They found Percival in his own house.
“At least he didn’t put you in one of those big trunks,” said Tina reasonably.
Percival, bound and gagged and starved, choking on the dust that had collected under his bed because Grindelwald was a slob who had never once held a broom, missing entire chunks of hair and bleeding from a hundred lacerations, glared at her.
Tina reddened. “Sorry.”
She and Katherine Waterston – a junior Auror, dull girl, but efficient – tugged Percival out from under the bed. Tina removed his fetters while Katherine applied healing salve to his wounds. Percival didn’t mind the wounds so much. He’d had worse, and he thought the scars would look dashing when they healed. He did wish someone would do something about his hair.
“What took you so long,” he demanded of Tina.
Tina sat back on her haunches and looked at him intently.
“Um,” Tina said. “How long, exactly?”
It turned out they’d taken so long because Grindelwald had done a hell of a job wearing his face.
“We came searching for you as soon as we discovered the truth,” Tina said apologetically. She had side-alonged the three of them to a tiny cubicle in the wand department at MACUSA, a cubicle that had most certainly not been her own last time Percival checked, except that had been nine months ago because everyone in this hellhole was incompetent. Katherine scurried off to find some bandages. “Grindelwald was using you to – well, to do a lot of things, but mostly to hunt for an Obscurus."
“Where’d he get one of those?” Percival grunted.
Tina reddened again. “There was a boy. A man, really. One of the New Salemers.”
Percival closed his eyes. He didn’t know the name, but he knew the New Salemers. They’d been around a lot longer than nine months, unfortunately. He’d seen them handing out their creepy little leaflets, walking in paired lines to the soup kitchen. Raggedy, beaten down, hunched-over kids. Percival had often thought someone ought to do something about it. Not the Director of Magical Security, of course, but someone else.
“She’s been recruiting, I guess,” he said, his eyes still closed. Last time he’d seen the children there’d been only one boy, and he’d been at least sixteen. Maybe closer to eighteen with that jawline, although the terrible bowl cut set him back a few years.
“No, you’re thinking of the right boy. That’s Credence.”
Percival’s eyes flew open. “The Obscurus? Merlin’s beard, he must be nearly twenty!”
“He was eighteen,” said Tina. She looked away.
With surprise Percival realized her eyes were glittering. “Tina?”
She squeezed her eyes shut. Percival didn’t know what to do. He’d just spent nine months living in filth, having his hair ripped out, watching a dangerous criminal run around wearing his face, and occasionally being subjected to the Cruciatus Curse; he didn’t think he could handle dealing with an emotional woman on top of that. “Tina, come on. What do we always say about good Aurors? Controlled and unsentimental, correct? You’re going to see a lot of nasty stuff in this job, you can’t get all worked up over an Obscurus –”
“I tried to save him,” Tina choked. She dashed a hand over her eyes and straightened. When she looked Percival in the face again, her eyes were red but they were dry. “I tried to save him a lot.”
“We killed him,” Tina answered. Then she corrected, “They killed him.”
Percival was silent.
Tina glanced sideways at nothing in particular. “I’m afraid I’m not a very good Auror.”
“It’s just a saying,” said Percival gruffly. “Obviously you can’t be controlled and unsentimental all the time. We can’t all be as talented as me, you know.”
“I got demoted,” said Tina. “For attacking Credence’s mom.”
Percival felt strangely warm inside, but he wasn’t about to tell Tina that. “Who demoted you?”
“You did,” Tina answered. Then she got a funny look on her face. The warm proud feeling in Percival’s chest vanished, and then Katherine reappeared with the bandages and Seraphina Picquery.
So. In the nine months that Percival had, again, been bound and gagged and tortured in his own house, Gellert Grindelwald had:
Fired Tina, the most promising young Auror in the damn Congress, for following her conscience like any decent cop should;
Mocked, harassed, and eventually caused the death of a suffering young man with more magic in his blood than anyone else in America, probably;
Allowed about a thousand (“it was only three,” said Tina reproachfully) wild magical animals to go running about the streets of New York;
Bound and gagged and tortured Percival in his own house –
“You said that already,” said Tina.
“Ms. Goldstein,” snapped Picquery. “Please.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t notice it wasn’t me,” Percival shouted. “Nine months! Nine months!”
“Mr. Graves,” said Picquery. “All this incident tells us is that Mr. Grindelwald is exceedingly skilled at manipulation. Fortunately, he is now in our custody. The next step is to –”
“Oh, is that all it tells us! How about that he’s a conniving son of a bitch! How about that he, and you, thought it was okay to murder a child in pain! How about that he has some of the worst hygiene of any wizard I’ve ever met! How about -”
“You are understandably agitated,” Picquery interrupted. “Therefore –”
“Understandably agitated? Understandably agitated!”
“Therefore, you will work alongside Ms. Goldstein until you have been properly reintegrated,” said Picquery sharply. “Ms. Goldstein, you are to be reappointed as Auror.” Tina lit up. “Level One.” Tina’s face fell, but not all the way. When Picquery turned back to Percival, Tina did a little dance behind her back.
Percival pursed his lips. “What am I supposed to do with a Level One Auror hanging off me all the time?”
“Paperwork,” said Picquery. She dropped a load of it on the desk.
“This isn’t even my desk.”
“Then you can start by putting it there.”
“I am not a secretary! I am the Director of Magical Security and I insist on taking up the Grinde–”
“Mr. Graves!” Picquery bellowed.
Percival startled. Tina stiffened.
Picquery sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. Suddenly she looked very tired. “Mr. Graves. Please try to understand. I have the number-one wizarding criminal in the world in my basement. I have an entire city of No-Majs who can’t remember an entire week of their lives. I have you, one of my right-hand men, hanging to sanity by a thread.”
“I am very sane,” Percival muttered. “I’m saner than everybody else in this joint.”
“You’ve been gone for nine months, Mr. Graves. You’ve missed a lot. You’re a valuable Auror, and you have firsthand knowledge about Grindelwald that I can’t hope to find anywhere else. I can’t afford to get rid of you” – Percival’s belly went cold; until now he hadn’t even realized that was a possibility – “but I can’t afford to put you back on the front lines either.” The paper mice rustled. “Please. Just take Tina and go to your office.”
“I’ll take him, Madame President,” Tina whispered. She gathered up the papers and grasped Percival’s arm and tugged him into the elevator. Percival let her do it.
Percival seethed for weeks. But he had to admit that it was kind of nice to be back in his office, with Tina chattering away in the corner. She was much more helpful than Picquery or anyone else in this godforsaken place. She told him every detail of what he’d missed: not only the bits related to Grindelwald and Credence Barebone but also about her sister, about some canning-worker-turned-baker-No-Maj named Jacob (“but he got his mind erased, don’t worry!” said Tina hurriedly), and about Newt Scamander. A lot about Newt Scamander.
It got so Percival started thinking he might like to meet this Newt Scamander.
He told Tina so when Tina rushed into his office one day, about a month and a half after freeing him from his own apartment. It might not have been the best time to broach the topic. Tina looked a little out of breath, actually. Her hair was in disarray, and she was clutching a battered leather suitcase held together with rope.
Percival looked at it interestedly. “What’s that?”
Tina shot him a look that was almost guilty. “Uh... Newt Scamander?”
The suitcase went thump.
Percival flinched. Over the past few months he had developed an intense dislike for sudden loud noises. “Is he very tiny?”
“No,” said Tina. She put the suitcase down, locked the door, and untied the rope. “Promise you won’t tell the President?”
Percival opened his mouth to say sternly, It depends, but the words that came out were, “I suppose.”
“Okay,” she said uneasily.
She opened the suitcase.
A disheveled ginger head poked out.
Percival had known it was coming, but he still jumped.
The head swiveled around, then emerged from the suitcase attached to a very lanky body. The man – presumably Newt Scamander – looked around a bit. His eyes clung to Percival for a second but slid off almost immediately, passing over the window and the office furniture before they landed on Tina.
“Oh, good,” he said. “I was hoping you’d pick up the case. Hello.”
Tina blushed. “Hello.”
“You blush a lot these days,” Percival told her. She glowered at him. “I suppose you must be Newt Scamander. I’m Percival Graves, Director of Magical Security.” He wasn’t actually sure if that was true anymore, but that wasn’t going to stop him from saying it. “This is my office, you know.”
“Oh,” said Newt. His gaze slid back toward Percival. He seemed the sort of man who disliked looking people in the eye. Ordinarily Percival associated that sort of behavior with untrustworthiness, but Newt just seemed supremely awkward. “You look like the old one.”
“Yes,” said Percival tiredly. “I know.”
“Newt, what are you doing here? You can’t be finished your book yet, and if Madame President sees you –”
“Yes, er, well. I, um. I picked something up, and I thought... I thought I’d better bring it here? That is, I thought you might like to see it?” Newt glanced at Percival. “Although, um, perhaps if this gentleman wouldn’t mind, er, removing himself from the premises –”
“This is my office,” said Percival. He thought maybe he’d already said it but he felt it was important to assert himself.
“Newt,” said Tina, “what did you find?”
“Um,” said Newt. “Really, I think it would be best if Mr. Grindelwald – I mean, Mr. Graves –”
“This is my office!”
“I don’t blush half as often as you repeat yourself,” Tina informed him. “Newt, it’s all right. We can trust him. I think.”
“That’s not quite what I’m worried about,” Newt mumbled, but he clambered all the way out of the case anyway. Then he stuck his head back into it.
He called, “Come out, Credence.”
Tina, in a feat of extraordinary acrobatics, leapt all the way across the room and tried to stuff Percival under the desk.
“Ow!” Percival shouted. At the word Credence he’d leaned eagerly forward; now he elbowed Tina in the stomach. “Why can’t I see the Obscurus? I’m the Director of Magical Security, goddammit, and anyway I’m not the one who called him a Squib and set him off and tried to use him for my own nefarious ends –”
“Get – under – the – desk,” Tina hissed. She yanked at his hair.
“Stop it! I just grew that out! Ow, get your fingers out of my eyes!”
Newt cleared his throat.
Percival froze. So did Tina. And Percival got his first look at Credence Barebone.
Or rather, his umpteenth look, because he’d seen Credence before in the line of New Salemers. But not like this. Not in the past year. Not since Credence started to look so... harrowed.
Credence stood in the middle of Percival’s office, head bowed, hands tucked up into his armpits. His ugly haircut had grown shaggy, but it wasn’t long enough to hide the bowl shape. He gazed at Percival from under his eyebrows, not headlong but no less intense because of it. His shirt was shabby and once-white, his pants shabby and once-black, his shoes pocked with holes so big Credence’s toe stuck out of the left one. His eyes and cheeks were dark and sunken. His skin was yellow-white like bone. But he was whole. Tall and broad-shouldered and whole.
“Well, he looks all right, all things considered,” Percival said. “He doesn’t look like an Obscurus, at any rate. I thought he’d be all black and swirly.”
Credence croaked, “What’s he doing here.”
“Paperwork,” said Percival disgustedly.
“Credence,” breathed Tina. “I thought you were dead.” Her gaze flashed to Newt. “Why isn’t he dead? I mean – how?”
“Found him,” said Newt, shuffling his feet. “He’s, er, quite tough, actually.” He scratched his head. “I, um, I haven’t got the Obscurus out yet, though.”
“The method I thought would work,” said Newt apologetically. “It, um, it didn’t. I thought maybe you could look after him for a bit while I work it out?” He turned to Credence. “How about it, Credence? Would you like to stay with Tina and Queenie while I work out how to get the parasite out of you? Eh?”
Credence was silent. He was still staring at Percival. Then he said, “You don’t look right.”
Everyone looked at him in surprise. “Observant kid,” Percival said approvingly. “I like him.”
“He’s not Grindelwald,” said Tina to Credence. “He’s the man whose face Grindelwald wore. But Mr. Graves hasn’t hurt you, Credence. He wouldn’t.”
Still Credence was silent. Then he whispered, “Who’s Grindelwald?”
“That,” said Percival, “is the most refreshing sentence I have heard in ten and a half months.”
“Newt,” said Tina in disbelief, “you didn’t tell him anything?”
“I was in a bit of a rush, wasn’t I!”
Tina sighed. “Grindelwald is... a bad man,” she explained. “He disguised himself as Mr. Graves in order to manipulate the government, and you.” She looked sadly from Percival to Credence and back again. Percival didn’t like it. She could take that pitying expression somewhere else, thank you. “You two have never met.”
Credence, apparently, didn’t have anything to say about that. He kept right on staring at Percival.
“Well,” said Newt, when Credence failed to explode into acidic magical dust. “Can you look after him, Tina?”
“Of course,” said Tina. “If Credence wants me to. How about it, Credence?”
But Credence didn’t respond. If anything, he pulled into himself even harder. He dropped his gaze to the floor.
“Credence? What is it you want?”
He doesn’t know, Percival realized. Probably no one had ever asked him what he wanted, not once in his eighteen years.
And now Credence was starting to tremble.
It was too much, Percival thought. He wanted to say so out loud, but Tina and Newt were too busy fussing over Credence to pay him any attention, and Credence didn’t even look like he could hear. The Obscurus was still growing, and Credence’s hold on it had already cracked; Newt and Tina’s offering of freedom was simply too much for him to bear. Any more uncertainty and Credence would splinter. Percival couldn’t imagine what it must be like, living in that drafty miserable house under Mary Lou Barebone’s ice-cold gaze and whip, fighting your own nature so hard it started to eat away at your own soul, and then suddenly being told, You can have anything you want...
An image of Percival’s own bed slats flashed into his mind. Atop them, his own mattress. Atop the mattress, a man wearing Percival’s body. And Tina settling Percival into his office, telling him to stay put, and Percival hating it and yet feeling so relieved. Tina would take care of things now. Percival wouldn’t have to.
“Credence, talk to us,” Tina said. “Unless you’d rather stay with Newt. Or unless there’s somewhere else you’d rather go?”
Credence’s face cracked open.
“Credence!” Percival barked.
Credence swiveled. His face had split diagonally and jaggedly, from left eye to right jaw. Wisps of black smoke, glittering and ugly, poured out. But his eyes were wide and conscious, and even from here, Percival could see his body shaking.
“Come here,” Percival commanded.
Still trembling, Credence took one step. Two.
“Mr. Graves,” Tina whispered. “Don’t –”
“I’m not,” said Percival. “Come along, Credence. Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. I promise.”
Credence let out a sob.
At last he loomed over Percival, who still sat in his desk chair, calm and relaxed except for his white-knuckled grip on the chair’s arms. This was, it occurred to him now, quite risky. The Obscurus writhed around Credence’s head. It wanted out.
“Don’t worry about that,” Percival said to Credence. His voice was controlled, but his heart was quailing. An Obscurus. A real Obscurus. Merlin’s beard, it could swallow Percival whole before Percival had a chance to blink. The power in this boy must be tremendous. And no one had ever taught him how to use it? While his mind sifted frantically through his thoughts, his voice went on: “Ignore it, Credence. It isn’t a part of you. It isn’t your responsibility. Sit down.”
“Won’t Mr. Graves have to get out of the chair first?” Newt whispered to Tina, but Credence had already folded to his knees on the carpet beside Percival. He had bowed his head again. His shoulders were shaking.
“Good boy,” Percival murmured. Now what? Gingerly, he placed his hand on Credence’s head. He stroked Credence’s glossy black hair, the tender spot on the back of his neck, as though Credence were a dog that needed calming.
Slowly, and then all at once, the Obscurus vanished back into Credence’s skull. Credence leaned forward until his forehead hit Percival’s thigh. He kept right on shaking, and Percival kept right on stroking him.
Several minutes had passed before it occurred to him to glance up. Newt and Tina were still here. They were staring at him.
“What?” Percival demanded.
Newt jumped and turned to Tina. “Er,” he stammered, as though Credence weren’t crying silently into Percival’s pants four feet away. “Would you care to see the bowtruckles?”