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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
“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.
“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.”
Hey folks! I had a plot idea for Graves rehabilitating Credence post-movie and then my brain absolutely would not let it go, and I somehow wrote 25,000 words in like, 10 days. So! I'm editing and polishing, but the first few chapters will go up pretty quickly, probably once or twice a week.
Writing in different time periods is hard (and leads to frantic googling of the history of stoves, or balloons, at midnight) and while I did my best I may have some anachronisms in there, so if I do, please feel free to let me know.
Also, the excerpts from the "book" that Graves is reading are taken straight off of Pottermore, from Ollivander's journal about wand woods. So while obviously none of this is mine, don't sue, etc etc, that section is definitely not mine.
As a side note, I got really sick of typing "witches and wizards" a thousand times and annoyed by the gender binary, so I decided to use the gender neutral "casters" when not speaking about a specific gender. The movie takes place in America, and plenty of their terms/slang is different, so I'm going to say that this is one more thing.
and the gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite
the abundance of it.
- Richard Siken
Morning found Percival fighting with the eggs in an attempt to make breakfast. He was hardly skilled at cooking spells on a good day, and with his magic being stubborn breakfast was a disaster on top of a disaster. Pointing his wand at one of the eggs had caused it to roll off the counter and onto the floor. Another leapt from the carton and back into the icebox, and the third sprouted legs and started running around the kitchen.
“Accio!” The running egg lobbed itself at his face, but he thankfully was able to catch it before it made contact. Percival closed his eyes and took a very deep breath, held it for a few seconds, and let it out slowly, trying to ignore the squirming egg clutched in his hand. He needed to get a grip. He took another deep breath, then another, and another. He could do this. He was an accomplished auror, a successful administrator in MACUSA. He had faced down dark wizards and angry no-majes with guns, he could handle fucking breakfast.
“You’re nothing like him, you know.”
Percival startled so badly he crushed the egg in his hand. Heart lodged firmly in his throat, he turned to see Credence hovering at the entrance to the kitchen. Some auror he was - he hadn’t even heard the boy come in.
“Sorry, Mr. Graves. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Percival waved him off. “It’s not your fault, I’m fine.” The words would have been more believable if he was able to get his breathing under control. Credence looked deeply concerned, so Percival did his best to project calm that he wasn’t feeling. “I’ve been jumpy. Since. Anyway. I’m fine, really, not your fault.”
Credence had dressed in the clothes that Percival had left out for him, though they hung loosely on his considerably-smaller frame. While the two of them were close in height, Percival was much heavier than Credence.
Then he processed what Credence actually said when he walked into the kitchen.
“Wait. You said…”
“I thought you might be him, last night. That maybe he had hidden me away and taken me for… whatever it was he wanted me for, and that you were lying about being two different people. But you’re nothing like him.”
“No one at my work noticed a difference,” he said, clenching his fist. Euuugh, what the hell happened to that egg?
Credence was quiet for a while, as Percival busied himself cleaning the slime and feathers off his fingers with a kitchen towel.
“He did walk like you, and talk like you, I guess. But he always carried the threat of violence. You don’t. He said that he was my friend, but I could still see it in his eyes, especially when I couldn’t do what he asked of me. People who haven’t seen it very often might not be as good at identifying it.”
As opposed to Credence, who had lived with the threat of violence every moment of every day.
“You’re very observant.”
Credence’s shoulder hitched up in what looked like aborted shrug.
“You don’t seem to be very good at breakfast.”
“You’re very observant,” Percival repeated. That brought a ghost of a smile to Credence’s lips.
“I could - I could try, to cook. I don’t know how that works,” he gestured towards the stove, “but if you show me I could make something.”
Percival tapped his wand on the surface of the stove and was relieved when flames ignited merrily below.
“It's a simple device - just flames beneath and a cooking surface on top. I know no-maj stoves have a lot of buttons and dials but this one is easy.”
“How do you control the temperature?”
“Uhhh…” Percival said, trying not to look like a man who had never actually used his stove before.
In his defense, it was a new house, and he had only been living there a few weeks.
(Not that he was adept with the stove at his old apartment, though Credence didn't need to know that.)
Apparently his silence spoke volumes because a small smile twitched across Credence’s face, so he didn't mind sounding a little foolish.
Percival showed him where the pots and pans were kept (they were clearly unused, though Credence refrained from commenting) and the boy set about cooking the eggs.
Once finished, they moved out to the dining room and ate in somewhat awkward but mostly companionable silence.
“Thank you for cooking breakfast, Credence,” Percival said, setting his fork across his plate. “I don't eat at home much so I've never been very good at domestic spell work.”
Credence nodded but he wasn't smiling.
“Would you like more to eat?” he asked. “I think I have a pie in the kitchen.”
Credence shook his head.
Percival let the silence stretch out between them. It seemed like Credence had something he wanted to say, but was working up the nerve to say it, so Percival waited.
“What's going to happen to me?” he finally asked, looking into the middle distance instead of at Percival. Avoidance of eye contact seemed to be a normal behavior for him.
Percival weighed his options. He didn't want to scare the boy, but he didn't want to lie to him, either.
“Right now I think it's best you stay here. I can't guarantee your safety with the government but because no one knows you're alive, no one will come looking for you.”
“Oh. No, I mean - the, um, obscurus.”
The boy was not going to make this easy on him. Percival knew little about the magic behind an obscurus other than the facts he had picked up over the last few weeks in an effort to better understand Grindelwald’s intentions. No book, anecdote or folk tale told how to get rid of an obscurus, only the destruction that it brought, and removing it killed the host.
Had he known that the obscurial was alive and would appear in his living room he may have done his research a tad more thoroughly.
“I honestly don't know, Credence,” he said slowly. “Can you control it?”
Being able to control it would help, and he must have some ability to do so or he would have been discovered long before now. The obscurus would typically appear in times of heightened emotion or when the obscurial was in danger, so perhaps he had more control over the transformation itself than what happened after.
Percival had just gotten his house just the way he liked it - he didn't want it to be destroyed and to be killed in the process.
(He also worried for the boy - even though he didn't know him, even though he shouldn't care. He couldn't help but wonder at the feeling, and think about Goldstein, normally so even-tempered, attacking Mrs. Barebone to protect Credence, a boy she barely knew. Was there something about him that inspired such a fierce reaction? Or were they being influenced by the obscurus, protecting its host any way it could?)
“Sometimes.” Credence still wasn't looking at him.
“Well it should go without saying that you should try your best not to let it out here.”
Percival intended the words as a joke, though the boy did not smile.
“Won't bottling it make it worse?” He spoke tentatively. “If that caused it in the first place.”
Maybe, but Percival would prefer Credence didn't destroy his home and kill him. He did have something he could offer, instead.
“Would you like to learn magic?”
Finally, Credence’s eyes snapped to Percival. That, he was interested in.
It was a theory he had while reading - the obscurus couldn't be removed because it was a corporeal manifestation of trapped magic, and you couldn't simply remove the magic from a magical child. But learning to use it could perhaps drain its power.
“I don't know if obscurials can be cured. But, it would make sense, that if the obscurus develops because you're not casting magic and you're not learning magic, then maybe doing just that will fix your problem. What are those no-maj devices called, those colorful bags filled with air?”
Credence frowned at him. “Balloons?”
“Yes, balloons. If you keep putting air into them past capacity, eventually they will pop.”
Credence nodded cautiously.
“But, if you let the air out slowly, instead, they’ll deflate without destroying themselves.”
Credence stared at him, his expression an odd combination of frightened and hopeful. His face was so very expressive.
“You… you want to teach me? You want to teach me magic?”
Credence had one major advantage over the other documented obscurials in history: he wanted to cast magic, and he wanted to be a wizard. Perhaps that was why he had lived as long as he had - he wasn't denying a part of himself, he was hiding to protect himself, the only way he knew how.
“I can try,” Percival said, “though I don’t know if I will be a very good teacher. You’ll have to bear with me, there may be a learning curve on my end too.”
“Will I get a wand?”
“Not right away.” The issue of a wand would be trickier. Percival couldn’t exactly walk into MACUSA and get a wand permit for a wanted boy who was supposed to be dead. “Wands need permits, and that’s something that I wouldn’t be able to explain right now.”
Credence just nodded and looked down, disappointed, like Percival had failed him already. Like he had expected Percival to let him down.
“But you can use mine, while you’re learning. And as soon as we get everything… sorted… with you, I can get you a wand of your own. I promise.”
Finally, a tentative smile blossomed on Credence’s face.
Percival brought Credence down to the library to introduce him to the very basics of magic. The boy was clearly fascinated with all things magical: he marveled over the moving paintings and stared brightly at all the magical objects lying casually around the house. Percival had never considered what his house would look like through the eyes of someone raised by no-majes but Credence was clearly in awe.
“These lights don't have bulbs in them,” he said in amazement, too distracted to sit down in one of the armchairs.
“No, there is no electricity in this house. They're controlled by magic. Watch: nox.” The lights went out, leaving the room dimmer with only daylight through the half-windows. “Lumos.” The lights came back on.
A small smile crossed Credence’s face.
“Will I be able to do that?”
“Of course. That's one of the simpler spells.”
Credence walked slowly around the room, reading some of the book titles and occasionally asking questions. Percival was relieved that Credence already knew how to read - illiteracy would have made this task much, much harder.
After a few minutes Credence seemed to suddenly snap back to himself. He dropped obediently into the armchair across from Percival and looked down at his clasped hands, like he had just realized that he was being rude or disobedient. Percival tried to smile warmly at him but Credence wasn't looking.
“Credence?” The boy looked up. “I don't mind you looking around, or asking questions, okay? It's good that you're interested.”
Credence nodded seriously.
Percival spent the afternoon explaining the basics of magic to him, about no-majes, no-maj-born casters, the statute of secrecy, and everything Credence needed to know about not exposing the magical world. When he explained the law that casters couldn’t associate with no-majes, Credence stopped him.
“But why not?”
“Well, it’s complicated,” Percival said, “here in New York we all live together, so if casters associated with no-majes it would be impossible to keep our existence a secret. In a lot of European countries the magical communities are completely separate from the no-maj ones, with insulated towns or with small, segregated communities within larger cities. One block that way,” he pointed, “is where the caster street ends and the no-maj one begins. There are casters in all five boroughs of New York city. If casters started befriending no-majes our existence would be common knowledge by the day after tomorrow, if it took that long.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Well, there was a time hundreds of years ago when no-majes and casters lived together openly. But we have an immense power that they do not, and they outnumber us by a thousand to one, even more in some areas. Believe it or not, the magical community chose to disappear for our own safety. Think of the New Salemers, and how many there would be if our existence was known.”
Credence nodded, considering.
“Now, there are some areas of America that are separate like that. There are whole cities that would never appear on a no-maj map. But for the most part we live amongst the no-majes, and so we have to blend in, where a lot of magical communities in the world don’t. Believe it or not, the casters in England wear long robes and pointy hats.”
Credence giggled. “Do they wear them around the no-majes too?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never actually been there. But travelers wear them here sometimes and we have to stop them at the International Portkey Office and make them change, or transfigure their clothes.”
“What’s a portkey?”
“It’s an object that has been spelled to transport people from one place to another, often over long distance. Apparating and disapparating I think you’ve probably seen - that’s when a caster disappears?” Credence nodded. “But that only works for shorter distances. You can also fly on a broom, but that can be slow, particularly over large distances, or travel by train. But mostly people use portkey.”
And so the afternoon went, with Percival describing the American and international magical communities and Credence asking dozens of questions. While he started out tentative, his excitement and interest quickly overtook his hesitation and he blossomed into an intelligent, inquisitive young man. After a while, Percival thought Credence was ready to start learning some basic spells.
“What, if anything, do you know about wands?” he asked. Percival knew that Mrs. Barebone knew of the existence of wands - the Second Salem banner displayed a wand being broken after all - but he didn't know if Credence knew anything more useful.
“Um…” Credence started slowly. “I know that all witches have wands, and that they use them to cast magic. And that if you break them they can’t cast magic anymore.” He frowned after his obviously inadequate explanation.
“Yes and no. What makes a caster different from a no-maj is that casters have the inherent ability to use magic, while no-majes don't. Wands are magical objects that help casters channel that power into something useful. Now, you must already know that casters can perform some magics without a wand,” - Credence himself was evidence of that - “but usually only children who haven't learned how to use a wand perform magic without one, or very powerful casters who have since learned wandless magic.”
“He could -” Credence started, before cutting himself off.
“You may have seen Grindelwald cast wandless magic,” Percival said carefully.
Credence nodded. “Is he very powerful?”
“Very. He is the most powerful dark wizard of our time, perhaps the most powerful wizard in the world. I've heard there's a schoolteacher in England who is supposed to be Grindelwald’s match, but I haven't seen any proof of that.”
“If he's so powerful, what did he want me for?”
Explaining the International Statute of Secrecy was one thing - trying to explain fanatics like Grindelwald who were trying to intentionally provoke war between the magical community and mo-majes, with the intention of conquering and subjugating non-magic users, was another discussion entirely. The truth about Grindelwald made the Second Salemers a much more sympathetic organization, which was not a lesson Percival wanted to teach on Credence’s first day of magic.
“That's a lesson for another day Credence. Grindelwald’s beliefs are complicated, and how they relate to you even more so. Now, I'm going to give you my wand. Don't worry if nothing happens, okay? You may feel something, but you also might not.”
“Is it bad if I don't?” Credence said, allowing Percival to change the subject. It was clear that the boy would be following up with questions later, but equally clear that he was eager to get his hands on a wand.
“No. Wands can be very particular. In an ideal world I could get a wand especially for you to use, but because I can't, you have to use mine. Not every wand will work for every wizard, so if nothing happens it may just be because this wand isn't a good match for you.”
Percival didn’t want to mention the possibility that Credence had been bottling his powers for so long that he may have great difficulty channeling them intentionally. That would be a bridge they could cross if they came to it.
Credence just nodded seriously, staring at the wand.
“Now, put out your hand.” Credence laid his hand open, palm up. “Don't grip it too hard, and just relax.” Percival carefully placed the wand in Credence’s hand, willing the thing to cooperate.
Both of them startled when sparks shot cheerily out of the end of the wand.
“Uhh,” Credence said, looking alarmed, “is that a bad thing?”
“No,” Percival said quickly. “Does it feel bad?”
“No, it feels…” Credence had a wondering expression on his face, eyes fixed on the wand like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. “It feels. Good.” A bright, genuine smile crossed his face when looked up at Percival.
“Good. Now, you're going to want to hold it like -” Percival reached out, then paused to consider. “Can I touch you, Credence?”
Credence just blinked.
“You can say no.”
“No? I mean!” Credence shook his head, like the words popped out without permission, then looked down at the floor. “Sorry, I mean yes. I just - no one has ever asked me that before,” he mumbled, ears red.
“It's fine, Credence, I just wanted to show you something and I didn't want to startle you.” Percival reached out slowly and wrapped his hand around Credence’s, adjusting the boy’s hold on the wand so that it fit more naturally in his grasp. “This is a better way to hold the wand. It gives you more control.”
Credence nodded, eyes still downcast.
“Credence.” The boy finally looked at Percival again. “I want you to know that I won't force you to do anything you don't want, from touching you without permission to making you eat food you don't like or demanding answers to questions you don't want to answer. I won't punish you for saying no. I won't punish you for anything, actually. If you do something that I think you shouldn't I'll tell you, without yelling, and without hitting.”
Percival realized he should have laid out some ground rules earlier, but he didn't exactly have experience with rehabilitating abuse victims.
“Do you understand?”
Credence nodded slowly, eyes wary. He clearly didn't believe Percival’s words, at least not completely, but it was equally obvious that the boy wouldn't argue.
“So if I asked you…” Percival said, trying to think of something silly and non-threatening for an example, “...if I could spell your hair purple, what would you say?”
“Well… if you wanted to I wouldn't mind…”
Percival raised an eyebrow, and while Credence didn't smile he did relax a fraction.
“I would say no?” he said instead, waiting for confirmation from Percival.
“Right, you would say no. Good. And if I ask if I can touch you when you don't want to be touched?”
“...I would say no?”
“I don't mind you touching me, Mr. Graves.”
“Right now, maybe not. But tomorrow you might be sad or upset and not want me to, and I'll respect your decision whatever the reason may be,” Percival said. “Oh, and you don't have to give me a reason why, either. You can just say no.”
Credence nodded slowly.
They started off with simple spells, only taking a break for lunch. Credence took to casting naturally, and his timid nature slowly dissolved again once he had a task to focus on.
It was strange to see another wizard using his wand - when Grindelwald used it he was wearing Percival’s face, so the dissonance had been somewhat abated. Not to mention, Percival had been so busy seething with rage and hatred to pay much attention to the way his wand looked in another wizard’s hand.
But here with Credence, who was very clearly his own person, one who cradled Graves’s wand like it was something endlessly precious - the experience was… odd.
Percival’s relationship with his wand was complicated these days, but there was no getting around the fact that it had been the most important item in his life for thirty years, and he had just handed it off to a boy he barely knew.
On Sunday Percival left Credence curled in the library with a book on magical theory while he went out to run some errands. He needed another bedroom set for the spare room (the furniture salesman lit up like a firework when he saw Percival again), some entry level spell books (since Percival had gotten rid of his school books years prior), and some healing salves and potions for Credence’s remaining injuries. The boy seemed unbothered by them, and his movements were not uncomfortable, but that was more likely due to a very high pain tolerance than the wounds themselves not hurting.
Percival also found a salve to fade scars.
(The potion seller was quick to tell Percival that the salve he was looking at would be inadequate for a man of action such as himself, as it was only strong enough to heal wounds of natural causes. Magically-inflicted scars required special potency, if you would look right over here, there’s a whole separate case…)
(Percival bought some of both.)
Percival knew he needed to get the boy some clothes, too - Credence couldn’t keep wearing his, especially considering his ill-fitting they were, but Percival could hardly go to his usual places and buy a wardrobe clearly intended for someone other than himself. People would talk.
(Eventually he settled on one of the large no-maj department stores on Fifth Avenue. The no-maj clothes would be closer to what Credence was accustomed to wearing, with the added bonus that none of the employees would recognize him there.)
Returning to work on Monday was strange. Percival had no choice but to leave Credence home alone, and without a wand. While the boy wasn't a child Percival still worried that something could happen to him while he was away, or that he would come home to find an empty house and no explanation.
(It wasn't that he thought Credence would leave, per se, more the anxiety that if he did come home to find the boy missing he wouldn't know where to even begin looking for him.)
Before leaving he was sure to show Credence around the whole house, including where to find food (which he told Credence to eat whenever he was hungry, though Percival suspected it may take a while before the boy was comfortable taking food without permission), Percival’s bedroom (from the doorway), the closed-off area of the third floor, and his study in the basement across from the library.
“I would prefer you didn't go into my bedroom and I don't want you going into my study when I'm not home,” he said. “I have some magical artifacts in there that could be dangerous if you touched them. Anywhere else in the house is fine, including the back patio as long as you don't exit the gate in the back.”
“You're not worried about the neighbors seeing me?”
“They won't. I have privacy and protection wards up that they won't be able to see through.”
Percival didn't have time to explain in more detail, but Credence nodded like he understood. Percival had explained wards briefly to him yesterday so the idea wasn't entirely foreign.
Lastly, before leaving, he pressed a spelled pocket watch into Credence’s hand.
“If anything happens, if there's any kind of emergency, grasp this and I'll come home.”
Credence stared down at his hand, then glanced at Percival suspiciously, then back down at the object in his hand. Silence stretched out for a long moment and Percival had the feeling that he was missing something, or forgetting something.
(Sometimes, at work, one of Percival’s coworkers would launch into the middle of a story without explaining what the hell they were talking about, yammering on until they noticed the blank look on Percival’s face and they stammered some version or combination of sorry, forgot, wasn’t you and hightailed it out of the conversation. When Graves first returned to work the showdown with Grindelwald was fresh on everyone’s minds, but as time passed and the dark wizard’s machinations faded to the background of everyday life, people were more and more likely to forget that the man they had been working with for the past several months was not Graves. The conversations themselves Percival found grating, as well as annoying, but the people’s embarrassed reactions were at least slightly entertaining.
Credence’s reaction was neither entertaining nor annoying - rather, Percival’s curiosity was piqued. Percival didn't know what, exactly, the man wearing his face had given to Credence, but he knew that at some point he would have to ask the boy about his relationship with Grindelwald. The question would likely have to wait until the boy trusted him more.)
Finally, Credence closed his hand around the watch and then tucked it away into his pocket.
And so Percival left for work, busied himself with a meeting with Picquery in the morning about Grindelwald’s captivity and the possibility of extraditing the wizard to Europe to face his crimes there. His offenses in the United States were relatively minor compared with the murder and mayhem he was responsible all over the European continent, but there was concern that Grindelwald could escape custody there. He had once before. Graves slipped into work mode easily, debating back and forth over the inherent risks of moving Grindelwald versus the inherent risks of keeping him jailed in America. Neither he nor Picquery were satisfied with either answer.
“Keeping Grindelwald on American soil is a risk. If he escapes he’ll be loose in our backyard again,” Percival said.
The desk in front of him was covered in papers: maps of Grindelwald’s attacks, reports from international governments tracking his followers, theories about what his followers would do next. Percival had practically memorized them all over the past weeks. There was to be a meeting with the leaders of England, France, and Germany later in the week, to make a decision on what was to be done with him. MACUSA had to reach an internal decision before then.
An image of the last attack attributed to Grindelwald in Europe hovered lazily above their heads. Grindelwald had killed a whole group of aurors and escaped, presumably to America.
His attack on Graves had happened three days later.
“And if we try to move him he could escape in transit, or escape from the jailers he already bested once,” Picquery said tiredly. Each of them had taken both sides of the argument already, so their debate had become rather unenthusiastic.
“Graves,” she said finally, leaning back against her desk. “What was Grindelwald doing here in the first place?”
“Wreaking havoc? That seems to be his raison d’etre these days.”
Picquery looked tired. She was stunning, as always, and looked strong and capable as she normally did, but Percival could see the strain around her eyes and the tightness in her mouth. She wanted Grindelwald gone, to not be their problem anymore, but there was no way to do that safely. Executing him was not an option: he had too much influence, and they knew too little about his organization, so there was knowledge that they needed from him. The last thing they needed was for Grindelwald to become a martyr.
“But why? Why here, why now? He didn't come to America and start blowing up buildings or killing no-majes. He stole your identity and laid low for months. Why?”
“Maybe he wanted to get to know the inside of MACUSA,” Percival said slowly, gathering his thoughts. Grindelwald created a trail of terror wherever he went, so usually there was little need to dissect his motives more than that. But Picquery was right - what did bring him to America? To New York specifically?
“He must have had a purpose,” Picquery said decisively. “He had to have come here for a reason.”
“What did he do while he was here? That you know of.”
“The only thing we know for sure was that he was tracking the obscurial, but how could he have possibly known about it?” Percival cringed internally at the word it. “We know that he had some contact with the boy prior to the events in the subway, given the way he was talking to he obscurus. But for how long? And to what end?”
“The last documented obscurial was hundreds of years ago, other than the one Scamander found in Africa. We know Grindelwald wasn't there, so.” Percival ran a hand over his tired eyes. “What would give him the idea that the destruction was caused by an obscurus? And that he could use that power?”
“He was here for months before the obscurial attacks began.”
“Maybe it was a coincidence?” Picquery gave him a look, “I know that sounds unlikely, but maybe he came here with a plan but changed his mind when he realized there was an obscurial.”
“Or maybe he somehow knew there was an obscurial here and that was his plan the whole time.”
“But why? Few people know much, if anything, about obscurials anymore. Even when they were more common the magical community knew little about them, and most of that knowledge has been lost to time.”
Percival knew - he had been trying to research obscurials as much as possible and had found almost nothing other than descriptions, how to identify them, and theories about how they were created.
“You know who could probably answer our questions?” she said wryly.
Percival went cold.
“Barebone was killed during the altercation in the subway,” he said.
“I know. I gave the order. But if anyone would know what Grindelwald was up to, it would probably be him.”
“Why would you think that?” he asked carefully.
“He would be able to tell us how long he was in contact with Grindelwald, and what Grindelwald told him about the obscurial. Information that could prove useful now.”
Percival carefully weighed his response. He didn't want Picquery thinking of Credence as an accomplice to Grindelwald, since his hope was that one day the boy could join the magical community.
“Did you ever meet him?” she asked.
“So first contact was with Grindelwald, then.”
“Do you have any regrets?” he asked.
“About ordering the obscurus’s destruction? No. He was a danger to our community, and while Mr. Scamander insisted that he would be able to treat the boy he had never successfully done so. The only other obscurial he had come in contact with, he killed. Questions I may have for the boy aside, the risk was too great to leave him alive, and the odds of his survival were slim regardless.”
They both were quiet for a moment, considering how things may have gone differently. Percival took the break in conversation as an opportunity to change the subject back to the dilemma of whether or not to move Grindelwald.
Getting Credence to integrate into the magical community may prove to be difficult.
After the meeting, Percival busied himself with paperwork: the least-glamorous but never-ending part of being a government administrator instead of just an auror. Sorting through arrest records, requisition requests, and dark magic reports took most of the afternoon, and after checking in with the investigative team to ensure their job was running smoothly, he decided to head home.
It was early for him to be leaving, as per his normal schedule, but he didn't want to leave Credence alone for too long on his first day.
Ultimately, it was decided that Grindelwald would be extradited to face an international criminal court, where he could be tried on all of his attacks. Percival was partially glad that the man would be taken off of US soil, and incredibly nervous that he would find a way to escape.
But Grindelwald had no way of knowing that Credence had survived. He had no reason to come after Percival again.
There was no reason for Percival to be worried.
During the days, when Percival was at work, Credence would stay at home and read books about magic and the magical world. And then, when Percival returned home, they would eat dinner and start their lessons. Success came in dribs and drabs - some spells Credence took to very quickly, while others took him a very long time to master. Normal, for any beginner, but Percival quickly learned that Credence was absolutely terrified of failure. Whenever he attempted a spell and couldn’t get it right on the first try, he would look over at Percival like he was expecting to be yelled at or worse, so Percival always made a point to praise him liberally when he did well, and was quick to comfort when he did poorly. A few times, Credence’s silhouette blurred around the edges and Percival learned how to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder, talking in soft tones, until the boy snapped back into sharp focus.
A solution to Credence’s nerves came to Percival after their first week of lessons: while Credence learned how to do basic spells with Percival’s wand, Percival taught himself, side-by-side with Credence, how to do wandless magic. Percival’s success was much slower going - while Percival was a strong wizard, wandless magic was notoriously difficult, and generally only used regularly by the most powerful wizards.
(When Credence failed to do a spell typically nothing happened; when Percival failed to do a spell, he knocked things over, animated inanimate objects, or once, vanished his own eyebrows. He would be embarrassed, but each of his failures brought a smile to Credence’s face, and once, the boy actually laughed, so Percival counted each as a success.)
He was trapped in the darkness once again. He couldn’t move his arms, his legs, he couldn’t even wiggle his fingers - he was trapped. The darkness was suffocating. But he had to fight it. He knew that man was out there, wearing his face, living his life, he had to fight, he had to get out, he had to GET OUT.
He could feel another presence in the room - he was here, Grindelwald was here. If he could just make his arms work he could fight back, he could escape this prison of that man’s making, but first he has to move. He struggled against the ropes binding his wrists, pulling and pulling until one of them loosened. He could feel Grindelwald - he was getting closer.
C’mere you bastard, he thought, just a little closer and I can - the presence loomed over him, breath warm against his face, and Percival struck out ---
Percival woke panting in a pool of sweat. Fuck he thought, I haven’t had a nightmare that bad in a while. The room was dark, like his nightmare, so he grabbed his wand off the nightstand and cast a soft lumos to chase away the shadows.
Percival blamed his disorientation from waking for the fact that he didn’t immediately notice the body lying huddled on his floor, hand clutched over his cheek. Blind panic shot through Percival as he leapt out of bed.
“Credence?” Had he hurt the boy? That last part of the dream - striking Grindelwald across the face -
Credence made a soft, hurt sound when Percival touched his shoulder.
“I’m sorry Mr. Graves. I shouldn’t have woken you. You were having a night terror, and I…” the boy trailed off, not making eye contact.
“No, don’t apologize. I should be the one apologizing. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I would never, never hit you on purpose Credence, do you understand? I would never strike you intentionally. That only happened because I was still dreaming and I didn’t know who you were.”
Percival bit back a sigh. Credence still wasn’t looking at him, instead staring into the middle distance in that slightly vacant way that Percival had come to associate with the boy awaiting punishment. Credence looked sad, and scared, and resigned. If “Ma” wasn’t dead already Percival would kill her himself.
“Will you look at me please?” Credence’s eyes snapped to Percival’s immediately and he tried not to feel guilty. Percival tried to avoid giving orders as much as possible, even orders phrased as questions, because Credence was usually incapable of denying him anything he asked. The behavior was helpful in times like this but it was one Percival was trying to break him of. “Can I please see your cheek?”
Credence lowered his hand slowly, revealing a red mark across his cheekbone. Percival made sure to school his expression to hide the anger he was feeling at himself, lest Credence think the anger was directed at him, as he tilted Credence’s face to get a better look. The mark was actually not that bad, thankfully. It would likely form into a bruise by morning, but a wild gesture in his sleep did far less damage than an intentional punch would have.
“May I heal this, Credence?”
Credence shook his head minutely. “It’s ok, Mr. Graves. It barely even hurts.”
Damage this small would be very easy to heal, but Percival had realized quickly that Credence was terrified of wands being pointed at him, and he wasn’t yet good enough at wandless magic to attempt something as delicate as healing. While the boy was starting to get accustomed to being around - and casting - magic, he was still afraid of magic being cast on him, most likely thanks to the aurors and Credence’s ‘death.’
“Thank you,” Percival said, tone soft. Credence looked up at him in confusion. “I was having a nightmare, and you heard me from your room, yes?” Credence nodded. “And you came down here to wake me.” Credence nodded again, even though Percival hadn’t phrased it as a question. “So thank you. You’re very thoughtful, and caring. You’re a good boy Credence.” Credence broke eye contact but didn’t move away from him - he still struggled with praise, another trait that Percival was trying to break him of. “But, you probably shouldn’t do that again. I have a lot of nightmares, and I’m afraid I could hurt you again if you wake me.”
“I don’t want you to suffer, Mr. Graves,” he whispered, almost too quietly to hear.
“If you want you could try to wake me from the doorway. Say my name, or call out to me. But it’s probably best you don’t approach me.”
Credence nodded, eyes downcast. He was still sitting on the floor, knees pulled up to his chest, hunched defensively even though Percival was trying to be as gentle and comforting as he knew how.
“Come on, let’s get up.” Percival stood and held out a hand to Credence, who blinked and stared for a few seconds before taking it and allowing Percival to pull him to his feet. “May I hug you, Credence?”
This time Credence simply stepped into his personal space, as though even a non-verbal yes or no was too much for him to handle at the moment. Snaking an arm around Credence’s waist, Percival pulled him into his arms.
“Is this ok, Credence?” he asked. Credence laid his head on Percival’s shoulder and nodded, so Percival slid his other hand up to cradle the back of the boy’s head. His hair was starting to get long. Percival had offered to cut it, but Credence had looked so disappointed at the suggestion that he let the topic drop. Now Credence’s hair had grown past the tops of his ears. Knowing the terrible haircut that woman had insisted on Credence wearing, Percival privately thought this was Credence’s first, tiny attempt at rebellion, so Percival loved it - a visible reminder that this boy was starting to think for himself, and want for himself.
They stood like that in Percival’s bedroom for a long while, until Percival lost track of time. At first Credence was stiff and unsure of himself, but as the seconds turned into minutes he slowly relaxed, tucking his head into the crook of Percival’s neck and tentatively resting one hand on the other man’s hip (tentatively, as though he was expecting Percival to swat at his hand, or pull away - which was on its own disappointing, but Percival could recognize small victories when he saw them). After a while Percival started rubbing Credence’s back in long strokes until the soft breaths against his neck turned from rapid and afraid to slow and relaxed.
“We should probably get you back to bed,” Percival said finally. He didn’t know if it was very late or very early, only that a long time had stretched between now and his waking, and it seemed best to keep Credence on a somewhat normal schedule.
Credence didn’t respond.
“Credence?” He felt the boy tense in his arms.
“Sorry, Mr. Graves.” Credence tried to step back but Percival kept his arms looped around him.
“Shh, no, you’re fine. I was just making sure you hadn’t fallen asleep. Do you think you’re ready to go back to bed?” He could tell that Credence was unsure, but nodded regardless.
“I didn’t -” Credence started to say, but cut himself off. Percival waited a few moments to see if he would continue, but instead the boy just tucked himself back into Percival’s embrace.
“You didn’t what, Credence?”
“...I didn’t…” he trailed off, voice small. “I was startled, earlier, and I didn’t…”
Become the obscurus.
“No, you didn’t. You did really well. Really, really well. I’m proud of you.”
Percival was proud of him. He tried not to mention the obscurus, or the fact that Credence was an obscurial, which sometimes made for a very strange living arrangement. But he knew that Credence’s condition was why Grindelwald had targeted the boy, and that Credence knew that fact himself. He never wanted the boy to associate him with the man who had worn his face, who had earned and then betrayed Credence’s trust so severely, so he mostly just acted as though Credence was a normal, abused wizard, and not a… creature, of sorts, that was only ever a moment away from razing the city.
It was a delicate balancing act.
“You are so strong, Credence, and so good. You’re doing such a good job.” Percival felt Credence’s breath hitch once, twice. “Shhh, don’t cry. You can stay here with me for as long as you want.”
And so they stood for a while longer, until Credence’s breaths steadied once again.
“Were you dreaming about him,” Credence asked quietly.
“Yes.” Percival didn’t want to talk about his nightmares with Credence - the boy had enough darkness in his life without being tainted by Percival’s, as well.
“Did he torture you?”
Grindelwald had relied mostly on the imperius curse to get the information he needed, but whenever Percival was able to resist it he would move on to the cruciatus curse instead.
Credence hummed thoughtfully, the sensation tickling Percival’s neck.
“Did he torture you while wearing your face?”
Percival stilled. “Why do you ask?”
“You don’t keep any mirrors in the house.”
“I only saw his face once,” Percival said, resuming rubbing Credence’s back, “on the first night he attacked me. The rest of the time he looked like me.”
Credence nodded, like Percival was confirming what he already suspected.
“I’m sorry that happened to you.”
“Not your fault.”
“I know. I’m sorry anyway.”
To Sleep I give my powers away;
My will is bondsman to the dark
- Alfred Lord Tennyson
Percival was in his office, signing off on transfer paperwork, when Goldstein knocked on his doorframe.
“Do you have a moment?”
Not really. “Of course.” He waved his hand in the direction of the chair. “How’s your return to the aurors going?”
Percival didn’t object to her reinstatement, but he did understand why Grindelwald had demoted her and relegated her to the wand permit office - it was very difficult to keep a secret around her. While he didn't have any reason to believe that she suspected something she still made him nervous. She would have his job, one day, and she would be great at it. Right now she was somewhat of a thorn in his side, even if he was a little fond of her.
Not that he would admit that to anyone.
“Great!” Goldstein said, sitting down. She looked happier than the last time Percival spoke with her in his office, with more color in her cheeks. “I’m so glad to be out of the wand permit office, I can tell you that.”
“Your talents were wasted there,” he agreed. “So, what can I do for you?”
“I actually wanted to speak with you about something. In private.” She looked pointedly at the open door, so Percival closed it with a wave of his hand.
“What’s on your mind, Goldstein?”
“That.” She gestured to his hand.
“After what happened with Grindelwald, I promised myself that I would look into it when my coworkers started acting strangely, or just differently than they used to. You just did wandless magic, there.”
“Closing a door is easy.”
“Yes, but that’s not the first time I’ve seen you do it. Last week you picked up that whole shelf of books, after the robbery, and the week before that you shielded yourself from a stunning charm when your wand wasn’t in sight.”
Percival should have known that if anyone was going to notice his extracurricular learning, it would be Goldstein.
“I have been practicing wandless magic, yes.”
“You’ve also been working much shorter hours than you used to.”
“I’ve been taking time to practice wandless magic in the evenings, after work.” And teaching magic to the still-living obscurial that I have hiding out in my house.
He couldn’t say that, though. While Percival trusted Goldstein, probably more than any of the other aurors, he couldn’t risk her finding out about Credence. She probably had ideas about what would be best for the boy, and Percival didn’t want her getting involved. He felt protective over Credence, and oddly possessive. Of all of the people in the city he had chosen Percival, the real Percival, to trust.
For once in his life Percival had someone to come home to, and he wasn’t going to give that up.
Percival was never gladder to have mastered occlumency - while Goldstein wasn’t known to be a natural legilimens, like her sister, she probably was still more likely to pick up on rogue thoughts than the rest of his auror staff.
Goldstein chewed on her lip, clearly conflicted about what to say.
“Yes, Goldstein, it’s because of what happened with Grindelwald. You’ve never been one to beat around the bush, don’t start now.”
“I wasn’t - ok, yes, I assumed your interest in wandless magic came from Grindelwald. He’s also supposed to be quite accomplished at it, while we’re on the topic.”
- Grindelwald, taunting him, casting crucio with Percival’s wand on the table between them, just a few inches out of reach -
“I’m not Grindelwald,” he said, voice steady.
She laughed. “I know that. I didn’t think you were. Even if he had escaped it would be a poor choice to attack and impersonate the same person twice.”
“Or maybe it would be the last thing anyone would expect,” Percival mused aloud.
“Perhaps.” She leaned back in her chair, looking at him carefully. “Is that really all that’s going on with you? Learning wandless magic?”
If Goldstein suspected he was up to something she would stop at nothing to figure it out. As reluctant as he was to talk about his… problems… he would have to give her something else to focus on, and his wand troubles were a good distraction.
Percival sighed. “If I tell you something in confidence, do I have your word that it does not leave this office?”
“My wand doesn’t work properly anymore.” It pained him to say the words out loud. His wand had been a part of him for so many years, never more than a foot or two out of his reach, and the one thing he could always count on, and it had failed him - betrayed him.
Shocked silence, then: “What? ” That was not what she was expecting him to say, which was exactly what Percival had been banking on.
“What do you know about wandlore?”
“Honestly, not a lot,” she said, “just what we learn in auror’s training. You can earn the loyalty of a wizard’s wand by killing them in battle, or by robbing their grave.”
“That’s what I thought, too. But when I came back I realized that my magic wasn’t working like it used to, and so I started doing some more research. The transfer of loyalty from one person to another can happen in a life-or-death duel, even if the loser doesn’t die. The whole time Grindelwald was wearing my face he was using my wand, too - it would have been too suspicious for him to pretend to be me while using his own wand.”
“So… he defeated you in a life-or-death battle, and then proceeded to use your wand for months. And your wand, what, defected?”
“I think the term is ‘changed loyalty,’ but yes, that is my suspicion.” Percival’s wand chose Grindelwald, over him. His wand didn’t work properly because it couldn’t be bothered to cast spells for an inadequate, defeated wizard.
He was surprised how easily Credence was able to use his wand. Part of his nervousness with teaching the boy magic was that he would struggle without a wand of his own, but he was learning rapidly and unimpeded by the wand he was using. Percival wasn’t sure if that meant he was an extraordinarily powerful wizard, one who would be unstoppable with a wand of his own, or if for whatever reason his wand accepted Credence while it rejected Percival. Wandlore was a complicated and exhausting subject on the best of days, and bore too much resemblance to divination for his tastes.
“Have you ever used another caster’s wand, Goldstein?”
“My sister’s, a few times.”
“And how did that feel?”
“It could have been worse, but it didn’t feel… right. Magic was harder. Nuance, in particular.”
“That’s what I feel like all the time, now.” Slow, laborious, more likely to screw up when he over-though it. Exhausting.
Percival was glad to see that the expression on her face was calculating, not pitying. She had a look in her eye that said she had an idea.
“Have you considered getting a new wand?”
“Considered it, yes. But I would have to go explain to the wand permit office why I needed one, and I didn’t want….” He paused, weighing his words. “I didn’t want it to get out that I couldn’t keep the loyalty of my wand. It would reflect poorly on me. I know that there have been whispers that I’m not as effective at my job anymore, or that a stronger wizard would have been able to fight back against Grindelwald. My position here is not tenuous, but I don’t want to fuel the gossip mill either.”
“When you were a kid, going off to school, you went to the wandmaker with a core that your parents liked and they told the wandmaker what kind of wood to use, and then the wandmaker made your wand.”
“...Yes?” He looked at her strangely. Surely she had a point, but he wasn’t entirely certain where she was going with this.
“When I was working in the wand permit office, I had a lot of adults coming to register new wands, which I thought was really strange when I first heard of it. Apparently, there’s a new wand-buying convention that started a few years ago in London that’s been getting really popular around the globe - rather than getting a wand made-to-order, kids go into a wand shop with hundreds of wands already made and just sort of, I dunno, wave them around until they find the ‘right one.’”
“It sounds strange, I know. But different woods and wand cores work better with different people, so a lot of times people wind up with the wand that their parents think they should have, so something that’s made for battle ends up with a librarian. And if the wand doesn’t match up well, the caster’s magic will be sub-par, or at least not as strong as it could be with a better match. So a bunch of adults were coming in to get new wands, in the hope that the whole ‘wand chooses the wizard’ theory would improve their magic.”
“Does it actually work?”
“No idea. Maybe. I know that a lot of wand power just comes from use over time, so after almost thirty years I certainly wouldn’t want to try and start all over.”
“But if I were to get a new one,” he said slowly, “I could use the excuse that I wanted to try out a new wand made using the new method, and no one would think twice.” Also, as the head of the Aurors, it would be neglectful for Percival to not seek out new information that could potentially strengthen his team. It was a perfect, two-fold excuse.
“You wouldn’t be the only person at MACUSA, either,” she said. “I registered new wands for at least a dozen employees and I was only working there for a few months.”
“Hmmm. You have an interesting idea, Goldstein. I knew I kept you around for a reason.”
Goldstein smiled at him fondly.
“You look better,” she said.
“When you first came back, those first few weeks, you looked kind of… gray. Worn-down. You seem to be back to your old self again. So I don’t know if that’s because you have a new hobby or found a new sweetheart, but whatever it is… I’m glad to have you back.”
“Thank you, Tina.”
Percival felt guilty that he couldn’t get Credence a new wand of his own. It seemed cheap, and selfish, to buy a new wand for himself and give Credence his cast-offs, but while he had an excuse for why he needed a new wand, that wouldn’t work twice, and he couldn’t exactly take Credence wand shopping. Even still, he promised the boy he would give him a wand, and Percival’s cedar wand seemed to be working well for Credence anyway. It was the best he could do, for now.
He wasn’t sure what reaction he was expecting, when he presented Credence with the wand, but Credence took it from him reverently.
“Really? I can keep it?” Credence said in awe, clutching the wand with careful hands to his chest like a lifeline. A precious gift. “Even when you’re not home?”
“Yes. One day I’ll be able to take you out and get a new one-”
“No! I love this one, Mr. Graves. I don’t want a new one. Thank you! I…” The boy looked completely overwhelmed, eyes wide.
“Come over here,” Percival said, and Credence took a step closer. “May I hug you?”
Credence threw himself into Percival’s arms.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Graves. I’ll take good care of it, I promise.”
“I know you will,” he replied, voice gruff. Credence’s body was warm and solid against his - he had put on weight, these past weeks, now that he was eating as much as he needed.
“You don’t have to ask me every time, you know,” Credence said, breath tickling Percival’s ear.
“You always ask, before you touch me. You don’t have to.”
Percival weighed his words carefully. “For most of your life, no one asked you what you wanted. I never want to presume, or cross over your boundaries.”
Percival would occasionally touch Credence’s arm or shoulder to get his attention, but for anything more physical he still always asked permission. Partly it was to ensure he didn’t upset Credence, but partly it served as a reminder that Credence was allowed to say no, that he had complete control over his own body.
“I trust you, Mr. Graves.”
Percival smiled. “You can call me Percival, you know.”
“I’ll think about it, Mr. Graves.”
Percival laughed and squeezed Credence a little tighter. He was always pleasantly surprised when the boy sassed him.
Given how badly he had been abused, Percival had initially expected the boy to avoid his touch. Pretty quickly he realized the opposite - that Credence was like a plant in the sun when being touched in a comforting way, and would stay in a hug for an hour if given the opportunity.
“C’mon,” he said, squeezing Credence one more time, “I want to teach you the disarming spell, now that we both have wands.”
One morning Credence trudged downstairs red-faced and clearly upset.
“Good morning, Credence,” Percival said, before looking up to realize the state the boy was in. He quickly followed his greeting with: “what’s wrong?”
“I -” Credence clenched his jaw and kept his eyes firmly on the ground.
It had been quite a while since Credence refused to make eye contact.
Percival was more careful with his next words. “Whatever it is Credence, I promise I won’t be angry.”
A quick diagnostic of what Percival could see revealed nothing: Credence had no visible marks, he continued to be a person and not a black cloud of annihilation, and nothing was on fire - so Percival wasn’t sure what the problem could be.
“I. I, um.” Credence closed his eyes, brow furrowed, face still red.
Percival stood from the sofa and walked over to where Credence was standing, stopping a few steps away.
“Can I touch you?” he asked, wanting to lay a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder.
Credence shook his head and wrapped his arms around himself. That was bad - Percival had never known the boy to actually say no to that request. He was actually quite proud that Credence told him no, even through his worry.
“Ok, Credence, that’s fine. Can you look at me?”
Credence shook his head again.
“Ok, that’s fine too.” Percival was perplexed about what may have caused this regression in behavior. Maybe a nightmare?
“I made. Um. A mess.” Credence’s words were stilted and wavering.
“That’s ok,” Percival said in the most soothing voice he could muster. “Whatever it is, we can clean it.”
If he thought his words would help, he was badly mistaken. Credence hugged himself more tightly and seemed to shrink in on himself; it honestly hurt for Percival to look at.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a small voice.
“It’s really not-”
“It was-” Credence flinched when he realized he had interrupted Percival and took another shuddering breath.
“It was. In. My bed. In… my sleep.”
Percival had to contain his relieved laughter.
“That’s. Credence, that’s totally normal, especially for someone your age. Everyone does that sometimes, it’s part of growing up.”
Credence kept his eyes firmly on the ground. Percival could only imagine what Mrs. Barebone’s reaction to a nocturnal emission would have been, but it made him burn with anger.
“It’s totally normal. It happens to me, too, sometimes.”
“You can take everything that awful woman taught you and throw it in the trash, Credence, she was evil and hateful and you shouldn’t listen to anything she ever said.” The words came out with a surprising vehemence - Percival tried not to sound too violent, around Credence, but sometimes he couldn’t contain it.
That got Credence’s attention - he glanced up at Percival briefly, before quickly looking at the ground again.
“Pretty much any boy that’s passed through puberty has done it before, more than once,” Percival said. The girls, too, but better to not say more about the subject than is necessary. “And it’s not bad. It’s like… passing gas. Not something you do, or talk about, it good company, but everybody’s body does it sometimes. If that woman punished you for it, that was because she was looking for an excuse, not because you deserved it.”
Credence didn’t say anything, but his body lost some of the tension it was carrying. Percival could see it in the line of Credence’s shoulders, in the way his fists unclenched at his sides.
“Come on, I’m going to show you a cleaning charm, so you can clean the sheets yourself, and then you don’t have to worry about it at all. I won’t even know, when it happens - not that I would care, because it is totally normal.”
Percival had hoped that he could avoid giving Credence the sex talk. He should have known that anything Credence had already learned about the subject would be trash and would have to be corrected.
Throughout his day, Percival idly considered the best way to broach the subject with Credence when he got home. Given how red the boy had turned in the morning, it would undoubtedly be an uncomfortable conversation for the both of them. He would just have to get it over with.
Percival arrived home from work to an empty sitting room. Downstairs, then.
Sure enough, Credence was curled in his favorite armchair in the library, book tucked in his lap. He looked better than he did that morning, no longer red-faced and stuttering, and he even smiled when he looked up and saw Percival in the doorway.
“Welcome home,” he said shyly, closing his book.
“Good afternoon, Credence. How was your day today?” Percival sat down in the chair opposite Credence’s and tried to keep his posture both open and casual.
“Good. I was reading about the ninth goblin rebellion.” Credence had a particular penchant for magical history. He liked to lose himself in long-forgotten battles and details of days-gone-by. Percival found it charming.
“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Percival said, aiming for somewhat casual.
Credence nodded and sat up straight.
“About this morning.”
Credence immediately turned pink.
“Okay,” he said softly, biting his lip.
Percival began talking, knowing that it was best to simply get it all out in the open before he had a chance to dwell on the awkwardness of the conversation: “I realized that that woman had probably already talked to you about sex, and that I should take the time to correct whatever nonsense she’s probably put in your head. I already told you this morning, sex dreams are normal and healthy. But I also wanted to add that touching yourself is also normal and healthy, and so is having sex.”
Credence looked alarmed. “But, it’s -”
“If you say ‘a sin’ I’m going to take that book away from you.” He followed the statement with a smile to make sure Credence knew he was kidding. “Those are all natural functions of your body, just like casting magic is. And none of them are bad, or wrong, and I don’t want you to think they are.”
Credence’s blush had progressed from a soft pink dusting across his cheeks, to his entire face being covered in bright red trailing down his neck and sliding past his shirt collar.
“Normal. And. Healthy,” Percival said emphatically. “If you have any questions about anything more specific I’m happy to answer them, but I’m not going to budge on that.”
Credence chewed on his lip and seemed to be seriously considering something.
“Do you…?” he trailed off.
“Masturbate? Or have sex?”
“Um. Either?” he squeaked, burying his face in his hands.
“Sometimes. The former more often than the latter.” Percival probably shouldn’t find Credence’s reactions cute, but. “Anything else you want to know?”
There was a moment of silence before Credence spoke again.
“How do, ah,” Credence said awkwardly, face still hidden behind his hands. “How does the, um, magical world feel. About. Umm.” He finally pulled his hands away from his face but kept his eyes trained on his lap. Percival gave him a few moments to collect himself, but eventually spoke up.
“You can ask me anything Credence. I promise.”
Credence’s lips turned down at the corners, and his eyebrows did that thing that made him look tragic.
“How do casters feel about… about sodomites?” The words were barely more than a whisper.
They were also not at all what Percival had anticipated.
“It depends,” he said slowly, “on who you ask, and why. I don’t think it’s a sin. Most casters don’t. But it’s not always accepted, either.” Percival wished he could tell the boy that no one would care, but he knew that if, when, Credence joined the magical world he would certainly come across people who disapproved.
Credence nodded, looking down at his lap.
“Some people put a lot of stock into family bloodlines, and so some of the old families don’t accept, ah, same-sex pairings because those relationships can’t bear children. Well, usually not, but that’s rare. Anyway, that doesn’t matter,” he said, waving his hand, “my point is that people have different opinions, but it’s not illegal.”
Percival waited for Credence to say something, but the boy was silent.
“Have you ever…?” Percival asked.
Credence gave a barely-discernable shake of his head.
“But you have felt that way.”
Credence nodded once.
“Do you ever feel that way about women? Girls?”
Credence shook his head again.
“Okay. That’s okay, Credence.”
“Have you ever…?” Credence said, voice small.
Percival considered his words carefully. Truth was important here, as well as reciprocal exchange. “I have, before. Back when I was in auror training there was a fellow trainee that I had a… relationship with.”
“He eventually transferred to Chicago for a promotion.”
“Were you sad?”
Percival paused to give the question the consideration it deserved. “Yes and no. I missed him, but I always knew that I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life with him. I was happy for his career advancement.”
“How did you know?”
“That we wouldn’t stay together?” Credence nodded. “It’s hard to explain. You just know, sometimes.”
Credence nodded again, contemplative. The conversation had gotten much heavier than Percival had anticipated, and unfortunately he was about to make it worse. He slid out of his chair and kneeled down in front of Credence.
“Can I touch you?” Credence nodded, so Percival took his hands. “Did she know? Ma?”
Percival dreaded hearing the answer, but he needed to know.
Credence’s mouth twisted. “I’m not sure. I think she suspected, sometimes. She saw me looking at a man once. It was -” he cut himself off, glancing at Percival. “Um. She….” He trailed off, shuddering.
“Can I hug you?” Credence nodded, so Percival pulled the boy into his arms. The angle was slightly awkward, with him on the floor and Credence in the chair, but he made it work. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m sorry that we never found you, and that you were stuck with her. But I promise that it’s okay. You are so good and so strong for surviving her.”
Percival felt Credence shiver in his arms and thought: I will tear apart anyone that hurts him ever again.
Wednesday found Percival investigating a robbery - the fifth this month. While he ordinarily wouldn’t get involved with something so mundane, the string had gone on long enough that it seemed prudent to get personally involved. Shopkeepers around the city were getting nervous - and irritated - at the aurors’ inability to solve it. Percival should have been annoyed about getting dragged into the investigation, but after the events of the last year a smash-and-grab was almost relaxing.
This store was a rather high-end clothing shop - premade, not tailor made-to-order. The clothing was high quality embedded with intricate spellwork and had high resale value, so while the thief had stolen money from the register they had also taken a wide selection of clothes. A team of aurors had already been dispatched to the usual resale markets.
“Ma’am, is there anything distinctive about the clothing that was taken that could help our aurors identify them?” Percival asked, interrupting the clerk’s rambling story about every customer the shop had seen all day long.
There had been a few details in common between all the stores hit: large, open windows at the front of the store prominently displaying valuable merchandise, in this particular store coats; brightly lit, internally, giving the suspect plenty of opportunity to see into the store from a vantage point across the street, without having to actually enter the store and draw the store clerk’s attention prior to the robbery; and, useful but relatively non-descript goods that could be resold without drawing undue attention to the seller.
As much as Percival appreciated the clerk’s enthusiasm with providing information for their investigation, it was unlikely that she had seen the thief prior to robbery.
“Oh! Well, they all have lifetime-guaranteed water repellant charms, and they all have expanding charms on the pockets. These ones over here have these delightful little inserts that sense whether the wearer is too warm or too cold, and automatically adjust the warming charm to keep the optimal temperature at all times. Now if you look at these over here…” the clerk prattled on giving far more (and less useful) information that Percival had actually wanted, while he nodded periodically to give the impression of attentiveness. “Oh, and they took a handful of these as well,” she finally said, gesturing towards a bowl of silver spheres next to the register.
“And what are those?” Percival asked, while dutifully writing down the details she described. While they were unlikely to help with the case it was his job to be thorough.
“Theft detectors, ironically. You put them in your pockets and they expand and start humming if someone other than the wearer slips a hand into the pocket. Ingenious little things, not that pickpocketing is a huge problem in New York, but they’re great for our customers who like to travel to some of the more unsavory places, you know? I think -”
“Thank you so much for your help,” Percival interjected, flipping his notebook closed. “We’ll be in touch as soon as we find out more information.”
Escaping from the chatty clerk, Percival was making his way across the store towards Goldstein when one of the jackets on the wall caught his eye. It was undeniably a young man’s jacket: deep maroon in color with shiny brass buttons, and a more modern cut meant to flatter the wearer’s shape. It was in the most expensive section of the store which meant it had all the bells and whistles that the clerk had been explaining to him (in exhaustive detail) a moment ago. Such a coat would look ridiculous on someone Graves’ age, but would look stunning on Credence.
It was a silly thought, really - what would a boy who didn’t leave the house do with a nice winter coat?
Still, once the idea burrowed into his mind, it was hard to shake. Percival could easily picture Credence wearing the jacket, something far higher quality than he had ever owned and with far more flare than the austere black and grey the Second Salemers were known for. The boy had the sweetest smile whenever Percival did something he considered thoughtful, like picking up sweets from the market or buying him a book of cooking charms, and he would surely turn that smile on Percival if he were to come home with such a gift.
Wistful thinking - too many people would be able to recognize Credence if they were to leave the house, including Goldstein, who always seemed to be able to smell trouble from a mile away.
Percival managed to tear his eyes away from the coat, glancing over towards -
Goldstein, looking right at him, walking towards him. Wonderful.
“The owner didn’t have any relevant information. Did you get anything from the clerk?”
“Plenty,” Percival said wryly, “but probably nothing useful.”
“Nice coat,” Goldstein said, nodding towards the one Percival had been looking at.
“Yes, this place is quite high quality. I favor tailor-made clothes, myself, but the selection here is impressive.” Percival began walking towards the exit. “So tell me, what does this store have in common with the jewelry store hit last Thursday…”
Percival blinked awake. The room was dark, the house quiet, and for once he wasn’t having a nightmare - what could have woken him? He sat up in bed and grabbed his wand, ears pricked for anything out of the ordinary as he pulled his robe around his shoulders. There: a cry, from down the hall.
Stowing his wand in his pocket, he made his way down the hallway on light feet. Hopefully Credence was just having a nightmare. Could he become the obscurus from a nightmare?
Credence often left his bedroom door cracked at night, which was convenient for this moment.
“Credence,” he said gently but not quietly, standing near the partially-opened door. “Are you ok?”
The door slammed shut on its own.
Percival said a word of thanks to his past self for putting what seemed like an unnecessary number of spells and wards on the house - he had so many silencing spells, protection spells, and notice-me-not spells that he could probably run a brothel without alerting his neighbors - but those would only prevent them from noticing noise, or banging, not the entire building being reduced to rubble.
“Credence,” he said, much more loudly than the first time, “you’re asleep right now. You’re having a nightmare. You’re here, in my house, and I, Percival Graves, am taking care of you. I will protect you from anything and anyone that might want to harm you.” He heard a whimper, and a crackle. “You’re safe here. Mary Lou Barebone is dead, and can’t hurt you anymore. Gellert Grindelwald is in prison, and he couldn’t find you even if he wasn’t.”
The whole house trembled. Percival weighed his options for whether or not he wanted to try opening the door.
“Credence. CREDENCE. Wake up!”
The trembling stopped.
“Can I open the door Credence? You were having a nightmare.” Percival strained to hear a response.
The door opened.
Credence looked bad. His eyes were red-rimmed and his cheeks flushed, like he had been crying, and he had patches of sweat on his nightclothes. Percival only had a moment to look over the boy before he threw himself into Percival’s arms and sobbed.
“Shhhh, shhh, it’s okay. You’re okay.”
Percival pulled Credence into a bone-crushing hug, adrenaline still flowing in his veins. He could feel his own arms shaking, even through Credence’s sobs. God.
“You’re safe here, darling, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“I d-don’t want it to k-kill me.”
Of course, Percival thought, he’s afraid of the one thing I can’t protect him from.
“It’s not gonna kill you darling. You’re doing so well at learning magic, getting stronger every day. That? Back there? Nowhere near to as impressive as it was just a few months ago, you’re really losing your touch.”
Credence hiccuped in what Percival hoped was laughter.
Percival wordlessly summoned some clean sleep clothes and then guided Credence out of the doorway and down the hallway. The stairs presented a problem - to pull away or pick up? - but then Credence shuddered again and Percival scooped him into a bridal-carry.
“Okay, let’s go, I’m just taking us downstairs to the sitting room.” It seemed prudent to get Credence away from his nightmare, physically, and away from the cloying fear-smell and burnt magic of his bedroom.
When they got to the bottom of the stairs he tried to set Credence down but the boy clung like a grindylow, so instead, he shuffled them over to the couch and sank down. With a wave of his hand, he lit the fire in the fireplace. There they sat, with Percival murmuring reassurances accompanied by the comforting crackling of the fire, until Credence finally quieted. It seemed like a short eternity before Credence pulled away slightly, enough for Percival to make eye contact.
“Can I touch you, Credence?”
Percival was impressed that Credence managed to look incredulously at him even though his tears (though, to be fair, Credence was curled in his lap, held in place by Percival’s arms, so perhaps it was a silly question).
Percival cupped Credence’s face in his hand and pulled their foreheads together.
“I don’t know why… everything’s been so good, and you’ve been so good to me, so I don’t know why I…”
“You don’t just have the obscurus inside of you. You also have a lot of trauma, from a lifetime of mistreatment. That needs to get out of you, too, not just the magic. Sometimes this is going to happen.”
“But you never…”
“I panic, sometimes. Sometimes I hear or see something and it’s like I’m right back in the room with Grindelwald, even though I’m in my office or walking down the street. I threw away almost everything I owned and moved houses, after it happened, to get away from everything that reminded me of my captivity. I burned the trunk that he kept me in.”
A comfortable silence settled between them for a few moments. Credence shifted slightly and their noses brushed together - a ghost of his lips - and then Credence pulled away.
Percival blinked, cleared his throat.
“I brought you down some clothes, in case you wanted to change.”
“Okay.” Credence stood gingerly. “Don’t. Don’t go anywhere.”
“I won’t.” Percival turned his head while Credence changed.
“I don’t want to go back upstairs. And I don’t want to be alone.”
Percival loved that Credence was willing to say what he wanted.
“I’m not going to leave you alone.” He shifted around on the sofa until he was stretched out horizontally, then held out a hand to Credence. “Come over here.” He pulled Credence onto his chest and arranged him so that he was stretched out on top of Percival in sort of a horizontal version of their hugs. “Good?”
Percival gestured with a wave of his hand and a blanket unfolded itself from a chair nearby and draped itself gently over both of their forms.
“Go to sleep. I’ll be here to watch over you.”
Percival woke in the morning to Credence snuffling lightly against his neck. The boy’s body was warm and soft with sleep, curled against him. Percival would have thought that their similar heights would make sleeping together like this awkward or disagreeable, but somehow they managed to fit together comfortably, almost perfectly.
I would like to formally apologize for the (maybe) excessive wandlore stuff in this chapter. Everything Graves and Tina talk about is canonically accurate - JK Rowling specifies on Pottermore that Garrick Ollivander is the one who pioneered the “wand chooses the wizard” convention, which replaced the “just bring some magic shit down to your local wandmaker and hope for the best” method. So, for those of you who are just here to see Credence and Graves fall in love… sorry. I couldn’t help myself.
he reaches over and
he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your
heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you
don’t even have a name for.
— Richard Siken
Eventually the investigative team caught up with the robber. While Percival never particularly thought that the crimes were connected to Grindelwald, he was relieved when they officially proved that the robber was a metamorphmagus that had been fired from his position as a potions' assistant for stealing valuable ingredients, one who had some serious gambling debts he owed to Gnarlack.
Life moved on.
Percival couldn't stop thinking about getting the coat he had seen at the fifth robbery sight for Credence. It seemed reckless, and pointless, and he had managed to successfully talk himself out of purchasing it until Credence offhandedly mentioned that his birthday would be coming up the following week. The boy insisted that they didn't have to do anything special, which absolutely guaranteed that they did - Percival wasn't going to let his first birthday since Mrs. Barebone's death be spent like an ordinary day. After twenty years of hardships he deserved to have something to celebrate. So Percival had been combing through any options he could come up with for somewhere he could take the boy, outdoors and preferably magical. Credence, while learning magic in Percival's home, had never actually been to a magical place.
Credence himself never acted as though he felt stifled in Percival’s home, but Percival was also acutely aware that Credence also hadn't left the house in months. For a boy who used to roam the streets passing out flyers all day long Percival couldn't help but worry that the lack of freedom chafed. He never wanted the boy to see him as a jailer. He wanted Credence to enjoy the time he spent with Percival as much as he himself enjoyed spending time with Credence.
There were several magical sights that Percival knew about near enough to apparate to, but he knew that they would only be able to go when no one else was there. While the odds of a caster from Philadelphia or Boston knowing Credence were slim, they were not impossible; Mrs. Barebone made herself enough of a nuisance in New York that it was entirely possible that visiting witches or wizards may remember Credence.
One evening, Percival mulled over his options while he and Credence sat in their respective armchairs in the library. They had worked on transfiguration today, and after a couple of hours Credence was tired out. Understandable, given that transfiguration was hardly an easy subject to master. So, each of them had retreated with a book and were sitting in comfortable silence - Credence, with a book about magical gardening, and Percival with a book of the magical sights of the American Northeast. If the boy found Percival's choice of reading material strange, he didn't comment on it.
Evenings such as this one had become commonplace, a cherished respite from the somewhat chaotic world outside of their quiet sanctuary. Grindelwald was an axe that seemed to constantly be dangling over their heads - aside from the fact that being the Director of Security at MACUSA was a stressful job in and of itself. Percival used to work long hours and come home to a stiff drink and an empty house. Now he had… this.
The quiet in the room was peaceful, punctuated only by the sounds of their respective breathing and the turning of pages. Percival glanced over at Credence. He was curled in the chair again, feet tucked up under his body, seemingly relaxed. The boy sat like that often enough that Percival assumed Mrs. Barebone had never allowed him to sit any way other than what she deemed to be "proper." He had a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips, one that surely meant he was looking at an interesting illustration.
"Have you ever considered planting a garden? You have that whole patio outside with almost nothing on it," Credence said. He glanced up from his book, and Percival realized that the boy surely had noticed him staring.
It was hard not to stare, sometimes. The boy bore little resemblance, now, to the injured creature that the obscurus spat out onto his sitting room floor. His hair curled loosely around his ears and brushed his jaw, and his skin was flushed pink and healthy, rather than clammy and death-like. Most different, however, was the life in his eyes and the small smile that seemed to hang around his mouth with increasing frequency.
"No,” he finally said, “I'm not home enough."
Credence raised his eyebrows. "Yes you are."
"I... actually, you're right. I suppose I am. I used to work longer hours than I do now." Before he had someone he was responsible for, before he had someone to come home to. Before Grindelwald had been successfully transferred into German custody. "Even still, I'm not inclined toward keeping things alive. I'm not exactly the nurturing sort."
"I have to disagree with you, Mr. Graves," Credence said in a teasing tone. "You take great care of me."
Percival just smiled, and Credence held eye contact for long, significant moment before he went back to reading. The air in the room felt a little charged, though Percival rationalized that he was probably imagining it.
Percival looked back at his book, weighing the pros and cons of his shortlist. There was a great magical forest in upstate New York, but they tended to be filled with dangerous creatures. Perhaps better to keep Credence away from anything that may may frighten him and trigger a transformation. Meanwhile there was a section of Niagara Falls that was sectioned off by the magical community, but that was likely to be crowded, even at this time of year.
"Some of these magical plants are really bizarre."
"Yes. Dangerous, too."
"Do you really see these just growing? Like, out in the world?"
"How do the no-majes not notice?"
"Well, they usually grow only in magical communities, and at magical sights." Percival hadn't even realized that Credence had an interest in magical botany, but his new interest cemented Percival's resolve - he had to get the boy out of the house, and to somewhere interesting.
"How do they know?"
"It's not that they know," Percival explained, "more like each magical sight draws magical people, magical creatures, and magical plants. Magical plants are much more likely to spring up in a wizard's garden than just any place."
"Hmm." Credence turned back to his book.
"Would you like to plant a garden, Credence?"
"Perhaps one day. I don't think I know enough yet to do it safely."
An idea came to Percival then - he knew a witch who farmed potions ingredients in Connecticut. Not too far from the city, since she had to be able to transport her some of her wares non-magically (for the more sensitive ingredients), and in a relatively remote location. Percival didn’t have too many people he would consider friends, but Cecilia was one of them, even if they didn’t see one another often.
They had met when she was under investigation for selling restricted potions ingredients, ones that could only be sold to licensed potions masters, on the black market. While the act of growing and selling the plants themselves wasn’t forbidden, the market was closely regulated to ensure that the ingredients didn’t fall into the wrong hands. The auror team had managed to track the half-dozen items that had been seized on the black market back to her farm, and they had been moments away from arresting her when Percival found evidence that she was not the culprit; rather, her nephew had stolen pocket-fulls of valuable materials when he had come to visit, and he was the one responsible.
Cecilia had been incredibly grateful, vowing that she owed Percival a favor whenever he may need one. He ended up taking her up on the offer a few months later when a batch of pepper-up potions sent a dozen children to the hospital, and in time she ended up becoming one of his go-to consultants for potions-related cases.
Later - much later - he met her lover, a brusque woman by the name of Beatrice, quite on accident. He ended up telling them both about his history with men to put them at ease, and Percival’s relationship with Cecilia went from work acquaintances to her unofficially adopting him as a little brother.
Whenever she was in the city they would get lunch and catch up, though such occasions typically happened few and far between. He had received a note from her wishing him well after the attack from Grindelwald, but had not seen her for a long while. It would be nice, to catch up, and bringing Credence would help twofold: he could both see firsthand part of magical life, as well as meet a queer couple, likely the first the boy would ever see.
It was settled, then. Percival made a mental note to send her a letter tomorrow, while at work, and see if she would be able to give the two of them a tour of her facilities.
The evening before Credence's birthday, Percival went out to pick up a birthday cake and some sort of pastries for breakfast. He set out after work with a pocketful of no-maj money but no particular idea where to spend it. Prior to Credence’s arrival in his life he had never frequented no-maj establishments, but his need for discretion outweighed nearly everything else. And it wasn’t illegal for a wizard to choose to shop at a no-maj shop, just frowned upon.
He was hardly going to make friends with the shopkeeper.
Percival knew that he was mostly being paranoid, avoiding magical establishments for anything related to the boy, but it was one of the only ways he could keep his anxiety at bay. If a shopkeep mentioned him buying a birthday cake to one of his co-workers there would be incessant questions - and while that was exceedingly unlikely to happen, he would rather quiet his own mind by removing the possibility from the equation. He knew that Goldstein had noticed his slightly odd behaviors - she had confronted him about them, even - and he wanted to give her no reason to look into his private affairs.
And so he strolled, relaxed, through the bustling streets. The weather was atypically warm for March and the sun was setting in the distance, a splash of red and gold reflecting like a prism through the glass buildings. He had picked up the coat earlier in the afternoon, and the garment was shrunken, gift-wrapped, and tucked safely away in Percival's pocket. All he needed was the proper desserts and he would be ready for the day tomorrow.
Cecilia had confirmed with Percival that morning, and he had taken the following day off of work. His conversation with Picquery had been an interesting experience - Seraphina had given him a knowing look, dropping any pretense of professionalism, and asked slyly who the lucky girl was. Percival had simply ducked his head and said that it wasn't about a woman, really. He had been intentionally unconvincing. He didn't know why she was so sure it was some kind of romantic getaway, but he decided that was easier for her, and anyone else, to believe that Percival had a secret lover than for them to go digging for the truth.
As he walked the sweet smell of sugar and flour caught his attention; there must be a bakery of some kind, nearby. He followed his nose until he stood outside a bustling store, surprisingly busy for the time of day. There were breads in the window and the place was packed full of no-majes, so it seemed as good a choice as any. Opening the door was an experience - Percival was struck by a blast of hot, fragrant air, sweet and buttery.
So he would have to give it to them - no-majes could certainly bake.
Percival milled around the store to the best of his ability, though he was somewhat hindered by the sheer volume of people packed into the small space. When he got close enough to actually see the pastries, though, he stopped short. They were… odd. Very odd, for a no-maj. Each pastry was carefully crafted into the shapes of animals with loving detail - only they weren’t animals, per se. They were magical creatures.
While Percival had little contact with beasts since they were banned in New York, and had honestly not paid as much attention in school to Care of Magical Creatures, he knew a niffler when he saw one, even in pastry form. But why would a no-maj…?
“Good evening sir, can I help you find something?”
Percival turned his attention to the man at the register. In his distraction over the odd designs he hadn’t noticed several of the customers had left, and in a shop as small as this one, their absence was noticeable. The cashier was a heavyset, friendly looking man, with dark brown hair and a mustache. He was also looking directly at Percival, so the question had certainly been directed at him.
“Ah, yes. I was looking for a birthday cake.”
“Sure, we got all kinds of cakes. Anything particular in mind?”
“We got a fresh batch in the back. Anything else?”
Percival perused the case by the register, then pointed at the nifflers.
“I’ll take a half-dozen of these, as well.”
“Sure, coming right up,” he said, grabbing a box, and the bell above the door dinged as another customer entered. The cashier glanced over Percival’s shoulder and it was like watching the man be struck by cupid’s arrow. His expression went surprised, then sappy, with eyes wide. He stopped what he was doing for several long seconds as he stood dumbstruck.
Percival could only imagine that a beautiful woman had entered the shop.
Rolling his eyes, he was about to get the cashier’s attention when he heard, from behind him:
He turned, slowly. He knew that voice.
Sure enough, behind him stood Queenie Goldstein, Tina’s legilimens sister, looking as surprised to see him as he was to see her.
Percival imagined a huge, seamless, stone wall, completely surrounding his mind. He was hardly one to allow thoughts to stray, even when his guard was down, but he focused, hard, on quieting every single thought and feeling in his rioting mind.
He was completely calm. He was doing nothing wrong. He had nothing to worry about.
Of all of the no-maj stores, of all of the bakeries in New York City, I somehow managed to find the one bakery containing the sister of the one person I least wanted to know about this.
“What are you doing here?” she said, clearly caught off-guard.
“...Buying pastries. And yourself?”
“The same! This place has the greatest pastries, doesn’t it? I just love the designs, they’re so creative.”
“Yes, they are,” he said, giving her a look. She was definitely nervous, eyes flicking between himself and the cashier over his shoulder.
“I’ll just, uh, get that cake from the back,” the cashier said from behind him, followed by the sound of retreating footsteps.
“Listen, Mr. Graves,” Queenie said in a hushed tone, “I won’t say nothing about you being here, if you don’t either.”
“What makes you think -”
“I may not be able to read your mind, but I don’t have to, honey. It’s written all over your face.” What? “Why else would you be coming to a no-maj bakery?”
What on earth was she implying?
“It’s a stupid law, anyway. But don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.” She smiled and winked at him, and he tried to nod along. He had nearly gathered his thoughts into an articulate question when he heard the cashier return from the back.
“One chocolate cake and half a dozen pastries,” the man said, placing two boxes on the counter. “Anything else I can get for ya?”
Interestingly, the cashier had lost some of his cheerfulness, and his smile seemed a little forced.
Oh. It was obvious, now. The cashier’s joy at seeing Queenie, Queenie’s shock and unhappiness at seeing Percival, the cashier’s jealousy, and the ‘stupid law.’ He wouldn’t have guessed that Queenie would be seeing a no-maj, and given her offer of silence for silence he assumed that Tina didn’t know about it either.
The pieces fell together quickly. He had read, in the reports of the obscurial attack and Tina’s narrowly-avoided execution, that there had been a no-maj accompanying Mr. Scamander, one who was obliviated with the rest of the city by the thunderbird. One that had seen dozens of different kinds of magical creatures, including the infamous niffler that started the whole debacle. This was the no-maj, and if he was really obliviated then the experience had been more memorable than the thunderbird’s magic, if the pastries were anything to go by.
Queenie looked imploringly at him, and he found himself nodding absently.
“No, that will be all, thank you,” he said, handing over his payment.
Your secret’s safe with me, he thought clearly and pointedly in Queenie’s direction, lowering his shields just a fraction.
“Good seeing you Miss Goldstein.”
“See you around, Mr. Graves.”
Morning found Percival unaccountably nervous. He was sure to wake early so as to have the everything prepared for Credence when he came downstairs. The cake was shrunken and tucked away in the Percival’s coat pocket, to eat later in the evening at Cecilia’s; the gift was wrapped in red paper and sitting prominently on the coffee table; and the pastry-nifflers were arranged on a tray on the kitchen counter. Percival looked critically at the display. Maybe he should move the gift, so that it wasn't immediately the first thing Credence would see. Would the boy be happy to see the gift as he came down the stairs, or would he prefer the element of surprise? After mentioning the date Credence had neglected to bring it up again, whether because he honestly didn't expect to do anything special or because he didn't want to be disappointed if they didn't. Either way, he was sure to react positively, but Percival wanted to make it perfect.
His internal battle was cut short by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Time had apparently passed more quickly than Percival had realized - and sure enough, the sun was higher in the sky than when Percival first started fussing over the day's plans. He took a moment to smooth down his hair and straighten his clothes. Having taken the day off of work, and to visit a farm, he was dressed a little more casually than was normal for him, in boots, slacks, a button-down, and no tie. He felt terribly under-dressed without his vest and tie, but would surely be more comfortable once he had his coat on.
Credence emerged from the staircase, sleep-mussed and bleary-eyed. The boy always woke early, though he seemed to find little joy in it. He certainly wasn't a morning person. In fact, he made it all the way down the stairs and halfway across the sitting room before noticing that anything was different. While they typically ate breakfast together, Percival would be ready for work before Credence came downstairs, and then would usually leave directly after. Today the boy's eyes slid over Percival’s entire body, from the exposed hollow of his throat down to his feet, then blinked.
"You..." he started to say, before finally noticed the gift.
"Happy birthday, Credence." Percival wandlessly summoned the box before holding it out for Credence.
"You didn't have to get me anything, Mr. Graves," he said breathlessly. His words were betrayed by the bright, growing smile on his face, the look of wonder. Percival had a sneaking suspicion that he had never received a birthday gift before - perhaps no gifts of any kind.
"Of course I did. Here." Percival placed the gift into Credence’s hands, then watched as the boy carefully inspected the box, the paper, the shiny bow on top, blinding grin fixed on his face.
Percival gave himself a mental pat on the back.
"Should I open it?"
Credence walked in a daze over to the sofa, where he sat and placed the box reverently on his lap. He looked like he was trying to memorize every detail as he carefully removed the paper, folding it into a neat square before turning his attention back to the closed box. Biting his lip, he glanced up at Percival, so Percival nodded encouragingly.
The box opened to reveal the coat. The sales clerk had arranged it nicely, so as to make both the quality and cut of the coat immediately apparent. Credence ran a hand over the fabric reverently.
"Mr. Graves...." He gently removed the garment from the box, and upon realizing its length, stood back up so that the coat could unfurl properly. "It's beautiful."
"May I?" Percival said, holding out a hand.
Credence handed over the coat without a second's delay, eyes wide as the buttons unbuttoned themselves with wandless magic. Percival held the coat open for him, so he turned around and slipped it over his shoulders, then turned back to face Percival.
Percival looked over the fit with a critical eye as he carefully buttoned the coat closed without magic, then slowly smoothed his hands over the lapels to flatten any creases. He had learned some minor alteration spells, in case the coat didn't fit Credence perfectly, but it seemed that Percival’s initial assessment of the garment was correct - it fit the boy just right (and looked as incredible as he thought it would). With one last tug at the fabric he took a step back, to get a better view of the complete fit. The coat hit Credence mid-calf, right where it belonged, and showed off his narrow waist in almost a feminine way, but one that suited Credence tremendously. Credence, too, was wearing slacks and a button-down shirt, so the coat added the perfect flare of sophistication to his otherwise understated outfit.
Percival nodded in satisfaction before looking back to Credence’s face. To his surprise the boy was blushing, the deep red crawling down his throat. Perhaps the burgundy color of the coat was making him look pinker than normal. Paired with his black hair curling gently around his ears and his luminous brown eyes, the boy looked like some sort of nymph.
"How -" Credence swallowed, cleared his throat. "How do I look?"
Beautiful. Incredible. Like temptation made flesh.
Credence nodded, eyes glassy. They stared at one another for a few long moments before Percival shook himself out of it - he had to get them through breakfast and out the door, if they were to make it in time.
“Come, I have some sweets for breakfast," he finally said, turning towards the kitchen. He levitated the pastry platter from the kitchen counter to the dining room table, then concentrated on pouring two cups of coffee wandlessly. One of the mugs trembled, and the amount of liquid in the mugs varied, but Percival was happy enough to call it a success. By the time he had everything moved to the table Credence was seated, and looking curiously at the pastries.
"Are these supposed to be real animals?" he asked.
"They're nifflers," Percival said, "magical creatures that are attracted to treasure, gold in particular. Go ahead, eat one. Miss Goldstein assured me that they're delicious."
Percival didn't think his comment through before the words slipped out, and they certainly caught Credence’s attention.
"Tina?" He looked at Percival, eyes wide.
"No, her sister, Queenie. I ran into her at the bakery."
Percival said that he would keep her secret, but it wasn't as though Credence had anyone to tell. And he didn't specify that it was a no-maj bakery - surely the boy would assume that the pastries, shaped like magical creatures, came from a normal bakery.
"I think I remember her. She was there, that night. Dressed in pink. Blonde hair."
Credence nodded absently, taking a pastry.
They ate breakfast in comfortable silence, Credence still wearing the coat even though it was plenty warm in the house.
Percival considered Tina and Credence, mulling over what he knew of their interactions as he picked at his pastry. He knew that they knew one another; he also knew that Tina had tried to help Credence weeks or months before the obscurus attack, and then again in the subway.
Perhaps Credence would like to see her again?
Telling Tina about Credence wouldn’t be possible - not until the obscurus was more or less taken care of - but he made a mental note that Credence might want to see her again.
"You're not dressed for work," Credence said finally, after they finished off the last pastry. Miss Goldstein had been right - they were delicious.
"No. It's your birthday, so I intend to spend the day with you."
"Oh!" Credence brightened. "What are we going to do, then?"
"Well, I thought we would visit my friend's farm in Connecticut."
Credence looked over at him, shocked.
“Like, leaving the house?” he said, tone difficult to read.
It hadn’t occurred to Percival that Credence may not want to leave the house.
“If you like,” he said carefully. “My friend owns a farm for potions ingredients not too far from here. I thought you might like the chance to see some of the plants you were reading about in person.”
Credence bit his lip.
“Does she know who I am?”
“No. MACUSA doesn't have any photos of you, and she's certainly not keeping track of the news closely enough to recognize you from a description.”
“Okay. That sounds… that sounds like fun.”
Percival sighed with relief. While the boy still seemed a little wary he no longer had the tension strung across his shoulders that appeared when Percival first mentioned leaving the house.
While perhaps Percival assumed he had been going stir-crazy, perhaps Credence had actually been enjoying his time locked away from the rest of the world.
Percival stood and held out his arm.
“How are we getting there?”
“Apparating. We should get going, Cecilia is expecting us any moment.”
Percival strode towards the front door while Credence hung behind.
“Why don't you ever disapparate from the house?” he asked curiously. Credence was constantly asking questions - his interest in all elements of the magical world had not abated in the months since he began learning about magic. If anything, it had increased. Now that he knew the basics for how magic worked he was constantly ferreting out the nuances for why it was done that way.
“The wards don't allow it.” Percival paused by the door, waiting for Credence to catch up. It occurred to him then that the boy had never actually walked over the threshold before.
“Wouldn't it be easier though?”
“Perhaps, but it wouldn't be secure. Think of it like a locked door. A no-maj could leave their front door unlocked, or open, to save themselves the time of unlocking it, but then anyone would be able to walk in.”
“So if you could apparate into the house,” he said slowly, “anyone else could too?”
“Exactly. It's why I can't apparate into MACUSA either, or most private property.”
Credence nodded in understanding.
The boy nodded again, so Percival opened the door and walked confidently towards the alley across the street. He waved his wand and closed the door and secured the wards behind them, while also casting a wordless notice-me-not spell. As much as he would have liked to have a hold of Credence he also didn't want to catch anyone's attention.
When he reached the mouth of the alley he stopped and waited for Credence, who was looking at the house and around the street curiously. The neat row of brownstones stretched down the street for blocks in either direction.
Thankfully, the boy didn't seem frightened or overwhelmed.
Percival held out a hand.
“Have you ever done this before?” he asked, unsure if Grindelwald had ever transported Credence.
The boy nodded.
Percival tried not to let the word negatively affect him, and instead concentrated on the benefit that Credence knew what to expect already. The sensation of apparating wasn't exactly pleasant.
Credence placed his hand in Percival’s, and the older man took a moment to enjoy the contact before disapparating.
They appeared in a clearing about a ten minute walk from Cecilia’s. While Percival could have chosen a site closer, he wanted to give Credence the chance to acclimate himself both to the sensation of apparating and to the new location before inflicting Cecilia’s (sometimes uncomfortable) enthusiasm on him.
Credence seemed reluctant to let go of his hold on Percival, so he squeezed the boy’s hand and started walking in the right direction. Credence was looking around in awe, even though they hadn't come across anything remotely magical yet. The forests of Connecticut were beautiful. While Percival always felt most at home in the city, he could still appreciate the towering trees and picturesque, ivy-covered stone walls dotting the countryside. There was just something about old growth forests that felt magical, whether the land had any intrinsic energy or not.
Percival made a mental note to bring Credence back in the late spring or early summer. While a few buds were beginning to appear on the trees, most of the plant life was still dormant, the tree branches barren. If the boy was enjoying this stroll through the forest, he would likely enjoy it more when everything was lush and teeming with life.
The most vibrant, eye catching thing in the forest at that moment was Credence, swathed in red.
“Huh,” Percival mused aloud, looking over at the boy.
“I don't think I've ever seen you stand up completely straight before.” Usually the boy hunched his head or shoulders, making himself look smaller than he really was. Unremarkable. “I think you're actually a little bit taller than me.”
Credence blushed and started to duck his head, so Percival reached out without thinking and knocked his fingers under the boy’s jaw, tilting his head back up.
He could feel Credence swallow against the backs of his knuckles.
The moment stretched out between them, electric. One of Percival’s hands was wrapped around Credence’s, and the other brushed against the boy's rapid pulse. He watched Credence’s eyes dilate. Credence blushed so easily, particularly in recent weeks, and his pale skin practically glowed in the dappled forest light. Percival was sure that if he ran his hand from under Credence’s chin over his cheek that the boy’s skin would be practically scalding to the touch.
It took Percival a while - too long - to realize his mistake.
“Sorry,” he said, pulling his hand back to himself. He hadn't even asked the boy if the touch was okay.
“It's fine Mr. Graves,” he said, voice hoarse. “I already told you I don't mind. You don't have to ask every time.”
Percival nodded, making a mental note not to do it again, or at least not something so intimate, even if he hadn't planned on the action being quite so….
He couldn't deny that his own heart was beating faster, too.
Get a hold of yourself.
“Let’s keep going,” he said, squeezing Credence’s hand lightly and pulling him along.
Percival wished that he could say that the two of them walked the rest of the way in comfortable silence, but he knew that would be a lie. The air between them was charged with something new, something that had perhaps been flirting around the edges of their interactions for a while now. Percival was hyper-aware of every time his body brushed against Credence’s and their joined hands were sending sparks up and down his arm.
He didn't dare look over at Credence again.
They reached Cecilia’s house at quarter past nine, and a familiar figure was waiting for them on the front porch. It had been almost a year since Percival had seen Cecilia last. Her once jet-black hair had even more streaks of gray in it now, her dark brown skin a few more wrinkles.
We’re both getting old.
On the one hand Percival was desperately glad to see some else, to have a third party break up this tension, but a small, selfish part of him wanted to stay strolling hand-in-hand with Credence forever.
Get a grip, old man.
“Percy!” Cecilia cried dramatically as she walked towards them.
“Percy?” Credence smirked.
“Shush. She's the only one who calls me that.” Percival pulled his hand out of Credence’s grasp moments before Cecilia reached them and tugged Percival into a rough hug.
“It's good to see you, Percy. You haven't been around these parts in years, always making me come down to the city.”
“You're always already in the city.”
“Yeah, yeah. Excuses excuses. Now who do we have here?” Cecilia looked over at Credence appraisingly.
“Cecilia, this is Credence. Credence, Cecilia.”
“Now aren't you a little darling? Stand back, let me get a look at you. I love the coat,” she said, winking at Percival.
“Now, Percy here tells me that you have an interest in herbology.”
Credence nodded shyly.
“Well then you're going to have a grand old time.” She started walking back toward the house, beckoning them behind her. “We’re one of the largest growers on the east coast, did Percy tell you that?”
Credence shook his head, and she tossed a mock-glare at Percival.
“I didn't want to take away any of your bragging opportunities.”
“Is Beatrice around today?” he asked. He had been hoping that Credence could meet them both.
“She's out in one of the greenhouses, repotting mandrakes. When they're ready, they're ready, and time waits for no man.”
“Mandrakes?” Credence said, perking up.
“Mmhmm. You ever seen a mandrake when they're ready to be repotted before?”
Credence shook his head.
“Well then that'll have to be our first stop.”
As they approached the old farmhouse Credence was clearly enraptured. The building was easily hundreds of years old, with each extension that had been added over the years in a different color stone. The design was an intentional one - the small, original center was a dark slate, with chunks and pieces in white, silvery-gray, rusty brown, gleaming quartz, rough limestone - giving the overall look of a beautiful old patchwork quilt.
It was also completely unlike no-maj construction, particularly anything you would find in the city.
“We’ll get up to the house later,” Cecilia said, leading them down a path that wrapped around the back. “I don't wanna miss our chance at the mandrakes.”
They did make it in time to see the last few mandrakes. Credence looked enraptured by everything around, and there was so much to see that he clearly had a hard time deciding what to look at. The property had a dozen greenhouses, with acre after acre of land for outdoor growing, but it was too early in the season to see much foliage outside of the greenhouses. Percival had already made a mental note to bring Credence back during the warmer months, and that sealed it - the farm was impressive all year round, but was incredible during the growing season.
Percival would admit that he had been pretty impressed himself, when he came here for the first time. He didn't exactly see many magical plants in New York City so most of his experience had been in Herbology class back in school. Having seen the farm a dozen times before, what Percival was really enjoying was watching Credence. The boy took a little while to warm up to Cecilia, and then Beatrice (once they had been introduced without enormous earmuffs on), but his constant distractions over the incredible plant life worked wonders on his nerves.
The group worked their way through four of the greenhouses, stopping to look at shrivelfigs, hellebore, fanged geraniums, motherwarts, and anything that Credence mentioned or that Cecilia was worth seeing.
Cecelia and Beatrice showed Credence their own favorite plants, letting him touch and hold when the opportunity allowed it. Percival watched as Credence brushed his fingertips over ridged and thorny leaves, as he held opalescent berries and admired the way the sun glinted off of them and cast rainbows on Credence’s face. Beatrice introduced him to some of the other occupants of the greenhouses - an array of small beasts and insects that lived in harmony with the plants. He watched as Credence carefully outstretched his palms to a leafy gecko. The boy was so gentle with the creature, so awed by its existence as he watched it shimmy over his palms and up his sleeve, that Percival could barely take his eyes off him. Credence’s wonder was captivating.
Eventually Percival found himself staring for too long and turned his attention elsewhere while Cecelia and Beatrice spoke to Credence. He ran his hand gently over a huge purple and white dahlia flower and brushed his fingers through peat-rich dirt. Anything to divert his attention for at least a moment.
“What plants would you recommend for a beginner?” Percival finally asked, eyeing an enormous leafy fern whose fronds were fluttering as though there were a breeze blowing through the greenhouse.
“Hmmm, well it depends on what you have to work with, both for land and for climate. You live in the city too?” she said, looking over at Credence, who nodded. “Balcony? Ground floor? Or are you up in some skyscraper somewhere?”
“Ground floor, with a patio,” Percival said, answering for Credence.
“Well then I think we could get you set up with a few basics, definitely.”
“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that!” Credence looked genuinely surprised at her offer. Clearly he had never met someone quite like Cecilia before.
“I don’t have to do anything, and don’t you forget that. But I will do what I wanna do, and you shouldn’t forget that either.”
Credence trailed helplessly after her.
Cecilia ended up gathering up a cluster of non-violent looking plants in a riot of different colors that she determined Credence just had to have, tutting and waving him off when he tried to insist that the tour was gift enough. Credence looked completely overwhelmed, arms full of potted plants. A flitterbloom waved lazily at Percival over Credence’s shoulder as they walked.
Eventually Cecilia had gathered a “sufficient” number of plants for a beginner and the group of them trekked up to the house for lunch, where Cecilia delighted in telling Credence embarrassing stories about Percival’s youthful misadventures, including the time he mistook a Devil’s Snare for a flitterbloom and almost lost a finger.
“It was one time, and you are never going to let me live it down.”
“Never. Aurors can get so high and mighty only to slip up and get killed by a plant - all because they decided studying Herbology wasn’t worth their time. Now mind you they can be dangerous, but with the right care even the meanest Venomous Tentacula can be as cuddly as a puffskein if treated properly.”
Percival shook his head theatrically at Credence, behind Cecilia’s back.
“The other problem with aurors is that they think they’re funny, and they don’t bother to check out the reflective surfaces in a room, Percy.” Credence laughed. “Now, you are skinny as a rail. Has Percy not been feeding you right? I know he can’t bring a wand into the kitchen without something exploding -”
“Come on, I’m not that bad.”
Cecilia raised an eyebrow.
“Well…” Credence said, “I mean. The first morning you tried to make breakfast, the eggs were, umm… running around the kitchen.”
“One egg! It was one egg, and I caught it.”
Cecilia just laughed and ruffled Credence’s hair.
“Traitor,” Percival muttered under his breath.
In all truth, Percival was glad that Credence and Cecilia were getting along so well. Credence could certainly use more people in his life, particularly one who took to mothering as naturally as Cecilia.
Credence also seemed to be in awe of the kitchen - whereas Percival typically stopped before coming home and picked up dinner, Cecilia and Beatrice were accomplished cooks. Percival mostly used his kitchen for the icebox and relied on warming charms to keep his meals edible; Beatrice had half a dozen pots and pans hovering above the stove, two knives cutting vegetables in tandem on the cutting board, and a teapot hovering above the table, waiting to serve them tea.
Lunch passed in a swirl of good food and good company. After eating, they ventured back out to see the rest of the farm. To Percival’s surprise, when they got outside Cecilia waved distractedly towards the northern greenhouses and said: “Beatrice, why don’t you take Credence over to greenhouse five, I have a few work-related questions I wanted to ask Percy.”
Percival had been wondering if Cecilia would pull him aside for a heart-to-heart about Grindelwald. He obviously hadn’t seen Cecilia in the months he was imprisoned, and he had been too busy with work and Credence since then to get together with her. It had seemed unlikely that he would be able to escape the farm without his captivity coming up at least once, but he had hoped they could put off talk of Grindelwald for another day.
He nodded encouragingly to Credence, who suddenly looked unsure.
“I doubt this’ll take too long.” It had better not. “We’ll catch up with you two in a few minutes,” he said.
“Okay,” Credence said softly. He trailed after Beatrice, glancing back over his shoulder at Percival.
He would be fine. They didn’t have to be joined at the hip.
Who are you trying to convince?
Percival watched them walk away until he was relatively sure they were out of earshot, then turned to face Cecilia once again. To his surprise she had a steely look on her face.
“Seriously, Percy? You tell me you wanna bring a guy around and I assumed that he would be your age, not a child,” she hissed.
Percival was taken aback - that was not at all what he thought she wanted to talk about. And her tone - if she had been surprised or upset when she first saw them then he certainly hadn't noticed it. Hopefully Credence hadn’t either.
Then her words processed and he bristled.
“He's 20 years old.”
“Yeah, to the day, which makes him half your age. What are you thinking?”
“I.” Her vehemence genuinely surprised him. “I didn't realize you would have a problem with him.”
Thank god she hadn't said anything, or even hinted at her displeasure, around Credence. While Percival wasn't completely sure what was happening here, he could be glad the conversation was far from Credence’s sensitive ears.
“I don't have a problem with him. I'm just not sure why you think it's appropriate.”
“I know what you're implying, but it's not like that.”
“No? Because that looks like a boy who calls you daddy.”
“Christ, keep your voice down.” He glanced over to where Credence and Beatrice were wandering through one of the greenhouses, definitely out of earshot. He tossed a silencing spell around them anyway, to be safe. “I'm not sleeping with him.”
Cecilia gave him an incredulous look.
“I'm not. Come on Cecilia, you know me, I'm not about to take advantage of him.”
“You could cut the tension between you two with a knife. You walked up holding his hand.”
“He was nervous,” he said helplessly. “He hasn't spent a lot of time around other people recently, I didn't want to just throw him to the wolves.”
“Yes, the queer old dames who were going to feed him snacks and show him some pretty flowers,” she said sardonically.
“That's.” He sighed, running his hand over his face. “You don't know him. You don't know what he's been through, and yes, most of the pain he's suffered has been at the hands of a woman.”
Cecilia’s expression softened, somewhat.
“He was in a bad situation. A very bad one. I took him out of it, gave him somewhere safe to stay.”
“So he's living with you.”
“Yes. He's…. Honestly, I can't really say, because it's not my story to tell. But when I say it was bad, believe me.”
She stared at him for a long, long minute, one of the longest sixty seconds of Percival’s life. He refused to break eye contact and she didn't either. Finally, she sighed.
“Okay. So. You have this abused boy that you're taking care of. Does he know that he's attracted to men?”
“And you know that he knows that he's attracted to men?” He nodded. “Because he told you this”
“Yes. He said he's never been attracted to a woman before. Explicitly.”
“And this was just a perfectly platonic conversation the two of you were having,” she said skeptically.
Percival couldn't exactly tell her that the question had been about the magical community at large, because then he would have to explain that Credence had been raised outside the magical community, so he just nodded.
“And did you tell him that you have had relations with men in the past, during this completely normal conversation you were having?”
“Yes,” he replied grudgingly.
“Okay.” She shook her head. “I can only imagine how that came up in the first place, but fine.”
“It's honestly none of your business.”
“Honey, you are in way over your head right now.”
“I have everything under control.”
“That boy is in love with you.”
“No, he's not.”
“Yes, he is. I don't know if you're being deliberately obtuse or if you've gone selectively blind, but he looks at you like you hung the moon and the stars, and you look at him like he's a dragon’s egg.”
Percival rubbed his eyes.
“What does that even mean?” he said flatly, “like he's illegal?”
“Like he's precious. Valuable. Dangerous. Like you know you're playing with fire but you're doing it anyway.”
Percival tried to come up with something to say to refute that.
“You need to tread very, very carefully. If you really aren't planning on having that kind of relationship with him then you're walking a dangerous line.”
“He is in love with you. You clearly have some sort of complicated feelings for him, conflicted they may be. And if you don't handle every single interaction with care you are going to break his heart.”
“He's not in love with me.”
“No, listen. I'm one of the first people he's ever known that's been nice to him. I feed him and take care of him and spend time with him. Any feelings he has are tied up in all of that. I said I would be taking advantage because it would clearly be taking advantage. He would never have looked twice at me if his situation were different.”
“Well now that's definitely not true, you're a fox.”
“I'm twice his age.”
“Some people are into that.”
“You were just yelling at me for taking advantage of him a minute ago, now you're what? Chastising me for not considering it?”
“I'm just saying, you shouldn't dismiss his feelings just because you don't think they're legitimate. He feels them, and he can be hurt by them. You,” she punctuated the word with poking him in the chest, “are playing with fire, and you're not the only one who could get burned.”
“So what do you suggest, then?”
“Listen to him. Don't make any kind of romantic moves in his direction,” Percival rolled his eyes, honestly, “- don't you roll your eyes at me young man - and, if he gets up the courage to tell you how he feels, meet him in the middle.”
“What does that even mean?” Percival had forgotten this annoying trait of Cecilia’s, that she always assumed she knew the right thing to do in any given situation. She was usually right, and was always irritating about it.
“It means that you don’t dismiss him without giving appropriate consideration to the situation.”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation right now, when you were just yelling at me -”
“Well that was before I knew that your boy was fragile.”
“What difference does that make?” he hissed, trying hard not to yell.
“It makes a world of difference and you know it. You getting down with some young slice of pie because you’re afraid of getting old is inappropriate -”
“I never -”
“- but if what you’re saying is true, that he’s a boy who’s been treated badly and is recovering from that, you definitely don’t want to tell him that his feelings are wrong, or that he doesn’t know what he’s feeling. Then you just become one more authority figure in his life who’s trying to control him.”
“I -” Okay, so, she had a point. “So that’s your advice, that I should sleep with him after all?”
Cecilia gave him a quelling look.
“Just, treat him fairly. Play it by ear. Listen, and be flexible, and do whatever feels right. I can’t tell you what that will be, since it hasn’t happened yet. Who knows, maybe he’ll never say anything, and you can ignore the tension until he moves on. Just don’t be dismissive.”
Percival glanced over to where Credence and Beatrice had been and was slightly panicked to see that they were gone.
“They’re over by the pond,” Cecilia said, gesturing.
Percival looked where she indicated and found Credence looking at him already. Even from a distance he could see that the boy was worried - perhaps he had been able to read their body language well enough to know that their conversation wasn’t exactly a friendly one, even if he couldn’t hear what was being said.
“C’mon, let’s get back to your boy.”
They made their way back over to Credence and Beatrice. Upon reaching them, Credence gave Percival a questioning look, so Percival ran a comforting hand down his back.
“I was just showing Credence the gillyweed,” Beatrice said, dispelling some of the tension. She and Cecilia had a silent conversation in facial expressions, so Percival took the opportunity to duck close to Credence.
“Everything’s fine,” he murmured in Credence’s ear, “I promise, there’s nothing for you to worry about.”
Credence looked a little unsure, but he grabbed Percival’s hand and tugged him over to one of the plants.
“This is a wiggentree, one of the things I was reading about,” he said quietly.
“And does it live up to your expectations?” he asked, running his thumb over Credence’s knuckle.
“Everything here is so…” he trailed off, groping for the right words, “...different. I've never seen plants move around before.”
Percival glanced over his shoulder, but Cecilia and Beatrice were a polite distance away, giving them some privacy.
When he turned back Credence was biting his lip.
“What were you talking about? Over there?”
“It was a misunderstanding. I'll tell you more about it later,” he said. He wanted to lead Credence back over to the women and continue the tour, but he waited until Credence nodded.
Percival didn't know how he was going to explain the situation to Credence, but he knew he couldn't lie to the boy, either. Tempting though it may be.
Would he be shocked to know that Cecilia assumed their relationship was sexual? Disgusted? Embarrassed? He thought of Credence’s blush, his coy smile. Maybe not. Maybe he would be -
Percival ended the line of thought before it began.
“C’mon, let's get back to the tour.”
“Did you have a good time today, Credence?”
Credence nodded, smiling.
“It was great. I've never done anything special for my birthday before, and that was so… so… thoughtful. I loved it,” he said sincerely. “Thank you.”
“You deserve it.” The words slipped out of his mouth, but he couldn't say that he regretted them. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately.
Credence opened his mouth, paused, bit his lip, then seemed to rally his courage.
“You said that you would tell me,” he said. “What you were talking about.”
“I did,” Percival said. He had hoped the boy would forget, but should have known better. He sighed. “She thought - she assumed - that our relationship was, ah. Sexual.”
Credence frowned, confused.
“And that upset her?”
While Percival had never explicitly told Credence that Cecilia and Beatrice were married, their relationship had been obvious.
“She thinks you're too young for me.”
Credence’s expression was difficult to read.
Percival tried to think of a suitable response to that, but his inner monologue had seemed to have been replaced with white noise. At his silence, Credence took a step towards Percival, then another, until he was standing directly in front of him. Credence cocked his head curiously, like a kneazle.
What had happened to the shy boy who was afraid of making eye contact? Percival felt pinned in place by his gaze, made dumb. He had hoped that he would have more time, before this conversation, to make up his own mind, and to ensure whatever he said wouldn't end up hurting Credence.
It's not that he had never thought about Credence in that way before - he would be lying to himself if he pretended he hadn't - but he never honestly thought it would come up. He never thought Credence would have the desire - or, if he had, the courage - to broach the topic. But that was before Cecilia brought it up, before the clearing and the hand-holding.
Credence took one more step forward, putting him directly into Percival’s personal space.
He should put a stop to this. He was going to put a stop to this.
But then Credence leaned in and pressed a lingering kiss to the corner of Percival’s mouth.
“Goodnight, Mr. Graves.”
Percival was frozen, rooted in place, as Credence walked away and up the stairs. He also couldn't stop himself from touching the place where Credence kissed him, skin buzzing.
Such clouds of nameless trouble cross
All night below the darken'd eyes;
With morning wakes the will, and cries,
'Thou shalt not be the fool of loss.'
- Alfred Lord Tennyson
Percival found himself far more restless in the following days than he had in the months since Credence came to live with him. He hadn't noticed before how repetitive his days had gotten - get up, eat breakfast, go to work, pick up dinner, come home. Wash, rinse, repeat. Not that he had gone out much before, never having been a terribly social person, but his inability to do so rankled more than normal. He wanted to do something, wanted to go out somewhere and get out of his house. But he couldn't. He knew that he couldn't. Credence obviously couldn't go for a stroll in Central Park, and it seemed cruel for Percival to go out and stretch his wings while leaving Credence cooped up at home, alone.
Going to Cecilia's had been nice. Great. But if anything, the taste of freedom made the subsequent lack of it more bitter than it had been before.
Was Credence ever bored? Resentful? Surely he tired of reading. Now he had the plants that Cecilia had given him, but there was only so much he could do with those either. People had pets, didn't they? Hobbies?
Percival tossed his pen down on the papers he was looking over.
His thoughts had been chasing one another in wild circles all day long. Percival loved his job as the Director of Security, but on days when he needed a distraction he bitterly missed working in the field. The investigative team was out looking into a Venomous Tentacula smuggling ring, and here he was completing performance evaluations and rubber-stamping wage increases. Being the boss wasn't always a glamorous job - particularly when all he wanted to do was go out and test the destructive power of his new wand.
Percival had no trouble admitting to himself that he was overthinking. Things were - admittedly - different, since Credence's birthday, and the days that followed had tested both Percival's patience and his self-control. On the surface it appeared that nothing had changed, but underneath...
There was a tension, where there hadn't been before - or perhaps one that Percival hadn't acknowledged before.
Initially, when Credence first appeared in his house, Credence would watch him like a hawk - one eye always on Percival, unsure of what to think of him, obviously unsure about whether or not he could trust him. But as the weeks turned to months, that stare had slowly disappeared until they could sit in comfortable silence or chat about their respective days without any undercurrent of suspicion or concern.
Now, that tension was back - back, but not quite the same. Percival could frequently feel Credence's eyes on him - as he cast spells, or completed paperwork he chose to take home instead of finishing at the office - but rather than worried looks this new staring was different. Assessing, maybe. Curious, too, though less like a mouse and more like a cat. Percival tried his best to ignore it, but sometimes he glanced over at the boy and found himself caught inexorably in his gaze. Sometimes Credence would hold eye contact for a few seconds and then look away bashfully; others, he would stare almost defiantly back, daring Percival to comment.
He never did.
Percival waited for a repeat of the night of Credence's birthday, but that never happened, either.
(Percival couldn't say for certain what he would do, if it had. He also couldn't say for certain whether he was relieved or disappointed when it didn't.)
Percival couldn't help but notice Credence, too, in a way he hadn't before. He couldn't be sure if the boy was intentionally arranging himself to be more coquettish, or if Percival had somehow never noticed the long column of his throat, the porcelain-smooth paleness of his skin, or the delicate elegance of his fingers when they wrapped around his wand. Credence had also taken to biting his lip when he was concentrating - had he always done that? - leaving his lips shiny and red.
Percival tried hard not to notice.
(He noticed anyway.)
“Today,” Percival said, raising a plush sofa pillow in his hand, “we are going to work on summoning charms.”
Credence grinned. Percival used summoning charms around the house somewhat often, and Credence had and had begun asking when he would learn them. Percival had been waiting until the boy had a little more control - he had a tendency to use either far too much power, or not enough - but Percival thought that the day had finally arrived. Credence had been able to successfully levitate progressively larger objects, transfigure a mouse into a teakettle, and vanish small odds and ends, so he should be easily able to cast accio.
“But we’re not doing it here,” Percival continued.
“Where are we going?”
“Upstairs. The empty third floor. There’s nothing you can break up there.”
The first few attempts would inevitably end with the pillow flying everywhere, and Percival didn’t want to deal with it breaking a picture frame or shattering a lamp - and he didn’t want Credence to be preoccupied with trying not to break anything.
So they trekked upstairs, Percival undoing the charms that kept the floor sealed off. He took a few minutes to set up one of the empty rooms: he placed the pillow on the floor on the far end of the room, along with a book and a bar of chocolate.
“We’re going to start with the pillow. There’s no fancy wand work with this spell - just point at the item and say accio. When you’re learning it helps to say the item, so you would say accio pillow. Try not to accidentally pick up either of the other two.” All three were a few feet away from one another, to make it easier to differentiate.
Credence nodded seriously. He was always serious when he was learning, particularly at the beginning of a lesson. Raising his wand, he focused intently on the pillow.
“Accio pillow.” The pillow twitched. Credence took a deep breath and tried again. “Accio pillow.”
This time the pillow lurched forward a few feet but quickly lost momentum. Percival moved it back to place with a wave of his wand.
“Try to picture the pillow coming toward you, leaping up from the floor and into your hands. Focus less on the words and more on the action you want to happen.”
“Accio pillow.” The pillow flew forward in a burst of speed, whacking Credence in the face. Credence let out a bark of surprised laughter as the pillow fell to the floor.
“This is why we’re starting with something soft,” Percival said with a wry grin. “Now you’ve seen what happens when you use too much power, and not enough. You have to find the happy medium between the two.”
They spent a while focused on the pillow, until Credence was able to repeatedly summon it without dropping it midway across the room or bludgeoning himself with it.
“The book is a bit more complicated,” Percival said, after taking the pillow from Credence’s triumphant grasp. “If you pick it up too roughly it can fall open and make it much more difficult to catch. Different items require different amounts of concentration, so this one will be a little trickier. It’s also a bit heavier than the pillow, so you need to be careful about how much force you use.”
Credence started again.
The book leapt towards Credence, but landed on the floor at his feet instead of in his outstretched hands. Percival moved it back into place.
This time the book shot forward and smacked Credence in the face, just like the pillow had.
“Ow,” Credence said, rubbing his cheek.
“Are you okay?”
Percival stepped forward to inspect the damage, and Credence moved his hand out of the way so that Percival could get a better look. There was a red mark on Credence’s cheekbone that would likely turn into a bruise in short order.
“It doesn’t even hurt that much. Just startled me.”
“May I?” Percival asked, reaching towards Credence’s face.
The boy nodded, so Percival cupped his cheek and ran his thumb over the mark.
“What’s the verdict doctor? Will I live?”
It took Percival a moment to place the unfamiliar word - doctors were the no-maj version of healers. Percival chuckled.
“Can I heal this?”
Credence nodded, then held still when Percival raised his wand to the boy’s face.
“Episkey.” The red mark disappeared, leaving unblemished skin in its wake. “Do you want to switch back to the pillow?”
“No,” Credence said, “I can do it. I just need to try again.”
Percival moved the book back into place.
“Okay, this time, a little less force…”
Ring! Ring! Ring! Ring!
Percival blinked awake, struggling his way out of the fog of sleep. A shrill ringing had woken him - but why...? His eyes landed on his spelled pocket watch that was rattling on the dresser across the room.
Percival allowed a few seconds to fortify himself, to chase away the last vestiges of sleep and clamp down on the spiraling dread that coiled around his chest - then, he pointed his wand at the watch.
The ringing stopped. Being called into MACUSA in the middle of the night meant one thing, and one thing only: something terrible had happened, and all of the aurors were being called in to respond to an emergency. The last summons, he knew, had been for the obscurial attack. Percival pulled himself out of bed and set about getting dressed, running a hand through his sleep-tousled hair. There were a variety of reasons that he could be called in - a major breach of the statute of secrecy that required official address, a magical attack on American soil, an emergency meeting of world leaders - but the ball of anxiety in the pit of his chest said one thing, and one thing only:
The dark wizard had been transferred into German custody, but the German government had lost him once before already, and they could easily have lost him again. One of his followers could have planned an attack, or a group of them could have broken him out of prison. But sitting around home and speculating on why he was being called in was worthless - the only way to find out was to make it into MACUSA and hear the news from Picquery herself.
Halfway down the stairs, Percival pivoted and jogged back up to the second floor.
Credence. He certainly couldn't leave while the boy was sleeping, without telling him where he had gone. But what would he say? Percival didn't have time to think, didn't have time to come up with some false reassurances to keep Credence calm when he couldn't even do the same for himself. He walked down the hallway in a few quick strides and knocked quietly on the door.
He tested the knob, and when he found it unlocked, he opened the door. Credence was lying in bed, still dead to the world.
"Credence," he said softly, trying not to startle the boy. He could tell the moment that Credence started to wake: his eyelashes fluttered, then his brow furrowed, and then those brown eyes blinked open and landed on Percival. "Credence," he said quietly, again.
"Percival?" he said, confused, voice rough with sleep.
Percival felt himself flush hot and then immediately felt ashamed of himself. He had never heard the boy call him by his given name before, and to hear it in Credence’s sleep-rough voice hit him below the belt. He mentally shook himself - now was not the time.
Crossing the room, he came to perch on the side of Credence’s bed. "I've been called into work."
"What time izzit?"
"I don't know yet."
Credence sat up, finally battling the drowsiness of being woken unexpectedly.
"When will you be back?" he asked, sounding more alert.
"I don't know. Likely not before morning. I wish I could tell you more, but I just don't know right now. Just - stay here, and don't worry." Obviously a platitude, and one that Credence was unlikely to be able to do.
"Do you think." He swallowed. "Could it be... him?"
Percival wished he could say no. "It could be. I hope it's not, but it could be."
"I'll come back as soon as I can," Percival said. He reached a hand towards Credence - "can I?" - and at Credence's nod wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and gave the boy a comforting squeeze. "Stay here. Don't open the door for anyone, not even me. The wards will hold up against just about anything, and there's no reason anyone should come by the house, but just to be safe." He paused, thinking about Grindelwald wearing his face, using his wand. "We should have a word. A codeword. Something that only you and I know, so that we can be sure we're talking to who we think we are."
Percival could feel the muscles and tendons shift in Credence’s neck as he nodded.
"I guess we should have two? One for me and one for you?"
Percival smiled. "That's probably for the best." That way they could both be secure.
"I'll go with..." Credence chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "Balloons."
Credence shrugged. "It's something that Grindelwald is unlikely to know, and it's one of the first things we ever talked about." Percival had used balloons as a metaphor for the obscurus, back when they were attempting to figure out how to deal with the situation.
"Okay." Percival tried to think of something specific, something meaningful. "I'll use... blackthorn."
"Why blackthorn?" Credence said with a frown.
"I was reading about blackthorn wands when you appeared in my sitting room. And my new wand is made of blackthorn."
Silence stretched between them for a moment, and Percival was loathe to break it. But he had a job to do, one that he couldn’t neglect no matter how badly he wanted to stay here, with Credence.
"I have to go," he said, but didn't get up.
Percival squeezed Credence's neck one more time before withdrawing his hand, and with one last look strode out of the room, down the stairs, and out the front door.
Apparating into the designated point was chaotic. Percival wasn't the only one there - the pop pop pop of half a dozen aurors apparating in behind him reminded Percival of how serious this event must be. Part of him had hoped that he was the only one summoned, that there was something for him to deal with personally but that wasn’t so large the entirety of the auror department needed to be here.
He walked purposefully into the front doors of MACUSA, phalanx of aurors falling into step behind him. He had seen Hernandez, Gazi, Paduraru, and Tipper for sure, all competent and dangerous aurors in their own right. He saw Tina Goldstein in the lobby, eyes sharp and alert regardless of the late hour. Catching sight of him, she hurried over.
“Do you know what’s going on?” she asked.
“Not yet.” He stopped and addressed the aurors clustered behind him. “I have not yet received word of why we’ve been summoned. You all should go straight to the war room and wait for orders.”
The aurors nodded and peeled off down one of the hallways. Goldstein lingered for an extra moment, eyes wide, before she headed off to join them. Percival turned and walked down the opposite hallway, towards Picquery’s office.
He found the president at her desk, eyes skimming some sort of report, though she looked up the moment Percival entered the room. A small statue of a black horse sat prominently in the center of her desk.
“It’s Grindelwald,” he said grimly, not needing to ask. The black horse was the portkey that would bring them directly into the German Magical Parlement. Picquery kept a dozen of them in the case behind her desk, a small menagerie of creatures that were only used in case of emergency. Picquery closed her report, set it carefully on her desk, and then picked up the statue.
The pair of them stared at it, for a moment, before she held it out for Percival to touch. He ran his fingers gently over the horse’s stone mane, as Picquery tapped it with her wand.
Percival felt his body lurch strangely, and when the world stopped spinning he and Picquery were standing amongst a gathering of leaders. Every few feet another pair popped into existence, making the room evermore crowded. Percival couldn’t help but spare a thought for Credence - had the boy managed to fall back asleep? Was he lying awake in bed, worried about what was going on? What would he think of a place like this - so many people, in such different styles of dress?
The meeting passed in a blur. Grindelwald escaped. No, they didn’t know how he did it, just that his jailers were found dead and the building razed. No, they didn’t know if he was working with accomplices. No, they didn’t know where he had gone. No, they didn’t know what he had planned next. Every delegate from every country should consider themselves at risk, and every auror department should be readied for an attack.
Percival saw the delegates from China and Japan exchange a look across the room. They had the luxury of not yet catching Grindelwald’s attention, meanwhile plenty of people were giving sidelong glances to Percival and Picquery. Grindelwald’s last stop had been America, and it seemed a reasonable assumption he would finish what he started, there.
Did Grindelwald know that Credence survived?
The meeting was kept short, sweet, and to the point, so that the delegates could return to their home countries and disseminate the information they had received.
(Not that they had received much useful information at all.)
Percival felt like a family clock, all arms pointed to ‘danger.’
His feet moved of their own accord, carrying him where he needed to go. He and Picquery returned to MACUSA to brief the aurors. Time seemed to be moving strangely - while the meeting felt like it had gone on forever, his pocket watch told him that they had only been away from MACUSA for half an hour.
Director Graves stood in front of his aurors and repeated what he was told in Germany. His mouth moved without conscious thought, directing aurors to monitor docks and entry points to the United States. If Grindelwald were to attack American soil, it would most likely be here, in New York, one of America’s largest cities - and home to MACUSA.
Stopping Grindelwald from entering New York would be impossible, but perhaps, if they monitored the situation, they would at least have some warning.
(He knew that the effort was likely futile. The average caster’s apparation range was between 50 and 100 miles, and no one knew how far someone as powerful and Grindelwald’s range could be. MACUSA couldn’t monitor every patch of land for two hundred miles around the city. But they had to try something.)
Each auror knew that if they were the one to face off against Grindelwald, they would surely be killed. Expressions were grim and the air was heavy with dread.
Percival found a moment to slip away just after dawn. He had a nervous energy thrumming under his skin, and he knew the only to dispel it was to see that Credence safe and unharmed. Hours of tamping down instinctual panic had taken most of his energy reserves.
He arrived home.
Took a deep breath.
Opened the front door.
Credence was sitting on the sofa, eyes on the entry way. He jumped up as soon as he saw Percival, and Percival only had a second’s warning before his arms were full of Credence’s warm body. With strong arms wrapped around his neck, Percival felt a little bit of the tension melt away.
“You’re okay. I was so worried,” Credence murmured against Percival’s throat.
Percival couldn’t respond, at first. Anything he could say would feel like a lie. Instead, he wrapped his arms around Credence in return and held him close.
“Blackthorn,” Percival said finally. He was torn between being glad for Credence’s immediate comfort, and concerned that the boy wasn’t adhering to safety protocols.
“I know,” he said. “I could tell by the look on your face. Grindelwald would never look at me like that.”
Percival wasn’t sure what his face looked like, right now.
“Balloons, by the way. In case you were worried.”
Percival just nodded and pulled Credence closer, one hand creeping up into the boy’s hair. They stood, clinging together, until most of the tension strung in Percival’s shoulders leeched away.
“I can’t stay for long, I have to get back. I just needed to come by and make sure you’re alright.” Percival murmured the words against the side of Credence’s head, the hand in his hair scritching over the boy’s scalp.
Credence pulled back just far enough to make eye contact, which left their faces breathlessly close together.
“I'll be okay,” he said, “as long as you promise to be careful. I don't know what I would do if something happened to you.”
The words were simple and straightforward. Yet Credence’s life - the ever-looming threat of the obscurus - added a layer of urgency to the request. If Percival was killed or badly injured it could mean serious trouble for the city itself.
“I'll do everything I can.”
That was all Percival could guarantee. His job was a dangerous one.
Credence tilted forward, touching their foreheads together.
(Percival was not proud of the way his breath stuttered.)
“I think I might tell Tina about you,” Percival said, fighting to keep the tenuous grasp he had on his self-control. “Just in case… I…” he swallowed. “I don't want you to be left here alone.”
Percival needed to get back.
You have to let go of him.
“I…” Credence swallowed, the click of his throat loud in the silent room. “Mr. Graves. Percival. Can I kiss you?”
This is a bad idea.
This is a bad, bad, bad idea.
“Okay,” he breathed.
Credence didn't hesitate, closing the scant inches between their mouths with a gentle press of his lips.
Percival wanted. He wanted to use the hand he had in Credence’s hair to pull him closer. Wanted to lick his mouth open and drink his fill.
Credence pulled away, too soon, and took a step back, disentangling himself from Percival’s hold.
“Be careful,” he said with a note of finality.
“I will be. I promise.”
Percival raked his eyes over Credence one last time before turning to leave, lingering on the boy's flushed skin and red, red lips.
Stepping through the doorway felt like cutting off a limb, walking across the street like walking through tar.
But he had a job to do.
He had to keep Credence safe.
Upon arriving back at MACUSA, Percival was immediately ambushed by a note in the shape of a hummingbird. It flew in fast circles around his head, picking anxiously at his hair, which meant it had likely been waiting for him to return for some time.
Percival snatched it out of the air, heart racing before even seeing the message.
Meet me at your office at 7am.
Percival pulled out his pocket watch - 6:52 - and hurried through the atrium.
Had Goldstein noticed his absence? He couldn't have been gone for more than fifteen or twenty minutes.
He walked in the direction of his office, strides long and steps purposeful. MACUSA was quiet - oddly quiet - even for the early hour. Percival's footsteps echoed loudly in the empty hall, clack, clack, clack.
Percival startled. He hadn’t heard Goldstein walk up behind him. Grindelwald had been out for less than 48 hours and already he was jumpy like the incident was a week fresh.
“Yes, Goldstein? What’s going on?” he said, keeping his impatience at bay. The list of things he needed to do was a mile long and he had already wasted time this morning.
“I need to talk to you. Somewhere private.”
“Can this wait?”
“No. It has to go with Grindelwald, with what he’ll maybe do next.”
Percival had no idea how she might know more than him about what Grindelwald might be planning, but he couldn’t turn down any lead.
“We can go to my office,” he said, but she shook her head.
“No.” She grabbed him by the arm and started pulling him along, towards the main atrium but perhaps more importantly, towards the door.
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere secure. We can’t talk here, we don’t know who might be watching.”
Wonderful: another auror as paranoid as himself. Percival wasn’t sure if her information was what had her spooked, or if she was reacting because of his behavior.
Once they had cleared the wards and Goldstein pulled him out of sight, she disapparated them. It had been a long time since Percival had traveled anywhere by side-along apparition, and he found that he didn't enjoy the sensation any more than he used to. They appeared in a dingy alley - one that Percival would hardly consider a secure place to talk, more like a great place to kill someone - and he only had a moment's time to doubt whether or not he was talking to the real Goldstein when he noticed a man at the mouth of the alley.
The man was a few years younger than Percival, with light brown hair in an intentionally messy style. He wore a blue wool coat, and a bow tie, and seemed to be nervous, looking at something across the street. Then the stranger clearly disregarded whatever had caught his eye, and turned to face Percival and Goldstein, absently casting a silencing charm around the three of them.
"That's him? You're sure?" The man spoke with a British accent.
Percival glanced over at Goldstein, who was side-eyeing him.
"What was the first case we ever worked together?" she asked.
"Giants," Percival said shortly. His leg still hurt when he thought about it. "How did you break your arm?"
"Seriously, Mr. Graves?" She looked like she wanted to smack him. "I thought we agreed to never speak of that again, under pain of flobberworms."
Percival couldn't help but smile. "We did. That's answer enough. Now, have you done the same thing with him?" Percival asked, gesturing towards the stranger.
"Oh! Umm..." she said, looking towards the other man.
"Why is Dougal hard to find?" he asked, flicking his eyes over to Percival warily.
"Because he's invisible." What? "What didn't you drink at my apartment?"
The man paused. "Oh. Er, it was hot chocolate, wasn't it?"
Goldstein nodded, smiling.
"Okay," Percival said, clapping his hands, "now that we've established that we all know each other, who the hell are you?"
"Mr. Graves, this is Newt Scamander." Ah, yes, the magizoologist who saved New York city with his well-time thunderbird. "Newt, this is Percival Graves. The real one, this time."
"Mr. Scamander. I hear New York owes you a thank you."
"No thanks necessary, Mr. Graves."
"What are we doing here, Tina?" Percival asked, glancing at her. Both she and Scamander were twitchy, but Percival couldn't tell whether it was from guilt or paranoia. Percival didn't blame them, precisely, but their anxiety was making him go from justifiably concerned to genuinely worried. He couldn't see any reason why he couldn't have been introduced to Newt Scamander in his office, at MACUSA, in far less concerning circumstances than these.
Goldstein and Scamander looked at each other in silent conversation for a moment, before Goldstein shot Scamander a pointed look and the man sighed.
"There's something we have to tell you. That Newt has to tell you."
Helpful. That was nice and specific, Percival was so glad he was here in this alley instead of doing his actual work or seeing to Credence -
"Credence Barebone is alive."
It took every fiber of Percival's being to keep his face blank and his shoulders relaxed.
What did this man know? How did he know? Could he be trusted with this secret? Was there anything Percival could really do if he couldn't?Percival could feel his heart rate accelerating, his fingers itching for his wand.
"I thought the obscurial was destroyed the night that Grindelwald was captured, in the subway. That's what the reports said,” he said, trying for a dubious but concerned tone.
“Yes, and that’s what MACUSA thinks,” Scamander said. “Look, I haven’t told anyone about this, except for Tina, but that night, after they killed Credence, I think I saw a piece of him slip away.”
“You think -” Scamander’s description was uselessly vague. “You think you saw him slip away?”
“While Grindelwald was revealing himself as being an imposter I saw a piece of the obscurus, just this little slip of black, crawl out of the subway and up to the surface. I think Credence, or a part of him at least, survived.”
So Scamander had known that Credence was alive the whole time. While Percival had no reason to believe that he had told anyone else, he also had absolutely no way of knowing for sure.
"Who have you told about this?"
"Like I said, no one. Tina, today, and now you. I didn't want to say anything a the time because I was afraid your president would order Credence found and killed. I want to help him.”
Think. He had to think.
"Why are you telling me?" he said slowly. "You clearly don't want MACUSA to know or we wouldn't be avoiding headquarters, so... why bring me into it at all?"
He doubted it was just because Tina trusted him. She did, surely, more or less, but if this was something that they could handle on their own he didn't think Scamander would have allowed Percival to be told the truth. It was clear that the other man did not trust him, either because he was naturally wary or because he had already developed an unfavorable reaction to Percival’s face. Had they already tracked the boy? Did they already know?
Percival’s two companions shared another look.
"I have a way of tracking him," Scamander said finally. “But I’ll need your help.”
He didn't elaborate.
"How? You didn't bring your beasts back into New York, did you?" While Scamander got away with bringing that suitcase in with him once before, he would surely end up in prison if he did it again - but something told Percival that Scamander was exactly the type of man to toss out the rules if he was doing what he thought was right.
"No," Scamander said quickly. "I didn't, really. I couldn't. Last time I came in on muggle transportation, but that takes too long. I didn't have time. Since Grindelwald escaped I needed to get here quickly and there was no way to bring my case through the International Portkey Office without getting caught."
Without getting caught. Percival had a bad feeling about this.
"I do have a beast that would be able to track him, but we need your help getting it into the country."
Percival bit back a swear, took a deep breath, and let it out.
"You have a beast," he said slowly, "that you want my help to bring into the city, which has strict laws banning any beasts for any reason?"
"Mr. Graves," Tina said, speaking up for the first time, "I know it's against the law, but we don't have much of a choice. Credence is out there somewhere. Last time we had all of MACUSA looking for him, and yet Grindelwald somehow found him first. We still don't know how. And if he did it once, he could do it again. You said yourself - Credence deserved better, from all of us. This is our chance to make it right. We can still help him. We can still save him."
He couldn’t allow a beast to be brought into New York, to track the boy that was living in his house. Obviously. But he needed to at least seem like he was considering the idea.
“What kind of beast?”
“It’s not dangerous,” Scamander said quickly.
“...Okay. What type of beast is it, though?”
“It’s not dangerous. I swear it.”
“I’m not going to approve something that I don’t know.”
“If you know what it is, you’ll say no, but I promise that it’s not dangerous.” Scamander spoke earnestly - he clearly believed the words that were coming out of his own mouth, even though they were equally obviously false. From the reports Percival had heard, there had been a dozen deadly creatures in that infernal suitcase last time, and if Scamander wouldn’t even admit which creature it would be?
“Mr. Graves!” Tina exclaimed, but Percival cut her off.
“We don't even know if the obscurial is still in the city. He could easily have gotten onto a boat or a train and could be in Indonesia by now for all we know, so I'm not going to risk the lives of the magical and no-maj communities alike -”
“- But even if he's left this is the only place that we know he was, we still may be able to track him from here -”
“- and anything that's that adept at tracking is likely to be a predator -”
“Really, Mr. Graves, you need to -”
Percival held up a hand, silencing them both.
“Stop. Let me think about this for a minute.”
Percival walked a few paces from the pair of them and turned his back, rubbing his eyes. He really did need a moment to think.
Scamander had some way of tracking Credence. Both he and Tina felt a moral obligation to find Credence. Tina knew that Percival also felt a moral obligation towards helping the boy, since Percival had explicitly said as much. If he said no to their scheme, Tina would surely think that something was wrong. She would know that something was wrong, and she wouldn’t let it go. She would start investigating him personally, whether because she would assume that someone had gotten to him, or because that would be the best way to find Credence.
And, if he said no to helping smuggle the beast, she could go above his head, or behind his back. It’s possible that they could try to convince Picquery - or, that Scamander would find a different way to get his beast into the city. If he did, it would lead the pair of them right to his house.
Percival had already considered telling Tina, but he didn’t know Scamander, didn’t trust him.
But now, he didn’t seem to have a choice.
Percival turned back around.
“We need to talk. This place is random and secluded, but it’s not secure. We need to move somewhere else.”
Percival didn’t want to bring the pair of them home without warning Credence, but there was no way around it. He could hardly disappear for a few minutes - Tina and Scamander would assume he had run off - and he couldn’t just say oh the obscurial? He’s living in my house because they could assume the worst, or jump to conclusions.
Tina and Scamander both looked wary but he didn’t have the time or the patience to baby them into this solution. Rather, Percival walked up to them directly, grabbed their arms, and disapparated.
The fear: that nothing survives.
The greater fear: that something does.
- Richard Siken
They appeared in the alley across from his house.
“Where are we?” Scamander asked, looking around warily.
“My home.” Percival didn’t wait for them to get a good look around - he marched across the street and onto his front stoop, a man with a mission. If he paused he would surely change his mind, and he couldn’t afford to change his mind.
Please don’t be in the sitting room, he thought, please don’t be in the sitting room. Credence could be anywhere in the house, but it would be most convenient for the moment if the boy wasn’t immediately visible when he opened the door.
Less than an hour had passed since Percival was home last. If he had any luck - any luck at all - Credence would have given up his vigil at the door and moved somewhere else in the house. The boy couldn't possibly be expecting Percival to return again so quickly.
He paused, waiting for Tina and Scamander to catch up, before reaching out and pressing his hand against the door. At his familiar touch, the door shivered and a second knob bloomed from underneath the first - the real doorknob.
“These are some serious wards you have,” Scamander commented faux-casually.
“Can you blame me?”
Scamander at least had the decency to look sheepish.
Percival steeled himself for the worst possible outcome - what if Credence is just inside, what if he gets startled and becomes the obscurus, what if all of them are moments away from death, what happens to the boy if they were all killed - and opened the door.
The room was blessedly empty.
Changing location seemed to give him a short reprieve, but he hadn’t made it halfway across the sitting room before the pair of them rounded on Percival again.
“Mr. Graves, please listen to me,” Scamander said earnestly, “I know that you think it’s too dangerous, but really, when you think about the implications of what might happen if we don’t even try, it shouldn’t even be a decision…”
Scamander kept talking, but Percival wasn’t listening anymore. Instead he was watching Tina look around his home. She started out casually looking around - understandable, since she had never been in his personal space before, and he kept his private life notoriously private - but she quickly noticed the important details, like he knew she would. Her eyes landed on the Charms for Beginners book sitting on the end table, then to the pair of shoes near the sofa that were very clearly not Percival’s, and then, the burgundy coat hanging on the rack by the door.
There: recognition, from the fifth robbery. He knew she had already been suspicious, then.
Percival kept one eye on the staircase ascending from the basement. Credence spent the majority of his time down there - or, at least, he was usually down there when Percival got home from work. It was earlier than normal, though, so it was anyone’s guess as to where the boy was at that moment. Thankfully Tina and Scamander had their backs to the staircase.
How should he proceed? He could tell the two to sit and go find Credence himself, and explain to the boy what was going on. Or, he could simply tell them that Credence was there and allow the boy to reveal himself whenever he felt comfortable doing so - he had no doubts that Credence was somewhere within earshot, listening in to the conversation. They were hardly being quiet, and the wards only protected noises from carrying outside the house, not within.
“And really, the whole beast ban is ridiculous, you could no more successfully ban beasts than you could ban animals in their entirety, and -”
Percival saw Credence peek out from behind the wall to the staircase, and then, when he realized that their visitors were facing away from him, he stepped tentatively into the sitting room. It seemed the boy had been lurking in the stairwell and listening to their conversation all along. Thankfully he was fully and appropriately dressed - Percival wasn’t sure what Tina and Scamander would have assumed about their relationship if he was in sleepwear.
Now is not the time for those thoughts.
Credence looked curious, and wary, but not afraid. He had his head cocked, like he wasn’t sure what to make of the bizarre, yelling people in his house.
He already knows both of them. He’s not afraid of them because they tried to help him before.
“Newt,” Tina said faintly, trying to get the ranting man’s attention.
Credence looked at Percival questioningly, and Percival tried to give him a reassuring look - one that said stay there quietly for one more moment, please.
“- Credence’s life could be in danger. We cannot sit idly by while he’s out there somewhere, alone and afraid -”
Credence’s attention turned from Tina to Scamander, eyes assessing.
Tina’s shout finally caught his attention, and he quieted, wide-eyed.
Percival felt like the they were a collection of characters in a 19th century comedy of errors - next, Credence would go out the front door while they ran out the back.
Tina was staring at Percival, expression impossible to read. She looked - overwhelmed. Hopeful. Betrayed. She clearly had no idea that Credence himself was standing about six feet behind her.
“You already know where he is, don’t you?” she asked, voice tremulous. She was trying not to get her hopes up, he could tell.
Percival looked straight into her eyes, trying not to glance behind her at Credence, who had taken a step forward.
“What?” Scamander said. Clearly that was not what he had expected either of them to say. “Merlin, why didn’t you say something before?”
Percival let his eyes slide off of Tina and onto Credence. It took Tina barely more than a second to realize that his focal point had changed, and she turned around to look behind her. When she caught sight of Credence she gasped, hand covering her mouth.
"Credence," she breathed.
"Hi Tina." Credence gave an awkward little wave, while Scamander looked silently back and forth between him and Percival. "Would you like a hug?"
Tina had her back to Percival, so he couldn't see the expression on her face. He could see that she had her hand over her mouth in disbelief, and that she nodded at Credence's offer.
The hug was short and a little awkward.
"I can't believe..." she said, trailing off. "I had no idea... I mean, I knew that, well, something was going on but." Tina seemed to be at a loss for words. "How long...?"
"Why doesn't everyone take a seat?" Percival suggested. Newt was still agog, speechless. Whatever conversation they were about to have was all but guaranteed be a long one, and it seemed silly for them to all stand around the room just a few scant feet away from comfortable furniture.
Tina visibly shook herself out of her daze and dropped obediently into one of the armchairs, while Credence made his way past her to sit on the sofa. Scamander looked back and forth between the remaining seat on the couch and the second arm chair, and ultimately sat in the chair opposite Tina.
"Coffee?" Percival asked.
"Yes please," Tina said, and "tea, if you have it," from Scamander at the same time.
Percival went to the kitchen to start the percolator for coffee and water for tea while the others sat in awkward silence in the sitting room. He kept an ear out for conversation, but it seemed that Tina and Scamander were stunned into silence by Credence's sudden appearance - that, or they were waiting for Graves to return.
After what felt like a long time, but likely only a few minutes, the kettle whistled and Percival waved his wand to gather a tray of mugs, tea bags, cream, and sugar, along with the coffee and teakettle. He made his way back into the sitting room, tray floating in front of him, and took a seat next to Credence on the sofa.
Tina stared openly at Credence, Scamander looked back and forth between him and Percival, and Credence shifted slightly closer to Percival on the couch, somehow seemingly the only comfortable person in the room. Apparently Percival needn't have worried about the boy's reaction - he politely ignored Tina's staring (though it was impossible not to notice) and turned expectantly towards Percival. After a few moments of everyone waiting in stillness, Percival leaned forward and fixed himself a cup of coffee, adding uncustomary cream and sugar simply to give himself something to do with his hands. His motion seemed to wake up the others, and they each prepared their respective drinks in silence.
Percival groped for words while stirring his coffee.
"So," Percival said finally, if only to break the silence. The word hung in the air. The bustling urgency of mere minutes ago appeared to have dissipated, now that Credence was accounted for.
"So, Credence, have you been here this whole time?" Scamander asked, looking at Credence expectantly.
"Umm," Credence said, biting his lip. He turned to Percival, clearly at a loss as to how to explain his current circumstances.
Percival sighed internally. This conversation would be a long, arduous one.
"I first encountered Credence in his obscurus form," Percival said. "He appeared as a dark shadow lingering in the peripherals of my life for the first few weeks after I..." he considered his choice of words, "...returned to work. I initially thought that it was a figment of my imagination, or a side-affect from trauma, up until the shape coalesced into a human being. I realized then that I wasn't seeing shadows but a severely weakened obscurus, and I also recognized Credence from the physical description included in the reports I read. He was still rather injured in his human form and I was concerned about what would happen to him if I revealed his survival, given that Picquery had ordered his destruction."
"So you kept him here," Tina said, voice soft.
"It seemed like the safest thing to do."
Percival could explain the situation better. Should, probably, explain the situation better. But a lot had happened in the last 12 hours - hell, even just the last 6, and he was exhausted: by his job, by Grindelwald, by the silent conversations Tina and Scamander kept having in glances. They had clearly spoken at length and come up with a strategy before meeting with Graves, and Credence's presence was completely disrupting whatever their plan may have been.
Honestly, it helped that the pair of them was clearly as thrown off and discomfited as himself.
"What about the obscurus?" Scamander asked.
Credence took a sip of coffee and gave Percival a sidelong glance.
"I have it under control."
"I only ask," Scamander continued, "because I've been doing a lot of research about how to remove it, and I think I could, if you would allow me."
Credence took a breath to respond, but Percival answered before he had the chance.
"No. It's too dangerous, and to be honest I don't even think it would work."
"I have done it once before -"
"And you killed the girl you tried it on, according to the reports. No."
"Mr. Graves, I don't need to tell you that the obscurus is dangerous," Scamander said, leaning forward in his chair, "and if it's left untreated it will kill him, in time."
"It's not untreated," Credence said, breaking the tension between Percival and Scamander. "I know how to control it. And Mr. Graves has been teaching me magic."
"Is that treatment?" Tina asked, speaking up.
"I've been doing a lot of research on obscurials,” Percival said. “As I'm sure you both probably know, there are no recorded cases of a true obscurial being cured, discounting those few that were caught at a very early age and treated before the obscurus could become corporeal. The reason that I don't think the obscurus can be removed is that it's not an external force, it's an internal one."
Scamander looked like he wanted to interrupt, so Percival held up his hand to forestall him. Percival also rubbed his tired eyes and briefly considered whether or not it would be in good form to bang his head against the table a few times, before launching into an explanation of how he believed the obscurus magic to work. The balloons as a metaphor worked for Tina, but not for Scamander, so Percival had to switch tracks and talk generally about pressure and containment and explosions of power. In the end, Scamander looked thoughtful.
"Honestly," Scamander said, leaning back in his chair, "I hadn't looked at it from that perspective, but it makes a good deal of sense."
"You're too accustomed to beasts, Mr. Scamander. Think of the obscurus more like a backfired spell than a sentient parasite with malicious will towards its host."
Scamander sighed and turned to Credence.
"To be frank, I came here with the hope of finding you, so I hadn't really prepared for what to do once we actually found you. Honestly, I'm at a bit of a loss."
Percival could tell what Scamander wasn't saying was that he expected to find Credence scared and alone, not warm, well-fed and long-haired with a wand tucked in his pocket and a grin on his face.
Scamander had expected to find the wounded, lonely creature that Credence was before he met Percival. That Credence no longer existed.
Scamander's eyes flicked back over to Percival.
"Does he know...?"
"About Grindelwald's escape? Yes."
As an investigator, Percival was accustomed to long, awkward exchanges of information as one or more party tried not to tip their own hand, yet the interplay was far less thrilling when it was happening in his own life and in his own house.
"So what do we do now?" Tina said, leaning forward in her chair.
Tina had been mostly quiet thus far, but Percival knew better than to assume she was overwhelmed - her analytical mind was running circles around them while Percival and Scamander bickered. Percival was far more interested in hearing what she had to say then listening to the sound of his own voice.
"What are your thoughts?" he responded.
"We have too many missing variables. We don't know what Grindelwald is planning, and we don't have any real idea about whether or not he'll show up on your doorstep." She turned to Credence, then. "Credence, you probably talked more to him than any of us," she said, while Credence gave Percival a sidelong glance, "did he tell you anything? Did he say anything about why he was here?"
"He was looking for me," Credence said, voice soft. Percival felt a frisson of fear shoot through him, while Tina's eyebrows raised in alarm.
Percival turned to face Credence fully, then. "Are you absolutely sure about that?"
"Yes. He, um." Credence paused then, collecting himself. The boy stared into space, rather than looking at any of them, and when he spoke again it was halting and unsure. "I don't know how he found me, initially. He just showed up one day on the corner and took one of my pamphlets. I thought it was odd, because men who dressed like that usually ignored me. I saw him around for a few days after that. He never said anything, just... lurked, in the background. After about a week of that he approached me again. He was surprisingly straightforward - he said that he was a witch, and that I was one too, and that if I helped him he could take me away from my mother and teach me magic."
Credence was staring at a fixed point on the table. His silence stretched on until Percival thought that he might need to encourage Credence to keep speaking, but the boy continued of his own volition.
"He told me that he was looking for a child with spectacular powers," he continued, "one that was no older than the age of ten, and that he had had a vision and knew the powerful child was somehow attached to my mother because he had seen her. He didn't know anything else. That's why he wanted my help - he needed someone close to my mother to get close to all the children and pick out which one was powerful. I didn't know what he was actually looking for." Credence smiled then, but the gesture looked more like a wince. "He never gave me anything helpful. Just power . I think he expected me to know it when I saw it. I don't know why." Credence shrugged, then. "I eventually assumed it was my sister, Chastity. She was the only one who..." he trailed off. "Well. If he had ever told me what the powerful child could do I would have been able to tell him that it was me." He paused again, clearly choosing his words. "You two know what happened after that, you were there."
There were obviously parts of the story missing - like how Credence had gone from thinking his sister was the obscurial to Grindelwald chasing his obscurus form down the streets of New York, shouting about all they could accomplish together. But Credence had spoken more than Percival would have expected, and his halting words were clearly tired out. Credence didn't want to talk anymore.
"Okay. Well, that answers the question of whether Grindelwald came here looking for an obscurial or stumbled upon the idea along the way," Percival said calmly, trying not to panic.
"I didn't know that Grindelwald had visions," Tina said. "For all we know about him that's something he's managed to keep well hidden."
"Merlin," Scamander said, shaking his head, "If he had a vision of Credence once, he could have one again."
And that was the elephant in the room, wasn't it?
"But, if Grindelwald had a vision of the obscurus before, maybe he won't have one again. If the obscurus is under control," Tina said.
"If," Graves said darkly. He had every faith in Credence, but his pessimistic nature was rearing its ugly head. He and Credence hadn't really tried to call out the obscurus - had done everything they could to prevent it, in fact. There was no way to know what kind of danger still persisted.
"Well, I know this is hardly the best plan, but perhaps we could, I dunno, try to call out the obscurus, just to see if it can be done." Scamander clearly knew his suggestion was a bad idea even as he was saying it, but powered through Percival’s glare anyway.
Thankfully Credence spoke before Percival could say something rude.
"I don't think that's a good idea." Credence shifted closer to Percival on the sofa again.
"Well, we would have to do it out of the city..."
But Credence was already shaking his head.
"If Grindelwald comes for me then he comes for me," he said simply. "I don't want to accidentally kill one of you just to know. It's not worth it."
"Right. It was a rubbish idea anyway."
The group lapsed into silence again as each of them thought about the problem.
"I hate to say this, but for now the best thing we can probably do is wait to see what MACUSA turns up. The entire auror department is working on this, and S-" Percival cut himself off, "Picquery has some sort of meeting with the British Minister of Magic today. She might turn up something, or one of the aurors might find something."
Scamander frowned. "The Minister of Magic? But Grindelwald escaped from Germany, not England."
Graves shrugged. "He lived in England for years, including the time when he first developed his extremist philosophy. I think she wants to go back to the beginning. It's hard to predict what he may do without knowing why he's doing it, or how he became the man he is today."
Tina nodded thoughtfully but Scamander looked doubtful.
"And if he does come here?"
"I have the house warded to high hell, so if he attempts to enter he'll just call my attention and then the full force of the auror department on himself.”
“I trust Mr. Graves to protect me,” Credence added with a cheeky grin. He seemed to have recovered from the dark cloud of his and Grindelwald’s shared past.
Out of the corner of his eye, Percival noticed Scamander shift uncomfortably.
“You’ve been living with him for months and you call him Mr. Graves?” Scamander asked, tone deceptively neutral.
“Well,” Credence said, tossing a quick grin at Percival, “he won’t let me call him Percy.”
Percival tried not to cringe. Scamander clearly didn’t like him, which was reasonable - the man had an unpleasant history with Grindelwald, who had been wearing Percival’s face at the time, and he didn’t know anything about the real Graves except that he had been harboring the obscurial with unknown motives. And while Percival normally loved when Credence was smart with him, this was not the time, not while he was trying to establish his authority with Newt Scamander.
But Credence was looking expectantly at him, and Percival couldn’t leave that opening unanswered.
“I meant it when I said Cecilia is the only one who calls me that. Not even my own mother calls me Percy.”
Credence grinned at him, soft and pleased. Flowers would bloom under the light of his gaze.
Tina made a noise of surprise. “You met Cecilia?” she said, looking incredulously at Credence. “Wait. Cecilia calls you Percy?”
Percival could feel Scamander assessing him.
“Cecilia is a close personal friend of mine. And yes, I brought Credence up to the farm last week.”
“Farm?” Scamander asked.
“Cecilia farms potions ingredients,” Tina elaborated. “You would love it there. Lots of fantastic plants and magical creatures.”
“I thought they were banned in America?”
“They’re banned in the cities, but it’s all but impossible to get rid of them in the country,” Percival said. “They flock to magical sites. And you can’t grow a lot of magical plants without magical creatures. Wand wood and bowtruckles, for example.”
An awkward silence settled over the group again.
“So then Cecilia knows about Credence,” Tina said finally.
Percival wasn't sure how to answer that. She didn't technically know, per se.
“That seems risky,” Tina continued, not waiting for Percival to answer. “You trust her?”
Percival had no trouble parsing Tina’s tone - she was surprised to learn that Cecilia and Percival were friends, but definitely hurt that he trusted Cecilia more than her. Perhaps even jealous. He and Cecilia had never taken pains to hide their friendship, but they didn’t flaunt it, either. He very much doubted that any other aurors knew that she was a friend as well as a colleague - Picquery knew, but she told even fewer people even less than Graves did.
“I didn’t tell her who Credence is. Cecilia doesn’t keep up with the news, and while I’m sure she heard about the obscurus attacks, MACUSA never had a picture of Credence, so it’s not like his face was on the front page of the newspaper. That being said, yes, I trust her.”
“So who does know about Credence?” Scamander asked.
“Just the people in this room.” Percival paused for a moment, considering. “Though maybe Queenie Goldstein, I never know how much she can read off of me even as an occlumens.”
“She doesn't know,” Tina said definitively. “She would have told me.”
Percival thought about Queenie’s nervous smile, about the friendly baker.
“Just us, then.”
“I’m sending you to England tomorrow.”
Graves blinked, then blinked again. Picquery was leaning back against her desk, arms folded, lips thin. She looked tired. Haggard. She had surely been working around the clock, like Percival, and he attributed the way the words seemed to echo around the room to his exhaustion.
“England,” he said, intonation flat, brow furrowed.
“Yes, England. Are you familiar with Albus Dumbledore?”
“He’s a schoolteacher at Hogwarts, and a former associate of Grindelwald’s. But not for many years, if I understand correctly.”
“They weren’t ‘associates,’ they were friends. Close, if the rumors are true.”
There was something about the way she said friends that gave Percival pause.
“Now we’re running our investigation based on rumors?”
“Do we have a choice?”
Graves felt tired down to his bones. The past few days had been hellish - he and the other aurors had been working around the clock, trying to get any lead on Grindelwald, but the man was a ghost. He disappeared into the night like a phantom and no one had seen hide nor hair of him, and everyone was on edge. Every time Percival managed to convince himself that maybe Grindelwald wasn’t coming back to New York, he heard Credence’s voice saying he was looking for me.
Percival was torn between his duties as an auror and his desire to make sure that Credence was protected at all times. Tina and Scamander had taken to stopping by the house occasionally when Percival couldn’t make it back, but he still worried.
And now Picquery wanted to send him across the ocean on some kind of fool’s errand.
“And what will I find in England?”
“Dumbledore. I want you to go to Hogwarts and talk to the man. You and I spoke on this matter before - we can’t know what Grindelwald will do next if we don’t know his motives. And don’t say chaos; chaos is a means, not an end. Everything he does is calculated, but we don’t have the scorecard.”
“As the head auror,” he said, weighing his words, “wouldn’t it be better for me to stay here and lead the investigation?”
“Nothing has happened here for days. Whatever Grindelwald is planning must be taking some time, so we need to take advantage of this while we still can. You’re the head investigator on this case - you should be the one to go interview Dumbledore. You’ll know which information is important, and how it could affect the rest of the investigation. I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do this, Percival. I know that you like to lead your staff, but this is important.”
Graves said nothing, but Picquery read acquiescence in his silence.
“You will leave via portkey tomorrow morning, eight o’clock sharp. Your appointment with Dumbledore is at 1:30, and your portkey home is the following evening. That should give you enough time to speak with the man and do any other supplementary research that may be needed to draw your conclusions.”
Graves suppressed a sigh. Clearly she expected that he would find something , and then would be compelled to research that something while still over there. He could hardly tell her that every fiber of his being wanted to he here, in the United States, in New York City, for as long as physically possible, because she would need a reason for that - a reason beyond Grindelwald. He still didn’t trust her enough to tell her about Credence.
His hands were tied.
‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'
- W.H. Auden
The morning Mr. Graves leaves for England dawns bright and clear, with the sun cresting over the horizon in a showy array of pinks and oranges. A few wispy clouds catch the morning light and capture streaks of fire across the sky. Birds sing the dawn chorus and the branches of the tree out front blow gently in the breeze.
Credence knows this because he's been awake for hours.
Better put, he has been completely unable to sleep.
Early in the evening he attempted it, tossing and turning in his comfortable bed, but after a few hours he knew that the attempt was futile. Sleeping comes much better to Credence these days, but some nights are harder than others. Some nights, his thoughts race wildly in his head and he can't get them to quiet - thoughts that say that this peace, this goodness he has been experiencing, can't possibly last forever. Not for him.
Mr. Graves is taking Credence to Tina's apartment this morning; he is to stay there until Mr. Graves returns, or, if he doesn't, until Newt and Tina can come up with a place for him to go. They haven't said as much to him, but he knows that there is a risk that Mr. Graves won't survive whatever Grindelwald is planning. It would be stupid, after all, for Grindelwald to impersonate the same man twice, and Mr. Graves is too headstrong to back down from a fight, especially if he thinks that staying will help Credence.
The thought is both thrilling and terrifying - to have someone who cares about Credence so much. He knows that he must have had a family that loved him, once. He has soft, fuzzy images of a woman with dark hair and kind eyes, but if he has any other memories locked in his mind they remain just out of reach. And Ma - Ma had hated him since he was very young. For a long time he didn't know what had courted her ire, but looking back - knowing what he knows now - he likely had cast some accidental magic and she realized that he was a witch.
The words he learned when he was young clash terribly in his mind with the proper terminology he's been learning.
But the sunrise heralds the dawn of a new day, so Credence unfolds himself from the armchair he has been perched in for most of the pre-dawn morning and sets about getting ready for the day to come.
(The darkness inside him whispers that this may be the last time he ever sees Mr. Graves, that this may be the last time he ever sees his home, these trees, this particular view from this particular window.)
Everything is going to be fine, he thinks as he gets dressed.
Everything is going to be fine.
Everything is going to be fine.
Everything is going to be fine.
"You really need to fix that bedhead," the mirror mutters, same as it does every morning, so Credence pauses and combs his fingers through his hair until there are no stray strands sticking up.
The mirror had been an odd gift. Credence had mentioned to Mr. Graves about a month ago that he had no idea what his hair looked like, growing out, because he didn't have a mirror, and the next day the man came home with this six-foot-tall, free-standing monstrosity, and propped the thing up in a corner of his bedroom. The first time it spoke Credence jumped about three feet in the air and his vision went black and cloudy. It must have slipped Mr. Graves’ mind that no-maj mirrors were as silent as any other inanimate object. But, like everything else foreign and magical, Credence has gotten used to the strangeness.
(Credence thinks the mirror is grudgingly fond of him, even though it's constantly griping about the state of his hair.)
The house is silent, which means that Mr. Graves is likely still sleeping.
Part of him wants to go to Mr. Graves’ room and crawl into bed with him, tuck himself under Mr. Graves’ arm and sleep through the Portkey appointment. They have slept together exactly one time - on the sofa, after Credence’s nightmare - but Credence has never in his life slept better. If Credence were more courageous he would do it. If Credence were more selfish he would try it. But he knows Mr. Graves has to leave. He knows.
Sometimes Credence thinks it's okay to be selfish.
(Credence also knows that he already takes up a lot of space in Mr. Graves’ life, and he tries to quiet the part of him that clambers for more. Surely it's a sin beyond lust - gluttony, for his attention; envy, for his time spent with others; greed, for sweet moments between them for Credence to hoard like gemstones, memory the most precious thing he can call his own. Credence tries his best to be thankful for what he has, but he can't stop himself from wanting more.
Credence won't allow himself to think of his predilection for men as being sinful, since Mr. Graves specifically told him not to, but he has so many other things to be ashamed of.)
Credence shakes the image of Mr. Graves, sleep-warm and heavy-lidded, from his mind. Mr. Graves said that Tina’s sister is a mind reader, so Credence really needs to learn to control his thoughts better before arriving at their home.
Credence takes a long moment to look around his room, just in case this really is the last time. He knows it won't be, it can't be, but also that it might be. He runs a hand over the luxuriously soft bedspread, then onto the solid wood frame, before sitting down on the edge of the mattress. The first night he 'slept' in this bed was rather like last night - he was far too alert and unsettled to drift off to sleep. He had never been on a mattress so soft, nor had he ever touched such fine linens. Credence had been terrified of damaging something, had felt terribly unworthy.
Sitting in this bed, alone, at night, reminds Credence of a ship docked in the harbor, the dark ocean stretching out behind it, deep and unfathomable. Credence’s old room was only large enough to fit his small, lumpy mattress, a bed that had been too small for him to stretch out on since he was an adolescent. His fingertips had traced every inch of that place, had known every groove.
This room is immodestly large. Credence knows that he could fit at least half of Ma’s old church in this single room, and he would know - he could never unlearn the dimension of that place, having scrubbed every inch on bruised hands and aching knees, having filled it with his wrath and with his treachery.
The day that -
Credence’s gut twists uncomfortably.
The day that he killed Ma. The day that he lost control of the thing inside of him. He dropped the chains he wore so tightly against himself and allowed his darkness to consume him. He tore through that building, a tornado of fear and pain, and if he closes his eyes and thinks hard enough he can still remember how big he felt, how silly it seemed that something so small, something so fragile as timber and shingles (or tendons and bones) could try to contain him.
Ma had pulled him out of formal schooling while he was still relatively young - said that he didn't need wicked schoolteachers filling his head with nonsense like unproven science and false history - but he still remembers learning that gasses expand to fill the volume of a container. That's how he felt, how he still sometimes feels, about his room, about this house. That the dark part of himself could expand to fill the space and steal away all the oxygen, if he let it.
He won't let it.
Credence opens his eyes, even though he doesn't remember closing them, and the room is the same as it always has been. Dresser on the left wall, cluttered with small tokens of Mr. Graves’ affection; mirror in the corner; armchair by the window; the morning sun filtering through the glass to chase away the darkness.
Credence only allows himself a few seconds of feeling sorry for himself before moving on, pausing only to pocket a small black wolf figurine sitting on the dresser.
Credence creeps light-footed through the hall and down the stairs, skipping over the squeaky second-to-last step. If Mr. Graves is still sleeping, Credence sincerely doesn't want to wake him.
The sitting room looks different in the watery dawn light. Credence rarely wakes this early - the luxury of being able to sleep past the sunrise is a novelty that hasn't worn off yet. He usually wakes early enough to see Mr. Graves off to work, but even that is far later than Ma would have ever allowed.
(Sometimes, Credence disrobes and goes back to sleep after Mr. Graves leaves, feeling terribly indulgent.
Sometimes, Credence disrobes and goes back to bed, but doesn't sleep.)
But this morning Credence can appreciate the stillness. He opens all of the curtains in the sitting room, including those on the interior windows, on the windows which should face the inside of the townhouse next door, the windows that should not exist. But exist they do, cheerfully broadcasting the morning like the others - the ones that Credence knows show the actual outdoors, like the front porch and back patio.
The windows on the right side of the room show a park, with the occasional bunny rabbit hopping by or, once, a stag with resplendent antlers. The windows on the left side of the room provide a stunning view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Mr. Graves walks past both sets of windows every day without lingering. Credence wonders if he’ll ever get so used to magic that he could ignore such a sight, like Mr. Graves does, or if he’ll stand in awe and wonder of this spectacular world he has become a part of for as long as he shall live.
Credence can't even imagine taking magic for granted. Can't imagine not filling with joy and glory at such a sight.
A flash of movement distracts him - a large, fat rabbit emerges from the undergrowth to graze on a patch of grass. The creature seems unbothered by Credence standing barely a few feet away, and he can't help but wonder if this view is something real, somewhere, or just a pretty picture spelled to move like a painting.
No, not a rabbit. On closer examination a small crown of antlers adorns its head - a jackalope, then.
Credence smiles. No shortage of wonders, here.
He allows himself to dawdle for a few more moments before moving on. Lingering by the window all morning isn't an option, today, though it is something he has done before. With one last glance at the jackalope, Credence makes his way out into the back patio and sits cross-legged on the rough stone amongst his potted plants.
Credence sits with his plants for a long while, time slipping through his fingers like sand. If everything goes to Hell, if Mr. Graves doesn't return from England, Credence may have to ask to come back for his plants. He greets each one individually, with the animate ones each one saying hello in return. The flitterbloom wraps a tendril around his knuckle, and the fanged geraniums gnaw gently at the tips of his fingers.
Their visit to Cecilia’s would always be one of Credence’s most cherished memories - between the coat, the trip, the surreal displays of magical vibrancy, the feeling of Mr. Graves’ fingertips branded on his throat - but the plants had been such a pleasant surprise, in a day defined by pleasant surprises.
Credence knows he could sit out here all morning, if he lets himself, until Mr. Graves comes out and summons him along to Tina's. Allowing himself one last look at his precious greenery, he forces himself to move on. He certainly can't leave without going down to the library.
Descending the staircase is hard.
This won't be the last time.
This can't be the last time.
“Good morning,” Credence says to the painting at the bottom of the stairs. The pile of squares and squiggles waves a noodle at him in greeting. He's never been sure what the painting is supposed to be - if it's even supposed to be something that's alive - and it hardly looks like the art that Credence is accustomed to. But it moves like every other magical painting Credence has seen, and so they greet one another every morning.
The noodle grabs hold of a cube and wriggles, which Credence assumes means good morning to you too.
The door to the library is open, like usual, held that way by the miniature statue of Urg the Unclean acting as a doorstop. Credence can admit he doesn't always understand Mr. Graves’ decorating decisions, from the paintings he never seems to look at to the odd statuettes and patterned rugs. Credence is never sure if the older man bought these things because he likes them, or out of some strange sense of obligation, like he had a mental checklist of obligatory items needed to make a house a home.
(Credence has seen Mr. Graves smirk at this ugly statue, so he knows that this, at least, brings the man some joy.)
The library itself is dark. The sun is not yet high enough in the sky to properly filter through the room’s half-windows.
Withdrawing his wand from his pocket he murmurs: “Lumos.”
Even though he's exhausted and heartsick, the glowing lights still bring a smile to his face.
I really do belong here.
Credence doesn't think he’ll ever tire of casting magic. Even if he lives a hundred years. Even if he casts magic every single day for the rest of his life.
Each area of the house evokes a different feeling in Credence: security from his bedroom, comfort from the sitting room, joy from the patio, but this room - this room feels like home. Hours upon hours of time melted away here while Credence lost himself to this new world.
Credence had learned to read in school, but Ma believed that the only book worth reading was the Bible. Novels, she said, were the Devil’s playground, and any so-called nonfiction would be cluttered with lies in the face of magic. The only other book she allowed was the dictionary, and only as a tool to better understand the Bible. And so Credence had spent hours reading the dictionary, carefully sounding out each word and practicing the sample sentences that accompanied them. He gathered a collection of words -- words of beauty, that had no place in Ma’s world of darkness and despair. He would turn them over in his mind, or on the days he was bruised and battered and hopeless, whisper them under his breath in the dead of night.
He’s never dared to use the words. They weren't for that.
The first time Mr. Graves brought Credence into the library he could have wept. Did weep, once he was alone and Mr. Graves was safely at work. Never could he have imagined that one day he would have unfettered access to so many books. Credence had decided then and there that he would read every book in the room - a task far easier said than done, but one he dove into wholeheartedly. He had begun with books on magic and magical theory, to make up for his profound lack of knowledge, but quickly moved onto anything that caught his eye. History, botany, literature - the literature Mr. Graves has! Rows upon rows of fiction and poetry line the shelves on the far wall.
Credence forces his feet to move from where he stands frozen in the doorway. He usually tries not to let himself dwell on memory but today he feels as though every version of himself is stacked on top of one another, occupying this moment at the same time.
Walking in a circle around the room, he allows himself to run his fingertips over the ridges of the bookshelves and the spines of the books. They sit upon the shelves in a riot of different sizes and colors. Some have moving illustrations on the spines. Some have titles like The Animal In You: A Gentleman’s Guide to Discovering Your Animagus Form . A few of the books change color periodically. The place could be visually overwhelming, if Credence allows himself to stare into the shelves for too long.
Credence wonders if he could take a book with him to Tina’s house. Mr. Graves would surely let him, but to ask feels too much like theft. He couldn't possibly remove one of the books from the library, even if he has every intention of returning it.
Even now he has to fight the impulse to hide all evidence that he was here. In the beginning he had always made sure to return each book precisely the way he had found it, so that it was as if he was never there at all.
(There was little that courted Ma’s ire quite so much as moving things about without her permission. Everything he touched had belonged to her, and if he left things in ‘disarray’ she would take his punishment in blood.)
But Credence doesn't need to sneak books. He knows that, intellectually. He stopped hiding his presence early on, and had taken to leaving books he was still reading on end tables or armchairs, small tokens that say I am here, I exist, I am not a ghost.
Mr. Graves has never asked him to stop.
On his good days Credence likes to think that Mr. Graves likes the reminder, too.
His feet stop of their own accord when Credence reaches the far wall, where the literature resides. The whole library is special, but these books here are something else.
Credence had known from the beginning that his focus should be on learning, but he hasn't been able to stop himself from returning over and over to this spot, to these books. It feels indecent (sinful) to choose frivolity over knowledge when he has so much to learn, but Credence allows himself time to read from one book of fiction or poetry in the early afternoon before Mr. Graves comes home.
(It's not that he thinks Mr. Graves would forbid him from those books - truly. But there's something about them that makes him feel raw and bare and Credence doesn't know if he could stand it, looking at Mr. Graves while cradling a book of poetry in his hands. It seems unbearably intimate, made even more so by the knowledge that these are Percival’s books. These aren't educational or historical tomes that ‘Graves, Director of Magical Security at MACUSA’ would need - these are -
Credence doesn't know. He doesn't know what to think. Had understood even less when he had found, on the bottom shelf, slim volumes of no-maj poetry mixed in with the magical. Why does Mr. Graves have these? Has he read them? Presumably he’s read them, since he owns them.
It's a question that plagues Credence, one more piece of the puzzle that is Mr. Graves. Credence wants to know Mr. Graves more than he has ever wanted anything.)
Credence’s hands itch to pull out one of the volumes of poetry, but he settles for pressing his fingertips against them like a brand, not goodbye. Instead, he turns and reaches for one of the volumes of herbology that he has been reading. The weight is familiar in his hand, and he finds the illustrations soothing - this, he could take to Tina’s house. Mr. Graves would likely even be glad for it, to know that Credence has something to occupy himself.
Credence tumbles gracelessly into his chair and loses time. He should have more time - did, have more time - and yet it seems like only moments before he hears Mr. Graves’ footsteps on the stairs, ready to bring him to Tina’s.
Ready to leave.
Credence feels sick.
Credence’s hand spasms on the book. He’s been staring at it this whole time, he guesses, because that’s where he’s looking now and he doesn’t remember choosing to do that. The completely irrational part of him wants to ignore Mr. Graves, to continue sitting here like any other day, as if that would stop him from leaving.
Credence forces himself to raise his eyes. Mr. Graves looks stunning, like always, hair slicked back and clothing immaculate. The man looks like a statue. Would look like a statue, if his expression wasn’t so pained. Perhaps like one of those old Greek statues that Credence had seen in books, faces etched in agony, in ecstasy.
“We should be leaving soon.”
Taking a deep breath, Credence forces himself to stand and face the day. This is it. Either Mr. Graves will return from Europe or he won’t, and nothing he can do right now will change that. But if Credence is obviously distressed before Mr. Graves leaves then Mr. Graves will surely worry, and he shouldn’t be distracted with thoughts of Credence if he’s going to stay safe. So Credence forces a small smile and tries not to look as pained as he feels, and he follows Mr. Graves back up the stairs.
He would follow Mr. Graves anywhere.
“Breakfast?” Mr. Graves says when they get upstairs, but Credence shakes his head. He’s not hungry.
(Credence never would have thought he’d see the day when he would refuse food.)
“This isn’t goodbye Credence. I will come back.” Mr. Graves looks earnest, and concerned, so Credence forces another smile.
He doesn’t know.
“I shouldn’t be anywhere near Grindelwald himself. And, if the reports are accurate, the man hasn’t come within five hundred miles of Dumbledore in years. If anything I’ll be safer there than here.”
That eases Credence’s worry, a bit.
“You’ll be with Tina or Queenie the whole time. Mr. Scamander might be around too.” Now it sounds like Mr. Graves is trying to convince himself that Credence will be safe.
What a pair they make.
Credence takes a step forward, foot leaden and aching, then another, until he’s standing directly in front of Mr. Graves. In front of Percival. And then he throws his arms around the man in the tightest hug he can muster.
Mr. Gra- Percival’s arms come up around him, and then it’s like everything else falls away, and he can revel in this moment for a short infinity. Percival smells amazing, and, like always, gives amazing hugs, arms strong and sure.
Credence feels his breath hitch and burrows closer. He feels a hand come up and stroke over his hair, blunt fingers soothing lightly over his scalp.
God. Where would Credence be without this man? Who would Credence be without this man? Everything was so dark and cruel and terrible -
“Shhhhh. Credence, everything is going to be fine. I promise.”
Credence isn’t crying. He won’t let himself. He can feel the burning behind his eyes, but he can be strong dammit he’s not a child anymore. What he really wants is to steal a kiss, but he knows he won’t - he doesn’t want his memories of kissing Percival to be tainted with this misery and heartache. They stand for a long time - too long, surely, Tina is expecting them - but he can’t bring himself to pull away.
Eventually he steps back. Percival looks ruffled, too, and oddly that makes Credence feel a little bit better.
“Come. We need to leave before Goldstein sends a search party.”
Percival takes Crecence’s hand and tugs him out the door; the click of the lock behind them sounds shockingly final.
Credence needs to stop and take a few seconds to right himself after apparating. He could hardly say that he's used to the method of travel - he's only done it twice before, first with Grindelwald and later with Mr. Graves on his way to his birthday surprise. Perhaps, too, his stress and lack of sleep have mixed into a terrible combination. Whatever the cause, Credence has to stop and take a few deep, measured breaths before he can stand upright and face the rest of his day. Face Mr. Graves, who is looking at him with a worried frown and a furrow across his brow.
(He needs to start thinking of him as Mr. Graves again, since Tina’s sister is a mindreader.)
Mr. Graves nods, but takes Credence's elbow regardless, and steers him towards a nondescript red brick building. It seems like only a matter of seconds before he's standing in an unfamiliar doorway, with Tina and Tina's sister inviting them both inside. He walked up the stairs, he's sure of it, but the next thing he knows he's seated on a sofa with a cup of tea. Tina and Mr. Graves are talking about the trip, but the words don't even register with Credence; he's too busy staring at his drink and trying not to react.
Credence looks up to see Tina's sister standing over him.
"I don't think we've officially met. I'm Queenie, nice to meetcha."
Tina's sister, the mindreader.
"Some people think of me that way, but I'm not trying to eavesdrop, honest." She sits down on the couch next to Credence, her body angled towards him, giving at least the impression of her full attention. "I can try not to listen, but it's a bit like trying to ignore someone that's speaking in the same room as you."
Credence is trying his best to ignore Mr. Graves and Tina talking, but it's not working out very well. He can still hear the occasional word, like 'Hogwarts' and ‘portkey,' and he can only imagine that she's getting double, both what they're saying and what they're thinking.
"It's okay," is what he says.
It might be nice, not having to talk. Credence feels like every word he knows is a thousand miles away right now anyway, like he has a hand wrapped around his throat.
"I know you're worried about Mr. Graves, but you shouldn't be."
Credence tries his best to contain his spark of frustration, but a sympathetic expression blooms across Queenie's face.
"That's not going to help much, is it?" She glances over at Mr. Graves, then back to Credence. "I always hate when people say stuff like that to me, but some people like it. I know it probably doesn't help to hear, but worrying isn't going to change anything. Either everything will work out or it won't. So chin up!"
Credence can't help but smile a little - everything would work out or it wouldn't. Either way, it's out of his hands.
"I know that this is the first time we've met, but I'm so happy to see you alive. When Teeny told me I just about fainted - I had no idea! I even met Mr. Graves a few weeks ago and I didn't even pick up on it. He's an accomplished occlumens, mind you, but I never would have guessed that you were the one that - well. Let's just say that he's managed to keep your secret." She winks at the words 'your secret' and the expression is so charming Credence forgets to be anxious, for just a moment.
"There you go. Drink your tea, it'll help. Chamomile. It's supposed to be relaxing, as much as some hot leaf water can be relaxing. I wanted to slip in some Gideon's Calamity Calmers but Teeny said that you might not like that, so I left it alone."
She's probably right - Credence doesn't know if he could handle anything mind-altering right now.
"Or, some old fashioned whiskey can also do the trick. But maybe we'll save that for later."
"Oh yeah, I forget sometimes that no-majes banned alcohol. We only hide it because they're hiding it, but it's perfectly legal here."
"Credence?" Credence's head snaps up at the sound of Mr. Graves’ voice. "I have to get going, or I'll be late." He's up off the couch and across the room before he can think about his actions, and Mr. Graves pulls him into a quick hug. "I'll be back before you know it."
"Be safe," Credence says, the only thing he can truly ask for.
"I have to get to work too, Credence, but Queenie will be able to stay with you today, and she knows how to contact me if she needs me," Tina says. She looks mildly uncomfortable, though Credence isn't sure if it's because of his affection with Mr. Graves or the situation at work.
Credence waves. The motion is probably awkward, but Tina waves awkwardly back, and then she and Mr. Graves are out the door.
Credence stares at the closed door for probably longer than he should.
"Okay then!" Queenie says, rubbing her hands together. "Teeny tells me that you like to cook. Do you wanna help me with breakfast?"
They make breakfast, Queenie chattering on happily about this and that, stories from her childhood with Tina and funny stories she's 'overheard' at MACUSA. Credence appreciates her talking. Appreciates it even more because he doesn't have to say anything, and Queenie's quick to elaborate on his idle thoughts and questions without having to ask something outright. She spends the better part of the morning trying to teach him how to make a pie with a wave of his wand, but the ugly pastry he comes up with is a pale comparison to the work of art she's able to create.
"It doesn't really matter what they look like," she says at his frown, "they'll both be delicious, and that's what really matters."
Credence takes a few bites of his pie and has to concede that yes, his pie tastes pretty good, even though it looks like a pile of dog mess.
"You'll get there! It just takes a bit of patience and a whole lot of practice. I’m sure Mr. Graves won’t mind,” she says with a knowing look.
Credence isn’t sure what she knows, or what she thinks she knows. He also doesn’t know what Tina’s look was about earlier, but he has a feeling that the sisters are making… assumptions, about his relationship with Mr. Graves.
“Not assumptions, per se, but… I’ve known Mr. Graves for a long time, and I ain’t never seen him act like he’s been acting with you.”
Credence still finds it strange that someone would see two men together and assume that the relationship was romantic - or two women, for that matter. It’s not as though such relationships are unheard of in the no-maj world, but they’re generally spoken of in harsh whispers and cruel words. Not many would jump to that conclusion without evidence.
“Oh honey, it’s nothing bad. It’s just - the way you look at him, it’s easy for people to assume.”
Her words remind him of Cecilia and Mr. Graves’ argument at the farm, Mr. Graves’ stilted she thought our relationship was, ah, sexual. Even Queenie looks slightly uncomfortable, like she isn’t sure how to broach the topic. Perhaps those relationships are less accepted than he thought.
“It's not that. I promise. It's just that you're a little young, for a man like Mr. Graves.”
She thinks you're too young for me.
But what difference does age make, really?
“Sometimes it makes no difference at all. Sometimes, it makes all the difference. You had to grow up really fast honey, that much is obvious."
Credence doesn't know how to feel about that. She's right - sometimes he feels like he's a hundred years old - but he doesn't know what to do with her well-meaning concern.
"I don't think that Mr. Graves is going to hurt you, or that things are gonna go sour. But I do think that you haven't really talked to anyone other than him since November. That's not good for anyone, and it can really reduce your world to a teacup. You're bigger than a teacup, Credence. I just wanna make sure you're not stuck in it."
The answer tumbles out of him, unbidden. It's true, though. He doesn't know how to explain himself. He knows that others his age might chafe at the sedentary, often solitary lifestyle he's been living, but for him it's the first time in living memory he can remember feeling safe, and wanted, and cared for.
"Mr. Graves really cares about you. I just wanted to make sure that your feelings aren't..." she sighs, searching for the right words, "...influenced, by his feelings. If that makes sense."
"...I... don't really... know. What you mean." The words come out awkward and unsure.
"It's easy to love someone because they love you," she says simply.
The idea seems so foreign to Credence. Are there people out there that have such an excessive number of people who love them, that they have to worry about this?
Queenie laughs again. "That's not what I mean, Credence. I'm sorry, I guess I'm not being very clear. I'm just a bit worried because you're in a delicate place in your life right now, and it's normal for people to worry that you're getting in over your head. Mr. Graves is a lot older than you, and it would be easy to push you into doing something that you're not ready for, even if it were an accident. He might not realize he was doing it. You might not, either."
Credence can't help but laugh at that - the idea of Mr. Graves pushing him into anything is laughable. The man wouldn't even touch Credence without verbal permission, even after Credence told him again and again it's not necessary. Credence likes it when Mr. Graves touches him, likes it even more when he forgets to ask first. Mr. Graves' hesitance is equal parts maddening and addicting. Sometimes Credence just wants Mr. Graves to grab him and hold him close, but the power he has over Mr. Graves is thrilling, honestly. The ability to say yes or no, to always make that decision. Credence is sometimes tempted to push the boundaries just to see if he could get Mr. Graves to react, but he hasn't yet worked up the courage.
"You really care about him, don't you?"
“Yeah,” he says aloud, voice soft. In the end it probably doesn’t matter - he doesn’t know if Mr. Graves feels the same way, or if he’s just too polite, too caring, to turn Credence down. He likes to think that he does - on his good days, he knows that he does - but sometimes it’s hard to understand, to accept.
“He does,” Queenie says.
What Credence doesn't know is whether he's an abstract painting, kept out of a self-imposed sense of obligation, or if he's a slim volume of poetry, tucked out of sight with infinite care.
Credence chances a look at her face - he isn’t even sure when he had started looking at the floor - but her expression is open and guileless.
But she may just be humoring him - Mr. Graves said himself that she couldn't read his mind.
“Not very well, not as well as yours, but honey, it's almost impossible to hide when you're in love. Even if I can't read his specific thoughts, his feelings surround him like a haze. And he has let his guard down around me before, and trust me honey, you were the only thing on his mind.”
The bakery, just before his birthday. Mr. Graves had mentioned that he ran into her there.
To his surprise Queenie laughs at that, her voice like a choir of angels.
“You're too sweet by a half! And he promised me that he wouldn't tell anyone,” she elaborates, “but I supposed he never thought you and I would be talking to each other.”
Credence frowns. What an odd thing to try and keep secret.
“I'm not supposed to be hanging around there. Teeny would have a fit if she knew.”
“The baker. Jacob.” She says his name with a sigh. “I'm not supposed to be around him. He’s a no-maj.” Queenie tugs at a lock of her golden hair, eyes distant.
Credence remembers, then, that casters and no-majes are forbidden from interacting. The rule seemed reasonable when Mr. Graves explained it, but it seems unnecessarily cruel, now.
“Everyone has their prejudices, I guess. I've heard no-majes restrict marriage based on the color of your skin.”
Credence nods - that, he's familiar with.
"Most people think we're really different from them, you know? No-majes. But I can tell you, when you can hear what people are thinking, we're all a lot more similar than folks wanna admit."
Credence finds himself nodding along, even though he can't really relate - he's not a mindreader. But he has spent a lot of time in the streets, and in different neighborhoods around New York, and he's found that people are more or less the same everywhere. Most of what he knows about the caster community comes from what Mr. Graves has told him, not from practical experience. He thinks, though, that casters can't be that different from no-majes.
"Mr. Graves is a good man." She smiles at him, achingly kind. "He's never very far from your thoughts."
It seems like Credence can’t go more than a few minutes without thinking of Mr. Graves, these days. Every time he walks down the hall past Mr. Graves’ bedroom he burns with curiosity, but he refuses to violate the man’s privacy. Credence has only been in there once, the night Mr. Graves had a nightmare, and Credence didn't have the chance to look around, to try and get a little more insight into the man who consumed his thoughts. He’s considered going in there during the day, but his fading scars burn just thinking about violating one of the very few rules Mr. Graves had set.
(He knows that Mr. Graves wouldn't punish him, not like that, but Credence aches with the need to be good for Mr. Graves, to be good enough for him.)
When Credence reads books on theory he wonders what Mr. Graves thinks about it, and when they would have lessons he couldn't help but badger the man with question after question, always wanting to hear more about the magical world from Mr. Graves’ perspective. Even when he lays down to sleep at night he thinks about Mr. Graves -
Blush crawls hot across his skin at the thought. How could he forget that that Queenie could hear him?
“Don't worry about it honey, I've heard much worse.” Credence feels himself flush even darker, knowing that she knows the direction his thoughts had turned. “And,” she says in a stage-whisper, leaning forward in her seat even though they’re alone in the apartment, “just about everyone at MACUSA has wondered what Mr. Graves looks like naked, at one point or another.”
Credence covers his face with his hands.
“Everyone?” he squeaks. Embarrassing - he should be old enough, now, for his voice to not do that.
Credence knows that she’s just trying to help, but he would do anything to get out of this conversation.
Queenie laughs again.
“Come! Let’s try the pastry again. Mr. Scamander will be around in a few hours, and you’ll be absolutely amazed by what he has in his suitcase!
O what to her shall be the end?
And what to me remains of good?
To her, perpetual maidenhood,
And unto me no second friend.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson
Portkeys had never been Percival's favorite way to travel.
He preferred apparating, when possible, or alternatively traveling by train, or broom. Apparating was easy, something he could do in his sleep. Flying was tiring, but he was quite skilled at it, and liked to take advantage of from time to time (when the mood struck). Trains were fine; magical trains, in particular, were hard to sabotage, and since Percival had no trouble apparating under pressure he could always apparate to safety next to the train if something happened.
Portkeys, though - generally, traveling by portkey required him to put blind trust into the caster who created the thing. All he could tell, from the outset, was that an object was a portkey, not where would end up. If he would end up in the correct destination, or in relative safety. And intercontinental portkeys like this one added an extra layer of anxiety. After all, Grindelwald was able to infiltrate MACUSA once; what's to say that he hadn't done it again? Forget transporting Percival directly into a circle of Grindelwald's followers - a portkey could drop him in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, where there would be no evil wizard to fight but also nowhere to go. He can't fight an ocean. He can't fight Antarctica.
Percival looked at the harried wizard again. He didn't look like a plant, but then again, neither had Graves. The man was shuffling through drawers and muttering to himself, a habit that Graves found many of the International Portkey Officers had in common.
"Aha! One London portkey, here ya go." The man handed Graves a gold token with LONDON stamped on the bottom. "This'll take you through to the London IPO. All your paperwork should be in order on the other end, so once you're processed they'll getcha a portkey up to Hogsmeade. That's the town outsidea Hogwarts. This guy'll activate in..." he glanced at his pocket watch, "seven minutes. I'm not sure if the London IPO is using timed or contact portkeys, so I can't tell ya how you're gonna be gettin' back from Hogsmeade, but this one,” he handed Graves a second portkey, this one stamped NEW YORK, “will activate tomorrow at 9pm London time, which'll get you in around 4pm New York time. Don't get your time zones mixed up or you're gonna miss your port. Five hours! Remember that, set your clock."
Graves was mentally counting down the seven minutes until he no longer needed to speak to this man.
“And don’t forget to return your used tokens when you’re back in New York. If the office is closed you can drop it off in the collection bin out front.”
Typically, Graves did return his portkey tokens, not being the sentimental sort, though he knew people with jars of portkeys as souvenirs from vacations and travel. He ran his finger over the engraving which said his name, the date, and LONDON stamped at the bottom. Credence might like to keep this, however, when Graves returns.
The portkey officer continued chattering on, but Graves wasn't listening any longer. Instead, Graves was trying to focus on quelling his rising panic - also, too, his annoyance at himself. When he was a younger man he would frequently take portkeys around the world, and often ended up in Central and South America for work. Never before had he felt this clenching in his stomach, or this tightness in his shoulders, at the mere prospect of leaving New York. Credence was a part of it - a huge part of it - but Graves knew he had Grindelwald to thank for the rest.
"All right, here we go, in five, four, three, two, one!"
Graves felt that distinctive tug at his navel and the squeezing, nauseating feeling of the portkey's magic.
Graves could only imagine that the officer was trying to remind him, again, about the time zones, or the token return, but his words were cut off as the MACUSA office around Graves disappeared.
He reappeared in a stone room lined with rows of desks, a witch stationed behind each one. Graves took a few deep breaths to stabilize himself while the witch at the desk he stood in front of scrawled on - was that parchment? - with some kind of... quill? Graves frowned, but took a moment to look around the room he found himself in. The style of the architecture was old. Either this building had been standing for several hundred years, or the creator wanted to make it look like it had been standing for several hundred years. Candles on wall sconces provided the majority of the light, though there were also false windows on one of the walls which showed a serene field with what looked like wheat blowing in the breeze. Only two of the maybe 20 desks had people conducting business, and while Graves could hear the gentle murmur of voices he could also tell that there was some kind of muffling spell around each station. Finally, the witch in front of him finished writing and looked up at him, smiling.
"Welcome to London, Auror Graves."
Graves wondered if her pause was deliberate, to give visitors a moment to compose themselves before needing to speak to someone. Portkeys were, after all, one of the most nauseating and least comfortable methods of travel.
Graves smiled, as charming as he was able to be with the invisible bands of tension strung around his chest, and they made small talk for a minute before she took his paperwork. Graves waited while she wrote something down on her parchment and stamped his papers. Looking around, all down the row people were appearing in front of the free desks. Some, like Graves, took a deep breath and then were ready to conduct business; others looked vaguely green. One man on the other end of the room appeared, and then immediately keeled over, panting loudly.
Each time another person appeared, the desk clerk would wait 30 seconds to a minute before engaging the traveler.
"Here you are, Auror Graves," the woman in front of him said, drawing his attention back to her. Her accent was pleasant and lilting. "All of your paperwork is in order. I have your portkey to Hogsmeade here." She levitated an old shoe onto her counter, but made a clear point not to touch it.
Graves kept his expression neutral, as much as he wanted to make a face. Why on earth were they giving him a dirty shoe as a portkey?
"This will bring you to the Hog's Head Tavern. Once you business is concluded your return portkey will be waiting for you in the field at the end of town.”
“In the field?”
“And what will this portkey be?”
She looked down at her paperwork for a moment.
“It’ll be a red teakettle, timed to bring you to Diagon Alley at 3:00.”
“Diagon Alley?” He frowned. “I actually need to return to the ministry.”
“Yes, but the International Portkey Office is for international portkeys only. Domestic travel doesn’t come through this office.”
Okay. Graves blinked, then sighed.
“I don’t suppose that I could get a portkey to the ministry?”
“No sir, unfortunately the Ministry of Magic does not allow portkeys or apparition into the building.”
She plucked a piece of parchment off of one of her stacks.
“Here are instructions on how to enter the ministry.”
Graves glanced at the paper, and the first on the list was Toilets. No - he wasn’t going to deal with that right now. He folded up the paper and tucked it into his pocket.
“Great, thank you. Is this portkey ready?”
She nodded serenely, still smiling.
“If there's anything further I can help you with please do let me know, I would be happy to assist you."
She batted her eyelashes.
"Thank you," Graves said, "you have been incredibly helpful already."
He reached out and touched the shoe.
This time the sensation was rather akin to being punched in the stomach several times in quick succession. Graves appeared in an alley behind what he could only assume was the Hog's Head Tavern, which gave him enough cover to double over and take a few deep breaths while he tried not to lose the contents of his stomach. He dropped the shoe into the detritus of the alley - he couldn’t image that they wanted it back. The time in the portkey was shorter, but traveling was always the worst when it was back-to-back without sufficient downtime in between. He had been given the option of having some time between his arrival in London and his departure to Hogsmeade, but he made the decision to get it over with as quickly as possible.
The bile creeping up his throat reminded him why most people choose not to do that.
Graves swallowed, stood, and straightened his clothing. He checked his watch - 8:12am - and took a moment to set it to 1:12pm, before striding purposefully from the alley. Hogsmeade appeared to be a very charming little town. The buildings were very old but well cared for, all in a variety of different architectural styles. Overall the look reminded him of a few quaint old towns he had visited in Germany. All around casters were bustling about, laughing and chatting. Graves stuck out from the crowd - every other person around was wearing long robes in a variety of different colors, some with pointed hats, while Graves was wearing a three-piece suit.
He was aware of some eyes on him as he walked down the road towards the castle looming in the distance. As he approached the castle, Graves pulled his shrunken files out of his breast pocket and returned them to full-size. He had done some preliminary research into Dumbledore and his decades-old connection to Grindelwald, but wasn't able to find much. Between the ocean separating them and the British defensiveness of Dumbledore, there was little information to be found on the wizard in America. He could only hope that the Ministry of Magic would be able to provide the "supplemental research" that Seraphina was sure he would need after his meeting.
He had found, however, some interesting information on Dumbledore's family history.
There was a man standing at the castle gate, though Graves was still too far away to tell if this was Dumbledore or some other teacher sent to fetch him. Even from a distance Graves could tell that the man was still as a statue, watching Graves’ approach with a keen eye. Likely Dumbledore, then - any other professor or administrator would be bored, or mildly curious.
"Auror Graves?" the man said as he approached, now-familiar blue eyes evaluating him from behind wire-rimmed glasses.
The man was easily identifiable from the photographs Graves had seen. Tall, thin, and stately, he had an aura of power and authority around him that few people managed to pull off. He was a few years older than Graves, with gray streaks running through his hair and wrinkles that made him look wizened, instead of old. He wore a long, pale blue robe similar to what the others in Hogsmeade were wearing, but Graves could tell that Dumbledore's robe was of a higher quality than most. Graves could tell already that he would not want to duel with this man; though Dumbledore may look like an ivory-tower academic, Graves was very good at spotting dangerous opponents when he met them, and Dumbledore would definitely qualify as 'dangerous.'
The man nodded and held out his hand for Graves to shake. His grip was firm and sure, but he didn't take the opportunity to grasp too tightly or too long in a pointless power play, and the handshake itself was short.
"I trust that your travels were unremarkable?"
Graves nodded as Dumbledore swung the gate open with a wave of his wand.
"The London IPO was very accommodating."
"Come, I'll show you to my office."
An interesting choice - Graves had been surprised that Dumbledore had requested they meet at Hogwarts itself, as he had assumed they would be meeting in a neutral location somewhere in Hogsmeade. Either Dumbledore was completely unconcerned that Graves could be a dark wizard in disguise, or he was confident in his own ability to overpower Graves, if the need arose. As they walked across the castle grounds Graves could see students flying on the Quidditch pitch in the distance, their whoops and shouts carrying faintly. Interesting, too, that he was taking Graves to his office, when they could put up a silencing spell anywhere else on the grounds. Dumbledore clearly wanted to be on his own turf, where he felt comfortable and in control of the situation.
He clearly wanted Graves to see him as the Brits saw him: a wizened old man (though he wasn't even fifty) who innocently molded the minds of young students. A wizard who would never be caught up in such ghastly business as what Grindelwald has been up to these past twenty, thirty years.
The castle itself was magnificent, though Graves didn't have the opportunity to see much of it. They walked through a grand entryway before Dumbledore lead him towards a discreet staircase tucked off to the side, which brought them into a stone hallway that lead straight to his office. The room itself was remarkable, and reminded Graves a little bit of his own office back home. The walls were lined with bookcases, and one entire wall consisted of curio cabinets filled with magical artifacts. A large, gleaming cauldron sat tucked in the corner, like an afterthought, a reminder that while Dumbledore was a transfiguration teacher he was also skilled at all subjects Hogwarts had to offer.
Dumbledore walked around to the far side of his large, oak desk, and sat down. Graves took his cue to sit at the chair opposite. He felt a bit like a naughty school child, sent to the principal's office for misbehavior.
Graves had no doubt that the feeling was well orchestrated.
"You have a beautiful school," Graves said. "There's clearly a lot of history in these walls."
Graves wasn't here for small talk, but he understood its necessity when trying to charm potentially hostile subjects.
"Yes, Hogwarts was founded in the 10th century and has been in continuous use for about a thousand years."
Dumbledore looked at Graves over the wire rims of his glasses.
"Yes, quite. But I know you're not here to talk about the school."
So Dumbledore didn't seem interested in small talk. That was fine with Graves.
"President Picquery requested that I come here in an effort to learn more about Grindelwald."
Dumbledore wasn't surprised - surely he had been briefed on the topic of Graves’ visit.
"What do you know about Grindelwald's attack on New York?"
"Only what I've read in the papers," Dumbledore said, expression unreadable. "The Daily Prophet said that he had attempted some kind of attack in New York City, and that he was subsequently caught while impersonating a government official of some regard and taken to prison."
Dumbledore's description of the events was vague; did he know about the obscurial? Did he know about Grindelwald's visions?
Before Graves had the opportunity to ask, Dumbledore spoke again.
"I understand that I am a well-known former associate of Grindelwald, but I must confess, I don't fully understand why the American Congress has chosen to prevail upon me now. I haven't had any contact with Grindelwald in decades, and our years of friendship were short in comparison to the years that have passed since. I'm no more likely to understand what Grindelwald is doing, or why, than you are. Less likely, even, since you have been following his movements and I have not."
"You were close friends with him for years."
"As a young man, yes. Back when I was arrogant and foolish and had not yet learned who Grindelwald really was."
An interesting choice of words.
"And what is he really?"
"A black-hearted man who would do anything for power, of course." Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth, regarding Graves. “That much should be obvious.” His blue eyes were cunning, sharp - for as much as the man tried to claim ignorance, there was something in the way that he spoke, in the carefully measured nonchalance of his words that had Graves’ hackles up.
"And was he always that way?" Graves wasn't sure what, exactly, he was fishing for, but he knew that there was something behind the ice wall - if he could find a crack. Perhaps Seraphina was onto something, more than just wasting Graves’ time.
Dumbledore sighed. "You have to understand that Grindelwald was a very charismatic young man. He had a way of talking that made it easy to get pulled along into his line of thinking. Given his continued successes in recruiting members to his cause, I imagine that that much has not changed."
"And that was what happened with you? He... seduced you into his line of thinking?"
Dumbledore frowned, then. "I wouldn't call it a seduction, no. But he had a way of making his plans seem both logical and inevitable, to an eager young mind who might not know any better. That was before, of course, back when this was all theoretical and Grindelwald hadn't murdered dozens of innocent people under the claim of the greater good. He has since abandoned all pretense of building a better world and intends only to crown himself as king."
Graves took a moment to shuffle some of his notes, buying himself a few seconds of time before he had to respond. Dumbledore's claims of being a well-meaning, naive young man rang hollow when the whole of the Ministry of Magic hailed the man as the most powerful wizard in the British Isles, some even claiming the world. Some of those claims were surely nationalistic pride mixed with childhood idolization of the most memorable figure from Hogwarts, but there was surely some truth to them.
"Your father," Graves said, plucking one of the reports out of his stack, "was arrested and sent to Azkaban for attacking a group of muggle children."
Dumbledore bowed his head. "Your point being that surely I was raised in a wizarding-supremacist household, and that my ties to Grindelwald's ideology are stronger than I let on."
Graves said nothing.
"Yes, my father lived out the rest of his days in prison. His reasons for attacking those children are his own, and since his death we may never know what they were."
That - that was a lie. Graves could feel it.
"But I am not a young man anymore, influenced by my father's actions or swayed by my friend's ideologies. As I previously stated, in the past twenty five years I have done nothing to warrant suspicion of cooperating with a dark wizard or furthering his cause."
"I didn't accuse you of that."
"And yet here you are, asking me questions about my history with Grindelwald and my father's politics." Dumbledore spoke the words simply and without censure, but his eyes were steely. Graves wasn't sure if the man was defensive because he was guilty of something, or offended that Graves was suspicious of him. Given Dumbledore's reputation in England, it was unlikely that the man had been confronted with suspicion in a very, very long while. Either way, this was going nowhere - Graves would have to try a different tactic. He did a quick cost-benefit analysis, his pride versus Dumbledore's stubborn righteousness, and switched tactics. He sighed and rubbed his eyes, slumping slightly in his seat.
"I'd like to apologize," Graves said, telegraphing his reluctance, and that apologies didn't come easily to him. "The ‘official of some regard’ Grindelwald imprisoned and impersonated was me, if you didn't already know that." Graves glanced at Dumbledore, but the man's expression was unchanged. Clearly, he already knew that. "So as you can imagine, this issue hits pretty close to home for me, and I may be somewhat professionally compromised."
God, the man was like a statue.
"Suspicion is in my nature," Graves continued, "and all I know about you is that you used to be allied with that... man," monster, "and that has been coloring my judgement of you, unjustly, and for that I would like offer my sincere apologies." Dumbledore nodded once. "You aren't under any official suspicion by MACUSA. To be completely honest, we're desperate. I think the president asked me to come speak to you because we've already spoken to every other known associate of Grindelwald's from the past thirty years, and she had the hope that you would be able to tell us something that they couldn't."
"I'm afraid that's unlikely."
Graves let his shoulders slump a little further, a wry grin on his face. "Well, it's the only plan we have, other than waiting for someone to recognize him from his wanted posters and contact the authorities. And that seems unlikely to happen, given that we know he spent at least five months disguised as someone else. I imagine polyjuice isn't the only trick up his sleeve.”
"Grindelwald was always interested in disguises, even as a young man," Dumbledore said, accepting the change of subject with aplomb. "Even when he was still in school, finding a disguise that would last through revealing charms was an interest of his. At the time, it seemed like an odd subject of fascination, though I'm sure he foresaw the need to spend significant amounts of time hiding in plain sight. If your plan is to wait him out, I fear you may be waiting a very long time indeed.”
Graves thought of Grindelwald's sallow skin and eerie, different colored eyes. "Yeah, if I looked like that I might want to change my appearance too. Especially as a teenager."
Dumbledore frowned, confusion genuine this time. "I have to admit, I haven't seen Grindelwald's wanted posters. They haven't posted any around the school or in Hogsmeade." The because no one thinks Grindelwald is foolish enough to come near here remained unsaid. "But Grindelwald was always a... good-looking young man. He certainly didn't want to change his appearance because of vanity."
Graves supposed that Grindelwald may have been young and attractive, once, though it was hard for him to imagine.
"Attractive or not, he is distinctive looking. Especially the eyes."
Dumbledore was looking at him strangely, showing more honest emotion on this subject than anything else so far.
"Do you have one of those posters with you? Or any kind of photo?"
Graves shuffled through his papers, passing by dossiers of known associates and arrest records, until he found a copy of the photo that was papered around New York. He leaned forward and passed it off to Dumbledore's outstretched hand.
Dumbledore stared at the photo for a long, uncomfortable moment.
"That," he said, "is not Grindelwald’s face."
Graves took a breath, ready to argue, and then paused. Dumbledore was Grindelwald's oldest known associate. He knew the dark wizard from before he was famous, before he was infamous, and before he needed to disguise himself to the greater public.
"This is the photo that has run in every newspaper around the world for the past few years," Graves said finally, incredulous. Even if there were no wanted posters in Hogsmeade, Dumbledore must surely read the paper.
Dumbledore smiled then, a wistful thing. "Would you believe me if I told you that I have tried my hardest to avoid news of my old friend, all these years? Our relationship did not end on a happy note, and I am not too proud to admit that, at one point in my life, he was the person most dear to me. I don't read the papers about him. I never have." He looked back at the photo. "This is an interesting choice, as far as public personas go. He is frightening. His outsides match his insides."
"What did he look like?"
Dumbledore paused for long enough that Graves thought the man wasn't going to answer.
"It's hard to describe someone I haven't seen in almost twenty five years, as he may look quite different now. But he had dark brown hair, and dark brown eyes, and very defined cheekbones. His face was always distinctive, but not like this," he said, tapping the photo. "He was eye-catching. A fair number of young women longed for his attentions."
Graves remembered Seraphina's words, the undertone that had caught his attention.
“Hmm.” Graves wasn’t sure what to say. He had known that investigating Grindelwald was hard - his followers were notoriously difficult to catch, and when they were caught, they somehow often had their memories wiped - but Graves had thought they had something on the man, even if it was just his face.
Fuck, he thought.
As if this investigation wasn’t hard enough.
“Maybe that was part of his plan all along,” Graves said slowly, trying to puzzle out a motive. “He makes his face, this face, public. Everyone knows that that’s Grindelwald. Then, one day, if he’s definitely caught and has no chance of escape, he can take off whatever kind of illusion or disguise he’s wearing and pretend to be a fake - a double of the real Grindelwald. He could be hoping that his jailers would believe it, and that he would be sentenced as an accomplice and not the real man.”
“He divorces himself from his true self, and thus the man becomes a legend instead of a mortal.”
“Something like that.”
“That seems to be a dangerous gamble.”
“If Grindelwald had taken off this face while in MACUSA custody and claimed to be a fake, carrying on Grindelwald’s orders while the real dark wizard completed a different mission, we would have had no reason not to believe him. He still would have been charged with a crime, but he would have been treated like the pawn and not the king.” Graves frowned, trying to fit this new knowledge into the dark wizard he knew. “But then why not use that when he had the chance?”
“Who says that he didn’t?” Dumbledore said, eyebrow raised. “Do you know how he was able to escape from prison?”
“Not yet.” Maybe Grindelwald’s true identity was part of his escape, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, it was a critical piece of intel, and Seraphina was right, as always. “So he could take off every one of his disguises and walk a free man, without anyone recognizing his true face?”
“It appears so. There are a few, like me, who might recognize him, but not many.”
“I don’t suppose you have a photo of him, from back then?”
Graves had a feeling that this, too, was a lie, but now he suspected that Dumbledore was protecting his own reputation, rather than Grindelwald himself.
“Christ, this is a mess.”
Graves would have to drag the conversation around to Grindelwald having visions, somehow.
Then he thought, fuck finesse.
“I have a question for you, somewhat off the record.” So far Dumbledore had reacted relatively well to frankness, so frank he would be.
Dumbledore cocked his head at Graves’ words, but said nothing.
“I have a tip from an anonymous source in New York that Grindelwald has visions. Did you know that he was hunting an obscurial in America?” Dumbledore nodded, so he continued, “he knew that there was an unknown, untreated obscurial on the streets months before anyone else, and supposedly it was because he saw the boy in a vision. Our records,” he said, tapping his papers for emphasis, “say nothing about visions. Nothing. And we can’t find anyone to corroborate the claim.”
“Who made it?” he asked.
“The claim,” Dumbledore said, calm. “Who said that he had a vision?”
Graves knew that Dumbledore was going to ask that, but he obviously didn’t trust the man enough to tell him about Credence.
“Someone who had contact with him while he was impersonating me.”
Dumbledore hummed. “Is it someone that you trust?”
“Did he or she know that the person in question was Grindelwald?”
“Not at the time,” he said, “but he found out later. He was aware that he had met Grindelwald when he told me the information.”
Dumbledore hummed again, but said nothing. Finally, he said, “I never knew Grindelwald to have visions, but that does not mean he couldn’t be having them now. I could never claim to have firm understanding of divination, and if ‘the sight’ truly does exist, I can definitively say that I do not have it. If the question is whether or not you should believe your friend, then only you can decide that for yourself. But if your question is whether or not I have known Grindelwald to have prophetic visions, the answer is no.”
“I believe that my friend is telling the truth. What I don’t know is whether Grindelwald was telling him the truth, or if he was using the claim of visions to cover up a separate source of information.”
“Either of those options may be true.”
Graves wasn’t surprised by the non-answer.
“Most of the details of the attack were kept out of the papers, I believe,” Dumbledore continued, “and so I never knew of the precise events that lead up to the attack. I know that Grindelwald was involved, and that an obscurus was loose in the city, and then Newt Scamander discovered that Grindelwald was responsible for it.”
“Grindelwald was looking for the obscurial. He found the obscurial. He really, really pissed the obscurial off when trying to get him to join his cause, and nearly got all of New York torn down in the process. The aurors got involved, killed the obscurial, and took Grindelwald into custody.”
Graves’ description was bare-bones, but he saw no reason to give detail when Dumbledore himself was so reticent.
“Why did they kill the obscurial?” Dumbledore asked. His tone was… off, somehow. Like he was bothered by what he had been told. Most people Graves had met were distraught that an obscurus had formed, but glad that ‘it’ was dead.
“I don’t know. Because he was dangerous, and because they didn’t understand him.”
Because they saw him as a potential tool, one too dangerous for them to wield, and one too dangerous for Grindelwald to get his hands on.
“The question has been posed,” Graves said slowly, “whether Grindelwald came to America looking for an obscurus, or if he stumbled upon one by accident. It seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and yet, there should be no reason for him to be looking for an obscurial, since there hasn’t been one in hundreds of years.”
“I think that statistic is untrue,” Dumbledore said. “After all, Newt Scamander found one somewhat recently.”
“In Africa, not in the developed world.”
“The wizarding world has its prejudices, and its selective blindness. I think the lack of documented obscurials has more to do with the documentation than lack of subjects. I would not allow a shortsightedness in recordkeeping to distract you from the subject of your investigation, if you truly believe that to be the direction your investigation is heading.”
Again, Graves had a difficult time parsing Dumbledore’s tone. What was the man trying to say? And why must he speak in riddles, instead of simply saying what he means?
“If there were more obscurials, we would see more events like what happened in New York. They can’t stay hidden forever.”
“Of course they can.” Dumbledore looked at him over the rim of his glasses. “Obscurials typically die before the age of ten, and they don’t necessarily go out with a bang. As obscurials usually register as muggles or squibs, and with anti-muggle and anti-muggle-born movements like Grindelwald’s gaining popularity, we may see more of them.”
A thought occurred to Graves, then.
“Wait, do you think that’s why Grindelwald doesn’t approve of no-maj-born children learning magic?”
“Probably not, no,” Dumbledore said. “He would view it as a happy side effect, surely, but I think his views are much more simple than that: wizarding domination over muggles. Muggle-born children growing up along with wizards shows that we’re not that different. Far easier to cast muggles as ‘other’ to people who have never really spoken to one.”
Amazing, that casters in Europe could go their whole lives without speaking to a no-maj. Dumbledore’s knowledge of obscurials, though - that was worth delving into.
“So do you think Grindelwald may have come in contact with an obscurial before?”
“That seems likely,” Dumbledore said, leaning back in his chair with affected nonchalance, “but it would be impossible to say.”
Or perhaps bullshit. Graves didn’t believe for an instant that Dumbledore didn’t know. Graves has met plenty of people who had never even heard of an obscurus before, and some schools didn’t even teach about them anymore because they were thought to be extinct. And yet both Dumbledore and Grindelwald seemed to have extensive familiarity with the idea. Had Grindelwald come up with the idea of weaponizing obscurials when he was a young man? Or had they both met an obscurial somehow, one that had never been recorded?
“So Grindelwald didn’t meet an obscurus while you still knew him?” Graves asked, fighting to keep his disbelief out of his tone.
“Not to my knowledge.”
For a brief moment Graves saw red. How dare this man keep vital information to himself? Who did he think he was? How important could his reputation be, that he would be willing to risk the lives of who knows how many people? Credence could die if Grindelwald came back for him, and Dumbledore was just twiddling his thumbs and pretending not to know anything.
But Graves didn’t allow his agitation to show. He started the conversation suspicious, and a little angry, and it had gotten him absolutely nowhere. If he was going to get Dumbledore to talk, it wouldn’t be by threatening or demanding. In fact, the man would likely only give up the information if he thought he had the upper-hand.
“I do have to wonder whether or not an obscurus is curable,” Graves said, matching Dumbledore’s light tone. “Newt Scamander seemed to think it was possible.”
“Hmm. Mr. Scamander tends to be a very optimistic sort. However there are no recorded cases of an obscurial ever being cured, only a delay in death. More likely is that once the child’s magic has been fully corrupted, it could never be functional again.”
Percival deliberately brought up a mental image of Credence: smiling shyly, as a blue china-patterned rat squeaked on the kitchen table; lost in thought to a book, chewing on his bottom lip; laughing as a summoned pillow hit him in the face; wide-eyed the first time he ate a slice of chocolate pie; sitting on the floor of the patio, talking to his plants. He thought of Credence, then, as a lost cause, as someone whose death was nothing but inevitable.
“It has to be possible. If the obscurus is like a disease -”
“Some diseases can’t be cured.” Dumbledore’s tone was shockingly final. “In 47 documented and confirmed cases of obscurials, every single one of them died.”
“But you said yourself that there have been cases that were never reported. Perhaps we only know of the ones that died, and there were cases that resolved themselves that never made the history books.”
Dumbledore was looking at Percival over the rim of his glasses again, blue eyes assessing.
“Possible, yes, but unlikely.”
Percival thought of Credence, worrying about whether or not he would ever get to go home; Credence, shaking and scared after his nightmare; Credence, bruised and battered on that first night.
“But -” Percival sighed. “I guess it doesn’t matter. I just, I need to know if Grindelwald is going to come looking for the next obscurial out there.” Percival thought about Credence, waiting by the door for him to get home. Credence, hugging him like the world was ending. Percival felt the beginnings of panic gripping his chest. God. He didn’t know what he would do without Credence, or what Credence would do without him. Percival realized that he had been absent-mindedly creasing one of the papers in his hand, and carefully laid it flat again. “This is all very theoretical, right now.” He glanced up at Dumbledore, briefly - Dumbledore, who was looking at him intently. “There’s no official reason to think that he would be coming back, of course, since the obscurial that initially caught his attention died. But… off the record, I just need to know how likely he is to keep looking.” Percival looked back at Dumbledore, eyes wide. Credence Credence Credence.
Percival knew that his feelings were written on his face; he was telegraphing them.
“It’s impossible to say what Grindelwald is planning next,” Dumbledore said, “but if there were to be, say, a second obscurus, I think it would be wise to keep them hidden. Especially if the stories of Grindelwald having visions turns out to be true.”
“MACUSA would obviously know if there was another obscurial in New York, so this is entirely hypothetical right now -”
“ - but if there did turn out to be one, that obscurial would likely be in danger?”
“I think that’s likely.”
“Right. Okay.” Percival looked up at Dumbledore, looked the man dead in those pale blue eyes. “Thank you.”
Dumbledore didn’t acknowledge his words, and steered the conversation back to the investigation process. They spent another half an hour discussing the various methods that MACUSA and sister agencies around the world were searching for Grindelwald. While Dumbledore didn't have (or, at least, admit to having) much inside information on Grindelwald, he did have a keen analytical mind and was able to make some suggestions about processes and methodology that they could try.
For as much as Graves didn't like Dumbledore personally, the man clearly had earned his reputation.
In all, their meeting lasted about an hour before Dumbledore started making noise about grading he had to do and upcoming classes that afternoon. Graves accepted the dismissal - his return portkey would be leaving in about half an hour, and he needed time to walk back to Hogsmeade and find his teakettle among the weeds.
Dumbledore walked Graves back out to the edge of the grounds, but paused before opening the gate.
"One of Grindelwald's defining attributes," he said, "was always his conviction. He believes that he is doing what's right, but more importantly, he believes that he's doing what's necessary. You will not be able to catch him by thinking of him just as a criminal."
"I don't think of Grindelwald as being 'just' anything."
Dumbledore stared at Graves for so long he thought that the man was finished, but finally he spoke again.
“Best of luck with your investigation, and I apologize for the pain that Grindelwald has caused you.”
Graves had a feeling that Dumbledore had wanted to say something else, but then the man opened the gate with a wave of his wand and gestured for Graves to go through it.
“Thank you for your help, Professor Dumbledore.”
Dumbledore nodded, another dismissal, and Graves set off to find the trash that the London IPO left for him.
Graves walked briskly through Hogsmeade cursing Seraphina’s godlike ability to just know what would be necessary. Perhaps she has ‘the sight’ and doesn’t realize, he thought, as he marched towards the field at the end of town. One day to talk to Dumbledore, and one day for “supplementary research” into whatever their discussion may have been.
Just once he would like her to eat her words, rather than the other way around.
It wasn’t until later - much later - that Percival noticed the dissonance in Dumbledore’s words. The man had vacillated between saying that he knew nothing about Grindelwald’s current events, because he never read about Grindelwald in the paper, to discussing the things he claimed to have read in the paper.
I had four dreams in a row
where you were burned,
about to burn, or still on fire.
- Richard Siken
Returning to New York was a relief.
Percival had spent hours scouring records in the Ministry of Magic, looking for anything that would give him insight to what Grindelwald was planning, or what Dumbledore was alluding to. What he had found was a mixed bag - a mess of pieces of evidence that added up to an off-the-wall theory that he could never repeat to Seraphina, lest she think he lost his mind completely. He couldn't even tell her what he had learned about Grindelwald's relationship with obscurials. After all, if he told her that the dark wizard would likely be searching for an obscurial, she would take that as evidence that Grindelwald wouldn't be returning to New York, and Percival needed the auror department to be working at full-capacity.
In some ways, it was a relief, knowing that Grindelwald was going to come for him. Uncertainty drove Percival mad - but an enemy to fight? That, he could prepare for. If Grindelwald was coming, it would likely happen soon. After all, Grindelwald had no reason to believe that Credence was working to heal from the obscurus, and so he would assume the boy to be a ticking time bomb - one better utilized sooner than later.
After leaving the New York International Portkey Office, Percival apparated directly to Goldstein's apartment. He had sent a note to Seraphina that he would meet with her to go over his findings in the morning, but that he needed a good night's sleep before he could make a coherent report. Since he ostensibly had nothing urgent to report, she accepted his meeting time and sent him on his way. And so he was free to go.
Percival took the stairs at Goldstein's apartment two at a time, then took a moment to compose himself before knocking on the door. Pointless, really. Queenie Goldstein could likely hear him coming from a mile away. He knocked on the door, and sure enough, Queenie answered after barely a moment's pause.
"Mr. Graves! You're back early!"
Percival raised an eyebrow. "You knew my portkey was for four o'clock."
"Yes, but I assumed you would have some work to do at MACUSA. We weren't expecting you for another half hour at least.”
"My meeting is in the morning."
Queenie stood, still blocking the doorway as the seconds dragged on.
"I'm going to need you to let down your shields, Mr. Graves," she said, not unkindly.
Percival didn't particularly want Queenie Goldstein in his head, but he was glad that they were taking the proper precautions. He relaxed the mental shields he had in place for a moment.
"Thanks a million, Mr. Graves." Queenie opened the door and stepped out of the doorway, giving Percival space to pass.
"Tell me something Queenie Goldstein would know," he said as he stepped into the apartment.
Queenie hummed. "Back, oh, four or five years ago, I ran into you in the hallway after a training exercise gone awry. Your suit was shredded down to here," she indicated towards her pelvis, "and every hair on your body had body had turned white. You were cursing up a blue streak while walking to your office."
"There were two dozen aurors there that day, that's hardly something specific."
Queenie smiled beatifically. “You were also thinking quite loudly, which is unlike you. You’re normally very quiet. But your mind was shouting ‘when Arnold Hornsby dies horribly it will look like an accident.’ You noticed me, then, and your mind went completely silent. And then you thought, ‘Queenie Goldstein, I would never,’ and walked away. And you didn’t! Arnold Hornsby is still alive and annoying you to this very day.”
Percival nodded, satisfied, then looked around the room.
"Where is everyone?" Percival tried his best to keep his suspicion out of his tone.
"Umm," Queenie said, biting her lip. She pointed, then, towards the corner, where there was a suitcase lying open on the floor.
A dozen different thoughts passed through his mind in that instant. Percival sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, headache coming on.
"Why," he said, "is that suitcase back in New York?"
After he specifically said that Scamander couldn't bring it back. After he specifically said that he wouldn't be able to protect Scamander if he broke the law again.
"Well..." she said slowly, "I didn't exactly ask. Is he not supposed to have it?"
Queenie was good at many things; playing dumb wasn't one of them.
Queenie shrugged. "Credence was getting anxious, the closer it got to your return. He was driving himself crazy, worrying that you weren't gonna get back when we were expecting you to, so Newt took him to see his creatures to distract him. They haven't come out yet, so I think it worked."
"Do you wanna go in?"
The offer was tempting, truly. Percival wanted to see Credence again as soon as possible, and he could admit that he was curious to see what, exactly, Scamander had in his suitcase.
But he also knew that it wasn't a good idea.
"I shouldn't," he said. "I need to maintain plausible deniability, if the issue comes up in the future. I see that he brought a suitcase with him to New York. I've used a similar one, in the past. The suitcase itself isn't a crime, so long as he doesn't have anything illegal in it."
"Of course," Queenie said gamely, "it's just a suitcase after all. No rule breaking here."
"Do you have any whisky?"
Queenie caught Percival up on everything that had happened in New York over the past two days - ultimately, not a lot. She and Credence had done some cooking, and Tina and Scamander occasionally had come through to keep him company. Overall the time had passed uneventfully, the best thing that they could have hoped for. It did make him doubt, for a moment. After all, if Grindelwald was waiting to strike, the moment Percival was across the ocean would be the perfect time.
"So did you learn anything useful over there?" Queenie asked, sipping at her own glass of whisky.
"I did, actually, but I should probably wait for the others before I get into it."
As if on cue, Tina's head popped out of the suitcase, followed quickly by the rest of her.
"Oh! Mr. Graves, you're back early," she said, moving out of the way so that the others could come through.
"Yes, I -"
But what Percival had been about to say was cut off by the appearance of Credence, looking bright-eyed and disheveled.
"Mr. Graves!" Credence crossed the room faster than a sprite on the wind, and pulled Percival into a quick but strong hug.
"Hello Credence," Percival murmured, squeezing the boy tightly.
Credence stepped back just as Scamander popped out of the suitcase.
"Oh! You're back early," Scamander said, brushing off his coat. "Err. I...." He glanced down at the suitcase, then back to Percival.
"I didn't see it, it wasn't here."
"Right! Excellent, yes, thank you." Scamander busied himself shutting the case and then buckling a strap around it, then pushed the thing out of sight.
What Percival wanted to do was take Credence home and get a good night's sleep for the first time in days. Instead, he waited patiently while the other four arranged themselves on the sofa or on chairs pulled from the kitchen table, drinks in hand, expressions grim. Once everyone was ready, Percival launched into an summary of his bizarre conversation with Dumbledore. A few times Scamander opened his mouth to comment, but Percival quieted him with a look. He wanted to finish his explanation first. However the moment Percival's story reached leaving the Hogwarts grounds, Scamander spoke up.
"I understand how you could have reached that conclusion," Scamander said, "but it doesn't make any sense. The Dumbledore's are one of the oldest and most respected families in England. I have no idea how Dumbledore could have even met an obscurial. And even if he had, his family had the clout to get a mistreated wizard out of muggle hands, before he could become an obscurial."
Percival weighed his words carefully. Scamander had Dumbledore as a teacher in school, and clearly had very fond memories of the man. This discussion may have been better without him here, but it was hardly as though Percival could have asked him to leave.
"Did you know that Dumbledore had a squib for a sister?"
That seemed to shock Scamander into silence, for a moment.
"What? I-" Scamander blinked. "I never knew he had a sister."
"That's probably because she was never seen outside of their home for years before her death, and obviously she never went to Hogwarts."
The mood in the room chilled rapidly. Queenie had her hand over her mouth; Tina, always good at following his lead, leaned forward in her chair, attention fixed.
"I can't tell you much, because the records are sparse and woefully incomplete. What I can tell you is this: Dumbledore's father was arrested for attacking a group of no-maj children, locals to where they were living at the time, when Ariana was six years old. He never explained why, and he died in Azkaban. Though the official story was that Ariana was too ill to attend school, she never received a letter from Hogwarts. I checked. When she was fourteen years old, her mother was killed in an unexplained explosion. Later that year, Albus, his brother Aberforth, and Grindelwald got into a three-way duel that ended in Ariana's death. No charges were ever filed, though there was an inquiry that determined Ariana's death to be an accident. At the same time Grindelwald fled the country, and that was the official end to his and Dumbledore's relationship, at least on record."
After Percival finished speaking the others were quiet, for a time.
"The mother died in an explosion," Tina said. "Was there ever a cause determined?"
Percival shook his head. "The official report was likely a potions accident, though the investigator noted that there was no evidence of potions at the scene. There was no evidence of an attack, either, so he recorded it as an accident."
"And did he talk to the girl?" Tina asked.
"She was hysterical, and her brothers kept her away from the investigator."
"I don't understand," Scamander said slowly. "You think that Ariana Dumbledore was an obscurial, but... even from what you've said, there isn't much of a reason for it. It's not as though her parents would have wanted her to be a squib. That's why all known obscurials were muggle-born. Isn't it possible the she was just born without magic?"
"I think something happened," Percival said, "that made her that way. That's why I mentioned the attack that left her father in Azkaban - maybe those no-maj boys did something to her, attacked her. She was at an age when wild magic happens unpredictably. Maybe they saw something that they shouldn't have."
"But then why not use that as a defense? Merlin, why would he allow himself to go to Azkaban if he had a legitimate reason?"
"First of all, revenge is a motive, not a defense. If those boys did something to his daughter, then he would have a case for them to have their memories wiped, not an excuse to attack them. And if he told them about Ariana... who knows what would have happened to her. The Ministry of Magic may have had her committed, or killed. Too dangerous to let her be free."
Scamander shook his head. "But she was too old, too. You said she died when she was fourteen!"
Percival looked pointedly at Credence, sitting next to him. "You said it yourself - the Dumbledore family is one of the oldest and most respected in England. If Albus Dumbledore is the most powerful wizard in the world, couldn't his sister have survived like Credence has?"
"So Grindelwald meets Albus Dumbledore," Tina said, finally speaking up, "and they become friends. Eventually he learns that Dumbledore has a sister. He learns how powerful she is, what she's capable of. Maybe sees it firsthand, at some point. He tries to get Dumbledore to use her as a weapon; presumably he refuses; perhaps his brother is there at the same time. They fight?"
"Well now, that just seems silly," Queenie said. "Fighting with your siblings is normal - throwing around spells that could kill someone isn't."
"They probably didn't," Credence said, startling Percival. The boy had been very quiet, so far. "They didn't have to be. If the three of them started screaming and yelling? And about her, too? She would have gotten scared."
"And when she gets scared," Tina continued for him, "she gets dangerous."
Percival sighed. "Then they're not casting dangerous spells at each other, they're trying to subdue her."
"And she gets killed in the crossfire," Tina finished. "Shit."
That startled a small smile out of Percival - he rarely heard Tina swear.
Silence reigned for several minutes, as each of them processed what had been said. A new image of Grindelwald had been forming in Percival's head - not the eerie, albino madman Percival had been searching for, but Grindelwald as Dumbledore had known him: a young, attractive, charismatic man, whose zealotry was hidden behind righteousness and the arrogant confidence of youth. A man who had, presumably, valued his relationship with Dumbledore, whatever type of relationship it may have been. Dumbledore had trusted Grindelwald. He must have, to have brought Grindelwald home to meet his sister - which meant that Grindelwald had either been a good enough actor to fool a man as sharp as Dumbledore, or that Dumbledore knew a side of Grindelwald that had never been fully captured in any international investigation. The thought was equal parts terrifying and comforting - that they truly knew so little about the man that they were hunting, but that maybe they were finally starting to ask the right questions.
"So he will come back, then," Tina said decisively, breaking the stillness. "If he spent almost thirty years looking for another obscurial he's not going to give up easily. Did Dumbledore say anything about the visions?"
"Unfortunately no. He could neither confirm nor deny."
“Well,” Newt said, “that’s certainly something.”
In the end, Percival took Credence home. They had talked around in circles for hours, tossing ideas back and forth and coming up with increasingly bizarre theories, but eventually Percival hit a wall of exhaustion that could not be ignored. Apparating home was quick but nerve-wracking; crossing the street with Credence by his side seemed like the height of folly, even with a notice-me-not charm in place. The street was empty, and still, with a light breeze blowing between the buildings. The quiet should have been soothing, but instead it made Percival feel exposed as he hustled them across the street and into the house.
(Percival was almost ashamed of how nervous being outside made him. Almost.)
As soon as the door was shut behind them, Credence launched himself into Percival's arms for the proper hug that they didn't get at Tina's.
"I'm glad you're back."
"I'm glad to be back." Percival pulled Credence tighter against him. "We should probably try to get some sleep."
Credence nodded against his shoulder, but otherwise didn't move for another minute. When he did step back there was a light pink blush across his cheeks.
“Come on,” Percival said, reaching out and grabbing Credence’s hand. As much as he wanted to sleep, he wasn't quite ready to give up contact yet. Percival held Credence’s hand all the way up the stairs, until they reached the landing, but when he tried to pull away Credence held on tighter.
“I don't want to be alone,” he said, biting his lip. “Could I… could I stay with you?”
The usual voice in Percival’s head - the one that said bad, bad idea - was unusually silent. Maybe it was his sleepless night or the weight of the whole investigation, but Percival found himself nodding before he gave the move any thought at all. Credence gave his own bedroom a considering glance, drew his wand, and said: “accio.”
A pair of pajamas shot out of his bedroom door, which Percival caught before they hit Credence in the face.
“Thanks,” Credence said, laughing, as Percival handed the bundle over with a raised eyebrow.
And then there was nothing keeping them from Percival’s bedroom.
Percival released Credence’s hand as they stepped over the threshold. He closed the door, then busied himself gathering his own sleep clothes while he heard the rustling of Credence’s disrobing. As much as he wanted to turn around and watch, he resisted the temptation, even though it was right there.
He kept his back turned as he himself undressed, but turned around quickly enough to catch Credence sneaking a peek. Credence, who blushed but kept his chin high, unapologetic.
What am I going to do with this boy?
Getting into bed was at once more and less awkward than it should have been. So was laying side-by-side in Percival’s bed, for that matter. As tired as he had been, sleep seemed like a distant bedfellow with Credence next to him.
Credence’s fingers brushed against Percival’s under the covers, first tentative, then with more surety. Credence seemed to be considering something - up until he rolled onto his side, facing away from Percival, and rested their joined hands on his hip. The position was awkward; it seemed like Credence wanted to lie slotted together like spoons, but he was holding onto the wrong hand to allow that to happen. The only question was whether or not Percival wanted to fix it.
Credence had made the first move…
Percival pulled his hand free from Credence’s and turned onto his own side so that he was facing Credence’s back, then grabbed Credence’s hand with his right instead of his left.
Credence’s breath hitched. He sighed, squeezed Percival’s hand, and then nestled back into the welcoming curve of Percival’s body, clasped hands pulled tightly to his chest.
“Is this okay?” Percival murmured into Credence’s hair.
“Mhmm. Goodnight, Percival.”
Percival woke up hot, well-rested, and disoriented. He was curled tightly around a warm body and consequently his bed felt like an oven. Distracted by the warmth and the ‘should I kick the covers off or will I then be too cold’ debate, it took Percival a minute to realize that the relatively innocent position they had fallen asleep in had, by morning, become anything but. He had one knee tucked up between Credence’s thighs and his hand had migrated under Credence’s shirt, fingertips resting on Credence's bare abdomen.
Percival took a deep breath, then another. It was fine, he could extricate himself -
But as soon as Percival shifted, Credence moved with him, rolling over enough that he could see Percival’s face. Credence’s eyes were clear and bright - he clearly had been awake for a while.
“Morning,” Credence said, eyes soft.
“Ah, sorry,” Percival said, pulling his hand out from under Credence’s shirt. “Good morning.” But Credence caught his hand before it could go far, pulled it up and pressed a kiss across Percival’s knuckles.
Percival let out a breath of air somewhere between a groan and a sigh before rolling away from Credence, onto his back. He knew that the change in position would make his below-the-belt situation obvious but it was hardly going to resolve itself while pressed against Credence’s backside. Credence rolled over too, so that he was on his side facing Percival. His hair was fluffy and disheveled, his jaw darkened with stubble, and his sleep shirt had gotten twisted in the night and pulled oddly, showing off his collarbones and a dusting of chest hair.
Stop looking, old man.
But refocusing on Credence’s face wasn't much better - he had a mischievous grin curling around the corner of his mouth and his eyes were… happy.
“You're a menace,” Percival said. He knew that he had reasons for not pursuing a physical relationship with Credence - good reasons! - but in that moment they seemed very far away.
Credence bit his lip.
Very, very far away.
“Can I kiss you?” Credence asked.
Percival swallowed. “You probably shouldn't.” Sunlight was streaming through a gap in the curtains, lighting up Credence’s hair like a halo, and Percival knew he would end up saving this moment in a pensive, tucked safely, carefully away.
“Does that mean you don't want me to?” Credence asked, “or that you think I shouldn't want to?”
“Uhhh,” Percival said, eloquent as he ever seemed to be around Credence these days.
Credence shifted then, rising up onto his elbow, so that he was looming slightly over Percival.
“I’m going to kiss you,” he said, “unless you tell me not to.”
Credence kissed him, then kissed him again. On the third press of his lips Percival grabbed the back of his head and pulled him down properly, kissing him the way Percival had been wanting to for weeks.
Credence pulled away, but before Percival had time to mourn the loss Credence had slid a thigh over his hip and leveraged himself on top of Percival, straddling him.
“Oh god,” Percival said, grabbing at Credence’s hips. It was hard to focus on anything other than warmth and friction. “Are you sure…?”
Credence - heavy-lidded eyes, hair askew, looking down at Percival - was indescribable.
“I am not a teacup,” he said, kissing Percival again.
“What?” Percival asked, pulling away. But Credence kissed him again and shifted his hips sinfully and Percival forgot what he was supposed to be asking about.
Their rocking together was clumsy and a little awkward, but Percival wouldn’t have it any other way. After a few minutes Credence lost his rhythm, dropped his face into Percival’s neck and moaned brokenly, and Percival couldn’t stop himself from sliding his hands around to Credence’s backside and grabbing him there, pulling him down and guiding him through the shudders until his moans turned into whimpers.
Percival would have been happy to lay in the afterglow until he had to get ready for work. He would have been happy to take care of himself in the shower. He would have been happy even if this was both the first and the last time he would lay an intimate hand on Credence.
Instead, Credence propped himself up again, this time with red cheeks and hair wildly askew. He looked happy, maybe a little embarrassed, but he didn't give Percival enough time to over-analyze what just happened. Credence’s lips were soft, pressed against Percival’s; his hands, confident, when they wrapped around Percival and rolled so that they switched positions.
“Hi,” Credence said, like this were any other morning. Like he wasn't grinning up at Percival, still flushed from orgasm.
“Hi,” Percival parroted. He was lying between Credence’s legs, propped up somewhat awkwardly so as to not put uncomfortable pressure on where Credence was surely still sensitive.
That didn't last for long. Credence pulled him in for another kiss, then hooked a leg around Percival’s waist, aligning their bodies.
As much as Percival wanted it just give in, he pulled back.
“Wait,” Percival said, putting as much distance between them as he could - admittedly, not a lot, given their position.
Credence blinked up at him but didn't let go.
What has gotten into you? he wanted to ask. Blackthorn, he wanted to say, but he knew that Credence would be insulted at the implication that he wasn't acting like himself.
Percival knew that this was Credence. He just didn't know why.
He settled on “this is happening kind of fast,” then smoothed his thumb over the wrinkle on Credence’s brow. “I don't want to do anything you're going to regret later.”
Credence frowned. “Grindelwald is probably going to kill me. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But I'm tired of being scared. And I'm tired of not doing things I want to do because of what other people will think.”
“You're not a teacup,” Percival said, repeating what Credence said earlier.
“It's something Queenie said.”
The metaphor didn't make it immediately clear whether that was supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing, and Credence didn't seem inclined to elaborate.
“Maybe I'm being stupid,” Credence said, “and maybe I'm being reckless. And maybe if I live long enough to regret this, I will. But I think I'll regret not doing it more. And if you don't want me that’s one thing -”
“I do,” Percival interrupted, pressing a kiss against Credence’s forehead. “I do.”
“Then it's my choice. Let me make it.”
“Okay,” Percival said. “Okay.”
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
The end, when it came, came quickly and slowly and all at once.
Percival woke in the dark. He couldn't see anything, but his rapid breathing echoed loudly in the small space. Wherever he was, it wasn't even a room, it was a box. The last thing he remembered was sitting at his desk at MACUSA, going over paperwork. And now he was…
No. No no no no no no no.
Percival woke again, blinking heavily, forcing his eyelids open. He wouldn't lose consciousness again. He wouldn't. Regardless of what kind of spell he was under. He had to stay awake, he had to -
Percival woke in the dark. His hands were bound beneath him. He was laying prostrate on a hard surface.
He had to get out. Whatever was happening, he had to protect Credence...
Wandlessness shouldn't correlate with helplessness, not anymore, yet Percival's magic felt a million miles away, across a field of broken glass.
The knots around were slippery and loose and yet so, so tight.
Percival woke to blinding light. He blinked his unfocused eyes and tried to remember where he was, what happened, whodunit.
The facts filtered in quickly: dark, box, bound, danger.
There was a man, standing over the box, staring down at him. Percival's hope jumped for a second -- but no, this was no rescuer. His head was cocked as he looked down at Percival, like Percival was a cockroach scuttling in a trash bin, a mild, yet expected inconvenience. The man fit the definition of nondescript: sandy blond hair, wrinkles around his eyes, five o'clock shadow. He looked like any average man on his way home from work.
He looked like a husband with a wife and a couple of sandy-headed children waiting for him at home.
He looked like someone on his way home from a pint.
Someone unremarkable, someone absolutely forgettable.
But Percival knew better.
"Gellert." If he was going to die anyway, he might as well go out swinging.
The man grinned.
"What do you want from me?"
Once Percival's eyes had adjusted, he could tell he was indoors somewhere, some kind of nondescript building. A house, or an apartment. Percival couldn't see much over the edges of the box, but he could see maroon curtains to his right, and the white walls were that of a circular room. That didn't tell him much, but he at least knew he wasn't in the woods somewhere.
Grindelwald tutted. "Don't play dumb, Percival, it doesn't suit you. You know what I want, and I know that you have what I want."
"Is it gossip about your old lover? Because I do have that."
The only way to keep himself alive, and hopefully away from Credence, was to keep talking - keep Grindelwald engaged until the cavalry could come. If the cavalry would come. How long had Percival been in there? Hours? Days? Weeks? All Percival could do was keep calm and pretend to be relaxed, and not let Grindelwald see his fear.
"Your house," Grindelwald said, ignoring Percival's gambit, "is quite impressively warded. I tried to get in, but anything more than a gentle prod would send the alarm bells ringing, and I didn't want your little visitor to know someone was out there."
Hours, then - Credence would know something was wrong if Percival had been gone for any longer. Maybe Credence already knew. Maybe Credence had already called for Goldstein, or Scamander.
"You are going to open that door for me."
Percival couldn't tell if the glint in Grindelwald's eye was confidence or madness.
"And why would I do something that idiotic?" Percival reached out for his magic again, tried to run through every wandless exercise he ever practiced, but it was useless: whatever Grindelwald had done to him was stronger, better.
"Are you really prepared to sacrifice your life for that boy?"
Percival shrugged. The movement certainly felt stilted and forced, but he hoped that it would come across as glib.
"Or perhaps the better question: is the boy ready to watch you sacrifice your life, for him?"
"So that's your grand plan?" Percival asked, skeptical. "You're going to what, torture me in the street until he opens the door?"
"Simple, but effective. The key to any successful plan is to avoid over-complicating it."
Percival made a show of frowning in confusion. "...Let me get this straight. You have some kind of convoluted plan to capture and use an obscurial based on some lunatic idea you cooked up when you were barely out of diapers that backfired spectacularly the other two times you tried it, that you've been fanatically chasing after for more than half of your life, which, honestly, at this point, looks like you're just trying to prove a point to your ‘old friend.’ And you really think that this plan isn't over-complicated?"
Grindelwald shook his head and walked away from the box, out of Percival's line of sight.
"One conversation with him and you think you're some kind of expert."
Percival wanted to say I'm good at my job, or you're more transparent than you think, but Percival didn't think that simply being sarcastic would throw Grindelwald off his stride. Percival stared up at the plaster ceiling, knowing that the only way he could get out of this alive was to throw Grindelwald off his game, force him to make a mistake.
"He still loves you, you know."
Something thunked on wood. A table, maybe.
"Don't get me wrong, he truly does hate you. But he's still protecting you, even after all this time. Even after everything you've done."
Footsteps, and then Grindelwald's fake face loomed over the box once more.
"The first thing you need to know about Albus is that he protects no one but himself. You assume that he's a good man, and so any lies he tells are on my behalf. But I know him, better than anyone. I know his darkest secrets and I know the wreckage of his soul. Do not confuse his vanity with love. The only thing Albus truly cares about is his own reflection."
"I think you can love someone and hate them at the same time."
Grindelwald grinned. "You think he hates me because I murdered his sister."
Percival said nothing - there had been a lot more killing, between what happened that night and the decades since, and Percival doubted that Dumbledore had forgotten about any of it.
"I suppose Albus didn't tell you that he killed his own sister.” Grindelwald’s grin somehow grows across his face, wide and off-putting. “No, he didn't, I can see that in your face. It's a shame, what Albus has become. No, Albus doesn't hate me for what I believe, or what I've done. He hates me for reminding him of the worst thing he ever did. Nothing more."
Percival sincerely, sincerely doubted that, but he wasn't going to argue with a madman. Grindelwald was hardly what anyone could call a trustworthy source. He would have to be an idiot to believe anything that Grindelwald told him.
But since he couldn’t exactly say that, he decided to switch tactics.
"I hear that you're good-looking, under that pallid thing you call a face." Not that the thing was visible to Percival either - just this sandy, non-descript disguise - but nevertheless. The man had a reason for taking a false form - maybe Percival could get him to talk about it.
Grindelwald walked away from the box again and after a few moments there was some kind of clinking noise, like glass bottles bumping together. Apparently he didn't care to talk about anything other than Dumbledore. Percival tried again.
"So that's the big story? Dumbledore kills his own sister, pins it on you, and then stops speaking to you so that he can claim you were the perpetrator?" Grindelwald said nothing. "Just seems a little weak, is all. I hear that Dumbledore's brother stopped speaking to him too. Why wouldn't he just turn his brother in? Why lie to protect the brother that killed his sister?"
"Aberforth is a fool, unworthy of the Dumbledore name. He was too busy cowering to see what happened."
"Of the two of us, Albus was always the more hot-headed one. After Ariana transformed, I had no interest in hurting her. I needed her. The only spells I was casting were shielding and protection. Why would I harm my prize? No, the only person throwing around fatal curses was Albus himself. He was furious with me for provoking Ariana, and he wasn't thinking straight." Footsteps, then Grindelwald's face came back into Percival's field of vision once more. Percival had to keep him talking - had to keep him away from whatever he was doing on the table.
"Do you have any idea what that's like? To have a hurricane of power at your back, and your lover at your front. Pure, raw power. An unmovable object against an unstoppable force, and I was pinned between them. Have you ever seen the passion of someone who loves you, trying to kill you?" Madness glinted in Grindelwald's eye. This time there was no question of it. "There's nothing quite like it. Love, and hate. They're so very, very close to one another. And you can only truly hate someone that you love, and you can only truly love someone that you hate.
"Albus will never be able to disentangle himself from me. We are bound together, our fates are bound together. Sometimes, killing someone is the only way you can consume them. Albus wanted to kill me because he wanted to become me. He wanted all of the freedoms that I embodied, all of the freedoms that he couldn't have, from his family name, from his family itself. Do you think he liked being trapped in that house, caring for his sister? Do you think he liked his sister? No. She was nothing more than a burden, one that he should have been glad to relieve himself of. Albus's biggest flaw was always that he cares too much about what other people think of him. He needs his reputation as a good man more than he needs water, or air. He never had the conviction to do what needed to be done, even when he knew what needed doing."
"But you did."
Grindelwald's rambling was barely coherent, jumping from one topic to another, but Percival just needed to keep him talking.
"You think I'm mad," Grindelwald said.
Percival internally cursed - he shouldn't have said anything.
"I think...." Percival trailed off, groping frantically for the right thing to say. "I think you know a different Dumbledore than I do. I've only met him once. I don't know what he was like as a young man."
"Perfect. A perfect little thing. Power, and beauty. I have never met his equal." Grindelwald looked off into the distance. "But that's quite enough of that, I think." Grindelwald bent down and reached for Percival.
"You shielded," Percival blurted out. He had to keep Grindelwald talking. It was the only way to prevent him from carrying out his plan.
Grindelwald paused, head cocked.
"You shielded Albus's spell. That's why he blames you - he was trying to hurt you, you shielded it, and it bounced off and hit Albus."
"Very good. You're starting to get the hang of Albus's obfuscations."
"Aberforth was probably casting curses too. He may not have even realized that you weren't. But Albus knew, and even if Aberforth missed what happened in the confusion, deep down, Albus always knew that it was him. He blames you because you provoked him - you made him do it."
"Nothing is ever Albus's fault. You see that now, yes? He attacks while I defend, and somehow it's my fault."
Right, yes, of course - how could Dumbledore have possibly blamed Grindelwald for provoking an extremely dangerous magical parasite with uncontrollable destructive powers that nearly killed them all?
"You were only trying to do what was best for him."
"You agreeing with me is quite cute. Charming, really. I know you don't believe that."
"I do believe that. You weren't trying to hurt Albus, you never were. They say he's the only wizard in the world who could defeat you, but you haven't attacked him, and he refuses to face you. You could send an army of your followers after him, to eliminate that threat, but you haven't. Even after all this time, you can't." This was probably not going to work, but Percival had to try. "If you do this - if you finally get your hands on the obscurial that you've been reaching for all these years, he won't ever forgive you."
Grindelwald grabbed Percival's shoulder.
"Albus was never going to forgive me."
Credence doesn't know what's happening.
Newt had been teaching Credence and Tina how to play some kind of magical card game from England, when Tina got an urgent summons from work. She left in a hurry. Five minutes turned into ten, and then into fifteen and twenty, with Credence and Newt waiting, waiting, waiting, for her return. Their tea turned cold and the cards lay abandoned across the table, colorful pictures waving up at them, trying to entice them back into playing. Neither of them wanted to voice the question - is this it? Is he here? - so they sat mostly in silence. Waiting.
When Tina returned, it was with singed hair and panicked eyes. An attack, on MACUSA headquarters, by Grindelwald's followers. They weren't sure why, and they didn't know what the bad guys were looking for, just that they showed up ready for a firefight and were casting to kill. Tina had managed to escape for a moment - narrowly - but she had to get back. She had only returned to warn them. Regardless of the what, or the why, it was important that the aurors stop Grindelwald's followers from getting into MACUSA.
Tina went back into the fray. And then, after half an hour, Newt followed.
Lock the door, Newt had told him, and don't open it for anyone. Not even me. Not even Graves.
Credence didn't want to be left alone, but he understood. Newt feels about Tina the way he feels about Percival. He can't begrudge Newt that. He won't.
So, now he's here, waiting by himself. Hoping that Tina is safe, and Newt is safe, that Percival is safe. Percival had been at work already, when the fighting started, and no one has heard from him since.
(Credence is trying his best to ignore the voice in his head saying that if Percival could have come back for him, he would have, and the fact that he hasn't means that he's been hurt or killed or a million other things in between.)
So now Credence has nothing to do but pace, and worry. He started out in the living room, where Newt had left him, but has since moved downstairs into the library. It's quieter down here. Peaceful.
The abandoned mug next to Percival's chair makes Credence ache.
Credence stops at the bookcase, then turns on his heel and strides across the room - one step, two steps, three, then four, five, and six, and seven.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Credence stops at the back shelf, the shelf of fiction, and poetry, and he falls to his knees and does the one thing he hasn't done since Ma: he prays. He falls to his knees and clasps his hands until his knuckles grind together and he prays to a god he's not sure he still believes in (not sure that he's ever believed in). He prays.
Fear makes his blood turn sour, makes his stomach churn and his hands shake, but there's a greater fear there, too. Him and Percival have been working for months to release the destructive power built up inside of him. And now here they are, where that very destructive power could mean the difference between life and death, and Credence feels empty. He hasn't tried to call forth the obscurus. Not specifically. But he has reached down inside of himself, searching for that thread, so that he could yank it if needed. And when he did, he found... nothing.
If Grindelwald comes for him, he will be alone. Truly alone. And that thought is more terrifying than he ever expected it could be.
(The sweet irony - that finally achieving their goal could be the death of Credence, rather than his saving.)
Maybe it is still there, tightly coiled, like a rattlesnake waiting to strike. Maybe Credence buried it somewhere so deep inside that he himself can't find it, but maybe, maybe, it'll come forth to protect its host.
Maybe, Ma used to say, is for men who lack conviction.
While he waits, Credence cycles through thoughts. Through even more maybes.
Grindelwald may not know that Credence survived.
Grindelwald may not even be looking for him.
Grindelwald may not have found Percival, may not have hurt him.
Credence couldn't say how long he stays there on his knees. He also couldn't say what, precisely, causes him to get up, turn around, and look out the half-window. Maybe it's hope. Maybe it's fear.
Percival is walking across the street, towards the house.
Credence's breath catches in his throat.
Something that looks like Percival is walking across the street, towards the house.
The figure looks like Percival, but has none of usual his grace. His feet stomp across the pavement like they have invisible lead weights yanking them forward. His back is bowed. His jaw, clenched.
This figure steps up onto the sidewalk, then onto the first stair, the second, and then disappears from Credence's line of sight.
Silence rings in Credence's ears for several long seconds.
He's alone, here.
There's no one here to save him. Only himself.
Don't open the door for anyone. Not even me. Not even Graves.
Credence creeps away from the window and towards the stairs to the main level. He takes each step as carefully, as if the other children are still sleeping, as though Ma had another setback with the newspaper. As though his life depends on it.
A thunk from the front door echoes through the house, but the door doesn't open.
A scratching sound, then another thunk.
Credence stays crouched at the top stair, out of sight of the door, clinging to the railing, mind racing. What does he do? Does he call for Percival? He has the spelled pocket watch that Percival gave him so long ago (to call for help in times of danger) looped around his neck, but what if Percival has been caught? What if he is the danger? What if he's in the middle of a duel and Credence's call distracts him, gets him killed. Credence tried it, once, just after Newt left, but he got no response and was too afraid to try again.
What if Percival is the figure at the door?
Should Credence just wait here? Whatever stomped up the front steps can't seem to get into the house. Maybe his best option is to wait. Hide under the bed, and wait until morning.
Another thunk reverberates through the walls, followed by a low groan.
Credence can't just wait here.
He creeps up the last step and peeks around the wall. The main room stands empty, just how he left it. On a whim, he pockets one of the cards abandoned on the table, and then sneaks over to the window.
Percival had said that the house was warded, that the windows only show an empty house to outsiders.
Credence has no choice but to trust that the wards are holding. He hooks a finger around the curtain, peels it back just far enough to give him a sliver of vision, and peers outside. The figure on the front porch has one hand braced on the door, the other wrapped around the knob. No wand in sight. As Credence watches, the other doorknob, the real doorknob, shivers into existence, and the figure grabs at it, pulls. The figure wrestles with the second knob for a few seconds, and then the doorknob pops back into the wood with a thunk and smooths away.
The figure leans his forehead against the door, like he's too weak to hold himself up without it. His whole body sags forward, slumped, until an invisible hand yanks him back upright. Even from this distance, Credence can see that the figure's hands are shaking.
The figure is Percival.
It has to be.
There's a shadow, across the street. Credence can barely see it - his eyes keep skating away from it, even as he tries to focus - but he can tell that it's human-shaped and menacing.
There's a curse, Percival had explained to him, that can force people to do things they don't want to do. And if the figure on the porch were anyone other than Percival himself, the alarms would sound. Should sound. They should be violent and ear-splitting and un-ignorable. The silence, the figure, and the shadow tell a story. They all add up to one very ugly picture.
Credence knows he can't go out there - he knows! - but there's no task more terrible than waiting for people you love to die for you.
Can Credence even do it? Can he sit here and watch as the shadow slinks from the mouth of the alley across the street, can he watch as the figure on the stoop - Percival - collapses at the wave of a wand? Percival would want him to. Percival explicitly told him to, if it were to ever come to this. But Grindelwald’s looking for Credence, looking for the obscurial, and Credence is more and more sure with every passing moment that the obscurial doesn't exist anymore. He couldn't let a weapon like that (like him) fall into Grindelwald's hands, because then everyone he cares about would suffer. But if it doesn't exist, if he's alone in this hollow shell he calls a body... then maybe this is his chance. And while Percival would die to save the magical world, Credence would die to save Percival. This world can go on without Credence, would probably be better for it. But Percival? Credence doesn't want to live in a world without Percival.
Hands shaking, heart pounding, Credence drops the curtain. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He reaches deep down inside and tries, truly tries to summon that black cloud of fear and rage.
There's nothing there.
He opens his eyes.
Credence walks towards the door, oddly calm. With no obscurus, Grindelwald has no weapon. With no weapon, there's no reason to stay. He can go back to Europe. He can go fight whatever fight he was fighting and he can leave this city alone.
He can leave the people that Credence cares about alone.
Credence's fingers curl around his red coat almost with a mind of their own. He tugs it off of the stand by the door and pulls it over his shoulders, one arm and then the other. He sinks into the warmth. It's hard to believe that just a few short weeks ago Percival presented this to Credence. Put it on him, and held his hand. Credence wraps the garment around himself and basks, for just a second, in the feeling of Percival's regard.
He can do this.
Credence has his wand up his sleeve, but he knows he won’t use it. Grindelwald is too strong. If Credence survives, it won’t be because he beat Grindelwald in a duel.
Reaching into his pocket, he rubs his fingers against the stone wolf that he's been carrying since the morning Percival left for England. A token of affection.
Credence takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, centering himself in the stillness.
Then, Credence opens the door.
It would be dramatic, to say that time stops. As far as Credence knows, no one can manipulate time, not even casters.
What happens, when Credence opens the door, is this:
Percival is standing on the front porch, fear in his eyes. Behind him, the dark figure coalesces into a definitive shape of a man, striding towards them from across the street. The burnt, sour odor of too-powerful magic saturates the air. The smell triggers a sense-memory - of destruction, of explosions, of flying - but Credence remains rooted in his physical body.
"Credence, no!" Percival hisses from between clenched teeth. He looks pained, like speaking involves gargling broken glass.
"It's okay," Credence says, oddly calm.
The door to the house slams behind him with a reverberating bang.
"Everything's going to be okay." Credence steps forward, into Percival's personal space. "I love you," he murmurs in Percival's ear.
"Go... back... inside."
Credence steps around Percival's body and faces the man at the bottom of the stairs.
"You're here for me."
Credence nods. He had expected as much - they all had - but confirmation brings serenity. He's making the right choice.
"Are you going to come willingly?"
"If I do," Credence says, "will you promise not to harm Graves, or Goldstein or Scamander." He pauses for a moment. "Or anyone else in New York."
"I have no plans for this place. Europe is my home, and my prize. Come with me there, and we can leave all of this behind," Grindelwald says, waving his arm in a grand motion around him. "Untouched. Unmarred."
Two options unfold before Credence, tumbling forward so vividly he can almost see them shimmering in the air:
Credence could nod, walk down these stairs, and take Grindelwald's arm. Allow the man to teleport them out of the city, and then out of the country. End up in Europe, balanced on a razor's edge between prisoner and willing captive. Grindelwald wouldn't harm him, most likely - not worth the risk of provoking the obscurus ahead of schedule - and so he would be "safe" until the moment of truth. Grindelwald would probably take him to some populous city, cobblestone streets and charming old buildings like Cecilia's house, and then demand the obscurus's destruction. Only then would he know, would he find out the truth. Grindelwald would certainly kill him in a fit of rage, and Credence would die thousands of miles away from everyone he cares about, protecting them the only way he knows how.
Credence could tell him that the obscurus died a quiet, unremarkable death, here in this unassuming brownstone. That the thing Grindelwald has been hunting for his entire life had gotten smaller and smaller with every spell cast, with every loving word, with every triumphant smile. That the parasite had vanished completely, somewhere between a red coat and a suitcase full of wonders. That Credence has become the very first of his kind - a cured obscurial. And then Grindelwald would certainly kill Percival in an attempt to provoke the obscurus, and then kill Credence himself in a fit of rage.
The thing is, Credence doesn't want to die. But he doesn't know how to get out of this alive, either.
"I want to see your real face," Credence says, half because it's true and half because he's stalling. Even if he leaves with Grindelwald, even if he dies here, maybe Percival will at least be able to get a look at Grindelwald's real face. Maybe it'll help Percival hunt him.
Grindelwald stares at Credence, assessing, while Credence stands defiant, mind racing. The thing is, every fiber of Credence's being says that the first option is the best one - get out of here, run thousands of miles away, and contain the blast radius to himself. He's been living on borrowed time. He should have died that day in the subway tunnel.
He should be grateful for the little slice of happiness that he's received.
But maybe... maybe it's okay to be selfish.
The silence stretches out between them, broken only by Percival's sickly panting behind Credence.
"...Credence…." His name is barely more than a hiss, barely more than a whisper, but it snaps Credence out of his spiraling.
Percival doesn't want Credence to die for him.
Percival wants Credence to live, or at the very least he would want Credence to go out swinging.
Finally, after what feels like an eternity but was probably less than a minute, Grindelwald waves his wand and the sandy-blond melts away to show the familiar madman underneath. Before even has the chance to clarify that no, he means Grindelwald's real face, the one that Dumbledore remembers, Grindelwald snaps one of the cords from around his neck, and that disguise melts away, too. The man standing before Credence is an unfamiliar one. He has dark hair peppered with gray, sharp cheekbones, and intense eyes. Credence stares, half mesmerized, unsure of how to push forward without getting himself killed, when a crackle of thunder rolls across the sky.
"Was that you, Credence?" Grindelwald asks, grinning up at him with unabashed delight.
The honest answer is no, it wasn't. But Grindelwald was too distracted by the rumbling to notice the popping noises that should have accompanied the people who just apparated into the alley behind him. Credence feels almost giddy with relief - stalling worked! The cavalry has arrived, and survival has never looked more possible than in this exact second.
Credence doesn't react. Doesn't flinch, doesn't look at Tina's familiar figure, doesn't allow himself to react in any way. At least six of them fan out from the mouth of the alley - Tina, Newt, and reinforcements. Credence keeps his eyes locked on Grindelwald, ignoring the newcomers.
"No," he says honestly. "I can come with you, if that's what it'll take to make you leave, but I don't have what you want."
"You are what I want."
Credence shakes his head, counting the seconds as the aurors stalk towards them, slowly and silently.
Stay calm, he thinks, keep stalling.
"I was. I'm not anymore."
"Do you think I'm stupid?" Grindelwald snarls. "Don't play with me, boy."
Grindelwald points his wand threateningly at Credence. "You are an obscurial. You can't be cured."
But Credence just shakes his head.
The next thing Credence knows, he's on the ground, pain lancing through his entire body. Has he been cursed? Cut in half? Is he bleeding? Is he dying? Any remaining doubts he may have had about the obscurus vanish into smoke - nothing bubbles up to defend him, nothing explodes out of him. He hears Tina shout Graves, here! and then Percival is standing over him, wand in hand.
The fight could last seconds or hours. Credence breathes through the pain, like he learned when he was young. Doesn't move. Makes himself small. The banging and flashing lights remind him of his near-death in the subway tunnel so strongly that he squeezes his eyes shut and prays for it to stop.
Please, let Percival survive this. Let Tina and Newt survive this.
Let me survive this.
Please please please.
"Worthless," Credence hears, spat in disgust, and then quiet.
"Credence?" Hands, on his face. "Credence, open your eyes."
Credence blinks up at Percival's worried face.
"Get out of the way," says an unfamiliar voice, and Percival leans back just enough to make room for an unfamiliar witch. She waves her wand and mutters something under her breath, and then the pain is gone. "Nasty curse, that one. I can't believe you didn't make a sound."
"What..." Credence pants.
"Grindelwald is gone. He disapparated," Percival says, pulling Credence half into his lap. "Are you okay? Does anything still hurt?" Percival cups his hand around the back of Credence's neck and holds him, tenderly, like a fragile thing, while Credence shakes his head and tries to regain his breath.
All around them casters pop into existence. Real reinforcements, or the clean-up crew.
Tina and Newt step into Credence's field of vision, and the remaining fear he had dissipates like smoke. Newt has a black eye, and Tina has blood dripping sluggishly from a cut on her forehead, but they're both standing.
"Are you guys okay?" Credence asks.
"Are we okay?" Tina says. "When you went down I thought he killed you." She squats down next to Credence. "I'm sorry I didn't get to him faster."
"You saved all of us," Credence says. "How did you know...?"
Credence means: how did you know I was in danger? How did you know that Grindelwald was here? How did you convince reinforcements to abandon MACUSA and come running into what should have been certain death? He doesn't quite have the breath to ask all that, but Tina understands.
"I found Graves' wand at MACUSA. As soon as I saw that, I knew that he had been targeted, and I knew that Grindelwald was coming here."
"Thanks for that, by the way," Percival says.
"Is it still working for you?"
"Best it ever has," Percival says to Tina, and then switches his focus back to Credence. "Grindelwald got away, but I don't think he'll be coming after you again. When you went down... the obscurus should have responded, if it was still there. Once Grindelwald saw that, he didn't stick around for long."
Credence sits up and Percival lets him, reluctantly.
"I only figured it out tonight," Credence explains. "I was scared to death and I couldn't get it to respond, so..."
Percival nods. "I think -"
"Percival?" a woman interrupts, walking towards them. She's tall, dark skinned, and has some kind of wrap around her hair. "Is that... is that the obscurial?"
"Yes," Percival says, glancing around at their odd little circle, sitting on the pavement in the middle of the street. "It's a long fucking story. Seraphina, this is Credence. Credence, this is Seraphina Piquery, MACUSA's president. Sera, we have one hell of a story to tell you."
It's finally done! Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, or left kudos, with a special shout-out to anyone who has stuck with this since the beginning almost two years ago. I have mostly written this in fits and starts, but I'm glad to finally call it finished.