Actions

Work Header

Men May Rise on Stepping-Stones

Chapter Text

 

I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.

- Alfred Lord Tennyson

 


 

 

Percival Graves lived in the trunk at the foot of his bed for five months and six days.  

Grindelwald had worn Percival’s face for five months and six days, living his life and doing his job, and nobody noticed.  

Needless to say, returning to work after that was uncomfortable, to say the least. Percival had spent a week in the hospital taking potions to heal his various ailments, and after his body was more or less healed they sent him home with a few vials of dreamless sleep potion and a warning not to abuse it. His first day back was filled with meetings, explaining what Grindelwald had done in his absence, and documenting what Percival had experienced at his hand.

The five months in a trunk had gone like this:

Grindelwald had needed to keep him alive for the polyjuice potion, and had needed vital information that only Percival would know. So he had been bound with some kind of magic which kept him from moving or speaking for days or weeks at a time, until Grindelwald would take him out and put him under the imperius curse to ask him questions about his work, what he did, who in the government was useful, where the important secrets were kept. After Grindelwald had gotten everything he needed he would shut Percival back up into that box.  

No, he didn’t know what Grindelwald was planning. Yes, he tried to resist the imperius curse, but Grindelwald was one of the most powerful wizards in the world. No, he wasn’t conscious all the time, he couldn’t have been. Yes, he remembered what had happened. No, he didn’t know anything about the obscurial before Grindelwald attacked him.  

The healers told him that he had been kept in a sort of stasis, one that would prevent him from dying. They probably even told him the name of the spell but for the first few days everything flowed out of his mind like water from cupped hands, so he left with the impression that Grindelwald had done an impressive bit of magic and that he was lucky to be alive.

Luck.

So Percival sat in his office, slowly working his way through an enormous stack of files: every piece of paperwork “he” had filed in the last five months, along with various reports whose contents he needed to familiarize himself with, such as the events surrounding the obscurus attack. He spent his day reading, which let him focus his mind and block out his thoughts.

He did such a good job distracting himself that he flinched when he saw a shadow in the doorway.

“Mr. Graves?”

Percival took a moment to calm his suddenly-racing heart before looking at the intruder. Standing in the doorway was Tina Goldstein, the auror, newly re-minted member of the investigative team. Percival had seen “his” order to have her demoted mixed in the mess Grindelwald had left him to clean up, and Picquery’s subsequent order of reinstatement.

“Yes, Goldstein?”

“Do you have a moment?”

He didn’t, really. He only had a short while to get through what seemed to be thousands of papers before he would be expected to be back to his normal work, and he was having trouble focusing. But he also knew that she was instrumental in the events which had recently occurred. Clearly Grindelwald had seen her as a threat for him to have demoted her, and she was there when the obscurus was destroyed and Grindelwald revealed.

So instead of sending her away, like he so desperately wanted to, he gestured to the chair opposite his desk. He had a feeling that whatever she wanted to say would not be quick.  

Goldstein took her cue and sat in the seat across from him.

“Picquery has already requested your reinstatement to the aurors and to the investigative team. I’ll have the formal paperwork completed by the end of the week,” he said, taking a guess as to why she was here.

“What?”

“He demoted you because he didn’t want you getting close to that boy, Credence. He wanted to be the only caster that the boy knew, and he couldn’t afford for you to interfere with his plans. While you were wrong to have attacked Mrs. Barebone, your actions were understandable, and defensible. Had I -” he felt himself choke on his words and cleared his throat. “Had I been.  Here.” Goddammit. He took a deep breath. “Had I been in my normal position I would have made a notation in your file and forbade you from getting involved with the Second Salemers again, but I would not have demoted you. You’re one of the best aurors we have, Goldstein, we both know that.”

“Thank you, sir.” She looked surprised. “But that’s not actually why I’m here. I wanted to apologize.”

“Whatever for?” She had performed an exemplary job, and was at least partially responsible for the fact that New York was still standing.

“We’re not friends.” No, they were not. “But I still feel like I know you pretty well, after working together all these years. I thought you were acting… strangely, these past few months, but… I didn’t notice, not really. Not enough to do anything about it. And I should have.”

“No one noticed.” He said it as a statement of fact, but instantly regretted it when he saw the pitying look on her face. “Grindelwald is good at what he does. He’s powerful, and very intelligent, and he had information that he extracted from me under the imperius curse to blend in well here. It’s nobody’s fault.”

“I know that. But I wanted to apologize anyway. Everyone knows you here as Graves the employee, or Graves the boss, but I wanted to say that we… that I should have spent more time worrying about why you were acting strangely, and more cruelly than normal, rather than just trying to get my job back.”

“You wouldn’t have figured it out. And if you had, he would have had you killed. Actually,” Percival shifted some papers around until he found the execution order he had glimpsed earlier, “it looks like he did that anyway, without you poking around in his affairs any more than normal. Don’t feel guilty Goldstein, you did everything that you could have.”

She nodded, unhappy twist to her mouth. Last time Percival had seen her, had actually seen her, she had been brash and confident with a no-nonsense attitude. She still had that, he could tell, but now it was buried under layers of uncertainty. Whatever “his” relationship with her had been over the past several months had done a number on her self confidence. Undermining his most effective auror - one more thing to add to Grindelwald’s long, long list of offenses.

Percival just hoped that she would be able to work with him, in the future.

“Well, I guess I just wanted to say that if you need help with anything, just let me know.”

“Thank you, Goldstein.” He paused, considering. “Actually, there is one thing you can do for me.” Goldstein was one of his best aurors, and by far one of his most observant. If she said that she thought he was acting strangely then she had - she wasn’t one to give false platitudes to make herself look better. Everyone he had asked about Grindelwald had simply said that he acted just like Graves, and that there was nothing different to notice. But she had. “Tell me about him. You must have worked with him somewhat extensively. What was that like?”

And so she talked, about the little things here and there that she had noticed, things that “he” had said or done that had caught her attention as being unusual. Percival was gratified to know that many of them were small cruelties or careless words. With his employees and coworkers he tried to be firm, somewhat distant, but always professional, and it was at once gratifying that she noticed every time he had acted meaner than usual and disheartening that everyone else he had spoken with thought that the behavior had been normal.

When she told him about Grindelwald’s comment, that the obscurus from the dead Sudanese girl was “useless,” he couldn’t help but make a disgusted face. Honestly.  

“That’s when I knew for sure something was wrong, really wrong,” she said decisively. “He ordered our executions almost immediately after that. I think he screwed up, and when he realized that he had revealed himself to be something ugly he wanted us gone, before me or Mr. Scamander would be able to talk to anyone else.” She looked down at her hands for a moment. “It was strange, too - the executioners were also acting odd. Bernadette was assigned to me and she was just… smiling, vacantly the whole time. Calm. I was a little too overwhelmed at the time to notice, but looking back something was not right.”

“The imperius curse,” he said. He knew that vacant feeling, that unnatural calm.

“That’s what I was thinking too,” she said.

She ended her story with the obscurus’s destruction and Grindelwald’s arrest.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” he said finally, fingers steepled in front of him. “The boy’s death - that wasn’t Grindelwald’s fault. We all failed him, the whole magical community. Our reluctance to get involved with the no-majes and Second Salemers left a young wizard in the hands of a maniac, and we all have to take responsibility for that.”

“I feel terrible about it.”

Percival couldn’t help but smile. “You certainly did what you could,” he said, thinking of the report he had read about her attack on Mrs. Barebone, “and in the end you tried to save him. That’s as much as we can ask for.”

“We need to make sure that it never happens again.”

“Agreed.”

“Credence deserved better.”

“He did. But for now, all we can do is ensure that it never happens again, at least not on our watch.”

Goldstein nodded solemnly.  

“Thank you, Goldstein. You did a good job out there.”

“Thank you, Mr. Graves.”

“I’ll have your reinstatement paperwork completed before the end of the week.”

She smiled gratefully and took his words as the dismissal they were intended to be.  

After she left, Percival sorted the remaining papers into three piles: already read, critical, and not-of-immediate-importance. The critically important paperwork he tucked away into his briefcase before leaving for the day. There was only so long he could stay in his office, and while he didn’t necessarily want to go home, he needed a change in scenery.

MACUSA looked different to him, now, as he strode out of his office and towards the designated apparition point. Whereas before he was always treated with respect and deference, now many of the casters bustling around the busy hallways avoided making eye contact with him, or glanced away as soon as he noticed them watching. Some of them looked guilty; others, morbidly curious. He wondered if there was something about him, now, some sort of look in his eye or dark cloud over his head, or if the rumor mill had merely done its job.  

(Percival tried not to think about the fact that any of them could be anyone. If he was the most wanted dark wizard in the world for months, who was to say that the witch in the Defense Department couldn’t be, or the wizard walking down the hallway, resolutely not making eye contact? How could he know that any of these people were who they said they were? He was surely talking to Golstein earlier, wasn’t he? Or could she have been false, another fake like he had been for so many months?)

But Percival Graves had a reputation to uphold. He was fine. He was strong enough to survive an attack from an astonishingly powerful wizard, and he would come back and do his job like the capable, resolute, resilient person that he was.

(During his time in the hospital he adjusted to casting a notice-me-not spell when his hands shook, or when fear stole the breath from his lungs and he hyperventilated in a panic. The first time had shocked him to the core, but he was learning how to control it. He had no other choice.)

When he reached the designated apparition point he stopped, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He mind was far more disorganized than it used to be, and he had to try much harder to focus, lest he splinch himself. That would be humiliating.  

Don’t think about that, just clear your mind, and go.

 

 

Arriving home was an experience. Percival had stopped by in the morning, after being discharged from the hospital, but hadn’t lingered. Everything there seemed tainted now. His office at MACUSA had Grindelwald’s fingerprints all over it, but that was work. He could easily power through that. But this was his home, his sanctuary, where Grindelwald had lived his life and slept in his bed and worn his clothes.  

The clothes thing - that made his skin crawl.  He had scourgified his clothes for the day a dozen times before he felt comfortable putting them on, and even still he felt the ghost of Grindelwald’s touch all day long.

Stepping through the doorway into his apartment should have been relaxing.  Instead, all he could see was -

- himself, he was looking at himself, at the man who had stolen his face, sitting on his sofa, twirling his wand between his fingertips.  Percival couldn’t move - his arms were bound by his sides with invisible ropes, and the imperius curse was stealing his mind - and he was answering question after question - staring into his own face -

Percival shivered and pointed his wand at the sofa, at the ghost of Grindelwald sitting in his favorite spot.  

Evanesco.

The sofa vanished. That was fine, he didn’t need a sofa anyway - he would hardly be entertaining guests anytime soon.

He stood in his sitting room, briefcase in hand, for too long. He didn’t want to be here, but he didn’t have anywhere else to go.

“Right,” he said aloud, setting his case down near the wall. “Okay.” He rubbed his hands together, trying to sort out the rest of his day. It was early yet - just past four - so he had plenty of time. He could read through some of the paperwork he brought back, maybe pick something up from the restaurant down the street -

Percival glanced over at his desk and felt his skin crawl at the unsettling feeling of wrongness.  His things had all been moved, pen and inkwell askew, stacks of fresh paper moved from one side of the desk to the other. The aurors that found him had undoubtedly taken anything Grindelwald had written and left behind, but the evidence that he had been there was unmistakable.  

Right, then.

Percival turned on his heel and walked out of his apartment, outside of his wards, and disapparated.  

 

 

“Mr. Graves! I wasn’t expecting to see you today,” Betsy, his tailor, greeted with surprise. It would only be a matter of time before the news of his captivity filtered out of MACUSA and into the general population, but for now only his coworkers knew exactly what had happened to him.

“Sorry for dropping by without an appointment,” he said with what he hoped was a disarming smile.

“Not a problem, Mr. Graves! What can I get for you today? Something for a special occasion?”

“Not quite. Do you keep a record of the suits that I’ve ordered from you?”

“Of course. I have a file of the different styles you have, the fabrics you prefer, and your sizing. Why, did something happen to one of them?”

“Yes, actually. I was hoping you could make up…” he took a quick mental inventory of his closet, “a dozen or so suits, in my usual styles and colors. I’d like them finished as quickly as possible.”

“Wow,” Betsy said, eyes wide, “Sure thing.  That’s quite the order, though, it’ll take at least a few days.”

“That’s not a problem. And I’m happy to pay extra for the rush.”

“Let me just make up an order,” she said, grabbing a paper from the counter. Betsy laid out her list of what she intended to make while he nodded along, and added some shirts and underclothes to the list. The purchase wouldn’t be cheap but money was no object.

After leaving the tailor Percival walked down the block to the upscale furniture store he occasionally ordered from, sofa in mind. It didn’t take long for him to find one that he liked, a suitable replacement for the one he had vanished.

“Will that be all?” asked the salesman. “This is part of a matching set, if you would look over here you’ll see a great coffee table,” he continued, walking a few feet away to gesture to the table in question, “and we’ve got some absolutely spectacular bedroom sets that I just got in from a wizard in Montana, really great stuff. You won’t find nicer wood anywhere in New York, I can promise you that. This could be used as wand wood, the quality is so nice, lemme just show you right over here…”

Percival though about his bed, and his desk, and everywhere else that Grindelwald had touched.  

“You know what? I actually think I need to furnish a whole house.”

 

 

Percival finally arrived home late, tired, and with considerably less money in the bank than he had that morning. He set the box filled with his new, shrunken furniture down on his coffee table and considered his options. Too many things to do - he had to vanish all the things he couldn’t bear to look at anymore (most of them), then resize the furniture he purchased back to normal, and arrange everything to his liking.  

Rather than putting everything how it was, he wanted to re-arrange the space to look completely different, to give it the look of a whole new apartment.

Percival stood, surveying the room.

That’s what he needed. A whole new apartment. No need to take everything out and rearrange, he needed to see a realtor.  

Tomorrow. He would get a new place tomorrow.  

(He refused to think about how spellwork was exhausting now, how vanishing even a single item had made him feel like a sophomore all over again, how the thought of vanishing dozens of inanimate objects was a daunting task rather than a few minutes’ work. How magic, which used to flow so easily from his fingertips, now felt like struggling through molasses.  

It was because he’d been tired, hadn’t been sleeping well, and had taken more potions in the past week than he had in the past decade - that was all.)

 

 

When the shadows came Percival wasn’t even surprised. He had moved from his apartment into a nice brownstone on a magical street, and left all his old things behind, starting fresh. He had hoped that doing so would have relieved him of the nightmares. He wasn’t sleeping - and when he was, he would dream of small, dark places, of being trapped and his life stolen. He had adjusted to getting a few hours of sleep a night, to pretending at work that everything was fine.  

The new house was beautiful: three stories plus a half-above ground, half-below basement on the upper west side, with high ceilings and a small patio in the back. The place was far too large for one person but Percival bought it based solely on how bright and airy it felt. The ground floor contained the sitting room, kitchen, and dining room; the second floor, his bedroom and an empty room he had vague plans of turning into a guest bedroom (disregarding the fact that he never had guests); the basement he used half for his office, half for a library (containing the only thing he couldn't bear to part with from his old place - his books); the top floor, he closed off. He simply didn't have any need for the space, though he liked the idea that he had it if he ever needed it.

Setting up the new house gave him something to do, a distraction that he was grateful for. After arranging all the furniture just right he realized he needed rugs. After the rugs, artwork. While Percival have never been a man with a keen eye for beauty he found himself wandering galleries, looking for something that would fit just right in his new sitting room.

(A huge red painting had caught his eye, a writhing mass in the center, shot through with bolts of black and white. He wasn't sure what it was supposed to be - only that he found the majestic motions captivating, mesmerizing - but he decided against buying something so dark.)

Percival carefully reorganized his life to remind himself as little of Grindelwald as possible, then went home to sleepless nights occasionally punctuated with nightmares.

So when he saw a wisp of dark smoke out of the corner of his eye, one that vanished as soon as he looked at it, he just sighed and resigned himself to one more thing.

Percival made a point of keeping his brownstone flooded with light, but even that couldn’t keep the darkness at bay. It would creep in from the corners, in the hallways, in the dark alleyway he passed on the way to his house from his new favorite restaurant down the street. The winter solstice came and went, but the lengthening days did little to help.

He would wake from a nightmare to a dark cloud gathered over his bed, rumbling ominously.

Percival wasn’t sure if it was real. Part of him would have preferred that it was, so that he could believe that he wasn’t losing his mind, but he didn’t have any delusions about himself. He was - not okay. The darkness was just a manifestation of that, whether it was something he was conjuring unconsciously, or something that only he could see.

And that was - fine. It was fine. He could live with this, too.

Percival had always been a man that worked extremely long hours. He had fought hard for his position in MACUSA, had eschewed finding a wife and having children in pursuit of promotions and advancements. He had never regretted his choices, specifically, but there was a soft spot in the pit of his stomach that ached every time he considered how long Grindelwald’s charade had gone on, made him wonder if having a family would have saved him, or if they would have just been killed by Grindelwald.

He lay awake at night, staring at the black whisps gathering, wondering if there was anything he could do to stop it from ever happening again.  If perhaps he had brought Grindelwald on himself.

 

 

The first time Percival flubbed a spell at work he had to sit on the floor of his office with his head between his knees for fifteen minutes.  

 

 

Friday night found Percival lounging on his new sofa perusing a book about wands, resolutely ignoring the dark shape that was amassing in the opposite corner.  He flipped the page, keeping the black cloud in the corner of his eye.

 

It is a curious feature of the blackthorn bush, which sports wicked thorns, that it produces its sweetest berries after the hardest frosts, and the wands made from this

A quiet rumbling crackled throughout the room. Percival flicked his eyes back over to the cloud, which seemed larger than usual. It also appeared to be pulsing slightly, which was new. After a minute without any noticeable change he turned back to his book. 

 

and the wands made from this wood appear to need to pass through danger or hardship with their owners to

The rumbling grew louder and harder to ignore. Percival sighed and rubbed his eyes.   

 

and the wands made from this wood appear to need to pass through danger or hardship with their owners to become truly bonded. Given this condition, the blackthorn wand will become

The black mass was growing rather rapidly, from something cat-sized to dog-sized and larger. Percival marked the page in his book and set it down in favor of inspecting the cloud up close.  

He had heard of things like this before - survivors of trauma having their wild magic go a little, well, wild, like what happened in childhood before learning how to control it. A few years back an auror’s wife died suddenly and he had a raincloud follow him around for a week and a half before he managed to get it under control. Grieving people were more likely to knock things over from the other side of the room or accidentally influence other people’s emotions. And after the Great War there were a lot of odd, uncontrolled happenings in the magical community.

The most extreme example of such magic was, of course, an obscurus. And unlike more simple examples an obscurus wouldn’t simply go away after a few days or weeks.

Percival wasn’t sure what this was supposed to be, though. He approached the shape slowly, wand away but ready to be drawn. He only ever saw the shape at home, never at MACUSA, so perhaps he had an unconscious negativity towards his new house? He had never been particularly attached to his old one, so that seemed unlikely. And it was too formless to be a ghost or a poltergeist. Reaching a hand out, he was surprised to find that the shape was warm, and while his hand easily passed through the more wispy parts the center was dense and oddly solid.

So partially corporeal, perhaps affected by Percival’s emotions, and definitely changing. The thing pulsed again and appeared to condense, with the center getting darker and more solid. Observing it closely, the shape did look oddly like how the obscurus had been described by Picquery and the aurors, but that wouldn’t make any sense. Percival was obviously not an obscurial and the only obscurial the United States had seen in the past several hundred years was dead.

Something was taking shape beneath the mist.

Percival took a step back. The interior portion, the corporeal portion, was writhing and twisting in an oddly disturbing way. He stood, transfixed, for what felt like a long time, as the tendon-like structures bound together and smoothed out, one after another, until rather than looking at a black cloud he was looking at …a person?... in a black cloud.

Then the mist dissolved and all that was left was the huddled form of a naked young man on Percival’s sitting room carpet.

Okay then. Percival approached again, slowly. Perhaps this wasn’t a hallucination, or wild magic.

The man’s back was badly scarred in lashes from his neck down to his buttocks and every few inches of skin was mottled with bruises. He had a shock of messy dark hair on top of his head, and he was far, far too skinny for his slight frame. The man appeared to be unconscious, though he was curled in a ball as though protecting himself. His back was rising and falling with each breath, so he was definitely alive.

Percival kneeled down next to the body. When there was no reaction he gently placed his hand on the man’s shoulder.

Again, no reaction.

He grasped lightly at the shoulder, then used his grip to pull the man from resting on his side, facing away from Percival, to his back. The man’s body moved easily, and as he fell sprawled on the carpet Percival realized that he wasn’t looking at a man but a boy, no older than eighteen or nineteen. One that was far too young for the scars he bore.

“My god,” Percival muttered. The boy’s face was oddly delicate and feminine, with long lashes and sharp cheekbones. The bruises across his back continued around his sides and across his chest, arms, and legs, giving the impression of a recent and vicious attack that he had somehow survived.  There were also a few streaks of dried blood.

Percival drew his wand.

Tergeo,” he muttered, cleaning the blood to get a better look at the boy’s injuries. There were no wounds that looked like the source of the bleeding, so either he had healed from them already or the blood came from somewhere else.

Episkey.” The bruises lightened from dark blacks and blues to a variety of soft, sickly looking greens. He frowned. It was an improvement over a moment ago, but Percival had mastered basic healing spells in school - they should be gone completely.

Percival took a deep breath. It was probably dangerous to try and heal him again, so the best thing he could do was leave it, for now. He was no healer - his healing spells were mostly used for emergencies only.

He debated whether or not to use mobilicorpus to move the boy but ultimately decided against it. With the luck he was having he would put the boy through the ceiling, or drop him, before reaching his bedroom.

He felt like a no-maj, kneeling down to scoop the boy into his arms. The only thing he could think to do was put him to bed and hope the boy would wake in the morning - if he woke at all.

Once he had the boy tucked into his bed, Percival retrieved his book from the sitting room and settled into the armchair a few feet away from the sleeping stranger. But rather than picking up reading where he left off, Percival traced the illustration on the cover with the tips of his fingers over and over, distracted.

The facts, as he saw them, were as such:

The dark cloud looked similar to how the obscurus had been described. The boy, meanwhile, looked remarkably like the descriptions of Credence Barebone he had both read and heard, though MACUSA had no photos of him. The scars on the boy’s body looked like belt marks, which would be consistent with the abuse Goldstein had observed. The obscurial was dead, supposedly, though if he had survived the aurors’ attack he would likely be covered in wounds, possibly partially healed due to the time elapsed between the attack and the current moment, which would also be consistent with the bruises on his body.

For the obscurial to survive the attack should be impossible, but Credence living for as long as he had with the obscurus inside of him should have been impossible as well, and that had clearly happened.  

If the boy was Credence, and was the obscurial, Percival didn’t know what to do with him. Grindelwald was in prison but he had plenty of powerful followers, and if one person in MACUSA had been compromised and replaced by a dark wizard there could easily be others. If the word got out to the wrong person another caster could try to use Credence the same way that Grindelwald had. Or, Grindelwald himself could break out of prison - he had done it once before, and Percival knew that it was likely only a matter of time before he did it again.

Percival’s eyes lingered on the prone form. The boy’s skin was so pale he almost blended in with the white sheets, while his pale hands and arms stood out in stark relief from the green bedspread they rested on. He almost looked dead - Percival had seen corpses with more color. He looked so… fragile, delicate. Looks could be deceiving, and if the boy was the obscurial then he was far from fragile, but Percival still felt a strong protective instinct swelling in him.

For whatever reason this damaged, injured boy landed in his life, and he was Percival’s responsibility now.

The only thing to do now was to wait, and see what the boy said when he woke.

Percival re-opened his book and started reading.

Hours passed. He interspersed glances over at the bed with reading about wand woods, wand cores, wand loyalty, and finally, about properly casting wandless magic. Percival had successfully cast basic wandless spells before but had never tried anything more complex, and wandless magic could be incredibly useful. You could never know when you may be disarmed in a duel, or kept captive without a wand for months on end.

Finally Percival noticed movement from the boy on the bed. First, his fingers twitched. Then, he turned his head into the pillow. A few minutes later he groaned, and his eyelids fluttered. Percival stood and crossed the room to perch on the side of the bed, waiting. Eventually the boy blinked his eyes open. He was clearly disoriented, looking around the room in confusion before his eyes landed on Percival.

The boy flinched with his whole body, drawing instinctively away from Percival as a perceived threat. More alarmingly, he seemed to blur slightly around the edges.

“M-mister Graves?”

The boy knew him, or at least knew his face, even though Percival had never seen him before, and had a profoundly negative reaction to seeing him. The air shivered around the boy, dense with power.

“Credence?”

The boy looked at him like a mouse looked at a basilisk. “Where am I?  What happened?”

“We’re at my house, you’re safe here. The aurors don’t know that you’re alive.”

“They tried.”  Credence frowned in concentration.  “They tried to kill me, didn’t they?”

“...Yes.”

Dark eyes locked back onto Percival. “And you…” he said slowly, the air trembling around him, “You…”

Percival raised his hands, showing that he was unarmed.  

“You and I have never met before.” The strange tension building in the room stopped as Credence’s expression wavered between hurt and bewildered.  “I am Percival Graves.  Almost five months ago, a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald attacked me and,” he paused, thinking of how he could explain what happened to someone unfamiliar with magic, “he used an illusion to look like me, so that he could use my position in the magical government to do bad things. He was looking for you, Credence, because he wanted to use you to do bad things. You are immensely powerful,” and destructive, “and he wanted to use that power. I know he was… unkind to you. I’m sorry for that. Goldstein - I’m sorry, you probably know her as Tina - told me what happened in the subway. Shortly after the aurors attacked you they realized that the man they thought was me was an imposter, and they arrested him.”

Credence stared at him, unblinking.

“And so, you and I have never actually met,” he finished, hoping that Credence wouldn’t turn into the obscurus and kill him in a fit of rage.

“How did you know who I was, then?” he asked suspiciously.

“You appeared in my sitting room out of an obscurus. I guessed.”

Credence looked away and took a moment to digest the information. “What.” He swallowed.  “What is an obscurus?  Is it… when I…” he trailed off, avoiding eye contact. Turning his head away exposed the sharp line of his jaw, the long line of his neck.

“Yes.”

“He never… he never actually told me what he was looking for,” he said in a small voice, eyes trained on the bedspread. “He told me that he was looking for a child under the age of ten, one that was powerful. He wouldn’t tell me anything else. I thought he might be talking about my sister, Modesty. But he was talking about me.”

Percival never thought he would be in the position of telling an obscurial what an obscurus was but that was the only thing he could think to do. He took a deep breath and tried to go with the simplest explanation.

“Sometimes, when a caster is very young, they become afraid of their magic. Sometimes this is because something bad happened to them. More often it’s because of a parent or guardian who thinks that magic is bad, or wrong, or evil. Young casters are supposed to learn how to use their magic, and join the magical community, whether their parents are no-majes or casters. But if a caster ends up with a parent like your mother-”

“She wasn’t my mother,” Credence muttered softly, interrupting Percival’s little speech. He still didn't look up.

“I’m sorry?”

“Ma. She wasn’t my mother. She got me from an orphanage when I was young. My real mother was a witch.”

“Oh.” That explained a lot. “Well, when a caster is raised by someone who thinks that magic is bad, sometimes they learn to repress it out of fear, or to avoid punishment.” Credence flinched, at that. “When that happens, the child’s magic has nowhere to go, and bottling it up only makes it more powerful. After a while, the magic they’ve repressed becomes sort of like a parasite, called an obscurus, which is more or less a cloud of wild magic. The child with the obscurus is called an obscurial.”

“Why do you keep saying it’s a child?”

“Obscurials usually don’t live past the age of ten. That’s why Grindelwald told you to only look for children, and why he didn’t expect it to be you.”

“Why? What happens to them?”

“They die,” Percival said quietly. “Eventually the obscurus kills them. Magic can’t be contained. Controlled, yes, but not contained.”

“Is that going to happen to me?” Credence was still avoiding eye contact, and somewhere along the line had started trembling.

“I don’t know. You have to be the oldest obscurial on record, and even when attacked by a team of aurors you didn’t die. We’re all in uncharted territory here.”

Credence closed his eyes and stayed quiet, perhaps upset, perhaps just tired.  

“Why am I here?” he asked finally, voice so quiet Percival had to strain to make out the words.

I don't know Credence, you chose this place, either consciously or unconsciously - a house that you've never been to belonging to a man that you've never met. What were you looking for here? What were you hoping to find? Revenge? Purpose? Did you know what kind of man Grindelwald was before you started working with him, or were you as betrayed as everyone else?

What do you want from me?

“I don't know Credence. Go to sleep. We can talk more in the morning.”