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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.

Chapter Text

Credence barely knew what to be most overwhelmed by first: the heavy tension as everyone gathered seemed to anticipate where he was about to sit, or perhaps the appearance of the Great Hall itself. The room was vast, and crowded with so many faces, Credence only stood at the entrance swallowing and beginning to sweat as though he were expected to break out into a Broadway tune for them all. The ceiling was so high it felt as if it might reach up to the clouds themselves, and when he glanced upwards he saw that was somehow actually the case--instead of the vaulted roof he’d expected, there was only a clear night sky twinkling with emerging stars. Within the hall, the stars above were echoed by what must have been thousands of candles flickering with warm light, only each one simply hovered in midair above the student’s heads.

At a nearby table, Credence spotted Archie smiling and waving, and for a moment he felt some relief before it quickly deflated under the realisation that he wouldn’t be joining his new friend. He smiled apologetically and set his sights instead on the table closest to the furthest wall, the one laid out with a cloth of deep emerald green. He’d been told enough to know that this would be his colour now, and so he let his feet carry him with far more confidence than he felt, imagining the whole while how young Mr Graves must have once marched towards his own house table as though it were set personally for him alone.

He tried his best not to glance back towards the Ravenclaw table in regret, and the effort was made easier by the welcoming smile of a dark skinned older girl at the Slytherin table. He would almost say the smile was slightly knowing, although what it seemed to know, he couldn’t begin to imagine. She shifted slightly at his approach, gesturing warmly for him to take a seat in the open space next to her on the long bench, and he complied. She was lovely, he noticed on closer assessment--exceedingly so, and seemed to carry herself with such graceful composure, he could barely imagine what would make someone like her so pleased to see the likes of him.

“Hello,” he offered timidly, ducking his head and feeling a bit foolish sitting there in his No-maj (no, it was Muggle now, wasn’t it) vest and tie while everyone else already wore their pristine uniforms.

“I knew you’d be with us,” the girl answered smoothly. “I spotted you in the carriage ride on the way up, and told myself you were far too easy on the eyes to wind up anywhere but in Slytherin house.”

Credence blushed at having been unexpectedly complimented on his looks for the second time in one day. The girl extended her hand delicately, and he took it. “Belladonna Zabini,” she said. “Welcome to Hogwarts.” And then she grinned.

“Credence Graves,” he said. “Thank you.”

He didn’t expect the effect the mention of his name would have. There were several awed gasps, and a boy sitting across the table asked, “Graves as in Percival Graves? The Director of Magical Security at MACUSA?” He looked at Credence from a pair of cool silver eyes. His hair was a shimmery silver-blond as well, and Credence thought if anyone at their end of the table should be considered handsome, it would be him. When Credence nodded, he asked, “You’re related?”

“Distantly,” Credence lied reluctantly. “He’s been my guardian since I was orphaned.”

“I knew that was him I saw at the station!” a dark-haired girl exclaimed. “He saw you off at King’s Cross, right? I thought I recognised him from the Daily Prophet.”

Credence nodded, hoping he was successfully fighting down his blush when she added enviously, “He came all the way from America to England with you? My parents can’t even be bothered to take me from Brighton to London.”

“Is he as handsome as he looks in the Daily Prophet?” Belladonna asked in hushed tones, and a couple of girls beside her giggled. The silver-haired boy just rolled his eyes.

Credence’s first reaction was to tell them ‘Yes!’ Not only that, but to say it with as much enthusiasm as he was capable, which on this particular subject was a great deal indeed. The truth was, he’d been wishing for someone he could sing Mr Graves’ praises to without having to worry what they might think, but seeing the looks on the faces of each boy within earshot had him holding back yet again. He was going to have to keep his feelings about his handsome guardian locked up tight, at least until he’d found someone safe enough to share them with in secret. In the end, he simply shrugged. “If you tend to notice those sorts of things, I suppose,” he said, and the girls wilted visibly while the boys smirked on in silent approval.

“Well, handsome or not,” the boy pronounced, “his lineage is as sound as a bell, not to mention his reputation.” His features unfroze somewhat and he held out his hand across the table. “Where are my manners... Abraxas Malfoy. Pleasure to meet you.”

With an elating sense of pride at having done something right in the eyes of his new housemates, even if it was merely having the good fortune to be Mr Graves’ ward, Credence returned the greeting and took the proffered hand.

Belladonna huffed, “They never told us your name, and refused to tell us anything useful about you, except that you’re here to ‘complete your magical education’ because it has been ‘disorganised and incomplete’.”

Credence’s brows rose at the utter ludicrousness of those claims. Aside from a few basic, undetectable, and mostly defensive, spells Mr Graves had taught him with an old wand of his, along with a few wandless and non-verbal spells, Credence’s magical education had barely begun; he’d learned as much as he could without attracting MACUSA’s attention.

The wonderful plans, made months ago by Mr Graves, to leave the purview of both MACUSA and the Ministry of Magic and take Credence far away and teach him properly, had to be abandoned when Grindelwald escaped. One thing Mr Graves had not been willing to risk was Credence’s safety while the vile wizard was on the loose once again. To stay ahead of both government officials and a dark wizard were more dangers than he'd been willing to subject his ward to.

“What, exactly, does that mean though?” Abraxas asked, and there was a slight challenge in his eyes, making Credence feel at once cornered and a little annoyed at being questioned like that, not to mention having his thoughts of Mr Graves so rudely interrupted.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” he stated as firmly as he could, holding the pale gaze without flinching. The phrasing had been Mr Graves’ suggestion for a way to repel all too curious enquiries. There were a few whispers from nearby students, and Credence was vaguely aware that Belladonna was grinning beside him and, a moment later, Abraxas’ lips quirked into a slight smile.

“So, you have a few secrets to keep, do you?” he asked. “Looks like that ghastly old hat has done well. We all like to keep our affairs private.”

“If you ask me,” Belladonna said, “half the reason the other houses hate us is because we don’t give them enough fodder for gossip.”

Credence asked with concern, “So, Slytherins are very unpopular?”

“Much envied, certainly,” Abraxas declared, “but you don’t want to worry about that, Graves. Slytherins look after their own. We don’t need approval from the other houses.”

Credence thought about having been called a freak, and treated like one all his life, until Mr Graves and the new friends he’d made last December. Suddenly, he wished he could briefly go back to talk to the downtrodden, misfit boy he’d been and tell him that he’d belong one day. That he was not alone. That it was all right to be different and that, even when someone didn’t like you, it didn’t necessarily mean there was anything wrong with you. He smiled gently to himself.

Abraxas mused. “You’ll certainly be envied. It’s really not surprising at all that Gellert Grindelwald chose Graves of all people to imitate, even if he did bungle it all up rather badly in the end. I imagine stepping into Percival Graves’ shoes would have a great number of doors opening and very few questions asked.” He looked a bit wistful for a moment then, while the rest of the Slytherin students seemed to hang on his words. “Just think of the sort of secrets that man is privy to…”

Just then, a small procession of ghosts sailed down the length of the Great Hall, leaving a shiver of cold to crawl along the skin of everyone close enough to feel them pass, Credence included. He did his best to feign indifference at the sight of them, knowing his classmates would definitely find it odd if their silvery presence somehow unsettled him. The only ghost he’d ever been permitted to believe in up until now was the Holy Ghost itself, and seeing no less than four of them parading about as though they were commonplace as automobiles--well, it wasn’t a moment he was likely to forget anytime soon. Even more amazing was the way no one else around him seemed to even take note of it; seeing the back of Archie’s pale head across the room, suddenly Credence felt more out of his depth than ever.

He wasn’t the only one feeling lost, though, he was soon to learn. The entrance of the ghosts seemed to signify some important shift in the proceedings, and a palpable sigh of relief passed through everyone at the table. “Thank Merlin,” Belladonna said. “They’re finally about to sort these brats out, and the sooner that’s done, the sooner we get to eat and settle into our common room.”

“I always rather enjoy this part,” Abraxas piped in, offering a sly grin in Credence’s direction. “The first years are always so petrified to go through the sorting. Some of them even cry, either before they find out where they’ll end up--or after.”

Credence wasn’t sure he shared Abraxas’ glee over such a thing as that, especially not having just gone through the process himself. Still, he kept his disapproval to himself and watched on as the hat was placed again and again onto each small (and often trembling) head. It seemed rather cruel to him, that the hat should take its time with them as it so often seemed to, especially in front of everybody else. The hat had done as much with him as well--but at least he’d been in the company of no more than two professors, and both of them knew enough about him that it hadn’t been a terrible worry to imagine what was taking so long.

Back in New York, Mr Graves had told him much about the art of Occlumency, insisting that it would be an area of considerable focus in his magical education, once he was caught up enough for something so advanced. Credence could hardly wait, and somehow, knowing how he’d kept his magic hidden even from himself for all these years, he suspected he would take to the practice quite well. And wasn’t it just like Mr Graves, to be so impatient for Credence’s protection to be ironclad--even offering to help him with his learning during visits and summers spent back home in his apartment. Credence wished he was there now, instead of being surrounded by floating candles and the Sorting Hat shouting out the names of houses like it was all a silly game. He’d give anything to be with Mr Graves, safe in his home, with the warmth of the man’s hand settled over the nape of his neck the way he’d sometimes do…

And then he felt just that--a hand on the back of his nape, or so he assumed, but it was barely there and icy cold. He shuddered, sitting ramrod straight. Several students around him smiled warmly at something over his shoulder, and Belladonna said, “Hello, Professor Delacroix, it’s good to see you again!”

A sweet, but strangely echoey, voice said, “It’s good to see you too, Belladonna dear, and all of you. It’s been rather lonely here without my Slytherins.”

“Are the others still wary of you, professor?” Abraxas asked.

“Alas, yes. Peeves in particular is convinced I’m going to punish him in ways I couldn’t before.” There was a tinkling, glassy kind of laugh. “But, more importantly… Credence, welcome to Hogwarts.”

Credence, beginning to form a rather disturbing theory about his head of house, turned out of his chair and stood slowly, remembering his manners. The words, “thank you, Professor Delacroix,” would have died on his lips, had he not begun to prepare himself.

A shimmering, silvery ghost hovered gently before him, just high enough above the ground to look him in the eyes. It was a very beautiful woman with a gentle smile and bobbed hair, dressed a lot like the more fashionable ladies of New York; naturally, everything about her was translucent. Something about her demeanour reminded him very much of Queenie Goldstein, which only served to make him more homesick.

“I’m very pleased you’ve joined us in Slytherin, dear. I won’t keep you from your dinner, which should appear any moment now, but afterwards, I’ll show you to your rooms, and we’ll have a little talk.”

Credence returned her smile with a more brittle, rather spooked one. “That’s very kind of you, professor, thanks.”

“What a dear boy you are,” she said, brushing her translucent hand vaguely over his cheek, and floated off towards a long table at the far end of the hall, where Credence guessed the teachers sat.

He fell heavily back into his chair and took the glass of juice Belladonna pushed towards him, only then noticing that the table was slowly filling with food out of apparently nowhere.

“I’d say you look as if you’ve seen a ghost, but that would be a little obvious.” She grinned.

“Our head of house is…”

She sighed and nodded, looking more serious then. “She tripped off the top of the Astronomy Tower last year, trying to take a reading of the stars for our horoscopes. I think she was a bit tipsy at the time, actually.” When he just stared at her, she continued, “The very next day, she turned up to teach 6th year Divinations as if nothing had happened. Dippet didn’t know what to make of it when she just said, ‘I won’t let a little thing like death keep me from doing my work or taking care of my Slytherins, and it would be rather unfair of you to sack me for it.’” She grinned. “He didn’t know how to counter that, so she simply remained our head of house, and the Divinations teacher. She says she’s more in touch with the spirit world than ever now and, well… it’s a good point, isn’t it?”

Credence took a second deep gulp of the disgustingly sweet drink before he could speak. “I suppose it is.” He shuddered a little. “What is this?”

She laughed. “Pumpkin juice. Revolting, isn’t it?”

The meal, which seemed excessive in the extreme, consisted of several courses, each of them richer than the last, and Credence wondered how everyone here didn’t need to be rolled out of the Great Hall every night.

He noticed several of the teachers keeping a close eye on him throughout the meal, as though they were wondering when he’d burst into a cloud of smoke and wreak havoc across the tables. Two teachers were looking at him in a completely different way, however: Hooch smirked at him when he met his eyes, and Credence quickly looked away, only to meet the sharp eyes of another professor with brown hair and a beard. Somehow, this teacher’s gaze was more unsettling even than Hooch’s undisguised interest, because Credence couldn’t read it at all.

Nervously, he averted his eyes again, and Professor Delacroix waved a ghostly hand at him from where she hovered without the need for a place setting; he found himself smiling, his initial horror slowly making room for a sense of warmth and acceptance.

After dinner, she was by his side in an instant, and they joined the procession of students out of the Great Hall. He didn’t see Archie, there were simply too many people, and he was carried along in the direction of the dungeons. The corridor got darker the further down they descended, and yet warmer at the same time with more and more wall torches to balance out the absence of light.

“Good night, everyone,” Professor Delacroix sang out musically. “Look after the first years, Belladonna and Darius, make sure they settle in.”

“Yes, professor,” the two students--Slytherin prefects, as Credence would soon learn--replied.

“Credence, come with me.”

He followed the silvery shape down several corridors until they reached a wide door above which hung a painting of a highwayman, seated on a rearing horse, lit by nothing but the silver disk of a full moon. The highwayman lifted his plumed hat and waved it elegantly in the air. “Fair Lady Delacroix, you have been shamefully negligent about visiting me.”

Professor Delacroix chuckled. “That’s because you’re a shameful flirt, Clyde.”

“You wound me, lady. Who, pray tell, is this handsome young man by your side?”

“Credence Graves is his name, and you behave yourself. He’s going to be staying in these rooms, and I don’t want you making him uncomfortable.” She turned to Credence. “Choose your password, Credence. Something which has a special meaning to you but will not easily be guessed.”

Credence thought for a moment, then he said, “Periculid.”

Professor Delacroix smiled slowly. “Do you hear, Clyde? Periculid.”

“So it shall be,” said the highwayman. He leered down at Credence. “And may I say, I have yet to see a Periculid half as red as your lovely lips, dear--”

“That’s quite enough of that now.” The professor zoomed menacingly close to the painting.

Credence had flushed as red as the flower in question, grateful when the door swung open and his ghostly head of house floated inside before him. He looked around himself in awe, not having expected a room anything like this in a ‘dungeon’. “There must be some mistake,” he murmured.

“Don’t you like it?” she asked, but her amused expression said she knew quite well what he meant.

“It’s beautiful.” Credence could barely take his eyes off the large window across the room, which looked out into the faintly glowing, green depths of… “Is that water out there?”

“The dungeons are beneath the Great Lake. All Slytherin rooms look out at it.” The professor’s voice sounded rather pleased.

“Oh.” Credence walked across the room and touched his hand to the cool glass for a moment. Then he examined the rest of the room in detail--the tall canopy bed, the plush sofa in front of a roaring fire, the ornate desk and chair facing the at once unsettling and soothing view, the thick, lushly padded upholstery and linens in deep green and silver, the flowers on the small table beside the sofa…

“Your bathroom is through that door there.”

Credence spotted his luggage at the foot of the bed, raised onto a low chest. “Thank you, professor. I don’t know what to say.”

“Thank you always works just fine.” Professor Delacroix floated close to his side. “Credence, I feel you don’t want to be here, and I don’t blame you.” Before he could speak, she held up a silver hand. “I’m your head of house, and that means I am always there for you, do you hear? If you should feel homesick, overwhelmed, or you just want someone to talk to, simply calling me will summon me.” She laughed softly. “That’s an advantage to having a ghost for a head of house.”

Credence smiled, a little. He was growing less and less uncomfortable around her, and his unexpectedly warm, lush room felt like something of a cocoon. He quickly covered his mouth, yawning, having grown quite suddenly very tired--from exhaustion, from too many new things at once and, most of all, from missing Mr Graves. Because no matter how beautiful his room was, and how welcoming his housemates, and how nice his head of house, nowhere would ever feel like home if Mr Graves wasn’t there.

“Poor thing, you need sleep more than anything right now.” Professor Delacroix drifted towards the door.

“Professor!” Credence called out.

“Yes, dear?”

“Thank you, and good night.”

“Good night, Credence. Please, try not to worry about anything. You’ll soon find your way.”

As soon as she’d gone, Credence went to his case at the foot of the bed, knowing exactly what he would need to make the room feel as much like home as he could manage, under the circumstances. From inside, he brought out a framed photo of dear Mr Graves, carefully wrapped inside the soft linen nightshirt the man himself had gifted him with the night he came to stay in his home. It had been one of his own, originally, and the fabric still smelled of him, intoxicatingly so; before leaving, Queenie Goldstein had helped him with a charm to draw out and preserve the scent no matter how often it was washed. Credence took a moment to press his face into the linen folds before laying it carefully out on the bedspread, heart tripping with the mingled excitement and longing the spicy, masculine scent of Mr Graves always woke in him.

Once he’d done that, he lingered on the photo itself for a while, settling at the edge of the bed with a soft sigh. The stark black and white of the newsprint did nothing to take away the depth of Mr Graves’ stern stare, in fact, it rather enhanced it--his brows rendered more dark and severe as they came together in a customary thoughtful frown. His hands were in his pockets--an attempt to seem casual as the journalist captured the image, Credence supposed, but the soulful and troubled look on his face seemed to say ‘This isn’t finished,’ whatever this had been at the time. It was so much like the way he’d looked on the platform at the train station that it made Credence’s heart ache: trying his best to seem relaxed while his eyes fairly shouted his unwillingness to let go.

Credence set the picture lovingly on the nightstand next to the bed, his own eyes beginning to prickle with the inevitable tears he should have known the photo would summon. Everything had gone so much better than he’d expected on his first night at Hogwarts, even the Slytherin students had taken him as one of their own despite all previous warnings, and yet…

He could barely imagine how he was meant to get through a single day without Mr Graves, and tomorrow would be the first of many, after months spent faithfully at his side. Now that he was here, it was nearly too much to bear.

Pulling the nightshirt up to the head of the massive bed, rather than put it on, Credence held it as if it were Mr Graves himself in his arms--exactly the way he pined for the man to be--weeping broken-heartedly until he fell into a fitful sleep fully clothed.

 

***

 

Credence woke up in the morning with his lashes glued together from crying himself to sleep. For all that, his sleep had been strangely calm, with his face pressed to the nightshirt and Mr Graves’ scent surrounding him. It took him a moment to realise what had woken him, until the sharp trill of a house elf, accompanied by a thin finger poking his shoulder, penetrated his foggy mind.

“Mr Graves must rise! Wakey is sent to wake up sleepy students.” The small creature, wearing what looked like a white feather duster for a dress, poked him again, and he shifted out of reach. “Wakey starts with Mr Graves today.”

“Thank you, I’m awake now.” Credence was glad he’d seen house elves before, or he’d have had quite a surprise already first thing in the morning. He blinked at the tiny red night cap on the elf’s head and wondered whether he was still dreaming; combined with the feather dress, she looked rather like a rooster. Hogwarts, he decided, was a very strange place indeed, even by the standards of the Wizarding world.

“Wizards must not sleep in clothes! Wizards use nightshirts to wear, not as pillows.”

Credence blushed. “Could you please go now, so I can shower and dress?”

Wakey huffed. “Wakey will return later to wash clothes.” She nodded decisively, snapped her bony fingers, and vanished.

Credence rubbed his eyes. He got up and went into the adjoining bathroom, which was really rather wonderful for a single student’s use, with its large sunken tub--sporting several more than the usual number of taps, mountains of soft towels in shades of green, and an ornate silver mirror over a wide sink. One whole corner of the room was a shower with gleaming silver fittings, and he stepped inside and woke himself up properly with a long, hot shower the likes of which he had never dreamed of before his time with Mr Graves.

Credence had only just finished dressing in his light grey summer trousers and matching vest, pale blue shirt and light blazer, when he heard a knock on the door to his room, followed immediately by a barking reprimand from the highwayman guarding it.

Impertinent fellow, waking the boy so early!”

Credence smiled, touched by the painting’s protectiveness.

“I’m pretty sure he’s awake by now, actually.”

Credence gasped, recognising the voice. “Newt!” He ran to the door and opened it, and Newt grinned at him from the other side.

“Hello, Credence. I thought we’d get going bright and early, lots to do today.”

“I’m almost ready.” Credence stepped back, letting Newt in. “Good morning, Clyde,” he said to the painting.

This got him a surprised eye twinkle and a jaunty wave of the plumed hat. “And a good morning to you, my lovely!”

Credence quickly shut the door, blushing at Newt’s amused expression. “I just need to get the list the headmaster gave me last night.”

“Everything going well so far?” Newt asked, watching him rummage in the pockets of the coat he’d worn the day before. “I see you’ve been sorted into Slytherin.”

There was a slightly wary note in his voice which hurt, a little. “Yes,” Credence said, adding firmly, “and everyone’s been very welcoming to me.”

Newt looked somewhat chastised. “I’m genuinely glad to hear that, Credence. What about the headmaster?”

Credence, having found the scroll, paused. “I don’t know. He seems very strict.”

Newt nodded. “Yes, he is, but he’s fair. I don’t suppose you’ve met Professor Dumbledore yet?” When Credence shook his head, but said he was ready to go, Newt said, “Great. I thought we’d have breakfast here. After that, we need to leave Hogwarts’ grounds before we can apparate, but we’ll be in Diagon Alley in moments.”

“I wish Mr Graves could come too,” Credence said petulantly.

Newt sighed. “I know you do. I… well, I stopped by the Leaky Cauldron this morning, but apparently, he’s already had to leave.”

Credence’s heart sank, and his expression must have given him away, because Newt said gently, “Come on, let’s go up to the Great Hall.” He squeezed Credence’s shoulder.

In the Great Hall, Newt excused himself to go to the teacher’s table, where he wanted to speak with Dumbledore, while Credence joined the sparse ranks of older Slytherins seated at their house table; it was still rather early. He didn’t see anyone he knew by name yet, but just as he was considering introducing himself to the students there, who were giving him curious looks, several owls swept into the hall from a high up open window, and a large grey owl dove right towards Credence and landed on the corner of his napkin.

He stared in disbelief at the letter attached to its talons, then quickly untied it. It could only be from one person! With his heart beating so hard, he was sure half the hall must be able to hear it, he unrolled the small scroll.

Dear Credence,

I sincerely hope you’re settling in well, and that people are treating you kindly. If not, you must let me know at once!

I hoped to be able to surprise you by accompanying you and Newt to Diagon Alley, but urgent business requires my attention at once and cannot be delayed. Believe me, I’d have liked nothing better than to see you once more before returning to New York.

Do make ample use of the school owls and write to me as often as you like. And I meant what I said: if anyone gives you any trouble, wild Thestrals would not keep me from taking a portkey from wherever I am and storming the gates of Hogwarts.

Try to make friends there, don’t feel sad, and always remember--I’m thinking of you and can’t wait to see you again, my dear boy.

Until I hear from you,
Percival Graves

Credence rolled up the scroll with trembling fingers and tucked it into his chest pocket, fighting back tears of mingled disappointment and happiness. He had almost seen Mr Graves again today. Almost. It was so unfair. But the letter was so… tender, almost, and beautifully fierce at once, he couldn’t help the way his heart leapt with a quiet joy.

He quickly drank his juice, hoping the shock of the cold would help him fight down the blush he could feel suffusing his face. The owl looked at him expectantly, and he fed it some small pieces of scone; it hooted politely and flew off.

After breakfast, Archie came over. “Hey, you didn’t make it into Ravenclaw, I see.” He looked regretful.

“No,” Credence said. “The hat--”

“Oh Merlin!” Archie gaped when Newt appeared beside them. “Mr Scamander, would you…” He rummaged in his bag, finally extracting a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. “Would you sign this for me, please? It’s a cracking book, I can’t put it down!”

Newt blushed. “Of course.”

“It’s true,” Credence said helpfully, smiling. “Archie was reading it all the way up on the train yesterday.” He hadn’t, at the time, recognised the book as Newt’s, but now that he saw it again, he remembered; he decided not to mention that, for most of the trip, the book had simply sat open on Archie’s lap while they’d been talking.

Archie gave him a grateful grin.

“I’m glad you enjoy it so much,” Newt said, sounding genuinely pleased. He handed the book back, after signing it: For Archie, all the best, Newt Scamander.

“Oh, thank you, Mr Scamander!” Archie clutched it. “I’d better go. See you soon, Credence. Bye, Mr Scamander.”

“See you, Archie.”

Newt smiled at him and steered Credence out of the Great Hall. On the way, he murmured, “You got an owl, I see.”

“Yes, from Mr Graves.” Credence smiled, and Newt didn’t look at all surprised.

“He did message me as well this morning,” Newt told him, and Credence studied his face as he spoke, like a child listening rapt to a tale of his favourite hero, so eager was he for any word about him. “It’s a shame he had to run off again so soon,” Newt went on, and Credence nodded sadly. “MACUSA business, I’m sure you guessed that much well enough.” Then, Newt actually met his eyes for a second or two before a little smirk began to toy at the corners of his mouth. “He said I was to take as good care of you as if you were one of my own magical creatures… though I’m sure you must know I needn’t be told a thing like that. Mr Graves really has taken his responsibility towards you rather seriously, hasn’t he?”

Credence knew he was blushing, quite furiously, it felt like. At the same time he hardly cared, just knowing what Mr Graves had said in Newt’s message--he could practically hear the words in the man’s voice, that tone that always felt so warm and still made clear there was to be no argument. It made Credence feel so safe and good he barely knew what to do with himself, thinking of the way Mr Graves always took such command of things, how even at this great a distance he wouldn’t let any harm or disorder touch his ward.

“He- he’s been very kind to me, yes,” Credence answered. He thought of how much he’d wished to confide in the Slytherin girls at the table the night before, somehow knowing that Newt would be the last person to judge him in any way. Most likely he’d only try helpfully piping in about the same sex courtship habits of some rare species or other… and somehow, just knowing that was enough to keep Credence holding back. Newt might sympathise, or do his best to relate, but in the end he just wouldn’t understand. Soon, he thought, soon enough he’d find a friend to talk to if he simply couldn’t contain himself any longer.

Even still, he smiled, beginning to feel a bit of excitement at the thought of finally having a wand of his own by the end of the day, and more than that--he’d be able to compose a letter telling Mr Graves all about it. If he couldn’t confess his feelings, he could at least do that much, and he knew the man would be proud and nothing but full of praise no matter how modest the wand itself might turn out to be. With that in mind, he took Newt’s arm out on the misty grounds beyond the gate and braced himself for the first lurching tug that would mark the beginning of their trip.

Chapter Text

Diagon Alley was quite another thing to even the most unlikely Wizarding shop hidden in plain sight in New York. It was like a shopping street made up of gingerbread houses, with witches and wizards in fairy tale attire rushing to and fro. It was clear to Credence, all at once, why Mr Graves had suggested his everyday attire should be purchased here; he would look quite out of the ordinary, dressing in American fashions. As it was, he was getting more than a few curious looks for his clothes, no doubt considered both foreign and Muggle. For a moment, he felt uncomfortable, but then he straightened himself up and returned the looks coolly, remembering Abraxas Malfoy’s words from the previous evening: We don’t need the approval of others.

“I think we’ll go to Madam Malkin’s first,” Newt said, steering him through the crowd with a hand on his back. “The sooner we get you measured for your uniform, the sooner you’ll have it.”

Credence thought that sounded like a good idea, and they went on their way, but Newt suddenly stopped and said, “That’s strange, I could have sworn we were going the right way…” He broke off and looked around.

“There’s a clothing store just there, I think,” Credence said, pointing across the road.

“Oh yes, that’s Twilfitt and Tatting’s.” Newt looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, Mr Graves did say I was to make sure you got the very best of everything, so perhaps he’d rather your wardrobe came from somewhere more... upmarket.”

Credence considered protesting that he didn’t need to shop in the fanciest clothing shop there was, but if it was what Mr Graves wanted…

A short time later, he stood on a raised platform with a measuring tape wildly curling and twisting around his chest, waist and hips, and along his limbs, all while an elderly wizard--Mr Twilfitt himself--circled him with a thoughtful expression and a fingertip repeatedly tapping his chin. A notepad circled along with him, and a quill scribbled away furiously in midair.

“We’ll need day-to-day school robes, as well as formal ones,” Newt informed him, “and a full set of casual clothes and sleep wear to cover autumn and winter.”

“Yes, indeed,” Twilfitt agreed. “I don’t think I’ve ever measured anyone quite this tall for school robes. How old are you, young man?” When Credence frowned, he quickly said, “Never mind, none of my business. My apologies.” He glanced to Newt again. “Are you sure he’s to be fitted for the standard first year set?”

Newt shrugged. “That’s the scroll of requirements he was given.”

Twilfitt tapped his chin rapidly, looking down at Credence’s legs at length. “Very well, then.”

When they left the shop some time later, it was with a couple of bags of readymade, but very fine and rather expensive, trousers, shirts and jumpers shrunk to fit into Newt’s baggy coat pockets, and the assurance that the rest of Credence’s order would arrive at Hogwarts within 24 hours. Newt took Credence to Gringotts next, as per Mr Graves’ instructions, so he could open a vault and wouldn’t have to worry about keeping all his money in his rooms at Hogwarts.

The goblins were rather more intimidating than house elves, and after a dizzying ride to and from his very own vault on the kind of roller-coaster not likely to be found at Seabreeze--the Rochester theme park Mr Graves had taken Credence to in spring--he was very relieved to walk shakily back out into the sunny early autumn street, even busy as it was.

“I know just the thing that’s going to make you feel better,” Newt declared, tugging Credence along to Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. There, they sat for a good half hour, lapping at scoops of ice cream in flavours from chocolate mint to wildberry vanilla, butterscotch to coffee and walnut.

Fortified, they made their way to Flourish & Blotts for Credence’s prescribed starter set of books. Credence’s excitement grew with this very definite step towards more magical learning.

The shrunken books in their pockets were soon joined by a selection of fine quills and writing scrolls from Scribbulus Writing Implements, a size 2 pewter cauldron acquired at Potage’s Cauldron Shop (along with one in silver, as per Mr Graves’ instructions, because he didn’t think much of pewter), a set of crystal phials, brass scales, and a telescope.

All these practicalities were well and good, of course, but the acquisitions Credence could hardly wait for--and judging by Newt’s amused expression the more fidgety he became, he knew it as well--were his wand and his familiar.

“I suppose it’s only down to two things, now,” Newt commented softly at his side as they left Potage’s. “I know that if it were myself, I’d be most eager to reach The Magical Menagerie, but I don’t think that comes as much of a surprise.”

Credence smiled at that, picturing a young Newt, anxious and glittery-eyed over the overwhelming selection of Magical creatures rustling and calling from their cages. He could only imagine how difficult a decision it had been for someone like Newt. “How many did you try to bring with you?” he asked, smirking a little at his own question.

“Familiars?” Newt asked, and Credence could see he was beginning to smile in just the same way. “Five. And I almost managed it, as well. The headmaster had to send three of them back to my home by Portkey.”

“Only three of them?” Credence was fully grinning now.

“Well,” Newt said, “he didn’t know about the fourth. As I said, almost managed it.”

“Let’s go there, then,” Credence pronounced, still a bit shyly; it was taking quite some getting used to, being able to declare his own decisions and wants. In fact, there were so many things to get used to in Credence’s new life he couldn’t count them all, from calling older friends like Newt and Tina by their first names, to stairs that moved and shops boasting dragon scales at two sickles a bushel.

At his pronouncement, Newt brightened visibly. “Will we be allowed to bring my familiar into the wand shop, though?” Credence asked as they made their way towards the Menagerie.

“Oh, if not,” Newt answered, "I’ve never had much difficulty sneaking creatures around with me.”

The shop itself was vast, and full of many-layered smells, not all of which were terribly pleasant. The shelves along the wall, as well as every other surface, were piled high with cages in nearly every size, all the way up to the ceiling. Perhaps more even than the smell, Credence was struck by the cacophony of sound--chirps and hoots and hisses and even the odd roar washed over them both as they entered through the doors.

Directly next to his shoulder, a large raven in a domed birdcage fixed his beady eye on Credence and blinked before croaking out a rusty greeting. “Welcome!” he cawed, and Credence flinched in surprise. “Treats, please,” the raven went on, right before letting out a series of clicks that sounded uncannily like laughter to Credence’s ears.

“Don’t pay him any mind,” an elderly man called out, picking his way carefully through the shop from out of a back room hidden by towering cages. “He’s had plenty of treats just five minutes ago. You’d think we had an echo jinx let loose in here, listening to that one all day.”

The man came to a stop next to a glass case housing some sort of coiled serpent with glimmering scales and regarded them both carefully before he spoke again. “Newton Scamander,” he finally murmured. “Come here on a rescue mission, have you?”

Newt blushed, and for a moment Credence worried there may be some unspoken sort of trouble brewing. It hadn’t occurred to him, how someone like Newt might feel about a shop like this one, or how its proprietor might regard him. He sighed with relief when he saw Newt merely begin to shake his head with a smile. “No, Mr Rackham, your premises have rather a high reputation,” he confessed, almost grudgingly. “Though, you may want to modify the habitats for various temperature controls, as there are so many different--”

“As it happens,” the shopkeeper, Mr Rackham, interrupted, “your book has been flying off my shelves faster than the owls do in here. Plenty of fine advice on creature care to be found there--perhaps you’d be so kind as to sign a few copies, if it isn’t any trouble?”

Newt’s blush deepened considerably and, for a moment, he could only stammer bashfully while Credence silently admired Mr Rackham’s expert deflection.

“Credence, why don’t you have a look around. I’ll just be a few minutes.”

“Okay, Newt.” Credence, making sure not to fully lose sight of Newt in the busy and noisy store, walked slowly along the rows of cages, admiring every kind of creature from tiny black kittens and yapping mottled puppies to extremely odd but interesting species he couldn’t even attempt to name. He turned a corner near the front entrance when a rather insistent “Mew!” drew his attention, and he faced a cage of frogs who were hopping about nervously.

Looking up, at another cage stacked above it, he met a pair of brilliant green eyes which would put even the Slytherin colours to shame... Credence stared into them, rivetted. One paw was already reaching out through the opened cage door, the rest of the large, shimmery black cat following as deftly as smoke--reminding Credence more than a little of his Obscurus. The ears--so long and pointed, Mary Lou would have called the cat a spawn of Satan--poked out ahead of the fluffy body.

Credence was enchanted as the cat slinked towards him slowly and carefully, raising a paw that was rather bigger than the standard cat’s paw, almost as if in greeting, or maybe to tap him on the nose, and Credence smiled.

“How did you get your cage open?” he asked.

Naturally, the cat didn’t reply, but it tipped its head on one side and looked at him as if to say, ‘You figure it out.’

Credence laughed; for the first time in two days, he vaguely realised. “I can’t even guess what kind of cat you are, but you’re beautiful.”

“Mew.” The cat’s expression was almost bashful.

“Credence, what-- Oh!” Newt had appeared beside him. He looked at the cat, and the cat looked back at him.

“What kind of cat is this, Newt?” Credence asked eagerly.

“Looks like a Maine Coon,” Newt said at once. “A very impressive one, actually. A bit intimidating even. Where did you find it?” He assessed the cat more closely. “Him, I mean. Sorry,” he told the cat.

Credence grinned. “He kind of found me. He just climbed out of his cage!”

“I don’t blame him. They do crowd them in. I’ve told Mr Rackham--”

“Newt.” Credence wasn’t really listening. He reached out his left hand and gently stroked the cat’s head. “I want him.”

“Are you sure?” Newt asked. “He looks pretty wilful for a familiar. You might spend a lot of time chasing after him all over Hogwarts. And that long fur will need a lot of grooming.”

The cat nudged into Credence’s hand and fixed a bright green eye on him--pleadingly, Credence thought. “I’m sure,” he said firmly.

Mr Rackham looked rather amazed at Credence’s selection. “Well, that’s an… er… interesting choice… I suppose... The cat supplies are this way.”

As Credence scooped the cat into his arms, Newt began to chuckle knowingly. “I know they always say that it’s the wand that chooses the wizard, but I’ve generally believed that to be even more true of one’s familiar,” he observed. “There really isn’t enough study done on the subject of that particular bond, in fact, I’ve considered it at length for a possible future volume…"

“Now you’re sure you wouldn’t rather have a kitten?” Mr Rackham asked, one brow raised and tilting his head much the same way the cat had just done. “There’s more opportunity there for proper training, among many considerations.”

“No,” Credence shook his head. “I’m… getting a bit of a late start, myself. It makes sense that we should both be in the same circumstance, really.” He smiled as the cat butted his head affectionately on the underside of his jaw, unable to help letting out a bit of a giggle. “We’ll just have to learn together, I suppose.”

“Perhaps… perhaps you do have a point,” Mr Rackham said, setting aside a number of items in a small pile that was quickly growing. There was a dense brush--certainly that was a necessary item--a round, soft bed presumably for the cat to curl up in, some jingly toys and an assortment of different flavoured treats and supplements… Credence was relieved to know that Mr Graves wasn’t going to grudge him the cost of the day’s expedition, once the final sum had been tallied up. The man was far too kind, and far too far, as well.

All the many needs of his new familiar were promptly paid for and shrunken down to join the rest of his supplies, and Newt was good enough to offer to hold onto the (so far nameless) Maine Coon while Credence focussed on the ultimate task of the day: acquiring his wand.

“Now,” Newt chided the large cat in his arms gently as they neared the entrance to Ollivander’s. “I know there’s going to be all sorts of delightful swishing going on, and plenty of tempting little sticks and sparkles to chase, but I’m afraid you’re simply going to have to contain yourself.”

Just before the door, Credence paused with his hand on the brass knob and swallowed visibly. A million different worries suddenly rushed back into his mind after a pleasant day of valiantly doing his best to keep them at bay; he knew then that a part of him had been doing nothing more than avoiding this final task. It wasn’t that he didn’t want a wand, nothing could be further from the case! But… what if his Obscurus ruined everything? What if the wand that chose him was something dark and sinister, something that marked him as wicked on sight, bound to evil deeds? His magic had already killed…. what could it do with the right wand? Or the wrong one, for that matter.

But, Mr Graves had insisted that his fears were unfounded, all the way back in New York months ago--wiping the frightened tears away with a careful thumb, eyes warm and golden brown and wonderfully reassuring. Credence glanced back at Newt, and the dark-furred cat reaching out a covetous paw towards him, at once bolstered by their obvious faith in him. Newt nodded once, seeming to understand his hesitation, and Credence nodded back before turning to the door and opening it with firm decision.

The shop bell tinkled faintly as the door opened. Specks of dust were drifting on the air in the faint light beam, and the trio went inside. The door hadn’t yet closed fully when a very upright wizard with a bulbous nose and pale, watery eyes appeared at the shop counter.

“Good day,” he said. “Welcome to Ollivander’s. I'm Gervaise Ollivander, proprietor.”

“Hello.” Credence stepped forward.

Newt greeted Mr Ollivander politely, trying to tuck the large cat surreptitiously behind his lapels--a venture doomed to failure. The cat hissed, clearly not amused, and Mr Ollivander chuckled.

“Quite all right, I don’t mind our furry friends, as long as they don’t go chasing after my wands.” He turned to face Credence expectantly, who had crept slowly towards the counter. “First wand of your own, is it?”

His eyes widening, Credence nodded. “How did you know?”

Mr Ollivander tapped the side of his large nose, as if it was any kind of explanation, and said, “Well, got any family heirloom or lucky substance you want me to use for a wand core? Many of my customers do, you know.”

“Uh…” The idea of anything of Mary Lou’s ending up as the core of his wand almost made Credence laugh. “No, I’m afraid not.”

“No matter. Probably just as well. These special orders rarely work out.” Ollivander retreated into the many ceiling-high shelves and returned within a minute with a dusty, oblong box. He opened it to reveal a shiny black wand, rather stout and solid looking. “Give it a swish, young man.”

Credence picked it up with trembling fingers and waved it once. Black sparks flew from the tip, then it lit up like a cigar and sizzled for a moment before splitting in half. Dropping the two halves on the counter, Credence took a step back.

“Not a problem. I didn’t think that one would work.” Ollivander cackled.

Tempted to ask why he'd suggested trying it in the first place, Credence just smiled apologetically and waited for the next wand to test. This one came from further back in the shop. It was rather long, a dark wood of a different kind, and slightly pointy at the tip.

“Blackthorn,” Ollivander said ominously. “So this could go very well or very badly, I think.”

Newt nodded in silent agreement; the cat in his arms licked its left front paw, appearing slightly bored.

Not exactly encouraged by any of this, Credence swished the wand carefully, ducking at once out of the way of any potential sparks. Nothing happened for a moment. Then, smoke poured out from the tip before the entire front end drooped down with a crunching sound, left to dangle from the rest of the wand by a thin splinter. Credence hurriedly placed it back on the counter.

“Well, it could have been worse.” Ollivander’s milky eyes suddenly lit up. “Garrick!” he yelled into the shadows of the shop.

“Yes, father.” A young man in his twenties, but otherwise the spitting image of his father, approached. He looked Credence over curiously.

“Where did we put that red oak wand we finished just yesterday, boy?”

“The one with the dragon heartstring core? I’ll fetch it.” Young Ollivander climbed swiftly up a long ladder and returned with a box holding a medium-length, rather elegant looking wand. “Here you go.” He handed it to Credence.

“Thank--” That’s as far as Credence got, along with half a swish, before the wand simply flew from his grip as if fired off by slingshot. “Oh no!” he gasped, staring after it as it landed on the opposite side of the shop, in a dusty corner.

“Mew,” the cat said.

“Blimey,” Newt said.

“Maybe not,” said Ollivander senior.

“What about…” his son began.

“Well, boy, out with it.” Gervaise Ollivander frowned.

“I think… something with a unicorn hair core?”

“Hmm…”

“I finished a willow wand just this morning.”

“Willow, eh?” his father mused, then assessed Credence at length. “That would be quite a thing. Well, it’s worth a try, I suppose. He didn’t ask for willow, so that’s a good start.”

Credence looked back and forth between them, wondering whether to point out he had no idea what he should or shouldn’t ask for, but Garrick Ollivander beamed and raced into the back of the shop. He returned moments later with an open box--definitely by far the newest one in the shop, and lined with deep blue tissue paper--and held it out to Credence.

About ready to give up hope that there was a wand compatible with him, Credence picked up the most handsome, and the longest, one yet. It felt strangely right in his hand when he gave it a gentle wave, and a shower of silver stars arced up in the air and slowly faded away several feet ahead of him, just above Newt and his cat, like a monochrome rainbow.

The cat stretched up a paw towards the shimmering sparks and purred, loudly.

Credence smiled, almost happier to be entertaining his familiar than finding a suitable wand.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Gervaise Ollivander clapped his hands, then clapped his son on the shoulder. “You’ll be running this shop in no time, my boy.”

Garrick Ollivander grinned proudly. He quickly wrote out a shop label for the box and stuck it inside the lid. “Willow wood, with a unicorn hair core, 15 inches, quite springy. There you go, sir.” He handed the box to Credence, who paid the quoted price, half in a daze.

“He who has furthest to travel will go fastest with willow,” mused Gervaise Ollivander slowly. When Credence blinked at him in surprise, he explained, “An old family proverb, but it’s quite true, young man.”

 

***

 

Back outside of Ollivander's and all of his shopping done for the day, Credence smiled and let out a deep breath. It had been tense for a while in there--for a moment or two, he'd even feared he may begin to cry in front of everyone--but in the end, Mr Graves had been right as always. Even Newt, who normally seemed wilfully uninvolved in the turbulent undercurrents, appeared to have taken note of Credence's fears and exactly where they originated.

"Unicorn hair," he mused quietly, tilting his head towards the slim box still clutched in Credence's hand. "Any Patronus you produce will likely be wonderfully powerful, once you get to that point. Unicorns are lovely creatures, I'd love to meet the one who was good enough to give a hair or two… such a kindness. I've never had a unicorn stay in my case, not yet- "

He interrupted himself this time, at the gentle smile on Credence's face. "Well, you did quite well in there, anyhow," he finished. Then a mischievous smirk crept onto his face, a look that Credence was growing accustomed to seeing from him. "My brother Theseus took no less than 15 tries before he found the right wand," he whispered.

Credence's eyes grew wide at the terrible thought.

"I've never known someone to have such a fussy sort of magic. Worse than a nesting Occamy."

Credence let out a rare and genuine laugh at that, feeling the relief suddenly come over him in full. One could always trust Newt to think in terms of his creatures, no matter what the subject, and there was something terribly endearing in it now that Credence gave it some thought. Steady, he supposed, the way Mr Graves was so unshakably steady…

As excited as he'd been to see Diagon Alley and retrieve his longed-for supplies, suddenly Credence was gripped with an eagerness to get back to Hogwarts, now the deeds were done. Because once he was there, he'd be able to compose a letter to Mr Graves and tell him all about his day's adventures. If he couldn't have the man with him, letters would have to suffice, and he promised himself right there that he'd make it a thorough one, no matter how much of his brand new ink it used up. He'd never been to the Owlery… if his familiar had done as well in the wand shop as he had himself, could he trust him to behave amongst all the hooting and feathers?

His stomach growled then, and Newt nodded his eager agreement, as though he'd been expecting that. "Your clothes won't have a proper place to put your wand until you've got your new ones on," he pointed out. "I'll keep it with the rest of your things for now. Let's make our way to the Leaky Cauldron for a bit of supper before we head back? Unless you'd rather eat with the other students…"

Credence traded his new wand for the cat, who leapt straight past his arms and onto his shoulders as though he intended to survey the whole of Diagon Alley from there. "Let's go to the Leaky Cauldron," he decided, if only because it would bring him that much closer to a place Mr Graves had just recently been. He wondered immediately if the sheets in his room still smelled of him the way his nightshirt did, and just as quickly hoped that Newt wouldn't notice how he'd made himself blush.

As they sipped butterbeer and ate a hearty pea soup with crusty bread--Newt had managed to procure some plain cooked chicken pieces for the cat, in exchange for signing yet another copy of his book--Credence continued to wonder about his new wand.

“Newt… what does my wand mean? The core, I mean, and the wood?”

Newt smiled. “Nothing but good things, Credence. Unicorn hair wands attach themselves very strongly to their owner and perform consistent magic. And willow… ah, now that’s a much sought after wand wood, but few will be chosen by a willow wand.”

“Why is that?” Credence asked, more intrigued than ever.

“I’m no expert, but I know willow wands are said to be excellent for healing, and to work best for the humble with far more magical potential than they expect of themselves.” When Credence looked at him in disbelief, he smiled. “Oh yes, you wouldn’t be chosen by a willow wand unless you have a lot of talent for advanced and even non-verbal magic.”

Credence didn’t mention that Mr Graves had taught him some non-verbal spells already-- basic, but useful, ones. He smiled softly to himself at the memory, as well as the high opinion his new wand seemed to have of him.

“Meow…” A soft paw patted his forearm, and he glanced at his new familiar, a tiny piece of chicken stuck in his whiskers making him giggle; he plucked it away gently, and the cat’s ears twitched.

Newt laughed. “You’ve had a rather successful outing today, I think.”

Credence agreed wholeheartedly.

After their meal, Newt remembered another errand he had to run in Diagon Alley. He tried to be subtle about trying not to leave Credence on his own, but his fidgeting was quite painful.

“I promise the Obscurus will behave itself,” Credence said. “I… I’d really like to write to Mr Graves, and if I do so now, maybe I can take the letter to the Owlery as soon as we get back?”

Newt still looked uncomfortable. So much so, Credence assumed he was under strict instructions not to let him out of his sight. “I’ll be back within minutes. The Apothecary is right next door. I just need a supplement for my Occamies, and the Mooncalves--”

“Newt, I won’t move. I’ll just be writing right here.” When his cat mewed loudly, giving Newt a rather challenging look, he added, “And he’s going to look after me.”

“Very well.” Newt gave him a nervous smile, handed him his writing supplies after returning them to the correct size, and hurried away.

“I think I finally know your name,” Credence told his furry friend, “Quincy.” He grinned when the cat’s bright green eyes seemed to widen, but as he neither hissed nor scratched nor otherwise made any displeasure known, he assumed his choice met his approval. “Now, we need to write to Mr Graves about our day…” He set quill to paper and began, under Quincy’s watchful eyes.

Dear Mr Graves,

Thank you so much for your letter. I hope you’re somewhere safe, even if you can’t tell me where. I’m writing this at the Leaky Cauldron, and I wish you were still here. It would have been so nice to spend another day with you.

I’ve ordered my robes, but I’m afraid we went to an expensive tailor. We ended up there by accident, but Newt said you insisted I should buy the best. He helped me buy everything else I needed, too.

I have a familiar now! His name is Quincy. I hope you don’t mind. Please don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone why I chose the name. It will remain our secret. I wish you could see him--he’s a very majestic looking, nearly black cat. He looks as if he understands every word I say, and I expect him to answer at any moment. I’m sure that sounds silly. You were right, you know. I feel a lot less lonely since I found him. Or rather, he found me.

I have my wand now too: willow with unicorn hair. Newt told me what these mean, but it sounds so unlikely. I think he was exaggerating.

Yesterday, I was sorted into Slytherin house. Newt seems a little disappointed, and the headmaster told me Professor Dumbledore, whom Newt often talks about, wanted me in his own house. I don’t know why. The students I’ve met so far from my house made me feel welcome, and my head of house reminds me of Queenie Goldstein, but… she’s a ghost!

Hogwarts is very strange. Everything feels quite strange here, and I’m sorry if I sound a little childish, but I really wish you were here, Mr Graves. I know everything would make much more sense to me then or, if it didn’t, I wouldn’t care so much.

I’ll post this letter as soon as we get back to Hogwarts, and I hope you’ll be able to write back to me soon. I

I miss you, Mr Graves.

Yours, Credence.

 

***

 

Once back at Hogwarts, Credence--laden now with all his goods and his arms full of squirming cat--slipped past the Great Hall where everyone was still eating to make his way straight down to the dungeons. Newt had promptly excused himself once they'd got to the castle, choosing instead to join Professor Dumbledore for a quick chat over a cup of hot cocoa at the High Table.

Quincy glowered at Clyde the highwayman as Credence stood before the door to his room, reaching out a heavy paw to swat at the plumed hat as it waved about the painting; Clyde was bound to be overzealous in his greeting every time they met, it seemed.

"Do you remember your password, sweet?" He asked with a conspiratorial grin. "If you don't, I may be convinced to accept a kiss in its stead."

"Periculid," Credence answered, blushing at the boldness of it. He was prepared to accept a great many strange compromises in his life at Hogwarts, but sharing his first kiss with an enchanted painting wasn't one of them. Of course, if he could truly have his way, he'd much rather give that particular gift to Mr Graves; already a part of him was fiercely regretting that he hadn't done so on one of the countless occasions he'd longed to during their time together in New York.

His room was as he'd left it, with the exception of the bed having been made to a far higher standard than he would have been capable of doing himself, without magic at least. The house elves had surely been here in his absence, fluffing pillows and likely wiping away every single fingerprint he'd left behind.

Quincy crept cautiously across the surface of the bed, sniffing delicately as he went along before perching primly atop the pillow next to the nightstand. It seemed at first to Credence that he must prefer the same side of the large bed he himself favoured, until he saw how the cat's eyes followed the slow repeating movement of Mr Graves' photo in the frame close by. He smiled a little, remembering how there had been much to amuse and distract a cat like Quincy back in The Magical Menagerie, what with all the nearby birds and mice.

Paintings and photos would have to be enough for him now, Credence thought. If Clyde's hat had been all it took to rouse his predatory instincts, he would do well to keep his new familiar far away from the Owlery.

"Stay here and I'll be back very soon," he explained, stroking behind one tufted black ear. Quincy blinked up at him with his emerald eyes and purred contentedly. Mr Graves had been right, again and as always--already Credence felt more equipped to settle into his place at Hogwarts feeling significantly less alone, now that he had a familiar by his side.

He made his way back up to the front doors where, by then, small groups of students were beginning to pour from the Great Hall. Asking the first students who looked old enough to have been there longer than a day, he requested directions to the Owlery, and soon found himself climbing the steep stairs winding up around the outside of the stone tower.

The noise inside was enough to make him think it was as well he’d left Quincy behind in his rooms. The poor cat might get more agitated than playful amidst this cacophony. Credence chose a large white owl with brown specks and approached it carefully.

It hooted at him, giving him an expectant stare. “Would you deliver a letter for me, please?” he asked, even while feeling rather foolish.

“Hoo!” The owl edged closer along its perch.

Credence extracted the rolled up letter for Mr Graves from his pocket. He carefully tied it to the owl’s leg and said, very clearly as he’d been told, “Take this to Percival Graves.”

The owl moved closer to him and tugged at his jacket sleeve with its sharp beak, blinking as if needing clarification, but then took off out of an arched stone window, bearing his letter.

Credence sighed, hoping desperately he hadn’t done anything wrong and the letter would reach his guardian. He worried himself about it all the way back to the front doors, where he collided with a tall, slim figure. “Sorry!” he muttered, finding himself looking into a pair of black eyes.

The other stared at him. “I should have looked where I was going, my fault.” He was a pale boy with hair as black as his eyes; his nose was rather impressive, and his sweeping brows were drawn together in something like shock. “I just arrived,” he stated, in a smooth, deep voice. The claim was confirmed by the suitcase which had hit the ground on contact with Credence. “Could you tell me how to get to the headmaster’s office?”

Credence began to nod, but then realised he was unlikely to find his way back there on his own again, especially with the staircases being as unreliable as they were. “I only got here for the first time yesterday myself, I’m not sure I can. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine. I’ll find someone else to ask.” The boy’s lips twitched up in a very brief smile and he swept past Credence, but then held the door open for him to precede him inside.

“Thanks,” Credence said, surprised.

The boy followed him in and closed the door behind them, then looked up towards the stairs; one of the teachers was talking to another student halfway up. “I’ll ask that professor there.” He gave Credence another long, rather intense look. “I’m Serapis Prince.”

“Credence Graves.”

The boy held out his hand and Credence took it; it was unexpectedly cool, but the handshake was firm and confident. Serapis smiled another brief smile, inclined his head, then went to talk to the professor, who had reached the bottom of the stairs by then.

Chapter Text

The night had brought a pleasant rest, much better than the one before. Credence had managed, at least, to successfully change from his day clothes into Mr Graves' fragrant nightshirt--bolstered by the calm company of Quincy, who'd sat all the while with his gaze fixed avidly on the fish slowly swirling outside the bedroom window. The cat had declined to curl up anywhere near him on the bed, preferring to settle on the little sofa across the room, (despite also having been provided with a lovely plush bed of his own), and even though Credence felt admittedly a little stung by the rejection, he certainly didn't take it to heart enough to cry himself to sleep the second night in a row. It could only be expected his familiar would take some adjusting to Hogwarts--at least as much as Credence himself.

This time, rather than being rudely awoken by an irate house elf, Credence was happy to find himself being much more gently roused by a soft and somewhat chattering noise. He raised his head, blinking blearily in the half-light to see Quincy perched on his desk, chirping in that odd and nearly alien way cats sometimes do while mesmerised by tantalising prey. Just as he’d been at bed time, the cat was fixed with all his attention on the window--but when Credence saw what was just outside of it, he sat up with a start.

There, swaying in the murky depths was a merman--no, a selkie, Credence reminded himself, having learned the distinction from Newt’s book. The pale skin of his high-cheekboned face shimmered faintly like the scales of a fish might do, while his dark green hair swirled wild and free as slippery weeds in the water around it. He wore a rope of sharp fangs around his neck, and when he saw that Credence was awake and watching him in stunned surprise, a slow and crooked smile appeared on his face. It seemed the selkie was curious about the room’s new inhabitant, leaving Credence feeling much like a fish in a tank at the zoo, only strangely in reverse. The selkie man even pressed his hands against the glass of the window, bringing his golden eyes closer to examine the strange human. After a few moment’s pause in which they carefully regarded each other, a low and melodic hum began to gently build, sweet as a lullaby.

Quincy promptly hissed, hackles raised.

Credence, unknowingly, had drifted closer to the window, his own fingertips just touching the glass. He felt the vibration of the mer song against his skin through the cool surface, mesmerised by the motion of the long tresses to and fro… to and fro… the golden eyes so close now.

A sudden weight on his left forearm made his hand slip across the glass with a squeak and he snapped out of his enchanted state. Quincy mewled urgently at him, green eyes wide, both front paws on his forearm.

Blinking, Credence stepped back, falling down on the desk chair. Quincy hadn’t let go of him, following across the desk, now between him and the smiling selkie, who was slowly drifting away backwards through the water, and Credence took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh which fluttered the long fur on Quincy’s head.

“I think I need to take a closer look at Newt’s book, especially the chapter on aquatic creatures,” Credence noted shakily, half to himself, half to his cat.

The cat didn’t comment, naturally, but when Credence reached around him and pulled him close, resting his cheek against the side of the fuzzy head, he held perfectly still, purring very softly, until Credence regained his equilibrium.

 

***

 

Having no idea whether it was usual to bring familiars into the Great Hall at meal times, Credence waited to see what Quincy would do when he walked upstairs from the dungeons. The cat wandered along beside him, never more than two feet away and, when Credence approached the open doors to the Great Hall, meowed and brushed past his leg, proceeding him into the room like an advance guard.

Credence approached the Slytherin table, where he thought he recognised the black-haired boy from the evening before, seated with his back to him. He walked around to the nearest free space and sat down, feeling Quincy’s reassuring presence against his shin. “Good morning,” he said vaguely to everyone present.

“Morning,” two of the students from the other night--the prefect Darius, surname still unknown, and Abraxas Malfoy--greeted him blearily. The table was still rather empty, unlike the other three, and Credence came to the inevitable conclusion that Slytherins were, as a rule, not early birds. He smiled to himself.

“Good morning, Credence,” said the new boy, Serapis Prince, now facing him from the other side of the table and two seats down.

Credence gave him a surprised look; the other male students weren’t using his first name. “Hello. Did you get to the headmaster’s office all right yesterday?”

Serapis nodded. “Yes, I did.”

“Do you two know each other?” Abraxas asked.

“Yes,” said Serapis.

“Not exactly,” said Credence at the same time.

Serapis smiled. “We… ran into each other last night.”

Quincy shifted on the ground beside Credence, who immediately looked for something suitable to feed him. He gathered up a handful of scrambled egg and reached beneath the table, and Quincy started eating, his rough tongue tickling Credence’s palm.

Serapis stared at Credence, then looked under the table from his side. “Beautiful cat.”

Credence beamed proudly. “Yes, I got him yesterday.”

“You have a cat?” Belladonna Zabini asked, yawning behind a carefully manicured hand as she approached the bench. When she spotted Quincy, she made admiring noises. “Nice kitty!” She settled in next to Credence, close enough for her leg to nudge Quincy lightly, and he hissed at her. “Sorry,” she said, chuckling, but moved a little further away. Then she looked up and across the table. “Who are you?”

Looking around for a moment as if unsure whether she was talking to him, the new arrival said, “Serapis Prince.”

“Belladonna Zabini.” She grinned, resting her elbow on the table and her chin in her palm. “I must say, this year is off to a good start for Slytherin. We’re scooping up all the tall, dark, handsome new boys.”

Credence ducked his head, assessing Serapis’ reaction, or lack thereof; he merely looked at Belladonna with one brow raised, then his eyes drifted to Credence.

“Where did you come from, two days late?” she asked, undeterred by not getting his full attention.

“Durmstrang,” Serapis said at once. “I changed my mind and decided to finish my education closer to home after all.”

“What a good idea,” Belladonna told him, sipping tea with her eyes fixed on him, smiling.

“Yes, I think it was,” Serapis agreed.

When Credence reached for the nearest honey jar, it was pushed into his hand, and he looked up to meet the boy’s gaze, which was on him still.

Just then, a fleet of owls came swooping through the Great Hall, dropping letters and parcels along the four tables and hooting up a small commotion. A sturdy tawny owl breezed over to the side of the Slytherin table where Credence sat and dropped a large bundle wrapped in brown paper and red twine; his morning tea was nearly upset onto its side, if Belladonna hadn't quickly grasped it by the handle.

"These must be the rest of my school robes," Credence mused, quickly pulling the parcel down to the bench and safely away from the honey jar as he worked to untie it.

Spying the packaging (and the fine calligraphy of its gilt label) over his lap, Belladonna gave a slow, appreciative smile. "Twilfitt's," she observed, as the dark haired girl from two nights before nodded sagely. "I'd expected as much. A Graves let loose in Diagon Alley wouldn't have ended up anywhere else."

"I've read an entire article on Director Graves' wardrobe in 'Hex Couture'," the other girl piped in, "more than once."

"Really?" Credence asked, looking up in surprise. "He didn't tell me about that. With photos and everything? Do you… do you still have a copy of that?"

The girl smiled, if not a little quizzically. "As it happens, I do. You're interested in fashion, are you? I’m Hyacinth, by the way. Hyacinth Parkinson."

“Hello,” Credence said, shot a quick glance at Serapis, then quickly affected a slight smirk as Abraxas came to join them, still yawning. "Well… I might be interested in teasing him a bit over it. The Director, I mean."

Serapis smiled at that, more broadly than Credence had yet seen from the quiet boy, while Abraxas raised an interested brow. "Teasing Director Graves? That sounds like a rather dangerous game. What's there to even tease a man like that about?"

"His reputation as a bit of a peacock," Belladonna answered.

Abraxas barked out a laugh, reaching for the silver coffee urn. "A man of his stature must look the part," he said. "No son of mine will be going about in patched robes, that's for bloody sure." He sipped his coffee (black, Credence noticed), and leaned forward in mild interest. "Speaking of, I see our Graves has had a rather tasteful delivery. Come on then, let's have a look."

Credence, getting a little flustered under all the scrutiny, took the lid off the box and extracted a very fine, black set of robes. It shimmered and flowed through his hands like black ink, feeling soft and comfortable.

“Nice!” said Hyacinth.

Credence smiled. He laid the robes over his knees and watched Quincy pat at them playfully. “Careful, Quincy!” he said firmly.

“Mew.” The cat waved a paw as if to say, ‘Look, no claws.’

Laughing, Credence attended to the rest of the box contents: two white shirts of excellent quality, an actual pointy black hat, a silk tie in Slytherin colours and… a pair of dark grey tweed shorts. He lifted them up and examined them, confused. But… well, it was still summer. The only thing he found surprising was that none of the older students wore shorts; only the first years, as far as he could tell.

“Er… Graves, why did you--” Abraxas started, but was instantly interrupted by Belladonna.

“Excellent choice, Credence!” she piped up, giving Abraxas a quelling look, to which he responded with a snort. A couple of the other girls giggled.

“I just asked for the items on the list the headmaster gave me,” Credence said innocently, more than a little at sea.

“Dippet gave you a list with short trousers on it?” Abraxas shook his head. “I had no idea that man was so perverse.”

Credence grew rather uncomfortable. “I suppose the long ones will still arrive. It’s warm enough for now, so it won’t matter if I wear these. Will it?”

Abraxas gaped at him. “Rather you than me,” he said.

“I agree,” said Belladonna, and Hyacinth guffawed.

Abraxas seemed less amused but, in the end, proved more helpful. “If you stand up and hold them in front of you, Graves, I’ll lengthen them for you. I’m really rather good at Transfiguration.”

“He’s really rather humble, too,” chimed in Belladonna, rolling her eyes.

Smiling, but relieved not to have to admit he had no idea how to do this himself, Credence climbed off the bench and held the shorts in front of his hips and, with a simple spell, Abraxas turned them into trousers of just the right length.

“It won’t last, of course,” he said.

“I know,” Credence agreed with a sigh. “Thank you, anyway.” He remembered some of the complex laws about Transfiguration Mr Graves had told him about. In particular, he recalled that tailor made clothes would not remain transfigured for long, to protect the business in question. “I’ll have to see about the rest of the order.”

He turned back towards the table and glanced at Serapis, and the pale boy’s cheeks were bright pink, for some reason, and he wasn’t fully able to meet his eyes for once. Quincy, sitting at Credence’s feet, seemed rather agitated, bumping his head against his shin as if trying to urge him along, and Credence decided it was a good opportunity to flee from the Great Hall.

“I’ll go get changed, I think,” he muttered.

“Oh, Credence,” Belladonna stopped him, “Professor Delacroix said you were to start with a Divination lesson today. Dippet left your lesson plan with her.”

“Thanks,” he said, gathering up the box with the rest of his set of robes. “Where is it? The classroom, I mean.”

“Opposite our common room, do you remember from two days ago?” When he nodded, she continued, “By the way, as far as the rest of us are concerned, you’re welcome in there any time, you know, even if they have you locked up in a bedroom of your own. For some reason. That you can’t talk about.” She laughed at his expression. “It’s fine,” she said, “keep your secrets, mystery boy.”

He smiled and went on his way, with Quincy tagging along, fluffy tail swishing all over the place.

 

***

 

Finally dressed in his proper school uniform, Credence presented himself at the open door of the room Belladonna had indicated. Thankfully, being in the dungeons, it was a simple enough place to find; no stairs to catch or poltergeists like Peeves to dodge along the way.

As it was, Quincy balked at the threshold, seeing the silvery form of Professor Delacroix moving fluidly about the room like a shadow rendered in reverse. He mewed plaintively, blinking up at Credence as though he wasn’t convinced he truly meant for them both to go in there. Credence sighed. “All right,” he said, just as uncertain. “I suppose you’d rather catch mice or something along those lines rather than sit in a stuffy lesson with me all morning. Just… don’t get lost or wander off too far?”

Quincy trilled happily, having been dismissed, and Credence stepped into the dim room already feeling a little strange without him. There were candles lit all about the empty class, casting warm, flickering light over the walls--it felt almost as if it could be night, down here in the dungeons in the cosy dark. At his approach, the professor turned and smiled a friendly greeting.

"I hope I'm not late," Credence murmured. "They sent me short trousers with my uniform and one of the other students had to help transfigure them."

“Oh dear,” she murmured. “Credence, bless your sweet heart. Dippet gave you the list for a first year student, didn’t he? I certainly don’t expect that's any American fashion I’ve heard of, and I do rather pay attention to that sort of thing. You know, they might have done a little better at questioning your order, speaking of paying attention.” She preened at her stylishly bobbed hair to illustrate her point, though the effect was rather ruined when her hand passed through her face by several inches.

"I have your lesson plan just here, as it happens.”

She gestured to a scroll left spread out on the large desk, then promptly ushered him in the opposite direction, towards a small fire blazing merrily in a little grate at the back of the room. “Today we’re going to be reading tea leaves. A very old tradition, if not a rather simple one. But! It’s ever so reliable once you get the hang of things.”

Credence lowered himself onto one of the many plush embroidered cushions surrounding the small fireplace, feeling himself paling rapidly. Even still, he chided himself for it; as many times as Mr Graves had gently insisted there was nothing wrong or evil about magic, a lifetime of Mary Lou’s painful lessons was hard to shake. Only just then it seemed to really occur to him: he was going to learn magic--proper, wicked magic in all its glory.

Professor Delacroix may not have noticed much when she happened to find herself inconveniently dead, but she certainly noticed Credence’s silent reaction. Again she reminded him of Queenie, in the way she settled in close with such a sympathetic look it tugged at his chest a little to see it.

“Oh, now,” she said softly. “What is it, then? I imagine I already know, but I think it may do well for you to voice this one out loud and, well… exorcise it once and for all, hmm?”

Credence bit his lip and looked down at his lap, feeling woefully unsophisticated and childish for his transfigured clothes and his backwards fears. “I’m sure you’ve been told enough about-- about who raised me,” he said quietly. “Magic, of any kind, was always something we were warned against every day… but this, things like reading the leaves… I don’t know.” His shoulders slumped and the professor made a soft sound of understanding. “It always seemed this sort of thing was meant to be the worst of it. In the Bible and such, you know…”

“Well,” she said after a thoughtful pause. “I can’t speak for the Bible, as I barely know it. But what I do know is that reading the leaves has never done me any harm. At most, it merits as a simple early warning for the things that might come along in life, like seeing the clouds and knowing it’s bound to rain that day, I suppose.”

Credence looked up at her translucent smile then, feeling a little tremor of hope at her words. He’d never quite thought of it that way. It sounded terribly reasonable, the way she put it.

Seeing his expression brighten, Professor Delacroix leaned a bit closer and added in a confidential tone, “Come to think of it, I might have done well to have a look inside my cup the day I took a tumble off the Astronomy tower.”

A sharp and sudden laugh escaped Credence then, full of relief and shock and more than a touch of gratitude for her easy and understanding manner. Just as quickly as it came, he clapped his hand over his mouth, a little surprised at his own self, as well. He never laughed in that sort of way, never had the freedom to, really. What else was hiding within him, with the pent-up magic and the turbulent feelings for Mr Graves, and all the rest of it? Would the leaves be able to tell him that?

As it turned out, they had much to say.

While Professor Delacroix told him about the process of Tasseomancy, Credence sipped his cup of fragrant tea, which had already been waiting for him. “The house elves still bring my favourite, Oolong, to my classes, even if I can no longer drink it,” she told him.

Credence considered asking if she could smell it at least, as the soothing, slightly sweet, scent was quite delightful, but he didn’t want to seem insensitive or make her sad, in the event that she couldn’t. “It’s very nice,” he said.

Just then he remembered about something that he could ask, though. "Professor Delacroix, am I permitted to join the other students in the Slytherin Common Room? Only, I know I'm not meant to take classes with the other students…"

The professor frowned a little in thought, and somehow Credence got the sense that she was more troubled by his need to ask than the question itself. "I know there's been quite some fuss about you back in New York," she said, "and certainly a bit of upset, I won't deny that."

Credence began to hang his head reflexively, lifting it back up again in surprise when the icy press of her fingertips grazed beneath his chin. "But," she went on," Slytherins can be rather forgiving of each other's faults, especially when they aren't really faults at all. And you, my dear, are blameless as far as that business in America, and as far as I'm concerned. Of course you're welcome in the Common Room, amongst your housemates."

Eyes wide, Credence found himself touched and more than a little flustered at her small speech. "Thank you, professor," he said, feeling his cheeks heating once again.

She smiled, and it was as simple as that between them. Once there was barely a spoonful of tea left in the cup, she asked him to take the handle in his left hand, ask to see his future, and swirl the cup three times counter-clockwise.

Credence did so, his question, “What will my future bring?” sounding only a little hesitant and worried. Then he upended the cup on the saucer to let the remaining tea drain from it.

“Remember now, don’t be distracted by what you hope to see or may fear to see,” Delacroix told him. “Relax and clear your mind, expect nothing in particular but, if any of the shapes in which the leaves have gathered instantly forms an image to you, it can be regarded as very important.”

Credence swallowed hard, nodded, and turned the cup the right way up. At first glance, it was simply an empty cup with splotches of soggy tea leaves stuck haphazardly to the bottom and sides. Many, many splotches.

“Ah, now you’ve had an eventful past, which is no surprise to you, of course.” Professor Delacroix raised her perfectly trimmed silver brows. “Your present and near future look quite busy too, however.” She circled her finger over the cup. “There are many symbols here. The handle of the cup represents you. What we see to the left of the handle is leaving your life, what we see to the right is in your life and will soon enter your life. What is close to the handle is most current in your life right now.”

Credence nodded to let her know he understood. “Does it matter how high up in the cup the leaves are?”

“Certainly. Events indicated nearer the rim will occur sooner than those down the sides or in the bottom.”

Taking a deep breath, Credence tried to focus on one of the splotches, and the one to whom his eyes were drawn first was what looked like a flower. No, a four-leaf clover, stretching from the middle of the cup into the base. He pointed it out to Professor Delacroix.

She smiled. “A clover has many meanings, but with four leaves, it is always a positive omen. The position of this one…” She drew her brows together. “In the bottom of the cup, it means luck in the future, and a connection to nature, but much of this one clings to the side of the cup, so you will need the aid of good friends over the coming months to achieve happiness.”

“That’s… good,” Credence said hesitantly. He liked the prospect of future luck, and his need for friends was no surprise, but the connection to nature baffled him. Except… well, he was certainly much closer to nature here than he had ever been in New York. “This symbol here looks like an animal,” he said, pointing to a curved group of tea leaves immediately left of the handle.

“A dragon,” Professor Delacroix told him, “symbolises large and sudden changes. In this case, in your very recent past.” They looked at each other and both shrugged, acknowledging the obvious. “Ah, this here is interesting.” Her shimmery finger indicated a perfect rectangle to the right of the dragon. “It’s a letter, and I do believe there’s an initial here beside it.”

Credence peered at it closely and, without a doubt, a small ‘P’ hovered nearby. He smiled, ducking his head when he saw Professor Delacroix watching him with a smile of her own. “This looks like a hill beside it,” he said, “or maybe... more of a mountain.”

“A powerful friend,” she said. “Helpful, if we couldn’t already guess who ‘P’ is.” They laughed at this, but then her laugh died down.

“What is it, professor?” Credence asked anxiously.

“There are other mountains here.” She pointed to different spots in the cup. “Two groups of them, far apart.”

“Not powerful friends,” Credence guessed.

“No,” she said, meeting his eyes. “These are powerful enemies.”

He gulped and lowered his eyes.

The cool sensation of a finger ghosted over his chin, “Don’t forget about that luck in your future and the good friends,” she reminded him gently.

“I know. It’s just that… I’m worried about my guardian, out there somewhere, with Grindelwald on the loose,” he admitted, unsure if putting it into words helped or made it worse: that constant, nagging fear for Mr Graves’ safety.

“Percival Graves is a very brave but also very cautious man, no?” Delacroix asked him.

“Yes, but… it’s happened before. He’s been through so much, because of him!” Credence felt close to tears, now that he’d started voicing his fears. “I’m sure he was cautious then, too.”

“I’m willing to bet,” Professor Delacroix said, giving him an encouraging smile, “that now he has you to care for and protect, he’s all the more cautious. He knows you need him, Credence. He would not take risks with your safety, or his own, as he once might have done.”

Credence blinked at her, wanting so much to believe her. “I just wish there was something I could do to help him,” he said, a little desperately.

“Oh, but there is,” she said. “Study hard, learn to protect yourself and also to protect those you love.” She politely ignored his blush. “The more you know once you’re both reunited, the more help you can be to him.” She leaned close, and her breath was cool in his face. “Don’t listen to those who would tell you that using magic to fight as well as to defend is evil. The more you know, the more powerful you are when facing an enemy. You cannot duel a dark wizard by simply deflecting his spells until you are both exhausted, for then he will still be the one willing to destroy you.”

Credence listened attentively. “I’m worried my only power is to destroy,” he confessed.

“Oh no, Credence. Your Obscurus formed out of the sum of your suppressed magic and, from what I’ve heard, it is substantial. That magic is yours to use and channel how you will, once you have trained and learned to use it safely. Do not fear it, though Grindelwald certainly should, I suspect.”

He tried to smile, a little. She talked more like Mr Graves than anyone.

She quirked a smile. “For now, though, let’s see what else might help you on your path.”

They peered into the cup together and, with a start, Credence realised what he had vaguely taken to be a figure 8 beside the letter ‘P’, halfway down the cup could, just as easily, be taken to be two hearts tilted but so close together as to look joined. “Professor…” he began. “What does this look like to you?” He pointed to them, desperate for a second opinion.

“That, Credence, looks to me like the best defence of all.” She smiled brightly at him. “Love.”

 

***

 

Credence had gone straight from Tasseomancy to Ancient Runes that morning, learning all about the ways in which the two disciplines could in fact relate to one another, at least in the sense of divination. His time with Erlend Hexum, the gruff and charismatic Runes professor, had gone on for at least a couple of hours; Credence had left his draughty classroom with a head nearly spinning with so many epic stories behind each spindly symbol. There were myths and customs, and tales of love and tragedy… If Professor Hexum ever left his teaching post, he thought, the man might consider a life on the stage--reciting Shakespeare, perhaps.

On his way up the stairs and slowly towards the Great Hall, Credence still found himself mulling over everything he'd learned in his lesson with Professor Delacroix, however. Most of it had sounded good--as much as he didn't like the thought of multiple enemies lurking about--but the bit that he kept going back to again and again in his mind was of course the part that had seemed to indicate Mr Graves.

He wanted more than anything for there to be love between himself and the man who was, no doubt by now, already well off to sea and on his way back to New York. He knew there was more than enough love on his own end, and with the man's careful and constant consideration--and now the suggestion in his cup--he couldn't help but feel there might be a chance Mr Graves could come to feel the same for him. So often it seemed as if his feelings for the man might come bursting free of him just like the Obscurus; surely everyone must be able to see it in his face anytime so much as Mr Graves' name was mentioned.

Just as he was about to join the others inside for the midday meal, Credence spotted Archie descending the large staircase, seemingly lost in thought himself. He realised then he'd barely spoken with the boy he'd like to call a friend since their time together on the train, outside of that brief moment at breakfast the day before, with Newt. With a touch of worry that he might somehow be rebuffed, Credence waited for him at the foot of the stairs; as the boy finished descending, he raised a hand in greeting and softly called his name.

Archie looked up from his reverie and blinked before a pleased smile warmed his features (something which had Credence faintly sighing in relief).

"Hello, Credence, have you managed to get into the swing of things?" His brows drew together as he took Credence in with a little more attention. "Is it… an American thing?"

This time Credence sighed more audibly, looking down at his legs with a shrug, discovering they were half bare again. "I don't think it is, at least not for adults. It's only that Headmaster Dippet gave me the list for first years."

"Ahh, Dizzy Dippet, that's him all right," Archie laughed. "I'll help you to sort them out, if you'd like?"

It made Credence feel wonderfully lighter, hearing that, as though he really were becoming part of the life of the school along with everyone else.

"Are we- can we sit with each other at lunch?" Credence asked hopefully. "Even if we're in different houses? I'd like to hear about your lessons so far, and what I might need to know about the teachers I'll be seeing soon enough."

Archie seemed to flush a little pink, but he nodded after a moment's thought and Credence was even more encouraged. "It's not terribly common," he answered, "but there's no rule against it. It's still quite lovely out, actually, perhaps we should take lunch somewhere on the grounds?"

Credence brightened immediately. His first day of proper lessons was going far better than he'd anticipated; right away, he wished he could speak with Mr Graves immediately to tell him all about it. As it was, he'd file the details away for his next letter.

"Like a picnic?" he asked. "I've always seen people doing that in Central Park, but I've never-- that sounds like a great idea." He looked around himself, suddenly remembering. "I have a familiar now, Quincy. He's a cat." His face fell minutely as he cast an apologetic look Archie's way. "I suppose that's about as ideal for you as my winding up in another house. But-- I haven't seen him since the start of my lesson this morning. Should I be concerned, do familiars run off sometimes like regular pets?"

His stomach lurched at the thought of already having lost him, unsure of what he'd do if that turned out to be the case.

"Well, if your familiar is a cat, they wander about the castle all the time and eventually find their way back to their witch or wizard." Archie gave him a commiserating little smile. "I wouldn't worry too much. He'll know his way to your room, no doubt."

Credence nodded thoughtfully, remembering that if he were to have lost his familiar, the tea leaves would most likely have warned him over something so important. Just then, it occurred to him how right Professor Delacroix had been: there was nothing sinister in Tasseomancy, only a useful advantage in staying ahead of the things life might bring along. It was all terribly confusing, being taught there was something evil about being able to prophesy, when the Bible itself was full of prophets!

"Have you really never been on a picnic?" Archie asked over his shoulder as he moved towards the Great Hall to gather up the food they'd bring outside. "That does seem a terrible shame."

It appeared he wasn't expecting an answer, not that Credence minded very much. He was happy enough to follow along, listening as his new friend chattered away.

"-- only I've just come from my first potions lesson of the year and already it's shaping up to be bloody difficult. I suppose I'll have to tell you all about it, you'll want a leg up on that class, you'll be where I am soon enough, no doubt. Do you fancy sandwiches or a bit of soup? Best bring some of both, I imagine…"

Chapter Text

They sat on their spread out robes on a stretch of lawn under a copse of trees, balancing an oversized plate each of sandwiches and plum tarts, with a glass of the dreaded pumpkin juice on the corner of each plate.

“A proper picnic would mean bringing a basket and a blanket and everything,” Archie explained, “but I’ve tried asking the house elves for that kind of setup once while they were in the middle of serving lunch in the Great Hall, and I think I’m lucky I made it out of the kitchens alive!”

Credence laughed, even while keeping an eye out for his absent cat, wondering if Quincy would be able to find him outside. Oberon poked his tiny nose out of Archie’s pocket and squeaked, promptly receiving a bit of cheese to keep him happy. Credence hoped very much that Quincy would behave himself around the mouse.

“I got my lesson plan,” he told Archie, once they’d cleared their plates. “It’s tentative, apparently, as the professors will have to fit me in alongside regular classes and detentions.”

“They could always not give us any detentions,” Archie said, grinning. “In fact, I’ll suggest it to the headmaster.”

“Will he listen to you?” Credence asked, doubtful.

“Unlikely. Though I could blackmail him with having made you get the wrong pants.”

“That sounds like a rather Slytherin thing to do,” chimed in the familiar voice of Belladonna Zabini, who wandered by with Hyacinth in tow.

Archie looked surprised. “I suppose you could make me an honorary Slytherin then,” he suggested.

The girls stopped and, while Hyacinth looked doubtful, Belladonna seemed to consider it. “Are you a friend of Credence’s?”

“Yes,” Credence said at once, sharing a grin with Archie, who looked pleased.

“In that case, done.” Belladonna reached out her hand and Archie took it, even more surprised, telling her his name. “I know who you are, silly.” She laughed. “You’re forever hogging the top marks in Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy.”

Archie shrugged. “They’re hobbies, as much as anything, I can’t help it. Anyway, what about you and Herbology?”

“It’s a hobby,” Belladonna shrugged too, grinning. “Well, you two enjoy your lunch. See you in the common room later, Credence?”

Glancing at Hyacinth and remembering he needed to find a not-suspicious way to borrow that copy of ‘Hex Couture’ off her, Credence said, “Yes, I’ll be there.”

“See you later,” said Hyacinth. “Uh… you too, Archie.”

Archie grinned at them both and watched them continue on their walk. For once, he sat in total silence for a full minute, before turning to Credence. “They haven’t talked to me in my entire time at Hogwarts. I was pretty sure they think me a dull bookworm.”

“Have you talked to them before?” Credence asked. It just slipped out, but not in an accusatory way. He was merely curious.

Archie looked thoughtful, then a little guilty. “I guess not. I’ve always found them a bit intimidating.” He frowned. “Slytherins in general, I mean.” He gave Credence an apologetic look.

Credence smiled. “Looks like everyone was wrong.”

Archie looked pleased. “Looks like it. Well, I wouldn’t be much of a Ravenclaw if I didn’t enjoy learning something new every day. Speaking of which… show me that lesson plan of yours, and I’ll tell you what I can about the teachers.”

Skipping Professors Delacroix and Hexum, whom Credence had already met, Archie noted that Credence was due for a flying lesson later that very afternoon and, even though Credence had met the flying instructor too, he said, shuddering, “Watch out for Hooch. He’s… not handsy, exactly, but those creepy eyes of his always look far too... interested.”

“I’ve noticed,” Credence agreed, pulling a face.

“Yeah, I bet.” Archie looked at him sympathetically. “Rumour has it he’s part harpy, you know.” Credence considered asking but, luckily, Archie was already continuing, “Can’t you just imagine him as a creepy, man sized bird, hopping about and preening his feathers, sticking his beaky nose into everyone’s business.” Credence laughed, and Archie joined in. “I recommend taking your cat along to your lessons with him. He’s meant to be terrified of them.”

“I’ll definitely do that,” Credence said, still giggling but soon growing serious. “I just hope he’ll turn up by then.”

“He will. If not, just ask the house elves for some catnip and walk about the castle for a while.”

Thinking that was good advice, Credence pointed at the next name on the list.

“Gerald Pendergast, Charms.” Archie looked confused. Then his face cleared, “Oh, that’s the new professor! Haven’t had any classes with him yet, he only just turned up for this term yesterday. I don’t think anyone’s had him yet, so your guess is as good as mine.”

“Okay. What about Lucinda Patch, Herbology?”

“She’s ancient, close to retiring, but fun, as long as you don’t overwater her plants, or sit on the strawberry plants--which are her pride and joy, or distract anyone from wearing their ear muffs.”

“Ear muffs?” Credence gawped.

“For the Mandrakes, of course. You’ll find out.” Archie grinned. “One thing she doesn’t mind--” He stopped, eyes widening. “Credence, is that your cat?”

Credence sat bolt upright and looked around frantically, and then he saw Newt crossing the lawn, bearing Quincy in his arms. “Yes!” he said, feeling as relieved as if Quincy had wandered off for a month. He started scrambling to his feet, but Newt had already reached them.

“Hello there, you two. Look who I found, halfway to the Dark Forest, no less!” Newt said, the last bit with a stern look at Quincy.

“Meow,” Quincy quite ignored him, stretching his front paws out towards Credence, who held both arms out for him to leap into.

“You naughty cat, I was getting worried about you!” Credence chided, ashamed to find he was labouring to suppress tears.

Quincy mewled softly, paws patting his neck and shoulders and giving him a quick flick with his rough tongue over a patch of bare skin.

Giggling, Credence held him away, up in the air, and looked at him. “Why did you go there?” He looked at Newt. “Is that the forest you told me about, back in New York?”

Newt nodded. “Yes, that’s the one. It’s huge, and some of the outer edges of it are on Hogwarts grounds, but students aren’t allowed in there unless accompanied by a professor.”

“It’s said to be full of all sorts of creatures,” chimed in Archie. “Isn’t that right, Mr Scamander?”

“Call me Newt, Archie. Yes, anything from centaurs to unicorns, werewolves to perfectly ordinary beetles, is meant to live in there. I’ve always wanted to do an extensive study of all the species in the forest. I have a theory that there might be quite a few previously unknown--”

Werewolves?” Credence asked, aghast, “and… and centaurs?”

“Oh yes,” Archie and Newt agreed almost as one.

Credence stared into Quincy’s luminous green eyes. “And that’s where you were going? To tangle with werewolves?”

“Mew…” Quincy sounded rather contrite, long fluffy legs dangling in midair.

Credence held him close again, cheek laid on his warm, fuzzy head. “Don’t scare me like that, Quincy.”

Just then, Oberon peeked out of Archie’s pocket again and, at the sight of the large cat, let out a terrified squeak.

Quincy mewled, peering at him without much interest while continuing to pat at Credence with his paws as if in apology for worrying him.

Oberon grew brave and leaned forward, nearly toppling out of the pocket altogether, nose twitching wildly. Archie held him, stroking a finger over his little head.

“How fascinating,” Newt said, kneeling on the edge of the spread out robes and watching as Credence carefully turned Quincy in his arms, holding him tight, while Archie moved Oberon closer.

“Might as well find out if they can get along,” Archie said bravely, but his voice was quivering.

Credence nodded. “Be nice to the little mouse, Quincy,” he said. “Please be nice.”

Quincy seemed content to just watch the excitable creature come closer, at least until the pointy white nose twitched so hard, it poked his own, and he made a surprised sound, pulling back his own head as if outraged by the cheeky mouse.

Credence started giggling, and Archie and Newt soon joined in.

"Perhaps they'll learn to get along, after all," Newt mused. "I've seen far stranger pairs, I can assure you."

"I suppose you'll be on your way this afternoon?" Credence asked, perhaps a little sadly to see a trusted and familiar face leave the castle again so soon.

"I'm afraid I will be," Newt answered, "although I'll be round to visit again soon enough, I'm sure."

"Lunch is nearly over," Archie piped in, tucking Oberon back inside his pocket. "You'll want to head down to your Care of Magical Creatures lesson, it's a bit of a walk."

Newt visibly brightened as soon as Archie had spoken. "You've got a lesson with Kettleburn?" he asked. "I might just walk down with you and stay as long as your lesson, at least." Somehow Credence wasn't surprised at all to hear this, pleased as he was by the news.

They stood up, Archie and Credence retrieving their cloaks off the ground while Newt went over them with a quick cleaning spell. Then they waved goodbye to Archie and started down a gentle slope towards the further end of the grounds. "You know, Professor Kettleburn is a friend of mine, as well as a fellow Hufflepuff. He was ever so helpful to me on the subject of Chimaeras for my book…."

 

***

 

Professor Silvanus Kettleburn was a middle-aged man with a mane of wild silver hair, and whose energetic nature seemed entirely unhindered by his wooden leg. "Got bit by a dragon!" he exclaimed, nearly as much by way of greeting as it was an explanation. Newt merely chuckled at Credence's raised brows, completely oblivious this time to how overwhelming it all was for him--not only were there dragons in the world, but one could lose a leg to them and simply chuckle over it.

Newt shook the man's hand quite vigorously (he still had both of those), and for a good few minutes Credence stood uncertain of what to do while they carried on a rather animated discussion regarding the dragon that was good enough to relieve the professor of his (apparently hardly necessary) leg. After some time, Credence even began to wonder if there would be a lesson at all that day, before Kettleburn finally remembered himself and announced they'd be feeding some knarls.

The knarls, as it turned out, appeared rather a lot like regular hedgehogs, at least as far as Credence had ever seen in pictures. The only real difference, it seemed, was their notoriously surly temperament. As a group, they glowered adorably at Credence's proffered daisy, sniffing at the air and waddling to and fro in agonised indecision.

"Spent too much time amongst the faeries, I suspect," Professor Kettleburn mused, as Newt quietly nodded alongside him. "They sense a trick in just about anything humans do. And they'll cause a fair bit of destruction if they've a mind to, don't worry about that!"

Credence wasn't sure the destructive tendencies of magical hedgehogs were something he'd be inclined to worry about, exactly, especially not when compared against the mayhem his own Obscurus had been known to cause. If anything, he was far more concerned the professor might come to think of him as a sort of magical creature in his own right.

All throughout the attempted feeding, Quincy sat poised patiently nearby with his tail curled over his paws. His green eyes followed the proceedings avidly, and Credence was tempted to suspect there was even a touch of disdain there--for the knarls, he supposed.

Once the knarls had finally decided to trust Credence enough to accept his daisies, the lesson was already finished, and Newt walked Credence to the Training Grounds near the Herbology greenhouses for his lesson with Hooch.

“The main thing,” Newt began nervously, “is to not be nervous about flying. And, after all, you’ve done some flying already, in a way.” He averted his eyes a bit, as if unsure whether it was encouraging or detrimental to bring that up.

Credence wasn’t overly nervous. At least, not about the flying. The idea of riding on a broom--could there be a more traditionally witch-like activity--was slightly disturbing to the remnants of his religious upbringing. However, he told himself firmly, with an inner voice sounding a lot like Professor Delacroix, that there was nothing evil about using a form of transportation to get from A to B. At this point in his life, it just so happened that form of transportation was… a broom.

Hooch stood waiting in the centre of the large patch of grass, holding onto a pair of brooms. “Ah, there you are, Credence.” He acknowledged Newt with a nod and Quincy with a worried expression.

Newt greeted him, then said to Credence, “Well, I’ll see you, Credence. I suspect I can make some halfway believable excuse to come and visit again quite soon.” He gave him an encouraging smile, patted Quincy’s head, and went off towards the gates.

“Is that your cat?” Hooch asked, voice trembling ever so slightly.

Credence set Quincy down on the grass. “Yes, he goes with me practically everywhere.”

“Ah, I see.” Hooch tugged at the collar of his flying outfit. “Looks rather... fierce, I must say.”

Credence glanced at Quincy, who was giving Hooch a very intense stare, nose twitching the way Oberon’s was prone to. “He’s beautiful,” he said softly, leaning down to stroke his head.

Quincy purred at him and sat in the grass.

“Well, we’ll start at the beginning,” Hooch declared, passing one of the brooms to Credence from a slight distance.

Credence took it and followed the instructions given, groaning softly when, halfway through mounting the broom, his trousers turned back into shorts.

Hooch stood there, smirking. “That’s an interesting pair of trousers you’ve chosen to wear to this lesson, Credence.”

Credence, yet again, repeated the explanation about his fouled up order. He also considered asking Hooch to lengthen them again for him but, judging by the man’s smirk and the unsettling way his golden eyes tracked up his legs, he thought better of it; he didn’t want them shortened even further.

“Just as well, if you ask me,” Hooch was saying, making a large circle around Quincy to sidle up to Credence. “I think shorts should be mandatory for riding a broom. Bare legs have a much better... grip.” His hand closed on the broom handle, right beside Credence’s, and he began to reach around his side, but Credence leaned back and scrambled to increase the distance between them, too tangled up in robes and broom sweep to get far.

Quincy leapt towards Hooch then, hissing, and the man stumbled backwards with his eyes wide. He yelped. “That cat of yours is a menace!”

Credence breathed a sigh of relief when Quincy took up a threatening stance right in his shadow, watching Hooch with narrowed eyes. “He only acts that way when he thinks I’m in danger,” he stated as calmly as he could.

“From me?” Hooch huffed. “Nonsense. I was merely trying to adjust your position--” He’d taken a step closer again, and Quincy arched his back, eyes fixed on him, tail straight in the air. “Oh, for Merlin’s sake.”

“It might be best to just tell me what to do, Mr Hooch,” Credence suggested.

Hooch, keeping a good four yards between them, grumbled, but explained to Credence how to hold the broom and what to say and, within a few minutes, Credence lifted off the ground. “Very good, now raise the handle a little, not too far… not too… not too far!

The broom shot up in the air almost vertically, and Credence clung on for dear life. Trying not to panic, he lowered the handle again, very gradually, and his ascent slowed, then got more shallow, and soon, he was flying horizontally and looked down.

Hooch was an agitated looking large blot far below him, waving his arms frantically and, near him, a smaller dot bounced wildly around, running to and fro as if trying to follow Credence’s path on level ground. He couldn’t tell, from this high up, whether Quincy found his flying wizard exciting or terrifying to watch. For himself, he wanted to yell out loud. He was flying. Flying! Fully conscious, doing nothing destructive at all, in his normal human form… yet, he was flying. The air rushed into his face, tousled his hair, and he just laughed.

Slowly, he continued to lower the handle until he was heading back down, nice and slow, flying a large circle above the training ground. He didn’t dare lower the handle too suddenly, lest he should ram the broom and himself right into the ground. He saw another figure walking towards Hooch and, on getting lower, recognised it as Serapis, whose eyes were fixed on him until he nearly walked into Hooch.

“Do get down, Credence,” Hooch called out impatiently. “That’s quite enough for your first time.”

Credence finally touched down, landing rather less gracefully than he’d been flying. He tripped over his long legs and rolled, broom and all, until he found himself with his arms full of fur, Quincy meowing excitedly.

He giggled, trying to get up despite his enthusiastic familiar, and found a hand reaching out to him. Serapis stood there, smiling. “Want some help?”

“Yes, please.” Credence let himself be pulled up, not releasing Quincy and, along with Serapis, faced Hooch.

“Well, that wasn’t bad for your first lesson,” Hooch said grumpily. “You didn’t break your neck, at any rate. Why are you here, Prince?”

“You told me to see you about extra tutoring, sir, because I’m so awful with a broom.”

“I didn’t mean in the middle of another lesson!”

“Sorry, sir,” Serapis said unconvincingly. “But if you’re teaching Credence the basics, it would surely save you time to teach us both at once.”

Hooch looked less than pleased at this logic. “I suppose so,” he grumbled. “Just… consult his lesson plan and tag along then.”

Credence smiled to himself, hiding his face in Quincy’s fur, when Serapis said, “Certainly, Mr Hooch.” He was more than a little relieved not to have to spend time with Hooch on his own, and was happy to return the favour. “I don’t have any other lessons today. I’ll wait for you, Serapis.”

Serapis smiled at him and, while Hooch gave him instructions on ‘broom form’, and Serapis did a few wobbly circles low above ground, he sat in the grass with Quincy. It was odd, he thought, that the tall boy who moved so elegantly on the ground should be so uncertain on a broom. He looked almost more… tired than clumsy. Yes, that was it. He looked as if he struggled to keep the broom in the air. And Credence wondered why.

 

***

 

By the time Serapis’ lesson was done, dusk was beginning to fall. Together, along with Quincy bundled up in Credence’s arms, the two made their way back to the castle. Credence had the distinct sense that Professor Hooch was glad to see the back of them both, something which he considered almost more of a victory than his apparent aptitude for flying.

The autumn air was laced with a touch of frost, with the sun beginning to descend, and Credence shivered. In the gathering gloom, he could feel Serapis’ eyes on him, but somehow the sensation was nothing like it was with Professor Hooch--it was simply more watchful than covetous, or perhaps more thoughtful, at the very least. After a few minutes of comfortable silence, the boy finally put to voice whatever it was he’d been thinking so loudly with his dark stare.

“How is it that you happen to be here?” he asked plainly. “Learning magic so late. It isn’t simply remedial lessons like mine were just now, you’re really learning this stuff from the very beginning.”

For a reckless moment, Credence was tempted to tell him the truth flat-out, feeling as though Serapis would somehow understand completely--how he could think a thing like that so quickly, he couldn’t say. Of course, he didn’t follow through with the impulse, instead telling him exactly what he’d said to Archie on the train. It was what Mr Graves had instructed him to say, and no matter how comfortable he might be with someone new, he would never disobey the man, especially not with something so crucial. Mr Graves’ caution around all matters that concerned Credence was like a shield in itself; he cuddled Quincy close, thinking how pleased the man would be to know what a fine protector he’d found in his precious familiar.

Serapis only nodded silently while hearing Credence’s well-practiced story of wild magic and collapsed ceilings. Whether or not he believed it, Credence couldn’t say, but as he was beginning to learn about his Slytherin housemates, there was a certain amount of respect given simply for the art of shielding a secret in itself. Either way, he said nothing to dispute Credence’s claim, nor to probe further, choosing instead to politely commiserate with him on the lateness of his learning.

It wasn’t long before they reached the castle, Serapis looking much more energetic and alert with all the flying and brisk walking they’d just done. They entered the Great Hall bringing a touch of the chilly air with them in flushed cheeks and ruffled fur, the whole while Serapis entertaining him with his tales of the many differences between Hogwarts and Durmstrang--all mention of Credence’s past seemingly forgotten.

“They’re quite progressive when it comes to the matter of the Dark Arts,” he was saying as they settled in next to each other at the Slytherin table. “They actually teach the students how to properly wield all types of magic, rather than simply recognise or defend against them. The idea being that if one wants to know these things and use them for ill, one will inevitably find a way, so they might as well know and respect the more elegant applications right from the start.”

“Oh, we are having rather a delicious topic of conversation at the Slytherin supper table tonight,” Abraxas coolly opined, smirking over what Credence was almost certain had to be a goblet of red wine, if he didn’t know better. “You’re talking about Durmstrang, of course. And really, I couldn’t agree more. Why not teach absolutely everything there is to know and pay the students the complement of making their own decisions what to do with it?”

Next to him, Hyacinth raised a brow along with her glass. “Hear, hear! Although, aren’t Durmstrang also a little progressive when it comes to things like taking werewolves as students and such? A little too progressive there, if you ask me. If we did the same, the Common Rooms would all be stinking of damp fur and everyone would be sleeping in a suit of silver armour at least one night out of every month.” She snorted above the rim of her cup before taking a long sip.

“It would be an improvement over that nightie you bought in Paris,” Belladonna said, plucking some parsley off her plate. “Honestly, Hyacinth… yellow?”

There were chuckles all around while Hyacinth said archly, “It’s golden.”

“Of course it is.” Belladonna grinned. She looked at Serapis. “You’re very quiet about this.”

Serapis raised his brow. “I have no particular opinion on ladies’ nighties, I’m afraid.”

Credence chuckled.

“Werewolves at Durmstrang,” Belladonna clarified, “but I’ll tuck that other bit of information away too.” She smirked, shooting a sideways glance at Credence, then observing Serapis again with great interest.

He withstood her scrutiny well enough. “I have no personal acquaintance with werewolves either,” he merely said.

She laughed and nudged Credence. “How about you, mystery boy? Any dark creatures in your circle of friends?”

Credence choked on a piece of dinner roll, coughing heartily. Quincy, sitting at his feet, patted at his knee in agitation, and he quickly drank some juice to clear his throat. He was, thankfully, saved from answering Belladonna by some owls swooping into the Great Hall. He glanced up, not expecting anything yet from Mr Graves but, to his complete amazement, the large grey owl from before dove right for him to drop a letter he just managed to save from his pudding.

“I bet that’s from Director Graves,” Hyacinth said, enviously.

Credence fought not to blush. “Yes, I think it is.” He found far too many curious pairs of eyes on him, so he nonchalantly tucked the letter into his robes and said, as if his heart wasn’t beating like a drum in anticipation, “I’ll read it later.”

 

***

 

The Slytherin common room was, as far as Credence was concerned, nothing short of fantastic. It sported a whole wall of windows facing out into the lake, underwater plants swaying back and forth like a moving fresco. The colour scheme was emerald green and silver, as expected, with thick drapes right down to the floor, numerous sofas and armchairs covered with cushions and throws arranged around and near the massive fireplace. There were large, ornate desks too, like the one in his own room, set on the opposite side of the room and lit to enable homework or letter writing.

Everyone seemed more or less to have a regular spot, judging by the way they all fanned out across the room and settled in, so he waited and took one of two armchairs right below the farthest left window. Quincy wandered about the room, receiving pats on the head and compliments but, when Serapis made his way towards Credence, he galloped past him and leapt onto the second armchair at Credence’s side, settling on the throw folded up there.

Serapis laughed, picked him up, and sat down, placing him on the wide armrest. Quincy narrowed his eyes at him, but curled up, his face towards Credence, his butt and fluffy, swishing tail towards Serapis. “Don’t mind me, I won’t keep you from reading your letter,” Serapis said, reaching for a magazine on brooms on a side table.

Credence smiled and unfolded the letter, doing his best to keep his expression neutral.

 

Dearest Credence,

I'm safe enough that you don't need to worry over it at all, and as for where I am--all I can tell you is that I can't imagine a better place to be than right where you are, at any given moment.

I must confess, I miss our long conversations face to face quite dearly, this letter writing business is for the birds, and I mean that literally! These British owls are quite a feisty bunch compared with our much more sedate pigeons back home.

Now, I've told you not to sweat over the cost of anything your heart sets its sights on, and I mean it. That applies most especially in the all-important matter of clothes. I can just see you in the finest set of school robes, and it's as pretty as a picture, you have my word on that.

I don't mind at all about your familiar's name, as long as you can keep it our little secret. In fact I'm terribly pleased at the choice, both the majestic cat himself and the name you've given him. And I'm especially reassured to hear that he's helping to take some of the loneliness away, that's really all I could ask for.

A unicorn hair and willow, you say! I'm not going to pretend I'm very up to speed on my British wand lore, but I do know enough to say that's an impressive instrument and all too fitting for the exceptional wizard I already know you to be.

Don't pay any mind to Newt's silly ideas about the house you've ended up in. Because I know that wherever you belong has to be the very best one of them all or you wouldn't be there. Newt and anybody else should know well enough to see that for themselves, and I'm not surprised to hear that you've been coveted by another head of house, either. If you had been made to feel unwelcome in any way by the other students, I'm afraid this letter would have been a Howler addressed to them and not you. I'm… not sure I'll be telling Miss Goldstein you've been reminded of her by a ghost, although I'm happy to know your Slytherin House Mistress must be a very sweet and friendly 'presence.'

Sweet, lovely Credence, I know everything is strange right now. You have nothing to feel sorry about and by no means do you sound 'childish,' either. I'm not sure it will help to hear it, but it's all more than strange for me as well, not to be back the way it was all spring and summer for us, together in my home. I think about that time constantly, which is as often as I find myself thinking of you. I can bear the world not making much sense, when it's just you and I against it.

Try not to miss me too much, dear heart, and write as often as you need to.

Faithfully, Percival

 

With his vision blurring, Credence blinked frantically. He wished, dearly, that he’d waited to read the letter until he was in his private rooms. At the same time, he wanted to read it again already. And again and again. If the first one had been somewhat tender, this one was… he hardly dared to think it. He didn’t know what to do with himself.

A magazine was being passed his way, over Quincy’s head, much to his confusion, until he realised Serapis’ right hand underneath it held a handkerchief. He glanced around and took it, whispering, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He leaned his head forward, as if talking quietly to his cat, and dabbed the moisture from his eyes and cheeks. A brief sideways glance told him Serapis was studying, or pretending to study, another magazine; he appreciated not being stared at. The sight of the magazine in the boy’s hands reminded him that in Hyacinth’s possession was one which held who knew how many moving photos of Mr Graves. Photos he had never seen but was more desperate than ever to see.

He spotted her seated on a sofa nearby, with Belladonna and another girl, and gathered up all his courage to say, in a bored tone, “Nothing interesting to read here. Hyacinth, I don’t suppose you have that ‘Hex Couture’ magazine handy?” He hoped his voice wasn’t as shaky as it seemed to him.

She glanced up at him in surprise. “It’s in my trunk. I suppose I could get it?” She noticed the letter in his hand and grinned. “Need something to write back about?”

Credence shrugged. “Yes, I could use something to give me ideas.” In all honesty, he had more than enough ideas what he wanted to write back, though he doubted he would dare to say any of it. For now, all he wanted was to see his handsome guardian. In fact, he was quite desperate to see him. As it wasn’t possible, magical photographs would have to do.

Hyacinth got up and wandered past him into a stairwell at the far end of the room. “Back in a minute,” she called back.

“Thanks,” he said, then tucked away his letter and sat back with a sigh.

Quincy mewed softly, and he reached out to ruffle the fur between his ears. When Hyacinth returned and handed him the magazine, he asked, “When do you need it back?”

She frowned. “I guess you can keep it, really. I’ve been through it several times.”

He was tempted to hug her, but managed a neutral, “Thanks, I’d like that.”

Quincy settled down again, head on his forepaws, and Credence opened the magazine. The article entitled Percival Graves: Security with Style began on page 10 and went on for several pages. There were a lot of photos, featuring his guardian in every kind of outfit from a tuxedo to the beautiful coat and scarf he’d worn when they’d first met. There was even one photo of him in what looked like satin pyjama pants and a long dressing gown that nearly made Credence gasp out loud.

Perhaps he did gasp out loud, because beside him, Serapis said, “May I see?” Credence nodded, holding the magazine sideways, and Serapis said, appreciatively, “Director Graves is a very handsome man.”

Surprised, Credence said, “Yes, he is.”

Serapis met his eyes. “Credence…”

Worried Serapis might ask him searching questions, such as why his handsome guardian’s letter had made him cry, Credence rushed to say, “I’m actually really tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”

Serapis nodded. “Good night.”

“Good night.” Credence smiled briefly and headed towards the common room door, clutching the magazine and with Quincy jauntily following him. He got several ‘good nights’ before he slipped out into the corridor, where he took a sharp turn and hurried to his rooms.

“Periculid,” he told Clyde before he even had a chance to lift up his hat.

“Certainly, my beauty.” The door swung open obligingly and Credence went inside.

Feeling almost panicky and out of sorts, Credence stretched out across his bed with the magazine spread open in his lap, as if he couldn't bear another second of waiting to see Mr Graves in his satin sleepwear. No, not as if--he couldn't bear the waiting, to see the photo and especially to see the man himself.

On the page, Mr Graves did a small half-turn towards the camera with a cheeky glint in his eye that was barely hidden underneath his stern smoulder. Credence could almost imagine the look was meant just for him, a wordless invitation of the sort he'd prayed for every day spent in the man's actual presence.

Mr Graves' soft nightshirt was laid out carefully on the pillow beside him, and even without touching it he could still smell its faint spice. Mr Graves smirked conspiratorially from the page, and his words filled Credence's head: sweet, lovely Credence… dear heart…

Without even realising it, Credence moaned aloud in the room. Quincy chirped quizzically from his perch on the back of the sofa, sounding almost concerned; Credence huffed out a nervous laugh, all shivery and full of the pent-up agitation he'd been holding onto for who knew how long. It wasn't like the feeling he got just before the Obscurus broke free--it was something swooping and joyful, like flying on his broom above the school grounds without a care in the world. There was no anger, or fear, only a pulsing urgency insisting Mr Graves, Mr Graves… Mr Graves…

His silly first year's shorts felt suddenly far too tight, and for a confused moment Credence thought perhaps all the transfigurations had turned them wrong. Mr Graves in his sharp tuxedo winked from the opposite page and the tightness throbbed with a tingling, begging heat that had Credence starting to pant.

He set the magazine aside, taking care to lay it out over the nightshirt almost lovingly, and then stumbled towards his private shower with shaky, hurried steps.

Chapter Text

Credence felt ridiculously embarrassed when he returned to his bedroom, almost compelled to explain his sudden disappearance to Quincy. Not that he wished to explain to anyone just what he’d felt the need to do to himself under the steaming hot shower, with the water pressure high enough to pound on the tiles, as well as his reddening skin, and cover any gasps and moans he couldn’t entirely suppress.

He knew he was still flushed, he’d seen it in the steamed up mirror, and he just hoped Quincy wouldn’t think he was ill or something.

The cat was no longer on the back of the sofa, he realised. He’d curled himself up on the bed, beside the nightshirt, just where Credence had been earlier. At his return to the room, he jolted and looked up at him with wide eyes.

“Hey, it’s all right. You’re allowed on the bed,” Credence said softly.

“Mew.” Quincy sounded so doleful, it was almost more of a ‘no’. He held still while Credence patted his head, stroked his pointy ears, tickled under his chin. His eyes closed and he purred, whiskers twitching.

“Nice cat.”

The purring stopped and Quincy blinked at him before, with typical cat unpredictability, turning on the spot and stalking off across the bed to leap onto the floor, going to curl up in his pet bed instead.

With a sigh, and once again feeling rejected--which hurt worse this time, especially after Mr Graves’ downright loving letter--Credence took off his bathrobe and slipped the nightshirt over his head, leaving the robe on the edge of the bed and climbing under the thick duvet; it was comfortable, despite the outside temperature earlier, because he was inside the dungeons, after all.

He thought about the letter, tried to imagine Mr Graves writing it, imagined him even feeling so strongly about him. Had he meant it? That he could think of no better place to be than wherever Credence was? That he thought of him constantly? Because… because that was how it was for Credence, exactly like that, and it hurt. It hurt, how much he missed Mr Graves. And it hurt to think that Mr Graves might be in pain too, and all because people were keeping them apart. People who had no right!

I can bear the world not making much sense, when it’s just you and I against it. Those had also been Mr Graves’ words, and they were words which filled Credence with a longing and determination so strong, he feared his Obscurus might roar to life inside him. But he instantly thought of Professor Delacroix’s words too, and her advice: to channel his magic, study hard, learn to fight and defend who he loved. And he would. He would.

Tears of desperation sprung up in his eyes and, before he could stop it, he was sobbing. He pushed his hand under the pillow, so the sleeve, and thus Mr Graves’ scent, were closer. He tried to breathe deeply, but managed nothing more than hiccups interspersed with gasps. The pillow corner was getting damp under his cheek. Then, with a gentle dip to the firm, thick mattress, a weight landed on it and Quincy crept up beside him, curling close to him, green eyes fixed on his tear-stained face in the faint light from the fireplace.

Credence stroked the fuzzy face, then the big paw patting at his arm. “Thank you,” he croaked, infinitely grateful for the soft, warm presence so close. When Quincy responded with a rough lick over his chin, he half giggled, half sobbed. “I miss him so much,” he confessed to his silent, soothing little friend. “I’m so glad I have you, at least.”

“Mew…” Quincy nuzzled into the crook of his arm, ear tips lightly tickling his jaw, and purred gently.

The sound was better than any lullaby, and Credence slowly stopped crying, his breaths evening out until he fell asleep, one paw on the hand he held curled over his heart.

 

***

 

The next morning, Credence woke up just as he’d fallen asleep, and found himself looking at Quincy’s furry face and twitching whiskers. He smiled, stroking the long fur back off his nose and in between his ears.

Quincy’s green eyes opened, then widened. “Meow?”

Credence laughed softly, and his whiskers vibrated even more. “You kept me company all night. You’re such a good familiar.” The soft purring began again while Quincy’s eyes remained fixed on him. “I’m going to find you a special treat today. I wonder what you’d like?”

Quincy nudged his nose against Credence’s throat, and he licked at it until Credence giggled.

“That tickles!” Credence decided to get payback and rolled him over into the bunched up bathrobe on the edge of the bed, then proceeded to tickle him back. His fingers ended up tangling in the long fur of his belly and Quincy, trying to tickle back with his paws, or possibly fend him off, got tangled in the bathrobe, until a laughing Credence had to carefully extract him, apologising profusely, “That was mean of me, I’m sorry, let me help you.”

“Mew!” Quincy seemed in a hurry to get free of the fabric folds and, as soon as he was, he playfully swiped at Credence’s hands and pounced right across him, stalking away across the bed and settling safely at the far end of it.

Credence smiled. “You’re right. I’m too silly to be close to.” He sighed. “I also should really get up and ready. Charms first thing after breakfast. I wonder what that’ll be like?”

Quincy tilted his head as if he was thinking about it.

“You don’t know either, huh? Oh well.”

As Credence left his room a little later to make his way up to the breakfast table, with Quincy tagging along, he found Serapis waiting in the hall outside his bedroom door. For a moment, he flushed, stammering out a surprised 'good morning' somehow desperately certain the boy knew about his secret indulgence of the night before. He knew it was foolish--only the remains of a life spent under Mary Lou Barebone's roof--and yet he felt caught off guard all the same. He'd been expecting at least a few moments alone to gather himself together before seeing the others in the Great Hall.

Serapis smiled, then promptly yawned behind his hand.

"I hope you haven't been waiting long?" Credence asked, as if he was regrettably late to a meeting he hadn't even known was scheduled.

"No, no, not at all," Serapis reassured. "I'm really just not great at mornings, I'm afraid. Class starts far too bloody early if you ask me." Then he raised his arm slightly, gesturing with his free hand to, what at first, to Credence, appeared to be a length of dark fabric. "Listen, you can't go about transfiguring your clothes back and forth all term."

Credence realised then that what was being held out to him was a pair of dark trousers, most importantly--of the proper length. He sighed his relief and began to smile a little shyly at the considerate offer.

Suddenly Serapis seemed a bit bashful himself, perhaps slightly embarrassed now to have waited outside his door just for this. "It's only that we're of a similar height and build," he explained with a shrug. "And really, it will take a bit of time for you to get a proper pair of your own. I'm surprised Abraxas didn't offer, but perhaps he is an inch or two shorter than us."

“Thanks, I really appreciate that,” Credence said, reaching for the trousers. “I’ll send an owl to the tailor shop this morning, and I’ll get these back to you as soon as possible.”

“There’s no rush.”

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your charming new friend, beautiful Credence?” Clyde suddenly chimed in.

Credence groaned softly, and Serapis raised his brows at the forward portrait. “He’s always like this, I’m afraid,” Credence murmured apologetically.

Serapis gave a little snort. “Well, he’s truthful, in any case.”

Credence meant to ask which part of the statement Serapis was referring, but the look the other boy gave him was so intense, he thought it might be better not to. “I’ll just go back and change.”

“Shall I wait? We can go up to breakfast together.”

Credence nodded. “I won’t be long.” He disappeared back inside his room and closed the door behind himself, hoping Quincy, who’d started circling Serapis with narrowed eyes, wasn’t about to take as strong a dislike to him as he had done to Hooch and the selkie. He smiled to himself about that, however, more than happy to have such an ardent protector.

 

***

 

After breakfast, Credence made his way to the Charms classroom as per his housemates’ directions. Unfortunately, it was on the third floor, in one of the towers, and he and Quincy spent an anxious ten minutes or so waiting for staircases to swing back and forth. Credence couldn’t wait to tell Mr Graves about those, and could well imagine his exasperated reaction, considering how he felt about the British postal owls.

In the end, they arrived at their destination, and Credence’s apologies for being a couple of minutes late were waved away by Professor Pendergast like so many flies.

“No need to rush around in this fine part of the world like they do back in New York, is there?” he asked with a smile and a very definite accent.

Credence’s eyes widened. “You’re American, professor?”

“An expat like yourself.” The professor set down the sponge with which he’d been wiping the blackboard and fully faced Credence. “Unlike yourself, I call New England my home.”

Credence frowned once he got a good look at the man. His face seemed strangely vague… his eyes not quite blue or green, his jaw not quite soft or hard, his hair a mousy brown, and he looked somewhat on edge. “Have you been to New York?” Credence asked.

“I certainly have, Credence.”

It was so strange, being addressed by his first name, in his native accent, by someone other than Mr Graves, though Professor Pendergast’s voice was pleasant enough.

“Well, shall we begin your first lesson?”

The curriculum for a first year student had one advantage, Credence thought. He could get through it significantly faster than an 11 year old child. His lauded willow wand had him levitating a feather, then a book, and eventually an entire desk, without any trouble. Near the end of the lesson, he’d also learned to light and extinguish his wand.

“Next would be a fire lighting spell, but perhaps we’ll move onto the next one after that,” Professor Pendergast said somewhat uncomfortably.

Credence frowned, wondering if the teacher thought he would invariably put a spell like that to destructive use. As it turned out, the next spell--a Softening Charm--was rather entertaining. He laughed when the desk he’d turned effortlessly into an object no firmer than a mattress made Quincy bounce up and down the moment he started to walk across it.

By the end of the lesson, Credence thought that, while he’d not exactly learned anything useful for a fight against Grindelwald, he’d at least discovered an aptitude for Charms and an ability to work through his lessons quickly. He wondered how much of that was thanks to his wand and how much to the actual innate abilities Mr Graves had always seen in him.

 

***

 

Luckily, the Transfiguration class he had next on his timetable was also to be held on the third floor. Credence was grateful there wasn’t any risk of being late, therefore, since he’d heard so much about the great Professor Dumbledore from Newt and just about everyone (although many of his Slytherin housemates seemed to be less impressed by the man, most likely due to his being a Gryffindor). Either way, Credence was more nervous for this particular lesson than for any of the ones he’d yet had.

When Credence entered the large classroom, empty but for the teacher himself, his nerves increased tenfold despite how well he’d just done in Charms. Professor Dumbledore was poised, self-possessed in a way that spoke of an immense (yet quiet) confidence. He wore Muggle clothing--trousers and vest in muted earth tones, his cream coloured oxford shirt rolled up at the sleeves as though ready to get right down to it--and the effect in itself felt like a statement, a sort of understated rebellion. Credence remembered hearing that he’d once taught Defence Against the Dark Arts for a while, at least he’d taught a good few of those lessons to Newt himself, but had switched subjects after some unknown tension with the Ministry. Newt was terribly enamoured of the teacher, which wasn’t surprising when Newt was a bit of a troublemaker himself.

As he entered the classroom, with Quincy following close at his heels, Dumbledore turned his ice blue gaze on him; for the first time since he’d arrived at Hogwarts, Credence had the sensation of being properly appraised. Then he remembered that no, it had happened before, during his first dinner there… only then he hadn’t known the teacher assessing him across the Great Hall had been Dumbledore. Somehow, he was reminded of Gellert Grindelwald’s piercing eyes and the way they’d seemed to stare right through him that one awful time in MACUSA’s courtroom, without Mr Graves’ stolen warmth to mellow them. The comparison didn’t make much sense, given the two men were said to be sworn enemies for many years, and yet Credence couldn’t help himself.

The professor smiled a friendly greeting, nothing exuberant, but the unsettling effect was gone as soon as it had been felt, and Credence had a moment of hoping the class would go well after all. “I see you’ve brought a little friend,” he said, tilting his bearded chin towards Quincy who had settled firmly before Credence’s feet.

“I hope that’s all right?” Credence asked softly, with a touch of worry. He didn’t want to be without his familiar while feeling so out of his depth.

“Of course it’s all right,” Dumbledore smiled. “He may prove very helpful, as familiars often do. Cats are a common enough sight in Hogwarts, though my own brother tried very hard to bring a goat along as his familiar, years and years ago now. They don’t allow that here of course, but you know, the heart wants what the heart wants.”

Credence smiled a little at that. Perhaps Professor Dumbledore wasn’t nearly as intimidating as his bearing and reputation suggested. “Newt said he’d tried to bring five familiars, but he wouldn’t tell me what all of them were.”

“Newt is terribly fond of his creatures,” Dumbledore mused. “Well now, come in, come in. We’ll sit and have a chat for a moment and I’ll tell you a bit about the subject at hand.”

Credence chose an empty chair a few feet away from where Dumbledore casually leaned against the large teacher’s desk. Sat down in this way, looking up at the man, Credence felt more like a pupil than he had in any of his other subjects.

“Transfiguration is a matter of simply changing one thing into another,” Dumbledore said. “Transformation, put plainly.” He tilted his head a little, regarding Credence and once again leaving him with the distinct impression that he was, himself, the actual subject.

It seemed he couldn’t quite find a stable footing in the man’s presence: a feeling he knew all too well, growing up struggling to gauge Mary Lou’s mercurial moods. There was something in the way Dumbledore spoke, as though he were saying one thing and meaning quite another. Credence found his own fingers twining through Quincy’s fur where the cat curled patiently on his lap, listening as if he were attending the lesson as well. The professor’s eyes seemed to follow the slow, stroking movement, taking careful note.

“I suppose,” Dumbledore mused, now stroking his own beard thoughtfully, “that you have rather some unique experience with transfiguration already.”

It was shocking, to have a teacher address his condition so pointedly in a lesson, where everyone else had more carefully talked around it. And then Dumbledore went on, again turning his own words on their head. “You were witness to it, that moment when Gellert Grindelwald changed before everyone’s eyes?” he asked. “He truly did have everyone in New York quite fooled for a time, didn’t he?”

Credence found himself at a loss as to what he could give for an answer. If no one really talked about his status as an Obscurial, they certainly didn’t speak of his betrayal at the hands of Grindelwald.

Quincy must have felt his nervousness and vague fear, patting at his arm with one big paw and shifting closer to him. Credence held him tight.

“I was there, but trying not to die,” Credence said, remembered pain and betrayal, followed by sadness and fear for his real Mr Graves, clawing at his chest like the tentacles of his Obscurus.

Dumbledore… smiled. “Yes, you’re quite resilient, aren’t you?”

Credence considered saying he survived because he had to, because Mr Graves had to be found, because he couldn’t have died while there was even a chance he was alive, but none of it would pass his lips in the presence of the man’s unsettling--and confusing, considering the topic of conversation--smile. He merely nodded and remained silent.

“Well, let’s start with a simple transfiguration, shall we? Something small.” Dumbledore glanced about the room as though deciding what to choose, until his pale eyes settled on a frightened looking mouse in a small cage behind him. “We like to amuse the second years with a transfiguration of an animal into an inanimate object.”

Aghast, Credence watched as Dumbledore took the mouse from its cage, speaking to it soothingly and then, as if it wasn’t a dreadful thing to do, tapped it with his wand three times and turned it into a goblet with the words, “Vera Verto!” A squeak was cut off halfway and he stood there, proudly presenting the goblet to Credence.

Credence stared at him, trying to reconcile how someone performing such callous magic on a defenseless creature could be so admired by Newt, who fussed and fawned over every living thing.

“Now you try it,” Dumbledore said, after turning the goblet back into a trembling mouse. “Make sure to speak very clearly and tap the animal sharply with your wand, three times.”

“No, I…”

Dumbledore ignored his objection as if he’d never spoken. “The spell works best on birds, rodents and felines. I’m certain your cat wouldn’t mind assisting.”

Credence sat bolt upright in a moment, fear and anger surging up inside him like the contents of a burst pipe. “No!” he growled. He clutched Quincy, who had stilled during the mouse transfiguration and turned all but rigid with his sudden agitation. Turning sideways, Credence shielded him with his body.

Dumbledore sat on his desk, calmly regarding him. “He wouldn’t be harmed,” he said conversationally. “If the spell is done well, he’ll hardly know he was a water goblet for a few minutes, and we’ll have him back to normal in no time.”

Credence looked at him with fury in his heart and his eyes. “No,” he repeated through gritted teeth. “I won’t let you touch him.” He felt his Obscurus roiling inside him, like some black concoction in a cauldron gathering strength just before its boiling point. The first tendrils of smoke were already rising in his lungs, irritating his eyes and driving tears into them.

Watching his distress expectantly, almost hungrily, Dumbledore made no move towards him, but his hand had tightened on his wand; the only sign of his fear. “How does it feel?” he asked.

What?” Credence bit out.

“The Obscurus when it’s about to burst free. How does it feel, Credence, tell me.” Dumbledore was leaning forward, as though he was examining an experiment, the outcome of which he was unsure about but too curious to resist.

Quincy hissed, his hackles rising. His small, furry form felt so tight and tense, he seemed about to spring from Credence’s arms and forward, towards Dumbledore.

Credence concentrated all his awareness on feeling the softness of the fur under his hands, the strong little heartbeat. He thought of the way his cat was constantly defending him. He thought of Quincy’s soothing purr practically singing him to sleep, comforting him in his distress. Slowly, with a monumental effort, he reigned in his fury, for Quincy’s sake, not willing to risk any harm coming to him should the Obscurus burst free. He took several deep breaths, thought of Mr Graves’ kind, soothing voice telling him he was stronger than the Obscurus.

“You can control it, Credence,” Dumbledore said, but from him, it sounded mocking, like a challenge.

Credence blotted him out, closed his eyes and shut him out of his awareness, focussing his entire being on his memories of how proud Mr Graves was of him for having controlled it for so long and continuing to do so. And, soon, he began to feel calmer. He felt Quincy lean into him, mewling softly and nudging his sternum with his nose. He opened his eyes and looked at Dumbledore, with his vision clear once more and said, very firmly, “Yes, I can control it, and it’s mine to control.”

At this, Dumbledore looked taken aback.

Credence did not linger. He rose, with Quincy in his arms, and left the classroom in long, hurried strides.

 

***

 

Having fled his lesson outright, Credence wasn't sure at first what to do with himself. Would he be in trouble, again? The thought of disappointing Mr Graves made his stomach lurch, but the thought of Mr Graves--just simply him--settled his agitation considerably.

Because that was exactly what he needed to do: write to Mr Graves, at once. He thought of the Library first, but then, something told him he was best off down in his room, with Clyde at the door and the other Slytherin students who weren't in classes right nearby. A fortress within a fortress.

It took a few minutes--far too many, really--catching staircases, and at one point, dodging Peeves the Poltergeist as he sent a cluster of old brooms spinning down a corridor like dancers caught in a mad whirl. Suddenly, it was all too much. Hogwarts and its quaint disorder (behind which lurked who knew what dangers), his ridiculous trousers that never stayed the length they were told to, and worst of everything: being away from Mr Graves. Speaking the password in a breathless rush and shutting himself behind his bedroom door, all at once it seemed a great mistake indeed to have ever left the man's side. And what was to be done about it, now that he was here and Mr Graves was who knew where?

His hands shook as he took up the feather quill at the desk, his writing on the parchment just as trembling and off-kilter as he felt. Quincy stood faithful guard beside his elbow on the desk, as agitated as he was with his twitching ears and searching eyes.

 

Dear Mr Graves

I've just had my first Transfiguration lesson and I'm frightened to confess this, but I fled!

Professor Dumbledore wanted me to turn my familiar, Quincy, into a goblet, he was very insistent. But the suggestion upset me so badly, I nearly lost control of my Obscurus and I may sound crazy or terribly unfair, but I also felt as though the professor almost wanted that to happen. Or that he was far more interested than afraid, I don’t know.

Mr Graves, he said that I can control it, and he’s right, but I’ve heard those words before in that very same tone and it chilled me to no end.

I feel a little ridiculous childish now, being so upset by a type of magic that I suspect is quite commonplace, but it disturbed me terribly to think of helpless creatures being changed like that without any say in it. I’m confused as to why Newt would be so much in favour of someone who takes such delight in the practice, is that silly of me? I don’t know. Only, I had thought it was a rather advanced thing to suggest for a first lesson. My friend in Ravenclaw, Archie, told me that Transfiguration starts with little things like matchsticks, is this true?

Mr Graves, I miss you so much it’s beginning to make me cry. I’m sorry to be such a baby, but it’s the truth and I want to be honest with you. If it weren’t for my Quincy beside me, I’m not sure what I would do. I fear my Obscurus is always at the ready when I’m lonely and scared. If only they would’ve let us find a place together far away, like we’d talked about and wanted! Even with Grindelwald out there someplace, I wouldn’t have been afraid, if I was with you.

Please, write me as soon as you’re able. I need to hear your words so desperately, even if it’s selfish.

Yours always, Credence

 

He dabbed at a few spots on the parchment where his frightened tears were threatening to ruin the ink, then took a deep breath and rolled the parchment up and sealed it. He’d written a quick note about his clothing for the tailor at breakfast, so now there would be two letters to take up to the Owlery--just as soon as he could calm himself enough to go out into the halls where he might run into anyone. He prayed that he wouldn’t run into Professor Dumbledore, and at the realisation that he would have to attend classes with him again in future, he began to cry in earnest. Why was there always someone distressing to have to manage?

For a long moment, he sat at the desk and wept, feeling foolish for it all the while and yet knowing it was a far better thing than to have the Obscurus unleash itself instead. Quincy had climbed into his lap, trilling and mewing in distress, and sniffing at his face with both paws braced against his collarbone; it seemed he didn’t understand the human magic of tears, and still he knew he didn’t like them all the same.

Finally, Credence pulled himself together enough to leave the room. By now, it was nearly lunch, and people would be coming to and fro all about the castle, but he might be able to hide himself better amongst them, he thought.

Just as it was when he’d started his day, Serapis was there outside his room again. For some reason--perhaps the fatigue of having just cried everything out--he wasn’t even surprised this time. Serapis seemed just as pale-faced and upset as he was.

"Credence," he said, starting forward right away with his hand slightly raised as if to touch him before thinking better of it. "What's wrong? I saw you rushing off to the dungeons earlier, and clearly something's upset you terribly."

He couldn't tell him everything, not about the Obscurus at least, and without that part he was going to sound absolutely silly. Still, there was nothing to be done about it, and a part of him was relieved to have a friendly face to talk to, after all.

"I- I had my first lesson with Professor Dumbledore," he began haltingly, "and it. It didn't go well. I know it's how magic is sometimes done, but he- he was--"

He faltered in his words when he saw Serapis suddenly go still. Instead of laughing, as he'd dreaded, or even looking a little confused, the boy was nodding knowingly. This time he did step closer, and when he spoke it was in much more confidential tones. But before he did, he slid his wand from out of his sleeve and flicked it, whispering "Muffliato." It was all done so quickly, Credence might've missed it if they hadn't been so close.

"He frightened you," Serapis said, and it wasn't a question. Credence simply nodded, stunned.

"I know everyone seems terribly impressed with him, Credence, and I'm sure you've heard no end of his high praises."

At this, Credence blinked in surprise.

"But you're right not to trust that man. There's good reason why I preferred Durmstrang over Hogwarts for so long, but very few people will be open to hearing a word against him, so be careful."

At first, Credence didn't know what to do or say. But after a long and stunned pause, and feeling as if Serapis' understanding was like a glittering, unexpected gift, he stepped forward and hugged him tightly. The boy seemed stunned, holding himself rigid before carefully returning the quick embrace. "Thank you," Credence whispered.

Serapis quirked a little smile, clearly a bit flustered from the unexpected hug. “I know we barely know each other, Credence, but I think we… we have... things in common others would not understand. I trust you, and I’d like you to know you can trust me too. When you’re ready, because I understand if that takes time.”

Credence looked into the dark eyes and saw the sincerity there and smiled. “I’ll try, Serapis.”

 

***

 

He thought about the boy’s offer as he went to the Owlery, Quincy in his arms and letters in his pockets, believing him but still not planning to tell him anything he had not cleared with Mr Graves first. At this point, the only person in the world he trusted 100% was his guardian. He did, however, resolve to ask Serapis some time soon what had made him change from Durmstrang to Hogwarts, despite Dumbledore.

“Wait out here, Quincy,” he said, still nervous from his lesson earlier and worried about letting him out of his sight. “I promise I won’t be long.”

Quincy sat at the bottom of the stairs and looked up at him… thoughtfully, Credence found himself thinking.

He sent off his letters with two of the school owls and descended the stairs again hurriedly, an anxious, swooping feeling low in his belly. Quincy wasn’t where he’d left him! “Quincy!” he called out, running down the stairs quickly.

“Mew,” came from the tall grass nearby, and the tip of a fluffy tail seemed to wave at him.

“Oh, Quincy, come here.” Credence walked towards him, but the cat turned and kept moving quickly through the grass. “Wait, Quincy, don’t--”

Thankfully, the tall, pointy ears and plush tail, and Quincy’s height, made it easy to keep track of him, but he kept running through the grass, not slowing down in the slightest.

Credence ran after him, wondering what was going on and why his cat suddenly didn’t come to him when he called. “Quincy!” The black cat rushed downhill more quickly, and Credence hurried after him, glancing up to see the tall, foreboding trees of the Dark Forest rising up in front of them. “Oh no, Quincy! Not in there!”

Quincy stopped for a moment, as if waiting for him to catch up, but then ran on and into the woods, mewing as if to say, ‘Come on, keep up.’

Credence rushed after him, feeling for his wand in its allocated pocket--as if he was likely to be able to take on a werewolf or who knew what else with just that, rather than his Obscurus--and kept going. He was scared, but most of all about losing Quincy, so he kept running and calling to him.

The cat never left his sight entirely, doubling back when he slowed down to catch his breath, and Credence realised he wasn’t running away from him, he was leading him somewhere. Every sense suddenly on alert, a horrible panic gripped him that someone was summoning Quincy somehow, but… with what aim? To harm him, or to harm Credence? It didn’t matter. He would face whatever they were going to encounter. He’d defend his beloved familiar with his last breath.

There were strange sounds coming from everywhere--sharp hoots, clapping hooves, rustling and tapping and who knew what else. They ran and ran, Quincy always a few yards ahead of him, for what seemed like a long time. The trees around them were thick and the path overgrown, but Quincy never ran so fast that Credence couldn’t keep up without injuring himself.

Eventually, they passed through a clearing full of bluebells, shimmering beams of sunlight darting down through the treetops. Shortly after, they ran along a little brook, bubbling merrily as it flowed between its mossy banks. Under other circumstances, Credence might have noted how the forest grew more and more beautiful and easier to navigate, rather than harder.

As it was, he was growing tired and wondered if he’d ever find his way back out. He brushed the hair back from his temples and looked up ahead when he heard a soft “meow.”

Not twenty yards in front of him stood a little hut--basic and with an open door swinging on its hinges, and he gasped.

Quincy, though usually suspicious and wary, was bounding right inside, just as if he lived there, and Credence raced after him, panting. He crossed the doorstep and found himself inside a single room living space showing signs of human habitation… basic signs, like a candlestick with a partly burned candle, a few books, a tiny stove near an unlit fireplace, and several magical looking articles he couldn’t identify.

“Quincy,” he whispered, falling to his knees exhausted and holding out both arms but, for once, his cat didn’t run into them.

Instead, Quincy purred softly, then took a step towards him and then… changed. Into someone Credence would recognise anywhere.

Chapter Text

"Mr… Mr Graves?" Credence breathed, barely able to get the air required for the words to come out. For a second, he let himself close his eyes and whisper a tiny prayer, "Oh please let it really be you…"

The man who appeared to be Mr Graves took another step forward, familiar coat swaying round his calves. "Credence, remember what we practised," he said. He sounded as though he were out of breath, himself, but it was reassuring that this was the first he had to say. This was a good sign.

Credence swallowed, eyes wide and heart beginning to pound with hope and excitement and the fear he was carefully holding onto despite the other two. "Yes," he gulped out. He realised he was faintly panting. "There's… questions. That I have to ask." He had to know, he couldn't bear to go through this again.

"Why did I name my cat- no…," he shook his head, "you, why did I name you Quincy?" It felt so strange to think of it, now that the reality was catching up. Quincy, his familiar, was…. "Were you him, the whole time? My cat?"

"It's my middle name,” the man who might be Graves answered. "And I've tried terribly hard to keep it off the records, though I couldn't resist sharing that secret one night after dinner and a little too much Gigglewater." His little smile was soft and cautious, his eyes full of warmth. "Credence… I'm so sorry about all this, the shock of it. Yes, I've been the cat this whole time; I'm- I'm an Animagus, and that's something I've definitely succeeded in keeping off the record. And thank Merlin, because it let me keep you safe." The soft smile was apologetic now, a look Credence couldn't ever imagine seeing on any face Grindelwald wore. "Go on, next question."

Credence had to look away, or he’d be tempted to forego the rest of the safety precautions. “What’s the first thing you said when we found you, where… where he left you, in New York?”

Maybe-Graves crouched down to be closer to eye level with Credence. “I said, ‘Credence, thank Merlin you’re safe’.”

As back then, Credence’s heart contracted, because the man’s first thought, even in his condition, had been for his safety, rather than his own; he allowed himself to glance at the beautiful, gentle hands, resting on Mr Graves’ knees where he crouched near him.

Just then, an owl flew in the open door, and Credence jolted, ducking when it dropped a letter on the floor. His letter. The one he’d sent before following Quincy into the forest. Was it even possible to fool an owl into delivering mail to the wrong person? Or… was this more proof? It was only then that he saw, out of the corner of his left eye, that the large grey owl which had delivered Mr Graves’ letters sat quietly in a corner on the windowsill, looking through the wavy glass.

Mr Graves ignored the letter on the floor--he’d already read it in Credence’s room, if all was well--and looked at him instead.

Credence’s eyes darted back and forth. “Tell me something you know about me that nobody else knows, and that Grindel… that he could not possibly know.”

Mr Graves said, very softly, “When I healed the scars on your back, I saw a birthmark, low between your shoulder blades.” When Credence trembled, clearly fighting not to look into his face, he said, “It’s shaped like a heart… like your beautiful, gentle heart.”

Credence bit his lip. Oh, how he wanted to believe! He took a gasping breath. “What’s the most… important memory you have of me?”

“Let me show you.”

Despite himself, Credence met the soft brown eyes then, his trembling increasing. “How?” he whispered, then he remembered they had talked about this, too. “You have a… a Pensieve? Here?”

“Yes. I knew I would need it, though I didn’t expect to so soon. I bought it in Knockturn Alley, which… well, let’s just say they don’t ask questions there. I bought it right after your train left. But with the appalling state of teaching, not to mention teachers, at this school…” He sighed, his eyes moving over Credence’s face like a caress. “I couldn’t keep you in the dark another hour, knowing now that you miss me as desperately as I miss you. Oh Credence, it breaks my heart to see you so unhappy.” Their eyes held, the Pensieve almost forgotten. “Let me show you a memory of a moment when you were happy. When you were as I always, always want you to feel.”

“Please,” Credence said, but whether it was the memory he was begging for, or the prospect of happiness, or simply just his eagerness to have the proof finished with so he could go to Mr Graves, he didn’t know.

“I want you to watch me extract the memory straight from my mind and place it in the Pensieve,” Mr Graves instructed. “And then I want you to use the spell I taught you back in New York, you know the one. I would never have you make yourself vulnerable when you don’t know for absolute certain who it is you’re standing in front of.”

Credence nodded eagerly, finally rising to his feet to watch as Mr Graves turned towards a little desk in the corner of the room and raised his wand to point at his temple. There on the desk, the stone bowl of the Pensieve waited, it’s surface calm and still. He’d been so caught up in the confusion of the moment, he hadn’t even seen it there, and he chided himself faintly for not being as vigilant as Mr Graves would have him.

A silver tendril of memory, like a wisp of delicate smoke, coiled slowly out from Mr Graves’ mind and twined itself around the tip of his wand as he faintly winced. Guiding it into the bowl, he turned to Credence once again as the memory swirled and smoked, waiting to be seen. Then he nodded.

Credence levelled his wand at him, wincing a little himself at how much he hated to do this. “Incarcerous!” he shouted, and instantly Mr Graves was bound in at least a dozen strong cords as he was wrestled to his knees on the dusty floor. “I’m sorry,” Credence whispered; he never enjoyed even the thought of acting against his Mr Graves, however necessary. The man only smiled, with the familiar pride Credence always saw from him when he performed any magic especially well.

As he approached the stone bowl, he was nervous and giddy with the realisation that he was really about to see a memory of Mr Graves’, and not only that, but one of himself. A most important one, in fact. He leaned forward, bringing his face towards the silver liquid as it revolved just below the rim, fully expecting to see the moment when he rescued Mr Graves, or perhaps a time when he’d championed his magic without the use of a wand. Something grand, something worthy of recollection.

For a moment, he was disoriented--thrown completely off his moorings as he was catapulted into the memory in a dizzying lurch strong enough to rival his first apparition. And then...

Credence stood in the sitting room of Mr Graves’ penthouse. It was late afternoon, hazy and warm in that quiet way summer days seem to have of winding down at their own leisurely pace. Golden sunlight filtered in through the open window, where a breeze softly ruffled the gauzy white curtains. He followed the light with his eyes, stepping slowly as if in a dream to find that where it landed was directly on himself--there on the burgundy loveseat.

In this memory, he was curled up with a stack of Mr Graves’ old magical texts, bare feet tucked beneath himself comfortably as he mused over the open pages laid across his lap. He would never have been able to sit this way under Ma’s roof, would have been terrified of being caught in such a self indulgent state. The light from the window moved in slow, lazy sweeps, shining on his hair here, then making his eyelashes glint briefly there as it passed across a faintly smiling cheek. Credence watched the smile slightly waver, a little frown of thought creasing his brows as the memory-Credence raised his head to speak. “I feel a bit… silly asking this,” he heard himself say, “but how do they actually get the pictures to move like this?” From where he sat, he lifted the book slightly to display the page he meant.

Caught up in the recollection, Credence turned in the middle of the room to see Mr Graves seated at his desk. His coat and vest were gone, crisp white shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, tie pulled haphazardly loose. There was a smudge of ink lightly marking one side of his jaw as though he’d forgotten himself and rubbed a hand there, where Credence knew his morning shave always began to itch a little by this time of day. Mr Graves would never be seen this way, not at MACUSA, not by anyone but him. In real time, bent over the Pensieve, Credence realised this fact for the very first time with a stifled sob.

“Well, they--“ memory-Graves began, then stopped, matching Credence’s earlier frown. “You know, I actually haven’t got a damned idea.” And then he laughed, shaking his head at his own confession. It took only a half second for the other Credence, nearly drowning in books on the loveseat, to join in.

Inside the little cabin in the Dark Forest, Credence raised his head from the Pensieve with a gasp, face wet with tears. “I was,” he said, turning to Mr Graves, still bound and waiting against the wall. “I was happy, and I am. So, so happy, Mr Graves.”

“Oh, my sweet Credence...” The man’s eyes were filled with tears as well, and that, along with everything else, told Credence he could be no one but his Mr Graves.

“Emancipare!” he shouted, wand hand shaking, but even so, the bindings fell away at once.

Mr Graves stumbled to his feet, and they surged towards each other. Credence sobbed against the soft wool of Mr Graves’ coat, even while inhaling his scent--so missed, nightshirt or not--with every in-breath. Strong arms closed around him and held him firm and safe.

“Credence… darling,” Mr Graves whispered into his hair, then his fingers brushed back the soft curls as he pressed his cheek to the wet face, then kissed a temple, the other arm tightening around Credence’s middle. He couldn’t seem to decide what to do, how to get any closer to Credence. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you too!” Credence gasped in the tightness of the embrace, but his hands were on his guardian’s nape, in his hair, his lips smiling with a giddy relief he could hardly contain. Darling… he’d called him darling. “And you were with me all along.”

“I wanted to tell you. I wanted so much to tell you, but I didn’t dare risk becoming… well, myself. There’s been no time to prowl around that castle at length and find out if the security is as shoddy as it seems. An Animagus going undetected was one thing; a transformation into a human within the castle itself might have set off alarms.”

Credence laughed. He was too happy to do otherwise. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, now that I know. But…” He pulled back just a few inches. “Will you still come back with me? You won’t… you won’t stay out here, will you?”

Mr Graves looked deep into his eyes and cupped his face. “I would not let you go back there alone for anything.” Gentle thumbs swiped tears off Credence’s cheekbones.

He flushed pink. They stood so close, he could smell Mr Graves’ breath, feel it on his lips like a touch. Then he realised… it was a touch… a thumb tip brushed tenderly over his bottom lip. “Mr Graves,” he whispered against the skin.

“Percival.” Gaze moving over him, assessing his every reaction, the instruction was spoken softly.

“Percival.” The name pursed his lips against the man’s thumb, and the warm eyes fluttered closed for a moment.

“Oh, Credence… last night…”

Credence’s blush deepened. He lowered his gaze, but Mr Graves… Percival wouldn’t have it, sliding his fingers under his jaw.

“I never meant to intrude on your privacy like that. I never expected… never dared to hope…”

Credence gasped, and the thumb stilled on his lip, nearly inside his open mouth.

“I wanted so desperately to come to you, to hold you in my arms… rather than to fill your nose with cat fur.”

Huffing out a laugh, Credence held the smiling eyes. He raised a shaking hand and folded it over Mr Graves’ hand, moving it just enough so he could speak. “Cat fur or not, you’ve been such a comfort to me, dear, dear Percival.” This got him a warm smile.

“I hope you aren’t too hurt to be robbed of your proper familiar like this,” Percival said, and Credence laughed again. Percival was always able to do this: make him laugh, make him feel… so many things.

He felt his blush nearly burning, to think of what had just been alluded to. Last night… Percival had been right there, had seen him with the magazine when he’d needed the man so badly--had heard him moan. Then he remembered what he’d seen and understood in the Pensieve: not only how Percival made him laugh, but how they were themselves always, in each other’s presence. The way it was safe to be seen by one another, to be honest.

To hold you in my arms, Percival had said, and it didn’t matter anymore what wantonness he’d seen or heard from Credence, not if the feeling was shared like everything else between them.

Credence moved their joined hands back to his mouth, parted his lips and pressed a soft kiss in the centre of Percival’s open palm. He was shaking as he did it. He heard Percival’s sharp intake of breath, tasted the salt of his skin; a small sound of agonised want escaped Credence, and with it came a panicky sense of wondering how he could ever hold back now.

He needn’t have worried. Percival groaned--a broken answering noise from someplace in his chest--and the pad of his thumb passed almost roughly over Credence’s bottom lip before his own mouth replaced it, pressing down hard. Credence gripped tight around his shoulders and moaned his wholehearted agreement, hardly daring to believe this was really happening. There was nothing then: no hut in the woods with four walls around them, no forest or looming castle, no magic but the heat of Percival’s devouring kiss.

“Oh Merlin, Credence, oh god but I’ve wanted you,” Percival rasped out against his mouth between hungry little nips. “I’ve- I couldn’t leave you at that train station, I couldn’t bear it. I’d do anything, Credence.” His lips trailed hot and wet against his jaw as he spoke, fixed themselves against the tender skin of his neck. “I’d do anything to keep us together, they won’t ever hurt you again, oh my boy…”

Credence laced his fingers through the man’s hair and bared his throat to him, even as he felt the tears sliding down his face. “Oh, Percival, stay with me, stay with me. I can’t- I can’t stand it when we’re not together.” He was shaking with his sobs now, so hard that Percival had to pull him in tight and hold him still.

“Credence, shhhh,” Percival hushed gently against his hair. Credence had never felt safer, never so perfect as this. “I’m here, I’m with you. Cat or man, or anything I need to be, I’m with you.”

“I know. I… I felt so much less lonely with… uh… with Quincy.” He giggled, even through his tears, overwhelmed with emotions bubbling up in all manner of ways at once. He could only cling to Percival--his rock. His anchor. His home, wherever they were. “When did you decide?”

“At the train station, seeing you so sad, then having to let that Auror magically restrain you… it was too much. I’d had enough. No one is going to separate us, my darling. Never again.”

Credence sighed against his neck. “How did you do it?”

Percival led him to a low bench under the single window where he sat, pulling Credence onto his lap and wrapping his arms about him. Credence blushed, arms around his neck, cheek resting on his head. “I wandered about Diagon Alley, following you and Newt around. Well… I might have helped you find your way to the better tailor.” Credence smiled. “I made sure to find an empty cage at The Magical Menagerie, for added realism, which proved a bit tricky; I’m not exactly a dainty cat.”

“You’re a very handsome cat,” Credence said, receiving a tender kiss to his cheek as a reward. He had a sudden realisation. “This hut, this is where you’d been when Newt found you near the forest!”

Smiling, unable to stop caressing Credence’s face and the side of his neck, Percival said, “I got myself up here while you were still on the train, managed to find this abandoned hut and turned it into a place to keep essentials; they were easy enough to obtain wearing a glamour. And this is where your letters went.”

“That’s why I got your replies faster than expected.” Credence touched Percival’s cheek. “Do they know, in New York?”

His hand was grasped and Percival shook his head. “No. For now, all they know is that I’ve decided to gather intelligence around Britain and Europe, and that they’re to keep quiet about it. Officially, I’m back at work in New York.”

“And unofficially?”

“I’m gathering intelligence all right, but for us, not for MACUSA--who can go hang, for all I care,” Percival told him, looking fierce. “I intend to find out what that madman Dumbledore is up to; there are rumours aplenty about him and Grindelwald, and after that awful lesson, I’m more suspicious of him than ever.” He drew Credence close, seeing how he trembled at the mere memory of that lesson. “He’d have been in for quite a surprise, darling. He’s not turning this cat into a goblet or into anything else!”

Credence clung to him. “I almost lost control of the Obscurus.”

“I know. He wanted you to lose control, curse him, but you didn’t. You’re strong, my wonderful boy, so strong.”

“I don’t feel strong without you.” Credence nuzzled against his face.

“You’ll never be without me unless I know you're somewhere absolutely safe. I can transform in a moment, in an emergency, though of course, that would be the end of my cover.” Percival looked extremely annoyed then. “As for that lecherous flying instructor… I’ll give him such nightmares about cats, he won’t dare go to sleep anymore.”

Credence shuddered in his arms. “He makes me uncomfortable,” he said. “I don’t like his eyes, the way they look at me.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t let him touch you,” Percival reassured.

Cuddling in as close as he could manage, Credence murmured, “I don’t want anyone touching me but you.” As soon as the words had left him, he blushed fiercely at his own boldness, despite everything. It was one thing to think it, or even to allow it in reality--Percival’s hands on him--it was entirely another to say it out loud. What he wanted. He was promptly rewarded for the words; Percival sighed and then drew him into another long kiss that had him nearly melting. He made a minute sound of protest as the kiss ended, without meaning to.

“We’d better make our way back,” Percival said regretfully. “You’ll be missed, and I don’t want any more trouble than what we already have to deal with.”

He was right, as much as Credence hated to admit it. He could stay like this with Percival in the darkening forest, well… forever, really. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. “What will happen now? It will be hard to stay focussed on my lessons now, knowing it’s you there with me.”

Percival smiled and then quickly grew more serious. “Credence, I’m afraid too many people see your condition as an asset here in Europe, a very different case to how it was in New York. I never should have let us be separated even for as long as the ride to Hogwarts, and I won’t be doing it again. I’d hoped Grindelwald might be caught once and for all while you were at school, that we’d have time, but now I know our original plan is the one we should have always stuck with.”

“To go away together?” Credence asked hopefully, searching his face.

“Yes, eventually. But much sooner than I’d thought with you here at Hogwarts. What we’ll need to do now is to train your magic as fast and as advanced as we can manage--much faster than the usual school curriculum, I’m afraid. I want you able to do what I can do, alongside me. Become an Animagus.”

Credence gasped. “I can do that?” he asked excitedly. “Really? And what will I be? Does it hurt?”

“Yes, of course you can do that.” Percival was laughing, in the sweet and affectionate way he had that was never mocking. “As to what you will be, we can’t know that until the moment comes. But it doesn’t hurt. In fact, it can be quite a liberating feeling, shedding your human skin and all its rules for a while.”

Nodding, Credence pictured the people and traffic of Manhattan as tiny specks scurrying below him like frightened ants and nodded in understanding. “And… and you’ll be teaching me?”

Percival nodded. “Mhmm. We’ll do it here, every moment we get.”

“What else will I learn?”

Shifting off Percival’s lap, Credence stood with him as they dusted off their clothes and prepared to leave. “Well, Occlumency and Legilimency are immediate concerns, especially with that Professor Dumbledore around. I’ll tell you all about what you’ll be learning as we make our way back.” He gave Credence a long, fond look then, enough to make him blush all over again as if he hadn’t just been kissed senseless by the man for half the afternoon. “You’ll need to stay very, very close to me in the forest,” he said. “Especially now that the day is heading into evening.”

Credence took his hand and they made their reluctant way to the door.

 

***

 

The walk through the Dark Forest was a last while of time together as man and man that Credence savoured in every detail before it was gone again. The feel of Percival's hand in his, the crunch of autumn leaves beneath their feet, the crisp chill of the impending evening--all of it was something he knew he'd be holding onto until it was able to happen again, hopefully soon.

Many times along the way, Percival stopped them in their progress to pull Credence close again for another kiss. And another... and another. It seemed he was already anxious for the time when they could be alone together like this, just as much as Credence was, and they had so very much time to make up for. But soon enough the darkness grew less dense, the shelter of the trees gradually more sparse.

"What will I tell them at the castle?" Credence asked. "Having been away so long…"

"Your first lesson in Occlumency already," Percival answered. "The best thing is to tell what's closest to the truth, and tell it with total sincerity, inside and out."

"I did that all the time with Ma." Credence smiled a little sadly to think he'd been learning such a useful thing, even back then in the most unhappy place.

Percival nodded. "All right. So, you were frightened after your lesson and you ran. Your familiar ran into the Dark Forest, you ventured a little way in and, eventually, found him."

A little smirk replaced Credence's sad smile. "I'm not going to lie about one thing, though. I'm looking forward a little to petting your fur, now that I know it's you."

"You'll promise to use that lovely brush you bought in Diagon Alley? Only I've been hoping you wou-- Shhhh."

Percival tugged Credence alongside him behind the nearest tree. "There's someone else walking through the forest, just there," he whispered, pointing at a spot in the near distance through a gap in the trees.

Credence narrowed his eyes to take the figure in; they quickly widened as he realised who it was. "It's Serapis," he whispered back. "What's he doing in the Dark Forest, I wonder?"

Percival frowned, watching the tall boy disappear into the trees. "I don't know, but there's something in the way he smells," he said--something Credence would've once found terribly strange to hear from him, before he knew Percival was sometimes a cat.

Once Serapis was gone, Percival took Credence by the hand again and began to lead him towards a cluster of large moss covered rocks at the edge of a little clearing. “Come on,” he said, “I’ll show you how I get in and out of here unseen. I found a way thanks to your mysterious friend, whom I followed that time. We’re close now.”

“Serapis? He knows a way from the castle right into the forest?”

“Oh yes.” Percival stopped in front of a particular large, mossy monolith of a rock and turned to him. “He has reasons of his own for coming here at odd hours, and I intend to find out what they are.”

“I’ve been told there are secret passages,” Credence told him. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t run into anyone at all?”

“It would.” Percival looked at him very intently then. “You must promise me to never go into the forest on your own.”

“I promise,” Credence said sincerely, knowing he would promise Percival the very stars above and find a way to fetch them down.

Smiling, Percival cupped his cheek. “Next, you must promise me to avoid Dumbledore until you’ve learned how to shield your mind. We’ll start with that tomorrow.” When Credence nodded eagerly, he added, “And one last promise: as soon as we’re back inside your room, I want you to call for a house elf and ask for some dinner. Say you weren’t feeling well earlier, because your familiar ran off, but are now hungry. And you must be.”

“I’m starving,” Credence said, his eyes fixed on Percival’s. He leaned into the warm hand. Only once he’d spoken, and Percival gave a soft moan, did he realise how his words could be read. He hoped the darkness hid his blush.

Percival pulled him close and kissed him in a way that said, loud and clear, Credence wasn’t the only one starving. When he drew back, they were both panting hard. “I’ve never felt more reluctant to become my alter ego,” Percival said with an awkward chuckle, sliding his hands over Credence’s shoulders tenderly and looking him over at length. “Well, this is the closest point to the castle, within the forest, to safely transform. We’re still just outside Hogwarts borders, I’ve made quite sure. Follow me along the path and, tomorrow when the time is right, and we can disappear without raising suspicions, we’ll come back out the same way.”

“Yes, Percival,” Credence said obediently. Percival then explained what he'd need to know for the return trip the next day, then touched the tall rock, and it sank right into the ground to reveal a tunnel. Credence watched, fascinated, as he turned back into Quincy. “Magic is so very strange,” he murmured.

“Mew,” Quincy agreed, and Credence laughed.

 

***

 

They followed the passage--which was dark and ominous and winding--for about twenty minutes, hearing the faint sound of water from outside its walls, and Credence realised they were actually under the lake.

The wooden door at the far end of the passage creaked ominously when he opened it, but there was no one about, and he found his bearings soon enough; they were quite close to Delacroix’s classroom, as it happened. After all but tiptoeing to his rooms, Credence whispered the password to a winking, smirking Clyde, who asked if he’d had a pleasant late rendezvous, cackling when Credence’s only response was a blush.

Once inside, Credence called for a house elf, who appeared and somewhat grumpily promised to return with a sandwich and a bowl of soup. Then he assessed the tins of cat food and Quincy’s bowls. “I wish I’d asked if you preferred human food when you’re like… that,” he chided himself.

Quincy walked up to the bowls and patted at them with one paw, looking up at Credence expectantly.

Giggling, Credence scooped the contents of a tin into the food bowl, refreshed the water, then waited for his own meal.

For the first time, despite the strangeness of it all, Credence felt safe in the castle, with Percival right there with him. He sat curled up in front of the fire, a tray with potato and leek soup and a ham sandwich slowly clearing while Quincy sat beside him, paws folded one over the other, furry head resting against his thigh. He thought about all that had happened that day, from the awful to the wonderful, and then he thought about tomorrow and how they would sneak away, and kiss and touch, and learn real magic. Useful magic. And he’d be learning from the best teacher there was, as it had been before and should always be.

Chapter Text

During breakfast, Credence fielded questions from his housemates as to his wellbeing. Touched, he told them he hadn’t felt well at dinner time, after chasing down his familiar inside the Dark Forest, and stayed in his room.

Hyacinth shuddered. “I wouldn’t go in there for anything. Imagine running into a centaur!”

Everyone nearby agreed they’d rather not, thanks very much.

“You certainly look well now, though,” Belladonna commented with a smirk. “In fact, you look quite pleased about something.”

Credence fought down the slight smile he hadn’t been able to suppress. The secret knowledge that Director Graves, so venerated by his fellow Slytherins, was sitting on his feet and keeping them warm, and snapping up the odd bit of food he passed him under the table, had him on the verge of giggles more than once. “I’m just glad to be feeling better, not to mention to have my cat back,” he said.

Serapis was watching him intently, if sleepily, one brow raised slightly. After breakfast, just before they parted ways with Credence heading to his first Potions lesson and Serapis to Divination, he took him aside and murmured, “Something’s changed, Credence. About you.”

Credence blinked at him innocently, while Quincy stood by and assessed Serapis, head a little tilted. Deciding to deflect as best he could, Credence queried, “What about you?”

“What do you mean?” Serapis asked carefully, looking a little hunted.

“I’m just concerned that you seem so tired in the mornings,” Credence said, already feeling bad about making his friend feel awkward.

Serapis looked almost relieved. “I’m just not a morning person, Credence, but I feel fine. Nothing to worry about.” He smiled. “It’s nice of you to worry, though.”

Nodding slowly, Credence said, “You worry about me.”

“Yes, but that’s different. I don’t think you--” Serapis looked a little lost all of a sudden, and maybe a bit sad too. “I really should get to Divination, and I shouldn’t make you late for your lesson, either.”

Credence returned the slight smile and watched him go, before heading to the Potions classroom as indicated on his lesson plan.

The Potions professor, Ophelia Widdershins, reluctantly told Credence that, while she dearly loved cats, it was too dangerous to have a cat present during a Potions lesson--potentially disastrous, in fact.

Credence, unable to tell her Quincy was anything but an ordinary cat, sighed. Quincy patted at his leg. “Do you want to go… exploring?” Credence asked meaningfully.

“Meow!” Quincy declared, purring when he received a tender stroke of the head, along with whispered instructions to be careful. Then he went off, looking back at Credence a few times.

Beginning to understand Quincy’s form of communication, now that he knew he was Percival, Credence took that as reassurance that he would take care and be back as soon as possible.

Professor Widdershins--a middle-aged witch with white streaks in her dark hair and grey eyes behind old-fashioned and elaborate silver-framed glasses--seemed a very capable teacher, giving clear and careful instructions and explaining every ingredient in full.

Credence, with his determination to do well and learn more quickly than any previous student at Hogwarts, asked plenty of questions, which seemed to impress her.

“I must say, it’s something of a shame you weren’t sorted into my house. We do appreciate a keen mind and curiosity in Ravenclaw.”

Credence blushed. “I have a lot of missed learning to make up for.”

“Yes, that is a shame.” She smiled encouragingly. “I think that won’t be a problem for long, however. Acquiring knowledge is half innate intelligence and half resolve.”

As it turned out, Credence picked up a lot of theoretical information in his first lesson, and only temporarily struggled with his first basic potion due to being painfully reminded of long hours spent stirring lumpy broth in Mary Lou’s kitchen.

When he left the classroom, Quincy sat waiting patiently for him in the corridor outside, leaping into his arms the moment Credence crouched down and opened them.

“I missed you!” Credence murmured into his fur, and Quincy purred at him. “I did well in Potions,” he said, which got him a raspy tongue flick over his cheek. He laughed softly. “We have a Herbology lesson now.”

 

***

 

Professor Lucinda Patch glanced over the tidy beds of plants in Greenhouse Three, then gave Quincy a meaningful look.

“He can’t stay, I suppose?” Credence asked sadly. “He’s very well behaved.” He could have sworn Quincy shook in his arms, a little, with laughter.

“Normally, I would say no, but as it happens, we’re going to combine today’s lesson with a delivery.” Professor Patch pointed to a set of trays holding bundles of herbs tied with twine.

“A delivery?” Credence asked, surprised he was allowed to leave the grounds.

“To the hospital wing.”

“Oh.”

“These greenhouses supply the school’s medical needs, you know,” Patch explained to him. “Many of our plants go to Professor Widdershins for processing in her potions, which then go to the hospital wing, but Madam Linnea, our resident healer, is always in need of fresh herbs for poultices and space clearing.” She picked up one of the trays and said, “Well, young man, you take the other two, and follow me.”

Setting down Quincy, Credence did as he was told, and trailed Professor Patch out of the greenhouse and across the lawn to the main entrance. He inhaled deeply of the freshly cut herbs right under his nose, feeling a strange sense of peace at the delightful mingled scents. Quincy trotted along beside him, making sure his fluffy tail swiped his leg now and then.

The hospital wing smelled much the same, with the addition of alcohol, vinegar and some other rather strong, medicinal odors mixed in.

“Lucinda!” The nurse came bustling out of a little office, greeting the Herbology professor enthusiastically. “Wonderful. I’m ever so low on comfrey and feverfew, and my stock of… who’s this?”

“Credence Graves,” Credence said. “Good morning, Madam Linnea.”

“What a nice young man. So you’re…?” She gave Credence a long, searching look.

“Yes, that’s him,” Patch confirmed. “Set down those trays in the office there, Graves.”

Credence obeyed, then came back out to a major commotion in the doorway: a couple of students were helping a third, who hobbled and whined quite pitifully as he was lugged inside.

“Oh dear, oh dear, what’s this?” Madam Linnea gave a long-suffering sigh. “Another twisted ankle? Or a broken foot this time? Will you Gryffindors never learn?”

"He's gone and splinched himself," one of the two helpers explained, a blonde girl with bright blue eyes that Credence was stunned to see her actually roll in world-weariness as she said the words.

It was still taking him some work, getting used to the idea that serious injury was something nearly to be laughed at when magic was at hand. Living under Mary Lou's roof, even small hurts took ages to heal and were to be avoided at all costs--something which had made Credence's near-constant injured state all the more painful. One of the first things he'd wanted to learn, as soon as he was under Percival's care, was the wonderful healing spells the man seemed to use without a thought.

"Merlin!" Professor Patch exclaimed, bustling forward to help the pair lay their moaning friend out on the nearest hospital bed.

"Your delivery came not a moment too soon," Madam Linnea told her. "Essence of Dittany was one of the things I've grown dangerously low on, and this young fool is about to deplete my stock entirely. "Wollstonecraft," she said, addressing the injured boy this time (though he was in no fit state to listen), "how many times am I going to have to see you this year? Last year it was no less than 12, and I know you haven't forgotten the ordeal with the Skele-gro."

With that, she huffed off to the back storage cupboard, leaving Credence and Professor Patch to watch on as the two students who were still healthy and whole took turns both smoothing back their friend's sweaty hair and berating him for his stupidity in hushed voices.

A little curious and more than a bit concerned, Credence drifted to the edge of the bed where the boy lay. Quincy followed, leaping up onto the white mattress as Credence heard Professor Patch give a disapproving tsk. Wollstonecraft's leg was missing a patch of flesh along the side of one trembling calf, all the way down to the ankle where a pale knob of bone gleamed white against the red tissue. The wound was curiously dry, almost as though it had been cauterised as it happened, or more like he really had simply just left a piece of himself someplace else, quite neatly.

Quincy--head tilted and observing in much the same manner as Credence--softly trilled, blinking luminous green eyes at him meaningfully. Now that he knew it was his own Mr Graves, he could read and understand him all the better for it, no longer concerned with giving a cat too much credit. And the look he was given then was one he found he recognised easily, blinders lifted: it said 'Go on then, you know what I taught you.'

He knew the students, and even the professor, were all watching him now with frowns ranging from quizzical to cautiously troubled, but Credence kept in his mind only the still gaze of his "familiar;" no other attentions could possibly concern him now, or ever.

Credence reached his hands out over the wound, carefully and without touching, just as Mr Graves had shown him to do many times over. The spell was wordless, more a feeling than any incantation, and with it rose a wonderful, bubbling effervescent pleasure in his stomach and the tingling surfaces of his palms. The sensation was quite familiar to him now, a bright twin to the Obscurus, almost, and he pushed the lovely feeling into the torn flesh.

Dimly, he heard Professor Patch make a sharp sound of protest--the voice of teacherly authority-- before it was quickly cut off into a sound of surprised wonder. Already, beneath Credence's steady touch, the muscle was filling out, the skin quickly knitting itself to close over it like watching frost spread across a pane of glass. "Wow," the blonde girl whispered, nudging her companion who swiftly nodded his dumbstruck agreement.

Just then, Madam Linnea returned with the bottle of Dittany in hand. She looked to the bed--where Credence now stood contritely, if not a little worried he may have gone a touch too far--and where the boy's wound appeared to be several days along in its healing and not a piece missing.

She turned to Professor Patch. "Did you have some Essence of Dittany squirreled away that I didn't know about?" she asked. "Only I wish you'd said--"

Professor Patch, still silent with disbelief, simply shook her head and gestured towards Credence. Beneath his hand, Credence felt a soft, furry head nudge against his palm and heard the deep purr that came along with it. Still a little embarrassed at the five sets of human eyes on him, he smiled down at Quincy nonetheless.

"But…" Madam Linnea stammered. "Isn't he- isn't he just a first year student?"

“Well… in a way, one might say so,” Professor Patch muttered. “I can only assume…” She gave Credence a searching look. “You must have some innate healing abilities, young man. Certainly, no one was expecting that.”

Credence shrugged, thinking it best not to go into his private lessons and choosing to let them think he was as surprised as they were.

Madam Linnea stared at him almost awe-struck. “I’m going to request some of your free time, Graves. I’d like to know what else you can do, and I can certainly use the help, what with these foolish daredevils keeping me busy at all hours!” She nodded to the three students in front of her who, while looking indignant, clearly could put forth no valid counter-argument.

“Aren’t you a Slytherin?” the boy with the leg wound asked, sounding rather confused.

“Yes, I am.” Credence said.

“Huh.” He frowned, perplexed, and said, clearly reluctantly, “Uh… thanks, I guess.”

“You’re welcome,” Credence returned politely. He watched as Quincy strutted across the bed to jump off the side, making sure to step on the boy’s ankle on the way and causing a small grunt.

The rest of the Herbology lesson was half about the herbs delivered and half about how to apply them directly to wounds, and Credence, though none too pleased he’d have to give up some of his time with Percival, paid careful attention, thinking every aspect of healing could only be a very useful thing indeed when learning potentially dangerous magic.

By lunchtime at the Slytherin table, where the main topic of conversation was Serapis’ apparently astounding talents at Divination, Credence was beginning to feel somewhat desperate to leave the castle for his private lessons; thankfully, he had none with any of the Hogwarts teachers. At least, not until late that night, immediately following the combined 7th year class in Astronomy.

“It’s a voluntary subject after 5th year, you know,” Abraxas said. “I don’t have much use for it myself.”

Belladonna whispered, at an easily audible volume, “What he means is that he’s not very good at it.”

Abraxas gave her a withering look. “What I mean is that I don’t see the point of it.”

“It’s fun,” she said. “Not that I’m very good at it either.”

Credence laughed, realising Archie was bound to be in the class with those among his housemates who still took it. He himself thought it sounded rather interesting.

Once finished eating, Credence made a point of announcing that he would be spending the afternoon studying in his room until the Astronomy lesson. “Professor Hexum has given me plenty of reading up on runes that I really should get to,” he said.

“Studying, or perhaps taking a little nap?” asked Belladonna with a grin.

Abraxas then gestured to Serapis with a little smirk of his own. “I think this one could use a nap, he’s been yawning all through lunch.” As soon as he’d said the words, though, he was taken over by a rather sizable yawn himself. “Oh bloody hell,” he went on, “let’s all have a nap. I’ll say one thing for Astronomy--they hold the class at a decent hour.”

 

***

 

Down in the dungeons, Credence stood before a faded old tapestry of a striking serpent, with Quincy in his arms and an eye on whether or not anyone was coming. He buried his nose in the fur just below the cat’s ear and whispered, “I can’t wait till I can cuddle you properly,” smiling when he received an answering purr. Even still, with Percival in his animal state, it gave Credence a strange thrill of giddy disbelief to think that he could say such things to the man, let alone do them. It was all like a wonderful dream, having Percival really here, and not only that, but being wanted by him in return. To think of all the time they’d spent, longing for each other secretly…

More eager than ever, Credence reached for the heavy tasselled rope at the edge of the wall hanging just as Percival had described the afternoon before, pulling down on it gently three times. Instantly, a wash of cool air rustled the tapestry from behind, smelling of damp and stony earth. He set Quincy down at his feet then and pulled the heavy fabric aside like a curtain, and together they stepped into the passage and began to make their way towards the longed-for little hut in the Dark Forest.

The walk seemed longer this time for all the anticipation of it, but as soon as they’d reached the small clearing and stepped out from the tunnel, Percival gave a celebratory little chirp and shifted back into a man in the blink of an eye. For a few seconds, Credence simply marvelled at the quick and painless transition now that he was seeing it without the shock of its being so wholly unexpected. Even more astounding was the thought that he would one day be able to do it himself; having the Obscurus break free and consume him had always been a rather uncomfortable and harrowing experience, though much of that he imagined was simply the nature of the feelings that had created his condition in the first place.

He didn’t have long to ponder any of these things overly much, because of course Percival was stepping to him and pulling him into his embrace as though it had been weeks rather than slightly less than a day. Then he was swept up in nothing but smiling brown eyes and tender kisses, and a swooping sense of joy that he could have this, that they truly cared for each other this way and could actually be together. It was a far cry from thinking they would be apart for a year or more, and it was a good thing, too, if only a few days had been close to intolerable for them both.

As if he could hear his thoughts, Percival pulled back, eyes searching his face as his fingertips gently caressed its edges. “What madness it was,” he murmured, “thinking we could possibly have withstood any time apart, let alone an entire school year.” Credence pressed his forehead against Percival’s and nodded in emphatic agreement. “I was on my own for so long without you,” he whispered, a little sadly to remember it, “until I found you, the real you. I couldn’t possibly go back to that again.”

Percival smiled and kissed the tip of his nose. “You might find it surprising to hear, but I was a very lonely and not a terribly happy man before you came and rescued me.”

Credence looked up at his eyes; Percival had been right, he was surprised. It must have shown, because Percival went on. “Beautiful clothes and stunning career achievements can’t possibly make up for what you give me,” he whispered. “There’s no greater power to be had than the purpose we have when we care for each other like this. That’s my only ambition now, to keep you safe, and to keep us together.”

Credence was at a loss for any answering words, so Percival caught him in one more lingering kiss before taking his hand and facing towards the last stretch of woods they needed to cross. “Now, today, we can begin the work of seeing to our ambition,” he said. “The real work. Come on, we’ll apparate the rest of the way to save time and I’ll show you the things they don’t teach in any school.”

The hut was warm and inviting when they reached it, and Credence smiled to himself to think that he would be spending countless hours within it, alone with Percival. His thoughts must have been loud indeed, perhaps only in the look on his face; Percival turned to him once they were inside and smiled knowingly.

“It will be tempting to spend plenty of our time out here in leisure,” he said, “but first, we have to focus on making some progress in your Occlumency training.”

Credence nodded at once, trying his best to hide any disappointment he felt, even while he knew Percival was right as always.

But,” Percival went on. “That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the lessons as much as possible.”

At once, Credence was torn between smiling shyly at the insinuation and frowning his confusion. He looked to Percival expectantly, a question ready on his lips.

“Credence, Occlumency is simply the act of shielding your mind from invasion. From having your thoughts perceived, but it’s very much tied with emotion, as so much magic is. I suspect,” and here he gave an apologetic little smile, “that you will prove to be quite good at it, given your history.”

Credence nodded, seeing his point and yet suddenly a little frightened of the idea that they might in fact be spending their afternoons together dwelling on his most unhappy memories. His fear also must have shown then, when Percival stepped to him and took him in his arms once more in reassurance.

“Your darker feelings and experiences are likely a treasure trove of material we could draw from, but I have no intention of doing that, to either of us. Instead, what I’d like to propose for the first stage of Occlumency is that you do your best to hide what’s most important to you, the feelings that I’m sure are currently the strongest and most immediate.”

Finally, Credence was able to voice at least one of his million questions. “And… what would those be?" he asked, even though he was sure he already knew.

Percival brought his mouth slowly over Credence’s own, breathed warm against his lips. A bloom of heat unfurled low in his groin, the familiar and sudden tightness of his underthings that always came with thoughts of Percival now amplified to something truly urgent for the fact that this touch was real, that pleasure was so desperately close. Percival’s tongue traced slow and hot over the very edge of his bottom lip, teasing; a little whimper of pained want left Credence then to meet its touch.

“The most secret thing of all,” Percival answered against his mouth that was now open and loose with shallow panting. “The things we do in here together.”

“Can we…” Credence panted, brushing their noses together, then letting his parted lips flutter over the corner of Percival’s mouth. “Can we do… some of those things today?”

Percival cupped the back of his head, pressing his cheek against the side of Credence’s face. “I can see I’m going to have to devise a reward system. Added incentive to study hard, as well as to avoid us driving each other to distraction.”

“Please,” Credence whispered into his ear, “Percival.” He let his lips slide over the earlobe. Percival’s soft groan made him shiver delightfully.

“Why don’t you think of something you’d like me to do, but make sure not to think of it while I’m inside your mind. If you manage to successfully hide your wish from me, I’ll fulfill it at the end of the lesson.”

Credence thought that sounded like a very good plan, except... “But Percival… if I manage to hide it, you won’t know what it is.”

 

Percival’s chuckle was low and warm against the side of his face. “You’ll have to tell me then, won’t you?”

While stating his desires plainly sounded rather terrifying, Credence didn’t truly believe he would master this, apparently rather difficult, Occlumency during their first lesson, and he said, “I’ll try.”

“Good boy. Now…” Percival drew back and steered him to sit on the bench by the window. “There are two ways to prevent a Legilimens from seeing your thoughts. One is by emptying your mind of everything, the other is by building a wall of intentionally misleading thoughts. Let’s see which works best for you, shall we?”

Credence sighed. “What if I can master neither?”

Percival ran a hand through his soft curls, smiling down at him tenderly. “I know you will. I have no doubt at all.”

As always, Credence felt instantly strengthened--both emotionally and magically--by Percival’s unwavering confidence in his abilities, and he nodded and asked, “What do I do?”

The first few times Percival aimed a wand at his head and said, firmly, “Legilimens!” Credence’s mind was far from empty, abuzz instead with a wild assortment of pictures, snippets… moments of the two of them back in New York, and now. It was all he could think about, it seemed, and Credence felt it might be impossible to push it all aside for the sake of the kind of emptiness he’d felt before ever meeting Percival.

“I’m terrible at this,” he lamented, sagging.

Percival sat down beside him, stroking his cheek lovingly. “No one, absolutely no one, has ever succeeded at Occlumency right away, I can practically guarantee that.”

“Not even you?” Credence asked.

“Oh, you sweet thing. How highly you think of me.” Percival leaned in but, instead of kissing Credence’s mouth, which at once parted expectantly, he kissed the tip of his nose. “Not even me.”

“Can we… can we try the other way? I think it might be easier to be able to think of something, anything, than nothing at all.”

“Of course we can try that. Now, come up with a new wish first.” Credence blushed but nodded, and Percival smiled. “Now hide it behind something else. Make it something simple, say a wall, and perhaps imagine yourself building it, so your mind will be consistently busy.” When Credence nodded, Percival held his wand gently to the side of his head. “Ready?”

Credence closed his eyes and thought of a brick wall, with piles more bricks beside him, along with mortar and tools. He began to ‘build’ on top of the low wall and then nodded.

“Legilimens!”

He built and built, adding an entire layer of bricks while Percival gently moved through his mind, not allowing himself to be at all distracted by it. The menial labour was dull, and this was how he used to cope with his life in New York, by concentrating on the task at hand to the exclusion of all else.

“Well done.”

Percival’s pleased voice stopped the progress of the wall, and Credence blinked at him. “Did I do it?”

“Yes, you did! For several minutes. That was excellent, Credence. I’m so proud of you.” When Credence bit his lip, looking a little bashful, Percival moved closer, “Now, what would you like for your reward?”

There were so many things, truth be told, but knowing he had to actually articulate his desire in words, Credence didn’t want to be too daring right away. “Yesterday, you…” Percival was looking at him with a gentle, encouraging smile. “You… kissed my neck. Would you do that again? Please.”

“I’d be delighted,” Percival told him, tilting his head and gazing along the pale skin of Credence’s neck as if choosing the perfect spot for his lips. His fingers caressed the edge of Credence’s shirt collar, then loosened his Slytherin tie a little, before slipping the top two shirt buttons free.

Even while only Percival’s fingertips were grazing along his neck, Credence had already begun panting, and once Percival leaned in, his fresh, familiar scent filling his senses several seconds before his gentle mouth fastened on his shivering skin, Credence cried out. He arched his neck into the kiss, head back, eyes closed in bliss, lips parted, and while Percival’s hand moved around his nape, his own fingers found their way into his guardian’s hair.

Percival hummed against the delicate skin, his lips moving from spot to spot, kissing and suckling lovingly. When Credence began trembling, uncontrollably, against him, he started to lick and nibble teasingly, echoing the moan Credence could no longer contain. “You’re a delight,” he fairly growled against the wet flesh. “So delicious… darling boy.”

Small sounds of pained need were spilling through Credence’s parted lips, and he was aware, only faintly, that he’d begun to rock slightly in place. Even just moments ago, he would have blushed, would have been shy even to think of the things he wanted, but now, with Percival’s mouth hot and lustful against his sensitive flesh, he found it hard to care. The urgency of the way it made him feel, how quickly and powerfully Percival was able to command his senses--that took precedence over all.

“Oh, Mr Gra- oh… Percival! I- I feel like…”

Percival moved only a fraction away from his pale neck; a sound, wet and nearly lewd, accompanied his lip’s brief departure. “Hmm? What is it, my love?”

Credence moaned again before he could begin to take charge of so much as words. “I’m… I feel like I’m going to- nhhhg.” He bit his lip and shook. “… Like with the magazine.”

For a moment, Percival just pressed his forehead to Credence’s temple and seemed to pause as though gathering his own strength for speech. “Oh, Credence,” he finally breathed. “That night… oh Merlin, that night. I wanted so much to come to you, to be the one to soothe you in your need.” Percival was panting now faintly, too. Turning his face, he nipped at Credence’s tender earlobe and for a few seconds he feared he might spill over right then and there, even at the lightest of touches. He’d only ever thought of the man like this, never daring to imagine it could be a reality. It was nearly unbearable now, to think of how long he’d ached for him without any expectation of relief.

“Credence,” Percival was saying into his ear, voice rough and a little strained. “You don’t have to say if it’s too difficult, in fact, we can use Legilimens if it helps--Merlin knows this was meant to be a lesson, after all… Credence, what were you thinking of when you looked at that magazine? What did you want, or need, from me?”

Credence turned his face and met his eyes, searching. There was a pleading, almost desperate look to Percival just then, something he’d never imagined seeing. He didn’t need Legilimens. With Percival looking at him so stark and hungry, Credence found he wanted to say it himself, that it was too real to keep it in his mind.

“Um, I- I thought about--” He intended to say it, but intention didn’t always make a thing easy. His breath caught, and then the wanting of it all took him over with the same relentless capability as his Obscurus. “Oh, God forgive me, I thought about your hands, Percival,” he gasped out. “I thought about your hands on me, in me… the, the way you hold your wand, and--”

His outpouring was cut off by Percival’s mouth over his own, kissing him like those last few unspoken words were the air that would save his life. Credence heard his own muffled cry escape into the space between Percival’s lips; he clung to him then, tongue chasing after the sound he’d made. One hand held fast at the edge of his jaw, holding him in place to be kissed and devoured, and the other…

Credence felt it press, gently, at his inner thigh just above the knee, and eagerly he obeyed the instruction to part his legs a little wider on the bench, trembling- oh, leaking now where the tip of his manhood stood trapped beneath the waist of his trousers, held flush against his trembling stomach. Percival pulled back from their kiss just enough to look into his eyes once more, avid and piercing, probing deeper than any spell could ever reach. And then--Credence felt the pad of Percival’s steady thumb run slowly up his length through the fabric, that single point of contact like a trail of fire; as it reached the plush curve beneath his tip, slick and straining to meet the caress, he was already spilling over with a shuddering and breathless cry.

“Oh yes…” Percival’s voice was hardly recognisable, so deep and raw. “That’s how I’ve imagined you, more often than I should admit to.”

“You… you have?” Credence gasped, his own voice, by contrast, little more than a husky breath. He knew, if it was physically possible, that admission from Percival would be enough to start him all over again. As it was… “I’ve imagined you too,” he whispered.

“What exactly have you imagined?” Percival’s hand was trembling a little on Credence’s jaw; the other hadn’t moved from the now wet, clinging fabric of his trousers.

“I’ve wondered how you sound… how you look, when you…” Credence’s flush of embarrassment took over his cheeks from his flush of pure need.

“You’ve entertained such thoughts, my sweet, innocent boy?” Percival teased, smiling when Credence’s lips twitched up. When he received a quick nod, he gazed down at where his hand rested gently on the front of Credence’s fine wool trousers. “Would you like to find out?”

Credence stared at him, thinking about it for all of two seconds. “Please.” In an instant, he found himself grasped by the hips and drawn over Percival’s lap, where he sat, with his thighs spread, his underwear clinging, and Percival… “Oh!” Percival was hard against the seat of his trousers, so hard.

“This is all it’s going to take, my darling. Just feeling you real and warm and so wet against me.”

Credence was overwhelmed by the mere idea that Percival wanted him so much. He wrapped his arms around his neck and buried his face in the crook of his neck and shoulder, nuzzling the warm skin. “Please, Percival,” he gasped, “I want to make you feel good.”

With a soft moan, Percival held his hips. He began thrusting up against him in short, firm jolts, grunting when Credence whimpered against his skin.

Within a few thrusts, Credence felt the tell-tale throbbing against his perineum, and Percival was making the most wonderful sounds in his ear, but he wanted to see his face. He kissed the side of his neck, then pressed a couple of quick kisses to his face until he met his eyes; Percival’s eyes were dark and his brows drawn together with the effort of holding on.

“You in my arms, that’s all I need,” Percival gasped out. He pressed Credence down hard on his lap and, groaning, he released hot and wet in the confines of his own clothes. They both felt every spasm. His arms moved fully around Credence, holding him tight until the last shiver of orgasm and the last spurt of his seed had been spent.