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This Is Me

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Credence tentatively walked into the bar, called Julius’. It was a rustic looking bar, modern and tasteful, with a candle-lit chandelier made of dark wood. Despite the relaxed and jovial atmosphere of the bar’s patrons, the young Wizard found himself quite the opposite--shoulders hunched and expression screaming that he wanted to be anywhere but here. Ma would surely kill him if she were to find out that he had stepped anywhere within a mile of this place. And on any normal day, he would have made a wide berth.

But between his deep, albeit sinful curiosity, and the nice older man that had approached him the other day, how could he stay away, really? They did say ‘curiosity killed the cat’, and Credence supposed that he must be the cat.

“But don’t you know that satisfaction brought it back?” Came a gentle but kind, familiar voice from behind the young Barebone. Had he spoken aloud? Still, it took Credence off guard, and he jumped nearly a foot in the air before slowly turning around. Standing there leaning slightly against an ebony cane was Percival Graves, the very man that had invited him to this location in the first place.

“Oh, Mr. Graves...hello,” Credence greeted softly, flushing a light red. It was a stark contrast to his ghostly pale complexion. “I didn’t see you there…” The young man sounded as if he were about to say more, but decided to hold his tongue, instead opting to wait and see if perhaps Percival had more to say. He had been taught not to speak unless spoken to--and Credence had already spoken his part in response to the older man’s greeting.

“You don’t need to be so tense, here,” Percival said, offering Credence a tight smile. Despite his words, Credence thought the man seemed to be almost if not just as tense. “Why don’t you come with me? We can find somewhere quiet to sit. Out of the way of prying eyes. That is what you’re worried about, correct?” When Credence ducked his head in an approximation of a nod, Percival stood straighter and turned around, heading towards the back of the bar. Once out of sight of all the other patrons, Percival waved his hand and his cane transfigured itself into his wand. He mumbled something beneath his breath and drew a pattern into the wallpaper--there came a glow, in the vague shape of a doorway, before the floral design and faux wood peeled back, revealing a secret entrance. Credence watched, enamored, as Percival opened the door, holding it open for him. There seemed to be a separate crowd on the other side. “After you, Mr. Barebone,” he invited kindly.

With great reserve, and a conscious effort to not cross his arms across his chest and hunch his shoulders further, Credence stepped through the newly created doorway. Percival followed close behind, and with a passive wave of his hand, the door rehid itself. He stuck his wand back into his pocket, not bothering to make it into a cane again. He didn’t need it. Gently, he placed his hand on Credence’s back, guiding him towards a quieter seating arrangement in the back. They had a perfect view of a performance made up of enchanted musical instruments on the other side of the bar, playing a jolly but unobtrusive tune. Credence had a hard time not staring.

“What would you like to drink, Credence?” Percival inquired, flagging down the bartender with a wave of his hand. Credence snapped his attention back to the other, and once again flustered, withdrawing into himself and staring wide-eyed at his companion. “Oh...I don’t drink, Mr. Graves,” Credence stuttered with a tiny shake of his head. “Ma said God finds drinking sinful, and so I do not.” This gave the seasoned Wizard some pause, but he opted not to say anything on it, ordering a whisky for himself. When it arrived, Percival took a healthy sip, but nothing more.

“Mr. Graves...if it is alright for me to ask, why did you ask me to come here?” Credence inquired, though he braced himself, as if expecting backlash for his curiosity. It was pathetic to watch, but Percival adamantly refused to pity the young man sitting before him. Instead, he attempted to make eye contact with Credence as he answered his question. He wasn’t successful--Credence wouldn’t look up from his fidgeting hands, which were resting tensely on his knees. “I thought an accepting atmosphere would be healthy for you,” Percival admitted. “Your mother--she doesn’t approve of places like these, does she?” Credence went deathly still at the mention of Mary Lou, and Percival quickly backtracked. “You don’t have to answer any questions you aren’t comfortable with.”

“No, no,” Credence fretted with a shake of his head, still looking down at his lap. His fingers slightly curled over his pants. His jaw clenched. “Ma--Mary Lou, she insists that homosexuality is a punishable sin, like wizardry. She told me that there’s a special place in Hell for men that look at other men, and that she would not house a faggot.” Percival and Credence both flinched at the harsh words, though Credence curled into himself further, while Percival straightened his back. He could hardly believe that there was a No-Maj so cruel to others as to create the product that was Credence Barebone.

“Being interested in other men, in the magical world, is not a bad thing,” Percival told Credence, and the young man’s head snapped up. He eyed the senior wizard in shock--he even looked scandalized. “The only thing that is considered bad is a wizard or witch associating him or herself with a No-Maj. And that isn’t because some God said so. It’s because it risks our security.” That seemed to not quite be the correct thing to say, as Credence had seemed enamored until Graves had said ‘some God’, perhaps too passively. The boy rushed to defend. “He is not ‘some God’, Mr. Graves, with all due respect. He...He is our creator, and will Save us, His children, if we lead a life free of sin, or repent for them.” Credence was trembling now, caught between defending everything he had been taught to believe in and trying to be polite and uninteresting to everyone around him. Percival was not upset about Credence speaking up against him; in fact, he was upset for the boy.

“Yes, my apologies, Credence. I didn’t mean to be dismissive.” Graves apologized, earnestly. He would have to tread carefully around religious topics, at least for now. “But I assure you, all of that aside--homosexuality is not considered a sin in our society. In fact, same-sex marriage is legal. There’s even a woman married to a woman at MACUSA.” This seemed to short-circuit Credence’s brain, as he froze up for a long moment before for the first time making eye-contact with Percival, who saw lifelong war in those brown eyes. He looked like he had a hundred things to say, but was at a shortage of words to express them--it had been a long time since Percival had been anywhere near that level of insecurity. He found that he physically ached with the urge to instill the opposite into the other.

“Why did you really bring me here, Mr. Graves?” Credence asked, slowly. And he was back to not making any sort of eye contact. Percival mourned the loss, but buried it under years and years of practice in schooling his facial expressions. Before he could answer, though, a small group of witches and wizards stepped up onto the stage of the enchanted instruments, disenchanted them, and used the Sonorous charm to ensure that all in the room heard what they had to say. “We will now be singing a song that I think has or will touch the hearts of anyone who has faced issues accepting themselves in life. First heard in the middle 1800s and sung by Lettie Lutz, a woman curiously afflicted by the hair-thickening charm; we present to you ‘This is Me’.” There was a quiet, polite round of applause, before the already dim lights in the bar turned dimmer. Credence noted how the lights were mostly candles, their flames going from healthy to small; almost snuffed. Mr. Graves had turned his attention to watch, and Credence didn’t want to be impolite, and so he turned his attention towards the stage, listening as they started.

Credence was almost immediately captured in the lively, harmonious voice of the witch that took her place in front of the rest of her group, holding up a wand that faintly glowed at its’ tip--also utilizing Sonorous. Their vibe was energetic, far from the Jazz tune that would usually be heard in bars. It sounded more...modern, somehow, almost futuristic. Usually songs that had lyrics were slower and quieter. Credence felt incredibly out of place, but this didn’t mean he didn’t catch the lyrics. Without realizing it, about halfway in, the oppressed Wizard had started crying. If he had known the words, and had more confidence, there was no doubt he would be singing along. Even Percival, ever stoic was he, appeared moved by the performance.

Once the song was over, Credence carefully wiped his face with his sleeves, having realized his mistake--he looked carefully over at Percival, found that the man was eyeing him with something unreadable, and blushed. “Sorry,” he said, before clearing his throat. “Sorry, Mr. Graves,” he said again, but the man in question just shook his head.

“Don’t apologize, Credence. Let that song be a lesson. Accept who you are, and become a better person for it.” Percival Graves wasn’t the best man for wise and comforting words, what with his serious nature, but what he said seemed to pacify Credence, which was ultimately all that mattered. “Now, remind me: what was the question you had?” But Credence didn’t say anything, giving the man across from him a small, but genuine smile. Credence could count on one hand the amount of times he had done so, the last being when he was eight. A stranger on the street had given him a sliver of chocolate, though Ma had given him quite a beating once she’d found the wrapper in his pocket later, all the while lecturing him on the sin of Gluttony. But right now, in this bar, where nobody cared who Credence Barebone was; the boy found it hardly mattered, and so smiled freely.

“It was nothing of concern, Mr. Graves, please don’t worry about it,” Credence said, before lapsing into silence as he allowed himself for once to space out. And Percival Graves didn’t pry. Credence was far from healed of his years of trauma--Percival also knew he would never truly, completely recover. But once Credence felt ready, and strong enough, the first thing Graves planned to do was rescue the other from his oppressive living circumstances. Until then, he mentally vowed he would dedicate his free time from MACUSA helping Credence find a sense of identity, anti-No-Maj Fraternization Laws be damned.