“Director, you’ve got a message by owl,” Miss Pines says distractedly as he passes her desk. She holds it out, and it flies into Graves’ hand.
“Owl?” Graves asks. Most communication in MACUSA is sent through interdepartmental memo mice. Or by Howler, if Madame President Picquery is on the rampage.
“Owl,” Miss Pines confirms. “A nice tawny one. It’s still up in the owlery.”
“Hmm,” Graves says, inspecting the envelope. Tawny... Nobody immediately jumps to mind. And there’s no sign of a seal or the sender’s name, just a scribbled Mr. Percival Graves in deep blue ink on the front.
“Thank you, Miss Pines,” Graves says, and goes into his office. He sits at his desk and hits the envelope with various spells, just to make sure he’s not about to get unspeakably cursed from slitting open a letter.
Well, as far as Graves can tell, anyway. If he’s wrong, at least his murderer will have done a decent enough job on their spellwork, so Graves won’t be completely embarrassed in the afterlife. Graves absentmindedly thinks of some last regards to his mother and his boyhood dog as he opens it. Nothing happens.
The letter is a scrap of parchment that’s badly stained with a jagged rip on one edge. Clearly, it was written in haste and ripped off of something.
Mr. Graves, the letter reads, I have been led to understand that New York City has had several children go missing under strange circumstances quite recently. I have an idea of what might have happened, but I would like to meet with you to discuss the evidence before taking action. Time is of the essence, as children’s lives may hang in the balance. Please be in the Grand Central Terminal at 1:15 pm. Thank you!
There’s no name. The spot where it would have been signed is right past the jagged, ripped edge of the parchment.
Luring him out into the public, at a specific place and time, for a potentially informative meeting about one of Graves’ high-profile cases.
He’s had many threats and attempts on his life since stepping up as Director of Law Enforcement, and, in theory, this letter fits the definition perfectly - but he’s never gotten one that’s this unassuming. Or this polite - they’re usually much more threatening, and written to entice. This reads like a business request. And, by god, there’s even a thank you at the end.
If pushed to find some kind of threat in the text, Graves supposes the phrase “children’s lives may hang in the balance” could count. If pushed. A very vague threat. But, for some unknown reason, Graves doesn’t think it is one. It reads more like a warning, or a hurried sort of call to arms.
Could be a sound informant.
He checks his pocketwatch - the unknown contact specified 1:15, and it’s close to 1:10.
“Shit,” Graves swears, and grabs his coat. It’s below freezing temperatures outside; it wouldn’t do to be without it if he ends up having to fight for his life on the icy streets. He could get frostbite while dodging hexes, and then where would he be? Not that much better off.
He hurries out of his office towards the front hall’s Apparition Port. “Got to meet with a possible informant, Miss Pines - don’t know when I’ll be back, could turn violent, keep an eye on my vitals, would you, got to go - ”
“Will do, Director,” she replies, and Graves is off.
Grand Central is bustling with activity. There’s people, mostly no-maj from what he can tell, running around buying tickets and waiting in lines and finding their trains. Graves slips into an empty bench and folds his coat down next to him.
He checks his pocketwatch again, and it’s 1:16. Just barely past the meet time. He wonders how long he’ll have to wait for the contact to arrive, and if he’s too late.
“Hello there,” says a quiet voice, tinged with a British accent.
Graves looks up in surprise. A lean man in a bright blue coat is standing there, gripping an article out of the Ghost newspaper in one hand and a nondescript suitcase in the other. He has a bright green pocket square that looks like it's made of leaves.
“Afternoon,” Graves responds.
“Mind if I,” the man gestures to the empty bench space beside him.
“Not at all.”
The man takes a seat, smiling shyly at him. “Thank you,” he says.
They’re quiet for a moment. Graves idly wonders if he should be actively looking for the contact. What if they don’t know what he looks like, and they’re nervously tapping their feet and ready to bolt from some corner, just waiting for a sign from him? He hopes not; he’s getting a bit annoyed with this contact already, what with their tardiness, and that kind of lack of preparation and sheer incompetence would just put the final nail in the coffin of any respect Graves would have had for them.
“Ehm, excuse me,” the man in the blue coat starts.
Graves glances back over at him, which makes the man stutter a bit. Color rushes through his freckled face.
“I-I’m so sorry, I just - I’ve never, erm, done this before. Don’t know quite where to begin...”
Done what before?
“I’m - well, I should say, first off, of course, that my name is Newt.”
Graves cocks his head to the side, looking curiously at Newt. Newt seems to take this as some kind of affirmation, and ducks his head down.
Newt continues, eyes studiously looking down somewhere around Graves’ shined shoes, “Yes. So. I wouldn’t want to presume, or to - ah - inconvenience you in any way, but.” Newt takes a breath. “Would you - er - like to go somewhere? With me, I mean, together. The both of us. Perhaps, ah, somewhere a little more private, or, well, not exactly private, I didn’t mean - but a bit quieter? Perhaps a restaurant? We could… talk over food, perhaps.”
He hunches over himself, almost like he’d prefer if the ground swallowed him up right then rather than give Graves a chance to answer. Almost as if he’s -
The penny drops.
Newt is trying to ask Graves on a date.
When he said he’d never done this before, he meant he’d never sat down by a stranger in public and outright asked them to lunch.
Graves studies this Newt character sitting beside him.
Graves hasn’t gone out on a date in years. He’s always working, always too busy, always too worn out. He’s either too boring or too exciting, either too flippant or too strict. He never seems to be quite the right fit for any of the eligible people in his family’s circles, and frankly, he’s never liked any of them enough to care. Certainly not enough to put out the effort to chase after one of them in some painfully drawn-out courtship.
But this man, a complete stranger, who seems incredibly shy and particularly vulnerable to rejection, plucked up the courage to come over and ask him on a date. For whatever reason, despite the risk, Graves was apparently an attractive enough prospect for Newt to do that.
And Newt -
Newt is actually quite attractive himself, now that Graves is looking. He’s got lovely almond-shaped eyes, his irises some strange mix between green and blue. Glowing auburn hair, freckles, like he’s been out in the sun even though it’s the dead of winter. And a sweet, soft look to his face that speaks of untold kindnesses and impossibly gentle touches.
He’s - charming.
Even the manner in which he’d stumbled through his words had been charming. And as a general rule, Graves isn’t one to be charmed by anyone or anything, but here he is, absolutely fucking charmed.
He can see himself falling in love with this shy, sweet creature. Trading kisses in the sunlit morning, having tea together in the calm afternoon, curling up close in the darkening evening, falling into each other during the cold night. And Graves - he may not seem to have a soft side by any means, but he wishes for one, would do whatever it took to build one, if he could have something like that.
Newt is still sitting there, hunched over in embarrassment, and Graves swallows down any sudden nerves that may have awoken in him and clears his throat.
“Newt, was it,” Graves says.
“Yes, Newt. Short for Newton.”
“Ah.” Graves tries not to show how much he’s floundering. How does he say yes? More importantly, how does he say he can’t right now but he really, really would like to later? There’s nothing he’d rather do more at the moment than sit with Newt and talk, but then again, he can’t just abandon his duty to those missing children. But what if Newt takes it as a rejection or a brush-off? He can’t have that. Damn this mystery informant, and while he’s at it, damn their mother, as well. “Call me Percival. Or Percy, if you will.”
Newt looks a bit startled. “Oh! Oh, I will. Percival.”
Graves leans forward a bit, encouraged. “And, Newt - I really am flattered.” He takes Newt’s hand and brushes a careful kiss to Newt’s knuckles, looking up at him through his eyelashes. “Some other time? I’d love to, but right now I’m supposed to be meeting someone for work and can’t tear myself away to go on a date, no matter how incredibly attractive the date may be.“
“Uhm,” Newt says, as he proceeds to blush so hard his red cheeks are practically glowing. “Oh.”
Graves runs a line over the crest of Newt’s knuckles with his thumb, and breathes over the spot he just kissed. “Are you otherwise engaged, say, this evening?”
“Ah - no, I - but - ”
Graves tilts his head. His thumb continues running lines over the tops of Newt’s knuckles, trying to soothe him. His other hand comes up to hold Newt’s hand steady from underneath, to tell him that Graves is a sure bet. There’s no need for Newt to be nervous - he’s already said yes.
“Oh,” Newt says helplessly. “Oh, dear.”
Graves frowns. “Is there - something wrong?” Is dinner too forward? Perhaps lunch would be less pressure?
Newt squeezes his eyes shut. His blush is reaching down his neck, now, and the tips of his ears are burning. Graves finds this, too, to be astonishingly charming.
“I - oh, dear,” he repeats. “I’m.”
“It’s alright,” soothes Graves, pressing another quick kiss to Newt’s knuckles. He revels in the resulting full-body shiver. “Have I said something wrong?”
Newt seems to have gone wordless, biting his bottom lip to what seems like a painful degree, and just shakes his head.
Graves waits. He’s more than content to keep holding Newt’s hand for as long as it takes, feeling every tremor his kisses have ignited.
“I’m - ” Newt starts, glancing up and meeting Graves’ eyes for a second before tearing them away with a gasp. “Oh, Merlin. I - I’m - I sent you an owl this morning, I was - t-to meet you here at 1:15, I - oh, dear, I am so sorry, I - ”
An owl? And a meeting at 1:15?
Newt is the contact?
Graves reels back in understanding. So… Newt wasn’t asking him on a date. He was just… introducing himself as the informant. And asking to talk somewhere else about the sensitive details of the case.
It wasn’t what he thought it was. At all.
Some Auror he is.
“Oh,” Graves says.
He looks down at his hands clasped affectionately around Newt’s. Graves tells himself that it is no longer welcome, wasn’t ever actually welcome in the first place, and reluctantly untangles them, drawing them out of Newt’s personal space.
“Oh,” he repeats, a little unsteady all of a sudden. He swallows down the lump of disappointment that’s gathered in his throat, and tries to wipe anything he’s feeling off of his face.
“My apologies,” he mutters. “I… ” His hands flex, wanting to reach out and hold on to Newt’s again, but he forcefully stills them. “My apologies,” he finishes. Now it’s him who can’t quite look Newt in the eye.
An incredibly awkward silence falls between them. Both of them are staring at the ground in mortification.
Graves clears his throat and tries to recover. “I - I do apologize. There was no name on the letter.” He remembers the paper had been torn. He assumes now that Newt had accidentally ripped off the part where he’d signed his name.
“Oh, dear,” Newt moans, planting his face in his hands. “I am the one who should be sorry. Newt Scamander, by the way, that’s my full name. Daft of me, I’d thought I’d included it.”
Scamander? Graves knows that name. He had a friend named Theseus Scamander, some time ago. He thinks this must be the younger brother Theseus had always been talking about, the one who was mad on magical creatures.
Scamander’s beautiful younger brother, and the first time he meets him, Graves manages to have him already contorted in painful embarrassment, unable to look at him. How humiliating! And to have kissed his knuckles! Theseus will never let him live this down.
“It - it’s no trouble,” Graves tries to assure him. “Really, I’m - there’s been no harm done.”
Newt peeks through his fingers. There’s still a raging blush on his face. “Are you certain?”
“Absolutely,” Graves says firmly. And it is. Absolutely fine. He takes back all his previous ire at the mystery informant for his punctuality and competence, and especially takes back his damning of the informant and his mother. “No harm whatsoever. So. What is your theory on the missing children?”
Newt immediately perks up, and his blushing face rises out of his hands. “Yes! Of course.” He indicates the article from the Ghost in his hand, and says in a low voice, “I happened to read this the other day, and I’ve heard of similar happenings before.”
“Really?” Graves asks, intrigued.
“Yes, absolutely. I am a magizoologist, you see, and I’d been studying various creatures in the Dark Forest in Germany some years ago when children in a nearby village began to go missing. There were the same strange surrounding circumstances with your case, with the strange high-pitched laughter heard shortly before the disappearance.” Newt folds up the article and stuffs it into a coat pocket. “It turned out that those children had been lured away and eaten by what is called an Erkling.”
“An Erkling,” Graves echoes. “Never heard of it.”
“Yes, well, they are rather uncommon.” Newt bites his lip. “Unfortunately, many of the children will have already been eaten by now. But there is a chance we can save the most recent one that was taken, and stop the Erkling from taking any more.”
“And you know how to track it and take care of it?” Graves asks.
“I’ll try,” Newt promises.
Graves nods, resolute. “Right. Let’s get to it.” He stands, throwing on his coat, and Newt follows him towards the door.
“How do we track it?” Graves asks as the winter cold hits from outside.
“Can we start where the last child was taken?”
“Certainly,” Graves says, and offers his arm to Newt politely. Newt hesitates, but takes the arm. Graves curses himself for being so forward; Newt will probably be much too embarrassed to ever see him as anything but a lecher after that first impression. Graves apparates them both to the scene, which is down a city street lined with apartments and houses.
“The child was with a few others, playing on broomsticks or some such game. Their quaffle went flying down the alley there, and the missing child went down to retrieve it. The others heard a strange sound, like laughter, and the child never came back. The ball is also missing.”
Newt acknowledges this with a nod, and starts combing the alleyway. Graves stands back and watches, not wanting to interfere.
Newt continues down the stretch of the alley, pausing and double checking what must be every other molecule for clues. He reaches the end, which opens up into some kind of children’s park, and stops.
“There are trees here,” he says, almost to himself. “Not many, but some. There could be perhaps one or two Erklings in a den here.” Newt turns to Graves. “Are all the missing children from close by?”
“...Yes,” Graves says, thinking of how almost every single child has some from a neighborhood within three to five blocks of this very park. He can’t believe he didn’t see that the park was central to the disappearances before.
“Right.” Newt turns back to pensively studying the small clump of trees before them. “The den must be somewhere in those trees. Very well hidden, of course.”
He starts off at a fast pace, and Graves walks quickly to catch up with him.
“We’ll have to draw them out and trap them. And I’ll relocate them afterwards, probably somewhere in the Dark Forest back in Germany.”
“All right,” Graves agrees, casting a charm around the area to dissuade any no-majs from stumbling onto the scene.
The event is actually much more of an anti-climax than Graves expected. Newt simply knocks on the trees with his fist until they burst out with their odd, long beaks bloody from feeding.
Graves raises his wand to attack, but Newt just spreads his arms and says, “Hello, would you like to go back home to Germany?”
The Erklings stop in their tracks, blinking at him. They look at each other with their luminescent yellow eyes, and look back at Newt.
“I could take you back to the Dark Forest,” Newt continues. “Or to the Bavarian clan. Is that where you come from?”
One of the Erklings cocks its head, and to Graves’ amazement, says, “Yes,” in a high-pitched, otherworldly tone.
“Good.” Newt pauses. “As payment, I need the last human child you’ve taken. Alive.”
One Erkling makes a displeased noise, but the other shoves it in the side. “Agreed,” it croaks in its strange voice. “Other food?” it asks, sounding hopeful.
“Yes, mostly chicken,” Newt says. “Or pork, if you’d like.”
“...Pork,” the other Erkling decides.
Newt nods. “All right. The child?”
Both Erklings look at one another before stepping back to their tree, and together they rip open the bark with their beaks and claws to reveal a hidden child in the hollow trunk. Newt rushes up to her and checks her pulse. “Still breathing,” he reports to Graves.
“Home,” one of the Erklings demands.
“Child alive,” the other one adds.
“Yes, I see that,” Newt says carefully. “This is payment enough. Thank you. If you could jump in my suitcase, I’m sure you’ll find decent enough accommodations until I can get you both back to Germany.”
The Erklings nod, and both hop in the case one by one.
Newt shuts it, and flips back the lock. He lets out a long, shaky breath.
“Percival, the child needs a hospital,” he says, and Graves jumps into action. He rushes to the child, who looks pale as death, and carefully removes her from the trunk and into his arms. She’s bleeding badly, and is missing sizeable chunks of flesh in several places. He ignores the pile of picked-clean human bones that sit at the base of the trunk, sitting next to a beaten up quaffle.
Graves runs some spells over her ravaged skin, mostly to stop the bleeding, and hugs her to his chest. Then he casts a homing signal for Aurors in his department, who’ll show up and case the scene in minutes.
“We have to go now,” he says, and grabs Newt’s arm. Graves apparates them all to medical without another word.
“Nurse,” Graves calls unsteadily. “Nurse!”
A few rush out at the sound of his voice, and stop short when they see the child.
“Oh, no,” one of them gasps, and suddenly the child is out of his arms, in a gurney, and surrounded by nurses, carting her away.
Graves stands there uselessly. His coat is covered in the girl’s blood, his hands too, and he can’t help but think of all the other children trapped in that same tree that he hadn’t been able to save.
“Percival,” Newt says softly.
Graves’ gaze snaps to him, and he realizes he’s still hanging on to Newt’s arm with some sort of death grip. He releases him. “Apologies,” he mutters, looking away.
“None needed,” Newt says, softer than before. “Percival...”
A light hand touches Graves’ arm tentatively.
Graves feels fragile, so fragile that maybe even a touch as light as that might break him. He tries to hold himself together.
Newt’s touch grows more assured, and Graves finds himself leaning into it as if it’s the only thing keeping him on his feet. His eyes catch on Newt’s, and he can’t seem to look away.
“Director Graves, sir,” a nurse says, and when did she walk up? Graves drags his gaze towards her. “The child has been stabilized for now. We will let your office know when she wakes up. Please feel free to inform the family.”
“Thank you, nurse,” he says with more assuredness than he feels. She nods, her job done, and returns to the ward.
Graves walks out of medical on autopilot, towards his office. Newt follows at his side like a faithful retriever, gentle hand still somehow holding Graves up.
They arrive in front of his office door, and come to a stop.
“Percival,” Newt says, as though Graves is the only person alive that matters. “She’ll be fine. We saved her just in time.”
Graves takes a breath and nods. “What about the others,” he asks heavily. “I saw the bones.”
Newt looks unbearably sad. “I was too late,” he says. “I’m so sorry I didn’t put the pieces together sooner.”
“It’s not your fault,” Graves argues. “If anyone’s, it’s mine. I should have - ”
“There’s no way you could have known - ”
“Newt,” Graves says tiredly, grasping at Newt’s hand resting on his arm, “It’s my job.”
“You hadn’t even heard of an Erkling before,” Newt points out.
Graves sighs. “That’s true,” he concedes, and straightens up, pulling away. He waves a hand and the bloodstains on his clothes vanish. “Thank you for your invaluable assistance. We never would have found her otherwise.”
“You’re quite welcome,” Newt says. His eyes are so kind. Graves looks at him like it’s the last time he’ll ever see him, drinking him in. He wishes with all his heart that he could lean in and kiss him.
Instead, he turns slightly away and opens his office door.
“I - I apologize for my unprofessional behavior earlier, Mr. Scamander,” he forces out. “I - I should not have assumed - ”
“Oh - oh, no,” Newt shakes his head vigorously. “Please don’t apologize, and please don’t call me Mr. Scamander, call me Newt - ”
“But I - ”
Graves shakes his head with the beginnings of a sad smile. “Newt,” he yields.
They look at each other, then, neither of them saying anything. Graves knows this will be goodbye, and he doesn’t want it to be over so soon. Not just yet. His hand is still frozen on his office’s doorknob, waiting for him to move on and get back into his lonely office and work the rest of his sorry life away.
He’s one moment away from sighing and doing just that.
Then he notices that there’s a blush rising on Newt’s cheeks, his face taking on a determined edge.
“You know, Percival,” Newt says, and his blush is rocketing up to glowing levels again, like it had when Graves had kissed his hand, “I - I believe you, erm, asked me to dinner this evening. As it turns out,” he looks down and bites his lip, “I have no previous engagements.”
Then Newt looks back at at him shyly through his eyelashes, hopeful, and Percival can only look back in shock as his heart starts pounding at breakneck speed.
“You - really?” Percival is at a loss for words, flustered and completely floored in the best way. He hasn’t felt like this since - since Ilvermorny, probably. He can feel a deep blush rising on his own face, heating the back of his collar. He’d been absolutely certain this was never going to happen, ever since Newt had stuttered and said sent you an owl and I’m so sorry , and now - he’s - it’s - “With me?”
“With you,” Newt confirms, and takes Percival’s free hand in both of his. Just like Percival had done at Grand Central Terminal, Newt carefully places a kiss on the ridge of his knuckles.
And that’s -
Well, that’s just about Percival Graves’ limit. The breaking point. In fact, he’s quite sure Newt Scamander has just obliterated all his higher functioning, because he’s struck absolutely dumb as Newt smiles at him like an angel, says, “Wait for my owl,” and takes his leave, practically skipping as he goes.
Percival hadn’t really thought it was a trap to begin with. But damn. He knows without a doubt that he’s been caught.