Percival Graves was furious. He barely noticed the sea of people which had hastily parted itself before the blazing path of his fury. Employees and visitors alike readily jumped out of his way as he marched down the grand lobby toward the entrance of the MACUSA building.
It was a bright, beautiful morning—the kind with suns beaming down cheerfully and white clouds drifting lazily across a glorious blue sky—and it was entirely lost on Percival. His gaze was fixed on a lamppost standing just outside the building and the group of five Aurors around it. A number of curious onlookers loitered about the spot, but those with any sense of self-preservation quickly dispersed at the suggestion of his impending descent. No-Majs, on the other hand, briskly went about their way as if there was no unconscious man sitting tied to a lamppost in broad daylight.
Tina Goldstein, one of the Aurors on guard, detached herself from the group to approach him. “It’s Mad Murphy, sir, no doubt about it,” she quickly said. “And there is a note. For you. Again.”
Percival took a long good look at the unconscious man, trying to imagine the satisfaction of dropping one of MACUSA’s most wanted felons in a deep, dark cell which had had his name for the last two years.
No such satisfaction materialised. In fact, his mood noticeably took a turn for the worse.
“Simmons was the first who noticed,” Goldstein continued. Upon hearing his name, the young Auror Simmons puffed up his chest, trying to radiate eager competence. “Luckily, he reacted fast and put up a ward before it could attract too much attention. Every No-Maj in the vicinity has also been Obliviated.”
Percival nodded, only half listening. Most of his attention had been accosted by a small, white envelope, pinned to the second button of Murphy’s mud-stained shirt. The words “Director Graves” were scrawled across the front in an untidy handwriting which, to Percival’s irritation, was fast becoming all too familiar.
He removed the envelope and tore it open.
Inside was a letter—a meticulously polite and charming letter which explained, rather apologetically, the circumstances of the capture, including how the writer had come across this Abominable Scoundrel by accident et cetera. Except Percival did not believe in accidents. ‘Accident’ was a word invented by unscrupulous sloths looking for easy explanations. Besides, any Director of Magical Security who could look at the capture of six wanted criminals and still think, somehow, that they belonged in the realm of accidents was an absolute moron.
The letter also contained a list of transgressions (mostly thefts of ridiculously massive scale), allegedly committed by the aforementioned Scoundrel. It was then followed by several timid suggestions on how to acquire the necessary evidence to prosecute the case. (If Percival had been scowling throughout, here he started gnashing his teeth. As if his Aurors were too useless to investigate the case themselves!)
Lastly, the writer apologised for poking his nose into MACUSA’s business, hinting that his intention was merely to be of service—but now he would intrude no longer and may Director Graves have a very good day. Everything was no less than proper and civil, perhaps even a tiny bit endearing if Percival could feel anything other than an urge to set the letter on fire.
“Man, again?” Rick O'Connell, one of his Auror captains and the resident troublemaker, suddenly appeared at his side. “How many times is this now?”
“Six,” Goldstein answered helpfully, although not without a wary glance in Percival’s direction.
“At this rate, we’ll just have to kick back and put our feet up while he fills our cells with all the criminals he caught–”
“I suggest, O'Connell,” Percival interrupted acidly, “that you spend your time in a more useful manner other than entertaining preposterous ideas. In fact, it’s time to make yourself useful and put an end to this fucking insult.”
“Aptly put, Boss, except how exactly are we going to–”
“Simple enough.” Percival bared his teeth viciously. “You, Captain, are going to find him for me. And then you’re going to capture him, and you’re going to bring him to me. Even better, you’re going to do everything in under two weeks.”
To say that O'Connell looked horrified would be the understatement of the year. “Boss, you know that’s impossible. No one even knows where he is, let alone–”
“Then start looking now,” Percival retorted. “Two weeks, or I’m sending you for next month’s Auror exchange program in Siberia.”
The rest of the protest died a swift, premature death when a wave of magic burst from Percival’s hand, swallowing their newest captive in black roaring smoke. Everyone took a step back. Percival rarely used this privilege, Director or no, but right now he needed a vent and since the real target of his anger was not in the vicinity (that he knew of, anyway, and wasn’t that just infuriating, the idea that Scamander might still be here somewhere, watching him gleefully), then flinging Mad Murphy into his very much deserved incarceration would have to do.
“Two weeks,” he repeated in a low dangerous voice.
O’Connell closed his mouth.
“Your fucking brother, Scamander.”
The grinning, unrepentant face of Theseus Scamander greeted him from across the round table. “It’s nice to see you too, Percy.”
Percival returned the greeting with a scowl. There had been a time (not so long ago, in fact) when communication between various magical governments across the world had been kept at the absolute minimal. Percival longed for those happy golden days whenever he came face to face with incorrigibility personified that was the British Head of DMLE. And now that his equally incorrigible brother had officially become the bane of Percival’s life, that longing increased tenfold.
“Now, now.” Theseus’s tone took a slightly more mollifying edge. “It can’t be that bad. He hasn’t exactly broken any law, has he?”
The fact that he couldn’t refute Theseus’s claim absolutely and without any doubt only brought Percival’s irritation to even more dangerous heights. It did not help that their exchange had begun to attract some attention, among them Isabelle d’Aubray’s, their French equivalent.
“Who hasn’t broken any law?” she asked in her pleasant, melodious voice.
“No one,” Theseus hastily answered, at the same time Percival snarled, “He thinks his brother hasn’t broken any law. Hilarious.”
“Ah.” Her eyes twinkled at him as she took her seat on Theseus’s left. “Your turn, is it, mon cher? My greatest sympathies. We had him for ten weeks in Paris—must be about a year ago now. Poor Jacques, my predecessor, succumbed to hysteria and resigned only three days before Newt Scamander left. He’s still recovering in Switzerland right now, nerves completely shot to pieces.”
“Nerves?” Gunawan Sutedjo from Indonesia scoffed. “That’s nothing. Do you know what he tried to do in the jungles of Borneo?”
“In my country, he got involved with a Nundu. A Nundu I tell you–”
Soon enough, everyone had jumped in with their own tales of woe. Percival listened with rapidly declining patience. Starting from a year ago, the heads of Department of Magical Law Enforcement all over the world had agreed to meet once every three months to discuss issues which might become global concerns, such as Grindelwald’s recent rise to power. Today’s meeting, held in an impressive castle in Kyoto, was only the fourth of such. Wonderful in theory, the application often left Percival in need of a stiff drink and a long, long holiday. Spending hours in a room full of powerful witches and wizards with egos larger than the Pacific Ocean (yes, himself included, he’d deign to admit) was nothing short of exhausting.
And now, there was the Scamander problem. To discover that his current predicament was actually a global one did not exactly improve his temper. Neither did the others’ reactions, which ranged from amusement to gleeful malice to righteous anger.
“Why,” Hotaru Minamoto from Japan spoke up after the hullabaloo had died down a little, “are we discussing Scamander’s brother and why is he a threat to national security?”
“You haven’t got him yet, have you?” Russia’s Dmitri Volkov said grimly. “Just wait. It’ll be your turn sooner or later.”
“But why,” she insisted, eyes narrowing, “is Scamander’s brother a threat to national security? He’s the British Head of Law Enforcement.”
“Because they’re a demented, demented family,” Percival murmured darkly. The others also wasted no time to make their opinions known, many as loudly as possible. There was one recurring theme: how Newt Scamander had successfully eliminated all smuggling operations of magical beasts in each country by propagating just about any other type of crime. Theseus, the troll, amused himself by coming up with even more horrifying scenarios that might have occurred had his brother not been in the picture.
The confusion persisted until, one by one, they noticed Minamoto’s murderous expression and fell into chastised silence.
“Well?” she demanded frostily.
“Let’s put it this way,” d’Aubray finally took the task of explaining. “Say you’re a regular jack-of-all-trades of the criminal variety. One of your so-called trades is smuggling magical creatures into the country. Plenty of risks but easy profit, considering the high demands for potion ingredients et cetera. And then one day, this young harmless-looking gentleman appears out of nowhere and suggests that you cease this perfectly profitable venture and choose something else that does not involve magical beasts. He even recommends a few alternatives, but of course you laugh in his face—mostly because you’ve never even heard of him before. Besides, the idea itself is ludicrous. No one in their right mind would abandon such a lucrative business only because a stranger says so. Or so you think, until he leaves you weeping in front of the Ministry, gift-wrapped and all for any passing Auror to find you.”
“I see.” To general alarm, Minamoto did not look at all scandalised. “That sounds rather helpful.”
“Helpful?” Volkov repeated, aghast.
“You’re not entirely wrong,” d’Aubray said with a nod. “He did try to make up for the troubles he had caused—in my country at least. That is, he helped us catch quite a few infamous names in our most wanted list. Jacques took it as an insult, of course…”
“Because it was an insult! What he did is still wrong! Making up for it or not doesn’t change anything!”
“If anything, it only sets a dangerous precedent–”
“He has absolutely no regard for any recognised government–”
“You don’t know Newt Scamander,” Madu Falana from South Africa said grimly. “He’s a slippery fish.”
“Actually, he’s a small salamander.” And this, obviously, came from Theseus, who only grinned at the irritated glares sent his way. “Come on, not even a courtesy laugh?”
“Shut up, Scamander.”
“This is your fault. If only you could get him under control–”
“–or had put him on a leash–”
“–in a cage–”
Minamoto held up a hand to silence the rest. “I understand the concerns. However, imagine if his tricks could be turned to one’s advantage. A careful cooperation could be beneficial for both sides. In fact, I’m surprised that you haven’t thought about it, Scamander, being his brother and all.”
Before Theseus could come up with an answer, the others already launched another avalanche of protests. “That’s preposterous!”
“We do not negotiate with criminals,” Volkov said icily. “And we certainly do not cooperate with them. Unlike certain people, I see.”
Minamoto’s face darkened. Just when it seemed that the verbal brawl might devolve into something much more lethal, interruption came in the shape of a letter. It was addressed to Percival and it informed him, after four layers of ciphers, that a certain someone had sent him a large package filled with jewelleries and family heirlooms which had recently been stolen in a major burglary involving a prominent American family, along with a note of apology for the trouble it might have caused. And oh, since the burglar had seen the error of their ways, perhaps Director Graves could understand why the writer chose to omit their name?
Percival read the message six times and then shot a venomous look in Theseus’s direction. It got a perfectly innocent smile in return.
“A tiny salamander problem?”
“The moment I get my hands on him, Scamander, I swear–”
“–you’re going to kiss him hello for me?”
“–I’m going to end him.”
“Well, he probably still has a dragon or two somewhere about, so you might want to be careful–”
Percival stalked out and slammed the door behind him.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
The most ridiculous thing about Newt Scamander was how harmless he looked at first, second, third, even fourth glance. Right now being the perfect example. He jumped a little at Percival’s less-than-friendly greeting before turning to smile nervously at him, upper lip smeared by ice cream.
“We’re, ah, on a vacation, Mr Graves.”
“A vacation,” Percival deadpanned.
“Yes.” Scamander shifted the ice cream cone from his right hand to left, juggling for space with two paper bags full of pastries as he reached into his coat pocket. The ever-present suitcase was standing innocently on the wooden floorboard, next to his feet. To this day, Percival was still trying to come up with a legitimate reason to give the infernal thing the thorough search it deserved. “Pickett has been feeling a bit under the weather lately.”
And that was how he found himself introduced to the notorious criminal’s companion: a bowtruckle, of all things. It was lounging in said criminal’s coat pocket, looking as harmless as its owner despite its less-than-innocent reputation. Which was also exactly like Scamander. The man himself was still prattling about the curious physiologies of bowtruckles, how the smallest change in the weather could affect them, and the wholesome benefits of sea air. Percival forbore to point out that Atlantic City at the peak of a holiday season was chock-full of tourists and there was absolutely nothing wholesome about the throng of people that flocked to the Boardwalk.
“This is a fascinating place, isn’t it?” Scamander cast a look around with much interest, taking in the multitudes of shops with their colourful awnings and generally being oblivious to Percival’s unfriendly expression.
“Fascinating or not, you’re going to turn around, walk away, and get out of my sight in the next two minutes,” Percival told him severely. He had no time to deal with Scamander right now.
The other man shot him a surprised look. “But we just got here.”
“And you’re going to make yourself scarce before I change my mind. Did I mention two minutes? Start running now.”
“If you’re saying some stupid shit like bowtruckles can have a cold again…”
“But they can,” Scamander insisted, a small frown climbing to his brow. “I mean, perhaps not really a ‘cold’ as we understand it, but there are definitely some flu-like symptoms–”
Scamander fell silent, staring out at the sea, but did not move. Percival felt the sharpness of his irritation fray into uneasiness. Scamander’s presence was a complication, even if it turned out to be a coincidence. Not that Percival thought the idea very likely. After all, what were the odds that Scamander—who had earned a permanent spot in MACUSA’s most wanted list—merely happened to stumble into a carefully arranged set-up that would lead Percival and his Aurors to another name in said list?
Not very likely at all.
“Thirty seconds now,” Percival reminded him. From the corner of his eyes, he could see his Aurors trying to blend in with varying degrees of success. Even without Scamander and his ice cream and his bowtruckle, the milling crowd of No-Majs already provided plenty of complications. The last thing he needed was to get an innocent bystander caught in any ensuing crossfire.
“No,” came the soft but decisive answer.
Percival narrowed his eyes. “No?”
“I’m not going to leave.” Scamander looked down and licked at his melting ice cream—and no, the sight did not disturb Percival at all. In fact, he hadn’t seen anything, not even the barest glimpse of pink tongue or the smallest hint of white smear on said tongue, because either would’ve led his thoughts down paths neither professional nor relevant. Which he absolutely did not need right now.
“At least until it rains,” Scamander added after a pause.
Percival stared. Above their heads, the sky was a vision of perfect summer, vast and blue, adorned with light ribbons of white clouds and an unrepentantly cheerful sun. “Until it rains,” he repeated, torn between sardonic and exasperated. “I see. And when would that be? Next month?”
“Shouldn’t be long now.”
Percival opened his mouth to offer a perfectly scathing reply—except the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance immediately rendered every word useless. He looked up, astonished. Ranks of dark clouds seemed to march swiftly from the horizon, spreading themselves across the sky.
A moment later, the rain began to fall.
What the fuck, was his first thought. His second was that no natural clouds, even in their most extreme moments of caprice, would behave so abnormally. The fact that magic must have had a hand here somehow was so painfully obvious that Percival almost felt insulted.
He was in the middle of weighing the ramifications of such an obvious and illegal intervention—not to mention Scamander’s role in it—when the first drops of water hit his face.
“Please don’t be alarmed.” Scamander’s voice was the epitome of soothing calm. “You’ll see in a moment.”
And Percival did. The first person to collapse was a man in a grey suit, to the distress of his lady friend. They had been walking and laughing along a promenade, and now he was lying on his side, seemingly unconscious. Another man followed a second later, then a woman, then two women, and then too many at once to follow. Cries of alarm rose. Confusion and fear hung thickly in the air, ready to burst into mass panic as more and more collapse in quick successions.
Percival recovered from his shock quickly enough to seize Scamander’s wrist, preventing his escape. “What the fuck did you do?” he demanded angrily.
“Don’t worry, it’s really quite harmless.” Scamander was smiling, if a bit nervously. “Just a little soporific—although yes, perhaps Muggles are a little more susceptible to its effects than wizards. Which, actually, is rather useful in this case.”
It took Percival a few moments to understand what Scamander was saying. He looked around and only his Aurors were left standing; his Aurors and one other person. A thin woman in a purple dress. She was frowning, as if confused, but then their eyes met, across a distance covered by unconscious bodies, and her face twisted into a grimace and his into a grin, wide and feral. His magic thundered, a wild storm unleashed now that he had no risk offending any No-Maj sensibilities.
His Aurors were quick to react. Goldstein was already on her, armed with a dozen spells that she flung with precision and without mercy. The others fell to their assigned roles just as swiftly—blocking attacks, erecting barriers, securing possible points of egress. Between ten Aurors and the Director of Magical Security, the net was pulled as tightly as it could. And if the lack of any No-Maj spectator had turned out to be a tremendous help, then Percival knew better than to give the thought more than a cursory glance at such a moment.
It was over as soon as it had begun, the dark witch who had murdered more than a dozen No-Majs safely under arrest; another name struck from the list, Percival reflected with some degree of satisfaction. She was still hurling curses at him, or at least trying to, with very negligible success. Percival smiled tolerantly, but his mind already moved to another matter of pressing importance, namely the empty spot where Scamander had stood barely a minute ago.
That little fucker.
“Sir?” Goldstein cautiously approached him. “Was that–?”
“We’re leaving.” Percival turned around brusquely. “Tell Lopez and Simmons to stay behind and guard the No-Majs. Make sure none of them come to any harm. They should wake up soon.”
If he heard the sound of wing flaps on his way back, then Percival did not look up. Neither did he think about Newt Scamander, smiling softly at the dark, swirling clouds with golden curls clinging to his freckled face.
Parties, in Percival’s opinion, could only be one of two things.
Either it was a mindless, excruciating exercise that he had nevertheless resigned himself to attend only because his mother had asked (threatened) him to, or it was part of a greater plan that would, sooner or later, result in the introduction of a new resident into MACUSA’s Home of the Criminally Inclined.
Luckily for him, this occasion belonged to the latter.
Norman Deering was a relatively recent addition to the ranks of the American wizarding elites—and, as such, liked to flaunt his newfound status by throwing ‘exclusive’ parties to which only the crème de la crème of society was invited. Percival wouldn’t have glanced twice at the man, nor his invitation, if not for one tiny additional detail.
In recent years, there had been an increase of smuggling activities in the country. Some they had managed to uncover and shut down, but the rest was more clever in covering their tracks. It was only after a long, careful investigation that the Aurors could put a name on the driving force lurking behind the scene. The money that had financed the entire enterprise.
Cut off the money and you cut off the legs. The principle was simple enough, and so when the invitation arrived on Percival’s desk, it seemed too good to pass up. For once, he didn’t mind exploiting his social position if it would mean one less scum breathing free air.
He arrived at the event an hour late, dressed to match the occasion. Most of the guests had arrived and the party was in full swing. Loraine Potter, his Head of Intelligence and the only Auror who received an invitation other than him, was already dancing with Simmons, her pretend date for the night. The Junior Auror looked distinctly uncomfortable in this setting, but Percival knew that he would adapt to his role soon enough. His eagerness to please superiors aside, Simmons was Picquery’s nephew through and through.
The first thing Percival did was to make his presence known to his host and hostess. Norman Deering was all gregarious welcome and bovine hospitality, but his smile, Percival noticed with some satisfaction, was stretched too thin across his florid face. The man was clearly unhappy to see him there. Not exactly surprising, but it was certainly suggestive, and he was very interested to find out why. Bracing himself for hours of inane conversation, Percival started working his way systematically around the room, greeting acquaintances and joining countless small talks that irritated him to no end.
Around half an hour later, Percival was ready to set fire on himself. Gerald Fontaine was still yammering about the Quidditch World Cup and some hare-brained theories involving the Irish team. Percival would’ve made his escape a lifetime ago if not for Fontaine’s unpleasant habit to maintain a firm bodily grip upon his listener until he finished his speech—this time, by the sleeve of Percival’s jacket. He looked around desperately for a way out when he saw Simon Deering, Norman’s younger brother, entering the ballroom with a tall woman on his arm.
What the fuck.
Because there, as clear as day, was Newt Scamander. In a dress. Clinging to Simon Deering’s arm.
Percival blinked once, twice. Sure enough, the differences were striking. The hair, for example, was a deeper shade of red, slightly longer and curling prettily at his nape. Then there was the smile, a coy little thing that lent much softness to the angular shape of his jaw. And the soft laugh when his companion whispered in his ear, and the air of quiet elegance, enhanced by the modest cut of his dark green dress. Everything told a different story, and not of the man he knew.
Except that was Newt Scamander. Percival would recognise his magic signature anywhere.
“Excuse me,” he said firmly and yanked his arm out of Fontaine’s grip as soon as Scamander had detached himself from his partner. Percival made his way quickly past couples twirling to a waltz, eyes never leaving his target.
He managed to corner Scamander next to a table laden with drinks. “May I have this dance?”
The other man stopped, surprised. A blush came to his cheeks, evident even under the layers of makeup, when he recognised Percival.
“I, I’m not sure,” he answered nervously, voice a soft, airy thing that made Percival frown (although why he should frown at all was rather unclear to him). “I don’t think it’s a good idea–”
“I insist,” Percival said through gritted teeth.
Scamander bit the inside of his lips, clearly debating with himself. Percival maintained a stern, uncompromising face until a hand rested tentatively on his offered palm.
“Maybe one dance.”
Percival smiled sharply, saying nothing. And that was how they came to join the waltz.
Scamander, he decided later, was a competent dancer with an excellent ear for music. At least when he wasn’t plagued by nerves. The first few turns were excruciating for Percival and his dress shoes. Several missteps and countless confused apologies later, however, Scamander seemed to have finally found his rhythm and settled along the ebb and flow of the music.
“I’m so sorry,” he said for probably the hundredth time, glancing nervously at Percival’s less than charitable expression.
Another day, under different circumstances, Percival might be tempted to allow his temper free rein of his time. Today, he had no such luxury; he had a cross-examination to finish.
“Then give me a plain, straight answer for this question, no sidestepping or deflection,” Percival said, sounding a lot more abrupt than intended. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
The sudden panic that flitted across Scamander’s face was almost hilarious. “Please, Mr Graves,” he whispered, eyes darting around anxiously as his fingers dug into Percival’s upper arm. “Keep your voice down.”
Percival responded by pulling the other man closer without breaking cadence. Scamander smelled of something heady and flowery. “May I inquire the reason for your questionable and possibly disastrous presence in this idiotic event, madam?”
Another blush rose to Scamander’s cheeks. “It’s, uh. Nothing much. Really. I just happened to stumble across some information.”
“Mr Deering. I mean, Mr Norman Deering.”
“And this information involves magical beasts?”
“Among others.” Scamander paused. “I’m sure you know about his positively vile hobby.”
“Which one?” Percival said dryly. “That man has so many hobbies and nearly all of them are vile.”
“Well, I suppose.” Scamander looked down and there might be the ghost of a smile on his lips. “But what I mean is collecting magical beasts from all over the world. Smuggling the lot into the country and pitting them against each other for sport.”
“But why are you here exactly?” And dressed like this, Percival did not add.
“There’s a rumour that on his birthday this year, he’s going to arrange a private show for a select number of people. After the party.”
“And it didn’t occur to you to inform us about it?”
“I reckoned you would be too busy.”
“You don’t trust us.”
“Not with that kind of law, no,” Scamander spoke in a low, uneasy voice, but the meaning was unmistakable. He was still studiously avoiding Percival’s gaze, staring, instead, at his lapels.
He has a crush on you, Picquery had told him after the stolen jewels incident, smiling and fingering cursed rubies and enchanted pearls like they held no sway over her person. The President had clearly meant it as a jest at her Director’s expense, but Percival couldn’t help but curse her for putting the idea in his head now that he had Scamander like this, quietly blushing in his arms.
“What about you?” This question was delivered timidly, as if the man was unsure if he could ask one. “Why are you here?”
“Are you?” Scamander glanced at him, surprised.
“Our host is a boot-licking social climber,” Percival said grimly. “Of course I got an invitation.”
“But why did you decide to attend?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“You don’t usually do this kind of thing.”
“And you know me so well, don’t you?”
Scamander looked away uncomfortably. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be presumptuous.”
The next few turns were completed in silence. Then Percival cleared his throat. “I have a different score to settle with Deering. A smuggling operation. Several smuggling operations, actually.”
“Ah.” A smile lit up Scamander’s face. “So this time we have the same target.”
“Indeed,” Percival purred and enjoyed the resulting flush. With some difficulty, he reminded himself that he was dealing with a criminal—if a disturbingly attractive one at that. If Scamander hadn’t insisted on running about at the other side of the law every damn time, Percival probably would’ve considered the idea of flirting with him. Taking him out to dinner. Seducing him, even. He would’ve enjoyed trying to coax that smile out of its timid cocoon more often. It was really one of the prettiest he had ever seen.
“What about your date?” he asked a moment later to distract himself.
A look of embarrassment came to Scamander’s face. “He isn’t… well, he is not my date, per se. He doesn’t even know that I’m, you know.”
“Not exactly a lady?”
Percival found himself grinning. “What a cruel mistress you are, madam.”
“I do feel bad about it,” Scamander murmured in a small voice. “He’s a kind man, not at all like his brother.”
“He’s got quite a reputation with the ladies,” Percival said, aiming for neutral but ending up somewhere near passive-aggressive.
“I was depending on that, actually, hence the getup. But he isn’t at all like how I imagined.”
“Isn’t he?” He caught a glimpse of Simon Deering standing at the centre of a small group not far from the dance floor. The man was looking in their direction, scowling. Percival suppressed an urge to smirk.
“No. He likes reading and the extent of his knowledge is really impressive. That’s actually how we came across each other, in a bookstore.”
“I thought you deliberately put yourself in his way.”
Scamander frowned, but whatever reply he was about to deliver was lost when screams erupted from the other side of the room. Percival quickly turned as more screams followed, and found himself almost swept by a stampede of guests heading toward the exit.
“Oh, dear,” Scamander murmured, pressed to Percival’s side.
And that was when Percival saw it.
“Is… that one of the creatures you mentioned?” he managed to ask when he finally located his voice. What looked like a three-headed snake of gargantuan proportion was now destroying one half of the ballroom. It—they—looked beyond irate. And the screaming certainly did not help.
“Must be.” A strange note entered Scamander’s voice, so strange that Percival tore his gaze away from the creature. “Can I ask for your help?”
“Yes, please seal every exit out of the room.”
Percival stared at him. “Are you out of your mind?”
“We can’t risk their escape.” Scamander was already making his way toward the enormous snake. Snakes. “Hurry.”
Percival cursed under his breath. After making sure that Potter had Deering under her scrutiny, he used his magic to slam every door and window shut—but not before sending a Patronus to his office to call for backups. One of the perks of being the Director of Magical Security was the amount of things he could get away with, given a good reason. He only prayed that he had one today.
Angry clamours immediately rose from the terrified crowd. Percival couldn’t say he blamed them; being trapped in a room with a rampaging giant reptile (or three) was hardly an amusing prospect. But the idea that said rampaging reptile might escape the house—which was inconveniently located in the middle of a city of five million people—was even less amusing.
A liberal application of the Silencing Charm followed. Every noise in the ballroom disappeared at once, be it shouting and screaming or pounding and stamping. The frenzied panic halted, losing its steam in the sudden silence. The creature, too, hesitated, and that was all the window Scamander needed to gain its attention.
The next few minutes ranked as one of the most bizarre moments in Percival’s life. The crowd was similarly transfixed, torn between horror and astonishment at the sight of this fine lady lowering herself to her knees in front of the monstrous creature. Scamander moved with a kind of slow, deliberate grace, as if mimicking a snake. Carefully, he shifted his weight to one side and unfolded his legs, flat against the floor—and Mercy Lewis, did he shave?
Percival banished the utterly irrelevant thought into the abyss just as Scamander opened his mouth. The sound that came was bursting with sibilants, light but aggressive, drowning what few vowels it had.
Parseltongue, Percival recognised, heart pounding in his throat. Scamander was talking to the snake(s), first to the left-most head, then the middle and finally the right. The creature seemed to be listening, heads bobbing slightly. A spell had fallen over the place and it had nothing to do with magic.
Suddenly one of the heads moved. Percival’s heart lurched. His fingers twitched, itching for his wand, because as infuriating as Scamander was, if he were to die during a MACUSA operation…
But the snake did not harm him. Instead, it rubbed its massive heads along Scamander’s body. Percival saw the moment tension left him, the way his shoulders slumped in relief. Then he looked up, catching Percival’s eyes, a tremulous smile around his lips.
Percival turned away because Scamander looked the very picture of sin, with his legs bared and snakes curling around him. He definitely didn’t need that kind of distraction.
The next time they met, it was late at night in a dark, cold, deserted street.
And Percival almost hexed him into oblivion.
“Scamander,” he hissed, and then grabbed the incorrigible man and Apparated them both into a nearby alley, away from the main avenue. “What are you doing here?”
“I, uh, was waiting for you?” Scamander replied, sounding a little hopeful despite being trapped against the wall by Percival’s bulk.
“You were waiting for me,” Percival deadpanned, ignoring the rise of a disconcerting mix of emotions in his chest at the announcement. It really couldn’t be healthy.
“I happened to stumble upon some rumours–”
“You stumble a lot, don’t you?”
“You have no idea,” Scamander replied with feeling. “At least once a day. It’s really a most annoying– oh.” He paused. “You were talking about the rumours.”
Percival fought an urge to roll his eyes. “Never mind. You were saying?”
“Right. So.” Scamander cleared his throat. “There were rumours that you told Auror O’Connell to, ah, produce me in two weeks. So to speak.”
“And when it didn’t come to pass, you very kindly gave him one-month extension.”
“A moment’s weakness that I’ve regretted to this day.”
“That will be tomorrow. Well, today. It’s past midnight.”
Percival fell silent. A ridiculous idea began to form in his mind. “Are you saying that you’re showing your face to me right now so that O’Connell– are you crazy?”
Scamander bit his lips and somehow it only made him look stubborn. “You’re known as someone who never goes back on his word. So I thought maybe I could spare you the trouble of removing a perfectly capable Auror, or losing your reputation–”
“Mercy fucking Lewis, you are crazy.”
The corners of the other man’s mouth twitched slightly, fighting down a smile. Percival found this very annoying. “What makes you think that I won’t use this chance to arrest you?” he said vehemently.
The strange half-smile persisted. “Because I have a Swooping Evil inside my sleeve, Mr Graves. Besides, you’re a gentleman.”
Percival scoffed despite the strange flutter in his stomach. “Don’t be so sure. For you, I might be tempted to make an exception.”
Scamander sighed. “I suppose one can’t have everything.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“Not in the least,” Scamander said frankly. “Well, there’s something else that I want to talk to you about, if you don’t mind.”
Percival took one step back, glancing at Scamander’s sleeve. “Alright. What?”
“Do you mind if we take a walk? Or… have a cup of coffee maybe?”
“What is this, a date?” Percival retorted acidly.
The familiar embarrassment returned full-force. “Oh, no, I would never dare to presume…” Scamander faltered, looking everywhere but at him, and Percival wanted to shake him for being so damn infuriating. And maybe also kiss him, for good measure.
He cleared his throat to return his thoughts from less proper spheres. “Any place in mind?”
And that was how they ended up in a bench at Central Park at one in the morning. Scamander bought hot coffee in paper cups from a dour man who most likely had more nefarious motives than just selling hot beverages near what was practically an empty park.
To his surprise, the coffee was actually good. They sat in silence for a while, watching the slow curl of vapours. After the kind of day—week—he had, the silence was nothing short of blissful. And if Percival also found himself repeatedly glancing at his companion, then he was more than willing to lay the blame on curiosity’s door. Scamander looked happy, with hair falling over his eyes and fingers curled around the paper cup. For some reasons, the sight of him made Percival think of Christmas and warmth and fireside and snow falling softly outside the window.
He frowned. These lapses of concentration were seriously getting out of hand. He would probably have to apply for a leave if he kept getting distracted like this. The first time in a decade.
“How’s Pickett?” Percival grabbed a topic at random. “And that three-headed disaster you insisted to keep?”
That this new topic might not be an improvement—especially where Percival’s sense of professionalism was concerned—was immediately evident when Scamander looked up and gave him a beautiful, beautiful smile. It was the kind of smile that would topple kings and sink cities and raise empires; the kind that would eclipse the sun, let alone the moon and other puny things like the remainder of Percival’s good judgment.
“They’re very well, thank you.” Scamander sounded genuinely grateful. “The Runespoor, they’re settling in quite nicely. And as for Pickett, his cold is almost entirely gone. The sea air really helped.”
Percival snorted and had to hide his own smile behind his cup. “Yes, I’m sure that’s why you went to Atlantic City.”
“Among other reasons,” Scamander admitted with a slightly crooked grin. Percival looked at him and thought of possibilities. Minamoto’s words began to make more sense now; after all, Scamander had helped him net some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, outrageous methods aside. Perhaps working with him every now and then wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Besides, it would allow him to keep an eye on the man more easily.
He would have to think more carefully about this later.
“So,” Percival broke the silence, “what do you want to talk about?”
“Right. Uh.” Scamander looked down again, suddenly nervous. “I’m not sure where to start. Do you know what an Obscurial is?”
“Do I look like an idiot to you?”
“No, of course not,” Newt said hastily. “Sorry. I only ask because... it’s possible that there’s an Obscurus here. In New York.”
Percival stared, first in shock, then in disbelief. “An Obscurus?”
“The, uh, ‘explosion’ last week?” Scamander continued, still in the same apologetic tone. “I believe it was actually caused by an Obscurus.”
“It was a beast.”
“Well, whatever it was, it wasn’t an Obscurus.” Percival heard his own voice rising. “There hasn’t been an Obscurus anywhere in the world for centuries.”
“Because any government who discovered an Obscurus in their country would broadcast that fact to the entire world, would they?”
Percival fought down a flare of irritation at the jab. “Mr Scamander, we take these things very seriously. We have an entire department whose only job is to keep track of every infant born with magic in this country. And in case you don’t know, the natural signature of magic in newborn infants are strong, much stronger than in their later years. It’s plain impossible for any of them to escape our notice.”
“I’m not implying that there’s negligence or anything–”
“Of course you are.”
“There are other possibilities,” Scamander insisted. “Maybe the child wasn’t born here and only came into the country when they were big enough to avoid detection.”
“Or maybe it was a beast.”
“There is no Obscurus here,” Percival declared, loudly and decisively. “And let me tell you, the suggestion is not only outrageous but also fucking insulting.”
That, at least, got the other man to back down a little. Scamander winced, looking guilty. “I meant no insult–”
“Didn’t you? Think again.”
“All I’m saying,” the infuriatingly stubborn man spoke again after a pause, “is the damage looked like it might have been caused by an Obscurus. And you’re wrong, actually. I met one last year, in Sudan, and the government was either unaware of the situation or unwilling to see the signs. Of course I may be wrong this time, but what if I’m not?”
Percival said nothing for some time, still grappling with his temper. The suggestion was nothing short of outrageous, but Scamander was notorious for being right, especially when it concerned magical creatures. And he was not exactly wrong, Percival realised with a sinking feeling. An Obscurus could certainly do that much damage, but then again, so could a number of beasts that were lurking inside Scamander’s case.
Percival frowned. It was a thought that was going to fester.
“I’ll look into it,” he finally decided—and when Scamander looked up with a hopeful expression, added flatly, “I’m not promising anything. It’s an absurd idea, but better safe than sorry, I suppose.”
“Yes, thank you.” Scamander looked almost breathless with relief.
“However, if you dare to create panic with this bullshit before I say anything, I’m going to arrest you myself, is that clear?”
“Yes.” Scamander nodded, and when his gaze met Percival’s, it was clear and straight. “Thank you, Mr Graves.”
Percival thought of that gaze when he found himself at Gellert Grindelwald’s mercy three days later.
When Newt Scamander stumbled into the cell, all Percival could do was stare at him through one blurry eye. The other was too swollen to carry out any of its usual optical duties.
“Ah.” Scamander sounded thoughtful. “That explains it.”
Grindelwald, on the other hand, was somewhere between amused and impatient. “Well, Director, looks like you’ll be having some company after all. Do get along until I return, will you?”
Then he was gone, wearing Percival’s face and Percival’s clothes and Percival’s dignity. Percival made no reaction. Once upon a time, he would have screamed and raged, torn his own skin and broken his own bones. Those days were long past.
“Are you quite well?” Scamander asked politely, dragging Percival back to the surface.
“Do I look like I’m quite well?” Percival muttered, trying not to agitate too many muscles in his swollen face. The flash of irritation felt jarring and alien, but also strangely welcome. In the end, anything was better than the harrowing despair that had been his sole companion for so long.
“Considering that by my estimation you'd been dead for some time, yes.” Scamander winced, rising to his feet and beginning to examine the walls. “Interesting.”
Percival watched him for a few moments, trying to decide whether he was hallucinating or not. “Did you get caught on purpose?” he tried a neutral question
“Not precisely.” Scamander sounded very much his usual self, apologetic and evasive and too fucking real. “I have, well, questions. There had been some pretty strange goings-on for the past few weeks. So I thought I’d try and put myself in his way, so to speak.”
“In his way,” Percival repeated, feeling faint. That Grindelwald hadn’t simply disposed of him was a miracle in itself.
Scamander now came to kneel in front of him, bringing himself to Percival’s eye level. “Merlin,” he murmured, taking in the chains that held his arms brutally apart and his knees barely scraping the filthy stone floor. Percival felt a prick of humiliation. Grindelwald was one thing, but Newt, Newt was a ghost plucked from his golden past. Someone who had talked to him. Laughed with him. Danced with him.
“Is it the chains?” Newt was speaking again. For a fleeting moment, Percival wondered when he had become 'Newt'.
“The chains. Are they suppressing your magic?”
Percival looked at him strangely. “How do you figure that out?”
“I’ve seen what you can do without a wand,” Newt answered matter-of-factly. “So the reason why you’re still here instead of flattening this place to the ground must be because you have your magic suppressed somehow.”
Percival found himself raising his head, looking at Newt despite the ache in his neck. This ghost thought that of him. Believed in him. A long-forgotten emotion rose in his chest, pressing the back of his throat. It was heavy and painful but it was the kindling of an old confidence. Resurrection was painful, should be, after eons of battling despair and self-doubt, torturing himself with thoughts that he must have been thoroughly useless to let Grindelwald capture him so easily.
“He has the key,” Percival finally said, hoarse and trembling.
“And I assume these chains are impervious to magic?” Newt asked curiously, reaching out to touch the cruel twist around Percival’s left arm.
Newt gasped and lurched, falling forward. Percival hissed, gritting his teeth. The contact aggravated wounds not yet healed.
“Fuck, Scamander, I could’ve told you– are you alright?”
Newt removed himself slowly, his breathing shaky. “I don’t believe it,” he murmured, and suddenly Percival couldn’t bear to look him in the eye. “That’s what you’ve been enduring all this time?”
Percival scowled at the far wall. “Shove your pity and just think of a way to get out of here.”
“Well,” Newt hesitated, “I have an idea. Whether it will work, however.”
And then he produced a green, leafy twig from the inside his coat.
Five minutes later, Percival was free.
He almost wept. Newt, holding most of his weight, was speaking softly and kindly, “Please take it slow. Your body needs to adjust after so long without magic.”
Percival reluctantly obeyed and sat down. His entire body ached terribly, but power was gathering in his veins. It was a heady feeling, and a little unbelievable. For a while, he only sat in silence with tears streaming down his face. All he knew was, he would never again go down without a fight. When Grindelwald came back, Percival would kill him. Or die trying.
Newt murmured something about checking around the cell. When he returned, he was carrying an empty bowl and Percival had managed to stop the tears. Then there was a flutter of magic in the air, warmer, gentler than Grindelwald’s but somehow also wilder.
“The only spell I know how to do without a wand,” Newt said with a touch of self-consciousness. “Mostly because, well, clean water is not always accessible. In the places I go, I mean.”
The bowl was now three-quarters full. Percival drank a few sips, and then the entire bowl, and then another until his stomach hurt.
Newt took out a small vial from the seemingly endless pockets lining his coat. Green liquid swirled in it, shining in the dark. “This can make you feel better,” Newt explained, offering the vial. “Please drink at least a little.”
A lifetime ago, Percival would have asked what was in it; would have ordered Newt to list down every ingredient and explain every effect they might have on human physiology, no exception. Now, he discovered that he barely gave a damn and gulped it down in one swallow.
It worked almost instantly. Quiet warmth spread, a tingle that flooded and soothed, leaving his mind clearer than it had been in the last… he didn’t even know how long he had been kept here.
“What day is it?”
“Wednesday.” At Percival’s frown, Newt quickly added, “The 10th of December.”
Only three weeks and it felt like a lifetime. Percival turned it over in his head. There were so many questions spinning in his head. He wanted to ask what Grindelwald had done using his face. Was MACUSA even still standing. Did the President know. Did anyone know. But the thoughts of answers made him recoil. He felt tired, weak, brittle; one more blow and he would shatter.
“May I?” Newt’s voice was quiet, tender. He had produced a handkerchief from another pocket and dipped it into the water.
Percival only shrugged. He watched in silence as Newt began to clean his face, carefully avoiding the worst of the wounds. His brow was furrowed in concentration, as if he was looking at a particularly complicated puzzle. Percival did not feel like a puzzle at all. He felt pathetic, vulnerable and defenceless. Newt was the only strong thing left here and it was his presence, the warmth of him and the smell of him, that still anchored Percival to the present.
“How did you know?” he heard himself ask a moment later.
“That he’s impersonating me.”
“I didn’t,” Newt answered honestly. “I didn’t know who he was until he captured me.”
“Then how did you know that I’ve been replaced?”
“He wasn’t you.”
Percival let the words seep through him, burn past his flesh and sink into his bones. He wasn’t you. Someone knew that. He tried to ignore the heavy lump in his throat, but heat came to his eyes all the same.
“He has been purging the ranks of MACUSA,” Newt was still talking. “That, in itself, is suspicious enough. Auror O’Connell also told me–”
“O’Connell?” Percival looked up sharply. “You met him?”
Newt managed to look a little guilty. “Yes. That is, sometimes I have a drink with Auror O’Connell.”
“We’re not doing anything illegal,” he hastily explained. “Or suspect. And he isn’t sharing MACUSA’s secrets or anything. We just happened to meet in this diner once and we started talking and… it sort of keeps happening? He’s a lovely man.”
Of course he is, Percival reflected darkly. Devilishly handsome O’Connell with his roguish grin and easy manner and what the fuck are you even thinking right now.
“We met again the day before yesterday,” Newt continued, oblivious to the ridiculous train of Percival’s thought. “He told me that he had been reassigned to Alaska, effective immediately. Before that, he had been kept away from New York City on a series of, quoting his words, colossal waste of time disguised as a wild goose chase, following non-existent leads chasing down non-existent criminals. And Auror Goldstein—she has been demoted to the Wand Permit office, and so have a few others.”
Percival stared at him. “Just how many of my Aurors are in your pocket?”
“None.” This time, Newt’s eyes met his, and it was the same clear gaze Percival remembered. “As I said, we talk sometimes, but they are your Aurors and their loyalty is to you and MACUSA.”
“Don’t you trust them?”
Newt gave him a look but did not pursue the subject. They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. Percival tried to sort through his own thoughts, focusing on facts. So they suspected after all. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise—none of his Aurors were stupid—but he discovered that he was surprised.
It only showed what kind of hope Grindelwald had burned out of him.
“You were right, by the way.” Percival broke the silence, if only to get away from that line of thinking. “It was an Obscurus.”
“I know,” was the calm reply.
“I’m sorry for brushing you off back then.”
Newt shrugged. “That’s all right. I mean, what I told you wasn’t exactly easy to believe. And people rarely ever listen to me anyway, so. I’m sort of used to it.”
Percival frowned. The words stung in a strange way, and it sharpened his guilt into something a lot less benign. Restlessness crawled under his skin, making him jittery and annoyed. This magic, it didn’t feel like his; it felt coarse, raw, a feral, untamed thing that would only destroy everything and anything in its wake.
“Don’t try to fight it,” Newt suddenly spoke again, his voice soft.
“What you’re feeling right now.” He would have touched him, Percival could see it. Cupped his cheek, perhaps, or stroke his wrist. But Percival would’ve slapped him away, and so he did not. “It’s your magic. That happens sometimes, when someone has their magic stifled by force for a long time.”
A backlash, Percival realised. It had happened once, when he had been fifteen, growing out of his body and resenting everything. “You must get out of here,” he rasped, thinking of the destruction he had caused.
“We will,” Newt said firmly, rising to his feet. “Let me see. I’m not sure where the door is, but maybe Pickett can–”
“Get back,” Percival told him. He stood up slowly, legs trembling, unaccustomed to both the strain and the freedom of movement. But he could see it clearly in his head, Grindelwald going in and out of the room, still wearing his clothes and—more importantly—his face. The small flick of his left hand as he did so. The grim set of his mouth.
There were spells so dark and arcane that they had been lost to living memory, but being the Director of Magical Security meant that he had seen his share of dark and arcane. Percival approached the wall on his right and stopped in front of it. He took a deep breath. There was no door, not the kind Newt meant, but there was a key. A universal one.
“Come.” He took Newt’s hand, and then walked into the wall—and ended up on the other side of it.
“What…” Newt looked flabbergasted. “What just happened?”
“He sometimes goes in and out as me,” Percival murmured, heady with relief. “Still wearing my body. So my guess is there are two magic signatures that can get through that wall.”
“Grindelwald and you,” Newt concluded, eyes lit up in comprehension.
“But why would he leave that kind of loophole?”
Percival’s mouth twisted. “Because he loves it, taunting people. He knew I’d be able to figure it out—and that the knowledge would be killing me. The fact that if only I could break free from the chains, then I’d be able to walk out, just like that.”
“Well,” Newt grinned, clearly impressed, “I’m glad you paid attention, Mr Graves.”
“I’ve been incarcerated, not made stupid.”
“So I see.”
The sense of relief did not last long. The room in which they had emerged was dark. A flash of light—and Percival recognised it as his own bedroom.
The realisation filled him with anguish and disgust. He had been kept prisoner in his own house.
Newt remained silent as they slowly went through the place. Everything looked exactly as Percival had left it that morning a lifetime ago—except it was not. The differences were small, subtle, but they were the kind that pricked his consciousness like tiny poisonous needles. More than anything, it was the knowledge that Grindelwald had been here, defiling the rooms, the air, the memories simply by being there, that changed everything.
Percival felt a fresh wave of despair. He could never look at this place again and think of it as home.
“Do you think this will yield to the same trick?”
Newt’s voice brought him back to the present. Percival looked at the walls—and his heart sank even further. This, too, was a spell of no door, but a different one. This was Grindelwald’s insurance in the most unlikely event that Percival was able to escape his chains.
“That fucker,” he swore, suppressing an urge to punch the wall. Even the windows were dark, as if looking out to a great void. “I’ve seen this trick before. This is a one-way spell. We can’t do anything from the inside. Any kind of magic will just be absorbed by the walls.”
“What about brute force?”
Percival frowned. “That might work, but unless one of us could punch through a solid brick wall—and I can’t–”
There were a series of odd, keening sounds. It took Percival a moment to realise that they were coming from Newt’s mouth. He stared, astonished, but a moment later, a response came from outside. A similar keening sound, followed by a growl. Two growls.
“Please step away from the walls,” Newt said quietly.
They had just crouched behind a table when one side of the room burst, tumbling paintings, cupboards, and his grandmother’s china collection to the ground in the process. The resulting cacophony was impressive and curiously satisfying.
Newt was leaning against one of the table’s sculpted legs, waving dust out of his face. Then he turned a very guilty face toward Percival. “I’m really sorry, I should’ve asked first if I could… I mean, this is your house–”
“Not anymore,” said Percival happily. He felt strangely elated and he would’ve kissed Newt if he had had any idea at all how it might be received, but he didn’t. “How did you do that?” he asked instead.
As if to answer his question, a Demiguise suddenly lunged out of nowhere and proceeded to cling to the front of Newt’s vest. Newt laughed, and Percival spent the next minute or so staring, basking in that laugh that it took him a while to realise that the Demiguise had been concealing another creature—no, two other creatures.
“It’s a dragon.” Percival murmured, slightly reeling. “And a thunderbird.”
“Yes, uh, don’t worry, they’re really quite friendly,” Newt said, a note of desperation in his voice.
“You have a fucking army, Scamander,” Percival declared loudly. “At your beck and call.”
It brought a frown to Newt’s face. “I wouldn’t call them that. And they certainly aren’t at my beck and call.”
Percival begged to differ but decided not to argue—not when they were about to help him make a dramatic entrance into MACUSA and unleash the entire force of his magic to bring Grindelwald to his knees.
Nothing would (or could) stop him now.
This was a thoroughly stupid idea.
In his defence, Percival did know how stupid it was. He had barely settled back into his old life. He might be sufficiently considered recovered from the ‘ordeal’ (as Picquery called it, trying to cover her guilt with utter nonchalance, which Percival had actually found much more welcome than the perpetual hangdog faces everyone else kept wearing around him), but it didn’t mean that he was anywhere near recovered. Even with the help of the Mind Healers, he sometimes couldn’t quite control his reactions about certain things—like his face in the mirror, or the sound of footsteps in silence. He had rented a place near MACUSA despite his mother’s demand for him to move back to the family estate in Vermont, but as much as Percival feared solitude now, he also knew that he needed it. Except he hated the place, from its linoleum floors to its bare yellow walls and cheap furniture. He even hated the shape of the windows. One of the things at the top of his to-do list was to find a new place that he actually liked.
And so when he came across bits of rumours that a certain violent group of smugglers had finally gotten their hands on a certain busybody in a blue coat, he knew that the best course of action was to notify Potter. And once she had substantiated the rumour, O’Connell or Goldstein could deal with it.
He did not.
Instead, here he was, staking out an abandoned factory which was supposed to be the base of operation of a certain violent group of smugglers.
“Pretty sure he’s inside, boss,” came the voice from somewhere behind him.
Percival turned to scowl at his incorrigible Auror. “What the fuck are you doing here.”
O’Connell grinned. “As your backup, of course. Couldn’t let our director go alone, could we? And he’s just too stubborn to deploy a full team to deal with–”
“It’s not an official matter.”
“Oh yes, of course, understood, sir. It’s personal.”
“Shut up, O’Connell.”
His order was cheerfully ignored. Instead, O’Connell went on to explain about the smugglers, their modus operandi as well as their infamously ruthless exploits, and why moving in with a large number was a much better plan than storming alone, especially considering the size of the place, and by the way the others already had the building surrounded now, so why not make use of them?
“The President will hit the roof when she finds out,” Percival said darkly.
O’Connell shrugged. “Eh, well, I don’t think she will. But even if she does, she can’t exactly afford to fire forty-three Aurors at once, can she?”
Forty-three, Mercy Lewis. That was more than half of the department. Percival couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around the amount of trouble this would cause, but he would be lying if he said he didn’t feel perhaps a little bit touched. Just a little.
And it did go much more easily, now that he had O’Connell covering his back and the others taking care of any peripheral threats. Percival could concentrate his entire focus on laying waste on every reckless, foolish, impudent scumbags who dared to touch Newt Scamander. The thought of any of them hurting Newt made his blood boil. It was not just anger; there was fear too and he felt like he had gone nearly mad with it.
He found Newt in a small room at the back of the building. He was lying on the floor, stripped down to nothing, and he jerked slightly at the sound from the door.
“Mr Graves,” he said, looking up in disbelief. That was when Percival saw the chains around his neck and wrists. His entire body were covered in bruises if not drying blood, and in the air, there was the distinct smell of burned flesh and something else that made Percival want to replay the last ten minutes and hurt them all over again, only worse.
It was only with the greatest effort that he could force himself not to succumb to rage. “Are you alright?” he asked instead, quickly stepping closer.
“They took my case. Please–”
O’Connell’s warning, followed by the sound of running feet outside, were the very things he needed. When Percival was done with them, his fury was vented and not one of those very deserving souls would be able to get up soon, left within an inch of their lives. Newt was staring at him with a kind of speechless awe that made Percival feel both pleased and self-conscious. He wasn’t showing off—although, yes, he might have been. Just a bit.
Afterwards, he left O’Connell in charge and personally escorted Newt to the hospital—where this bane of Percival’s life showed yet again just exactly why he was the bane of Percival’s life, this time by arguing with the Head Healer about the extent of his injuries and whether he should stay overnight. A long heated disagreement followed, each side proving more stubborn than a Hungarian Horntail. A compromise was only achieved when Percival put his foot down and declared that Mr Scamander would stay in the hospital for one night, and in return, he would be allowed to spend one hour in his case tonight.
“But,” Newt started, and Percival fixed him with a look of such ferocity until the younger man finally looked away, mouth set in what suspiciously looked like a pout.
The Head Healer accepted this condition, albeit a little ungraciously, and declared that she would return in an hour.
Newt jumped out of the narrow hospital bed and winced at the first step. Then he schooled his expression and took the second. Percival scowled but said nothing until they had climbed down the ladder into the case; once they had, he picked Newt up in his arms with the aid of a well-applied Levicorpus.
“Mr Graves!” Newt burst in protest, face flushed with shock and embarrassment. “Please! I can walk on my own!”
“This is how you’re going to walk for now,” Percival said grimly, “so be quiet and do whatever you need to do or I’m confiscating your case in the next two seconds.”
Newt fell silent for a moment. “I beg your pardon, but you wouldn’t.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t, would I?”
“You’re too kind to do such a thing.”
That gave Percival pause. He frowned. He wanted very badly to prove Newt wrong, but Newt was hurt and Percival was a gentleman and no gentleman would seek to claim advantage over such a weakened adversary. Swallowing his retort, he marched toward the door and flung it open.
The sight that greeted his eyes nearly gave him a heart attack.
“Please don’t be too upset,” Newt said in a small, guilty voice
“Shut up,” Percival muttered darkly. True, he had often imagined what Newt might be keeping inside his case, but this. This was illegal madness and a bureaucratic nightmare combined into one horrifying mess. He was so not looking forward to untangling it.
Steeling himself, Percival started walking toward the nearest open space. They made a stop in every section and Newt spent at least a few moments talking to every creature. They seemed to be as hungry for his attention as he was for giving it. And there were a lot of them.
Percival watched in disapproving silence, all the way pretending that he wasn’t working himself up to a hysteria.
What he hadn’t taken into consideration was the way Newt would look, made brighter and lighter by his obvious relief at finding his creatures healthy and safe. There was love shining in his eyes, full and adoring. And now that most of the swellings on his face had gone down, nothing could stop him from smiling.
Percival had never seen him quite like that. There was a moment of breathlessness, and then he realised that he wanted to spend the rest of his life looking at that smile.
As far as revelations went, this one was rather anticlimactic. Percival breathed, deeply and quietly, and let the thought seep into his whole being. Like he wasn’t you.
“The next time you get any information on any illegal operation,” he spoke a moment later, “come to me first, will you?”
Newt reddened slightly, one arm around a big-eyed furry creature. “Yes, I probably should.”
Percival kept his expression and tone neutral. “I know that MACUSA doesn’t have the best creature laws in the world, but we always try to be fair. In any case, it’s better than trying to deal with those lowlifes alone. Yes, I was stupid about the Obscurus, and I know that you don’t really trust me, but–”
The interruption was so unexpected that Percival paused, surprised. He raised an eyebrow, amused but sceptical.
“I do,” Scamander repeated, sounding a little desperate. “I do trust you. You’re a good man and you… you care. You always try to do better, which is to be honest really remarkable. The reason why I didn’t come to you wasn’t– it wasn’t because I didn’t trust you. I’m just used to doing everything alone. I mean, in many ways, it’s a lot less hassle. Does that make any sense?”
“Because people usually don’t listen anyway,” Percival murmured.
Newt looked away. “Well, sometimes, yes. But other times, it’s important to move fast. I don’t always have the time to explain properly. But I’ll try, I promise.”
“Because you trust me.”
“Yes,” Newt declared, face open and earnest—and Percival Graves was a gentleman and gentlemen did not do perfidious things like taking advantage of a weak, injured man who was completely at his mercy at the moment.
Newt glanced at him, cheeks a fetching shade of pink and that shy half-smile quivering on his lips.
Well, fuck it. Percival went and kissed him anyway.
“…and so Decree #21749502 is hereby declared legal and binding, as jointly approved by President Seraphina Picquery and Senate Leader Edward Roche.”
Picquery always had that amused twist on her lips when she signed her name for yet another change in MACUSA’s codex on magical beasts. Today, Percival really couldn’t care less. Newt was beaming at his side and it was all Percival could do not to reach over and kiss him on the mouth.
“Do you know what you are?” the President said when she shook his hand. “Whipped, that’s what you are.”
Percival smirked at her. “What are you talking about? I did this for MACUSA, of course.”
“Of course,” she mimicked him with a snort.
He wasn’t exactly lying. The new regulations were to MACUSA’s benefit, especially in the long run. The fact that Picquery had put her signature on it at all proved that she also thought the same despite her propensity to mock him. If it also happened to please Newt, then it was an added bonus that Percival certainly wouldn’t refuse. Newt made him happy. Every evening he still came home to the same place with the same unattractive linoleum floor and depressing yellow walls, except now it also had Newt in it and apparently that was all the difference it needed.
The only problem was, of course, if Newt were to leave—and he must one day. Percival frowned. He was still contemplating this unpleasant prospect when they walked into the elevator.
“What’s wrong?” Newt asked in concern.
Percival looked at him, taking in the wide blue eyes, the pointed nose, the generous mouth, the striking features that defied all conventions; thinking of all the times he had touched that face, his fingers exploring freely, followed by his lips. He stared so hard until an uncomfortable blush rose to Newt’s face.
“What is it?” He sounded even more anxious now.
A thought slipped in, not at all friendly. “You’ve been here for almost a year now,” Percival said, slowly and reluctantly as if the words themselves would poison the air.
“Ah. Yes, I suppose I have.”
“And you’re still here now.”
“Well.” Newt fidgeted, his brow furrowed slightly. “Plenty of things to keep me busy. I do mean to travel again, though. For research.”
“I see.” Percival could already imagine all the doom and gloom that would take Newt’s place in that inevitable future. “Any specific place in mind?”
Newt shrugged. “Maybe Peru,” he said vaguely. “Or Brazil. The Amazon rainforest hides many secrets.”
“But you’ll come and visit us sometimes?”
“I hope so.”
“Because you never do,” Percival pointed out, trying not to sound too insistent. “I mean, that’s what the others said—not including your brother, of course. Not that they are complaining or anything. You always left quite a trail.”
“Oh.” Newt shifted again, looking uncertain. “Well. I won’t come again if you mind, of course.”
“If I mind?”
By the elevator’s door, Red made a faint, alarmed sound at Percival’s tone. Newt shot a quick, anxious glance in his direction before returning his attention to the floor.
“I mean, I know that I, as you said, tend to leave a trail. And quite a disastrous one at that.”
“No, that’s not what I meant at all.” Percival was scowling now. “I was just making an observation. Because you never return to any of those countries. As far as I know.”
“Oh, well.” Newt was biting his lip. “They’re different.”
“In what way?”
“I never really have a reason for a return visit.”
Percival could already see himself creating a number of imaginary problems in the future only to lure Newt back into the country. “So unless there’s a magical creature in distress, you won’t visit us?”
“I’ll always have a reason to visit New York.”
It took Percival about three seconds to understand the full implication of that sentence, during which Newt had escaped from the elevator and hastily made his way down the rows of desks full of working Aurors.
It took Percival less than three seconds to catch up with Newt and push him against the nearest wall.
“How dare you run away after saying that to me.”
“I…” Newt had turned a bright shade of red. “I’m not really sure how… that sentiment might be received. That is, I am what I am, and you–”
Percival growled and decided that it was time to let his sentiment about the matter known, mostly by kissing this insufferable man senseless before he could try more of Percival’s patience. And maybe also grinding his thigh between Newt’s legs for good measure. The noise that escaped from Newt’s throat as the result was thoroughly satisfying.
“That sure enough for you?”
Newt stared at him, mouth agape and eyes slightly glazed. It was a sight that pleased Percival very much.
“Good. Any other thing you’re unsure of?”
Newt closed his mouth. “Your Aurors are looking at us,” he finally said in a whisper.
Percival’s eyebrows twitched. “Go back to work, you lazy miscreants,” he barked over his shoulder, followed by a snap from his fingers. A collective gasps filled the office. Percival grinned. It had been a while since he had used this trick on his Aurors.
“I think Auror O’Connell’s tie is choking him,” Newt said apprehensively.
“And you care about that right now because?”
“Because, uh, you might have broken a few office rules?”
Percival snorted. “A few? I just broke at least a dozen, so you better appreciate it.”
After which Newt showed just how much he did, by kissing Percival again, tongue and all.