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We Get What We Deserve

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It was New Year’s Eve, 1926 and Percival Graves did not understand how how five Aurors who were capable of moving in total operational silence when the situation required were currently making such a godawful racket. Yes, a few had plus ones;Tina Goldstein had brought her sister and Madalena Cortez’s husband was here. Still, it was his team’s voices he heard most clearly, talking and shouting to be heard over each other.

It was Taylor Oakhurst’s fault, of course. The youngest Auror of the team had produced multiple decks of cards from his midnight blue tailcoat with a grin and asked who wanted to play Pounce. Graves wasn’t sure how exactly you played-- he’d bowed out-- but it seemed to involve a lot of frantically slapping cards into different piles and loudly arguing about whether or not someone was cheating.

“That wasn’t the top card! I saw that!” Madalena Cortez shouted to Taylor. Tall, tan and muscular, she towered over the smaller, wiry man.

“Maybe you wouldn’t be losing if you stopped staring at my cards!” Taylor shot back with a grin.

“Damnit, Tina took my seven!” Sophie McIlvain protested. Her blonde hair was pulled back into an elaborate bun, pinned with charmed silver pins that glittered like stars, and although she was a little taller than average for a woman, even her strappy silver heels didn’t bring her to Tina or Maddie’s height.

“Not yours any more!” Tina answered. She was the newest member of Graves’ squad, only transferred within the past month. Graves was glad to see her steadily becoming more at ease with them. She’d drawn his attention when she’d shown up in the Major Investigations Room with Newt Scamander, of all people. Theseus’ little brother had managed to misplace a suitcase full of magical creatures, accidentally swapping it with a suitcase full of some No-Maj’s frankly delicious pastries. They’d recaptured the creatures, and since returning a native, trafficked creature to its original habitat wasn’t technically a violation of the Ban on Magical Creatures, he’d sent Tina to Arizona with the magizoologist to ensure nothing else went amiss. He’d poached her from Argus Branson as soon as she’d returned.

He’d also written Theseus. Thes, could you warn me next time your brother shows up in New York with a case full of trouble?

Theseus’ response had been a similar mix of amusement and exasperation. Only if you warn me next time you play matchmaker.

Graves’ team deserved the chance to let off some steam. 1926 had been a good year. They’d finally broken the back of an smuggling ring that was importing Dark artifacts and selling them to Merlin-knew-who. (Graves had his speculations). When he had noticed that the Adytum Suite at the Ansonia Hotel was vacant on New Year’s Eve, he’d offered it to his team. He knew Taylor would jump at any excuse for a party and Sophie never passed up an opportunity for formal dress. The suite was accessible only to those who knew the right spell and the right button to press on the elevator. While it was usually used to house important visiting officials or to ensure the safety of vulnerable witnesses, when it was vacant, the suite was also available for rent to senior officials for things such as this.

There was a large fireplace with access to the Floo Network surrounded by a finely upholstered white couch and armchairs. There was a coffee table there as well, but it was currently obscured by his Aurors, whose shrieking had died down as they added up the points. Graves was near a smaller seating area near the large windows. Two small curved white armchairs flanked a a gold-and-glass end table where Graves had set his top hat upon arriving. Now, however, he was mostly admiring the view. New York City glittered in the darkness, rows upon rows of electric streetlights crossing and intersecting like an intricate angular puzzle. Graves hadn’t expected to love this city as much as he did when he first moved here. He’d been used to Ilvermorny’s isolation and the sprawling Massachusetts manor that was his ancestral family home, but the buzz and movement of the city had grown on him. Twenty years later, he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

One of the house elves was opening a fresh bottle of champagne and pouring flutes of it as well as PInnock’s Gigglewater before heading over to the group. It must nearly be midnight. He’d thanked his squad for their hard work already at the start of the evening and had held back somewhat since then, enjoying the view from the Ansonia’s thirteenth floor and quiet conversations with whoever had drifted over.

Septima Fletcher joined him by the window. She was in a longer dress than the other, younger woman, in such a dark blue that it was only recognizably that color against the true black of Graves’ tailcoat. “Champagne, not gigglewater,” she said, handing him a flute. “You used to be adamant about how much you hated the stuff.”

Graves smiled slightly. “Back when I was a pompous ass of a junior Auror, you mean?” At fifty years old, Septima was the oldest of six Aurors on his team, including Graves himself. Her dark brown hair was streaked with grey now, but she was still as fast on her feet and as good an Apparator as she had ever been.

“You were just very serious, my dear,” Septima answered tolerantly. She’d been his squad leader when Graves had first become an Auror. She’d stepped down from the position when her husband had died in the war, needing more time at home to take care of their son. When SIlvanus had graduated from Ilvermorny and found a job of his own, Graves had offered her the position again, but she’d laughed it off, telling him that there was no way he was sticking her with that paperwork again.

“I thought we’d see Silvanus tonight,” he said. “I know Sophie and the Goldstein sisters were hoping for a little more equity when it came to dance partners.” He and Taylor were the only two men on the team, so with Maddie’s husband, the numbers were three to five.

“He’s got a nice little witch he’s taking out tonight,” Septima told him. The hint of pride in her voice turned to mischief. “She works for the New York Ghost and she was apparently very excited that his mother works with New York’s Wizard of the Year.”

“Oh Merlin, don’t remind me.” Graves covered his face with a hand. The Ghost had selected him for their year end feature. He’d wanted to refuse, but Picquery had personally told him that it was good for recruiting and he was doing it whether he liked it or not. Mid-December, he’d walked into the canteen in time to hear Taylor reading it aloud. Thirty-eight year old confirmed bachelor and dedicated public servant Percival Graves…

“Ten! Nine!” The team had clustered around the clock as it grew closer to midnight.

“Aren’t you going back over?” Graves asked Septima.

“I’ve found that once the midnight kissing starts, the young ones start gravitating away from me,” Septima commented. “So I thought I might spare them the trouble.”

“So you came over here to the second oldest person on the team?” Graves asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Oh, I am perfectly safe from your attentions, Percival. Of that I am well aware,” Septima answered primly and took a sip of champagne.

Graves wasn’t entirely sure what she meant by that. He also wasn’t certain he wanted to ask, but the clock over the fireplace started to chime midnight before he could decide. The group by the fireplace erupted into noise again and Taylor swung Sophie into an elaborate dip before kissing her.

“Saw that coming,” Septima said and clinked her glass against Graves’. “Happy New Year, Percival.”

“Happy New Year, Septima.” It had been a good year.

 

Two weeks into the New Year, Sophie McIlvain brought him a case file. “This just came in,” she said. “Think we should be looking into it.” She was in the long brown leather coat of her uniform, minus the hat and her blonde hair was tucked up into a much less elaborate bun at the base of her neck.

“Grab a seat. What is it about this case?” Graves flipped through it. A witch named Emmeline Grey had been found dead in her home; there had been evidence of forced entry and a struggle. At first blush, it looked like a home invasion and murder. He paused at the cause of death. “Knifed?”

Sophie nodded. “But not a No-Maj-- there was evidence of curses being used as well.”

“And the wand.” Emmeline Grey’s wand had been broken in half and left sitting next to her body. Few things disturbed Graves anymore after sixteen years of law enforcement and four years of war, but this did. A wand was a living thing, semi-sentient and bonded to its owner. Doing this was spiteful and cruel; it was like killing the household pet. Graves flipped back to the description of Emmeline Grey. “Laurel wood. Her wand probably attacked her killer when they picked it up to break it. They must have hated her.”

He glanced up at Sophie. “This is disturbing, but I don’t see how it’s Major Investigations. Hatred like that doesn’t hide. She likely had an altercation with someone. Talk to her neighbors, her coworkers. Someone noticed her killer.”

“That’s what the officer in charge of the case thought as well. But we just got this case in as well.” She tapped the second folder on his desk. “Alexander Ragnott. No relationship to Emmeline Grey, but exact same M.O. Someone forced their way inside; knife wounds, though Ragnott seems to have died from a curse. Broken wand next to him.”

Graves flipped through the file again. The similarities were uncomfortable. “I see why you brought it to me.” He gave her the case files back. “Have Taylor get in touch with the other Auror divisions, see if anyone else has had cases like this. Tina should follow up with the original Aurors who looked into these cases, see if there’s anything that’s not in the files. Tina and Septima should do some checking into Emmeline Grey and Alexander Ragnott, make sure there’s not a connection that we’re missing.” He hoped there was; the implications of two murders like this were unsettling. “Come back once you’ve given out assignments. I want to go visit the crime scenes.”

Sophie gathered the case files and stood. “I’ll let T.J. and the others know.”

Graves glanced up from his desk. “T.J.?” he echoed.

“Oh. Taylor. It’s what his family calls him apparently. Taylor James.”

“I see.”He didn’t say anything more and let her leave. He’d wondered after the New Year’s party, but it was likely nothing. They were eleven years apart and Sophie would have told him if there was anything. She and Septima were his closest friends, after all--- at least on this continent. He’d not been through a war with either of them, not like he had with Theseus, but he owed Sophie his life. You got a sense of someone’s character when they’d held your intestines in with one hand and dueled a dark wizard with the other.

Taylor--- or apparently T.J.-- Oakhurst was less of a known quantity. He had been recruited straight from Ilvermorny for his exceptional skill at transfiguration and being one of the youngest Animagi MACUSA had encountered. Both the Research Division and the Division of Magical Law Enforcement had offered him a position, but he’d chosen the MLE, wanting to be an Auror. He’d made it to the rank in two years and Graves had seen enough talent in him to bring him onto his squad. He was a talented Auror, quick thinking and resourceful, but his braggadocio tried Graves’ patience like no one else on his team. It had become easier to tolerate once he realized that Taylor was compensating, nervous about his youth and his newness. Hopefully Tina’s presence and having served a full year under Graves would calm him a little.

Sophie returned to his office as she pulled on the warded leather coat and put on the fedora. “Emmeline Grey or Alexander Ragnott first?”

“Let’s go in order. Grey first.” Graves said. As they left his office, he heard Taylor call him.

“Boss!” The smaller man jogged over to them both with case files in his hand. “These just came in. Philadelphia and Baltimore.”

Graves took them from him. “You know, every other Auror on this team calls me by my name.”

“Except for Septima. She calls you dear,” Sophie pointed out.

“Age has its privileges. She was my squad leader when I was Taylor’s age.” Graves said. He took the files over to the edge of the balcony where the light streaming in from the top of the Woolworth Building made it easier to see.

Two more murders. Knife and curse, broken wand by their side. Jasper Crowells in Baltimore; Antonietta Cavanelli in Philadelphia. Graves looked out across the atrium to the Magical Threat Exposure Clock. It hung over all of them as they went about their business, both a useful tool and a reminder of how much danger they were in at any moment, how one hundred and forty years ago, a foolish witch and her foolish trust had nearly destroyed them all.

“Someone’s killing wizards,” he said quietly.

 

Every muscle in Credence Barebone’s body ached as he laid on the roof of the apartment building. He’d been there for hours, returning to his post as soon as the Aurors had finished searching the area and he’d gone stiff from cold and inaction. His eyes were closed as he concentrated, ear against the roof. Even having magically enhanced his hearing, it was difficult to make out the sounds of the apartment below. They’d left a single person there on watch, clearly expecting someone else to arrive, but right now the man was just pacing and fidgeting in the hallway, sometimes grousing to himself about the overtime.

It was January in New York City and the cold bit through Credence’s ragged black coat, making him shiver involuntarily. At least he thought it was the cold, but the uneasy nausea that still lingered in his stomach made him wonder if he was still reacting to the body he’d left in the apartment below. It hadn’t been any easier this time. Was it ever going to get easier? He’d vomited the first time in Baltimore, fallen to his knees, shaking and heaving and Bartholomew had kicked him, snarling that he hadn’t lived this long to train such a snivelling replacement. In Philadelphia, it had been the same. The shaking had only come later; he’d been so disoriented by the witch’s curse that her death had felt like self-defense.

Credence had found the newspaper there, in the broken ruins of witch’s coffee table. A half-eaten pumpkin pastry, mostly smashed, a ticket stub to a Quidditch game-- the New York Kipsy versus the Philadelphia Firedrakes-- and a blood-flecked copy of a witch newspaper, the New York Ghost. Credence had glanced at it while he waited for his head to clear and he’d been briefly entranced by the movement of the pictures. Figures on broomsticks zipped across a photograph. An advertisement for a bank showed slowly multiplying coins, gradually filling the entire space. Before Bartholomew could chide him for being caught by the Devil’s tricks, however, he’d noticed part of a name on the next page and turned it.

Percival Graves, Wizard of the Year. Credence knew that name, knew that history. Gondulphus Graves, one of the thugs sent to hunt the Scourers and end their noble work, a man fully committed to the Devil’s handiwork. The Barebone line had continued; it wasn’t impossible that Graves’ had as well.

“Sir.” He’d handed Bartholomew the paper.

The ancient Scourer had read the article with a dark smile. “Percival Graves. An Auror. And their Director of Magical Law Enforcement.” He chuckled. “I’d wondered why I’d finally been sent a forsaken bastard like you.” He dropped the paper in front of Credence. “Find him and bring him to me. Do it well and maybe you’ll prove you’re more than the evil in your blood.” And then Bartholomew had left, leaving Credence alone with no idea how to accomplish the task he’d been set.

He’d wanted to please Bartholomew so badly, to prove himself to him, that he wasn’t one of the damned despite the evil in his blood, that he could merit being one of the Elect. He’d taken the paper and fled and it wasn’t until he was well away from the witch’s home and the adrenaline had started to fade that he’d started to shake again. Killing alone in New York hadn’t been any easier, but he knew no other way to draw this Director Graves out than to give him something to hunt.

If only they weren’t so human. If only the woman’s wand hadn’t screamed like a child-- like Modesty-- and scorched his palm when he’d picked it up.

“Mr. Graves! Sir!” The lowly underling who had been guarding the crime scene Credence had left to be found was speaking again, having snapped to attention. Credence smiled despite the cold lodged into his bones. He could picture the Director from his photograph in the paper. He’d shifted back and forth like a caged panther, all coiled strength and confidence. His gaze had been keenly intelligent and inquisitive. Even in the black-and-white image, Credence would see that his hair was perfectly trimmed; the black coat with white slashed sleeves finely tailored and likely inordinately expensive.

Credence had hated everything about him. Handsome and confident, successful and wealthy-- the article had taken care to mention that Graves ”eschewed the ancestral family manor, preferring instead to live near his work”. Percival Graves had clearly enjoyed every benefit of having sold his soul while the Barebones had struggled to survive, hunted by Graves’ ancestors and their ilk, condemned as mad by the ignorant multitude. Maybe killing him wouldn’t give Credence the nauseous sense of having done something unforgivable like all the others had.

“Marino. Major Investigations may be taking this case. Mind if we take a look?” Graves had a low baritone that Credence had to strain to hear.

“No, sir. Not at all.”

There was another person with Graves; he could hear two pairs of feet moving about the small apartment.

“The knife wounds are the same size as Emmeline Grey.” A woman was speaking, then cast a spell. “If it’s the same knife, whoever it was must have cleaned it between. There’s no sign of her blood in the wound.”

“They have some idea what they’re doing,” Graves answered. “Getting a knife between the ribs like that is not an easy task.”

“...I don’t like this, Percival. Four of us? In three different cities?”

“I know. But I want to be absolutely sure before I go and tell Congress that we have someone hunting wizards. They’re on edge enough already.”

He and the woman talked a little bit longer, examining things in the apartment. Credence was only partially listening. It was still early enough that it wouldn’t be easy for Graves to disapparate privately. The city was crowded. He’d have to walk for a bit and whatever quiet place he found for his magic would also be an ideal place for an ambush.

“T.J. was asking if anyone wanted to go for drinks at Three Sirens. I think Tina’s coming and maybe Maddie. You should come; it’s only a few blocks from here. Especially if all hell’s about to break loose; we might not get another chance for awhile.”

“I somehow doubt Taylor wants a chaperone.”

“He thinks you don’t like him, you know.”

“I don’t dislike him. I would just like him to settle down and stop trying to prove himself.”

“Pot calling the kettle black? Septima has some stories about you.”

“I did not ever tell my coworkers whether or not Wampus won the house cup when I was a senior.”

“Apparently Horned Serpent won his junior and his senior year. I think it’s adorable.”

“Now I am definitely not going.”

“Fine, you wet blanket. I’ll see you on Monday then.” Credence exhaled a small sigh of relief. He hadn’t anticipated the woman being there. Bartholomew had instilled a healthy respect for the Aurors in him and Credence wasn’t necessarily sure he wanted to fight two of them at once.

He heard the two leave the apartment and start to descend the stairs. He pushed himself up to a crouch, hissed softly in pain as he put weight onto his left hand. The palm was still healing from the burn that woman’s wand had given him. He’d thought about using magic to fix it, but the scarring it would cause would likely ruin his grip.

It was his knife hand, after all, and it would likely take both knife and curse to bring down Percival Graves.

Chapter Text

Percival Graves had not survived sixteen years of law enforcement and four years of war by being a fool. He was being followed. Whoever it was had both magic and skill, so it likely wasn’t the Wailer’s hack journalists, though he supposed he should expect them soon. They would like nothing more than a scandal, especially for someone so recently praised in more respectable publications. Graves allowed a very small smirk to cross his lips. It was almost a pity. If Theseus had been here, he might have been tempted to give them one.

But it wasn’t a tabloid journalist. They were using a Disillusionment Charm of startling power but little finesse. The mimicry was seamless, but it lagged. Graves could catch the distortion out of the corner of his eye in the street lights and reflective glass of shop windows. Were they using someone else’s wand? Had they somehow lost the loyalty of their own?

Graves walked a little further than he might have to verify his instincts and to find the right place for a confrontation. He avoided alleys that were too narrow. Though they might have worked for a quick Disapparition, he wanted more space if he were to fight.

There was a small park ahead. It had clear space and enough trees that any spells wouldn’t be immediately visible to No-Majs. It was the best terrain that he was likely to get and he doubted the person following him would be patient for much longer. They’d know they were made as soon as Graves changed direction.

Graves reached for his wand and bolted towards the park.

He was halfway across the street-- in open view of anyone driving by, anyone looking out their windows-- when his pursuer appeared in front of him in a swirl of air and black mist. He was an inch taller and at least a decade younger than Graves, but gaunt, with rough-cropped black hair that hung around his jawline. He wore a ragged black coat; the sleeves had been cut down to the proper length with a knife rather than hemmed.

More alarming than any of that, however, was the curse that his opponent leveled at him. “Fulmen!

Graves swore and dove to the side as white lightning struck where he’d been mere moments before. The man didn’t care about being seen; he’d opted to duel in the middle of a New York street. Who the hell was he? Graves apparated into the park, preferring to violate the Statute just once to lure his attacker out of sight rather than continue in public. He appeared between two benches with the central fountain at his back and snapped off a blanket Obliviation even as he scanned the area around him.

There was movement in the brush; the man must have used a Disillusionment Charm again and Graves was having a hard time tracking its fault lines away from the street lights. “I’m a MACUSA Auror; come out and put your wand down,” he ordered, though he doubted that his attacker would comply.

There was a rush of air behind him. Graves spun and snapped his elbow up even as his attacker’s knife tore through his coat. The blade shredded some of the fabric’s warding but Graves’ elbow caught him across the jaw. The man was close, so much closer than any conventional duelist would have chosen, but it made sense. With curses as a distraction and a knife as a weapon, he’d want to close ground. Graves could compensate for it but the murdered civilians had likely stood no chance. And their killer had followed him from the scene. The deaths had been bait.

Graves snarled and blocked the knife on the backswing. The blade bit into his coat and forearm, but Graves drove his body into his attacker, knocking him backwards and sending his hex flying errantly into the sky.

Stupefy,” Graves snapped but the other man had rolled and disappeared with a puff of smoke. He had his attacker’s measure now though and the Auror was apparated a scant few feet away. He relied on the combination of spells and a blade because his wand wasn’t loyal. It was slower to respond than Graves’ ebony partner and between that and the younger man’s relative inexperience, it gave him the half-second he needed.

The attacker appeared, startled when Graves wasn’t where he was expected and he turned in time for the Auror’s lightning to catch him full in the chest. It knocked the younger man backwards and he fell, losing his grip on his wand.
Graves called the stranger’s wand to him but hissed in pain as heat seared across his palm. He’d never known a wand to hate before, but this one did, burning with an unnatural viciousness. It was the briefest distraction, but it was enough for the other man. Too late, too quick and he was inside Graves’ guard, too close for wandwork and Graves’ offhand punch wasn’t strong enough to stop the knife from going into his ribs.

Graves hit him again and the blow knocked the younger man back for a moment. The Auror went to snap off a curse only to have his voice fail. Blood coated his mouth. His legs went out from under him and he hit the ground hard, landing on his side where he could see his attacker’s wand. The hell was it? He couldn’t focus, couldn’t get up, couldn’t process that he had blood filling one lung, soaking his side. But that wand. No mother of pearl, blackthorn rather than swamp mayhaw. Not Jonkers, not Beauvais. Ollivander? No. It must have been ancient to gain this level of spite and cruelty.

The broken wands. ”Someone’s killing wizards.”The ancient wand, old as America, old as MACUSA, seething with hatred for wizardkind and barely consenting to be wielded.

Scourer. Fuck.

The world went black.

 

Graves’ vision faded in and out. His wand was gone. They’d apparated...somewhere? Inside. He was on the floor and a feeble warmth emanated from the clicking radiator behind his head. Someone was touching him, opening his vest and shirt.

“Damnit. You’re not allowed to bleed out, you posh bastard.” The Scourer wand touched his skin briefly before his attacker continued with his spell, sketching a sigil in the air.

That wasn’t-- he wasn’t--- Graves found his voice. “No. Don’t.”

It was too late. ”Reparo,” the other man said and Graves shouted and choked in pain as his punctured lung scarred itself closed. Muscle and bone wrenched itself back together, fusing unnaturally and scarring in a way that would mark Graves for the rest of his life. The Auror started to cough and couldn’t stop, crumpled on the floor as he spat blood from his mouth. It was a Mending Charm: fit for objects alone and never for human flesh. There was no concern for maintaining optimal function, no concern for the secondary effects of an injury. Vulnera sanentur would have pulled the blood from his lung back into his body. This? This was cruelty masquerading as courtesy.

Graves’ vision cleared somewhat when he cleared the last of the blood from his lungs and could breathe again. They were in a dingy and cramped boarding house room. A narrow bed and a round wooden table took up nearly all the space. He was on the floor next to the radiator with both hands cuffed, trapping him there. He tried to call his wand back to him, but the metal restraints burned searing hot and the sharp pain shattered his concentration. They looked old and worn as well and Graves briefly wondered how many witches and wizards had been taken to the stake in them.

His attacker was standing by the table, ragged coat draped over one chair as he stripped off his tie, vest, shirt and undershirt. Maybe it wasn’t cruelty. The younger man’s own chest was marked with the same sort of horrific scars that he had just given Graves. Did the Scourer simply not know any healing spells? For the first time, Graves felt something like a pang of empathy. A disloyal wand that barely tolerated your existence, healing magic that seared and scarred. It wasn’t entirely surprising that the younger man hated magic.

Graves spat one final bit of blood out of his mouth. “That’s not...a healing spell.” His voice was hoarse and unsteady but clearer now, audible.

“You’re not bleeding any more, are you?” The Scourer went to the small sink in the corner, unwrapping a bandage around his right palm before carefully washing it. He had more scars on his back, long intersecting stripes, but they weren’t from combat. He’d been beaten.

“Proper healing spells don’t leave scars like this,” Graves said.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not. Unless you got all of those wounds magically, none of them should have scarred.”

Credence glanced at his scorched and blistered palm, the blood on the bandage and in the sink. He’d torn it open again fighting Graves; it was his dominant hand, nearly impossible to avoid using. What could it hurt?

“Tell me. And don’t lie because I’m doing it to your arm first.” He’d given the Auror a defensive wound on his forearm. It was shallow and would have healed on his own, but it would serve his purpose.

Vulnera sanentur,” Graves supplied the incantation. “Trace the wound with your wand. You almost have to chant it. The harmony is as important as the words.”

Credence crouched next to the other man, bringing his will to bear on the recalcitrant blackthorn wand. “Vulnera sanentur,” he tried but the wand rebelled.

“You might do better with a wand that doesn’t actively hate me,” Graves said quietly. “It doesn’t much like you either. Know why?”

“Shut your mouth.” He knew why the wand failed him sometimes; Bartholomew had told him often enough. Because he was weak. He was a mewling bastard who lacked strength and conviction, a poor forsworn shadow of the successor Bartholomew had wanted.

“Prove me wrong then.” Graves knew he was goading the younger man. It was insane, but at least he was talking, revealing things about himself that Graves could use. “If it’s not the wand that’s stopping you, then use mine. It should be just as hard then. Maybe harder.”

“This?” Credence reached back and pulled the ebony wand from his coat pocket. “You should be thankful I haven’t broken it yet.” He paused. It sat easier in his hand than the blackthorn wand did. He turned away, not wanting Graves to see his face. The man couldn’t be right, could he?

Vulnera sanentur” he said softly and traced the ebony wand across his palm. It was still an effort of will but its obedience came more quickly than he expected and the scorch marks knit and were replaced by untouched pink flesh.

“Magic should be a joy,” the man said behind him. “No wonder you hate it, with a wand that hasn’t chosen you and spells that hurt rather than heal.”

“You’re in love with a thing that damns you,” Credence told him.

“Something I’ve been doing since before I could speak? I used to make toy horses move when I was two. As powerful as you are, you must have done the same.”

“Shut your mouth,” the Scourer growled and Graves complied. He was treading an impossibly fine line. He needed to unsettle the younger man and make him lose focus, but not so much that he’d lash out. The more that his enemy had to accept he was human, the more opportunities Graves would have. The Scourer had already slipped up in revealing that Graves’ wand was nearby and unbroken.

He looked around the room. The door and the window had both conventional locks and magical wards, but the walls didn’t. They would likely be thin enough to blast through if he needed. It was quiet, even for a boarding house at night, so the Scourer must have Silenced the room. There would be no yelling for help, even if doing so was likely to get poor No-Maj Obliviated. Or killed.

The Scourer had healed the burn mark on his chest from Graves’ lightning and redressed. He sat at the small table and picked up a newspaper. Graves couldn’t keep back the groan as his own face stared back at him from the page. If he got killed because of that idiotic feature, he was going to be the angriest ghost that wizardkind had ever encountered.

“Look. I know it’s hardly Pendragon-Prize worthy, but was it really worth stabbing me over?” The Scourer glanced at him but didn’t answer. “They left my brother out. Not surprising; I don’t talk about him much, but you would have thought they’d do their research better. Do you have any siblings? A brother, a sister?”

There was still silence. The Scourer was ignoring him but not shutting him up, so Graves kept going. “His name was Cador. He was six years younger than me and smart as hell. Smarter than me, maybe smarter than anyone I’ve ever met. I think he’d read every book my parents owned by the time he was eleven. He was so excited to go to school--- not to get a wand or learn magic, but because I’d told him how big the library was there.”

Graves could tell the Scourer was listening now, but he’d not revealed anything-- not Ilvermorny’s name or its location. The Auror couldn’t help the half-smile, remembering his little brother’s excitement. Cador had been all limbs and elbows, with’ floppy black hair and their mother’s blue eyes. Even at 11, he promised to be as tall if not taller than Graves. “Only time I ever got in trouble my senior year was breaking some kid’s nose who was bullying him.” Elaine had done the same. In her fourth year at the time, his normally gentle Pukwudgie sister had conjured a small thundercloud that had followed a particularly insistent bully around for days. But the Scourer didn’t need to know that. Better to talk about Cador, who was dead and gone and couldn’t be endangered by anything Graves said.

“Why don’t you talk about him?” The Scourer finally spoke.

“He died when I was 27. He got some fellowship to go to England and study history and it didn’t matter that they were at war. He drowned when the Germans sunk the Lusitania.”

“I’m sorry.” The empathetic response was almost automatic and Credence winced as soon as he heard himself say it.

“No, you’re not. Isn’t he in Hell where he belongs?” Graves answered.

Credence looked away, rattled and the only thing he could do was change the subject. “No brothers,” he said, answering the man’s question from earlier. “I have two sisters. Chastity hates me. Modesty should but she doesn’t.”

“Modesty and Chastity. So who are you then, Sobriety?”

“Shut your mouth.” Credence considered Stunning the man just to get him to stop talking. The posh, smug bastard, talking about his dead brother’s library when the only books Credence had were the Bible and whatever spellbooks had survived the centuries.

“Dignity?” Graves was pushing his luck, but he needed to know. It was harder to kill someone who could look in your face and call you by name. And, if he made it out of this alive, the name would matter to an investigation.

The Scourer was a blur of motion and there was a hand at Graves’ throat, cool and callused. “Credence Barebone,” he said. “Because your ancestors failed and failed again to stop us and none of them have failed their world as much as you will.”

Flip the script. If he acted like an enemy, Credence would treat him like one. Even he recognized the name as a Scourer bloodline, MACUSA’s old enemy. His family’s old enemy. “Percival Gondulphus Graves,” he answered steadily, meeting his gaze. “And I’m sorry your sister hates you. I can’t imagine what that feels like.”

Credence slapped him and Graves’ head rocked back against the radiator. The Scourer walked away and Graves could see his hands shaking--- rage and hopefully confusion. He almost felt bad for the younger man. He was a skilled combatant, disloyal wand or not, but he clearly had little to no training in interrogation. He stayed silent after that. His mouth was dry from talking and dehydration. The Mending Charm had closed the wound in his side but done nothing to replace the lost blood. Eventually, even sitting on the floor, handcuffed to a radiator rib, he slept.

 

Credence double-checked the wards and left as soon as Graves was asleep. He needed to get away from the man, the steady pulse in his throat and the warmth of his skin. Away from the half-smile and the evident love in his voice when Graves talked about his little brother. I’m sorry your sister hates you.

Why did it rattle him this much? Had he not expected the Devil’s servant to be so wily, to feign love, to feign compassion? “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of the light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness,” he reminded himself.

The recitation calmed him somewhat as he apparated to an alley off Allen Street. It was a few blocks within Chinatown and well before the road changed names and became Pike Street. Ma didn’t like him apparating close to the Church and he needed her in a good mood.

He paused in the alley, listening to the chatter and noise of Allen Street-- some English, mostly Mandarin-- as he thumbed through the wallet he had taken from Graves. He didn’t recognize most of the coins. They felt heavy and strange; he guessed they were witch money, but there were a few dollar bills and some American change as well.

He bought steamed pork buns from a vendor and ate as he walked, leaving the lights of Chinatown behind. It was a small act of pleasure and defiance. Ma hated the foreigners almost as much as she hated witches. At least one of the scars on his back was from when he was thirteen and she’d found him wandering down Allen Street gawking at all the strange food, the lights, the architecture.

He licked some of the sticky glaze from the pork off his fingers and was about to reach into the warm paper bag for another when he saw Modesty on the street corner ahead of him, still handing out pamphlets. It was late; she should be home by now but she still had a full handful.

“Modesty.”

The blond girl turned. “Credence!” She ran towards him and Credence went down on one knee on the cold sidewalk to hug her, heedless of the people dodging around them.

“It’s good to see you,” he said.

“I missed you. You were gone for weeks this time!”

“Bartholomew had things for me to do. I’m sorry.” He stroked her hair. “Come sit with me for a moment.” He took her hand and led her to the stoop of a bank that had closed hours ago. Modesty sat next to him, close enough that the knees brushed. “Want one?” Credence offered her the bag of steamed buns. She had to be hungry; it was late enough that she would have missed dinner at the Church. There would be no leftovers; this would be all Modesty would get to eat until the next day.

Modesty nodded and took the bag from him, digging inside as the scent of the faintly sweet barbecued pork escaped. Credence glanced over the pamphlets. “Not a good day?”

“Chastity thought I talked back to Ma,” Modesty told him around a mouthful of food, covering her mouth with one hand. “She gave me twice as many.” She swallowed. “I didn’t. I just asked when you were coming home.”

Credence sighed. That might have been enough to constitute talking back in their middle sister’s eyes. “Give them to me,” he said, extending a hand and Modesty handed him the pamphlets. He glanced up long enough to see that the street was deserted before passing his hand over them. “Evanesco.

The pamphlets disappeared and Modesty squealed slightly. “I wish I could do that, Credence…”

Credence looked up from his scarred palms in alarm. “Don’t let anyone hear you say that. Not Ma and certainly not Bartholomew.” Modesty was as surely saved as Credence was surely damned. She was good and kind in a way that Ma hadn’t yet been able to touch. But if Ma heard her say anything good about his magic, she would make Modesty’s life hell. God forbid she have the talent to match the interest or Bartholomew would turn her into a weapon. “I’m serious, Modesty. Promise me.”

Modesty looked down. “I know. I promise.”

Credence pulled her close against his side with one arm for a moment, then let her go. “I’m sorry. I just worry.”

“I know.” They sat on the stoop for a few minutes longer as they finished the bag of steamed buns. Modesty talked about what had happened while Credence had been away. The geese in Seward Park had all gone South last month and a man had set up a hot chocolate stand near the pond for the ice skaters.

Credence gave her one of the quarters from Graves’ wallet. “Don't tell Ma.”

She gave him a look. “Of course, Credence.” She put the quarter safely away. “What were you doing for Bartholomew?”

Killing. Credence forced a smile. “Nothing important.”

“Are you catching witches?”

“Something like that,” he said and tried to forget the sound of that woman's wand screaming like a child when he’d broken it in half, how warm her blood had been when it splashed on his face.

“Credence?”

He shook his head. “Sorry.” He glanced at the bag and saw that there was one last bun. “That one’s yours. Go on and eat it while it’s warm.” He could buy more on his way back. When she was done, he stood. “Let’s get you home,” he said and took her hand.

As they stepped into the wooden building, Credence ducked his head and curled into himself in sheer instinct. When he was working for Bartholomew, he didn’t have to answer to her rules, but there was still a small child in him frightened that they were late and that Ma would be mad.

“Modesty.” He heard his Ma’s voice and swallowed past the tension in his throat.

“I kept her out.” Chastity had kept her out with double the number of leaflets but he knew Ma didn’t want to hear it. “I’m sorry.”

“Bartholomew didn’t say you would be coming back,” Mary Lou answered. She came down the stairs just enough that she still stood over Credence.

“I’m working. We….we found someone. Someone important, but he’s here in New York. I think you and the girls should go to Bartholomew’s in the mountains.” He dared to look up. “Please. They’ll be looking for him soon and I’m afraid they’ll come here.” Someone would eventually connect the broken wands he had left and the broken wand on the banner. Graves and the woman already suspected that someone was hunting wizards.

“Bartholomew didn't mention this to me.”

“I know. He’s not asking. I am.” Credence couldn't maintain the eye contact. “Just for a little while. A week or two.”

“And who will exhort the unwary if I run from these demons?”

“If you get caught by these people, there will be no one to spread the Word,” Credence answered. “There is a time to be quiet and a time to speak. There is no fault in either.”

“Ecclesiastes,” she said, studying him.

“Yes, Ma.”

“And what does First Samuel say, Modesty?”

His sister's voice was small and shrinking. “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.”

“Ma, please. I kept her out.” He'd challenged her and either he or Modesty were going to pay for it. He unfastened his belt with practiced hands and offered it to her.

“Go to bed, Modesty,” Mary Lou said. “Credence?”

“Yes, Ma,” he said and followed her upstairs.

Chapter Text

Dark water except for the fires of a burning, sinking ship in the distance. The cold and the fear and the choking acrid taste of salt every time he went under. He had panicked and he had held the thought of home in his mind, the black and gold marble of the hearth, the phonograph fuzzily playing his mother’s collection of Brahms. Please just once, please just get me home, he pleaded with the magic that he knew wouldn’t obey. He wasn’t his brother. His magic wasn’t strong to begin with and apparating from the middle of the Atlantic without a wand was impossible. He was asking to get splinched and that had been all that happened. He could still see the Lusitania on fire and he didn’t know how much of his right hand he had left behind when his Disapparition had failed but it was better this way. Wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? Better to bleed and die quickly than to struggle and fight against the cold and the dark water and the--

Graves woke with a jolt and there was the cedar ember heat of someone else in his mind before he slammed the steel walls of his Occlumency into place. It had been months since he’d dreamt of his brother. His heart was racing; it took him a moment to process where he was.

The Scourer crouched in front of him, fingers on Graves’ sweat-damp jaw. “You were crying out,” he said. “How did you have a nightmare?”

“You were in my head. You tell me,” Graves muttered. He was panting and his mouth was gummy with blood. His head ached and took a long moment to clear.

“You’re not supposed to be able to…”

“What? Grieve? Feel remorse, fear?” Graves was too shaken to temper his words. He pulled back from the younger man’s touch. “Because we’re easy to kill if we’re soulless, right?”

“Liar,” Credence answered but his voice was unsure. “Liar and the father of lies. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature--”

Graves was done. “My brother died alone in the dark in the middle of the goddamn Atlantic and if you say one more word about how I don’t grieve, I will break your nose.”

“You can try.” The Scourer stood and walked away.

It was late; the window was lit dull orange by a single streetlight outside. Sophie would still be at Three Sirens with the others. They wouldn’t notice Graves was gone until he missed work tomorrow. They’d search outwards from where Sophie had last seen him and he had no doubt they would find the blood in the park or at least an NYPD report that mentioned it. (While the Rappaport Law was very specific about talking to No-Majs, it was significantly fuzzier on rummaging through their files at 3 a.m. when the desk sergeant was asleep.) He almost wished he hadn’t cast a blanket Obliviation. It would have given his team more evidence-- but then again, he hadn’t expected to lose.

Credence was moving more stiffly. The younger man winced as he peeled off his shirt and Graves couldn’t keep back instinctive anger when he saw the red criss-crossing stripes. His previous assumption had been wrong. Credence hadn’t been beaten. He was being beaten. All of Graves’ instincts were at war; innate empathy and rage fought the knowledge of the Scourer’s crimes. No one deserved what happened to Credence Barebone; no one deserved to be murdered in their own homes. And four people had. Beneath the pile of contradictions, the analytical part of the Auror’s brain ticked away. Graves hadn’t been asleep that long. The Scourer had an ally who was also an abuser and that person was within easy Apparition range.

Credence was leaning over the sink. He had produced a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide to clean the marks, but they were high up between his shoulder blades and difficult to reach without arching. The movement, of course, stretched and twisted them, making the Scourer curse under his breath.

“Just come over here and I’ll do it.” Graves heard his own voice and immediately regretted it. What was he doing? Though it didn’t mean anything. It was just a way to put the Scourer off his guard, to flip the script again.

“What?”

Graves feigned indifference. “You can stand there and curse about not being able to reach all night or I can do it and maybe get some sleep.” Credence hesitated and Graves rattled the handcuffs against the radiator. “You have my wand. I’m not going anywhere. Or are you that afraid of a handcuffed Auror?”

“You talk too much.” Credence hesitated for a moment more, then set the hydrogen peroxide and rag in front of Graves.

The marks were fresh; the skin had been broken and Graves felt the same surge of rage and pity anew. How had someone so powerful been overlooked? Credence must have been a child once; how had Ilvermorny missed him? The old and powerful magic of the invitation list had been the wizarding world’s best defense against this kind of loss for centuries. How had they lost someone?

The Scourer was built for agility rather than brute strength, with lean muscles and a trim waist. This close, Graves noticed the faint scent of lye soap but the younger man’s hair still fell in tousled waves. Credence might even have been handsome if he hadn’t put a knife through Graves’ ribs only a few hours earlier. He dampened the rag and carefully started to clean the marks. Credence jumped and the sharp intake of breath made it clear that it was the touch, not the peroxide.

“I’m just doing what you asked. You have my wand; you are armed; I am handcuffed.” Graves’ reaction was instinctive; his voice was low and calm and as non-threatening as he could make it. His hands went flat and still on the younger man’s skin and wouldn’t move again until permitted. He’d seen reactions like that before; a body that braced instinctively for pain. How long had it been since someone had touched Credence in kindness?

Even if it was feigned kindness from an enemy who was using him. Graves felt a little sick.

“It’s fine. Keep going,” Credence gritted out. His reaction was humiliating.

The Auror did as he was told in silence. One of the blows had clearly gone astray, crossing the back of Credence’s neck and disappearing into his hairline. Graves left that one for last, and when he reached for it, the Scourer jerked again.

“Shh.” Graves’ fingers brushed his neck in gentle reassurance. “One more. It got up here somehow.”

“For all her practice, she’s not very good,” Credence growled. Once he’d adjusted to someone touching his back, he’d closed his eyes. As perverse as it was, Graves’ hands were warm and it was so… It was disconcerting how much he liked the sensation. It was nothing. It had been months since he’d let someone touch him. That was all. “I know what you’re trying to do.”

“And what is that?”

“To make me question myself. Empathize with you.”

“Is it working?” Subtlety was clearly not the younger man’s strong point and the bluntness nearly made Graves smile.

The rumbled baritone was almost intimate. Credence jerked away. “Don’t flatter yourself. Soon you’re going somewhere for a much less pleasant conversation.” It was sheer bravado. He could hear the words ring false and how rattled he sounded. He hated it. “Bartholomew will break you.”

“Oh, will he?” Two allies then. The “she” who had hurt him and a man named Bartholomew. It couldn’t possibly be the same person.The man responsible for the Twelvetrees treason would be well over a century old. Still, he tested the idea. “I’m certainly intimidated by any man capable of flirting a wand away from an idiot child and failing to kill a single person.”

Anger and spite were safer than the disappointment Credence had felt when Graves said the stripe on his neck was the last one. His fingers against the soft downy hair there… “Oh, but he didn’t have the Director of Magical Security to help him then.”

Merlin, how. Graves tried to hide his reaction. Bartholomew Barebone had been arrested by Baltimore police when he’d fired on No-Majs he’d mistaken for wizards. He had died in prison. (Valeriane Graves had seen to it herself). The Auror had been afraid before-- when the knife had gone into his ribs, when his vision had blurred and gone black. Every man feared dying, but this fear was older and deeper. He could not die here. He could not be captured. MACUSA needed to know.

“You’ll find it harder this time.” Graves had to say something. “Do you know how many wizards there are in America? More than ever before. All of them stronger and smarter than Dorcus Twelvetrees ever was.”

“The damned protecting the damned. Do you want me to be impressed?”

Graves had seen what rattled the younger man before. “The damned. Do you want to hear about Emmeline Grey?” He didn’t remember all of her file, but he remembered enough. “She had twins. Isabel and Alexander. They’re orphans now. Their father went to Europe as a field healer; died in a bombardment. They were at their grandmother’s the night you stabbed their mother and crushed her trachea. I wonder. What would you have done if they weren’t? They’re demons, right? Tainted since birth, in love with a thing that damns them?”

“You self-righteous bastard,” Credence snarled but his voice was shaking. Children. Orphans. No parents to protect them and it had been his doing. But they were tainted, damned. It was impossible that they should be Elect, be anything other than damned. “How many people have you killed, Director of Magical Security?”

“Five,” Graves answered. “Maybe more in the war. But five that I’m sure of.”

“So you’re a killer too.” It wasn’t the same and he knew it but he couldn’t let Graves win.

“I never claimed I wasn’t.” He cocked his head to one side. “Do you know what else I do as Director? I stop people who beat their children.”

Stupefy.” The spell hit Graves before Credence even noticed casting it. The Auror jerked once and went limp, unconscious.

It wasn’t until Credence had apparated away that he realized he’d used Graves’ wand both times. His hands were shaking. The wind had kicked up and the New York winter was bitterly cold. The air bit through his ragged coat almost immediately and within minutes he was shivering.

To hell with Percival Graves and his grief and his rage and the calm in his voice when he talked about Emmeline Grey and her children. Her orphans. Credence wouldn’t have killed… Would he have? They were children. They couldn’t have been lost already, damned so young.

I used to make toy horses move when I was two. As powerful as you are, you must have done the same.

Magic from birth. Bartholomew had never denied it; some people had the talent, others did not. He would have wanted those children put down. Credence’s stomach churned.

I stop people who beat their children. As if the privileged bastard with his wealth and position and ancestral manor understood anything about loss or pain or fear. Credence didn’t care about Graves’ brother-- choking, drowning, desperate, better to die like this. He didn't want the Auror’s fake pity or the ebony wand that somehow didn’t hate him or Graves' warm callused hands or the skin that still smelled faintly of woodsmoke and spice.

Goddamnit. His face flushed and his brain roiled.The Scourer disapparated again to reappear on 28th Street. He had let Graves manipulate him. Credence had been caught in his weakness and distracted by his sin. He needed to get it out of his system. He walked the few blocks until he found what he was looking for. Even this early in the morning, the green lights of the Everard Baths were lit. Credence leaned against the brick of the building across from it and waited. It wouldn’t take long. He had a face fit to kill for, he’d been told.

 

It had happened the first time in Philadelphia. Credence had been nineteen and Bartholomew had had business there; an old-blood wizard smart enough to recognize what the battered cuffs in his family’s attic were and unscrupulous enough not to ask why Bartholomew wanted them.

Credence gotten distracted. That day, before they were scheduled to meet with the seller, Bartholomew had caught the younger man’s gaze tracking a beautiful man with sepia skin and a laugh that fizzed like champagne across Locust Street.

“ Aren’t you damned enough already, lad?”

“What?”

Credence hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it. The man, if Bartholomew had noticed, the terrible fear of being rejected if his mentor had. He’d been so caught up in it, so distracted that he’d barely noticed the Aurors that night until they were almost on top of them.

They had been forced to split up; the nauseating pressure of an anti-disparition field settled around Credence as he ran, ducking under fire escapes and down alleys. It had taken him a full fifteen minutes to shake the Aurors enough to disapparate, wheeling through the apparition points he and Bartholomew had carefully planned earlier to make sure they couldn’t be tracked. Fairmount Park. The alley off Locust Street. The parade grounds near the Navy Yard. The construction site by the Art Museum.

He appeared in the dingy hotel room they had rented and barely had enough time to register that Bartholomew was sitting in the armchair, that he had cast a silencing charm and that he was furious.

Crucio.”

Credence’s knees went out from under him. Every nerve in his body lit up like they had been set on fire, like his skin was being peeled off. Bartholomew was talking-- was shouting-- but Credence couldn’t hear it over his own desperate heartbeat and the sound of his own screaming. He couldn’t breathe; he couldn’t breathe. Every muscle was locked so tight that even the simple act of inhaling was impossible. He tasted metal; his peripheral vision faded as his heart hammered and every instinct in his body screamed at him to fight, to flee, to do something about the agony boiling through his blood.

And then it was gone and the world spun and he was lying shaking and sweating in the alley off Locust Street. They must have apparated. Bartholomew caught him by the collar and hauled him upright.

“You idiot.” Bartholomew pushed Credence against a wall. “I leave you on watch and you let the Aurors in the goddamn building while you’re daydreaming?”

“I’m sorry,” Credence answered dazedly.

Bartholomew dropped him and he crumbled at the base of the wall. “Get it out of your system. I don’t care what you do or who you fuck but if you ever fail me again, I will hand you back to your Ma and tell her exactly why you’re no use to me.” He disappeared in a swirl of air and acrid smoke.

Credence got it out of his system. He met Bartholomew at 30th Street Station the next morning to return to New York. The man didn’t even ask where he had been or what he had done and the lack of questions somehow made Credence feel even worse.

 

“You waiting for someone?”

A man’s voice, low and quiet, brought Credence out of his reverie. “Not anyone in particular. What about you?”

“Black hair, about so tall, lips like sugar. Seen someone like that?”

“Maybe.” Credence followed the man inside. He was brown-haired and slender, an inch or so smaller than Credence. He said his name was Nick and Credence gave him a name that wasn’t his own. “Credence” provoked inevitable questions and he really didn’t want to talk.

The steam cabinets were private; the dim light and the mist hid Credence’s scars. Nick didn’t argue when Credence shied away and asked him not to touch his back. The other man was sweet. He was kind. His lips at the base of the Scourer’s neck and the gentle way he tousled his hair made Credence weak in the knees in a way that had nothing to do with sex. When they were done and Nick leaned against him, damp with sweat and murmuring flattery, Credence kissed the top of his head and couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like with Graves.

“You sure I can’t buy you breakfast?” Nick asked when they were dressed again. “There’s a diner two blocks down.”

“I’m sure.” Nick’s hair was damp. Droplets dripped down the back of his neck and Credence reached out and wiped them away. It was bitterly cold and he’d noticed the smaller man had either forgotten or eschewed hat and scarf. “Get home safe,” he told Nick and helped him into his coat. As he did, he forced his magic to obey him by sheer will, bypassing the blackthorn wand and the incantations that would make it easier. The charm sank into the coat and its lining, ensuring the man wouldn’t grow cold.

It was still dark when Credence stepped outside the Everard Baths. His hair froze almost instantly and Credence tucked his chin into the coat. He walked. The church was far; two miles, maybe even three depending on the route, but the walk would clear his head.

It hadn’t worked. Nick had been kind and sweet and getting it out of his system still hadn’t settled his thoughts about Percival Gondulphus Graves. The man was a liar, fork-tongued and dissembling. Every word that dripped from his lips was calculated to weaken Credence’s purpose and turn him from the right path. But he’d felt his grief, his helplessness. To lie in a dream was impossible and Graves’ loss had been as real and as palpable as anything Credence had ever felt. Even now, the memory of the panic and the dark water made Credence shudder.

But his brother had been corrupted too, hadn’t he? So Lucifer wept for Belial. What of it? Cador had been corrupted and foul, a witch as surely as Graves was. But a witch who had drowned alone and afraid. A witch who had wanted nothing more than a library. Who had been bullied until his elder brother had intervened and the image of that made him think of Modesty. Modesty and Emmeline Grey’s children.

The wind gusted. He couldn’t feel his ears or his fingers. He hunched against the cold and winced slightly as one of the marks on his back stretched and twinged. “I’m just doing what you asked. You have my wand; you are armed; I am handcuffed.” As if Graves was the threat, as if the Auror cared that letting anyone touch his back made Credence uneasy. But his hands had gone still and flat and he’d waited until Credence had snarled at him to do anything else.

By the time Cooper Street had turned into Bowery, Credence was shaking with cold. He ducked into a doorway to get out of the wind. His teeth were chattering and his nose was starting to run. He gave in finally and reached into his pocket for his wand. His fingers closed instinctively around Graves’ and he had to make himself push it aside and reach for his own instead. It felt uneasy in his fingers, but he forced its compliance. “Tepeo.” He couldn’t keep back the sigh of relief as the warmth sank into his bones. He let out a long exhale, watching his breath freeze in front of his face as the ice slowly melted from his hair.

Even with the magic, it took a moment for the chill to leave him. The orange puddles of the streetlights were less distinct now; the black night sky had lightened to grey. Credence started to walk again. If they hadn’t left yet, Ma might be up; maybe Chastity. The pinhead oats they used to make porridge needed close to a half an hour to cook; the leaflets would need to be counted, sorted and bundled. Chastity would sweep the nave of the church and Ma would clean the sanctuary. He didn’t intend to stay long, just enough to ensure that they were either gone or intended to go. He needed to get Graves to Bartholomew soon, before the Auror destabilized him further or made him so angry he did something stupid, but he wasn’t risking moving him until he knew his family was safe.

The church looked deserted when Credence let himself into the nave. “Ma?” he called. No answer; no scent of oats cooking. They must have taken the last train out yesterday or were already on their way to the station for the first train today. She had believed him. She had listened to him and the sudden irrational surge of relief and pleasure stole Credence’s breath.

The wind gusted; the church shook and Credence could hear a dull rhythmic thud amidst the creaking of the building and the howling of the wind. One of the upstairs shutters had come loose. He was here; he may as well be useful. Ma would be angry if she came back and had to replace any of the windows or repair any water damage. Credence went upstairs and checked each of the rooms; Chastity and Ma’s shutters were still closed; he double-checked the latch on both. So was his. He could still hear the shutter bouncing off the outside wall, so it must have been Modesty’s window.

Only one of the shutters had come loose. Credence rested one knee on the bed and leaned across it. A blast of cold air stung his eyes as he opened the window and pulled the shutter back into place. Modesty simply hadn’t latched it properly. The mechanism seemed intact, so he fastened it and closed the window. When he stepped back, he knocked something with his foot, sending it rolling across the floor and further under the bed.

What? Credence crouched down, but whatever it was had rolled against the back wall. He had to lie on his stomach and reach all the way under the bed to retrieve it, but as soon as his hand closed around it, he felt his heart stutter. “Please, Modesty, don’t do this to me…”

It was a wand. He felt sick. It was a toy; he could feel that there was no core, no real magic to it, but still… If Ma had seen it, she would have told Bartholomew. And if Bartholomew had seen it, the spell to find the residue of magic wasn’t hard. Credence knew it too.

Specialis revelio.

Flecks of gold light limned the wand. Credence started screaming.

Chapter Text

Graves’ head throbbed. Waking up from being Stunned was never pleasant, let alone when the spell had been launched by a powerful Scourer with a foul-tempered wand. Wait. No. With Graves’ own wand. Graves was indignant. The bastard.

So his wand was gone with the Scourer. Graves would mourn its loss later. Bartholomew Barebone lived and MACUSA needed to know. He gauged his options. It was still dark out, but the quality of the shadows had changed-- the charcoal grey smudges that meant night was nearly over. Five in the morning? Maybe six? He’d been unconscious for at least an hour and he didn’t know when the Scourer would be coming back.

The room was warded against Apparition. He had no wand and--- he brushed his fingers over his coat pocket-- no wallet. As long as he was chained, he had no magic either. Graves didn’t know where he was. He suspected he was still in New York City, but he supposed any major urban area might have similar streetlights and noise. If he could get out of the cuffs and was still in New York, he might be able to apparate to the Woolworth Building even without a wand. If not, any city would have Aurors. A blatant display of magic in a public area would draw an immediate investigation. If he couldn’t escape the handcuffs, well then he was as useless as a No-Maj. He knew the locations of most of the East Coast Auror headquarters--- he’d just have to find his way on foot.

Graves inspected the chains. Though old, they looked sturdy and in good condition-- no wear or rust that might indicate a structural weakness. They had no locks, but instead sealed seamlessly around his wrists. “Finite incantatem” he tried. He brought all of his will to bear but the searing pain that arced through his skull left him gasping for breath. The handcuffs were unaffected.

The radiator was securely bolted to the floor-- there were four bolts per side. They were sturdy and unyielding when Graves shifted to a crouch and tested their strength. The exertion left him lightheaded, heart pounding from bloodloss.

So he wasn’t moving the radiator either. No other option. This wasn’t going to be pleasant. Graves closed his eyes and leaned back against the radiator. He waited for a moment for his heartbeat to steady; the lightheadedness to fade. This was going to hurt and he couldn’t afford to pass out.

He caught his left thumb and wrenched. The ligament ripped; the joint dislocated. He bit his lip to keep from screaming. His vision swam in and out; his heart was pounding. He gasped for breath and started to cough as his scarred lung stretched painfully. Still, he forced himself to focus, bending and pushing his left thumb until it folded entirely underneath his palm. The cuff felt slightly looser. He tugged once, twice. Each movement sent a fresh wave of pain up his arm and bled darkness into the edges of his vision.

The third time, Graves’ hand slipped free.

“Fuck,” he whispered. He curled around his mutilated hand, unable to stop the soft sounds of pain that escaped him. He was in worse shape than he thought; the scarred lung, the shortness of breath; the blood loss. He would have to find his way without magic. If he broke his other thumb, he would pass out.

Graves staggered to his feet. The dangling chain clinked against the radiator as he leaned on the wall. He glanced out the window and nearly cried with relief at the sight of the Woolworth Building. It was the tallest skyscraper in the world; it lit up the charcoal sky like a beacon. He was home.

Footsteps. Merlin, he wasn’t in any shape for a fight, but if he didn’t have a choice… Graves doubled the chain in his right hand, gripping by the links. Despite his sympathy, despite the strange intimacy of cleaning the Scourer’s wounds, he was going to have to kill Credence Barebone. And quickly.

He moved out of sight of the door. When the Scourer stepped inside, the younger man seemed less frantic than Graves would have expected, but he didn’t have time to ponder that. He struck. The chain caught the Scourer across the back of the head. It slashed across the stripe that Graves had cleaned less than three hours ago, when he had pitched his voice low and rumbling like he would never hurt the other man.

Blood sprayed. Credence stumbled. He collided with the table and nearly fell. As the Scourer turned, Graves hit him again. The blow was weaker and less accurate. Grave’s vision blurred at the edges; his heart labored from blood loss. The chain caught Credence across the mouth. Credence caught Graves’ wrists, but he was still off-balance. They fell entangled and Graves shouted in pain as he landed on his maimed left hand.

“Wait. Wait!” the Scourer cried and he said another word, a spell that Graves didn’t recognize. The cuff on the Auror’s right wrist fell away. His magic was back. It was like stepping outside into the night air after the heat and alcohol of a party; everything sharpened and clarified. He could breathe again.

“What?” It was a trap; it had to be, but what would that serve? Graves had his magic back. He could stun the man in a heartbeat or stagger the three feet to the door to get past Credence’s wards and apparate away. He could do it easily. He should, but the Scourer was still and unresisting under him. And he’d deliberately let him go.

The Scourer was struggling for words as Graves knelt over him. “Modesty,” he finally said. “She’s like you. Like me.” Credence swallowed but couldn’t keep the pleading note out of his voice. “She’s only eight.” Why was he telling this man? Because Graves had any reason to care? His words were lies; his compassion feigned. There was no reason for Credence to believe him but somehow he still did.

False flag? It seemed too complicated but... Graves rested a hand on Credence’s collarbone. He placed two fingers against his pulse, feeling the steadiness of the heartbeat. The Auror was too battered for Legilimency, but he needed to know truth from lie. “What are you going to do?”

“Keep my sister safe.” Credence shrugged faintly. “Not sure how. I…” He looked away. “I sent her to Bartholomew; I was trying to keep her safe. I didn’t know.” The younger man didn’t seem to be lying; his pulse was steady but his distress was real.

“That’s not a plan. How will you get to her?”

“Go back. Say you escaped. Wait until night…” There wasn’t a plan. He didn’t know. Credence was rattled. He had been a shaking wreck on the floor of his sister’s bedroom until half an hour ago. He didn’t know how to do this. He could barely process that Modesty-- the best of them, the kindest-- was as damned as Credence. No. That wasn’t possible. There was no way. But the spell didn’t lie--- the gold light was the residue of her unconscious magic. Cursed. Tainted. He could hear screaming inside his skull. His? Modesty’s? The wand of the witch-- woman-- he had put down-- murdered.

“Breathe.” Graves touched his face, feeling the Scourer’s heart pound and his breath accelerate. Credence was starting to hyperventilate. “C’mon. Slow and easy.”

Credence obeyed after a moment and his breathing steadied. The tail of the chain had split his lower lip and a thin line of blood was oozing from it. Graves wiped it away with his uninjured thumb. “How much will he punish you for failing?”

“A lot.” The casualness of that response made Graves want to hurt someone.

“You know it would be easier to get your sister if you kept me captive.” Graves wasn’t actually volunteering. If he wasn’t so injured, if he trusted the Scourer even a little bit more, he might have. But he wanted to know why Credence hadn’t fought to keep him, why he was sabotaging his own cause.

It would be. Credence knew that. The triumph would elate Bartholomew. A Graves. The Director of Magical Security, a chance to do more than skulk about and wait for his informant to give him a new name, a new address. Torturing him would keep Bartholomew distracted for hours, if not more. Credence could take Modesty and go. And Graves would die for it. He glanced at the older man’s mutilated hand. He’d broken his own thumb in order to escape; he’d goaded Credence into Stunning him. Graves would endure for awhile. Hours, likely, maybe days. And before he broke, he would make Bartholomew kill him. Graves, the Devil’s servant, damned by his blood, by his magic, posh and smirking and everything Credence wanted to hate but--

“No,” Credence said. “I won’t.”

The Scourer’s pulse was calm and steady. Graves took a risk. “Come with me,” he said. “Turn yourself in. We’ll stop Bartholomew. We’ll get Modesty.”

“I nearly killed you. I nearly gave you to him to be tortured.”

“But you didn’t.” Graves rose to his feet. “You’re an American wizard, Credence. So is your sister. That means you’re under my protection.” It was as simple as that. He held out his undamaged hand. “Help me stop Bartholomew and I’ll help you.”

Credence paused for a moment, then took it. “Thank you.”

Graves pulled him upright. “You’re welcome. Now give me my damn wand back.”

 

They didn’t go straight to the Woolworth Building. By the time Graves had healed their respective wounds-- his broken thumb, the defensive wound on his arm, the abrasions on his wrists from the cuffs, and the two head wounds he’d just dealt Credence-- he was exhausted. There would be no helping the blood loss or whatever the Mending Charm had done to his lungs until he could actually get to a hospital, but the combination left him short of breath and lightheaded. His hands were trembling with fatigue; he’d not eaten or drank anything in twenty-four hours. The last thing he felt capable of right now was convincing the Pentagram Office that a Scourer who killed four people was an asset worth trusting. He needed a shower, a shave, a meal and a substantial amount of coffee.

Going to his brownstone on the Upper West Side wasn’t an option either; MACUSA would have stationed someone there in case he returned, so he used the last of his strength to apparate them both onto 5th Avenue. A No-Maj hotel would have to do the trick. He was swaying faintly.

Credence caught his elbow, holding him upright. “Don’t faint. Where are we going?”

“The St. Regis.”

Credence stared at him. “...the single most expensive hotel in all of New York,” he clarified.

“Yes.” He’d considered the Ansonia, but there was too much of a chance of someone using the Adytum Suite and seeing him before he was ready to return.

Credence followed him into the cream-and-gold hotel lobby. The ceiling was vaulted and there was a goddamn fresco of a perfect blue sky adorning it. Graves signed the register and wrote out a check to cover the room, sliding his thumb over it to transfigure the ink from Draupnir Bank to City International, a shell company that did little more than allow wizards to make No-Maj transactions with ease. An additional tip in cash to the hotel manager meant that coffee and sandwiches would be coming to their room.

When they entered the elevator, Credence let out a small noise of exasperation at the sight of carved mahogany panels and marble tiling.. Graves was leaning against the wall, eyes closed he was paler than he should have been, but with the satin-trimmed coat buttoned closed, you couldn’t see the blood on his wrists or his shirt. He looked like he belonged her, at ease in the opulence.

“I look like your charity case,” Credence muttered. In the gold-trimmed mirror, he was acutely aware of his ragged coat-- cuffs slashed down to size, noticeably too large in the shoulders

“Aren’t you?” The comment slipped out almost before Graves could stop it. It was what he would have said to Sophie, to Septima, to Theseus.

“Should’ve let you bleed to death.” Credence’s thorny answer provoked a small smile from Graves.

“Glad you didn’t.” Graves glanced at the slowly ascending numbers. “We’re here.” Once in the room, he threw his coat onto one of the beds and kicked off his shoes. The blazer followed and he sat down on the bed, peeling off socks and sock garters. The blood wasn’t visible on his black vest, so he didn’t strip any further until the coffee and sandwiches had arrived.

“Help yourself. There’s enough for both of us,” Graves said. He drank the first cup black as unbuttoned his vest. The St. Regis’ coffee was rich and fragrant, dark chocolate brown and steaming. It was almost as good as a full night’s sleep.

Credence served himself. Graves fought the urge to hold onto his wand again. He’d left it on the bureau, in easy reaching distance of the Scourer. But if he wanted Credence to trust him, he had to trust Credence, so he didn’t move it away.

Graves unbuttoned his shirt and drained the rest of his coffee. He inhaled one of the sandwiches. Ham? Turkey? He wasn’t paying attention honestly. Once he was done, he pulled off his shirt and undershirt.

Credence glanced away. “Are you planning on getting entirely naked?”

Graves blinked. “You have seen me shirtless.”

“There was arterial spray.”

“Well, I wasn’t,” Graves answered slowly. Was the Scourer blushing? He turned to go into the bathroom. He couldn’t help taking his wand with him. He switched on the water, but left it tepid. He was already lightheaded from blood loss; he’d be likely to faint under the hot water. The shower turned reddish as soon as he stepped inside; dried blood sluiced off his wrists, his arm, his abdomen. The Mending Charm scar was clearly visible, a twisted whirl of distorted flesh. Graves didn’t want to imagine what it had done to his ribs, his muscle, his lung. As much as he avoided St. Katrina’s Hospital as much as possible, he would have to go in.

And the man behind the scar blushed when Graves took off his shirt. Because this needed another layer of complication. Graves ducked his head under the spray and closed his eyes. A zealot and murderer, the apprentice of Bartholomew Barebone. Who nearly shook himself apart when he spoke of his sister’s magic. Who refused to make ethical compromise even when it would have been easy. Who had a thorny sense of humor that Graves found far more appealing than he probably should.

How old was Credence anyway? Young. He had no lines framing the dark brown eyes, no grey in the tousled black hair. Fit and lean despite the scarring. In his twenties? Too young. Too damaged. A Scourer, for Merlin’s sake. It was categorically a terrible idea.

 

Credence waited until he heard the shower switch on. He went to the sink and washed the blood from the back of his neck. It wasn’t really visible through his hair, so they hadn’t bothered in the boarding house. The sandwich was half-eaten on a plate on the bed; he picked it up as he walked to the window and glanced out at the street below.

Fifth Avenue, with its plate glass shop windows bearing prestigious international brands, was not a place Credence was used to. He avoided places where he would be too visible-- his clothes, his mannerisms. Still, it was beautiful in its own way, if strange. It seemed like the St. Regis was entirely non-magical. Graves had transformed the elaborate check with its moving images into something banal and still. He wondered if every City International check was actually a wizard dealing in American dollars. He ought to tell Bartholomew. If it were, they’d be able to find--

Credence stopped himself. There wasn’t a they any longer. He was standing in the most expensive hotel in New York City with a wizard he’d allowed to remain free. With a Graves. He had agreed to betray Bartholomew and his Ma. Credence swallowed against the lump of fear. He had to; he had no other choice. Modesty was eight. She would turn nine this February. In two years’ time, there would be a letter and there would be no hiding her magic. Bartholomew would either put her down and make her a weapon.

The shower switched off and oh, thank God, Graves had decided to put pants on before stepping out. The older man waved his hand and a spoon flew from the tray of coffee, shifting form and quality in mid-air until it landed in the Auror’s hand as a passable straight razor. “Scourgify” he said and then “Reparo.” His torn and bloodied clothes shifted on the bed as the stains vanished and the rips knit together.

Credence winced. “I take it that’s the proper use of that spell,” he said. He sat on the bed. Graves was so at ease with his magic; four spells in a row, transfiguring the spoon in mid-flight. He didn’t even entertain the idea that there was anything wrong with it, with him.

“It is.”

“I’m sorry.” Credence could see the twisted scar on Graves’ abdomen in the mirror. “I didn’t mean--”

“I know. I’m not angry.” Graves tilted his chin in the mirror as he started to shave.

It wasn’t the only scar the older man had. A thick white line arced from the back of his ribs to low on his abdomen, disappearing under his belt. For a moment, it was difficult to see where it ended, caught in the shadow of the top of his hip bone.

Damn. Damn! Credence looked away. His face felt hot.

“How do you know where to find the witches and wizards?” Graves asked, rinsing the spoon-razor in the sink.

“Bartholomew gets names and addresses somehow. I think I saw an owl come once.”

The razor stilled momentarily on Graves's skin. “Well that's...alarming.” He was quiet for a moment longer. Who the hell would be willing to… He could fume about that later. “So Bartholomew has an informant in our world. I don’t know if that person has access to MACUSA, but it’s safer to assume they do. Bartholomew still sees both you and your sister as family; we should keep it that way. The last thing we need is to give him a hostage.”

Family. Hostage. He was going to betray Bartholomew. The man who had taught Credence to swim, to do magic, who had let him run wild in the Catskill summer. The man who had tortured him for failing in Philadelphia, who had kicked him so hard that his ribs ached for days when he’d quailed at killing. Guilt and terror warred for preeminence. He couldn’t do this; he had no choice.

“I’d like to bring you in quietly. We’ll leak to the Ghost that I’m still missing. They’ll be no arrest record. I’ll draw up a classified memorandum of understanding and have two of my Aurors witness it. It’ll be on the record that you came in voluntarily.” Graves dried his face with a towel and then glanced in the mirror at Credence. The Scourer had stopped responding. His eyes were down. He was leaning forward, elbows on his knees and hands white-knuckled.

“Credence.” The younger man didn’t respond so Graves crossed to the bed. He could hear the other man’s rapid breathing.

Credence’s head jerked up and his breathing eased. “I’m sorry.”

“No need.” Graves sat down next to him. “You went away.”

“You’re asking me to betray the closest thing I have to a father. On the promise that you’ll help me save my sister.”

“Yes,” Graves said. “I am.” He restrained the impulse to tell Credence that Bartholomew was a manipulative murderer who shouldn’t be alive. He couldn’t force Credence to trust him. Second-guessing himself was normal. He hoped the younger man didn’t change his mind, but if he did… Graves’ hand slowly crept to his wand.

“I don’t have a choice. He can’t have Modesty.” Credence sighed. “So I’ll go to hell along with her.”

Graves felt a pang of sympathy. The Scourer looked haggard and wrung out. He’d rinsed the blood off the back of his neck but it was still damp, droplets beading on the skin. Graves wiped it away reflexively; it was too cold to be outside with wet hair. “Your magic won’t send you to hell and neither will hers,” he said.

The Auror couldn’t help saying the next part. “And the way you look at me. That won’t either.” He wished someone had told him that and made him believe it much earlier than he had. Not hell, so much, but that there was nothing wrong with him, that running away or pretending it wasn’t true wasn’t going to help. He’d broken two hearts figuring that out. Thes had forgiven him, which was miracle enough. Bellora certainly hadn’t.

Credence hissed and looked away. Every inch of him had gone tense. “I don’t need your self-righteous bullshit and I don’t need your pity.”

“It’s not pity. Credence.” The Scourer wouldn’t look at him. Graves hadn’t wanted to do this but...ah well. He took the younger man’s chin and turned his head back to face him, a thumb on his jaw. “You’re not the only one.”

Impossible. The darling of the wizarding world, rich, powerful, prestigious… Credence opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t come up with anything to say. He felt his face flaming again. All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me. Of course. It made perfect sense. Because Graves was a liar and the father of lies and Credence had thrown in his lot with him.

Credence stood and moved away. “We should get going.”

Graves sighed and reached for his shirts. The younger man was nearly impossible to reach. It shouldn’t bother him; Credence didn’t need to trust him or believe anything he said. He just needed to do what he’d promised. So why did it bother him so much?

The nightstand drawer was partially ajar and Graves could see the leather-tan copy of the Gideon Bible inside. When Credence’s back was turned, he picked it up and slipped it into his coat pocket. If he wanted to reach the Scourer, it might help to speak his language.

“Ready?” he asked. Credence nodded. Graves took his elbow and the world spun into shadow and smoke.

Chapter Text

Graves and Credence appeared in Graves’ office and the older man immediately had to lean slightly against his desk, light-headed. His hair wouldn’t stay without the tonic and he pushed it back into place again. The mahogany paneling and glass cabinets full of tools and reference texts were reassuring; the thin winter sunlight filtered through the vaulted ceilings. It wouldn’t be peaceful for long though.

“I can apparate past MACUSA’s ward, but you certainly can't,” Graves told the Scourer. “And they think I’m missing. We’re about to have company so you may want to put your wand and your knife on the floor. And keep your hands visible.”

Credence obeyed. The blackthorn wand rolled slightly before bumping against the knife blade and coming to a halt. Something about it bothered Graves. It had been a long time since he’d studied the incident, but he was relatively sure Dorcus Twelvetrees’ wand had been chestnut, nine inches. Bartholomew Barebone--Graves could have sworn the man had no magical talent, but clearly their histories were wrong-- had never attended Ilvermorny. Where did this other wand come from?

Graves could hear movement outside his door. They were doing a tactical entry and for a brief moment Graves considered activating the wards on the office just to see what they would do. But he didn’t want to escalate the situation any further. It wasn’t worth risking getting Credence shot just to test his Aurors’ resourcefulness and improvisation.

The door swung open. Six Aurors poured inside. Their wands were up and angled towards Credence. The Scourer tensed and Graves could see that he was calculating, strategizing, trying to figure out if there was any way to get to his wand without immediately being Stunned.

“Branson, stand down,” Graves said quietly. He held the Shield Charm in his mind, on his tongue, but hoped he wouldn’t have to use it.

Two of the Aurors were already hustling towards him; golden energy flared up between him and Credence, cutting off any angle of attack so that Graves couldn’t be used as a hostage. “Director, you need to--”

“I said stand down.” The baritone growl carried through the room and the Aurors stilled.

“But sir, you were--”

“Clearly not as missing as you thought.” His hair had dislodged again and he fixed it with a shove of his hand. “My return and this man’s presence at MACUSA are highly classified; neither you nor your squad are authorized to disclose this information.”

“Sir, I have standing orders to bring you to the Security Committee. They’ve been in session all morning about your disappearance.” Branson glanced over at Credence. “I guess he should come too.”

Shit. At least it wasn’t the entire Congress. The Security Council was useless, of course, but he had one ally there. “Is Gabriel Aurelian back from Philadelphia?”

“Yes, sir. He was called back this morning.”

Thank God for small mercies. Though Gabriel wouldn’t appreciate being called away from his family on the twentieth-- was it the twentieth?-- anniversary of his sister’s death. “Will you send for Sophie McIlvain?” If he was going to get caught up in dealing with the Security Committee, he wanted his lieutenant debriefing Credence. They didn’t have time to waste.

Branson nodded. “If you would,” he said. Graves paused long enough to collect the wand and knife, using his shirtsleeve to avoid touching the former, then took Credence’s arm and apparated them to the antechamber of the Pentagram Office.

Branson’s Aurors followed suit. Graves ignored them, speaking to Credence. “They’ll insist you be cuffed in the Pentagram Office.” If his instincts about Credence were wrong, after all, he was giving the Scourer a crack at the President and six Representatives.

“Fair enough.”

Incarcerous,” Graves murmured. White light wrapped around Credence’s wrists and pulled them behind his back. “Thank you for trusting me about Branson’s men. They’re good Aurors.”

“And if those good Aurors had decided I was a threat?” Credence asked.

Graves shrugged and flicked his wand expressively. “They're good. But slower than me.”

Credence snorted. “You expect me to believe you’d harm them.”

Graves stared. “A Shield Charm. Do you know any magic that isn’t immediately lethal?”

Credence looked away but he could feel his face burning. Every time he thought he’d caught Graves in a hypocrisy, a lie, the other man had a ready answer. “You are such a self-righteous ass.”

“Hex-happy zealot, apparently.” Graves muttered. He shook his head. “Do me a favor and just...don’t talk in there.” God help them both if Credence got under Seraphina Picquery’s skin.

Sophie arrived in the antechamber. Her cheeks were flushed; she’d clearly run here. “Merlin.” She shook her head. “I thought Branson was making some sort of sick joke. What the hell happened? Who is that?”

“There’s someone killing wizards. I got stabbed. And this is Credence Barebone.” Graves said. “Credence, Sophie McIlvain.”

“Credence Barebone,” Sophie echoed.

“Yes. Apparently we didn’t quite get all of the Scourers. Bartholomew Barebone included.”

“What? That’s impossible. He’d be…”

“Almost one hundred and sixty.” Graves had done the math while chained to a radiator. “Credence is going to help us find him and in return we’re getting his sister to safety.”

“Can you promise that without Congress signing off on it?” Sophie asked. Credence glanced at Graves. He'd not mentioned needing anyone's approval.

“I can because I will get her myself if I have to,” Graves said quietly. He shook his head. “Anyway. I need you to do something. I probably have to go to medical after this.”

“Probably.” Sophie echoed. “The whole getting stabbed bit? You don’t look good.”

“I did hit an artery.” Credence commented drily.

Sophie glanced from Graves to Credence and back, but didn’t say a word. "So what am I doing?"

Graves brushed a dangling lock of hair out of his face with a noise of irritation. “Once we’re done with the Committee, file a memorandum of understanding that he came in voluntarily and start debriefing him. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Also. We think Bartholomew has an informant. Don’t mention that I’m back or that Credence is here. Even to the rest of the squad.”

The bit of hair came loose again almost immediately but Sophie stopped him before he could do anything else. “Percival. Fussing with it won’t help. Do you use tonic or cream?” She pulled her charm comb out of her pocket and then her wand.

“Tonic. Thank you.”

She changed the charm on the comb and handed it to him. “I really don’t want to know what you’d do to Representative Vinaver if you went into the Pentagram Office already annoyed.”

“Probably nothing good.” Graves quickly combed his hair back; the tonic from the charm comb held it in place and he handed it back to her.

“So I’ve done my service to wizardkind.” She tucked both comb and wand back into the impossibly slim pocket on her hip.

Graves glanced at it. “Space Charm.”

“Only way.” Sophie grinned. “I’ve got a magazine and another pair of shoes in there too.”

 

“If this young man is truly a Scourer--”

“Which he is, Representative Vinaver, unless you’re suggesting that I stabbed myself?” Having his hair out of his face could only do so much. Graves still wanted to break every one of the representative’s fingers until the querulous old man finally retired. The Auror stood in the center of the Pentagram Office. Light poured in through the arched windows, illuminating the interwoven golden lines of the star. With only the six members of the Security Committee, Graves, Picquery and Credence in the room, their voices echoed in the emptiness. They’d been at this for nearly twenty minutes already. Graves had given his account and asked the Committe to classify his and Credence’s presence in the Woolworth Building. He’d requested authorization to retrieve Modesty too. It wasn’t likely that the Committee would agree so quickly, but he had to try.

“Then shouldn’t your duty have been to put him down, Director Graves, rather than bring him into the heart of our government?”

“With all due respect, our concern should be Bartholomew Barebone--”

“If he exists,” Laurel Sapherine commented. “You have very little evidence.”

“I have a pattern of murders across three different cities and a viable asset. What more do you want from an open investigation?”

“Your asset is a Scourer who wants us dead. Who you’ve exposed us to,” Vinaver insisted. “He should be put down, Graves.”

Graves put his body between Vinaver and Credence without even noticing. “Credence Barebone is an asset in an open investigation,” he said. His voice was very quiet and very clear. “As such, he falls under MLE’s purview. My purview.”

“This is ridiculous.” Gabriel Aurelian had finally spoken. He was Graves’ age; they'd been in the same year at Ilvermorny, the same house. Although they were around the same height, Gabriel was slighter, with dark curling hair and ice-blue eyes. He pushed his glasses up his nose. “Representative Vinaver, I presume you aren’t questioning the Director’s ability to hold a single wizard in custody.”

“Well, no.”

“However, I do agree with Representative Sapherine. You’ve given us your account, Director, but it seems that you’ve had little time to interrogate Mr. Barebone. Is that correct?”

“It is,” Graves answered.

“I don’t believe we have enough evidence to approve retrieving anyone.”

“A child, Aurelian. A wizarding child. Do we not have an obligation to her?” Gabriel was right; Graves knew that, but they’d been called in front of the Security Committee so quickly…

“We do,” Gabriel answered. “But we have an obligation to our own as well. I move that the council adjourn and Credence Barebone remain in custody. Revision of his status--- and approving any operation-- should be tabled until our next meeing. Graves’ request to classify this material should be granted.”

“Seconded,” Sapherine added.

The Committee voted. Sapherine, Aurelian, Asper, Connelly, and Vinaver for tabling the motion and classifying his return. Moreau alone supported. Five to one. Damn. He’d hoped that Gabriel would have backed him at least. With Gabriel, Moreau and even one other person, he'd have forced Picquery to break the tie.

“None of that sounded good,” Credence said softly as the committee disbanded. Sapherine and Asper apparated away immediately. Moreau and Vinaver immediately began to argue about Merlin-knew-what, but it seemed unrelated to Credence. Gabriel Aurelian was speaking to Picquery.

“We have three days to prove what you’ve told me,” Graves said. “They’ll keep the news that we’re here quiet. We’ll leak to the New York Ghost that I’m still missing.”

“And Modesty stays with Bartholomew.”

“I know. But when we go, we’ll go with a team of Aurors. We’ll hit him hard and fast and he won’t have a chance. I promise.” The guards had arrived for Credence. “I’ll come find you as soon as I’m done.”

“Not like I’m going anywhere.” Credence shrugged and went with them. Graves watched them go, chewing his lip.

“Sentiment, Graves?” Picquery observed quietly, joining him on the floor.

Graves arched an eyebrow. “Madam President, that man knifed me in the ribs and then repaired it with a Mending Charm. You have an odd idea of what might provoke my sentiments.”

“So are you reporting to the hospital of your own accord or do I have to order you?”

“I'm going. McIlvain will debrief him.”

“Good. I want this matter settled quickly.” Picquery glanced after Credence. Gabriel Aurelian had stopped the guards and was talking briefly to the Scourer. He even shook the younger man’s hand. “If what he’s told you is true, we’ve been at war for decades and never knew it.”

Gabriel joined them. “Madam President. Director.” He nodded to both of them. “That’s a brave young man.”

“Whose sister you voted against saving,” Graves muttered as Picquery left them.

“I understand the importance of family, Percival,” Gabriel reproved him gently. Graves immediately felt like an ass. Of course, Gabriel did; Graves’ disappearance had called him back from his sister’s grave.

“I know. I’m sorry. It was twenty years yesterday, wasn’t it?” Graves had known Miranda Aurelian. She’d been a fifth year in Horned Serpent when he’d arrived at Ilvermorny. He and Gabriel had been close, as far as school friends went; he had fond memories of Miranda chiding them to focus, would you, please? when they got distracted from their books.

“Twenty-one, actually,” Gabriel said. “It still feels strange.”

Graves spread his hands. “I picked a bad time to get stabbed.”

“Is there a good time to get stabbed?” Gabriel asked. He sighed. “Look, I didn’t back you up today, but we don’t have enough information. Get back to us with something. I’m having dinner with Sapherine tonight to go over some resolutions. I’ll talk to her and see if I can bring her around. Between me and Moreau, that’s enough to make Picquery break the tie.”

“Thank you.”

Gabriel flashed a smile. “Least I can do for the man who took my crown as Wizard of the Year.”

Graves groaned. “Merlin. It was you last year.”

“They send you a little award too. A tiny golden wand with your name, the year and ‘Wizard of the Year’ on it,” Gabriel added. “But I shouldn’t keep you. Do you need a side-along to the hospital?”

“I’ve got it. Thank you though,” Graves said and apparated away.

 

The hospital was unpleasant as always. They gave him a double dosage of Blood Replenishing Potion immediately and the mediwizard examining him had muttered her surprise that Graves could still stand. It took them hours to repair the scarring on his lung without damaging it further. They finally resorted to a combination of spells and Graves inhaling vaporized dittany every night for the next week. They’d wanted to keep him overnight, but Graves had refused.

“Yes, I will apparate back immediately if I start coughing blood,” he’d assured them and left. It was night by the time he got to the Woolworth Building; only a skeleton staff remained. He’d been given the Adytum Suite at the Ansonia to stay in until he could return home, but he didn’t quite want to go there yet.

When he stopped by his office, Sophie was waiting outside, leaning against the wall with her eyes drooping in fatigue. She clearly was about to leave; she’d changed into street clothes and her blond hair was starting to fall out of its bun.

“It’s ten p.m. Shouldn’t you be home?” he asked.

“I wanted to give you this in person.” She handed him the report she’d compiled of Credence's interview.

Graves took the folder and opened it. “Veritaserum?” he asked. The flicker of anger in his voice surprised him. “Who authorized you to violate--”

“He volunteered, Percival,” Sophie said. “The first thing he asked me was how to make Congress believe him.” She bit her lip. “We’re going to help him, aren’t we? And that little girl?”

Graves nodded. “We are.”

"Good." Sophie paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, you know. I should have known someone was lurking--”

“Are you a seer?” Graves asked lightly. “Neither of us knew he was there.” He shrugged. “He’s incredibly powerful. I’ve never seen someone use apparition in combat before without splinching themselves.”

Sophie whistled. “That’s a trick. You think you could get him to teach us?”

“I’m going to ask. At least to work with us on how to counter it. Where is he?”

Sophie made a face. “The guards took him to the cells.”

Another flicker of anger and Graves chided himself. What was wrong with him? Of course that’s where they would put Credence. To them, the Scourer was as much danger as asset. He’d killed four people and Graves had brought him into a place where he posed even more of a threat.

 

Credence was rereading the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, squinting faintly in the dim light. MACUSA's cells were dim, but not as cold or as damp as he'd expected for apparently being underground. He was only in his shirtsleeves, comfortable enough to have taken off his coat and thrown it over the foot of the cell's cot. The book was less interesting the second time around now that Credence knew the trick of it, knew that the narrator wasn’t to be trusted. He heard footsteps echoing down the darkened hallway and set the novel on his knee.

Graves. The Auror had more color in his face now, rather than the ashen-pale he’d worn since Credence had stabbed him. “You look less awful,” the younger man commented.

“Blood replenishing potion.” Graves glanced over the cell and even in the dim light, Credence noticed the muscle tensing in his jaw. “Did you eat? Have they treated you alright?”

Credence shrugged. This was not the worst place he had slept-- a leaky cattle car during a sleetstorm took that prize-- and the stew he’d eaten had been perfectly edible. “Can’t complain. Finished this though, and it’s not really worth rereading.” He shook the paperback faintly.

“I’d offer you something, but the only book I have in my office is the MACUSA regulation handbook.”

Credence grimaced. Never mind. He would be quite happy rereading Miss Christie. “I’ll let you know if I’m having trouble sleeping.”

Graves slid his hands into his coat and bit his lip. “I actually was hoping you might be able to help me with something. You apparated during our duel. That’s unusual. I don’t suppose you’d be able to teach me? Or at least how to deal with it.”

That was unusual? It had been a natural evolution of Bartholomew’s drills; Aurors could track you through one apparition, maybe two, but one after another after another? They'd lose the thread. “I don’t know. I could try, but...certainly not in here and not without my wand.”

Graves smiled and flicked his wand at the door. It clicked open. “Director of Magical Security,” he offered by way of explanation.

Credence followed him out, leaving his coat and paperback behind. “You’re not concerned I’m going to escape?”

Graves shook his head. “No.” He wasn’t, really. He’d heard Credence speak about Modesty; the fear and the love and the anxiety in his voice were genuine. “But if you do, please kill me properly this time. You’ll do a quicker job than Picquery.”

Credence caught himself starting to laugh. The sound was hoarse, like he wasn't used to it and he quashed it immediately. “So where are we going?”

Graves glanced at him for a long moment, like he was about to speak and then took his arm and disapparated. They appeared in a training room on the 40th story; the floor was lightly padded and a series of enchanted dummies sat inactive in a far corner. Benches lined the walls and wire racks held targets, notebooks and an empty water pitcher and glasses.

Credence explained as Graves got rid of his coat, blazer and vest. “It’s just being able to retarget quickly enough. You’ll pick it up over time. If we needed an escape route, Bartholomew and I would memorize five or six different locations in a city. If the Aurors picked up our trail, they’d only be able to follow us for the first few.”

“Which is also a good thing to know. How does that work for duelling?” Graves joined him in the center of the room, then flipped his wand around and presented it butt-first to Credence. “The Research Division has yours and I doubt they’re giving it up.”

Credence stared at it. His earlier comment about escaping had been flippant, but now Graves was handing him his wand--- one that could open cells, apparate into and out of the Woolworth Building. “You don’t know I won’t use this on you. Or take it and run to Bartholomew.”

“Yes, I do.” Graves said quietly.

“How?” Credence didn’t understand. He’d told Graves he would cooperate, yes, but he’d given no proof, no assurances. Hell, he’d promised less often and less enthusiastically than Graves had promised to rescue Modesty.

“Because you were shaking when you told me about your sister. And you sat on the bed at the St. Regis and told me you would go to Hell for her.” Graves had moved close, near enough that the younger man could smell the herbal scent of the hotel soap on his skin, feel the heat of his breath against his jaw. “Am I wrong?”

Heat curled in the base of Credence’s stomach-- not just lust, though he couldn't deny that was part of it. God, he wanted to believe Graves. The man had such unshakable faith in himself, in Credence although he had absolutely no reason to and Credence wanted that belief as much as he wanted the man himself.

He took the wand. “For duelling, you’re still retargeting, but you’re not doing it from memory. It’s trickier; you have to apparate close enough for it to be useful but not so close that you accidentally apparate into your opponent.”

Graves didn’t press the matter. Credence was quietly grateful. “And you can only apparate to somewhere you can see or clearly envision," Graves said. "So you couldn’t get directly behind me for instance.”

“No, but just over your shoulder, I could.”

Graves thought for a moment. “Let’s give it a try. See if you can get close enough.” Credence was successful at first, apparating inside Graves’ guard, tapping on his ribs to indicate where he would have struck. The fifth time, Graves tracked his eyes. He saw when Credence settled on a target and was already shifting to meet him when he apparated.

Credence hit the ground with a thump and laid there for a moment, flushed with exertion. “So I got lucky when we duelled,” he said, pushing himself up to a seated position. “You’re quick.”

“You don’t have a loyal wand. When you do…” Graves shook his head and went to the water pitcher. Credence already had more raw power than Graves. With a loyal wand, he’d be an unstoppable force. If he ever got a loyal wand, that was. Criminals had their wands confiscated and their prisons laced with wards to prevent wandless or wordless magic. And Credence was a murderer.

Aquamenti.” Graves pushed the thought aside and charmed the pitcher to fill. He poured two glasses and returned, handing one to Credence. “Does Bartholomew fight like you do? With a knife in his off-hand?”

Credence nodded. “It’s a shorter knife though. Older. I don’t know where he got it from.”

Graves sat down next to him. “You don’t know where your wand came from, do you?”

“Bartholomew has two. This one and a smaller chestnut wand. Either of us can make that one obey, but mine won’t do what he wants.” Credence took a drink of the water. “I think he took it from a woman though? He’s called it ‘that bitch’s wand’ before.”

Graves rubbed his forehead. So he had been right. Dorcus Twelvetrees' wand was chestnut; but then what woman had owned the blackthorn wand? It was giving him a headache. Had he been home, he might have reached for his brandy at this point, but he wasn’t, so he settled for sliding his thumb across his glass. The water flooded with deep purple-red and it gave off the faint scent of plums, roses and tar.

“Really?” Credence glanced at him. “Are you trying to be as blasphemous as possible?”

It took Graves a moment to even understand what Credence meant, before he shook his head with a wry smile. “In the past twenty four hours, I have been stabbed and chained to a radiator. I broke my own hand and had to deal with Congress. I think your Christ would forgive me.”

“Congress is on that list?”

Graves gestured expansively. “You were there. With the exception of Gabriel Aurelian and maybe Laurel Sapherine, your options are old and dithering idiots who still think it’s the 19th century or the up-and-coming political animals. Who can’t wait to get enough power that they can be the old and dithering idiots.” He could hear the vitriol in his voice.

“If you hate them so much, why do you work for them?”

Graves took a sip of the wine. It wasn’t bad Transfiguration work, though it was a mere shadow of the Chateauneuf du Pape he’d been thinking of. “Because the job’s not about that,” he said slowly. No one had asked him that before. “I meant it, what I said to you. You’re an American wizard; you’re under my protection. My family’s been entwined with MACUSA since its founding but I’ll be the last of them.” For obvious reasons. Credence knew why. “I won’t have children of my own to look after, to protect, so...I have you. I have you and Modesty and Sophie and Taylor and every goddamn wizard in this country.”

Credence was looking at him with an expression the older man couldn’t parse. Graves shook his head and laughed softly. He was pontificating. “I’m a self-righteous ass, aren’t I.”

Credence took the glass of wine from him and carefully set it to one side. “No,” he said softly. “And I finally believe you.”

Graves opened his mouth to reply but didn’t get the words out before Credence kissed him. Something had shaken loose inside the younger man. Graves had told him that he wasn’t damned--- not for his magic, not for his desires, and not for the evil that he had done. Whether it was resignation or exhaustion, conversion or relief, for once, just once Credence was going to believe him.

Graves reached out as if to stop him but his hand settled on the Scourer’s hip instead. He couldn’t resist the intensity of it, the sheer need like the world might end if he pushed Credence away. The younger man’s mouth moved without hesitation, like he’d been wanting this for hours. Maybe he had; the idea made desire curl low and hot in Graves’ stomach. His grip tightened and tugged on the younger man’s shirt. Credence followed it willingly and slid into Graves' lap with a soft sound.

Graves was as muscled as he looked and his hands were warm as they settled on Credence’s hips. Credence nipped at the Auror’s lower lip and pulled it into his mouth for a moment. Graves let him inside and Credence pressed close, deepening the kiss. The older man tasted like plums and spice and the faintest hint of sweat. It was impossible to think and impossible to break away. Credence didn’t think that Graves was the Devil--- at least, not for the moment he didn’t-- but if he was, the younger man intended to be damned for every inch that Graves would give him.

Far from ashen now, Graves’ face was flushed and his skin was hot. He let Credence’s weight push him back onto the training room floor and shifted so that they were entangled. Their legs entwined with Credence’s weight half on his chest. It wasn’t even like the Auror was starved for this--Theseus had been to New York in November-- but Graves couldn’t take his hands off the other man. He slid one hand into Credence’s hair, nails trailing against his scalp and felt the younger man shiver on top of him.

“God, you’re impossible,” Credence murmured before kissing a line down his jawline and onto his neck. His teeth scraped over the older man’s Adam’s apple. Graves shuddered. His skin was almost itching with desire now, keenly aware of the layers of fabric and buttons against it. He couldn’t help but squirm. The movement provoked a hoarse groan of desire from Credence and Graves didn't hide the smirk as he did it again more deliberately.

Credence gasped a curse and returned the favor, kissing Graves with an increased desperation as their bodies rolled and moved against each other. The Auror was at the mercy of his aching body. For a single insane moment he considered apparating them to his office, its privacy and its wards. The idea made his mouth go dry with desire. He would be able to take his time there, traced the twisted whirls of the Mending scars on Credence's chest, bruise the younger man's full lower lip with his teeth. A warm wetness just above his mouth dispelled the haze. Graves broke the kiss and wiped his upper lip with a thumb; it came away painted with blood.

“Credence?”

It took a moment for Credence to come back to himself. His lips were parted, panting and his cheeks were flushed. His pupils were blown with lust and it would have been desperately erotic if it weren’t for the thin trickling of blood from his nose.

“I--” Credence began to say but couldn’t get any more words out. Graves felt the younger man’s body lock with agony, felt it jerk as he struggled to breathe. Toxic lines of yellow-green magic appeared under his skin. They ran along his throat, into his hairline, bled into his eyes.

“Credence!”

Credence choked and coughed and blood splattered Graves’ face as the younger man started to seize.

Chapter Text

Graves wasn’t entirely sure if he ever was kissing anyone again.

He had staggered to his feet and apparated them both to the hospital. Credence continued to seize; the yellow-green magic had spread and fissured underneath his skin. Thin lines brachiated and interlaced as they spread over his neck, his hands, his wrists, his lips.

Two mediwizards had taken Credence immediately while a third hammered Graves with questions. What had happened? How long ago? Had Graves seen anyone cast a spell? Was there anyone else in the vicinity?

He’d answered their questions and made it clear that Credence’s presence was classified. He’d surrendered his wand; he could protest that he hadn’t done anything, that he wouldn't have hurt Credence but the best way to help was to let them rule him out.

They had sent him to a small lobby just inside the emergency ward. He’d tried to pull rank and the mediwizard had shaken his head. “I can’t tell you what we don’t know, Mr. Graves.”

“Fair.” Graves’ voice was hoarse with the struggle for control.

The mediwizard’s voice softened slightly. “There’s a bathroom down the hall if you want to wash up,” he said. “Should I call anyone from your department?”

“Sophie McIlvain.” He wanted Thes. He wanted his best friend, his sometime lover. He wanted the only person who would understand why his hands were shaking, who would listen to the voice running low and broken in the back of his mind he was in my arms; he was in my arms and I wanted him so badly and now he’s dying. But Thes was halfway around the world and it was 5 am in London and right now Graves needed to be an Auror rather than a man.

So he told the mediwizard Sophie’s Brooklyn address and went to wash the blood off his face. The lights in the bathroom were starting to flicker; the charm needed to be renewed. Graves started to do so-- no wand, no words-- but the magic slipped out of his grasp.

“Shit.” He rubbed his face with his hands. They came away blood-stained and shaking. He couldn’t stop the motion; his own limbs trembling in a sick sympathetic echo of Credence seizing, hurting, maybe dying. The mediwizard had asked about next of kin, a precaution in the face of the unknown curse. Graves had stared at the man in blank confusion even as hysteria had bubbled up inside him. Bartholomew Barebone. His next of kin is a goddamn Scourer. It was wrong. All of it was wrong. The world had shifted and realigned under his feet when Graves wasn’t paying attention and now he was lost at sea.

“Damnit, Perce, get it together!” he snarled at himself and bounced his hand hard off the sink. It hurt; the pain echoed up the recently broken thumb. He wasn’t thinking clearly. That was all. He’d seen it often with witnesses of violent crimes, the lack of clarity that came from the shock. He would have thought he’d be immune to it after all this time, but he supposed the proximity to what had happened-- in my arms; he was in my arms and now he’s dying-- was a likely explanation.

That was all.

That was all and that would be all because he had no room for sentiment, no room for the irrational flickers of anger when MACUSA treated Credence like the Scourer that he was, no room for anything other than the fact that someone had tried to kill his only asset. And may have succeeded. And if that person was Bartholomew’s informant, then they were running out of time. He washed Credence’s blood off his face and his hands, and by Sophie’s arrival he was the Director again.

“Percival!” The mediwizard must have caught Sophie halfway to bed. Her hair was roughly tied back and she wore street clothes and no makeup. “They said you’d brought someone in?”

“Barebone,” Graves told her dispassionately and pulled her into the small conference room the hospital had given them. He’d already warded it with a Silencing Charm; neither the press nor civilians needed to hear this. He ran through the edited version of events. “So we don’t have that much time.”

There was something almost wary on Sophie’s face. “We’ll talk once that girl is safe.” She pulled a battered green notebook out of her pocket and a quill. “So if it was Bartholomew, there’s not much we can do until Credence wakes up. If it wasn’t, who knew?”

She set the notebook down on the table. It flipped open to a fresh page. The quill drifted to the first line as the two Aurors leaned over it, shoulder to shoulder. It was stabilizing. Motive, means, opportunity. They could be quantified and mapped, suspects eliminated and leads followed until they led inevitably to the truth. The world hadn’t shifted here. The lines on the map still pointed north and south, truth and lie, innocent and guilty. “Both of us,” Graves said and the quill scrawled out their names in Sophie’s compact, jagged handwriting. Sophia Morgan McIlvain. Percival Gondulphus Graves. “Branson and his squad. The Security Committee and Picquery.”

“We should find out if any of them talked to their staff, spouses, bartenders,” Sophie added and the quill added an asterisk in the margin with those possibilities. “The guards that escorted Credence too.”

“If this informant knew he was after me, then we should add the two mediwizards who treated me this afternoon. Althea Prentice and Jacob Everett.” Graves paused. “Anyone else?”

She shook her head. “I think that’s it.” She reached into her pocket and handed him her wand. “Go ahead. Due diligence. Has anyone looked at yours?”

“The mediwizards; you can verify with them.” Graves tapped her wand with his recently returned one. “Priori Incantatem.”

Lumos and a Cooking Charm. Apparition. The spell to classify the report. The charm on her comb to produce Graves’ hair tonic and the charm to change it back. Apparition. Hominem revelio and a blood identification charm.

Graves arched an eyebrow. “This morning?”

Sophie nodded. “It’s been an interesting day.”

Graves handed her wand back. “Call in the squad; pick up Barebone’s debriefing file from my office. I’ll see what I can do about getting us some coffee.”

Taylor arrived first as Sophie was sitting on the table, putting her hair back up into a bun. “He said the cabin was in the New York Catskills,” she told Graves. “We didn’t get more detailed than that. I was going to have him map it out tomorrow.”

“That’s a huge area.” Graves answered.He knew it intimately; he’d flown over it so many times when he’d taken his broom out from his family home. The idea that Bartholomew Barebone had been so close the entire time but had escaped detection made his fingers go white-knuckled on the chair he was standing behind. “Even if all of us had brooms and Taylor transformed, it would take days to search.”

Taylor didn’t say anything. Frankly, he didn’t seem to be paying attention; he was watching Sophie as she twined her blonde hair around her hands until it curved and settled at the base of her neck in a sleek and shining knot. To be fair, the length of Sophie’s hair-- brushing the bottom of her shoulder blades-- had surprised Graves too, but he certainly hadn’t looked at it like Taylor was.

“Taylor,” Graves said a little louder. The young man jerked and went red.

“Boss. You’re--uh-- not missing?”

“Astute observation. Get some coffee; the others will be here soon.”

“Oh. Before you do.” Sophie had caught onto what had happened. She withdrew a lipstick case in blue crepe silk from her pocket and clicked it open. “Mind holding this for me?”

She handed the case to a dumbstruck and flustered Taylor. “Uh. Yeah.” He took the case and held it out as Sophie carefully reapplied her crimson lipstick in the case’s small mirror.

“Lipstick, Sophie?” Graves asked.

“I lent you my charm comb so your hair wasn’t floppy in front of Congress. I don’t want to hear it.” Sophie pursed her lips in the mirror as Taylor tried not to stare at her mouth. They were endearing together and for a moment Graves had to smile at the visible mischief on Sophie’s face. Then he thought of Credence and the toxic magic bleeding under his skin and he had to turn away.

He busied himself pouring a cup of coffee. There was no room for it. There was no time for it. He needed to be under control.

The rest of the team arrived shortly thereafter so Graves only had to explain the events of the past thirty hours once.

“Merlin.” Septima shook her head. “None of this is good, Percival.” Next to her, Maddie Cortez quietly crossed herself.

“No. And we’re running of time.” Graves delegated assignments. “Taylor. Go to Requisitions; wake someone up if you have to and get them to change the wards on our coats to cover physical attacks. See how many brooms you can get them to give us. If they kick up a fuss, can you jury-rig the protective wards yourself?”

Taylor nodded. “Think so, Boss.”

“Septima, see what you can dig up on the Barebones. If they’re living as No-Majs, there’s records somewhere. Rummage through whatever archives you need; wake up Cavanaugh if you have to. Tina and Maddie-- search the Second Salemers’ church for whatever you can find. It should be empty; Barebone said he sent his mother and sisters to Bartholomew. Sophie-- flesh out that list of who knew.”

“Oh, I appreciate getting to wake up President Picquery in the middle of the night,” Sophie said but nodded.

“Alright. If and when we go into the Catskills, we’ll use my family’s manor as a staging point. I’ll contact my sister and get you all cleared to apparate through the wards. Get the location from me before you leave. Report back here rather than the Woolworth Building; I want to be nearby. We may not have a lot of time if and when Barebone is conscious again. Any questions?”

“...so are we getting authorization from the Security Committee?” Maddie asked. “Because that seems like a double-edged sword.”

“Meaning if it’s someone’s staffer, Bartholomew will know we’re coming,” Graves said.

“And they might say no,” Maddie added.

“Then we just go.” Tina’s voice was a little shaky and she glanced around the table at her new teammates, clearly hesitant. “If talking to the Security Committee risks that little girl, then we just go.”

There was silence as Graves’ team contemplated. That sense of the unorthodox was why Graves had brought Tina on in the first place. He’d seen it with Newt Scamander and he was pleased that the transfer hadn’t quashed her instincts.

“I like her,” Sophie broke the silence and jerked a thumb at Tina. “We just go.”

Taylor exhaled slowly. “Hell, the Research Division will want me even after the MLE fires us all.”

Maddie crossed herself again. “We just go, Graves.”

“Septima?” Graves asked.

She smiled lightly. “This isn’t even your most foolish proposal, my dear. We do it.” Graves started to exhale but she held up one finger. “That does mean, however, that we’re essentially abducting a child. We’re acting under the assumption that Bartholomew has access to MACUSA, an informant who knows our justice system. How do we ensure we don’t just have to give her back?”

There was silence again. How did you explain away an eight year old girl? It wasn’t like a newborn; MACUSA would wonder why they didn’t have a birth record, a file--- that was it.

“Because she’s mine,” Graves said. His mind was clicking through the possibilities, forming a theory that would work. Problem and solution, north and south, truth and lie. “I had a fling in London. During the war.” He had and it had been more than a fling, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t gotten Theseus Scamander pregnant. “We thought it would be best that Modesty be raised by her mother. But her mother died from scrofungulus so I just recently had her brought here. And she’s been with my sister until now, which is why MACUSA hasn’t seen her in New York.”

Sophie made a strangled noise as she tried not to laugh.

“Something the matter, Miss McIlvain?” His voice was calm.

“No, sir,” she said quietly. Sophie’s irreverence aside, It would work. MACUSA wouldn’t have those records for a foreign born witch. If he could produce those documents from another government, they would accept his story long enough for them to find whoever was helping Bartholomew.

“Can we get English records?” Maddie asked carefully.

“I know someone in the Ministry of Magic. Once we find Modesty’s birth date, I’ll contact him and see what he can do.” Graves looked over his squad. “Anything else?” They shook their heads. “Alright. Dismissed.”

His team filed out, leaving him alone with his notes and cold coffee. He borrowed one of the hospital’s hearths. Elaine first-- the later it got, the less likely she would be awake and the more likely he wouldn’t be waking Theseus.

When his younger sister answered, her dark hair hung in loose tangles around her head. She was wrapped in a thick Ilvermorny blue robe and her eyes were half-lidded. “Perce? It’s midnight. What’s wrong?”

A flicker of guilt hummed at the far edge of Graves’ mind. “I’m sorry, Elaine. I wouldn’t bother you if it wasn’t important.”

“I know,” she said. “ What is it?”

Graves told her.

“...so you’re risking your career to go after a little girl. And her brother may or may not live.” Elaine tightened the robe around her. “Whatever you think is best, but...don’t you think that’s a bit much?”

He thought I was the Devil, Elaine and still threw in with me to save his sister. How can I not keep that promise? “No. I don’t.”

She sighed. “Nevermind. Of course you can come. It’s your home too. I’ll put exceptions into the wards and make sure there are enough guest beds made up in case. I think I still have some of Izzy’s old clothes and toys somewhere if Modesty needs them.”

Based on her brother’s possessions, she would. “Thank you.” He remembered something else. “Do we still have any of Valeriane Graves’ papers?”

She bit her lip. “I’ll look in the library and pull them out if we do. She’s at least listed in the genealogy, if nothing else.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry for waking you.”

“I love you, Percival,” she said. “Come up to the house for a weekend soon. You’ve been working too much.”

Merlin, but he didn’t deserve his sister. “Yes. I’m sorry. I should. I love you too. Goodnight, Elaine.”

The fire faded from emerald back to flickery orange-yellow. It was barely past midnight. It would only be six in the morning in London, but he wanted to catch Theseus before he left for work. If he woke him up, it wouldn’t be by much. He gave the address of the man’s London flat and tossed another bit of Floo Powder onto the fire.

“Thes.”

“One second.” It took Theseus a moment to appear, settling down on the floor in front of the fireplace. He was shirtless and his red-brown hair was damp, plastered onto his forehead. He waved his wand and a cup of what Graves guessed was tea floated into his hand. “Yeah?”

“I need a favor.”

“At...what is it, half-past-midnight in New York? And you’re calling me at home. This should be good.”

“Do you know what a Scourer is?”

Theseus pushed his hair off his forehead. “A Cleaning Charm?”

“No. They're witch hunters.”

“Yeah, sorry.” Theseus scrubbed at his face. “And you had actual deaths over there. MACUSA gets founded to stop them and your ancestor’s part of it. Makes you some kind of American Malfoy. Except not a sodding git.”

“Not a sodding git. High praise, Thes.” Graves couldn’t help the smile. This was stabilizing too in its own way. Thes was a known quantity, easy and comfortable. Merlin knew their relationship hadn't always been like that and Graves bore far more of that fault than Theseus ever would. But it was now and Theseus’ casual mangling of American wizarding politics was an old comfort. “At least two of my ancestors were apparently terrible at their jobs. Bartholomew Barebone is still alive and still active. His apprentice turned himself in and is working for us, but he’s been incapacitated by either Bartholomew or one of his informants. My team is going to rescue the apprentice’s sister-- it was one of his conditions. But we’re going unofficially, which means it’s--”

“Technically a child abduction.” The fatigue-- and the humor-- had drained out of Theseus’ face.

“Yes.” Graves spread his hands. “We need a legal claim on her that will stand up long enough for us to find the informant. So...I don’t suppose you could happen to find a birth certificate for a Modesty Graves. Born 1918. I’ll get you the date and month presently.”

“A forged birth certificate.”

“Inform the Ministry if you want. Put it on record. You’re not the government I’m concerned about.”

Theseus shook his head slowly. “I’ll talk to some people at work and see what I can do. But Percival, that sounded like a goddamn military briefing. You want to tell me what’s really going on?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Graves didn’t want to do this right now. Not ever, really, but especially not now, not when he didn’t know if Credence-- if the Scourer-- was going to live or die.

“The apprentice? The sister? The informant?” Theseus echoed.

“A lot of what I’m telling you is classified.”

“....fuck it. I’m not doing this over a fireplace.” Theseus was quiet for a moment. “Let me see if I can get those papers for you. I’ll catch a Ministry portkey and bring them myself.”

“Theseus, that’s really not nece---”

“And you just used my full name. Yes, it’s necessary.”

Damnit. Damnit. “I don’t want to do this.”

“So there’s a this.”

“Merlin, Thes.” Graves pushed a hand through his hair. “Look, are you going to help me or not?”

“Of course I’ll help,” he said. “But the last time you called me Theseus was when Ariadne Duxellois sent you a piece of your own ribcage in the mail. That’s not exactly a comforting precedent.”

Graves winced. “Fair. But it’s fine. It’s just some papers. No serial killers this time.”

Well, not plural, at least. Singular and beautiful with tangled black hair that was softer than it looked. Lean muscle and a thorny wit and toxic magic bleeding jaundice-yellow under his skin, seizing, choking, dying, maybe dead.

“Perce.” Thes had seen him at his absolute worst on more than one occasion and it had given the other man the uncanny ability to see right through him. The Brit set down his tea and shifted closer to the fireplace, near enough that Graves could see the green Floo flame reflected in his eyes.

“It’s just some papers,” Graves repeated. “I don’t want to take you away from Caleb.”

“Keeping Caleb happy is my responsibility, not yours. And he’s not even here. He’s in Paris all week. Do you want me to come?”

Yes. Please.. Graves cast around for another excuse.

“The more excuses you give me the more I’m going to worry.” This close, Graves could see the tracks of moisture Theseus’ damp hair had left on his forehead. “No bravado, no bullshit. Do you want me to come?”

Graves felt the rigid control crack a little. God. What could it hurt?

“Perce,” Theseus said again.

“....come,” he admitted. “Please.”

Theseus reached out and brushed his cheekbone with a thumb. Graves closed his eyes almost involuntarily. It had been barely two months since Thes was last in New York and still… “I’ll get your papers and I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Theseus said. “Goodnight, Perce.”

Graves smiled just a little. “Good morning, Thes.” The flames faded back to their normal color. Graves wasn’t sure if he was frustrated or relieved Theseus had seen through him. No matter. He left the hearth and returned to the conference room, only to encounter the same mediwizard as before on his way there.

“Mr. Graves. I was on my way to see you.” He held up a stoppered vial. Its glass shimmered with iridescent hues as its magic contained what was inside. Yellowish-green sludge oozed and clung to the inside surfaces. “We’ve isolated this.”

Graves’ heart stuttered for a moment. “Will he be alright?”

“It was a near thing, but yes. We were able to isolate the substance and remove it from his body. There was internal damage, but that’s regenerating.”

Graves kept himself under control. “And that substance is….” He gestured to the vial.

“We don’t know. It’s not a curse, exactly, so much as a transfiguration. Whatever spell did this to Mr….Jones, it started to transform his blood into this substance on the cellular level. When it reached a critical mass, it came out of its dormant state and caused the symptoms you described.”

“How long would that have taken?” Graves asked.

“I can’t say.”

“An estimate? Hours? Days?” Let it be Bartholomew. He could barely fathom that MACUSA held a Scourer informant, but an ally? One willing to kill?

“Hours. No more than twelve, but I couldn’t specify beyond that.” Graves’ fingers curled white knuckled into fists, hard enough that his magically healed thumb throbbed dully with pain.

He was glad he’d called Theseus; glad they were going without telling the Security Committee. MACUSA had a traitor.

“Is he conscious?”

“They’ve only just finished,” the mediwizard answered. “He’s likely asleep. We put a security spell on the door as you requested; it’s keyed to our staff and your squad.” He gave him the room number.

“Thank you.” Graves looked at the stoppered vial. “Can you send that to Ilianora Vane in the Research Division. She may be able to shed some light on it.”

“Of course, Mr. Graves.”

The mediwizard left. Graves’ relief was overwhelming even as he tried to justify it to himself. Barebone had given them just enough information to reveal the breadth and complexity of the problem they were facing, but not enough to actually solve anything. They needed their asset alive. Searching the entire Catskill mountain range for an eight year old girl and a man who should be dead was looking for a needle in a haystack. Two needles. In a highly forested mountain range. It was a stupid metaphor.

Because clearly that was it. That was all and that would be all because he didn’t--- couldn’t-- have room for anything else. He took the elevator up to the third floor. Out of his team, he probably had the best rapport with Barebone and they needed the location of the cabin quickly.

Rapport. That was one word for it. Lips parted, cheeks flushed, pupils blown. Blood on his upper lip and toxic magic oozing under his skin, his mouth, his eyes. Graves thumped the back of his head against the elevator wall. What was wrong with him? It wasn’t as if he’d never worked with an attractive man before. Gabriel’s jawline was impossible to not notice and even if Taylor wasn’t his type, he understood why Sophie apparently found him worth tormenting.

Then again, Gabriel Aurelian hadn’t nearly died in his arms, skin painted with a terrifying magic that no one could identify. He didn’t layer a sharp tongue over carefully concealed vulnerability and a desperate desire to do the right thing. And of course, Graves hadn’t kissed him, hadn’t tasted him, hadn’t pulled him into his lap and felt the heat of his skin and been one breath away from taking them to his office so he could unwrap Credence Barebone like a fucking gift.

Fuck. Graves was an idiot. The lights were dimmed throughout the patient wards as the elevator arrived. It was well past conventional visiting hours, nearly one in the morning. “Room 317,” he told the empty air and watched thin blue lights flicker into being along the base of the wall, guiding and lighting his way.

He wouldn’t stay long. He’d ask what he needed about the cabin and explain what was happening and then he would go. Hell, the younger man might not even be awake. Just long enough to do his job and assure his hysterical brain that Barebone wasn’t dying and then it would be easier to keep himself steady.

When he reached the room, Graves felt the faint static of the security spell and took a moment to examine it, checking for weaknesses. It wasn’t badly done, so he left it be and slipped inside, feeling the magic part around him. Credence Barebone was asleep on the bed. His eyelids were bruised with fatigue and his hair was tousled and sweat-damp from the seizures. A thin tube snaked from his left arm to a floating bubble of some glistening purple liquid. Graves recognized it from when he’d woken up in the hospital after the Duxellois siblings had laid his side open in Boston. He couldn’t identify its purpose, but he’d only seen it used for the most serious of injuries.

The Scourer jerked awake at the sound of the door clicking shut. His breath came hard and ragged and Graves saw both hands reach for wand and weapon only to come up empty.

“It’s just me, Credence.” Graves held his hands up and stepped forward so he would be more visible. “You’re in St. Katrina’s Mediwizard Center and you’re alright. You’re safe.”

Credence’s breathing steadied and his hands stilled. “I think alright is a relative term,” he said as he relaxed back into the bed.

“How are you feeling?” No. No, this was not helping. Graves could feel his polar north coming unmoored again; the lines on the map started to shift and blur. He summoned the chair from the corner of the room and sat down next to the bed.

Credence glanced at him. “Like I’ve fallen off a building. Which is an improvement from earlier.”

Graves couldn’t help but wince. “I’m sorry.”

“Unless I’m somehow violently allergic to you, I don’t think it’s your fault.”

Graves choked on nothing but air as he felt his face heat. Credence’s bone-dry wit seemed to have survived the encounter intact. “You are not, in fact, allergic to me,” he answered and couldn’t help but smile faintly. “You’re going to be alright.”

“Then what was it?” Credence asked.

“Someone-- possibly Bartholomew’s informant-- cursed you; we’re not sure how or with what.”

Credence winced. Utter despair haunted his face. “So he knows. And we won’t get to her in time.”

Graves hated it. He took Credence’s hand without thinking. “No. We’re going. As soon as my Aurors report back in, we’re going. You just need to tell us where.”

“I have to go with you,” Credence said. He struggled to push himself up on his elbows. “Modesty, she won’t trust you-- she won’t trust any kind of strangers, especially with magic and there are wards in the woods.”

“I know. And you will.” Credence had been willing to throw in with the Devil to save Modesty. Graves wasn’t actually sure he could make him stay behind. “But my team needs to report back first.” He pressed on Credence’s shoulder with his other hand, convincing him to lie back down.

“I mean it.” The idea of trusting Modesty with these strangers was nearly unbearable. There’d be fighting; she’d be scared. He didn’t know Graves’ squad; he barely knew Graves.

“I know. And I know you’d follow us anyway if I told you no,” Graves answered.

The older man’s grip tightened on Credence’s hand and it was embarrassing how reassuring the Scourer found it. Liar and the father of lies, Credence tried to tell himself, but the litany seemed weak and stuttering.

Everything after the training room had been a haze of terror and pain, of men and women he didn’t recognize, of magic he didn’t trust. He’d struggled to breathe; one of the mediwizards had conjured a silvery fog that settled over his mouth and nose. While Credence now realized the magic had likely been breathing for him, at the time, every trained reflex had wanted to fight, to flee. His body hadn’t obeyed but his magic had, lashing out wandlessly until someone had finally, mercifully sedated him. He’d woken in this room with the same choking sense of fear until Graves’ voice had dispelled it.

Credence was quiet and there was something oddly easy about the silence in the dim light of the hospital room. Graves’ thumb traced an idle pattern on the back of the younger man’s hand. His eyes had fluttered shut and his breathing was steady.

“I should let you rest,” he said and started to withdraw his hand. He’d said he wouldn’t stay.

Credence’s grip tightened and his eyes snapped open. “Don’t.”

“I don’t want to keep you up.”

Credence bit his lip and looked away “Please. I’m surrounded by witches. I’m in no shape to fight; I don’t have a knife or a wand.” He knew rationally that they didn’t mean him harm, but the instincts were hard to shake.

“You know I’m a witch, too.” Graves settled back in the chair and let Credence retain his hand.

“Not a witch,” Credence muttered. His eyes had gone half-lidded again. “You’re a self-righteous ass.”

Graves couldn’t help the sudden rush of fondness. North and south, truth and lie, innocent and guilty--- and Credence, somewhere in the middle. “Go to sleep, you zealot.”

Chapter Text

“Boss.”

The dim quiet of the patient’s ward and the late hour-- past one in the morning now-- had made Graves doze off. His neck was stiff from sleeping at the odd angle and he disentangled his hand from Credence’s to rub at it. Taylor stood in the doorway; the young Auror held the door open and gestured silently for him to come outside so as not to disturb Credence. Graves complied.

“He gonna be alright?” Taylor asked softly once the door closed.

Graves nodded. “Is everyone back?”

“Yeah. Just now.”

“Good. I’ll wake him; can you bring the others up here? We’re probably not allowed to move him.”

“Yeah.” Taylor bit his lip. The younger man clearly looked uncomfortable, even in the dim light.

Graves sighed. “What is it?”

“You’re not….” Taylor grimaced and glanced at the hospital room. “Him?”

“Oakhurst, be very careful about what you say next.” Graves’ voice was low and warning.

“Oh. No, no, not that. Not the he part. We all know that already. It’s the--” Taylor made another face as he fumbled for words. His voice had gone a little high. “Scourer who tried to kill you part?”

Graves just stared at the young man. It was very rare that he was rendered speechless, but Taylor James Oakhurst had just managed it.

Some of the color drained out of the young Auror’s face. He was wincing. “You...did know we all knew already, right, Boss?”

Graves opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again before finally managing. “No. No, I did not.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure Septima has always known. Since there were dinosaurs. Or something.” Taylor was turning red. “And you don’t look at Sophie McIlvain nearly enough for a man who likes women. And we’re investigators? And the only time you take leave is when Theseus Scamander is in town?”

Graves finally had to crack a smile. Taylor looked like he was about to pass out from mortification. “So you think I’m not just involved with a Scourer, but I’m stepping out on a war hero who could probably hex me in half without blinking.”

“No? Because that would be really….I’ll just go get the others, shall I?” Taylor squeaked and started to back towards the elevator with a nervous smile.

“Good plan.”

Taylor fled. Graves watched him go and he couldn’t quite suppress the smile, the odd rush of warmth. It kept him from fretting about Taylor’s initial question. His team knew. His team knew and had never said a word, never let it matter and he couldn’t help but love them a little for it.

The great hall of the Graves family manor was ablaze with light when six Aurors-- all in dark brown long coats and fedoras-- and a staggering, renegade Scourer apparated into it. Gold-varnished oak ran the length of the hall until it met a sweeping wrought-iron double staircase that led up to the second and third story. The wainscotting and the massive beams that supported the vaulted ceiling were the same oak, only stained a darker, warmer brown. A massive hearth in black and gold marble dominated one side. The fire was blazing with a scattering of red velvet armchairs in front of it. Elaine Graves Lavigny sat in one, bare feet tucked up under her. Her dark hair was loosely braided and hung over one shoulder.

She padded over as soon as they appeared. “Perce,” she said, resting one hand on her brother’s chest and standing on her toes to kiss the corner of his mouth. “There’s coffee in the morning room for all of you.”

“Elaine.” Graves kissed her forehead. “Thank you.”

He turned to face his squad, leaving a hand on her back. “Elaine, you’ve met Sophie and Septima. This is Madalena Cortez, Tina Goldstein, Taylor Oakhurst and Credence Barebone. This is my sister Elaine Lavigny.”

Elaine wasn’t as good at controlling her reactions as Graves. She glanced up at him in alarm upon recognizing Credence’s last name, but seemed reassured after he nodded slightly. She spread her hands. “The house is yours to use as you need. I’d ask that you stay out of the third floor east wing; my husband is still sleeping.”

“Thank you. Again.” Graves gestured his squad through into the morning room. Windows covered the majority over the walls, looking over the driveway lined with massive oaks and the rolling grounds that lead down to the river on one side and into the mountains on the other.

The New York Ghost profile hadn’t exaggerated when they called this “the Graves family’s sprawling ancestral demesne.” Even though the early morning darkness was only partially dispelled by the light spells scattered through the house, Credence could see the size, the space, the elaborate detail. He didn’t even know what a morning room was but based on the round birch table and elaborate silver coffee service set upon it, it was some kind of dining room.

Taylor set the bag of equipment on the table and then bit his lip. “Boss. He should be armed if he’s coming with us,” he said and gestured to Credence.

“You’re probably right,” Graves answered.

Taylor rummaged in the bag. “I picked this up at Requisitions,” he said and tossed a sheathed knife to Credence.

Credence caught it and drew the blade. He tested its weight and balance in his hand and pressed the edge lightly against the meat of his thumb to test its sharpness.

“Six and a half inches, full tang, German steel,” Taylor explained. “It was as close as I could get to what you like. Well, what I guessed based on the….” He trailed off. “Um. Nevermind.”

“Based on the bodies of the people I murdered,” Credence supplied quietly. “It’s alright.”

“Right.” Graves broke the immediate and uncomfortable silence that followed that exchange. “Credence and Septima will apparate outside the wards on the camp while the rest of us are deliberately setting them off in the front. Taylor-- you’ll be on surveillance and maintain an anti-disparition field. We’ll draw Bartholomew out towards us while Credence and Septima come in from the back and find Modesty.”

“What about the other sister?” Maddie asked.

Credence bit his lip. “Chastity wouldn’t thank us for taking her. And she wouldn’t see it as a rescue.” He glanced up at Graves. “She doesn’t have magic; she doesn’t know how to fight…”

Graves nodded imperceptibly. “Leave her be. Lethal force is only authorized on Bartholomew. Mary Lou and Chastity are No-Majs, fanatics or not. Questions?”

Silence and shaken heads from his squad. “Move out.”

Septima detached herself from the group and joined Credence. “Ready when you are.” She was an older woman-- fifties, perhaps--- with grey streaks in her dark brown hair and lines around her mouth that deepened when she smiled-- as she was doing now, as she held out her arm to the Scourer.

Credence spared a moment to wonder if she had heard Taylor Oakhurst mention the four deaths he bore on his conscience. Then he took her arm and reality spun out of focus.

It took roughly five minutes for everything to go to hell.

When they arrived in the woods, it was nearly pitch-black. A waning half-moon bathed the forests in shades of midnight blue and gray and Credence suddenly understood why Bartholomew had always sent him back to the city in winter. It was bitterly cold; they were ankle-deep in newfallen snow. His fingers were already going numb.

Tepeo,” he heard Septima whisper and warmth flooded from through their linked arms, banishing the chill.

“You didn’t need to do that,” he said softly, even as he started to pick out the clearest path towards the cabin for them both.

“I think the mediwizards would be rather cross if we let you get pneumonia, my dear. Especially since you’re here against their advice.” She repeated the spell on herself as they moved between the trees, carefully watching their footing in the underbrush.

The casual affection startled Credence. “Dear?”

“I’m so sorry. Does that bother you?” Septima’s voice was calm. “You’re about my son’s age. I guess it just came out.”

“No…” That wasn’t it at all. “I just-- you know how many--”

“People you’ve killed. Four. With quite a bit of skill too; I’ve read the reports.” The warmth in Septima’s voice had faded slightly. “I’m not a fool, Mr. Barebone. None of us are. But if Percival thinks you’re worth fighting for, then so do we.”

The older woman made it sound so simple. “You trust him that much?” he asked.

Septima nodded. “I’ve known Percival since he was a teenage recruit with an attitude problem. He’s a good judge of character and an excellent Auror.” She shrugged. “He’s also loyal to a fault and kinder than he gives himself credit for. So yes. I trust him. In and out of the field.”

Credence didn’t know how to respond to it all: Graves’ faith, Septima’s warmth, Taylor’s (utterly tactless) consideration. He didn’t answer, staying silent as they walked except to warn Septima when the footing got difficult or they needed to duck around a ward. Modesty was what mattered.

Their timing was perfect; they reached the edge of the clearing just as Credence felt the dull heaviness of an anti-disparition field settle over them. The eerie shriek of a barn owl rang through the silence and Septima touched his arm. “That’s Taylor. Let’s go.”

“Modesty should be in the cabin with everyone else.” The cabin was the largest building; its front porch faced away from them towards the pond and the rattling brown stalks of dormant cattails. There were two other outbuildings: a smokehouse where Bartholomew dried and preserved the fish and game he caught and a larger building that used to be a stable. Credence and Bartholomew had mostly used it for storage or training when the weather was simply too inclement to be outside.

Septima and Credence crossed the clearing and crouched behind the smokehouse. Credence could see red flashes in the woods on the opposite side as Graves and the rest of his squad tangled with the layers of wards.

“Stay here,” he told Septima. “Let me see if I can get Modesty to come out on her own.” It was likely that his mother and other sister would be in the cabin as well, even if they’d drawn Bartholomew out like they hoped. He’d rather get Modesty on her own. The idea of facing his mother put him on edge at the best of times and the idea of facing her now, when he had proven himself as wicked and as sinful as she’d always said, when he was a traitor, was unbearable.

He darted towards the cabin and was only halfway there when he heard a rush of air behind him, a dull thunk and a short cry of pain. He whipped around to see that Bartholomew had stepped out behind Septima and hit her edge-on in the back of the head with a shovel. It made sense--- Bartholomew didn’t know what wards were on the duster. Better to incapacitate first and kill later.

He could see the knife already. The blade was shorter and the metal was blackened and ancient. Credence moved with the instinct that Bartholomew had spared no effort (and no injury) in giving him. He had no wand. The knife was out and he’d barely murmured the spell to change its balance before he threw.

It wouldn’t hit. He was too far away and Bartholomew would always be better, always be faster than him, but it bought him time. It bought Septima time.

Credence charged.

“Stay there,” Bartholomew snarled at him. He’d knocked aside the knife with ease and the chestnut wand was now in his other hand, leveled at Credence.

***
Credence found his feet stilling. It was impossible to deny Bartholomew, the growl, the threat of violent retribution if he disobeyed.

“Don’t,” he said softly.

Bartholomew snorted. “Really, lad. You sold yourself for this? Someone’s grandma?” He pushed Septima with a foot. She didn’t respond and a cold thread of fear trickled down Credence’s spine. “I would have thought some strapping young wizard would be more the trick.” His voice was disdainful, almost dismissive and Credence had trouble keeping his eyes on the older man, wanting to shrink and look away.

Credence pushed the feeling away. “I just want Modesty,” he said. “We don’t have to fight. Please.” It was pathetic and he knew it. He had brought Aurors here. It was a declaration of war, an open act of rebellion, but the look of cold, ugly anger on Bartholomew’s face turned him back into a child again.

The scowl broke into a wide smirk. “Oh so she does have magic.” Credence faltered and Bartholomew chuckled. “Lad, that’s always been the idea. We find them young; I get the ones with talent and your ma gets the squibs for her preaching.”

Septima’s warmth spell fluttered and for a moment he felt the frostbitten night air against his face. Credence shook his head. “I won’t let you.” His voice was shaking and he swallowed to steady it. “I won’t let you hurt her.”

Bartholomew sighed and shook his head. “Are you daft?” The wand lowered a few inches. “I wouldn’t have hurt you if you’d learned any other way. You were just so useless you didn’t give me any choice.”

“I--” He hadn’t given Bartholomew a choice. He’d been snivelling, useless, a coward. If he’d simply obeyed, simply done what Bartholomew had wanted the first time he’d asked... His elbow almost ached again in reminder of his failure. Too weak, too timid-- Bartholomew’s patience wasn’t infinite, after all. He was lucky that the Scourer simply hadn’t sent him back to Ma in disgrace.

And he could have. Credence had failed him so many times. In Philadelphia, when he’d let himself be distracted by a handsome face and they’d nearly gotten caught by the Aurors. He’d nearly gotten them killed; was the Crucio curse really an unjustified response? He had no stomach for killing either, even after years of training.

His head went down. The fight had gone out of him.

“Lad.” Bartholomew’s voice was soft and almost sounded forgiving. But that was impossible. There was no way. After Credence had betrayed him, failed him so badly… Credence glanced up and saw that his mentor had put the ancient knife away and held out his hand. “You did good. You brought me an Auror. Maybe more than one.” He jerked his head towards the flaring red lights in the woods. “Come back. Help me deal with ‘em and we’ll forget this...little misunderstanding.”

The jerk in his chest felt almost like hope. God above, but it would be easy. To forget the way the past thirty hours had torn his sense of purpose and of the world into shreds, to slip back into surety and simplicity and away from the desperate and painful complexities of Graves and his world. To have his family back.

“Come on, lad.” Bartholomew smiled and it was easy and forgiving and Credence felt something in his soul wrench. God. Please. “Tell you what, you can have her training. Do it however you’d like.”

To go home. To still be able to keep Modesty safe, to have her with him because he knew that Graves wouldn’t be able to keep them together, to keep Credence from facing the justice he deserved. Credence fought the urge to drop to his knees and beg. He wanted Bartholomew’s impossible forgiveness as desperately as he had ever wanted Graves’ impossible faith. As desperately as he had ever wanted Graves.***

The warming spell flickered again and went out entirely. The cold was a sudden shock; he’d nearly forgotten the weather for a moment, wrapped in Septima’s unthinking kindness. Septima and her son and the wrinkles that framed her mouth when she smiled. Sophie too, with her quicksilver smile as she teased Graves about his hair. The slow-dawning mortification on Taylor’s face. Graves and the sweat on his jaw and the grief in his mind. Graves and the taste of the older man, plum and spice and utterly undeserved faith.

“No,” he said finally, softly. It was all the defiance he could muster. “No. We’re wrong, Bartholomew. They’re not devils. We’re not damned.”

Bartholomew let out an irritated sigh. “Then you’re of no use to me, are you.”

The wand came up to bear on Credence. He just stared at it. Every ounce of killer instinct that Bartholomew had beaten into him had drained away. He was worn and broken and he couldn’t summon the will to do anything other than watch his death come for him.

It would have, too. Except a barn owl dropped out of the sky shrieking unholy defiance and drove its talons into Bartholomew Barebone’s face. Septima had told Credence that the barn owl cry was Taylor and the plan had always been to have the young Auror ‘in the air’ but somehow Credence hadn’t quite processed that meant literally transforming into a bird of prey.

Blood sprayed. Bartholomew caught the owl’s wing but Taylor shifted back to human in mid-air, using the sudden change of weight and momentum to throw Bartholomew over his shoulder.

“Get her out of here!” he yelled to Credence and scrambled after Bartholomew. The anti-disparition field had disintegrated when Taylor attacked; he needed to keep close or the ancient Scourer could simply vanish. Bartholomew started to rise and Taylor kicked low, knocking his feet out from under him. Snow scattered and hung in the air as they rolled in a tangle of grappling limbs.

Credence did as he was told. He dragged Septima further out of harm’s way, under the small overhang of the smokehouse. He felt for a pulse and though her heart beat strong and steady, she wasn’t conscious. He glanced back to where Taylor and Bartholomew were fighting.

It wasn’t going well; Taylor had had the element of surprise at first, but he was younger, smaller, and less experienced. Bartholomew had the younger Auror pinned and Taylor’s hands and forearms were slick with blood from defensive wounds. It wouldn’t be long until Bartholomew landed a blow for real. Shit. Credence left Septima where she was and ran to where she had first fallen.The knife was nowhere to be found but he picked up her discarded wand and prayed that it would obey him.

Taylor screamed. The knife had gone into his right shoulder and Bartholomew twisted it a quarter turn, destroying the joint. The young Auror’s voice went high and terrified. With one arm rendered useless, he struggled to hold back the next knife stroke and his voice cracked as he screamed again for help. “Boss! Septima! Credence!

Fulmen!” and Credence thanked God-- or the Devil-- that Septima’s wand obeyed. He didn’t aim to hit Bartholomew. He was too close, too tangled with Taylor but the spell sent snow and dirt spraying everywhere when it struck the ground near them, blinding Bartholomew temporarily and alerting him to another opponent.

Taylor squirmed away and staggered to his feet, leaving a trail of ugly maroon slush behind him. Blood streamed down his arm. It steamed upon contact with the frozen air, trailing off his coat and fingertips like smoke. Bartholomew snarled, dismissing the battered Auror sobbing in panic out of hand and rounded on Credence.

Accio,” Credence whispered and the German steel knife flew back to his hand. His hands were trembling. It had been one thing to attack Bartholomew when it was act or let Taylor die in front of him, but now…

Spells rang out around him. The tall Hispanic woman Graves had called Maddie rushed by him with Tina close on her heels. Graves’ hand landed on his shoulder. “You don’t have to do this,” he said and for a moment Credence could have wept with relief. “We’ll deal with him. Can you calm down Taylor and get him and Septima out of here?”

Credence ran towards Taylor. The young man was shaking; pupils dilated and barely seeing from shock and terror. His wand hung loosely in his hand, steaming blood dripping slowly from the tip.

“Taylor.” Credence remembered the nickname Sophie had used. “T.J.!” He closed one hand over the Auror’s mutilated shoulder, pressing against the torn wound. He touched his face with the other, tapping lightly. “T.J. I need you to heal yourself. Please. Or stop the bleeding at least. I can’t do it. I don’t know the spell. I’ll hurt you if I do.”

Taylor stared at him.

“Shit.” Credence mentally begged Septima’s wand to obey again. He’d never done this before but… “Vulnera sanentur.” He wasn’t convinced it was right but the wand obeyed and the blood leaking from Taylor’s shoulder slowed.

“T.J. You’re alright. You’re safe. I promise.” The young Auror started to focus on his words. Had this been his first fight? Credence managed a smile that he hoped was reassuring. “I need you to do something, okay?” He tugged Taylor over to where Septima laid. “I need you to take Septima back to Graves’ family’s house. Stay there with her, okay?”

Taylor’s eyes had focused, though his breath was still shallow and shaky. “Yeah.” He started to glance over his shoulder to where the three Aurors tangled with Bartholomew in a storm of spells and kicked up snow.

Credence stopped him. “Don’t worry about them. Graves wants you to get Septima somewhere safe.” He handed Taylor her wand. “Here.”

Taylor took Septima’s arm and disapparated. Almost immediately, Credence felt the heavy weight of an anti-disparition field settle over him. None of the three Aurors tangling with Bartholomew seemed to have cast it; such a field took effort to maintain. Sophie must have been out of sight somewhere, taking up Taylor’s duties. The three other Aurors containing Bartholomew seemed to be holding their own, but without a wand, the best Credence could do to help them was to find his sister as quickly as he could.

He sheathed the knife before opening the door to the cabin and immediately had to dodge out of the way of a frying pan. “Expelliarmus!,” he snapped on reflex. The frying pan whipped out of his mother’s hand and went clattering against the wall.

In the dim moonlight leaking in through the door and single window, he saw that his mother’s face was a rictus of fear. He’d never done magic in front of her before. It had been their tacit agreement. He never gave evidence of what Bartholomew had taught him; she allowed him to remain in the Church, to continue to see his sisters.

“Ma.” He didn’t know what else to say.

“What hell have you brought down on us, Credence?” she asked him steadily. The flashes of light as the Aurors fought flickered across her face.

Credence looked away. He was so tired. The pang of panicked guilt barely registered. “Lumos,” he muttered and the light that appeared in his palm shed soft white light through the cabin. Modesty and Chastity were sitting on one of the narrow beds against the far wall. Both girls were pressed back into the corner; Chastity’s arms wrapped tightly around Modesty.

“Credence!” Modesty cried and tried to squirm out of her older sister’s grip but Chastity held tightly. His middle sister looked almost as terrified as Ma did.

Credence hated it. He tossed the globe of light away from his hand and it stuck to the ceiling. “I’m not…” Not what? Not a threat? Not a danger, not a monster? “I’m not going to hurt you,” he finished lamely.

“Yet you come here with demons,” his Ma answered. “They prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Credence ignored her. She would always hate him. There was no changing that. She was lost to him. Chastity was lost to him and he didn’t have time with the four-person duel raging outside to think about how much that fucking hurt. Scars or not, misguided or not, they were his family. But they were wrong. And Modesty wasn’t safe with them. And of everything Bartholomew had taught him, one idea had survived the catastrophe as his world had shifted and realigned. You did your duty; you did what was right.

Even if it made you want to die.

“Modesty,” he said and crouched down so that he was on her level. “Will you come with me?”

His Ma started to protest but fell silent when Credence glanced at her. He’d never been able to silence her before, to cow her like this. She was afraid of him and a vague part of him wondered why this didn’t feel like a relief, an exhilarating rush of power. He just felt sick.

“Modesty, you’re like me. I saw it on the….toy I found in your room.” Even now, he couldn’t bring himself to say the word wand in front of his mother. “It’s not safe for you here. Bartholomew knows. Please.”

Revealing Modesty’s magic at least had the dubious benefit of making Chastity let go. “Get away from me!” Chastity shrieked, shoving her little sister away.

The push forced Modesty off the bed. She stumbled and nearly fell. Credence caught her immediately and picked her up, shifting her to his left arm. It was all that he needed; there was no point in staying, so he started to back away.

“Credence,” his mother said. “Did you tell her why you’re so afraid of Bartholomew training her?”

Credence froze. “Ma, don’t,” he pleaded. “You’ve already lost; just...please…”

But Mary Lou Barebone was a creature of the Old Testament. She believed in vengeance. She believed in spite. “I am not your Ma,” she told him. “Your mother was a wicked, unnatural woman and you are her son down to the marrow. Tell her how many of your kind you’ve butchered.”

“...four,” Credence said softly. Emmeline Grey, the witch with the laurel wand that had screamed like a child and her orphaned twins. Isabel. Alexander. Graves had hurled the names at him like weapons and it struck Credence that he didn’t know the names of the other three. It only seemed to compound the sin. Wicked and unnatural--- his mother meant because of the magic, but she was right nonetheless.

“Credence?” Modesty’s voice was shaking.

“Please, Modesty. Please just trust me.” Her voice brought Credence back to himself. It didn’t matter. Murderer and monster that he was, he’d accept whatever MACUSA decided to do to him. What mattered was Modesty and keeping her safe. He turned and walked away.

His little sister twisted in his grip to look back at her mother and sister. It was clear that she was struggling not to cry. Credence had to swallow past the urge as well. He hadn’t wanted this to happen like this. He’d hoped… He didn’t know what he had hoped for, but not his little sister starting to cry against his shoulder, not his hands slick with Taylor’s blood as he held her steady.

“Graves!” he shouted as soon as he stepped off the cabin porch. The older man detached himself from the fray and sprinted to them even as he fired a shower of red sparks into the air from his wand.

It must have been a sign to Sophie because Credence felt the anti-disparition field shiver out of existence just as Graves reached them and reality spun again until they were standing in the great hall of the manor again. Modesty’s tears had changed into shrieks of terror at the unknown magic.

“Are you alright?” Graves asked.

“We both are,” Credence lied and all of his anguish must have shown on his face.

Graves looked torn. “I have to go back. My team…”

“Go,” Credence said. Graves was right. The Auror’s place was with his team. On the battlefield, in the hell that Credence had unleashed on his own family.

Graves touched his face and his mouth opened like he was about to say something before he closed it again and apparated away.

“Credence, let go!” Modesty pushed at him, sobbing and Credence didn’t know what to tell her.

Of all people, it was Elaine Graves Lavigne who approached him. “Here,” she said and took his sister from his unresisting hands.

Modesty continued to weep, though it had lost its frantic edge. The idea that his sister now felt more secure in a stranger’s arms than his was impossible to process. He couldn’t begin to reckon the cost of what he had done. The metallic taste of fading adrenaline soured on his tongue. I’m not your Ma. The look of terror on her face, on Chastity’s. The casual dismissal as Bartholomew gave up on him. Then you’re of no use to me, are you. The blood on his hands, the sounds of Taylor screaming. The knowledge of everything that he had lost.

Really, lad. You sold yourself for this?

Credence started to weep.

Chapter Text

Credence didn’t know how long he spent in the great hall, only that at some point, his knees had given out from under him and he’d ended up on the hardwood floor.

“C’mon.” T.J. Oakhurst slipped a hand under his arm. “Sit in the armchair at least.”

Credence looked away, face flushing at being caught like this, crumpled on the floor, shaking with sobs and face streaked with tears.

“Don’t,” Taylor said. He sounded wrung out. “You just watched me scream like a baby for Graves to come save me. Just….it’s fine.”

Credence let Taylor pull him to the red velvet armchairs by the fire. The young Auror was in shirtsleeves; the cloth from elbows down was slashed and bloody, though the skin underneath was healed. Although his right shoulder was immobilized, the arm in a sling, he held a bottle of brandy he had found somewhere by the neck. Two snifter dangled from his fingers.

“Is Septima alright?” Credence asked.

“Yeah,” Taylor said as he set the bottle of brandy down. “Maddie let me know what happened. Bartholomew must have found Sophie; he attacked her and forced her to drop the anti-disparition field. He’s gone; so are Mary Lou and Chastity. Maddie’s taken Septima to the hospital; Sophie, Tina and the boss are searching the place for anything they can find.” The young Auror poured two fingers of liquor for each of them. He handed one to Credence and took the other for himself before dropping down into an armchair.

Credence took the glass. He didn’t know how to feel. While he didn’t necessarily like the idea of his mother and his sister in MACUSA’s hands, this meant that Graves and the others weren’t done searching. Even the possibility of having to face Bartholomew again made his throat close with panic. He forced his attention away.

“So Maddie took Septima to the hospital but...you don’t need to go?” Admittedly, Credence knew very little about magical healing, but Taylor still seemed pale. He was quietly hoping that a spell could repair the joint that Bartholomew had annihilated, too. For saving Credence to have cost the young Auror movement in his wand arm…

“I do,” Taylor admitted. “But I’ll side-along with someone when they get back. I…” He bit his lip. “Kinda wanted to check on you.”

“Oh.” Well that was...embarrassing and strangely kind all at the same time. Credence took a sip of the brandy. Even with his throat raw and nose clogged from tears, he could tell it was by far the highest quality alcohol he had ever tasted.

That wasn’t exactly saying much--- the few occasions he did drink were rare moments where they had tracked a target into a speakeasy or when Bartholomew had thrown him a bottle of harsh-tasting whiskey to dull the pain of a Mending Charm. He’d expected the drink to burn, but it only warmed and the taste that lingered in his mouth was honey and sweet spices that he couldn’t identify.

They sat in ragged silence.

“That was the closest thing I will ever have to a family,” Credence said finally, dully.

Taylor winced. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You got your little sister back, at least.”

“I think she hates me now.”

“Shock? I mean...she’ll need some time to adjust.”

Credence shook his head. “No. She found out that I’ve killed people.”

“Merlin.” Taylor took a sip of his own brandy.

“Pretty much.” There was another moment of silence. Credence wiped at the dried tear tracks on his face. His head throbbed and he didn’t understand why Taylor was doing this. Not that he minded, precisely; it was nice, in a strange, unfamiliar way, but why?

“You have to talk to her.” Taylor broke into Credence’s thoughts. He gestured into empty air, indicating Modesty, wherever she was in the sprawling house. “If she’s all you have left, then you have to make her understand. Tell her you’re not doing it again...you’re not, are you?”

Credence shook his head. “No,” he answered. How could he? He’d killed so willingly for Bartholomew and while he’d never liked it, he’d never questioned the rightness of what he was doing. How could he ever trust his own judgement again?

“Tell her that. Make her understand. Hell, tell her you kept Bartholomew from killing me.” Taylor drained the rest of his brandy.

Credence really looked at Taylor for the first time since the other man came into the great hall. Slashed and bloodied shirt, with his arm in a sling, yes, but his eyes were red-rimmed and his mouth was tight. Credence wasn’t the only one who had been weeping. The young Auror looked drained and deeply shaken.

“You mean after you dove in his face to save me,” Credence reminded him.

Taylor’s smile was faint. “Thanks but…” He shrugged. “I’m giving the boss my transfer notice when we get back to MACUSA. I’m better off in the Research Division.”

“You don’t want to do this any more?”

“God, I do.” Taylor refilled his own brandy and topped off Credence’s. “This is all I have ever wanted to do. But you saw me.”

“I saw an Auror in his first fight go after someone with over a century more experience because it needed to be done. And trust his team to bail him out.” That was how Graves’ team worked. They functioned as a cohesive unit, each relying on the other to have their back. Credence couldn’t help but be a little envious.

Taylor glanced away. His face had gone pink. “It was that obvious?”

Credence gestured at Taylor’s shoulder. “Nothing really prepares you for the first time. You know it’s going to hurt but…”

“Not that much.”

“Or how scared it makes you.” Credence shrugged casually. “I don’t even remember what happened when Bartholomew broke my elbow.”

Taylor blinked. “Wait. What? Your father broke your elbow?”

“Training. I wasn’t very good. He couldn’t get me to attack so-” Credence stopped. Taylor was staring at him with a look of increasing horror on his face. “What?”

“He broke your elbow because you weren’t aggressive in training?” Taylor echoed.

Credence didn’t quite understand Taylor’s baffled horror. He thought he’d been clear, but… “Yes? And he’s not actually my father--”

“The hell does that matter?” Taylor shook his head. “I...look, I am not good at fighting. It took me three tries to pass my physical and there is a reason that Graves usually has me on surveillance. And the worst-- the absolute worst-- he has ever done to me was break my nose. And it was an accident. And he insisted on healing it himself. And on taking me to lunch after ‘cause he felt bad.”

“I--” Credence didn’t quite know what to say.

Taylor was stumbling over words. “I...that is not okay. No. Not in any way, shape or form and I know you said they’re your family, but, shit, Credence, I think you’re better off without them.”

Credence was quiet. The look on Taylor’s face had bordered on horror and his reaction had been adamant, words pouring out so quickly that he tripped over them. He remembered Graves’ voice, still chained to the radiator. I stop people who beat their children.

“I don’t know.” He drained the brandy in his glass. “Maybe you’re right.”

Taylor gave him a lopsided smile. “I usually am. There’s a reason Horned Serpent won the house cup my junior and senior year.”

“Of course.” Taylor may as well have been speaking Greek. The young Auror went to refill Credence’s snifter but Credence put his hand over it. He didn’t know about his family-- if he was better off without them, but Taylor was right about one thing at least. Modesty was what he had left and he needed to make his peace with her before he let her go. “I should go talk to Modesty.” He stood. “T.J.?”

“Yeah?”

Credence managed a smile. “Thank you. And don’t transfer.”

Taylor smiled back. “I’ll give it one more fight,” he conceded and then seemed to notice the bottle on the table as if for the first time. He groaned. “Drinking Graves’ brandy without asking seemed like a much better idea when I wasn’t going to still be working for him.”

Credence left Taylor to ponder that. The house was enormous; he hadn’t the slightest idea where Elaine might have taken Modesty. The hallway thad led into the morning room continued to a dining room and a living room with leather couches and a snifter set that was clearly missing two glasses. The next door on that hallway led to a third room, the largest he’d seen so far except for the great hall. The floor was mostly a bare expanse of hardwood, though there were couches covered in dust clothes against the walls and a gramophone in the corner. Some part of Credence’s dime-novel vocabulary supplied the word ballroom and he shook his head in disbelief. All this and the house was occupied only by Elaine Lavigny and her husband?

He retraced his steps and found himself back in the great hall. Taylor was still there and raised a hand in acknowledgement. Elaine was descending the double staircase and Credence went to the base to meet her.

“Mr. Barebone,” she said. “I’d like a word.”

“Mrs. Lavigny.” She didn’t look pleased; he’d caught her reaction to his name earlier and Modesty’s sobbing protests couldn’t have improved her opinion.

Elaine stayed on the bottom step rather than fully moving down into the great hall, but the height difference was still apparent. She was half a head shorter than Credence to begin with and between her bare feet and his boots, even the step didn’t put her at eye level. When she looked up to meet his gaze though, there was a determined set to her jawline that reminded him acutely of her brother. Unrelenting apparently ran in the family; no wonder the coat of arms hanging over the mantle depicted a massive, ancient oak, woven in gold on green.

“Your sister is asleep,” she said. “She was asking for you.”

Credence bowed his head. “Thank you. Can you---”

“I was hoping you might shed some light on the marks on her hands.”

Credence couldn’t control the full body shudder that hit him. He’d known; of course, he’d known. He’d seen it happen; he’d taken the blame and the beating when he could, but to have Elaine state it so bluntly, to even imply that they were from him...

Elaine’s voice softened. “I think that was answer enough, Mr. Barebone.” She spread her hands and once again, the gesture reminded him of Graves. “Have you thought about what you plan to do?”

“With Modesty? No,” Credence admitted. “I just...it wasn’t safe for her there any more. As soon as they knew she had magic--” Though it wasn’t like he was going to be able to provide for her either. An imprisoned--or executed-- murderer was a poor stand-in for a parent.

“If you like--- and if she does, as well-- she could stay here,” Elaine offered. She glanced around. “This place feels a little empty when Izzy is at Ilvermorny. And I understand that Percival already has gotten some paperwork in order so she could stay here.”

Ilvermorny. The wizarding school. This house, ancient and enormous and wealthy. Credence’s head spun at what Elaine was offering so casually. He tried to imagine Modesty growing up here after the dark and cramped spaces of the church. If he had been asked the best future he could have envisioned for his little sister, he still wouldn’t have thought of this. And yet…

“I don’t have any money,” he said. “I couldn’t ask you to do this.”

“Lack of funds is not something this family suffers from,” Elaine said. “And you’re not asking. I’m offering.”

Credence was still having trouble believing it. “Are you sure? She’s a Barebone. So am I.”

Elaine shrugged. “And I’m a Graves. My husband’s a Lavigny. And in 1790, your family and mine were enemies and his was fighting for its life in Haiti. Things change, Mr. Barebone. Often for the better.” When Credence couldn’t give a response, she continued. “You don’t need to decide now--- it is almost three in the morning, but she’s welcome here. As a Graves or as a Barebone.”

Credence bowed his head again. He was overwhelmed. So it wasn’t just sheer will that ran bone-deep in the Graves family lineage. It was faith as well. “Thank you,” he said.

Elaine nodded. “Third floor, west wing. Second door on the left. The bedroom next to it is made up for you as well. Goodnight, Mr. Barebone.”

Credence followed her directions, climbing the staircase to the third floor and carefully slipping into Modesty’s room. It was lit only by the half-moon leaking through the window, so it was hard to make out details. Modesty was curled up tightly as if for warmth, although the quilt looked thick and the room was comfortable. It made her look scarcely bigger than the stuffed cat--- no, cat-like beast-- with six legs and yellow eyes on the bed next to her. She stirred when he stepped inside and hugged the stuffed beast tighter.

“Mrs. Lavigny said you wanted to see me,” Credence said. He sat down on the bed. Modesty didn’t move; didn’t speak. Credence rubbed his palms on the fabric of his pants, picking at a thread to keep from reaching for her. “I found your wand,” he finally said. Beginning with facts, the simple narrative of how he knew what he did was so much easier than trying to address what had happened scarcely an hour before. “Under your bed. There was magic on it; you’ve been doing it when you play, I guess.”

“It’s just a toy, Credence,” Modesty answered, but at least she was speaking to him.

“You can do magic without a wand. It’s just harder.” Maybe. It seemed to be a question of power. Bartholomew was reliant on his wand; Taylor seemed similarly limited, though Credence--- and apparently Graves-- were not. “You could have a wand you know. You could stay here. Go to school with Mrs. Lavigyny’s daughter when you’re old enough, learn magic. You like her, don’t you?” He hid the curl of anxiety in his stomach. If Modesty didn’t agree to this…

“I do,” Modesty admitted. She hugged the cat a little tighter. “I like Cappie too.”

Credence couldn’t help the smile. He reached out and brushed the stuffed animal’s fur. “Is that his name?”

“Her, Credence,” Modesty told him, as if it should be patently obvious.

Credence bowed his head, accepting the chastisement. “My apologies, Ms. Cappie.”

“But I wouldn’t see Ma or Chastity again.” Modesty’s voice held an uncertain tremor and Credence felt his stomach sink. Of course. This wasn’t going to be easy; Elaine Lavigny’s kindness and six-legged cat aside, Modesty would be as reluctant to give up her family as he had been.

“No.” He rubbed his hands on his pants leg again. “Modesty, when I spent the summer with Bartholomew, you know I wasn’t just learning magic.”

“No. You were---” Her voice hitched as she realized the implications of what Credence had told her so many times.

“Catching witches,” Credence said softly. He would not lie about this; he would not soften or sugarcoat what he had done. “Killing them.”

“Credence.” He was making his little sister cry and he didn’t know how to do this any other way.

“I’m sorry. I...four people. I killed four people, Modesty. People like Mrs. Lavigny and I wish I hadn’t but that doesn’t change that I did. I was wrong and a fool and I should have never let Bartholomew convince me. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t.” Now he was the one fumbling for words, not Taylor. As if he found the right ones, they would somehow matter, somehow undo what he’d done. Four people. Four lives and he didn’t even know their names. “And you have magic too. And Bartholomew would have made you like me. Made you into a monster and I couldn’t let that happen.”

Modesty was quiet. Credence’s chest hurt and for a fleeting moment, he hated Taylor for stopping Bartholomew’s curse. He braced for Modesty to push him away again.

“Are you going to do it again?” she finally asked.

“No.” The answer was immediate. The prospect of it made him sick to his stomach. “I swear. Never again.” He spread his hands helplessly. “For all that that matters.”

She was quiet again before reaching out and laying her small hand on top of his. “...but I’ll get to see you, won’t I? Mrs. Lavigny won’t make you stay away?”

Credence’s nausea only increased. It was overwhelming for a moment and he could only shake his head mutely at first. “I killed four people, Modesty, and I can’t take that back. I have to live with what that means and...I don’t think they let murderers visit their sisters.”

Modesty started to cry.

 

There was nothing in the cabin. Another set of the chains that Credence had used on Graves; a single half-scorched spellbook from three centuries ago, piles of pamphlets. If any records of Bartholomew’s informant had existed, they had already been destroyed.

It was past three in the morning. Tina was starting to fall asleep on her feet and even Graves felt lightheaded with fatigue. He could have hit something in frustration. Two Aurors badly injured and not a single lead. Yes, they had gotten Modesty. That was what mattered, but he’d hoped to have something--- anything-- to convince the Security Committee that this hadn’t been half-cocked rashness. to soften the blow of the accusations he’d level and the investigation he’d launch.

“Let’s go back,” he said. “There’s nothing here.”

They appeared in the great hall again. The warmth and light of the manor were almost shocking after the icy darkness of the cabin. Taylor was asleep in one of the armchairs and an opened bottle of Dragon Barrel Brandy sat on the side table.

Graves sighed and touched the young Auror’s shoulder. “Taylor. Wasn’t Maddie taking you to the hospital?”

“Boss,” Taylor woke and struggled unevenly to his feet.

“Easy!” Graves caught him by the uninjured arm. He could smell the brandy but he couldn’t fault the young Auror. Bartholomew Barebone had not been easy to tangle with.

“Boss.” Taylor shook his head, trying to clear it. “I’m sorry; I…”

“Sparks,” Graves told him.

“What?”

“Sparks next time when you need help. Carries better than yelling.” He squeezed his arm. “Only thing you did wrong.” He glanced to Sophie. “Can you take him to the hospital before they have to regrow his liver and his shoulder?”

Sophie stepped close to Taylor, sliding an arm around his waist to steady him. “C’mon, TJ. Let’s get you looked at.”

Graves was fairly certain that Taylor’s blush wasn’t from brandy as the young Auror glanced up at his teammate. “Oh. Uh. Hey. Hi, Sophie.”

She laughed. “Did you not notice I was here?”

“No. No! I couldn’t ever….not notice you. Oh God. That was out loud.”

Graves decided to be somewhere else. He went looking for Elaine and found her in the library. The walls were almost entirely covered by bookshelves, with red damask wall hangings visible in the small gaps. Another cluster of armchairs stood around a smaller hearth. His sister didn’t notice him as she floated a book down from one of the top shelves onto the table on front of her.

“Elaine.”
She hugged him tightly. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“I’m sorry if I worried you.” Graves kissed the top of her head. “You should go back to sleep.”

“I wanted to show you this first.” Elaine drew him over to the table. “Valeriane Graves’ entry in the genealogy.” The book she had summoned down was old and bound in dark green leather with the golden oak of their family coat of arms laid into the cover. Starting with Gondulphus, every member of the Graves’ family had a page; their names, the place and date of their birth, their Ilvermorny house, a sketch and details of their wand, the date of their marriage and spouse if they had one, any children and eventually, the date of their death and the location of their grave.

Valeriane Mavis Graves
Born February 2nd, 1761 on the estate.
House Thunderbird.
Blackthorn, twelve inches, wampus cat hair, copper banding
Died: December 12th, 1790.
Memorial: Gawain Chapel.

“How in hell’s name…” It was Credence’s wand on the page in front of him. He was sure of it; the Scourer’s had more wear than the pristine rendition in the genealogy, but it was identical.

“Memorial?” Elaine asked.

“Means they never found her body.” Goddamnit. He was looking at the best evidence he’d ever be likely to get of a MACUSA cover-up. There was a bitter taste in his mouth. “...they sent her to ensure Bartholomew Barebone died in prison. There was too much of a risk of exposure, that he’d convince someone else to believe him.” He ran his fingers over the illustrated wand. “This is Credence’s wand; I would swear it. Bartholomew must have overpowered her somehow. Taken the wand; gotten away. MACUSA was under such pressure from the ICW; they must have hidden the circumstances of her death to avoid any more censure.”
“But he’s supposed to be a No-Maj, isn’t he? And she was an Auror…”

“I don’t know, Elaine. But he clearly has magic.” Graves tapped the page with his wand. “Geminio.” A copy of the page with Valeriane’s information floated upwards and Graves tucked it into his coat. “Thank you.”

“You should get some sleep too,” Elaine said softly. “Your old room is made up.”

Graves nodded. “Do you know where Credence is?”

“With his sister. The blue room.” Elaine closed the genealogy. “I told him that Modesty could live here. It seemed like the right choice, especially if you’re claiming her as your daughter.”

Graves nodded. “Thank you, Elaine.”

When Graves reached the room, the door was ajar and the soft sound of Credence’s voice drifted out into the hallway. Inside, Credence sat near the top of the bed. Modesty was pressed close against him and he stroked her hair. She was holding a stuffed wampus cat that Graves vaguely recognized as one of Izzy’s old toys. Cath Palug, he thought his parents had called it, after the monstrous cat defeated by King Arthur.

“--so Cappie was very quiet and listened very hard. Soon, she could hear her favorite person calling for her. But her person was high up in the castle and at first Cappie didn’t know how she could get there.” Credence smiled softly down at his sister as he continued to narrate.

Graves’ chest suddenly felt like it might burst and he couldn’t help but echo the smile, watching the two of them together. Merlin, but he was in so much trouble. How had a hex-happy zealot, a beautiful, wicked, thorny, vulnerable Scourer gotten under his guard?

Sentiment. It made perfect damn sense and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever live down that Picquery had noticed before he did.

“Then she remembered the dragon she had met that morning. He had big strong wings and she was sure that he could fly her to the castle.” Credence looked up and noticed Graves for the first time. He put his finger to his lips briefly before turning his attention back to his sister. “Modesty. Are you still awake?”

When she didn’t respond, he slipped carefully off the bed and joined Graves in the hallway. Up close and with Modesty safely asleep, the Scourer’s pretense had slipped. He looked haunted, like something had drained him from the inside out.

Graves had to put his hands in his coat pockets to keep from touching him. “How is she handling it?” he asked.

“Better,” Credence said. “I don’t know how, but I think she’s forgiven me.”

“She’s your sister and she loves you.” Graves had no doubt of that; the adoration in Credence’s voice when he spoke of her, the look of utter devotion on his face as he told the story were evidence enough of how the two siblings felt.

Credence leaned back against the wall, hands in his own pockets. “I want you to do two things for me,” he said. His voice was tired and barely audible.

“Go on,” Graves said.

“Promise me you’ll take care of her.” Credence nodded back towards the room where Modesty slept. “Swear it.”

“On the bones of my ancestors,” Graves said. “I’ll take care of her.”

“Thank you,” Credence said. He fell silent and for a moment, Graves thought he might have fallen asleep standing up. “Tell me their names. The people I killed.”

“Credence.”

“Please.”

Graves swallowed and obeyed. “Jasper Cowells. Antonietta Cavanelli. Alexander Ragnott. Emmeline Grey.”

Credence repeated them back slowly and Graves winced as he realized the Scourer was committing the names to memory. It was like watching someone use a Mending Charm to heal themselves, seeing the flesh warp and sear together in ugly scars.

“How are you handling it?” Graves asked. It was a stupid, gauche question but he didn’t know what else to say. He wasn’t Theseus; he didn’t have the knack of seeing through people, of knowing the right thing to say.

Credence gave him a ragged, hollow smile that somehow made Graves hurt more than if the other man had burst into tears. “Well, the prospect of being executed seems more palatable now. So that’s a silver lining.”

“Don’t,” Graves stepped closer. He couldn’t keep his hands in his pockets any longer, touching the Scourer’s cheek.

Credence’s dark brown eyes were bloodshot with old weeping and glittering with the threat of new. “I betrayed my family; I just gave Modesty to your sister to be raised. Your people won’t-- and shouldn’t--- forgive me. I don’t have anything left.”

“You have me.” The words came as easily and simply as if Graves had actually intended to say them. He hadn’t, but the look of utter exhaustion, of abject despair on Credence’s face had been too much. “From now until the end.”

Credence tilted his head into the touch. “Kiss me,” he said. “Please.”

It was a foolish decision, a terrible one if Graves was being rational. But it was past three in the morning and as far as he could tell, he’d left any chance of walking away from this intact somewhere in a MACUSA training room. He’d seen the anguish on Credence’s face at Modesty’s protests and the bone-deep exhaustion written there now. How could he deny the young man anything?

And a kiss was such a simple thing. It was so simple, so easy, nothing that Graves wasn’t already aching to do himself. He’d pay for it; he knew that. But he’d pay for it later. He had a sneaking sense, even, that he’d pay regardless of kissing Credence or not.

Graves stepped close enough that their bodies brushed. Credence straightened to meet him and this close, the older man realized that he was smaller than the Scourer. Not by much, barely an inch or so, but he hadn’t noticed it before in the training room. He slid his hand from Credence’s jaw into his hair, cupping the back of his head.

“Of course,” Graves said and kissed him.

The younger man’s mouth parted, inviting him inside. Credence must have been drinking with Taylor because Graves could taste vanilla, honey and spice. The Scourer’s mouth flavored with his brandy made an erotic, possessive heat curl in the base of Graves’ stomach. A rumbled groan, low and baritone, escaped him and he pressed against the younger man, using the hand at the back of his neck to keep Credence close.

Credence’s hands fisted in Graves’ lapels, keeping them locked together. Graves could feel the tension there, the pull against the fabric even as the rest of Credence’s body went relaxed and compliant, fitting easily against his own with a sound that was half-desire and half-relief.

Credence didn’t want to think any more. His head ached from tears and fatigue and his ears still rung with his mother’s condemnation, Bartholomew’s casual rejection. Graves was there and willing and his mouth was hot and damp and all Credence wanted to do was lose himself in him. He knew that it was sad and pathetic-- perverse, even-- to reach for his jailer, his likely executioner. Graves had ruined his life with nothing but the absolute truth, but Credence was so tired and Graves was there and warm and beautiful and, God above, did Credence want him.

Credence let his hands slide from Graves’ lapels and settle on his hips. Even through all of the fabric, the temptation of skin was too much and he tugged at Graves’ shirts, untucking them until he could rest his hand against flesh. Graves exhaled against his lips and the older man’s mouth drifted down, leaving small damp kisses down his neck until he reached the hollow of Credence’s throat. The Auror’s tongue slid against the sensitive skin there and Credence’s knees threatened to give out.

“Shit,” Credence gasped. His voice seemed loud in the deep darkness of the hallway. His skin felt hot; his mouth was dry with desire and for a moment he wanted to ask Graves if there was somewhere they could go, more private than a hallway, somewhere with space enough to--

Really, lad. You sold yourself for this? I would have thought some strapping young wizard would be more the trick.

The shudder that hit Credence wracked his entire body. That wasn’t why; that wasn’t why, but still…

Graves pulled back in alarm. “Credence?” The idea that the mediwizards had missed just a single cell of that toxic magic, that it had built back up, that it was about to happen again was terrifying. But there was no blood on Credence’s face, no yellow-green curse fissuring under his skin. Still, the look of panicked shame on the younger man’s face cut short Graves’ sigh of relief.

“Credence, what is it?” Had he done something wrong, touched him some way that he shouldn’t have? Graves would have stepped away and given him space but Credence’s fingers were still locked on his hip. If anything, the younger man’s grip had tightened.

“N-nothing,” Credence answered.

‘Nothing’ was apparently making Credence’s hand tremble against Graves’ abdomen and keeping the Scourer from looking at him. He didn’t seem to want Graves to leave, so the older man settled back against him. His thumb stroked gently on the back of Credence’s head and he kissed his neck lightly, trying to make it comforting and chaste, even as his heart still pounded against his chest.

It took a moment for Credence to speak. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I just…”

“Don’t apologize,” Graves shook his head. He still didn’t know what was wrong, but he could take a stab at it. “I think...I think it’s understandable that tonight has gotten to you a little. And I’m more or less at the nexus of all of it.” A Graves. A wizard. An Auror. The person he’d been sent to capture and who’d convinced him to betray his family.

“This isn’t why I’m doing this,” Credence said. “You know that, right?”

“What isn’t why you’re doing what?”

“You. This.” Credence made a gesture to encompass the two of them entangled, the high color in both of their cheeks. “That isn’t why I’m betra-”

“Helping MACUSA.” It was a gentler term than Credence had been about to use. “I know. You’re protecting your sister.” He couldn’t help the tease. “I’m not actually vain enough to think I persuaded a Scourer on looks alone.”

That won at least a faint smile from the younger man. “And they’re wrong,” he said. “I-- They’re my family, but they’re wrong and I couldn’t keep killing.” His voice was shaking.

“So you’re brave as hell, is what you’re telling me.” Graves touched Credence’s face with his free hand and stroked his thumb along his cheekbone. For a moment, he seriously wondered if he could do as Credence had, were situations reversed. If MACUSA, if Elaine and Matthew had been so in the wrong, would he have walked away? Given up everything? Fought them for Izzy? He didn’t know. He didn’t want to find out. “I don’t think you get to call me the righteous one any more.”

Something like desperate hope flared in Credence’s eyes for a moment before the thorny wit overtook it. “I said self-righteous,” he commented, but the sardonic half-flirtation was so much better than the shame had been written there earlier.

“Just take the compliment,” Graves told him. They were quiet for a moment. Credence eventually leaned his head against Graves’. Graves stayed where he was, fingers moving gently until he could feel the other man’s heartbeat even out and his grip loosen. “We can stay up and talk if you want. But I doubt that four o’clock in the morning is going to make anything look better.”

Credence nodded. “We should sleep.”

“Did my sister make a place for you?”

“Next door. But I’ll probably stay with Modesty.”

Graves was reluctant to pull away. “Goodnight, then,” he said and finally forced himself to move.

“Graves.” Credence followed and kissed him again, briefly. “Thank you.”

“Percival,” Graves told him. “My name is Percival.”

Chapter Text

Graves hadn’t been able to sleep past dawn for years, scarcely three and half hours of sleep or not. His eyes flicked open when the light touched them. He’d fallen asleep fully dressed, shoes and all in his childhood bedroom. A shower, shave and charming his clothes clean cleared his head somewhat, but he still found himself pausing when he left the room to head downstairs. There were four bedrooms on the east wing of the third floor: the master bedroom-- where his parents had slept and which Elaine now shared with Matthew, Elaine’s childhood room, now Izzy’s, his own, and Cador’s.

The door to Cador’s room was slightly ajar, so he stepped inside. A cream-colored armchair was tucked next to a window with a view of the main drive and its oaks. Bookshelves and a desk crowded the rest of the space, nearly obscuring the pale blue walls. They had a study, of course, but Cador had always preferred to read in his room, curled up tightly in the armchair under a blanket and straining across the gap to the desk to scribble down whatever idea he’d had.

Now, however, the room felt empty. The desk should have been cluttered with two or three different half-drunk mugs of coffee, piles of books and a scattering of notes and sketches. Cador’s clothes should have been strewn over the foot of the bed. But Elaine or their parents must have absorbed Cador’s personal collection of books into the family library. The shelves were bare. The bed was neatly made and the worn grey blanket was folded and slung over the back of the armchair rather than haphazardly tossed.

Graves ran his fingers over it and couldn’t help but smile sadly. His fingers caught on the worn, fraying edge and for a moment he could almost see his brother-- light pouring in from the window, quill held in his mouth as he flipped through whatever book he was reading with one hand and fidgeted with the blanket with the other, thumb rubbing back and forth over the hem. He’d worn it ragged in the end and though all of them had offered to give him a new one, Cador had refused.

Besides the blanket and furniture, the only remnant of Cador in the room was his wand stand, still resting on the desk. All of the siblings had one, varnished and carved from dead wood fallen from one of the oaks. His father had said it was the only time that wood dropped from those trees-- when a Graves came of age and needed a wand stand of their own. Graves found the idea a bit ludicrous, bordering on the superstitious, but then again, he couldn’t remember a branch falling except when he, Elaine and Cador had turned eighteen. By all rights, Cador’s wand stand should have been buried with him. But there hadn’t been a body to bury and by the time they’d accepted that Cador wasn’t going to be found and commissioned a memorial stone, it had been months. Digging a grave for piece of wood hadn’t seemed worth it, especially since Elaine was caring for a newborn Izzy and Graves was already in Europe.

“Yeah, I’m an ass, Cay. I know,” Graves told the blanket. He readjusted it carefully so that it laid the way it was when he’d come in, then gave it one last squeeze before leaving.

In the morning room, the house-elves had already laid the side-board with the same silver coffee service. There were three steaming carafes though-- and while Graves could identify one as the chicory coffee for Matthew and another as regular coffee, he was puzzled by the third until he saw Theseus standing near the window with Tina. Tea then.

Matthew was at the sideboard, filling a mug already half-full of warm milk the rest of the way with coffee. Dark-skinned and grey eyed, he stood about the same height as Graves, but wasn’t as bulky. “Percival. Good morning,” he said. “Elaine tells me I missed some excitement last night.”

“Excitement is one word for it.” Graves joined him, reaching for the regular coffee. “I’m sorry; I should have asked you as well.”

Matthew chuckled. “You say that like this isn’t your home.”

It wasn’t, really, but he appreciated Elaine and Matthew’s generosity nevertheless. “We’ll be out of your hair presently.”

“Except for Miss Modesty, I understand?”

Graves glanced at Credence and Modesty, sitting together at the end of the table. The two were wrapped up in each other, heads bent close, talking softly. Modesty laughed and then clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle the sound. Credence’s smile in response was like sunlight after snow; Graves echoed it nearly involuntarily until he caught Theseus watching him with something...almost apprehensive on his face.

Graves turned away and answered Matthew’s question. “Yes. And thank you. Again. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

Matthew nodded. “Of course.”

Theseus had excused himself from Tina and touched Graves’ arm. “Wanna take a walk?” he asked, nodding his head out towards the drive.

Graves followed him. Snow coated the ground and laid thickly on the trees, but the sky was clear from clouds. He could see the summit of Samuel’s Point with ease, rising immense and rocky against the early morning blue.

“I found your lieutenant-- Miss McIlvain?-- at St. Katrina’s when I arrived. She briefed me as much as she was able.” Theseus said as they walked down the drive.

“You know the whole of it then, more or less,” Graves answered. He guessed the “or less” part of that equation was why Theseus had suggested a walk.

“She said Septima is alright and should be discharged soon, but...the knife did something to TJ’s magic? They want to keep him for a day or two.”

“Shit.” Graves bit his lip against the sudden fury. Bartholomew Barebone didn’t get to fuck with his Aurors. Not without repercussions. “How the hell did that happen?”

“New to me too.” Theseus stepped off the drive into the snow underneath one of the centuries-old oak trees. “I’ll send an owl back to the Ministry and see if we have any similar incidents.”

“Thank you.” The tree was wide enough that both of them could lean back against it, shoulders brushing. They were silent for a moment before Graves sighed and set his coffee down in the snow. “My junior Auror is not why you asked me to come out here.”

“Perce. If I were to kiss you-- right now-- would you pull away?” Theseus asked.

“No,” Graves answered. “At least, I don’t think so. But I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Theseus leaned his head back against the tree, eyes cast up at the scattering of cornflower blue through the branches. “The Scourer?”

“...yes.”

"Are you lovers?”

Graves didn’t know how to answer. No, not really, but the idea of it made his pulse pick up. No, not really, but he still remembered the taste of him, brandy-sweet and edged with need. No, not really, but the sight of him made his chest go tight in a way that would terrify Theseus were Graves to admit it. No, not really, but Credence had said I have nothing left and Graves had promised You have me and in the deep blue darkness of his family’s manor, it had sounded like a vow.

“Not yet.” It was the most honest answer he could give.

“Oh bloody hell, Percival.” Theseus pushed away from the tree. “What in God’s name were you thinking?”

Graves hadn’t been thinking. He’d been stabbed. He’d spent hours talking at an implacable enemy, only to discover that feigning sympathy and actually feeling it weren’t that far apart. And that his enemy was a coerced and abused young man. That the zealot would ally with the Devil himself if it meant saving his sister. That the murderer was panicked and vulnerable and desperately needed help.

And then Credence had kissed him in the training room and Graves had barely registered how much he wanted the other man before he was bleeding, seizing, dying in his arms. The idea of it-- of losing Credence, though it wasn’t like Graves had ever had him in the first place-- had shaken him to his core. Could he have still walked away? Handed the case over to Sophie?

No. He remembered his hands shaking, the wandless magic slipping from his control, how desperately he’d wanted Thes by his side. He’d been damned the second Credence kissed him. And that was before he’d seen Credence walk into hell and face the man who had trained him, his anguish as Modesty screamed and sobbed, the pure sunlight in his smile when he’d gotten her to laugh.

Theseus was shaking his head. “Perce. You’re the Director of Magical Law Enforcement and he’s a murderer. A serial killer. He’s going to go on trial. And he’ll be found guilty because you convinced him to confess. And when your judges decide he needs to die, you’ll have to give the order.”

“I know,” Graves said. He’d gotten attached; he was going to pay for it, a painful reckoning written into his future with all the fixity of an Unbreakable Vow.

Theseus raked a hand through his hair. “Can you get uninvolved? End whatever understanding you have with him; let your Aurors handle it?”

A jolt of indignation hit Graves. “Really? I told someone too alright with dying that he wasn’t alone. And you’re going to fault me for that?”

“That’s not the same.” Theseus gestured in agitation. “You weren’t a serial killer. I wasn’t your executioner. Merlin, Perce. Don’t you get it?”

“I get it, Thes.” Graves’ voice had cracked with strain but he was too angry and too hurt to care. “I am standing on a goddamn landmine; you don’t have to fucking tell me!” Whatever Theseus was going to say died in his throat but Graves had cracked already and words came pouring out. “I fucked up; I got attached; I’m going to pay for it. Do you wanna tell me something I don’t know? Like maybe my best friend will be there with a tourniquet when this blows up in my face?”

Theseus’ hand touched his face and Graves wanted to pull away, angry and embarrassed, but the fight had clearly drained out of the other man. “Then we figure out to keep your Scourer alive,” the Brit said. “Because your metaphor is stupid.”

“My metaphor?”

“What kind of wizard gives you a sodding tourniquet when they could just apparate you away?”

Graves started to laugh. It was a short, barking laugh that made his ribs hurt and his eyes burn and it sounded an awful lot like sobbing, but God, it felt like finally being able to breathe.

Graves’ coffee had gone cold by the time he and Theseus walked back to the house, close together, shoulders brushing.

“It’s arguably a Statute of Secrecy concern, especially since Bartholomew and both siblings have magic. If we can make it an ICW affair, that takes execution off the table.” Theseus shrugged. “Guess the Netherlands are good for something after all.”

“Do you have time to put that kind of paperwork together?”

“Our charming magical supremacist has gone quiet, so that task force is on standby. Though---” Theseus made a face. “We think he was corresponding with someone here. Have you encountered any of his sympathizers?”

“Gellert Grindelwald?” Graves shook his head. “Foreign politics usually don’t import well.”

“You are your own particular brand of crazy,” Theseus acknowledged.

They stepped up onto the portico and as Graves reached for the door, Theseus touched his arm. “Perce.”

“Yes?”

Theseus pressed him against the stone wall next to the door, fingers brushing the short-cropped hair on the back of his head. “While I still can,” he said and kissed him.

Theseus was one of the few people who managed to make Graves feel small. The Brit stood four inches taller than him and this close, Graves had to tilt his head up or-- if Theseus was feeling particularly bratty-- stand on his toes. The kiss was easy and familiar; Thes smelled like tea and sugar and the same aftershave he’d used since he was a twenty year old soldier. Graves lingered in it for a long moment, thumb sliding over the Brit’s jaw until they finally parted.

“There,” Theseus said. His smile looked frail.

“Thes. You’re acting like I’m dying. Nothing might come of this. And you still have Caleb.”

“I do have Caleb,” Theseus answered. “And you have your Scourer. And if nothing comes of this, it’ll be because you had to kill him. And you’ll be different for it.”

It wasn’t a conversation Graves wanted to have. “Let’s go inside.”

When they re-entered the morning room, Tina had drifted over to Matthew and Elaine. There seemed to be a tacit agreement that Credence and Modesty would be given as much time together as they could. But they needed to return to MACUSA. Someone had likely already noticed the two Aurors in the hospital and the absence of Graves and the rest of his squad.

“Credence,” Graves said.

Credence started to rise, but Modesty grabbed his hand. “Credence, please…”

“We’ll wait in the hall,” Graves said. It was the tiniest of mercies, but it was all he could give. “Tina. C’mon.”

It was a silent and uncomfortable five minutes before Credence emerged. His eyes were shiny and he avoided meeting anyone’s gaze. “Can you wait until we’re at MACUSA before binding me?” he said softly.

Graves felt like the scum of the earth. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling or one he was used to. “Of course,” he said. He took Credence’s arm and reality spun away beneath them.

MACUSA knew already. Graves hadn’t expected to send two seriously injured Aurors to the hospital and not have the Security Committee find out. He had just enough time to send Credence back to the cells with the first Auror he could grab and ask Theseus to pass the word to his squad that as far as they were concerned, this had been an approved operation.

“Director.” Argus Branson approached him and Tina.

“...how furious is the Committee?”

“I have never heard the President yell before.”

Graves bit back something immensely juvenile and sarcastic. “Let’s get this over with. Tina, with me.” Having a second Auror to attest to Credence’s cooperation couldn’t hurt.

The same clear December light as at the manor was filtering into the Pentagram Chamber but it did nothing to dispel the palpable tension in the air.

“Would you like to brief us on the events of last night, Director?” Picquery asked calmly. Maybe she had been yelling before, but now she was all serene calm and implicit threat, hands steepled in front of her.

“Someone at MACUSA made an attempt on Credence Barebone’s life,” Graves told her. “A slow-acting curse. Given that meant that Bartholomew Barebone was likely aware of his defection, I judged that Modesty’s safety was at risk and removed her from the situation.”

“An operation we had explicitly forbidden you to undertake,” Representative Vinaver reminded him. “And which you felt no need to inform us of.”

Clearly implying they were all traitors had been slightly too subtle. “Very few people knew that Credence was here-- that number includes everyone in this room and all their staff. And you’re asking why I didn’t inform you before launching a sensitive operation? Because I wasn’t intending on getting myself, my Aurors or anyone else killed.”

“Graves. No one is questioning your dedication or your tactical acumen.” Laurel Sapherine intervened and Graves hid a wince. Sapherine was one of the moderates on the Committee. If she was willing to go on the attack… “But there are checks and balances for a reason, Director. This committee exists to ensure that the DMLE doesn’t abuse its already considerable authority.”

“This committee which could be compromised.”

“What are you alleging?” Vinaver had finally gotten the memo.

“I am not alleging. I am doing math. The risk of compromise was too great so I acted on my own authority. My Aurors returned safely, albeit with injuries. Credence Barebone is back in his cell.”

“But there were other costs to that mission, Graves.” Gabriel was speaking now. “The allegations you’ve leveled are serious and they will absolutely be investigated to the best of our abilities. But the existence of a Scourer faction is a serious risk to our security--- and you’ve provoked them. How do you think Bartholomew Barebone will react now that we’ve struck at him?”

“Undoubtedly there’s another safe house. Once we get a list of those locations from Credence, we’ll be able to wrap him up quickly.”

“But you’ve told us he has an informant,” Gabriel answered. His voice was almost gentle, conciliatory and Graves knew the consequences for getting Modesty were going to be long-lasting and severe. Well, he’d kissed Credence knowing he was going to pay for it even if he hadn’t quite expected it to be so soon. “Isn’t it possible you’ve provoked him to desperate action? You’ve put us at risk.”

“I have not--”

“You’ve put MACUSA at risk of exposure, Graves.” Picquery interrupted him. “The Committee has already deliberated. You are suspended from your positions as Director and Senior Auror for a period of no less than two weeks.”

It was like the President had hit him and the blow was almost as staggering as the knife that Credence had put in his ribs. Not just suspended from the directorship, but as an Auror as well. He wouldn’t be able to come into work, to conduct the investigation, to check on his squad. To talk to Credence and the pain at that idea was so intense he had to redirect it into fury.

Before he could say anything, though, Tina stepped in front of him.

“May I address the Committee?” Her voice barely carried in the Pentagram Chamber, but it got Picquery’s attention.

“Miss Goldstein.”

She swallowed visibly. “Mr. Graves has rapport with the asset. He was the reason Mr. Barebone turned himself in. I--- I think if you suspend him, you’ll also hamper the investigation. And if there is a possibility that Bartholomew Barebone will get desperate, don’t we need Credence talking?”

“She does have a point, Madam President,” Laurel Sapherine spoke again.

“That ‘rapport’ you speak of has him so compromised that he defied this committee and abused his authority!” Vinaver protested.

“Rescuing an eight year old girl is abusing my authority?” Graves asked but the Committee was already caught in their deliberations. It was like he wasn’t even in the room and he hated it.

“Perhaps Graves could remain in his position as Senior Auror. With someone else overseeing his actions, the damage he could do would be minimal,” Gabriel suggested quietly.

“Seconded,” Sapherine answered. Graves ground his teeth as they called for a vote.Vinaver and Asper against. It wasn’t surprising. Asper had opposed his confirmation to begin with and Vinaver still hadn’t forgiven Graves for publicly (and loudly) asking him if he remembered that Virginia had lost the Civil War. Connelly, Moreau, Sapherine and Aurelian for. It was odd. Gabriel was charismatic, influential, descended from one of the first twelve Aurors, like Graves himself. He could usually be counted to sway either Sapherine or Connelly, sometimes both. Had the prior vote go so badly that he hadn’t been able to win over either?

“Resolved, then,” Picquery declared. “Graves, you may remain in your position as Senior Auror.” She glanced around the room. “Mr. Aurelian, you had Auror training before joining Congress. Would you accept a nomination as interim Director?”

Graves was being placated and he knew it. Gabriel Aurelian’s nomination was a bone Picquery was throwing him. She knew if he had to serve under anyone on this blasted committee, he’d rather it be Aurelian. He had to get out of this room before he hit someone or started screaming.

“Is my presence required for this, Madam President?” he asked instead.

“No. But wait in the antechamber.” Of course. Because Picquery would have to strip the Director’s privileges from his wand and transfer them to Gabriel. He supposed he should be grateful that she intended to do it privately rather than right now in front of the Committee, but he couldn’t summon the emotion.

“Madam President,” he said crisply and left the room.

It didn’t take long before Gabriel and Picquery emerged.

“Your wand, Graves,” Picquery asked and Graves had to bite back instantaneous refusal. He wouldn’t look at Gabriel, focusing instead on the other man’s rigid hornbeam wand as Picquery cast the spells.

She left them alone afterwards.

“I’m sorry things went this way, Percival,” Gabriel said. “Picquery was furious when she heard what you’d done.”

“...someone still tried to kill Credence. That same person likely has been giving Bartholomew names and addresses of targets,” Graves told him. “I’m still investigating everyone who knew Credence was here. That includes the Committee and its staff. And you and yours.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you,” Gabriel said.

Graves felt like an idiot. Of course Gabriel wouldn’t expect anything less. He wasn’t really even angry at Gabriel, but the man was here and taking Graves’ position. Civility was about all Graves could manage.

“This afternoon, if you can, I’d like you to bring me up to speed,” Gabriel said. “You said you recovered Modesty. She should be placed in a state home until we can take a stab at finding her next of kin.”

“She’s at Graves Hall. I’d like her to remain there,” Graves answered. If he could avoid telling Gabriel a bald-faced lie, he would.

“Don’t give the Committee any more reason to suspect you’re compromised,” Gabriel said. “Just bring her here and we’ll find her next of kin.”

There was no helping it. “I am her next of kin, Gabriel. She’s my daughter.”

Gabriel blinked, pushing his thin glasses up on his nose. “You’re joking.”

“I’m not. Her mother passed away and she ended up mixed up with the Scourers but she’s mine.” Graves produced the birth certificate from inside his jacket. “Take it up with the Ministry.”

For the briefest of moments, there was something ugly on Gabriel Aurelian’s handsome face as he looked over the document. “Don’t bullshit me, Percival.”

“Take it up with the Ministry or back my play.” Graves said.

Gabriel smiled. For a moment, Graves thought he must have imagined the look of chilly anger mere seconds before. “Of course. Just keep me informed.”

“You are the Director, after all,” Graves said and it managed almost to sound gracious.

Gabriel chuckled. “Interim, Percival, don’t worry. No need to clear out your office.”

“I appreciate it,” Graves said. “Do you need anything else from me?”

Gabriel shook his head and Graves had turned to go when the other man spoke anew. “Oh. Before I forget. Do you have any leads on what happened to that young man? Credence Barebone.”

Graves thought about the toxic yellow magic that the mediwizard had pulled out of Credence. He’d asked for it to be sent to Ilianora Vane down in the Research Division. Doctor Vane was resourceful and clever; she would find a lead if she hadn’t found one already. He kept his back to Gabriel.

“No,” he lied. “I don’t.”

Chapter Text

Taylor’s magic wasn’t better. Graves could see that as the junior Auror tested himself in the training room.

“Damnit!” Taylor’s Stupefy inexplicably fizzled out, though the prior two had been strong and sure.

Bartholomew Barebone had nearly destroyed Taylor’s shoulder three days ago. The mediwizards had put the joint back together with relative ease, but they’d been unable to do anything about his unreliable magic. It wasn’t psychological; they’d plied Taylor with Euphoria Elixirs until he was giggling and flirting with Sophie. His spells had been just as inconsistent.

So there were only two things they knew. It had to be the injury. And if Graves were to ask Taylor to retake his field qualifications, he would fail.

“Just write me a good recommendation for the Research Division. Please. Boss.” Taylor lowered his wand down to his side and scuffed his boot against the floor.

“Not giving up my Auror because the mediwizards can’t do their job,” Graves joined him in the center of the room. “But I can’t have you in the field. Hand in your coat and hat. We’ll try again in two weeks.”

Taylor winced. “Yes, sir.”

Graves didn’t like it either. But if the junior Auror’s magic wasn’t reliable, putting him in the field to salve his wounded pride would get himself or another Auror hurt. Not that his team was seeing much fieldwork at the moment. Credence had provided them with a list of every safe house he could remember, but the sweeps had been given to other squads. Argus Branson and Morena Campbell had gone with their teams and returned empty-handed, speaking of cold hearths filled with burned papers.

The Committee had only begrudgingly cooperated and each representative seemed to take the investigation as a personal insult. If they had been junior Aurors, Graves would have hauled them into his office and dressed them down for their nonsense. The investigation wasn’t about them and the best thing they could do was help him exonerate them as quickly as possible.

But...try telling a politician that something wasn’t about them.

Taylor hadn’t picked his eyes up off the floor, but there wasn’t any helping it. Was there? Graves ran through the tests the young man would have to pass. A Patronus. Apparition. A Shield Charm of sufficient strength to stand up to another Auror. A repertoire of at least five hexes or curses. A combat test.

Which you did not have to win through magic. It wouldn’t help him with any of the spellwork, but it would at least give him a chance. “Taylor,” Graves said quietly.

“Yeah, boss?”

“How do you feel about knives?”

 

“I have never taught anyone how to do this,” Credence argued as he stood in the training room with Graves and Taylor. “I don’t know how.”

“Well, how were you taught?”

Credence glanced up at Graves with dark eyes. “I don’t think you want me hurting your Auror.”

Graves winced. “Just...do your best.”

He produced the Scourer’s wand from his pocket, wrapped in a handkerchief to shield his own skin. He’d borrowed the blackthorn weapon from the Research Division, though Ilianora Vane insisted she wasn’t done examining it. Still, Graves had thought Credence might be more comfortable with a familiar wand, disloyal or not.

When Credence took the wand, though, Graves smelled ozone and burnt flesh. Credence dropped it with a sharp cry of pain. The younger man’s palm was scorched; a red line blistered across his palm. The wand had burned him--- as badly as it had ever burned Graves.

“Do blackthorn wands do that?” Taylor asked. He crouched and used his cuff to pick the wand off the hardwood training floor and return it to Graves.

“It’s one hundred and sixty years and spiteful as they come, so maybe this one does.” Graves answered, taking the wand from Taylor. “Whether that’s the Graves or the Barebone rubbing off, your guess is as good as mine.”

“Graves?” Credence echoed.

“Your wand matches the description of Valeriane Graves’. She was an Auror, sent to make sure Bartholomew died in prison.” Graves shrugged and tucked the wand back into his suit jacket. It bothered him more than he wanted to admit that a Graves’ wand could be so co-opted, that an Auror’s wand, meant to protect and defend, could be used to kill innocent witches or wizards.

“...but he’s not dead,” Taylor offered unhelpfully.

“No. But she is.” Graves drew his own wand and offered it to Credence. “No one mention this to our Interim Director.” Lending a prisoner a wand was definitely against some sort of protocol. Though, since Graves was only Senior Auror now, Credence couldn’t simply use the wand to Disapparate.

Silver linings.

“Are you staying, Boss?” Taylor asked Graves.

Graves nodded. “Not a test though.” He jerked his chin towards Credence. “I’m his keeper until he’s back in his cell.”

“Keeper?” Credence murmured with an arched eyebrow and just like that, it was three a.m. in his family’s manor again and Graves could taste him, honey and spice and the faintest trace of salt tears. Three days of committee meetings and paperwork had apparently done nothing to the insane connection between him and the Scourer. Not that he’d wanted to break away; he’d made a promise there in the darkness of his family’s manor, but still...

“Right!” Taylor’s voice was edged with something that sounded like panic. “So knives! I know nothing about them besides they really hurt when they get put in your shoulder.”

“Well. That’s a start...” Credence turned to Taylor, taking the knife from him and testing its balance and its weight. Graves took a seat on one of the benches against the wall as Credence showed Taylor the proper grip for a knife. “Your rib cage is a kind of armor; it’s...hard to get a knife in. Miss and you’ll slide off. That accuracy takes a long time to learn so…” Credence glanced back to Graves. “Percival. How does your department feel about lethality?”

“Percival?” Taylor muttered under his breath.

Graves ignored him. “Not ideal, but it happens.”

“So you’ll be aiming for the abdomen.” Credence took Taylor’s hand and showed him on his own body where the bones of his rib cage gave way to the more vulnerable target. “Taller your enemy, the more space you have. The center of the body gives you more space as well.”

Graves couldn’t help watching them over the paperwork. Although they seemed to be about the same age (and that was a thought on which Graves wasn’t lingering), that was the only similarity the two young men shared. Credence was half a head taller than Taylor, but gaunt and dark-haired, jaw still tense with lines of stress and grief. Taylor was wiry and small, sandy brown hair tousled and blue eyes still curious and remarkably happy despite all the reasons he had to be anything but.

Credence wasn’t a bad teacher, though Graves could see him struggle when Taylor made mistakes, unsure of the correct way to react.

“No. Ah. Not quite. Here.” Credence adjusted Taylor’s grip. “You’re used to a wand grip. That’s fine. This is just different.”

“Okay. It’s heavier than a wand.”

“Shorter too.”

“Like this, then?” Taylor shifted.

“Better.”

Graves glanced down at the paperwork to hide the small smile of pride. No wonder the vicious blackthorn wand had ceased to work for Credence. The Scourer moved into actual sparring quicker than Graves necessarily would have, but it made sense. Credence’s own training would have been on the fly. It was a sink or swim sort of training; with his magic unreliable, Taylor had to use the knife to keep up with Credence.

Well, mostly. Some things were just ingrained and in a moment of pressure, Taylor shifted shape, sending beak and talons into Credence’s face. The Scourer recoiled instinctively; there was simply no way to train away the feral, primitive desire not to lose your eyeballs . He nearly fell and Taylor shifted back, dropping his full weight onto Credence’s chest and putting the knife tip against his stomach.

“How about that?” he asked and he was grinning.

Credence burst out laughing in sheer delight. “That was amazing. You have to show me how you do that.”
Taylor stood and offered Credence a hand up. “I’ve got a manual with all of my notes in it. You can have it. I’d love to see what animal you pick.”

“Taylor,” Graves warned quietly.

“Murderers don’t keep their wands. And mine hates me to begin with,” Credence said quietly. He bit his lip and after his obvious joy at seeing Taylor transform up close, the smile he offered now was thin and drawn and obviously fake. “I-- I’d like to read it anyway. I’ve re-read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd at least twice now.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’ll do that.” Taylor rocked back and forth uncomfortably on his heels. “Look. Maddie wanted to do a follow-up interview with you,” he said to Credence. “She’s probably still eating lunch. And her lunch is always good. If we go now, she might Multiply it and share.” He glanced to Graves. “Am I qualified to be his keeper?”

Graves nodded and caught his wand when Credence tossed it back to him. “Have Maddie send me her report. He needs to talk to Theseus for the ICW as well.”

 

Representative Vinaver, of all people, had been the first member of the Security Committee to provide his staff list. Graves had been going through the names with his team, dividing up the research and scheduling interviews for the better half of the afternoon. He’d been suspended from his position as Director. How was he still doing this much paperwork?

He straightened up from where he was leaning on Sophie’s desk and suddenly had to double back over coughing as his still-scarred lung protested.

“Percival?” Sophie looked up at him in alarm.

He kept coughing. “Just….keep going. Coffee.” He nearly apparated directly out of the building before he realized his wand wouldn’t let him anymore, so he went to the atrium instead and stepped out onto the portico of the Woolworth Building.

The shock of cold, wet air didn’t help. The recently fallen snow had been churned into slush by passing cars and pedestrians and the sky was grey with the promise of more. Graves’ chest hurt like his ribs had been broken. They hadn’t though. Credence had accuracy in spades; the knife had slipped between the bones and cartilage with ease. It was just the scars and there was nothing to be done about that besides time and dittany.

By the time the coughing had eased, Graves’ throat felt raw, but he’d not spat up any blood. He leaned his head back against the wall of the Woolworth Building and rested his hand on the scar. Wound or not, he didn’t regret Credence, but it wouldn’t be a relationship in anything close to the normal sense. Even what he had had with Theseus seemed more conventional by contrast. Graves was the old fling, the old flame, carefully consigned to New York and allowed to continue because Caleb only cared that Theseus came home to him. But neither he nor Theseus had ever faced prison, faced execution. So he would do what he could do for Credence; and he would enjoy as much as he could of Credence. And when things ended…

Well then it would hurt.

A sharp gust of wind made him tuck his head into his collar, eyes stinging with the cold and he heard a newsstand attendant curse sharply as he chased his display copy of The New York Times down Barclay Street. It had nearly reached Broadway when the wind died down and it fluttered anticlimatically into a grey puddle of slush, slowly darkening as it soaked through.

I’ve re-read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd at least twice now, Credence had said, eyes down and smile fake when Graves had reminded him of his situation. His wand didn’t simply refuse to work for him any longer; it wasn’t even his anymore. It was evidence, property of the Research Division as they made it cough up every spell it had ever performed. Taylor’s magic had delighted the young man, but he would never get to do it himself.

Graves checked his wallet to make sure he actually had No-Maj money and caught the man as he returned defeated to the newsstand and tacked up a fresh copy to the display board.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but what paperbacks do you have?”

He would do what he could for Credence.

 

He was only halfway through Vinaver’s list by the time he finally noticed the silence in the Woolworth Building. He rarely activated the Silencing Charms in his office unless he was discussing classified information, preferring to hear the quiet bustle of people moving about and talking in the hallways, the faint clamor of the atrium and the lower floors drifting upwards. He could almost tell time by the noise--- the slow uptick in the morning, the brief hush around noon, the lingering diminuendo of the afternoon. It was silent now, though; the building must be nearly deserted. Nine o’clock? Ten o’clock?

When he’d come back in from the newsstand, Credence had still been with Theseus and Doctor Vane had been in a meeting, so he’d gone to his office, intending to try again later. Which---well clearly he wasn’t returning the blackthorn wand to the Research Division tonight, but he could at least give Credence his book.

Graves carefully locked Valeriane Graves’ corrupted wand in his desk and took the elevator down into the cells. Credence’s cell was on a high security floor. Authorizing the elevator required a spell from Graves’ wand and for a moment, he wondered if he still had the authorization to do so. But Senior Auror must have been enough. When he arrived, the floor was dim, with the faint chill that never quite left the Woolworth Building’s subterranean floors.

Credence’s cell was at the end of the floor, but as Graves approached it, it seemed like the young man was asleep. Graves considered simply leaving the book there, but as he got closer, he could tell that something was wrong. The Scourer was curled on his side, shoulders shuddering, skin damp with sweat. Even in the dim light of the cell, he was clearly distressed.

Graves had his wand in hand to open the door nearly without thinking about it and then hesitated. Don’t give the committee any more reason to suspect you're compromised, Gabriel Aurelian had warned but...Graves was all Credence had.

Graves unlocked the door and stepped inside. “Credence.” The young man didn’t react to his voice, so Graves crossed to the bed and sat down on the foot, touching the younger man’s arm. “Credence?”

The Scourer’s eyes snapped open, breath coming hard, pupils dilated. It took him a moment to focus, to see Percival sitting there.

“Are you alright?” the older man asked.

“Yeah.” Credence sat up and tried to calm his breathing down. It had been years since he’d had that dream though, fire and blood and a woman screaming. It left him feeling raw and vulnerable and he glanced away. “What, do I have another interview?”

“No. I just--” Percival reached into his jacket. “Here. You seem to like mysteries, so…” He handed Credence a blue-grey paperback with red title lettering. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers and Credence had a vague memory of having read a battered used version of the woman’s first novel.

“They’re inexpensive and easy to find,” Credence answered as he turned the book over and read the back. He’d never thought about it, honestly. He read what he could find: mysteries, non-fiction, no matter. He’d stumbled on The Sheik at fourteen and spent three months blushing madly every time he thought about it--- and wondering why he found Ahmed more appealing than Diana. But hearing Percival say it, he wasn’t actually sure he liked mysteries. Lord Peter Wimsey returned from a vacation in Corsica, only to discover that his sister’s fiance had been murdered. Why did every story have to begin with someone’s death?

Still, the book was new; binding unbroken. Percival had bought this, gone out of his way to do so, chosen that one in particular. He’d...wondered, honestly. He’d nearly begged the Auror to kiss him in the early morning darkness outside the room where Modesty slept, dragged him close by his lapels and reached for skin, for touch. He could have done more, too. Could have done more, could have asked the older man if there was somewhere private they could go, could have been Percival’s any way the older man wanted him.

Should have, maybe, too.

“Thank you,” Credence finally managed. “I…started TJ’s manual, but it’s a little dry.” Sweat was cooling on his skin and the chill of the basement, all dark stone and wrought iron, bit more deeply. He pulled his knees to his chest but still felt a shiver run down his spine.

Tepeo.” Percival’s hand brushed against Credence’s collar and he could feel warmth coat his skin, his veins. It was the same spell that Septima had done for him. That he had done for Nick in the Everard Baths only--- god, was it only four days ago? Five days? Five days since he’d gone to the baths to get Percival out of his system and now he was sitting in a cell as the Auror looked at him with a faint thread of concern. “Do you want to tell me what was bothering you?”

So Credence did.

“Just a nightmare.” Fire and smoke, a man and a woman shouting. He’d had it before and it hadn’t taken him long to reason out that his birth parents must have died in a fire. It had….helped, honestly, as a child. To know that he hadn’t been given up. But there were other parts that hadn’t made sense--- the iron tang of blood, the opalescent flares and dazzling sparks of what must be magic. Eventually, his Ma had convinced him that the magic and the blood, the screaming was what happened to witches. His parents had pacted with demons who had come to claim their due.

“We find them young; I get the ones with talent and your ma gets the squibs for her preaching.”

”Your mother was a wicked and unnatural woman.”

But Credence had never been able to tell from the dream which of his parents had been the one to wield the magic.

“...no.” Credence heard Percival’s baritone a million miles away asking what was wrong. The Auror’s charm had failed or maybe there was nothing magic could do for the ice that had been dumped into his veins. He was shivering again; hands going numb like the worst days of a New York winter, when he’d been a gloveless child handing out pamphlets, before the Ilvermorny letter had confirmed his talent, before Ma had surrendered him to Bartholomew---

Ma and Bartholomew. Who had killed his parents.

Someone was making hoarse, choking sounds as if they’d been gutted, a knife between the ribs to open up the lungs, drowning in their own blood. He’d done it to Percival, as easy as breathing, watched the man hit the pavement and bleed on Bartholomew’s orders-- Bartholomew who had killed his parents-- but it was his own voice now.

“Credence. Credence!” Percival’s hand was on his arm and Credence latched onto it, something solid and stabilizing while the world spun out of alignment again. The Auror was muscled under him and his cologne was a mix of woodsmoke and spice every time Credence gasped for breath.

He didn’t know how long it took for the cell to resolve itself back into focus, for his breathing to steady and Percival’s voice to turn into something that wasn’t just sound pitched to calm. Credence had collapsed-- or Percival had pulled him close. His forehead rested against the Auror’s neck and the older man’s fingers caressed his hair. For a moment, it was just tempting to stay there, to take a moment’s sanctuary before he had to answer the inevitable question and to speak aloud what he had realized. Though…

“Are you seriously reciting regulations?” Credence’s voice was less steady than he liked, but he didn’t sound broken and that was what mattered.

“It was that or British war poetry,” Percival answered, shoulders moving under Credence as he shrugged.

“You must be a riot at parties.”

Percival clearly wasn’t going to be distracted by the sarcasm. “Do you want to tell me what that was?”

Credence didn’t, but he owed the other man an explanation. “When I was a child, I used to have...dreams about how my parents--- my birth parents-- died. Still do. I thought it was just a fire at first, but--” he swallowed. “I think Bartholomew and my Ma had something to do with it.”

“Merlin.” Percival shifted like he was shaking his head and his grip tightened slightly on the back of Credence’s head, thumb moving on the back of his neck. “I’m sorry.”

“I killed for him. I nearly gave you to him.” Credence looked up at Percival. Percival who had risked his career for him. To give him his sister back. Who was here for the stupid, trivial reason that Credence had wanted something else to read. Beautiful dark-eyed Percival and Credence couldn’t help but take the comfort that was being offered. He tilted his head up and kissed him.

They were in the basement of the Woolworth Building, nothing hiding them from anyone that would come by but Credence didn’t care. He’d been been a fool and a zealot, killing for the people who had murdered his parents--

Like he’d murdered Emmeline Grey. Orphaned him like he’d orphaned Isabel and Alexander, her twins, and Credence suddenly felt less okay taking comfort in Percival’s lips. He flinched and pulled away.

“What is it?” Percival touched his face.

“...they did this to me and then I did it to other people.” Credence looked away. “There’s no coming back from that.”

“Then do better.” Percival’s voice was steady and unflinching. “There’s no magic in the world that can undo what you did, so...do better. Help us stop Bartholomew and do what you can to make it better.”

“How do I do that?” Credence asked him. He had only ever wanted to be good. He had swallowed his nausea at the screams of the people he’d killed, how human they had looked, all on the faint hope that he wouldn’t be damned by the magic in his blood. In hoping to avoid damnation, he’d walked into it. In hoping for salvation by grace, he’d achieved damnation by works. He would take whatever frail hope Percival could give him.

“Start by showing me your dream,” Percival said. “I’m an Auror. We make them pay for your parents and that...starts by knowing who they are.” When Credence nodded wordlessly, Percival tilted his chin up. “Legilimens.”

Intense heat and a smoke so intense it made him-- Graves? Credence? The strange fusion of both of them created by the Legilimency-- cough and wail in infantile panic. The walls were painted shifting orange-yellow-red with flames, black at the baseboards with scorch marks. Above their own wailing, shouting. A man; a woman. Magic flared; blue-green-opalescent and layered in the dream now the seasoned Auror’s voice:

Scindere. Fulmen. Confringo. Lethal curses. Clear intent.

It was nearly impossible to breath. They---Graves, Credence, one of them, both of them-- had given up on wailing, unable to fill their lungs enough to do so.

The cradle they were lying in rocked suddenly, precipitously and then there was a face above them. A woman, dark curling hair and ice-blue eyes. A jawline that on her brother was impossible not to notice.

How? Impossible! One of them broke away.

Graves broke the spell, gasping for breath, coughing as it stretched and strained the scars in his lungs.

“You recognized her.” Credence looked at him pleadingly. In the shared memory, it had been impossible for Graves to conceal the sudden shock of recognition. “You recognized her.”

Graves reached out and touched Credence’s face, thumb sliding over his face. How had he not seen it before now? The fair Gothic coloring, the strong jaw and slender build. His eyes must have come from his father but now that he knew, the resemblance was uncanny.

“Your mother’s name is Miranda Aurelian,” he said softly. “I knew her. And your uncle Gabriel is still alive.”

Chapter Text

Graves reached out and touched Credence’s face, thumb sliding over his skin. How had he not seen it before now? The fair Gothic coloring, the strong jaw and slender build. His eyes must have come from his father but now that he knew, the resemblance was uncanny.

“Your mother’s name is Miranda Aurelian,” he said softly. “I knew her. And your uncle Gabriel is still alive.”

Credence was silent for a long moment, fingers agitated on the bed. “....you knew her.”

“Yes.” Graves answered. “Not well, but…”

“Tell me.” Credence glanced up at him. “Please.”

Graves talked. Miranda had been three years older than him, in Horned Serpent rather than Wampus. He had to explain what the houses meant-- that Horned Serpents were the scholars. Miranda had been one to the hilt. Her favorite place in Ilvermorny had been the scattering of chairs hidden in the Charms section of the library, where it was quiet enough to read but you could still hear the hustle of students moving to and fro. She had loved poppyseed cake and charming little bits of paper into dueling knights when she was bored or couldn’t focus. She had been good and kind and Gabriel had always been able to pester her into helping with homework.

And she had died twenty-one years ago. Graves had gone to the funeral in Philadelphia, seen Gabriel’s red-rimmed eyes, seen him shake with tears and what had confusingly looked like rage. Dragon pox, Miranda’s parents had said, but looking at her half-blooded son now, having seen the memory of the fire, he assumed the Aurelians had lied, concealing the so-called shame of their wayward daughter’s violation of the Rappaport Law. Better dragon pox than dead in a fire with her No-Maj husband.

Had they known about Credence? Presumed he died in the fire? Simply never dared to ask the question?

Graves had run out of stories to tell, memories to give. His voice had gone hoarse. He had no idea what time it was now, but his eyelids were heavy with fatigue. “I’m sorry,” he told Credence. “I wish I knew more.”

“It’s alright,” Credence said. “Can’t be helped.”

“Do you want me to tell Gabriel?” He had his suspicions about the man, though they were nothing more than a vague uncertain sense in his stomach, a feeling like the silence in the war when the artillery stopped firing and you were never sure if the Germans had given up or an infantry charge was coming.

Credence gave a half-laugh. “Because he’d want a murderer Scourer for a nephew.”

“You’re Miranda’s son,” Graves said. “Gabriel adored his sister. He’d forgive you anything.”

“I don’t know. Not yet?” Credence rubbed a bit of the sheets between thumb and forefinger. “It seems cruel, doesn’t it? If she mattered so much to him, to tell him she had a son that was going to be executed.”

“You’re not going to be executed,” Graves said.

“It’s what I deserve.”

There is no coming back from that, Credence had told him and Graves had answered do better. As if it were that easy to have hope, when all you’d ever been raised on was damnation. Graves had spent more time than he wanted to admit paging through the Gideon Bible he’d stolen from St. Regis. Leviticus alternately had given him a headache and made him want to set the damn thing on fire. The genealogies had been as complicated as his own family tree and the Song of Solomon had made him wonder if Senator Shaw and his Protestant Prohibitionists had actually read their own sacred text.

Maddie had needed to put him on the right track. “The point of it is God’s impossible faith-- and that’s what you want to remind him of. That mercy is mercy precisely because it is undeserved.”

Maddie had given him the verse; Graves said it now. ““For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace.”

Credence’s eyes lifted from the sheets. “Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” he said quietly. “Chapter three, verses twenty-three and twenty-four. You…”

“Stole the Bible out of the hotel room,” Graves spread his hands and immediately felt foolish. What was he doing, trying to argue chapter and verse with someone who had that sort of encyclopedic knowledge? “None of it makes sense to me but you seem to live in it, so--”

Credence kissed him, sliding a hand across the close-trimmed hair on the back of his head. Even in the chill of the basement, the younger man’s mouth was hot against his, breath warm as he laughed softly. “You’re an idiot and a thief, Percival. But thank you.”

The Scourer’s amber eyes were rimmed with brown, still vulnerable and tinged with despair but the hint of humor in them made Graves’ chest go tight. “I told you,” he said, a reminder and a promise. “You have me. From now until the end.”

“That’s not a promise you have to keep,” Credence told him softly and kissed the corner of his mouth.

“Shush.” Graves tilted Credence’s head with two fingers, making the kiss a proper one. The Auror kept his promises. Even this one. Especially this one, when he had no idea how much time he’d have to keep it.

He didn’t know what time it was-- nearly midnight? Theseus had probably let himself into the brownstone hours ago and the thought of the Brit asleep in his bed (probably after having drank his brandy, the brat) gave Graves a momentary pang of guilt. But Credence’s teeth dug into his lower lip, sucking just enough to pull it into his mouth and he commanded all of Graves’ attention in a heartbeat. Even in the darkness, he could see the Scourer’s eyes were black with desire, cheeks flushed. Credence laid back, tousled black hair a stark contrast against the coarse government issue sheets and the movement dragged Graves down with him until he was half-kneeling over Credence on the thin narrow bed.

Merlin, the cells. Graves hated himself for a moment for not taking the younger man to his bed at his family’s estate, where there would have been space enough, time enough, his childhood bed with the skylight spilling stars onto the sheets. But here? In the half-open cells? At his work?

Graves hated the idea even as Credence’s hands settled on his hips to keep him close. He couldn’t help but trace a finger down the younger man’s jaw, brush a thumb over his lips. It wasn’t like they had any other options, especially now, when Gabriel had the ability to review who opened the lock to Credence’s cell, when they did it, and how long they remained. The Scourer’s teeth scraped over the pad of his thumb and Graves replaced it with his mouth, tangling his fingers in the other man’s hair as they kissed.

Credence unfastened the two bottom buttons of his waistcoat and untucked his shirt to get his hands on Graves’ skin. The cells were subterranean cool and damp; the metal support of the bed chilled Graves’ skin even through the leg of his slacks, but Credence’s hands were still warm. The slight scrape of wand calluses against Graves’ abdomen sent a trickle of desire down his spine and he couldn’t help the baritone purr against the other man’s lips. He kissed a line down Credence’s throat and let his tongue slide into the hollow at the base, tasting salt and the bitter tang of lye soap. The younger man trembled with a soft impatient whine and his hands tugged, pulling him close, tighter, fully onto the bed.

“I’m not fragile, Percival. Come here,” Credence said and Graves knew he didn’t mean the eyes red-rimmed from crying, the frantic pounding of his heart and the way his voice had shaken when he asked about Miranda. But still...he wouldn’t argue.

The bed squeaked ominously when it bore their combined weight and Graves’ chuckle was hushed against Credence’s skin. “You may not be. I can’t say the same for this bed.”

“Lucky for me, you’re magic,” Credence muttered and caught at Graves’ hips, the curve of his backside with an impatience that bordered on savagery. Their legs intertwined, hips and knees and shoes--- too much body, too much desire for such a small space but Graves wasn’t going to pull away. He answered Credence’s sharp tongue with a nip and a roll of his hips, earning a hiss in response as Credence’s fingers tightened and he could feel the younger man starting to harden against his thigh.

“And you’re not? I think my left lung begs to differ.”

“You self-righteous son of a--” but Credence’s retort died in a high pitched whine as Graves palmed him through his pants. The Scourer’s hips jerked, spots of colors high in his cheek.

“You were saying?” Graves’ voice was warm with amusement and challenge. The flash of sheer carnal spite he got in return was absolutely worth the sheer insanity of doing this so publicly, in an open cell of a prison sub-basement. Credence lunged up to kiss him, teeth digging into his lower lip, pulling it into his mouth. Graves answered it, aggression for aggression, the kiss turning into tongues and teeth and hissed cursing. Credence squirmed under him, hips pressing and Graves’ hand kept working, fingers teasing and tracing as Credence filled in against him.

“Percival, you fucking....” and Credence lost his voice, burying his head against his shoulder. The younger man’s snarls had gone breathy, then turned to whimpering. “Please. Percival. Please,” and there was a tremor in his voice, a thread of vulnerability that quashed all of Graves’ desire to fight, even in play.

“I got you. I got you, Credence,” Graves murmured, sliding a hand through his hair. He pressed a soft kiss against his temple as he unfastened the younger man’s pants and tugged him free. Credence cried out and arched underneath his hand. The sound rang out loud in the darkness of the cells and Graves silenced him with a kiss.

Credence was hard, starting to leak against Graves’ palm and his breath was warm and damp as he whimpered and shook against the older man’s collar. The Auror hadn’t expected this; hadn’t expected the ferocity to cede to vulnerability and need. He hadn’t expected Credence’s trembling now to remind him so much of how he’d trembled at the knowledge of his mother’s murder. The younger man was coming apart under him, shaking and crying, leaking freely now. It twisted Graves’ heart into knots and made him lean over and murmur reassurances.

“I got you, darling,” Graves told him. The Scourer’s eyes opened wide in a strange sort of startled pleasure before the heat and the friction sent him over the edge and he arched under Graves’ hand, crying out again in the darkness and stillness of the cells.

Graves held him steady. His own mouth was dry with desire, seeing Credence wrung out and sated under him, cheeks flushed and black hair damp with sweat. “You’re beautiful,” he said, brushing his cheek with a thumb.

“You didn’t…” Credence’s hands moved distractedly to Graves’ hips, but his eyes were half-lidded, fluttering with fatigue.

“Another time,” Graves answered. Because there would be another time. Stolen in the cells if he had to or in the relative privacy of his office once he was reinstated, but there would be. Of that, Graves had no doubt. “You should sleep.”

A quick spell cleaned them both off and Graves started to stand but Credence’s hand caught hold of his. “...will you stay?”

The brief reminder of falling asleep next to Credence in the hospital room made him smile. “The interim Director will know how long I stay here. I should step outside, but I’ll stay until you fall asleep. Is that alright?”

Credence didn’t answer, but his grip loosened, letting Graves stand (admittedly with some amount of discomfort) and step outside the cell. He sat down just on the other side, close enough that if Credence were to stretch, he could touch him even through the bars.

He could hear Credence shift and then fingers brushed against his hair, a soft caress. “Goodnight, Percival.”

“Goodnight.”

Graves didn’t mean to stay. The last thing he needed was to be found asleep outside the Scourer’s cell. Theseus was waiting back at the brownstone. But Credence’s hand in his hair was soothing and he found himself first leaning his head against the bars and then letting his eyes slide shut. A whispered spell set the alarm on his watch as final conscious action.

 

Graves’ watch woke silently at half-past six. He was cold and stiff, joints and scarred left lung protesting sleeping in the terrible position. He got to his feet as quietly as possible; the cells were still dark and isolated and Credence was curled tightly on his side, only his dark hair visible outside the covers.

Graves took the elevator back to his office, tucking his shirt back into his pants and doing his best to fix his ruined hair. The Woolworth Building was virtually deserted until he arrived at his office. Theseus was leaning against the door, copper hair already starting to slip out of its tie and falling in tendrils around his face. He looked tired, even though he should have adjusted to the time difference between London and New York by now.

“Thes.”

“Noticed you didn’t come home,” Theseus said as Graves tapped his wand on his office, unlocking it and letting them both inside. “Figured you might want these before anyone else showed up to the building.” He reached inside a Space-Charmed coat pocket and held out a carefully folded dress shirt and tie.

“Thank you,” Graves answered. He locked the door, then shucked off his blazer and unknotted his tie. “I. Uh. Stayed with Credence.”

Theseus choked.. “The cells? Merlin, Perce, that’s bold.”

Graves felt his face heat. “I--.” He couldn’t even protest, could he? But the question made him think of Credence’s pale face flushed with desire, the way his swearing defiance had turned into vulnerability and need. Theseus could probably read all of it off his face, so the Brit certainly didn’t need verbal confirmation. Graves didn’t say a word as he tossed yesterday’s shirt onto the desk and turned towards Theseus for the new one.

“Can’t blame you,” Theseus’ voice was just a little bit sly. “You’ve got good taste in landmines.”

Now Graves choked on nothing but air and luckily his lungs behaved. “You shameless son of a bitch.” He shook his head. It was one of the things he admired most about the other man, honestly. Theseus had walked away from the death and ruin of the battlefield with absolutely no time for other people’s nonsense. The ‘posh men with good breeding’ who dictated what polite society did and did not do had been the same men who had sent them to die. So Theseus wanted what (and who) he wanted, and most everyone who had an issue with it surprisingly shirked away from picking a fight with with the only British citizen who had ever killed a dragon single-handed.

“Merlin, Perce. What did that to you?” Theseus had seen the jagged spiral scar on his left side, where the Mending Charm had twisted flesh and bone together to heal the knife wound. The Brit’s fingers brushed over the mark. “That doesn’t look like any hex I know.”

“It’s a Mending Charm,” Graves told him as he pulled on the spare shirt. “Apparently why it shouldn’t be used on people.” Theseus glanced at him skeptically, clearly waiting for the rest of it. “...he stabbed me. And that was his repertoire of healing spells.”

“Shit.” Theseus shook his head and started to button Graves’ shirt for him. “Guess it’s nice to know you’re still precisely as insane as you were during the war.”

“For a better reason, though,” Graves said, stopping Theseus’ hands for a moment. “I know how much I owe you.” He had been angry and reckless and mourning, desperate to have someone-- anyone-- to blame for Cador’s death. So he’d blamed Germany. Easy enough. He’d arrived in England spoiling for a fight and not much caring if he left it alive; then he’d met a lanky redhead six years his junior who’d loved as recklessly as he fought and who cared about Graves living or dying likely too much for his own good. “I mean it.”

“Don’t.” Theseus got out of his grip and finished buttoning the shirt. “Nostalgia doesn’t suit you.”

“I’ll ask him, Thes. Like you did Caleb.”

“No.” Theseus’ answer was decisive and Graves blinked in confusion.

“No?”

“No.” Theseus shrugged, starting to knot Graves’ tie, hands deft and steady. “I interviewed him too, you know. For the ICW.” He glanced up from his task. “You are the one good thing that has ever happened to that boy and you’re going to ask him to share? No. He doesn’t deserve that.”

“Thes…”

“If you absolutely insist, I won’t…I won’t turn you down. But give it time; let him be confident about you. Don’t fuck this up for yourself.” Theseus finished the tie and gave it a quick tug to make sure it laid straight. “Nostalgia doesn’t suit you.”

Graves didn’t have a way to answer that but he was saved from the necessity by the rattle of a messenger tube. A particularly indignant looking paper mouse tumbled onto his desk. It stood on its hind legs and squeaked insistently until Graves picked it up.

“I’m apparently not the only one who starts work early,” he commented, pulling the magic out of the creature so the paper unfolded on his palm.

WAND?! was only word written on it with an equally terse signature. Vane.

“Damn it.” Graves flipped open his suit jacket and touched the inside pocket, feeling the blackthorn wand still inside.

“Something the matter?” Theseus asked.

“Nora Vane let me take Credence’s wand from the Research Division. And I didn’t give it back last night.” He slipped on the waistcoat and then the jacket. “I should take it back before she gets angrier. Come with me?”

Theseus grinned. “Just because I want to meet anyone you’re afraid of making angry.”

“Nora’s idea of a relaxing day off is figuring out new and inventive ways to punch through Shield Charms. She is smarter than all of Major Investigations put together and she takes absolutely no nonsense.”

“Sounds like your type.” Theseus commented as they took the elevator down. “Why haven’t you proposed yet?”

“She’s blond.” Graves answered blandly, even as the corner of his mouth quirked at Theseus’ teasing. “Clearly the only issue.”

“I see. Only reason.”

“And I’m terrified of her.” Graves was only partially joking. He was deeply grateful that Nora Vane was on the side of the angels. When it came to sheer force, Graves could outclass her, but Major Investigations had brought her in once for the impossible thicket of wards woven around a Dark wizard’s manor. Vane had stood there for five minutes, not a second more (Graves knew this because of course, TJ Oakhurst had been taking bets) before striking the wards with a single precise application of nonverbal magic. The entire interwoven mass of spellwork had shattered like poorly tempered glass.

The elevator arrived on the Research Division’s floor and they stepped off. Early morning light was starting to leak into the atrium of the Woolworth Building, tinting the silence with pale rose sunlight. Nora must have been the first member of her division to arrive; only her office was lit as Graves knocked at the door and then stepped inside.

“Director Graves.” Nora was a slim woman in an impeccably cut grey suit, blond hair streaked with grey and bound in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her office was floor to ceiling bookshelves in dark wood, with only a brief gap for a desk. A large stainless steel table dominated the center of the room and floating atop it in a containment field was a swirling yellow-green ooze that Graves recognized with a hint of discomfort.

“You know it’s only Senior Auror now,” Graves reminded her. He wiped his mouth unconsciously as Theseus closed the door behind them.

“I don’t learn new titles on an interim basis,” Nora said, glancing up from the sheaf of papers she’d been examining. “Though if you keep not answering my memos, I might. I’ve been waiting to speak to your Scourer since yesterday.”

Graves blinked. He’d been occupied with Vinaver’s staff list, but he’d made sure he didn’t have any memos before he’d gone down to the cells to see Credence. “Are you sure?”

Nora flicked two fingers and a mimeograph of her request floated over. “I sent it around five-thirty. You’ve never left before then.”

Graves read it. “I didn’t get this,” he said. “Though if you sent the memo to the Director of Magical Security,, it probably went to Aurelian. He might have left before you sent it.”

“Well, whether you or Aurelian bring him up from the cells, I need to speak to him. If identifying who cast that curse is a priority, I need to know who he’s been in contact with.”

“Contact?” Theseus echoed. “Everyone who’s seen him? Spoken to him? That’s a lot of people. ”

“Touched him.” Nora gestured to the containment field where the magic dripped and contorted in mid-air. “Our more histrionic ancestors called it the Judas Hex. To betray with a kiss-- though really, any kind of skin contact seems to work. I found a few records of its use in the Civil War. You could cast the spell and hold it in dormancy, then transfer it to the first person whose bare skin you touched. A useful way to kill someone without drawing suspicion to yourself.”

Long streams of light across the ancient floor of the Pentagram Office and Picquery’s voice in his ears. “If what he’s told you is true, we’ve been at war for decades and never knew it.” She was talking about Credence, bound and escorted by two guards towards the cells.

Gabriel Aurelian talking to the younger man--- the family resemblance unmistakable now that he saw it-- and extending his hand to shake. Skin on skin.

“....I think we need to get Credence up here now,” Graves said faintly.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure?” Percival asked. As if Credence wasn’t racking his memory, desperately trying to think of anyone else who might have touched him, anyway to avoid condemning the family that he only just had learned he still had.

“I’m sure as I can be,” he finally said. “I don’t remember touching anyone else besides you. And if you’d wanted to kill me, you could have done it in the boarding house.”

“Goddamnit.” Percival pushed a hand through his hair. “That doesn’t make any sense. Gabriel’s an Aurelian. He’s one of the Twelve. He’s got as little reason to get mixed up with the Scourers as I do.”

The copper-haired Brit--- Theseus Scamander?-- gave Percival a look that made the Auror mutter shut the hell up, Thes under his breath. Credence couldn’t help but wonder what Percival had told him.

“No helping it.” Percival started giving crisp orders, “Nora, get up to the President’s Office. Don’t let anyone stop you until you get to Picquery and tell her exactly what you told me. Thes, get my squad and meet me on the 40th floor. Credence, with me.”

It was early, barely eight o’clock, when the Aurors assembled around them on the 40th floor. T.J.’s hair was still damp from the shower; there was still the faint scent of espresso lingering around Maddie Cortez as they listened to Percival speak. “So that’s the situation,” he summed up. “It isn’t official. We could be wrong. But I trust Dr. Vane’s analysis. I trust Credence’s memory. So…” he spread his hands. “Who feels like breaking into Gabriel Aurelian’s office?”

Percival was asking them to follow him, on an instinct, on an impulse, on Credence’s word. Again. The last time he’d done that was to save Modesty. And they would do it, too. These people who loved Percival. Posh blond Sophie McIlvain who even now wore a perfect crimson Cupid’s Bow on her lips and the faint scent of rose and sandalwood on her skin. TJ Oakhurst who didn’t know his own bravery, kind and exuberant and willing to throw his frail bird body at a monster to save a stranger. Warm and steady Septima who still insisted on calling him dear. Clever Tina and cautious Maddie.

Percival would ask them to follow him and they would. They were somehow more of a family than Credence (with the exception of Modesty) had ever had. I’m not your Ma, Mary Lou had said and in the moment, it had felt like rejection. But these people weren’t blood either. Credence could hear it in their voices: TJ’s Bronx, Sophie’s Long Beach, Theseus’ soft Received Pronunciation, Septima’s broad Boston. They were different races, different nationalities, different classes, different ages and God, for a moment Credence wanted nothing more than a family that loved each other as fiercely as Percival’s team.

They’d agreed while Credence was lost in thought, and split into four groups. The Woolworth Building was roughly square, composed of floor after floor of balconies looking out into the immense atrium. Even the winter sunlight gave a glow to the place and far below, Credence could faintly see the immense golden machinery of the Magical Exposure Clock. Aurelian’s office stood roughly in the center of one side of the building. Septima and Sophie lingered on the corner to his right; Maddie and Tina to his left.

Percival stood by T.J., body shifted slightly. He talked quietly about nothing in particular, summing up the last recruiting trip he had taken to Ilvermorny, projecting such a casual air that Credence barely noticed TJ working to undo the wards. Theseus leaned on the railing by Credence, glancing down into the atrium.

“We don’t think Aurelian is here yet, but keep an eye on the elevator,,” he told Credence softly.

“Boss, he’ll know I tampered with this. There’s no way to unravel it nicely,” TJ protested behind them.

“I’ll take the blame. As far as you’re concerned, this is an authorized operation,” Percival told him. “Keep working.”

“You have changed,” Theseus murmured.

“Pardon?” Credence asked.

Theseus shook his head. “Never thought I’d see Perce do anything to endanger his career. Let alone twice in a week.”

“He’s still doing his job though,” Credence said, unable to quite stop himself from defending the older man.

“This time.” Theseus glanced at him. “Modesty, though? That was for you.”

Before Credence could reply, the door clicked open and Percival gestured for them to follow. The two flanking groups of Aurors remained in position, watching for any passerbys, leaving Theseus, Credence, T.J. and Percival to search the room.

“Be quick,” Graves said. “Check for hidden compartments, Concealment Charms.”

Gabriel’s office was large with dark wood flooring. It had an astonishing view over Manhattan, the massive skyscrapers of the island rising defiantly into the blue sky. TJ upended the trashcan and began sorting through the crumpled papers. Theseus unraveled a Locking Charm on Gabriel’s desk. Mahogany bookshelves covered the remaining three walls that weren’t commanded by floor-to-ceiling windows. Credence began scanning through them. He felt for gaps in the pages, books whose weight didn’t correspond to their size. The first few shelves were legal tomes, bound in red leather with careful gold lettering on the spine. The Acts and Decrees of the Magical Congress of the United States of America. One book for each of the last twenty years and a few that were older: 1914, 1863, 1790.

“Boss, he got the memo from Vane about wanting to speak to Credence. It’s crumpled up here.” TJ volunteered from the floor, surrounded by bits of paper. “It looks like he already came in this morning.”

“So he’s here.” Graves’ jaw was tense. “We need better proof than this. Thes, any luck on his desk?”

“Not yet. Son of a bitch is paranoid.”

“Or an appropriately cautious traitor.”

There was a series of green-and-yellow books that seemed to be an analysis of Rappaport’s Law and a battered velo-bound report from 1920: The Impact of the Rappaport Law on American Wizarding Casualties: April 1917- Nov. 1918 by G.M. Aurelian. It was enchanted, though, the magic so tightly and elegantly woven that Credence nearly passed over it. He pulled the report out and flipped through the pages. The abstract argued that the Rappaport Law had lead to comparatively more wizarding deaths on the American side as opposed to the British system, which marked wizarding units as “irregulars,” allowing them to be identified and moved out of No-Maj field hospitals even when unconscious.

His eyes skidded over a small space at the bottom of the title page, unwilling to focus there. A Concealment Charm? Credence closed his eyes and forced his own will, his own magic against it until it collapsed with a scorched smell and something clattered to the floor.

“...so much for unraveling…” Theseus said quietly, but he seemed impressed.

Credence could see a neatly written inscription on the title page that the magic had concealed. A fascinating report. Tragic too. We should talk about it. - GG He picked up what had fallen and saw it was a necklace-- a complicated symbol with a halved circle embedded in a triangle.

“Percival,” he said and held it up. “What is this?”

“...oh sodding hell,” Theseus scrambled over to him to examine the pendant, chewing agitatedly on his lip. “Perce, what do the Scourers want?”

“...exposure. War,” Percival said slowly.

“Your zealots and my fascist want the same thing. They just disagree on who wins that war.” Theseus was shaking his head. “Sodding hell.”

Credence was about to ask who Theseus’ fascist was when something suddenly lurched. It felt like a botched Apparition, reality spinning in and out of focus. Had he apparated? He didn’t think so. He could see Gabriel’s office, the wide dark hard wood and the shelves full of books. TJ was retching and Theseus’ voice was clear and urgent-- Perce, what the hell is going on? but there was another building, another room laid on top of it like a fever dream-- popcorn stucco ceilings and incandescent lights. A woman in a cloche hat and cardigan sat behind a typewriter. She stared at him in horrified surprise before she started to scream.

It felt he was being stretched apart like a rubber band. God, he could understand why TJ was getting sick. The awful ripping tension of it was unbearable and he staggered, nearly knocking into Theseus and then--

Everything snapped back into focus. They were back in Gabriel’s office; TJ was staggering to his feet and wiping his mouth, leaning heavily on the desk. “What the hell was that?” he rasped.

“The dimensional wards.” Graves looked pale. “The magic that separates this Woolworth Building from the No-Maj one.”

Theseus glanced at him. “Exposure,” he said.

“War,” Graves finished and they both bolted for the door as a deep, bass bell started to toll- the Magical Exposure Clock announcing an emergency threat. Credence followed. He staggered again as the world shuddered. The other Woolworth Building was full of screaming. The woman in the cloche hat had abandoned her typewriter; she and her coworkers were fleeing into a hallway.

“We’re gonna have Muggles in the streets screaming about seeing ghosts,” Theseus said. Outside the office it was even more disorienting-- the railing of the balcony barely visible, the atrium disappearing and reappearing, empty air being replaced by carpet and chaos.

“Thousands of people work in this building,” Graves said. “There’s a manual trigger to lock down the No-Maj building but it’s on their side--”

“--why the fuck would it be there?” Theseus asked. “Some of them must be in the streets by now. No one can apparate through this!”

“To keep it separated from the main dimensional wards,” TJ gritted out, staggering up to join them. “And I can get there without apparition.”

The owl. But his magic-- and before Credence could protest or Percival could yell anything but a desperate “Taylor!”, TJ had jumped the balcony.

He was falling.

It was nearly impossible to track him in the brief moments that the atrium was the dominant reality, but he was falling, falling. Credence felt the flare of magic flare and fail once, twice and he had long enough to contemplate what the broken body of his friend would look like when he heard a shriek like the souls of the damned, like a barn owl as TJ’s magic obeyed and gave him wings three stories before the atrium floor.

“Fuck,” Graves got out. His voice made Credence unsure if TJ was getting murdered or promoted when this all was done. Then he started snapping orders. “Septima, Tina. Get outside and start running down anyone who got past the doors. Commandeer every Auror you see. Sophie, Maddie. Start marshalling people. Every level. As soon as the wards flicker, you Stun everyone you see. The last thing we need is a building full of dead stampeded No-Majs. Thes and Credence, we need to get down the basement.”

They ran. Ten stories, twenty stories. Credence lost track. There was no time to stop; the two buildings were staying merged for longer and longer and the line of tension set into Percival’s jaw had gone tight and grim. They ran. Thirty stories and Credence could feel sweat at the back of his neck, hear his own breathing going harsh and jagged. Forty stories and they hit a warded door. Credence nearly collided with Theseus as they came to a panting, skittering halt.

“Cells,” Percival gasped and unlocked the door and then they were off again, down the basement stairs, the air damp and chill in a way that Credence had begun to grow accustomed to after spending three days imprisoned. They ran. How far did this building go down?

When they burst onto the lowest floor, there was so much magic that Credence’s head spun. Here alone, the building seemed to still be solidly anchored, solidly divided into its two dimensions, wizarding and No-Maj. Flawless white marble covered the floor, the walls, the ceiling, but it was nearly impossible to see the stone because of the gold lettering etched into every inch, redolent with power. Spell layered on spell, different witches and wizards, different…blood? There was green oak strength and buried rage, the growl when Graves had kissed him like Credence belonged to him. Golden grace, shimmering and sparking in a way that felt so familiar, so intimate that it made Credence ache.

Graves and Aurelian, he realized faintly. Gabriel Aurelian stood in the center of the room, hornbeam wand angled at the floor where the complex golden writing had twisted and gone such a wrong shade of sickly grey. Blood dripped from the tip of his wand, sizzling on the floor of the chamber.

Theseus swore. “You built this with blood magic? This whole building?”

“Moralize later, Thes?” Percival said tersely. “There’s someone else here.” As soon as Percival spoke, Credence saw it too, the heat shimmer of a Dissimulation Charm behind Gabriel’s shoulder for a single moment before they were under attack. Translucent gold sprang up. Theseus’ Shield Charm intercepted arced lightning and Bartholomew Barebone stood besides Gabriel Aurelian, so close they could almost be shoulder to shoulder. His father and his uncle.

“I have to undo the damage he’s done,” Percival said. “Thes, can you--?”

“The kid and I have your back. C’mon!” Theseus hurled the Shield Charm outward, using it like a blunt object to bowl Gabriel and Bartholomew over. Sparks and lightning snapped from his wand and then they were in combat. Credence prayed to a god he wasn’t ever sure was listening that he wouldn’t fail this red-haired stranger, with his soft accent and his easy confidence. That he wouldn’t fail Percival behind them, palm already bleeding down the ebony wand as he fought to restore the magic behind them.

Lightning hit Credence, sliding him crumpled back along the floor. His ribs throbbed. His breath came short, but he scrambled to his knees in time to flare a Shield Charm against the next hex that Gabriel hurled his direction. It was weak and wandless; he could feel it starting to crack. He needed to counterattack, to move, but the rain of offensive spells was unrelenting, sparking white hot across the fractured shield.

“Gabriel! He’s your family!” Percival’s baritone rang like a clarion call, loud and clear enough that even Credence couldn’t help looking back. Blood trickled from the tip of the ebony wand and his face showed the strain of the magic, the etched words on the marble shining so impossibly bright that Credence had trouble looking at him. “He’s Miranda’s son. Look at him!”

Gabriel jerked. The onslaught of spells faltered and just for a moment Credence swore he saw instant of recognition.

Then Credence Stunned him.

Family was not a thing he got to have.

Gabriel crumpled to the floor, but the danger wasn’t over yet. Theseus was already bleeding from defensive wounds. He’d compensated for the combat apparition by closing the distance with Bartholomew. They were a tangle of limbs and wildly arcing magic, grappling and swearing until Theseus’ foot skidded on the marble floor. He went down on one knee and Bartholomew was too heavy; Theseus was tall but slender and already half on the ground. He couldn’t stay up. His other knee buckled and Bartholomew slammed his head against the marble floor once, twice, three times.

The Brit went limp.

Credence’s heart lodged in his throat. Thes, Percival had called him, intimate and casual in a way that spoke of long acquaintance and even as he started to understand he had just seen Percival’s friend die in front of him, he saw Bartholomew pick up the old, blackened knife from where it had fallen.

Theseus must still be alive. Not for long though. Something in Credence’s chest broke into panic. “Expelliarmus!” he cried and the blade arced from his father’s hand and into his.

Bartholomew went still. “Careful, lad,” he warned. “I will go through you if I have to.” He left the Brit lying on the marble floor, Theseus apparently no longer worth his attention. “We’re so close to having what we wanted, lad. A world that will cleanse itself. A deed worthy of redemption. Yours and mine. Now let me do my work.”

“No.” Credence shifted, blocking Bartholomew’s line of sight to Percival. He could hear the tremor in his voice and he hated it. Now? Even now, when he knew what Bartholomew had done? He glanced over his shoulder, but Percival seemed incognizant, detached from reality and what was happening. Golden light had wrapped around his wrist, his wand. The wood was smoking with the strain.

Bartholomew’s laughter was clipped and dry as he walked towards him. “He’s more to your taste, isn’t he, lad? Strapping and well, not young, but--”

“Don’t make me do this,” Credence couldn’t stop the shaking in his voice.

“Just one more, lad.” Something was wrong; Bartholomew was being too reasonable. He’d stopped walking,wand hand resting on his hip with an exaggerated casualness.

“Don’t.” The knife was slick with sweat in Credence’s hand.

“You can find another lover.” Bartholomew offered. “Aurelian’s told me he’s the last of them--- only a woman and her mongrel daughter left. They won’t be able to put this building back together once he’s gone.”

Combat apparition. Credence had showed Graves once how he’d been trained to fight, with knife and curse, quick apparition to get in a victim’s blindspot. You still have to visualize it. See where you’re going. He couldn’t let Bartholomew past him, to the still-unseeing Percival behind him. Percival with his strength and his sadness, sharp wit and indomitable faith.

Bartholomew’s eyes flicked. He vanished.

It was instinct.

It was instinct and training and finally having someone to fight for and Credence was already moving to the place he’d seen Bartholomew choose.

His father’s body coalesced around the knife and the spray of blood coated them both.

Credence choked. His hands went slack on the hilt even as a sick, violent rush of power came rushing into him, up along his veins, as nauseating as the toxic magic that had nearly killed him. The knife was leeching the magic out of Bartholomew into Credence, like it must have done to T.J.

Bartholomew was laughing. Laughing as he died and Credence looked up at him with a panicked sound, a wordless, wounded animal.

“There’s that--- killer instinct, lad,” he said, spat blood and died.

Credence let go, staggered back and suppressed a scream at how lifelessly Bartholomew’s body collapsed, bone and muscle, tendon and ligament, all of it rendered useless without a life to give it purpose. The knife stayed lodged in his father’s chest. Credence’s hands were shaking, scattering red drop on the marble floor, white and gold and pulsing with indifferent magic. As if someone hadn’t just died.

Theseus was moaning as he struggled to rise. His knees slipped from under him and he collapsed back down. He was wounded, disoriented, but alive. Gabriel lay unconscious a few yards away. Bartholomew--- there was a pool of blood on the marble and Credence’s brain stuttered, refusing to look at the body. He focused instead on the glowing inscriptions. The magic was humming, complete, a twelve part symphony woven back into balance by the skill of its conductor.

Percival. Behind Credence, the Auror had crumpled to the floor. His right hand was scorched, the ebony wand in burnt fragments. Blood leaked from his mouth. No. It made perfect sense; Credence had felt the magic’s complexity, twelve interwoven bloodlines. For one person to try and master it, restore it to harmony--- it would be nearly impossible. It made perfect sense, but no. No.

“Percival.” Credence went to his knees next to him. He touched the Auror’s throat, feeling for a pulse and finding it fluttering and weak. Percival needed healing but the ebony wand laid in broken fragments and there was no guarantee that either Theseus or Gabriel’s wands would obey. Bartholomew’s wand had always been compliant but he would have to go--- to go and take from his body. Credence’s mind stuttered again and he found himself muttering helpless prayers under his breath. “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,” he begged. For himself, for Percival. He didn’t know. “Nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”

Percival’s coat was open, his chest barely rising and falling. Tucked in his inside pocket was the blackthorn wand that had so vehemently rejected Credence barely a day ago. “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you,” Credence whispered and took the wand from Percival’s pocket. “Please. Please just once.”

It scorched his hand. He half-sobbed. The blackthorn wand. Valeriane Graves’ wand. The Auror defeated, the wand corrupted, made into a weapon Credence had wielded against innocents. It had spent more than a century bathed in darkness and hatred but still, it had to remember. Credence closed his hand around the wand again, ignoring how it burned. “Goddamnit, he’s your family!”

There in the marble room that sang with the magic of the twelve different bloodlines, Credence felt a lock click open in his brain. White-hot rage suppressed for decades scorched through his body like a summer wind roaring through the leaves of a massive and ancient oak. He tasted earth and blood and the vanilla-and-spice taste of Percival’s brandy, Percival’s mouth and then the blackthorn wand sat as willing in his hand as he could have ever wanted.

“Amen,” Credence gasped, shaking. There were tears streaking his face and he bent over his lover. “Vulnera sanentur.”

Chapter Text

Graves’ veins were on fire. Dry heat scorched up his arm and tore at at him from the inside out, but he couldn’t lose his focus. The twelve different lines of magic were scorched and severed, curling back onto themselves rather than singing in harmony as they should. He fought for purchase in the chaos, but only one, only one was familiar-- a clarion call of green and gold, as familiar to him as his own heartbeat, as his sister’s smile. The rest was a cacophony of sound and stimuli, barely compliant, disintegrating even as he reached for them, bound them together with nothing but sheer will and the blood in his veins. Fischer, Grimsditch, Aurelian, Graves, MacDuff, Lopez…

The faintest part of his consciousness that was still aware of what was going on around him saw Theseus go limp.

God. God, after all this time. Had they carried each other through the war for him to spend his best friend’s life like this? Graves couldn’t do anything, couldn’t get Theseus out of danger, couldn’t fight for himself. If he let go of the magic now after having gathered it up, the dimensional wards would tear themselves apart.

Credence was standing now though-- the beautiful Scourer with his wandless magic, powerful enough that he’d gotten the drop on Graves’ himself, loyal enough that he had sold his own soul to save his sister. He could have faith in Credence.

He would have to.

Graves’ arm had gone numb. The burning had spread to his chest. Something metallic and liquid filled his mouth but the threads of magic were nearly back together. Only Aurelian’s, charged with Gabriel’s blood was refusing his command.

His vision was blurring. It was getting hard to breathe.

He was a Graves, a bloodline as old as Aurelian’s, as deeply embedded in this building as Aurelian’s and more than that, the Graves were oaks, deep-rooted and unyielding.

Graves wasn’t moving. The magic was.

It clicked into place. The harmony was overwhelming. Everything went dark.

 

During the war, Theseus and Graves had run a reconnaissance mission in Belgium where they stumbled across a brewery. The owner, a man named Jan-Piotr Moortgat, had been delighted to have someone to practice his English with. He’d insisted on giving them some of his product-- a wooden case full of bottles stamped with the word Duvel in red ink.

“Doesn’t that mean ‘Devil’?” Theseus had asked that night in their tent.

Graves had shrugged. “Maybe. Are you drinking or not?”

It had been one of the best beers Graves had ever drank--sweet and strong, foamy and tasting faintly of banana and cloves. It still hadn’t been worth the splitting headache he’d had the next day. He’d had to suffer through it, too nauseous to even drink a Hangover Potion without vomiting and he’d wondered, curled whimpering on the cot, if you could use the Killing Curse on yourself.

His head hurt worse now.

He was lying on his back on the floor of the Woolworth Building’s atrium. Theseus-- Merlin, Theseus!-- was having a screaming match with someone only a few yards away. Though maybe the Brit was talking normally and Graves’ skull was registering the slightest noise as a warcrime.

“Mr. Scamander, you’re concussed. You’re not thinking clear--”

“Yes. I have a concussion. That’s temporary. Your stupidity seems to be permanent. That kid just saved my life. And your Director’s life. Sod off.”

Graves pushed himself upright and his vision blurred slightly from the motion. His mouth tasted coppery. He spat and an ugly maroon mix of saliva and blood landed on the marble.

“Perce.” Theseus’ voice reached him with urgency. Graves got his vision to focus. They were lying next to the tall marble columns of the Salem memorial, underneath the massive gold wings of the phoenix that adorned the corner post. Theseus had shifted so that he was crouched near Graves, one hand extended to him and the other wrapped tightly around one of Credence’s. “Perce, c’mere, will you?”

Credence’s grip was white-knuckled on the Brit. The skin on his hands and face were flecked were blood and his eyes were downcast, looking at the floor but not seeing it.

The atrium was in chaos around them as well. Aurors rushed to and fro; healers saw to the wounded; Obliviators waded through rows of Stunned No-Majs. Graves needed to take charge, make sure every single No-Maj was found; that the wards were standing but Credence looked so vacant, so gone..

“Perce. It’s over; we stopped them. It’s just clean up now,” Theseus said. “I can handle that but--” He glanced helplessly back at Credence. “He doesn’t know me.”

Graves trusted Theseus.. They had carried each other through the war; the Brit was Senior Auror in his own right and Credence looked so small right now. He nodded. “Find Sophie or Septima. They’ll help,” he said and let Theseus tug him over to Credence.

“Credence. Look. He’s here. He’s alright. Just like I promised.” Theseus carefully disentangled his hand from Credence’s to place it in Graves’. “You two take care of each other.”

Theseus stood to go and his hand lingered just for a moment on Graves’ shoulder before he did.

“Credence,” Graves said softly. He touched the younger man’s face and the gesture seemed to bring him back a little. His eyes focused slightly but his hands began to tremble violently in Graves’. They were coated with drying blood, sticky under Graves’ touch and he fished for his pocket handkerchief. He was about to cast Aquamenti when he realized he realized he had no wand.

“It burnt,” Credence rasped hoarsely. “It burnt. You burnt.”

Graves remembered the pain of it. It had felt like burning claws shredding his forearm, burning the bone itself. He glanced at his hands and pushed his sleeves up to examine at his wrists, his forearms, but the skin was intact and unblemished.

He noticed the blackthorn wand lying docilely on the marble floor next to him. “And you healed me. With that. I thought--”

“It’s your family. You-- you said Valeriane.” Credence’s voice was still barely audible, his shaking hands still sticky with blood. “It was Valeriane Graves’ wand. It was your family; it should want to--”

Graves understood where the blood came from with a sudden sickening wrench. “Credence, I’m sorry,” he said. Bartholomew Barebone was a monster and a murderer. He had killed witches and wizards alike, stolen at least one child, maybe more. And yet he was the closest thing the young man had had to a father. The blood drying dark maroon on Credence’s pale skin had to be his.

Aquamenti was too advanced without a wand. Graves spat on the handkerchief instead and slowly started to clean Credence’s hands. He could have used Scourgify. The spell was basic, barely more than a cantrip, but Graves had learned there were things that needed to be done by hand. This felt like one of them.

Credence was speaking again, his voice barely audible over the hubbub of triage going on around them. “He asked me to come back.” Credence was speaking again, his voice barely audible over the hubbub of triage going on around them. He sounded young, young and broken-- like the shell-shocked No-Maj soldiers Graves had seen in the war. teenagers, the lot of them, souls broken and dying in the mud of the trenches as they waited for their bodies to catch up. “After...after everything I did, he asked me to come back. Said I just had to let him do his work and there was redemption for the both of us.”

“Credence, you don’t believe that,” Graves said.

“No. I don’t. I don’t but…Percival.” Credence finally looked at him and his eyes were wet and red. “A week ago? A week ago I believed everything he said. I’ve killed for him. I’ve killed for you. How do I ever trust my own judgement again?”

Graves didn’t know how to even begin to address a wound so large. He pressed a kiss against those cold shaking hands. “I don’t know how to convince you you’re right,” he said slowly. There was no way what Credence had done, to give Emmeline Grey’s children back their mother. But he could give him this. “I promise you, Credence. I swear on the bones of my ancestors you will never have to kill again.”

“Five, Percival. Five people,” Credence said, not responding to the promise. He curled forward and the shaking spread from his hands to his entire body. Graves could hear him muttering the names. Jasper Cowells. Antonietta Cavanelli. Alexander Ragnott. Emmeline Grey and now Bartholomew Barebone. But he’d curled forward into Graves’ chest at least. He let Graves pull him close as they sat together in the chaos and the aftermath, let him put his hands in his hair as he choked and wept and murmured the names and eventually, restlessly slept.

Percival supposed it was the best he could hope for.

He’d nearly fallen asleep himself when he hears Sophie’s voice behind him, sharp and nearly...desperate? “Taylor James Oakhurst, what in hell’s bells were you thinking?”

“I--what?”

“You jumped off a balcony! You could have died, you stupid, blithering idiot. Your magic still isn’t back to normal; what were you--”

Sophie’s voice cut off with a surprised noise and there was a soft wet sound and a sigh before TJ spoke again.

“Sophie. Sophie. I am an idiot and a stupid goofball from the Bronx and really a terrible Auror, but we just stopped the world from ending so will you please, please, please go to dinner with me?” TJ’s voice was breaking new octaves. “Or at least don’t hex me for kissing you? Really. Please don’t hex me.”

“TJ, I have been waiting for weeks for you to finally say something like that sober,” Sophie said slowly and then the maroon and copper colonnade Graves was leaning against shook as one of them--- probably Sophie-- pushed the other against the memorial and kissed them hard. “Yes, you blithering idiot. Yes, I will go to dinner with you.”

Graves couldn’t keep back the small smile even as Credence slept in his lap. Septima had called it right at the New Year’s Party so many weeks ago after all. After all of this, he was glad to be wrong. He knew the moment of peace couldn’t last though, not for Sophie and TJ and certainly not for himself.

Picquery’s boot heels clicking on the marble floor were distinctive as she arrived. For a moment, he considered taking his hand out of Credence’s hair, standing up as best he could. But the impulse felt dishonest, unworthy of the young man who’d barely claimed the temporary peace of slumber, who’d killed the closest thing he’d ever had to a father to save Graves.

He stayed sitting. He let Credence sleep.

“Graves.” Picquery usually stood a few inches shorter than him. Her shoes sometimes brought her to eye level, but now he had to crane his head. She was flanked by two Aurors, each armed and armored and clearly uncomfortable about being there.

“Madam President.” He could feel her eyes on him. She must have noted the handkerchief damp with blood and spit from cleaning Credence’s hands, the Scourer’s closed eyes. His hand still resting in Credence’s hair.

He didn’t move.

“Senior Auror Scamander informs me that Gabriel Aurelian is a traitor. That you and your squad broke into his office-- without authorization, I might add-- and found evidence linking him to Gellert Grindelwald. Doctor Vane informs me that she has reason to believe that Aurelian is responsible for the Judas Hex that nearly killed Mr. Barebone. Is this accurate?”

“Yes, Madam President.” Their conversation had woken Credence. The younger man started to sit up, but Graves’ hand flattened in his hair, asking him with a gesture to stay. He knew what this was about. Picquery wanted Credence back in his cell quietly, civilly, back to being a murderer and a Scourer. She wanted justice done in a normal and conventional way, far away from today’s messiness and betrayal. When the atrium wasn’t full of battered witches and wizards reeling from a narrowly averted apocalypse. When the image of Theseus Scamander carrying an unconscious Graves up from the foundations and insisting That kid just saved my life. And your Director’s life wasn’t so fresh. When Credence wasn’t so obviously asleep in her Director’s lap, so obviously the lover of the man who’d held the dimensional wards together.

She could have it too. She just needed Graves to move.

He didn’t.

“Sentiment, Graves.” Her calm voice was tinted with something like disappointment. “This is how you’re choosing to spend twenty years of accumulated political capital.”

They were drawing attention. TJ and Sophie had come out from underneath the massive stone canopy of the memorial. Theseus had ascended the staircase from the basement with three Obliviators in tow.

“Yes, Madame President. Sentiment.” Graves was exhausted. Credence’s healing magic had kept him alive, smoothed the burns into unblemished skin, but restoring the wards had still taken a toll on him. Still, he would not yield now. He’d gambled too much, made his position too overt. If he lost, Picquery wouldn’t let him anyway near Credence again. “You owe him. You owe me.”

He also wasn’t sure if he could even get to his feet to give her what she wanted.

“I also owe justice to the four men and women he killed,” Picquery answered and Graves felt Credence flinch under his hand, felt him start to sit upright. His hand slid off the younger man’s hair; there wasn’t any way he could stop Credence from letting the weight of his sins drag him down.

“Ma’am. Bartholomew Barebone is dead,” TJ blurted behind them.

“And you are?” Picquery’s voice had chilled.

“This is Probationary Auror Oakhurst, Madam President.” Sophie spoke up now, interlacing her fingers with TJ as she moved to stand by his side. “And he’s right. There is legal precedent for pardoning a victim-accomplice, especially given Mr. Barebone’s history of cooperating with us.”

“And the harm that he’s suffered in our custody.” Tina pushed through the gathering crowd. She looked like she was about to cry but her chin was up.

“There’s also legal precedent for commuting the sentence of a state’s witness in a treason trial. And we will need Mr. Barebone’s testimony to try Gabriel Aurelian.” Graves couldn’t see Septima from where he was sitting but he recognized the Boston accent of his oldest Auror, his mentor when he was a junior Auror.

“You command admirable loyalty, Graves. Now stop this. You know as well as that MACUSA no longer grants favors. Not even to one of the Twelve.”

Picquery was clever; she was reducing his request to a old dynasty lashing petulantly against the idea that it too was subject to the law, downplaying the legal rationales his Aurors-- his team and Graves couldn’t help but love them for their loyalty-- had offered up.

He played his last card. “Then if we are to pursue justice, Madam President, Credence’s case warrants a full investigation. Including the circumstances by which he obtained Valeriane Graves’ wand.”

Only Graves, who had worked by her side for twenty years, would have noticed Picquery’s skin going faintly grey as every chance of good will, every ounce of favor drained away. He’d played his last card; burned his bridges; threatened her. Any investigation into Credence’s wand would inevitably reveal that MACUSA had broken the Rappaport Law the same year they created it, sent an Auror into a No-Maj prison to assassinate Bartholomew Barebone. And that when they had failed, they had conspired to conceal the failure. They’d allowed the man to operate unimpeded, to use his stolen wand, and to live as a threat and a cancer at the heart of their society.

He’d beaten her and Picquery would never forgive him for it.

“I suppose given the extraordinary service that Mr. Barebone has rendered, a pardon might be acceptable,” she conceded.

If the bridge was already on fire, there was no harm in firebombing it. “I’d like very much if you would make it official, Madam President.”

Her voice was flat. “As granted by Article Two, Section Two of the Constitutional Mandate and acting within my role as President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, I hereby grant Credence Barebone pardon for crimes committed against MACUSA and wizardkind in recognition of services rendered.”

Relief left him boneless and he bowed his head. “Thank you,” he said quietly, but he only heard bootheels in response as Picquery swept away.

“Percival.” Credence straightened now, turning to face him. There was no way he could have understood the politics of it, but the look of distress made it clear that he had a sense of what that had cost. “You shouldn’t have; I was--”

Percival put a finger over Credence’s lips. “You have killed five people. I know that. I know that and I know there is no way to undo it. But you’ve saved people too. Today. Starting with me and Theseus and extending to...every Auror who would have died trying to stop what Gabriel started.” He was exhausted, bowing his head until their foreheads touched. “Please. Just let me keep you alive.”

“Oh.” Credence said and there was a slowly dawning understanding on his face, the amber eyes widening as he understood. “Oh.

God bless the Scourer for being perceptive enough that Graves didn’t have to say how foolishly, stupidly attached he was. “Yeah.”

“Percival.” Credence touched his cheek as he crouched in front of him. The small smile broke like daylight as he echoed the promise that Graves had made him in the early morning darkness of the Graves’ manor. “You have me. From now until the end.”

Graves tilted his head into the touch. He was so tired. His wand had burned; he’d made an enemy of Seraphina Picquery. Gabriel Aurelian, who he’d liked and respected, was a traitor. And yet, still--

“Kiss me,” he said. “Please.”

Chapter Text

When Theseus found him, Graves was leaning against the wall outside an interrogation room, waiting for Gabriel Aurelian to finish the last conversation he would ever have.

It had taken MACUSA just shy two weeks to fully debrief, try, and convict the other man for treason-- and most of that had been debriefing. The evidence had been damning after all: the Judas Hex and the attack on the dimensional wards, revealed after Gabriel’s hornbeam wand was examined. His thesis on wizarding deaths and the Rappaport Law during the Great War, with the Deathly Hallows pendant and Grindelwald’s initials hidden inside. The testimony of the Director of Magical Security and England’s Senior Auror--- and a Scourer.

His own nephew, who currently sat across the table from him. It had been Gabriel’s last request.

“Perce.” Theseus carried two cups-- one coffee, one tea-- and handed the coffee to him as he joined him against the wall.

“Thank you.”

The coffee curled steam over the edge of the cup, drifting heavily down over Graves’ fingers. It was bitter and overbrewed, having sat from early this morning, but he’d been inured against it for years.

Theseus didn’t say anything at first, so Graves waited. He knew something was coming, had known since Theseus had come back from the hospital with his pupils still dilated from the concussion. He’d known since the Brit had pinned him against a wall and kissed him like the world was ending. Since Shut the hell up; I am making an exception and Don’t you make me beg, you sodding bastard.

Since Theseus had started sleeping in the guest bedroom.

“Waiting on Credence?” the Brit finally asked.

Graves shook his head. “Aurelian.”

“You know you have executioners you could delegate this to.”

“I know.”

Merlin, Percival.” Theseus shook his head. “You know this is why McIlvain calls you a martyr.”

“I owe him this much. To do it myself,” Graves answered.

They fell silent again. A Muffliatio Charm cloaked the interrogation room but Graves could see inside out of the corner of his eye. Gabriel was smiling in that strained way of someone who was trying not to cry. Credence was unreadable from this angle, back to the window, revealing nothing but long dark hair.

“This is the second time I’ve done this, you know,” Theseus said, tearing Graves’ attention away from the mirrored glass.

“Done what?”

“Carried you unconscious out of No-Man’s-Land. Cause you went and nearly killed yourself trying to protect someone,” Theseus said. “That Shield Spell in Artois was going to leech you dry. Did you know I had to break your fingers and take your wand to shut it off?”

“I didn’t,” Graves admitted. He wasn’t surprised though; the old blood magic passed down in his family was tenacious and cruel. It would let you do impossible feats-- and exert an impossible cost in return.

“I broke three of your fingers, took your wand. And you were so pale.” Theseus swallowed hard. “And then in the basement. I couldn’t stand; I couldn’t see straight, but I knew that blackthorn wand wasn’t loyal. And that Credence wasn’t going to be able to save you. And all I could think about was that I wasn’t surprised. That of course I was going to watch you die in front of me.”

“Thes,” Graves began.

“Don’t. Just. Let me finish.” Theseus shook his head. The violence of the gesture nearly made his tea slop over the edge of the cup he was holding. “You are my crazy Yankee best friend; you will always put the good of others before yourself. And I love you for it.”

He offered a small, bitter laugh. “But I can’t watch you do it.”

Graves couldn’t be surprised. He’d known, told Theseus as much nearly eight years ago on a bridge over the Thames. I won’t make you happy. He still had to swallow past something knotted in his chest before he spoke. “What will you do?”

“Ask Caleb to marry me,” Theseus said quietly. “He’s my peace, Perce.”

“He’s good for you,” Graves said. “And congratulations in advance.”

“If he does,” Theseus glanced up at him and there was a small, hesitant hope blooming on his face. “Say yes, I mean--- I’ll need a best man.”

The knot in his chest released in a rush of gratitude. That he wasn’t losing Theseus, that editing out sometimes lover wasn’t going to cost him his best friend. “Deliverance Dane, Theseus, yes. Of course I will.”

The quicksilver grin was back on the Brit’s face. “Good. Good. You crazy damn Yank.”

Graves snorted. “I’m crazy? I’m not the one trying to pick out a ring for a jeweler.

 

When Credence emerged from the interrogation room, his jaw was tight in a way that Graves had come to know too well over the past two weeks.

“Can we go?” he asked hoarsely, forestalling Graves’ attempt to ask how he was. “I want to see Modesty.”

“Just one last thing.” Just an execution.

“Fuck.” Credence looked away. “I didn’t realize--”

“Owe him that much.”

“You owe him?” Credence said and his tired voice was so incredulous that Graves couldn’t even discern what he was objecting to. That the man who nearly killed him deserved anything? That Graves handling this personally was a favor? That executing anyone was a favor- let alone Credence’s uncle, the family he’d barely realized he had before he had to destroy it?

“Don’t do this.” Theseus intervened softly. “Not now. Today-- today’s just a bad day. Perce, do what you have to. Credence, come upstairs. He won’t be long.”

Graves watched them go. Both men were slim, loose hair nearly to their shoulders, one copper, the other black. Theseus stood three inches taller, though and his suit was dove-grey, a royal blue shirt underneath. The contrast was sharp against Credence’s black-on-black.

Mourning colors? he had asked Credence the first time he’d seen him in the new clothing, begrudgingly allowed by Picquery now that Credence was a witness for the prosecution.

I don’t think patricide exempts you from the etiquette, he had said hoarsely and refused to discuss it further.

Just a bad day. As if they hadn’t had so many in the past two weeks. The trial had made Credence oscillate between thorny snarling and tight-jawed silence, retreating into himself rather than showing his pain. Graves hadn’t even been able to take care of him, to smooth the sharp edges, promise him Modesty, books, the clear open air of the Graves Manor, freedom. Picquery had kept him busy running down every lead about Gellert Grindelwald they’d torn out of Gabriel. He’d been to Maine, Texas, and Louisiana in the past two weeks; sleeping in hotels, talking to the Auror chiefs of different stations--- and far away from New York. Picquery had stopped giving him latitude; Graves had expected as much. He’d threatened her in public, thrown away twenty years of goodwill on sentiment. She’d given him what he wanted, but it didn’t mean she was going to like it. Or that they were anything close to friends any more.

Gabriel Aurelian was bound with Incarcerous at the wrist and the ankle when Graves entered the room.

“I wasn’t aware I had another interview,” he said.

“You don’t.”

“Ah. Picquery’s made you her hatchetman.”

“I volunteered,” Graves corrected. A flick of his fingers sent a slender cord of light from his hand to Gabriel’s bonds. “I owe you-- owe Miranda-- that much. Not having a stranger there at the end.”

“You owe her justice, Percival.” Gabriel offered his own correction in turn. “You owe her son-- your lover-- justice. And you know Picquery would have him in the Death Cell along with me if it weren’t for your influence.”

“The man who killed your sister is dead.” Graves tugged on the spell connecting them, pulling Gabriel to his feet. “And I also owe justice to Jasper Cowells and Antonietta Cavanelli and Alexander Ragnott and Emmeline Grey.”

He knew the names now too, perfectly, the four marks on Credence’s soul. He’d heard the Scourer recite them, the near-liturgy of his own damnation. Five, really. Credence always included Bartholomew Barebone now.

“You do. And the forty million No-Majs who died of a flu we could cure? And the wizards who weren’t as lucky as your Scamander? The ones who went to a No-Maj field hospital in the war and died without anyone ever knowing their name? What about them?”

“If you think that fascist gives a damn about the No-Majs, you’re deluded,” Graves muttered. Gabriel wasn’t wrong-- he’d read the reports of the cost, heard the debates as the Spanish flu had raged, killing two No-Majs for every ten it infected. He’d been grateful, in a way, to still be in London, still caught up in Theseus and delaying the inevitable moment he broke his heart. There had been a healer-- Graves didn’t remember the name any more-- who’d been imprisoned for breaking the Rappaport Law, for finding a potion to cure the flu and conspiring to distribute it through a Savannah hospital.

They’d found the man dead. He’d hung himself in his prison cell the day after his sentence. Graves had read about it in the newspapers.

They fell silent after that as they went down the corridor towards the Death Cell. Graves could see Gabriel swallow hard as the color starting to drain out from under the man’s skin. He tightened his mental grip on the Incarcerous spell, but Gabriel didn’t balk until they’d stepped inside. The potion was still, a perfect glass clarity that gave Graves a case of vertigo if he looked at it for too long. It felt like the world inverted; like gravity wasn’t working like it should.

“...you know it doesn’t hurt,” Graves said. As if that was why Gabriel had gone ashen.

Gabriel swallowed convulsively. “You’ll look after him. Miranda’s son,” he said. “Promise me.”

“I will.”

“He ought to be in the lineage; I don’t care what my father thinks. He’s more of an Aurelian than anyone in that pathetic cadet branch in Virginia.”

Gabriel’s words were coming rapidly and he’d backed up, straining at the spell binding him out of what appeared to be sheer instinct.

“Gabriel.”

“I mean it. He ought to--” and Gabriel couldn’t help but glance towards the potion. His voice had gone high and panicked. “Oh, Mercy Lewis--”

Graves cast the spell. Gabriel went pliant. Gabriel’s memory curled a softly glowing cream around the tip of his wand. There wasn’t any mercy in waiting any longer for either of them. Gabriel could be spared his terror; Graves could spare himself hearing the pleas. The Auror flicked the memory out into the depths. Of course, it was Miranda-- dark-haired and laughing as a teenager at Ilvermorny, covering her mouth to stifle the sound shattering the library silence.

Gabriel was entranced, not seeing anything but his sister. Graves dispelled the Incarcerous spell and gave him a small push. There wasn’t any point in speaking; Gabriel was caught in the potion, settling into the chair with an unsettling eagerness. The rest-- it didn’t take long. It was quiet; the magic kept Gabriel relaxed and at peace.

When it was done, Graves tucked his replacement ebony wand into his vest pocket and was sick to his stomach. He couldn’t quite look at Credence either when he came back up to his office. His stomach still felt hollow, cold. Gabriel had been a traitor-- tried, confessed, convicted. That didn’t mean he didn’t remember the seventh year trying not to weep when he learned of his sister’s death. That he didn’t understand looking for answers, any answers when the Rappaport Law had killed Miranda, had killed American wizards in the war.

It would be good to go home, to let the clean air off the Catskills wash all of it off his skin.

It was mid-afternoon when they spun into existence in the Great Hall of the Graves Estate. The light was already starting to turn faintly pink as it poured into the vaulted room and a fire had already been laid in the hearth. The gold embroidery of the Graves family crest over the mantle-- an immense oak on a green background-- shone faintly from the firelight below.

“She’s here?” Credence couldn’t quite hide the tremble in his voice.

“Probably in the library,” Graves gestured for Credence to follow him into the immense space that covered the back half of the west wing. The bookshelves reached two stories in the air, only occasionally broken by the red drapery of the damask wall coverings. There were thousands of books there-- spellbooks and histories, romances and tragedies, even the No-Maj dime novels that Cador and Elaine had shared as a guilty pleasure. For the Scourer who’d spent the past two weeks rereading the Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Clouds of Witness, it must have been astonishing.

But Credence’s eyes were on Modesty. She sat next to Elaine Lavigny on a small sofa near another blazing fire, rapt on the book that Elaine held between them, the story the older woman was reading.

“At once there came a loud clanging and banging from his kitchen. The wizard lit his wand and opened the door, and there, to his amazement, he saw his father’s old cooking pot: it had sprouted a single foot of brass, and was hopping on the spot, in the middle of the floor, making a fearful noise upon the--"

“Thank you,” Credence got out. His voice was choked but it carried enough that it made Modesty look up.

“Credence!” She scrambled off the sofa, nearly tripping over Cappie, the stuffed black cat Graves had seen her holding-- was it really only a few weeks ago?

He stepped to one side, let Credence go down on one knee to hug his sister, their black and blond heads bent towards each other. Elaine tucked a bookmark into the book of stories she’d been reading to Modesty and then gestured with her head for Graves to follow her out of the library.

“I’ll have coffee brought into the Great Hall.” Elaine fell into step alongside him outside the library. “Unless you’d rather your brandy?”

“It’s four o’clock in the afternoon, Lainey,” Graves noted and then sighed. “I look that bad, do I?”

His sister didn’t say a word and just took his hand in hers. They didn’t speak again until they were seated in the Great Hall in front of the fire and the silver tea service had shimmered into existence between them-- as well as, Graves noticed with dry amusement, the brandy carafe and two snifters.

“You should know,” Elaine said. “She’s still afraid of magic. Less so than she was before-- Izzy’s helped with that, but…”

“I should try to be discreet,” Graves supplied. He poured coffee for both of them--- a lump of sugar and a generous splash of milk for Elaine, black for himself. “Thank you for doing this. I know it’s a lot.”

“She’s a child. We don’t get to choose who raises us,” Elaine said. “Besides, Izzy is delirious at the idea of of having a sister.”

Because that settled it as far as Elaine was concerned. Modesty was a child; she needed help and Elaine was in a position to provide it.

“I hope she’ll be alright,” Graves said.

“She seems to be very resilient,” Elaine answered. “They both are.”

Merlin, Credence. Credence and the five deaths written on his conscience, the list of names that Graves had memorized from hearing the young man say it. Jasper Cowells. Antonietta Cavanelli. Alexander Ragnott. Emmeline Grey. Bartholomew Barebone. Credence and the traitorous uncle he had found and then betrayed on the same day. Who’d spent two weeks in a cell essentially alone with this guilt and his grief and whatever paperbacks Graves could find to bring him, whatever stolen moments he could manage between travel.

“I hope so,” he said finally.

“You did the right thing, Percival.”

Did I?”

Elaine pushed Graves’ coffee cup to one side to replace it with a snifter and two fingers of ambery brandy, sending an aromatic burst of of sweet spices into the air. “My dear brother, I have waited twenty years for you to realize that MACUSA is never going to love you back.”

Picquery will certainly see to that,” he muttered. The President had been furious at his gambit. The latitude he was used to having, the surety of her voice on the Security Council: they were gone. It was too cold to be spite, as much as the difference was sometimes imperceptible. Graves, quite simply, had proven he wasn’t on her side.

“There are worse hills to die on,” Elaine reminded him softly.

Graves took a long sip of the brandy, letting it run warm and thick down his throat. “You know he’s a murderer, Lainey,” he reminded her. “And a zealot.”

“You’ll have plenty in common then.”

Graves was drawing himself up for an indignant reply when Elaine reached across the table and stole a sip from his snifter.

“I mean it, Percival,” she said. “Not in a bad way, but...a man with strong will and convictions? Faith, willing to do what’s needed? I’m not really surprised.”

Graves snorted a half-laugh and recaptured his glass. “I’m that predictable.”

“Yes. Even down to the age difference,” Elaine said and then cocked an eyebrow. “Though I must admit half your age is new.”

Graves choked on his brandy. “I beg your pardon?”

“He’s twenty-three. Modesty told me.”

“Deliverance Dane.” Choking on the brandy could only account for some of the rose flushing over his face. “I didn’t--”

“It doesn’t matter to me at all,” Elaine said, doing her best to hide the small grin.

“But you had to give me lip about it.”

“I am your younger sister, after all.”

Graves didn’t see Credence again until after dinner. The younger man had accepted Elaine’s offer to eat privately with Modesty in her bedroom, so Graves joined Matthew and Elaine in the dining room. Izzy had already returned to Ilvermorny for the spring semester but apparently she and Modesty had become fast friends, making getting Modesty accustomed to owls and the Floo much easier.

After they’d eaten, Graves had accepted another snifter of the brandy and wandered back into the library. His family’s genealogy, every member of every senior and cadet branch carefully inscribed and annotated, still sat out on a table and he found himself flipping to his own entry.

Percival Gondulphus Graves
Born April 26th, 1884, on the estate
House Wampus
Wand: manufactured Johannes Jonker. Ebony, mother of pearl inlay. 14 inches. Wampus core. Rigid.

That wand had burned holding the dimensional wards together. Added below in Elaine’s neat hand was another entry.

Wand: chosen January 20th, 1927. Manufactured Johannes Jonker. Ebony, mother of pearl inlay. 14 inches. Wampus Core. Firm.

So something in him had bent, if only a little. Graves took another long sip of his brandy and wondered if it was a good thing.

“Can you show me Valeriane?” Credence had appeared at his elbow.

“Of course.” Graves flipped through the book until he found the entry. “Here.”

It had already been updated; Credence ran his fingers over the new lines.

Valeriane Mavis Graves
Born February 2nd, 1761 on the estate.
House Thunderbird.
Blackthorn, twelve inches, wampus cat hair, copper banding. Now loyal to Credence Barebone.
Died: December 12th, 1790. Suspected murdered by Bartholomew Barebone
Memorial: Gawain Chapel.

“I’m such a terrible part of your history,” Credence said.

“And I’m a terrible part of yours,” Graves answered.

“Show me Gondulphus,” Credence said and there was something so strained in his voice that Graves stopped his hand when the younger man reached for the page.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Show me,” Credence insisted.

The page was going to tear if they fought over it. Graves relented. It didn’t date back to Gondulphus; his grandson had been the first to think of the Graves’ as a dynasty, but the information was accurate enough.

“You don’t know who killed him,” Credence said, brushing his fingers over the vellum, as if touch along could make their tangled histories lie straight and even.

“No. Just that he died in the line of duty.”

“Just got killed by a Scourer, you mean?” Credence glanced up at him. “That’s your word for people like me. They say it like a curse word at MACUSA.”

“I don’t much care what they say at MACUSA.” He’d outed himself in spectacular fashion, after all. That his lover was a Scourer to boot only added to the gossip. He’d already had to reprimand TJ once for for punching an Obliviator over it.

“Yes, you do,” Credence said softly. “I saw how you looked when you fought that woman for me. You looked like you’d set your whole life on fire.”

He had, but that wasn’t the point. “It was a choice, yes. But I made it. Credence, why are you--”

“Because I know what this is, Percival,” Credence said with a jerk of his hand at the book. “That’s not just a genealogy. That’s a dynasty and I-- I’m contaminating it.”

“Contaminating my dynasty?” Graves arched an eyebrow. “You understand that children won’t be a concern for us; that’s not exactly how two men--”

“That’s not what I meant, you self-righteous--” Credence recoiled, eyes down and away and only then did Graves understand how upset he was. The younger man’s throat was tight as he swallowed and tried again. “You’ve kept your promises. You kept me alive. You saved my sister. She’ll grow up safe and no one will make her a weapon. I just--- Percival. That’s enough. You don’t owe me any more.”

“I don’t understand.” Graves wanted to step towards Credence again but the younger man was so obviously keeping a painful distance, unable to look him in the eyes.

“The books. And the promises. And the sex. You don’t have to-- I know you thought I was going to die.”

Graves was kissing him before Credence finished his sentence. The younger man’s hands went up as if to stop him and then they were slipping around his neck. The same impossible pull of the estate hallway, the training room, was back again. Graves’ fingers tangled into the rough black curls of Credence’s hair and only the muffled thank God of Credence’s mouth against his own called him back to himself enough to speak.

“I don’t owe you anything. Not sex, not books, not promises,” he said quietly, tilting Credence’s chin so the younger man would look at him. “I never owed you any of it. I wanted to; I still do.”

A small hesitant smile fluttered across Credence’s face. “Thank God,” he said and kissed Graves again.