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Even the Darkest Night Will End

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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.

Chapter Text

Percival didn’t expect to wake up. But he did. There was something pressing against his eyes, and his chest felt heavy with some unknown weight. He kept his eyes closed against whatever bandage covered his eyes, but moved his arm to displace the uncomfortable weight on his chest. He found he couldn’t. He tried to move his arm again, but there was nothing there. He tried again with the other arm and his fingers brushed against silken fur. A quiet, sleepy meow sounded from the cat on his chest. There were no cats in Azkaban.

He pushed away the panic rising in him, ignored the lack of sensation in his left arm, and tried to sit up. Immediately his stomach flipped and sent him back down flat on his back. Sitting up was not a good idea. Not even remotely. So he lay there, petting the cat. There wasn’t much else he could do. There was no one to tell him why he was alive, or why there was a cat on his chest, or why he couldn’t move his left arm. So he waited. He waited for a very long time.

“Are you awake, Director?” the voice, when it came, was soft and accented and overwhelmingly familiar. Percival froze, his hand still rubbing at the cat’s velveteen ears. It was Grindelwald. Grindelwald had him again. He scrambled backwards, tumbling off the bed onto the cold floor. Wandlessly he flung out magic at the man, before being reminded of the collar’s weight around his throat by the harsh buzz of electricity coursing through him.

The cat hissed its displeasure, streaking away from him and Percival almost felt sad at the loss. That feeling was overcome by fear and the pain from the collar. He was in a room again with Gellert Grindelwald. Percival promised himself that the next time that happened, one of them would leave it dead. And it looked like this time that someone would be him. He raised his hands, half in defense and half to ward off the dark wizard’s attack and scrambled further away from the sound of the voice until his back pressed up against a flat surface.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Director,” the dark wizard sounded disappointed, and Percival heard heeled shoes click over the ground towards him. He couldn’t move any further backwards, but by god did he want to. He felt someone kneel beside him and flinched when the voice sounded again, still in that easy cadence. “We put the bandage on to save your eyes from shock when you finally woke. I will take it off now.”

Percival fought back nausea as he felt the ghosts of other fingers tracing through his hair, but he forced himself to sit still while Grindelwald undid the blindfold. Percival blinked open his eyes to a dazzlingly bright room. Grindelwald crouched in front of him, both hands still outstretched with a slip of white bandage hanging between them. Grindelwald was as immaculately dressed as always, looking at him with something worryingly close to concern. Percival felt his stomach turn.

Percival looked down at himself and found himself in a clean white shift, his legs bare and knobby under the thin fabric. His right arm was still braced against the wall, but he darted his gaze down to his left side, where a shockingly empty sleeve hung at his side. His arm was gone. He gagged. There was nothing in his stomach to come up but bile. He collapsed forward only to be caught by Grindelwald, feeling his vision begin to tunnel.

“That’s it, easy now,” Grindelwald rubbed his back in slow circles. “Easy there, Percival.” He continued muttering soft nothings as Percival’s world spun. His arm was gone. He’d been hurt repeatedly by vicious sadistic men, but before he’d always had his whole body to count on. Now he didn’t have an arm. They’d won, he thought, he was broken.

“In my world, nobody would treat a wizard this way,” Grindelwald soothed, holding Percival against his chest and rocking him gently, as if he were a small child and not a grown-ass man. But Percival let him. It felt nice to be touched with tenderness, even if it was by his sworn enemy. He’d had no surplus of fond touches in Azkaban and before that he’d witnessed all his friends and co-workers turn their backs on him. This was the first time he’d been held by another person since before his initial capture at Grindelwald’s hands. He couldn’t overlook that fact, even with someone was holding him and telling him it would be all right because that someone was Gellert Grindelwald.

Percival threw himself back into the corner, rocking in adjustment to his new lopsided balance. Grindelwald knelt where he was, watching him warily, as if he was an injured animal ready to lash out at anybody who approached. Percival tried to laugh, the sound coming out ragged in his bone-dry throat. Maybe he was. Maybe he was a wounded animal, one that needed to be put out of its misery before he could hurt anyone else, or be hurt in turn.

“Percival, can you speak?” Grindelwald’s voice was too calm, his hands out in the open where Percival could see them. Like he was a deer about to spook. A deer, at least, could run away. Percival could try but he doubted he’d get past the other man, let alone to the door. And even then, where would he go? Who would want him. “I have a healer here, if you can’t speak let me know, maybe there will be something we can do.”

“I can speak,” growled Graves. The effort dragged a grating cough out of his throat that sent Grindelwald’s hand flicking to summon a cup of water from the bedside table. He allowed himself a generous sip before he pushed the cup away. He didn’t even bother checking for poison; at this point it might be a relief from the pain lining his bones and the new ache at the loss of his arm. “What the hell am I doing here, Grindelwald.”

“Hopefully, recuperating,” the dark wizard was still eyeing him cautiously but Percival noticed his right hand kept twitching towards the wand sheathed at his side. Habit. Or precaution against whatever threat Percival posed, as laughable as that idea was.

“But how did I get here. I was ... I was dead. Or dying at least,” Percival clutched at his leg with his right hand (his only hand, he thought) feeling the rough skin of his knee. There were scabs healing there, and Percival could remember how he got them; the first time Wright force him to his knees, hauling him up to service him with his mouth instead of his ass.
“Kurlow found you and brought you here,“ Grindelwald explained, breaking off Percival’s train of thought. He said nothing about the sickly cast to Percival’s face, instead rising from his crouch and offering Percival a hand up. The dark-haired man stared at the offered hand for a moment. Then, with noted deliberation, he raised his right hand to set it in Grindelwald’s broad palm. The blond pulled him up carefully, taking most of his weight, meager though it was, and allowing Percival to stagger against him when his bad knee threatened to give under him.

“Kurlow, he works for you?” Percival’s throat was a rasp, barely able to voice above a whisper. It made sense for Grindelwald to have men placed in the most notorious wizarding prison in the world. He just couldn’t picture the whip-tongued healer, with his sharp eyes and competent hands, as one of Grindelwald’s lackeys.

“Not for me as much as with me. We are colleagues, both striving for the same noble intention. As I hope you will too, Percival,” Grindelwald led him with gentle care back over into the bed, waiting for Percival to swing his legs up onto the mattress before lifting the covers over his legs with an oddly domestic flourish. He sat on the foot of the bed, one leg crossed over the other like he was posing for a photograph.

“Cut the shit, Gellert,” Percival said with a sigh as he eased back onto the pillows. It felt nice to lay down. All that jumping around and cowering in terror had set his nerves ablaze with pain as he awoke old injuries, including a throbbing between his legs that he really did not want to think about. “I’m not one of your fanatics. Now tell me what I’m doing here for real.”

“Believe me, I could never mistake you for one of my followers. It would be an insult to both you and them. You’re far too...nuanced for that, and you have a different sort of baggage.” Percival raised an eyebrow at that, to which Grindelwald shrugged his shoulders, daring Percival to disagree before he continued, “As for your other question, I have already said you are here to recover from what those monsters subjected you to in the name of justice.”

“Monsters. You’re calling them monsters as if you didn’t torture me for months just for your own amusement.” Percival wasn’t about to forget that. He still bore the marks of their time together on his back and on his knee. He wasn’t going to forgive that just because Grindelwald was acting the benevolent caretaker all of a sudden. He was still an international criminal linked to more deaths and treasonous acts than Percival could count.

“For my cause, Percival, never for my amusement. And I never… ” Grindelwald looked down at his lap, gathering himself to speak and Percival had to bite his tongue. The dark wizard actually looked, mournful? Circumspect? Something unusually emotional. “I never raped you, Percival, I never took your body against your will as those men did. Don’t ever accuse me of that.”

“You might not have taken my body but you did take my mind. You took my mind for your precious cause. Again and again,” Percival spat, angry now. From the shocked expression on the other man’s face that was not the reaction he was expecting. Well Percival was done being predictable. Predictable had gotten him sent to Azkaban, it had left him with his guard down when he desperately needed it to be strong. It had let him get captured by Grindelwald in the first place. “And I was weak enough to let you just like I was too weak to stop Wright.”

“You are many things Percival Graves, but you are not weak. You survived for months in Azkaban. You keep getting ground under the wheel of fate and you keep persevering. I can’t name any man who has overcome death as often or with such skill as you have,” Grindelwald ruined the heartfelt moment by smirking. “Except, perhaps, me.”

“That’s a pretty speech, Grindelwald, and your humility is remarkable. It really is. But I’m not some noble hero who can be roused to action by pretty speeches. Maybe I was once but not anymore. I can’t even use magic anymore.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This damn collar. It stops magic, I can’t use it, you saw what happened when I try, and I can’t get the collar off without killing myself,” Percival trailed off. What did he have to lose, anyway? MACUSA thought him dead, and even if they didn’t, they were the ones that sent him to Azkaban in the first place. He didn’t have a life to go back to, even if he wanted to. There was nothing left for him. He had nothing.

“Don’t even think it. I’ve worked too hard covering your tracks and making sure the body taken from the depths of Azkaban would be identified as you to have you kill yourself now.” The body — he was talking about Joshua. Of course it would make sense, two bodies go over but with no witnesses save the dementors and the unreliable words of the inmates, who was to say that only one came back up. It sent a shudder through Percival, thinking of his friends body laying under the wrong gravestone at the Azkaban cemetery.

“But the collar —”

“Kurlow was the one to place it on you, correct?” A nod from Percival. “Then Kurlow can take it off again. Really, Percival for as smart as you are that should have been obvious.”

“Well I’m sorry the shock and pain has clouded my intellect to disappoint you so,” Percival snapped but his heart wasn’t in it. He was too preoccupied with the blooming possibility of regaining use of his magic again. That would go a long way to making him feel whole again in spirit if not in body. Speaking of which. “My arm. What happened to it?”

“Kurlow had to remove it,” Grindelwald looked him in the eyes, and Percival wasn’t enough of a coward yet to look away. “What those men did to it — they ground it to a pulp. All that was left was your skin holding fragments of bone together. Even with the best healing magic there was no saving it.”

Percival nodded. That made sense too. He looked down at his left shoulder, bringing his other hand up to trace over the pin that held the sleeve together. His gaze rose back to Grindelwald, daring him to say anything, which he badly looked like he wanted to do, as Percival pulled out the pin and pushed up the sleeve. His arm ended neatly below the shoulder, just where the socket was. The skin stretched over the wound was tight and pink, a mess of scars that traced up past where the shirt covered. It looked bad.

“What now?” Percival asked into the silence that permeated the room. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“You needn’t figure all that out right now,” Gellert said, something close to kindness in his mismatched eyes. Percival looked away, focusing on the pin he still held in his hand. He couldn’t bear the kindness of Gellert Grindelwald right now. “Stay. Recover. Kurlow will be by whenever he can and it won’t be long until you’re on your feet and giving me hell once again. Then you can figure out the rest of it.”

“I suppose I will,” Percival mused, tipping his head back to rest against the pillows. But until then it looked like he was once again the unwilling houseguest of one Gellert Grindelwald.

——

As it turned out, Grindelwald was right. It was easier than Percival expected to push aside thoughts of the future and focus on healing. Kurlow came by once every couple of days on his way home from Azkaban no doubt, to check up on how his wounds were healing. His bedside manner was much the same as it was in the prison, but now tinged with genuine respect. It wasn’t often a man could survive a dementor’s kiss, and it was even rarer that they broke out of Azkaban. If you could call be hauled unconscious and transfigured ‘breaking out.’

And more than that, Kurlow was able to remove the collar with only a slight shock to Percival. He had his magic back and it felt better than he could have ever imagined. It was like coming home after a long day, or seeing the ocean again after a long absence. It was a feeling of completion, of belonging, that Percival had sorely missed.

He was healing well, according to Kurlow, who gave him all manner of creams and potion to help the healing process. They stung when applied and made him smell like a herbalist’s shop but he could already tell the difference they made. Wright and the twins had used his every weakness to their advantage, and had reaggravated the old wound in his knee, but his mobility was getting better, slowly. He could walk around on his own now, with the assistance of a cane, which occupied his remaining hand and left him feel rather helpless. By his third week of walking around the room he could abandon the cane by his bedside and make the lap unassisted, which made his self-confidence raise slightly but left him with a sore knee and a worried caretaker.

His caretaker was another thing. Sharing a house with Grindelwald was something else. For a supposed “Dark Lord” he seemed to be home a lot, and was always hovering around Percival making sure he didn’t need anything. He seemed eager to overcompensate for the way he treated Percival during his first stay by making sure he wanted for nothing. He brought him books and magical recordings that played music at a tap. He visited him every day, sometime staying for hours by his bedside, and they talked.

He found his days filled up with conversations about everything from art, to philosophy, to magical theory. Grindelwald was well-read in all respects, and proved a charming and attentive conversationalist and slowly Percival found himself beginning to enjoy his company. Enjoying his company, maybe, but never trusting his motives for being there. That was what Percival couldn’t figure out, why Grindelwald was caring for him so attentively. Percival’s running opinion was that he still hoped to make a convert of him, but every time their conversation steered towards the political, Grindelwald was quick to change the topic. He didn’t preach his cause, but asked intelligent questions that made Percival think twice before answering.

“Why are you here so often?” Percival asked him one day, after Grindelwald pulled off a particularly impressive evasive maneuver that changed the topic from law enforcement to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. “Don’t you have a world to conquer?”

“All good things to those who wait, my dear,” he replied, a smile twinkling unnervingly in his odd-colored eyes. “In truth I am running my operation remotely for the time being. I have people I can trust in the important positions and if I am truly needed somewhere I have portkeys to major cities all over the world. Additionally, I have just concluded a rather messy bit of business that has left me a little more free time.”

“What, acquiring more weapons? What is it this time?” Percival asked, not really expecting an answer. But he got one nonetheless. Grindelwald stood, placed his hands behind his back and had the gall to look a bit ashamed.

“Less of a what and more of a who,” Grindelwald bit his lip. “How much of do you know of my tenure as Director of Magical Security?”

“Nothing. They kept me in the dark,” if Percival was a little short in his tone, who could blame him. This was the closest they’d come to discussing their shared history and it was putting Percival a little on edge. “All I know is that they blamed me for the destruction.”

“Yes, I am sorry about that,” Grindelwald started but was silenced by a glare from Percival. “But anyway, well, I might have incurred the wrath of an obscurial while wearing your face and —”

“An obscurial?!” Percival looked at him, dumbfounded. How could someone so smart be stupid enough to take on an obscurial? “You pissed off an obscurial while wearing my face?”

“Yes, well, I was trying to win him over, you see, there is so much untapped power in that young man and I’ve only just managed to win him back…”

“Win him back,” Percival paused, “What do you mean win him back, where did he go? And how exactly did you win him in the first place?”

“I’m actually offended you doubt my charisma.”

“Your charisma?” Percival groaned, “Please tell me you did not seduce a child while wearing my face. Please, Gellert, please tell me you didn’t.”

“It wasn’t a seduction, really, just a couple of well-timed touches to keep him on track, and —”

“‘A couple of well-timed touches?’ Mercy Lewis, you have no idea how creepy you sound.”

“And he was hardly a child, he is at least twenty, and he was nearly as touch starved as you are.” Ouch. That hurt. Percival tried to shrug off the jab. It wasn’t like he was too far off the mark. It’d been a few years since he’d had an intimate relationship. More than a few when he came to think of it, and never had an overabundance of close friends to share casual touches with. He scoffed at the pained expression on the dark wizard’s face.

“Touch-starved or no,” he teased, “I would never have guess you for a cradle robber, really Gellert. Twenty-years old my ass.” Grindelwald flushed pink under his pale complexion and Percival guffawed. Looks like he’d hit the nail on the head. He laughed fully now, causing Grindelwald’s cheeks to darken further. “Oh god, you do fancy younger men, don’t you!”

“I do not,” Grindelwald stammered. “I’m just not used to speaking so openly about my — our preferences. For men, that is. I’ve only known one other who felt as I felt, and that was a long time ago.”

“Are you telling me that the Dark Lord Gellert Grindelwald has only had sex once?”

“Of course I’ve had sex more than once,” he said indignantly, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’ve been with women before, physically. And men. But finding someone to share the night with is quite different than finding a life partner, especially so for a man like me.”

“A man like you, what does that mean?” Percival asked, raising an eyebrow. There were plenty of homosexuals in America, and while he’d been on the continent he’d never had any special trouble finding bedfellows, male and female. Sure you had to be discreet, more so than most people, but people like them existed everywhere. Maybe it was different in Germany?

“I’m odd, Percival, I know that,” Gellert looked away, and Mercy Lewis when did he get on a first name basis with Gellert Grindelwald. That was an uncomfortable thought. He couldn’t quite remember when that happened. “I am ambitious. I grow restless when stuck in the same place for too long. I have a great many followers but few close friends. My decisiveness drives half the people away and my reputation scares off the other half.”

“So you’re telling me that a lot people want to fuck the Dark Lord but they’re too afraid to get to know him?” Percival was suddenly struck by the surreality of this conversation. Here he was acting as confidant to MACUSA’s sworn enemy, talking about romance and sex like they were bosom buddies all of a sudden.

“Well when you say it like that it sounds ridiculous,” Gellert said with something close to a pout. “You make me sound like an over dramatic teenager.”

“Are you telling me that you’re not? Please. You live in a castle, swoop around planning to take over the world, and have never been in a serious relationship with anyone. That sound like most wizarding teenagers to me.”

“You were never this sassy when I held you prisoner,” Grindelwald whined, proving Percival’s point even further. “What happened to the tight-lipped Percival Graves? I’m starting to miss him.”

“I’m actually quite social when I’m not getting the shit beaten out of me by dark wizards,” Percival quipped. Grindelwald was quiet then, as if he was unsure if he was allowed to laugh at Percival’s joke. After all, he was one of the dark wizards doing the aforementioned beating, however indirect. Percival took pity on him and smiled wanly. “It was a joke, Gellert. I’m sorry, it seems that six months in Azkaban have completely depleted my self preservation and my sense of humor.”

“Not to worry, your circumstances are completely understandable” Grindelwald smiled back, less uncertain. This time when silence fell it was only slightly tinged with awkwardness. Percival had found a loose thread on the blanket covering him and occupied himself by tugging at it.

“You’re wrong, by the way,” Grindelwald cleared his throat. “I have been in a serious relationship before. We were young and thought everything would work out despite our differences. We were fools.”

“You’re talking about Albus Dumbledore,” Percival can barely believe the words he’s hearing as they tumbled out of his mouth. Apparently neither could Grindelwald. The older man looked like he’s been slapped and refused to meet Percival’s gaze.

“Oh please, there were rumors about the two of you,” Percival offered, trying to cover for his blunder. “Dumbledore’s ‘preferences’ are the worst kept secret among those of us in the know, and he is quite handsome, for being an older fellow.”

“He’s the same age as I am,” Grindelwald said dully, still not meeting his eyes. Suddenly Percival missed the light banter they’d shared before. Obviously Dumbledore was a sore subject for Grindelwald, and therefore one to avoid in the future. Good to know.

“As I said, an older fellow,” Percival jibed, and earned himself a weary smile from blond. “I’m sorry I brought him up at all. Anyway now my theory of your cradle-robbing tendencies is shot, thanks to him.”

“You really do talk too much. If someone didn’t know better they might think you like me,” some of Grindelwald’s flare was back, flashing in his mismatched eyes. Graves grinned, teeth flashing from his gaunt face.

“Yes, if someone didn’t know better,” he replied, meeting that odd-colored gaze. “Now, tell me more about this obscurial.”

And that was how Graves learned about what had happened in the outside world when he was first captured. About the boy, Credence, and the Second Salemers. About Tina Goldstein and how she almost uncovered Grindelwald’s plot twice before he could send her to Wand Permits. And he also heard quite a bit about Theseus’ younger brother and how he made an absolute mess of his beloved New York.

Grindelwald pauses slightly in his retelling after the final battle, assessing Percival before he told of his own capture. They’d been in neighboring cells, it turned out. Grindelwald had caught a glimpse of them bringing Percival’s limp body down the corridor and throwing him in the next cell. He’d also watched as they took him away again to the trial.

Grindelwald admitted to Percival how confused he’d been at the similar treatment they’d received. In his humble opinion Percival had done no wrong other than allowing himself to be beater by a superior wizard and taken captive. He’d assumed MACUSA would be thrilled to have their prodigal son returned to them. Percival shook his head wearily as Grindelwald’s words trailed off.

For the first time he found himself speaking about the trial. He told Grindelwald about the betrayal he felt that Seraphina would abandon him in his time of need. For the first time he found himself voicing his resentment for the bureaucracy that allowed this to happen to him, someone who’d done nothing but strive for the good of wizardkind. Grindelwald kept his mouth shut and simply listened to all Percival had to say until his words had run out and he found himself, inexplicably on the verge of tears.

Grindelwald took Percival’s hand in his own and held it tightly, waiting for Percival to get his breath back. That was how, with tears flowing down his cheeks, he told Grindelwald about Azkaban. He told him everything. Joshua, the tattoos, the stabbings and beatings, everything. Grindelwald took it all in stride, never letting go of Percival’s hand. A deep fire burned in the other man’s eyes, some strange mix of empathy and a desire for vengeance that kept well away from pity. It gave Percival strength to speak.

When he’d finished, when he’d told Grindelwald everything, the other man simply held Percival’s hand to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss against his knuckles. There were tears in the other man’s eyes as well. This, right here, is how he gains his followers, Percival thought. Not with his speeches or his rallies but with this simple, raw human interaction. That’s how he does it.

The next day Grindelwald returned and neither of them spoke of what Percival had gone through. Neither of them needed to. There was something odd growing between them, a tension that Percival couldn’t quite place. He wasn’t an idiot, he had his suspicions, but he refused to give them any heed. Grindelwald was the first person to show him kindness in a very long time, even if he was odd in the way he showed it. It was only natural for Percival to feel some sort of bond with him after he’d taken such care to nurse Percival back to health.

That day, Grindelwald asked him if he’d like to take a walk outside of the infirmary and Percival looked at him askance. He hadn’t left the room during his convalescence, not because Grindelwald had forbidden it, simply because he still tired easily and his leg pained him if he walked on it for too long. Hesitantly, he agreed that he’d like to see the rest of Grindelwald’s home.

Grindelwald laughed and told him where he actually was. Nurmengard. He was in fucking Nurmengard, of all places. Really, he was doing a tour of Europe’s greatest hits: prison edition. When he eventually got over the shock of being ensconced in Grindelwald’s major base of operations, he gestured with his hand and his cane flew over to him. Boy did if feel good to have his magic back. But Grindelwald halted him as he made to get up, saying how he felt he must first explain the rest of what went on while Percival was imprisoned.

The story itself was nigh unbelievable. Not the bit about Gellert escaping from MACUSA custody, that Percival could believe. But the unlikely story of Credence really being the long lost Dumbledore, and the convoluted involvement of the Scamander brothers in all this, and Queenie Goldstein of all people now being in residence at Nurmengard, along with this Credence boy. That was why Grindelwald was telling him this, of course, so he wouldn’t be shocked by his other guests.

“I’d still like the tour,” Percival stated resolutely, “And to see Miss Goldstein. It would be nice to see a familiar face in this dusty old fortress of yours.”

“It is not dusty! And if it were, how would you know?” Grindelwald complained, “You haven’t been out of this room and I’ll have you know there are layers of cleaning charms that…” he trailed off when he realized Percival was teasing him. He sniffed disgruntledly before helping Percival to his feet and leading him out of the room.

Nurmengard was impressive. A bit austere, even by Graves’ standards, but impressive nonetheless. They made it as far as Grindelwald’s richly furnished library before Percival’s leg began to throb uncomfortably. Grindelwald and his damn sixth sense for Percival’s discomfort tactfully suggested the stop for tea by the warm fireplace and Graves happily agreed, settling into one of the plush armchairs. A ginger cat stirred itself from a basket near the fire and purred a ‘hello’ to Percival, stretching languidly.

“Hello, darling,” Grindelwald cooed, holding his hand out for the cat to sniff daintily. The cat jumped up into the dark wizard’s arms, purring happily as it nuzzled under his chin. “Percival, this is Amaryllis. I believe she was with you when you first awoke.”

Percival suddenly recalled the cat that had been with lying on his chest that first day back in the land of the living and had to smile at the cat. A sudden noise behind him made him jump, cane clattering to the floor as his magic reared in him, whipping out in streaks of unseen force that lashed out against whoever had snuck in. Percival blinked. There was a young man, unarmed man pressed back against the bookcase by the brute strength of Percival’s magic.

“Percival, please let Aurelius go,” Grindelwald sounded cautious in a way he hadn’t since Percival’s first days at Nurmengard. “He didn’t mean to startle you.”

So this was the Barebone boy, or really, the Dumbledore boy if Grindelwald was to be believed. Percival let his magic dissipate, winding itself back into his chest like a fretful dog winding its way between its owner’s legs. He found himself regarding the younger man as Credence stared back with wide, terrified eyes. He was slim, his dark hair cut close to his skull, and with no traces of his obscurus about him. He also had a wand at his hip, but that was a new development given the way it went untouched in the face of attack.

“Sorry,” Percival gritted out, “I’m a little jumpy nowadays.” The boy was still staring at him like he’d seen a ghost, body still draped against the bookcase.

“M-Mister Graves?” he asked in a quavering voice and Grindelwald cursed softly in German from his armchair.

“Of course, I should have warned you, Aurelius my boy,” he said, coming to his feet and moving to cup the boy’s neck. A few well-placed touches, indeed. Amaryllis meowed her disapproval at Grindelwald’s sudden departure and pounced down to sit at Graves’ feet. At least he had the cat as backup. “This is the real Mister Graves, the one whose face I wore when we first met.”

“He’s real?” Credence asked, looking between Grindelwald and Graves in confusion. “I thought he was just a mask you wore to hide your identity?”

“I needed his face to gain access at MACUSA, my boy,” Grindelwald sighed, looking apologetically back at Percival. “But he is very much a real man, as you can see for yourself. Why don’t you join us, Aurelius, we can explain everything.”

Grindelwald led the boy back to the fireside, settling back into his armchair as Credence perched nervously on the sofa between them. Amaryllis stayed by Percival, settling herself regally across his slippered feet. Percival’s nerves were still on edge from Credence’s arrival but he tried his best to ignore the creeping feeling of danger lurking in the back of his mind. This boy wasn’t going to hurt him.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Percival said mildly, offering his hand to the boy. Credence, for his part, froze, looking over at Grindelwald with awe.

“He even sounds like you did,” he murmured wondrously, causing Percival to roll his eyes behind the boy’s turned head. If this boy didn’t stop acting like he wasn’t there, things were going to go sour fast. Even if he was new to magic, the boy should have learned that Grindelwald’s powers at least, were nothing short of incredible.

“Yes, your mentor is quite the actor,” Percival grumbled, startling the boy. He looked pointedly down at his offered hand. Credence followed his gaze and hesitantly reached out to shake his hand. “Let’s start again. I’m Percival Graves, and you are?”

“Credence Barebone,” he blanched, looking once again towards Grindelwald for support. “Well, that’s who I thought I was. I’m actually trying to figure that out for myself right now, sir.”

“No one’s called me ‘sir’ in over a year, Credence,” Percival laughed, running a hand over his face in a struggle for composure. He’d been called many things during the past year, but ‘sir’ had never been one of them. “Please, if we are to be housemates, call me Percival.”

“Housemates?” Credence asked, then his eyes widened. “You’re the one who's been in the infirmary. The sick one. Mister Grindelwald told me to stay clear of the infirmary but I knew someone had to be in there because he visited you every day.” Percival shot Grindelwald a look that earned him an unapologetic shrug from the dark wizard.

“You were sick,” Grindelwald shrugged again, tapping his fingers against one splayed knee. “You needed sleep. I didn’t want him to disturb you while you were resting.”

“Somehow that didn’t stop you from coming in and disturbing my rest every day,” Percival snarked back, startling a laugh from Gellert. Credence stared at the blond man as if he’d grown another head. Percival wondered if this was the first time Credence had seen Grindelwald outside of his intimidating ‘Dark Lord’ persona. From the look on his face, he had to guess it was.

“I’m sorry if you took offence, Sir, uh, Percival. I just, I thought… You’re the last person I expected to see here,” Credence stammered, looking nervously between the two of them. “I mean, aren’t you supposed to be on opposite sides?” Percival and Gellert looked at each other for a moment before bursting out laughing like teenage witches on giggle water.

“Yes,” Gellert gasped, “I rather suppose we ought to be. But Percival here has lost his arm and quite a bit of standing with MACUSA and he now finds himself in our fine company.” Credence’s dark eyes flicked towards Grave’s left side, where the sleeve of his dressing gown hung limp. He gulped.

“I don’t understand,” he started, “But didn’t you work for MACUSA? Are they the ones who —?” Percival nodded, the laugher suddenly caught in his throat. Credence visibly flinched before gathering himself and barrelling on bravely, meeting Percival’s gaze for the first time. “I’m very sorry, Mister Graves. I know what it's like to be hurt by those who are meant to protect you.”

“It's alright, Credence,” Percival said softly. “I’ve learned from the experience, and I’m healing from it too.” He was too cowardly to reach out and take the boy’s hand, to comfort him in turn. No one should know what that feels like. Grindelwald met his glance and placed his own hand on Credence’s shoulder.

“Mister Grindelwald has helped you, then? Like he helped me? To be free?” Credence asked earnestly, and Graves felt his gaze drawn toward Grindelwald’s.

“Yes,” he repeated solemnly. “Yes he has.”

It was at that moment that Queenie Goldstein came waltzing into the room a tea tray with service for four balanced in her arms and a bright smile on her face. She was dressed more drab than he’d ever seen her, in a dark brown dress that would have looked unbecoming on any other woman. She quickly set the tray down on the coffee table and swooped in to give him two pecks on the cheek, talking all the while.

“Mister Graves!” she exclaimed, sounding genuinely glad to see him, “I was wondering when Gellert was gonna whisk you outta hiding! Oh relax, Gellert, James told me. Your wards have nothing to fear. But Director, you’ve no idea how worried we’ve been about you. Oh, Teens was just beside herself with worry when they found you, but Picquery wouldn’t let her go to the trial. I was lucky I saw youse at all and when I did and that was just because they needed another Legilimens.”

As she spoke, the tea set came alive behind her, pouring steaming amber liquid into four cups and distributing cream and sugar with neat little plops. He soon found a cup of tea pressed into his hand, and was delighted when he took a sip found that she’d remembered how he liked his tea. No cream and two sugars. Grindelwald, he noted took his with a heavy dose of cream and three lumps of sugar.

“And when I tried to tell you how much everyone was worried about ya, you’re walls were just too strong for me to get through,” at this she shot a sidelong glance at Gellert that had the blond man rolling his eyes, no doubt defending himself to her silent critique. “And then that horrible Woodrow —oh that, horrible woman and her nasty little thoughts— had to get involved. Teens cried for you when we heard the news. Sweetie, they should never have sent you to Azkaban.”

Credence drew in a quick breath. Great, so even the kid didn’t know shit about the wizarding world now knew just how thoroughly the wizarding government fucked over one of their own. That or he’d sucked tea down the wrong way, but Percival was willing the bet on the former. If all his worldly assets hadn’t been liquidated upon his arrest and he had money to bet, that is.

“But you know that, sweetie, of course you know that —” Percival slammed up his walls so hard Queenie let out a little breath of pain as she stared at him with wide blue eyes. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t meaning to pry, you didn’t have to shut me out so tight, Mister Graves.”

“There are things in my head that aren’t fit for polite company,” Percival said through gritted teeth, his grip bone-white on his saucer. He forced himself to relax his grasp on it or risk endangering the china, but kept his walls up firm. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, Miss Goldstein.”

“Please, call me Queenie,” she smiled knowingly at him. “We’re to be housemates after all!” His gaze flicked over to Credence, who blushed guiltily. Damn Legilimens. He’d have to teach the kid how to guard his thoughts, in case he didn’t want to be such an open book to everyone he met.

“Then you must call me Percival,” he replied, taking a sip of his tea. “This really is delicious. Thank you, Queenie.”

“You’re welcome, sugar! But we really gotta get you something to eat. Really, you’re almost as skinny as Credence here. Hows about I go fix us up something to eat? Wanna help, Credence?” She turned on her heel, not waiting for a response or perhaps knowing it before Credence himself could voice it. Either way the young man followed her out of the room, shooting a lingering look back at the two of them. Once the pair was gone, Percival set down his saucer with a thunk and glared accusingly at Grindelwald.

“Next time, warn a man when he’s about to be ambushed,” he muttered, reaching down to stroke Amaryllis’ ears. She purred, leaning into his hand good-naturedly. He’d always loved cats, but hadn’t owned one since his childhood. To him, the purr of a cat was nostalgic, reserved for sleepy afternoons on the linnae with his mother. It made him feel content.

“Ah but then it wouldn’t be an ambush, my dear,” the other man said with a laugh. He rose and summoned Percival’s cane for him, offering it to him handle first like it was a sword rather than a walking stick. Percival grasped the carved handle and pulled himself upright, suddenly finding himself almost chest-to-chest with Grindelwald. He let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding when Grindelwald released the cane and stepped back.

“We’d best be on our way to the dining room,” he said with a sweeping gesture, “Queenie is nothing short of ferocious when it comes to feeding people.”

——

Percival fell into a routine. Grindelwald suggested he move from the infirmary into more comfortable quarters, which put him closer to his new housemates in the guest wing. He had no idea where Grindelwald slept, if the madman slept at all, and hadn’t been adventurous enough to explore that far. Where the infirmary had been bare, his new room oozed opulence, complete with a four poster bed, a fireplace, and a living area which Percival found frankly ridiculous. In fact, most of the rooms he visited shared that same heavy-hand with the decor. Percival had to wonder if Grindelwald himself had ordered that each wall sconce be set with a sculpture or some other sort of decorative element.

Amaryllis became his constant companion, so much so that Graves wondered whether or not Grindelwald had ordered his familiar to keep an eye on him. Either way she was welcome company as he explored the castle, or even when he read in the Library, the big yellow cat a warm presence against his thigh as she curled up beside him.

He was wary of Queenie, at first. After all she had switched her allegiances to oppose the sister that she very much loved just for the sake of a man, and seemed slightly unhinged for doing so. But when he spoke to her, she was the same bright presence he remembered from her coffee rounds in the Auror Department. She kept out of his head after that first day, either out of respect for him or because she couldn’t get in, and so they got along just fine.

Sometimes, he even found himself laughing again in her company. She was reminded him of his past life, without making it painful. Even hearing her New York accent was a balm against the sudden bout of homesickness that threatened to overcome him. She was also determined that he eat regular meals, so he slowly found himself regaining some of the weight he’d lost in the past year. He’d never been familiar with the younger Goldstein, but was acquainted with her thanks to his close work with Tina. He’d always held the blonde woman in high regard, knowing that her pretty exterior disguised a mind that was constantly exposed to the worst of humanity. Slowly, over tea and cookies and a few games of parcheesi, he began to consider her a friend.

Credence was another matter. The young man seemed almost as conflicted about being there as Percival was. In that way they were similar. Both had been mistreated by the system, and both were uncertain of their newfound allegiance to Grindelwald. In both their cases, there wasn’t much they could do about it. Neither of them had places to go if they decided to leave Nurmengard, and would be painted as traitors for their dalliance there.

Credence was quiet around Graves at first, so much so that Percival almost dismissed his reticence as part of his personality, until the first time Credence saw him use wandless magic. It was something as mundane as shutting a door behind him upon entering a room, but Credence stared at him in awe before snapping his book shut, standing, and demanding for Percival to teach him how to do that.

That was how Percival found himself tutoring an obscurial in wandless magic. All magic, really, since Credence had no basis in magical theory to build off of. Percival had no wand to demonstrate with, but Queenie was quick to lend him hers so he could demonstrate proper technique for his new pupil. They cleared out a storeroom next to the kitchen and claimed it as their practice room. Percival went through each of Grindelwald’s three (three!) libraries to find all of the books that could possibly help in their studies and brought them to the room.

Neither of them had much to do with their time, and with Grindelwald becoming absent more and more often, both of them spent much of their time learning. Credence was bright, and he already knew how to read which made their studies much easier. He had already picked up on many of the charms taught first-year Ilvermorny students and was starting to progress on to more complicated spellwork. Percival’s specialty had always been offensive and defensive magic, but he also taught the boy what he knew of potions, herbology, and healing. Kurlow quickly took over in regard to the latter, since his visits were no longer occupied with Percival’s healing, and declared that Credence had a natural talent for it.

Helping Credence also allowed Percival to flex his rusty magic, and begin to shape it into the finely-tuned instrument it once was. One of the first things he taught Credence, upon his mastery of second-level spells, was the basics of duelling. After all, one should not be in the presence of dark wizards, however friendly, and not be able to defend himself. They started slow, for both of their sakes. Credence was new to duelling, and Percival had to contend with a newly-missing limb.

One day, Percival looked up at the completion of their bout to find Grindelwald leaning against the door frame, watching them. Their efforts left both of them in an easy sweat, darting back and forth over the practice room floor. As such, Percival had shucked his shirt and vest, while Credence retained his shirt for modesty’s sake. When Percival looked at him, Gellert’s eyes were inexplicably trained on his chest, making Percival want to shrink back in shame. He already knew the scars littering his torso were ugly, and that the mass of tattoos across his chest were far from appealing to most people. He didn’t need Gellert to confirm that for him, so he quickly dipped to pull on his shirt before asking the other man for his critique of Credence’s performance.

The more time they spent in the room, the more objects seemed to appear in it. First, two desks with chairs for the pair to read at, then a bookshelf to house their textbooks. After the first time both of them fell asleep over their desks, two couches appeared, along with a more comfortable chair for Percival to rest his leg in. Eventually the room was divided by its function between ‘read’ and ‘practice’ leaving half bare and half looking like a miniature library.

One day when Queenie was bringing them lunch, he thanked her for making the room more comfortable but she had simply smiled and shook her head. “That wasn’t me, honey,” she said enigmatically, sharing a knowing look with Credence, who ducked his head and laughed. He thanked Grindelwald for it the next time he saw him, and the other man had nodded.

“Really, I should be thanking you for taking on Aurelius’ tutelage,” he admitted, “I thought I would have more time before my other duties resumed so heavily. I am lucky to have you here.”

“I’m not teaching him for you,” Percival met Grindelwald’s gaze with a level look. “I’m teaching him because he deserves to be taught. I want him to be able to decide what he wants to do with his magic, and in order to do that, he needs to be well informed.”

“Of course,” Gellert said with a tight smile, “I would expect nothing less from you.”

“Would you still welcome him? If he wasn’t your weapon?” Percival asked him. He had no idea when he’d started feeling so protective of the younger man, but he supposed it couldn’t be helped now. Maybe he sensed in him a kindred spirit, and refused to let him be used as Percival had been used.

“Of course I would,” Grindelwald looked taken aback. “Of course I would, Percival. Just as I welcome all of my fellow wizards regardless of background or magical specialty.” Just as I welcomed you lay unspoken between them.

“And if he decided to leave? After he’s learned his fill, if he decides to leave and live off on his own somewhere, would you allow it?”

“Yes.” Grindelwald looked almost cross with him. “I am not so cruel as you think. I would not restrict the ability of that young man simply to fit my needs. Nor would I kill him if he stopped being useful to me. That’s MACUSA’s play if I recall correctly.” Percival froze. His physical wounds may heal and fade but no matter how much time passed, reminders of MACUSA’s betrayal still hurt. Maybe they always would. Grindelwald seemed to realize he had overstepped some boundary, regret flashing over his fine features, but it was too late.

“Low blow, Gellert,” Percival glared at him, before turning and hobbling out of the room, excruciatingly aware of the click of his cane against the flagstones.

For the next few days, Nurmengard was even icier than usual. Grindelwald no longer joined them for dinner when he was home, and that alone was enough to upset the rhythm of the household. Grindelwald’s campaign had him away most of the day, but he made an effort to be there in the evenings to sup with them and ask Credence about his studies and compliment Queenie on the meal before retiring to the library to share a drink with Percival. Their little band of misfits had found some sense of normalcy in that routine. Of course Percival had to be the one to ruin it.

Since their fight, Grindelwald always found some excuse or other to be elsewhere when Queenie called him to dinner. It was excruciating. Their usually light and playful meals turned into somber affairs, with Percival brooding too hard for even Queenie to lift his spirits. Halfway through the third dinner without Grindelwald, Credence turned to Graves with a frown.

“I know why you two are fighting,” he confessed, “I heard you. I was walking by the library and I heard my name and I know I shouldn’t have listened, I didn’t mean to, really, but I heard all of it.”

Queenie paused with her water glass halfway to her lips, eyes widening at Credence before darting to Percival with a concerned look. Damn it. They needed to hurry up and get to occlumency in Credence’s studies. Percival his fork down against the plate with care and sat back, considering. That was clumsy of him. Of both of them, really, but he should have saved that conversation for somewhere more private than the library. And he should have cast silencing spells, or something to keep the wrong people from hearing.

“Thank you,” Credence said into the silence as Percival mentally kicked himself for not being more careful. “Thank you for standing up for me, not many people do that.”

At his words, Percival looked up, surprised. That was not the reaction he was expecting. He was expecting anger at having his future discussed without him present to say what he wanted. He was expecting anything but thanks, really. But that was assuming Credence would react as Percival would, where any threat to his independence struck as strong as any blow. Credence was unlike Percival in that respect. He’d grown up without any freedom whatsoever and suddenly found himself with a surplus. Of course he wouldn’t react as Percival would.

“You’re welcome,” Percival replied, voice unexpectedly rough.

“It’s a stupid reason for the two of you to be fighting,” Credence said, bolder now. “But it was good to hear him say it, that he isn’t just being kind to me so I’ll be his weapon. And I liked what you were saying, too, about maybe leaving and finding my own way. I don’t know if I want to be a part of any war.”

“That should be for you to decide, Credence, once you know all the facts.”

“Yes and I appreciate the two of you giving me that choice, but really you shouldn’t fight over me. You haven’t fought over anything else, and it seems like there’s an awful lot you could be fighting over. Don’t start on my account,” Credence’s confidence faltered somewhere along the way and he ended his speech staring down at his laps. Queenie reached over to place a comforting hand on his shoulder, shooting a look at Graves.

“He’s right, sweetie,” she said, not unkindly. “I thought you’d be at it like cats and dogs, but you seem to get along just fine most of the time. He didn’t mean anything by what he said, he was just riled up is all. I don’t think he wants to lose you. Either of you. He really cares about you.”

Percival paused. He viewed his stay at Nurmengard as an inconvenience, something made less onerous for Grindelwald by the fact that Percival was teaching Credence. He’d never considered that Grindelwald might actually want him to stay, as more than just a fuck you to MACUSA. He thought back to all of their late-night conversations, games of chess played by the fire with Amaryllis stretched between them, drinking Grindelwald’s whiskey and listening to his smokey laugh.

Were he and Gellert friends now? Is that what the warm fondness he felt when spent time around the other man meant? Had Grindelwald’s reaction been that of someone worried about losing a friend, rather than a deliberate insult to Percival? Shit, he thought. Am I friends with Gellert Grindelwald? Deep down he knew the answer was yes, and had been for some time. Then it hit him. The long looks. The gifts. Everything about the way Gellert acted around him. Maybe it wasn’t just friendship he’d overlooked, but something else altogether.

“Oh honey, did you not realize?” Queenie said and he checked his wards reflexively. They were still as strong as ever. Then he realized that while his mental blocks were still standing, he hadn’t been doing anything to stop the range of emotions he felt from flickering across his face. Really, he was just as bad as Credence, acting like a lovesick fool in front of a woman attuned to the nuances of human emotion.

“No,” he started, “I suppose I didn’t. If you’ll excuse me, I have an apology to make.” He pushed his chair back from the table, not waiting for their response. He made his way through the winding halls, sensing for the familiar beacon of Gellert’s magic. His search led him deep into Nurmengard, down hallways he’d never seen before, until eventually he came to a stop outside two grand oak doors set with wrought iron handles. He stepped up cautiously and raised his hand, rapping it against the wood before he could change his mind and flee.

“Come in,” came Gellert’s voice, muffled by the thick wood. Percival shoved at the wood, pushing at the heavy door with his good shoulder until it swung open with a creak. The room he stepped into could only be Grindelwald’s own chamber. The room was enormous, encompassing a large bed, a living area, a small library and a door that no doubt led off to a bathroom. Gellert sat by the fireplace, a book open in his lap. He was staring at Percival, his blonde hair turned molten gold by the firelight.

Percival swallowed. He felt like he should ask again if he could come in, now that Grindelwald knew who it was, but if he was right Gellert could sense his magic just as clearly as Percival could sense his. He stepped into the room, the click of his cane muffled by the plush carpet underfoot. He came to a stop just outside of the glow of the fire, standing ramrod straight before the older man.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry,” he began, not flinching away from Gellert’s steady eye-contact. “For my behavior the last few days. It has been brought to my attention that I’ve been rather blind to our friendship, and didn’t see that me speaking of Credence’s departure might foreshadow my own.”

“And does it? Would him leaving mean you would leave as well?” Gellert asked steadily. He didn’t even flinch when Percival called them friends. Of course the bastard would realize it before Percival himself did. Of course he wouldn’t ignore whatever it was that had built between them, as Percival had. Percival shook his hand, running a hand through his hair. It had grown quite long at this point, falling almost to his chin. He really should see about getting it cut.

“No it would not. I’m not promising I’ll stay here forever, but he’s not the only thing keeping me here, not anymore, and I’m sorry I didn’t realize that sooner,” Percival finally broke eye contact with Gellert, looking away from that unnerving stare. He found himself lost in the whirled brocade of the settee, and the way the light played over Grindelwald’s collarbones where they peeked over his open shirt.

“Sit down, Percy, you look ridiculous standing to attention like that,” Gellert finally said, his voice soft and full of emotion. “Sit down with me and we can talk, man to man.” Percival did as he was bid, sliding onto the far side of the couch, only an arms length away from the other man.

“I’ve told you before,” Grindelwald shut his book, setting it to the side. “I’ve never made friends easily. When you arrived...when you arrived and didn’t hate me, that is, I realized I might have an opportunity with you, as friends. And as we talked, I thought that maybe we could be something more than friends.”

“Gellert, I —” Percival started, brows drawing together as he tried to figure out what to say to this utterly confusing yet utterly marvelous man, who still looked at him like he was something good instead of something dirty and used.

“No, you don’t have to say anything,” his face was still turned away and Percival desperately wanted to do something, anything to get him meet his eyes, to look at him as he always had. “You’re a man of morals, and I know those morals don’t exactly align with my own. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. It was foolish of me to hope that someone like you could find room in their heart to love a man like me.”

“Before you say anything else,” Percival interrupted, raising his hand to silence the other man. “Before you dismiss anything as impossible, I want you to know that recently I’ve come to question everything I once held sacred. My life has strayed so far from what I once thought it would be that I can’t hold anything to face value anymore. All of my preconceptions about my life, and the people I thought I knew turned out to be terribly wrong. My naivete, my belief that everything would turn out okay for me led me to disaster, and worse than disaster. These past few months i’ve had to rebuild who I am piece by piece and you’ve helped with that. You’ve been kind to me, in ways you had no right being, and a part of me resents you for that. I resent that you’re no longer a villain in my eyes because that forces me to reconsider not only who you are, but who you are to me. I was blind not to see you before. I’ve been blind and self-absorbed and haven’t appreciated all you’ve done for me when you could’ve left me to rot.”

“You haven’t been self-absorbed,” Gellert’s voice was soft as he turned towards Percival, one hand darting out over the loveseat. “You’ve been focused on healing. The two are quite different. I don’t fault you for needing time for yourself. Often I felt like I was pressuring you to recover faster just for my own selfish sake, because I wanted you whole and happy and by my side.”

“Do you still want that? After everything? After knowing how broken I am do you still want me by your side?” Everything that had happened over the past year flashed before his eyes. His capture. How Gellert had ripped his mind to shreds in search of answers. Seraphina’s eyes as she’d sentenced him to Azkaban. The feeling of a shard of glass buried in his gut. Joshua’s laugh. The feel of a hard prison mattress. To get the happiness sucked from his memories one at a time. He remembered what it felt like to die.

“There isn’t anyone I’d rather have,” Grindelwald sounded so fucking ernest Percival could cry. But he didn’t. In that moment he decided he was done crying. He reached out to take Gellert’s hand in his own and just looked at the other man, the planes of his face bright against the shadows of the room. Percival hesitated for a moment, just looking at the other man. Then he closed the gap between them and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. That was all it was, one kiss. But somehow it felt like hope.