Getting rescued from the sarcophagus that Grindelwald had stashed him in turned out to be a thoroughly uncomfortable affair, if only because Graves suspected that Tina would never let him forget it’d happened, ever. Of all the Aurors who could’ve stumbled over Grindelwald’s vault, did it really have to be her?
Besides, Grindelwald hadn’t had that much time to make Graves’ said sarcophagus stay anything more than humiliating, unless his Grand Plan was to see how long Graves would take to die of boredom. Thankfully, Tina had found Graves before he’d gotten tired of grimly plotting Grindelwald’s murder. Unsettlingly enough, by all reports, Grindelwald had actually been credible enough at Graves’ soul-sucking time sink of a normal job that not even Graves’ closest minions had figured him out. Which meant that a) small wonder Grindewald hadn’t progressed his Plans of World Domination(?) further than aggressively stalking some poor kid and b) Graves clearly needed new minions.
“Now what?” Graves asked sourly, when Tina wandered into his office without so much as a knock on the door. The days where minions dared but tread lightly outside his office seemed sadly past. Grindelwald had clearly let standards slip here. So much for being the scourge of the earth, or whatever the New York Ghost was calling him nowadays.
Tina smiled ingratiatingly and tugged some poor soul into view. The visitor was a skinny wizard, instantly familiar from the photograph in the thick case file that’d been on the top of Graves’ ‘To Read’ hill on his return to his office. Newt Scamander cringed under Graves’ frown, and self-consciously tried to shuffle himself and his bound case behind Tina. He was tall, if hunched in on himself to make himself seem smaller, pretty under his freckles and curls, but hopelessly untidy in every way. His blue coat was stained dark at the hem in splotches, and his collar was just slightly askew.
Graves swallowed a sigh. He disliked disorder in all its forms. “Mister Scamander. Welcome back to New York,” he said, as insincerely as he could.
“I’m um, I’m glad that they found you. Mister Graves,” Newt mumbled, with equally untidy sentencing.
“Thanks to Miss Goldstein here,” Graves said frostily, but where lesser Aurors would have quailed under his stare and fled without wasting any more of his time, Tina took a half step to the side. Divested of his cover, Newt assumed a rabbity look of panic. “What do you want?”
Tina straightened up fractionally. “Permission to assign Newt Scamander as an expert consultant, sir.”
“To what? What happened now?”
“The Case of the Missing Obscurus,” Tina pointed out patiently.
“How many times do I have to tell you to use case file numbers like a normal person? And no, absolutely not.”
“It’s his Obscurus,” Tina said, as though they were talking about kittens rather than a stolen concentrated force of destructive magic. “And Newt’s the only one in MACUSA who has had experience with tracking and containing them. Also,” Tina added, when Graves took in a deep breath, “you looked like you needed help. Sir.”
Graves pinched at the bridge of his nose. “Goldstein. Get out. Scamander, close the door behind you… no, I didn’t mean shut yourself out! Jesus.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Newt said nervously, before it appeared to dawn on him that Tina had left him to fend for himself. He went a little pale. Graves approved. Fear. Fear was more like it. “Uh, I just arrived in New York this morning. This, uhm, this wasn’t my idea. I was really here just to pass Tina my new book and—”
“Do you have any intention of loosing any further illegal beasties into the wilds of New York?”
Newt blinked at him. “…No?”
“Are you here to acquire anything from the black market, including but not limited to illegal beasties?”
That wasn’t particularly convincing. “Personally, I’d prefer that it stayed that way,” Graves said flatly. “Which is why I’m afraid that I’m not interested in your help. The last time you tried to ‘help’, there were at least fifteen counts of serious property damage, multiple counts of using magic in front of No-Majs, and reports of zoo animals roaming the streets. Not to mention a city-wide downpour of unlicensed chemicals—”
To his annoyance, Newt let out a startled laugh, but at least he had the grace to look instantly embarrassed. “Oh. Pardon me.”
“You find breaking the law amusing, do you?” Graves asked testily, which had the opposite desired effect. Newt smiled tentatively.
Maybe Graves was losing his touch. That’s what an enforced vacation in a box did to you. “Not at all,” Newt said earnestly, an obvious lie. “I just. You don’t seem all that different—”
“From a psychopathic rogue wizard?”
“No! No, I didn’t mean that, I mean, I didn’t mean to say that, err, but I also didn’t mean that,” Newt said quickly. “I’m happy to help, I really am. Tina filled me in on the case.”
Tina had developed a disconcerting willingness to share classified information with the uninitiated. “Weren’t you here to deliver a book?”
“Oh, did you want a copy as well?” Newt sounded surprised.
“To Goldstein, I meant. No. Nevermind that. Fine. How do you propose to locate our missing Obscurus?”
“Well, ah, if you’d let me see where it was being held, and after, Tina said that maybe you should assign me to the Auror in charge of the theft.”
“You have a lot of experience tracking these kinds of things, do you?” Graves asked sceptically.
“I have experience tracking all sorts of beasts,” Newt said mildly, unfazed. “And their poachers.”
“All right,” Graves decided reluctantly. Besides, the President was breathing down his neck, and the case had already dragged on for a week with no further leads. “Welcome to life in MACUSA as a consultant. I’m led to believe that there’s usually an insultingly token stipend and no hazard pay. We don’t offer accident insurance. Should you expire in the line of duty you will be mildly mourned, and your remains will be sent back to your family, should we care to find them.”
“That’s quite all right,” Newt said, with the annoying amusement of the inexplicably wealthy. “Where do I start? I’m assigned to Tina, aren’t I? Don’t worry. We’ll find the Obscurus.”
“Actually, you’re assigned to me,” Graves said, and smiled sharply as the rabbity look returned to Newt’s face. Balance had been restored to the world.
Leaning his shoulder against the open vault door, Graves watched Newt scuttle up and down the domed room, some strange copper-coloured eyeglass held before him. It wasn’t a device that Graves recognised. Although the lens seemed to be clear glass at a glance, now and then, through it, Newt’s eye seemed to smudge in and out of focus.
“Do I want to know what that is?” Graves asked finally, in case something exploded. That was the problem with unrecognisable magical artefacts. Sooner or later, something usually caught fire.
“Just something I picked up in Sudan. I’d lent it to a friend in London previously, but after what happened the last time I was in New York, I took it back. Here. Try it.”
Graves held it gingerly. The rim was surprisingly cold. “What is it?”
“It’s hard to explain—”
“Try.” Graves wasn’t about to put unidentifiable magical objects that close to his eyeballs. Twenty years ago and poorer in terms of bitter experience, he probably would’ve, but that was why he had scars to remind him not to be an idiot.
“Ah. Well. A shaman gave that to me. He was from an… extreme form of a zār cult. I’ve never been quite certain how they made functional charms: he wouldn’t share.” For a moment, Newt’s normally earnest expression grew tight. “They thought that demonic possession by zārs what caused people to have magic. They’d catch the untrained, and try to ‘exorcise’ them with torture. The creation of an Obscurus after what they did to young wizards and witches only served to reinforce their beliefs.”
“Ignorance is one of the world’s most destructive forces.” Graves turned the eyeglass over in his hands. “Why did the shaman trust you?”
“I pretended to be a rich British tourist, curious about the supernatural. You’ll be surprised how often that works: we’re everywhere, perhaps. Either way, he told me that this was how they track down an Obscurus. The untamed nature of an Obscurus leaves a… scar in the fabric of the world, of sorts. A mark. It lingers for weeks, depending on how powerful the Obscurus is. That’s what the eyeglass does. It helps you see the scars.”
Graves held the eyeglass up. The room went an unsettling shade of sepia, but other than that, nothing seemed out of place. “I don’t see anything of the sort.”
“That’s because there isn’t any. Not in here.”
“It’s dissipated? The Obscurus was weak?” Not an optimal outcome, but one that Graves would gladly accept.
“Not in the least,” Newt said quietly. “I’ve had it contained for years. Besides, you’ve seen… ah, I mean, you must’ve heard of Credence’s Obscurus. They don’t just ‘dissipate’. It just wasn’t ever here in the first place.”
“That’s not possible,” Graves scoffed. “President Picquery herself oversaw the Obscurus being closed into the vault.”
“With your doppelgänger right beside her, I presume?”
“We’ve already questioned Grindelwald.” The man had stayed stubbornly silent on the matter, other than a few snide retorts.
Newt raised his eyebrows. “You people tried to execute Tina and I for allegedly conspiring with Grindelwald, but you haven’t actually executed the man himself?”
“Firstly, I wasn’t the one who gave that order. Secondly, Albus Dumbledore put a stay on execution through some diplomatic back channels and has been arguing with the President ever since,” Graves said distastefully. Politics may be the necessary grease that got the world to work, but that didn’t mean that he had to like the look or smell of it. “They came to an agreement earlier this week. Grindelwald’s due to be transferred to Azkaban later today.”
“I know. I hitched a ride here on the transport that’s meant to take him there,” Newt said blithely, as though inveigling ‘a ride’ on one of Azkaban’s Glaives was a matter of trading simple favours.
“Someone will take you back up to the lobby. Wait for me there.” Graves pocketed the eyeglass, and raised his eyebrows when Newt started to object.
“You’re going to talk to Grindelwald?” Newt guessed. “I’ll come with you.”
“And what good will that do?”
Instead of stuttering and backing off, Newt retorted, “I thought I was meant to be ‘consulting’. So let me help. Besides, he has my Obscurus.”
So Scamander had some backbone—at least where his creatures were concerned. “Fine. But you’re going to have to hand over your wand and creature case at security.”
This only gave Newt a brief moment of hesitation. “All right.”
“I would’ve been surprised if you were.” Not even an ex-Auror like Tina would’ve warranted holding in one of these cells. “Prisoners here usually await transfer to an appropriate facility. Like Azkaban.” Graves nodded at the balcony behind the lifts, which opened out to a wide landing. The heavily armoured prisoner transport squatted quietly just within sight, floating a foot above the ground.
“You transfer everyone to places like Azkaban?”
“Usually, we execute dark wizards,” Graves said curtly. “Your friend Dumbledore got afflicted with a sudden bout of sentimentality, I presume.”
“Because summary execution’s so very civilised?” Newt asked quietly, as they headed briskly through the murder room. Above, from a plated walkway, the Aurors on guard glanced down at them with open curiosity.
“When was the last time you heard of someone who’d gone dark repenting? Besides, you think Azkaban’s a kinder experience, do you? Surrounded by Dementors, imprisoned for the rest of their lives?”
“I don’t think either ‘experience’ is necessarily kinder,” Newt said uncomfortably. “But I don’t think that death or solitary confinement should be the only options. That’s the problem with us. Here and in London. We think having magic makes us better than the muggles. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t make us better people. So above, as below. We’re just as destructive. Worse, probably.”
“You’re one to talk,” Graves growled. Newt flinched, but went silent as the vault door at the end was pulled open. They were in.
The cells were all empty save the one at the end, which looked out through a barred window over New York. Grindelwald slouched on his bunk, his hands shackled behind his back and chained to the wall, looking none the worse for wear, even in his white prisoner fatigues. Bone-pale, with bleached hair, the general effect made Grindelwald look colourless, gaunt and ghostlike. He grinned slyly when Graves approached his cell. “Ah, the Director himself. What a surprise. Hello, Percival.”
“That’s Director to you,” Graves said flatly.
“Oh, that’s not so friendly,” Grindelwald drawled. “After all, I’ve walked a mile in your shoes, to say the very least. I’ve worn your face. Lived in your lovely, lonely little house. I think that, at the very least, puts us on a first name basis. But who do we have here? Mister Scamander, we meet again. Don’t worry. I remember the debt between us.”
Newt frowned at Grindelwald, but instead of responding, he looked around instead, as though more curious about the cells than their notorious occupant. No matter. “The Obscurus you put in the vault was an illusion, wasn’t it?” Graves demanded.
“Ohh. You’ve figured that out, then? Took you long enough. Clever little charm, that one. Turns to fine dust at the end, no mess.”
“Where is it now?”
“What are you going to do to get me to tell you?” Grindelwald asked mockingly. “Hold my feet to a fire? Go on. Amuse me.”
“The President may have agreed not to have you executed,” Graves said coldly, “but we could still draw out your memories. Bit by bit, all the good ones, until all you have left to remember is pain.”
Grindelwald barked out a laugh. “Better. That’s not bad, actually, if I may say so myself. But it lacks a certain sort of… hm, creativity.”
“It’s effective, believe me.”
“Oh, I do. After all, I’ve committed the procedure myself, back on a few people here and there in Nurmengard. Have you people tried attacking it again? That always makes me laugh. You must’ve lost a few friends in the last attempt, Director. Some big names were in that little pack of Aurors. My condolences.”
Graves grimly held on to his temper. “Dumbledore himself is working on unwinding your traps. We’ll have your fortress soon.”
“Him? Dear Albus,” Grindelwald scoffed. “All that power and so little delicacy. Maybe he’ll learn it with age, maybe not. Suffice to say, traps are the least of what I’ve left for him at Nurmengard. Scamander here though, he’s rather more interesting. I heard that you performed a successful Obscurus exorcism in Sudan. And you almost did it again, with poor young Credence. Imagine that. If only that President and all her pesky little Auror friends were slightly less bloodthirsty, hm?”
Newt ignored him, still looking around. Was this some sort of tactic? It seemed to be working: Grindelwald’s smirk faded into a scowl. Before Graves could speak, though, Newt nodded to himself. “The eyeglass.” He held out his palm.
“What about it?”
“Hurry, man!” Newt urged, just as the world seemed to unravel around them all at once.
Later, looking back, Graves pieced the sequence of events as: a) some stick insect thing jumped out of Newt’s coat pocket, and bit Newt on the neck; b) Newt blundered into Graves in shock, sending them tumbling to the floor; c) something—the Obscurus—abruptly unwound into the air right next to where Graves had been standing, and roared through the air into Grindelwald’s cell, a torrent of ink-dark energy that punched a hole through the wall and screamed away into the early afternoon, twisting quickly out of sight.
“Damn you, get off,” Graves hissed, dazed. Newt had elbowed him smartly in the gut on the way down. They untangled themselves as Aurors burst belatedly into the cell sector, wands upraised, but it was too late. The cell was empty.
“Bloody hell,” Newt said softly, wide-eyed. “He’s done it.”
“Speak sense, Scamander.” Graves stared glumly at the gaping hole in the wall. President Picquery was going to light his ass on fire for this, and he didn’t even have the excuse of having been trapped in a sarcophagus. Hell, he was starting to miss the sarcophagus already. He’d nearly forgotten how insane his usual life tended to be.
“It’s what the shaman of that zār cult was trying to do. They didn’t just want to ‘exorcise’ the ‘demons’. They wanted to harness them.”
Graves had personally rather hoped that Grindelwald had fallen to a gruesome death, but of course nothing in his life had ever been that simple. “What do you mean?”
“You just saw it. The cult called it ‘Ascending’. Becoming akin to a God. Wandless magic, but on a far more absolute scale.”
Graves rubbed a hand slowly over his face. He could feel a headache pressing in at his temples. “Right. I’m going to debrief the President. And then you and I are going to talk.”