There was a common misconception in the no-naj communities that magic was evil. In actuality, it was a force of nature, innate to some, that had no morality beyond the will and intent of the user. And it could be used in a lot of different ways.
For instance, a well aimed stunning curse could knock a man senseless. A charm could make him light as a feather and easily moved. A special thing called Transfiguration could be manipulated with incredible skill so that polyjuice would not be necessary for impersonation.
Graves, who had been on the receiving end of such feats, had been sitting in one of the corners, seething as he heard muffled, distant noises from somewhere outside his prison. He cherished the days when Grindelwald could not find the time to visit him.
Although he had no outside light, his ingrained sleep schedule from years of working at MACUSA, and the army before that, helped him keep track of the days. Whatever Grindelwald hoped to achieve in New York while wearing Graves’ face, it was taking weeks. The visits only came when Grindelwald felt he needed new information, or remembered that a hostage needed food and water.
Days without meals meant his body was weaker, but time between onslaughts let his mental barriers heal. Casting was impossible, but his skill with occlumency was the only reason he was still alive. After all, Grindelwald wasn’t particularly familiar with all of America’s Wizarding laws, and infiltrating the high ranks of MACUSA would call for a lot of knowledge.
Groaning, Graves stood and began to stretch out his back. He’d seen people freed from captivity after long stretches of time, had seen the recovery process after all the damage. He did his best to keep as active as the space would allow, so if-- when he was freed, he would pay Grindelwald back tenfold.
It had been nearly three days since Grindelwald last came. In that time, there were miniscule changes in the fabric of the wards, but he lacked the strength to fully test what that could mean for him.
His water was running dangerously low, and he had no more food left. So he stuck to simple stretches that would move his muscles, but not burn through his dwindling reserves of fat. His clothes were already beginning to hang off him as it was.
But then for a moment, he felt completely off balance. It was a similar sensation that he’d felt shortly after Grindelwald imprisoned him. At the time, he assumed that meant his container was being moved. He entertained the briefest hope that his aurors had finally become wise to the situation, and were attempting to break him out.
That was dashed with the muted sound of a fog horn. He hadn’t heard that before. Had he been moved near a ship or docking yard? Graves froze, trying to listen for any voices, but there was nothing. It seemed his container had been moved from its original place.
“No,” he whispered into the quiet. “No, no, no.”
If he was being moved, what did that mean for Grindelwald’s plan? Had he succeeded in whatever he was doing, or had he been killed? Graves had figured that if he was to die in this crate, it would be Grindelwald killing him, and at least he might put up some kind of fight.
But not like this, wasting away in solitude, leaving nothing but a starved, dehydrated corpse…
What some people tended to forget about magic, was that it wasn’t only what one read about in text books. Sure there were the standard spells taught in classrooms to magical children, but there were also people pushing the boundaries, discovering new ways to change the world through imagination and experimentation.
Graves closed his eyes and took deep calming breaths as he tried to recall everything he’d ever learned about counteracting magical dampening.
He had no wand, but he didn’t need one. The magic came from his mind and his blood, but something Grindelwald did to the crate would diffuse the magic the moment it left his fingertips. Chewing his lip, because calming breaths had been working less and less lately, Graves sank to his knees.
It was hard to focus deeply with the gnawing emptiness in his gut. His mind was sharp, but his body was getting weaker every day. Some of the skin gave under his teeth, and he tasted the metallic tang of his own blood. It felt strange to note that he could taste the difference between his malnourished state and before he was captured.
Graves stared hard at the far wall, the one that Grindelwald always entered through. There was no apparent door, but that was where it would appear on the outside. The only way to make it appear to would be the magic he couldn’t use.
No wand, no casting through the air, he had to wonder what was left. Graves winced as he bit too hard on his own lip and he finally reached up to test the damage.
His finger came back with bright red blood, diluted with a little saliva.
“Magic,” Graves said to himself as he looked at this finger, “in the blood.”
He’d heard of people using physical blood with spells, though they were mostly cautionary tales. Don’t use blood magic, so the lessons went. It was a slippery slope from using your own, to hurting other people or creatures, and then to murder and madness.
Graves wasn’t completely above counting himself as mad. He had no way to open his veins beyond his teeth, so Graves crawled to the far wall, biting open his bottom lip until it stung and ached, before turning his gnawing to the thin skin on his fingers.
He knew very few runes or sigils, as they were often considered impractical or unimportant due to the wide usage of wands and simple enchanted items.
Blood filled his mouth, and he frantically swished it with his saliva so that he could use it to draw. All the symbols he could picture, with very little meaning remembered, covered the wall. Graves was beginning to feel light headed as they all dried into place.
“Open,” he growled, trying to channel the magic through the blood. He tried over and over, trying Latin, Greek, Spanish, even Japanese, but he couldn’t get it to respond. Frustration burned him and he slammed his bitten hands against the wall, roaring, “I said open !”
His prison blew apart.
Credence had let his feet lead him, unsure where one could even go to get away from the powerful people who tried to kill him. His first thought had been to return home, but he remembered all that would be left was rubble and death.
His ma was dead, so was Chastity, and Modesty was both missing and terrified of him. Mr. Graves had betrayed him, and the magical world that he’d wanted to so desperately to escape to had tried to kill him. He walked mindlessly, deciding that if the witches were still looking for him, he wouldn’t be able to hide.
Credence had thought he was dead for a while after being obliterated. The state reminded him of Genesis, when the world was without form and void. But the more time passed, the more his physical form began to return.
At first he cried, doubled over in a dirty, wet alley. He had hurt all over, exhausted, hungry, and his clothes were in tatters. He had no one left, not even the man who was supposed to rescue him. It would have been better if he had died.
But then he started to move. Despite wanting nothing more than to lie on the ground until time stopped, Credence rose without thinking of a destination, and he began to walk.
It was as though he was even more invisible than normal. Credence kept his head down, focusing only on being small and slipping through the foot traffic unnoticed. Maybe it was magic that made it possible? Mr. Graves called him a squib, and said he couldn’t do magic, but at the time, he also thought that Modesty was the...monster.
He was accustomed to hearing seagulls from time to time, mixed in with cooing pigeons. But the cry of a gull mixed with the fishy smell of the docks made Credence think. Maybe he shouldn’t stay in the city. Maybe he could get on one of the boats and just sail far away where no one could find him.
In a way, he felt guilty at the thought of leaving Modesty, but he also remembered the way she looked at him. Even if he could find her, she wouldn’t want to see him again.
Credence made up his mind and looked around for a boat that would be departing soon. He spied a freighter that was being loaded with crates and decided to test how far his invisibility could take him.
He shoved his hands into his pockets, his fingers poking out the bottom on one side, and he quickly walked towards the ramp where men were still loading cargo. No one looked at him once.
There were passengers boarding to one side, or maybe they were crew. Credence wasn’t sure, but he knew he didn’t want to hide with too many eyes that could potentially spot him. He ventured to the higher stacks of crates, tucking himself into a corner that was dry enough and well hidden.
He didn’t even realize he’d fallen asleep until a loud sound startled him awake. For a moment he thought he was back to in the monstrous form, but then he saw the stars above and he heard shouting from somewhere on deck.
Credence scrambled to his feet, looking around for the source of the noise so he could move away from it.
A shadow lurched in his periphery and Credence swung around. The air froze in his chest as he saw the figure stumbling away from the splintery remains of a crate.
It looked at him, panting, swaying. “My name is Percival Graves,” the voice was similar but so much lower and pained than Credence ever heard. “I’ve been trapped here for...I don’t know.”
The shouting came closer and Credence began to panic. This Mr. Graves looked different, dirty, with shaggy hair and an unkempt beard. Why was he like this? Had the people who attacked Credence attacked him as well?
A light came from around the corner, and a man holding a lantern startled upon seeing them.
“We aren’t here,” Credence said quickly, wishing hard like he did before; he was invisible, he was unnoticeable. He felt like he was praying fervently like the nights when he was young and only wanted to be a good boy so Ma wouldn’t have to punish him. “You don’t see anything.”
The man looked dazed, blinking rapidly for a moment before he frowned and held up the lantern. Credence held his breath, but the man simply looked around, eyes skimming over both of them before he shrugged and turned away.
“A wizard,” Mr. Graves sighed, sinking to the ground. “Thank Mercy.”
“Sir?” Credence said warily.
“Director Graves, the real one. I don’t know how long I’ve been impersonated, but the dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald has been assuming my identity,” Mr. Graves spoke rapidly, as if he was trying to say it all with one breath.
Credence hesitated before he knelt before Mr. Graves. It was dark, but he was clearly in worse shape even than Credence.
“I need help, please,” Mr. Graves looked at Credence, the dim light catching his eyes through his limply hanging hair. “Can you contact MACUSA?”
Those were words and names from a world he didn’t get to see. But it seemed this man wasn’t at fault for that, if he was to be believed. It would be a good trick, if Mr. Graves or whatever wizard Credence met was trying to get his help.
“I don’t know how, sir,” he whispered. “We’re on a ship. It’s already left.”
Mr. Graves sagged, “shit."
“I’m sorry.” And truthfully, Credence meant it. This man looked like he’d been tortured and stuck in a crate. “Maybe the captain can radio someone?” Although that would mean revealing themselves, and he didn’t know how the captain would react to two stowaways.
“No,” Mr. Graves said, beginning to sound weaker. “No, but if I could borrow your wand, I could-I could--”
Credence caught Mr. Graves as he started to fall back, only to have the weight fall against him instead. His body was so limp that if Credence hadn’t felt Mr. Graves’ breath against his shoulder, he would have worried he’d simply expired.
He shifted, trying to sit back so that he could lower Mr. Graves to the ground. He wasn’t sure what he would have done next beside sit quietly next to him. But then a light came from around the crates again, prompting Credence to turn.
The brightness of the red hair and blue coat were stark in the bright light emanating from the tip of the man’s wand. Credence shrank back despite recognizing the wizard.
He was staring at Credence with wide eyes that couldn’t seem to look at only one spot. He took a couple of steps before he noticed Mr. Graves on the ground.
“Merlin’s beard,” he whispered. “Is that Director Graves?”
Credence nodded, shifting slightly in front of Mr. Graves. He remembered them fighting, and kind as the wizard seemed, it felt wrong to leave Mr. Graves to his mercy. “He said,” Credence croaked, and he had to lick his lips and start again. “He said he was trapped.”
“Kidnapped, yes,” the wizard moved even closer, setting down as suitcase as he knelt next to Credence and Mr. Graves. “The man you met was a very evil wizard who was impersonating him.”
“Why?” Credence asked, watching the man wave his wand over Mr. Graves.
“He, that is Director Graves, is a very important man for the magical government of the United States. He was presumed dead when I left, how did you find him?”
Credence hadn’t meant to ask why the evil wizard impersonated Mr. Graves. He wanted to know why he’d been pulled into it. But this wizard seemed more interested in Mr. Graves. “I think he was in one of the shipping crates,” he said, pointing to the pile of splinters. “One of them exploded and he was here.”
“I see, then Grindelwald was hiding him on the docks. Anyone or anything could get lost there…” He trailed off, muttering words that Credence didn’t recognize.
The grime and dirt disappeared from Mr. Graves’ body, and his clothes began to slowly knit back together. It was like what the imposter did for Credence’s hands when Ma punished him. “Is he going to wake up?” Credence asked, itching to brush some Mr. Graves’ overly long hair off his face.
“Perhaps. This was the best I can do for now, but I’ve some pepper up potion in my case.” The wizard reached for his suitcase and laid it open. “Would you mind helping me with him?”
Credence looked between him and the case. “Help you, oh,” he gasped as the man simply disappeared into it. He crawled over and it was as though he was looking through a window into a room.
The man was moving around, clearing a space and then waving his wand over it. Credence withheld another gasp when the table expanded and then shifted into a plain, little cot.
“Get his head, and I’ll take his legs.”
Credence scrambled back as he emerged from the case up to his waist. He obediently went to prop Mr. Graves up so that he could lift him enough to be dragged into the room.
“Slowly please,” came the wizard’s muffled voice. “I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t want to drop him on the stairs.”
It was tricky, maneuvering Mr. Graves so that his broad shoulders could be eased through. Eventually, Credence was able to lower him mostly inside by his arms, and the wizard told Credence to stand back.
Mr. Graves was abruptly weightless, floating down the rest of the way into the room.
“What are you doing?” Credence poked his head through the opening and watched as Mr. Graves body settled gently on the cot.
“Just a little charm,” the wizard gestured for him to come inside as well. “Don’t worry, Credence. I don’t mean your director any harm.”
Mr. Graves hardly belonged to him. If everything was true, then he’d never even met the real Mr. Graves anyway. It was a relief even as the knowledge stung. One less person who betrayed him because they never actually knew each other.
“Sir,” Credence began.
“Oh please, call me Newt.” Newt paused, “I never introduced myself, did I?”
Credence shook his head.
“I apologize for that. Newt Scamander,” he paused, still fiddling with his wand, but he glanced towards Credence. “Do you...remember me?”
“The subway,” Credence hunched his shoulders. “When I killed those people.”
“No, Credence,” Newt squeezed his wand tightly. “None of that was your fault. Terrible people did evil things to you.”
And the blackness inside him had come out. “I’m evil.”
“You aren’t,” Newt said firmly, turning to Credence. “But you are magic, and you do need help. I meant what I said that night. I want to help you, if you would be willing to let me.”
All of his life, that was all he wanted to hear. He felt his face contort from tears and he reached for Mr. Graves bare ankle. Someone had used this man’s face to make that offer to him. But this one was innocent of all the crimes that were committed that night. Much more innocent than Credence.
“Help Mr. Graves first.”