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.”
President Seraphina Picquery was one of the most powerful witches in the world. Despite that, her election to the presidency of MACUSA had been a near thing, with a majority of only two Congressional votes. Having been the person who had run against her, albeit reluctantly, Graves had originally viewed his appointment to Director of Magical Security with surprised bemusement. Nowadays though, on bad days, Graves could never be sure whether the posting had been a subtle form of vengeance.
He stood before her desk, hands crossed behind his back, as Picquery finished her long and acerbic lecture with a sharp, “And why, pray tell, did it take you this long to realize the Obscurus in the vault had been an illusion?”
During times like these, Graves tended to think fondly of his whisky cabinet. That was one thing that No-Majs were good at making, illegal as it was in America. Thankfully, Graves had good contacts in Scotland. “Inquiries are still proceeding, ma’am,” Graves said evenly. Half a decade as Director of Magical Security and decades as an Auror had honed his bullshit vocabulary to a fine point. “Rest assured, a full departmental audit will be undertaken on the matter in due course.”
“God, Percival, I hate it when you start parroting shit like that.” Picquery scowled. Gracious and elegant during public appearances she may be, queenly in her elaborate headgears and robes, but Graves and the other hapless members of her Cabinet were all too aware of what Madame President was like in private.
“Your opinion has been duly noted, ma’am,” Graves said spitefully, just because.
“Don’t you know what the past month looks like to the International Confederation?” Picquery growled. “First, that Grindelwald’s been right under our noses all this time, posing as our Director of Magical Security, of all people? Then a massive breach of the Statute of Secrecy? And now this. Us losing Grindelwald on the brink of his transfer to Azkaban!”
Graves cleared his throat. “Departmental policy—”
“Fuck departmental policy,” Picquery grit out. “We’re this close to being censured again, and I’ll be damned if it happens on my watch. Especially if it’s because of that goddamned asshole of a dark wizard! Him and his incessant prattling about how wizards and witches shouldn’t be in hiding, when over a quarter of us wouldn’t be able to get service in some No-Maj establishments because of our skin colour. Hell, some of us only just received the right to vote in No-Maj elections!”
“He’s a madman,” Graves said, as soothingly as he could, trying to head off her infamous temper.
Picquery’s office occupied a large corner of this floor, two floors under the high-security cells, with large glass windows set behind Picquery’s militantly untidy desk, floor, chairs and God knew what else lay under all that paperwork. There was an ongoing joke in MACUSA that even house elves had gotten lost in all that clutter, something that Graves had always scoffed at until he was face to face with the disaster. Right now, part of it was papered over with the goddamned New York Ghost. Gloomily, Graves had no doubt that the evening edition would be full of breathless statements about Grindelwald’s escape.
“We’ve kept it from the press for now,” Picquery said, following his stare. “But it’s only a matter of time before there’s another embarrassment.”
“Maybe if you didn’t threaten to ‘escort’ the last chief editor of the Ghost out of the building through your windows we’d have had a less antagonistic relationship with the free wizarding press,” Graves pointed out.
“The man was a snake. Most of them are,” Picquery said dismissively. “And I hear that Newt Scamander is back. It always fucking pours when it rains, doesn’t it?”
“He’s consulting on the matter,” Graves said lightly, hoping to squeeze that past with only minor singeing.
No such luck. “Oh, so you’ll be keeping a very close eye on our new guest, I presume.”
“And on his case?”
Graves gave in. “Yes ma’am. Scamander has some experience with containing an Obscurus and tracking down creatures.”
“You’ve told him about the conditions of employment?”
“In no uncertain terms.”
Picquery grunted. “All right then. I suppose Scamander’s prior experience might actually be of some use. He’s done work with them in Sudan, or so I’ve heard.”
“Tina Goldstein thought so,” Graves said, having never been one to steal credit.
“Yes, that girl. She’s been rather promising lately. Might go far.”
“Really? I haven’t noticed.” Graves also wasn’t one to give praise where it wasn’t deserved.
“Careful, Percival,” Picquery said coldly. “Your position as Director isn’t as stable as you think. You might be a pure-blood and a Graves, but Congress hasn’t grown any fonder of you since the last time you asked them for their vote. Getting caught by Grindelwald wouldn’t have helped. If I have to find a scapegoat for MACUSA to avoid a second censure, I will.”
“I’m well aware. Ma’am.” Graves said neutrally, refusing to be baited.
“Find Grindelwald before he wreaks any more havoc. Find that Obscurus. And for God’s sake, make sure none of Scamander’s blasted pocket monsters get loose. Dismissed.”
Graves was still smarting from the meeting when he got to the Magical Security floor, and as such, was perhaps fractionally more acerbic than he normally was with the gathered minions. By the time everyone had been duly traumatised, debriefed, assigned to tasks, and had fled the scene, Graves had quite forgotten about the new ‘consultant’, and as such, had been rather surprised to find Newt in his office, asleep in one of the guest chairs. Graves grit his teeth. All his minions knew that the guest chairs in his office were for show: a sign that nobody who had business with Graves was allowed to linger long enough to waste his time. As he swept into his office, the tiny green insect thing climbed cautiously out of Newt’s pocket, poking him in the neck.
“Hmph? Ah. Oh!” Newt sat up so sharply that he nearly displaced the creature. “Sorry. I was just. Everyone seemed so busy, and I wasn’t sure where I was meant to go if I wanted to stay out of the way, and I couldn’t find Tina or Queenie… and you said I was assigned to you so…” Newt trailed off uncomfortably.
Graves exhaled. He was too tired for this, and hadn’t eaten since the morning, thanks to the flaming mess that life had made of his day. The stick thing slid slowly back into Newt’s pocket, though not entirely out of sight, and an old memory swam slowly into focus. “That’s a… Bowtruckle, isn’t it?” Graves asked, frowning. “Where’s the home tree?” He paused, as Newt stared at him, round-eyed, as though Graves had just sprouted horns. “What?”
“You know what Bowtruckles are?”
“You’d be surprised how much illegal trafficking is animal-based.” A pack of enterprising wizards and witches had once even run a healthy racket financed purely from beast parts, which they laundered through No-Maj channels. Had a Erumpent horn not blown up in transit at Grand Central Station, it was quite likely that the Aurors would never have gotten wind of it.
“Not really,” Newt said wryly. “I’m well aware of why the poaching problem is so rampant. It’s hellishly good money.” He tried shooing the Bowtruckle into his coat pocket, but it was reluctant, still peeking out warily at Graves.
“I think I told you to leave your creatures at security prior to heading into the cells.”
“You told me to leave my case with security,” Newt corrected tentatively. “And besides, if Pickett here hadn’t intervened it might have gone rather badly for us.”
“I was getting to that,” Graves said gruffly. “Thanks,” he told the Bowtruckle, which actually went a little stiff, leaves quivering. “How was it that ‘Pickett’ could see the Obscurus?”
Newt stared, wide-eyed again for some reason, then he seemed to shake himself out of whatever it was. “Ah… as you said, Bowtruckles have, er, home trees, which are usually trees that are wand quality. They’re very sensitive to magic.” Newt brightened up as he talked, warming eagerly to his topic. “They’re usually peaceful creatures, and loyal only to their tree, but Pickett and his friends have become rather fond of me, and…” Newt trailed off in embarrassment as his stomach rumbled loudly. “Sorry.”
“Why are you apologising for something like that?” Graves looked at his watch. “Come on. Get your case. Let’s go.”
“Where to? Didn’t you say we needed to talk?”
“Later.” Besides, Tina had already Exercised Her Initiative, as she called it, and had Newt debrief the other Aurors on whatever he’d meant by harnessing an Obscurus, around when Graves was busy being charred by his boss.
“There’s already a lead?” Newt scrambled to his feet.
“No, but I’ve been told to keep an eye on you, and unfortunately, that means that you’re coming with me.” Graves grabbed Newt by the elbow and drew his wand before Newt could protest.
“Nothing’s blown up yet,” Queenie said, always the optimist, and patted her sister on the shoulder. “Trust me. I know what I’ve seen.”
“Really, Daisy? Is this necessary?”
The house-elf pointedly raised the meat cleaver in her hands, her eyes narrowed. Small even for her kind, Daisy’s hairless, wrinkled head barely cleared Graves’ knee. “I heard the news about the escape from Our Elsie outta Woolworth. You won’t catch me by surprise a second time!”
Graves frowned at Newt. “Do I seriously not seem that different from Grindelwald? This is awfully depressing.”
“Well, polyjuice, you see,” Newt said absently, already fascinated by the nonhuman in his vicinity. “Hello. My name’s Newt. I’m very pleased to meet you. Your name’s Daisy, is it? It’s a lovely name.”
“Prove that you’re really my master,” Daisy growled, ignoring Newt’s pathetic attempts at ingratiating himself, “or I’m going to pin you—and your friend—to the door with this cleaver!”
“Both of us at the same time?” Graves inquired reasonably. “And honestly, I’ve told you before. I’m not your master. You’ve been free since I was eight. Now is dinner ready, or are we supposed to starve gently in the drawing room?”
Daisy cautiously lowered her cleaver a fraction, glancing suspiciously between Graves and Newt. “The name of your favourite toy when you were eight.”
“What about it?”
“What was the name?” Daisy asked testily.
“I’m going to start a count of three, then it’s cleaver time.”
Graves raised his hands up helplessly, exasperated. “Fine. Mister. Biscuit. Happy now?”
“That didn’t have to be so hard, did it?” Daisy lowered the cleaver the rest of the way. “And I see you didn’t bother to tell me that you were bringing a guest home. Unbelievable. Have a seat at the dining table. I’ll whip something up.”
As Daisy disapparated, Newt grinned. “What now?” Graves growled.
“Not. A further word.” They hung up their coats, and settled in the dining room as Daisy set the table for two, muttering darkly all the while about ugly surprises. “He’ll need a guest room done up as well,” Graves told her.
“Somehow that detail completely escaped me,” Daisy shot back snidely, as she bustled back towards the kitchen. “After all, it’s not like you’ve taken anyone to bed in years.”
Newt flushed, red to the ears. Graves sighed. “What have I told you about oversharing?”
“Your bloodline’s going to die with you!” Daisy yelled, muffled, from the kitchen.
“Should have warned you about that,” Graves said neutrally. “Seems when Grindelwald was pretending to be me, he froze her into stasis and chucked her in the pantry for months. It’s given her serious trust issues.”
“She’s a free elf?”
“I freed her when I was eight. I’d just heard a recording of the Gettysburg address over the radio and was rather taken by it.”
“He was trying to get rid of me, that’s what he was. Hasn’t stopped trying,” Daisy materialised at his elbow, scowling as she served up bowls of soup. Graves wasn’t hungry, not after his disaster of a day, but Newt ate like a man possessed, working through to dessert like he hadn’t eaten for days. Daisy’s expression didn’t change, but Graves could tell that she was pleased.
“I really couldn’t,” Newt protested, as Daisy tried to offer him a second slice of pineapple upside-down cake.
“It’s a pleasure to finally cook for someone with taste buds,” Daisy said tartly, with a pointed stare at Graves over the table.
“I’ve been terribly lucky,” Newt said, smiling. “The last time I was in New York, I stayed with someone who was also an incredible cook. Tina’s sister,” Newt told Graves. “Though I’m afraid that the first time she cooked for me, I wasn’t quite in the mood to enjoy it.”
“Yes,” Daisy sniffed. “I had such high hopes for Miss Queenie.” She swept back towards the kitchen.
“Did I say something wrong?” Newt asked uncomfortably, blinking. “I have a tendency to do that.”
Graves rolled his eyes. “Don’t mind her. She’s been on my case for years, getting her cousins working in MACUSA to help her scope out anyone remotely ‘suitable’.”
“The Graves family is an old and famous one,” Newt said tentatively. “One of the original Aurors—”
“Yes, yes,” Graves said testily. “Don’t you start. Now. Do you intend to feed your creatures tonight?”
Newt went a little pale again. “…Yes?”
“You and your case may be here under MACUSA sufferance,” Graves said, “but since this is my house, I’d prefer to have a complete understanding of the things I bring into it. Especially since you may be here for a while.”
“Ah.” Newt stared uncertainly at him for a moment, then seemed to struggle to a decision. “All right. Daisy can come too.”
“No she can’t,” Graves said quickly, even as Daisy reappeared back at his elbow with her usual disastrous timing.
“Did I hear my name?” Daisy asked sweetly.
Graves glared up the ladder. “Good God, it hasn’t even been a minute. Stay up there. Now what’s so funny?” he growled at Newt, who covered his mouth quickly. They had climbed down into what looked like a very cluttered laboratory, full of cabinets of labelled bottles and implements.
“She’s actually very fond of you,” Newt murmured, as they picked their way through.
“Really? I haven’t noticed,” Graves said acidly.
“If you freed her when you were eight, and she’s still here, and the house is very well kept and, oh yes.” Newt let out a nervous laugh as Graves stared pointedly at him. “I’m also not very good at parsing sarcasm.”
“That’s the reason why I didn’t want her to come down here,” Graves said, as they pushed past and out of the laboratory. “She’s always been protective, and as you’ve already seen, she doesn’t react well to… surprises…”
Graves had vaguely imagined the interior of Newt’s case to be something like the zoo in New York: easily mucked concrete enclosures, cages, and miserable creatures. This… this was more like a pocket universe. A small fortune must have gone into the charms that set up the gorgeous habitats that segmented the vast chamber, from savannah sectors to wintry tundras. Genuinely speechless for one of the few times in his life, Graves was silent as he followed Newt on his rounds.
“Are you all right?” Newt asked, concerned, as he fed the Erumpent. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
“It’s just…” Graves gestured helplessly at the pocket savannah. “This isn’t exactly what I expected.”
“I’ve been to the local zoo.”
Newt’s expression went briefly tight. “Ah, I see. Well. What did you think that I was doing here?”
Graves shrugged. “You’re a collector.” That was obvious.
“No! Not at all.” Newt’s sharp tone startled Graves into tensing up, then Newt forced a smile. “There’s a difference between being a collector and being a conservationist. Collectors are no better than poachers. Usually, they’re one and the same.”
“And that’s what you’re doing here, is it?” Graves asked sceptically. “Conservation? The last breeding pair of Graphorns in the world, eh?”
“I thought you’d recognise those. Their horns are worth a fortune on the black market thanks to potions.” Newt said distastefully. “What about them?”
“If there’s only one breeding pair of them left, aren’t they effectively extinct?”
“There’s always hope,” Newt said staunchly. “They’re on the brink, sure. But they’re not gone yet.”
Graves shook his head. “You’re fighting a losing battle here. And coming at it sideways.”
That got under Newt’s skin. “What do you mean?” he asked stiffly.
“Seems to me like you can’t preserve animals without also preserving where they live. You understand some of that. It’s why you’ve sectioned off your case into habitats rather than cages, yes? But the world’s getting smaller and smaller, between No-Majs and the rest of us. There aren’t any reserves in the world for fantastic creatures other than for unicorns.”
“I know that. Do you think that I don’t?” Newt said fiercely. His sudden flash of temper was rather like being abruptly attacked by a harmless-looking flightless bird, and just as disconcerting. “What can I change? I’ve never been good at talking to people, let alone persuading important people to help me. The world’s insane,” Newt continued bitterly. “If someone ever suggested destroying the Statue of Liberty, you could bet everyone—magic or no magic—would kick up a real fuss. But losing creatures that’ve been around for hundreds, thousands of years? Nobody cares. It’s incredible to me that we revere books and artefacts and buildings but not living creatures.”
“That’s… one way to look at it,” Graves said carefully. The Erumpent was glancing at the both of them with concern. Thankfully, Newt led them out of the savannah section to feed the Occamies, still frowning to himself.
“I had someone once tell me, yes, we should save the Occamies,” Newt muttered. “Because their eggshells are silver, how useful! Useful, hah! Why do we demand that beasts justify their existence? To us? Do they have to be useful to us to deserve to exist? I’m sorry,” Newt said abruptly. “I didn’t mean to unload on you like that. I’m your guest, after all.”
“No offense taken. I agree with you. It is a shame.” After all, Graves hadn’t been in the case for very long at all, and he’d already met several animals that he liked more than actual people. Particularly those he met at work.
“Oh. Well, ah,” Newt was blushing again, for some reason, and then he suddenly picked up one of the Occamies, thrusting it into Graves’ hands. “Here! She’s really friendly!”
“Didn’t one of these destroy part of Macy’s?” Graves gingerly held the little blue winged serpent at arm’s length.
“She… didn’t mean to…?”
“Newton Scamander,” Graves said wryly, as he deposited the Occamy quickly back into its nest, “you’re a goddamned menace.”
https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Gerald_Durrell - one of my favorite nonfiction authors and a great conservationist. Newt's dialogue will at times borrow from his quotes and from his philosophies :)
The whole point of ascending to the lofty heights of a Directorship, in Graves’ opinion, meant that field work should really now be beneath him and left to hapless minions. Or at least it did, in an ideal world. Given how useless said minions had been recently, though, Graves had grudgingly responded personally to the tip off, though he’d let the junior Aurors go in mob-handed first. Firmly cuffed beside his cashbox and looking dispirited, Trescott watched glumly as the unlucky patrons in his shop were carted off for processing.
“Aww, c’mon, Director,” Trescott whined. “I ain’t been no trouble and y’know it. C’mon. What’s this about?”
Graves glowered at him. Trescott was fifty, running on sixty, a weathered old man stooped over his scratched oak counter, silver hair long beating a wispy retreat over his puffy ears. Once, in his youth, Trescott had been a prizefighter, at least until MACUSA had shut down all the underground enhanced fighting rings. His once powerful frame might have withered down, and Trescott was doing his best to look pathetic, but Graves didn’t miss how his eyes kept darting towards the exit.
“Paul Trescott,” Graves nodded at Trescott, as Newt cautiously sidled closer. “Black market dealer. Big player in New York. Usually, we tolerate his kind… within boundaries.”
Newt cleared his throat. “Yes, I’ve heard of Mister Trescott.” There was a faint stiffness to his tone that Graves now recognised, and Newt looked around the crowded underground shop with narrowed eyes. Most of the gewgaws, preserved parts and herbs on display weren’t strictly forbidden, per se, and many were rare.
“A little bird told us,” Graves said flatly, “that you’ve been stocking Class 1 Non-Tradeable items. Now, you know that I don’t like that.”
“Director,” Trescott pleaded, “that’s a lie, that is, a filthy lie. I know where I stand. I would never piss you off. That’s what everyone says on the street. Don’t you ever cross Director Graves, he’ll fall on you like a ton of bricks—”
“Flattery’s tedious. Now. Perhaps you’ve heard. MACUSA lost an important guest yesterday.”
Trescott’s eyes darted over to Graves’ face, then back to the door, then down to his counter. “I… I wouldn’t know anything about that—eyeaah!”
Graves tightened his grip on the back of Trescott’s neck from where he’d forcibly acquainted Trescott’s cheek and jaw to the oak counter. “Another tedious answer. You’re starting to bore me, old man.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Trescott squawked. “Honest! C’mon, sir!”
“Over here,” Newt called, hidden behind heavily crowded shelving. Reluctantly, Graves let go of Trescott, motioning for the closest Auror to keep an eye on him. He found Newt kneeling in a corner of the shop, moving boxes off what looked like an ordinary briefcase.
Newt nodded. “Most of the other items in the shop have a bit of dust on them. They’re clearly for show. The real goods would be kept elsewhere, and they know that Aurors can find hidden walls and floors easily even on a routine inspection. Cases like these, though, often pass muster.”
“Cases like yours.”
Newt smiled wearily. “Where do you think I acquired my case? I confiscated it from a shop just like this. And yes. At the very beginning? It was all concrete and metal cages.” He made as if to open the case, and Graves grabbed at his wrist.
“Wait. We’ll head in first.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“No doubt, but I really hate the paperwork that happens when we trip over civilians,” Graves shot back, which got a startled laugh.
Not that it’d been intended as a joke, but at least Newt stepped back as Graves rounded back to the front, barking orders. He didn’t bother to go down with the minions, but there wasn’t much of a fight anyway. When the perps hiding within the case had been carted off, including two who’d actually been on the Wanted List, Graves went down the ladder once he got the all clear.
Inside, the chamber stank. Newt’s case had a warm, animal smell to it, though it’d been cut through with grassy scents and earth, possibly via charms. Trescott hadn’t bothered with such niceties: the stink was eye-wateringly strong, and Graves noted one Auror hastily disapparating, a hand pressed tightly over his mouth, possibly to throw up in an outside alley. This case’s interior wasn’t as large as the one in Newt’s possession: lanterns lit up a row of locked glass cabinets, all containing Non-Tradeable artefacts, ranging from Class 3 apparatuses to a couple of Class 1 articles.
Past the cabinets was the source of the stench. A goddamned unicorn was locked in a rusty cage, too narrow for it to turn, its hide matted, ribs stark through its discoloured fur, standing in its own filth. The cage clearly hadn’t been mucked out for a while. Its horn had long been hacked off into a stump, and dotted against its neck and between its ribs were three blunt metal spikes, haphazardly capped.
Behind Graves, Newt made a stifled sound of grief.
Instinctively, Graves grabbed for his wrist, but Newt wriggled free, darting forward. He slowed down once he was close to the cage, but the unicorn just watched his approach wearily, and only snorted weakly in alarm when Newt carefully felt along its neck. Graves approached, glancing at the surgical tray on a gurney beside the cage and its implements. There were stained tubes in a bucket under the gurney, and fresh ones wound up next to a rolled up bundle of what looked like crude medical equipment. Bastards.
“You get cursed when you kill a unicorn,” Newt said softly. “But you don’t have to kill a unicorn to bleed it.”
“Permanent catheters.” Graves supplied grimly, opening a box on the gurney. It was lined with empty bottles, already pre-chilled in their charmed box, ready to be filled.
“Look at his poor feet. He’s keeping the weight off one of them.” Newt knelt in the dirt, unconcerned with the filth, gently lifting one of the unicorn’s hind hooves. “It’s abcessed. Probably has been for some time, since he’s so weak and can’t fully fight it off the way a healthy unicorn would. If he was a normal horse, the infection would’ve been far worse, but it’s clearly still hurting him. Shh, shh,” Newt said reassuringly, as the unicorn whickered anxiously, shifting its weight on its three good feet, swishing its matted tail. “We’ll get you out of there.”
“Will he live?”
“Yes. Unicorns are fairly hardy.” Newt straightened up, grimacing as the unicorn drew its lips back from its teeth warningly. “God, look at that. He’s been chewing on the bars. His teeth are broken.”
Graves glanced back over at the cabinets, where a few minions were already industriously cataloguing the contents. “You. And you.” Graves pointed at random. “Assist Mister Scamander with the unicorn. I’m heading back up to have a more… personal chat with Mister Trescott.”
“Right now I can’t care less about your pathetic justifications,” Graves said curtly, “or your motives. Our tip off said that you used to be the sole reliable supplier of unicorn blood in this part of the country, but that you stopped selling unicorn blood to anyone else about three months ago. Why? You’re clearly still bleeding the creature.”
“Well, uh, Director, y’see, it was getting pretty weak and—”
“Centuries ago,” Graves said, curling his lip, “I would probably have considered breaking your fingers at this point. Or setting fire to your hand, perhaps, and making you watch. But now we have something easier. You could tell me who you’ve been selling your entire stock to, or I could get the executioners in the basement to draw it out of you and pour it into the memory pool. Business has been slow lately, they’ll love the company. They might not stop even after we get what we want, hm?”
“Sadly, what you did to the unicorn doesn’t actually warrant you a death sentence,” Graves said coldly. “But I think there were enough Class 1 items in your cabinet to give what's left of you a long stay in Azkaban with the Dementors, perhaps. And as it so happens, I have a Glaive already waiting, though its intended occupant has fled. You might do as a replacement.”
Trescott crumbled. Graves let a minion take his statement, wrote an initial report for Picquery, and went looking for his houseguest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he found Newt at home and in his case, with Daisy in the process of busily hauling a bucket of hot, clean water down the ladder.
“Oh. You’re home.” She paused, frowning. “Or are you?”
“Can we stop with the trust issues?” Graves said, annoyed. “It’s very unlikely that Grindelwald would be stupid enough to pull the same trick twice, all right? Is Scamander down there? With the unicorn?”
“Yes, yes. Poor beast.” Daisy continued down the ladder, one-handed. “I’ve been kicking around for a long time,” she said as she went down, “and sometimes I think… humans are the worst.”
“Not arguing with you there.” Graves followed her down and through the lab. Newt had sectioned off a new habitat near the Erumpent, and one of Graves’ Auror minions was busy setting up charms against the canvas, reflecting images of a deep forest over the sheets. The turf looked fresh, as did the new tree. The unicorn stood under it, nose-deep in a feed bag, while the second minion brushed it down with a curry comb. Newt was kneeling by its injured hoof, soaking it in a tub of water, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, coat nowhere to be seen.
“Can’t use magic on the water,” Newt said, as Graves got close. “Gets tricky with beasts whose blood itself is magical. Sorry for all the bother,” he told Daisy, who sniffed at him and helped him with a change of water.
“If you apologise one more time, you’ll be eating gruel for dinner. More water? Soap? Tea?”
“Tea please, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Daisy glanced at the minions, who looked quickly at Graves for guidance. When he narrowed his eyes, they hastily shook their heads. “Right then. Tea for one.”
“Coffee for me,” Graves told her blithely, and she sniffed again, but headed past without comment. He was a little surprised. Usually, Daisy tended to dislike people she had ‘no use for’, aka, people who weren’t members of the Graves family and/or potentially suitable members. “We’re a little short-handed right now. Do you still need these two?”
“No. Thanks for your help,” Newt told them, though he was clearly distracted. Graves gave them their marching orders, and inspected the charms on the canvas. Simple enough things. He finished the job and returned to the tree, just as Daisy reappeared with tea, coffee, teacakes and cookies. She ignored Graves’ suspicious frown and bustled off with a businesslike gleam to her eyes, probably to reorganise Newt’s untidy lab.
“It’s… strangely friendly now?” Graves said, sipping his coffee. If he’d been in the creature’s place, he’d have roundly tried to murder the closest live and squishy human by now. Beasts seemed forgiving.
“Unicorns aren’t stupid. Once Helios here understood that I was here to help he stopped trying to kick me. With his teeth as they are, though, I doubt if I’d ever be able to reintroduce him into the wild. He can only eat pre-mashed oats. I’m hoping they’d regenerate, but given how his horn hasn’t, I’m not too sure if they will, and the literature available on unicorns outside of their blood and horns is rather spotty.” Newt got to his feet, wiping down his hands. Within his element, around a creature that needed his help, the nervousness was gone. “Did you need something?”
“Just some information. How much blood do you think Trescott got out of him? Over the past three months?”
“It’s tricky with unicorns given their nature, and it looks like they fed him with gruel at the end.” Newt blew out a sigh. “I’d say, in his condition, given the caps, they were probably draining at least a couple of pints from him a week.”
That wasn’t good news. “You told Tina and the others that successfully harnessing an Obscurus means a controlled merging with its destructive force. Sort of like a reversed way of actually creating an Obscurus, except that that the wizard willingly becomes its host.”
Newt nodded. “When I… removed that Obscurus… its host didn’t survive. I preserved it after her death.” Newt looked away briefly, as if to compose himself, his hands clenching. “Outside of that stasis field, it would eventually have dissipated, left to its own devices.”
“Credence Barebone became an Obscurus, according to reports.”
“Yes. It’s an extreme case, and he had far more latent powers than the child I failed to help. He was also older. And as you might have heard, his Obscurus was very powerful, compared to hers. It had been feeding off him for far longer, and feeding more heavily.”
“So,” Graves said tiredly, “if Grindelwald has been allowing an Obscurus to feed off him for a month…”
“That explains not only why it was more powerful, but also how attuned it’d become to him. The shaman mentioned to me that his predecessor did manage briefly to Ascend. But he’d died soon after, wasting away: his body started to rot while he was still alive. As I told Tina and the others.”
“That’s where the unicorn blood comes in,” Graves said quietly. “It was Tina’s idea, to sniff around and see if anyone had been buying—or selling—unicorn blood lately. Trescott was a lucky find, but we’ll be searching the other known black market dealers in the city, just in case. Don’t worry,” Graves added, when Newt opened his mouth, “if we find anything else alive, I’ll let you know.”
“Assuming that Grindelwald got his hands on all the unicorn blood from Trescott these past few months,” Newt said, grimacing, “that should last him for some time. Maybe. He might not be in New York any longer. Doesn’t he have a fortress somewhere?”
“Nurmengard,” Graves nodded grimly. “Dumbledore’s keeping an eye on it, in case Grindelwald returns. If he does, we’ll have no choice but to try another frontal assault. Dumbledore will pull whatever favours he can from the Ministry to collect a more complete coalition of Aurors.” Picquery would just have to deal with the embarrassment, at that point, and Graves would probably have to resign. It was an unwelcome thought that sat as an ugly knot in his gut.
“He won’t be strong enough to face that,” Newt said doubtfully, oblivious. “I don’t think. Credence was plenty strong, and he still…” Newt exhaled. “He needs more time. That’s why Grindelwald fled when he did, I think. He couldn’t risk us discovering and repossessing the Obscurus.”
“Is that still possible at this point? Repossession?”
“I don’t know,” Newt said helplessly. “It might be. An Obscurus is a magical force, certainly. But it’s not just that—it’s something that’s bred out of powerful emotions. Anger, certainly. But usually, tortured children just want release. Escape. That’s how I fully separated that Obscurus from its host. At its core, an Obscurus is a force of movement. As much as it can be said to want something, it wants to be free.”
“So we might still have a chance.”
“Possibly. I think so. Otherwise, why go to all the trouble to keep the Obscurus invisible and in its bubble? Outside his cell? Just on the off chance that he might catch you unawares? I think it’s more likely that he could only feed it a little at a time. I think Grindelwald stayed in the cell not because he wanted to, but because he couldn’t yet risk trying to escape. He was probably going to call on it within the transport, to be safe, but we forced his hand. He hasn’t fully merged with it.”
“Credence’s Obscurus only managed to travel a few blocks at a burst, after which he had to go underground.”
Newt nodded. “If Grindelwald’s still in the city, he’s probably also underground. That’s where I found the child’s Obscurus as well. It had taken to a set of catacombs.”
Lovely. “So we thought.” What a mess. Even with all hands on deck, canvassing the entirety of New York’s underground systems was going to be impossible. “Any ideas?”
Newt belatedly poured himself a cup of cooling tea. “In Sudan, at the beginning, the girl’s Obscurus always tried to head towards places which were familiar to her. Places where she’d once had good, powerful memories. For Credence, as an Obscurus he was… rather more vengeful, I gather. He struck out at people who had hurt him.”
“All roads lead to Nurmengard?” So much for his career.
“At this rate, I think so, yes,” Newt said soberly. Behind him, the unicorn nudged his elbow, and he turned quickly, checking it over before removing the feedbag. “At least we saved Helios. Poor soul. I wish I could’ve been more helpful. If we were just dealing with a normal Obscurus, I would’ve known what to do. But we’re all on unfamiliar ground here.”
Petting the unicorn under the new oak, Newt made for a pretty picture… and that, belatedly, gave Graves an idea. “Actually, you could still help.”
Newt didn’t hesitate. “What do you need?”
“How friendly are you with Queenie Goldstein?”
Newt glanced over, puzzled. “I think we’re probably friends? She seems very nice. Why?”
“Make her an offer of temporary employment. As your publicist.” As Newt only looked more confused, Graves pointed out impatiently, “You said you’re not very good with people. She’s preternaturally good at getting people to do what she wants, and it’s not only because of her natural talents.”
“All right, yes, I’ve seen that,” Newt said, still bewildered. “But who are we meant to talk to?”
Graves smiled sharply. This might buy him—and Magical Security—some valuable breathing space while they scoured the city for their powered-up, runaway prisoner. “I’m going to introduce you to the free press.”
People still do gross things to animals like slowly extracting bile from live bears: https://www.animalsasia.org/intl/media/news/news-archive/five-things-you-need-to-know-about-bear-bile-farming.html You can follow live bear rescues here: https://twitter.com/AnimalsAsia?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
The main office of the New York Ghost was a block away from the Woolworth building, and actually within line of sight of Picquery’s office. Graves knew this, because he’d once had to nudge Madame President away from seriously considering a localised and explosive breach of the Statue of Secrecy. Later, she’d said that she’d been joking, but he knew better.
This was Graves’ first time actually inside the building, even though he’d been on a few of their feature articles in his capacity as Director. Like the Woolworth building itself, the lobby was a hive of activity, bustling with minions doing busywork and just like HQ, Graves’ face drew instant notice. The whispering started as the editor-in-chief, Elias Santos, greeted them enthusiastically and hustled them quickly towards the lifts.
“So pleased to meet you again, Director,” Santos said brightly. “And your guests, of course.”
He glanced at Newt and Queenie with the open, aggressive curiosity of a veteran journalist. Santos wasn’t tall, and he was lean, his shaved head coming up just over Queenie’s shoulder, his sleeves rolled up, his vest ink-stained, all but vibrating with energy. Graves had known him vaguely in Ilvermorny, since they’d both been in Thunderbird, and hadn’t liked him then.
That opinion hadn’t changed over time. “Pleased,” Graves said shortly. “This is Newt Scamander, a magizoologist currently consulting for Magical Security, and his manager, Queenie Goldstein.”
Queenie smiled brilliantly at Santos. “It’s such an honour to meet you, sir!” she said brightly, enthusiastically shaking Santos’ hand, dressed up in an electric blue frock that brought out her wheat-gold hair. “I’ve read so many of your articles. I’m a big fan.” Some of the bulldog energy actually seemed to leach out of Santos in the face of Queenie’s palpable excitement, and Graves carefully hid his smirk.
“Ah… always a pleasure to meet a happy reader,” Santos said, blinking. “I must say, Director, when you said that you had a scoop for me, I wasn’t exactly expecting you to bring… guests.”
“They aren’t incidental. As you’ll see,” Graves said, and ignored all further questions until Santos finally locked them all in a warded conference room on the editorial floor. From the little that Graves had seen of it on the way in, it had been a farm of organised chaos, with various journalists and staff swimming helplessly against the tide. It rather reminded him fondly of HQ.
“Take a seat. Please. Now, what’s this about?” Santos asked keenly, once they were all settled.
Graves glanced at Newt, who wavered for a moment, then he nodded. “It’s best that you see for yourself.”
Queenie had clearly been inside the case before, though by her joyous smile, prior experience hadn’t affected the sense of wonder she clearly felt, surrounded by what was obviously Newt’s life’s work. Santos too, went quiet, awed as he allowed himself to be led meekly to the unicorn’s new hab, wide-eyed as he looked from one impossibility to another.
“The poor thing,” Queenie said sadly, once they got close and the unicorn limped quickly behind the tree, snorting and pawing at the ground, nervous before an audience.
“I’ll have to soak his hoof again later tonight, and work on his teeth, but he’ll recover.” Newt assured her.
“This… why, but this is amazing,” Santos finally found his voice. “A veritable zoo in your luggage! I’ve seen many wonders, all over the world, but this really takes the cake. Incredible.”
“Magical Security raided a black market operation this morning,” Graves said briskly, with a nod at the unicorn. “We found that, among other Class 1 contraband. The unicorn was being caged and bled over the course of several months. We’ve turned the creature over to Mister Scamander’s expert care.”
“Ah… unicorn blood… with healing properties?” Santos blinked.
Newt straightened up, mouth flattening into a thin line, but Queenie quickly touched his wrist, levelling another brilliant smile on the unsuspecting editor. “Of course, of course. But as you know, there are any number of far less cruel alternatives to most medical problems! And there’s a curse on those who do harm to a unicorn. It’s really an awful business all round, and most terribly cruel. You should’ve seen the cell that they kept this poor creature in. Mister Scamander’s seen all that and worse in his travels, trying to preserve all that’s weird and wonderful in the world. It’s in his new book.”
Santos was taking notes. “Director Graves, is it also your opinion that unicorn blood is cursed regardless of who drew it?”
Graves shrugged. “Non-Tradable items are deemed so for a reason, and as Miss Goldstein mentioned, there are legal, safer alternatives to unicorn blood. Unless what you’re trying to treat are aftereffects of forbidden magic, and I have no sympathy for practitioners of the dark arts. Regardless, the demand for contraband of any kind remains sadly high. We estimate the total haul of today’s sting at a hundred thousand Galleons. We’re cracking down on similar rings citywide as part of a major operation.”
That gave Santos pause: he whistled. Money talked to the press on both sides of the world, No-Majs and otherwise. “I had no idea that the black market was so lucrative.”
“It’s often a source of funding behind major criminal organisations,” Graves said, and clapped Newt on the shoulder. “But I’m sure that Mister Scamander here will be able to give you a better idea of that on a global scale, given his experiences. And a further tour of his collection. Goldstein, a word?”
Queenie obligingly followed Graves away from the unicorn’s habitat as Santos obligingly started to ask Newt about his book. “Sir?” she asked, once they were possibly out of earshot.
“Not a word about the other matter. And keep an eye on Scamander.” Next to Santos, Newt was starting to look panicky.
Queenie nodded. “Of course, sir.”
“But otherwise, try to get Scamander’s face splashed over the front page, somehow. Sell his book, talk up the unicorn, whatever you have to say. You’d know what works for Santos better than I would.” Graves checked his watch. “I’m heading back to HQ. If Santos needs a statement from me, get him to ring the office, but I’d prefer to keep contact with the newspapers at a minimum.”
“Good luck,” Queenie said softly, then she grinned. “Thanks for doing this. It’d help Newt a lot, if more people understood what he was trying to do.”
“This isn’t altruism,” Graves reminded her, and retreated quickly before Santos tried to get an Official Comment.
“From the snouts we have on the ground, No-Majs have reported lighting faults at City Hall up to Bleeker Street, then nothing else. Abernathy’s overseeing the teams searching the area.”
“Any luck locating the Buyer?” Trescott had provided a description of the woman who paid for and picked up the bottled blood at his shop.
“You could say that.” Tina pulled a face. “A homeless No-Maj found her. Accurate down to the deep red coat that Trescott talked about. We repossessed the body from a No-Maj precinct. She’s in the morgue.”
The day was just getting better and better.
They took the lifts down, with Tina finishing the debrief. MACUSA kept tabs on all No-Maj morgues, just in case a witch or wizard expired in some way or other and got processed by the other side of the law by accident. Christine Maximilian was muggle-born, born in Kentucky, moving to New York after Ilvermorny to try and make her fortune. She’d promptly run out of coin, where she’d lost a string of jobs before ending up working Greer’s bar as one of the ‘hosts’.
“Bring Greer in.” Preferring to sell flesh rather than information, Greer was Gnarlack’s main competitor in New York.
“We’re working on it, sir.” That was a good sign. Maybe the minions were back to a state of near-efficiency.
The morgue was kept permanently cold. Despite the best efforts of the staff, charms couldn’t quite keep the death-stink from the stone chambers. Every American witch or wizard in New York and its surrounds was eventually processed through here, most of them quickly. Some, like Maximilian, didn’t have that luxury. Graves had been to this floor at least twice a week as a junior Auror, then less and less as he advanced through the ranks. Still, it wasn’t as though the morgue had changed all these decades, as they picked their way quickly past General Processing to the forensics section.
Just like its chief coroner.
Alyssa Liang was technically deceased, and according to official records, had been dead for at least a century: she’d just decided not to let death stop her from working. Rumour had it that she had actually died on the job, in an accident with a ‘client’ who hadn’t been as dead as everyone had thought, but nobody knew for sure. Unlike most ghosts whom Graves had met, Alyssa didn’t always choose to wear the clothes she had been in at the time of her death: today she was translucent in a white suit, her severe, wrinkled face creased into a frown as she literally hovered over the shoulder of her latest assistant.
“Director,” Liang said briskly. “About time. I sent Goldstein to get you half an hour ago.”
“I was otherwise occupied. My apologies.” Years on the job ingrained the same impression into any Auror, young or old, pure-blood or not: the morgue was Liang’s domain, which she ruled with an iron fist, no matter who might be Director of Magical Security at the time. “What do you have for me?”
“Thirty-three year old witch,” Liang gestured at the naked, pale corpse on the gurney.
“Really?” Graves stared at the body. The skin was parchment-thin and wrinkled, dotted with age spots, and crumpled down over the gaunt face with age; in death, Maximilian’s eyes were cloudy with cataracts. “I mean, please continue,” he added hastily, as Liang glowered at him for interrupting.
“Thirty-three according to her birth records,” Liang amended, momentarily appeased. “Eighty-three according to teeth formation and bones. Probable cause of death: cardiac arrest. Time of death: I would say an hour after midnight or so today. No signs of struggle, nothing broken, no marks on her skin. Stomach was empty. Now. Look at this.”
Liang hovered over to Maximilian’s head, and at her gesture, her young assistant carefully lifted the top part of the corpse’s skull and set it aside. It had been cut down and around in a neat seam, but the brain within was… Mush was probably the best word that Graves could come up with, though it was still viscous, and stuck down against the bowl of the skull instead of leaking out. There was a sudden, pervasive smell of rot, meat left out in the sun for too long, before the chamber charms quickly did their work.
“That’s…” Graves tried to think back over the large number of Dark Arts spells he’d had the misfortune to encounter or hear about over the years, but drew a blank. “Any ideas?”
“That’s not all. Here. Her effects.” Liang floated over to a workbench by the side. Surgical tools had been washed and kept neatly on the far end, but a space had been cleared for Maximilian’s last effects. Most of the space was occupied by her red coat. Its contents, and that of her ladies’ purse, had been bagged and tagged: mostly innocuous items: cosmetics, a coin purse, receipts. And her wand.
It was cracked down the centre, and the wand’s core, whatever it once was, was also mush. Part of the wood had even ossified. Graves shuddered. “Is that some kind of… wilting effect? I haven’t seen it manifest like this before.”
“Drained,” Liang said grimly. “Not just the wand. The little expandable mirror in her powder case. The Blemish-Hide make-up. Even her small flask of gigglewater.”
Could an Obscurus feed on magic that wasn’t its host’s? Or was this some other case altogether? “Where was she found?” Graves asked Tina.
“In an alley a block from her flat. Her killer didn’t bother hiding her. Her rooms are being investigated.” Tina checked her notes. “Lacey’s going to do the rounds of family and friends.”
“It’s possible that she was killed by something else, but I doubt it. Too many coincidences. Get Trescott in here, have him identify her. If she’s the Buyer, follow the money. If she was supplying Grindelwald, I want to know how they met, where, why.”
Beside the gurney, Liang pursed her lips. “Grindelwald, eh? I was hoping that wasn’t the case. What did you people call him? An Obscurus?”
“Technically, he’s more of an Obscurial at this point, I think.”
Liang flapped her hand dismissively. “When I was a child, the Qing Dynasty still ruled China. It was an interesting time. Rebellions, the Opium War, wars with Japan… did you know that Asia only has one wizarding school? And it is in Japan. So for the vast number of the rest of us who lived elsewhere in Asia, we were forgotten. Magic was misunderstood. Easier for a poor farmer’s daughter to somehow learn Parseltongue than to attend university in Edo-era Japan, even if she somehow knew that it existed. Gifted children were often seen to be possessed. They would release a so-called dark spirit when troubled, a yuan gui. A grievance-ghost. That was my sister’s fate.”
“Condolences.” Graves had never thought about the effective consequences of there being only one, and relatively tiny, magic school in Asia before.
“Save it.” Liang laughed. “Now I am also dead, and it was a long time ago. So. I have seen people kill children, to drive away the yuan gui. Fear often makes monsters of people, yes? Everywhere in the world. But I have also seen a priest call a yuan gui into a corpse. We call the result jiang shi. Reanimated dead. Mindless things, always thirsty. With each second, they lose their borrowed life. So they keep trying to top it back up, by taking it from the living. Over and over.”
“Grindelwald wasn’t dead when he called the Obscurus to him,” Tina said, frowning. “At least, not yet?”
Liang jerked her thumb at the corpse on the gurney. “Something drained all the magic from her things, and I warrant, from the victim as well. Lisa and I will do more tests. But that’s my preliminary conclusion.” She scowled at the body, even as her assistant replaced the top of Maximilian’s skull, tidying up. “Good luck.”
By the time he finally dragged himself home, Graves was ready for bed, whisky or death, not necessarily in that order. Thankfully there weren’t any threats at the door: he probably looked pitiable enough that Daisy kept her fussing to a minimum and left him alone when Graves allowed himself to be nagged into having a supper of warm soup instead of hard liquor. Afterwards, he sat in the drawing room with a book and a cup of cocoa, not yet tired enough to sleep, but too tired to do anything else.
“You like muggle-written books?” Newt’s voice startled Graves—he hadn’t heard the other wizard approaching. Newt smiled tentatively from the drawing room door. “I looked at your shelves earlier. After dinner. I hope you didn’t mind.”
“You’re a guest here.” Graves closed the book, a little defensively. “Unlike what many in MACUSA would like to think, we can’t completely separate from the No-Majs. Can’t pretend that their books don’t exist.”
“Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with… I have a copy of that book myself,” Newt said earnestly. “On the Origin of Species is the foundation of evolutionary biology in general. It’s highly relevant to magizoology.”
“It was my mother’s,” Graves said shortly, replacing the book on the shelves. “She was fascinated with No-Majs. How was your first encounter with the press?”
“I’m not really sure,” Newt said sheepishly. “I understand beasts: how they react, what they think and want, their instincts, but people are a closed book to me and always have been. Queenie thinks it went well, though.”
“That’s good. Was there something else that you wanted? It’s growing late.”
“Well,” Newt mumbled, then he cleared his throat. “I, ah. I do rather hope…” he took in a deep breath. “Right. You’ve been very kind to me, so I want to be honest with you. It seems that we were introduced, as it were, through false pretences.”
Newt picked nervously at his sleeves. “Tina did tell me to help you with your case, but it appears that the Goldstein sisters didn’t actually want to help you, per se. Queenie told me that after I left New York, she thought very hard about what she could do to help me with my work, given that I’d done a favour for a mutual friend of ours. She concluded that while it’s all very well for MACUSA to ban the trade of critically endangered beast parts, it doesn’t actually ban poaching itself in general. While you could, on security grounds. At least in the American territories.”
“So I could,” Graves agreed neutrally.
“That’s also why she was so excited about the meeting with the newspaper. It was another way for her to help me, or so she said. I didn’t actually know about this until after the meeting. I genuinely thought I was just going to freely consult on the Obscurus. I wasn’t going to ask you for… for favours.”
“This has been eating at you all day?” Graves asked dryly. “That’s it?” At Newt’s blink, Graves made a dismissive gesture. “People use each other, Scamander. In my position, I’m no stranger to such nuances. I won’t hold it against you.” The man was clearly too honest for his own good.
“I wish that didn’t have to be the case,” Newt said in a rush. “I mean, you’re obviously a good man, and very generous, and—”
“Is there someone else you’ve met, walking around with my face?” Graves inquired, amused. “You don’t have to flatter me to ask me for a favour. If you want me to ban poaching on security grounds, you’re just going to have to prove to me that it actually is a security risk.”
“That’s not it at all! That’s…” Newt took a deep breath, briefly closing his eyes, then he visibly deflated. “Nevermind. I… it’s late. Good night.”
“Now you’ve just made me curious,” Graves told him, circling over. Newt started to flush as he got closer, his gaze skittering up to Graves’ eyes, then down to his hands before settling nervously somewhere at shoulder-level. Understanding finally dawned with the uncurling grace of a hunting cat, with the same breed of lazy hunger. Newt let Graves crowd him against the wall beside the door frame, his next breath hitching into a soft gasp.
“Something else has been eating at you, hasn’t it, Mister Scamander?” Graves asked lightly, curling his fingers over the frame, next to Newt’s shoulder. They were inches apart.
“I’m really… very bad at reading people,” Newt said uncertainly, “so if I’m actually misunderstanding all this, I’d like to apologise in advance.” Before Graves could respond, Newt was leaning over, fingers curling into Graves’ collar, the kiss rushed and nervous and sweet. Graves purred and shoved Newt back against the wall to take more, ignoring how Newt whined and plucked at his shoulders, licking into his mouth until Newt pressed his palms over Graves’ cheeks, returning the kiss with clumsy urgency.
“About goddamned time,” Daisy muttered, from somewhere at knee level, shuffling out with the unfinished cup of cocoa even as Graves jerked back and Newt yelped. “Don’t mind me.”
Graves pinched at the bridge of his nose. “You’re a terrible house-elf. The worst.”
“You don’t get to take that tone with someone who changed your diapers!” Daisy yelled from the kitchen.
Graves pressed his head against the wall above Newt’s shoulder with a groan, and after a heartbeat, Newt started to laugh, chuckling, mouth buried against Graves’ collar. “It is getting late,” he murmured, though he didn’t try to move. “You’re falling asleep on your feet.”
“Later, then.” Graves decided reluctantly, glowering at the door. “Somewhere more private.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Newt said, chuckling again. “House-elves have probably seen just about everything.”
“God, don’t remind me.”
things you end up researching for fics like srsly lol the history of diapers
A reader noted that the American newspaper is actually the New York Ghost. Thanks for the spot! :O Edits have been made.
Being summoned into Her Majesty Queen Picquery’s office early in the morning never boded well. Graves thought fondly of coffee and the breakfast he’d had to abandon, stifling yawns as he let himself into the office, distracted. And he’d been looking forward to spending the first part of his morning with Newt, as much as he wouldn’t easily admit it.
Picquery set down the copy of the New York Ghost that she was holding, lips pressed into a thin line, and Graves’ survival instincts kicked him wide awake. “All right,” Graves said wearily. “What did he say to the press?”
“So this was your idea?” Picquery asked, with deceptive calm, and pushed the copy over her desk. The image on the front page was of the unicorn’s cage in Trescott’s trunk, under a headline that screamed CRUELTY FOR SALE and then, in a a breathless, slightly smaller subheadline, TRADE IN BEAST PARTS FINANCES CRIMINAL ORGANISATIONS, and then, very depressingly, MACUSA Turning a Blind Eye?
“What the fuck,” Graves said in disbelief. “Who the hell did he think actually rescued that blasted animal?” And which idiot minion had given the New York Ghost access to an active crime scene? He turned the page, accepting his fate. Newt was the focus image of the cover story, at least, standing beside the maimed unicorn, smiling earnestly into the camera. A pull quote sat neatly beside it.
“‘Aurors the world over often… tolerate the black market trade in… magical beast parts’?”
“The mail room,” Picquery said, with a terrible smile, “is currently full of motherfucking owls from everywhere, not just America. All bearing letters of concern. On. This. Matter. So. Please explain why you thought it would be an excellent idea to let a known troublemaker and a Legilimens loose in the New York Ghost.”
On hindsight, maybe Graves should’ve given Queenie more of a brief other than ‘Don’t talk about Grindelwald’ and ‘Get Newt on the front page’. Not that she’d managed that. At least, not in pictures. “I rather thought the New York Ghost might need a distraction while we got around to finding Grindelwald,” Graves said tightly.
“This is your idea of a distraction?” Picquery demanded, incredulous, her voice rising. “We’d have had the same effect if we set fire to their building!”
That was false equivalence, in Graves’ opinion, but survival instincts kept that from coming out of his mouth. Admittedly, setting fire to said building was a tempting thought right now. “It does appear that the best intentions haven’t quite come to an optimal result—”
“If you spout any bullshit phrases to me right now, I swear I’m going to hurt you.” Picquery growled. “MACUSA just called an emergency general meeting for the late morning. Which you will be attending. With a comprehensive action plan. About how we will be addressing this ridiculous accusal—” Picquery stabbed at the headline with a finger, “—that we’re somehow tolerating the shadow financing of some imaginary mafia!”
“I told Santos that we were cracking down on similar operations citywide as part of a major sting,” Graves admitted reluctantly. “Because our search for Grindelwald, unicorn blood, scouring the underground tunnels and such can’t go unnoticed by their snouts forever. We’ve kept things quiet here, but with all the Aurors out in force all these days, the Ghost will put two and two together sooner or later.”
He’d braced himself for more fire, but surprisingly enough, Picquery started to nod. “I see. Perhaps I jumped to conclusions.” Graves said nothing. Picquery admitting fault? The sky was falling. “It’ll provide us with decent cover for the citywide search,” Picquery continued grudgingly. “And I suppose I’ll have to give a press conference to confirm it. But next time, before you pull something like this? Get sign-off from me first, understand? I fucking hate surprises.”
“Duly noted, ma’am.”
“Get out, Percival.”
Thankfully, Queenie had wisely made herself scarce. Graves dragged himself back to his office, where he found half of the floor covered with owl mail. Selecting a random minion to get rid of it, he drank copious amounts of coffee, cobbled together a bullshit action plan, and slunk off to face Congress, already quickly losing the will to live.
And it wasn’t even noon yet.
It took three hours for Picquery to smooth down everyone’s ruffled feathers, and then another hour for Graves to explain, over and over, that yes, this story went to press to cover Magical Security’s Grindelwald operation, no, the Ghost didn’t know that Grindelwald had escaped, but yes, the Aurors were going to crack down on animal contraband anyway, and no, they absolutely didn’t tolerate mafia outfits, real/imaginary/magical/otherwise. Exhausted already, Graves sunk in his seat during the floor debates. He listened to his stomach trying to eat itself, and alternated between wishing that the arguing members of MACUSA would spontaneously combust and wishing that he would. Not a bad way to go. At least it’d be a surprise.
Abernathy met him outside Chambers afterwards, with coffee, a sandwich, and an ingratiating look on his pale and narrow face. “What?” Graves asked curtly, though he accepted the tithes, which tallied Abernathy to the top of the day’s Favoured Minion list.
“Trescott ID’d the body as the Buyer and we brought Greer in right away, sir!” Years in Magical Security hadn’t eroded Abernathy’s tendency to aggressively radiate keenness and a can-do attitude. If it wasn’t for the man’s amusingly pathetic and futile pursuit of Queenie Goldstein, which made for a nice and enduring source of office entertainment, Graves would’ve arranged for Abernathy to be transferred interstate by now, for everyone’s sanity.
“And? What did Greer say?” The coffee died first.
“He insists on talking to you, sir.”
“Every goddamned perp out there with an iota of self-importance insists on speaking to me,” Graves reminded Abernathy with annoyance. “We’ve got a standing policy about that.” An unspecified and off-the-books application of police brutality often quickly disabused criminals of their self-importance.
“We know, sir. But it’s been hours and he insists, sir, just insists. He said,” Abernathy lowered his voice, “that you’re the one who killed her. Sir.”
“That’s new, at least,” Graves said, amused. “Usually people accuse mutual acquaintances if they think that they’re a suspect, not the Director of Magical Security. Who’s next on his suspect list? Picquery?” That’d be funny, at least.
“He says,” Abernathy coughed, “that you did know her. That you’d been talking to her for months. You know. Maybe as Him.”
“Did he actually see who killed her?” The true nature of Grindelwald’s months-long masquerade hadn’t been released to the press, although Picquery had no choice but to disclose it to the International Confederation. But if Grindelwald still had some polyjuice left over, or whatever it was, and was now going around committing murder—
“No. But he said that you definitely would’ve had something to do with it.” Abernathy said apologetically. “We could let him stew for a day or so in the cells, soften him up—”
Graves shook his head. “I’ll talk to him.”
Greer was stiff and flushed with anger as Graves sat down opposite him at the interrogation table. “Ah. God has finally deigned to grace me with his presence.”
“Careful, Mister Greer,” Graves said evenly. “Your well-being here is under my sufferance.”
“You fucking Aurors,” Greer said venomously. “Always lording it over the rest of us, like you’re so much fucking better. The nerve. I told Chrissy something smelled off. Why the hell would the Director of Magical Security himself bother to talk to a nobody like her? Get her to do his legwork, when he’s got a hive full’a assholes he could get to do his bidding? And I was right. Look where it goddamned got her. Dead in an alley. She was a nice girl, you bastard.”
“Did she ever tell you what she was doing?”
“Oh, is this what it’s all about?” Greer sneered. “Wanted to see if she squealed? No. She didn’t even tell me that she was ‘working for you’ until I saw you talking to her behind the Horned Devil one night after close of business, months back. And even after, she wouldn’t tell me what she was doing for you. I warned her. God, I warned her. Bet it was easy for you, eh? Just had to dangle some bait. And it was easy bait, too. All she’d ever wanted was some respect, and you pretended to give it to her. Probation period to become an Auror, my shiny ass. You had no intention of ever making her an Auror, did you? What did you do, just fuck her now and then and tell her it was training?”
Graves had enough. He glanced at the opaque glass to his left, gesturing for Abernathy to take over, and got to his feet. “Thank you for your assistance, Mister Greer. We’ll be in touch.”
“Yeah?” Greer spat to a side, his hands shaking. “You really are one hell of a piece of work.”
“I didn’t choose to become an Auror just because a famous ancestor of mine was one of the first Aurors,” Graves said quietly. “Most of his descendants haven’t been Aurors. Not even my father. It’s usually a thankless job, and a dangerous one.”
“So I’ve seen,” Newt said gently. “My brother is one.”
“I know. We’ve spoken before. Directors of Magical Security—and their equivalents—tend to stay in touch.” Grindelwald had fooled them too. “We became Aurors for much the same reason, I think. People in the American territories used to fear Aurors, when I was studying in Ilvermorny. Not because of their authority, but because of the abuse of authority. They were wolves. Not all of them had gone bad, but none dared to pick out the good from the bad. They were above reproach, because of what they were, and not who they were.”
“Theseus mentioned it. He said that you cleaned up the department. Along with Seraphina Picquery.”
Graves chuckled mirthlessly. “And when we were done, we tried to do it to MACUSA itself. She had one idea of how to do it, I had another. I lost. But I’m proud of what Magical Security has become, as a whole. Harsh, perhaps, but fair. Or I thought.”
“What Grindelwald did in your name was not your fault,” Newt said quietly. Someone had talked. Tina, maybe.
“Picquery and my people still killed that troubled young man when he could’ve been saved. That wasn’t just.”
“That wasn’t your fault either. You were in a box at the time.”
Graves shook his head. “We’re meant to keep order. To stand guard against the dark. To serve and protect. Right makes might… not the other way around. I think I lost sight of that again, at some point, and as such, so did those who follow me. Greer was angry, but he was only angry because he was scared half to death. To him, there’s probably very little daylight between Grindelwald and me. That’s not Grindelwald’s fault but mine.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Newt assured him lightly, and patted Graves’ wrist.
“You work with dangerous animals for a living,” Graves shot back, if halfheartedly.
“And I don’t think that you’re anything like Grindelwald. I think you’re a good man, a righteous man. Theseus also thought so.” Newt set his ever-present case down and sidled closer, then he smiled encouragingly as Graves curled an arm over that lovely, slender waist, pulling him close. There was a squeak from Newt’s pocket, and Pickett climbed out hastily, scrambling down Newt’s sleeve to sit pointedly on the handle of the case, radiating reproach.
“Didn’t see that little guy last night,” Graves said, nuzzling the jumping pulse at Newt’s neck.
“It was late enough last night that I’d managed to persuade Pickett to go back to his tree.” Newt slipped his own arms over Graves’ waist, ducking his head as Graves kissed up to his jaw. “Tina told me about Greer, but I was looking for you to apologise.”
“Again? What now?”
“I really didn’t think that the New York Ghost would print something like that,” Newt admitted helplessly. “I really don’t understand people. I’m sorry if I got you into trouble.”
“Things have a way of working out.” Hopefully.
“I’ve received a few owls from magazines and such, but I’m going to turn them away, in case I make things worse. I felt terrible this morning when I saw the headlines.”
“Don’t do that. Go do the rounds. Interviews, features, whatever works. Queenie’s right. It will help you with what you’re trying to do. But no more bombshells about MACUSA or Aurors, if you can manage that,” Graves said dryly.
“I did tell that editor that you Aurors rescued the unicorn.”
“Along with everything else that I said in Trescott’s shop, near verbatim.” Santos must’ve loved that.
“I didn’t think that was even going to be a problem,” Newt said unhappily, oblivious to the last. “All the praise in my statement didn’t get printed. You can ask Queenie. I tried to cast the matter in the best possible light.”
“I believe you. Don’t worry about it.” It wasn’t as though the New York Ghost had any real reason to be fond of Picquery or Graves anyway. Graves brushed a kiss on the edge of Newt’s mouth, and Newt turned to meet him with gratifying enthusiasm, hands fisting in Graves’ scarf, lips reddening quickly when mauled. “You really are uncommonly pretty,” Graves breathed, trapped fast, and Newt smiled, shaking his head.
“You don’t need to flatter me.”
“It’s not flattery when it’s an observation.”
“I’m going to remember that logic for the next time you brush off my compliments,” Newt said pertly, and kissed him before he could object. Somehow they wound up on one of the divans on the wide balcony, cushions pushed to the floor, Newt scrambling on top, skinny knees everywhere. Graves groaned and hauled him down, unbuttoning his vest, then giving up on his shirt, roughly pulling it out of place so he could slip his hands up under it, over the arch of Newt’s bowed back. It was ridged with old scars, rough under his palms.
“None of that’s pretty,” Newt murmured against his cheek, picking at his tie.
“I’d prefer to see that for myself,” Graves said, which got a laugh.
“Here? Now? Someone could come up here.” Newt was grinning impishly though, disheveled as he was: under that often awkward exterior there was a bit of the devil in Newt, someone who would walk his own way, hell take the consequences.
“They won’t, not for hours.” Graves could understand the nature of that beast—after all, he saw the same thing sometimes, when he looked into a mirror. He rolled them over, drank down Newt’s startled chuckle, pressing for more, thighs luxuriously tangled. Newt held on to his tie with twisting fingers, his breaths spun into sighs and whispers.
“It’s been a while for me,” Newt confessed, undoing the knot of the tie with unsteady fingers.
“Daisy told you how long it’s been for me,” Graves pointed out, though he didn’t push, braced on his elbows.
“I didn’t believe her,” Newt said wryly. “I thought you’d just been, well, handling matters elsewhere, as it were, given her variable concept of privacy. You’re one of the most handsome people I’ve ever met… ah! It’s not flattery when it’s an observation, I’ve been told,” he added, when Graves snorted.
“Cheeky.” Graves growled, and nudged a thigh between Newt’s skinny knees. When Newt tensed, Graves hesitated. “Too much?”
“We’re neither of us young, not any longer.” Newt said quietly, though he tugged Graves down, to lie flush; they fit together in fractured lines, the imperfections meeting. “And I haven’t wanted to trust someone this much for a long time.”
“Even given the circumstances?” Graves asked carefully, amused anyway, stealing a kiss. “I do believe a dark wizard, wearing my face, tried to kill you at some point and probably would’ve succeeded if others hadn’t intervened.”
“Tried to kill me at least twice, actually, though the second time, he tried in person,” Newt corrected, grinning for a moment before he sobered. “You’ve no idea how incredible it is to meet someone who understands. When you said that you agreed with me, that time in my case, you meant it.”
Graves chuckled. “Don’t take that so much to heart. The Goldstein sisters evidently agreed with you as well, or they wouldn’t try so hard to help you.”
“Not really. They want to help me because they like me—to them, the case and my creatures are just an extension of me. You’re not like that.”
“You’re determined to have an elevated opinion of me, I see.”
“And you’re determined to be as hard on yourself as you can be,” Newt retorted, unfazed. “You’re relentless. I think it’s what drives you forward. I… admire that.” His fingers skittered over Graves’ hair as Graves kissed lightly down his cheek to the pale arch of his throat, dotting faint freckles. “I really want to trust you,” Newt whispered, a wavering prayer.
“So trust me.” Graves unbuttoned Newt’s collar, nipping at the hollow of his throat, breathing deeply, chasing Newt’s scent, the faint taste of his skin.
“I’ve seen how that ends,” Newt said, almost inaudibly, but he pulled Graves up, leaning quickly close, as though made suddenly anxious by hope. His second prayer, sweetly spoken, begging for answers.
There was a small crowd of curious minions outside Graves’ office, though they scuttled off under his pointed glare. Inside, Liang was floating through one of the guest chairs, while settled in the other was a matronly woman with a weathered face and a shaved head, a line of black runes inscribed over the arch of her crown, dressed in sober gray robes. She rose to her feet, and shook his hand with a blacksmith’s grip.
“Director Graves. Pleased to meet you.” Her voice was brisk, inflectionless.
“Professor Susanna Steinarsdotter,” Graves identified her instantly. Durmstrang Institute’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor cut a famously unusual profile. “Have a seat. What business does Durmstrang have with me?” He glanced at Liang with open curiosity. As far as he knew, she’d never left the coroner’s floor before, not after she’d started haunting it.
“I’ve been thinking about Maximilian’s case these few days,” Liang explained. “As you may or may not know, I correspond with anyone of particular relevance to the study of forensics arcana, and out of necessity that includes the various Defense Against the Dark Arts professors out there. That being said. Given who we’re dealing with, I thought that Susanna may have a particular insight, so I invited her here. Since the investigation hasn't been progressing well.”
“Grindelwald was expelled from Durmstrang,” Graves recalled, ignoring the pointed jibe. The rest of the week had dragged by with no incidents, which was probably bad news. “For undisclosed ‘dark experiments’.”
Susanna grimaced. “So. We at Durmstrang know what the rest of you think of us. ‘Strength-obsessed’. ‘Leaning Dark’. As though Ilvermorny and Hogwarts and the rest are so very pure, no? Children are children and they can be cruel and rebellious everywhere in the world. At Durmstrang we are more forgiving, within the rules. We do not expect the children in our care to be angels. We expect them to learn how to control themselves.”
“So these experiments that caused his expulsion were unnatural even within the rules?” Graves asked dryly.
Susanna sniffed. “You have the brain of a policeman and the same amount of imagination.”
“He’s not that bad,” Liang said, grinning toothily. “I’ve had to work with worse.”
“But yes,” Susanna said sharply, “the experiments. In the end it was agreed that he should leave the Institute.”
“So what were these experiments about?” Graves pressed.
A faint frown briefly creased Susanna’s blank face, then she exhaled, and stared briefly up at the ceiling. “This is a little difficult for me,” she said finally. “When we held the vote over whether to expel Gellert from the Institute, I abstained.”
“You were his mentor.” Grindelwald’s full distributed file to all Auror jurisdictions had been extensive.
“He was—is—brilliant. One of the most brilliant students I have ever taught. His brain worked differently. Where people would ask why, and stop after being told why, he would say, why is that so? Why must it be that way? He would stand against the wind itself and tell it to move.”
“You liked him.”
“Oh, certainly,” Susanna said unhesitatingly. “He could be very charming when he wanted to be. Most of his professors liked him, not that they would admit it now, the cowards. He used to write to me even after he left, for a time. He and that Dumbledore are quite a pair. Too much power, too much idealism. It’s interesting how the cards fell, for those two.”
Graves stared keenly at Susanna, and she met his stare, unblinkingly. Defense Against the Dark Arts professors—those who had lasted decades in their position, at least, like Susanna—were always like flint, either deep down or right on the surface. They could not be shaken. “Do you know where he is now?”
Susanna laughed. It was a harsh sound, like a lion coughing. “If I did, I would put him down myself.”
“You were in the delegation that fought his followers in Aachen.”
“It wasn’t much of a fight. Young, radicalised wizards and witches, all drawn to his promise of a new world, one where we’d rule over all the muggles through sheer magical might, like Lords and Ladies, eating peeled grapes, having our feet washed.” Susanna rolled her eyes. “Stupid people. To them, life is an empty book, uninformed by the lessons of history.”
“The experiments,” Liang said, with surprising gentleness.
Susanna sighed. “Yes, yes. Fine. You might as well know. The reason why I mentored him. My main area of expertise is wand-wilting. But in the course of studying wands and countering wand magic, I became very interested in gnist. Here, you call it ‘the knack’, I think.”
“Magical ability?” Graves asked, surprised.
“No. Not precisely. The why of magical ability. Why are some people born with magic, even if there is no magic in their bloodline? Why do some people have no magic, even if a parent does? And why is magical strength something that is, for the most part, innate?”
“Even moderate ability can be honed with discipline.” Graves said carefully.
“Yes, yes,” Susanna said, a little annoyed at the interruption to her lecture. “You. Wandless magic?”
“If I must.”
“Gellert is very good at it. For me, it is beyond me. But yes. A duel between us will still be up to chance, because I have a rare specialty. Either way, I was more curious about the different gnist between people. Why are some abilities innate and unlearnable? By understanding magic itself, the why of magic, we can better defend against it. Do you see?”
“Good.” Susanna relaxed slightly. “Maybe Aly here is right and you are not so bad. You Aurors are often an inflexible breed, more power than brains.”
“I must say,” Graves said dryly, “this is a really refreshing conversation for me.”
“Gellert helped me with my work, even as he began his own—without informing me. He was also interested understanding ‘the knack’. But he was more interested in the hard limit. Do you know what that is?”
“As I’ve said, wandless magic is beyond me. No matter how hard I train, or the spells I learn, it will always be beyond me. Similarly, for you. You are a very powerful wizard, I hear. But some magic will be beyond you. Training will help, having a wand that chooses you will help, some artefacts will help. But your personal limit will be the same. It is the same from birth, and it will be the same when you die. So. The ‘hard limit’.”
“And he thought that… turning himself into an Obscurial… would somehow help?” Graves asked, a little blankly.
Susanna chewed on her lower lip, frowning at her hands. Then she exhaled. “The boy who was an Obscurial. What was his name?”
“The girl whose Obscurus he has taken. What was hers?”
“I don’t know.”
“Find out. It’s not just that the world only remembers them as monsters when they were victims themselves,” Susanna said grimly. “Durmstrang does not… admit students who are muggle-born.”
“Yes, I’m aware.”
“While he was a student, Gellert found a muggle-born child. She was seven, a beggar-child. Surprisingly gifted. She would do tricks for coin, I heard later. It’s how he found her: he could see that it was not sleight-of-hand, but raw talent. He smuggled her into Durmstrang, and told her that he would sponsor her to be a full student. At first, I think it amused him to teach her some minor spells. I do not know if he intended…” Susanna trailed off.
“He turned her into an Obscurial?”
“He told me that it was unintentional, that he had never meant any harm to come to her, that he’d wanted to help her. I believed him then, during the hearing, when he said it was all an accident.” Susanna shook her head, her fists clenching over the desk. “The child, she did not know why she had to hide. All these happy students in Durmstrang were walking about, learning magic openly, when she had to hide in dusty rooms, empty chambers. No doubt she envied them. When she began to manifest an Obscurus, whatever the reason, we believe now that Gellert began… experimenting on her. Learning how and why she would come to expel it. And seeing whether he could extract and contain it.”
“Did she die?” Graves asked quietly.
Susanna nodded curtly. “She loosed an Obscurus. Gellert normally kept it contained, we believe, in a set of unused basement chambers with thick stone walls. That day, it got out from where he hid her. It didn’t lash out, not the way yours did in New York. What the girl wanted, deep down, was to be a student. So the Obscurus went into another child, a boy. He was twelve. He was not, by any means, a particularly gifted boy. But with the Obscurus in him he went berserk. It took myself and the entire faculty to stop his rampage, and he destroyed an entire wing of the Institute in the process. He too, did not survive.”
Susanna nodded. “Not just him. The Potions Master as well, his mother. He drained her at the end.”
“And for all this Grindelwald was only expelled?” Graves said in disbelief.
“As I mentioned, he said that it had been an accident. Some of us believed him, some did not. He’d never hidden the fact that he felt the rule against muggle-born children was unfair, and some of the faculty agreed. Felt sympathetic. He said he had genuinely tried to help the child and things had spiralled out of control. So we washed our hands, but did nothing else. But now, looking back…” Susanna exhaled. “Who is to know what we should have done? He was a child then, as well. We do not kill children, or imprison them in places like Azkaban. We are not monsters.”
“The letters you exchanged—” Graves began, only for Tina to skid into his office, out of breath.
“Sir! There’s been a situation!”
Standing close by, mopping his brow and looking shell-shocked was Jonker himself. “—only stepped out for lunch,” he kept telling Abernathy. “Good Lord! What in the world is happening?”
“He’ll have gone underground,” Graves said grimly to Tina. “Where’s the closest subway entrance?” He paused, realizing belatedly that Susanna had followed him, probably due to the too-damned-visible smoke. “Professor, this is Auror business.”
Her face was grim. “My student, my fight. And besides. You’ll need the help. Do you want to argue with me, or you want to find him?”
Graves muttered darkly under his breath. “Fine. Abernathy! Get things under control. Someone extinguish that smoke. Not a word to the press, understand? Tina, Professor, you’re both with me.”
To his annoyance, he found Newt already on the train platform, peering about. The station had been evacuated when the fire alarm had been set off, and the peals were ringingly loud, echoing into the tunnels. “Ah,” Newt actually looked a little surprised, glancing between Graves and Susanna. “So you’re here too?”
“Is nobody in this city prepared to let me do my job in peace?” Graves grumbled, but arguing with Newt was probably going to be just as pointless, especially when they had a dark wizard to catch. “Which way?”
Newt nodded at the darkened portion of the tunnel. “Down there. Careful of the tracks. You’re Professor Steinarsdotter, aren’t you? Pleased to meet you. I’m Newt Scamander.”
“I’ve met your brother,” Susanna said brusquely, as she climbed down onto the tracks. “Difficult man.”
“He does get that way with some people.”
Lumos lit the way into the dark. Graves went first, with Susanna behind him and Tina bringing up the rear, wary of trains. He’d never been claustrophobic or afraid of the dark, but his footsteps seemed over-loud, echoing faintly back to him. Behind, Tina was whispering, “Strange. Before, when we followed Credence down the tunnel, the walls were… blanketed? Like he was spread out over them, or leaving some sort of residue.”
“Credence was physically an Obscurus at that point.” Newt pointed out. “He was having difficulty maintaining one form over another, particularly under extreme stress.”
“Didn’t Grindelwald shut down several stations on his way out of the Woolworth building?” Graves wondered out aloud. “This might be a long walk.” Hopefully other Aurors were Using Their Initiative and staking out nearby stations, but he wasn’t going to hold his breath. The standard of minions had fallen.
Susanna snorted. “Americans. No patience.” She said something darkly in Norwegian that made Newt chuckle, of all people. “Durmstrang ordered copies of your book.”
“Why, thank you. Much appreciated.”
“Professor Eirik had been looking forward to it, I hear. He’s an avid breeder of giant fire slug things of some sort. Strange man.”
“I’ll be happy to sign his copy.”
“How did the interview go? It must have finished really quickly, if you made it here.” Tina asked curiously. “Queenie was very excited about it when you sent an owl to tell her to meet you at the editor’s office. Rushed home to change. She’s a subscriber to The Witch’s Friend herself. She never thought she’d get a chance to appear in it, even if it’s really as your ‘manager’.”
“I think it went rather well,” Newt said, unconcerned, “but when I saw the smoke I knew I had to come and help, so I’m afraid I cut it short. I may have abandoned her to her own devices.”
“You left your case with her?” Tina inquired, just as Graves frowned slightly, tilting his head.
Tina nodded. “That’s a good idea. Don’t worry, she’ll take good care of it.”
“I have no doubt that she would,” Newt said dismissively, and Graves tried not to tense up.
He forced himself to keep walking, keeping his tone light. “However did you bribe your Bowtruckle friend Robert into staying with Queenie? He’s very fond of you.”
“I have my ways,” Newt said blandly, even as Tina said, puzzled, “The pet Bowtruckle’s name isn’t Robert—”
Graves spun, a Full Body-Bind Curse at the ready, but ‘Newt’ was faster, twisting to grab Tina by her shoulder with eye-watering speed, and tossing her with inhuman strength at Susanna and Graves. Susanna sidestepped, wand upraised, but Tina yelped as she bowled right into Graves, knocking them both sprawling. Swearing, Graves struggled to scramble free, even as Grindelwald’s form flickered and began to melt, fizzing at the edges into dark static, flattening out and then going formless altogether, a wandering stormcloud of whorling magic that stained the tunnel, the rails, laughing from within.
“More polyjuice?” Tina breathed, horrified, as Graves hauled her to her feet.
“No. Polyjuice needs to steep for a month. That’s metamorphic magic. Usually, it’s hereditary only.” Susanna said grimly. “You’ve done it, Gellert. Broken the limit.”
“Dear Professor,” Grindelwald hissed, from nowhere, everywhere. “I really did enjoy our time together in Durmstrang. Good memories. It was nice for a while, being your favourite.”
“You were the best of my students,” Susanna said quietly. “I’ll remember you as you were.” Bolts hissed from her wand, flickering into the storm, even as Tina and Graves joined her, firing into the dark.
Instead of flinching back, Grindelwald laughed again, the storm growing darker, whirling faster, as though it was drinking down their magic; it was bleeding around them, blocking out the world, thrusting them into its eye. He was toying with them. Graves dredged up everything in his arsenal that he could think of. Lightning crackled through the air, earthing itself in nothing; he spun fire into the storm. Beside him, Tina’s face was sheet-white, pale with fear, though she stood firm, but Susanna was implacable, even as the thing that was Gellert Grindelwald closed around them like a vice.
“Protego Duo,” Susanna commanded, raising her wand, and the storm flinched back for a second before pressing down again, around a bubble that sparked brightly for a moment before starting to hiss, disintegrating, dust-motes of light pulling free. Before Graves could try to reinforce it, she abruptly stepped back, slashing her wand to the side. The hex slapped Graves and Tina into a patch of the wall shielded from the storm, just as Grindelwald roared, deafeningly, shaking the ground, and Susanna said—something—which spat silver mist from her wand that coalesced into what looked like the ghost of a mongoose, lunging forward, freezing the storm in place—
The train screamed past. Graves twisted away, folding Tina against the wall as carriages thundered along the rails, the wind shrieking by. It seemed endless. Tina was screaming as well, her mouth open, voice stolen by the wind, her hands clapped over her ears.
Then the train was gone, and the tunnel, empty.
On further googlefu, now that everyone’s been updating the various wikis, it looks like there’s a timeline error in this fic: Nurmengard was probably established after the Fantastic Beasts film.
However that’ll need me to rework entire bits of the fic as well as introduce Dumbledore into the story, which I’ve been trying not to, if only because that’ll probably open me to criticism about mischaracterisation since I’m not familiar with his character. ^^;; So I suppose this fic is a slight AU, one where Grindelwald, magic terrorist, already has a stronghold fortress as of the time of this story.
And yes, before I get flooded with questions, all the Newt appearances before this chapter are really Newt.
Readers who’ve followed my earlier stuff will probably know that I’m one of those organic writers: I write everything on the fly with no planning (I can’t operate with a plan…). This means that I’m also constantly editing and having to patch small plot holes as I go, so the best time to read my fics is probably a month after I wrap up. ^^;; But for everyone following me as I go, thanks so much!
That being said, I’ve made a minor edit to the previous chapter to add a time skip in between the Plaza Hotel scene and meeting Susanna, so that more time has passed in between Newt first meeting Graves and the Susanna sequence. Otherwise the following sequence will seem pretty rushed.
Warning: This chapter changes the rating of the fic to E.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They found what was left of Susanna closer to the platform. Graves abandoned Tina to oversee cleanup and returned to HQ, numb. He wrote a long report for Picquery, filed it, had to personally talk Jonker out of going to the press over all the drained wands, and slunk home, yawning. Newt had already returned from his magazine interview, and was apparently feeding his animals. Perhaps sensing his mood, Daisy was particularly unobtrusive, and was out of sight when Graves began to head up to his rooms.
He wasn’t really sure what instinct drove him to circle over to the guest room instead. The case sat on the floor, closed, and Graves stared at it indecisively for a moment before exhaling and turning away. He wasn’t going to be good company right now anyway.
His own room felt far too quiet. Graves removed his scarf, hung up his coat, and felt like he was shedding armour as he started on his vest and tie. By the time he was down to his shirt and trousers a break seemed in order, so he lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Maybe if he closed his eyes, just for a bit—
Graves woke up to someone tugging at his ankle. Newt stifled a yelp as Graves jerked away instinctively, then he smiled nervously as he set one of Graves’ shoes down by the foot of the bed. “Sorry, sorry,” Newt said quickly. “It’s just. You didn’t seem all that comfortable, and I was just passing by, and I wasn’t quite sure whether to intrude, but I didn’t think that you were going to wake up.”
“Come up here.” Graves sank back down onto the bed. Newt hesitated, then he closed the door and kicked off his own shoes, climbing up onto the bed awkwardly. “What did you call that unicorn again?”
“Helios. Why? Do you think the name’s inappropriate?” Newt looked briefly uncertain. “It was between that and ‘Schmendrick’, but that didn’t sound right for a unicorn somehow.”
“Never change,” Graves told him warmly, and reached for him. They kissed with nervous energy, Newt straddling him, that lovely back arched under Graves’ stroking hands. Long fingers picked at the buttons of Graves’ shirt, then Newt unbuttoned the first, so very tentatively, then the next and next, when Graves merely chuckled. He set himself to unwrapping Newt in response, that vest, the shirt, the union suit, worrying at Newt’s neck until he had marred pale skin red with studied marks.
“Mister Graves,” Newt breathed against his ear, and as Graves hummed and bit down, Newt made a pretty, wounded little noise. “Oh! Oh, please.” Graves could feel Newt getting hard, the trapped arch pressed against Graves’ hip, the heat of it, so close.
“We’re well into a first-name basis at this point, I should think. Do you trust me yet?” Graves asked, husky with impatience, and pressed his tongue against the new mark when Newt shivered.
“Nevermind what I said before. It’s already too late for that question, I think.” Newt mumbled wryly, face buried away against Graves’ shoulder. “I can’t help but trust you, and it scares me a little. We haven’t even actually known each other for very long at all.”
Graves stroked the back of Newt’s neck, trying to soothe him as he kissed higher, over the mark. “Life is short and often cruel. Everyone gets used. Sometimes it just hurts a lot more than it needs to.”
“That’s a lonely way to look at the world.” Newt braced himself up on his elbows, sober. “Are you, then? Using me? Not that… I would care at this point, I think,” Newt added hastily. “I mean, I would care, but not—”
“Shh, shh.” Graves pulled Newt back down, petting his shoulders, his back, waiting for Newt’s breathing to ease out of its unsteady gasps.
“Sorry,” Newt mumbled. “I think I’ve ruined the mood.”
“Have you?” Graves kissed Newt’s ear, smiling faintly when Newt squeaked, as though ticklish. “Life’s very much about taking chances. Especially with people. And I do very much like you, Newt Scamander, menace as you are. You have a truly gentle soul, a rarity by any means of the word. You have honour and you don’t lack for courage, judging from what you’ve already done for MACUSA. If I could only have you all to myself…” Graves kissed Newt’s flushed cheek, the tip of one reddened ear. “But I know I’ll have to share you with the world. C’est la vie.”
“Your French is terrible,” Newt murmured, though there was finally laughter in his voice, and his hands clenched very tightly in Graves’ shirt. Then he let out a shaky breath, and scrambled up for a kiss. Graves kissed him back until Newt loosened his nervous grip, until his fingertips were easing back against Graves’ throat, down to the buttons on his shirt. Newt muffled another squeak when Graves kneaded his ass, but his hips twitched shyly against Graves’ thigh, and he let Graves roll them over.
“You’ll tell me if you want me to stop,” Graves said, and waited until Newt nodded quickly before nuzzling back down over the marks he had made, then further, tracing a meandering pattern between faded old scars and newer ones, unbuttoning as he went. Fingers clenched over his shoulders, holding on, and the world had narrowed down to a fine point, an easy, neat equation of pleasure. Graves had been telling the truth when he’d said that it had been a while, but under his mouth and hands Newt was a sensitive instrument, sweetly tuned: gasping when Graves nipped him, moaning when Graves traced the ridged tissue of old scars with his tongue.
Newt said nothing as Graves removed his belt, though his knees tensed against Graves’ shoulders as Graves started to undo his trousers, braced between his thighs. “I… really?” he whispered, uncertain.
“With pleasure,” Graves said, a little thickly; he could almost taste more. “If you’d like.”
“Oh, I mean, I’ve heard of the procedure,” Newt said, prim and British to the last, “but I’ve never had the…!” His hips twitched up as Graves kissed the obvious bulge in his trousers. “All right. Yes,” Newt breathed, wide-eyed. “Yes, please do.”
“‘Procedure’ indeed,” Graves chuckled, though Newt helped him shed trousers and the rest, both of them made clumsy now with urgency. “You Englishmen.”
Newt pulled a pillow over his face, but his flush had gone splotchy down his shoulders. “I don’t see why I’m the only one naked,” he said, muffled by the fabric.
Graves hummed appreciatively in response. Newt’s cock was nice and long, and fattening up against his curls; it twitched as Graves licked the tip, and Newt buried his whine in the pillow. “It’s not that fun if you’re not watching,” Graves told him lightly, but when Newt only tensed, he added, more gently, “in your own time.” He swiped his tongue down the length to the root, breathing deep. Pretty as he was, Newt’s musk was unmistakably masculine, and his heels dug into Graves’ back as Graves hauled up his thighs.
“I’m not sure if—” Newt’s voice cracked into a thin, high note of shock as Graves lifted his hips and sucked one of his balls into his mouth, rolling it over his tongue, warming it in his mouth before starting on the next. One of Newt’s heels curled up to Graves’ spine, twitchy, then Newt keened, “Oh God, Percy, God,” and Graves relented, licking wetly back up to grasp Newt’s cock and take the painfully swollen cap into his mouth.
Graves was far too out of practice and too impatient to go slowly, now. He fed Newt’s cock over his tongue until he could take no more, then he clenched his fingers over the rest, stroking roughly. Newt bucked into his grip, then seemed to tense up as though unsure of what to do, burying his cries against the pillow, fingers clawed over the fabric. Graves hummed, sucking greedily, determined to have this inch of Newt, at least, to burn this memory of them both into their bones. Newt was almost silent when he spilled, his gasp pitched high and breaking off into a sob. Graves swallowed what he could and licked up the rest, ignoring the bitter taste, the scent, until fingers were hooked back in his collar, pulling him up.
“I’ll go wash out my mouth,” Graves said, his voice rusty, but Newt shook his head, still bright red, and kissed him, chasing his own taste. “Mm,” Graves growled, as Newt pulled at his belt. “No need for that.”
“Doesn’t seem fair otherwise,” Newt said, a little breathlessly. “Relations are all about fairness, aren’t they?”
“’Relations’?” Graves repeated, amused, though he let Newt get his belt off and unbutton his trousers, then fiddle with the ties on his boxers.
“Unless, uh, you’re a wyrm mantis, or, hm, have you heard about ducks and their penises—”
“Damnit, Scamander. This was all going so well,” Graves observed, as dryly as he could, and he felt Newt laugh against him, shaking him with mirth.
Spit slicked the way, and Newt’s touch felt good, hesitant as it was. Newt held him close, fingers splayed over the back of Graves’ neck and in his hair, his breaths unsteady against Graves’ ear as though he was the one slowly being ruined. “That’s it,” Graves murmured, a broken string of shaky praise that hitched into a strangled noise when he finally pumped his hips into Newt’s fingers.
At least cleanup was easy with magic, though Newt complained when Graves tugged the sheets up over them without bothering with wherever Newt’s clothes had gone. “This seems rather improper,” Newt protested.
“Funny story,” Graves yawned, “given what we were just up to. Let me sleep. I’m close to death.”
Newt actually pressed his fingertips to the pulse on Graves’ throat, as if by reflex, and sighed when Graves grumbled and batted his hand away. “No you’re not. Just… at least let me get my union suit and… Percy,” he hissed, as Graves pinned him down.
“Nobody’s called me that for a long time,” Graves told him, and Newt went thankfully silent, finally still. His mother had been the last.
Just as Graves was on the verge of dozing off, though, Newt asked tentatively, “Do you mind?”
Graves frowned, without opening his eyes. “Hmph? What?”
“I mean, just Graves felt odd, and Percival was rather formal considering what we were doing, so I thought maybe the popular hypocorism would be appropriate.”
“Hypo-what? No. Don’t explain. Just sleep.”
“I was just—”
“‘Percy’ is fine, for the love of God! You can be the exception. Now. Sleep.”
“Yeah, fucking right,” Daisy muttered behind his chair. Graves grabbed the kleptomanic creature by its scruff (Newt had called it a Niffler...?) and pointedly handed it to her to deal with, then ate another piece of toast. Daisy had set up breakfast on crates and boxes within Newt’s case, just so that Graves could keep ignoring summons back to HQ for an hour longer.
“So a Patronus Charm can briefly hold Grindelwald in place,” Newt said, busy feeding his Occamies. “That’s interesting. As you may know, they’re the only counter against Dementors and Lethifolds. In a way, I suppose what Grindelwald is now is a state that’s in between. Dementors are non-beings and Lethifolds are beasts, after all.”
“Have you met one before? A Lethifold?”
“Once. I was in Malaysia.”
“You can cast the Patronus Charm?”
“No.” Newt paused briefly in between depositing an escaping Occamy back into the nest. “But my brother could.”
“He’s that much stronger?” Graves was surprised. “You faced Grindelwald single-handedly in a duel.”
“Not for that long, really.” Newt said, though Graves knew that it was modesty—Tina’s reports were usually precise to a fault. “But no. I can’t cast a Patronus Charm. Not because…” Newt trailed off briefly, then sighed, as the determined Occamy wound up his wrist. “Do you know what goes into a Patronus Charm?”
“A happy memory?”
“It’s a very complex spell either way, corporeal or incorporeal, but yes. A powerfully happy memory.” Newt smiled wryly at the Occamy. “I… didn’t have many of those. I wasn’t in a good place at the time, even after finally graduating from Hogwarts. That’s why my brother dragged me across the world. His idea of cheering me up. Didn’t really work, and we nearly died, but I appreciated the thought.”
“Can you cast one now?” Graves asked gently.
“I… I haven’t tried. I don’t know. Can you?”
Graves shook his head. “I tried it once, decades ago, when I was still in Ilvermorny. Didn’t work. Picquery can do it, though.”
“Dumbledore likely can. If you’re looking to assemble an army.”
“I’m not sure if that’s necessary yet.” Or so he hoped. “Susanna gave me an idea. She must’ve known that a train would come. She stood where she was to distract him from that. If Grindelwald can no longer be hurt by magic, that doesn’t mean he’s now invulnerable. Frozen in place with a Patronus, he can be hurt—physically. I’ll have to confirm it with Durmstrang, but that shouldn’t be difficult. Hopefully he’s already dead,” Graves said unenthusiastically. The minions had been combing the train line all night with no results.
“If he’s not dead, he probably has to drain more magic to recuperate.”
“Aurors are running guard shifts on every magical accessory shop out there.” All this was going to be a bitch to explain, the longer it dragged. They were going to have to catch Grindelwald, and fast.
“What about the black market?”
“We’ve put a general warning out. They can close up shop for now, or handle their own security.” Graves didn’t have much sympathy for people living on the gray side of the law.
Newt nodded and bustled around on his rounds as Graves read the morning papers and refuelled on coffee. Nothing about Susanna, thankfully, though Graves wasn’t looking forward to writing condolence letters to Durmstrang and Susanna’s family. The New York Ghost had a feature article on the Jonker incident, but thankfully the fix was in—the reason listed was a workshop accident with new wand cores. Skimming the rest of the paper, Graves was folding it up when Daisy returned, dropping a rolled up scroll on his lap that turned out to be, of all things, a copy of The Witch’s Friend. At his blank look, she rolled her eyes, pointed at the cover, and stalked off.
Puzzled, Graves set the magazine on the folded paper. He’d never read The Witch’s Friend before, given it tended to involve topics that by God he hoped would be mostly irrelevant to his normal life. Instead of women’s fashion, today’s cover featured Newt prominently, a brilliant blue-toned illustration of Newt with an Occamy over his shoulders. The interior photos were animated, at least, mostly either of Newt smiling uncertainly at the camera, Newt’s book, and Newt introducing the interviewer to some of his collection. The Witch’s Friend had a better photographer than the Ghost, at least.
“Nice fluff piece,” Graves told Newt, as Newt sat at the crate opposite him for a cup of probably cold tea.
“Yes, about that,” Newt said sheepishly. “I felt rather terrible when you told me this morning that you’d faced Grindelwald. Seeing as I was busy having my photograph taken at the time. When I’m really here to help you.”
Graves shrugged. “You said it yourself. Your experience is with dealing with Obscuruses and Obscurials. Grindelwald’s not technically either, what with the magic draining and such.”
“It’s still similar. I think I’ve been unforgivably distracted.”
“It’s hardly your fault, seeing as your exposure to the press was my idea to begin with.”
“Be as that may,” Newt said firmly, “you nearly died yesterday. Tina as well.”
“We’re Aurors. It’s a job hazard. You’re a consultant and a civilian.”
“I’ve probably had as much combat experience as Tina, at least. And I did duel Grindelwald. And bind him.”
There was that. Graves frowned at him, suspicious. “This isn’t because of last night, is it?”
“Oh my God, you’re completely hopeless. I have failed your mother,” Daisy moaned from the lab behind him.
Graves pinched at the bridge of his nose. “Daisy. Get out of the case. Now.” He counted to ten, until he could no longer hear her grumbling. “Right. Where were we?”
Newt was trying and failing to hide his grin behind his cup. “You didn’t reject help from that poor late Professor. Is this because Grindelwald took my form in the tunnels?”
“Not at all. I figured out quickly that it wasn’t you. It’s just that I don’t see what you can do either. You can’t cast a Patronus Charm.”
“Neither can you. But like I said, part of Grindelwald is now an Obscurus. And it has certain behavioural patterns, even though it’s not technically a beast. We know that this new hybrid creature feeds on magic. A lot of magic. That’s probably why it hasn’t left the city—there’s far more magic available in New York than at Nurmengard. Grindelwald probably thought that the unicorn blood was enough, but it clearly wasn’t, or he wouldn’t have attacked the wand shop after a week. And now, assuming he’s not dead, he’s probably weakened and will need a refill.”
“I understood all that,” Graves said evenly.
“Just making sure that we’re on the same page. The thing is, when you want to lure a beast to you, you have to have something that it wants. In Asia, I’ve seen villagers stake out baby goats to lure in tigers.”
“You want to put something out as bait? Like what?”
“Grindelwald was willing to kill for unicorn blood. There’s no supply left available in New York, and unicorns themselves are native to Europe. I could draw out a small syringe of blood harmlessly and fairly painlessly. Helios trusts me.” Newt grimaced, openly reluctant. “If that’ll help.”
Graves shook his head. “If we don’t do this the right way then there’s no point doing it. Dealing with Non-Tradeable items is illegal.” He ignored Newt’s look of relief. “You’re looking at it from the lens of a magizoologist. As an Auror, I’m more concerned about why the hell Grindelwald’s even come to this point.”
“To break the limit, like Susanna mentioned. He’s immune to magic now. Better than immune.”
“Not to the Patronus Charm, and he would have known that. He was in Durmstrang when they stopped the boy.”
“Maybe he thought he would be stronger than the boy. But I see your point. Grindelwald’s ultimate motive is to lead a revolution that would lead to magical rule over muggles, wasn’t it? It’s hard to see how this will get him there.”
“Thinking back,” Graves said, setting down his cup, “he actually nearly succeeded before. Even though he was captured. A huge breach of the Statute of Secrecy, especially in an explosive way, would lead to war with the No-Majs. And revolutionaries love a war: it’s a great ugly beast that ultimately devours good sense from all sides.”
“Without Frank’s… err, the Thunderbird’s assistance…” Newt trailed off. “I see. If he can create another similar, high-profile incident in New York, he’ll be able to kick off his war.”
“That might be why he’s still here, and not in Nurmengard, duking it out with Dumbledore. The last No-Maj World War was more or less sparked off by the assassination of some Archduke…” Graves trailed off. He got abruptly to his feet, striding briskly towards the ladder, and had let himself out of the house by the time Newt caught up with him.
“You’ve thought of something?”
“I’ve been a blind idiot.” Graves growled, heading down the street, dodging No-Majs on their morning commute.
“I haven’t seen any evidence of that,” Newt said soothingly, just as Graves heard what he was searching for before he saw it.
The paperboy yelling “Extra! Extra!” on a street corner a block from Graves’ house paused as they approached, grinning through blackened teeth, sensing a sale. “New York Times, sir. Hot off the press!”
“One copy,” Graves began, then hesitated, realizing belatedly that he didn’t have any No-Maj money.
Thankfully, Newt dug some change out of his pockets. Back at the house, Graves spread the paper out on the dining table. They found what they were looking for after several pages, in a small, brisk mention in a longer column. President Coolidge of the American No-Majs was soon due to address the United Press at its annual dinner in New York.
“Two days,” Graves said grimly.
“Grindelwald might already be dead,” Newt said, though he didn’t sound particularly hopeful.
“Nothing in my life is ever that easy.”
yes I was a huge fan of the last unicorn
For those American History detail buffs out there, yes, Coolidge didn’t have a listed Address/Speech in New York in 1926—the Press speech is actually in 1927. However, this world is an AU anyway so… :) http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/calvin_coolidge.php
“Don’t you people have practice chambers in the Woolworth building?” Newt asked, as Graves stacked away all the props in what had once been the Thunderbird’s habitat. In a way, it was sort of fitting. His old House.
“We do, but we also have hundreds of extremely curious people, unfortunately. Who would love to watch me repeatedly fail to produce a Patronus.” Not to mention the constant clamour for his time. Abernathy and Tina knew where he was, but were under strict orders to look for him only if they had to. Graves frowned at Newt. “Don’t you have an interview to go to?”
“I’ve put a hold on them for now, though Queenie’s still acting as my publicist. Apparently she’s having a lot of fun, so I didn’t really want to put a stop to it.” Newt had actually pulled up a chair, the Bowtruckle on his shoulder, and a really fluffy white monkey creature lay sprawled over Newt’s lap, occasionally turning large, all-pupil eyes towards Graves. Newt was busy brushing it down. Part of the well-used brush was faintly translucent at the tips.
“Demiguise?” Graves hazarded a guess. Newt beamed, his sudden pleasure gratifyingly honest. At least someone in Graves’ life was easy to please. “If I could have a Knut for every perp who thinks it’s clever to carry out crimes in an invisibility cloak…”
“Yes, they’re very sought after for their pelts. Poachers use charmed traps near their caves that work around their precognition. I found Dougal here when he was a baby. His mother had already been dead for a day, her leg crushed in one of those infernal devices. He was clinging to her corpse.” Newt shook his head, even as Dougal rolled over contentedly. “I’ve tried returning him to his natural habitat several times, but it’s very difficult to get something that can turn invisible to stay where you want it to stay.”
“Do you really have to comb it right here?”
“I don’t see why…” Newt paused, then he grinned, as though finally understanding. “This is my case. Don’t worry,” he said brightly, “it’s not like this is going to be embarrassing for either of us. I can’t cast the charm either.”
“How would you know whether something’s going to be embarrassing to me?” Graves muttered, though he gave up. He’d spent an hour or so reading up everything that he could on Patronus Charms and still didn’t quite understand the theory. Think of a happy memory and say the words? He’d tried that before.
As Graves had thought, one hour in and all he did was come dangerously close to spraining his wrist. The demiguise had long wandered off, bored, and Newt was reading a book, one of the Occamies curled up on his head. Graves settled in the chair beside him, massaging his wrist, and after a few minutes, Daisy appeared with tea and biscuits.
“At the worst,” Graves muttered, helping himself to sugar, “at least Picquery can do it. We could find a way to wrangle a couple of passes into the dinner.”
“I rather doubt that would work,” Newt said absently.
“Why not?” With a day to go, Graves had already put a couple of minions on the task of stealing the guest list. At the most, they could kidnap a couple of the No-Majs and steal their invitations, maybe. Something like that. This was the sort of fine detail thinking that he preferred to leave to the minions. Picquery had already been briefed.
“Well,” Newt coughed. “Unless she’s a metamorphmagus herself, or happens to have polyjuice on the side keyed to someone with the appropriate look, I think it’s likely going to be difficult enough getting a woman into a function like that, let alone, well.”
“Ah yes, that’s right.” Fucking No-Majs and their strange prejudices.
“The spell’s rare for a reason,” Newt said comfortingly. “Being able to cast it is a guarantee of a fast-track promotion in the Ministry of Magic. It’s not just one of the most difficult spells out there—”
“I know, I know,” Graves said sourly.
“—the fact is,” Newt continued, as though Graves hadn’t spoken, “it’s probably the sort of spell that gets more and more difficult to learn how to cast, the older you get. Life takes its toll.”
“You’re telling me that becoming a cynical bastard, which is a side-effect of being a functional adult, in my opinion, is detrimental to acquiring the proper sort of memory?”
“Well,” Newt wrinkled his nose, taking a sip from his cup of tea, “not everyone. One of my friends only learned how to cast it when she was in her mid-thirties.”
“So you’re saying that I’m a cynical bastard, too cynical for this spell,” Graves said dryly, and smirked as Newt sputtered and coughed. On his head, the Occamy glowered reproachfully at Graves.
“I didn’t say that!”
“You’re not that cynical,” Graves probed, if as lightly as he could. “I would say you’re idealistic, even.” When Newt said nothing, Graves said mildly, “It’s been a long time since Hogwarts.”
Newt frowned, though he didn’t look up. “You know what happened?”
“When you were arrested a copy of your file was automatically ordered from the Ministry of Magic. It only arrived in full after everything had been set to rights, but it still got added into the main case file.” Most of the file had involved an impressive list of travel itineraries, but the first part had made interesting reading.
“The file actually mentioned Leta?” Newt tensed up.
“Not in so many words, no. It mentioned that you were sentenced to be expelled for endangering another student. She was listed as the sole witness. The statements were cut and dried, but Dumbledore’s recommendation was interesting. Usually, those kinds of recommendations go into detail about remorse, the matter being a first offense, how the perpetrator was a good student and such, but his letter made a great deal of your integrity and sense of sacrifice.”
“’However misguided’,” Newt quoted, with a thin smile.
“You were young. Presumably in love? It happens.”
“You are most terribly cynical,” Newt said wryly, though the haunted cast faded slightly from his face. “Yes, I took the blame. The Lestrange family, as you know, is one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight. Leta was convinced that her family would disown her if she were expelled. The thought frightened her.”
“And after?” Graves asked gently.
“It was a long time ago. And some days it still hurts a little.” Newt stared at his feet. “It wasn’t so much that she decided to cut ties with me, or the things she said after, about how matters had and could never have been serious for her, since my family wasn’t one of the Twenty-Eight. She managed to convince herself that the incident was actually my fault. Played the innocent victim, to drive the very few friends we did share away from me. Those final years in Hogwarts were thoroughly uncomfortable, to say the least. Some days, I thought it would’ve been better if I had been expelled. If not for my brother, Dumbledore and Merrythought, I might have quit.”
Graves sighed. “Children can be cruel.”
“Even as I never forgave her, for years I still hoped that things could have mended, somehow. Though she’s never spoken to me since. So I suppose, if you’re too cynical for this spell, I’m too much of a fool for it.”
“I don’t believe that,” Graves said firmly, and leaned over to brush his lips against Newt’s cheek. As he hoped, Newt turned to meet him for a slow, sweet kiss, balancing himself with a palm against Graves’ thigh. “I do think,” Graves murmured against Newt’s jaw as they broke for air, “that I’m probably a step down from a Lestrange.”
There was a frozen silence, for a moment, then Newt let out a startled laugh, rearing back so sharply that he displaced the Occamy, which squeaked, took flight, and promptly curled itself loosely around Graves’ shoulders. Instinctively, Graves reached up to untangle it, but Newt caught his wrists hurriedly. “Careful. Startle her too badly and she'll make herself a whole lot bigger. Self-defense mechanism.”
“Get it off me then,” Graves hissed, as the little monster settled down, tiny spikes from its tail pricking through his shirt.
“Firstly, did you really mean that?”
“Mean what?” Graves asked tersely, trying not to think about the damage reports he’d read about what had happened at Macy’s.
“That you think you’re somehow not as good as a Lestrange?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. It was a joke,” Graves said, exasperated, as a wing flicked against his ear. “Children or not, she clearly did a real number on you and, personally, I don’t see why you’d still give her the time of day, let alone have it eat you up for decades. Now, some help here?”
“You’re also from a good family,” Newt said, so very seriously, though he cracked a grin when Graves shot him a murderous stare. Relenting, Newt unwound the Occamy from Graves’ shoulders: it squeaked briefly in protest, but allowed itself to be pulled away. “Diana really likes you.”
“That hasn’t made me feel any better about my near-death experience, I assure you.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Newt said, leaning in tentatively, begging for a kiss, and Graves was starting to feel a lot better about his choice of practice locations when Tina nervously cleared her throat behind him.
Newt backed away so quickly he nearly stumbled. Graves grabbed his elbow to steady him, and growled, “This had better be good, Goldstein.”
“Ah. Well sir. Grindelwald isn’t dead.”
Graves glanced at the other two gurneys of corpses. “Hired muscle?”
Liang nodded. “Same deal.” She frowned pointedly at Newt, who was inspecting the remains of Schaltz’s brain with open interest. “New Auror?”
“Consultant, actually. Liang, meet Newt Scamander. Scamander, this is our chief coroner.”
“Another consultant?” Liang sniffed. “I hope you have life insurance, young man.”
“That’s ah, quite all right, ma’am.”
“How is it,” Graves said, a little bemused, “that you get nervous around people but a morgue completely doesn’t faze you?”
“I don’t see what the correlation is,” Newt said, genuinely puzzled, then he smiled a little nervously at Liang, as though steeling himself. “You’re… Alyssa Liang, aren’t you? I’ve read your monograph, A Hundred Natural Poisons and What to Look For. It’s, if I could say, it’s really a masterpiece of its generation. Practically saved my life in Jamaica. Amazing work on horntail extracts, really amazing.”
“Well, it’s not everyday that I meet a fan,” Liang said, though she seemed a little pleased. “Are you also a forensic arcanist? I could use more assistants.”
“He’s already assigned,” Graves said, a little nettled.
“Someone’s possessive,” Liang said tartly, with a smirk. “Think about it, Scamander. If you don’t mind the company down here, my assistants don’t do overtime, they get snacks, and the chance of them meeting a horrible death in the field is comparatively low.”
“You could have just written me a report,” Graves said stiffly. “Rather than calling me here.”
“There was one more thing.” Liang stared pointedly at her assistant, who scuttled over to the bench of bagged effects. There was, of all things, a brick, which the assistant set down on the gurney. “Observe.”
“A brick. Really?” It didn’t look particularly interesting to Graves.
“Somedays I don’t know why I bother,” Liang told Newt acidly. “I could’ve gone and had a nice afterlife. But no. I stayed to help a series of increasingly boneheaded Directors of Magical Security flail around at their jobs.”
“He’s not that bad,” Newt said loyally.
“Well, whatever he’s paying you to kiss his ass, it won’t be worthwhile in the long run,” Liang said, oblivious to how Newt abruptly blushed. She reached into the brick, and, to Graves’ surprise, hauled out another ghost by the collar, pulling and pulling. The other ghost yelped, clutching at the air and kicking, even as his head rolled off his shoulders and settled under the gurney.
“Get yourself together, man,” Liang growled. “You’re fading at the edges!” She cuffed his shoulders, and he subsided slowly, settling awkwardly on the ground, and groping under the gurney until he found his head. The new ghost was thin and sad-eyed, dressed in a suit that had gone out of fashion for decades.
“Freak accident,” the ghost said gloomily from the head held to his chest, before Graves could ask. He had a faint Irish accent. “Just my luck. Stuck here with no’ hope of moving on and Good God Almighty Jesus is that a dead body?”
“I’m getting a headache,” Graves told the world wearily, as the ghost scrambled backwards on his rump in panic.
“Don’t look at it,” Newt said soothingly to the ghost. “How about you turn around and face the wall, sir. That’s it. Ah… What’s your name?”
“Jack,” Jack said, a little suspiciously. “Who’re you gents? And who’s this bi—”
“Ah!” Liang cut in sharply, floating a foot higher.
“—fine lady right here,” Jack said hastily. “Don’t you know, fine folk, and all that, nothing against you Chinese people, nothing. I just. I told you. I just haunt the premises. I don’t know nothing, I don’t see nothing. I certainly didn’t see a devil man walk into the shop and fucken’ eat the current bossman and his boys like drinking a goddamn beer!” He moaned, pressing his hands over his eyes. The effect made the severed head wobble slightly over his knees.
“You’re certain it was a man?” Newt asked, curious. “Not a… a dark cloud?”
“There… there was bits of cloud, coming off his shoulders funny-like.” Jack shuddered. “But it sure was a man. Didn’t look like he was in a good way. Arm bent funny, and he was limping real bad. He bent it back after he… ugh… drank up the bossman. Was that a vampire? A soddin’ magic vampire? There should be laws, man. Laws!”
“After he attacked Mister Schaltz, what happened next?” Graves prompted impatiently.
“Don’t know, sir! I hid in the attic. Saw him walk off after, though, right across the street like he done nothing but window shop. He’d done straightened his back and fix his arm, like I said. Went into the subway. Then I waited till you cops came and told ‘em to take one of the bricks with them, when I seen that you lot could see me. I ain’t going back there. Y’can’t make me!”
Outside the coroner’s office, Graves selected a random minion. “You. Find a copy of Grindelwald’s processing picture, show it to the ghost with Liang. Get a positive ID, then report it to Abernathy.”
“She did damage him,” Newt said, on their way up to the Auror floor and Graves’ office.
“Didn’t matter much. He’s still on the loose, and he’ll recover by draining more sources.”
“But he didn’t switch forms. He has to conserve his energy. And draining that shop and its people didn’t appreciatively improve him either.”
“Meaning that there’s going to be a whole string of murders soon?” That was going to be depressing, black market or otherwise.
“Well, yes, that too,” Newt’s face clouded briefly. “But it does mean that he did get quite charged up from the unicorn blood and the wand shop. He’s going to need to refill before the Press dinner.”
“A wizard of Grindelwald’s calibre doesn’t need a magic parasite to murder a whole room of No-Majs,” Graves reminded him. “The President’s due to arrive in New York tomorrow afternoon by rail. There are already a few Aurors on that train, just in case.”
“Maybe you should send for Dumbledore,” Newt suggested doubtfully. “If you need someone at the press dinner who can cast a Patronus Charm.”
“Not if we can help it. Now that we think we know what Grindelwald’s up to. Picquery doesn’t trust either of them, with what’s at stake. It’s well-known that Dumbledore also has revolutionary views.”
“He wouldn’t murder muggles.” Newt bristled. “He’s a good man. I can vouch for him.”
“It’s not my call.” Back on the Auror floor, Graves sent all idling minions out to stake out the remaining black market shops, and grimly headed to his office to sift through reports. Admittedly, with all hands pulling double shifts on deck, there weren’t that many unrelated reports in his in-tray. “You probably should head back before Daisy reorganises the habitats in your case, not just your lab,” Graves told Newt as he sank down into his chair. “I don’t need you here.”
“I trust her. Besides, if you happen to head out and encounter Grindelwald again, I want to be there this time,” Newt said firmly. “He’s going to have to hit another source of magic soon, to make his deadline.”
“What use would you be?” Graves asked pointedly, but Newt merely met his stare unflinchingly, and eventually, Graves rubbed a hand over his face with a sigh. “Fine. If you insist on staying here, then you can help by locating food and coffee, since I’m currently out of minions. Coffee first, for preference. No milk, no sugar.”
“You might have a bit of a caffeine problem,” Newt told him with a faint smile, though he turned obligingly towards the door.
“Don’t you start. Magical Security is powered by caffeine and misery. Also a well-known fact… now what, Goldstein?” Graves growled, as she scrambled in and nearly ran headlong into Newt, out of breath and pale.
“It’s… it’s your house, sir!”
Aurors had cordoned off the area to hide it from No-Majs and had drummed up a mist: it was only when they got halfway over the street that the scale of the devastation truly hit him. Graves’ townhouse hadn’t been the only house that looked like it had been flattened by the hand of some God: his neighbors’ houses had also been partly shattered, with great gaping holes in their adjoining walls and roofs. God. Daisy—
“Sir, over here,” Abernathy called, from where the kitchen had been. An Auror was gently levitating rubble and a shattered chair off a frighteningly still, small form. Graves felt for a moment like his heart had stopped.
“She’s still breathing.” Newt had also hurried over, kneeling beside Daisy. “But she’s going to need stabilising.”
“Healers are coming,” Abernathy assured Graves, though the sober look on his face said everything. If Daisy had been crushed under the brickwork, even hardy as House-elves were, they had their limits. A small No-Maj pistol, of all things, lay near Daisy. Tina picked it up, checking the chamber.
“Three shots fired.”
“Why would she…” Graves trailed off, shaking his head. Disbelief sat heavily on him, a cloud that numbed thought. “A gun in my house?”
“She heard everything that morning, when you described how Grindelwald couldn’t be hurt by magic.” Newt said quietly, pushing himself to his feet.
“At least he didn’t drain her.” Behind Graves, healers were apparating onto the street.
“That’s because she wasn’t what he came here for.” Newt’s face was painfully blank. “He must have been watching the house. Waiting for us to leave. Or maybe he didn’t care whether we were here, and she was just unlucky.” He drew out his wand, checked what looked like a pocketwatch in his palm, and took in a deep breath.
“Newt—” Graves didn’t know what prompted him to lunge over and grab Newt’s elbow, just as Newt disapparated.
They appeared ankle-deep in water in the dark, coughing at the stink. Lumos lit up the tunnel they were in, and another quick spell blocked away scent. Graves glanced around blankly, trying not to look down. “The sewers?”
“I’ve got a tracking charm affixed to my case paired to this mirror,” Newt explained, frowning as he pocketed the ‘watch’. “I set it to show where the case was ten minutes ago.”
“So…” Graves said slowly, “…you… apparated… on impulse? To a charm? Are you crazy? Even if you didn’t splinch or entomb yourself, you could’ve landed right on top of Grindelwald!”
“It was a directional, timed charm. I learned it in Johannesburg. I gave him a ten minute head start in case he was still in the immediate area so he wouldn’t get alerted. And. You didn’t have to follow me,” Newt said quietly.
“Neither of us can cast the Patronus charm! We’re going to have to head back up and fetch Picquery.”
“Go. My creatures need me,” Newt shot back, and somehow Graves had missed this, despite the reports, despite Newt’s obvious courage. A part of Newt, like his brother, was flint.
“We could be walking in circles down here,” Graves said, forcing down his temper.
Newt shook his head, raising his illuminated wand to the closest wall. There was a dark smear against the brick, and what looked like smudged prints, further on. “Daisy managed to hurt him. He’s bleeding. He’ll probably try to find somewhere dry and safe to—” Newt cut himself off with an anguished sound, and started to head briskly down the tunnel.
Graves gave up. Policy indicated that he should at least head back up to get backup, but he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to apparate his way back down here safely—wherever ‘here’ was—and besides, he knew he’d never forgive himself if something happened to Newt. Grumbling under his breath, he splashed behind Newt, trying not to jump at the slightest sound. Their footsteps echoed loudly against the brick.
“She’ll be fine,” Newt told him softly, as they rounded out into a larger section of the storm drain. The stains led around the corner, continuing into the dark. When Graves said nothing, Newt glanced over his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
“I’m very angry right now in general,” Graves said curtly. “And frankly, rather concerned that we’re about to die pointlessly.”
“I’ve told you, you can go and fetch Picquery if you want. It’s probably a good idea too.”
“You’re not helping,” Graves grit out. “I won’t be able to get back down here since I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. And I’m not leaving you. So. If you want to die pointlessly, fine. Let’s fucking have at it. Together.”
Newt stared at him in open surprise, for a long moment, then he started to laugh, a startled, gulped sound. “I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me.”
“Really? You need therapy,” Graves shot back, pushing past Newt to take point as they followed the wall. “Should’ve taken the gun,” he muttered.
“You can shoot one of those?”
“Never touched one in my life. But it can’t be hard. You point and pull the trigger? Daisy managed to hit him.”
“I think that’s a credit to her, not so much to the gun. She’ll be fine,” Newt said earnestly. “Don’t worry.”
“Quiet,” Graves said tersely. He didn’t want to think about whether Daisy would survive, or whether they would survive. Focusing on his rage helped. If anything, it bled his doubt and fear away, and left only resolve in their wake. He would put Grindelwald down, or die trying. Boiled down to simple equations, the world left little room for obsessing over consequences.
Unfortunately, Newt clearly wasn’t the sort to listen to instructions. “We had a house-elf, growing up. I think it was very kind of you to free her.”
“She didn’t exactly appreciate it. She’s still here.” Graves didn’t exactly remember much of that day, or much of his childhood. His father had been distant, his mother sickly. He remembered, a little guiltily, what a relief it had been to finally leave for Ilvermorny. To meet and have human friends… “I told you to be quiet.”
“Do we even have a plan?”
“Oh, now you’re interested in a plan?”
“…Just asking,” Newt said, a little defensively. “You seem like the sort who’d have one.”
“You did seem remarkably blasé about running headlong into certain death,” Graves said suspiciously. “Do you do this often?”
“It always seems to have… worked out well before? Life tends to work out.”
“Amazing. I can’t believe you’re still alive.”
Newt was about to respond when they turned out into a larger tunnel with ledges that ran along one flank. A service tunnel door was ajar in the wall, and only recently so, given the bloody handprint on the broken handle. Newt gasped, squeezing past Graves, only to stifle a yelp as something knocked him back a few steps. Graves flinched, nearly tripping into the sewage, then he exhaled in relief. It was just the demiguise, wrapped tightly around Newt’s chest. Things squeaked in fright between them, and a flash of blue wriggled free, taking flight.
“Not again!” Graves hissed, as an Occamy curled over him, tangling itself in his scarf. Newt was trying to coax the demiguise off himself without spilling any other Occamies, so help wasn’t going to be forthcoming from that quarter. Gingerly trying to pry the panicked serpent off his shoulders, Graves froze at the sound of a bellowing cry of rage or fear, echoing from the tunnel.
Later, when asked, Graves couldn’t be sure exactly why he’d decided to keep going through the door, hell take the consequences. Behind him, Newt was having trouble following—the demiguise had grimly latched on to the doorframe and the door as well as Newt’s chest and coat. Graves held up his wand, drawing stark shadows over the service tunnel. It was narrower than the one they’d apparated into, able to walk two men, perhaps, shoulder to shoulder. Rusting old lockers were set against the wall, and Graves dismissed the filth from his clothes to keep his shoes from squelching as he turned the sharp corner.
Another cry of rage. It was the unicorn.
Newt’s case lay open several feet away, tendrils of dark cloud seething over its edges that washed up along the walls into the thick, roiling dark just beyond, an oily churn that bled into the part-form of a man, hands with ink for fingers curled over the unicorn’s neck. It was screaming, thrashing on its flank and kicking wildly.
Graves didn’t think twice. He called the wind, a torrent of air that roared over the case, a slap of force that actually blew back the cloud, tumbling Grindelwald off the unicorn. Instantly, it scrambled to its feet, lunging forward. Graves yelped as he was knocked down and trampled, flinging his hands up as he got kicked in the shoulder. Thankfully, the Occamy’s only response was to curl up more tightly, even as Graves tried to get to his feet—
—only for something to drag him roughly over by an ankle, past the case. Graves snarled, snapping off two quick bolts, but Grindelwald only laughed, part Obscurus again, the cloud leaching away from half of his face, the rest a death’s mask, crinkled in maddened humour.
“Director,” Grindelwald purred. “Again we meet in the dark places of the world.”
“Not by choice,” Graves grit out, readying spells.
“Confringo! Expulso!” Grindelwald mimicked Graves mockingly, ignoring the spells flung at him, drinking them in, chuckling, as though the searing heat from the fire’s passage did nothing. “You haven’t changed since I first caught you. The same lack of imagination.” The grip on Graves’ ankle faded, but around him, the cloud began to churn, a maelstrom, building. “Don’t worry. For you, I’ll make it quick,” Grindelwald hissed, from knee level, from above, everywhere. “For your friend outside, though, we’ll see. He’s been quite a thorn in my side.”
“Must’ve been hard,” Graves shot back, pushing himself to his feet. “The great Dark Wizard Grindelwald, laid low by a magizoologist. And then by a house-elf. Is that why you needed a little girl’s Obscurus? Power?” If he could stall for time, somehow… maybe Newt would come to his senses, find and fetch Picquery—
“I’ll deal with them soon enough,” Grindelwald hissed. “Pity you wouldn’t be there to see it. Your friends’ deaths. And the war to come, so easily sparked.”
“Surely you don’t need an Obscurus to murder some No-Majs.”
“I do intend to survive to see my revolution.”
“For what? Dominion and rule over the No-Majs? Because we’re so much better than they are? Please. We barely have the manpower to govern ourselves, let alone the whole world and everyone in it. Besides, when has a military coup ever worked out well for anyone?”
“We should take over. Look at them. They war with each other, murder each other. Even here, in the so-called civilised Western world, some people are lynched because of the colour of their skin, because of the people they love. Do you think that will change? It won’t. They’re a small-minded species, these unfinished people of no magic. Give them a hundred years, and they’ll still be killing their own in the streets and calling it justice. I’ve seen this world, the way you haven’t.”
“And you think we can change it overnight? Just by taking it over?”
“No. But they can learn to respect our ways. I don’t see why you people don’t understand that. Look at your own Madame President,” Grindelwald growled. “Do you think that a person like her would ever be elected President of the USA? A woman? A black woman for President? Ha! Give then fifty years, a hundred years, it’ll never happen. And yet you insist on protecting them! From us. I want to protect our own from them.”
“You want the No-Majs to respect us? Enslaving them all isn’t the answer! Imposing something that’s wrong to fix wrongs doesn’t make things better. You can’t force a fix on problems this entrenched, because their problems aren’t simple.”
“They should respect us,” Grindelwald snarled. “They should fear us. Fear is the universal language of dominion. Why should we hide?”
“And where will that lead?” Graves retorted. “There are far more of them out there than us, don’t you understand? There’s a reason why we hide. You want war? Do you think that we’ll actually win? There’s nothing but grief down that road, can’t you see that? Death on all sides, all human sides.”
“Sometimes death is more than necessary, Director. You understand that.” Grindelwald started to laugh again, darkly, even as Graves finally felt it, the sudden, growing sense of lassitude, the way the Lumos spell on his wand sparked and sputtered. “I think I’ll make this slow after all.”
“Expecto Patronum,” Graves gasped, clawing for memories. Graduating Ilvermorny, solving a case, once, saving a child— nothing? Grindelwald kept on laughing, the bastard, even as the weakening seemed to spread, the alarmed chirps of the Occamy growing dimmer. “Expecto Patronum.” Newt at breakfast, his pretty smile. Nothing. Too much of a cynical bastard. Despite himself, driven onto his knees, Graves choked out a hoarse chuckle. Daisy had always said that. Too goddamned cynical for your own good. You’ll never be happy that way, Master.
On his knees. He’d been on his knees like this once, years upon years ago. The Gettysburg recording had still been ringing in his ears.
Four score and seven years ago
He had taken the wool scarf from his father’s wardrobe.
our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty
He had found Daisy in the scullery, busily scrubbing pots.
and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal
“Everyone is created equal,” he had said, in his eight year old’s voice, kneeling as he hung the scarf around her neck. She’d gone still. He hadn’t remembered this before, not for a long time. Her eyes, growing bright with tears, just as Graves had stared at her in consternation and surprise. Daisy had sighed, and set the pot down, wiping her hands down on the rag that she wore. She’d set the scarf back over his shoulders, instead, patting his arm, saying nothing. But her pride, her pride and joy, that had been clear to see, and that had been enough—
The spell left him like a prayer. Silver mist spat from his wand—then a pale serpent abruptly uncoiled, growing as it went, spreading great wings, jaws outstretched, twisting into the cloud, holding it in place even as the Occamy on Graves’ shoulders leaped into the air. The world became a whisper of scales. Somewhere, Grindelwald screamed, even as Graves flattened himself on the ground, the air, empty before, was now thick with great, seething coils, crushing out everything else.
“Percy! Oh God, Percy.” Graves could now hear Newt somewhere, muffled. “Are you… are you all right? Percy, please answer me.”
“Get this fucking thing off me,” Graves gasped, shoving at the coil pinning his shoulders down. He yelped as the creature shifted, rumbling, then the weight lessened all at once. Graves rolled onto his back and pushed himself up onto his elbows, gulping for breath, too exhausted even to object as Newt knelt hurriedly beside him, checking his pulse. He had a throbbing migraine.
“Is that…?” Newt trailed off uncomfortably. What was left of Gellert Grindelwald was no longer recognisable as anything that had been remotely human. Graves sank back down onto the floor with a groan, dazed.
“Is it over?”
“I think so?” Newt hazarded.
“Good, because you’re taking over.” Graves winced as the Occamy curled proudly over his chest, chirping. For once, he couldn’t manage enough indignation to object. “I owe you one,” he told it, and tried to pet it on the head.
It promptly bit his finger. “Ah…! I forgot to tell you.” Newt said quickly, as Graves swore and nursed his hand. “They don’t like being touched on their heads. But they’re actually really friendly!”
Graves exhaled, rubbing his temple. “Just… take me back up to the surface.”
one more chapter to go :) click on!
“You really should be resting,” Graves said pointedly. “Take a break.”
Daisy set up a place for supper, just as pointedly. “I’ve seen what happens when I do.”
“It was a small fire,” Graves grumbled, as Daisy brought him soup and cold meats and bread, “and only once.”
“Only once, he says.”
“Where’s Newt?” Graves asked, eating mechanically without even looking at the soup. Food was just fuel to Daisy’s charge, and always had been, try as she might. Some people were just innately incapable of enjoying the finer parts of life.
“In his case. The unicorn’s still very weak, and some of the other creatures injured themselves in their panic. ‘Least there wasn’t any major structural damage, other than to the charms. Would’ve been far worse if the monkey thing hadn’t run out with all the flying snakes, apparently. How was Congress?”
“Excruciating. You’d think that I personally loosed Grindelwald on New York instead of stopping him single-handedly,” Graves grumbled. He looked tired, as though he’d aged a few years, though whether it was the case finally taking his toll or what Grindelwald had done, Daisy wasn’t sure. “And it’s been days of back-to-back inquests even after the No-Maj President left the city safely. I fucking hate politics.”
“Maybe you should quit,” Daisy said, an old refrain, a likely story. She smirked as Graves rolled his eyes. “I have high hopes about Newt.”
“This again? Really?”
“Granted, you two probably have to adopt, but you have some distant cousins who might have spare kids and—”
Daisy retreated to the kitchen, still smirking, a smugness that only faded when Graves was struck with an uncommon fever of helpfulness and tried to bring his own bowls and plates back to the kitchen.
“Oh, for God’s sake. Give them here.” She deposited the cutlery and plates carefully in the sink before he could break them. “Yes? Is there something else? Still hungry?”
“No, I…” Graves hesitated, another novelty. “Are you… all right?”
“Do I look dead to you?”
“That’s a rather extreme metric.”
“You mean, do I wish that I shot that bastard in the head, or alternatively, in the balls?” Daisy shrugged, ignoring Graves’ grimace. “Eh. It all worked out in the end.”
“I think Newt’s a bad influence on you.” Graves said, though he thankfully started to retreat from the kitchen. Annoyingly, he paused at the door. “Daisy… thanks. For everything.”
Daisy stared at him with some surprise. Then, frowning, she reached slowly for the meat cleaver.
“Goddamn it, it really is me, all right?” Graves glowered at her. “Nevermind. Christ.” He left, and by the sounds of it, was storming off upstairs. In the silence of the kitchen, Daisy smiled to herself, closing her eyes. Then she huffed, wiped her hands down on the tea towels that she wore, and went to wash the dishes.
Newt shrugged. Pickett was on his shoulder, watching with interest as he pushed chairs into place at the dining area in the new townhouse that he had bought for Tina and Queenie, his bound case left on the table. “I wasn’t poor to begin with, because of my family. And besides, I don’t really know what to do with all the royalties that are pouring in. Thanks to your work with the press.”
“Newt Scamander, world-famous magizoologist,” Tina teased, even as the curtains fit themselves in place over the windows with a flick of her wand. “Your book’s going to be a required text in all the schools, so I’ve heard. President Picquery wanted to have you listed on MACUSA’s payroll as a consultant, but the Ministry of Magic objected.”
“They probably would’ve.” Newt said wryly.
“But you’re set to consult MACUSA on re-evaluating their approach to poaching and trafficking tomorrow, right?” Queenie smiled encouragingly at him from the doorway. “Don’t worry! You’ll do great. Just remember what I told you.”
“Don’t get mad, get even?” Newt wrinkled his nose.
“And the words?”
Newt folded his fingers together, and assumed a serious expression. “’That’s an interesting point, but…’”
“‘I understand where you’re coming from, but have you considered…’”
“There,” Queenie said cheerfully, clapping her hands. “Knock’em down.”
“Besides, you won’t be without friends. The Director will also be in that meeting,” Tina said lightly, with a mischievous grin. Newt coughed, colouring as he pretended to busy himself unpacking the cutlery into drawers. “This house is pretty big even for the two of us,” Tina continued playfully. “You could have one of the guest rooms.”
Newt had turned a bright shade of red. “Ah… that’s quite all right.”
They took a break from unpacking for tea, with Queenie waving the kettle to boil and Tina opening a box of assorted pastries. “From a mutual friend,” Tina told Newt with a faint smile.
“How’s he doing?” Newt asked, selecting a muffin. “I didn’t think it would be safe to visit, just in case, uh, you know, Percy got wind of it, I mean the Director.”
Queenie giggled, though Tina pretended not to notice. “The shop’s very successful. He’s thinking of expanding his store or starting a franchise,” Queenie said earnestly.
“You’ve been…?” Newt trailed off, when Queenie merely smiled, a little sadly. “Well,” Newt said uncomfortably, “if you ever, well, would ever consider moving to England, perhaps, I could help.”
“You’re a real sweetheart,” Queenie said gently. “But it’s all right. Don’t worry about us. We’ll figure something out. That’s what people do.”
“What about you?” Tina asked, just as gently. “After the consultation with MACUSA, what next?”
“I’ve always wanted to travel inland,” Newt admitted. “I’ve been privileged—a Sičháŋǧu friend in South Dakota asked me to come and visit him. That’ll be a learning experience. I think that’s what my next book will be about. I don’t just want people to learn about magical creatures. I want them to understand how we can live with them, how we have lived with them without killing them and the land. Why we should protect all of them. Not just the dragons and unicorns.”
“It’ll be a great new book,” Queenie squeezed his wrist lightly. “And if you still need a publicist after you publish it, you know where we are.”
“Actually,” Newt said, with a tentative smile, “I was wondering whether you’d like to work as my agent full time. Manager. Publicist. Uh, what you’re doing right now, really. You can pay yourself out of the royalties and I think, I don’t want to presume, but it looked like you were enjoying yourself more than at your usual work at the Woolworth Building and… oh…” Newt trailed off as Queenie let out a whoop of joy. “I guess… that’s a yes?”
“She was hoping that you’d ask,” Tina said dryly.
“Well… if you would like to as well—”
“No, no.” Tina smiled. “Magical Security needs all the Aurors it can get.”
After Newt left and Queenie had calmed down, Tina helped tidy up the remains of tea. “Do you think he’ll really be all right?” Queenie asked out aloud.
“You’re the one who can look into his head.”
“He always doubts himself. Where people are concerned.”
“He’ll be fine,” Tina said, and amended, “they’ll be fine.”
“I think we should announce the new book. Get a research grant, at least, either from the Ministry of Magic or Hogwarts or Ilvermorny, somewhere. We might give the Daily Prophet the scoop instead of the New York Ghost, they sent a reporter here to talk to Newt. Besides, we haven’t quite forgiven the Ghost for that article that they did.”
“Can’t ignore the Ghost, though,” Tina said absently. This part of the wizarding world was well out of her usual sphere of expertise, but Queenie was in her element. “I’m glad things worked out the way they did.”
“Well,” Queenie said, with a faint smile, “thanks to us in part, at the very least. Now, what would you like to have for dinner?”
“Of what?” Behind him, Newt was busy setting up camp, the tent building itself to rights, the campfire assembling.
“I suppose you’re here for a professional reason,” Graves scanned the fading horizon. “But I know people who like to travel out to the middle of nowhere, where they won’t meet anyone for miles. Sign of an imminent mental breakdown, if you ask me.”
Newt started to laugh, tried to stifle it into a cough, ended up hiccuping and had to have a drink of water. “I like it. It’s peaceful.”
“Nothing in your life’s peaceful, with your case of creatures.” It had been more than four days since they’d made their way down to Arizona by train, and Graves was already wondering what might have burned down in MACUSA. Had Abernathy solemnly read the list of instructions that Graves had left in full—
“You’re stressing yourself again.” Newt pressed his cheek over Graves’ shoulders, curling his arms around his waist. “You said that you were due to have a vacation.”
“I’m trying to ease myself into the shock of it.”
Newt’s laughter was silent, folded against Graves’ back. “Of finally being able to relax?”
“Relax? I was nearly trampled by one of your Graphorns this morning!”
“The word is ‘nearly’ and she was very sorry about it,” Newt said soothingly, nuzzling the back of his neck. Graves allowed himself to be turned around, and they kissed, slow and easy, with the tender familiarity of practice.
“I refuse to be lectured by someone with ‘Artemis’ and ‘Fido’ as middle names.”
“My mother wanted her second child to be a girl. She’d named my brother after her favourite hippogriff, and had already planned to name me after her second favourite. I might’ve been named ‘Artemis Scamander’ regardless, had my father not put his foot down.”
“I’m beginning to understand how you got to this point,” Graves said, amused. Instead of setting up for dinner they ended up in the tent, on the bedroll, kicking off shoes, shucking coats.
“Why are you still wearing a tie all the way out here?” Newt murmured, as he undid the offending object.
“I don’t see why I have to lower any standards just because we’re far away from civilisation,” Graves told him, frowning as Newt chuckled. “I still don’t understand. You like to live like this for weeks at a time? Away from cities?” At least magic made maintaining hygiene easier, but—
“Months at a time, on occasion.” Newt corrected, and grinned when Graves shook his head wonderingly. “I don’t normally miss having human company.” He curled a hand lightly over the nape of Graves’ neck, tugging him down, to breathe, “Normally,” between them before closing in the rest of the way, eagerly. A year had bled away the rest of Newt’s nervousness between them and much of his reserve. Newt was demanding as they kissed, his fingers as impatient on Graves’ clothes as Graves was with Newt’s.
Groans hissed out between them as vests and belts joined the pile of coats, Graves nipping down the skin he bared as he worked on Newt’s union suit, resetting the marks he’d left just this morning. They’d been in a forgettable hotel in Phoenix, Graves’ hand pressed over Newt’s mouth, his lips buried against Newt’s neck, those pretty, freckled thighs tight around his waist. Now Newt squirmed in his arms, twisting over onto his elbows and knees as he was stripped down, red-faced but arching with a gasp as Graves kissed his shoulders, the nape of his neck, the elegant arch of his spine.
“Percy,” Newt complained, then he yelped as Graves spat in his palm and reached for him, stroking slowly, ignoring how Newt pushed his hips into his grip. He reached for his wand with his free hand, and Newt made a faint, shocked sound as a hasty spell got them both cleaned up, enough for what Graves had planned next, anyway. As he licked a wet line up the cleft of Newt’s pert rump, Newt buried his face in his hands and his cry in his wrist.
“I don’t know why you’re still embarrassed by this,” Graves observed smugly, even as Newt whined deep in his throat as Graves followed his comments by lapping lazily over the furled muscle. Newt said nothing, though he pushed his hips back tentatively, and muffled another cry as Graves started to lick into him, opening him up nice and slow and wet. The more he took, the higher Newt’s muffled cries hitched, until he was keening, wordless. The cock in Graves’ hand was flushed dark, and by the sudden tension in Newt’s thighs Graves knew that he was close. He pulled up, kissing the bowed spine, chuckling at Newt’s abortive, frustrated groan, following scars with his tongue until Newt grabbed one of the still-bound sleeping rolls, propping it under his hips.
Graves worked Newt open with oil and fingers, deliberately taking his time, until Newt was writhing impatiently, hands clutching at tent fabric, his eyes squeezed shut. “That’s, that’s really enough,” Newt said, his plea broken by shreds of propriety.
“Oh? For what?” Graves asked, with mock innocence, and Newt frowned, bucking pointedly into the fingers pressed within him. “More fingers?” He was up to three.
“No, your, just, please,” Newt begged, his voice wracked by gasps and cored down to pleas and nonsense words. “Please.” Obedience felt inexorable. It might be Newt beneath him, Newt squirming and whining as Graves pressed slowly into him, but it was Graves who was now helpless, hyper-aware of the gift of trust that was offered to him, over and over. He was always more dazed by wonder than lust.
As Graves pressed deep, all the way in, it felt like they had both been scoured raw by tenderness, their sighs and gasps going stuttered, wounded. Newt groped up until he had his fingers curled over the back of Graves’ neck, and Graves nuzzled the soft underside of Newt’s arm, grazing skin with his teeth until fingertips dug into his neck, silently urging him to move. As always, Graves let Newt dictate the pace, here with the silent clench and ease of his fingers. Despite Newt’s prior impatience tonight he wanted it slow, but deep. Graves braced an arm on the fabric beside Newt’s shoulders and curled fingers over Newt’s hip, his own groans shuddering into gasps each time he buried himself. He gave—he always gave. Newt’s fingers slipped against his throat, shivering as Graves pressed inside at the perfect angle.
“Oh!” Nails dug higher against the nape of his neck, scratching for purchase. “Harder,” Newt gasped, “now, harder.”
Graves gave him what he wanted with a growl, pinning Newt’s free hand down before Newt could stifle himself again. “I want to hear you today,” Graves panted against his ear. Newt gasped, but his moans quickly notched into cries, then he yowled as Graves took him roughly, out of rhythm. Completion left Newt dazed and pliant. Graves wasn’t far behind, dizzy with urgency, thrusting until shaky fingers tightened on the back of his neck, the final spur that he needed.
“See,” Newt said, as they curled up later in the sleeping roll, everything refreshed with a little magic. “Being all the way out here isn’t too bad.”
“I’m pretty sure sleeping rough like this is going to be awful for my back,” Graves told him, though he tucked his head over Newt’s shoulder and closed his eyes, yawning. Yes. Maybe this wasn’t so bad.
As if to contradict him, above, there was the sudden barreling roar of thunder. Graves groaned, shifting closer. At least it was already night and the tent was set up, even if there was a weird sound, like a vast cloak being shaken out—
“Ah,” Newt said, sounding a little surprised. “I do believe Frank might’ve found us.”
“Frank? Who the hell is Frank?”
“He’s a Thunderbird, and very friendly—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
“Dusty. Hot. A nearly offensive number of flies.” Newt smiled warmly at her. “How have you been?”
“The usual.” Daisy eyed his case. “Anything new?”
“No. The Bunyips are fine where they are, but we spelled up a reserve under consultation with the elders.” Newt was yawning as Daisy fixed him up a late lunch. “There’s really no need to bother,” he kept trying to tell her.
“It’s been five years, I keep telling you it’s a pleasure. Just eat. Make my day. At least you’ll be enjoying the food. I made pie in the morning just in case. Thought the steamship might be coming in today.” Daisy cut him a generous slice, made tea, then bustled around, ostensibly dusting.
“How’s Percy been?” Newt asked. Once, he’d absently asked Daisy to sit with him at the dining table, and her look of mild reproach had ensured that it was the first time and the last.
“Grumpy. Overworked. The usual.”
“Didn’t Picquery retire? I heard a rumour in Pago Pago.”
“Not yet. She was thinking about it. Nearly lost a vote of no confidence over whether to lift the ban against marrying No-Majs.” Daisy grinned knowingly. “The Goldstein Bill, eh?”
“Yes, I heard,” Newt said, trying for innocence.
Daisy wasn’t fooled. “Wonder where all the money behind that came from. Full court press through all the major papers, hm?”
Newt sighed. “Well, I rather thought—”
“I’m joking. Besides, that No-Maj whom Queenie’s so sweet on makes excellent scones. I got his recipe.”
“You’ve met him?” Newt tried not to sound aghast. “He came to this house?” He looked around on reflex, as though Graves was going to loom out from behind the bookshelves at any moment.
“We haven’t met,” Daisy told him. “Queenie got me the recipe. Someone who’s that good at making pastries can’t be a bad person.”
“… Somehow, I can’t seem to come up with the words to refute that argument,” Newt admitted.
He was feeding his creatures when he heard a faint clatter from the lab, then Graves emerged, glancing around, then striding purposefully towards Newt. Even now, with half a decade between them, Newt still felt struck dumb; life had so abruptly dealt him a lucky hand after so many bitter years. Graves was pretending to scowl, though his mouth kept curling up at the edges, and on his shoulders, Diana trilled a greeting.
“You’re meant to file for a permit before taking your case into the city,” Graves said dryly, waiting until Pickett scrambled free and to the nearest branch before pulling Newt into his arms.
“I wanted my return to be a surprise,” Newt admitted sheepishly. “But then Daisy wasn’t surprised at all, and then we talked for a bit, then I had to feed everybody and I forgot.”
“You’re impossible,” Graves told him, taking a folded piece of paper from within his coat and tapping it against Newt’s chest.
Newt pocketed it gratefully. “Diana hasn’t been any trouble, has she? Daisy said she briefly had a bad turn earlier this year.”
Graves rolled his eyes. “Got into the habit of eating pigeons, of all goddamned things. Rats of the sky. Queenie was the one who figured out how to wean her off it by bribery, but now she’s getting fat off treats from the department and is only useful as a very heavy scarf.” Diana cheeped, as though in disagreement. “You can have her back anytime,” Graves added, though he never really meant it.
Newt kissed him instead, impatient for a taste, his first in months. Graves purred, pulling Newt even closer, and they kissed to make up the days, as though the days had wound to a stop, as though they needed each other to breathe, bound together by consequence, tenderness stealing away time. Graves broke for air eventually, reluctant. “How long can you stay this time?” Graves asked quietly, no reproach, only trust.
“I do have to get around to writing my second book,” Newt said lightly, and tucked his fingers under Graves’ tie, rubbing a thumb over the knot. “If you don’t mind the imposition.”
Graves kissed his cheek, then his temple, and pressed his mouth to Newt’s throat, breathing deeply, as though he was trying to drink Newt in, all of him, the best of him and the worst, for the days yet to come. This was love to Newt, a most particular madness. Newt’s hands, playing restlessly up and down Graves’ arms in stroking circles, curled and settled to rest over the small of his back. Home. He was finally home.