in a cell.
For a moment he feels frozen all the way down to his core, struck still by the shock of not being in the trees anymore, in missing the warmth of the endless forest, of not knowing where he is. Then the fear hits when he realizes what must have happened and he lets go, ready to split into a million pieces and tear the place apart. But nothing happens.
Credence sucks in a shocked breath, panic taking root in his chest, it’s familiar, his constant companion, only this time there’s no letting it out. The magic hums under his skin, buzzing and spinning, but he’s stuck, trapped. It's worse than the moment he realized that he was the thing terrorizing the city. Then, he was terrified of breaking apart, of completely losing himself to the dark spiral. This is much worse.
He doubles over, trying and failing to reach it, that center of himself, to break apart. He can feel it happen inside, the sensation of weightlessness, of nothingness in his extremities, but it doesn't spread. It just snaps back violently, jarring him back into his flat self. No smoke in his bones, just this still, oppressive solidity.
Breathing so hard that his head spins, he grips his knees tightly and forces himself to bend further, over balancing and landing on the floor. The shock of pain where there should be nothing enrages him, making him shake harder, but it doesn't do anything. Credence slams his fist into the floor and screams, desperate to change, to collapse. Nothing happens.
Grindelwald. Graves must have done this. Credence’s limbs give out from the strain of the magic pushing him from the inside, stuck. His insides are torn through, leaking out of him. He must have figured out a way to lock Credence into himself, to control his magic. At the thought, he turns his head and sees Graves watching him from the other side of the bars, looking almost bored.
He raises his eyebrows when he catches Credence looking. “You stop that, Credence, or you’ll hurt yourself.”
Credence stares at him, frozen on his hands and knees. Like an animal. “What are you- why-”
“Did you think I had forgotten you?” He smiles, a wolf smile, and a far cry from the one Credence had gotten used to. It’s so jarring on his familiar face that Credence looks away and notices that his arms are shaking.
Graves, he still looks like Graves, sighs. “You’re still important, Credence, more than you know.”
Credence’s magic gives another, desperate push, bending his back out and then deflating. He gasps. “I know what I am.”
“I don’t believe you do.” Graves taps his knuckles on the bars. “I apologize it took so long. I feel terribly rude, but I had to make sure I could contain you before I came back for you. It took a few years. Not to mention the escape.”
Credence tries and fails to stand up, so dizzy he can hardly breathe. His knees knock together. Years. It had been years. He holds his breath, trying once again to explode. It doesn’t work.
Credence screams, cries, trying to force himself out of this shape, out of the cell.
When he looks up again, exhausted and afraid, Graves is gone. Not Graves. Credence reminds himself, sick to his stomach with fear and anger and nowhere for it to go.
Whoever he is, he keeps Credence locked away. Credence yells, begs, stops eating, and it does nothing.
He doesn’t know how long it goes on.
There are no markers for time. The cell is windowless, the only light coming from beyond the bars, just a constant flicker that drives him mad.
The walls hum with an energy that he previously confused with sound, a ringing in his ears. He'd never been in a place that feels this way before. He’d never been in a place that feels like anything, but this stone is alive. It takes what he gives and it hates him.
Though it goes against his instincts he tries to die, to end himself out of spite and the last hope that maybe it will hurt Graves a fraction of the amount that Graves had hurt him, like taking his favorite toy away. But he can’t. Food, sleep, light. He has no requirements now. Somehow, Graves had bypassed pet and prisoner and made him into an object.
The numbness comes back, but Graves doesn’t.
He used to think that he knew what isolation was. Back at the church, he spent a lot of time alone. Sometimes, he would sit in the dark and quiet and just shake, unable to scream for fear that his mother would hear. He thought he knew what it was to be afraid. He hadn’t known anything.
The cell is wide enough to fit two of him laying down. He spends a lot of time on the floor, beats his hands so that they should be a bloody mess, though nothing happens, and talks to his mother now instead of his sister.
It hurts too much to talk to her now. He misses her so badly it makes his chest constrict and his head spin.
It hurts to talk to his mother, too. He had killed her. Her love had almost killed him, and he repaid her with the realization of her exact fears. He barely spared her a thought before, absurdly grateful to be done with her malice, her disdain.
He rolled his head against the uneven stone, feeling the cold seep in. It must have been cold, dying like that. Who organized her funeral? Who attended? The women who was a living nightmare for him, who tried to beat the wickedness out of him. No one loved her but him.
“I didn’t know, ma.” Credence’s voice is rough from misuse, alternating between long silences and longer screams. “If this is what magic is, I don’t want it. I want to go back.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Credence sits up so fast something in his neck cracks. He opens his mouth, desperate to respond, the keep Graves here and talking to him after so long with nothing at all. Was it years again? He doesn’t know. But nothing comes out. Graves looks at him in silence for a long moment before turning away again.
“No- please.” Credence gets to his feet and throws himself at the bars, nearly falling onto the floor again when they swing open unexpectedly. He stands there, struck dumb by the sudden change in perspective until Graves calls for him from farther down the hall.
“Are you coming?”
Credence blinks after him. Graves looks the same as the day he introduced himself to Credence on the street, a block from their church. Exactly the same. He looks away, eyes stinging.
Fingers touch his face and Credence jumps, looking up and straight into Graves’ eyes.
“It’s still me,” he says, drawing his hand along Credence’s face. Credence wants to leans away, but he doesn’t. Graves smiles and turns around again. “Come along.”
Credence makes himself let go of the bars and walk forward, trying to leave his pain behind him in the cell. He fails. But then, ma always said he was a failure.
The Obscurus hangs suspended in the corner of the room, trapped in some sort of living bubble. The blackness shifts and swirls, not trying to get out, just pulsing with a constant energy and motion. Credence stares at it, momentarily confused as to how a part of himself was cut away without him noticing until Graves explains. “That one isn’t you, if you were wondering.”
Credence hadn’t been, not really. He can still feel the darkness inside him, swirling and churning. Just stuck.
Graves produces a wand from inside his coat and pulls the Obscurus to him. It almost looks like a bug in a jar. “I retrieved that from a British wizard in New York. Unfortunately it has been rendered inert.”
The memories filter in slowly, batches of confused, overlapping images. “I know, I met him,” Credence says, still watching it roll and hum with obvious energy. Credence recognizes the power, though its dampened in this one. Young, almost. Still, it’s more than he can muster now.
Graves hums and moves to the long table at the back of the room, bigger and grander than anyplace Credence had ever been, even the newspaper. The walls are paneled with wood, the floors waxed to a shine. The entire space drips with an understated wealth, and hums with a magical undercurrent even he can feel. It’s odd after spending so long in stone and metal.
He watches Graves fix a drink, so incongruously normal after everything else that he gets a wave of vertigo and drops his eyes to his feet. No shoes, those had long worn away. For the first time, he wonders why he was let out of the cell. What does Graves need for him that he can’t simply take? He looks up, suddenly suspicious, and finds Graves watching him, distracting by the simple fact of his existence. Credence bristles. He wants him to react, to move when Credence pushes him.
Credence narrows his eyes at him, the wave inside him spilling over and out of his mouth. “Why do you still look like that?”
Graves fixes him with a look that freezes him in place. Literally, he realizes, when he finds that he can’t move his arms, can hardly even breathe. Graves approaches him slowly. “Is this really the only thing you can focus on now? I bring you to-”
He cuts himself off, glaring over at the ball of darkness in the corner before refocusing on Credence. “I only look like this to you. To me, and to everyone else, I look like myself.”
“Which is who, exactly? Grindelwald? I don’t know-”
A hand lands over his mouth, cutting him off. It's warm, warmer than anything Credence has felt in a long time, and he gasps, opening his mouth under the skin. The last person to touch him was Graves, too.
Graves smiles and slides his hand back to grip the back of his neck. “Now you’re asking the right questions.”
Nurmengard, he eventually learns, is the name of his prison. The dark wizard Grindelwald’s stronghold. He’s the terror of Europe, trying to take over the Wizarding world for the greater good of their kind.
Credence doesn’t know what to think anymore, except that maybe his mother was right after all.
The devil lives here, possessing these halls. Even if magic really is just a tool as Graves says, it can surely be used for evil purposes. Credence himself had used it for murder. The magic here is tainted with what it’s used for. It sticks to the walls, staining them with the echo of what they've done.
Maybe that’s why he couldn’t find any peace in the forest. He needed to rebalance himself. The crime of murder demands punishment, and now he lives out his penance in a custom prison designed just for his kind. The outer walls are the same stone of his cell, and the view from the windows is endless dark water.
He’s not the only prisoner, more arrive every day. Enemies of the new order. Political prisoners, Credence knows, but doesn’t say. They go down to the cells, never to be bothered with again. Thrown away like so much trash.
Credence is the only one with a measure of freedom. He’s given a room, though he never feels the need to sleep, or to eat. Crying had lost its effectiveness weeks ago, he no longer feels the accompanying release, or the physical exhaustion. It leaves him with a lot of free time to think, and the experience grows to become not unlike his time in the forest, except that Graves occasionally summons him with the necklace he gave to him a million years ago. It grows hot on Credence’s chest, sometimes to burning, and stops once he delivers himself to the nicer rooms.
Credence sits in a chair across from Graves, who is working at his desk again. Sometimes, frequently, he seems to call Credence just because he can. Although, Credence thinks, a hand curled under his chin. It could also be to reinforce the spell he puts on me, whatever it is. He considers not answering the next time Graves calls, but the idea holds little appeal. Graves would only come and find him, and Credence would live to regret it. There’s always the possibility that Graves puts him back in the cage, and they both always know it.
Graves continues writing throughout Credence’s musings, seemingly oblivious to his presence. It’s more upsetting than being attacked. Credence used to have Graves’ full attention, now he makes due with scraps from an imposter. Bitterness claws its way up his throat, the way the Obscurus used to when he had access to it, so Credence lets it out.
“Was Graves ever real?”
Graves glances up at him, blank faced.
Credence doesn’t flinch. “Was he real or did you make him up?”
It blinks. Dark hair, pale skin, dark eyes. Dark like the patches on Credence’s skin, blooming bruises that never fade, perfectly black. He never would have thought of it. How do you make up an entire person? Credence can’t even imagine. He wouldn't know where to start.
The man behind the desk curls a hand under his chin. “He was real, an agent of the Magical Congress I came across with the right credentials. I killed him.”
Credence sucks in a sharp breath, bracing himself for pain and feeling an astonishing lack. A nothingness he would have killed for in the past. It just makes him tired now. “Oh. Did I know him?”
Graves smiles, and it’s so awful Credence looks away. “No. It was always me.”
Credence nods and resolves to go back to silence until the next time. It’s easier. Anything is easier.
Graves looks back down at his desk. “Anything else?” He sounds bored.
Credence blinks and looks back, surprised. It takes him a moment to come up with something, as unaccustomed as he is to being asked open ended questions. “Did you really see me standing next to you in New York?”
Graves doesn’t look up. “No.”
This pain is just an echo of what he’d felt before, when he was a stupid child whose biggest fear was his own mother.
That provokes a response. Graves looks up and looks him over. He settles back in his chair. “Perhaps.”
“What do you want?” Graves asks him out of the blue. They're in the study again, Credence sitting quietly while he paces, occasionally stopping to point his wand at the desk, where a large stone object sits. Spellcasting.
Credence blinks, shocked at being addressed. Sometimes, often, he goes days without speaking or being spoken to. It’s almost a surprise to find that his voice still works. “What?”
“You heard me. If you could have your way, what would that be? Would you be back in the rainforest? Living as nothing?”
“No,” Credence answers without thinking. He looks down, down at himself, and startles to find his hand is gone. Turned to smoke? But no, it’s there. He clenches it against his leg, feeling each finger. It’s there, just turned black, blending right into the pants. He lifts it to the light, and sees only the void of himself.
“I would be standing beside you.” Credence drops his arm, the truth burning from the inside even as he says it. Even as he’s changing in ways he doesn’t understand. “Wherever it is you go, I’d go with you.”
Graves stares at him. After a long time he sighs and rubs at his face. He looks older, but Credence always looks the same. “Would that you were worthy,” Graves says, almost wistfully.
Credence feels a hot stab of emotion, of soul sucking pain, but it fades away again in an instant. He feels nothing, empty. The contrast is so jarring that he suddenly understands. He jerks his chin up. “Are you doing this to my feelings?”
Graves gives him a pointed look and goes back to his work. Credence glares at him from the high backed chair he's sitting in, but his heart isn't in it. Apparently, it can't be.
After a few minutes, Graves yells so loudly the room rattles, flips the object onto the floor and stalks over to Credence. He pulls out his wand and points it at him. It used to unsettle him, but now Credence just looks back calmly, waiting for whatever comes. Sometimes it’s nothing, or it hurts, or it takes everything away. His status as an object hadn’t expired when Graves let him out of the cell, now he’s just more accessible.
Today, his muscles and bones strain until they snap. It dumps him from the chair onto the floor, a heap of writhing, pathetic pain. His entire self rips open in an open wound, then snaps back together. Nothing changes. His soul. It’s on the inside. Graves makes a frustrated sound and drops the wand.
Credence goes limp, a puppet with the strings cut. It's plain that Graves is doing something to Credence, something bigger than just keeping him still, or at least trying to, but Credence thinks that he needs his more active participation. Something Credence is unwilling to give. Graves seems to realize this, because he lowers himself in a crouch with a hard edged smirk.
“I can make you more than you are. You won’t stand next to me in New York, but what about London? Belgrave? Sofia?”
He drifts closer, leaning in to breathe the same air, stealing it right from his lips.
“What if I could grow to love you?”
Credence stares at the ceiling and wishes he could go back to a version of himself that didn’t know better. Then he could just believe, the way he believed in God, like a child, open and innocent. “You won’t. You can only love power.”
Graves doesn’t even try to deny it. “There are worse things to love.”
His laugh is dark, and all consuming.
It was only ever a matter of time. Credence knew what he was doing not so long after he was let out of the cage. Graves wore him down with fear first, then followed it up with abject emptiness. An offer of partnership. Power. Eventually, he hits on the right offer.
“You want happiness, peace,” Graves mutters, pulling his fingers through Credence’s hair, still short after all this time. “What if I let you have it? Take it?”
Credence looks up, and Graves smiles. That's how Credence knows he'll do it. Under the right circumstances he'll do anything for this man, he always has.
“No more fear, no more pain, ever.” Graves kisses his cheek. “Only the good feelings.”
He turns his face and kisses the other side, his hands holding Credence’s neck, supporting it. He’s been weak, lately. The changes are a drain, even when they’re incomplete. “A kiss is the best weapon. Did you know that?”
Credence did, and he used to think, to hope, that it was a tool pointed on both ends, that Graves would wound himself just as grievously. Now he knows it won’t.
“What do you need me to do?”
Graves grins, all teeth. It sends a flinch down his spine, jarring him to the core. “Anything, everything I say.”
“The first Obscurus I encountered,” Graves says, in the tone he takes when he’s really talking to himself, and continues to mark runes in the stone floor near Credence’s feet. “She was strong, but not like you.”
Credence doesn’t respond, barely feels anything in response to the words. There are others like him. He’s not alone, but he is.
“What do people fear, Credence? Is it monsters?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course you do.” Graves looks up at him. “You carry a tremendous amount of fear.”
Credence averts his eyes, but they’re pulled back in. “Not anymore.”
Graves stares at him blankly, dirty blond hair getting in his eyes. Credence frowns. Blond. Graves isn’t blond. Or maybe he is, and Credence is forgetting things. He’s forgetting what he used to look like too. The image from the river, so long ago, swims in front of his eyes. Darkness covers half of his face, obscuring his left eye, hanging there in the black.
Credence looks away, back towards the window. Outside, the land is dry and grey. Weren't they at sea? He doesn't remember.
“People, Credence, fear their own weaknesses. That’s what they hate. Old age, hunger.”
“The four horsemen.”
“Exactly!” Graves yells, so loudly it makes Credence jump, his heart picking up before the magic pulls it back down again.
“Exactly. Why those things? Those...concepts. Famine, pestilence, war.”
Credence reaches out and sets his hand against the glass. “Death.”
Graves waves a hand. “That’s the least important one. Death is release, pain is forever. You understand? I already have a monster. A thing to keep the children up at night.”
Credence blinks, only the least bit curious. He hadn’t seen such a thing in the castle. Graves looks disappointed. “Death is what I wanted you for, in the beginning. I was blind, short sighted to your true potential. You’re not the raw power, you’re the true horror. You’ve felt it already.”
Credence thinks of being in the cell, of trying and failing and trying again to access the power, the helplessness of it, the screaming. He nods.
Graves leans up so he could reach Credence’s face, and draws the back of is hand along Credence’s cheek bone. “I want you to cause fear where you go. Not the childish kind, not the fear of explosions and beasts, you understand, but the fear of the dark, the fear of the hearing your parents fight in the next room. The fear of living, not dying.”
“I understand,” Credence says, and he thinks he really does.
He knows what he's becoming. The Demented ones, the demons. Those creatures that Graves talks about, that he found in the castle, ghostly and horrible. They’d been taken by the enemy, turned to their use in their prison. Graves wants them, but more than that, he wants to know how to make them, and eventually, to control them. Credence is the key to that.
“Destructive capability, flashy, fear causing magic, I can get these from other sources. But the Obscurus is rare, perhaps even utterly unique. Why not use it to gain an army, not one great soldier?” He offers his hand to Credence, pulls him down.
It makes sense.
Credence lies on the floor, marked with magic, and sinks into himself for the last time.
The transformation takes place in stages, pieces of him stripped away one by one. The blackness completely overtakes his skin, blending into the shadows. He doesn’t feel the pain, doesn’t feel anything.
It’s good. Better. Then it just is.
The feeling of the air is changed. His self is more solid, heavier. The weight at the center is balanced. The blackness makes it easy. He doesn’t walk or fly. It carries him where he intends to go. He is one place, then he is another. He is smoke again, holding one shape. Formed from formlessness.
For the first time in his life he is a success. Enough so that Graves feels confident enough to bring him out into the light, which burns.
The world looks different. He follows Graves across the land, removes any obstacles in their path. Vaguely, he remembers his mother. Flesh and blood and bone instead of smoke and lightness. Scars on his hands. His inability to move, to do nothing but cry when Graves found him. He’s so far from that time that it feels like another life entirely.
The disguise has completely fallen away.
“Do something for me.”
He doesn’t say his name anymore.
The house they built for the shadows and castaway people is in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by darkness. He wants the others, wants access to their power. Being around them is peaceful. Inert. He does as he’s told, spiriting them away across the water. The promise of misery with less competition is all it takes to take them.
The prison. The fields. The sky.
They move, and they return.
The promise is kept. He remembers it. He doesn’t remember what was before. Change, most likely.
He is held away from change now. Time is meaningless. The prison, the castle. The ones kept in the cells cry and waste away. He lives inside the walls, watches, listens.
Outside. Sounds. Light. He wants to return to the stone.
Outsiders come, and he kills them when he’s asked. Otherwise, he remains as he is.
Eventually, the worthy one comes and strikes his Master down. Promise keeper. They make him a prisoner in the prison. He sees it and he feels absolutely nothing.
Others move around their space, a flurry of activity where there was stillness before. It’s incorrect. But no one calls him to act, so he remains. They find him. They move him. He watches, listens.
Cells long sealed shut are opened. Lost souls are brought back into the light. They pour over records and spread their magic around.
He hears his name come up on a list of prisoners. It is quickly put in the category of missing, presumed dead. He doesn’t feel or understand enough to explain. Even if he did, speech is a distant memory. Desire even more so.
They move him to another place of stone, back to that other prison. They couldn’t tell him apart from the other dark one, though he knows, somehow, that he is not the same. But Grindelwald was too strong, too clever to leave many traces, and they aren’t looking.
The new prison is much the same. He lives in the halls, along the ground, passing unnoticed wherever he goes. Eventually, the newness stops being so horrible, and becomes the sameness. Peaceable. Still.
Prisoners come and stay and die.
Visitors come and leave and don’t return.
A black shape on four spindles passes him by. He doesn't know what it is.
The magic provides a backdrop of sound and fury, holding them all inside.
Change is rare here, but hateful all the same. The world is flat. Empty. Peaceful in its blankness. Disturbances bring color light and noise and depth. He prefers that it not.
They are no longer used to guard, and the conditions in which they multiply are reduced. The natural made ones whither, their purpose for existing running dry. He is different from them. Still, he endures. A prisoner once again.
They transfer them all to the other prison, where they were made, his first prison. The old stone. Where Credence Barebone died. Nurmengard.
There he stays, endures, and waits.