the king of oak
one. an rí caillte
(the lost king)
i too seal off
passages to my heart like a beseiged country,
cut losses, cut brothers, don't look back
when i am lost in the forest.
-yosefa raz, from "i too drag around tin cans"
in my heart t here was a kind of fighting
that would not let me sleep.
-william shakespeare, "hamlet," act v, scene ii
The first thing Percival Graves does after being released back into the world is buy a new wand. The Aurors recovered his ebony wand from Grindelwald but Graves can’t even look at it, let alone pick it up. He goes to Greymalkin’s the minute he’s let out of the hospital and tries half a dozen wands. Some spark, a few smoke, but only one really works. The wand that chooses him is raw aspen, whiter than bone and so rough that Graves gives himself a splinter conjuring up a storm of brilliant red birds.
Greymalkin eyes the wand distrustfully. “Eleven and a half inches,” he says, sounding sour. “With a dragon heartstring core. One of Ollivander’s. Shoddy work, if you ask me.”
The wand hums against his fingertips. Graves buys it, tucks it up under his sleeve, and keeps it there, splinters and all, until he manages to fall into a fitful sleep later that night.
The second thing Graves does is quit his job, because honestly.
("Grindelwald did his research before he put on your face," Seraphina says reasonably, ignoring the resignation letter clutched in his hand. "And it's not like you're open with your personal life. He has us all fooled."
"He wore scorpion stickpins!" Graves shoots back, somewhat less reasonably.
Seraphina looks at Graves, his pressed creases, his immaculate shirt, the red ruby cufflinks he's wearing to hide the starved brittleness of his wrists. "I’m sorry,” she says.
He leaves the letter on the corner of her desk and walks away.)
The third thing Graves does is get jumped by Credence Barebone in an alley.
Well, this is not quite true. There are half a hundred other steps in the middle. Graves has been gone for six months— six, even though it feels like centuries and mere seconds all at once—and Grindelwald paid absolutely no attention to the parts of Graves' life that didn't interest him, such as paying rent, watering the houseplants, or feeding the owl, which has gone feral. Graves spends the better part of an entire day redomesticating the damn bird. He’s utterly defeated by the scratches it leaves on his fingers because he can’t hold his wand steady enough to heal them properly.
Once the owl has been domesticated again and the houseplants have been convinced to stop trying to strangle Graves every time he gets within arm's reach—and the fact that his plants can't tell him apart from Grindelwald is beyond irritating—Graves falls asleep on the bathroom floor, his hands clumsily bandaged, because he can't bear to sleep in the bed that Grindelwald slept in for six months while Graves was elsewhere.
He dreams of darkness. Thick, choking darkness, dead darkness, icy darkness that stinks of Grindelwald, of old magic, of iron, of blood. There's not a name for it that Graves knows, not in America. In America the old ways are dead, the names lost, and ancient magic that gave rise to wizards forbidden.
But Grindelwald knows the old ways and he had put Graves there, in the dark depthless space between spaces, and laughed when Graves tried to free himself and his magic gave out inside him.
You can't get out, Mr. Graves, Grindelwald whispers between Graves' ears. Graves turns, snarling, intending to claw his way out if he has to, but he can't find Grindelwald.
Where am I ? he shouts, and the dark takes up his cry. Where am I? Where am I? Where am I?
You are in my court, Mr. Graves , croons Grindelwald, and the darkness reaches out to caress Graves, colder than death. Are you enjoying your stay?
Graves wakes up wild, panting. He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t know who he is. He scrabbles for his new wand and the rough, splintered wood anchors him in the present a little. It obeys him when he hisses, "Lumos," and floods his bathroom with weak, shivery light.
In the other place, Grindelwald had reached inside Graves and had taken and taken from him until Graves had nothing left. He had shown Graves great things, terrible things, ancient things, and bound his wrists with iron so Graves couldn't get away. He had filled Graves to the brim with darkness.
Graves lies panting on his bathroom floor, his wandlight so weak he can see the shadows twisting in it when it flickers. The owl pecks at his forehead sullenly. He closes his eyes again.
He’ll figure out what to do in the morning.
It is a mystery how Graves' apartment burns down in the middle of the night a week after he leaves MACUSA. A full squad of Aurors, led by the newly reinstated Tina Goldstein, arrive at the still-smoking building and find Graves sitting on the curb, his owl on his shoulder and a well-behaved Venomous Tentacula in his lap, directing a small squad of No-Maj firemen in a voice pitched to carry over a battlefield.
"What happened?" Tina asks, hands on her hips. She gets a good look at Graves and blinks. "What are you wearing?" She's a good Auror, Tina, and the only one safe from Graves' disdain. She didn't notice that the most powerful Dark wizard in the world had stepped into Graves' skin but Grindelwald had fired her, so she could be forgiven.
Auror Mendelson, who comes loping over after talking to one of the No-Maj firemen, was actually promoted by Grindelwald and therefore cannot be forgiven. Graves pins him with a flat stare that makes Mendelson suddenly very interested in changing course and getting a statement from Graves' neighbor, Mrs. Jiang.
"The No-Majs are saying it’s a gas leak,” Graves says blithely. "And I'm wearing clothes, Goldstein." He's wearing threadbare jersey pants and a massive, faded Thunderbird sweater that Graves had stolen from Theo, a sheik he'd been with for a few years as a young man. They were the only things in had his closet that hadn't reeked of Grindelwald.
Tina blinks, surprised. "You didn't—you didn't start the fire?"
Graves, because he's not an idiot, says, "Of course not. What do you take me for?" Graves can barely light his stove with magic these days. Lumos is about the extent of his abilities. Grindelwald took everything, even Graves' strength. He feels like a fucking first year.
He's not going to tell Tina that, of course, and he's not going to let her see how badly his hands are shaking either, so he rubs his thumb against his wand until he gives himself another splinter.
He started the fire by pilling all of his suits up in the middle of his kitchen. He’d soaked them all in scotch and struck a match.
Magic is failing him, leaving Graves in fits and starts, but he can light a match just fine.
Tina chews her lip, adorable and entirely unwarranted concern plain on her face. "Where will you go?" she asks. There's an awful note of pity in her voice that makes Graves itch beneath his skin. "Do you—you can stay with me and Queenie if you need to, we have a spare room, I—"
"Don't be ridiculous," Graves says, cutting her off before she can embarrass either of them any further. He can't make people look at him with respect and awe anymore, not after his imprisonment, not when he can't even heat up a tea kettle without shattering it, but he can remind everyone that he's much better bred than they are and that the idea of offering him charity is ludicrous. He pauses, trying to order his thoughts. "I'll go to the country house."
The country house is wrapped in grey mist when Graves gets there. He has to Floo in because, while he's pretty sure he can still Apparate, trying to do so made darkness close in around his chest and left him shaking in an alley behind MACUSA, doubled over and muttering every light-giving spell he knew to try and stop the tremors. Splinching himself is the last thing he needs.
So Graves Floos in. It's tight and mildly awful but the flames are warm and green. Graves is able to keep his head and when he gets to the old manor, stumbling out of the fireplace like a first year on his first Floo into the city, there are windows . Great big soaring windows, dusty and dirty after fifteen years without a tenant in the house, but windows all the same.
Weak sunlight filters in through the dirty glass, lighting up the gloomy rooms and illuminating spirals of dust. Outside the old forest is wrapped in silver mist. Oak trees and stripped birches crowd around the house, creeping far closer now that the house has stood empty than they ever did when Graves was a boy.
Graves is so relieved to see the old place that he doesn't even care that he's only got enough energy left to start a fire. He spends the rest of the day sprawled out on the dusty carpet in his great-grandfather's favorite sitting room, letting night fall and the fire crackle merrily away.
There is nobody to perform for here at the old Graves house. No Aurors to lead, no Seraphina to support, no name to live up to. Percival Graves has never been one for wallowing, but it is nice to spend an entire week in his jersey pants and Theo's old Thunderbird sweatshirt.
Grindelwald never came here. The manor and the grounds, thick with bare oak trees, are utterly free of him. There are no shadows to chase Graves around the house, no memories, no creeping sense of other. His smell doesn’t linger on all of Graves’ clothes and his fingerprints aren’t smeared across all of Graves’ whiskey glasses. The house is an ancient and strange place, but a different kind of ancient and strange than the shadows Grindelwald had left in Graves’ life.
Graves' great-grandmother had outlawed the family's use of the old magic. The Graves name isn’t one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight or even the Founding Nine, but it is an ancient House, far older than America, and their kind has been among the other pureblood families for nearly two thousand years.
Graves knows that in England some families still cling to the old ways. He's heard of the Malfoys, the Lestranges, the Blacks. They still Hunt every midwinter, for Proctor's sake. In America that sort of thing has been thoroughly stamped out.
Graves still remembers his great-grandmother turning him into an owl for using wandless magic in front of her instead of Accio like a proper modern wizard. He'd been stuck in feathers for days, flying around the house and hooting at his brothers to help him out, but all three Graves boys had lived in mortal fear of their formidable matriarch.
Bors had been self-righteous about it, smug and condescending, and Gal’d wanted to know what it felt like. Both of them had hooted at Graves across the halls of Ilvermorny for years after that.
All the old memories, dusty and wrapped in mist, make renovating the country house go slowly. Graves splits his time between fixing up the house and lying on the floor in a grey daze, too tired to even stand up and stumble into the kitchen. These strange periods of blank exhaustion leave Graves wrung out, dazed, unsure of himself. He feels ancient, instead of just a few months shy of forty; he feels like he's been alive for centuries. His knees and shoulders ache. His fingers cramp in the early morning chill.
As time wears on, Graves forces himself to get up, to work, to do something with his hands, with the magic rusting inside of him. Cleaning is as good a task as any. Graves leaves a lot of the house alone. He won’t go in Bors’ old room and he can’t go in Gal’s. He tries to sleep in his own old bedroom for a few nights and finds it too strange.
In the end he leaves the west wing, which had belonged to himself and his brothers, and the east wing, which had been his great-grandmother’s. For all she’d preached against the old ways and encouraged the family to embrace the new, Vivien Graves had lived like a faerie queen. Her part of the house is steeped in magic so thick and ancient the very air is fragrant with the smell of wildflowers and hot metal. The door to her library won’t even open for Graves; it doesn’t recognize his magic.
Before Grindelwald, Graves would have fought with it. Now, he leaves it be. The north and south wings are more than enough for him.
Cleaning a house is not something Graves ever thought he'd enjoy but there is a strange kind of pleasure in making the house his . He clears out the dust, blows out a couple of walls to put in new windows, and pretends that every rat he hits with a Blasting Curse is Grindelwald.
He still dreams of the other place, of Grindelwald, of the darkness, and his magic is still a wounded, puzzled thing. Some spells Graves can do easily and some he can't do at all. It's not the wand that's problem—the spells he can do work just fine—it's something in Graves himself, something that's been broken.
He can still summon and banish things wandlessly, though, and with a bit of practice he masters a few wandless cleaning charms, and Graves gets in the habit of doing everything that way because his great-grandmother isn't around to Transfigure it out of him. He’s always had an affinity for wandless magic, just like he’s always been a better wardsetter than a potioneer. It gives him some control over his life, which he appreciates. It reminds him that he's not lost in the other place. That he's here, alive, in this world, and that if he sees Grindelwald again he can at least hurl a No-Maj motorcar at his head.
Graves is halfway through January and in the process of clearing out his twice-great-grand-uncle’s old laboratory--complete with irritable, talking gargoyles--when Tina Goldstein Apparates at the edge of his property and is caught by the oak trees.
"You could have told me you were coming," Graves says, amused, after he rescues Tina from them. The trees can walk, which is possibly the best thing Graves has ever discovered, and will, if invoked, defend the property quite fiercely.
Tina, dead leaves and bits of branch in her hair, just glares at him.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" Graves asks.
Tina huffs and relents. Graves leads her into his kitchen and flicks his fingers. The kettle—obliging, after Graves cracked three others and threatened this one with the same fate—begins to warm. "Grindelwald's trial is next week," she says carefully. "President Picquery wants you there."
Graves does an admirable job of not losing his mind, if he does say so himself. His voice is measured and even as he says, "Why? I've told her everything I know."
Tina winces. "She thinks—she wants you there, Mr. Graves."
Graves thinks of Grindelwald in the darkness, nothing but white teeth and one violet eye. He sighs. "Fine. Tell Seraphina that I'll be there."
"Sir, are you—" Tina hesitates, perhaps remembering how wild Graves had been when MACUSA had finally found him. "Where were you, sir?"
Tina’d found him on the side of the road in Albany two weeks after MACUSA had finally captured Grindelwald. Graves had been feral, half-insensate. He had clawed his way out of the other place, out of the darkness, tearing at the shadows all around him until a coin of light had appeared and he'd been able to Apparate out, striking his magic like a match and burning the other place down with him. He'd flattened half the woods doing it, and the spike in magic had brought MACUSA running.
Tina had been the one to talk Graves back into himself. He hadn’t recognized any of the others. He’d nearly killed a few of them, hurling his magic at them mindlessly, desperately.
Graves remembers thinking that he'd die there in the dark. Grindelwald hadn't come in days or years or centuries and he'd been starving. He’d felt his prison decaying around him. As far as Graves can figure, the other place had started to crumble without Grindelwald stopping by every few days to reinforce the spells that kept Graves there. His prison had weakened enough that Graves, even as weak and disoriented as he’d been after six months in the dark, had been able to fight his way out.
The kettle whistles timidly, and Graves pours them both some tea. Neither of them drink a sip.
Graves has always liked Tina Goldstein. She'd been in his House at Ilvermorny, a first year when he’d been a seventh, and he'd once found her whaling on a fourth-year Horned Serpent who'd called her a filthy half-blood. Graves had been so impressed that he'd taught her a fistful of jinxes so that next time she could beat up her bully like a proper witch.
(He wonders sometimes too if Grindelwald fired her because he'd known that if anyone was going to see through his disguise it would be Tina. That's what Graves tells himself, anyway. It's entirely possible that Tina wouldn't have noticed, but thinking like that's just going to depress him.)
So, because he likes Tina, Graves says, "I was—somewhere else. Somewhere dark. I don't know what to call it. Somewhere old." The old blood is not as strong in Tina as it is in Graves, but her sister's a born Legilimens, so it's there. She should be able to sense it.
Tina frowns. "Somewhere old, sir?"
Graves nods, half-smiling. "Somewhere forgotten," he murmurs. And he's not trying to be cryptic but he can tell from the confusion in Tina's eyes that she doesn't understand. He sighs. Ah, well. She's young, and half-blooded besides. She probably didn't grow up looking at paintings of relatives with sharp teeth and high cheekbones, with ears that were maybe a bit too pointed and jawlines that shaped the faces of wolves and hawks instead of men.
Graves waves a hand. "Forget it," he says. "When do I need to be there?"
"Noon," says Tina. "And, er, maybe don't wear that sweater."
Graves arches an eyebrow, just to see Tina squirm. "Do you have a problem with my sweater, Goldstein?"
Tina turns bright red and Apparates rather than tell him she thinks it's ugly to his face, which makes Graves laugh for the first time in weeks, and the house feels just a bit warmer because of it.
He Apparates into MACUSA for the trial because it's expected of him, and he's had enough time to pull himself together that he can meet expectations, at least as long as no one asks him to perform anything more complicated than a Knot-Tying Charm. Graves cuts his hair, which he's let grow out all over the place since he's been at the manor, buys a new suit, knots an elegant blood-red tie at his throat—no stickpins, though, because he's a bit bitter still—and arrives at MACUSA in a swirl of black.
He doesn’t even vomit this time, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Seraphina looks him over once and nods, satisfied with his neatly-tailored mask. "Percival," she says. "You're looking well."
Graves knows he's still gaunt—eating is difficult, some days—but he's no longer the mess of bone and matted hair that Tina found in Albany, so he nods.
"Seraphina," he says back, just as smooth. "As are you."
She puts him at her right hand for the trial even though he's not the Director of Magical Security anymore. Graves appreciates the gesture. He’s has been at Seraphina's right hand since they were fourteen years old, serving detention for a crime Graves can’t even remember, and he's glad to see that Grindelwald at least hasn't taken that from him.
They go into the courtroom by twos. Seraphina first, then Graves. He’s keenly aware of the eyes on him and he imagines that he’s one of the statues at Ilvermorny, stone skin and a suit of armor, or one of the portaits on the walls of his house. One of his fierce, wild-eyed relatives, jaw like a wolf’s muzzle, eyes as black as night.
It works well enough. Graves sits with a flourish, and the trial commences.
Judge and jury filter in, followed by what looks like the entire Auror department, most of MACUSA, and enough spectators to back the benches that ring the courtroom. Grindelwald is brought out last in heavy iron chains, and Graves notes with savage pleasure that he looks a mess.
Grindelwald meets Graves' eyes, but Graves gives nothing away.
The trial itself is remarkably short. Tina's friend, the British wizard Scamander, has returned for the trial and gives an impeccable testimony. Graves makes a note to find him and thank him, later—loudly, in the presence of the Auror department, because this Newt Scamander was able to see in less than twenty-four hours what the Aurors didn't see in six months—for catching Grindelwald.
Tina gives good testimony too, about the Obscurial, the Second Salem boy. Her voice breaks when she says his name. Credence Barebone. Graves has only a blurry idea of who the boy was. The Second Salemers had been an irritant, marked for observation for both their knowledge of wizardkind and their rabid hatred, but had been beneath Graves' notice at the time of his abduction.
Others come forward, describing Grindelwald's manipulation of the Barebone boy, how Grindelwald turned a fully-realized Obscurial loose on the city with the hope of inciting a war, and Grindelwald doesn't even defend himself. He's pronounced guilty in under an hour.
Grindelwald isn't American so Seraphina can't kill him, but he is given a sentence of life in prison, to be carried out in the English Azkaban, and that's that. With luck the British will come to collect him and Grindelwald will have an “accident” on his way to Azkaban and his body will rot down to nothing at the bottom of the Atlantic.
After the sentencing, Graves slips out of the courtroom before he has to hex any of the New York Ghost reporters who are eyeing him with interest. Anyone who sees him clears out of his way without Graves having to ask, and then he's out in the late winter sun again.
He decides, on a whim, to take a stroll through the Wizarding places. The trial has brought his spirits up. He's been disconnected from the Wizarding community since he burned his apartment down—which, to his satisfaction, is listed as a complete accident in MACUSA's records—and he does miss some of it.
Graves saunters down the street, intent on enjoying himself. Grindelwald is being sent to Azkaban, where dementors will suck out his grimy little soul. The other place is far behind Graves. The country house is comfortable. All he needs now is for his magic to return in full, and everything will be as it should be again.
Graves turns down an alley, intending to head to Goody Howe's for a bit of tea and maybe a new book or a new plant for his sitting room, and stops. There is a chill in the air and the hair on the back of Graves' neck stands up. He feels—
He feels Grindelwald.
Graves spins on his heel, wand out, and finds the way out of the alley blocked by a skinny, hunched kid no older than twenty-five. The kid is starved thin and feral-looking. His clothes are dirty and torn. His hair is shaggy and unkempt. Graves' first thought is that he's been cornered by a stray dog, but then he feels the pulse of darkness again, and memory of the other place rises up in his gut.
Graves raises his wand. There's no way this boy is a No-Maj. Power rolls off him in waves and it's so familiar that Graves' blood and bone recognize it. Then Graves sees the symbol hanging around the kid's neck, a triangle and a circle, struck through like a dragon's eye, and bares his teeth.
The boy is wearing Grindelwald's mark.
"Who the fuck are you?" Graves growls, and prays that his spell work will hold if it comes to a fight. Wandless magic—wandless magic will save him, this time. He will not go back into the dark again.
"You," snarls the boy, and there's something wrong with him. Something is writhing beneath the surface of his pale skin, something that snarls and snaps and grows, a darkness that blots out the sky, and violence shivers in the air.
"You did this to me," the boy spits, and comes entirely apart.
After, Graves will have time to look back and catalogue what he sees and thinks as feels as the boy tears himself apart at the seams. But here, now, Graves sees only the boy boiling, only a howling darkness, and moves.
Graves turns and Apparates to the other end of the alley, shaking free of his coat. With more room to move, he draws his wand, rolls his shoulders, and spreads his stance.
The boy—the darkness—the Obscurial, Grindelwald’s Obscurial—slams into the street where Graves had been a heartbeat ago. Bits of brick go flying, and the Obscurial reforms.
It’s a seething thing, Graves will think later, all scraps of rage and flashing teeth. He’d feel—not bad for it, but maybe a burst of kinship, if it wasn’t trying to kill him.
I did not survive Gellert Grindelwald to be done in by a boy, Graves thinks, and when the Obscurial comes at him again, he fights.
“ Reducto !”
The spell passes through the Obscurial like wind through smoke, shattering against the building behind it. The Obscurial takes offense, roaring, all those teeth on display, and surges towards Graves again.
He turns on the spot and Apparates up onto a fire escape, faster than the Obscurial can follow. It rises, a darkness full of thorns, and instinctively Graves flicks his wrist and wraps a bit of fire escape around it, intending to collar the boy and make him see sense.
The Obscurial howls and tosses off the metal around it. Graves is impressed despite himself. The boy doesn’t have any finesse, but he has a hell of a lot of power.
The darkness lashes out, tearing away half the building, and the escape Graves is standing on pitches towards the ground. This time when Graves Apparates, he’s not fast enough and nearly loses his head in the crushing dark, the fear—
He spills out on the ground, hands and knees, coughing, and above him the Obscurial bears down. Graves has just enough time to wrap a shield around himself before it’s on him, around him, and all he can hear is the boy screaming.
There is darkness everywhere. Panic rises in Graves’ chest, followed by fury—he got out, he got out, Graves is not going to die here, not like this. He’s going to die with the sun on his face. He's going to die with the wind in his hair.
Conviction lights him up from the inside, hot and hard, and Graves grabs hold of that feeling, reaching deep into his heart to save his own life. He sees nothing inside himself, nothing but red leaves, white teeth, a great and yawning dark, but it’s enough.
“ Expecto Patronum !”
Graves’ new wand does not let him down. Warmth tangles around his ribs and down his arm, a warmth so bright he can see it, and from the tip of his wand his Patronus leaps, too fast to see, right into the center of the Obscurial.
The boy falls out of his own darkness, reforming all at once, scraps of shadow scattering before Graves’ Patronus. The Patronus pins the boy and bares all of its teeth. It’s a cat of some kind, not a lion or a tiger but something like them, broad-shouldered and magnificent. Graves is so startled by it that he nearly loses his grip on the spell.
Before Grindelwald had taken him, Graves’ Patronus had been an eagle owl.
“Credence,” Graves says, standing up. He lets his wand arm hang loose at his side. There’s blood trickling down the side of his face and his head hurts, but Graves has had worse. “That’s your name, isn’t it? Credence?”
The boy stares up at Graves with wild white eyes, confusion stamped across his face. Graves takes a step closer, part-curiosity, part-caution, part-compassion, part-kinship, light thrumming in his veins, and the boy tries to scramble back.
“Stay away from me,” the boy spits. “Stay away, don’t touch me.”
Graves draws up. “I’m not Grindelwald,” he says, aiming for soothing. He’s not—and never has been—good at reassurances, or at seeming non-threatening. “I’m not who you think I am.”
Credence growls, the air thick with his fear, and Graves has a moment to see the darkness gathering beneath his skin, the teeth—
Graves flicks his wand and his Patronus abandons the boy, wrapping around Graves and taking the brunt of a shadowy blow that turns the Patronus to shards of light and throws Graves down the alley. He hits the dirt, and by the time Graves rolls over and gets back on his feet, Credence is gone.
The sky lightens again. Graves fights to catch his breath, the urge to chase—to explain—to hunt rising inside him, awoken by his Patronus. The boy, the Obscurial, he feels like Grindelwald. Dark, dark, wild and old. And Graves—
I feel like I’ve been drinking lightning, he realizes. Something has woken up in his chest. He hasn’t done a spell as complicated as the Patronus Charm since he crawled out of the other place. He hasn’t been able to. If five minutes near Credence is enough to wake that in him, well.
Graves concentrates, reaching for the buzzing in his chest. “ Expecto Patronum, ” he says, and his Patronus comes again. Magic thunders in his veins, alive, alive, a piece of Graves that he'd thought lost. And just like that, Percival Graves has a purpose again.
Graves crouches to look his Patronus in the eye. Its shape is unfamiliar, but it feels—right, after so long in the dark. When he touches it, it is solid and warm and crackling at all once. Graves lets himself smile, grim and determined. “I’m going to find Credence Barebone.”