- Percival Graves -
Forcing away the urge to snarl at Seraphina, I nodded at her frankly utterly ridiculous - and more than a little insulting - request for me to be 'less dark wizard like', and stormed out of her office.
Much like an angry dark wizard would.
Taking a moment to myself in the private bathroom on Seraphina's floor, I ran my hands down my face and choked back a groan. I couldn't deny being compared to Grindelwald was insulting. I also couldn't deny that it...hurt.
Was I really such an insufferable bastard that my oldest friend had to warn me to behave less like a madman who had stolen my face for six months? Was I so monstrous, so bad to work under, that I was being reprimanded when the darkest wizard of our age hadn't been? I had thought it bad enough that it had taken Seraphina almost a year to allow me back into my position of Head of Security, and even then only under the proviso that I report to the Medi-Witches once a week, to ensure I was...well. But then I was accused of being...of being worse than Gellert fucking Grindelwald!
It was fucking ridiculous! Oh, everyone treated me like some kind of fragile, delicate little thing that couldn't handle the world to my face, and then complained to the president as soon as I was out of earshot! Ludicrous. If I was really so bad, they wouldn't dare to say a word...not that they should, in any case. I may not be the warmest of MACUSA's staff...but I had always striven to do the right thing. To be good. To be the change I wanted to see in the world: protecting the innocent and preventing the guilty from getting away with their crimes.
...I was compared to a man obsessed with murder and mayhem.
I honestly thought I preferred it when people thought I was weak. For a while, everyone seemed to have forgotten that I was a man born and bred from a long line of Aurors, had spent years honing my abilities fighting with both magic and hand-to-hand-combat, and that I had one of the best records of any Aurors in MACUSA's history. Now they had remembered all of that: and were suddenly afraid I would turn those abilities on them. As if walking through the Aurors' bullpen could get any more awkward.
All I wanted was to forget that the last eighteen months had ever happened. I knew it wasn't healthy - along with the nightmares, I knew that repressing and emotionally distancing myself from my memories: trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event, were all key symptoms of PTSD. The same with the 'hyper-arousal': the constantly being on-edge, ready for the next attack, making me irritable and unable to sleep or concentrate on anything. But knowing that I was displaying symptoms of PTSD didn't help me deal with it - especially when I seemed to be the only one who noticed it. I had thought I was going insane - without the Healers' confirmation, my suspicions had only deepened the guilt I already felt, made me feel like I was burdening the Auror Department, the Medical Wing, and hell, MACUSA in general.
I wasn't a burden. If they could get past their bullshit, they would see that.
No matter how they saw me - either as a dark wizard or a pathetic dupe - I knew better. Grindelwald had had to work hard to keep me as a captive: I knew it, my summaries of the incident (as well as the evidence from where I had been discovered) had made sure everyone else knew it, and yet I was still regarded with suspicion! As if I had somehow been in on the whole thing.
It was ridiculous.
But there was nothing I could do about it. If I argued, I would be accused of 'protesting too much'. If I hexed everyone who even suggested Grindelwald and I had been in cahoots, I would be seen as trying to silence them - and therefore proving them right. My only recourse was to ignore all the whispers and strange looks, and go and find myself a drink.
What did it matter if I'd had a few firewhiskeys, when I was benched from active duty indefinitely? I had have as much as I wanted, it didn't matter; all I did was sit in my office and look over the paperwork that Grindelwald had done meticulously - because the bastard knew if he was ever found out, some poor fucker would have to double check everything he'd done even if it was all done perfectly. I was sure he was greatly enjoying the fact that poor fucker was me. And I was equally sure that I had earned a glass or two that bottle of firewhiskey I kept in my desk. And if hat glass of whiskey made the whispers outside my door shut up for a bit...well, all the better.
Only, when I made my to my office door, it wasn't just whispers I found lingering outside.
Instead, I found a miffed-looking Goldstein rolling her eyes at the smirking woman handcuffed to her. Elizabeth Hackney-Selwyn, jewel thief extraordinaire and perhaps the one woman in this goddamn city that didn't see me as either a victim or a villain - which almost made up for her extensive career as a criminal. Almost. But that didn't mean I wasn't glad to see her.
"Ms Selwyn. Perhaps MACUSA should get you a key to my office so you can just let yourself in when you have an appointment."
Selwyn's smirk widened, completely unphased by my dry tone: "It might make this whole process more efficient. But, then again, I wouldn't want any of your other regulars to get jealous."
"Ah, but I only have time for you these days."
Selwyn's smirked turned into a genuine (if somewhat wolfish) smile: "Oh good. I do so hate to share."
Goldstein was all too happy to hand the other end of Selwyn's cuffs over to me at that point, allowing me to lead the woman into my office without any more fuss.
Of course, that was to be expected. Despite her far more serious past, these days Selwyn was well-known to MACUSA as more of a troublemaker than anything else. Of course, her past as a highly successful thief had not been forgotten, but these days her arrests seemed to be for smaller, more or less harmless offences. Half a step above simple mischief. Offences that, as one of the British Sacred Twenty-Eight, MACUSA had never been able to arrest her for if she had wanted to avoid it.
The only reason Selwyn was here now was because she wanted to help me.
We never spoke about why we found ourselves in each others' presence - and I never wanted to - but I knew it was true. I also knew that she would never even suggest that she was helping, or try and use my current situation as leverage to help herself. Which is why I didn't protest her assistance.
That, and because when she was around I barely thought about the bottle of firewhiskey in my desk.
So as soon as the door was locked behind us, the cuffs came off, a silencing charm was cast, and the lights were dimmed. Because she was here to help me, and as much as she was happy to act as my life was normal when there were others around (because that was I wanted her to do; because I didn't need their pity or hers, and she knew that), Selwyn was also perfectly aware that my life was anything but 'normal' at the moment. And while she agreed with my plan to not show weakness to the rest of MACUSA, she also refused to let my issues become an elephant in the room. It had taken her a lot of time and effort into getting me to accept that she knew and wanted to help without pity being her motivation, and she didn't let her effort go to waste now.
"Have you still been drinking?" came the first question - not an ounce of sympathy, just a question Selwyn expected answered so she could fill in the gaps in whatever assessment she was forming.
So I answered honestly: "Yes."
"And how've you slept since I last saw you?" no censure, no judgement for my response, just more questions about my wellbeing and whether or not I was getting the level of rest I needed to continue to function.
Which, admittedly, I hadn't: "Not well. Might need to come up with a way of meeting that doesn't involve you getting arrested; at some point someone's bound to notice that I never actually charge you."
"Maybe. But I'm not worried yet - MACUSA can't do shit to me, and the Ministry have already started to take an interest. Or at least they had." came the blithe response: "Aunt Peggy has already written telling me that she's hidden my 'indiscretions', and enquiring how I'm getting out of all these arrests. I told her I had it handled." then there was the equally blithe smile: "Besides, I don't mind getting arrested. It gives me a chance to have a little girl-time with Goldstein."
I smiled, despite my disapproval of Selwyn picking on one of my best Aurors: "You're driving that poor woman insane."
"She wants to get her claws into a man I consider my favourite brother in law. Of course I'm driving her insane, how else would Theseus and I know she's good enough for Newt?"
Another thing I liked about Selwyn other than her lack of judgement - her loyalty. To her blood-family, to her brother-by-marriage Theseus Scamander, to his younger brother Newt Scamander - they all mattered to her, and so she would protect them all, even if her methods were...slightly unorthodox. But then, her methods when helping me weren't exactly standard procedure. And they gave credence to the belief that she wouldn't rat me out.
Once more we ended up on the couch in my office: my head laying in Selwyn's lap as she sat reading a book - her fingers lightly running through my hair, rubbing lightly at my scalp, generally petting me. If it'd been anyone else, I would never have allowed myself to be so vulnerable.
But as well as being non-judgemental and loyal, Selwyn was unusual in the sense that, despite her criminality, she didn't brag or try to lord people's weaknesses over them: even those individuals she didn't like. Fortunate, as she truly despised law enforcement, especially law enforcement organisations that tried to curb her less than legal behaviour. Right now, I was glad that we hadn't ever succeeded in our attempts to imprison her. She was far too soothing a presence to be left in a cell somewhere. And on top of that, I felt that should anything go wrong while I was asleep, Selwyn would handle it. She was a competent woman; skilled with magic, strong-willed, and she was one of the most intelligent witches I knew either personally or professionally.
She had noticed when I was gone. She had noticed that another Grindelwald had stolen my identity, even if she hadn't known that it was him behind the mask of my face.
It was why Grindelwald had stopped trying to bring her in: to prevent her from getting anywhere near someone in MACUSA who might be able to unmask him. It had only taken one meeting with him for her to work out he was an impostor with enough certainty that she'd spoken to Theseus about it: if a letter Grindelwald had intercepted to Picquery from Theseus had been any indication. How two Brits had noticed what none of my Aurors had was still beyond my belief. But it was also why I felt safe enough to fall asleep in Selwyn's lap, when I couldn't even sleep in my own bed most of the time.
Selwyn was intelligent. She was undoubtedly beautiful. And she smelt good. Like subtle perfume, the warm hint of whiskey, and something that tied the two together: sweet and light. If I was going to be soothed by anyone, I was glad it was by her, even if she was criminal. Even if anyone was shocked by that...well, they owed me their silence, since that was exactly what they had given Grindelwald while he was wearing my face.
And most importantly, she didn't think I was like him. She didn't tell me to act less like a dark wizard. She merely let me sleep in her lap, unafraid of my abilities or the nightmares that plagued me.
For that, I could never be grateful enough.
"Graves?" Selwyn asked softly, just as I was about to drift off.
"I'm glad you're getting some sleep. And we'll work on the drinking."
I'm glad that you feel comfortable with me. And I'm not going anywhere any time soon.
She didn't have to say it aloud - I knew exactly what her words meant. But she'd never say what she meant aloud, because she didn't want to make me uncomfortable. Because despite her terrible attitudes to order and structure, and repeated illegal behaviour, Elizabeth Selwyn was a fundamentally good woman.
"Thank you, Selwyn, for saying that."
Thank you for looking after me.
Just like her, I didn't have to say the last bit aloud.
I knew she already knew.