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the king of oak

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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

 

I.

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.  

 

II.

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."

 

III.

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.

 

IV.

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.”

 

Chapter Text

the king of oak

 

two. an mac tíre

(the wolf)

 

the wolf runs.
it runs three-legged, like all damaged creatures, across
the snow.
she thinks: this is true.
she thinks: this is a life.
she thinks: i do not want to die, but my life will always
be like this--wounded and animal, lurching against
white.

-lidia yuknavitch, “the small backs of children”

 

V.

The Aurors are on Graves within a few minutes.  Graves doesn't try to leave after Credence disappears, though he wants to.  He does finish his trip to Goody Howe's because he is entirely uninterested in dealing with his former Aurors without a strong cup of coffee; Eveline Howe, the shopkeeper, raises an eyebrow at the dirt and dust and blood and wisely hands him a very large cup.   

“Long day?”  she asks, sympathetically.  Eveline Howe is about two hundred and she’s seen three generations of Graves men--Graves Aurors--come through her door.  She’s used to the dirt and the dust and the blood.

Graves just grunts.  The coffee is hot and bitter on the back of his tongue.  He appreciates it more than he can say.

When Graves stiffly makes his way back to the alley, MACUSA is there.   

"Giles Corey above," Tina says, catching sight of Graves.  He finishes his coffee preemptively. "What happened?" She gestures at the wreck of the alley. "This looks like—"

Tina doesn't say Credence .  Graves rather thinks she's afraid to, thinks that she feels like she's failed the boy and saying his name, acknowledging that he was here, means that he's not been dead all this time after all, but alive and alone.  

Before his imprisonment, Graves might have spared Tina's feelings.  He might have told her that he wasn't sure, that it had just been one of Grindelwald's fanatics, that it wasn't her fault.  But now Graves has neither the time nor the inclination. MACUSA is going to hunt Credence and if they catch him they'll kill him.  If Graves is going to get out ahead of this he needs to move quickly.

"It was the Obscurial," he says.  "Credence Barebone."

Grief twists the corners of Tina's mouth, but she holds herself together.  "Credence," she says, her voice even. "You're sure?" Her eyes flick up to Graves' temple, where blood is still trickling from his hairline.   

Graves stamps out the flash of irritation.  She's right to question his reliability. Graves' behavior has been erratic since Tina found him starved and snarling in the woods.  He flexes his fingers, pushing the strength in his chest down to his hands to steady them. Magic, strong, fierce magic, gathers at his fingertips.   

"I'm sure," he says.  

Tina takes the blow like a true Auror, nodding once, jerkily.   She cared about Credence, that much is obvious. Graves, like an idiot, quit his job before he could go over all of the files relating to the Barebone Incident, and he doesn't have access anymore.  He's not quite sure of the history between Tina and Credence Barebone. He only knows that she was fired for attacking the boy’s mother, a Second Salem fanatic, and that in the boy's presumed last minutes Tina had been able to calm him down before Seraphina ordered his death.   

(And that thought makes something new and uncomfortable writhe beneath Graves' ribs, the thought of Seraphina ordering the death of the boy.  It’s a fierce, terrible feeling, like catching a curse to the chest or falling off a broomstick, and Graves' head hurts too badly to examine it more closely. He crushes the feeling and refocuses on the task at hand.)

"Come on," Tina says, and takes Graves by the elbow.  

Graves' first instinct is to blast her all the way to Ilvermorny and he has to fight it down.  Magic floods his fingertips and his shoulders tense; he can't stop himself from twisting away and reaching for his wand.   

"Woah," Tina says, her eyes fixed on Graves' aspen wand.  She holds her hands up, placating. Graves hates it. "You might as well come in now.  You know President Picquery's gonna want to talk to you."

Conscious of the role he has to play, Graves swallows his instinct to start hunting immediately and allows Tina to take his elbow again. "Very well," he says with a sigh.  "Lead the way."

Tina Apparates the pair of them directly into the Aurors’ infirmary, where Graves is immediately set upon by Healer Anand. Healer Anand has been with the Aurors since Graves was a scrawny, spotty trainee fresh out of Ilvermorny, and as such has no patience for Graves trying to slip out of the door as soon as Anand’s back is turned.  

"Sit still," Anand barks, when Graves tries to squirm out of his reach.  He hates healing spells; Episkey feels like ice crawling under his skin.  "Or I will put you in a full Body Bind until you're my age."  

Graves sits still.  Tina hides a laugh behind her hands, like Graves didn’t have to lock her inside the infirmary after she’d been hurt on the Arroyo case last year.  Graves glares at her. The fact that his glare doesn’t give Tina pause at all is proof of how much damage Grindelwald did to his reputation. No one’s afraid of him anymore.

Anand examines Graves for several minutes, checking all of his cuts and scrapes and scars.  "You seem no worse for wear," he announces after healing the cut on Graves' temple and banishing the worst of his headache.  "Too thin, of course."

"Of course," Graves murmurs, knowing better than to argue with Anand, and then Seraphina swoops in with a sharp gleam in her eyes and says, "What the hell happened today, Mr. Graves?"

Graves, unprepared for Seraphina, decides to feign a serious head injury and says, "What?"   

Seraphina snorts.  "Out," she orders. Everyone in the infirmary—Healer Anand, his small army of trainees, Tina, even Mendelson, who's got his head stuck in the room curiously—freezes.  "Out," Seraphina repeats, in a tone that brooks no argument, and one by one everyone files out of the infirmary.

"Shut the door behind you, Goldstein," Seraphina says, and Tina does, throwing Graves a concerned look over her shoulder.    

"Anand's not likely to let you forget that," Graves remarks, hoping to prolong the inevitable.    

"Anand's been asking for a new infirmary for a while," Seraphina says.  "I see no problem in giving it to him, after he so generously let me use the old one to kick your ass."   

Graves sighs.  Once Seraphina brings up the possibility of violence she usually follows through.  "Seraphina," he begins, but she cuts him off.

"What happened?"  she says, low and dangerous.  "You were attacked by Grindelwald's Obscurial?  Credence Barebone?"

Graves hesitates.  What he's planning to do is very nearly treason.  If Tina and the other Aurors can't spot his plans, that's not his fault—it's their job to know when a wizard is considering breaking the law.   

But Seraphina—  

Seraphina is different.  Graves owes Seraphina more than he can ever articulate, more than he can ever repay.  It doesn't matter that something old and powerful has woken up in Graves' chest, that for the first time since he clawed his way free of the other place he feels alive again, properly alive, and not a hollow shell of the man he used to be.     

He owes her.   

Graves relents.    

"The boy thought I was Grindelwald," he says.  "Which is getting rather old, by the way."

"Where were you going?"  Seraphina asks. "Why?"

That makes Graves bristle, a little.  He's not at fault here. There weren't any No-Majs around, and Credence attacked him first.  Graves is within the law here at least. "I was going to Goody Howe's," he says. "For some fucking coffee, Seraphina.  The boy must have seen me walk by. He cornered me in an alley. I didn't—I didn't know who he was, at first. You told me Credence Barebone was dead."  

"We thought he was."  If Seraphina's offended by Graves' irreverence, she doesn't show it.  "Why did you fight him? Why didn't you Apparate away to safety?"

"When have I ever Apparated away to safety?"  Graves asks, wry. Seraphina's lips twitch despite herself and for a slim moment they’re children again, celebrating a fight won or a prank pulled off.  "Running didn't even occur to me. I fought."

"And leveled a few buildings."   

"Most of that was the Obscurial," Graves admits.  "I tried a few different things, but nothing worked.  He is... very powerful." He doesn't think he can put into words the hot, buzzing feeling Credence sparked in his chest.  He can't describe the sense of other , of an older world, a different place, not even to Seraphina.   She wasn't Grindelwald's prisoner.  She wasn't in the other place. The Picquery clan is even wilder and more ancient than the Graves family, but they too have left the old ways behind.    

"Yes," Seraphina says.  "That's why I ordered his death."

Seraphina's callousness towards Credence's life sparks something—protectiveness, or outrage, or both—deep in Graves’ bones. He fights it down.  Graves doesn't know Credence. He's never met him before today. Feeling protective is absurd , and frankly it’s quite unlike him.  Graves doesn't form attachments easily.  He’s never had the talent of making friends or forming relationships, and after the Great War he'd only gotten worse.   

As much as Graves doesn’t want to admit it, there’s a reason Grindelwald was able to wear his face so convincingly; aside from Seraphina, there’s not really anyone who knows Graves.   

I've spent the last month and a half with just the trees for company , he thinks, pushing away the complicated snarl of feelings coiled up in his gut.   And it has suited me just fine.  The boy—the boy is just a boy. A curiosity. Nothing else.    

He’s also never been very good at lying to himself.    

His anger must show in his face, because Seraphina says, sharply, "Don't look at me like that.  I did what I had to do. You would have done the same thing."

Magic shudders through Graves' fingers, shivering up his arms.  She has him there. Before Grindelwald, Graves would have followed the law.  It wouldn’t have mattered to him that Credence Barebone had been a frightened young man being manipulated by Grindelwald.  His actions—his existence —threatened the magical world with exposure, and the law is very clear about the consequences of such actions.    

"We could have helped him," he says.  He can't stop himself. "He was so young, Seraphina."   

"I know how young he is," Seraphina snaps, reminding Graves with a jolt that Credence is still alive.  The boy and the Obscurial are the same. Credence is alive, and that makes something Graves can't even begin to describe flicker between the spaces in his spine.    

"How did you chase him off?"  Seraphina says, once it's clear that Graves isn't going to fight with her.  "It took the combined efforts of the entire Auror department to... defeat him, last time."   

"We know all about the competency of the Auror department, don't we?"  Graves mutters, before he can think better of it. Really, he doesn't know what's gotten into him today.  His great-grandmother would kill him if she heard the way he was talking to the President of MACUSA.

But Seraphina's here not as the President of MACUSA—though it's a narrow distinction—but as Graves' oldest, fiercest friend, and she only huffs.  "Answer the question, Percy."

"I cast a Patronus," Graves says.  "And it—pulled Credence out of the Obscurus.  Made him solid again. I tried to talk him down, but he wasn't interested in hearing what I had to say."    

Graves remembers the fear on the boy's face, the wild fury, how he erupted into solid shadow.  Now, several blocks and a few buildings removed from the fight, Graves can begin sorting his impressions into thoughts, ideas, strategies; the boy is powerful, destructive, feral with rage, but he fights without any finesse.  He throws his entire being at his enemies, but doesn’t know how to aim his power, how to channel it, how to focus.    

"He thought you were Grindelwald,” Seraphina says, bringing Graves back out of his thoughts.  He blinks, reorders; Seraphina has no talent for Legilimency, but Graves should be careful all the same.   

"Yes," says Graves.  “He did.”

Seraphina and Graves are quiet for a moment.  Something terrible and heavy hangs between them, thick as a storm about to break.  

She didn't notice that Grindelwald had stolen his face.  Graves—well. He loves Seraphina, in his way. He can't help it.  

Seraphina and Graves have been friends since their fourth year at school.  She’s known him from the beginning, since Graves was just the second son, the spare.  She’d known him before the war. Before he’d made the decision to close himself off, to step into the skin of Director Graves and leave Percy the boy behind. They haven't been as close since Graves took the Directorship and Seraphina the Presidency, but they're still—colleagues.  Friends, he thought.

Why didn't she notice?   

He doesn't want Grindelwald to take Seraphina from him too.  Sometimes he thinks that he must have carved out entire pieces of himself to get out of the other place.  He must have offered up everything Grindelwald tore loose. Graves feels hollow, still. He feels like a bottomless dark well, echoing and bled dry.    

Fighting with Credence Barebone is the first thing that has shed a bit of light inside Graves since Grindelwald took him.    

So, to keep that light alive, to put a bit of trust back between himself and Seraphina, Graves says, "There's something else."   

She arches an eyebrow.  "What do you mean?"

In lieu of answering, Graves raises his wand and says clearly, "Expecto Patronum. " He has to reach deep inside himself again to find happy memory; he chooses the day he graduated from Ilvermorny, Seraphina beaming at his side.  He can still see his great-grandmother’s proud face, his brothers in their finest dress robes. Bors had graduated two years ahead of him and had just begun his Auror training; Gal’d been two years behind and nearly beside himself with jealousy.  Graves’ Patronus flows into being, great and graceful, and twines around Seraphina's legs.

Her shocked expression is almost comical enough to banish the last seven months.    

"When did this happen?"  she demands. Seraphina was there the first time Graves cast his corporeal Patronus.  She'd been heckling him, shouting insults about his bloodline and his magical ability and the size of his dick, laughing because she'd managed her first corporeal one five minutes before he'd done it while they were studying for their fifth year exams.  

Her Patronus is a Runespoor.  Seraphina has never been anything less than exceptional, after all.  When he’d finally managed to cast it, Graves' eagle owl had soared from the tip of his wand and chased her Runespoor under a chair, which had stopped her heckling and started a small duel.    

"Today," Graves says.  "That's when I noticed, anyway.  I haven't had reason to cast a Patronus Charm since the mess with that Lethifold smuggler."    

"A leopard," Seraphina murmurs, as Graves lets his Patronus fade back into indistinct light.  "Interesting." She looks up and meets Graves' eyes. "You can't save the boy, Percy."

Feigning a severe head injury didn't work last time, but Graves tries it again anyway. "I don't know what you mean," he says.   

"Credence Barebone is a danger to the Wizarding community," Seraphina warns.  "It's not fair. I know it isn't. But I have the rest of the country to worry about, and exposure could kill us.  Obscurials can't control their power. He's a risk. You can't save him."

That new something in Graves' chest twists and he knows like a flash of lightning what he's going to do next.  His heart thumps hard against his ribs. "I'm not an Auror anymore, Seraphina," he says, reaching for the tatters of the man he used to be, the man Seraphina could mistake for Gellert Grindelwald.  "I don't want anything to do with Credence Barebone. He's not my problem anymore."

"For what it's worth," Seraphina says, and that's the worst thing about her, really, is that she does care, she does, she cares more than any witch in the world, she's just that good at her job that she can ignore it.  She reaches up to rest a hand on Graves' shoulders. He's reminded again of being fifteen, of growing taller than Seraphina between their fourth and fifth years and laughing when she had to stand on her tiptoes to rub soot off his cheek, and the hollow spaces inside of him ache.  "For what it's worth, Percy, I'm sorry."

The worst thing about Seraphina is that she means it.    

Graves sighs.  "I know," he says.  She smiles, pats his cheek.  

"Go home, old man.  You've earned your rest."    

"Yes ma'am." Graves salutes lazily, thinking, She forgot me, she forgot me, she let Grindelwald wear my skin, she let him live in my house.  She worked beside him every day and didn't see—

He sinks deeper underneath the skin of the man he used to be, hoping his thundering heart doesn’t betray him.

 

VI.

Graves' strength gives out halfway back to the country house.  He's lucky Seraphina made him Floo back, because if he'd been in the middle of Apparition he would have torn himself in half.  As it is his legs give out underneath him and he topples out of his fireplace gasping, scraping his hands and knees on the bricks.   

There's ash in his throat and darkness clawing at the edges of his vision.  Pressing down on him, tightening around his neck like a noose, like Grindelwald's fingers, and he can't—

He can't

An immeasurable amount of time passes before Graves is able to come back to his senses. The darkness is everywhere, inside and out, and Grindelwald croons in Graves' ears, whispering terrible things, sweet things, but gradually the world returns.  For a long time Graves doesn't know where or who he is. The things around him—plush carpet, splintered furniture, an empty fireplace—don't make sense.

He should be out in the wind.  He should be wrapped in mist and oak.   

He shouldn’t be here.

Graves drifts for a little while, lying on his grandfather's carpet.  After some time, his hands stop shaking and the nausea fades. Pricks of light filter through the cloud of darkness.   

Stars.  He had—he had torn holes in the roof of his house.  He could see the stars. Percival, he remembers.  My name is Percival.  In the other place Grindelwald had called him only Mr. Graves.  His coworkers called him Graves or Director .  Seraphina, from time to time, called him Percy, just as his brothers had done.

His mother had named him Percival.  A good name. A strong name. He has very dim memories of his mother calling him little knight, but she’d named him Percival.  Bors had been furious.

“Why does he get to be Percival?”  he’d demanded, years and years and years ago.  “I was born first!”

It’s the thought of his elder brother that brings Graves back into his skin at last.  Bors never was one for wallowing; he’d borne everything with the same kind of sharp stoicism as their father, upright and unyielding to the last.  

Graves props himself up on his elbows, too exhausted to stand.  The sitting room—his refuge against the world—is a wreck. The furniture is bent and splintered, the wallpaper singed and torn, a chill seeping in from the holes in the ceiling.  Graves doesn't remember destroying any of it.

It’s the chill that gets Graves moving again more than anything.  He's too old to stand it for long. Cold makes all his war-wounds ache and he has to limp to the kitchen, the leg he wrecked in the Great War protesting both the fall out of the fireplace and the winter chill.  

In the kitchen, Graves shoves his head under the running sink, the water as hot as he can stand, until he's completely in control of himself again.  He thinks of warmth and flicks his hand and a fire crackles to life in the fireplace, no wand required. The heat helps Graves stitch himself back together.

He does need his wand to put the sitting room back together, which he does methodically because he can't bear to leave it in ruins.  Graves himself is a ruin and he knows it, but the house doesn't deserve to be.

For the first time since he moved in, Graves can feel Grindelwald in the house, lurking in the corners he can't manage to light or warm.   

The light in his chest that gave Graves his Patronus has gone out.  He tries to cast the charm again and gets only a thin silver mist, so fragile it dissipates in the draft.  Graves resigns himself to a long night full of bad dreams.

Now that he's had some of the emptiness inside him filled, Graves feels the renewed hollowness even more keenly.   

Well, he thinks, staring up at his repaired ceiling, missing the stars, either Seraphina will kill me, or Grindelwald's ghost will.   

 

VII.

As an Auror, Graves had the strength of MACUSA at his back whenever he opened a new investigation.  He had the manpower, the money, the Library of Congress at his fingertips to help him. Now all of those resources are in the Auror department's hands, and Graves has nothing.   

Well, he has his own skills, which are a damn sight better than most of the Auror department put together, Goldstein excluded, and his great-grandmother’s very well-stocked library.  Her wing of the house is still closed to him, though, and Goldstein is very, very clever. She also knows Credence.

It is Tina that Graves is racing against, here.  If it were just Mendelson and the rest of the Aurors, Graves would take more time, move more slowly.  He's always valued watching and waiting over charging into a fight unprepared, but Tina has an edge on him so he needs to move quickly.

He starts by going back to New York dressed as impeccably and lavishly as Grindelwald ever was—in a coat with a Bedazzling Hex on it, even—and showing his face all over the Wizarding parts of the city.   

Credence Barebone wants revenge.  That's what Graves figures, anyway.  Grindelwald used him, abused his trust, turned the boy into a cloud of teeth and pain.  Who wouldn't want a little revenge? Credence saw Graves in the alley and thought him Grindelwald.   You did this to me, he'd snarled.   

So, Graves figures the best bait for the most powerful Obscurial the world has ever seen is his own face.  He walks up and down the city, buying food and coffee and new clothes, making himself as conspicuous as he can.   

He passes Mendelson a few times, some other Aurors, Congressmen he’d rubbed elbows with, people he’d known at school and during the War and through work.  All of them avoid his eyes. Savagery sparks in Graves’ gut. Good, he thinks.   

Graves is at it for nearly two weeks and doesn't see hide nor hair of Credence Barebone.  He does, however, hear of the boy. Graves is no longer the Director of Magical Security and everyone has known for years that he's never going to marry a pretty witch and bestow his family fortune upon her children, so now Graves is very nearly invisible to the Wizarding world.  He hears a good bit more this way than he used to.

He's sitting inside Goody Howe's on a Wednesday, not two blocks from where he and Credence first fought, and he hears a young witch named Rita Calderon say to her companion, "Has your landlady figured out why she's got smoke in her basement, Trish?"

Graves drops his coffee cup, only managing to catch it with a flick of his wrist, and listens intently.  

"No," says the other witch, Trish.  "She can't puzzle it out. One of the others must be brewin' something down there, though every time we go to check it's gone!"   

Graves waits until the witches finish their tea and casts a Disillusionment Charm on himself to tail them home.  It's nothing special and it certainly wouldn't fool an Auror, but the charm works well enough for Graves' purposes.   

Trish lives in a neat, clean little building that's teeming with other witches and wizards.  Even in a city as big and bustling as New York, magical folk tend to flock together; Graves’ first apartment out of school had been exclusively magical.  It wasn’t until after the war that he’d sought out No-Maj apartment buildings, seeking to remove himself from reminders of the war.

The basement of Trish’s building, when Graves slips inside and makes his way down the stairs, flattening himself against the wall to avoid a portly little wizard with green steam pouring out of his ears, is clean and free of smoke.  Not even the smell of fire lingers.

But Obscuri aren't smoke, not really.  Graves isn’t sure what Credence is made of, aside from darkness and teeth and raw wild magic, but it's not smoke.  Graves doesn’t find Credence but he does find evidence that someone has been sheltering here. Spots in the corners have been swept free of dust and he finds a neat pile of empty cans, their faded labels advertising potatoes, peas, and the like.   

He finds a few paperbacks tucked away under some loose bricks; a garish green-and-red book with tattered pages and a little grey book with a lighthouse on the cover.  Graves doesn’t recognize the names. They must be No-Maj books.

He finds a blanket, too, and a few No-Maj newspapers.  There’s no wand or moving pictures or anything to suggest that a wizard is living here, but Graves is pretty confident that he’s found Credence’s hiding place, or at least one of them.  No other witch or wizard he knows would read No-Maj books.

At least he's not starving to death , Graves thinks, studying the cans.  He raises his wand high and thinks about light; this, he's found, works better than actually trying to cast Lumos.  Surely enough a little bit of light flickers into existence, and Graves lifts it high.

There are deep gouges clawed into the bricks.

Graves wonders, not for the first time, how much control Credence has over his Obscurus.  By most accounts Obscurials are by nature out of control. They rage and rampage, killing indiscriminately.  But Credence had aimed his; he'd aimed himself at Graves, had targeted him specifically. The attempt had been destructive and clumsy, but it had been there.

There’s a narrow vent set into the stone near the top of the basement.  It’s far too small for any human, even a child, to crawl through, but for someone who can turn into ribbons of shadow it's as good as a door.   

This can't be the only place Credence is using to hide, though.  Graves can't bank on Credence coming back here tonight, not when the rest of the Aurors are after him.  Graves doesn’t trust his magic enough to try to set up a Detection Charm, but he’s always been good at wardsetting, and that doesn’t require a wand.  

Very carefully, aware of the fact that he could be discovered at any moment, Graves begins to weave a ward.  He chooses a brick in the far corner of the basement as his base and builds from there. Magic, if one looks closely enough, has a shape, a color; Graves’ own magic is a deep wine red, thin and brittle after his time in the other place.  

The rest of the building is a tapestry of colorful magic.  There’s the subdued, dull silver-grey of the building’s owners, who wove No-Maj repelling wards into the building’s foundations.  Bright pinks and blues and greens of the tenants who have set a thousand little wards and charms in their own apartments over the years.  The Department of Wizarding Security and Protection set thrumming purple wards over the doors and windows. The Department of Transportation smeared green Floo-wards over the fireplaces.  

Underneath it all, Graves threads a ward of his own.  It’s a simple thing, really, just a rune that he draws in his own blood and some raw intent, bound up with a thin red thread of magic, but it ought to do the trick; if anyone magical passes the ward, it will prick in the back of Graves’ mind like a needle.  

He’d done something similar in his sixth year at Ilvermorny, to keep his yearmates out of his room when he’d been there with Theo.  Graves is thirty-nine years old and once set a ward in Germany so complicated that he hears the Germans are still trying to unravel it a decade later, but Graves has decided to celebrate the little victories in his life post-Grindelwald, and successfully setting a ward at all is definitely a victory.

Once he’s finished, Graves erases every trace he’d been there except for the ward and Apparates to Woolworth.  

He doesn't go in, of course, and he can't bear to Transfigure his face, so he turns his coat's collar up and knots his scarf about his throat, settling into the shadows across the street to watch Aurors come and go.   

Seraphina has put Tina, Mendelson, and a new recruit Graves doesn't recognize on Credence's case.  Graves watches the three of them, Tina's expression determined, Mendelson's irreverent, the recruit's nervous, leave Woolworth together.  The British wizard Newt Scamander trails after them, sticking close to Tina.

The group doesn’t Apparate and they don't notice when Graves slinks out into the crowd of No-Majs behind them.   

Graves follows them from nearly a block back, wound tighter than a Sneakoscope.  Tina is alert and watchful, checking over her shoulder every few minutes, and Graves is constantly ducking behind buildings and lurking near newsstands to avoid getting caught out.  

That would just be embarrassing , he thinks, pretending to browse the Times.  The former Director of Magical Security caught out by a rookie, a slob, and Tina.  At least Tina's good at her job. Getting caught by her wouldn't be quite so sad. Getting caught by Mendelson, on the other hand.   

If Graves can't tail someone like Mendelson, he should just go back and let Grindelwald kill him.  

Graves keeps after the little party for several blocks, and Credence does not appear.   

That at least is reassuring, and Graves inhales some tasteless No-Maj street food before checking into the nondescript hotel he's running his hunt from.  Flooing in and out of the old Graves house is just inconvenient—not every fireplace in New York is connected to the Floo—and Apparition is still a bit unreliable.  Graves can manage short distances, but the trip from upstate into the city and back stretches him very thin.

The last thing he needs to do is leave half himself behind.  It’s best to minimize the risk. Graves has lived in the city since he was eighteen years old; he can adjust to its size and its noise again.

Three days and nights pass like this, with Graves tailing Tina and keeping an ear out for any rumor of Credence, and then on the evening of the fourth day as a sleepy purple twilight begins to steal over the streets and the skyscrapers, the ward Graves set up in the basement of Trish's building prickles against the base of his skull.

Graves Apparates immediately, turning on his heel without a thought.  He's not dressed for a duel—in the last couple of days he's sacrificed his professional, slick attire in favor of plainer clothes, grey trousers, a short, tattered black coat, a hat pulled low over his ears—but he doesn't want to lose Credence, not before he has the chance to talk to the boy, to explain, to—

He Apparates just outside the building, fingers wrapped around the rough white wood of his wand, and thinks with all his considerable focus, I need to be unseen.   

A cold sensation, not unlike a fever chill, ripples from the top of his head down to his feet.  To his surprise he finds that it worked —he's Disillusioned himself without a proper spell.  There's no telling how long such a charm will hold but It's good enough to get him in the building and hopefully within range of Credence before the boy can either fight or fly.   

Graves slips inside the building and makes his way down into the basement, determinedly muffling his movement.  He is ill-suited for sneaking and spying and creeping about, but it helps to focus on the prickling feeling of wild magic in his chest.      

Unseen, he tells himself.  Unheard.   

Graves opens himself just a little, reaching out for the threads of magic that hang in the air, just out of sight.  There’s silver and green and blue and gold, his own thin red thread, and this time, there’s a smear of deep storm grey.  Graves recognizes it immediately; Credence.  

He manages to make it halfway into the gloom of the basement unnoticed before he trips over a loose brick, and Credence Barebone, half-Obscurus already, pressed into the farthest corner of the room, goes still.  

"Who's there?"  Credence says.

Graves wrestles with himself for a moment—to reveal himself and explain, or to stay hidden and try and calm the boy down—before Credence makes the choice for him and fills the room with solid, bristling darkness.   

Graves curses and dives out of the way, his concentration breaking.  The Disillusionment falls off him, and Credence turns, and Graves sees his eyes go from pale blue to bone white.   

"You," he growls again, in a terrible, ferocious voice.   

"Credence," Graves says, all his carefully-laid plans abandoning him, holding his hands out.  "Credence, I'm not who you think I am, I just want to talk—"

"You liar!" Credence roars, and shadows lash out, forcing Graves to hiss, "Protego!" and conjure up a shield.  The darkness bounces off of it, regroups, and launches itself at Graves again.

The hot, heavy, lighting-struck feeling is coming back.  Graves, emboldened, flicks his wrist and summons a wind that howls around Credence, containing his darkness, pushing it back, and grins wildly.  

Credence doesn't grin back—what he does is not a smile.  It’s a wolf baring its teeth, showing off its long fangs, its intentions, and then there is no thin young man but a maelstrom, and the wind bows before it.   

Graves Apparates out of the way just in time to avoid getting hit with the brunt of Credence's power, but a flicker of it catches his side and draws lightning through his ribs—

Graves stays on his feet this time, staggering out of his turn and into the wall opposite Credence, every cell in his body reacting to the thread of Credence's power—

Credence turns before Graves can bring himself under control, can stamp out the joy and terror in his veins, and Credence slams into Graves with all his force, throwing him back against the wall, stunning him, and is gone up the vent before Graves can stagger back to his feet.  

Graves lies there for a minute, tasting his own blood.  Power is alive beneath his ribs, in his lungs, his limbs, his veins.  

Well, he tells himself, licking the blood off his teeth, that went well, didn’t it?  

 

VIII.

After their disastrous second meeting, Graves can't get close to Credence again.  He nearly does half a dozen times—he and Credence seem to be hunting each other, and keep missing each other by the thinnest of margins.   

Graves will be prowling down a dimly-lit street and Credence will appear at the end of it, only to dissolve away again.  Or Graves will be half-asleep, curled up in a hotel bed or on the couch in his great-grandfather’s sitting room and he’ll see Credence out of the corner of his eye, only to lose him when he jerks into full wakefulness.   

Something has changed inside Graves, now that he’s touched the Obscurus. Something is awake again, and this time it doesn’t give out or go back to sleep.  It stays inside him, buzzing and crackling, and doesn’t fail. It tugs at Graves, pulls him through the unseasonably warm woods around his house, miles and miles of them, back to the city every day without fail.  

It is, Graves thinks, a piece of Credence Barebone.   

Or a piece of Graves himself that recognizes Credence.  It’s old, old magic, that much he knows for sure. Like calls to like, and this piece of himself, awake after so long asleep, calls to Credence.  Graves can hear it murmuring, in the space between wakefulness and sleep.

It should frighten him.  The bit of himself that is like Credence is also like the other place—strange, unearthly, terrible and great, but Graves thinks that he’s spent so long in the dark that he’s quite accustomed to it now.   

At least with this thing alive inside of him, Graves knows there’s more to him than what Grindelwald destroyed.  

The game between Graves and Credence does grow intolerable after a few weeks of it.  Graves considers just walking into New York and letting Credence rip him to pieces as the boy so clearly wants to do.  Then it would be over. Grindelwald is a very powerful man, but not even he can reach Graves beyond death.

But Graves is so close, and it’s not in his nature to let go in the middle of a hunt like this.

(When Graves is dreaming, if he dreams at all, he dreams of the other place giving way to dark woods, to late autumn snow and red leaves, to smoke and blood on the tongue.  

Graves wakes up restless, hungry; he wakes up electrified, with lightning crackling underneath his ribs.

He’s trying not to think about it.)  

It’s clear that the methods Graves was taught as an Auror aren’t working.  Credence has never been caught by the Aurors—he’s too slippery, too quick, too determined to survive.  If Graves can't catch hold of Credence through the usual ways, he's going to have to use the old ones. This means, ultimately, unbending his pride and arguing with his house until it lets him into his great-grandmother's wing.   

"I am the head of the family, technically," he tells the sealed door, one hand curled around his aspen wand.  Graves' parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents, are all long dead. His great-grandmother finally passed in nineteen twelve, and the house and the name fell to Bors.   

The house and the name are Graves', now, and he needs to get in this wing.   

He levels his wand at the old oak door.  "Open," he commands, in as powerful a tone as he can.   

The door stays shut.  

Graves mutters a curse.  An idea born of the dark builds at the base of his spine; Graves is standing straighter before he knows what's happening.  His hand curls tighter around his wand. He thinks of Credence Barebone, of the coin of light that he had carved out of Grindelwald's darkness, and says, in a voice ancient and deep and vibrating, "Open."   

Graves can taste the old magic on his tongue.  Lightning, blood, fire, wine, and underneath it all the earth itself, raw and real—

The door gives a great, shuddering sigh, and opens.   

The rush of power leaves Graves dizzy, but he knows instinctively that if he falls the door will close again and he won't find what he needs.   

He takes a step forward, passing into the shadow, and forces himself to keep walking.  Magic hangs heavily in this part of the house.

The faces of Graves' relatives watch him as he passes.  None of the portraits speak to him—it's been fifteen years since anyone was here, they might not remember how—but they all watch him.  His brothers, his parents, his grandparents, down and down the Graves line. They all have the same dark, watchful eyes. He avoids the portraits of his more recent relatives--he doesn’t need to see his brothers, he remembers them well enough, and looking at pictures of his parents has always made him uncomfortable, in an odd, lopsided kind of way--and he doesn’t really care about his more distant relations.     

His great-grandmother's library is a forbidding place.  It smells of old parchment and leather and, inexplicably, wet earth.  Graves looks around a bit, not sure where to start, and sighs. He’d best get to work, then.  

A brief inspection shows that none of the books are labeled properly or shelved with any kind of order—Graves has to remind himself repeatedly that he's on a schedule and can't afford to alphabetize his great-grandmother's entire library—so he combs through each book, hunting the truth of his kind.  

The old ways are dead in America.  Were dead. But Grindelwald brought them back.  Graves only has a vague idea of what magic is like in some of the wilder places in Europe.  The true fair folk have all gone away in Ireland and Scotland, where Graves' family is from, and have been gone for hundreds of years, but who's to say if they've gone in Germany?  

Grindelwald is more fae than human, anyway.  His mismatched eyes give it away.

Thinking the word, fae, the old kind, the fair folk, makes the smell of raw earth grow stronger in the library.  It makes the house sigh. It makes light come in through the trees.

He remembers Grindelwald in the other place, tracing a hand down Graves’ jaw.  “After I’m through, there will be no more hiding,” Grindelwald had said. “We won’t have to hide.  We will be free to be who we are in the light of day, and no witch or wizard will ever have to be afraid.”     

"No more hiding," Graves murmurs, picking up a new book.  The tome is bound in a strange, pale leather he does not particularly want to examine, and bookmarked with a pristine red oak leaf.  Graves opens the book to the marked page.

His eyes fall on three words, inked in dark, flaking letters.  

The Wild Hunt.

 

IX.

Graves has no idea what he's doing.  None whatsoever. He doesn't have any "wyld wolf-hounds, with fur as blacke as niht," nor does he have a horn banded in silver, a ceremonial robe, or a demonic pig.   

He makes do with a set of moth-eaten dress robes.   

According to his great-grandmother's book—and why she kept these books is a mystery Graves would love to unravel, had he the time, because she stamped the ancestral wild magic out of three generations of Graves witches and wizards—the old ways are rooted in blood.  There are other elements, of course, herbs and potions, spells, enchantments, but blood is the core of it. Blood is life and death walking hand in hand.

Despite the formality of the text he's read, Graves feels a bit foolish, standing out in his forest in the middle of the night, dress robes hanging loosely off his shoulders, an iron knife in one hand and a bowl between his feet.  

He feels like a first year at Ilvermorny, like he's let someone pull a trick over on him.   

This is absurd, he thinks.  He almost puts the knife down.  

But Graves remembers the feeling of the Obscurus grazing his ribs.  He remembers Grindelwald's prison. He remembers his own power when he'd been a young boy, before he'd learned spells and incantations and what mice tasted like, before school and Auror training and his great-grandmother turning him into an owl.  He remembers the taste of the wind.

Graves cuts his palm open before he can talk himself out of it, and the iron burns .  It burns, it burns, and the wound on his hand blisters around the edges.  Blood streams and drips down into the bowl at Graves' feet and lightning thrashes through his chest, driving him to his knees.  

Breathless with pain, Graves gathers his scattered thoughts and thinks, Credence .  He thinks of Credence's darkness, of the Obscurus rising. He thinks of Credence's wolfish face, the inhumanity of his cheekbones.  He thinks of Credence's eyes.

Gradually the pain fades.  The bowl has been filled with blood.  Shaking, Graves picks it up and brings it to the roots of the biggest oak tree on his property.  The branches are bare in the dead of winter, gleaming white, and Graves pours the bowl of blood out over its roots.  

He can smell it, the blood.  His heart thunders against his ribs.  

Behind him, a twig snaps.  Graves spins around, wounded hand tucked to his chest, wand raised high, and then freezes.  He can barely believe his eyes.

In the gaps between the trees Graves sees four great hounds, their coats as dark as night.   They have red, red eyes, and the largest of them lopes over to Graves. When he touches its snout, its fur is hot.   

Graves swallows.  “I need,” he says very carefully, “to find Credence Barebone.  Can you help me?”

The hound does not speak.  But it turns and races off through the trees, its fellows tearing after it, and Graves knows instinctively that he’s to follow.   

Graves runs.   

He runs faster than he’s run in his life, faster than flying, than Apparition, an easy, breathless lope that makes magic sing in his blood.  He’s not old and stiff and sore, not anymore. There is no pain. Only wild elation, only the hunt in his chest, and he crosses miles and miles, trees bleeding into towns, towns into the city, and the hounds start baying, singing, and then—

And then Graves is in the ruins of a church, confronted with Credence, the hounds his blood summoned dissolving into shadow.  

Credence, cornered, feral, the same song in Graves echoing in Credence’s shadow, bares all of his teeth.  

“I wanted you to leave me alone,” he says.  “But if you won’t—”

This time, Graves doesn’t wait for Credence to erupt into shadow.  He strikes first, fast, stirring wind. He shouldn’t be dueling the boy—he should be talking with Credence, coaxing, but the Wild Hunt is in him and the Wild Hunt ends only with blood.   

Credence snarls, the Obscurus rising, and then he’s shadow and fire, howling his rage.   

Beautiful, Graves thinks, dodging a lash of darkness.   Terrible.   

They duel like that for a time, Graves flicking debris and spells at the Obscurial, Credence retaliating with darkness.  Graves isn’t trying to hurt Credence—he doesn’t know if he’s capable of hurting Credence—but Credence is definitely trying to kill him.  The thought of it makes Graves laugh, fierce and delighted, and he ducks as Credence throws his entire seething self at Graves’ head.

What’s left of the ruined church goes up in a cloud of shadow.  Dust and bits of brick rain down. Graves casts a Shield Charm, slow lightning in his gut, and readies his Patronus—

Credence disappears entirely.  

Graves startles.  He almost—almost, and this is what saves his life—drops his guard, because Credence’s departure is so sudden, but he can still feel Credence, what Grindelwald made in Graves echoing against what Grindelwald made in Credence, and he sees motion out of the corner of his eye.  

There’s no time to cast a Patronus or a Shield Charm, so Graves takes the brunt of the Obscurial to the side.  The force of it knocks him into the shattered belly of the church, cracks a rib, and fills Graves’ mouth with blood. Credence is on him in a heartbeat, forming himself out of scraps of shadow and rage, tearing Graves' wand out of his hand, and pinning him to the ground.  

The blow startles Graves more than anything—he doesn’t feel the pain of it yet, and won’t for some time.  Credence is perhaps an inch taller than him but lighter, bones and angles, and it's easy for Graves to push Credence off, reaching for his wand—

Credence punches him.  It's an inelegant, sloppy punch, no real force behind it, only desperation, but he gets Graves right in the mouth, and blood flows.  Darkness howls, pressing down on Graves like a physical weight, and he knows abruptly that this time, he's lost.

Graves lies still and Credence presses his wand to Graves' throat.  

The aspen wand digs into the tender skin below his jaw. Graves doesn't even dare to swallow.  The wild thing in his chest has died out again, the joy, the terror, the lightning. He is defenseless, and the memory of the last time he lost a duel—of blood in his mouth, of Grindelwald's mismatched eyes, of a magic wild and ferocious and unknowable bearing down—blurs with the present.  

Something inside of Percival Graves gives out at last.

"Why," pants Credence, a snarl still lurking in his face, "are you following me?  Haven't you done enough to me? What do you want?"

And Graves, choking on his own blood, understanding at last what he has to offer Credence Barebone, says, " Avada Kedavra. " He lies very still beneath Credence, fighting his instincts.  He feels his wand shiver in Credence's hand, drawn to the sound of Graves' voice.  

Credence falters for the first time since Graves has known him.  "What?" he says, hoarse. Stripped of his rage and righteousness he’s very young.    

" Avada Kedavra ," Graves says again.  "That's the curse you're looking for.  The Killing Curse. That's the spell you want, isn't it?"

"The Killing—?"

"Unbeatable," Graves murmurs.  Credence is still half-darkness, shot through with streaks of red fire.  His magic sings a wild song, and Graves finds that he could die like this, very easily.  "Unavoidable. You want and end to all of this, don't you? Isn't that why you attacked me in the alley?  You want retribution ."  

"I—you—you made me like this," Credence says, some of his conviction returning.  He tightens his grip on Graves' wand, his knuckles as white as the wood. Power vibrates in his voice.  "This is your fault. I thought you were my friend!"

He’s a raw and wounded thing, this boy that Grindelwald would use to start a war.  If Graves had anything left inside of himself, he’d feel empathy. But Graves is hollow.  He knows that now.

"End it, then."  Graves says. "End it, if it's what you want."  He would not—he wouldn't mind. Dying like this.  If it helps Credence—Credence, a young man he barely knows, a young man he knows down to the depths of his bones, a man who Grindelwald had taken, had emptied, had filled, just like Graves himself—if it helps Credence, Graves doesn't care.   

He'd died there, in the crushing, flat darkness of the other place.  That's the truth of it. Percival Graves had died, and the man who had clawed his way free was someone else, someone with Graves' face and his old wounds but nothing else.   

"You're like me," Graves says thic kly, around his bloody teeth.  "It's alright. He made me, too. All you have to do is say the words, Credence.  Avada Kedavra .  That's why I found you.  That's what I wanted to tell you.  You can end it, if you want."

It's a lie, but Credence doesn't need to know.  Things like this are never really over, but Grindelwald will be a shell of a man very soon and Credence is too strong for MACUSA to catch.  It will be over in all the ways that matter. It will be over for Graves.

Credence is shaking wildly now, barely clinging to his shape.  "I don't understand," he says, very softly. "You're not—you aren't—"  

And then the pressure lets up.  Graves' wand is pulled away. Credence tosses it aside, snatching his hand back like the wand had burned him, and scrambles off of Graves, wildness in every line of his face.   

"You aren't him," he says, and there is no doubt in Graves' mind who he is.   

"No," says Graves hoarsely, his body already coming to terms with the fact that it probably should be dead.  His heartbeat is slow and steady. Cautious, he sits up and summons his wand with a twitch of his fingers. Credence eyes it but doesn't flee.  "I'm not."

"Who are you?"

"Graves," he says.

Credence glares at him, shadows gathering.  "That's what he said his name was."

Graves snorts.  "Well, it was my name first.  The wizard you knew—the man with my face—his name is Grindelwald."  

Credence curls his lip, and Graves is again reminded of a cornered wolf.  "You're lying," he says.

"You know I'm not."  Graves doesn't stand.  He doesn't want Credence to see him as a threat, not now that Credence has apparently decided to spare his life. (He will have to confront the fact, later, that he was—is—willing to die.  Not for the first time since his capture, shame twists in his gut.) "If you'd thought me a liar, you would have killed me."

"You—look like him," Credence says, after a long, tense pause.  "But—not like him. You sound like him, but you don't."

Graves drags a hand through his hair, shorter than Credence would have known it, down his thinner face.  "It's called Polyjuice Potion," he explains. "Grindelwald—the other Graves, the one you knew—used it to impersonate me."  

"Why?"

"He wanted you," Graves says.  "And I had what he needed to get you."   

Wild light flashes in Credence's eyes.  "You—you're here to take me to him, I won't go, I won't.  You'll have to kill me first."

"I don't want to kill you, Credence," Graves says tiredly.  "I want—"

And he doesn't know what he wants, anymore.  He wants to feel whole again. He wants his magic, his proper magic, back.  He wants to be with his brothers. He wants to be at Seraphina's side. He wants—

He wants the woods.  He wants red leaves, a white grave, a deep and warm darkness.  He wants things he has no words for.

“Come get a cup of coffee with me,” Graves says.  He looks up at Credence. “And I’ll tell you everything you want to know.  If you want to leave after that, fine. I won’t follow you.” He doesn’t have the strength left, honestly.  The blood, the ritual in the woods, the spectral hounds, those were the last ditch efforts of a man coming to the end of himself.  If Credence hears him out and decides that he wants nothing to do with Graves, that’s fine. Graves will let him go, and he’ll return to his country house, and he’ll quietly fade away.  

(He does wonder, though, when Credence became the pin on which his life turned.  Did Grindelwald intend for this to happen? Did he intend to bind Graves and Credence together, shadow to shadow?)  

Credence looks back at Graves, his eyes wide and wild.  He’s clearly torn, self-preservation warring with longing, with the need to be understood, to not be alone.  

Graves understands.  He does.

Credence hesitates for one more moment, then his shoulders curl in a bit.  The darkness ebbs away. “One cup,” he says, head slung low between his shoulders.  Graves gets to his feet painfully, coughs, spits out blood.

“You are familiar with Side-Along Apparition?”  Graves asks. He holds out his hand. “Because I’m not walking anywhere, I’m afraid.”  

Credence eyes him, but cautiously takes his hand.  His fingers are warmer than Graves thought they’d be.  After the other place, he’s always associated the dark with cold.  He tightens his grip. Now that he has Credence, it’d be a shame to Splinch him.   

“Hold on,” Graves says, and takes them both away.   

 

Chapter Text

the king of oak

 

three. an teach na marbh

(the house of the dead)

 

this is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.

-louise gluck, from “october”

 

god forgive me.
my old self strains against
this new one.

-douglas dunn, from “scenic tunnels”

    

X.

Graves takes them to Goody Howe’s.  A No-Maj coffeehouse would probably be a safer choice, but Graves feels hollow and scraped raw; he doesn’t have the energy to blend in with No-Majs and the last thing he needs is for Credence to shift into furious darkness in some bakery.  Somehow he doubts that Newt Scamander has another thunderbird in his menace of a case to clean up another incident.

Graves Apparates the both of them in behind Howe’s place, stowing his wand away.  Credence jerks out of his grip as soon as they’re on solid ground again, his eyes going white around the edges.

“Easy,” says Graves, hoarsely.  “It’s alright.”

“Where are we?”  Credence growls, looking ready to bolt and ready to tear through Graves to do it.

Graves understands the need for a way out, so he says, “Goody Howe’s.  Corner of Church and Park.”

The silvery white glow of Credence’s eyes doesn’t dim.  The boy doesn’t offer anything else up either, doesn’t calm down or uncurl his fists, so Graves sighs and leads the way, rubbing a particularly sharp ache in his thigh.  His nerves are too frayed to risk an intensive healing spell so Graves just bears up and leads the way. Goody Howe’s is open even at this time of day and Graves opens the door, ducks under the bell, and sinks, gratefully, into a plush armchair near one of the shop’s wide windows, where he can watch the street.

It’s early morning now.  The city is waking up, thin grey light breaking over the buildings, warming the stones of the street.  People are stirring, beginning their walks to work or back home. Graves is lucky—Goody Howe’s must have just opened for the day.  The smell of strong coffee and fresh bread washes over him, and out of the corner of his eye Graves sees Credence relax, just a little.

Graves manages to clean the worst of the blood and bruising off of the visible parts of himself with a few twitches of his hand.  Healing magic has never been his strong suit, but he always manages to survive. At least one of his ribs is cracked, which means he’s going to have to spend tonight with a bottle of Skele-Grow, hating each and every single bone in his body.

Credence warily mirrors Graves, settling into an armchair across a polished table and pulling his limbs close to his body.  His eyes dart around the room, trying to take everything in.

Graves doesn’t blame him.  Goody Howe’s is one of the more elegant coffeehouses in the city.  The Howes are one of the Twelve. They’ve been in America for a long, long time.  They lost relatives to the Salem Witch Trials, a distinction that allows them wealth and elegance in all of their ventures.  Everything, from the gleaming wood fixtures to the shining copper cups that float through the air of their own accord, is beautiful.

A neatly-lettered menu rises up off the coffee table and unfurls itself before Graves.  “A cup of Darjeeling for me,” Graves tells it. He looks at Credence, who’s staring at the menu in open astonishment.

It takes him a moment to realize that he’s supposed to tell the menu what he wants.  “C-coffee, please,” Credence says. The menu folds itself up in acknowledgment.

Graves catches sight of himself in the window, all angles, so pale he’s almost translucent and notes how loosely Credence’s clothes hang off of his shoulders.  “And a plate of sandwiches, if you would,” he says. “Whatever’s left in the kitchen is fine.”

“Nonsense,” the menu tells him, unfurling a bit again.  “We’ll bring you the Waldorf tea sandwiches you’re so fond of.  A plate, you say?”

Credence looks like he’s been hit over the head.  The creeping wonder in his eyes makes Graves smile a bit, so he says, “If you insist.”

The menu, satisfied, settles back down on the table between Graves and Credence.  With a flick of his fingers, Graves draws curtains down around them, hiding the rest of the shop from view.  Eveline Howe herself will likely bring out the sandwiches—she’s been fussing over Graves for weeks now, because she has a grandson of marriageable age who’s rich enough to ignore a minor scandal—but aside from that, they won’t be disturbed.

Graves draws his wand and casts a Silencing Spell, just to be thorough.  The effort exhausts him.

“I’m surprised he didn’t bring you here,” Graves says, leaning back.  He wants to give Credence as much space as possible. “The man who wore my face, I mean.”  Grindelwald had come here. He’d sat in this very chair every Sunday, as Graves himself has done every Sunday since he moved to New York in an imitation of a father he doesn’t remember.

Credence blinks at Graves owlishly.  “He never took me anywhere,” he says, tone flat.  A cup of tea appears at Graves’ elbow, coffee at Credence’s.  Neither of them takes any notice. They’re too busy studying each other.

Credence Barebone comes from the old blood.  It’s plain on his face, in the angles of his jaw, the sharp slant of his cheekbones.  He’s just as plainly not pureblooded. No pureblood would leave their child to be raised by No-Majs, not even if they died unexpectedly.  Relatives would have swooped in to care for Credence.

No, it’s likely that Credence had one parent with magic—likely his mother, as these sort of things tend to follow the matrilineal line—and one without, and was born outside of MACUSA’s oversight.  Marrying a No-Maj is forbidden. Having a child by one isn’t, but it’s not particularly encouraged either and so such children tend to live in hiding with their parents until it’s time to go to school.

(And that is something Graves will have to look into if he gets the chance.  Even the son of a No-Maj should be on the list for Ilvermorny—everyone is. How did Credence get lost?  Did the list mistake him, as Grindelwald did, for a Squib?)

Despite his dubious parentage, the old blood is as strong in Credence as it is in Graves.  Stronger, even, judging by the fact that he’s survived to adulthood with an Obscurus chipping away at him.  Credence has a magic like Gal had had. Wild, depthless. If he’d been raised to know his own world, he’d likely be a rising star in whatever profession he’d chosen.  Maybe he would have been one of Graves’ own Aurors. He certainly has the bloodlust for it.

Graves leans back, fixing his attention on Credence, and sighs.  He’s going to let Credence lead this conversation. Graves doesn’t even know where to start.  He’s too tired.

They sit in silence for a few minutes, Graves affecting laziness, Credence tense and twitchy.

“You said,” Credence begins at last, haltingly.  “You said that his name was Grindelwald.”

Graves inclines his head.  “It is,” he says. “Gellert Grindelwald.  He’s a Dark wizard. Not one of ours—one of America’s, I mean—but he’s been branching out lately.  We are his latest stop. Hopefully his last, if the dementors have their way.”

“And that your name is Graves.”  There’s a sharpness in Credence’s eyes that Graves takes to mean that he should tread carefully.  Everything Graves said after Gellert Grindelwald likely didn’t make any sense—it’s irrelevant information.  This is what matters. Names, identities, truth.  If Credence doesn’t like what Graves has to say or doesn’t believe him, he’ll attack, and Graves doesn’t have the will to fight anymore.

“Percival Graves,” he says.  “Son of Agravain Graves, grandson of Bedivere Graves, and so on. I’d give you the rest of my family tree but I doubt Grindelwald was interesting in sharing it.  I doubt he knew it, come to think of it.”

“Why should I believe you?”  Credence’s hands are shaking.  “I believed him, and he—he lied to me.  Everyone lies to me. Why should I believe you?”  Credence is starting to unravel at the edges, to blur, darkness creeping up his neck like an ink stain.

“Control yourself, please,” Graves says tiredly.  “This is my favorite coffeehouse, and the Howes have more money than I do.  I can’t afford a lawsuit.”

That makes Credence startle, his edges solidifying again.

“You know I’m not him,” says Graves.  Exhaustion drags at him. Grindelwald’s shadow lurks around the corners of the coffeehouse, hungry, starving, ready to tear away the last few pieces of Graves and finally devour them.  “You said it yourself.”

“You—look different,” Credence finally admits, sounding as though Graves is dragging the words out of him.  “Less—” And to Graves’ utter shock, Credence blushes and looks away like he’s been scalded.

“In control of my life?”  Graves says dryly. “I know.”  He runs a hand through his hair.  It’s growing in again with an appalling amount of silver.  He’s starting to look like his great-grandfather and he’s not even forty.

Credence stays flushed and waves a jerky hand, eyes fixed out the window.  “That’s not what I meant,” he mumbles. “You look—more real. Mr. Graves—the other one, I mean—he looked like… someone out of a story.”

At that Graves snorts. “The Wizard’s Hairy Heart, maybe,” he grouses.  Credence looks at him again, uncomprehending. “A children’s story.” Graves waves it away.  “For what it’s worth, Credence, I’m sorry for what Grindelwald did to you while he was wearing my face.”

Credence’s shoulders curl inward.  “Why did—why did he want me?”

“He didn’t,” says Graves, without any sympathy.  That’s the hard truth of it. Grindelwald didn’t want Credence, not until he knew that Credence was the Obscurial he sought.  Credence flinches. “He wanted the Obscurus. What your magic has become.”

“He was looking for a child,” Credence says miserably, and scraps of darkness flicker around his hands.

“Obscurials—people whose magic has become what yours is, an Obscurus—are very rare these days.  Wizards have gone into hiding, you see. Our children aren’t caught by No-Majs anymore and subjected to torture, so their magic develops in a healthy way.”  Graves flicks his wrist and makes his teacup rise gently in the air. Credence watches, open hunger on his face. How Grindelwald could have mistaken him for a Squib is beyond Graves; Credence’s magic hangs in the air like something Graves could touch, if he wanted.  It fills the air with ribbons of billowing grey smoke. “Most Obscurials don’t live past ten or eleven. Their magic kills them. It eats them from the inside out.”

“I’m twenty-four,” Credence says.  “Why did—how did—”

Graves shrugs.  Magical theory, outside of wardsetting, is largely beyond him.  Bors had been the scholar, not Graves. “You’re stronger,” he says.  “That’s all I can say. Grindelwald didn’t think that you could be the Obscurial because of your age, your control over it.”

Credence’s face crumples up.  “I think,” he whispers, “that it would be better if it—if this thing—had killed me, Mr. Graves.”

“Don’t call me that,” says Graves sharply, perhaps more sharply than he means to.  “Not if you called him that. Graves is fine.” He forces himself to soften. It’s not easy—Graves hasn’t been soft since he was a boy.  Gal had never needed a gentle hand, and any gentleness Graves had been capable of before the war started has long since withered away.

He hesitates.  Credence is on the verge of flying apart again.  There’s—not just misery in him, but rage too, wild fury, a hollow hunger that Graves can see and understand.  “I wish Grindelwald had killed me, sometimes,” he murmurs. It’s an easy thing to offer up to Credence, because Credence and Graves are not the same, but they are similar.   Different breeds of monster, Graves realizes, thinking of the darkness that’s rooted in the base of his spine, of the things he gave up to get out of the other place, but monsters all the same.  

“Why didn’t he?”  Credence’s gaze is, at last, direct.  He’s not being malicious, just blunt. Graves can appreciate that.

“That wouldn’t be any fun,” Graves says.  “He likes to ruin people, you see. He likes to see how long it takes to break them.”

Credence is a man made up of shadows and fury, but he’s got enough kindness in him that he doesn’t ask how long it took Grindelwald to break Graves.

Graves sighs, settling deeper into his chair.  Every breath is starting to hurt. He can’t shake off cracked ribs like he used to.  He thinks of what Seraphina would say if she could hear his joints creaking and manages a tired smile.

“How much did Grindelwald tell you about our world?”  Graves asks. He’s said what he found Credence to say.  What happens next is entirely up to the boy.

“That you—”

“We,” says Graves.

Credence looks at him oddly, most of his anger bled away.  “That we,” he corrects, slowly, clumsily, “live in a world of magic.  That it’s invisible to people without, and that it’s beautiful. He said—he said that wizards don’t hurt each other.”

A frisson of anger shudders up Graves’ spine.  Credence sees it, or senses it, because his shoulders curl again and he says, lowly, “He lied.”

“He did,” Graves growls.  “He’s proof enough of that.”  Grindelwald hadn’t done anything to Graves beyond the Cruciatus Curse, beyond stealing his face and his memories and throwing him into the dark.  But he’s done worse—murder, torture, every atrocity under the sun. Theft, which Graves’ great-grandmother had held to be the most terrible crime in the world.

Graves forces himself to calm down.  Anger, he’s learned, isn’t going to fill up the empty parts of himself, and it’s likely to only frighten Credence off or make him angry in turn.

“Our world is hidden,” Graves explains.  “Separate, from the world of non-magical people.  That separation—the secret of our existence—is our most sacred law.  Grindelwald wants to bring us out of hiding. He wanted to use you to do it.”

“Why?”  Credence asks.  Graves raises an eyebrow.  There are a lot of whys in what he just told Credence.

“Why are wizards hidden?  You can do magic.”

“We,” Graves corrects again, absently.  He tries to figure out how best to explain this.  “Do you know how many people live in America, Credence?”

Credence shakes his head.

“One hundred million or so,” says Graves.  “There are six thousand, one hundred, and eighty-two witches and wizards.  Eighty-three,” he says, nodding at Credence. “And some of us are very powerful, but not even Seraphina Picquery can stand against their numbers.  We have magic, but if No-Majs knew about us and decided that they wanted a second Salem, for example, they’d slaughter us.”

Credence winces.  Graves doesn’t blame him for his involvement with the Second Salemers, given what Credence has suffered at their hands, but he does want Credence to understand.

“Why did Mr. Gr—Grindelwald want me, then? Why did he want my Obscurus?”  Credence stumbles over the world, a little.

“You’ve seen what you can do, right?  Obscurials are powerful. You are magic as it was, before wizards forgot it.”  Graves is absolutely not going to get into that particular chapter of history, how the old folk in their courts were driven out, how they either fled Underhill or adapted, how their blood and their power and their practices were spread out, mingled, diluted.  It’s enough for Credence to know that once all magical folk were like him, wild and unrestrained, and now they hide behind laws and regulations and rules.

“Grindelwald is insane,” Graves continues, “but he’s clever, too.  He wants a war, and for that he wants the most powerful weapons.”

Credence takes that blow well enough.  There are still bits of darkness curling around his hands, still a miserable hunch to his shoulders, a fierce anger in the whites of his eyes, but he doesn’t explode.

“Oh,” says Credence, softly.  He looks up at Graves. “What do you want?”

“To warn you.”  This is what Graves can offer Credence.  Honesty. Information. Protection, if Credence will accept it, though he seems to be keeping himself alive just fine on his own.

Graves owes Credence.  He’s not sure how or why, but he does.  Credence put a little bit of life back into him after Grindelwald had stamped it out.  It doesn’t matter that Graves burned through it. It doesn’t matter that Graves is at the end of himself, that he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants anymore.  He owes Credence, and that for him is law enough. The fair folk pay their debts.

Credence goes tense again, any trust won by Graves’ frankness lost.  “What?”

“You’re in danger, Credence.  Our law is secrecy.  There are those in our government—” and anger sparks up his spine again— “who see your existence as a threat to that secrecy.”  Seven months ago Graves would have agreed with MACUSA. He would have stood behind Seraphina, cast a Killing Curse at Credence himself.  Credence, intentionally or not, has killed No-Majs. He’s done it publicly. Without Scamander’s trick with the thunderbird, wizardkind would be exposed.

“So they want me dead,” Credence says, dully.

“They do.”  Honestly claws its way out of Graves before he can stop it.  “I don’t, though.”

A shadow flickers behind Credence’s eyes.  “Why?”

And that’s a question Graves can’t answer, not really.  He doesn’t have the words to explain the lightning Credence wakes up in Graves’ chest, the odd sense of kinship, recognition.  So Graves only says, “Because it’s not right,” and is saved from further embarrassment by the arrival of Eveline Howe and her plate of sandwiches.

Eveline’s a short, kind-looking old woman, which masks the fact that she’s the holy terror of Wizarding New York.  She has six children, an improbable number of grandchildren, and a determination to see them married off matched only by her fortune.  The only reason she keeps the coffeehouse, as far as Graves can tell, is to find a suitable partner for each one of her numerous descendents.

She’d tried to throw her eldest granddaughter at Graves when he’d first started to visit the shop, until he’d started to bring Theo with him in self-defense.  Two men together had put Eveline off for a while. But since he and Theo parted ways, Eveline has apparently decided she wouldn’t mind having an invert in the family, not if he comes with the Graves pedigree and bank account, so she’s resorted to throwing her grandson Arthur at him instead.

Eveline, therefore, takes one look at Credence, and narrows her eyes.

“How wonderful to see you again, Director,” she says, still glaring at Credence.  “And who is this young man? Your brother’s boy?”

“No,” Graves says, trying not to laugh.  Credence looks at him, bewildered. “Bors’ boy has only just started at Ilvermorny.  This is a friend of mine.” It’s easy to call Credence his friend, even though they’ve only had one civil conversation in their entire acquaintance.  It’s easier still to put the right emphasis on the words, a friend of mine, to let Eveline draw her own conclusions.

Credence startles and fails to say anything.  Eveline’s gaze sharpens. Taking pity on Credence, Graves says, “Henry, this is Mrs. Eveline Howe.  Eveline, this is Henry.”

“Charmed,” says Eveline, looking anything but.  She puts the plate of sandwiches down rather unceremoniously.  “If you need anything, Percival, just shout.” She stalks off in a huff.  Graves half-smiles and helps himself to one of the sandwiches. It’s tasteless, really—no fault of Eveline’s, who’s an excellent cook—but he can’t remember the last time he ate and actually tasted the food.

Credence eyes the sandwiches like they’re going to bite him and says, “What do you mean, it’s not right?”

It takes Graves a minute to understand.  He swallows his sandwich, which settles like lead in his belly, and takes a slow breath.  “Killing you isn’t right,” he says quietly. “It’s not your fault that you’re an Obscurial.  It’s not your fault Grindelwald set his eyes on you. You’re one of us. A wizard. An… unconventional one, true, but we don’t kill our own for mistakes.”

Credence fidgets.  “It… Wasn’t a mistake,” he says, choked.

Graves frowns.  “What do you mean?”

“What I did.  The—the way I attacked all of those wizards in the train station.  I can control it. Sort of. I let—I let it go on purpose. I wanted to hurt them.  I wanted to hurt him.”

Grindelwald.  The violence in Credence’s voice, the threat of shadows, makes Graves sit up straighter.  “You’re not wrong, to want to hurt Grindelwald,” he says. “You were defending yourself.” The line between defense and vengeance is not a thin one, but Graves doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care. “I won’t let them kill you for that.”

Credence meets Graves’ eyes.  He doesn’t flinch away. “How are you going to stop them, Mr. Graves?” he asks.

“I have a house upstate,” Graves says.  Offering it up to Credence is instinctive.  “MACUSA won’t look for you there.” Why would they?  Graves has made it clear in the past that the country house is little more than a moldering mausoleum.  Only Seraphina, Tina, and Mendelson know he’s living there now. “It’s warded; it can keep people out.”

Credence hesitates again, mistrust flashing in his eyes.

“You wouldn’t even have to see me, if you didn’t want to,” says Graves.  “It’s big enough that we wouldn’t cross paths at all.”

Indecision wars across Credence’s face, tearing him between want and caution, need and experience.

“If you don’t like it, I’ll bring you back here.  I promise, Credence.” Graves offers his hand. He can’t make the journey on his own, but if he’s taking Credence there, he’ll make it.  He’ll have to. Graves has always done what he has to.

Credence looks at Graves’ offered hand for a long, painful moment.  Graves’ heart bangs against his ribs. Longing twists in his throat.

“Okay,” Credence says, softly, and takes Graves’ hand.

 

XI.

For the first week, Graves and Credence don’t see hide or hair or curl of smoke of each other.  Graves retreats deep into his great-grandmother’s wing of the house, emerging only at dawn and dusk for tea and toast.  He spends most of his days sleeping, healing. The Skele-Grow is as awful and as irritating as he expects it to be. His other hurts mend more slowly.  His nights he spends trapped in the other place or lying awake in a grey haze, too empty to even stand up.

Credence, from what Graves can tell, spends most of his time outside.  February comes upon them with howling wind and snow, but Credence doesn’t seem to care.  He wanders between the trees like a walking shadow and doesn’t come into Graves’ part of the house at all.

The arrangement works.  No one in New York knows that Graves has taken Credence.  Eveline knows him as Henry and she’s not likely to say anything just in case Graves tires of whatever sweet young thing she thinks Credence to be and turns his attentions to her grandson.

No one else knew Graves well enough to see Grindelwald behind those stickpins, so it’s not like they’re going to expect him to open his home to an orphaned Obscurial.

This suits Graves’ purposes, and Credence’s, just fine.

In an effort to avoid coming to terms with how willing he was to die at Credence’s hands, Graves spends what time he can reading.  His great-grandmother’s library is massive and well-stocked—she had books on everything from history to cooking, and Graves wants to brush up on his history.

He even finds some books for Credence.  A battered copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a beginner’s spell book, a few books on medieval Wizarding history.  To deliver these, Graves waits until he sees Credence wandering between the trees and steals into the other wing of the house.

Credence has claimed the smallest bedroom in the children’s wing.  Graves can’t remember who slept here, when he and his brothers were children.  They’d all slept in the same room when they were very small, and had only staked out rooms of their own when they grew into moody, surly teenagers.  It’s just as likely that all three of the Graves boys slept here as it is that none of them did.

Graves leaves the books on the bedside table and retreats back to the wilder side of the house.

Several more days pass in this fashion.  Graves reads and sleeps, drifts and paces.  His wounds heal up. He gets stronger, at least physically.  The things he’d discovered lying in that church he pushes aside.  He had wanted to die, deserved to die, but he didn’t.  Credence spared his life.  Graves is hardly the type to hurl himself from the roof, so he adjusts again.

He’s alive, and as long as he’s alive Credence is protected here.  The house is bound to Graves’ blood. It’s safe.

He finally musters up the energy to add some extra spell work to the wards anyway.  It takes him nearly an entire day and forces him to spend another two recovering, but it’s worth it.

Graves can live like this, he thinks.  He is a ghost in his own house, but he’s been a ghost for months now.  Credence is safe and protected, and that’s what matters.

Graves also doesn’t feel like examining why that matters so much, why he’s breaking the law and preparing the house for war over him.  Credence just does.  Graves can accept that, after his time in the other place.  There are some things that are that he can’t understand.

Once Graves accepts that, things get… easier.  The grey haze recedes a little bit, giving Graves room to breathe.  He’s able to attend to his letters, to his life. He’s penning one to Seraphina—who is pleased that Graves hasn’t been spotted lurking in the city for several days, and less pleased that he’s apparently shut himself up in his house—when he hears a familiar roar outside and overturns his desk in his haste to get to a window.

The roar echoes again, rattling the glass, and Graves draws his wand.  He peers out into the dusk-lit wood and doesn’t see anything.

But when he gets to a window big enough to give him a proper view of the grounds, there’s nothing wrong.  No enemy wizards, no MACUSA bearing down. Just Credence, spinning idly through the air like a thundercloud.

Graves has only ever seen the Obscurus attack.  He’s never seen it just—be.  Credence isn’t doing anything destructive.  He’s just drifting, the parts of himself whirling and moving like the bones of a bird in flight, like clock gears, precise and perfect.

Graves watches Credence swoop over the trees, shadows just barely brushing the branches.  Credence flies like that for a long time, just twisting through the air. He’s graceful. Something loosens in Graves’ chest just watching him.  A bit of peace steals over him.

It’s not like it was before, when the sight and touch of Credence made power thunder in Graves’ veins.  It’s not lightning or blood or wine. But it is warm, and fills Graves up.

I want to watch him forever, he realizes.

Finally, Credence descends, reforming from darkness into a man, tiny against the rise of the oak trees.  He turns his face towards the house.

Carefully, his heart in his throat for some absurd reason, Graves raises a hand to say hello.

And Credence, just as carefully, raises a hand back.

 

XII.

After that Graves and Credence see much more of each other.  They don’t talk or anything, but they run into each other in the kitchen.  They catch each other in the halls. Credence finds Graves in his great-grandfather’s sitting room, reading a book, and sits down in the other armchair.

Graves takes to making tea for two in the morning, leaving one out.  He doesn’t know if Credence drinks it, but it makes him feel good to leave it there all the same.  Credence, in return, leaves bits of whatever he makes for dinner—usually stew—for Graves. Their routine is a comfortable one, an easy one, so of course Graves has to ruin it by making dinner for himself one night.

He’s hungry, is all.  It’s a rare enough sensation now that he puts his book down to make food—pasta, the only thing he has the energy to make, because it’s so damn easy—even though this is usually when Credence is in the kitchen.

Graves has just settled in to eat when Credence comes banging through the door, throwing it wide and startling Graves so badly that he twitches and sends an entire rack of glasses crashing to the floor.

Graves sighs, mutters “Reparo,” and looks at Credence.

For a long moment, they just stare at each other.  Credence is flushed and rumpled, windswept, his hair sticking up in half a thousand directions.  For his part Graves is barefoot, wearing a pair of grey pants at least a decade out of fashion and Theo’s old sweater, which has holes in the elbows now after several weeks of being the only thing Graves can bear to wear.

A tangle of pasta slides off the end of Graves’ fork and splatters back to his plate.  Bits of sauce get everywhere. Graves closes his eyes briefly and says, “Credence.”

When he opens them again, Credence is looking at him with that odd expression, something indecipherable in his eyes.  His hands, braced on the kitchen doorframe, are white-knuckled.

“Hungry?”  Graves raises his plate half-heartedly.  “I’m a better cook, usually, but it’s alright.  Edible, at least.”

Credence does that thing where he looks both longing and terrified in equal measure.  Graves sighs. “I’ll just get out of your way, then,” he says. “Help yourself to whatever you’d like, I had the larder restocked today.”

“Um,” Credence says, eyes darting between Graves and the plate of sad, splattered pasta, “thank you.  But I—I came to find you, actually.”

Graves puts his plate back down.  Half a hundred conversations flash through his head.  Credence is going to tell him that he doesn’t want to stay with Graves in the country house after all.  He’s going to say that he wants to leave. He’s going to go—somewhere else, somewhere that isn’t here, and the thought of that makes Graves want to reach out and grab Credence by the shoulders, makes him want to ask him—beg him—to stay.

But Credence is his own man, and Graves is a wizard grown.  Of course Credence can leave. It’s his choice, after all.

Graves reaches for the tatters of the person he used to be, ready to put on a mask of polite understanding, and Credence says, “There’s something wrong with your trees.”

It takes Graves several seconds to actually understand what Credence just said.  He blinks, derailed, and loses his grip on his mask. “What?”

Credence shifts from foot to foot, clearly nervous.  “Your trees,” he repeats. “There’s—something wrong with them.”

“What do you mean?”  Graves is bewildered.  He and Credence have been warily circling each other for days now, and the thing that breaks their silence is Graves’ trees?  “They do walk sometimes, it’s nothing to be concerned about, but—”

“It’s not that,” Credence says, and Graves is so surprised by Credence’s interruption that he almost—almost—gapes.  It’s only his upbringing that keeps him from gawking at the boy, the upbringing and the thought of one of the portraits seeing and rushing off to tell the others.

“It’s—hard to explain,” Credence says, oblivious to Graves’ silence.  “Can I—can I show you?”

“Yes,” Graves says immediately.  He doesn’t know a damn thing about trees, but this is the first time he and Credence have talked since their trip to Goody Howe’s, and warmth is already stirring in Graves’ mausoleum of a ribcage, prickling through his chest.  “Lead the way.”

Credence does, stopping patiently for Graves to curse and snap his fingers, bringing a pair of shoes hurtling out of the depths of the house, and leads the way out onto the grounds.

It’s not as cold as Graves thought it would be.

They are in the depths of February now, and in the country that usually means feet of snow and a wind that could peel the cloak off of Ignotus Peverell.  But today the weather is mild, more like late autumn than midwinter, which is good because Graves is not wearing a coat.

Credence is—a long, dark coat, too broad in the shoulders for him, the sleeves hanging long over his fingers, and Graves nearly trips.  Credence is wearing his coat. An old one, dusty and a bit moth-eaten, probably stowed away in the house from when Graves was here for Gal’s funeral.  The sight of Credence in it should be absurd, but it only makes lightning fizzle in Graves’ chest.

It’s affection, is what it is.  Graves isn’t, despite what many at MACUSA might say, a statue Seraphina brought to life to stand at her side.  He’s had friends before, lovers, brothers and parents and mentors and trainees, all of whom Graves had cared for.  

He has only buried his affections, that’s all.  Many had buried them, after the war. Why wouldn’t they?  Graves had mostly worked alone, aside from occasional jaunts with Seraphina’s unit and groups of other Aurors, and even he had buried too many friends, too many good witches and wizards who’d caught the wrong end of a Killing Curse, or worse.

Graves thinks of Gal abruptly, of how he’d looked when Seraphina had brought Graves to his body, his eyes empty but for the reflection of the stars above them.  Gal had still been smiling. People said that the Killing Curse killed too fast to cause any pain, but no one had ever survived it, so no one really knew for sure.

Graves had hoped then, for Gal’s sake, that there hadn’t been any pain.

Thinking of Gal makes Graves’ leg ache, a sharp, persistent pain that centers him, that crowds out the warmth in his chest.  He remembers why he’d closed himself off after the war. It’s hard to do a job when you love someone, when you care about their happiness.  Graves’ job is to protect Credence.

You idiot, he scolds himself.   You know better.

Credence doesn’t seem to notice Graves wrestling with himself.  He takes Graves past the unruly lawn and into the woods. The trees are still, as they’re supposed to be when there’s nothing amiss on the property, but Graves gets the distinct impression that they’re watching him.

He glares up at them as though they’re to blame for the warmth in his chest, the pain in his leg, and a few branches creak.

“Here,” Credence says, stopping.  “Look.” He points, and Graves follows his finger.

The trees haveleaves.  Red leaves, standing out against the white winter sky, the most colorful and vibrant things Graves has seen since he came out of the other place.  Not all of the trees have them, but as Graves and Credence watch, more leaves unfurl, waving in a gentle breeze.

Everywhere Graves looks there’s more leaves, orange joining the red, blinding yellow, vibrant gold.  There is magic in the air, moving through the earth. Graves can feel it—it thrums and shudders, pulsing like a heartbeat.  He wants to take his shoes off and stand with his skin to the bare earth, so he does. The magic moves through him, and Graves smiles.

Credence looks at Graves, and now he just looks like he thinks Graves has gone crazy.

“M—Graves?” he asks.  “What are you doing?”

“Feeling,” Graves says, dazed.  Magic is making him light-headed.  He’s not felt magic like this since—since he can’t even remember.  His body recognizes it instinctively, sings to it like it sings to him, but he’s never felt it here before.  It reminds him a bit of Ilvermorny, now that he thinks about it. It feels like home, like the Wampus dorms, like the greenhouses.

“Feeling what?”

“Take off your shoes,” Graves says.  “Feel it for yourself.”

This is, somehow, Credence’s doing.  It has to be. The grounds have never been like this before, autumn leaves blooming like roses, a warm wind stirring the trees, a magic that hums.  No one in the Graves family has brought magic like this to their home, not since they abandoned the old ways. But Credence is here now.

Credence still looks like he thinks Graves has finally snapped, but does as he’s told and peels off his shoes.  He stands there in Graves’ too-big coat, barefoot, and Graves can see the moment he understands.

Credence’s eyes widen.  He stands straighter, taller, and a smile breaks across his face that hits Graves right in the chest.

He thinks it’s the first true smile he’s seen from Credence, and before he knows what he’s doing Graves is promising himself that he’ll see Credence smile again.  He can’t help it. It’s instinctive, like casting a Shielding Charm or lighting a candle, like clawing his way out of the dark after a sliver of light.

A wildfire catches in Graves’ chest, smelling like an autumn wind, and something that has been broken inside him—doesn’t mend, because Graves is in love with Credence Barebone but life isn’t a fairytale—but snaps back into place, maybe, or begins to mend.

It jolts through him, insistent.  Old, ancient, buzzing on his tongue.  Graves knows what the magic wants immediately, and he knows that it won’t let him down.  Graves waves a hand through the air, and a court of leaves rises from the ground. Dull, dry brown leaves swirl around them, shifting to deep red, to gold, and dance through the air like birds.

Credence laughs.  Another flick of Graves’ wrist and the leaves are birds, their feathers crackling.  They swoop through the trees, filling the air with their music, and disappear up into the sky.

Graves watches them go, lightning running up and down his fingers.  He could cast anything he wanted right now. A hundred Patronuses. He could bring a mountain up out of the ground, turn all of the trees into horses.

He’s grinning at Credence, he realizes, and Credence is grinning back.  Graves knows that they’re going to have to talk, and soon, about what this means—about the old blood, about Credence’s Obscurus, about MACUSA’s witch hunt, about Grindelwald, but right now Graves doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care.

Credence cranes his neck back to watch the trees growing their leaves.  “Can you teach me?” he asks, the words falling out of his mouth before Credence can stop them.  “Can you show me how to do that?”

“Yes,” Graves says, and means it.  “I can.”

 

Chapter Text

the king of oak

 

four. an croí an saighdiúir

(the heart of the soldier)

 

 

pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

-elizabeth cunningham, from “small birds”

 

 

XIV.

The first thing Credence needs if he’s going to learn magic is a wand.  Graves supposes that Credence could learn wandless magic—he’s got enough raw power—but wandless magic, for Graves, has always been instinctive.  It's always been easier than walking, than breathing.  He doesn’t even know how to describe it, much less teach it.

He also supposes that Credence could start withhis wand.  It’d be safer, anyway, to keep Credence out of the city for a while longer.  But Graves’ old wand—the ebony wand—had given its allegiance to Grindelwald without much fuss and the thought of losing the aspen wand to anyone, even to Credence, makes Graves want to preemptively graft it to his hip.

Graves is also very, very reluctant to visit the family crypt and give Credence one of the wands resting there.  A wand should belong solely to its witch or wizard. Past loyalties make Graves twitchy, and he’s got enough to juggle what with teaching a twenty-four-year-old Obscurial schoolboy’s magic without adding ancient wand law into the mix.

Graves is already leaning heavily on powers he doesn’t understand.  He’s read as much about wild magic as he can, but he still doesn’t know what he’s doing.  That’s obvious even to him--his trees have blossomed again, grown leaves, have turned red and gold and orange.  Magic is moving through his house and his woods and his blood.

And with Credence here, just starting to learn how to be a wizard, Graves needs to be careful.   His property is already warded to keep out No-Majs, intruders, and really anyone Graves doesn’t like, but if the magic of the place is going mad, Graves needs to do what he can to keep MACUSA away.  

That includes teaching Credence magic the proper way, the modern way, and keeping any and all bursts of the old magic to a bare minimum.

Greymalkin’s it is.  

“We can do this two ways,” Graves says over toast the next morning.  In the handful of hours since their truce among the leaves, Graves and Credence have managed to stay civil and comfortable with each other.

(And overwhelmingly fond, on Graves’ part.  He is pointedly not thinking about his own revelation—love—because it is absurd, childish, and so beyond Graves’ realm of expertise it might as well be Divination.)

Credence, blinking at Graves over his cup of coffee, says, “Okay?”

“There’s only one wandmaker on the East Coast, and he lives in New York,” Graves explains.  There are a handful of wandmakers in America, of course. There’s one out West, a few scattered across the South and the Midwest, and one in Louisiana, who made Seraphina’s wand.  But Greymalkin is the closest, and he’s the only one Graves is familiar with.

“MACUSA’s still looking for you.  It’s not a serious issue,” Graves adds hastily, catching the way Credence seems to brace himself, like he’s expecting disappointment to physically hurt—Proctor’s end, what Graves would do to the Barebone woman if she were still alive— “I doubt the Aurors will be looking for you at a place like Greymalkin’s.”  Graves doubts that Mendelson would even think to check a wand shop.

“So what should we do?”  Credence asks quietly.

“I can Transfigure you,” Graves says.   Probably.   He can definitely manage to Transfigure Credence.  Changing him back, however, is another matter. They’ve been at the house for some time now, but Graves’ magic is still… lopsided.  Wandless magic has yet to fail him and he can make things happen with his will alone, but actual spells are still weak and sputtering.  

Credence’s expression goes just a bit mulish.  “I don’t know what that means.”

“I can change the way you look,” Graves explains hurriedly, kicking himself.  He’s trying not to make Credence feel like a child, like he should know these things.   Tact, man, he tells himself, wresting his thoughts away from his own tangled magic.   Have some tact.

“Forever?”

“No,” Graves says.  “Just until I lift the enchantment.”  To demonstrate, he turns his teacup into a sparrow with a tap of his wand.  It’s a godawful Transfiguration—the sparrow has all the right parts, but a delicate china pattern—and Graves undoes it quickly.

Credence’s eyes are wide and wondrous, though, which cuts Graves’ irritation a bit.

“Or,” Graves says, “if you don’t want me messing around with your face, you can go as you are.”

In an Auror’s work, self-Transfiguration is fairly common.  The community’s small enough that Aurors are easily recognized disguises are often necessary.  Graves has spent plenty of time Transfigured—including two memorable weeks as a passable Bishop-Malfoy, blond hair and all—and has no problem with the concept of Transfiguring his appearance.

But now, the thought of changing his face seems—like giving up.  Grindelwald didn’t Transfigure Graves, not really. He hadn’t done anything beyond the usual torture and mind games.  Parts of Graves inside his own head, in his heart, had withered and died and shifted, but Grindelwald didn’t physically alter him.

But Graves can’t shake the idea that if he were to change his face he’d forget what he looked like, who he was supposed to be, and be unable to change himself back.

“We can go as we are,” Graves repeats.  “We’d just have to be more careful.”

Credence fidgets.  “I don’t—we don’t even have to go,” he says.  “I don’t want to cause you any trouble. I don’t have any money, anyway.”

Graves does not have the emotional capacity to tell Credence that he’d happily go to war on his behalf, let alone buy him a wand, so he says, “My ancestors were the aos sí of County Meath, Credence, I can afford to buy you a wand.”

“I don’t need charity,” Credence snaps, a flash of teeth.  The mulish expression is back, coupled with flickering darkness.

“That’s not what I—fuck,” Graves says, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes.  This used to be so much easier. Graves used to be able to talk to people when he was younger, before he had a secretary or assorted underlings to interact with others on his behalf.

He takes a deep breath, and tries to go about this without wounding Credence’s pride any further.

“I’m not doing this out of charity,” he says.  “I’m not a charitable person. Ask anyone.” Somewhere in New York, Seraphina and the thousands of dragots she’s donated to every cause her parents disapproved of are laughing at him.

“What do you want from me, then?”  Credence is fierce, in this. Graves would almost be impressed if he weren’t so busy cursing himself.

“I want Grindelwald to be wrong,” Graves says finally, because it’s the easiest thing to say, and the most true.  “If you—if you can learn magic, if you can settle into our world, it will prove that Grindelwald was wrong. That you’re—” That I, he can’t say, that we — “are more than what he tried to make of you.”

And maybe it’ll prove that Graves didn’t go too far in bringing the ancient magic into this.  If Credence can learn magic the right way, maybe Graves can relearn it too. He can put his woods back to rights.  He can look in the mirror again and see a man, not a sharp-eyed beast.

Credence glares at Graves, eyes ringed white, but nods.  “Okay,” he says. Then, shy again, “You really don’t have to do this, Mr.—Graves, I—”

“It’s no trouble,” says Graves firmly, before either of them can embarrass themselves any further.  “Now, which would you prefer? Transfiguration, or no?”

“Transfiguration,” Credence says.

Fuck. Mercy Lewis, don’t let me get him stuck.  Graves nods.  “Alright,” he says.  “Come here.”

Credence does, pushing his coffee aside.  Graves points. “The table, please. You’re a bit taller than I am.”

The fearsome Credence is gone; nervous, shy Credence is back, and he perches on the edge of the table, fiddling with his worn sleeves.  Graves stands up, stepping closer.

“This won’t hurt,” he says softly, and starts his work.

Graves doesn’t do anything drastic.  Little changes ought to be enough, and should be easier to reverse.  He just—brightens Credence up, is all. Fills him out. Graves erases the shadows under Credence’s eyes, gives his face more color.  He lengthens Credence’s hair, evening out his unfortunate haircut. He softens the inhuman angle of Credence’s jaw and gives him a bit of stubble.

Being this close to Credence makes Graves’ blood sing.  Graves is not a gentle man by nature, no more than he’s a charitable man or a kind one, but something about Credence makes him want to be gentle.

It’s dangerous, is what it is.  Dangerous and stupid. Graves forces himself to back off, to give Credence some space, even though when Credence raises his head to track Graves, Graves’ heart stumbles in his chest.

Wordlessly, Graves summons a mirror.

Credence looks at himself for just a second—not Transfigured so much as uncovered—and breaks into a wide, delighted smile.

You are a foolish, foolish man, Percy.

Graves licks his lips and says, “Now let’s find you something to wear, shall we?”

 

XV.

Going from warm mid-autumn to February in New York is about as terrible as Graves thought it’d be.  He makes the trip in two jumps—it’s not so bad Apparating with Credence’s hand at Graves’ elbow—and immediately ties his scarf tighter upon appearing in the alley behind Goody Howe’s.

Credence startles at the cold wind, and clumsily ties his scarf like Graves’.

“This is the coffeehouse,” Credence says, sounding uncertain.

Graves nods.  “Wizarding New York begins and ends at Goody Howe’s,” he says dryly.  “Which is just how Eveline likes it.”

Graves leads the way, Credence a half-step behind.  It’s easy to sort out the witches and wizards from the crowd by how many of them turn their heads as Graves and Credence go by.

“Eveline’s been gossiping, I see,” Graves mutters to Credence.

Credence shifts just a fraction closer to Graves, so that Graves can feel the heat of him even through both of their coats.  “Why?”

Graves offers him a half-smile.  “No one expected to see me out and about, I think.  I am a bit of a known recluse.” Out and about with a companion, no less.  Percival Graves, head of the House of Graves, Auror and soldier and Director, doesn’t have friends.  After he quit his job, everyone probably thought Graves would wander off into the country to die.

No doubt Eveline’s been bitterly complaining, too.  Percival Graves, stepping out with an unknown, scrawny young man instead of a well-bred councilman like her grandson.   The nerve of me , Graves thinks, and almost laughs.

Credence, despite his altered features, the anonymity Graves’ name and status and too-big coat give him, looks uncomfortable with all the attention, so Graves reaches for his magic and thinks, hard, Look away.

A sensation rather like a Disillusionment Charm breaks out across his skin, and one by one everyone’s eyes slide away.

Satisfied, Graves says, “Ignore them, Credence.  We’re nearly there.”

Whatever magic Graves managed to will into working fades by the time Greymalkin’s shop comes into view.  In its wake Graves feels clammy, like he’s overexerted himself, and his hand shakes just a bit when he nudges open the door.

“Are you alright?”  Credence asks.

Graves nods, brushing Credence’s concern aside.  “Remember,” he says, “your old wand was oak and Wampus hair.”  That’s what Gal’s wand had been, and Credence’s magic is just enough like Gal’s that Greymalkin should buy it.

Credence nods, nervous again, and the pair of them step inside.  A little bell rings. Greymalkin appears, sees Graves, and raises his eyebrows.

“That stick of Ollivander’s fail you?”  he says. “I thought it might, the Ollivanders aren’t what they used to be.  Just hold a moment and I’ll set you to rights.”

“Actually,” Graves says, feeling protective enough of the aspen wand that he brushes his thumb against it, “ I am fine.  We’re here for a new wand for my friend, Henry.”

He nudges Credence with an elbow.

Greymalkin looks Credence up and down, expression souring.  “As you say,” he grouses. “What happened to your old wand, boy?”

“B-backfired jinx,” Credence says, like he and Graves practiced.  Greymalkin huffs.

“Wand wood and core?”

“Red oak,” Credence says, gaining confidence when Greymalkin doesn’t cry fraud, “and Wampus hair.”

Greymalkin nods and putters about, collecting long, thin boxes.  “Here,” he says, shoving an oak wand into Credence’s hands. “I don’t have any oak and Wampus hair at the moment, but try this.  Oak and horn, eleven inches.”

Credence stands there holding the wand for a moment, pale and uncertain.  He’s terrified, Graves can tell. Every kid is, the first time they’re handed a wand.  Everyone is afraid that it won’t work for them, that they’re not magical after all.

Then Credence waves the wand, tentatively, and puts any thought of that right out of Graves’ head.

Smoke explodes from the tip of the wand with enough force that Credence is knocked off his feet.  Greymalkin goes toppling backward; Graves is only saved by an instinctive flick of his wrist, shielding himself from the blow.

Credence’s power hits Graves’ with a thunderous peal.  Smoke and dust rain down from the rafters.

“Proctor’s ass ,” Greymalkin splutters, climbing back to his feet.

Graves, grinning broadly, helps Credence stand.  He shields him from the fussy wandmaker for a moment; Credence is blurry at the edges, wisps of shadow curling off his shoulders.  His magic is heavy on Graves’ tongue.

The poor wand, hanging loosely in Credence’s grasp, is hollowed out.

“Something will a little more durability, perhaps, Mr. Greymalkin,” says Graves.

Greymalkin huffs and disappears into the depths of his shop.

“Sorry,” Credence whispers, red and mortified. “I didn’t mean—”

“Don’t be sorry,” Graves says, still grinning.  “That was—most impressive, Credence. Most impressive.”  He can’t help but clap Credence on the shoulder, squeezing affectionately.  Credence leans into the touch a little.

“Well,” Greymalkin grumbles, returning with a few more wands.  “Let’s try this again, shall we?”

He has Credence test a dozen wands.  Most don’t stir so much as a mote of dust.  Those that do react to Credence’s magic do so with more than a little violence; Credence cracks two wands and singes another just by touching it.

Finally, Greymalkin, a note of genuine concern in his eyes, presses a long, delicate-looking wand into Credence’s hands.

“Willow,” Greymalkin says.  “And thunderbird tail feather.”

The wand is so fragile Graves almost tells Greymalkin not to bother.  Graves will raid his family crypt if he has to. Surely there’s a wand down there that can match Credence’s power.

But the moment Credence’s hand touches the bare wood, red leaves bloom from the tip of it, each as big as one of Graves’ hands, and fall gently to the floor. Credence gives the wand a careful flick, and the leaves rise.  They swirl around his feet, up through the air, and there’s that smile again. Something cracks open in Graves’ chest.

Graves wordlessly hands over his wallet, letting Greymalkin take his price.

“Good?”  Graves asks.

Credence’s smile, unless Graves is mistaken, turns just a bit soft.  “Yeah,” he says. “Good.”

 

XVI.

Graves has to physically stop himself from dragging Credence through the city and buying him whatever his eyes light on.

He does stop at Bartleby’s to pick up some books.  The libraries at the country house have thousands of books, but none that were printed before the turn of the century and Graves hasn’t been in school for twenty years now.

He wants to make sure Credence has what he needs.  So he buys the entire Ilvermorny booklist, letting the shop attendant—another damn Howe, if he’s not mistaken—assume he’s doing it for his nephew.

“You have a nephew?”  Credence asks, as they’re settling into a hotel for the night.  They’ll Floo back in the morning from Goody Howe’s. Graves doesn’t want to risk Apparating with both Credence and all of their things.

(Credence, Graves has noticed, has not let go of his wand since they left Greymalkin’s.  He keeps patting his pocket like he’s expecting to find it missing, smiling to himself when he thinks no one’s looking.)

“And a niece,” Graves says absently.  “My brother’s children.” The girl’s name is Gwen, because Bors is predictable.  The boy’s name Graves isn’t sure about. No doubt it’s something suitably archaic.  There hasn’t been a Lancelot Graves in a few generations. Graves’ money would be on that, or on Agravain, after their father.

“You have a brother?”

Graves, from where he’s standing in front of the mirror undoing his tie, stills.  He meets the reflection of Credence’s eyes.

He doesn’t ever talk about this.  Not with Seraphina, not with Theo.   He hid the memory of his brothers from Grindelwald because he’s buried them so deeply.

“Yes,” he says.

“Older or younger?”  There’s a note in Credence’s voice that Graves doesn’t understand, and doesn’t particularly like.

“Older.”  The word is pulled out of Graves.  “And younger. There were three of us.”  He puts enough emphasis on were that Credence flinches.  There are a dozen expressions that Graves catches watching Credence’s reflection.  Horror, sympathy, embarrassment, pity, and for the first time since they’ve known each other, Graves doesn’t want to look at him.

“Oh,” says Credence, softly.

“Oh,” Graves agrees.  His skin prickles. There’s a storm here and for once it’s not of Credence’s making.

“What—happened?  Did Mr.—did Grindelwald kill them?”

“No,” Graves says shortly.  He pulls his tie off, kicks off his socks.  He doesn’t want to be here anymore. He wants to be at home where he can retreat into the dark, where he can wrap his family’s history around himself like a cloak and live for a while in an older time.

Graves thinks of Gal, dead in a war he shouldn’t have been allowed to fight in.  He thinks of Bors out there in the world somewhere, happy with his No-Maj wife, dead in all the ways that matter to their kind.

He turns off the lights with an irritated flick of his fingers and collapses, still fully clothed, onto the bed.

“What were their names?”  Credence asks the dark.

Graves closes his eyes and lets silence rule for a little while.  If it weren’t for Credence’s breathing, for the feel of him, Graves’ awareness of where he is all the time, Graves could almost imagine that he’s back in the other place.  “Bors,” he finally says. Then, thicker, “And Galahad.”

They’d been nearly identical, the three of them.  The Graves boys. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, solemn. Responsible Bors, wild Galahad, and quiet Percy in the middle.  Both their father and their mother had been Aurors. Both of them had died when Graves was five. His great-grandmother hadn’t known what to do with them.  Bors had become their new father at seven, the heir to the House of Graves; Gal had grown up like a wolf cub, running wild through the woods, throwing himself into the air because he knew his magic would always catch him.  

And Graves had been the second son, Gal’s older brother and Bors’ younger.  They’d fit together like they were the only people left in the world. Their great-grandmother used to complain that they would speak in their own strange language, that they weren’t boys at all but changelings who’d slipped into the skins of her grandsons.  

After the war Graves missed his brothers so much that he forgot them.  

The sense of a storm in the room thickens.  Shadows crowd against the wall. The door moans beneath Graves’ trapped power.  

Credence must finally understand that Graves is more wounded animal than man, because he lies down in the other bed, and doesn’t say a word for the rest of the night.

In the morning, the mood between them is tense and strained.  Graves did not sleep—he would’ve dreamed of the other place again, and Credence doesn’t need to see Graves weak and clammy, disoriented, magic twisted and tangled around him—and it must show.

Credence is exceedingly gentle with Graves.  He gives Graves space, brings him a cup of tea, keeps the curtains drawn.

Yesterday, Graves would’ve been touched.  Today he’s just irritated. He’s a grown man, the son of an ancient House, an accomplished duelist.  He doesn’t need to be coddled.

(He’s not angry at Credence.  Of course he isn’t. He’s angry at himself, at his own weakness.  He’s angry at his shaking hands, at the way his magic has twisted up inside him, a foreign thing in his own body that he can only sometimes control.

Graves just doesn’t know how to separate all of that from Credence. )

“I still have business in the city,” Graves says crisply, once he’s managed to pull his tattered mask back into place.  He catches a glimpse of himself in the room's mirror and doesn't recognize the man he sees; Graves' face is fuller and he's lost a good bit of his starved look, but his face still seems thinner, sharper.  His eyes burn in the hollows of his face.  Graves looks away.  “I’d bring you, but it’s with MACUSA. I’d rather not risk it.”

Credence doesn’t flinch, not exactly.  The movement he makes is abortive, and followed by a flicker of anger.

“Okay,” is all he says.

“I’ll send you home.”  Graves isn’t going to feel guilty about this, not on top of the exhaustion and the prickling grief and irritation.  “Unless you’d rather wait at Goody Howe’s? I can make sure no one bothers you.”

“I’ll go—home,” Credence says, trying the word on.  “I can—I’d like to start reading.”

Graves nods, and helps Credence pack their things.

“I won’t be long,” he promises, once they’re down at Goody Howe’s.  Graves shows Credence how to use the Floo. “Only an hour at most.”

Credence nods, something a bit sad and lonely flickering behind his eyes.  Graves tries not to think about it.

Impulsively Graves reaches out, touches Credence’s elbow.  “An hour,” he repeats.

This time, Credence gives him a little smile.  “Graves Manor,” he says, and disappears into the fire.

Graves’ fingers burn.  He flexes them, trying to shut down his thoughts, but it’s all tangled up now, it’s all a thorny snarl.  It hurts —it’s not the hollow ache of parts missing Graves has gotten used to.  It’s almost a hunger, mixed and caught up in guilt and grief and exhaustion, and none of it is anything Graves wants to think about.

With enormous effort, he drags his thoughts away from Credence and focuses on the task at hand.

Graves left a few things at MACUSA that might come in handy for a man harboring an Obscurial.  A full apothecary of potions and ingredients, for one, a Foe Glass, various books on complicated warding, on every type of magic that’s ever been studied.  Graves didn’t take anything with him when he quit. It’s very difficult to make a pointed exit while lugging a library around, and a pointed exit had been about the last defense he had left.

Graves Apparates to Woolworth.  He misses Credence and hates the dark.  He ends up in the atrium, intent on playing the dutiful, law-abiding citizen he’s always been, and submits his wand for inspection at the visitors' desk.

Five minutes later, purpose declared and identity confirmed, Graves makes for his old office.

It’s been several weeks since Grindelwald’s trial.  Graves looks better, he knows he does—it’s hard to forget to eat when Credence is pushing plates of toast and bowls of soup at him several times a day—but curious, calculating eyes follow Graves to his office anyway.

The old office is, as far as Graves can tell, still his.  His name’s on the door, at any rate. He doesn’t know who’s keeping it—Tina, maybe, out of loyalty, or Seraphina out of the hope that she can lure Graves back.  At least he won’t have to go deal with the banshees down in Archives to get his things back.

The door, Graves notes, is chipped and scuffed, and sits on the frame at an angle, like it’s recently been opened by force.

Graves opens the door without thinking to knock, because he’s tired and proud and this was his office and his office alone for years, and gets an eyeful of Tina and her British friend pushed up against his old desk.

More than a friend, Graves thinks, freezing and flicking through half a dozen escape routes.  Tina and Scamander don’t notice him. They’re a bit too wrapped up in each other to pay attention, but if he shuts the door again they’ll definitely notice.  Graves finishes calculating his escape routes. There’s no way out of this that doesn’t embarrass Graves, which means he’s just going to have to embarrass Tina instead.

Graves clears his throat.

Tina and Scamander leap apart like Graves hit them with a Jumping Jinx.  Their clothes are still on, thank Proctor, but Tina’s blouse is decidedly untucked and Scamander’s more rumpled than usual.

Graves, very pointedly, arches an eyebrow.

It has the desired effect.  Scamander goes bright red and Tina sheet white.  Tina’s drawn her wand, and Graves can actually see her trying to decide whether or not to Stun Graves and make a run for it.

“Auror Goldstein,” Graves says, voice rich with amusement.   He inclines his head. “Mr. Scamander.”

Neither of them can meet Graves’ eyes.  After letting them stew in their embarrassment for a minute—really, the door wasn’t even locked—Graves relents, stands aside, and gestures at the open door.

For a pair that defeated Gellert Grindelwald and stood against Credence at his most furious, Tina and Scamander flee like first years out past curfew.

“Try a broom closet next,” Graves calls, unable to resist.  “Or at least a room without a name on the door!”

Exercising a bit of pettiness makes Graves feel more like himself and less like a tangle of hollowness and confused feelings.  He stands a bit straighter and begins to go through his office. There’s a fine layer of dust over everything, disturbed only where Scamander had Tina pressed against the desk.  As far as Graves can tell, Grindelwald didn’t move much.

Graves is inordinately pleased.  Grindelwald’s a mass murderer, a terrorist, and a fucking Unseelie son of a bitch, but at least he had the good sense not to mess up the order of Graves’ books.

Graves takes what he needs quickly, before someone can tell Seraphina that he’s here.  Work done, Graves closes his office behind him, strides through the atrium, and is back at Goody Howe’s within ten minutes.

All right, Graves thinks, as he steps into the fireplace.  Now the real work can begin.

 

XVII.

Graves is a decent teacher, despite all the other deficits in his character.  He’d spent the summer between his fifth and sixth years at Ilvermorny as a tutor, determined to forge the right connections, and he’s given his Aurors extra training over the years as needed.

He starts Credence on the basics.   Lumos, Nox, Wingardium Leviosa, that sort of thing.  On his first try with the Levitation Charm, Credence lifts a lamp with such force that it crashes through the ceiling of three floors and the roof of the house.

“Well done,” Graves says, laughing at Credence’s shocked face, and moves their lessons outside.

As he teaches Credence, Graves also tries to settle the magic around the house.  He intentionally uses spells more; he murmurs "Accio" instead of summoning things with a twitch of a finger.  He gets used to using his wand again, relearning all of the movements he'd drilled with as a boy.  He practices incantations right alongside Credence and even tries to rid the trees of their late-autumn leaves.  He doesn't manage it, of course, but he does try.  

And in between all of that, Graves teaches. Graves doesn’t want to overload Credence—magic is not learned in a day, after all—but Credence pushes himself, and after a week has mastered a handful of spells.  He’s not bad at Potions, either.

“It’s a lot like cooking,” Credence tells Graves a little over a week after their trip into the city.  They’re in the kitchen again. Graves’ sleeves are rolled up while he writes a letter—another to Seraphina—and Credence is making dinner, some kind of thick stew that makes Graves think of windswept houses and tall trees.

“Mm?”

“Potions,” Credence says, patiently.  “It’s a lot like cooking, I think.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Graves admits.  “I’m not a particularly good cook.”  He signs his name with a flourish, and for some reason, Credence reddens.

Graves tilts his head.   Curious, he thinks. They haven't talked about Bors and Galahad since the hotel, and things have settled back down into comfortable familiarity between them.   What, Graves thinks, is Credence looking at?  

“You’re alright,” Credence says, probably just to be kind.  His eyes are fixed on the bare expanse of Graves’ forearms. Graves examines himself.  He’s not bleeding anywhere today—yesterday he’d decided to teach Credence a bit of dueling magic, and the Obscurus had made a toothy appearance—and he’s not splattered with mud or ink.

Graves curls his fingers, watching the tendons in his wrist flex, and Credence drops the spoon he’s using to stir the stew.

Graves’ eyebrows shoot up.

Oh, he thinks.  A hundred thoughts flash through his mind before he can stop himself: pressing Credence up against the counter, letting him examine Graves’ hands for himself, letting those clever fingers wander higher, until—

The fire in the fireplace jumps twelve feet in the air, roaring around the bricks.  It’s Graves’ turn to flush; he tames the fire again with a glare and kicks himself.

Graves is in love with Credence Barebone.  It’s rather stupid of him, given that Credence is fifteen years his junior and was tormented by a man wearing Graves’ face, but he can’t help it.  Credence—understands. He is the only one who understands, who has the same dark inside him, whose bones echo with the strength of the fae.

That he’s handsome, and kind, and viciously clever, is just a bonus.

Credence smiles nervously at Graves and Graves’ heart trips in his chest.

Was I this embarrassing at school? he thinks, despairing.  He wrote a Horned Serpent boy truly abysmal poetry once, in his fourth year, and in his seventh Seraphina had caught him necking with Theo in the greenhouses and had lorded it over him for years.

If she could see him now—

Graves’ happiness shrivels.

If Seraphina saw him now, she might actually try to kill him.  Graves is sitting in the kitchen with an Obscurial who has been condemned to death.  He’s harboring Credence, protecting him, hiding him from MACUSA. He’s teaching him.

Graves has broken a few laws in his lifetime.  He even deserted once. If Seraphina hadn’t vouched for him when he’d hobbled back to London after two weeks spent rampaging through Germany, Graves would have been court-martialed, disgraced.

Would she vouch for me again?   Graves wonders.  During the Great War, he’d been Seraphina’s best friend.  They had come up together and had lived in each other’s pockets for a full fifteen years.  But that was a decade ago. Seraphina knew him then.  She knew why he’d run off, and why he’d come back.  She hadn’t said anything about his mangled leg or the blood beneath his fingernails, or the fact that if she had cast Priori Incantatum on his wand she would have found four Killing Curses there.

Now, though—

Now, Credence Barebone is cooking Graves dinner.  He’s trying to cast a Cleaning Charm on the spoon he dropped, and it’s not working because Credence has too much raw power for delicate Charm work and tends to blow up whatever he’s Charming.  He smiled at Graves not a full minute ago, and blushed when Graves flexed his hands.

After dinner, Graves and Credence will likely retire to his great-grandfather’s sitting room and read, sharing tea and thoughts and maybe a few more smiles.  They’ll go to bed, and start over in the morning.

Credence can already fly, when he lets go and shifts into the Obscurus, but maybe tomorrow Graves will teach him how to fly on a broomstick.

Graves isn’t—happy, per se, but he doesn’t think that he wants to die anymore.  Credence is happy. If that’s wrong, MACUSA can burn.

It will burn, if they come for Credence.  Graves will fight for him. The trees will fight for him.  The strength and depth of this conviction runs through Graves like the Cruciatus Curse.  It lights up all of his nerves. It tangles around his spine.

The fire only shivers this time, but it’s enough to attract Credence’s attention.

“Are you okay?”  Credence asks with a frown, concern plain on his face.

Graves smiles crookedly.  “Perfectly,” he says. He folds up his letter, seals it.  “Is the stew ready, Credence?”

“Almost,” Credence says.  “Would you like some bread with it?”

Graves nods and Credence makes them up a few plates.  Steam curls over his hands and now it’s Graves who’s looking, not bothering to disguise his interest.  The smile Credence gives Graves, when he sets a plate before him, is shy. Their fingers brush.

“Thank you,” Graves says, reaching out to catch Credence’s wrist before he can pull it away.  He keeps his grip light, wanting to make sure Credence has an out if this isn’t what he wants, but he desperately hopes this is what Credence wants.

“Thank you,” Graves repeats.  He can feel Credence’s heartbeat fluttering through his fingertips.  The silver light is back in Credence’s eyes, and Graves is relieved to see hunger behind the hesitation.

Before Graves can talk himself out of it, he gently tugs Credence a little closer, half-rises in his chair to meet him.  He presses a kiss—just a little one, to find out where they stand—to the corner of Credence’s mouth, and lets him go.

“Thank you,” Graves says again, a third time, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

Credence brings a hand up to touch the corner of his mouth.  He smiles again, that brilliant, heart-cracking grin. “Eat your dinner, Mr. Graves,” he says.

Graves sits back down.  Something inside him is roaring happily.  All over the manor grounds, Graves can feel autumn flowers blooming.  “You can call me Percy, I think,” he says, and eats every bite.

 

XVIII.

In hindsight, Graves should have known better than to have some fun at Tina’s expense.  He doesn’t believe in any No-Maj god or really even in a higher universal power, but Tina Goldstein is one of those people for whom the world falls into place, and messing with her means that somewhere, something is keeping score, and Graves’ debt has come due.

The problem is that Graves has already introduced Tina to the trees.  The wards know her and recognize her as an ally; they don’t stop her from Apparating onto the grounds.

Graves is with Credence.  They’re in a clearing and leaves are slowly spinning through the air all around them, and Graves is trying to teach Credence how to turn a beetle into a leaf.  Credence isn’t very good at Transfiguration. Graves thinks it might have something to do with control ; all of the spells Credence has mastered are spells that can take a lot of power.  When he casts Lumos , his wand burns as bright as the sun.  When he casts Wingardium Leviosa objects rocket hundreds of feet up into the air.

Transfiguration and Charms aren’t about raw power.  They require finesse, control, and patience, all of which Credence doesn’t have.

“Yet,” Graves says consolingly, when Credence tries and fails for the twentieth time to Transfigure his beetle.  “You don’t have any finesse yet .  It takes a while.”

Credence frowns unhappily, glaring down at his beetle.  “Can you—can you show me how to do magic like you do?” he asks.

“What do you mean?”  Graves asks.

Credence waves a hand.  “You don’t need spells,” he explains.  “You don’t even need a wand, I’ve seen you.  Can you show me how to do that? Maybe I’d—be better at it.”

Graves tilts his head to the side, considering.  “We can try,” he says. He's made a lot of progress with refining his magic, these last few days; incantations are still a bit unreliable, but he no longer falters when casting even the most basic spells.  But he knows he could Transfigure the beetle without his wand, without a spell, if he wanted to.  The knowledge itches underneath his breastbone.  It whispers between the leaves of the trees. 

Privately, Graves doesn’t think that Credence is going to be able to do any wordless, wandless magic yet.  Graves is good at it because he was born knowing it; when he thinks of magic he thinks of the feeling of wind against his skin.  He thinks of a song in his blood.

As a child Graves learned spells and incantations to better control his magic, to hone it, but beneath all of that it’s still that same song.  Darker now, and not as melodious, but it’s there for Graves to reach. He can see it if he wants to. He can hear it if he listens closely enough.

Credence’s magic didn’t grow this way.  It grew teeth and claws instead of wind and music.

It can’t hurt to try, though, so Graves shrugs and says, “Alright.  Watch me, Credence.” He rolls his sleeves up—not just to see Credence’s eyes follow his movements, though that’s a nice benefit—and reaches out.

Graves floats the beetle Credence was trying to Transfigure into his palm and thinks, Change.  His willpower, even after Grindelwald, has always been formidable.  His magic obeys. At once the beetle melts into an oak leaf, catches a breeze, and drifts off.

“It’s not easy,” Graves says warningly.  “This kind of magic is… very old. It’s not formally taught anymore.  You have to want it to obey you. It’s a matter of will, not spellcraft.”

Credence nods, chewing his lip.  He and Graves haven’t talked about last night in the kitchen but Credence has been watching Graves all morning out of the corners of his eyes, hunger flickering in his shadow.

(Graves kind of wants to devour Credence on the spot, and kind of wants to do this properly.  He wants to court Credence, to shower him with gifts and gold, to have Credence accept him in the proper way, the old way, before all of the trees—)

“Try it,” Graves says encouragingly.  He’s ready to cast a shield in case Credence overdoes it, ready to help, and this is where everything goes wrong.

There’s a shift in the magic surrounding the clearing, and a soft pop, and then Tina Goldstein’s there, out of breath, disheveled.

“Mr. Graves,” she starts, all in a rush, “Mr. Graves, it’s Grindelwald, they lost him on the way to Azkaban, he’s—” And then she sees Credence.  Her eyes widen. She draws her wand. “Credence,” she says, low and urgent, “step away from that man.”

 

Chapter Text

the king of oak


five. faoi an cnoc

(underhill)


i am out with the lanterns,
looking for myself.

-emily dickenson, from her personal letters


i am the shape you made me. filth teaches filth.

-sophocles, from “elektra”

 

XIX.  

For a split second, they stare at each other, Graves and Tina.  Then the implication of Tina's words registers, and anger wells up in Graves' chest, eight months of pointless, fruitless fury, and spills over.   

"I am tired," Graves growls, sweeping his hand out, "of being mistaken for Gellert fucking Grindelwald."

His magic sings out and catches Tina around the legs.  Graves has to give her credit; even falling Tina manages to fire off a few curses, each one aimed for his heart.  

Graves raises a shield around himself and Credence with a thought.  Wild, thundering fury fills his mouth with the taste of bitter dark wine.  Tina's curses crash into the shield and ricochet off. One tears a gash in the flank of an oak tree and the other is lost to the wood.   

"Stay behind me, Credence," Graves says, his voice so rough it hurts his throat, angling himself so that Credence is safe behind him.  Tina's a good duelist—they say she fought with Grindelwald that night in the subway, and survived. That's more than Graves can say for himself.    

Almost as an afterthought, Graves draws his wand.    

"Get away from him!"  Tina shouts, staggering back up to her feet.  She fires off another curse, then another and another, but Graves turns all of them aside.    

Anger and protectiveness are twisting in his gut, filling the hollows of his spine with lightning.  The rational thing—the proper thing—would be to Apparate away, to give Tina time to calm down, to convince her that he's not Grindelwald.    

But Graves, usually perfectly rational, perfectly precise, feels wild.  His bones and his blood are howling, demanding that he fight, that he crush whoever would dare come onto his land, threaten his home, his Credence, and Graves is very tired of fighting himself.   

Wild old magic howls in his belly.  It wants to be let free. It needs Graves to let it free.  

He gives in.   

Graves flicks a casual curse at Tina.  He doesn't even need to reach for a spell; his magic knows what he wants, and obeys.  Lightning flashes from the tip of the aspen wand, crackles through the air, and one of the oak trees catches fire.   

Tina's quick, though, and she Apparates out of the way, scattering ash and leaves.    

"Graves," Credence says, low and urgent.  Graves is a bit too far gone to understand him, lost to the roar of magic, and only bares his teeth.  His eyes sweep over the trees, tracking shadows to see where Tina reappears. Credence tugs at his elbow.  "Graves, I don't think—"

Tina flickers in and out of existence for just long enough to fire a Stunning Spell.  Graves bats it aside barehanded. The heat of it makes his palm itch for a moment, like he's brushed an open flame.    

"You're going to have to try harder than that, Tina!"  Graves shouts, his voice echoing through the trees. Underneath the fury and the bloodlust and the thrill of the fight, Graves is both relieved that Tina is still the kind of person who would try to Stun the most powerful Dark wizard in the world and horrified.    

He taught her better.  Her other teachers taught her better.  Aurors aim to kill, not incapacitate.

Undeterred, Tina does it again.  This time Graves is forced to duck, reaching behind him to grab Credence and pull him down too.  The spell ruffles Graves' hair and he laughs, fierce. His eyeteeth prick the corners of his lips.       

"Stunners, Tina, really?"  Graves reaches out with his magic.  He can feel the river of it moving beneath him.  He can feel each individual root of his trees. With a thought he commands them to rise.  The ground groans as roots push up, writhing like snakes. When Tina Disapparates, the roots reach for her ankles, her arms.    

Tina's caught, stumbling.  She aims her wand at the seething mass and cries, "Incendio!"    

Behind Graves, Credence hisses.  Out of the corner of his eye Graves sees black smoke and wisps of shadow.    

No, he thinks. No, I can't protect you if you change—  

Graves is distracted by the Obscurus appearing and doesn't see the curse Tina hurls at his chest.  His shield gives out and the curse hits him between his ribs. The whole world goes white.

The Cruciatus Curse is one of Graves' most familiar friends.  He first tasted its bite in Auror training, then again throughout the war and his years on the job.  By the time Grindelwald got ahold of him Graves was all but unaffected by it. He'd learned how to breathe through the pain, how to relax his fingers, his shoulders.  It hurts, but it doesn't matter.   

The Cruciatus Curse always ends.  All Graves has to do is endure it.  

Mostly Graves is just proud of Tina for thinking to use it.  Aurors are authorized to wield it against criminals, because pain is usually a very effective deterrent.  She's a good person, Tina, but she's unflinching too.

Graves waits it out.  The pain crowds his tongue, pushes everything else aside.  It pares Graves down to his most basic instinct and makes the old magic thrum even louder against his bones, straining to get out.   

There's a sound in the air that Graves can't identify.  His own breathing is too loud, his heartbeat thunderous.  Pain breaks over him in waves, but each one is getting weaker; it will be over soon.  Graves sucks in a deep breath, and curls his fingers around his wand.

When it breaks at last he's lurching to his feet before he can even see properly, wand drawn, trying to feel Tina out by the crackle of her power, by the displacement of the air.   

The forest swims back into view.  For a moment he's thirty again, a world away.  It had been fall in Germany when Graves had finally tracked his brother's murderers down.  The trees had been a deep blood red, the snow white, the dark black and deep, and he'd been shaking off a Cruciatus then too.  The sight of the German forest confuses him, and Graves' leg gives out underneath him.

"Fuck," he snarls, throwing out an arm, but instead of kissing dirt, there's warmth at his chest, pushing him back, and Graves is soon on his feet again.    

The Obscurus—Credence—winds a thread of darkness around Graves.  It—he—is more solid than he should be, given that he's just shadow and magic.  He has Tina pinned at the other end of the clearing, and Graves can see that skeletal, clockwork structure inside the darkness again, ticking like a heart.   

Graves sighs.  He lets his grip on his magic fade.  He tucks the bloodlust away. "Credence," he says roughly.  "I'm alright. You should let Tina go." The ribbon squeezes Graves, as gentle as a caress, and Credence loosens his grip on Tina.   

The darkness swirls, its heart beating, and brushes the ground.  Credence does not appear. Graves has never actually asked him how much control it takes to shift between forms, how hard it is for Credence to stay in his skin.    

I should ask, he realizes, abruptly guilty.   I should know.    

Credence stays in his cloudy form and Tina climbs to her feet.  She brushes herself off, eyes narrowed, and bites her lip.

"Convince me you're not Grindelwald," she says.    

Graves raises a tired eyebrow.  His teeth, when he runs his tongue over them, are blunt.  "The first spell I ever taught you was the Jelly-Legs Jinx," he tells her.  "You used it on Eddie Standish because he called you a filthy half-blood."

Tina cocks her head to the side.  Her eyes are sad. She's not convinced.  Her fingers tighten around her wand, and Credence grumbles.  The cloud of darkness twitches.

"Cast a Patronus," Tina says.    

Wordlessly, Graves does as she asks.  This time he only has to reach for the memory of Credence's pulse fluttering underneath his fingers and his Patronus prowls into being.  It's much as Graves remembers; white light made nearly solid, all shoulders and a twitching tail.

He misses his eagle owl keenly, and the leopard Patronus flickers.    

Tina raises her wand again, aiming at Graves' chest.   

"It used to be an eagle owl," Graves offers.  "You first saw it on the Saperstein case in '23, when Leo Saperstein brought a dementor into a No-Maj apartment building."   

Tina twitches.  "You sound like Mr. Graves," she says.  There's something wobbling in the air between them.  Graves knows intellectually what Grindelwald almost did to Tina using his face, his power.   

Death is a sentence that's only supposed to be handed out by a court of law or the President herself, but Graves has always known that should he wish it, he could probably sentence a criminal to death without a trial and get away with it.  

He doesn't know what that felt like.  He likes to think that Tina respects—or at least respected—him, that she looks up to him.  She was his rookie when she first joined the department, and Graves has taken a personal interest in her career over the years.   

For Grindelwald to use his face to send her to the chair—well.  No one Graves has ever admired had betrayed him like that.

"But he sounded like me too," Graves finishes, shaking his head.  He nods at his Patronus. "That changed after you found me in the forest."  He lets the magic go, and his Patronus gutters out of existence. "Your Patronus is a bloodhound," he continues.  Tina's wand is still steady. "The first time I saw it I told you that it suited you, and you turned so red I thought you were going to pass out."   

"You panicked," Tina says, eyes searching Graves' face.  He'd kill to be a Legilimens like her sister. Graves wants to know what she sees.  Does she see Grindelwald, lurking behind Graves' eyes? Does she see how tired he is?  How angry he is, and how tired of being angry? "You bought me a cup of coffee and a blueberry scone from Goody Howe's, and sent Mendelson running for the healers."   

Graves smiles crookedly.  "I did," he says. "Seraphina would have killed me if anything happened to you rookies.  She was up for reelection that year."

Between them Credence twists, condensing back into himself.    

"He's not—he's not Grindelwald," he says hoarsely, looking between Tina and Graves.  His eyes are still white and his outline is blurry. "I thought he was too," he tells Tina, earnest, and Graves wonders again what exactly the history between the two of them is.  "I thought that he was Grindelwald, but he's not."

Tina chews her lip again, but her wand has dropped a few inches, aimed at Graves' belly instead of his heart.    

"He's not," Credence insists.    

"I'm not," Graves adds, dryly.  "Though Grindelwald would say that too, so.  I think I'm at the end of what I can contribute to this conversation.  Do you want to come inside, Tina? We have some things to discuss."

Tina finally, finally puts her wand down.  She looks at Credence, who nods encouragingly.    

"All right," Tina says.  Then, "I'm sorry for using the Cruciatus Curse on you."   

Graves snorts.  Maybe in a decade or two Graves won’t be able to shake off a Cruciatus, but he’s not quite so old yet.  The pain was good, clean. "No you're not," he says. "I taught you better than to be sorry."

Tina smiles a little bit.  "Lead the way." She tucks her hand into the crook of Credence's elbow.  Credence allows it, coloring. Graves eyes them, feeling a bit older than he thought he was, and sighs.  One of his trees is still burning. The grounds are a mess of roots and torn-up earth.

Graves leaves it all and limps back to the house, Tina and Credence trailing behind him.

 

XX.

Tina pulls the whole story out of Graves and Credence in bits and pieces.  It takes a while; Graves is naturally inclined to keep his mouth shut and Credence, out of loyalty or genuine confusion, does the same.  Besides, it's fun to make Tina work for it. She's an Auror, she knows how to get information out of people. Graves is not an Auror anymore; there's no point in making her job easier.    

She pieces it together eventually.    

"So," Tina says slowly, over a cup of Darjeeling, despite the late hour, "President Picquery has no idea about any of this?"  

"None," Graves says.  He pauses. "Well, she knows that I've shut myself up in my house, and probably that I've been seen around town with a handsome young man hanging off my arm—" Credence splutters, which Graves graciously ignores— "but I doubt she's connected that with Credence."   

Yet.  It's only a matter of time.  Seraphina is not the President of MACUSA because she is beautiful.  She's the President because she's clever, and ruthless, and patient.  She'll find out that Graves has been hiding Credence sooner or later.   

Tina half-smiles.  

"I didn't know about—about all of this," Tina says, waving a hand to encompass the entire house.  "You do know that those trees are in violation of eight different laws, right? It's February. Your woods are acting like it's October."  

Graves shrugs.  "It's not like I intentionally cast a spell over them," he says.  "It just happened."

Tina's a half-blood.  Her sister is a born Legilimens and Tina has a kind of fierce power that Graves associates with pointed ears and too-sharp teeth, but her mother was born to No-Majs and Tina and Queenie are orphans besides.  They didn't grow up looking at paintings of their fierce, wild-eyed relatives.

Graves doesn't know what Tina knows, if she understands what's been happening here at the country house, to the trees, to Graves, to Credence.  He barely understands it himself.

Tina looks out the window, squinting at the red tree tops.  "Well," she says, "I think I know a way out of this, legally."  

Graves blinks.  "What?"

Tina gives him a withering look.  "It's not something you should do," she says, "especially with Grindelwald on the loose, but I think—I think—you can claim that you're a separate state from MACUSA?"

"A separate—Tina," Graves says.  "We're not—the trees are just confused, that's all.  I've been relying on old magic, not abducting No-Maj children in the dead of night.  I haven't—I haven't seceded from the goddamn union."

"Look," Tina says, pained.  "I think you're being an idiot.  I think you," she nods at Credence, "should be somewhere safer.  But if you want to stay here—"

"Wait a minute," Graves interrupts.  "You're going to let Credence stay?"

"Well I'm not going to give him to MACUSA," Tina snaps.

Graves turns that over for a minute, examining it from every angle.  "I like this new you," Graves says, deciding to be deeply fond of Tina.  "I heard you got fired for attacking a No-Maj. Now you’re willing to help me commit minor treason?  What's gotten into you? I approve."

"I—you do?"   

Graves shrugs.  "I have been actively breaking at least nine laws for the last several weeks," he points out.  "In for a penny, in for a pound. Where were you going to take Credence, if you think here isn't safe?"  

Tina coughs. "I, uh, in Newt's case?  Only if you wanted to," she adds, looking at Credence anxiously.  "It's really quite roomy, and we wouldn't make you. It's just that Grindelwald is on the loose again and he knows you're alive, we think that's why he escaped again.  To come back, and to find you."

Any earlier humor evaporates.   

"How did he escape?"  Graves demands. "Seraphina should have kept him under lock and fucking key."  Anger and unease prick at Graves’ chest like claws. Behind him, the fire shudders in the fireplace.  The trees outside moan.

"She did," Tina says, grim.  "The British lost him. They came to escort him to Azkaban, since it's under their control.  Six of Britain's best Aurors. We still haven't found all of the pieces of them. The Minister of Magic's flying in tonight on thestral to assess the damage and aid the search.  President Picquery's beside herself, but at least it wasn't us this time."

Graves winces.  He's worked with some of Britain's Aurors before.  There are entirely too many blood purists in the Ministry of Magic as a whole, but the Aurors take everyone regardless of blood status and Graves has known and respected many of them over the years.

He turns to Credence.  Credence is pale, but determined.  He's sitting so close to Graves their legs brush every time one of them shifts, and Graves is struck by the urge to throw an arm over Credence's shoulders, to draw him closer, to keep him safe.   

"Grindelwald likely doesn't know about this house," Graves says, slowly.  "I don't—remember, all of what he found in my head, but this house—no one's lived here since my great-grandmother died."  

"I remember her," Tina says, head cocked to the side.  "She came to your graduation, didn't she? Tiny little woman, called Professor Boot something indelicate?"   

"That would be her," Graves says, remembering the occasion with a jolt of fond warmth.  The entire Wizarding world, not just Graves and his brothers, had walked in fear of Vivien Graves.  Graves remembers grown men leaping out of her path, entire rooms falling quiet when she walked in. "The house has been a moldering ruin since.  I didn't want to live here, after. Neither did Gal."

"How much magic have you learned?"  Tina asks Credence, who curls his shoulders a bit, nervous.  

"I—a little," he says.  "I can... move things. Make light, and unlock doors."  

"No dueling?"  

"No," Credence says.   

"He doesn't really need it," Graves says dryly.   

Tina concedes that point with a nod, half-smiling at Credence.  "Newt and I," she says slowly, "were going to try and lay a trap for Grindelwald.  Are you interested?"

Graves leans forward, bracing his elbows on top of his knees.  His shoulders brush Credence's. Hunger flickers in his belly, almost strong enough to wipe away his exhaustion.  He doesn't bother answering directly—Tina likely already knows. "Tell me what you need from me," he says.

 

XXI.

Their plan comes together rather neatly.  Credence is going to stay behind, at the country house.  He's understandably furious about it, but Graves and Tina refuse to budge.  They have a plan that might work, but Credence doesn't know how to Apparate on his own or how to duel.  If it comes to a fight with Grindelwald, Graves is pretty sure Credence is the only one of them with enough raw power to take on Grindelwald alone, but he and Tina don't intend to fight the bastard alone, so it's moot.   

Tina and Graves spend the rest of the day going over the finer details of the plan while Credence glares at them from the other side of the sitting room.  In the evening Newt Scamander arrives, summoned by owl, and distracts Credence with questions about his Obscurus.

Graves, in the interest of full disclosure, finally tells Tina everything.  The old blood, the other place, the Wild Hunt, all of it.

"You probably can secede," Tina says, after.  "If Grindelwald took you to—to the Shadow Court, and you say you're part of it now, you can technically be considered a citizen of a foreign state.  Which just means that President Picquery can't kill you, legally, but—"

Naming the other place as the Shadow Court makes the last piece of the puzzle fall into place.  Graves isn't sure that it was the Shadow Court.  He's not sure how much of the idea of faeries and courts and all of that bullshit is actually true, and how much of it is just a children's story.  But it's as good a defense as any, and it will give him time.

I can't believe I'm going to try and secede from MACUSA, he thinks, a bit dizzy.  But Tina's right. If Graves and Credence are recognized as foreign citizens, Seraphina can't kill them.  They'd have to go before IntCon, and Graves is reasonably sure he can talk his way out of a death sentence.   

"That's not the part of this I'm worried about," he admits.  "Either Seraphina will buy that or she won't. I'm concerned about getting into a firefight with Gellert Grindelwald in the middle of New York City."  

"We can take Grindelwald," Tina says, sounding more confident that Graves has ever heard her.  "Newt will be there, and you and I are both good duelists. If you can get him to the location—"  

"I can," Graves says.  That at least he's sure of.  "I make good bait, apparently."

"Then it's settled."  Tina nods to herself, decisively.  "We'll go tomorrow morning, then."  

Graves wants to go now, but he understands that they have to prepare, all of them.  He nods in return, jerkily, and stands up.

He needs to be alone.  

Graves slips out of the sitting room, heading for his great-grandmother's wing of the house.  The heavy feeling of magic wraps around him like a blanket, warming him up, driving out some of the lingering chill.  He's so fucking tired.

"Mr.—Percy?"   

Credence has followed him, and is standing just a bit behind Graves, fingers nervously playing with a frayed sleeve.   

"Credence," Graves says, tiredly.  "I know you're not happy about having to stay behind, but—"

"It's not about that," Credence cuts in.  He looks up underneath a fringe of dark hair.  "I—I just. I understand, why you want me to stay here.  I know you're trying to keep me safe. But—” He stops, reaching for words he can't seem to find.  Graves lets him; he can hardly string together his own thoughts, let alone Credence's.

"Who's going to keep you safe?"  Credence finally asks. "You said—Grindelwald took you, before.  He kept you locked up. He hurt you."

"He's not going to lock me up again," Graves says soothingly.  "I'll die first. And pain is just pain. I'll be fine, Credence.  I always am."

Credence's mouth twists unhappily.  "That's not true," he says. "I just.  I don't want anything to happen to you."   

Graves wants to say, Nothing will happen to me , but that's not true either, and they both know it.  There is a very real possibility that Grindelwald could kill him.  Graves has been hanging onto his life by his fingernails for months now, dragging himself through each day, and Credence knows.  Graves was alright with Credence killing him.  He's still alright with Grindelwald killing him, or Seraphina killing him, or just going to sleep one day and never waking up.  

Graves doesn't mean anything by it.  He's not trying to hurt Credence. He's just exhausted, that's all.  Exhausted and empty.

"Come here," Graves says quietly, and holds out his hand.  Hesitantly, Credence takes it, his palm warm, and Graves laces their fingers together.  He's allowed to, he thinks. He's allowed this. He takes Credence into his great-grandmother's library and Transfigures one of the armchairs into a couch big enough for two to sit on.   

Graves doesn't know where to start.  He wants to reassure Credence, but he's not sure he can.  What's there to say? He doesn't have the right words, so he tugs Credence close, and Credence buries his nose against Graves' collarbone.  Graves threads his fingers through Credence's hair.

"None of this is your fault," he says.  He can feel Credence's breath tickling his throat.  "I'm—the way that I am, Credence, none of that's your fault.  Some of it's Grindelwald's fault, but not all of it is. I'm prone to melancholy.  Ask anyone. Have been for years. Since—since my brother died."

Credence doesn't say anything.   

"But," Graves says, "I'll try and come back tomorrow, okay?  I can't—I can't promise anything." He can't, and he won't. "But I'll try.  I'll have Tina with me. Grindelwald's good, but Tina and I know what we're doing.  Hell, Scamander caught him once. We'll be alright. I won't let him come here."

"I don't care if he comes here," Credence says, voice muffled. "If he does, I'll kill him."  

"I love you, you know," Graves says, unable to stop himself.  

Credence is very still.  "I know," he finally murmurs.  "I—I know who you are. I won't let Grindelwald trick me again."

Graves rests a hand on the back of Credence's neck and settles deeper into the couch.  He wants to kiss Credence again. He wants to tell him that everything will be alright.  But if he starts he's not going to stop, and he needs to leave in the morning. He needs to be able to walk away.   

"I know," Graves says.  He closes his eyes. Credence is warm against him, warm, alive, and Graves feels almost peaceful.    

"Can I stay here?"  Credence says, almost inaudibly.  Graves only knows what he says by the shape of the words against his collarbone.  His heart kicks in his chest. There are words hanging in the air that neither of them can articulate.  Graves lets them die in his throat. He doesn't want to ruin this. He just wants one night of peace. One night with Credence pressed against his side.  

"Yeah," Graves says, and Credence curls even closer.  "Stay as long as you like, Credence."

Credence stays all night.   

 

XXII.

The iron is probably payback.  Graves can't even be that mad about it, because it is a good idea.  Tina dragging Percival Graves, former Head Auror, former Director of Magical Security, war hero, traitor, through MACUSA in iron handcuffs?

It's inspired.  Everyone sees. News will spread through New York like a wildfire.  The last son of the House of Graves has gone mad, gone feral, is so steeped in wild magic that the Aurors need iron to keep him at bay.   

Grindelwald will likely hear about it by noon.

The other good thing about the iron is that it fucking hurts.  It's not the clean, shocking hurt of the Cruciatus; Graves can't breathe his way through it.  It's a rough, scratchy pain, like a burn just starting to heal. It stabs, aches. Pain sparks and flashes and forces Graves to keep his mouth shut, even when the insults start.   

Temper has always been Graves' curse, and if he gives into it now he's going to blow their game. Tina and Graves Apparate out of the country house at dawn.  Graves leaves Credence curled up on the couch, a blanket draped over his shoulders. Tina slaps the cuffs on him in an alley a few blocks from Woolworth, and brings him in. The iron cuffs drag at him, burn, keep his magic at bay, and also hurt enough to prevent him from calling Mendelson a hippogriff fucker when Mendelson announces, loudly, "I knew something wasn't right about him," when Graves is shoved through the doors and herded towards the cells.  

Tina rattles off a list of crimes, quick and precise, and then they're heading down, past all of the Aurors, past gawking secretaries, wide-eyed civil servants, and stunned lawyers.

Pain might keep the insult at bay, but Graves does flash Mendelson all of his teeth, aware of his oddly-sharp eyeteeth, aware of the white of his smile, before Tina puts all of her surprising strength into the small of his back and forces him down to the cells.  

Tina touches Graves' elbow, once they're out of sight.  "Two hours should be good enough, I think," she says. "Cuffs on or off?"

"Off, please," Graves says through gritted teeth.  "Or at least swap them out."

Tina guides Graves to a cell that looks suspiciously like a converted closet.  It's not open to the rest of the cells, and the door is made of solid dark wood instead of bars.  Graves is grateful for the privacy.

Tina obliges him once they're inside, unlocking the iron cuffs and replacing them with shining steel.  Graves' wrists are burned and blistered, but he'll live.

"Two hours," he says.  "Give 'em hell, Goldstein. Keep an eye on your Mr. Scamander."  

She smiles sadly at him, mock-salutes, an old joke, and then she's gone.  She shuts the door behind her and loudly instructs the guards posted outside that no one except the President and herself are allowed to enter Graves' cell.   

"He's dangerous," Tina warns, and then her voice fades away down the hall, and Graves is alone.

Two hours.  Grindelwald will know by then that his former plaything has gone rogue.  That Graves found Credence, and is hiding him from MACUSA.

Two hours to figure out how the hell to get out of here.   

Without the cuffs, Graves can think more clearly.  The MACUSA cells are warded to suppress magic, but if Grindelwald had worked here in Woolworth for the months he’d held Graves prisoner, Grindelwald will have left himself a way out.  Grindelwald knows Graves inside and out but Graves knows him right back. Grindelwald always has another plan.

He will have tampered with the wards somehow, made it so that if he was ever caught and held at Woolworth, he could escape.  

Really, MACUSA is lucky they kept Grindelwald somewhere else; if he’d been staying here, in these cells, Graves doesn’t doubt that they would’ve lost him months ago.  

Graves is no fool—he is not Grindelwald.  He doesn't command even half of Grindelwald's power.  But he's one of the most gifted wizards of his age, damn it, and Unseelie besides.  

(He hasn't said the word out loud yet, Unseelie.  But if Grindelwald is the Shadow Court and Graves took a piece of it inside himself, that's what he is.  His family was Autumn Court in the old days anyway. The House of Graves served the Autumn Kings, first the House of Burke and then the House of Nott, and lived in a world that was always autumn.  They were Unseelie. Graves knows that word, is familiar with it; he just never thought to apply it to himself.)

Graves can figure this out.  

Grindelwald will have left a flaw, a weakness.  A wound in the wards Graves can exploit. Grindelwald'd want a way in and out of Woolworth, a backdoor.  It will be subtle, but it’ll be there.

He knows that he doesn't have much time.  Seraphina will have heard by now, and she’ll understand the significance of the iron cuffs.  Graves focuses. All magic leaves a trace, and Graves helped lay some of this warding himself.  His father laid wards here. His grandfather, his great-grandfather. MACUSA is built on the twelve stones that the Twelve Aurors of Plymouth Rock carved with blood wards in the days before their kind went underground.   

Come on, Graves thinks, reaching out, searching through the thousands of magical threads that have come together to form the bedrock of America’s Wizarding community.   Come on.  It's my blood.  My magic. My bone.   

Graves feels, in the tapestry of magic upon which MACUSA is built, an autumn wind.  

Once he's found it, once he can see the fabric woven out of Graves red and Calderon green, Howe silver, Picquery gold, Graves can sense where the wards are broken.  Marred, like a shadow crossing a threshold, a minor note in a major key.

Grindelwald.   

Graves has found his way out.  

No sooner has he found the break in the wards than the room grows cold.  The hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Seraphina is here.  

She doesn't throw the door wide or anything so dramatic; she unlocks it, slips inside, and closes it again, leaning back against the wood.   

When Graves was seventeen and Seraphina sixteen, Seraphina stopped growing.  She'd been shorter than Graves for as long as they'd known each other, but she'd always hoped to outgrow him.  (Or, failing that, curse his legs off at the knees.)

When days and weeks and months had gone by without her growing another inch, she’d been beside herself.  It's that moment Graves thinks of now, as the full force of Seraphina's fury fills the cell. Her irritated frown, her huff.   At least you're shorter than Theo, she'd said, snide.   See if you're laughing at me when Gal outgrows you.   

"So," Seraphina says, flatly.  "I hear you've been hiding the Obscurial in your mausoleum of a house."  

Graves smiles thinly.  "Something like that," he says.   

Seraphina looks at Graves—really looks at him, pins him with a stare that he can't hide from, so he doesn't.  He lets her see.

"I vouched for you," she says.  Her tone is dry, almost disinterested.  "When Goldstein found you. The International Federation thought I should have locked you up.  Grindelwald's broken him, they said. He's not loyal anymore, we can’t have a Graves on the loose."  

Something savage twists in Graves' chest.  "He wore me like a coat ," Graves spits.  The words catch in his throat, but he gets them out.  "He took my face and my name and he left me to rot in the dark, and you didn't notice. "   

Graves thinks, absurdly, of his sad dead houseplants. The owl Grindelwald left to fend for itself.  The fucking stickpins.   

"I vouched for you," Seraphina snaps.   

"I'm grateful," Graves returns, bitter.  How long has it been since Tina left? He can barely breathe against Seraphina's power, against the baying of his own instincts.   

Kneel, half of his heart demands.  He's spent most of his life glad—glad—to stand at Seraphina's side, to follow wherever she goes.   

Fight, growls the other half.   

Seraphina sighs.  "How long have you been hiding the Obscurial?"  She's not going to apologize. Of course she isn't.  Graves wouldn't, in her shoes. He won't now. People like them don't apologize.  Seraphina can't. Apologizing means admitting that Graves is right, that she didn’t notice, didn't care to notice, and Seraphina can't admit that.   

Graves understands.  He does.

"Weeks, now," he says.  There's no point in lying.  The feyfollet can smell lies, according to legend, and there's as much of their blood in Seraphina as there is aos sí in Graves.   

"Why?"

"Because he and I are the same," Graves says.  It tastes like truth on his tongue. "Because killing him—ordering him to die—is wrong."

"You idiot," Seraphina snarls.  Pressure builds against Graves' throat, and he can feel the press of fingers, the sting of sharp claws.  "What about the law? We both swore to uphold—"

"It was wrong," Graves interrupts, gently.  "You know it was."

Seraphina shakes her head, tired, "It was right for our people," she says.  "The Statute has to be protected. Percy, you know that."

"I do," he allows.  Graves is not Grindelwald.  He knows why the Statute of Secrecy exists, who it protects. "But it's not Credence's fault.  I won't see him killed for Grindelwald's cruelties."

"Percy," Seraphina begins.  

"I won't," Graves growls, letting his teeth flash, his eyes glitter.  Seraphina doesn't back down, but for a moment her own eyes glimmer gold, one predator scenting the blood of another.

Her mouth thins. "You've finally embraced your heritage, I see."

Graves shrugs again.  "No point in hiding it anymore.  You're right, you know. Grindelwald—he broke me."   

Seraphina doesn't flinch.  "I know," she says. "You wouldn't have quit otherwise.  I didn't think—"

She cuts herself off, and Graves doesn't try and pull the words out of her.  He doesn't want to know what Seraphina thought. He's got enough to deal with without adding the weight of Seraphina's expectations to his burden.

"Credence Barebone is a threat to the international Statute of Secrecy," Seraphina says flatly.  "My hands are tied. The law is clear."

Graves' lip curls.  "Credence is not a wild animal," he says.  "He's—he can control it, the Obscurus. I've seen him do it."  

Seraphina huffs.   

"He'd be dead otherwise," Graves presses.  "Obscuri kill their hosts because their hosts lose control.  Credence is twenty-four. He can—I've seen him shift at will."

He's struck by the impulse to share the memory of Credence swirling through the air, shot through with bird bones and twilight.   

Graves takes a shot in the dark.  "He's one of us," he says. "One of—what do you call yourselves, anyway?  We were—I am —Unseelie.  Autumn Court."   

"We had no courts," Seraphina says, slowly.  They've never talked about this, the blood they share.  The old blood burns in Seraphina differently than in burns in Graves, but it's there.  It's what drew them together all those years ago, the sense that they were different from the rest of their peers, the sense that they didn't belong in a place like Ilvermorny, a place with stone walls and a roof over their heads and carefully-tended trees.   

"Seelie, Unseelie, those were your kin's words.  We were just Aziza.  But," and she looks at Graves, hard, "we aren't anymore.  You're a wizard under the law of MACUSA, not the—not the Autumn Court."  

"Er," says Graves, apologetic, "well, there's—Seraphina.  I don't think I am part of MACUSA anymore."

Seraphina closes her eyes.  Graves can actually see her wrestling with the urge to murder him.  "What," she says, and the pressure at Graves' throat tightens, "the fuck did you do?"

"I—" He stops, shows Seraphina the burns and blisters on his wrists.  "I have no idea, actually. I don't know what I'm doing. Grindelwald took me to a—to a different place.  An other place."  He does not want to say Shadow Court.  He doesn't think he can. "I used the old magic to get out.  None of the spells I knew worked there, so I had to—let it in."

Graves wishes he had better words to explain what it was like, what he thought and felt and did there, in Grindelwald's court.  He's never been good at this.

"I let it in," he repeats.   I let it change me.   

That's the truth of it.  What Graves did to get out of the other place, what he's done since, has only let the old ways take root inside him.   

The courts of the Fae were governed by subtler, wilder laws.  Laws of intent, of action; Graves ate in the other place, he drank, he bled.  It lives inside him now. And he's only let it grow. Being around Credence, the Hunt, letting the spells Graves learned at Ilvermorny gather dust in the back of his mind, all of that has changed him.  It's changed the way he thinks; the way he lives. It's changed the fucking seasons at his house.

"You're saying," Seraphina says, "that you are a sovereign citizen of a court that doesn't exist, based on laws wizardkind abandoned a thousand years ago."  

"I—yes?"  Graves hazards.  The argument is flimsier than a piece of wet parchment, but it's as good as anything else Graves has.  

"And you're going to claim Credence Barebone under the same?"

"Yes," Graves says, firmer now.  

Seraphina looks away.  

Graves loves her.  He's known her since they were fourteen years old.  He's followed her through hell and back. He's fought at her side.  Graves owes her, and if she asked—if she asked—he would give her Credence.   

He would have to.  The subtle laws bind him to her like they bind him to the autumn wind.  It'd kill him, but Graves would do it.

Seraphina sighs.  "You know," she says.  "When I heard you'd brought a pretty young man out around society, I was actually relieved .  More fool I.  Your taste in men has always been atrocious."  

"You liked Theo fine," Graves says, grabbing onto the truce Seraphina's offering him with both hands.  Relief surges in his gut, lurches against his ribs. Something pricks against the backs of his eyes that Graves refuses to name.   

There’s a moment of silence.  "Theo was alright," Seraphina allows.  “He was a good match for you.”

“A moderating influence,” Graves says.  That’s what his great-grandmother had called Theo-- a moderating influence, like Graves was some wild thing that needed to be tamed or some unruly hound that needed a firm hand.  

Seraphina laughs.  “Theo didn’t moderate anything,” she says.  “I was there for most of it, Percy. You and Theo egged each other on.  Whatever one of you did, the other tried to do again, but with more bloodshed.”

“Not bloodshed,” Graves corrects.  Theo had never wanted anything to do with violence.  He had refused to join the war effort, and when Graves had signed up for special duty, he’d refused Graves.  

“No,” Seraphina agrees, quietly.  “Not bloodshed.”

Silence falls between them again.   

"Seraphina," Graves says, a little helplessly.  

"Don't think this is over," she warns, shaking off the past.  His old friend fades away, replaced by Madam President. "I will put you through the courts.  I just don't have time now. You've heard about Grindelwald, I assume?"   

"You just want my money," Graves says, mouth dry.  "And to see me lose patience and hex Judge Crackstone."  The pressure at his throat lessens. Graves relents. "Tina actually came to the house to tell me about Grindelwald.  She arrested me after."

Seraphina's eyes glitter.  She knows that Graves can beat Tina in a duel and that he's playing some sort of dangerous and shadowy a game now.  But, he thinks she’s going to let him play it. She might not be there to clean up the wreckage if Graves missteps, but she’s going to let this play out.  "Be grateful I'm not up for reelection,” she says. “This is going to be a nightmare, politically." She sights and reaches out, grabs Graves' hands.

Warmth spreads up his fingers, settling around his wrists.  His burns and blisters begin to mend. The gentleness of the gesture hits Graves somewhere between his ribs.   

"I can't help you now, you know.  I hope all of this is worth it."

"I know," Graves says.  

Seraphina smiles, crookedly.  "So long as we're clear on that.  You should rest. There's a hearing in the morning, and I heard that Crackstone’s going to set some very exorbitant bail.  If Barebone causes another dragot of property damage, if a No-Maj sees so much as a curl of smoke, I will kill him. You know that, right?"

Graves nods.  "I know," he says.  

Graves lets Seraphina’s hands slip through his, and without another word she turns and leaves him.  The ache of it is sharp. Raw. Seraphina likely won't intercede on his behalf again, and she's good for her word.  She'll have Credence put to death if he risks the Statute again.

Her departure feels like the end of an age.  Like there was a thread in Graves’ chest wound tight around his old life; Seraphina, the Great War, his long bleak years at the head of the Aurors.  Theo. Bors and Galahad. His great-grandmother, Ilvermorny.

Like that thread is fraying.  Like that thread is being cut.  

The past is being severed and the future is a long dark tunnel.  The only thing that matters is here and now; Graves doesn’t really understand what he’s becoming, but he’s probably not going to live long enough to find out.  That’s alright. If the plan works, they’ll have Grindelwald again. Credence will be safe.

Graves’ eyeteeth feel too sharp in his mouth.  

Graves gives himself a moment to give in to his grief.  Then he puts it away. He closes his eyes, and reaches for the foundations of magic that MACUSA is built on.  He can feel the wards working away around him. He can see them.

I owe her again , Graves thinks, wry.   Again.   Graves finds his way out, the shadow-marked door Grindelwald left, turns on his heel, and steps through it.  

 

XXIII.

The trap they lay for Grindelwald is a pretty one, if Graves does say so himself.  He's forgotten how good this feels, the hunt, the bait, all the parts and pieces of a plan slotting together.  

Graves plays his part well.  From the basement of the Woolworth building he Apparates to a speakeasy, tosses a crook into the wall—after letting the poor bastard see his face—and swipes his wand.

The stolen wand is of a darker wood, spruce or pine, and it pricks at Graves' senses, sulky and strange and not the sharp fierceness of his aspen wand or even the cool solidity of his old ebony, but it will do.   

Graves Stuns the crook and takes his cloak.  He's gone before the search begins. One Disillusionment and some skulking about later, Graves is folded into a chair at Goody Howe's, almost entirely invisible, watching the Wizarding world lose its collective mind.  

The gossip is incredible.  In the span of a few hours, Graves' quiet escape through a hole in the wards has become a into a raging battle in the depths of MACUSA, in which Graves successfully fought off half the Auror Department, President Picquery, and the British Minister of Magic to escape.   

Graves is quite flattered, really.   

No one has the why right either.  Rumors abound. Seraphina has evidently told the press that Graves was harboring a dangerous fugitive using the alias "Henry," and the coffeehouse is bursting with theories.   

"He's working with Grindelwald," a portly wizard announces over the rim of his coffee cup.  

"He means to overthrow the President!" a squeaky witch disagrees.   

“He’s gone feral,” another disagrees.  “ I heard he had to be dragged into MACUSA with iron cuffs on, like some kind of wild faerie dog. ”  

Back and forth the rumors go.  Graves observes it all unseen, waiting, waiting, and—

There.  Near nightfall an unassuming, mousy-haired man shuffles into Goody Howe's, one violet eye gleaming beneath the brim of his hat.  Graves can taste stale air, rippling dark, leaves rotting.

He gets up.  

An Obscurial would be quite useful right about now, Graves thinks.  He's not one, though.  He can't turn into smoke and fly away.  So, quietly, trusting the strength of his Disillusionment, he heads for the back door and slips out into the alley.  

Grindelwald stole most of Graves' memories.  He knows enough of Graves' habits to successfully impersonate him for months on end without some of the most highly-trained wizards in America noticing.   

Grindelwald knows that Goody Howe's is a place of refuge for Graves.  Graves has come here at least once a week since he was seventeen. He starts gathering information for all of his cases here.  He reads the paper here. He comes here on long nights to go over case files, to center himself before a trial.

Goody Howe's reminds Graves of duty, of constancy; his father came here, and his father before him.

And everyone knows that Graves is a creature of habit.  

Graves waits until he sees the back door opening again before he Apparates away with a crack.  Grindelwald is a clever man. He’ll figure out how to follow.

Graves goes to the Second Salemers' bombed-out church next.  He goes to the ruin of his old apartment—Mendelson is standing guard and Graves has the pleasure of jinxing him, for Mendelson's snide comment earlier—and to Central Park.   

Every move Graves makes is shadowed.  Grindelwald is clever but he's also vain.  Hungry. He doesn't pause to think that Graves could know his presence, or that Graves could be leading him into a trap.  

Or, Graves thinks, abandoning Central Park for the subway station MACUSA cornered Credence in, he does know and he just doesn't care.   

That thought is a bit disconcerting, but it's too late to worry now.  

Graves steps out of his Apparation inside the subway tunnel, rolling the tension out of his shoulders.  He finds himself a patch of shadows and thinks, My wand.   

Tina's friend Newt is the reliable sort; Graves’ aspen wand comes whistling out of the shadows and lands in Graves' outstretched hand.  He discards the wand he stole, wrapping his fingers around the white wood of his own, and steels himself.

He doesn’t have to wait long. The electric lights all go out as Grindelwald approaches, guttering down to nothing one by one, glass popping and the sharp sting of burning wires filling the air.  

If nothing else, Grindelwald does have an impeccable sense for the dramatic.  Graves steels himself.

"Director Graves," Grindelwald sings out, his voice mocking and horribly familiar.  "Or is just traitor Graves these days? It seems that no one is very happy with you."  

"I know," Graves calls back.  He hasn't taken off the Disillusionment Charm yet.  He's just waiting, pressed deep into the shadows. Darkness settles around the subway platform as the lights go out.  Graves embraces it, lets it hide him for just a few moments longer. "It's hell on my pension."

Grindelwald laughs, softly.  "You have something of mine, Percival.  I’d like it back. Why don’t you come out, and we discuss this like men?"  

Graves stays quiet.   

"Come now," Grindelwald croons.  The electric lights gutter back on.  Shadows drag at Graves, and old, hungry magic spider-walks down his spine.  

"Step into the light," Grindelwald says.  "Face me like a man."

Tina, I hope you're ready.   

Graves breaks the charm, and steps out to face Grindelwald.    

Graves comes face to face with himself.  It throws him; he’d been braced for white hair and a violet eye.  He gets himself. Or rather, an imperfect reflection of himself--Grindelwald is wearing Graves’ face, but it’s not quite right.  It’s too--human, Graves thinks. Grindelwald has Graves’ face from before, not a hair out of place, but it’s not right.

Not quite.

Graves bares his teeth. "Original," he snarls.  

Grindelwald shrugs elegantly.  He looks more at ease in Graves' skin than Graves does himself.  If Graves wasn't already a bit mad, he'd think that he had finally snapped.   

"This face allows me to move around much more freely," Grindelwald says.  "Really, Percival. You built quite a reputation around yourself. No one stood against me in all the months I wore your face.  Too intimidated by you, perhaps. Or too uninterested."

Rage rears up in Graves' belly.  "I'm always glad to be of service," he says, clipped.  

Grindelwald laughs in Graves’ voice.  "We know that's not entirely true," he says.  "I'm proud. I always knew you had it in you to turn on your President Picquery.  Iron cuffs? I'm delighted."

"I didn't do it to delight you."  

Grindelwald's grin is downright predatory.  "No? Rumor suggests that you have been one of mine all along.  Hiding my Obscurial, abandoning the lovely President Picquery. That is the behavior of a fanatic, they're saying."  

"Or of a good man," Graves returns.   

"My dear Percival," says Grindelwald, gently.  "You and I both know you are not a good man."

He's right, of course, but Graves is not going to debate morality with a mass murderer.  The conversation's getting boring anyway, so Graves flicks a curse at the ceiling above Grindelwald, shattering stone, and readies himself.   

Grindelwald laughs and waves a hand.  Stone disintegrates. He fires his own curse, but Graves is already stepping out of the way easily.   

The first time they fought Grindelwald caught Graves heading home after an eighteen-hour day.  Graves had been so tired he could barely lift his wand. Grindelwald is not so fortunate this time.   

Graves has had eight months to nurture a grudge against Grindelwald.  He leans hard on that now. Rage gives him the strength to tear great chunks of concrete out of the walls, turns his curses into lightning and blue fire.   

Dueling is a bit like a dance, and Graves knows every step.  He and Grindelwald trade curses, gliding around each other. Grindelwald is aiming to wound, to hurt; Graves is aiming to kill.   

A spell like a whip catches Graves full in the face, and he tastes blood.  He retaliates with a twist of his fingers that tosses Grindelwald back twenty feet and slams him into the ground.  Grindelwald roars in pain, jerking, and breaks free of Graves' hold.

Come on, Tina, Graves thinks, wiping blood out of his eyes.  Any time now.   

Graves and Grindelwald circle each other like wolves, sizing each other up.  Grindelwald is still wearing Graves’ face but he isn't using Graves' old ebony wand. The wand he’s got now is some thorny thing that sparks and flashes, spitting lightning with every easy twist of Grindelwald’s fingers.  Graves holds the aspen wand tighter. There are no more splinters left to center him, but the wand hums in his hand. It's with him.

Graves levels it at Grindelwald's chest.  Blood is running into his eyes again. The whole tunnel groans, their combined power pushing up against the bricks, almost too much to contain.  The walls writhe with Grindelwad’s shadows, the other place--the Shadow Court--straining against the real world, but this time the other place doesn’t rise up and take Graves.  

This time, there’s a cool, crisp wind, a distant roaring.  The scent of leaves and wood and fire.

Grindelwald isn't laughing anymore.  "I'm impressed," he calls across the space between them.  "You fight dirty. Tell me, is that my influence?"

Shadows are growing, deepening.  Graves tastes iron, wine, depthless dark.  The subway tunnel swims in front of his eyes.   

"A valiant effort, but you're still no match for me, I'm afraid," Grindelwald says.  Graves looks into his own eyes, his own face, and sees shadows stirring.

A growl builds in his chest, unbidden.   

"A valiant effort," Grindelwald repeats, drawing his wand back.  "I think I'll kill you quickly. Isn't that what you want, Percival Graves?  A clean death?"

Graves thinks of Credence in the gutted church, pressing a wand up against the hollow of Graves' throat.  A German forest, blood on his hands. A clean death. Green light and rushing wind, and then—

The aspen wand has dipped, just a fraction, before Graves realizes.  Grindelwald looks at Graves with understanding on his stolen face, and the expression is a knife, a Cruciatus Curse.   

"Where is my Obscurial?"  Grindelwald asks, his voice low, almost friendly.  The other place swims up all around them. Graves can feel it pressing in, filling his mouth.  He thinks of the country house almost lazily, the red oak trees, Credence standing in the clearing with a smile on his face—

"Get out of my head," Graves snarls, and throws Grindelwald out of his mind with tremendous effort.  He focuses, thinking of empty fields and tall, spiked walls, and when Grindelwald tries to get inside his head again, he can't.   

"Your family home?"  Grindelwald says, eyes gleaming.  

The thought of Credence drags Graves back into his own body, outside of his own head, and he thinks, down to the tips of his fingers, Avada—

"Incarcerous!" Tina shouts, and chains come flying out of the dark.  They catch Grindelwald around the chest, pinning his arms to his sides.  Newt Scamander is hot on Tina's heels, summoning the wand out of Grindelwald's hands with grim determination.   

" Revelio, " Scamander says.  Grindelwald melts out of Graves' face, unkempt blond hair, sallow skin, one glittering, inhuman eye.  He's not using Polyjuice at all, Graves realizes, but rather some kind of Transfiguration spell.

Grindelwald bares all of his teeth—sharp, now that Graves looks—and Tina's conjured chains blur into black snakes, hissing, and lunge for her.   

Graves hits one and Scamander the other; Tina hurls a Stunner at Grindelwald, and Grindelwald leaps out of the way.

Grindelwald summons the thorny wand back from Scamander with a twist of his hand, and the dance begins again.  

Graves and Tina are accustomed to fighting beside each other and between them manage to keep a near-constant barrage of curses flying at Grindelwald.  Scamander keeps to the sidelines, tossing unconventional, well-aimed hexes at the weak spots in Grindelwald's defenses.

Graves does not dare risk a Killing Curse, not with Grindelwald moving so fast, with Tina and Scamander in the mix.  Grindelwald keeps a shield up, hunger in his eyes, lashing out with lightning, but they are slowly, surely pushing him back.  

Determination burns in Graves' chest, white-hot.  He's going to kill Grindelwald. He's going to end this.  He's—

Grindelwald tosses his wand aside and brings his hands together, and a wave of fire bursts forward like dragonsbreath.  

Graves manages to conjure a shield around himself and Tina in time, but the force of Grindelwald's magic lifts him off his feet and throws him down onto the tracks.   

Ears ringing, his mouth full of blood, Graves reels back up to his feet.  Tina and Scamander are alive, moving feebly, and Grindelwald is halfway gone, coat swirling—

" Avada Kedavra! " Graves bellows, his voice deep and vibrating, hurling the curse at Grindelwald, but it's too late.  The curse cracks into the subway wall, burns only empty air, and Grindelwald—

Grindelwald is gone, leaving nothing but wreckage behind him.  

 

Chapter Text

the king of oak

 

six. rí na darach

( the king of oak )

 

XXV.

Tina has to physically restrain Graves while Scamander puts the subway tunnel back together.  They're trying to catch a terrorist, not blow the Statute of Secrecy wide open, but all Graves can think about is Grindelwald rifling through his head, watching Credence smile.   

"Tina," Graves says, trying to twist out of her grip.  "He knows where Credence is, we need to go--"

"Hold still," says Tina firmly.  She's been trying to heal the cut on Graves' face, but curse wounds are difficult to mend even for trained healers.  She's managed to close the worst of it, but Graves is still bleeding sluggishly.

Graves doesn't care.  They need to move.   

"Your house is warded, isn't it?" Scamander says once he's got the subway tunnel repaired.  He's talking low and quiet, like Graves is a wild animal he's trying to coax into his damn suitcase.  Graves is too tense to even bare his teeth. "Tina mentioned that you have walking trees, which sound fascinating ."  

"Not now, Newt," Tina mutters.  She finally pulls her hands away from Graves' face, giving up.  Graves doesn't even care about the damage—as long as he's not in danger of bleeding to death, he's ready to go.   

"It's warded," Graves says.  "But I doubt even those wards can hold back Grindelwald for long."

Scamander is tucking his wand back into his coat, blinking.  "I'm ready when you are," he tells Tina. For all that he looks like an escaped schoolteacher thrown headfirst into a war zone, Scamander is remarkably steady.  Prior to this whole Graves had only ever heard of Theseus Scamander and his famous exploits during the war, but he's starting to wonder if this Scamander is the true soldier.   

Tina looks at Graves.  

"Ready," he says.  Anxiety is climbing up his throat, fear clawing at his nerves.  They've wasted enough time already. "We'll have to Apparate outside the wards, in the woods.  I don't want to give Grindelwald an opening if he's not on the grounds already."

Tina and Scamander both nod.   

Tina takes Graves by the hand, grabs hold of Scamander, and Apparates them away.  Graves hates Side-Along because it makes the distinction between himself and the others blurry and warped—he's Graves and Tina and Scamander, Grindelwald, he’s no one at all—

And then they're Disapparating among tall, bare trees, the line between Graves' land and the rest of the world humming softly with power.  They Disapparated fifty feet away from the property line, but even that far back Graves can feel the wound in the wards.

Grindelwald didn't bother with subtlety, not this time.  Magic hemorrhages into the open air, great clouds of Graves’ ancestral power ripped loose and left to pool uselessly around the broken wards.  Grindelwald didn't unravel the wards so much as he blasted right through them. There’s almost nothing of Graves’ careful wardwork left.  

Across the treetops, Graves sees a cloud of birds startle into the sky, black against the moon.  He hears the trees creaking and groaning. He tastes fire.

"Look," Tina says, pointing, and Graves follows her finger toward the house, still hidden by trees.   

Leaves are falling.  Graves can smell them burning, blackening.  The bare branches left behind are withering and curling inward.  

The forest is dying.  

Graves starts running.   

The wise thing to do would be to Apparate, but Graves doesn't know where Grindelwald is, where Credence is.  The river of wild magic Graves has been learning how to swim in isn't a river anymore; it's twisted and snarling, seething, boiling, a sea of pain and fury and power, and Graves doesn't have time to stand still and try and feel Credence out.   

The best way to find Grindelwald is to follow the blackening trees.  "Send for backup!" Graves bellows over his shoulder. Tina's behind him, running full tilt through the woods after him.  Grindelwald's path is clear—everything he's passed through has burned. Grindelwald has dropped the pretense of humanity. Here and there a fallen tree blocks the path, its roots and branches splayed out, a curse gored through its trunk.  The trees had risen to fight, and Grindelwald has swatted them aside.

Graves is halfway to the house when something hits him behind the ear and he's thrown off of his feet, sent face first into the dirt.  Graves throws his hands out and catches himself. The impact rattles his teeth.

"Mr. Graves!"  Tina shouts. " Incendio!"   

Graves climbs back to his feet in time to see Tina hurl fire at a tree—an oak tree, its bark shot through with rot, its branches black and bare.  Grindelwald, playing games with Graves' life again, turning his defenses against him.

Graves doesn't have time to care.  

"Go!"  Tina shouts.  "I'll be behind you."  

She's a good one, Tina, so Graves takes an extra five seconds to gather magic, the rawest and wildest magic he can find inside of himself, and hurls it at the corrupted tree.  He doesn't wait to see if it hits, if it makes a difference; Graves turns and keeps running. Scamander should be just behind them, firing off a Patronus to summon help from MACUSA.  He'll help Tina.

Graves sets his guilt aside as he bursts out of the woods onto the unkempt lawn.  His breath clouds in the air and frost crackles underneath his feet. Autumn, it seems, has come to an end.  

"Grindelwald!"  he shouts. Graves can feel him now.  Grindelwald has a presence like the dead of night, like the sky without any stars.  The moon is bright above him but Graves feels like he's in the other place. Shadows loom.  "Grindelwald! It's over."

But Grindelwald doesn't appear.  Graves curls his hand around his wand and tries to focus.  Underneath all of his aches, underneath all of his fear, he's still a fighter.  A hunter. Graves chose to be an Auror not because of his family's long and illustrious history in the profession—there's been at least one Graves Auror in the department since 1693—but because it's what he is.  It's what they've all been, Graves and his brothers, their parents, their grandparents.  They were the hunters of the Autumn Court. Not its kings or its queens, but its teeth, its claws.  Graves is exhausted. He's afraid. But he knows how to do this, and Credence is in the house somewhere, likely being hunted himself.   

Graves can do this.   

He reaches deep inside of himself, putting everything aside.  Graves lets go of Grindelwald, of the other place, of these months of exhaustion.  It hurts, but he sets it aside, and in its place finds red leaves.  White teeth. A great and yawning dark.

It's me, Graves realizes.  There's darkness there, in the very heart of Graves’ self, deep black darkness, but it's not of Grindelwald's making.  The other place is inside of Graves, like the forest in Germany where he found Gal’s murderers, like the letter Bors left behind when he went away with his No-Maj wife, like the laugh fading around Gal's mouth as he stared up at the sky, but the darkness is not Grindelwald.  

What burns inside of Graves’ chest is something else entirely.  Something old and rich and warm and dark, yes, but it isn't Grindelwald.   

It's me.    

Graves grabs onto that feeling, the surety of it, and pulls.    

For a moment there's nothing, just cold and frost and blackness, and then all of Graves’ senses light up like he's been struck by lightning.  

Thick curtains of magic hang in the air, torn and frayed.  Fire and smoke sit on the back of his tongue like wine. For a moment Graves’ head is heavy, something sharp and insistent pricking at his forehead, brushing the tops of his ears.

"Grindelwald!"  Graves booms, his voice deep and old and crackling, and this time  Grindelwald appears. He's not wearing Graves' face anymore and his violet eye is narrowed, fury tight around the corners of his mouth.  Power rolls off of him in waves, but Graves isn't afraid anymore.

He stands up very straight.  The weight on his head intensifies, thorns digging in, rivulets of blood running in his eyes.  It’s an easy weight to bear. Power thrums through Graves too, just as fierce and wild as Grindelwald.    

"Clever Mr. Graves," Grindelwald croons, something ugly flashing in his gaze.  "I'm impressed. But do you really think that you've evened the playing field? I'll admit that your progress has been spectacular—better than I'd hoped for, even—but deciding to call yourself the King of the Autumn Court does not make you the King of the Autumn Court.  You're a child compared to me."

Graves grins, mean, and steels himself.  This time he's not going to lose. This time—

He doesn't get to finish his thoughts, because Credence Barebone comes crashing through one of the wide, wonderful windows and slams into Grindelwald’s back, exploding into shadow and smoke.  

Grindelwald, focused on Graves, doesn't have time to get out of the way; Credence hits him and throws him forward, slamming him against the ground.  The Obscurial roars, sweeping across the lawn towards Graves.

"Get back in the house!"  Graves shouts up at him, but Credence only whirls and lashes out again, catching Grindelwald across the chest as he tries to rise.   

Grindelwald blocks the blow this time and Credence bounces off of a shimmering shield, scattering before pulling himself together.  Grindelwald raises his wand to fire a spell and Graves snarls, deep in his chest.

"Don't you dare," Graves hisses, and lashes out with a whip of blue-white flame.  Grindelwald is forced to give ground, pressing back against the house, his attention torn between Graves and Credence.   

Graves can feel cold fingers in his mind, claws scrabbling for purchase.  Graves reaches for the warm dark heart of himself again and lets it fill him up.  Grindelwald reels back like Graves has physically struck him, his expression wild and thunderstruck.  Graves grins at him, sharp teeth flashing. Grindelwald can’t get inside his head anymore.

"You crawling piece of—" Grindelwald spits but before he can finish Credence dives down again, a howling, seething mass of thorns and teeth, and tears into Grindelwald.  Bits of earth and brick and wood go flying. Credence takes part of the house with him, and Grindelwald is screaming, lost in the hungry darkness.

There's a sharp crack and Credence is left shredding at nothing but air.  Graves can smell blood on the wind.

Grindelwald reappears behind Graves and Credence both and Graves has just enough time to see the inhuman shine of his teeth before he's hit square in the chest with nothing but Grindelwald's raw power, and Graves is knocked out of his body.

When he comes back to all Graves can see is darkness, but it's a warm, gentle dark.  It's Credence, hovering over Graves protectively, the breadth and reach of his power concentrated on keeping Graves safe, on keeping Graves alive.   

"I'm alright," Graves rasps, struggling to sit up.  His mouth isn't working right and his ears are ringing, but Graves gets up anyway, raising his wand.  He doesn't—something is wrong. Something is wrong, and he can't make his hands obey. He can't get words past his teeth.  Graves is tired, he's so tired, and if he just goes to sleep maybe—

Grindelwald is in his head again.  Graves realizes it just as Grindelwald finds the memory of Graves knocking Credence back into human skin with a Patronus, and Graves throws him out, firing a curse into the darkness—

His curse hits Grindelwald in the shoulder.  Blood and bits of bone hit the air. But Grindelwald doesn't stop.  He’s beyond pain. Grindelwald raises his wand and says, a mad light in his eye, " Expecto Patronum ."  

Grindelwald's Patronus moves too fast for Graves to see what it is.  It's big, that much he can tell, and cruel, and it slams into Credence before Credence can get out of the way and once more knocks the man out of the shadows.   

Credence tumbles to the ground.  Graves flicks his power out, catches him, cushions the blow, and steps to get between him and Grindelwald.   

"Get out of the way, Percival," Grindelwald says.  His Patronus comes back around and Graves can see, with a horrible, unhappy jolt, that it's some kind of large cat too, though it is threaded through with stripes of darkness and missing pieces of itself.   

"No," Graves says.  He thinks, Avada, and keeps his wand loose at his side.   

"I don't want to kill you," Grindelwald urges.  "Our world needs its warriors, Percival. It needs its kings of oak and elder.  There is a place for you in my future. It can even be at Credence's side. Come now, be reasonable.  You know what your President Picquery will do to Credence."

Graves bares his teeth, silent.  He doesn’t get out of the way.

"Credence," Grindelwald says, trying a new tactic.  "Credence, my boy, you deserve better than this. You deserve to live like a king, not a prisoner.  Is this how you wish to spend the rest of your life? Hiding here, with only the trees for company? You could be great, you know.  A hero in our world."

Credence shakily gets to his feet.  He's wandless, barefoot, wearing one of Graves' old shirts.  It makes him look young. Graves' heart twists. "You lied to me," Credence says, softly.   

"I was mistaken," Grindelwald says smoothly.  His voice is low and sweet. Gentle, even. "You hid your true power so well that even I could not see it.  A prodigious talent, Credence. A mark of your own strength—"

"You lied to me," Credence growls, the Obscurial vibrating in his voice.  "You pretended to be my friend ."  

Fierce pride kindles in Graves' belly.   

"I don't want anything to do with you," Credence spits.  "I'll never want anything to do with you.  I want to stay here, with Graves.  I don't want to fight your war for you."  

Something very old and very ugly passes across Grindelwald's face.  Graves sees fur and scales, sharp teeth, flat black eyes, and shifts closer to Credence.   

"You would choose this frightened, broken thing over the power I offer you," Grindelwald says, softly.  "So be it, then. If you will not come willingly, you will come by force. Crucio ," he says, and a jet of red light hits Graves in the chest.  

It hurts, distantly, but Graves pushes through it, past it.  He can feel Grindelwald trying to get into his mind again, and he knows that Grindelwald's not trying to get information, not anymore.  He's trying to break Graves, to shatter him in front of Credence, and Graves digs his heels in.

Just die, Grindelwald croons in his ear.   It's alright, Percival.  Just give in. Don't you want to be with your family again?  Don't you want it to stop hurting?   

GET OUT , Graves roars, pushing back.  Everything has gone dark with pain.  But he can feel Grindelwald move—he can feel the air shift, the stream of magic around them change its course.   

Blind, deaf, Graves throws out a hand and catches Credence's wrist.   

Finite incantatem , he thinks with enormous effort, and the pain begins to fade.   

Grindelwald has Credence by the other arm and is trying to pull him away, to Apparate out of Graves' reach, but Credence's eyes are white all through and Grindelwald's hand is burning where it touches Credence's bare skin—

" Releshio ," Graves bellows, and Grindelwald is forced to let go.  Graves and Credence fall back, and from behind them, from the woods, Tina and Scamander shout, " STUPEFY! " There are half a dozen other voices in that spell, and Seraphina burns in Graves' senses like a signal fire—

Grindelwald bares all of his teeth, bringing his hands together again, and the resulting wave of force knocks Graves into some place that's warm and blurry.  

He's aware, after a fashion, of a duel raging in his front yard.   

Scamander's Patronus brought half of MACUSA.  The Auror Department and Grindelwald rage at each other, curses flying.  Graves watches as Seraphina and Grindelwald match each other blow for terrible blow.  Golden magic is wrapped around Seraphina like a second skin, a shield of fire, and Grindelwald can't touch her.  The heat of their spells changes the sky above them.

Tina stands in front of Graves' body with her wand out, blocking any spells that go astray, and Credence is crouched beside him, one hand on Graves' chest and the other wrapped around, of all things, a roughly-made crown of woven sticks.

There's a surprising amount of blood.  Graves thinks he might be dying. He thinks he sees his brother Galahand.  He thinks he sees his father.

"It's going to be okay," Credence is saying, his voice high and ragged.  His eyes are still white. He looks like he's barely holding on. "It's going to be okay, just don't move—"  

Graves isn't sure why Credence sounds so frightened, but he's very tired, too tired to speak, and the duel is still raging—

Seraphina hits Grindelwald with a spell that makes the whole world light up, and Graves slides quietly into the dark.  

 

XXV.

"You're an idiot," Seraphina says, when Graves wakes up again.  For a second he's confused. Everything feels warm and soft and cottony, but there's the taste of blood in his mouth.  Seraphina is looking down at him, soot-singed, a bandage taped over one of her eyebrows.

"You look like shit," Graves mumbles, closing his eyes again.  He expected everything to hurt but he just feels like he's floating, warm water lapping at his sides.  Graves drifts for a while, listening to Seraphina calling him names, calling his ancestors names, her fingers laced through his.  

After a while Graves becomes more aware of himself.  His chest aches so fiercely he can barely breathe. His face hurts.  His legs feel leaden.

"Ow," Graves says, thickly.   

"The healers don't want you talking," Seraphina tells him.  She’s holding something in her lap that Graves can’t quite make out.  It’s thorny and dark with dried blood. "You've got a broken jaw. They were hoping you'd sleep a little while longer, but I figured you'd want to make this as difficult for yourself as possible."  

"You know me," Graves murmurs.  He swallows, throat clicking. "Grindelwald?"  

"Gone," Seraphina says, grim.  "Alive, but wounded. Goldstein's leading a manhunt for him now.  They tracked him up to Aldergrove. He's outside our jurisdiction now."  

"Good fuckin' riddance," Graves says.  His jaw aches sharply and mangles his words a bit, but he thinks Seraphina gets the point.  "How long have I—?"

"All night," Seraphina says.  "You're still in your house. The healers didn’t want to move you, and your Obscurial friend seemed to get twitchy whenever it was brought up."   

"Is he—?"  Graves can't bring himself to ask if Credence is alright, if he's free, if MACUSA is going to try and take him away.  

But Seraphina understands and waves a hand dismissively.  "He's fine. Shockingly difficult to kill. He was skulking about in here until I arrived.  Whatever you've been telling him about me you'll have to share with the German ambassador. I do like it when they run away with their tails between their legs."

Graves smiles.  The expression pulls at something in his face, and he hisses.   

"Your face is a lost cause," Seraphina says, her own mouth crooking in a half-smile.  Graves presses curious fingers to the corner of his mouth; there's a scar there now, curving up his cheek.  "Dark magic, the healers tell me. For some reason they seemed more worried about saving your face than anything else."

Graves would laugh, if he weren't so tired.  Instead he just sighs.

Seraphina brushes his shoulder with her fingertips, very gently.  "It occurs to me that we never talked about what happened to you in Germany,” she says.  The non-sequitur is startling. Graves blinks, a frown tugging at his new scar.

“What?”

Seraphina sighs.  “I never asked you why you deserted,” she says.  “Or what you did. How you felt about Gal’s death.”  

Graves frowns fiercely.  The pain is good, sharp; he feels a bit less blurry, a bit less indistinct.  “I thought you knew,” he says. “Everyone--everyone knew.” No one had ever confronted Graves about what he did.  He murdered three German wizards, each of them barely older than boys, for what they’d done to Galahad. It had been murder.  He’d hunted them across Europe and then slaughtered them when they’d finally been too exhausted to keep running.

It had been murder, but it had been just.  They’d killed Graves’ little brother.  By the time the Great War came Bors had already married his wife, already killed himself in the eyes of the law; it had just been Graves and Gal, and then it had just been Graves.   

Killing Galahad’s murderers had felt good.  It still feels good. Graves has always known, in the back of his heart, what Unseelie meant.  The House of Graves had abandoned its history, but Graves had known.  

Dark things have always lived in his heart.  Violence, vengeance, bloodlust, anger. He’d let all of that out when he’d murdered his brother’s killers.  He’d let it all out again to fight Grindelwald.

After that everyone had been afraid of Graves.  They respected him, of course, but they had been afraid .  And Graves had sunk into that fear like it was armor.  He’d wrapped it around himself like a cloak. He’d buried himself in it.   

After a few years, no one remembered Graves as he’d been before the war.  They saw his armor, his severity, his cool demeanor, and they’d kept their distance.  And then Grindelwald had come, and used that distance, that fear that Graves wrapped around his heart, to his advantage.

Seraphina didn’t notice, Graves thinks, tiredly.   But I’m not sure I would have noticed, either.   “I wouldn’t have told you, even if you had asked,” Graves says.  

Seraphina cocks her head, her eyes glittering in the low light.  “Would you tell me now?” she asks.

Graves hesitates.  There’s an entire world between him and Seraphina now.  She’s the face of the new age. He’s sinking deeper into the old blood with every breath he takes.  “If you asked,” he finally says. He crooks a half-smile. “I don’t think I can lie anymore.”

Seraphina snorts, deeply unimpressed, and swats his shoulder.  “Everyone saw how fiercely you fought," she says, changing the subject again.  Graves lets her. The truth is enough for now. "You and the Obscurial both."

She pulls her fingers away, a businesslike mask coming over her features.  "The healers want six days of bed rest," she tells him. "I told them that you would take at least three.  If I hear about you moving about before then, I'll turn you into a worm so all you can do is lay there, understand?"  

"Loud and clear, Madame President," Graves murmurs.   

A glint of humor appears in her eyes.  "Good," she says. "I'll see you in court, Mr. Graves."  

"What are you charging me with?"

"What aren't I charging you with?"  Seraphina says, cheerfully.  "We’ll see how much the courts will let me get away with.”  She picks up the thorny, bloodstained thing in her lap and drops it on top of Graves’ chest.  

It’s a circlet.  A rough, simple thing woven out of thin white branches, aspen and oak and birch all wound together in a lopsided circle.  Splinters and peeling bark give it sharp angles. A few odd leaves, each golden and brilliant and edged red with blood, cling stubbornly to the wood.  

“What’s this?”  Graves asks, roughly.  

Seraphina grabs one of his hands again, brings it up, folds it over the circlet.  The wood hums under Graves’ fingers. Magic runs through every branch and leaf and splinter, dark and radiant.  It sings to Graves, and something in Graves sings back.

“It’s a crown,” Seraphina says.  “Your Credence says it appeared during your fight with Grindelwald.  You were wearing it, when he struck you down.”

Graves tightens his fingers over the thing--the crown --and relishes each splinter.  “A crown,” he murmurs.

“Grindelwald called you the King of the Autumn Court,” Seraphina says.  

“He was being facetious,” Graves replies.  “I’m not the king of anything. We were--we weren’t kings.”

Seraphina arches an eyebrow, reaching to take the crown back.  Graves tightens his grip on it. He can’t help it.

It’s his.  

“That’s what I thought,” Seraphina says.  “Looks like you’ve managed to pull off more than one coup today, Mr. Graves.  And don’t worry, I will be suing you for that.”  

She bends to brush a kiss against the corner of Graves’ mouth, warm, and then she stands up, straightens her clothes, and is gone like the end of summer, warmth and light giving way to grey skies.    

Graves closes his eyes.   

The King of the Autumn Court, he thinks, and then warm darkness closes over his head and pulls him under.  He doesn’t fight it.

It feels good to rest.

---

Graves sleeps for most of the next few days.  Credence is there for just about all of the time Graves is awake, brushing Graves' hair out of his eyes, holding his hand while he sweats through Skele-Grow and nightmares.  On the morning of the third day, Graves wakes up alone and stumbles out of bed, supporting himself against the wall.

He wants to see the damage Grindelwald did.   

Someone—Scamander, most likely—has mended the house where Credence and Grindelwald destroyed it.  The windows have been repaired and sunlight spills into Graves' great-grandfather's sitting room, rosy and warm.   

The grounds are a different story.  Half the forest has burned up or withered away.  Dark swaths of dead trees stand out against the rich autumn colors, and half the lawn is burned black.  Graves can feel the magic of the place shifting, bleeding. No one's fixed the wards yet either, and the grounds are alive and groaning.  Graves can feel the wounds in the grounds like wounds in his own chest. The swaths of burned land ache somewhere behind his knees. The shattered trees throb inside his fingertips.    

Graves goes back to bed.

---

He wakes up hours later to Credence sliding in between the sheets, his bare feet cold against Graves' legs.   

"Hi," Credence says, softly.

They haven't really talked since—since everything.  Graves has been too hurt, too tired, and Credence is wary of the people, the Aurors and the healers and the rest of the Wizarding world, who keep tramping in and out of the house.   

But they're alone now.  Grindelwald's been seen in Nova Scotia.  Tina had come by yesterday to tell them. The Aurors think he's trying to get back to Germany, where he has allies and friends and a place to lie low and recover from his confrontation.  Seraphina wounded him quite badly, Tina said. They're still pulling pieces of Grindelwald up out of the yard.

He won’t be coming back any time soon.  Credence won’t ever help him. One day Grindelwald will come to kill them, but he won’t do it until he has a weapon that can match Credence’s power.  Graves has half a dozen plans brewing behind his eyes, half a dozen ways to build up his own power, to fortify his land, to get ready for Grindelwald to come back.  He’s not well enough to implement any of them, not yet, but Graves is getting stronger by the hour.

"Hi," Graves murmurs back.   

"You have to go to court tomorrow?"  Credence asks, pulling the sheets over both of them.  "Why?"

"I did break the law," Graves points out.  "It'll be fine. Expensive, but fine. If they arrest me, we can just have Scamander smuggle me out in that suitcase of his.  We can go live somewhere else. Australia, maybe."

Credence huffs a laugh.  "I don't think I'd like Australia," he admits.  "It sounds hot."

Graves smiles.  The scar on his face is healing, much to Seraphina's irritation, but it still twinges whenever Graves smiles.   

He's doing it a lot more than he thought he would.  Smiling. Graves is a little surprised with himself. He's not—he wouldn't say that he's happy .  He's exhausted, still.  He still dreams of the dark.  But he finds himself smiling whenever Credence brings him breakfast or shows him what spells he's working on, or when Tina and Scamander drop in and see how everything is doing.   

It's strange.  Graves hasn't come to terms with it yet, but he figures that he has time.   

He reaches out and finds Credence's hand, tangles their fingers together, tugs Credence closer.  Credence comes happily, slotting against Graves' side like he was made to fit there, pressed shoulder to hip, his nose tucked against Graves' collarbone.   

"You did a number on Grindelwald," Graves says, closing his eyes.  "I don't think we'll be seeing him for a while."

Credence hums.  "Wish I'd killed him," he says.  

"Me too," Graves admits.   

They're both quiet for a while, their breathing evening out, lining up.   

"I didn't say it," Credence finally whispers.   

Graves is very still.  There is an ache in his chest Graves is going to pretend is just a cracked rib.  He doesn't want to name it otherwise.

"I didn't say it," Credence says again, louder.  "When you—when you said it. Last week, the night before you and Tina left to go to New York.  I didn't say it."

I love you, you know.   Graves had said it, because Graves hadn't been able to stop himself.  He's been in love with Credence for weeks, now. He can't shake it. He doesn't want to shake it—he likes being in love with Credence.  He likes having Credence around.

"You don't have to," Graves says.  "I—I said it because it's true. I love you.  I didn't want to die without having told you. It's alright if you don't feel the same.  I understand." Graves is fifteen years older than Credence. He has grey in his hair and he's scarred and broken.  Mending, but broken, and he'll probably never be quite whole.

Graves has made his peace with that, these last few days.   

"I don't want you to feel—I don't want you to feel obligated," Graves says, slowly.  "I don't want that from you. You're your own person, Credence, and I'm a grown man. I'm not going to be hurt that you don't love me back."  

Credence's head comes up so fast that he almost cracks Graves in the chin.  Graves leans away, wincing. He has to be able to talk tomorrow.

Credence glares at Graves.

"What?"  Graves asks, confused.   

"I do love you back," Credence snaps.  "I was just—I've been trying to figure out how to say it."   

"I—oh."  Graves swallows, his throat suddenly dry.  A terrible, gentle affection is blooming beneath his breastbone and he doesn't know what to do with it.  With his hands. Credence is suddenly very, very warm against him. "I—do you mean that?"

You sound like a fucking teenager, he rages at himself, embarrassment prickling at his ears.  Not even a teenager—Graves was a bit of a hound in school and possibly also during the war, though he will deny it to his grave.  He used to be better at this, goddamnit.

Credence levels him with a flat look.  "I do mean it," he says, fiercely. "I do mean it.  I—I love you. Too. I love you too."

Graves searches Credence's face for a moment, memorizing it, hoarding it away.  That affection in his chest is swelling, pushing everything else aside.

Percival Graves can die a happy man.  "I love you," he says. "Ill-timed confessions and all."  

Credence swats his shoulder, plainly irritated with him, but then Graves leans down a bit and cups Credence's face in his hands, and he's so blindingly, stupidly happy

He pulls Credence in for a kiss, just a little one, but Credence has other ideas.  Graves is still a bit too sore for anything more serious than kissing—tonight, tomorrow he's going to stop at Goody Howe's and buy as many cut-rate Euphoria Elixirs as he can from the troll who sells contraband out of the back—so Credence is exceedingly gentle as he throws a leg over Graves, slotting their hips together and deepening the kiss.  

Fire races up Graves' spine and he growls a little, hungry, amused, in love, hungry.   

Both of them have chapped lips and Graves is sure he still tastes like blood, but he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care. His teeth are too sharp and he’s apparently a king now and his life is about to be upended by an international court of law, and he doesn’t care.   Something in his chest is singing, buzzing; he feels like he could fly apart and spend the rest of his life soaring through the air with Credence at his side.   

It’s a childish fantasy, perhaps, but with Credence’s mouth against his it’s one Graves allows to take root inside him.   

Finally, Graves pulls back.  He can’t resist nipping at Credence’s bottom lip playfully, to see Credence smile, to see his lips bloom a bitten red, and as he moves away Credence follows him.  They end up curled so close together Graves can feel the heat of Credence from shoulder to hip. Credence tucks his face underneath Graves’ chin. Their hands are still tangled together.   

“So,” Graves says, after a few minutes of warm, companionable silence.  “How do you feel about coming to court with me tomorrow?"

"Why, so you can kiss me in front of the President?"

Graves drops his head back down to his pillow and laughs.   

 

XXVI.  

“I want to learn this,” Credence says, nudging an open book across the table.  These days they only take their breakfasts in the kitchen, both of them sitting across from each other while dawn breaks over the oak trees.  Lunch they usually eat wherever they happen to be, and dinner they always eat in the sitting room, pressed shoulder to shoulder in front of the fire.  

Graves looks up from his letters and his lawyer's bills, runs his thumb over Credence’s marked page.  His crown, which he’s only worn to court once to piss Seraphina off, hangs mostly-forgotten on an iron nail by the door.  Graves is the King of a court of two wizards, a few hundred trees, and one particularly grumpy colony of bowtruckles. He’s never been happier in his life.

“The Patronus Charm,” Graves says.  He looks up and catches Credence’s gaze.  “It’s not an easy spell,” he warns. “Most of us don’t even learn it at school.  I only learned because all Aurors have to be able to produce one.”

“It’s the animal you can make, isn’t it?”  Credence says. He tugs the book back, tapping the words corporeal and light .  (He hasn’t gotten out of the habit of wearing Graves’ old clothes, and the shirt he’s currently wearing is loose around Credence’s wrists, his shoulders.  Every flash of his bare skin sparks and shivers inside Graves, a lazy sort of hunger that purrs beneath his ribs.)

“The animal that made me—brought me back, when we met the first time?”  

“Yes,” Graves says.   

“Tina has one too?”  

“All witches and wizards have a Patronus,” Graves explains.  “Or rather, have the potential to conjure one. It’s not easy magic,” he says again.  “Aurors have to learn. A Patronus can carry messages, chase away dangerous creatures.  But the rest of the Wizarding world—”

“I want to learn,” Credence says, firmly.  He flushes then, still not quite used to asking for everything that he wants.  “Please,” he adds.

Graves smiles.  “Finish your toast,” he says.  “Then we’ll give it a try.”

Credence does, looking rather pleased with himself, and Graves finishes his letters.  Seraphina is currently not writing him back, furious that the courts have so far ruled in Graves' favor, but Graves figures she’ll come around.  He’s frankly just surprised she hasn’t sent him one of those new yelling letters Tina told him about. The witch who invented them is calling them Howlers.   Graves is expecting to get one before the week is out.  

After breakfast, he lets Credence lead him out into the buttery warmth of mid-autumn.  A gentle breeze has picked up, cool enough to allow Graves to get away with wearing a sweater—a new one, a gift from Tina’s sister Queenie, and so delightfully soft that Graves has considered wearing it to court more than once—and leaves crackle underfoot.   

Credence knows the grounds better than Graves does, now, and leads him to a comfortable spot.  It’s more of a hollow than a clearing. The trees surrounding them are all stately oak and stripped birch, pressed close around them like familiar friends.  Some have battle scars, but most of the trees are whole.

There’s enough room to cast spells, though, so Graves rolls his shoulders, and turns to face Credence.  

“The Patronus Charm is not something to be used lightly,” Graves says.  “It can take a lot out of you, and casting one is—it can be difficult. Most wizards can’t form a corporeal Patronus—an animal—unless their lives are in danger.”   

Scamander comes by every now and then.  He seems content to stay in America; he’s gotten permission from MACUSA to go about cataloging American beasts, since his first book has been so popular, and there’s a Horned Serpent in a river a dozen miles north of Graves’ house that Scamander is fascinated by.   

Scamander’s been teaching Credence about creatures; Credence knows about dementors now, about Lethifolds, about darkness other than his own.   

“Most people can only conjure up a mist,” Graves continues.  “Usually, that’s enough. The light of a Patronus is a kind of… shield.  It’s supposed to protect you.”

Credence nods, pushing his hair out of his eyes.  He’s letting it grow out and it’s surprisingly curly now that it’s not the miserable, choppy thing it was before.  The sight of Credence, determination gleaming in his eyes, makes Graves soften a bit.

“The incantation is Expecto Patronum ,” he says.  Credence has better luck with nonverbal spells.  Wandless magic is still a bit beyond him, but they’re getting there.  A wand seems to help him channel some of his power, but he’s still as likely to set the forest on fire as he is to conjure a Lumos.   

Expecto Patronum ,” Credence repeats dutifully.  

Graves nods.  “The reason casting a fully-formed Patronus is so hard,” he explains, “is that you have to think of a happy memory to do it.  The charm works because it’s happiness made light, made almost solid. Just saying the words isn’t enough. You have to mean it.”  

Credence doesn’t balk.  “Will mine be a leopard like yours?”  he asks.

Graves shakes his head.  “Every Patronus is different.  Tina’s is a bloodhound. Mine is a leopard.  Before I met you it was an eagle owl.”

“How will I know what mine will be?” Credence asks.   

“You don’t know until you make one,” Graves says.  “It’s not the most precise school of magic, I’m afraid.  Try it.”

Credence chews his lip for a minute, head cocked to the side, and then nods.  Graves stands a bit off to the side. If anyone is going to cast a fully corporeal Patronus on their first try, it’s going to be Credence Barebone.  Graves is fairly certain there’s nothing he can’t do.

Expecto Patronum,” Graves says again, encouragingly.   

Credence raises his wand.  “ Expecto Patronum, ” he says.   

Nothing happens.   

“Try again,” Graves urges.  “Think of a happy memory.” He lets magic gather at his fingertips and thinks of Credence over breakfast, the sun in his dark hair, his lip caught between his teeth, the sleeves of his too-big shirt pushed up around his elbows.   

His Patronus unfolds between one breath and the next and twines around Credence’s legs.   

Expecto Patronum !”  Credence says, and this time a bit of silver mist swirls from the end of his wand, glittering in the bright sun before the breeze breaks it up.   

Graves’ Patronus pads over to Graves, brushing past his hip.  It’s still strange to see it, but Graves is coming around to the idea that it’s his, that it’s him.  (It helps that Credence smiles whenever he sees it, that Graves has caught him resting a hand on the white light of its shoulders.)   

“Better,” Graves says encouragingly.  “It’s a difficult spell, Credence. There are hundreds of witches and wizards who can’t make a corporeal one.  Without an actual dementor here, the mist might be as much as you’ll ever need.”

Credence gets that mulish, stubborn look on his face that Graves loves so much.  Graves used to think that he was the immovable one, that he was the old oak tree that dug its roots so deep into the ground not even the wind itself could move him, but he’s got nothing on Credence.   

“Alright,” Graves laughs.  Affection makes this easy. “Try again.  What memory are you using?”

“The day I met you,” Credence says instantly, half-shy, half-exasperated.   

“The day you met me, you destroyed a building and tried to kill me,” Graves points out, amused.  “Try something else.”

Credence huffs, tapping his wand against his thigh, a habit he’s picked up from Scamander.  It drives Graves to distraction, and not just because of the poor wand safety. Looking at Credence’s thighs usually leads to Graves looking elsewhere, and Credence is likely very tired of being fucked on the ground in front of all of the trees.   

“What do you think of?”  Credence asks.

Graves’ Patronus leans up against Graves, more warmth than weight, and it’s Graves’ turn to flush a bit.   

He doesn’t want to say, You.  That feels like a terribly dull thing to say, and it’s not right, either.  Thinking of Credence does help Graves cast his Patronus, but it’s not just Credence.  It’s the light, the warmth. The red of the leaves that unfurl in his wake, the white of his smile, the dark of his hair.  It’s Credence, and it’s more than that—it’s a kind of certainty, a kind of truth Graves keeps inside of himself.

“I think of what I know,” he says, after a moment.  “I think—I think of here, of home. Of you smiling, of the time we nearly burned the kitchen down because we were arguing instead of paying attention to the bacon.”  

They’d argued about something ridiculous, something like Credence leaving a toothbrush in the sink or Graves forgetting for the fifth day in a row to put away his socks.  Arguing had turned into kissing, which had turned into laughing helplessly against each other while the stove caught fire and Graves panicked and doused the entire kitchen with water.   

Credence looks at Graves, something wondrous in his eyes, and the heat of it makes Graves look away.   Leave him alone, old man, he scolds himself.   He’s not going to be happy if you ruin another pair of his pants.   

“Okay,” Credence says.  “I’m—I’d like to try again.”  

Graves nods, takes another step back.  “Whenever you’re ready,” he says.

Credence grins at him, that wide, happy grin that makes Graves feel like air, that makes the trees bloom and the wind sing, and raises his wand again.  

Expecto Patronum ,” Credence says, still smiling, and fills the spaces between the trees with light.    

 

 

Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

-adam zagajewski, from “praise the mutilated world”