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Learn and Adapt

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Newt has always felt that creatures make a little (a lot) more sense than people do.

He starts to figure it out early, when he’s spending his days on the manor grounds rummaging through bushes and climbing up trees. He always manages to find something interesting, something new and exciting and worth sharing.

(“Dad, Dad, look what I found!”

“I’m sorry Minister, he’s very excitable—Newt, love, perhaps you should play in the yard instead.”

“But just look—”

“Hush! Go!”)

Sometimes he’ll bring them back, squirrel them away in his room and watch them change and sometimes pull them apart if they aren’t really alive.

But one day he finds his way into the hippogriff compound. (“Newt, this is where Mummy works. You should stay clear. It’s dangerous.) He bows, like Mum always does, because you’re always supposed to be polite. And they bow back.

He’s never had anyone bow to him before. He’s too little to be more than just a Young Master and a nod of the head. But they bow, and they let him touch their beaks, gently run his fingers through their feathers, and when they look like they want him to stop he does (because he knows what it feels like to be crowded and touched and then ignored).

He goes back until he’s found out, and then he goes back with a little more stealth.

 

--

 

Here’s the thing about people that no one talks about: they lie. They lie all the time, about everything, and they don’t even seem to notice.

People will look you in the eye and say, “Yes, Newt, I promise I’ll play with you this evening,” even though they mean no such thing and are actually intending to get together with Hogwarts friends who they saw just last week on the train.

People will pat your head and say, “I’ll be home early enough to teach you to fly,” even though they’ll wander in the door long past dark looking tired and worn and give you no more than a passing glance.

People will tell you that they have prior appointments, have lessons to attend, have chores to do, when what they really mean is “Newt Scamander isn’t fun to play with and I don’t want to.”

Beasts don’t lie. They show exactly what they mean and aren’t afraid to tell you what they think of you.

Honesty is something Newt can appreciate.

 

--

 

And then comes Hogwarts. Then comes more people.

It’s loud and it’s chaotic and he’s honestly terrified, but Theseus always liked it (and you must try to be a bit more like your brother, he’s in line for immediate acceptance into the Auror program next year and we’re all very proud).

So he tries. He shakes hands and introduces himself and tries very, very hard to meet eyes and mingle and not flinch when the crowd erupts in raucous cheering as “Hufflepuff!” is announced right on top of his head so loudly he thinks his bones will remember it forever.

But he knows from the very beginning that he’s a little odd, a little bit different, even if he can’t put his finger on how. The children his age who he met at galas and dinners throughout his childhood are here, and the looks start in circles around them, spreading like the cancer he saw take an entire tree one summer by starting from a single leaf. Soon the whole school knows, too.

He should have seen it coming, to be entirely honest.

 

--

 

Another thing about people is that they don't like it when you take the time to think, to decide what you're going to say before you say it and properly formulate your answer. They don't like it when you don't want to say the wrong thing, and so you pause before you say it and then it still comes out not quite right anyway. They read into things that you don't think need reading into, and they come out the other side thinking they know what you said even if they don’t.

Maybe it’s because people say one thing and mean another. It’s not quite lying, but the words come out in snaps and lashes that you barely have time to understand, let alone respond to, and when you don’t say the right thing (because you don’t know what they’re really saying, how come it never makes sense) they think you’re doing it on purpose.

“Nice freckles, Scamander,” isn’t a compliment.

“Have you ever eaten snow before?” isn’t an offer.

"I'll help you study in the library after curfew!" isn’t a way to improve your Potions essay (and the pictures that end up all over the Great Hall aren’t meant to be funny but somehow still are to everyone but you).

People learn very quickly that no one actually says what they mean.

 

--

 

It’s only in third year that they let him take the one class he really cares about, and by then he’s so desperate for something that makes sense that he almost doesn’t leave the Forest after every lesson.

But his classes are important (we expect well of you, son, and I know you’ll do us proud) and so he goes to and from the castle every passing moment. He muddles his way through Cheering Charms but only gets a smile on his face and a bounce in his step as he’s following a small family of Bowtruckles through the trees later. He learns how to (badly) Transfigure quills into garden snakes but puts actual effort into the feeding of two abandoned Ashwinder juveniles he finds beneath a broken flagstone. He learns to mix love potions for people but falls in love only with beasts.

And so he spends more and more time with his creatures and less and less time with people, and by the time everything goes wrong there's not really anyone left who wants to say "Yes, Newt is my friend and I would like to speak on his behalf."

 

--

 

(Leta Lestrange is the first, and the last. He knows this.

He thinks she gets it, at first. She doesn’t expect him to say things he doesn’t mean, doesn’t hold him to impossible standards that everyone else seems to understand without having them explained. She takes him as he is and it’s one of the most refreshing things he has ever experienced in his entire life. It doesn’t hurt that she loves magical creatures almost as much as he does, and her fellow Slytherins seem to hate her as much as the rest of the school hates him.

So when something goes wrong, when one of his Gryffindor classmates follows him into the Forest when he's bringing Leta what she needs for their latest exploratory experiment, when there’s a scream and a crunch and things going places they shouldn’t (but no one dies, Merlin no one dies), he expects her to speak up. To have his back like she always has because they’re all each other has.

Creatures, beasts, they don’t change. They adapt, they modify their reactions to things, but they don’t change. You can rely on them to be fundamentally the same, whether it’s now or later, because they don’t question themselves. They don’t see themselves from the outside and reflect. They don’t wonder about the future and try to change things before they happen or change themselves in preparation for it.

Humans, on the other hand…

Well.)

 

--

 

Being expelled isn’t as hard as they wish it was. He’s not sad to see the castle go, not sorry to see the backs of every person who never wanted to acknowledge he existed. He’s filled his interaction quota for what feels like the rest of his life, and learned enough magic to deal with the ones who don’t agree.

His friends, though—the ones who can’t speak to him in the way everyone else does, the ones who he still understands better despite never using a single word—are left behind. Because he can’t stay and they can’t leave.

It’s the first time he gets his heart broken, really. (Leta doesn’t count. Should never have counted at all.)

By the time he starts to really think about what he’s going to do now that a magical education is out of the cards, he’s already two years into his time with the Ministry, relocating House Elves and wishing he was making more than two Sickles a week. Even when he finally transfers in the Beast Division, it’s not quite what he wants.

(It’s hard to go in to work every day when he calls creatures marvelous and beautiful in the same way that everyone else is saying dangerous and monstrous.)

So the day after the book offer is signed, he's already on the way to China with a half-formed plan about a demiguise that's been spotted in a monastery and has been wreaking havoc.

He barely notices the exhaustion of being constantly on the move, barely acknowledges language and culture barriers as he blazes right through them without apology or regret because his skin is buzzing with discovery and the overwhelming rightness of this kind of adventure.

It's three months later that he realizes maybe he needs something more than just an expandable bag to carry everything.

The case is commissioned off of a little old lady in southern Germany, who looks at him with narrowed eyes and suspicious lips when he gives her his specifications. But she says what she means and means what she says and he’s more than willing to pay her exorbitant price for that alone.

It's something that's more than just magic, to be honest. It's got more than he could ever possibly need for his expedition, but it's better to have too much and not need it than need it and not have it.

So he starts to build. He takes each section and carefully modifies it to the best possible environment, weaving spells he barely remembers learning in ways they probably weren’t meant to be woven. He adds new friends every couple of weeks and learns their mannerisms, what they like and what they hate, how they prefer to be touched and when they want to be left in peace. He builds himself a little shack with a little bed and a few little things he wants to remember (because he’d rather remember them as they were than as they are) and he feels safe for the first time in a very, very long time.

Before he knows it, it's become a home. A home away from home, his mother would say, except he stopped thinking about her house as home the minute she started thinking about his brother's career more than her youngest son's expulsion. It hurt at the time. It doesn't hurt any more.

(He likes to pretend, sometimes. It’s the one truly human indulgence he allows himself because it’s just easier that way.)

So his home grows and he starts filling it with more and more of his friends, and suddenly it's something he can't live without. It fits better than any roots he might have put down in a single place, because what is life if not an ever-changing adventure? If he can be in more place than just one and still have his home and his friends with him, can keep moving through the world of humans but not really have to be a part of them, then why would he ever want to stop?

 

--

 

Creatures are always true to who they are. They don’t try to hide, don’t suppress their natures; what you see is what you get.

Humans, though, are cruel. They deny themselves and force others into boxes and try to change things that shouldn’t be changed.

He stops, once. It ends with a shadow trapped in a bubble and left in a very cold place, and he doesn’t stop again.

 

--

 

When he gets to New York, the shipyard is loud and crowded and hard to navigate. He hunches his shoulders, makes himself small and unnoticeable, and gets through the Muggle customs official with as few words as he can get away with.

(It was a blessedly quiet journey, filled with the murmur of the sea and days spent in his trunk under Notice-Me-Not spells and no people at all.)

He hasn’t been in a big city in months, hasn’t even had three significant conversations, so the noise is like a fist to the face.

He tries to find someplace quiet to be.

His niffler, on the other hand, decides it likes the crowds very much.

 

--

 

When Ms. Goldstein grabs his hand and whisks him into a Side-Along Apparition, his skin crawls.

He grew up in the magical estates just outside of London, in a family that was well-off enough to have sit-down meals with the Minister for Magic every second Sunday. A family where a pat on the head, a kiss on the cheek, a firm handshake were all fine and good, but open displays of affection weren’t really done. (And it was only later, at Hogwarts, that he realized exactly how much he appreciated that.)

He could always prepare for the handshake that was coming. He could always see the well-telegraphed motions of high society, even among his peers at school, and be ready for them. He could initiate it himself, if he wanted. But it was never unexpected.

(It’s never a problem with his friends, though. He always expects what he gets from them.)

Ms. Goldstein grabs his hand and doesn’t let go and he’s known her for perhaps three minutes and he wants to vomit.

When he finally manages to shake off her tight grip, down in the wand registry office, his hand is feeling clammy and he just needs some space.

(He doesn’t get it. Not until he’s running through the streets with Jacob Kowalski, who is both the most baffling and the most soothingly understandable person he has ever met. Newt wonders if maybe it’s because he’s a Muggle.)

(But, strangely, the closeness starts being a little more alright, after awhile.)

 

--

 

People, they expect you to look them in the eye. It's something that no one talks about, but everyone demands. ("Look at me when I'm talking to you!" says his head of house when he gets another reprimand. "And stand up straight! It's a sign of respect!) He doesn't understand how it works, how it could mean respect, because meeting eyes is aggressive and challenging and telegraphs every move you're going to make, and he hates it.

So he just doesn't.

When Percival Graves is staring him down over a table, demanding answers and leaning forward and projecting so much open hostility that Newt knows he would be fleeing if he had the chance, he doesn't meet the man's eyes. He can't. He looks off to the side and only glances out of the corner of his eyes, skimming his gaze and then looking away again. He’s tried it on people before, knows it doesn’t work like it does for those he loves, but he tries anyway, and hopes that it won't be misconstrued because things can't really get worse (except when they can).

Of course they can.

But then, then.

Then he feels the challenge flood into him, feels the hackles rise, has a reason to look and to stare Graves down because you don't use an Obscurus; it's not a tool to be used and discarded—it's an abomination that only humans can create and why can no one see that?

(what’s the real abomination is the question.)

For the first time, Newt starts to feel what it might be like to be a person and lock gazes, because Graves doesn't like what he sees and Newt can feel his own satisfaction rising. It's not really a normal feeling for him.

And then they're being sent for execution and then they're running and hiding and everything is going wrong, and he doesn't have much chance to think about it again.

 

--

 

He’s known pain in his life, of course. He’s known what it feels like to fall out of a tree and break his arm. He’s known the sharp sting of burns from exploding potions. He’s known the pain of being bitten and scratched in all manner of ways.

He’s known the intentional cruelty of children, the fights and the jeers and the promises purposely not kept. He’s known the bitterness of disappointment and shame. He’s known a lot of things he wishes he hadn’t.

But never in all his life will he understand how a person can seek to cause pain to another for no other reason than they want to.

Oh, they can dress it up in pretty words. They can give it names like discipline and punishment and consequences. But in the end, it’s still a man knocking out another’s teeth because it feels good to let out the anger. It’s still a woman cutting her coworker to ribbons with words that draw invisible blood and feel like freedom.

It’s still a mother belting her child because she doesn’t have any other target and she’s deluded herself into thinking it will help.

Newt’s spent enough time around animals to know that that particular cruelty only exists in his own kind.

 

--

 

When they're standing in the station and everything is over, he has a chance to think. Not that he particularly wants to, mind, but he’s feeling some things he hasn’t before and it’s probably a good idea to address them now.

(Procrastination is something he rarely indulges. It never helps.)

So standing in the station exit, waiting for Jacob to step forward and lose everything he’s gained in the last few days, he lets himself look at how he’s feeling. These people, these three humans who’ve spoken with him and not treated him like something that crawled straight out of the forest and stood up on two legs and pretended to be human. (Even if one of them is a Muggle and another’s a mind reader so they really shouldn’t count because they’re about as different as he is.)

And he realizes with a strange twist that he doesn’t want to let go.

(He’s made a point of letting go. Of not dwelling on the past. Because as much as the past might hurt, it’s done and gone and there’s nothing he can do to change it, so he might as well make something useful out of what’s left.)

And he realizes that it’s something he’s come to treasure and it’s right there waiting to be taken away from him.

(He’s no stranger to things being taken away, of losing what little he tries to pull together, because he doesn’t really try to hold on to them too hard most of the time. It hurts too much.)

And he realizes, for the first time in a very long time, that maybe it would be okay to stop. To settle.

(To be among people again. Just for a bit of a change.)

So, for the first time, Newt reaches out and takes a hold of what he wants and just hangs on.

 

--

 

The goodbye in the shipyard is awkward, because he hasn’t really figured Tina out exactly (not that he thinks he ever will, and maybe that’s the point), but she’s patient and smiling even as he ducks away and comes back and babbles even though he knows that’s how he gets when he doesn’t think his thoughts through before speaking.

He manages to get his point across, finally, after three false starts and nearly leaving right in the middle, and she’s still smiling so he must have done it right.

(He doesn’t kiss her, though. That comes later. He thinks.)

And so he hefts his case (his home and his friends and his whole life) and walks the ramp up to the ship, and doesn’t let himself look back at the friend he’s leaving behind.

He’ll be back later, after all. And, like his creatures, he’s always looking forward.