When Percival Graves coughed, he coughed up blood. His body was a testament to the abuse he’d suffered. His hand shook, no matter how small the task, his vision wavered at the slightest hint of light. He was weak. He was useless. Sitting in this stone cage until he starved to death or otherwise perished. The outside world was far removed from his world of hunger, of desperation, of crucio after crucio until he couldn’t tell up from down nor left from right.
The first rescue attempt was a farce, a ploy used by Grindelwald to learn state secrets. Graves saw right through it as soon as Seraphina Picquery had smiled at him. He’d seen many expressions on her face during her time as President, but none of them had been a smile. It still unnerved him how spot-on the dark wizard had characterized his department, down to the perennially scuffed shoes of Auror Jacobson.
But Picquery never smiled at him at work. Her smiles were reserved to the early days of their friendship of Ilvermorny and private drinks, not in front of her lead investigative team. And she certainly never called him ‘Percival’ without one of their lives being at stake. He could remember it now, when an assassination attempt left her with a curse through the gut. Her whispers of ‘Percival’ even as she faded away. The only things that kept her alive was his no-maj administration of CPR whenever her breath faded and her heartbeat slowed.
He was given no such luxury. He felt, in excruciating detail, every time his heart faltered and stalled on Grindelwald’s whim. It was a common encouragement whenever Graves was less than forthcoming with an answer. He felt his heart slow, felt his life force beating away until he gave Grindelwald something to work with.
Grindelwald made him watch every time won over another follower, every time desire won out over conscience. Graves screamed at them through the pensieve, even though he knew they couldn’t see or hear him, that this had already happened and that nothing he did could change it. He still screamed for them to make the right choice, to stand up to this madman. They never did. He saw the desperation in each man’s eyes as he pledged himself to Grindelwald. He saw all the ways MACUSA had failed them and he could do nothing about it.
His wrists were bound in heavy iron cuffs etched with sigils that kept his magic at bay. They bit into him, the metal into his wrists and the iron into his soul. No amount of twisting helped and just left his wrists raw and sore around the cold metal. Grindelwald had actually apologized when he put them on, saying that it was such a shame to lock away a fellow wizard, especially one so powerful. Unfortunately, it was a necessity, he said.
Grindelwald himself was an enigma to Percival. He did not take pleasure in watching his men flay Percival to the bone. Or the way his captive howled as a curse ripped at his flesh. Grindelwald watched it all with an impassive face, as if he were watching a boat come into dock or something equally mundane. He never hurt Graves himself (he left his men to do the dirty work) and if Percival cooperated he rewarded him with food, and sleep, and potions for the pain.
The real danger when it came to Grindelwald was his mind. He would sit calmly, legs crossed neatly and lay out a parade of rhetoric. The way he told it, he was the leader of a noble revolution that sought to free those enslaved by wizarding society. The way he told it, it almost made sense.
Although he never touched Percival physically, Percival’s mind was Grindelwald’s sandbox. It took him weeks to break down Percival’s mental blocks but he finally managed it with the combined force of three of his strongest men. The shock from the mental struggle left Percival dumb and gasping for days afterward, helpless to do anything but lie there and have his memories ransacked by an enemy of the state.
That was when the real pain started. Grindelwald went through his mind with deliberate care. His skills were such that Graves couldn’t even feel him slipping into his mind until he was suddenly thrown back into a memory. The memories Grindelwald chose were seemingly at random. They could go from the trenches of the Great War to Percival’s promotion to Director of Magical Security in the space of a breath.
Grindelwald watched them all, the good and the bad. He experienced what it was like to fight Jimmy Cassidy in a fifth grade locker room. He was there when Percival’s mother died, leaving him lost in the world with nothing but his job to turn to. He was there the first time Percival made love to a woman, and the first time he did so with a man.
That had caught Grindelwald’s attention. He’d stilled, pulling back from the pensive to look to where Graves was slumped against the wall.
“I didn’t know,” the dark lord said with surprising softness in his voice.
“Why would you?” Percival rasped, “It’s not exactly common knowledge.”
After three days he could get his walls up again and Grindelwald has to go back to actually exerting effort to sort through Percival’s memories. He could have broken them down through brute force again, but he refrained. He must have already gathered everything he needed while Percival was otherwise incapacitated. And so the months stretched on.
The second rescue attempt was real. Aurors flowed into the room, wands drawn and eyes alert and found him, curled knees to chin in the cellar of his own home. Grindelwald hadn’t been to see him in a week. His world was hazy, dampened by the dark and the cold, and the horrible ache of hunger. His world was an ocean of pain. The dull background pull of hunger, was highlighted by the sharp twinge of muscle pulling at the mess of barely-healed scars zigzagging his back. His right leg was stretched in front of him, He couldn’t move it and risk disturbing the throbbing mess that was his knee. From the heat that flushed his skin, something was probably infected, but that didn’t matter now.
He started laughing. Here they were. His aurors. They’d found him at last.
Nobody moved to help free him from the magic-suppressing cuffs. Nobody moved to help him at all, they just stood around him with their wands raised levelly at his prone figure. Something was wrong. He recoiled, thinking maybe this was another of Grindelwald’s ploys. He started muttering a litany of no, no, no again and again but still no one moved to help him.
They advanced on him slowly, wands ready, sending him into a frenzy as he tried to scramble backwards and away, but to no avail. They had him surrounded, cornered like a rat in a trap. He was sobbing, eyes wide with terror when they laid hands on him, unchaining him from the wall but leaving the cuffs on.
Percival sagged into their hold as two of them hauled his frail frame upstairs. He set his teeth against the pain as he had to put weight on his bad leg. Soon it would be over the pain would be over and he’d be in a hospital ward doped to the gills. There wasn’t a mediwitch waiting when they emerged from the cellar, only more aurors with wands drawn. Four aurors stepped through the floo ahead of him, leaving six behind to keep him upright.
He was being guarded. They hadn’t taken the cuffs off, and there was no healer on standby as was standard for cases like these. Something was wrong.
He’d get answers soon enough. Maybe this was for his protection, in case Grindelwald appeared. Maybe. He mustered enough energy to stand on his own, trying to ignore the pain radiating from every inch of him and stepped through the flames. His knee gave out beneath him, sending him toppling gracelessly forward onto the cold marble floor of the Woolworth building.
He let a choked sob, shaking his head to clear it of the black spots dancing at the edge of his vision. Someone grabbed him by the arm, pulling him to his feet and his world went momentarily white.
They were moving when he came back to his senses, his battered body sling between two sturdy aurors. His bare feet dragged across the cold expanse of marble. The medical ward was upstairs, he could just make it to there he would be fine. They weren’t going up. They were going down.
Something was wrong. Dread pooled in his stomach as they got nearer to the cells that held MACUSA’s prisoners. Something was very wrong.
They ushered him into the interrogation room and shoved him down onto the wrong side of the table, locking his cuffs into the loop on the table. They were treating him like a prisoner. Worse, they were treating him like a suspect.
This wasn’t the rescue he’d had in mind but if this was what freed him from Grindelwald, so be it. He’d been in the man’s capture for months, it was only natural that they would doubt his allegiances and take certain security precautions. He had to stay calm, they’d realize their mistake eventually. He just wished he was in less pain so he could actually think of a way out of this.
He shifted slightly, trying to ease the pressure on his back only to be met with drawn wands from every wizard in the room. He froze, looking wide-eyed around at the men and women in the room. These were his aurors. He’d trained each and every one of them, gave them advice and motivation, seen them change and grow as people.
“No more sudden movements,” barked Auror Chambers, a mousy-haired man with immaculate penmanship. Graves opened his mouth to speak, but found there was something preventing him. A silencing charm. How long had it been on him? He hadn’t notice anyone casting it?
It made sense. These people knew Graves. It would be harder for him to manipulate them into helping him with a silencing charm cast in him. It’s what he would do in their situation. It still grated at his nerve to have more magic done to him without his consent. He’d had quite enough of that with Grindelwald.
Aurors Redford and Laghari swept into the room flanking none other than Seraphina Picquery herself. She paused, one eyebrow arched regally as she looked down her nose at him. She looked immaculate. With her perfectly coiffed hair and pristine suit she made him feel even more dirty and unkempt then he actually was. Which was already pretty unkempt. He felt the weight of her stare as heavily as he felt the presence of the twelve fully-armed aurors standing by with wands raised. Were it not for his current condition he could probably take on twelve men, but adding the President and three civilians into the mix, he wasn’t sure. He certainly couldn’t right now. They were taking no chances.
Three of MACUSA’s best Legilimens were standing by the side of the interrogation room, waiting for Seraphina’s order to pry their way into his mind. If they can, Percival thought viciously. He might not be at too strength but it’s taken four wizards to force his walls down last time, one of those wizards being Grindelwald himself. He would resist them until they gave up or he died, he didn’t care anymore. It was one thing to be dragged through MACUSA like a prisoner, to be treated like he was somehow complicit in Grindelwald’s plans. It was quite another to willingly let another person behind the walls he fought so hard to maintain. That wouldn’t happen, not after Grindelwald… No, he’d fight. Consequences be damned, his thoughts were his own.
“Is it him?” Picquery was still looking straight at him, her mouth in a tight line, but she spoke to the trio of Legilimens in the corner. Percival met her eyes steadily even as he focused on suring up his mental walls against their pokes and prods.
“I’m not sure, Madame President,” one of the Legilimens started, “His walls have always been strong but now there’s a thick layer of psychic scarring overtop of them.” Percival tried hard not to show his surprise. Looks like Grindelwald’s attempts to bash through his walls had left something behind. “His walls are still up behind the scarring, and they read like the Director’s mind, but we can’t be sure until we break through them.”
“Can you do that now?” the President asked sharply, still regarding Percival warily. He was struck with the absurd memory of Seraphine at eleven, arms crossed over her chest as she stared Percival down, demanding that he’d be her friend.
“No, Madame President, we would need backup from other Legilimens, and even then any action we would take to force our way into the Director’s-”
“Former Director’s,” Seraphina interrupted, not taking her eyes off of Percival’s. Ouch, that hurt. He supposed it wasn’t likely that they would welcome him back into the fold but it still hurt. He’d worked hard to get that position, spent the last twenty years of his life proving himself worthy of it. To have it taken away so casually… He gritted his teeth. It wasn’t the first thing that’d been taken from him. He’d survived worse, and he would survive this.
“Sorry, Ma’am. Any action we took to force our way into the former Director’s mind would leave his mind irreparably damaged. If we could do it at all it is highly unlikely that we would be able to recover anything comprehensible from him. It’s more likely that his mind would snap under the pressure. Our only chance is if he lowers his walls willingly.”
All heads swung to look at him. He shook his head slowly.
“Damn it, this is your only chance, Graves,” Seraphina snapped, anger flashing in her eyes. “If it is you in there we need to prove your identity. Otherwise you’ll go to trial as an accessory to Grindelwald’s crimes, guilty or not.”
Percival took a moment to consider his options. If he went against his gut feeling and allowed these men and women to look into his memories, what would they find? A broken man, traumatized by Grindelwald but ultimately too weak to resist. They’d be able to watch Grindelwald sort through his memories at random, watch him pluck state secrets from his mind as easily as picking an apple. They’d know he was a traitor and he’d be treated as such.
And if he didn’t let them in, he’d be considered a traitor anyway. Better to keep his mind to himself and save them all the the embarrassment of seeing what a wreck he’d become. Carefully, so that no one in the room could mistake his intention, he shook his head. Something twitched in Seraphina’s jaw, but her composure remained unaffected otherwise. She looked away from him.
“Take him to a cell,” she dismissed cooly and left, not sparing him a parting glance. The Legilimens followed her out of the room, one of them paused in the doorway and Percival recognized her as Tina Goldstein’s little sister. She gave him a look, like she was trying to get something through to him, but he just shook his head at her. She frowned and turned on her heel out of the room. Their whole interaction had taken less than thirty seconds but already the aurors around him were hauling him up, unlocking the chains from the table and leading him out at wandpoint.
Aurors Quill and Chambers, by far the department’s best at defensive magic, flanked him, their wands pressed to either side of his neck. Six aurors led the way ahead of them down the bare hallway while six followed them in the rear. As he thought, overkill.
They stopped in front of one of MACUSA’s more secure cells, complete with an iron door etched with signs to repel magic. They wasted no time shoving his body into the cell, and none of them lowered their wands until the door was bolted and magically sealed. He sighed, taking account of the room as he listened to the sound of half a dozen receding footsteps. He peered out the small barred window set into the door. There were two aurors he didn’t know standing guard, each with their wands drawn. So not quite a dozen receding footsteps.
The room was maybe six-feet by six-feet with a stone bench and a toilet jutting out of the back wall. Other than that it was empty. There were wards carved into the walls here too, backlight by a faint blue glow. They were well done, too, some of the finest work he’d seen. There was no getting out of this cell easily. Sure if he could have time he could probably work out something, and maybe a healing potion or two, but unfortunately he had neither.
His leg twinged as if taunting him for fantasizing about a healing draught and he made his way over to the bench, using the wall for support as he went. Gingerly, he lowered himself onto the slab, swinging his bad leg up to rest on its surface. There was just enough room for him to sit upright with his legs stretched out in front of him, but certainly not enough to lie down comfortably.
Percival took a minute to just breathe. In and out. In and out. The ragged pattern of his breathing evened out the longer he sat. He was more out of shape than he thought, if getting hauled through MACUSA’s halls was enough to leave him panting. He scrubbed his bony hands over his face. This was nightmare. But it was one, he thought, that he wouldn’t wake up from anytime soon.
He must have fallen asleep in that cell, somehow, for he woke up to a blinding light and the feeling of two strong sets of hands pulling him roughly up. He let out a wordless cry as they jostled his knee, almost tumbling out of their grasp but jerked back upright by their unforgiving grips. He blinked away the tears that pricked his eyes and tried to limp along as best as he could. There were another twelve aurors waiting for him outside of the cell. They marched him up the backstairs this time, and from that Percival guessed that it was morning, and that they were avoiding the press of people that usually thronged the main entrance. For some reason, they used the back hallways of MACUSA to bring him to the Councilroom. Probably to keep publicity down on their disgraced Director of Magical Security.
When he stepped into the Courtroom, looking around at a sea of sneering faces, Percival had to reconsider. Maybe they’d taken him through the back ways for his own protection. He shivered. He stood in the center of the room, aurors blocking the exit, his hands still bound, looking up at his fellow council members. Seraphina stood at the head of the room, looking down over them all. So this is what it feels like to be on display, Percival thought, straightening his back to look back at the lot of them like his world wasn’t currently falling apart.
“Upon orders from Madame President herself, we searched the home of former Director of Magical Security Percival Graves after it was discovered Grindelwald had been impersonating him. This prisoner was found in the cellar of Graves’ home and was brought to MACUSA to be questioned,” said a clear voice from Picquery’s right. It was Lucille Woodrow, Percival’s second in command. From her position and the way she carried herself, she’d probably snagged Percival’s job for herself. And to add insult to injury she was sitting in his chair, reading him a list of his supposed crimes.
“He was identified by sight as Mr. Graves but refused to undergo the necessary procedures to prove that assessment was correct. Without taking extreme measures to verify his identity through legilimency, we cannot be sure who this man is, but he has tested negative to polyjuice potion and all revelio charms,” Woodrow continued, looking straight ahead of her. “However, the prisoner refused to lower his mental blocks and allow Legilimens to inspect his mind. If this is Percival Graves, these are not the actions of an innocent man.”
“Good God woman, the man’s barely able to stand up,” protested Warren Greenfield, a young liberal who look about as horrified by the proceedings and Graves felt.
“Given Grindelwald’s recent escapades disguised as the former Director, my team has handled the situation with due caution. The prisoner appears injured, but this appearance could be a ruse. We do not risk the lives of civilian healers to heal potentially dangerous criminals.”
“But what if this is Percival Graves?” asked an elderly councilwoman. “That man has given more to this department than you ever did, Lucille.”
“Grandmother,” snapped Woodrow, blushing furiously. “How dare-”
“Enough, Director Woodrow,” Picquery held up a hand, preventing any further outbursts. “Councilwoman Woodrow does raise an excellent point. If this man is Percival Graves, as I fear he is, then he is no longer the man we knew. Being Gellert Grindelwald’s prisoner for any length of time, let alone five months, is enough to compromise any man. Given that he has passed all tests save for the Legilimens, let us assume that this man is in fact, Percival Graves. Besides, I doubt even Grindelwald would attempt the same trick twice in a row.”
“And if you’re wrong, Madame President?” asked a portly councilman in a tweed suit, Harold something, if Graves could be arsed to recall.
“Then surely any punishment we divise for the former Director will be good enough for his imposter,” the president responded taciturnly. She returned her attention to Percival, who regarded their back-and-forth with surreal amusement. “Mister Graves, did you or did you not relay vital secrets of state to one Gellert Grindelwald.”
“I did,” he croaked, finding the silencing charm had been lifted from his throat. “But-” the charm slammed back down again, leaving him hacking for breath. Woodrow was smirking where she sat, the tip of her wand extended from her sleeve.
“By your own confession, you stand accused of treason of the highest degree,” Picquery looked at him, hard. “If you wish to rescind your statement and willingly undergo the processes that would prove your identity and give you a second chance, speak now.” He opened his mouth, but the charm was still in place. He looked at Woodrow. The woman was still smiling serenely. He looked back at Picquery, tried to motion to his throat as he shook his head but she sighed and looked away. He blanched. She’d taken his movements as a negation.
“Very well,” she said simply and he found himself moving forward before he could help himself. He was caught by magical restraints on all sides, throwing him down at her feet. He looked up at her, wanting her to see, to understand, but she was frowning down at him. “Whatever that was, I assure you it did not help your case. Send for a portkey to take him to Siskiwit Prison immediately.”
“Madame President, if I could object,” Woodrow called as the Aurors swept forward to grab Percival and drag him off to the nearest portkey. “As Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves had access to the floor plan, key codes, and guard rosters to Siskiwit, making it less than ideal as a secure location.”
“Siskiwit is the highest security magical prison in America,” Picquery pointed out, “If we can’t send him there, where can we send him?”
“Azkaban.” A silence filled the room. Most American wizards held a fine disregard for the British prison, calling it cruel and unusual punishment. Only in the most severe cases were U.S. citizens exiled there. It was as good as a death sentence for any man sent there. He’d visited there once, when he was interning at the Ministry of Magic, and the screams of the inmates haunted him to this day. Percival started struggling in the grip of captors, trying to catch Seraphina’s eyes, trying to catch anyone’s eyes to tell them that no, he’d rather die, just kill him, don’t send him there. Nobody looked at him. They were all focused on Seraphina. She nodded.
“Take him away,” she said and swept from the room, followed swiftly by Woodrow and the rest of her contingent of high-ranking officials. Percival thrashed, forcing the men holding him to half-carry him from the room. His mouth was open in a silent scream, his eyes wild as they dragged him back from the room. He managed to slip a hand free in the confusion, punching it out wildly. He clipped one of the aurors in the face, and almost twisted free before there was a wand at his temple and a harsh voice casting stupefy into the oncoming darkness.
Graves was thrust into consciousness by the acrid scent of smelling salts. He jerked up, only to be soothed back by the man holding the vial under his nose. He shook his head, bringing his hands up to fend off the other man, but was stopped by the short length of chain keeping each of his hands cuffed to the bed. But he was in a bed. A lumpy bed but a bed nonetheless. Where was he? How long had he been out? The last thing he remembered after the cell was the trial, which means that this must be…
“I’m in Azkaban,” Percival said softly, staring down at his hands. He craned his head to look up at the man standing over him. The man’s brown hair was cut short on the sides, with a hint of curls at the top. He had to be in his early thirties judging by the lines on his face and the specks of silver dotting his stubble. He wore the grey robes of a healer, but the material was old and worn, and far less voluminous than Percival was used to seeing.
“Yes, you are,” the man replied simply, “My name is James Kurlow, I am the resident healer here to see that everyone survives long enough to have every last drop of emotion out of them.”
“At least you’re honest,” Percival snorted, shaking his head.
“I take pride in the little things, Mister Graves,” Kurlow inclined his head and turned to the side table to retrieve two glass bottles. He held them to Percival’s lips in swift succession followed by a sip from a glass of water. “These wounds won’t heal overnight, but the potions will help fight the infection in your back and your knee and aid with the pain. With luck you’ll be able to walk without a limp, given time.”
“If I had any luck I wouldn’t be here,” Percival grunted, eyebrow raised. Kurlow let out a little huff of laughter, turning to set the empty bottles on the table.
“Right you are,” he said, folding his hands behind his back. “You’ve been in magical stasis for the better part of a week between transport and stabilizing the worst of your wounds, but you’ve recovered enough to be given a cell. If you can walk, I’m to escort you there immediately. Oh, one more thing…”
“The cuffs on your wrists have been deemed detrimental to your health - the chaffing from the metal wore your wrists almost down to the bone - so the warden came up with an alternative method to keep your magic restrained.” Percival noted quickly the thick reams of bandaging that protected his wrists from the temporary cuffs keeping him on the bed, but his attention was fully with the healer when he turned back around with a collar in his hands.
Well, technically it was just two innocent looking half circles of metal, but their purpose was plain. The bore the same runes that his old cuffs did, but unlike the cuffs they didn’t seem to have any obvious unlocking mechanism. He gritted his teeth as Kurlow came forward, fitting the two semicircles around his neck and whispering a soft spell that fused them together. The effect was immediate, like a weight pressing down on Percival’s sternum.
“I’m afraid that won’t be coming off any time soon,” Kurlow stated matter-of-factly. “Once magically sealed, the collar is irremovable without killing the wearer. You’ll go to your grave wearing that collar. But at least it won’t rub at your wrists.”
Percival felt numb. His magic was gone. Permanently. The cuffs had made it seem temporary, the little latches joining the metal were a symbol of hope, of an eventual escape. This new weight around his neck was nothing but a promise of his impending death.
Kurlow was unlocking the manacles at his wrists and Percival noticed the little scrawl of numbers marking his left forearm. It was a tattoo, done in neat block handwriting. 92031. He had a number now, just like the rest of the prisoners of Azkaban stretching back through history. He was just another faceless prisoner, logged neatly in the warden’s system. Percival Graves was gone, erased by those five little numbers.
“What’s to stop me from strangling you right now,” he whispered, keeping his hands folded on his lap. Even if he managed to disarm Kurlow and knock him unconscious he still had to navigate a strange, labyrinthine prison and make it past a drove of dementors just waiting for an excuse to kill him. All without magic.
“You’d never make it out alive,” Kurlow said, then paused to consider him, “But you know that already. You’re an honorable man, so I’ll give you some free advice. Those men in there will eat you alive. A descendant from an old and respected family, a military man, an enforcer of the law. Your fall from grace has reached us even here. There are men and women here who’ve lost family to Grindelwald. If you let them think for a second that you are guilty of helping him, you’ll be dead before the dementors get their first meal from you. So keep your head down, don’t make a fuss, and you might live long enough to die peacefully in your sleep.”
Percival had nothing to say to that. It was good advice. Instead, he accepted Kurlow’s hands to help lever himself off the bed and walked meekly beside the man as they made their way to the cell block. The walk from the medical bay to the cells was short, three left turns and one right, a total of maybe seven minutes. Easy enough to remember. The walk itself was painful, even dulled by Kurlow’s potion, but Percival managed. When they came to a large metal door at the end of the corridor, Kurlow gave a sidelong glance at Percival before pressing the tip of his wand to the door and muttering a few words. Percival recognized the unlocking charm as one that only worked if it recognized the wizard’s particular magical signature. It was one of the same ones he used to lock his old office, simple and almost impossible to fool. Almost.
The door swung open, admitting them to a cavernous space and a cacophony of noise. Kurlow walked briskly down the walkway that stretched in front of them in the shape of a square. The center of the room had no floor, just a steep descent accented by the cries of dementors waiting at the bottom. Cells ringed the interior of the walkway, and did so for several floors above and below them. Their arrival prompted the prisoners within to crowd against the magic-resistant spells. Jeers followed them as they walked, peppered with the sort of vibrant language that recalled Graves to the army.
As Kurlow had predicted, word of his arrival spread quickly, culminating in a mixture of angry shouts, insults to his honor, and one memorable “I’ll kill you, Graves”. Eventually they stopped at a cell set into the middle of the southern wall of cells. From here, Graves could see most of the room save for the cells on either side of him. The door was impossibly far away.
Kurlow said something into the cell, and Percival focused back in on matters at hand. Kurlow had his hand on his shoulder and was pressing him forward into the bars. Percival baulked, rearing back from the approaching collision but Kurlow shoved him harder. Instead of being met by metal bars to the face, Percival found himself stumbling through the bars into the cell. Once fully inside he cast a hand back towards the bars and, sure enough, they were solid. Interesting.
“This is where we part ways, Mister Graves,” Kurlow inclined his head before turning on his heel and retracing their steps back to the door on the far side of the enormous room. Percival watched his grey-clad form retreat before a low cough drew his attention back to the other occupants of the cell.
There were four of them, five including Percival, spread around the room in various states of repose. Two of them were alike enough to be twins; one sat on the bottom bunk of a bed, staring at him intensely, the other one lay across the opposite bed, propped up on one elbow. A big, dark-haired man lounged against the bars, idly picking at his nail beds. He watched with dark, impassive eyes as Percival took an uncertain step forward. The final occupant, an older brown-skinned man was sitting on the floor beside the last bunk, eyes closed.
“So you’re Percival Graves,” came a nasally voice from one of the men on the beds. He was one of the brothers, whose mousy hair flopped limply over his forehead as he sneered unattractively up at Percival. “Who’d’ve thought we’d end up in a cell with MACUSA’s brightest star, ey Pollux?”
“Who’d’ve thought,” his brother, Pollux replied solemnly, not taking his eyes off Percival as he lazily palmed himself through his pants. Graves set his jaw resolutely against the worry seeping through his stomach. It was a threatening gesture, a display of dominance meant to unnerve Percival. And boy did it work.
“Of course you’re not so high and mighty now, are you? How’s it feel to slum it with the common criminal,” the other brother pushed himself up from the bed, advancing on Percival with a sickly smile. “You’re pretty, for a Yank. What d’you think, does he want top bunk or bottom?”
“Just look’it ‘im, Castor, of course he wants bottom,” Pollux rumbled in response. Twins named Castor and Pollux. Honestly, the British wizarding world was just getting too predictable. Percival met their eyes challengingly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Try it and you’ll regret it,” he spat, hoping he sounded stronger and less queasy than he felt. He didn’t think it worked because the big man leaning against the bars showed interest in their conversation for the first time by laughing low in his throat.
“Easy there, Pollux” he warned in a deep timbre. “Stick your dick in that and you’ll get it snapped off.”
“He’s right, I am a biter,” Percival added snidely, arching an eyebrow at the brothers. He’d faced down their like every day as a junior auror: jumped up thugs who used magic who used magic as a bludgeon to get what they wanted. They were nothing he hadn’t seen before. He could handle them, even without magic. Even forced to share a confined space with them for the foreseeable future.
“I would’ve thought MACUSA trained their dog better than that,” Castor was only a handbreadth away from Percival. At this distance he could see the veins in the other man’s watery blue eyes and the sickly way his gums pulled away from his teeth when he smiled. “Or does their bitch of a president put a collar on any stray that wanders by.”
Percival’s fist impacted with Castor’s cheek before any of them could register the movement, sending the taller man to the ground with the force of the blow. Percival stood over him, staring down at the man he’d just felled in defence of Seraphina’s honor, even after everything that had happened. Loyal to the end.
“That was stupid,” Joshua commented solemnly and just as Percival turned to ask him why, he felt a chill prickle the back of his neck. That was the only warning he got before he felt his soul being sucked backwards out of his body as a cascade of memories fell in front of his eyes. It could have been hours or minutes before the dementor released him, finally allowing his taut body to collapse against the bars.
It was strange. The memories he’d seen were still there in his mind. They weren’t gone, as he’d expected, but instead seemed devoid of any of the emotions that used to accompany them. His Ilvermorny graduation but with none of the giddy elation, childhood excursions to Central Park zoo without the wonder, being praised by his auror mentor without the hard-won pride. It was like remembering in grayscale.
“You didn’t scream. Everybody screams.” Castor was staring at him. Everyone was staring at him with an array of emotions ranging from shock to admiration on their faces. He shrugged, even as he fought to catch his breath.
“I’ve had worse.”
As the months crept by, Percival learned. That first day he learned not to punch the other inmates, but sometimes it couldn’t be avoided and it was better to take the Kiss. The second he learned when their meal times were, and when they were expected to go to sleep. Once a day they were released from their cells and allowed to walk around the cell block for exercise. That was when you traded for anything you might need to make your stay more bearable. The big man, Joshua traded his skills at tattooing for books and scraps of newspaper. If you wanted extra food, Roger in cell 317 had canned goods, and Dirty Larry in 336 had a needle and thread to borrow.
As a newcomer, he had the latest news from outside, making his words a hot commodity. For those that would talk to him, that is. The population of the cell block were split fairly evenly in half between those that would talk to a traitor like him and those who wouldn’t. Among those that wouldn’t were a fair number who wanted Percival dead, and another number that wanted him in as much pain as possible. After that first day, he always defended himself, but was never the first one to throw a punch, no matter what insults they hurled at him.
As he talked to more of the inmates, those that weren’t out for his head, he also learned people’s stories. He learned that the quiet man in the back of his cell was named Nashashuk, and that he was also American, but had no interest in revelling in their shared birthplace. Dirty Larry was named that not because he was particularly dirty (they all were) but because he had a collection of women’s pin-up magazines stashed in his cell. Roger wasn’t all that interesting in Percival’s opinion, but according to him he had slept with several well-known no-maj film stars back in his day.
Castor and Pollux still didn’t like him, but they tolerated his presence more or less. Pollux hadn’t made any more overtly sexual advances on him since Percival broke his wrist during his first month and Percival tried his best to interact with them as little as possible despite the close quarters. The pair of them were both in on the same charge: use of the cruciatus curse on a no-maj. According to Castor’ the poor man had looked at them the wrong way. More likely he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He heard Joshua’s story one night as the bigger man pricked a new tattoo into Percival’s shoulder. He told the story of how his wife went missing. How he tracked down her kidnapper only to find the man standing over her corpse. He killed the man, using magic, and now he was serving his town. Joshua wasn’t sorry he did it, only sorry that he got there too late to save his wife. He knew he’d done wrong, but he’d done it for the right reasons. It made sense to Percival now in a way it wouldn’t have a year ago, when his life was ruled by order and morality. Percival had changed from the man he used to be, and not just physically.
Physically, he still favored his bad leg, which served as a reminder of his time with Grindelwald, a sign that he had been through hell and had survived it. The scattering of tattoos that now dotted his body were also a reminder. Celtic symbols his grandmother taught him for strength and perseverance and fortitude swirled across his shoulders and forearms. Script in Ogham danced across his arms, chest and back, a history written across his skin. Sometimes they were memories he had, that he wished to immortalize before the Dementors took away their spark. Sometimes they were Old stories his grandmother told him as a boy. Sometimes it was Joshua having the piss and writing ‘Joshua was here’ across his hip bone. His patronus snarled out at the world from his left pectoral, imbued with just enough magic that it tossed its head every now and then in regal displeasure.
As for the rest of it, his life just wasn’t so cut and dry anymore. It couldn’t be. The old Graves would agree with MACUSA that anyone who had betrayed their country’s secrets as he had deserved the highest level of punishment. But living through Grindelwald’s tortures, actually feeling the helplessness as memory after memory was ripped from his mind. No, he couldn’t blame himself for that. Anyone would have broken from that, and probably sooner than he had.
He knew first hand what it was like to be attacked by a dementor, and what it was like to have your days planned out for the rest of your life. He knew what it sounded like as men went mad, watched as their twitching bodies were hauled away by Healer Kurlow.
By his sixth month in Azkaban, Percival could feel himself waning. The average life expectancy in Azkaban was eight months, but Percival had been in Grindelwald’s clutches for five months before MACUSA had transferred his sentence here. He tried to keep his hopes up, but the dementors and the other prisoners worked hard to keep them down. Opposition to Percival had dwindled as most people forgot he was even there, but there was a dedicated few that still tried to make life as unpleasant as possible during the brief hours they were allowed exercise.
He found himself back in Kurlow’s infirmary three more times. Once for a broken nose and fractured hand to go with it. The second time for a major concussion, and the third time for a belly full of shiv wounds. Kurlow was just as acerbic as ever, patching up Percival’s wounds until they were just another set of scars added to his already impressive collection.
Percival wouldn’t get another chance to visit the infirmary because his life was turned on its head by the arrival of their new cell mate. The day he arrived, the prisoners pushed and clamored for a chance to see the new meat. There hadn’t been anyone transferred to their level since Percival himself and everyone was itching for news of the outside world.
Two dementors trailed Healer Kurlow and the new man down the walkway, causing the prisoners at the bars to rear back whenever they came to class. The new inmate kept his large jaw jutted out, and walked with a sort of ease that said he wasn’t at all bothered by the cuffs on his wrists or the dementors at his back. Percival frowned, watching with the rest as the pair approached. Kurlow brought the new inmate to a halt outside of their cell before pushing the man through the bars.
That was when Percival recognized him. Kenneth Wright. He’d served under Theseus’ command during the war, a nasty, sadistic man with a penchant for abusing POW. They’d had their clashes during the war, Wright always on the fair side of insubordination, with Percival stepping in under duress to deescalate the situation. How that man had ever managed an officer’s rank escaped Percival but no doubt it included a fair amount of bribery and intimidation. But now there weren’t the strictures of rank and military service, now he was sharing a cell with that man.
“Who’re you,” Castor was lying on his bunk, in what Percival had come to assume as his ‘confident’ posture. Percival shrunk into the back corner of the cell, trying to make himself as small as possible, aided by Joshua spreading himself to his full breadth to cover him. God bless that man’s instincts. Of course, hiding in the back of the cell wouldn’t help for long, it was only a matter of time before he and Wright came face to face but Percival was in no mood to be the man’s way of proving himself to his cellmates. He still had partially-healed stomach wounds to think of.
“Y’can call me Wright,” Kenneth grunted, testing the bars behind him much as Percival has. The man’s ginger hair laid rank and flat on either side of his face and his pale blue eyes sat limpid in his lantern-like face. “Who th’ hell are you?”
“Name’s Castor, this is my brother Pollux. The big bloke’s Joshua and the bitch in the collar is-”
“Percival Graves,” Wright downright purred, eyes fixed on Percival’s collar in the dim light cast from the corridor. “We’ve met. I heard they’d finally put you in your place, Captain, but I couldn’t quite believe a weasel as slippery as you’d ever fall through the cracks.” Wright took a few steps forward until he came almost chest-to-chest with Joshua. He clapped a hand heartily against the bigger man’s shoulder. “How’d he win you over? Finally let someone other than Scamander into that tight little ass of his?”
“That’s enough, Wright,” Percival stepped out from behind Joshua just as Joshua pushed the redhead’s hand off his shoulder with a warning grunt. Percival crossed his arms over his too-thin chest, wishing for some of the mass he’d had in the war. He’d put on muscle during his stay in Azkaban but the result was a whip-thin body leanly corded with muscle. There wasn’t enough food for him to work up any amount of extra padding.
“You’re not in charge of me anymore, Graves. You ain’t in charge of anybody, even if you did get yerself another bodyguard to do all the hard work,” he leaned forward, his six-something feet of muscle looming over Percival, whose flight or fight instinct was screaming at him to make the first move. I will not throw the first punch, he repeated to himself. I will not throw the first punch. “In that right, Captain?”
Then several things happened at once. Joshua reached for Wright but was swiftly shoved back by Percival. Wright’s fist landed against Percival’s cheekbone even as his other hand clenched in his shirt, holding him upright. Percival, head still reeling from the hit, closed his hands around Wright’s wrists and let out a big enough burst of magic that the collar let out a surge of electricity that coursed through him into Wright. Wright fell on his ass with a yelp, muscles twitching as Percival stood back, electricity still coursing over his skin.
“Neat trick,” Joshua offered into the silent cell. Percival laughed, rubbing a hand over his aching cheek. His nerves were jittery but other than that he was fine. It’d happened before, but this time he was ready for it, and had directed most of it into Wright. He’d realized during his last Kurlow-worthy attack that his collar’s energy could be channeled into someone who was touching him, and that it usually sent the attackers to the floor, flopping like a caught salmon. Sometime over the months he’d been wearing it the collar had attuned itself to Percival’s magic, allowing him to feed some of the electricity into his surroundings rather than taking the brunt of it himself. But hey, that’s what they get for putting a highly magical individual into a collar that was highly sensitive to magic.
“Keep your hands off me,” Percival look down at Wright, who was struggling to get his twitching limbs to push him into a sitting position. Percival turned his back on the downed man, running his hands down the front of his prison stripes. He took a breath, working to even out the muscle spasms still shaking his hands. “Or a shock won’t be the only thing you get.”
The next few days were hell. Wright took every opportunity to make Percival’s life a hell. He’d recruited the twins either through sympathy or his own blunt charm, and they joined them in his crusade against Percival. There was never a moment without one of them spitting venom into the air, usually something against Percival’s character or manhood, or whorish ways. They even kept accusing him of sleeping with Joshua, despite the fact that they were present literally every moment said act could take place. Percival and Joshua both tried to ignore it, and Nashashuk in turn ignored them all. So the cell was divided in a way, with Percival’s side coming out lesser.
It culminated one night a few days after Wright re-entered Percival’s life. Percival was returning from getting the stitches removed from his stomach, accompanied by a dementor trailing just behind him in lieu of Healer Kurlow. He stepped through the bars, with his eyes over his shoulder at the unreadable form floating receding behind him and stepped straight into the chest of Pollux. The bigger brother gripped his upper arms and jerked him forward into the hellscape that was their cell.
Joshua was lying in the far corner, his throat garotted neatly by some sort of cord, the flesh ugly and discolored around the wound. It was fresh, from the way his eyes still shone glassy brown. Percival opened his mouth to scream, to call Kurlow, a dementor, someone, but Pollux shoved a wad of cloth against his lips, tying a longer strand around that one as he pushed Percival to his knees. Percival got one hand around the man’s ankle, letting a flash of magic run through him that sent the other man staggering back, but then Castor was in front of him delivering a nasty back hand across his face.
The impact sent Percival rocking back onto his heels, his hands splayed for balance against the cold floor as he blinked spots from his vision. His gaze fixed inexorably onto Joshua’s reclined corpse. He was dead. Joshua was dead, and it was probably because of him. He took one staggering step upwards before Castor lashed out, catching Percival’s bad knee and sending him crashing back toward the ground.
“Enough of that now, pretty boy,” it was Wright, towering over Percival. He was leering down at him, his thin lips snarling back from his yellow teeth. Percival did the only thing he could think of; he lashed out and clawed at Wright’s face, catching the man across the brow with his ragged nails. Wright growled, wiping at the wound. “Looks like you still have trouble accepting when you’ve been beat. Don’t worry, Graves we’ll teach you your lesson.”
When Wright reached down to take Percival’s arm, the ex-auror reached out, hoping to grab the man’s wrist, anything, primed to shock him again but Wright was too fast, kicking Percival down to bear out the shock by himself. He lay back, his limbs twitching as Wright and Castor maneuvered him upright, shoving him forward onto his belly and twisting his arm behind him with a jerk that snapped something in his elbow. Percival screamed around the gag in his mouth.
“The more you fight this, the more it’ll hurt,” Wright whispered as he applied more pressure to the arm. Something else twisted and popped and Percival felt tears well up in his eyes. Pollux’s deep grumbles sounded behind him, joining in the back-and-forth patter that had Wright and Castor chuckling to themselves. Percival could only focus on the pain in his arm and at his side, and the sharp fizzing still sounding in his head. And then all he could focus on was rough hands at his waist, yanking down his trousers.
Frantically he kicked back, and was lucky to land something, his bare feet connecting with someone’s middle. That earned him a blow to the head and another wrench on his arm that left him seeing spots. The spots coalesced into a haze gathering at the sides of his vision, and he was blissfully unconscious by the time the first cock shoved into him.
They kept him like that for days, lying on his stomach in the corner of the cell. He hurt too badly to move, pain lancing up from the center of his being. He could only lay there and watch Joshua’s body decay slowly. He thought he knew what it was like to die before, but this was a whole new hell. His body was filthy, his hair matted with blood and worse. He’d stopped being able to feel, let alone move, his left arm.
They used him as they wanted to. Sometimes, during breaks he thought, there were more than the three of them. And still no one came. Well, he thought wryly, plenty of people came, but no one especially wanted to help. It was days later when someone noticed, or rather, anybody cared enough to call a healer. They didn’t get that far before they were taken down by Pollux. Wright waited until their break time was over, waited for the last man to pull out of Percival before he hauled his semi-conscious form over to the railing.
“Goodbye, Captain,” Wright smiled his sickening smile before he sent Percival tumbling over the edge into the foggy depths below.
Percival fell for what felt like decades. As he fell, he didn’t reflect on his life, on his actions and their morality. Instead he thought about how soothing the air felt whipping through his long hair, almost like a pair of hands running across his scalp. He prayed for that final impact to jolt through him so he could just go quietly and not hurt anymore. What he got was a sharp tug at his body halting its descent a few feet from the craggy floor. It kept him hanging there, suspended, before it floated him down as softly as a mother’s caress.
He looked up at the window of sunlight shining down from the top of the prison. Another form was tipped over the edge of one of the floors to come hurtling down at him. It landed with a sick crunch, not granted the delicate handling a living body had. It was Joshua, his bloated body now horribly disfigured from its crash onto the rocks where Percival now lay. His neck was bent at a terrible angle, so that his milky unseeing eyes stared just past Percival’s broken form.
Percival began to sob. At some point Wright had taken out the gag, satisfied that they’d broken his spirit enough to prevent him from biting anything important now. Now he cried without restriction, the hoarse sounds ripping from his sore throat and echoing against the harsh rocks around him. That was when the first dementor swooped down, as if sensing his distress and seeking to worsen it. Then came another. And another. This time he screamed.