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Wild Hearts

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It had been Credence's idea to wait for the new tutor in the long abandoned gatehouse--the very first place from which they would see the carriage arriving. They were kneeling side by side on a low bench below the window directly above the driveway of Willow Vale Hall.

"He will be another stodgy old fellow, if we are lucky," Reverence said with a resigned sigh, plucking a piece of lint off the sleeve of his frock coat. "You know how mama is--was, I mean," he quickly corrected himself.

Credence, whose eyes were fixed on the drive, murmured, "Perhaps this one will be better, and less strange."

"How can you be a Barebone and yet always be hopeful?"

Credence faced his twin with a gentle smile. "Perhaps that is why. What has there ever been for us but hope? Besides… these days, can we not learn to be a little more hopeful?"

Reverence nudged him lightly, making an effort to cheer up to please his brother. "I suppose so. Meanwhile, we always have each other." He stroked his hand up and down the centre of Credence's chest, and his hand was grasped and held.

"I know, Reverence. I know." Credence leaned against him, head on his shoulder. He swiped at the old cracked window, which was yellowed and half-blind with age, pulling a face when his fingers came away dirty. "He should be here soon. The train was due at the station half an hour ago." A frown twisted the usually smooth space between his brows.

Reverence looked at him closely. "Are you worried? That he will be like our last tutor? Or even… even the one before?" When Credence just looked at him, he said, quite fiercely, "I won't let him be mean to you. And with mother gone, we will not have to keep him if he proves unsuitable. Besides, we are nearly ready to go to university."

Credence smiled. "What would I do without my protector?"

The fierce features relaxed at once, and a soft smile played about Reverence’s lips. "You need never find out. I shall never leave you, darling brother."

Credence looked at him tenderly and moved to hug him, and Reverence's arms closed around him tightly. They knelt like that for a few minutes and nearly missed the clatter of hooves and the rattling of the wheels as the estate's clarence rolled down the driveway, heading for the open gate.

"Oh, he is here!" Credence exclaimed, extricating himself from his twin’s arms. He looked equal parts anxious and excited--like a child faced with a gift as yet wrapped, knowing it would contain something new and interesting, but not whether it would be a thing that would please him.

Reverence took his hand and squeezed it comfortingly. Then he pulled him down the stairs and out the door opening onto the drive.

The carriage halted the moment they appeared, with Newt Scamander--the coachman and stable-hand--calming the horses and smiling down at the two boys. "Well, well… Have you come to greet your new tutor?" he asked, with a long accustomed familiarity which no longer needed to be hidden from the stern mistress of the house. In his late twenties, he was scarcely ten years their senior, and they treated him more like an older brother than a servant.

"Quite right, Newt." Reverence grinned at him and opened the carriage. He tried to peer inside but, as he stood out in the sun and the interior was dark, he could merely squint at the vague outline of a man.

"Good afternoon," the man said.

At the sound of his voice—warm and pleasant, and with a gentle Irish lilt—Credence walked up next to his twin, trying to peer past him while shielding his eyes.

"Good afternoon, sir," Reverence said cautiously. When the man shifted along the seat and his face came into view, the boy raised his brows in stunned surprise; his twin, beside him, gasped softly. "I… I am Reverence Barebone,” he managed to say. “This is my brother Credence."

The man began to emerge, one leg extended as if to step outside the carriage, his foot on the running board, but Reverence still stood too close, so he remained half in, half out. His black travelling cloak fell over the straightened knee, and a gloved hand held onto the open door. He smiled at them a little awkwardly, but out of a very handsome face with warm brown eyes and heavy brows and framed by neat black hair.

"Percival Graves. It is a pleasure to meet you both." He bowed a little, and nearly overbalanced and tipped out of the carriage.

Reverence suppressed a good-natured snort of laughter, but Credence moved forward to steady the new arrival by the arm he could reach.

"Do be careful, sir, don't fall."

Reverence watched his brother's expression, and the way he fussed as he assisted the man back inside, and smiled. "Newt, we shall ride in the carriage with Mr Graves the rest of the way to the house."

Newt acknowledged him by tipping his cap, and Reverence gave Credence a nudge up into the carriage before following him. He sat opposite his brother and the new tutor and settled in to get a closer, if not a much clearer, look at the man in the half-dark interior.

"It was very kind of you both to meet me part of the way," the man told them.

"We were curious about you, Mr Graves," said Reverence.

At the exact same moment, Credence said, "We wanted to make you feel welcome."

Mr Graves laughed softly. "I see you are the kinds of twins who speak as one."

Credence smiled, while Reverence nodded. "Sometimes. We don't always say the same thing, but we do feel the same way. About most things."

"About all things!" Credence protested.

"Well, I suppose so..." Reverence smiled across at him. "Credence feels them first. He is more sensitive than I am."

Credence ducked his head. When he noticed Mr Graves looking at him, he said, "We were both curious, but we also wanted to make you feel welcome, sir."

"You are very diplomatic,” the man said, clearly amused. "I do feel welcome, but I can only hope I will not be too much of a disappointment."

Reverence opened his mouth, but Credence was already rushing to reassure Mr Graves. "Not at all, sir! The very opposite--" He went silent and sat back, suddenly finding the view out of the carriage window absolutely fascinating.

Suppressing a smirk, Reverence said, somewhat more neutrally, "You are not at all what we were expecting, sir."

"Oh dear." Mr Graves seemed unsettled by this. "May I ask what you were expecting?"

"Someone ancient and creaky and quite mad, to be perfectly honest, and horridly unfair," Reverence told him without hesitation. He held the man’s eyes boldly, as if to challenge him to chastise his choice of words.

“Reverence!” Credence looked at him in shock. “That’s unkind.”

“Well, those are the nicest things I can say about old Dumbledore.”

“I know he was… odd, but still…” Credence fidgeted.

Mr Graves looked back and forth between them. “Your previous tutor?” he asked, and they both nodded.

“Mama sent him packing after cook found him stealing all the sweets,” Reverence stated gleefully.

A stifled laugh from Mr Graves made Credence giggle. Reverence smiled as he continued, “So then she sent for a replacement: you, sir. She did not tell us much before she went to the continent, except your name, and when we were to expect you. And then… well, then she was run down by a carriage in Rome.”

Mr Graves leaned forward, speaking gently to both of them, “I only heard about your unfortunate mother’s accident immediately before I left London. I am very sorry for your loss.”

“It was no loss at all,” Reverence stated simply and unemotionally.

Mr Graves looked shocked and turned to Credence with a frown, but even the sensitive, quiet boy beside him had nothing less damning to say. In fact, he said nothing at all and would not quite meet his eyes. Never having spoken to the woman himself, and only having glimpsed her letter at the agency, Mr Graves could make no case for her. Yet he wondered very much what kind of mother it would take for her loss to inspire no grief in her two sons--boys who seemed pleasant and kind-hearted.

“You must not think us heartless, sir,” Credence said at last, sensing the man’s discomfort precisely and sounding worried. “In time, you may hear about her ways and understand.” Reverence nodded, reaching a hand across the space to squeeze his brother’s knee; Credence covered his hand gratefully, and they shared a sad smile.

Mr Graves watched the tender exchange and said gently, “I do not think you heartless, boys, rest assured, nor would I judge that which I know nothing about.” When they both looked at him in surprise, he added, “It matters not who arranged my employment here. My responsibility is to you, Credence and Reverence, and I promise to be the best tutor and confidant I can be to you both.” When the twins smiled at him, visibly relieved, he added mischievously, “I also promise not to help meself to any sweets not freely offered.”

At this, Reverence burst out laughing. Credence did as well but, noticed only by his brother’s sharp eyes, he also blushed a little.

Drawing up to the front entrance of Willow Vale Hall, Newt Scamander listened to the laughter from inside the carriage with absolute astonishment. He could not recall the young gentlemen laughing so gaily in company except perhaps each other’s, not even with the household staff with whom they got along so well. Then again, he thought, when the matriarch of the family had been alive, there had been little to be joyful about.

❤️❤️❤️

While Newt retrieved Mr Graves’ belongings from the luggage trunk, the young gentlemen emerged, followed by their new tutor, who took a long moment to look them over properly and in full daylight.

Reverence and Credence Barebone were tall and slender, with a grace and delicate beauty one might expect of fairy princes. Their identical dark manes of wavy, chin length hair played around faces so perfect, they quite defied mere words, seeming to need poetry or song to do them any justice at all. Yet in attitude, their identical features differed: where Credence’s whole demeanour was sweet and shy and utterly endearing, Reverence had a kind of elfin mischief to him which might well lend itself to fierceness--given the right circumstances. For all that, it was clear they adored each other, and that their hearts were pure and kind.

Percival Graves only managed to shake off his reverie when he perceived they were examining him with equal intensity. It would not do to blush under the gaze of two youths, not when he was just over twice their age. He swallowed hard. “You do look astonishingly alike, except, of course…” He smiled at Credence, who adjusted his small oval-rimmed spectacles a little self-consciously.

“I am cursed with these, alas,” Credence said.

“Cursed?” Mr Graves sounded stunned.

Reverence sighed. “I fear it is no use, Mr Graves. Credence is fully convinced they make him appear ugly, rather than to merely mark him as the more well-read of us two.” It was clear this was an old and playful disagreement between them when Credence smiled at him fondly.

“Well, I certainly hope it is no curse,” said Mr Graves, reaching into the side pocket of his carpet bag for a pair of round spectacles. He placed them on his nose and blinked at the surprised boys.

“Oh,” Credence said softly, his lips curving into a slow, sweet smile. He parted them to speak, but stopped himself.

“I shall be the odd one out.” Reverence shrugged. “Or perhaps, I will need to spend more time in the library.”

Mr Graves nodded. “I promise to give you plentiful reading assignments.”

Credence laughed when Reverence groaned at this. “Dear Reverence, soon you will share in our curse. Are you not pleased?”

“Ecstatically so,” Reverence said, nudging his brother affectionately. He saw the way their tutor watched them and urged, “Do tell him, Mr Graves, that his spectacles do not ruin his beauty. After all, your eyeglasses only further enhance your features.”

“Reverence, you cannot say things like that,” Credence whispered, looking around scandalised, as though expecting the entire nearby village to assemble on the premises, but his twin looked unrepentant.

Mr Graves appeared a little embarrassed himself, but pleased as well. “You are too kind, Reverence.” He looked at Credence then for a long moment, as if weighing his words carefully. “Credence, you have nothing to fear. I doubt anything in the world could make you ugly.”

Credence met the brown eyes in astonishment. There were spots of bright colour high up on his cheeks. “Thank you, sir.” He returned the man’s smile, and they held each other’s gaze until Newt’s voice snapped them back to reality.

“Shall I take Mr Graves’ luggage to his room?” he asked cheerfully.

Reverence nodded. “Yes, Newt. The Teal Room in the East Wing has been prepared for him. Your wife can direct you there.”

“Very good, Mister Reverence.”

Reverence frowned at him. “Just Reverence, Newt, I have told you before. You know my brother and I do not care for formality.”

The coachman nodded and smiled. “If you are certain, Reverence.”

“I am!” He turned from Newt, who was assessing the luggage, and watched Mr Graves step towards the coachman.

“Would you like my assistance?” Mr Graves asked, unsure as to the staff complement of the house, now the mistress was dead.

Newt shook his head. “Oh no, sir, that will not be necessary. The footman will help.”

Credence stood staring at Mr Graves. “You really are quite unlike our former tutors, Mr Graves.”

“I should say so.” Reverence flung an arm over his twin’s shoulder, and started them walking towards the main doors. “And a good thing it is.”

Mr Graves looked so pleased and distracted, he almost missed the first of the stone steps leading to the main doors. It was when he caught himself that he took his first proper look up at the façade of the house. “Your home is rather beautiful,” he said, stopping to let his eyes move across the ancient stones and up to the wide turret on which a small bevy of doves was perched. “Not many of the moated medieval houses are in such a good state.”

Reverence laughed. “You have only seen the outside so far. Mama was big on appearances. I fear you shan’t like the place so well, once you find yourself freezing even in front of a roaring fireplace, sir.”

This appeared to make Mr Graves somewhat uncomfortable, in opposition to his next words. “I have a lot of natural body heat. I expect I shall be fine.”

“Oh, you are lucky, sir,” Credence said, pressing closer to his twin, whose arm tightened around his shoulder. “Reverence and I are always too cold.” They continued inside.

Mr Graves followed them into the main hall, looking troubled. “I am sorry to hear that. Tell me, who administers the estate, now that your mother is dead? You are both 18, are you not?”

Reverence groaned. “Yes. Our family lawyer is our court-appointed guardian until we can take over the managing of the estate at 21.” When Mr Graves raised his impressive brows, he explained, “Abernathy is a useless, weak-willed man. I do not know why mama ever thought him a good choice. We are simply grateful he has no interest in making himself at home here or having much to do with us.” He laughed. “He looked as though he could not choose between annoyance and relief, when he found out mama had engaged a new tutor for us before her death.”

Tucking away the information about this possible annoyance at his presence, and feeling vaguely troubled by it, Mr Graves placed his bag on the floor and said sympathetically. “Well, with luck, he will consider himself relieved of the duty of caring for you and leave that to me. I will have to meet with him soon, however, to discuss the details of my engagement, and I shall find out if the hall cannot be made more… comfortable.”

With a sigh of relief, Credence said, “Would you try, Mr Graves? I doubt there is much to be done about the draughts, but I feel better knowing we will not have to deal with Mr Abernathy more than necessary.”

Reverence nodded. “I agree.”

Mr Graves gave them a reassuring smile. “I will do my very best, I promise.” He placed a gentle hand on each boy’s shoulder and gasped. It took a moment before he found words. “You are… you do feel chilly, even fully clothed and on a warm late summer’s day.” Frowning, he quickly dropped his hands. “We have only now entered the building.”

Reverence shrugged. “I expect it’s because we have forgotten how to be warm.” As if in confirmation of his words, his twin shivered against him.

Muttering words of sympathy and making a monumental effort to suppress the urge to wrap them both in his arms--an entirely inappropriate and potentially disastrous gesture--Mr Graves quickly lifted his carpet bag once more, and the boys took it as a sign that he wished to be shown to his room.

He followed them up the main staircase, which split in two on the first landing; they followed the right branch up and walked down a narrow corridor of uneven, creaking wood. The space was like a tunnel, dim with lack of lighting. It was brightened only by the ghostly pallor of the faces watching their progress suspiciously from within ancestral portraits.

Percival Graves resolved to keep his eyes always fixed ahead when passing this way, lest they should discover his shameful and carefully suppressed secret.

The boys stopped so suddenly before a door on the right, he bumped into Credence. Stepping back with an apology on his lips, he watched the boy’s face turn to him, and his silent apology was acknowledged with an equally silent smile. It was a smile so gentle and beautiful, he had to keep his left hand busy curling it around the edge of a narrow hall table; the temptation to trace the rosy lips with his fingers was nearly unbearable.

“Are you well, Mr Graves?” Reverence asked once the door had been opened and light from the window opposite fell on the shocked face of their tutor.

“I… yes, I am.” Mr Graves struggled to smile at them both as neutrally as possible. He followed them into the comfortably furnished room. Absently, he noted that the justification for its being the Teal Room were a teal bedspread and matching canopy above the mahogany four poster and a patterned teal wallpaper.

“This is a very nice room, thank you,” he said politely, even while his mind was racing. It went, in the time it took Credence to check on the vase of hyacinths on the desk, and Reverence to open the window facing the drive, through a range of thoughts: They ran the gamut of how utterly foolish he had been to take this position to how much the Barebone twins clearly needed someone to look after them. The result of his thought process was that he could not consider his own comfort over their needs, and there was simply nothing to be done about that. He would cope as best he could, with the means available to him.

“Sir…” Credence, who had watched him as his eyes had moved around the room unseeing, stepped close to him beside the bed. “Are you sure you are not ill? You look badly shaken.”

Reverence too moved closer, both elegant hands wrapped around one of the bed posts as he gazed at him, sweeping brows drawn together in touching concern.

Putting an extra step between himself and Credence, who stood much too close for comfort, Mr Graves gave them both a tremulous smile. “I assure you, I am perfectly well.” He patted his stomach. “Though I must admit, I neglected to have lunch on the train… very silly of me, I know. The lack of food is making itself known.”

“That is all?” Credence almost whispered, dark brown eyes soft and concerned and somewhat disbelieving.

“That is all,” Mr Graves lied, with the greatest reluctance.