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Sword and Shield

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 Percival Graves knew he was, for all intents and purposes, dead. D.E.A.D. Dead. That is to say, he would shortly be deceased. An ex-human being. In but a matter of moments, he would kick the proverbial bucket, shuffle off this mortal coil, and simply cease to be. It had been weeks since Grindelwald had come to taunt him, or feed him for that matter. Say what you would about the bastard, he took his villainy seriously. Hell, Percival was sure that hideous moustache of his was grown just so he could twirl it and surely, he had charmed his bi-coloured eyes for a more sinister appearance. Still, the man was surprisingly conscientious about the whole ‘keeping his prisoners fed regularly’ thing. Of course, to fit in with the ‘evil Dark Lord’ persona, those meals were watery gruel and stale bread, but Graves was beyond the point of caring after a few days. In fact, right now, he would have actually really liked some.


    And that was the whole point really. Grindelwald had not shown up for... Graves actually didn't know for sure how long it had been (somewhere along the line he had lost the small stick he had been using to engrave lines in the stone floor with and he was usually so good at keeping track of things), measuring time had become rather meaningless once his life had descended into an endless cycle of: sitting in the dark, rounds of torture, villainous speeches (wizards finally taking their rightful place yaddah, yaddah, yaddah; muggles doing their bidding, blah,blah,blah), and food being delivered. 


    But back to the point: Percival knew that he was dying. He could no longer feel his limbs, he was more distractible, and his mind felt hazier than normal —or at least, what passed as normal these days. At this point he held out little hope of anyone finding him, or even recognising that he had been replaced. It was a bit sad really, Picquery hadn’t even noticed! (Or so Grindlewald had said the last time he had visited, the bastard seemed rather smug about it to be honest.) For Merlin’s sake, he worked with her every day! Three years ago, they had even dated briefly, before he had been offered his current position. The couple of lacklustre meals and trip to the museum just didn’t seem enough to turn down his dream job for.  Picquery had agreed that they worked better as friends. In hindsight, his habit of isolating himself and being married to his job hadn’t done him any favours. If a miracle happened and he managed to get out of this hell hole, he would have to change that.  


    Unexpectedly the door opened, flooding the small cell with light, and made him turn away with an arm thrown across his face to protect his vision. His heart echoed in his ears. Had they finally found him? By the time his eyes had adjusted, two figures had stepped into the cell, wearing matching expressions of disdain at the filth and smells. Perhaps it was another level of torture, his traitorous mind whispered as his heart went still. 


    "Dear me, how do you manage to live in this squalor?" the male said with a sniff. He was rather short, with messy black hair and green eyes. "Then again, I suppose you don't. That is, after all, the reason we are here.” 


    "You and your gallows humour," the female sighed. She had brilliant red hair and eyes the exact same shade as the male. "And please stop wearing that face, with what we have planned it will make it very uncomfortable for him.” 


    "But I like this face!" the other whinged (No, he did not! He was entirely too dignified to do such a thing). "This one is so much better than my Dementor-esque form. Or that one where I look like a gaunt corpse walking around in the swirling black robes, though I do rather like the scythe.” 


    "I don't care, take it off.” 


    He pouted before his features shifted to that of a middle-aged man with sandy brown hair which swept back from his face and reached to his shoulders, curling at the ends. He now wore a black turtleneck shirt with a black blazer. "There. Are you happy now?” 


    Graves finally found his voice, even if it was raspy with disuse and broken from far too much screaming. "What are you? What do you want with me?” 


    The female tilted her head as she examined him and hummed, “Well now, this just won't do."  


   Suddenly Graves found himself levitated off the floor and lowered delicately into a seat set at a table. With a nonchalant wave of the male’s hand the table was laden with a veritable feast and the being immediately helped himself to a slice of pizza. A goblet filled itself with water and a plate appeared in front of the prisoner, holding a plain bread roll, an apple, and a small bowl of a thin soup. Graves eyed it warily.  


    "Percival, honey, we swear that none of this food or drink will be harmful to you.,” the female reassured. 


    Percival was a bit surprised to feel magic wrap around him in response to such an unspecified oath but relaxed slightly just the same. It had been so long since he had last eaten. Picking up his spoon, he asked, "So what do you want with me? It's unlikely that you just stumbled across me and decided to feed me.”  


    The male paused in the middle of the burger he was now consuming to point a greasy finger at the man in front of him. “As I am sure you have realised, you were in the process of dying, but you were not yet dead. Not quite. You only had one foot in the graves as it were, pun inten-dead,” he smirked and waggled his eyebrows. The woman looked like she would very much like to hit him. “The moment you commenced dying you crossed the boundary into my realm which, fortunately for you, leaves you under my jurisdiction and therefore I can… well, to be honest, I can do whatever the hell I like with you really.,” he grinned, plucking a handful of hot chips off a plate, and dunking them in sauce. 


    “Your... realm?" Percival placed his spoon down beside his plate; his appetite had disappeared. 


    "We are what you would call Gods," the female said plainly. “Generally speaking, we manipulate the worlds around us as we see fit, which provides us with endless millennia of entertainment. It also works as a sort of diversional therapy. Sometimes we get bored and mess with things just to see what will happen, Fate more so than the rest of us. Really has a short attention span that one. We all have our favourites of course. The ones we like to play with the most. Death's, for instance, is the one whose form he was wearing earlier. I myself have selected a few out of those who honour me. The form I am wearing belongs to one of them, a woman by the name of Lily Potter, and is interestingly enough related to Death’s favourite. We have Fate to thank for that, as usual! Even with Lily’s non-magical upbringing she strove to learn all she could about my gifts. She was so dedicated that she even studied things that the government of the time had deemed to be illegal. It was this knowledge combined with my blessing that allowed her to save her son at the cost of her own life.” 


    “It took my blessing as well, mind you. Her son is my favoured,” Death cut in, picking up a hotdog. “You have to realise that there isn't just one world that wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to keep us occupied. There is actually a vast multiverse of infinite possibilities: each decision branches off into its own little universe and those spawn yet more. In fact, in one we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all because you were rescued 2 days into your confinement by your long-term partner, Alfred Biffle. Apparently…” Death looked around gleefully, “He was the secret head of a muggle crime syndicate. Came in while Grindlewald was torturing you one day and filled him full of lead.” 


  Percival’s brain froze. Alfred Biffle! The 93-year-old janitor at MACUSA, who always appeared to be covered in scale rot! 


   His shock was interrupted by Death clearing his throat. “But I digress. Regardless of the universe, my favoured has always managed to unite my Hallows. You know of my Hallows, right? Like the story, ‘There was once three brothers…’” He waited for Graves to nod before he continued. “Of course, only one of them has the full powers as the Master of Death. It would be a madhouse if I had Masters running all around the multiverse, hopping dimensions and time. I don't even want to think about it! It’s bad enough with that mad fellow in the blue box, changes his appearance as often as he changes his socks. But the rest do carry the title and some of the powers. And each and every one of them willingly accepts dying, in order to accept me.”


    "Not a healthy mindset, that one," the female — who he now knew to be Magic— said, daintily eating a pastry. "Then again, I suppose we can blame his horrible upbringing for that. Every universe, you would think that Fate would change it in at least one.”  


  Death nodded, agreeing while he spooned some curry and rice into his mouth. "That headmaster of his sure didn't help.," he said. 


    Percival observed the verbal tennis match with a slightly bemused air, feeling much more alert. He sat back and folded his hands over his stomach, which ached slightly now that he had eaten some soup. "Now why do I feel like I'm in a department meeting, listening to a presentation for a proposal that the presenters think I won't like?”  


    Magic's mouth twitched upwards (ah, they had his attention), but it was Death who put aside his pie, wiped his mouth on a napkin and said bluntly, "We want to de-age you, toss you into the future, and let you flail about, causing untold mayhem and upsetting innumerable plans, while helping my favoured and bringing down a Dark Lord.” 


    Percival choked a little— he’d had more than enough of trying to combat Dark Lords, it hadn’t turned out all that well! Surely he deserved a break. 


   "What Death means to say is we want to de-age you, place you at a point in time where you would be in a position to help teach and protect others, well one very specific other, and, yes, help bring down a Dark Lord... and perhaps a Light Lord too…" 


    Percival blinked. "And why, pray tell, would I need to be de-aged to achieve that, surely I would be more help…?” 


    The two immortals shared a glance, which silenced him. Magic replied, "To fit in, of course.” 


    Percival tilted his head and glared at them. It was not every day a mortal could make two Gods sweat but Percival Graves, even half dead, could be rather intimidating. They knew his response would only get worse the more their plans for him were revealed. Especially the ones for his interactions with Harry Potter; maybe they should just keep some of the… finer… details to themselves. 


    Death, still acting the part, put on his Big Gods Bloomers, and said gruffly, "Because we said so."  


  Then promptly cleared his throat as Magic covered her face with a hand and shook her head before she added, "It's better if you are around Harry's age because he will trust you more.” 


  “He doesn’t trust adults at all, and it is not without reason,” Death interjected. He shook his head sadly. “It’s because of his upbringing. His Godfather left him with a half-giant the night his parents were killed. The giant then left him on his relatives’ doorstep. Those relatives absolutely hate magic. Numerous neighbours and teachers were aware of the neglect and stood by, doing nothing. Or if they reported it, they were removed from his vicinity and their complaints quashed, so any promises they made to the boy were not kept.  His Head of House at school has never listened when he (has) raised issues. Yet another teacher at the school spits vitriol at him every chance he can get, due to a failed relationship he had with the boy’s mother. His best friend’s parents are aware that at the very least he doesn’t get regular meals and is locked up, but they have not acted. A friend of his parents barely spoke to him the year they were in close proximity and then left without further contact. No word on where he had been all of the boy’s life or why he was not hanging around. When his Godfather came back into his life, he was a solid presence for a while but after the boy had been tortured and had seen a friend killed in front of him, on the word of the school’s Headmaster, he was left behind again. And currently, again on the advice of the Headmaster, they, adults, and children alike, are all refraining from contacting him. To put it simply, if you were an adult he would not trust you at all. As a child of his own age, you have a chance, particularly if we weigh the odds in your favour." 


  “And most people won't be as suspicious of you when you pop up from seemingly nowhere. Plus, as despicable as it is, the main fighters in this particular war are children. Or at least they are on the Light's side.” Magic finished. It was a horrible thought. 


    "And either way," Death said, “I have decided that I am giving you as a gift to my favoured. He needs someone that will always be on his side, who will teach him and care for him. It doesn’t matter which universe we are talking about; the headmaster just won’t do it. The Godfather might step up,  but he will need a kick in the right direction. His friends don’t have the experience. You, however, will do perfectly.” 


    "And if I don't want to go?" Percival raised an eyebrow, trying to stare down the immortal, as if he were one of the newly graduated Auror straight from the academy. 


    “WE. ARE. GODS. CHILD.” Death suddenly dropped the charade. His eyes glowed blue with the knowledge of eons, a cold blast of power radiated from him drowning Percival in the smothering sensation. 


    Magic's eyes began to glow too. "The Magical World has stagnated. They have lost their way and are losing their connection with me. Already feats of magic that were commonplace in your time are near legend. You. Are. Needed. If I am to survive on this world. And without me the world will fall. Gone will be the wonder of a child, love, hope, happiness, all will be lost.” The sound of her voice reverberated in his chest. "Would you give up this second life? This chance to save and change the world, to protect it from harm!” 


    And that sealed his fate, Percival needed no time to consider the question. He already knew his answer. It was written into the foundations of his very soul. It was, more than anything, the reason he had chosen to become an Auror in the first place. The need to protect.  To fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. "I will protect him.,” he agreed. 


    All at once, the pressure that had thickened the air disappeared, letting him draw breath once more. With a painful boom, he felt his heartbeat once more. 


    "In that case, there are just a few more things to do. First, we will heal your body. Even if you're going to keep those scars., it wouldn't do for you to walk around all skeletal-like. We need you in fighting condition. And then there is this," Death reached out and cupped his hand over the right side of Percival's neck. He tried to jerk away as an intense burning seared the sensitive skin. It lasted no more than a second, then Death withdrew, and Magic conjured a mirror. Graves choked. There, tattooed on his neck, was the mark of Gellert Grindelwald. 


    "Now, now," Death reprimanded, instantly aware of Percival thoughts, “that is not Grindelwald's mark; it is mine. Or rather, it's the mark of the Deathly Hallows. I told you I was giving you to my favoured. This is his mark, as their Master, even if— strictly speaking— he hasn't mastered them yet in this universe. Anyway, it will show those who know of such things who you belong to and will be a delightful red herring for a certain meddler. That man needs more mysteries to occupy his time and distract him from using my favoured as a pawn in his games,” he muttered. Feeling the man’s objections building and an argument about humans not being possessions on the horizon, he continued, “You will be his and he will be yours to protect and watch over. Actually, you can think of that as your reward for taking this… assignment.” He gave another smirk. “You’re welcome!” 


    Magic humpffed, then waved a hand and healed Percival. "In the vein of Death’s distraction, a wand," she handed him a black wand with vine like swirls of silver reaching from grip to tip. "Elder wood,” she informed him. “11 and 3/4 inches, unyielding, with a core of Thestral hair. Let the man think of that what he will. You'll need to get to Gringotts as soon as you can manage, preferably with Harry, though I have no doubt it will take time and some finagling to manage. You'll be in a spot of trouble when you arrive, I'm afraid.” 


    With that Percival felt a tug not unlike a portkey and then there was darkness.