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Forest of Secrets

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Waving goodbye to Mr Graves on Platform 9 ¾ was at once one of the saddest and one of the most exhilarating experiences of Credence's young life. So much had happened to bring him to that moment: he'd discovered he was magical (destroying half of Manhattan in the process), he'd made wonderful new friends who'd helped him to rescue poor Mr Graves, and then he'd been lucky enough to live with the man for a while. Ma was… gone was the easiest way he could think of that just yet, but in her absence life had become about as magical as he apparently was.

The only problem was, MACUSA (and it was still so strange to think of a secret magical government) hadn't wanted to keep him on American soil, both ashamed of how they'd so badly passed him over and worried he might cause further destruction. In light of Grindelwald's escape in the spring, it had been determined, after much deliberation and some very passionate arguments on the part of Albus Dumbledore, that the best place for Credence would be Hogwarts, all the way over in the United Kingdom. They were likely more equipped to manage an Obscurial of advanced age (with the help of his good friend, Newt), or so he'd been told, and there was plenty of open space for an Obscurus to roam if the urge should prove undeniable. Beyond that, the castle was more secure than either MACUSA or the Ministry combined (as so many events had recently proven).

And so, private rooms and private tutoring had been arranged, bringing Credence to stand amidst the locomotive steam and the frenzied goodbyes of countless magical children, several of whom gave them curious looks and, Credence supposed, some recognised Mr Graves from the papers. But at the time, locking eyes with Mr Graves across the busy platform in one last longing look, he’d barely been aware of it all.

Sharing the man's home had been idyllic, like something out of a perfect dream… no one had ever treated Credence with such gentle and respectful care as Mr Graves. Even shut together in their cabin on the ship to Europe had been anything but cramped; Credence had never known such peace as he did then, with the waves softly rocking beneath them and Mr Graves' hushed, sleeping breath so close in the dark--he could almost have forgotten that they weren't meant to stay that way forever. Almost.

Mr Graves had been terribly annoyed at the Ministry's insistence that he see Credence off to the train and no further, and Credence himself was desperately sad at being robbed of another night or two together in London. He'd sleep on the side of the road, happily, if he could do it next to Mr Graves.

Even so, the man's annoyance had built up into something much hotter--the angriest Credence had ever seen him, in fact--when a Ministry Auror had shown up at the station insisting that he be the one to escort Credence the rest of the way. Watching them argue beneath the cover of a Muffliato charm, Credence had worried at one point the situation might come to blows, so badly shaken was Mr Graves over what he'd insisted was nothing less than a diplomatic insult. "He's never once lost control in my presence," Mr Graves had fairly spat, an errant strand falling loose of his meticulous pomade, and high colour staining his cheeks.

As dismayed as he was, Credence had felt near to bursting with affection for him, and for his fierceness. In the end, the Auror had settled for a simple containment spell--one fashioned after Newt's own clever invention--while Mr Graves watched on, cursing all the while.

Credence's vision blurred with the tears he didn't care to hide, not after everything they'd been through together, and he knew Mr Graves was kind enough to forgive him the display. Even with the feeling of how unwanted he was by the American magical community--a hurtful echo of how unwanted he'd always seemed to be--just knowing that Mr Graves of all people was equally sad to see him go somehow made up for the entirety of his lonely life. He could see it in his eyes when they'd said their goodbyes up close, hear it in the sound of his voice: the gruff reminders and reassurances he'd given as he straightened Credence's collar for the hundredth time, hands lingering as though unwilling to let him go.

Now that he was leaning out the window, waving until well after he’d lost sight of Mr Graves, he’d give anything just to repeat their sad farewell… anything to extend their time together. But he couldn’t and, until Mr Graves could make the time to visit him, all he would have would be letters; delivered by owls, apparently, available to all students at Hogwarts.

Credence at once made the firm decision to get on very good terms with the entire Owlery. How did one befriend an owl, anyway? With treats, he supposed. He remembered he was to be taken to a place called Diagon Alley by Newt, who planned to arrive at Hogwarts the following day. Newt was going to take him shopping for school supplies like books, a uniform, casual clothes more appropriate to the Scottish Highlands than New York City, and anything else he needed; Mr Graves had insisted on paying for it all.

Turning around to peer into the nearest compartment opposite the window he finally closed, Credence saw several children with an array of strange pets--an owl, a toad, a lizard, and a racoon. Credence blinked. Witches called their pets familiars, though they were much more than pets, apparently. Mr Graves had been most insistent that he was to ask Newt to take him to find a familiar in Diagon Alley.

“I don’t want you to feel lonely, Credence,” Mr Graves had said, stroking the side of his head with a sad expression. “Try to make friends, too.”

Sighing, Credence wandered aimlessly past several compartments before finding one with just one student inside--an older looking boy dressed in blue and grey and reading a thick book. Credence supposed he’d have to try and talk to his new fellow students some time, though he knew he wouldn’t be able to fulfil Mr Graves’ wish. He would be lonely, without Mr Graves.

The boy looked up and frowned when Credence slid the door open.

“Hello. May I sit in here?” Credence asked politely.

Still assessing him, and probably finding him confusingly grown up looking--he was, after all--the boy shrugged. “As long as you don’t talk too much, don’t have a cat, and don’t plan on chewing noisily on the food trolley snacks, I suppose you may.”

“Okay,” Credence said cautiously. He slipped inside, stowed his luggage as quietly as he could, and sat down opposite the boy. He decided to do as asked, but politeness and curiosity got the better of him. “My name is Credence. Why don’t you like cats?”

The boy reached under his woollen duffle coat and, with a sigh as though the question had been expected but was quite a nuisance, extracted a white mouse. “I like cats just fine, but Oberon worries about them.” The mouse squeaked out a greeting and disappeared into a coat pocket. “I’m Archie. Archibald Sylvester Grey.” He chortled. “My parents wanted to make up for the dull surname.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Credence said.

“Which house are you in?”

“Oh, I have no idea yet.”

Archie laughed. “I guess you’re new then. Funny, you look almost old enough to be a teacher. Transfer from Ilvermorny? You sound American.” Before Credence could reply, the boy, apparently more fond of talking than being talked to, said, “Well, they’ll sort you first thing. I’m in Ravenclaw.”

"First thing?" Credence managed to ask once there was a sliver of space for the words.

Archie scoffed, snapping his book shut loudly enough to have Oberon letting out a muffled squeak from somewhere inside his coat. "Well yes, naturally," he said. "Hogwarts has the same number of houses that Ilvermorny's got, although I understand the Sorting ceremony is carried out rather differently. I've read a bit on the subject, as it happens. Sorting magic, I should say."

Hearing all this, Credence found himself pining for dear Mr Graves more fervently than ever. He'd been given a fair number of lessons on what to expect, of course, but he had no idea how to pretend at familiarity with things he'd only just learned of and never experienced. On top of that, he had even less of an idea how he was meant to fool Archie, along with everyone else at the school, about just why it was he was so novice to everything. With Mr Graves fresh in his mind (as always), he quickly called upon the story they'd rehearsed about a million times on the voyage overseas, hoping he could do it proper justice. Archie seemed a clever sort of boy, though perhaps not as shrewd and terrifying a person to have to lie to as Ma had been.

"I… I didn't actually attend Ilvermorny," he began, and that part was easy enough, being the truth. He took a deep breath. "You were right, about my looking older, I--"

"Blimey, I knew there was something!" Archie interrupted triumphantly, cheeks flushed at having been told so plainly that he'd been correct. "What was it, then? You're clearly an American, but you didn't study there…" He held up a staying hand at the aborted sound Credence had begun to make. "No no, let me guess. You… studied at Beauxbatons, certainly you have the classical profile for it… but you were expelled for some undocumented transgression and have been touring Europe ever since."

He paused then, eyebrows raised and face full of expectation. Even Oberon poked his whiskered white nose cautiously out of the coat pocket and sniffed at the air, as though he, too, were anxious for the answer. It was a moment before Credence realised he was meant to confirm or deny the story, so distracted he'd been trying to imagine himself anywhere in it. Although, with the rubble of Manhattan's bricks tumbling down through his memory, he supposed the boy's version of events was only slightly less scandalous than the truth.

“Not… exactly,” he finally managed. “I was... homeschooled, in New York.”

“Huh.” Archie assessed him. “Well, that’s rather interesting too. What subjects do you excel at then?”

Credence mentally flailed, then sighed, realising if he wanted to make friends, he couldn’t start out with any more lies than were unavoidable. Besides, his lack of magical skills would become apparent soon enough. “I didn’t study in proper subjects as such. It was all quite chaotic. My mother’s magic was ‘wild’, and she passed it on that way.” He hoped he remembered Mr Graves’ instruction about that correctly, but wasn’t sure when Archie’s brows rose up into his floppy ash blond hair.

“Whoa. So I guess you’re going to Hogwarts to get it tidied up?” Archie suggested.

Credence nodded. It sounded like a good way to put it. “I’ll be getting remedial lessons, to help me catch up.”

“Regular lessons too?”

“Not to start with, no.” Credence cringed internally. ‘Not for a good long while,’ would have been a more accurate answer. He figured Archie to be in his last or second to last year, maybe, so he wouldn’t need to ever know about that. “Which year are you in?”

“About to start my seventh.” Archie frowned. “Hang on, you said your mother’s magic was wild. Is she…”

“She… died, yes.” Credence avoided his eyes when he told what was most definitely a straight out lie, though Mr Graves had insisted it wasn’t entirely. “Her wild magic made the roof collapse in on her.”

“Blimey!” Archie sat bolt upright, eyes wide. “Sorry about that, Credence. Your father?”

Credence grappled for an answer when he was literally saved by the bell--a tinkling sound in the corridor outside was followed by a knock on the compartment doors, and a round-faced elderly lady slid them open and beamed in at them. She was pushing a trolley loaded down with candy of every kind, most of which Credence couldn’t even attempt to name.

“Something sweet from the trolley, dears?”

Archie and Oberon looked the selection over with interest, while Credence wondered whether he should risk looking like a fool by picking something he couldn’t handle. Mr Graves had warned him that a lot of magical candy was rather… lively.

“I’ll have a Sugar Wheel, two Ice Mice, and a Chocolate Frog, please,” Archie said, rummaging in his pockets for money.

Credence blinked when the boy was handed the items in a paper bag moving to and fro wildly. “Nothing for me, thank you,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Archie looked at him, trying to surreptitiously pass him a few coins.

Credence appreciated the gesture and smiled at him with a slight shake of the head. “I’m sure.”

“Enjoy the rest of the train ride,” the lady said cheerfully and left.

“I don’t mind helping you out, if you’re a bit… you know. My parents spoil me rotten, to be honest,” Archie volunteered.

Credence remembered his outings with Mr Graves… restaurants, coffee shops, magical stores, street vendors, clothing stores… wherever he’d taken Credence, he’d lavished him with beautiful and tasty things, sending him off to Hogwarts with more money than Credence could imagine spending in a year even if he tried to take a trip to the moon.

“It’s fine, Archie. My guardian looks after me well. He’s also made sure I have plenty to get by.”

“Ah.” Archie looked relieved. “He sounds like a nice chap.”

Credence sighed, glancing out the window at the ever hillier scenery passing by outside. “He’s the very best of men,” he said dreamily.

It was a blessing that Archie was as chatty as he was quickly proving to be, despite his own early warning that Credence had best not be the same. Perhaps he simply enjoyed a passive audience for his rambling thoughts and observations, but either way, it gave Credence the chance to watch the passing countryside as he listened, most of the time daydreaming idly about the guardian he’d left behind at King’s Cross Station and was already missing painfully. He felt the man’s absence like an ache in his chest, an empty space that was normally glowing with the warmth of Mr Graves’ nearness and his kind encouragements.

Mr Scamander was a friend, and a sweet enough man in his own absentminded sort of way, and Credence did genuinely feel relief to have at least one familiar face to look forward to tomorrow. But with the sound of the young people chattering faintly in every car of the train, excitedly discussing their summer holidays and the upcoming school year with all of their friends and acquaintances, Credence felt a loneliness that he’d once been so accustomed to it was like a strange companion in its own right. In Graves’ steady presence over the spring and summer, he’d quite gotten used to the idea that that sort of loneliness was just another thing of the past, until now.

He was grateful then, to at least have the unassuming acceptance of the Ravenclaw boy sitting across from him, even knowing that it would most likely be just as quickly retracted were Archie to find out exactly what Credence was.

There was one thing he envied the boy for more even than his magical learning and the knowledge of the place they were heading (a knowledge which Archie seemed thankfully more than happy to share as the locomotive trundled rhythmically on). It was his familiar--nestled now in the front pocket of his coat much the same way Newt often carried his friend Pickett--and peering sleepily about the car with glistening pink eyes as Archie chattered on. His envy wouldn’t have to linger long, though. Tomorrow, Credence would find an animal friend of his own in Diagon Alley, and with Newt’s expert guidance in the way of magical creatures, he was certain to find the best one. Someone of his very own, a magical ally he could whisper his deepest secrets to, and whose loyalty he’d never have cause to question.

Just then, as he imagined who his special companion might be, the train came whistling to its shuddering stop. Credence pulled up out of his reverie and glanced nervously at Archie for instruction, blinking much like Oberon as he shook off the cobwebs of his own thoughts.

The boy grinned at him and rose to his feet, reaching into the overhead compartment to pull down his oversized leather travelling case. “We’re not allowed to put extension charms on our luggage,” he explained with a bit of a shrug and a frown that suggested all sorts of unvoiced opinions on the matter. “It’s the Ministry's rule, really, and I suppose they’ve got their reasons. But I always bring my own telescope, along with a few pieces of other equipment I’ve… modified for my own use.”

Credence had never heard the words “extension charm,” but could quickly surmise it was the same thing Newt had done to his extraordinary case. To learn that it was essentially illegal didn’t come as much of a surprise to him, either, considering what he knew for certain Mr Scamander was carrying inside of it at all times, and what kind of havoc it had caused back in New York. It was almost enough to make him feel not so bad about his own path of destruction--almost, but not quite.

He rose, nodding his quiet understanding of Archie’s plight as he took hold of his own travelling satchel, which was considerably smaller and lighter than the boy’s. Practically empty, really. “I’m to acquire my supplies tomorrow,” he explained in turn. “Mr Scamander is taking me to London, after I’ve been sorted and settled into my room.”

At that, Archie nearly dropped his unwieldy case, along with his jaw. Oberon, feeling his agitation, began to faintly tremble. “Newton Scamander?” he asked, following hurriedly as Credence ducked out into the corridor. “The Hufflepuff adventurer? The one who caught Gellert Grindelwald back in America? He’s bloody brilliant!”

Credence let Archie take the lead, as he obviously knew where to go. “Yes, we met in New York.”

“I’m going to want to know all about that!” Archie demanded. “You better make sure to get sorted into Ravenclaw.”

From what little Credence had learned from Newt, and from Mr Graves’ research, one didn’t get to choose one’s school house, but was placed in accordance with one’s personality, ambitions and potential. “I guess I’ll have to wait and see,” he said noncommittally.

They were ushered through the small country train station by a group Credence assumed to be teachers--they, along with many students of all ages, gawked at Credence with curiosity; some of them looked at him with a hint of fear, and he supposed he couldn’t blame them. The students, thankfully, hadn’t been told what he was; he knew that much.

Archie led the way towards a long trail of carriages. One had just filled up and drove off, and the next one drew up beside them. He stared at the bizarre creatures pulling it--they looked skeletal, with bat wings and a whip-like tail; as one might imagine the beasts ridden by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to look.

“You can see them,” Archie stated flatly. When Credence looked at him in confusion, he explained, “Only those who have seen death can see them. Thestrals, I mean. You saw your mother die?”

‘You’ve killed her,’ Credence’s inner voice, so carefully and for so long successfully suppressed to a dull whisper in Mr Graves’ calming presence, piped up helpfully. “I…” He swallowed. “I did, yes.”

“Sorry about that.” Archie climbed onto the empty carriage, with Credence following him up. “The rest of us just see the carriages moving along as if by themselves.”

Nothing about the Wizarding world was particularly shocking to Credence after all these months, but that didn’t make things seem less strange when he encountered them. He wondered, not for the first time, whether he would ever catch up. Without Mr Graves, the unlikely seemed impossible.

“You get lost in thought a lot, huh?” Archie noted.

“Sorry! Yes, I’m afraid I do.” Credence was about to explain how different Britain was to America, and how like a fish out of water he felt, when two other, much younger, students appeared; they hesitated, but climbed up and took the two remaining seats with muttered greetings, when the Thestrals started walking and the carriage began to move.

The motley group was drawn up a long, winding hill towards the castle towering up ahead, and Credence was so distracted by the fairytale view, he barely took in Archie’s murmurings; the two younger students held their own quiet conversation. The closer they got, following a long line of carriages, the more nervous Credence became. This wasn’t helped by the odd sensation of the Auror’s containment spell wearing off as they passed through the Hogwarts gates and the return of the familiar low level urge to escape from the confines of his body. Still, it was a relief that the spell did wear off just as he and Mr Graves had been assured it would. By the time they reached the massive courtyard, his stomach was in knots.

They descended from the carriage to the shouts of an elderly man, telling them to leave their luggage at the base of the main stairs inside and then follow the instructions of their respective heads of house.

“I suppose you’ll have to wait with the first years for now,” Archie said, making sure Oberon was still safely in his pocket once they’d been jostled inside by the crowd of students.

“Credence Graves?” A tall, broad-shouldered man with a pencil moustache and dark curly hair approached them.

“Oh Merlin, not him,” Archie groaned. “Wait… not Graves like the Di--”

The man reached them then and Credence said, rather proudly, “I’m Credence Graves, sir.”

“Ah.” The man stopped in front of them, and his oddly bird-like golden eyes looked Credence over at great length, before he smiled a lopsided smile some might call roguish. “Welcome to Hogwarts. I wasn’t expecting you to look quite so... grown up, though I suppose I should have, considering.” His voice was rather drawn out and self-satisfied sounding.

“I’m 22, sir.” Credence assumed he looked quite odd in a crowd of children, and tried not to remember the many bowls of soup he’d handed to the orphans streaming into the church.

“Yes.” Another smile was followed by, “The name’s Narcissus Hooch--Quidditch and Flight Instructor. I’ve been charged with taking you to see Headmaster Dippet. Just leave your things here with Grey’s.”

“Yes, sir.” Credence obeyed and, after a muttered and ominous ‘good luck’, as well as a ‘we really have to talk more’ from Archie, followed the tall man up the stairs.

Following someone up a set of stairs should be a simple enough thing, but of course, just like everything else with magic, it wasn't. The staircase they'd taken began to move as they ascended its steps, smoothly shifting towards the right until, for a long moment, it ended on open air above a dizzying drop. Even with his hazy memories of having flown high over Manhattan as the Obscurus, the sight of the castle's draughty entrance hall so far below gave him a swoon of vertigo and he gripped the banister until his knuckles paled visibly.

Mr Hooch glanced over his shoulder and smirked, leaning against the same banister with one hip casually cocked. "Stairs don't behave quite the same way back in America, I imagine?" he asked, with that same smug smile in his tone.

"N- no," Credence answered back. "Not any that I've been on. At MACUSA, there's an elevator- "

"MACUSA?" A voice fairly shouted back from the wall to the left--farther to the left than it had been when they'd begun. "What the bloody hell were you doing messing about with those lot, boy?"

Credence and Mr Hooch both turned towards the sound, Mr Hooch with one brow raised in faint amusement and Credence with eyes wide. A large oil painting, set in an elaborate gold frame, hung upon the wall amidst scores of others in every possible size. Within it, a man in a powdered wig, arms folded disapprovingly over his brocaded coat, glared out at them both with a steely eye. His rouge was faintly smeared, as though he'd been rendered by the artist at the very end of a long and rather debauched celebration.

"That's quite enough out of you, Cormac," Hooch drawled back, only to have the man in the painting simply huff and stalk off someplace beyond the boundaries of his gilt frame.

"A Ministry official of some renown, from days long past," Mr Hooch explained, "though his opinions are still fresh as this morning's Daily Prophet. Ah, here we are!"

Another staircase had come gliding gracefully towards them to connect with the one they currently waited on. Credence watched them fuse together as though they'd always been of one piece, feeling all the while that he had no chance of catching up to the world he'd found himself in, if even the stairs didn't stay put where you left them.

The church was a house of lies, magic was as real as his own hands, and old paintings were as vocal in their judgements as Ma had been. Another wave of dizziness swept over Credence then as he followed Mr Hooch's steps further up the staircase. It happened just as they turned a corner, and Hooch noticed him swaying.

“Careful now, it wouldn’t do for me to carry you to the headmaster’s office, would it, Mr Graves?"

"No, sir,” said Credence, horrified.

Hooch chuckled, steadying Credence with a hand on his elbow. “Perhaps I should call you Credence?"

“Uh… I don’t mind, sir.”

The teacher’s strange eyes seemed to bore through Credence. “Well, just one more staircase and we’re there. Feel free to hold onto me, if you need to.” Hooch winked and chuckled.

Credence drew back far enough to pull his elbow out of the man’s grasp, and refused politely when Hooch all but insisted he should go up the winding, narrow stairs first. The space felt somehow too crowded with the man looking at him as he was anyway; he preferred to have an escape route back down. Hooch gave in at last and led the way, his copper coloured cloak swaying behind him.

“Leaping Toadstool!” Mr Hooch suddenly bellowed at the door at the top of the stairs, and it opened at once.

Deciding not to ask, Credence followed him into a vast space, rather like an ancient library, except that aside from books alone, it seemed to hold gadgets of every kind, all of them gleaming golden in the candlelight. There were shelves upon shelves of magical items Credence couldn’t begin to guess at, and the walls were abundant in portraits of slumbering witches and wizards in bed gowns, nightcaps and bathrobes. It took him a few moments to find his bearings and distinguish the one living, three-dimensional wizard seated at a huge desk and peering across it from dark eyes.

“Headmaster, this is young Credence Graves,” Mr Hooch announced. “Credence, this is Headmaster Dippet.”

Credence bowed a little, politely, and said, “Good evening, headmaster.”

The man was pale, and his brown eyes and thick brown beard--reaching down well behind the desk--were in stark contrast to his pallor. His long robes were a deep sapphire blue. “Good evening, Credence. Come and take a seat.”

Credence obeyed at once, slipping into the large, elaborate antique chair which must dwarf any actual children called up here. “Thank you, sir.”

Dippet assessed him for a long moment. “Well, we know what you are, naturally, and though it’s shocking that our colleagues across the Atlantic appear to feel no responsibility to train you and help you control your magic, I suppose none of us here are entirely surprised.”

Credence nodded, not knowing what to say. It was clear to him there was much mutual dislike and distrust between the Wizarding communities of his old and new home countries.

“You are certainly a unique case,” Dippet said. “I appreciate the difficulties of your upbringing, and that it is no fault of yours that you have grown to adulthood without the benefit of magical learning, but I must say one thing first of all.” The man leaned across his desk and gave Credence a very severe look. “This school is everything, Credence, remember that. Its safety and protection comes first at all times, and you must never, I repeat, never endanger it. We cannot keep you here if you do, not under any circumstances. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Credence had slouched further and further as the headmaster went on, and his voice shook a little. The darkness inside him roiled for a few moments like an upset stomach, but he managed to keep it in check. “I promise, I will do my best, sir.”

“You must do more than your best, Credence, you must succeed.”

Dippet certainly was not going to let him get away with the slightest transgression, that much was clear, and Credence felt a cold dread at the idea that he might fail to control the Obscurus. “Yes, headmaster, I understand.”

After another moment’s assessment, Dippet raised his hand, holding a wand, and Credence ducked automatically, but the headmaster was merely summoning a battered looking hat from a nearby shelf.

“Your lessons will be private, of course, and with all the professors, but we must still sort you into a house, so we know where to accommodate you and who’s responsible for you, not to mention which table you’ll sit at during meal times.” When Credence nodded his understanding, Dippet said, “Professor Dumbledore, who has pleaded your case to me most ardently, has requested that you be placed in his house, but I believe you should be given the same assessment as any other student here. We can only help you if we understand your particular personality.”

Credence opened his mouth to speak when the hat arrived immediately in front of him, hovering and staring at him out of a couple of triangular creases in its leather. He jumped when another crease formed and it spoke.

“Weeell… what have we here? You’re no child! Left it a little late, haven’t you?” Before Credence could explain anything, the hat leapt onto his head, continuing to talk all the while. Its voice sounded different, however, and Credence remembered Archie mentioning only the person on whose head it sat could hear it. “Aren’t you a strange one? More than strange.... Dangerous. Hmm, a lot of magical potential here, untapped. Oh dear… what’s this? Tapped in all the wrong ways, by the looks of it, definitely in need of order and discipline… but not too much of that, nor the wrong kind.”

That last remark came right after Credence trembled at the word ‘discipline’, and he began to fully pay attention to the hat’s ramblings.

“A quick learner, I see. Intuitive. Very eager to do well and impress… no, not everyone... those who mean something to you.”

Quickly trying to think of anything but Mr Graves, Credence cringed when the old hat chuckled knowingly.

“Like to keep your secrets close to your chest? Can’t blame you for that. There’s only one right choice for you, young man… Slytherin!

Credence’s gasp was echoed by the headmaster and Mr Hooch both.

The two men looked at each other, then at Credence, who leapt up a little when the hat hopped off again and flew back to the shelf.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Mr Hooch stated.

“Dumbledore will be disappointed. Credence will have to be moved into the dungeons,” said Dippet. “It’ll be riskier, having him so deep inside the castle--”

“Dun-dungeons, sir?” Credence gasped, horrified. He hadn’t done anything wrong yet!

Dippet looked momentarily confused at his shock, but then his expression cleared with understanding and he looked troubled. “Credence, the dungeons are simply the location of Slytherin house. I may have something of a strict reputation, but I don’t torture the students.”

Credence sagged with relief. “I’m sorry, I… I didn’t know, sir.”

“Of course you didn’t.” Dippet’s tone had softened. “Credence, I and my teaching staff are aware of the way you’ve been raised, and while we must, for the sake of the school and the students, keep a close eye on you and teach you iron control over your Obscurus, I promise you will not be harmed here.”

Credence met the dark eyes, which were warmer now than before, and he swallowed and nodded. “Thank you, headmaster. I promise I will work as hard as I can.”

Dippet nodded. “Good. Now, Credence, Mr Scamander should arrive tomorrow morning. Here is a list…” He rummaged in his desk, then held a scroll out to Credence. “These are the things you’ll need. You’re excused all day tomorrow to organise them. For now, Mr Hooch will take you down to the Great Hall, where the first years are preparing to be sorted. After the Sorting ceremony, dinner will begin. Please join your housemates at the Slytherin table. Then, your head of house, Professor Delacroix, will settle you in your rooms.”

“Yes, sir.” Credence rose. He hesitated a moment, then said, “Headmaster Dippet, thank you for giving me the chance to learn magic here.”

Dippet looked surprised. “Take this chance, Credence, and use it well, that’s all I ask.” He smiled approvingly. “And keep up the good manners; those are something which will always be an advantage to you in life.”

Credence flushed and nodded, and Mr Hooch ushered him back down the many stairs, speaking now and then, but Credence was lost in thought. There had been a hint from Newt that Slytherin house was looked at with some suspicion, and he was worried that being sorted into Slytherin might make things even harder for him. There was nothing for it, however. It was done.

When the doors of the Great Hall opened, Mr Hooch gave him a gentle nudge with his hand on Credence’s shoulder, and he stepped inside, only to be faced with four long tables of students, many of whom instantly turned to stare at him.