Newton Artemis Fido Scamander had never been quite like the other merfolk in his shoal.
It wasn’t something he could hide. Even his personality wasn’t quite the same; all of his siblings and shoalmates tended to be outgoing and brazen, while he was more quiet. Timid. He was the kind of hatchling that the adults shook their heads at and muttered ‘that one won’t make it a year’, because the sea was a dangerous place even for the bold.
But no one actually said that about Newt, because they all knew his personality wasn’t the only difference in him. They knew, they whispered about it, and they thought he didn’t notice, but he did. He always noticed, always felt their eyes on him like they thought he was hiding something.
He wasn’t, and he was. It was…complicated.
The redhead gave a powerful kick of his tail fin, the vibrant, deep blue scales catching the dim light that filtered down from the surface of the water. The darker, barbed side-fins twitched and adjusted slightly for the gentle currents, the movements almost unnoticeable, done entirely by instinct. He was in a hurry, and it showed in the way he swam quickly past the colorful flying seahorses rather than stopping to feed them kelp from his bag like he would normally do.
“Theseus!” he called out as he saw a flash of dark green in the coral. A head poked up from behind the formation, the hair a darker red than Newt’s, the skin less freckled, but the features still similar enough to pinpoint the two as brothers. Newt swung his fin down and spread his side fins wide to slow himself as he reached the coral, and his brother swam upward to join him- though when he saw what was in his brother’s hands, he recoiled.
“Is that what I think it is?” he asked, and Newt cradled the tiny creature closer, cooing at it as it whined at the arrival of Newt’s brother.
“It’s alright. I’ll watch over you,” Newt reassured the beast before turning his attention back to Theseus. “Yes, it is. And she’s hurt. Do you have any of that jellyfish paste left over?”
Theseus scoffed. “Do you know what father will say if he sees you carrying around a baby Kelpie, Newt?” he asked, the gills on his neck and his bright ear fins flaring with irritation, and Newt fidgeted and averted his gaze with a halfhearted shrug.
“I know what he would say. But she’s hurt, and she’s just a baby. She’s harmless, you know that.”
“She won’t be harmless forever.”
“Well, she hasn’t done anything wrong yet, so I’m not going to hold her future decisions against her!”
“It’s a water demon, Newt!”
Newt shot Theseus a glare, and the Kelpie clung closer to his bare chest, tendrils of smoky appendages curling around the patches of scales on his shoulders and back. Theseus stared at the small beast with disdain for a few moments, but upon meeting Newt’s gaze again, he sighed heavily.
“Come on, I have some left,” he muttered, and he turned and swam toward the nearby cliffs. “I can’t believe you drag me into these things. One of these days you’re going to get eaten by a moody teenage sea serpent, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.”
“When that day comes, you can freely say ‘I told you so’,” Newt said, though there was relief in his voice as he followed his brother closely. Theseus ducked into a cave in the cliff side and Newt followed him in, the glowing fungi on the walls giving the dwelling light that would otherwise not reach it from the sun. The bed of white anemones swayed gently in the light current, and Theseus immediately went to a stone box by the bed and opened it up.
“Where did you find it, anyway?” he asked, pushing aside trinkets and small knives and instead taking out a bag made of woven kelp. When he got no immediate answer, he turned to find Newt fidgeting again, looking anywhere but at him; he held out the bag, but gave Newt a look. “Newt. Tell me.”
“I found her in the bay,” Newt said, plenty of emphasis on the word ‘her’, even if he knew it was useless to try and correct his brother.
“You mean the bay you’ve been told not to go to about fifty times before? That bay?”
“I heard her crying. I couldn’t just leave,” Newt protested as he let himself sink to the stone floor, his tail curled underneath him and the Kelpie in his lap. He opened the bag and with webbed fingers scooped out some of the paste, starting to smear it on the Kelpie’s injured leg.
“What happened to her? Are those net marks? Damn it all, Newt, you went in the bay when the humans had the fishing nets out?” Theseus snapped, and Newt huffed out a frustrated surge of water through his gills.
“They would have caught her.”
“That’s the wizards’ problem, not ours. How did you even get her out?”
The silence that followed the question was enough to tell Theseus exactly how Newt had done it. He pressed a hand to his face, obviously trying to reign in his temper, and Newt shifted nervously.
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“You always have a choice!” Theseus practically yelled, and he lowered his hand to gesture in the direction of the bay. “What if they’d seen you? What if a wizard had seen you? Do you know what they would do to a merperson who can use magic?”
“What good is it if I never use it?” Newt asked as he set the bag aside and pulled the Kelpie in close. The tiny creature was holding onto him tightly, its face buried against his chest, seemingly trying to hide from the argument.
“It’s not a gift, Newt, it’s a curse. You’re not meant to use it at all. Nothing good comes of magic,” Theseus said, his voice low. “We’ve come so far to keep you safe and to make sure that wizard can’t find you. I can’t believe you just keep throwing it back in our faces like this.”
“I don’t mean to,” Newt said, but all the fight was gone from his voice, his ear fins pressed tightly against the sides of his head and his clawed fingers trailing gently through the Kelpie’s thick mane, seemingly more to comfort himself than the creature. He looked so worn down that Theseus felt the anger draining away, and he shook his head and sank down to the floor next to his brother.
“You know we only worry because we want to keep you safe,” he said, and he tried to catch Newt’s eye, but Newt kept his gaze locked on the Kelpie in his arms. He didn’t answer Theseus, either; he didn’t need to. He’d heard this lecture a thousand times before, and it wouldn’t be the last time he heard it, either.
But he would do the same thing, if he had to go back. He would do it every time, if it meant saving the life of a helpless creature.
Like him, they hadn’t asked to be saddled with the constant threat of danger.
Theseus took the bag back without a word, and moved to stow it back in the stone box. “Just…take it back wherever it came from before father sees it. And stay away from the bay,” he muttered, frustration heavy in his words, and then he chuckled humorlessly. “Why am I even bothering? You never listen anyway.”
Newt pushed off the stone floor with one thrust of his tail, and he made for the cave exit, the blue light of the glowing fungi flicking across his pale skin. He paused in the cave entrance, and looked over his shoulder.
“I don’t do it to hurt you, or to worry you,” he said softly. “I just…I feel like if I make something good out of it, I can make up for some of the suffering I’ve caused you. It doesn’t have to be a curse.”
“Just…just go, Newt. I’m not going to argue with you about it right now.”
Newt hesitated, swallowed a burst of water through his gills, and then swam out over the coral. He had to get the Kelpie back to her nest, or the mother might return to find her gone- and the only situation worse than his father finding him with a baby Kelpie was the baby’s mother finding him with her.
He swam back toward the bay, where the Kelpie nest sat just outside of the shallows. Technically he wouldn’t be back in the bay, so he wouldn’t be breaking the supposed rule again; but it was getting dark, and even for the fastest of swimmers, the ocean got more dangerous at night. He found the nest, thankfully with the mother evidently still out hunting, and he put the baby Kelpie back into the bed of tangled plant life.
“No more exploration, alright? Don’t take my example on this. I’m an awful role model,” he said to the Kelpie as he gently pried her grip off his arms. She whinnied softly, still struggling to hold a somewhat equine form, and Newt smiled and petted her one last time before he turned and started to swim away.
The last light of the sun was barely penetrating the water above, leaving nothing but inky blackness below him. His eyes easily adjusted; though merfolk didn’t have the best of night vision, between that and chirps of echolocation, it was easy enough to get around without much trouble. Newt didn’t like the night as well, though; the colors of the coral were washed out to grays, and the fish settled in their hiding spots, wary of the predators that came in the night. He stuck close to the surface to enjoy the warmth that still clung to the shallowest parts of the water, but soon that too would be gone.
Then he heard it; a high-pitched wail, a sound unlike any he had heard before. He swung his tail down and flared his side fins, stopping in the water to spread his ear fins and try and pinpoint where the noise came from.
It happened again, and he realized with a sinking feeling in his stomach that it was coming from the bay.
I shouldn’t, he thought, biting his lip carefully with one sharp fang. It was getting too dark, and there was no telling if the humans were still in the bay or not; it was more dangerous circumstances than any of his previous excursions. Theseus would be expecting him back soon, and if he wasn’t back by true nightfall, his father would be furious.
That same sound again, a cry full of fear. It didn’t sound like any animal Newt had heard before, but that somehow made it even more tempting; the idea of finding something new, possibly saving something endangered.
He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t
He looked back toward home, and then with a frustrated rush of water through his gills, he thrust his tail fin and swam toward the mysterious sound.
The bay was dangerous even when the humans weren’t in it. The bottom was covered in sharp rocks, and there was debris from the things the humans called ‘boats’; he found it funny that they were such clumsy swimmers that they had to take ground with them when they ventured into the sea. At least it meant they couldn’t sneak up on merfolk; they were too loud and clumsy in the water.
But he was going into their territory now. He didn’t have nearly as much room to maneuver in the shallows of the bay.
The sound happened again, louder now as he drew closer. It seemed to be coming from near one of the boats tied to the wooden ground built over the water; had the humans caught something?
He could practically hear Theseus’s furious scolding in his mind as he pressed forward, unwilling to leave a life to chance.
But when he reached the sound, he stopped dead in the water and stared in confusion; it seemed to be coming from a small, shiny cylindrical object about the size of his hand, half submerged in the water. He tilted his head curiously as the sound came from the shiny object again, though the pitch fell this time, as if the not-creature was dying.
Not a creature.
He realized his mistake a moment too late.
A heavy net dropped over him, the weights on the end falling around his tail fin and twisting there, and he thrashed as he tried to claw the net open. It was no use; the net was too heavy. He resorted to his magic in a panic, lashing out, but the net lit up bright white in response to the spell before fading back to black.
This wasn’t a normal human net.
“Got it! This is the one! It worked!” he heard someone shout from above, their voice muddied through the water’s surface, and he fought harder against the net but only managing to entangle himself further. There was suddenly a yank on the net, and Newt found himself pulled up through the water and straight into the cold night air.
The transition was never easy. It was why merfolk rarely ventured past the water surface, even though they technically could. His gills slammed shut instinctually in response to the air around him, and he twitched as he painfully coughed up water. His vision spotted with light as he dragged the first breath of air into his aching lungs, his body begrudgingly shifting its method of breathing even as he tried to break out of the net.
“Definitely the right one. Tried to use magic to break the net, you saw it. No wand or nothin’,” another voice said, and Newt twisted in the bindings to try and see who was speaking. Three humans stood on the boat beside him, and he looked up to find a wooden arm off the side of the boat was holding his net out of the water.
He immediately tried to aim a blast of magic past the net at the wooden arm, but the spell just bounced off the net and scattered painfully. One of the humans stepped back in surprise, while one of the other ones laughed.
“He said it was a mermaid that could use magic. Looks like that bounty is ours, fellas,” he said, and Newt didn’t know what a ‘bounty’ was- human slang had so many different, strange words- but he had the feeling it wasn’t good.
“Please,” he pleaded, his voice raw from adjusting to breathing oxygen instead of water. It sounded odd in the open air. “Please, let me go.”
His plea didn’t seem to move the men at all. Two of them ignored him and instead moved to other parts of the boat, while the third stepped closer with a cruel smile on his face.
“You are gonna make us a whole lot of money, you overgrown fish,” the man said. “But for now, you’re just gonna take a little nap. We’ve got a long trip ahead of us.”
The last thing Newt remembered seeing was the man pulling a shiny thing that looked like a miniature anemone quill out of his pocket, and then plunge it through the net into his side.
* ~~~~~~ *
If Percival Graves read the name ‘Grindelwald’ one more time, he was fairly certain he was going to lose his mind.
The whole wizarding world was obsessed. Not that it wasn’t a pressing matter for Percival, or that it wasn’t worth his attention- but he was just so tired of it. And he doubted that Grindelwald had any interest in trying to extend his reach to America before he even had a true foothold in Europe. He was a man on the run, and that did not carry much advantage.
He closed the report on his desk with a subdued sigh, never one to be very demonstrative of his feelings, even in private. He needed to get out of these four walls, just for a while. He’d become an auror to do his part protecting his people, and spending all day staring at reports of what others had done was not his idea of making progress. It was all he’d done since he got to work an hour ago.
He stood and picked up his coat, draping the garment over his arm as he walked out the door of his office and closed it behind him. With the anti-apparition wards in place, he would need to actually walk to the exit, but hopefully he wouldn’t be bothered before he got there.
It was too much to ask, evidently.
“Mr. Graves,” a voice said from behind him, and he turned to find Seraphina Picquery standing in the hall. She gestured to the investigation room with only a nod, but it was enough to get her point across; he followed her in, and the door swung shut behind him with a simple twitch of his fingers.
Some might call him a show off for the mundane uses he had for wandless magic. He called it expedient, and staying in good practice for using it when it was desperately needed.
“We have a situation at the docks,” Picquery said, tapping a couple of moving photos on the desk. Percival went to her side and looked down at the photos; the first showed a boat pulling up to the dock in the dead of night, and the second showed three wizards moving a large crate from the boat toward one of the warehouses, barely able to keep the crate floating and steady between the three of them. The crate glowed softly with magic; it was obviously sealed carefully, either to keep the contents safe from the outside- or to keep the outside safe from the contents.
It practically screamed ‘up to no good’, but it didn’t seem to be something that required his personal attention. He raised an eyebrow at Picquery. “So, send a couple of junior aurors out,” he said, and she chuckled.
“If only it were that simple,” she said. “No, I need you to go on this one, personally.”
Picquery moved the two photos aside to reveal a third. In this one, the men were still struggling to transport the crate to the warehouse, but when they were almost to the door, there was a burst of light from inside the crate that nearly sent the whole thing to the ground.
“Whatever or whoever is in that crate, it’s not happy and it’s strong enough to nearly break through a three-wizard seal,” Picquery explained. “Go find out what it is, and if necessary, eliminate it or bring it back here.”
Percival nodded, beginning to feel that rush in his blood that came along with the mystery of a new, unknown danger. This was why he became an auror- to confront what others wouldn’t or couldn’t, and to be trusted to make the right decision for the wizarding community as a whole.
“I’ll take care of it, Madame President,” he said with a nod, and then he turned on his heel and headed for the door.
He needed to get to the docks before those three idiot men lost control of whatever they were dragging around in that box.