“Do you remember,” Credence says, as they share a bench in the park. “When you fed ducks from the pier?”
“Yes,” Percival tells him, though it feels like another lifetime. The young man beside him — wearing a checkered waistcoat and matching pants, with his long hair combed away from his face — couldn’t look more different. He holds his back straight, with his shoulders level. His clothes fit the relatively broad frame of a quite-strapping young man. There’s not enough flesh on him to soften the sharp edges of his jaw, but he doesn’t look anemic and hungry anymore.
“But this time I have a purpose for feeding the birds,” he says. “Aside from making you smile.”
Credence blinks and looks at him sidelong, from the corner of his eye.
Percival smirks to himself, to know that Credence sees through him this way.
“Watch,” he says, and throws a handful of fried potatoes onto the grass in front of them.
It takes no time at all for a few pigeons to land, then a few more. The most effective summoning spell that Percival knows: food in Central Park.
“I don’t know how much the Goldstein sisters have told you about Ilvernmorny,” Percival says.
Credence doesn’t even glance at him — busy watching a male pigeon strut and bob for the benefit of an indifferent female pigeon.
“They taught me the song,” Credence says.
Percival looks at Credence and chooses not to ask for a demonstration. Maybe another time, in private.
Credence glances at him and catches him looking.
“I believe I know more of Hogwarts,” Credence says.
“That’s only natural,” Percival says, “with you being abroad.”
“Yes,” Credence agrees.
“There are pigeons in London,” he says. “But they’re not like ours in New York.”
Percival wonders if there’s a double meaning there — it’s likely. “Of course not,” he says.
“You know, most Americans get their first wand at school, at Ilvermorny,” Percival says.
“I didn’t,” Credence says.
“No, but that would be quite boring, wouldn’t it? For someone like you, a blackmarket, unlicensed wand is the only sort that fits. And everyone says it’s the wand that chooses the wizard,” Percival says. “You’d never have found a wand like yours at Ilvermorny.”
“I know,” Credence says. “It’s one of a kind.”
Because the core is wildly dangerous and completely illegal, Percival thinks.
“You know why our pigeons are different from London’s?” Percival asks.
Credence looks at him from the corner of his eye and the small twitch of his lips can only be called sardonic.
“Is it because of magic, Percy?” he asks.
“Of course it’s magic,” he says, tossing out a few more fries.
“Years ago, I wouldn’t have ever thought that pigeons were magical,” Credence says.
“No one’s supposed to think they’re magical,” Percival tells him. “It would completely defeat the purpose.”
Credence looks at him with a small smile, and Percival knows he won’t ask, “What purpose?” Even though he must want to know, if he’s bothering to pay attention to Percival instead of the pigeons.
“Look closely at that one,” Percival says, pointing at the growing mob of pigeons. “The one with the aubergine feathers.”
Credence watches for a while and Percival watches Credence. He knows when Credence sees something because he leans forward slightly. His lips part.
“It’s a message,” Percival says. “Much subtler than owls, if I might say.”
“I had wondered,” Credence says, “why there are so many owls in London and none in New York, yet there’s clearly so many of us here.”
“We don’t use them,” Percival says. “Unless you’re quite well to do. I think Tina mentioned her parents used to tame owls for Americans.”
Credence nods slightly.
“When people speak of Ilvermorny, they usually mention the pukwudgies, which are uniquely numerous and willing to be in the company of us mere mortal children,” Percival says. “They rarely mention the pigeons.”
As Percival speaks, Credence reaches over and takes a piece of fried potato to toss at the very flirtatious pigeon’s latest target.
“I remember walking in and looking up to open rafters full of so many birds, more than I had ever seen — and I was raised in Boston, where there’s plenty of pigeons.”
“Not as many as there are in New York,” Credence says, which is a completely baseless assumption. Percival has it on good knowledge that Credence has been to more countries in Asia than he has states in these United. He has never been to Massachusetts — at least, not yet.
“Well, there are even more pigeons at Ilvermorny than there are in New York,” Percival says.
“Impossible,” Credence says, flatly.
And Percival can only laugh a bit, until the corner of Credence’s mouth turns up into a small smile. He takes more fries for the pigeons.
“I remember thinking, ‘How do they keep the stone floors so clean?’ But I found out very quickly the first time I got detention,” Percival says. “Which, I will let you know, was much sooner than I had planned to find out. But it was, I suppose, the beginnings of my friendship with Sera.”
It frustrates Percival slightly that he doesn’t have Credence’s way with words. He can move his hands all he wants when he speaks, but he’s more likely to accidentally spill the whole paper bag of fries than he is to convey what he wants to Credence.
The youthful jealousy of being only eleven and the youngest of so many boys who had walked these halls before him. So much anger and envy directed at a stone-faced girl with big dark eyes and thick, curling hair, the girl that every house of Ilvermorny had wanted. And she had picked the house that picked Percival so he was certainly never going to be the top of his class. Calling out answers out of turn and causing trouble for each other, until they ended up on their hands and knees cleaning bird shit off of cobblestones without magic.
At the time, he wouldn’t have called it the beginning of a friendship. But he didn’t call it a friendship at all until his third year.
“One of the first classes at Ilvermorny is about caring for the birds,” Percival says. “Just as there’s much strict instruction on wand use and even classes on the wild life and how to dress for the cold. It’s a bit unfair to America’s southern witches when they’re suddenly moved to a snowy mountain in Massachusetts.”
“Summer in Midtown hardly prepared me for a summer in India,” Credence says. “I sympathize.”
“Yes, well, not everywhere in the world is New York.” Percival laughs. “And that’s too bad, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, it’s too bad,” Credence says, smiling.
“Anyway, I was completely dismal at caring for my pigeon as a child,” Percival says. “I’m not what I would consider to be a naturally caring or nurturing person. But—”
“I disagree,” Credence says. “Respectfully, of course.”
“Ah, well,” Percival says. He was going to tell the story of how Seraphina had tried to hex him and accidentally turned his ordinary grey rock dove bright pink. But, it seems less important than anything else he has to say.
“You’re a far more caring person,” Percival says. “And I’d say you know nearly as much about caring for magical creatures as our friend Newt.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Credence says.
“No, I’m being quite honest,” Percival says. “He refers to you as his apprentice always in letters.”
“He also exaggerates,” Credence insists.
Percival sighs and hands Credence the bag of fries when he reaches over to take a few. Credence holds the paper bag carefully so that he doesn’t get grease on the hat and jacket in his lap. The man dresses quite colorfully now, making him look very fashion-forward and handsome.
The flirtatious pigeon suddenly begins to coo and strut toward Credence’s shoe.
“Would you like a chip?” Credence asks, holding a fry directly out to him.
The pigeon takes it directly, but only eats about half before fluttering up onto Credence’s knee. Percival laughs hard enough to scare off some of the other birds when the pigeon puffs up its breast and bobs its head at Credence’s hand. It pecks at him, but Credence allows that. It coos and coos.
“I quite agree with the pigeon,” Percival says, wiping his hands on his handkerchief before he puts an arm about Credence’s shoulders. “But you’ll have to tell it you’re taken.”
“I don’t know, Percival,” Credence says. “This is quite a convincing mating display.”
“Ah, then I suppose I’ll have to keep the pigeon I got you,” Percival says.
“What?” Credence asks.
His grip changes and the flirtatious pigeon tears the greasy paper holding the fries. So Credence lets the birds have them — tossing the paper and the last few fries. The birds startle up into the air, but then sweep in to feast.
“Percival Graves,” Credence says, “you cannot be serious.”
“I’m absolutely serious,” he says.
He smirks. “Gravely serious.”
“Don’t tease me,” Credence says.
“I’m not teasing,” Percival says. “Queenie has been holding the cage and the other supplies you’ll need, but I’ve been keeping the bird with my own. I dare say they’ve grown close.”
“Percy,” Credence says, with a sort of whine in his voice that makes Percival squeeze his shoulder with one hand.
“Newt recommended the breeder — a fascinating witch in New Jersey,” Percival says. “And he has already looked into setting up everything the bird will need in your London place. He’s been terribly excited for me to tell you. It’s a fancy breed — a Jacobin, but she’ll do well with the long journeys. You’ll be able to send your letters directly, if you wish.”
Credence kisses his cheek so quickly that it feels like a dream. Percival blinks and Credence sits just as still and quiet as ever. His jacket and hat stay in his lap.
“Thank you,” Credence says.
“I hope you don’t mind I’ve named her Gwenvere,” Percival says. “Or Gwenie, for short.”
“I love it,” Credence says.
“Shall I take you to meet her, then?” Percival asks.
Credence raises his hand and settles it over Percival’s hand on his shoulder.