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autumn dusk at central park

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When Newt had found him, he had been lost.

He is lost now, still -- but at least he has a direction to walk in, an inner compass that points toward something that feels like north.

--

New York is not like he remembers it.

The streets are wider, bigger, brighter. The buildings, taller. It is cleaner and quieter maybe, too.

It feels like a new land, unexplored and welcoming, with arms wide open.

Credence does not get lost as he wanders down expansive avenues, as he tilts his head up toward the blue sky and lets the skyscrapers guide him along. There are only a few clouds, drifting lazily between buildings, disappearing into wisps in the great blue beyond. There is so much up there -- birds and planes and magical beasts, all sharing the open expanse of sky.

Go on -- wander, Newt had told him. Setting him free like one of the beasts in his case -- not in a cruel way, of course -- only kind. Always so kind. You’re the one who wanted to come back.

And he was, wasn’t he? Credence never thought the day would come that he was ready to step outside of the comfort of Newt’s wonderful suitcase, much less the day when he was yearning to come back to New York City, practically champing at the bit. But here he is, walking the streets alone and free and light of foot.

Before --

Before, he had been weighed down by so much. Dragged under and drowning. Now, that looming, enduring darkness is gone, at least for the most part, anyway. There are still lingering pieces of it, sewn into his soul and burned into his bones -- but they are pieces of him all the same. Now, the darkness is a part of him: it strengthens him, steadies him, anchors him into the very fabric of reality itself.

You don’t have to let it define you, Newt has told him on many occasions. It’s not you.

It’s not you -- even though Credence knows that it is, it is him.

The obscurus had been a part of him for so long, growing and festering and rotting inside his chest. It had made itself a home there, grown roots and settled. Now, even though it is gone, broken apart piece by piece through controlled use of his own magic, Credence can still feel the wild shadows of it, the rippling echoes it left behind.

It will always be a part of him, a shadow over himself, even though Newt promises that it is gone.

--

Credence wanders.

Not far, not wide -- just his usual haunts. The corners he stood on and passed out pamphlets, the stoops on which he sat and begged for change, the dark and narrow alleys in which he hid. Nothing truly has changed -- and yet. And yet, it all looks different. The city is both familiar and foreign to him, the ground nearly uneven beneath his feet.

It is new and different, and the feeling is both welcome and not.

He stops outside the church he used to call home.

The space has been rebuilt upon -- renamed, repurposed.

Offices -- the sign on even brickwork says. Offices, like he hadn’t grown up in this space, surrounded by countless other children, other souls, all fighting for their lives in the oppressive place. Offices, it says, like a woman didn’t perish inside.

Tomb, more like.

His feet carry him away, before he can reach out to touch the facade, before he can feel the old bricks mixed with new underneath his fingertips. There is no longer rusted corrugated metal to drum his knuckles over, though the pigeons appear to roost in the windows all the same. When a car horn blares, five of them fly away, up into the blue and away from their roost -- and so Credence flies away too.

He drifts through the city, telling himself he is looking for nothing in particular. He lingers in front of storefronts, admires expensive pocket watches and cufflinks; he steps into a bookstore, flips through pages and pages of different texts; he even wanders through Central Park, letting the wide-open expanse fill his veins with life, with vitality.

He can feel the magic of the city the easiest in the park. It thrums through the air, vibrating at a beautiful frequency. The autumn wind blows, neither cold nor warm, caressing his face, carding fingers through his hair. Credence wonders why he never noticed the magic in the air before, the way it filters through the light in the trees, the way it skims over the ponds like dragonflies and water-striders, the way it passes through every living being in the city. He lingers in the park for a while, just soaking up the way the city feels around him. It feels like home . It feels like the place that raised him, that shaped him. That made him who he is today.

He moves aimlessly, without intent -- though he is hardly tricking himself.

Don’t be so daft , Newt would tell him if he could see him now. But he cannot. Newt is catching up with old friends. Newt trusts Credence to wander, to explore, to be safe. Newt trusts Credence to stay hidden, to stay out of trouble.

He just needs to stretch his legs, is all. To see the world. To put New York City behind him.

To put Mr. Graves behind him.

--

Unfortunately, putting Mr. Graves behind him means a great many things.

None of them are clear, none of them are easy.

His path is vague and uncharted, though Credence knows he must travel along it regardless. He must do this for himself, for his place with Newt and the beasts -- for his future as well as for his past.

He just needs to see the man.

But first, Credence must find him.

He prepares himself for hours of work and endless searching -- but it is a surprisingly easy task, in the end. He spots Mr. Graves in a coffee shop near the looming, beautiful building that houses MACUSA. Newt had pointed out the Woolworth building on a map before they had parted ways for the day, warning Credence to keep his distance. It is a terribly daft thing for Credence to do, to venture so near, so close to a place that seemed intent on killing him two years ago. But they don’t know him now; they couldn’t possibly remember his face. Newt often tells him he looks different now, tells him he is only a piece of the boy he once was.

You’ve come into your own, Credence, Newt has said, so many, many times. Credence still isn’t quite sure if he likes that, likes his newfound confidence and assurance, careful as they are, or the firmer set of his spine -- but it is what it is. It is who he is.

Newt had given him some No-Maj pocket change, so Credence buys himself a sandwich and a black coffee. He sits at the opposite end of the cafe as Mr. Graves. And watches.

Credence is very good at not being noticed. Newt had taught him a notice-me-not charm, to make himself less apparent to the people around him, but he rarely uses it. He doesn’t really need it, for all that’s worth. All Credence has to do is think about blending into the wallpaper, the furniture, and he’s barely even there at all. People’s eyes skim right over him, their bodies brush right past him. Newt always tells him that his propensity toward wandless magic is remarkable, extraordinary -- but it is just what comes easiest to Credence. He is not extraordinary. He is as uninteresting as they come.

Besides, he had probably been doing the same exact thing for years without even noticing it, always trying to fade into the shadows, to stay out of trouble. Now, it is just more of a conscious action. It helps now, letting him watch over Mr. Graves as the man eats a scone and drinks a cup of coffee, never once noticing Credence’s eyes on him.

Never once noticing, that is, until he gets up to leave.

Mr. Graves glances around the coffee shop, eyes sliding over every soul inside the small space as he shrugs on his coat. His eyes pass over Credence and Credence feels himself go cold with dread. Their eyes meet. Panic flares inside him, inky black fear welling up and boiling over in his veins -- but nothing happens. Mr. Graves’ eyes pass over him just like they passed over every other patron in the shop. The man straightens the lapels on his perfectly tailored coat, leaves a few coins on the table -- and then leaves.

And just like that, Credence feels solid again.

--

At dusk, he returns to Newt and his suitcase.

Credence tells Newt about his day, about his sandwich and his coffee and about all the places he walked. He tells Newt that New York seems different, now, nicer -- to which Newt only chuckles.

Of course it does, he says. No dark shadow looming over your shoulder, pulling and weighing you down. No burdens -- you’re seeing it with brand new eyes.

It makes sense, he guesses.

He tells Newt that he wants to go out again tomorrow, just to stretch his legs, to clear his mind of the New York he once knew. Now that he has seen Mr. Graves, he can put that all behind him.

--

The next day, Credence finds Mr. Graves on his way to work.

He really shouldn’t be lingering around MACUSA, but he cannot stop himself. Ever since Newt pointed out the building, ever since he told Credence that no one could apparate in nor out, Credence had known exactly what he was going to do, how he was going to find Mr. Graves.

He had gone to sleep thinking that this was all behind him, but the morning light had brought with it the overwhelming desire to see the man one more time.

It’s not that he’s following Mr. Graves -- it’s just that he’s curious.

He’s not asking for much at all.

He wants to see the man, wants to watch the way his shoulders shift under the hard lines of his coat. He holds himself slightly differently now -- Credence isn’t sure if that’s because Mr. Graves is a different man than he knew, or if it’s due to the trauma he likely underwent.

Newt had explained it all. Explained that Mr. Graves’ face had been used by another man, an evil man with a vile agenda. He had explained that Mr. Graves had been kept alive for the sake of the charade, the potion, but had suffered in his time imprisoned. Trauma changes people, Credence knows. It rots them from the inside, flays away their skin on the outside. It poisons you, drowns you, leaves you different than before.

Credence was once a happy child.

-- But that is the past, and there is no use in dwelling on things that cannot be changed.

Regardless, this Mr. Graves is different than the one Credence knew. His eyes look older, his back straighter, his jaw more clenched. He is constantly on guard, vigilant about the world swirling and bustling around him. But he does not look unkind, he does not look venomous like he did before.

He looks -- captivating.

It is enthralling to watch, curious to the highest degree. It’s why Credence gets a bit distracted and forgets to step out of the way, just as Mr. Graves passes by where he is standing. They bump shoulders -- Mr. Graves hadn’t noticed him at all, somehow. He spins, casting an incredulous, suspicious look Credence’s way.

“Sorry, I’m sorry!” Credence says, throwing his hands up in the air before Mr. Graves can tell him to watch where he is going, or anything like that.

It’s too easy to fall back into averting his eyes, to letting his shoulders hunch, to fall into an entirely submissive and cowering posture. It was all he knew how to do for years -- just because he lives with Newt now and doesn’t have to, doesn’t mean it isn’t ingrained. It’s his first response. And usually, it’s a good enough one to drop people’s attention from him.

It works. Immediately, most of the suspicion falls away from Mr. Graves face.

“It’s fine,” Mr. Graves says with a wave of his hand. “No harm done.”

Credence murmurs another apology and ducks away before he can say anything more.

--

“What did you do today?” Newt asks when Credence returns to the suitcase in time for dinner.

Credence tries to stop the flush that he can feel heating his cheeks. “Nothing,” he says.

Newt casts him a look, and while he may be dubious and while he may not truly believe Credence, he lets it drop. “Just try and stay out of trouble. The niffler’s already gotten out once, I don’t know how much more excitement I can handle.”

Credence chuckles. Newt seems to find and thrive on excitement wherever he goes, so it’s not really an accurate statement at all.

--

Unfortunately, Credence does not learn his lesson.

He really should leave Mr. Graves be, let him live his life in peace -- but Credence simply cannot stop looking at the man. It is too intoxicating, too addictive. He watches him on his way to work, follows him on his way out of towering MACUSA. He stands outside a restaurant that Mr. Graves steps inside for dinner on his way home. Credence stands outside for the better part of an hour before Mr. Graves finishes. Credence ducks into a nearby nook to hide himself, to make it less obvious he’s just loitering. He thinks, very hard, about not being noticed, about blending into the brickwork of the building against his back.

Mr. Graves turns and walks right past him, his eyes never once passing over Credence where he hides.

In the end, Credence isn’t sure if he is relieved or disappointed.

--

Maybe Credence gets complacent, maybe he purposefully slips up -- he truly and honestly doesn’t know which. Nor does he have time to debate. All he knows is that one moment he is lingering outside of the Woolworth in the mouth of an alleyway, waiting for Mr. Graves to finish with work for the day -- the next moment Mr. Graves is grabbing him by a the collar and pressing him up against the wall. Credence hears the startled noise that escapes his throat, but just barely understands that it was his own. The stones press sharp against his back, bringing him back to reality, back to the realization that Mr. Graves has both noticed him and caught him.

“Who are you and why are you following me?” The man hisses in Credence’s face. He is looming so close, all heat and vitriol -- just like the other Mr. Graves. A full body shiver takes Credence, the tremble unwilling to leave him afterward, settling deep underneath his skin.

“No one, I’m no one.”

It’s the wrong thing to say.

Mr. Grave shifts. Credence can’t see it, but he gets the distinct impression there is something being held at his throat -- a wand, likely. Give it to Mr. Graves to stand his ground. Credence should have been more careful, should have factored in that Mr. Graves is deadly and feels cornered, even though Credence is the one up against the wall.

Two years ago, Credence would have nearly died of fright.

Two years ago, Credence would have ripped the city apart at the seams.

“I promise, I promise I’m no one.” He can’t meet Mr. Graves’ eyes, he just can’t . But he does look at his mouth, which is twisted into a frown. It looks comfortingly natural; he never saw his Mr. Graves smile.

Mr. Graves says nothing. He is as still and as solid as a statue.

Please, ” Credence says. “I’m not going to hurt you.” he feels so silly saying it. Like he could hurt Mr. Graves, like he has any power over the man. “Please don’t hurt me.”

It seems like the right thing to say, because Mr. Graves steps back. Credence no longer feels the press of polished wood against his throat, no longer feels the warmth of Mr. Graves’ body holding him against the cold stone at his back. Finally, Credence can breathe, even though he seems to have forgotten how.

“Why are you following me?” Mr. Graves asks. He has yet to turn and walk away, still likely figuring Credence to be a threat. Maybe one of Grindelwald’s followers, maybe just a simple No-Maj thief. Maybe Credence should have tried to grab Mr. Graves’ wallet out of his coat, just so that he could have had an excuse.

Instead, the truth tumbles from his lips without his permission. “I just wanted to see you.”

Mr. Graves looks shaken, which isn’t something Credence thought possible. The man is a mountain, a great and powerful force of nature -- he is unmovable. But there is no doubt: he looks rattled. “I don’t know you,” he says.

“I know,” Credence says. “But I --” He stops. He doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t want to give himself away. This is dangerous -- it is playing with fire. He can feel himself scrambling, trying to grab at words that are falling away from him too fast, ready in their escape. “We met. Before. But,” he hazards a quick glance at Mr. Graves face, which probably works to his advantage, but also throws him even more for a loop. Mr. Graves is listening, intent, looking skeptical and fierce and intrigued all at once. His face is so much, too much.

“I didn’t think you’d remember me,” Credence finishes. It’s not quite a lie, just a twisted truth, but it is still painful how easily it falls off his tongue. It is a sin to lie, a sin to deceive. But this is his personal safety and he cannot give himself away so easily. Maybe a small sin is worth it, maybe it is excusable in the long run.  

Mr. Graves hasn’t used any magic yet, so there’s a chance he still thinks Credence is a No-Maj. That is for the best, and Credence should keep it that way.

When Mr. Graves asks, with a dawning sort of understanding, if he is a pickpocket, Credence just nods. He cannot bring himself to verbally lie again so quickly. He knows he is small, still skinnier than he should be, even though he has put on some weight whilst living with Newt. A hungry pickpocket is an easy enough thing to pretend to be. His cheekbones have angles that make him look as if he is smaller, more gaunt  than he is -- he thinks they will always be like that: sharp and slight and untouchable.

Credence doesn’t know what assumption Mr. Graves makes in the safety of his own head, but he appears to come to some sort of conclusion, because he nods, decisive, and then speaks. “Come with me,” he says, and then steps to the side, releasing Credence from his hold. He waits for Credence to follow.

Credence’s chest suddenly aches and churns with the very real feeling of fear -- Mr. Graves cannot want to turn him into the police, can he? But Mr. Graves just pats down his pockets when Credence doesn’t move, clearly checking to make sure he has everything still in the same place as he left it, and seems pleased and relieved in the end. “You didn’t manage to get anything off me, and I suspect you’re hungry, are you not? Would you like a sandwich?”

Credence doesn’t need charity from a man he doesn’t know. And he certainly doesn’t need charity when he will be coming home to supper on the table, even if Newt isn’t the best cook. Credence is not wanting for much of anything -- except apparently for a look at Mr. Graves face.

“Yes,” he says, while trying very hard to say no.

--

They sit in the same coffee shop that Credence found Mr. Graves in on that first day.

Mr. Graves places himself with his back to a wall and his eyes toward the door. Like before, he lets his gaze fall over all of the patrons. Eventually, his focus settles on Credence. His stare feels heavy, like it is anchoring Credence to his chair, preventing him from fading into the bustle like he so wishes he could, but knows that he cannot.

Mr. Graves asks what he would like to eat and Credence’s words stick to his tongue like glue. This doesn’t seem to surprise Mr. Graves, who simply orders two coffees and a plate of tea sandwiches to share. He seems far kinder, far more charitable than the man that Credence knew. Not that his Mr. Graves didn’t feed him -- he did, oh he did: chocolates and cakes and pastries -- but not like this. This is a meal with company. The look on Mr. Graves’ face doesn’t necessarily feel entirely altruistic, but he is doing this anyway, performing the act of feeding Credence because knows it is right, that it is good. Like it is penance and Mr. Graves is atoning for his sins.

Credence frowns. That’s not right at all -- Mr. Graves doesn’t have any sins to atone for. And yet, here he is, sitting across from Credence like he is kneeling at a pew in church, counting beads of the rosary between calloused fingertips.

“What’s your name?” Mr. Graves asks.

“Um,” is all Credence can manage. Mr. Graves must know the name Credence Barebone, New York City’s Obscurial -- everyone knows his name now, even two years later. They cannot forget the destruction that he brought, the havoc that he wrecked. Credence doesn’t blame them -- he cannot forget either.

“My name is Percival,” Mr. Graves says, likely assuming that he isn’t going to get a name out of his younger companion. He seems to accept that, which hurts Credence in ways he doesn’t really understand.

Credence just nods, feeling tongue tied and too nervous. He hasn’t felt like this in ages, all twisted up and full of energy. Before, feeling like this would terrify him because it meant that control could slip so easily through his fingertips. Now, he just lets the feeling settle into his bones, to join the rest of the darkness that is stitched into him.

“Theseus,” Credence hears himself say. “You can call me Theseus.” It’s not really a lie, because Mr. Graves can call him whatever he likes. He didn’t say it was his name, and likely Mr. Graves knows that. It’s a good name though, the name of Newt’s brother, a fair and brave and agreeable man. Credence doesn’t know very many people, so it’s one of the first acceptable names that comes to mind.

“I know a Theseus,” Mr. Graves says, and Credence freezes, waiting to be caught in his own lie. He holds his breath, feels his face going red with the flush of embarrassment already. “He can drink me under the table,” Mr. Graves finishes with a chuckle, and Credence feels the air escape from his lungs.

It’s not to say that he has Mr. Graves fooled. No, Credence knows better than that. Mr. Graves is wary, still, but he thinks that he is dealing with a No-Maj pickpocket who is hungry, who maybe received a bit of kindness from him in the past. Maybe Mr. Graves believes that Grindelwald was kind or charitable to Credence whilst wearing his face and now he has to make up for, to duplicate an encounter he does not even remember. Whatever it is -- Mr. Graves is certainly heedful that he isn’t getting the whole story. His guard is up, but he also doesn’t believe Credence to be an outright threat to his life.

It’s silly, really. Credence could never hurt Mr. Graves -- he’s not nearly as strong as the man. But maybe he could if he was Grindelwald, if Grindelwald was wearing Credence’s face. The thought sends a shiver down Credence’s spine, and so he busies himself with drinking the recently delivered coffee. Even if it is a touch too hot, it is better than thinking of Grindelwald’s horrors,

“Where do you live, Theseus?”

“Harlem.” It’s as good an answer as any. Better than, in a suitcase.

Mr. Graves nods. “An awfully lovely autumn we are having, isn’t it?”

Credence doesn’t know. They just arrived in New York a few days previous. Before, they had been in the mountains of the Belgian Congo, surrounded by alien plant life and chasing a now new member of Newt’s menagerie. “Yes,” he says, and takes another sip of his coffee.

The sandwiches come and the stilted conversation continues. Mr. Graves asks Credence questions he either cannot answer or doesn’t know the answer to. Meanwhile, Credence comes up with mumbled answers and tries very hard to only stare at Mr. Graves while his attention is elsewhere. He isn’t very good at it. Mr. Graves catches him one time too many before he sighs, seemingly resigned.

“I don’t remember you,” Mr. Graves says. Clearly, he has made the correct assumption that they’ve met before. “I apologize. My memory isn’t what it used to be.”

“I know,” Credence answers. “That’s fine.”

--

The next day, Credence doesn’t leave the suitcase. He cannot bring himself to. Seeing Mr. Graves, speaking with Mr. Graves had been so much. Just the thought of stepping outside into the real world again is overwhelming, dizzying.

He busies himself with feeding the mooncalves and the graphorns, of cleaning up the beasts’ areas and doing all of his tasks and chores as well as most of Newt’s. He even dusts Newt’s workspace and tidies up his own small room. He does the work happily with his bare hands because he likes the way it makes his muscles ache at the end of the day.

When he finishes with all he can do, when the wild energy thrumming through his veins fades, Credence takes a break. He lays on the grassy ground and watches the glow bugs drift through the air and pretends that they are the stars.

--

In the morning, Credence breaks what had been becoming an unhealthy tradition of camping out outside the Woolworth trying to get a glimpse of Mr. Graves, and instead goes to Central Park. It is nothing like the actual great outdoors, now that he has been around the world and seen so many different climates, so many different places -- but it is certainly something. It is its own place, with none other like it in the world. When he was younger, before he was adopted by Ma, sometimes Credence would get to go to Central Park. Sometimes he was allowed to wander and play, just like all of the other kids.

Today, he lets himself aimlessly walk the paths through the park. He wonders what Newt is doing -- likely helping MACUSA with some rogue beast when he isn’t caught up in conversations with Tina Goldstein. Newt talks about her often, moreso than he does most people, so Credence assumes that they are at least partially fond of each other. He doesn’t mind in the slightest: Tina had always been kind to him and patient as well. She had a good, strong heart -- still does, as he hears often from Newt. Credence doesn’t know exactly what Newt has told her about him -- for all he knows, she might still consider him dead. That -- is maybe for the best. Especially when he has been wandering the streets of New York, following her boss.

He pauses by a pond and pulls a piece of oat bread from his pocket, breaking it into small pieces -- he had been saving it for a snack later, but it is stale and will be appreciated more by the ducks, anyway. He knows it isn’t great to feed them just bread -- Newt says everything needs variety in its diet -- but it is all that Credence has. His shoes get muddy but the ducks are pleased, gathered happily around his feet with soft noises and wiggling tails. The task is peaceful and ordinary, and it leaves him with calm contentment easing through all of his being.

Unfortunately, Credence is running out of places to wander. Dusk finds him listless, itching to do something, to go somewhere, to interact with the city in ways he doesn’t even understand. Perhaps it is why he finds himself wandering back to MACUSA, right at the tail end of rush hour. Most business men have already gone home for the night, though the streets are still bustling with plenty of people and cars. Credence, even with his muddy shoes, blends in without even trying.

“I think I am correct in assuming that you are following me,” a voice says from his right.

Credence spins, scuffing his coat against the rough wall he had been leaning against. Mr. Graves must have left the building earlier, or through another exit, because Credence had not seen him at all.

“Theseus,” Mr. Graves says, making the name sound absolutely false in the air between them. He knows, he knows. “Are you hungry?” He says, and looks perhaps more startled by his own words than Credence feels by them. Clearly, he had wanted to say more, or something else entirely -- but for whatever reason, hadn’t.

“Yes,” Credence says. He hasn’t eaten since breakfast and had given the ducks his lunch. “I really don’t need charity.”

“Yes, well,” says Mr. Graves. “But I need dinner and I find myself lacking a companion to eat with.”

--

Mr. Graves takes him to a nice restaurant. Or, Credence assumes it is nice, as anywhere seems marvelous after eating most of your meals trying to defend your plate from a hungry demiguise or your silverware from the niffler.

“Now, you must know that I’m a moderately intelligent man, Theseus.” Mr. Graves says, taking a sip of drink after finishing a smoked salmon canapé.

Credence just nods. He hasn’t touched his fancy appetizers or his drink. He cannot bring himself to, cannot bring himself to accept more of this lie, of Mr. Graves’ charity.

“So you must know that I’m aware that your name isn’t Theseus. I also know that you have been following me.” He swirls his drink in his hand. “I just can’t figure out why .”

When Credence says nothing, Mr. Graves continues with a sigh and a gesture at the food. “Also, please eat. I didn’t bring you here just to interrogate you -- I did actually intend to feed you.”

“I told you the truth,” Credence finally says. “I just wanted to see you.” He sounds like a goof, like some sap stuck on Mr. Graves.

“Theseus.” The tone is a warning. Credence knows that tone -- it is a promise, a threat filled with violence and exasperation. He has heard it so many, too many times. He cannot help the instinctive flinch, the way his eyes dart to the door and then back down to his empty appetizer plate.

When Credence hazards a quick glance at Mr. Graves’ face, he looks apologetic at least, perhaps having realized his mistake. “Please,” he says. He places his hands on the table, fingers splayed and relaxed -- a white flag.

Credence swallows. “Later,” he says, mustering all the courage he has ever had. “Later,” he confirms decisively, as much for Mr. Graves as himself, and tries one of the salmon canapés.

When the meal is over, once they have finished their decadent entrees and the dessert Mr. Graves had insisted upon that Credence fought against with tooth and nail over, Mr. Graves looks at him expectantly.

Credence swallows. The food and drink have given him a bit more presence, a bit more strength to be able to actually look at Mr. Graves without averting his eyes like he’s staring at the sun. It still hurts, a bit, looking at him from this close, but it is worth it. The man is solid and sturdy, a true pillar of rightness. Credence cannot quite put his finger on why, but he feels caught in the orbit of this man, pulled in by gravity and magic alike.

If he looks at Mr. Graves for too long, he feels like he’ll go blind.

It’s dizzying. Terrifying. Suddenly, he cannot bring himself to shatter this beautiful spell.

“I, um,” Credence starts, heart climbing into his chest, racing like a herd of stampeding erumpents. “I’ll be right back.”

He pushes his chair out and flees the restaurant before Mr. Graves can catch up to him.

--

Credence does not come right back. He has little intention of ever seeing Mr. Graves again, in fact. The whole situation had been incredibly unwise to begin with. The longer he kept it up, the more insane and suicidal it was. More dangerous for himself, but also for Newt and his beasts. Perhaps for the city, too.

No, Credence had seen Mr. Graves, seen that the man was fine, that he was a well and truly different man, and now he could put it behind him. He could move on with his life.

He could continue to grow and develop and progress in all the right directions.

Credence doesn’t need the approval of a man he does not even know, of a face that is only a memory now. He doesn’t need to choose Mr. Graves as his north, doesn’t need that sort of sadness in his life.

But he also cannot just walk away. Not after having left so rudely.

Three days later, and one day before he and Newt are headed off across the ocean, Credence finds himself standing in front of the Woolworth building again in the morning. He has a box of pastries clutched in his hands, full of delicious treats from Mr. Kowalski’s bakery.

Most of Credence’s last few days had been full of re-introductions and questions. Tina, Queenie, and Mr. Kowalski had all been sworn to secrecy about his continued existence. It had been quite a whirlwind of visiting, but it was a nice send-off before he and Newt headed off to their next destination, the French Riviera. Queenie had kindly taken Credence shopping at both a No-Maj department store and a few magic boutiques, where he knew best to keep his head down and not show much of his face.

This morning he had shared a jelly donut with the niffler while trying to calm his nerves with a steaming cup of coffee. It had left him warm and jittery, but no less nervous about the apology he knows he needs to make. The cool autumn air bites at his cheeks, wind turning up the bottom of his wool coat as he waits outside MACUSA.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to wait long.

Mr. Graves appears next to him before Credence is really ready for him -- as if he would ever be ready to stand next to Mr. Graves again, to not feel shaken by his very existence.

“Theseus. I didn’t expect to see you again,” Mr. Graves says, instead of hello.

Credence can’t meet his eyes. Instead, he just hands over the box of pastries, pressing it into Mr. Graves hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to leave, but I just -- I had to.”

“Alright,” Mr. Graves says. It is neither resigned, nor angry.

“They’re very good, I promise.” Credence nods at the box. “The pastries, I mean. Best in the city, I’m told.” It sounds so much like a goodbye that Credence isn’t really prepared for the way his voice cracks, the way his chest aches. He cannot see this man again, cannot keep assigning silly meaning to a person who doesn’t even know him, someone who only wears a face that Credence knows.

It is unspoken, but Mr. Graves hears it anyway. Not much escapes the man. “I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing you again.”

“No, Credence says, “probably not.”

“If I’m never to see you again,” Mr. Graves says, “then would you tell me your real name?”

“I really shouldn’t,” Credence says, with a glance to the towering building in his peripheral. He doesn’t want to end up a prisoner inside there, even if it means being close to Mr. Graves.

“Is there any harm in it?”

“Probably.”

Mr. Graves takes a step closer to him, though he maintains a respectable distance -- nothing like the Mr. Graves Credence knew, before. He was always looming close, folding himself into Credence’s space. It had made him feel so real, so tangible. It had made Credence feel special. This Mr. Graves is so different. He is untouchable in all his glory, like the shining tabernacle at the church he went to as a small child. Credence wishes he could reach out, just the once, and make contact. Maybe he would feel steadier, then.

Still, he does not.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Mr. Graves promises. Credence can’t help but remember the other man slapping his face, trying to knock the tears, the sadness and chaos, straight out of him.

Credence laughs instead of flinching at the memory. It’s funny, kind of, in a maudlin, ironic sort of way: this Mr. Graves promising not to hurt him when the other Mr. Graves was one of the instruments in Credence’s destruction. He probably looks crazy, laughing at such a promise, but he can’t help it.

Mr. Graves reaches his hand out. “I promise you. I give you my word.” He sounds so sincere -- it nearly breaks Credence’s heart in two. “I will not harm you, and I will not let any harm come to you.”

It is not a promise Mr. Graves can make, and certainly not one he can keep. Not when he has already hurt Credence with his own existence, not when he continues to shine so brightly, to be a blinding memory Credence cannot forget.

Credence finds himself reaching out anyway, wanting desperately to make contact. He takes Mr. Graves’ hand. “I believe you,” he says, when Mr. Graves warm fingers envelop his own in a firm grasp. He believes that Mr. Graves intends him no harm, but he does not believe in the purity of the world to let that happen. Mr. Graves cannot promise him safety. “But I still…” he trails off. He cannot give Mr. Graves his name, he has learned better to keep himself safe. He is worth more than that.

“I understand.”

--

For the next three months, Credence can barely catch his breath. It seems like they are always running, always chasing after something. First, the French Riviara, then Burma, then the Gold Coast. He feels energized, refreshed, even though his muscles complain at him every morning to take a break.

He practices magic every day, even if it means he gets less sleep. He knows that it is an important part of his education, an important part of himself . He’s still not the same as Newt, not so easily disciplined with a wand, with channeling the magic in steady, crisp ways -- but he makes do. He knows that his magic is wilder, more chaotic. It feels tinged with darkness, but not necessarily with malevolence -- just with emotion. It had been trapped for so long -- Credence cannot blame it. He accepts it as part of him, part of his bones and his sinew and his blood.

It always leaves him with the taste of iron and dust in his mouth.

--

When Newt tells him that it is time to return to New York, that they are needed there, Credence nearly faints.

“Do we have to?” He asks, before he can stop himself. He had been doing so well, not thinking of New York City, of not thinking about Mr. Graves except in those early hours of the morning when he can’t find sleep. Sometimes, Credence just cannot help himself.

“Yes?” Newt answers, eyebrow raised. The question is unspoken, but Credence knows it anyway.

“It’s just -- so soon.”

“We’ll be staying with the Goldsteins. You don’t ever even have to leave their apartment if you don’t want to.”

That, at least, is a relief.

--

Staying with the Goldsteins is nice. It’s safe.

It would be far better if Credence could trust himself to never leave. Tina and Newt spend most of their days out and about the city, looking for a rare and feral dragon that has escaped captivity. There are multiple bounties out on it, apparently for the exorbitant price of it’s scales. MACUSA is also looking for it, perhaps even more diligently, to keep the No-Maj population of New York in the dark about the whole thing -- thus their request that Newt help them.

Credence spends his days reading or letting Queenie teach him some household magic. She says that it’s a hard thing to get a hang of, that you either have a knack for it or you don’t. Credence is surprised by how easily he takes to it. It’s an easy thing to use his wandless magic with -- it somehow integrates well. Fighting and cleaning, apparently. He hasn’t done much fighting, but he’s gotten into a few rough patches alongside Newt, and he had been surprised by how well his magic was suited toward lashing out. Not that it should have been surprising at all, really.

But folding and cooking and cleaning are fun. The best part is that Queenie talks his ear off, even if he doesn’t reply. All he has to do is think about something and she’s on a roll. It’s a bit tough, at first, getting used to the idea of someone reading his every thought, but she always assures him that she’s heard it all, that he’s not bad at all.

The process of washing and folding clothes is cathartic and satisfying. He watches with keen interest as his favorite sweater wrings out suds, then water, and then hangs itself to dry alongside all of the other washing. His folds are a bit sloppy, a bit unpracticed, but they're about as good as he could do by hand, anyway. The socks, he lets Queenie do, watching as they dance together and roll up into perfect little balls. When she is done, they deposit themselves into baskets and dressers, each according to whom they belong to. The dishes are easiest to clean, but Credence's favorite thing is directing the feather duster around the room, watching as it twirls around like a ballerina, delicately drifting over trinkets and surfaces, above doors and over the spines of books. It shakes itself out a few feet outside the window, and the wind blows the dust miles away.

They are in the middle of making a pear strudel when Queenie gently takes his hand. He knows that he'd been letting his mind wander, but he’s not entirely sure toward what. “Aw honey.” He flushes, immediately aware. “You could take this to him, you know. I’m sure he’d be glad to see your face again. It’s quite a nice face.” She follows the words up with a gentle kiss to his cheek.

If possible, Credence flushes even darker.

--

He’s not entirely sure how Queenie manages to convince him, but later that evening he finds himself waiting outside of MACUSA, strudel tucked carefully into a package in his hands. He is looking for Mr. Graves, but also has his eyes peeled for Newt and Tina -- he doesn’t want them to catch him loitering, doesn’t want them wondering why he’s looking so suspicious.

He knows better. He truly does.

It doesn’t stop him from following Mr. Graves once he does spot the man, trailing after him while he makes his way to a nearby restaurant tucked into the ground floor of an office building. Credence hovers in wait outside, shifting on his feet, giving time for Mr. Graves to settle into his usual seat facing the door. Credence crosses his fingers, hoping that the man isn’t meeting someone here, before he slips inside the restaurant.

Mr. Graves spots him instantly. When Credence finds him in the crowd, sitting alone at a table for two, his eyebrows are raised in surprise and what looks a bit like amusement. Swallowing down his fear, Credence crosses to where his table is and puts a hand on the back of the chair opposite Mr. Graves. “May I sit?”

Mr. Graves nods. “Theseus. I wasn’t expecting to see you again.”

Credence flushes at the fact that Mr. Graves remembers his name, even if it isn’t his true name. It somehow makes it even better, knowing that Mr. Graves also knows that it isn’t his name, but he chose to remember it anyway.

“I made you this.” Credence sets the parcel down on the table. “It’s pear strudel.” It is in a box from Mr. Kowalski’s bakery, tied with one of their nice red ribbons ( only for special occasions, Queenie had said with a wink). “It’s my first try, so I’m not sure if it’s any good.” Honestly, Credence is suddenly completely unsure why he is here at all.

“I should leave,” he tells Mr. Graves in a rush, already pushing his chair out from the table.

“No, please --” Mr. Graves looks startled, stricken. He looks suddenly so serious, frozen in place. “Please stay.”

And so Credence does.

They eat and talk. It is easier this time, the conversation less stilted, the silences more comfortable -- even though Mr. Graves still does most of the talking.

Dessert is some sort of mousse and this time Credence only denies it once. Mr. Graves insists and Credence cannot tell him no. It tastes sweet and heavy on his tongue, and the cordial he washes it down with makes him feel pleasantly light.

Mr. Graves leaves Credence with a smile after brushing a hand over his shoulder, and goes home with the strudel tucked under one arm.

--

Credence sees him again the next day. It is winter in New York City, light flakey snow falling all around while the wind whips through the valleys the skyscrapers make. Like this, there are fewer cars and more foot traffic, and Credence can already feel the dampness encroaching on his toes because of the ensuing slush.

Mr. Graves finds him outside MACUSA in the evening. Credence has his face tucked into a large woolen scarf, a hand-me-down from Newt. The colors are more garish than he might choose for himself, tartan and lively, but it is warm and smells like home.

“Waiting for me, I presume?” Mr. Graves says while the beginnings of a smile prick at the corners of his mouth. He looks warm in his thick coat, unflustered by the snow around them. Small flakes of it settle in Mr. Graves hair, sprinkling the top with bits of white to match his greying temples. Around them the world passes, featureless, while all Credence can focus on is Mr. Graves. Suddenly, he feels all too warm, even with the bite of the wind at his cheeks, his ears.

“I’m not sure how long I’ll be around,” Credence says.

Mr. Graves pauses. He looks considering, as if having an inner debate with himself. Credence doesn’t know what about. Then, he shakes his head, resigned. “Would you like to have dinner with me again, Theseus?”

Credence nods, a smile warming the dimples of his cheeks into a flush. Mr. Graves nods once, and then looks away. “Come along, then.”

They walk in companionable silence to Mr. Graves’ intended dinner destination. By the time they get there, Credence’s shoes are soaked through and his feet, cold. His shoes are old, the charms wearing thin. He hadn’t noticed while walking, too preoccupied by being by Mr. Graves’ side, but now, in the warmth of the restaurant, he feels chilled to the bone.

He shivers and sits opposite Mr. Graves, but Mr. Graves is up in a flash, draping his heavy coat over Credence’s shoulders. “Until you get warm,” he says, before Credence can refuse.

--

That night, Credence sleeps easy. Soundly. He can still smell Mr. Graves on his scarf, spiced and warm, where the collar of his coat had rested for a couple of hours.

--

The next morning, Newt catches the dragon.  

It is small and scared, and Credence lets the creature curl up on his lap as they make their way to Bermuda on a small fishing boat.

He is ready to face the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle, but not at all ready to leave New York City.

Especially not without a chance to say goodbye.

--

They aren’t back in New York until late February, when the city is blanketed in snow. Credence has saved up enough money to invest in some true snow boots for himself, which is good, because it is about ankle deep and there are drifts of it everywhere. Newt has loaned him a winter coat with better warming charms, but he cannot help the way that the sheer knowledge of the cold bites at his bones and burrows under his skin. When he lived with Ma, he had always been cold. Now, he is comfortable and warm most of the time, not nearly as accustomed to discomfort as before. Newt had offered to buy him a warmer scarf, but Credence had refused, not wanting to part with the one that reminds him of Mr. Graves coat draped loosely over his shoulders.

As far as Credence can tell, they’re not in New York for any reason in particular, other than the fact that Newt has finished a manuscript that he wants Tina to read. The Goldsteins seem happy to accommodate them and their suitcase, and Queenie seems doubly glad to have some company around the house during the day.

“Jacob works all day, you know how it is.” Queenie says, after sitting Credence down on the lid of the toilet. She pulls up a chair in front of him and takes out her wand, enchanting a pair of scissors to cut Credence’s hair. She’d asked him earlier if he’d wanted a haircut or if he was growing it out and he’d just thought about how he didn’t want to inconvenience Newt by asking him for a trim. Queenie had laughed and told him she would be thrilled to do it for him.

“It gets lonely, you know? But you’re good company, honey. I hope you know that.”

Credence thinks she’s a bit delusional, that he’s shy and awkward and stilted and most people would be lucky to not be stuck in a conversation with him. Queenie slaps at his knee for that thought, which Credence has to admit he deserves for thinking something so dumb in front of a legilimens.

“I know Newt likes having you around. He’s glad you’re doing so well, but he does get worried when you wander off when you’re visiting us.” She pauses, paying close attention to cutting the hair around his ears. She leaves it a bit shaggy, just shorter and more tidied. “Don’t worry, he doesn’t suspect that you’re out meeting anyone, though. Especially not someone so handsome.” She winks.

Credence flushes.

She finishes with his hair, waving her wand to blow a gentle summer breeze over Credence’s head and neck to get rid of all the stray hairs. Everything collects itself nicely in the trash can, so he can’t even offer to sweep up.

“No need to thank me, honey. Just make sure you see your fella, alright? I did a swell job and I think he’d appreciate it.”

Credence doesn’t get a chance to argue, to assure Queenie that Mr. Graves is not his fella. The door opens and Newt comes tumbling in with arms full of scrolls and books, Tina following right behind him.

“We found the most amazing bookstore,” Newt says, derailing Credence’s thoughts entirely with stories of towering shelves, flying manuscripts, and the friendliest of shopkeepers.

--

The next morning, Credence is set free and left alone to his own devices. Queenie simply must go into work, apparently, and Mr. Kowalski refuses his help at the bakery. It leaves Credence with too much time and legs that itch to walk.

So he wanders.

The snow prevents him from going too far, but the subway is decent enough transit, even if it is soured by not-so-fond memories. He feels connected to the walls here -- perhaps because he was once part of them, perhaps because he has pulled them apart, brick by brick.

He decides to explore the bookstore Newt had spoken so fondly of the night before. It’s close to Harlem, which Credence feels both warm and wary about, in turns. It’s like coming back home: sometimes pleasant, sometimes unsteadying. Stepping off the train and climbing the stairs up to the familiar buildings leaves his body thrumming with familiar energy.

He trudges through the snow quickly, the slush and ice the only things preventing him from breaking out into a run. His veins course with the need to move, the need to be alive. He finds himself climbing a familiar fire escape, burning off some of his energy, until he is sitting on the roof of a shorter building, looking out over the city and the streets. He used to do this as a kid, when Ma’s leash was longer and when he wasn’t so scared. His feet hang loose over the edge, and for the first time he realizes that this is truly his life: free and magic and beautiful.

Eventually, the energy fades into a quiet thrum. Credence climbs down and continues on his way to the bookstore.

The store is stuck in what used to be an alleyway between two city blocks, shrouded in a veil of magic. The No-Maj’s look right over it, pass it by like a normal bricked-up-alley. If Credence crosses his eyes, if he lets himself lose focus, he can’t see it at all either. He stands outside for a moment, letting the wonder wash over him. Even after two years, he still finds it dizzying. Fantastic. Wonderful. It's sometimes tough to remember that this is his life.

When he steps into the shop, he loses himself in a sea of books. The small building is dimly lit, but cozy. Sun filters in through small windows and lanterns light each row of books. The stacks are towering and packed absolutely full -- every inch of space is crammed impossibly full of books, novels, and manuals. Credence wanders for a while, running his fingertips over the spines browsing the selection, before the shopkeeper engages him in some friendly conversation. The conversation leads to recommendations, which leads to Credence letting the little old woman stack books into his open arms -- he can easily see how Newt wandered out of here with books and scrolls coming out of his ears.

Eventually the shopkeeper abandons him for the ringing of the door, signaling another customer entering the store. Credence shifts amongst the shelves, happy to browse on his own for a while. He has a bit of money saved up, so he knows he wants to treat himself to something -- though he cannot possibly afford all of the books in his arms. He’ll have to narrow it down some.

He sets up shop in a small corner on an old, comfortable chair. He spreads out the books around himself, content to go through and winnow down his selection.

Winnowing turns to skimming, which turns rather quickly into flat out reading. Before Credence knows it, he is absolutely absorbed in a book about the history of magic in Coastal Louisiana. It is fascinating; Newt has many books about creatures, as well as some of his old schoolbooks, but they focus mostly on the history of magic in Britain, not in the United States.

He’s never been to the South, never explored much of the States at all -- but reading this makes Credence wish he could go. He wants to see more of the world, but also more of the country he is from. The diversity of magic here is astounding, exhilarating. The itch to explore, to know more, is so strong.

Credence loses himself in the book, settling into the chair more comfortably, until he totally loses track of time.

He also loses track of his surroundings.

It’s not until he hears a cough in front of him that he realizes he was completely absorbed. He looks up, ready to apologize to the shopkeeper for loitering for so long -- but instead of facing a kindly old woman, he is looking up at Mr. Graves.

Credence nearly chokes.

“Theseus,” Mr. Graves says. “I really did not expect to see you here.”

Credence’s heart stops dead in his chest. His entire body freezes, blood going cold in his veins. “Oh,” he says. Because that’s right: Mr. Graves thinks he’s a No-Maj pickpocket. Mr. Graves thinks he’s not a threat at all. Mr. Graves had not at all expected to see him in a magical bookstore, surrounded by spell and history books, not at all phased by their moving pictures and sounds -- not anymore, anyway.

“Mr. Graves,” he says.

Mr. Graves frowns. “I don’t believe I ever told you my surname.”

Oh god. Credence slams the book closed, filling his nose with dust and the smell of coastal air and sunshine.

“I should go.” Credence says, standing up. The books can wait. He can come back for them. Or he can leave them forever -- he doesn’t need them at all.

Mr. Graves does not move back to let him flee. Instead, he steps forward to block Credence’s way and puts his hand in his pocket, palming for a wand that Credence knows is there. A wand that he has had held to Credence’s throat before. Oh god, oh god -- what has he gotten himself into? All this because he couldn’t go without checking on Mr. Graves, couldn’t go without seeing this man’s face. It’s so dumb, so idiotic -- Credence cannot believe he set himself up for this.

He feels the energy swell inside him -- panic and fear. Once upon a time, it would have come with a cloud of smoke, of void and of anger. The bookstore would have come tearing down around them. Now, the feeling just settles into his bones, seeping darkness and energy into his lungs. He is ready to fight, but he does not reach for a wand -- he cannot bring himself to hold something so dangerous in Mr. Graves’ direction. Not even with knowing that Mr. Graves does not feel so charitably toward him.

“I’m not a threat to you.” Credence says, his hands raised in the air. He wants his books. He wants the comfort of Newt’s suitcase. He wants the niffler by his side, or the newest dragon to curl around his neck. He wants to not be here. Unfortunately, he cannot simply apparate away in cowardice -- there are wards on the shop preventing just that.

“I’m not sure that’s the truth,” Mr. Graves says.

“I promise. I promise you that I’m not going to hurt you.” Credence swallows. He has no idea how to show that he isn’t a threat, no idea how to convince Mr. Graves that he is a friend. Credence needs Mr. Graves to believe him. They’ve both been through so much. This man, this man who is ready to attack Credence, to hurt him, is the only one who truly understands. “Please believe me. Please don’t hurt me.”

“Tell me why you were following me.”

The bookshop is quiet around them, deafeningly so. Credence has half a mind to think that Mr. Graves put up some sort of silencing charm, making their conversation private. Given the ringing nothingness in his ears, Credence thinks it’s likely.

“I told you. I had to see you.” That had never been a lie.

“Why?” It’s barely even a question. Mr. Graves voice is gruff and charged with anger and annoyance. But even now, fueled by strong emotions, he sounds so unlike the man Credence knew.

“I knew him,” Credence says carefully, softly. “I knew him, and he knew me.” He looks down, unable to meet Mr. Graves’ eyes. “I know what he took from you. And I just -- you -- you’re the only one who understands. I had to see you again.” And again, and again.

Mr. Graves says nothing. When Credence looks back up at his face, he looks stricken. He probably knew, had to have known that Grindelwald had met Credence while wearing his face -- but Credence knows that it’s one thing to assume, and an entirely different animal to know something for certain. It must hurt, having a constant reminder of such a traumatic experience, to know that a man walked around in your skin for months. Life was taken from Mr. Graves -- and here Credence is, just another reminder of that.  

It takes a long time for Mr. Graves to speak. When he does, Credence isn’t at all expecting the words. “You got a haircut.” Mr. Graves’ tone is gentle, lacking any of the harshness from before. Perhaps he is resigned, perhaps he is just tired . Credence should leave, should stop exhausting the man. He should leave Mr. Graves alone, should stop digging fingers into a salted wound.

Credence nods, a sharp and quick motion.

The silence stretches for a long moment before Mr. Graves breaks it. “Will you tell me your name?” He doesn’t look hopeful, but he sounds more pleading than he ever should. It sounds wrong coming from his lips. The sound of it breaks Credence’s heart. “Please?”

Credence shouldn’t tell him.

He shouldn’t.

The words tumble from his lips anyway: “Credence Barebone.”

It’s clearly not at all what Mr. Graves was expecting. He does not take a step back, nor forward, but he does straighten his back. so that he is taller, more predatory. He is only shaken for a moment -- Mr. Graves has built a reputation and a career on being strong, on being resolute and detached. It’s not surprising that he gathers himself up so quickly. So effortlessly.

Credence prepares for an attack, but it never comes. He is left feeling off-balance, dizzy.

Instead, Mr. Graves takes in a steady breath and then lets it out. Slow and steady, readying himself.

“Well. That certainly explains a lot.”