A/N: It's been a while, hasn't it folks? I am sorry for the lack of update, but life has its own way of tying you down to other obligations. Thanks for waiting it out for me…and continuing to read my silly little brainchild.
I already know that this chapter has a much more different Quidditch match then what happened in OotP, but frankly, with Malfoy missing for those crucial few days, the Slytherins probably wouldn't have ever gotten around to using that bloody 'Weasley is our king' song. Plus, Montague was out due to pranking, so it was an entirely different scenario. You may take note that this chapter is truly where OotP veers off (DP veered off from the very beginning) into a different direction.
If anyone has any suggestions regarding the merging of DP into this timeline, let me know. I don't want to run away with it, but I'm dying to try out a few more plot changes – and I'm not sure if they're all workable yet.
Oh, and thanks for reading, and reviewing – again. All of you are the best; literally, you've been the fuel for this story, and I really do appreciate it. That, and your patience. Wish me luck on keeping this story on track!
Disclaimer: In the case of legal precedence, this story, and all its chapters, shall be considered serious, dramatic, and hilarious satire. Re: I don't own anything but my twisted ideas, and y'all better take note of that.
Chapter 9: Fire and Ice
Vlad hadn't believed it the first time. In fact, he remembered laughing and then asking one of the vultures, again, what had happened.
The vulture proceeded to hack in contempt, and tell him exactly the same story.
After another bought of fitful laughter, bordering on the slightly hysterical, he calmed down once more and dismissed his servant.
Daniel was a wizard.
Just for sanity's sake, he repeated the sentence again.
This couldn't be possible. Although the idea of being two creatures at once wasn't entirely in the realm of reality as most people knew it – Vlad just couldn't believe it. A 'wizard' prep school, a boarding school, in Scotland?
Apparently Samantha Manson and Tucker Foley were also of the same ilk, and had joined him there. This was far too coincidental for his liking; as well, it boded long hours of research and bribery ahead.
Vlad started searching in the conventional channels, hurriedly calling and emailing several of his contacts that lay in the shadowy border between the normal world and the not-so normal world. All he had received so far were vague indications that maybe – just maybe – his ghostly informant was correct.
In the end, after a few weeks of fruitless searching, Vlad had found only barely substantial rumors at best.
It was infuriating. He wanted proof.
The Fright Knight was currently trapped in a pumpkin, which was not at all helpful in regards to obtaining precise information. But the vultures had been following him on Vlad's orders, and thus, had known exactly where he went and what he had done. They didn't tell him the details of what happened, but they knew that the place they had visited was home to magic, pure and simple. Vlad didn't control the Vultures so much as he used them, and occasionally, they agreed to be used. They were old enough spirits to be regarded as truthful, if not consistent; so when they spoke of a wizarding school over a millennia old, with present-day students and Daniel being one of them…he had to take them seriously.
Though it needed tinkering, his new creation – Plasmatic – had been wonderfully useful. The hypnotic serum specifically designed to control ghosts, and subtly include a weakness for subliminal messages, had done its job beyond perfection. The Knight hadn't even known he was being manipulated – his mind purposely blanked while Vlad himself had murmured the induction. Vlad's intended influence was small, but the desire to find Daniel was insanely strong, and had forced the Knight to lead him (after several false starts, and months of fruitless searching) directly to the intended target.
"Did you know which portal Fright Knight used?"
"It occurred naturally, just outside of the Amity Park city limits, sweetums," the recorded, sugar-coated voice of Maddie Fenton repeated. If it was possible for a digital entity to sound exasperated….
"Is there any way to re-open the portal, and keep it open for further use?"
"Of course sugar-cookie! One would need to find the correct coordinates; secure the leylines – finding where they intersect, and then create another ghost portal!" She sounded so chipper; it made Vlad feel less murderous. But what she had described sounded impossible, even with his current inventions.
"So is it possible to recreate his journey exactly?" Vlad asked, curious in any case. If he couldn't do it himself, perhaps someone else could.
Psuedo-Maddie frowned prettily. "Not quite. Natural Portals are finicky. In order to perfectly replicate it, you would need someone, or something, that has the ability to rip holes between this world, and others that exist outside the scope of our influence. You would also need someone who is used to traveling in such a manner especially. Buttercup, you are brilliant, but in order to navigate between dimensions, you'll need experience."
Vlad paced impatiently, but his eyes widened with some sort of revelation. "I think I know exactly where to start looking," he said in a tone that made lesser men want to flee.
And with a dark flash of light, Vlad Plasmius swooped into his ghost portal, red eyes alight with determination.
You won't escape me for long, Daniel, I swear it.
Sam was staring at her books, quill in hand, as the minutes ticked by. No work was getting done, but she was stubborn enough to try anyway.
Her thoughts were a mess, muddled with irritation and worry, coupled with the strong urge to hit something and watch it limp away. Danny's situation (see: the gash along his stomach, and the fact that he had felt no pain whatsoever) had made her intensely suspect, and she wasn't able to vent her frustrations on anyone who would really understand or be allowed to know. Sam licked her lips and let her head fall forward onto the wooden desk. The thud was audible to people across the common room, and had obviously startled a few people she hadn't noticed before.
Hermione's bustling was noticeable, even before she spoke. Papers fluttered onto her haphazard stack of parchment, and Sam sat up to move them aside. "Hey Hermione," she said, voice oddly listless.
Hermione noticed. She always noticed. "I saw how much work you had left, and I thought I'd take some time to help out, if you don't mind."
"Thanks," Sam didn't rub her eyes for fear of dragging eyeliner down her face. "Some of this stuff McGonagall mentioned today made no sense to me at all. Transference wasn't this difficult when you taught us," she grumbled.
The other girl smiled. "You're still catching up," she said. "It makes sense that not everything makes sense. I wouldn't worry about it too much – as long as you don't fall behind." She reached over and grabbed a book lying open-faced on its spine. "There's a section in here about it, if you want to know more. It could help with your essay."
Sam grabbed the book eagerly. "Thanks," she said again, and raked her eyes over the small, shaded text. Candlelight had never been more infuriating. But she loved the atmosphere that it created so much; she didn't bother to worry about practicality. "You taking a break from scolding the wonder twins?"
Hermione made a significant mood change. "Yes." Anger held itself in her voice. "It's dangerous to give the unknowing masses unstable, untested magic. You don't find their irresponsibility at all harmful?" There was an identifiable edge to her voice now.
Sam smiled, quickly recovering from mood whiplash. "It's not as bad as some, but you're right. Contracts should be signed, precautions taken, and you should be able to oversee their work, in case of a major disaster."
Hermione blinked. "Oversee? But this isn't a good thing that they're doing, it's –"
"Profitable, in more ways than one." Sam was firm on this. "Look, these are the twins we're talking about. They're going to do this whether you want them to or not." Her limited experience with being with them in the same room, and watching as they pulled their pranks and tested their material, had given her some insight on their intentions. "Plus, they're good at what they do. If I were you, I'd ask to have a hand in it. That way, they'll remember not to overstep their boundaries, and they'll also be thankful to you. Who knows? They might become famous for their inventions. They'll remember you when they're successful." Plus, she liked them rebelling against The Man. It made her all darkly happy inside.
An open-mouthed silence accompanied Hermione's surprise. "I – I honestly never thought about it that way." Her face twisted. "But they're breaking so many rules and endangering the first years…."
"And they do it for the best cause imaginable," Sam said, pretending to read the tomb in front of her. "Fun. You do like fun, don't you Hermione?" she teased.
Pained was the best word to describe the other girl's expression. "Of course I like fun."
"Well, she says this, but really, the definition of 'fun' for Hermione might involve more revision and less Quidditch or something." Ron's helpful chime-in from across the room was not exactly good timing, but Sam couldn't help the smile that spread over her face at the idea. Harry's laughter had accompanied the statement.
"That is not true!" Hermione was almost entering desperate here. "Not necessarily Quidditch, I mean," she continued, her voice firming. "But I'm not all work and no play."
Sam practically leapt out of her seat. Then she paused, wondering if Hermione even knew she had made a Stephen King reference.
"Because that makes Jack a dull boy," she murmured instead, actually trying to read this time.
Hermione looked at her curiously after a moment or two of laughter and quiet discussion between the Three (or the Golden Trio, some said – Sam couldn't use the popular term because it left an odd taste in her mouth). Sam realized, albeit slowly, that she was being immersed into Hermione's small group of friends, and hung out with them at lunch whenever Tucker was hiding and Danny was surrounded by his posse (she still snickered at this). She wasn't one for constant exposure to other people (Danny and Tuck never counted), but Sam had found it oddly comforting to still have people she could talk to, even here, in a different country (a different world, more like). And thinking about home hurt her for several different reasons. Ignoring the pain was a lot easier than dwelling on or dealing with it.
"When did you say you had detention?" Hermione's voice was hardly heard over new chatter in another part of the room, but Sam still figured it out.
"Ugh, that. Yeah, next weekend."
Hermione looked very worried, simultaneously vibrating with rage. "I really hate that woman."
Sam said nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. "Me too," she joined the bandwagon of Hating Dolores Umbridge, for good reason.
"I'm just glad she doesn't know about S.P.E.W." Hermione said in unhappy tones.
Hermione sighed, like she had done this several exasperating times before. "No, not spew. S.P.E.W. Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare. My project to help the house elves out of slavery; as long as it stays underground, I'm sure I won't hear anything about it from Professor Useless."
Oh did Sam's ears perk up then. "What do you mean slavery?" she asked, setting her book down.
"I didn't tell you about this?" Hermione looked like a light bulb, she had brightened so much.
"No," Sam said slowly. "You have to explain the whole slavery thing to me, because that? Hopefully not the same slavery I'm thinking of."
Hermione explained. Sam got angry.
"So it is the sort of slavery you were thinking of," Hermione concluded.
Sam took it all in for a moment. "Does this have anything to do with those things you leave around – I mean the things you were knitting?" It came out a little less tactful than she would have liked, but it worked.
"Yes! But none of them have touched them, so far." Hermione made a little noise of sad irritation.
"Tell you what," Sam said with determination. "I'll look into it some more, and I'll join your club. They've been brainwashed, obviously – through centuries of forced servitude. Do you know their origins?" she asked, the homework completely forgotten.
"They aren't very well-mentioned in the books about magical creatures. Even Hagrid's book is vague."
A fluttering look of sadness came over Hermione's visage when 'Hagrid' was mentioned.
Sam fought herself on whether to pry, or to continue onward with the previous conversation. She decided to go for the latter…sort of. "Well, I'll help you out when I can." She looked down at her somewhat empty parchment, and sighed, putting her things back into her black leather bag. "Let's go sit by the fire. I haven't actually done that today, and I need the warmth," Sam said, trying to dredge Hermione from the depths of her own mind.
It worked. "Have you played wizard's chess?" the other girl asked, suddenly smiling. "It's something of an education."
Harry wasn't working, though he probably should have been. He was too busy losing to Ron at chess, which happened all the time; but Harry always held out some vain hope that one day, Ron would lose his mind while playing and then Harry would win – at last.
Like he mentioned, it was a vain hope.
"Mind if we join you?"
Sam Manson smiled down at the board between the two boys with a somewhat feral expression. Hermione was behind her, looking equally interested.
"Winner plays you?" Ron asked, looking at first suspicious and then surprised. He hadn't taken to any of the transfer students very well, mostly because they had puzzled him thoroughly. The only one whom he had seemed to like at all was Manson – and this was probably because they had a shared love of strategy games. That, and her knack for shutting Hermione up – or at least, her capability to debate their resident scholar without resorting to name calling – was becoming famous throughout the Gryffindor tower.
"Sure," she shrugged in response and sat, as her small kitten bounded on the couches behind her. There weren't many people in the common room tonight.
"So how much do you know about Phantom anyway?" asked Hermione to Sam as they both watched the boys play – or in other terms, watched Harry's pieces get slaughtered. "I never asked, but I admit my curiosity has finally overtaken me."
"That's never happened before," snarked Ron pleasantly, as he kept his eyes on the game.
"Ha ha," Hermione lashed back, the feeling of true menace missing from her tone.
"I just know a few things about ghosts, and about Phantom – but they won't help you much," warned Sam as Bast the kitten purred against her leg. She scratched behind the ears. "If you really want to know more factual information, you should send Danny your questions so he can send them to his parents. They know the most in that field of study. I can give you my opinions though."
Hermione seemed pleased enough by that. "What do you think of him?"
Sam paused for a long moment, and distracted Harry enough that he lost one of his bishops. "He's well-meaning. He's saved us, our town…countless times. The only 'ghost' I know of that's more like a superhero than anything else. They only thing he and the others have in common is ectoplasm. Nothing else."
"Ectoplasm?" Harry asked, giving up his queen in this moment of defeat. Ron grinned wildly and pushed forward.
"'Ghost' blood." Sam explained before Hermione got a chance to interject. "Or, at least, that's what we think it is. Danny's parents are still trying to figure out exactly what ectoplasm is, and how it all works. But from what we know, it is, quite literally, the pure essence of a ghost. Well, when we get the definitions of 'ghost,' 'poltergeist,' and 'spiritual deity,' we'll know that 'ectoplasm' is what makes them what they are." She shrugged helplessly. "It's definitely fringe science, at best."
Harry took a moment to consider the ghosts who so famously wandered the halls of Hogwarts, a thoughtful frown on his face. To think of them even having blood was just a strange, alien idea. Then again, he was a wizard- nothing should really be surprising him. Yet still some things managed to do so.
"Isn't it dangerous?" Hermione looked worried. "To be experimenting with a substance that hasn't really been completely identified?"
"Probably," Sam said, her voice dry and her eyes half-lidded. "But that's never stopped Danny's parents before. Especially his dad. He's a true fanatic about it; I think he's trying to catch a 'ghost' and strip it down to its bare molecules." Ron's face screwed up at the mention of this word – he obviously didn't know what she was talking about. "It would be informative if it wasn't such a horrible idea."
Hermione didn't lose her worried look. If fact, this made her look even more anxious.
There was a brief hush that came over the four Gryffindors. "If Phantom's not a ghost, and not a poltergeist…then what is he?" Ron queried as he picked up a chess piece – a pawn – which calmed immediately once held.
Hermione and Sam both responded, respectively: "We don't know." "It's hard to say." The two girls looked at each other and grinned.
"The wizarding world has written volumes on the subject of life after death, but it's still lacking in anything but theories," Hermione continued. "Poltergeists are…subject to inquiry, but fairly similar in nature: mischievous and disruptive – powerful, sometimes dangerous, and often with or without a true form. They are chaotic. Phantom fits only a few of these qualities, despite claiming to be one of them." Hermione picked up a large tomb and began to comb through it. "Frankly, Phantom could be anything at this point. My research hit a dead end after the events on Halloween."
Sam wrinkled her nose in thought. "I never really thought about the differences. Never knew there were any." Harry remembered the descriptions of her home town 'ghosts' and knew right away – even with his tenuous grasp of the subject – that those creatures were not precisely ghosts. Or at least, not the kind the wizarding world was familiar with.
"Well, what he did at the feast was nothing short of awesome," Hermione was actually using the original meaning of the word.
"The stunts he pulled were pretty brass, but I saw them all the time back home," Sam admitted.
"He saved all of us from a difficult situation," Hermione said smiling.
"He saved you in particular," Harry pointed out, leap-frogging back into the conversation and simultaneously making Hermione sputter – which was always fun. "In the shape he was in, I'm surprised he was still standing."
It was here that Sam smiled in a way that was warm and entirely new to the others around her. "It's not really surprising. I've seen him go through far worse. He always bounces back – it's amazing, really."
Harry was taken aback once again. He was constantly surprised by these new transfer students. Tucker Foley, with his working electronics – and his continued ability to show them off at the library (which drove Madame Pince bonkers) and anywhere else he could carry them. Saman—Sam Manson's determination; her strength, intelligence (which he was, ashamedly, starting to take advantage of – specifically when it came to Charms), and her loyalty to her friends, were continuously impressive.
And Danny Fenton, a muggleborn Slytherin who happened to greatly dislike Malfoy and even managed to garner – within what was considered a den of Voldemort supporters and blood purists – a group of Slytherins with a remarkably different approach to school politics. He was turning into the snake pit's very own dark horse. Harry found that at once hilarious, karmic, and odd.
He remembered their first meeting, which also happened to be their longest conversation. Harry's mind pushed aside Malfoy's presence, and he tried to focus on Fenton, finding it hard to remember the details – which was suspicious, but not overtly so. Harry had difficulties recalling the right way to order his wand movements in regard to some spells, so he didn't think he was the right person to feel suspicious about not remembering things. Still – he knew magic was tricky and often too subtle to detect (unlike wizards and witches themselves, who were so flamboyant they were hard to miss).
Something about the way the Room had organized itself for the other boy…it felt wrong. Stomach Wounds? He recalled the book and felt himself frown, disappointed by his lack of recollection. Why can't I remember?
Nonetheless, Harry continued to think after being unable to brush aside the cobwebs of his memory, interaction with people outside his House was akin to opening a door. A door that had been invisible up until the previous September.
It made him wonder why he felt so narrow. Like he had been looking at the world through a single lens, and had somehow forgotten that others seemed to live alongside him here, at Hogwarts. The D.A. had brought this feeling forth first, but the reactions of those around him in regards to the transfer students in particular managed to shatter his small, but devastating illusion.
"Sounds like you fancy him," Ron broke through and disrupted what little peace they had managed. Hermione choked, while Sam's face went from serene to ruffled in five seconds.
"Don't even joke," she said, looking uncomfortable. "It's not even a possibility, alright?"
"Why not? Ow!"
That was the sound of Ron Weasley saying something blunt and getting bruised ribs for his trouble. Courtesy of Hermione Granger.
Sam did look a little less grim than she had been moments before. "What, aside from the fact that he's…okay, so maybe he's not a ghost, so maybe he's not actually dead." She almost stuttered on the word 'dead,' looking unnerved. "But still. He's off limits – though that doesn't stop the fan girls," she groaned, while Hermione laughed.
"I can relate to fan girls," Harry muttered. "Unfortunately." He didn't add that such flimsy adoration hadn't really been thrown his way over the course of this year in particular. And that had been one of the best things to happen to him in the current climate of his popularity.
Sam smiled. "I forget that you're famous here," she admitted. It made Harry swell with a strange sort of relief.
"Easy to forget when you've just begun to immerse yourself," Hermione pointed out. "Which, by the way, you should be doing by completing your work on Transference."
"That's not fair," pouted Sam, which – despite the dark makeup ensemble – managed to look…cute. "Just because you finished yours early doesn't mean I have to finish tonight!"
"Yes Hermione," Ron said, in tones of Infinite Wisdom. "Let the poor girl rest. I mean, you're not making us do it now."
"That's because I gave up trying to get you two to finish your revision on time years ago," Hermione complained, sounding less snappy and more resigned than anything else.
Ron, being who he was, beamed as if he had been rewarded a compliment. Harry couldn't stop the chuckle that escaped his lips.
The small black kitten, named Bast by Sam, had crawled over and slid comfortably onto the American girl's shoulders. A comfortable silence settled over the four as they sat by the flickering fire.
Harry didn't think he could be this relaxed, especially after everything that had happened over the last year. For some reason, he couldn't muster up the strength to feel irritated or worried. He hadn't experienced such peace for quite a while; some of the reasons for that could be attributed to his own attitude, possibly. He wouldn't rule it out.
"Is every year here," Sam began loudly, as if the thought had just occurred to her. "This mysterious and weird?"
"As long as I've been coming here," Harry's amusement was obvious. "Yes."
The night was a good night to rest. Harry didn't think he would get many others like it.
Danny had wanted to be alone before the game started. Not because he wanted to focus – but because he didn't think he could handle glowing words of encouragement. Not that either Daphne or Bartholomew were prone to fits of warm sentiment, but still. He didn't want to risk it.
Unfortunately, his best friends knew where to find him anyway.
Tucker was the first, and in his arms he carried two speakers and his PDA. As Danny stared, Tucker quietly set up what was slowly becoming a little stereo system. He shoved down a small bout of nervous laughter, and stared at his friend instead.
The first three notes of the song, and Danny already knew what it was. He chuckled and shifted his gloves, wiggling his fingers to tighten the grip. "Tuck," he said casually and clapped his friend on the shoulder. "You rock."
Tucker grinned and nodded his head in time with the beat. Sam entered and at first looked confused before then proceeding to clap slowly, she too keeping time – better than Tucker anyway.
"If you want to destroy my sweater," sang Tucker, badly. His little glowing 3G device was blaring out of a pair of portable speakers. "Woah woah woah."
"Pull this thread, as I walk awaaaay," added Danny, under his breath as he adjusted the slightly uncomfortable shoulder pads.
"Watch me unravel," Sam chimed in, with a smirk. "I'll soon be naked."
"Lyin' on the floor!" sang all three of them, on beat and slightly off key. "Lyin' on the floor! I come undooone."
The music continued as the friends laughed, mixed with nervousness and relief all at once. "See? At least you're not pretending to be a sweater," Sam insisted, a serious look on her face.
Tucker just turned up the volume. "Yeah, cheer up emo kid."
Danny gripped Malfoy's broom and stared at his warped reflection in the shiny black handle. "Yeah, I just." He laughed. It sounded high pitched and uncomfortable. "I mean, have you seen the Slytherin beaters? Jeez – Dash'd run in the opposite direction."
Sam stood in front of him and adjusted his cloak. "Just think: the big dumb guys are actually on your side for once." she said, sounding smug. "You should have seen their faces when you kicked Fright Knight's butt. They were scared crapless!" Sam was the only one who could say that and not sound like a fangirl. Danny needed that in his life.
"Heh, okay, okay." He playfully slapped her hands away so he could finish primping himself. "It's not like anyone's going to notice if I have the cloak knot tied correctly. And for the record, I look stupid."
"Nah, it shows off your –"
"Tuck, don't even finish that sentence, or I swear, you will wake up in a pile of ectoplasm one morning."
Tucker made the universal 'calm down' gesture, while laughing. "Just go kick Gryffindor's butt." Sam glared in his direction. "What? I'm in Ravenclaw. All of us wanna see Gryffindor take a back seat."
"Well, we'll see. You know, I heard Harry Potter was the –"
"Youngest Seeker in a century," chorused Danny and Tucker. "We know Sam. Hermione unwillingly gushed about it herself," finished Tucker, looking bored. "He's Saint Potter." Though the nickname wasn't exactly nice, Tucker had no real irritation behind his statement.
"Of the Downtrodden?" continued Danny, his good-humor finally returning.
He glanced askance at Sam and saw her raised eyebrow of skepticism. "You know, that's what Malfoy calls him occasionally," was all she said before shaking her head in fond exasperation as both Danny and Tucker made gagging noises. She turned back once and smiled at Danny. "Just don't get hurt out there. Apparently, Quidditch can get pretty nasty."
"So I've heard," he responded with a relieved expression. "I'll be fine."
Tucker waited until Sam had gone before packing up and looking at Danny. "You sure you can do this?"
"What? You worried because of the thing that happened this morning and yesterday afternoon?"
"Yeah, the 'thing' where you started shivering and chattering your teeth like it was fifty below," Tucker finished, not amused. "I mean, we still don't know what's causing it – and it could come back at any time."
He cleared his throat once and shrugged helplessly. "I know. But if I don't go out there, well. Use your imagination."
Tucker grimaced. "So…you'll be caught between a rock and a hard place, then?"
"I'd say that by now, I have monthly reservations there."
"Super," Tucker said flatly. "Good luck man." The other boy shot Danny an encouraging grin, and left, the wooden door shutting behind him.
Danny let out a great sigh. Tucker was right about everything; but so was Sam. He needed all the luck he could get.
The air was cold, iced over and crispy. Danny felt the grass crunch beneath his feet as he followed behind Vaisey and the others onto the field. He shivered, and cursed winter. It certainly didn't help him figure out if he was having another attack, as the weather could have easily been responsible. He readjusted his grip on the broom, and looked up at the pearly white sky. At least it wasn't outright snowing. Taking a shaky breath, Danny tried to think about something else, other than Quidditch. This was near impossible, but Danny was one of those people who was getting used to the idea of the impossible, and was almost at home with it by this point.
"You ready?" Vaisey asked him.
Out of the field, hearing the cheers of the Slytherin house amidst the booing of the other three, the atmosphere was beginning to grate on Danny's nerves now more than ever. No one else had said a word to him yet, and it didn't help ease his worries. They obviously didn't want him here. Then again, only Harper and Vaisey had seen him fly.
"No," he said, completely honest. "But I think waiting is worse."
"Most of us are replacements," Vaisey said. "But then, most of us have been around this field before. I understand why you're worried. But don't be. Just do what we did in practice, avoid bludgers, and you'll be fine."
"What if I, uh, lose?" Danny asked in an undertone, trying not to look at the rest of the team's hulk-like shapes in pure horror. They all reminded him too much of Dash – except that Dash didn't look like he'd been beaten with sticks before being sent out into the world.
"We've lost to Gryffindor before. " He didn't sound happy about it, which meant it was true. "So far, no one has won against them as long as Potter's been their Seeker. Except, uh, Hufflepuff with Diggory – but most of us believe that Potter being incapacitated during a match doesn't count as a win." Vaisey said this last sentence rather quickly, and looked askance when he said the name 'Diggory.'
Danny frowned. "Wait, Malfoy didn't win?"
"Not once," Vaisey assured. "The ponce bought us all these nice brooms, and got onto the team. I'm not saying I'm not thankful or anything, but he's got a grudge against Potter a mile wide. It probably affects him during the game as much as actually liking him would."
Danny licked his lips and nodded, looking out as the Gryffindor team marched onto the frostbitten field. "I guess I haven't got much to lose then?"
"Oh, no," Vaisey grinned humorlessly. "Most of us still have to put up with Malfoy. But we really don't have to put up with you. Not more than we have to, anyway."
Danny grimaced openly. "Great. Perfect."
A look of pity crossed Vaisey's face then. "Just don't do anything stupid. If it's skill versus skill, they aren't expecting much anyway, so you're alright."
Danny stared ahead as if one of the goal posts held his imminent doom. The Gryffindor team looked as happy as the Slytherin team did, and Vaisey broke the ice by reaching forward to shake the opposing captain's hand. She looked like the kind of person who could bite through steel if necessary. On the other hand, Vaisey was radiating civility, which probably accounted for the utterly shocked look on the girl's face.
"Fair game," Vaisey's words were iron-clad. Even Danny found himself straightening at the tone. None of his other team mates responded much, except through noises of assent. Surly assent, but assent nonetheless.
"I certainly hope so," Madame Hooch's voice cut in sharply. "I want to see nothing out of sort on the pitch today; that warning goes to both teams. Understood?"
Another assent from the teams playing, and Hooch smiled a gimlet smile. "Then…begin!"
Danny had followed everyone's example, climbing onto the black broomsticks before the two captains shook hands. And as the whistle and the quaffle went up high…so did they.
The white world blurred and shifted, and Danny felt his head spin, before the sensation of floating entered his being; as suddenly as he had felt disoriented, everything righted itself. The worry that had plagued him on the ground disappeared. He knew how to do this. He'd done it all before, although he flew faster by himself.
Danny gripped the broom and grinned with vivacity. He could do this, no problem!
He zoomed around his team between the posts and everywhere he could, even touching base with the crowds below, looking for any hint of the golden snitch. Tired after spotting a few false glints of shine, Danny finally sat, finding a spot high above the spectacle to see more clearly. The voices of the announcer and the students blended together; a cacophony of sound.
In all honesty, he was wondering how he had ever been nervous in the first place. It didn't matter that the air was cold, that the crowds below him were yelling and screaming – it didn't matter at all. He smiled again and flew lazily in a circle, for the feeling of the wind against his face, eyes closed.
Unfortunately, Tucker was right. He should have known better than to have expected this game to go anything other than horribly, horribly wrong.
Numbness crept along his legs and his right side, an icy cold began to make him shiver – and he wasn't sure if it was because he was so high up, or if it was something else. The minute he exhaled, watching in mild shock as ice crystals formed from his breath and fell out of the air to hit his hands like snowflakes, he knew it wasn't a good thing either way.
Hoping it was simply the altitude, Danny eased his broom down slowly, hands shaking with the sudden weight of returned anxiety. No sooner had he descended, the cold hit him harder, leaving his teeth rattling in the aftermath. He closed his eyes and tried to calm down. It wasn't some weird supernatural occurrence – it was just the weather.
Uproar from the stands snapped him out of his denial. Harry Potter had spotted the snitch, and was, with pinpoint accuracy, heading straight for it from his perch by the Gryffindor goal posts. Danny, remembering that he had a job to do, forced his hands to hold on as he zipped forward as fast as he could. A bludger almost hit him on the way, but Danny – so used to dodging Objects of Unusual Size – made a feint before tucking under the flying, angry ball, and avoided it completely.
The wind whipped his hair, stinging his eyes, but he knew he only noticed it because his tears were starting to freeze on his cheeks. Still, he tried to keep up; Harry was really fast, and Danny didn't have the experience with a broom. But he was catching on quickly, as proven by the swirl he pulled, circling Harry to take the edge for the moment. A brief cheer of victory went up in his heart….
…Before the world came to a grinding halt. Danny couldn't breathe, the lights dimmed, and he felt ice in his throat before he slid off the broom out into the empty air.
Darkness swallowed him whole, and though he was choking, it felt oddly like he was drowning.
"Danny! Come on, Danny – speak to me!"
It was still cold, but Danny wasn't being strangled anymore. He opened a nearly frozen shut eyelid, and blinked forcefully a couple of times to get rid of the remaining ice crystals.
"They must have used a Freezing Charm. Only explanation." That voice was familiar, but he couldn't place it. And he couldn't see straight yet, so they were only a large dark shape against blinding white. "I can't imagine a student bold enough – or talented enough – to cast it on a fast moving target."
"It was done well – I had to give him a dozen Warming Draughts before he got back to functioning, human temperature. We're lucky Flitwick was down here today."
"I'm always here for the first match of the season! But don't laud me. Hovering Charms are easy, but hard to aim. Just be glad I'm not twenty years older!"
There was a decidedly amused silence that followed that statement, along with several hurried footsteps that softened to nothing as soon as they got far enough away. Danny would have laughed if everything that made up his existence didn't hurt so badly.
He didn't feel well enough to try interrupting, but Sam was suddenly quiet, which meant a few things: she was either pissed, distraught, or both. So Danny decided a distraction was in order.
It was all he could manage at first. But Sam noticed immediately; he heard her heavy boots thud over toward him.
"Danny? We thought you were dead." She said this, not lacking emotion, but tired, as if she didn't have emotion left to express.
And then she hugged him, tightly, before quickly letting go, and wiping her eyes as she settled into a crouch to his right. There was another hand on his shoulder, which felt like lava in comparison to his own skin.
"You okay? Standard question, I know." Tucker's voice resounded, high and cracking. "Try to take it easy." He sounded exhausted.
Danny really forced his eyes open this time, and was surprised to see Sam's usually pale face blotchy and red, with black streaks of mascara running down her cheeks. He was surprised mostly by her honest display of tears shed; Sam never cried openly. Tucker didn't look so hot either. Perhaps it was because he was the one that had to watch Danny fall from a ridiculous height while playing a sport that required you learn how to stay atop a floating stick while dodging possessed balls. Gosh, when Danny thought about it like that – why did he agree to try out for Quidditch again?
Oh yeah. Bartholomew Harper. That guy would pay.
"Where's – ah," he coughed out, trying to sit up off the cold ground, from underneath a pile of blankets that barely helped ease the ice around his feet.
"My feet are frozen." It certainly wasn't the oddest thing to happen to him. However, it was going on the list; a list that was growing longer every hour of his life.
"True, as Freezing Charms tend to do that to a person." Professor Snape. He'd recognize the tone anywhere, and it certainly wasn't sarcastic in any sense of the word, no sir. "Unfortunately, you aren't entirely unfrozen. Can you feel your fingers?"
Why was he here? Danny wondered idly, still noting that his brain was floating around in his skull, on vacation for a bit. "Er, yeah." He flexed them. They felt warmer than before. "My fingers are … fing-ing."
"Good," he said, bypassing Danny's odd word usage. "A visit to St. Mungo's will not be necessary." The dark-eyed professor always seemed to be glaring. His bedside manner wasn't exactly sunshine and roses.
Danny looked up at him and finally was able to discern faces and sky from large blobs of black and white. Sam and Tuck, of course, were by his side. Professor Flitwick and McGonagall looked busy questioning a crowd of students; they were too far away for Danny to figure out what they were saying. Vaisey, a small portion of the Slytherin team – and about a dozen onlookers plus Harper, were in the group being questioned. Bartholomew Harper looked guilty and worried, but was doing a very good job at hiding it. Professor Snape looked mildly infuriated – but he always looked like that.
And standing next to Snape, looking a great mixture of things was Harry Potter. Holding the fluttering snitch in his left hand.
"What happened again?" he asked Sam and Tucker.
"You froze up there," Sam said. Her words were weak.
"Literally," Tucker added. "Like, into a block of ice; then you fell off at about several hundred feet or so. Professor Flitwick caught you. Really lucky." He said that last bit like he was talking to himself. Flitwick had already departed, apparently off to report to Dumbledore, as he said something to that regard; most of the people were already gone – excluding Vaisey, who had been worriedly speaking to Madame Hooch about the results of the game.
Danny didn't respond immediately. "Where's Malfoy's broom?"
Sam only pointed at the aforementioned object; it was sitting safely off the side, unharmed.
There was a pit of anxiety growing within him, and it surprisingly had nothing to do with his previous transformation into a glacier. Near-certain-death, he was used to. What he wasn't used to was losing.
Well, okay – he was used to it. He had done it several times when he was a ghost. But this time, he was human. He was used to having nothing expected of him when he was Danny Fenton, clumsy geek boy. And as a ghost, he just got back up and tried again, because he knew, somewhere deep down, that he wasn't allowed to give up fighting after one loss. Or even several losses. As a human? He was always prepared lose.
Here, at Hogwarts, he felt like a different Danny Fenton. Sure, he was still clumsy and half-competent with his work, but no one thought he was born defected, or that he would remain that way. They just assumed that it was something he'd grow out of; something he could pass over and become greater than he was now. A well of confidence had sprung up around him, and he had relished the feeling. Now, however, reality had come crashing back down around him.
He hadn't won. For a moment up there, with his arm outstretched and fingers mere centimeters from his goal, he seriously thought he was going to catch the snitch. No matter how brief, that feeling of near-success was still tangible. It almost made him sick with laughter, at the thought that – for even the briefest of moments – he could be something better than he was when he wasn't a ghost. He felt betrayed by his own body; worst of all, he felt embarrassed, humiliated – in a way he hadn't felt for a long, comfortable while. Shame made him shiver again, and he wrapped himself in the blankets tighter, wishing everyone could just disappear for a moment.
"Danny?" Sam murmured, crashing into his thoughts.
It was like she was psychic or something. "Sorry Sam, Tucker," he spoke, voice hoarse. "Just, it's tiring to talk."
They both nodded and didn't speak.
Apparently, Danny didn't speak loudly enough, because as soon as his friends went silent, everyone else decided to start talking at him.
"You're going to need a visit to the hospital wing as soon as possible," Professor Snape said, terse and quick. "To get you thawed out."
"Sure," Danny said. "Love to. How do I get them to thaw faster?" he asked, gesturing lazily to his feet.
"You were fed quite a few Warming Draughts; however the ice appears to be able to regenerate. Hence our urgency," he growled, and his irritation wasn't directed at Danny. Or at least, he hoped not.
Professor McGonagall had come up behind Sam. "I want to make sure this wasn't done by any of my students. Or any student," she said, sounding just as annoyed as Snape, if that was humanly possible. "As requested by Mr. Potter, a rematch will be held if this incident was indeed the fault of anyone present."
"That would be an appropriate response to this blatant act of sabotage," another person chimed in from behind Danny. The voice was syrupy sweet, and made Danny's insides want to go take a shower. "I can't imagine how this could have happened. Gryffindor is known for its nobility; surely this wasn't their doing."
Professor Umbridge smiled – it wasn't pretty. And her tone reeked of condescension.
Danny looked at the immediate change in everyone's expressions. Sam's eyes narrowed with pure defiance. Tucker took the moment to garner a neutral expression – which Danny knew was another sign that he simply didn't like this person. Snape's face didn't change, which, again, didn't surprise Danny in the slightest. McGonagall flared her nostrils, and clenched her fists.
Harry Potter looked like a small, active volcano. Danny heard the familiar tolls of the bells of doom echo throughout his consciousness.
"It could have been anyone; all the houses were here." Danny spoke up, feeling somewhat guilty. He was pretty sure by this point that he was the one responsible for his own, ah, predicament. "And, uh, I appreciate the offer of a rematch, but I don't think it's necessary." He looked to Harry and then closed his eyes, putting his head in his hands to wipe his face. "You were gonna catch it anyway."
There was distinct note of resignation to that last sentence, and Danny didn't want to own up to it. Hence keeping his eyes closed.
"You don't know that," Harry countered, apparently having calmed down enough to speak properly.
"Yeah I do," Danny sighed. "I'm a noob, remember?" All the magical folk looked confused at his terminology. "I haven't been playing as long as you have. The odds were pretty much against me from the start." Like they always are.
Harry seemed at a loss for words. "Are you saying you've never flown before today?" No need to open his eyes to know what kind of expression Harry had on his face.
"Of course I have," Danny said calmly. "I only started using a broom a little while ago."
Sam choked on laughter, before quickly smothering it. Tucker just let out a small chuckle. Danny managed a weak grin, opening his eyes at last.
Harry stared in a mightily confused manner. "It doesn't matter," he tried again, shaking his head. "This was entirely unfair," he continued. "And we should play again – without you freezing and falling off your broom." It took another moment, as he seemed to struggle with something, before he added. "I know how you feel, alright? I had something similar happen to me back in third year. My opponent offered a rematch, but Hooch said that his team had won, fair and square." Though he looked pained as he said this, his voice held no contempt for Madame Hooch – which the coach noticed with some surprise.
Harry's face fell slightly, as he seemed to realize what he had said. "Is it alright if we have a rematch?" This time he was looking at the aforementioned Hooch, and the coach frowned.
"Perhaps," she said. "An investigation needs to be done. But…I am considering it. Mr. Fenton was obviously hexed." She looked to the remaining Professors. "Regardless, he needs to be in Pomfrey's care – those feet aren't going to unfreeze themselves."
The yell startled everyone present into a brief quiet. Danny looked up, and was equally surprised to see a familiar face that had been rather absent as of late.
It was Malfoy; he strode down to the field in the midst of the confusion, and was scowling something fierce. Danny felt ill. It was probably a combination of things that was making him dizzy, but Malfoy's presence could not bode well for anyone. Excluding the professors, of course – they didn't count.
He was followed by a severe-looking entourage of his friends ('Could he call them friends?' thought Danny to himself), and he was limping. He looked pale (which was normal), and furious (which was somewhat normal), and was holding a black something in his left hand. His wand was in the other.
He also looked like he had spent the last few days rolling around in a mud pit. This was probably the only thing that was truly unusual.
"Where is he?" Malfoy shouted, startling Danny despite the fact that he had seen this coming. Malfoy's eyes trained on Danny, and in a heartbeat, the boy raised his wand and shouted out a hex that Danny didn't recognize.
A yell of "Protego!" allowed a shield to be erected around Danny right before the unidentified hex could hit his admittedly vulnerable form. Wide blue eyes started as Danny openly gaped at Harry Potter, whom had cast the shield charm and was glaring daggers at Malfoy.
He wasn't the only one. The fact that this was done in full view of the other professors was not lost on anyone present. Especially the professors themselves. "Mr. Malfoy!" snapped both McGonagall and Madame Hooch nearly in unison. Both women had their hands clenching their wands in record time.
Snape was already striding towards Malfoy, his glower and incredulous expression evident. "Mr. Malfoy, refrain," was all he said, in a tone that boded no cross-examination.
Surprisingly, this seemed to work; though Malfoy looked like he was just barely restraining himself. "He trapped me for two days! In a cave outside the castle," rushed Malfoy, eyes watering and voice half-whiny, and half-furious. "If Pansy hadn't decided to go looking for me, I would still be there." Growling, Malfoy bored holes in Danny's skull with a look of utter hatred. "I don't know how, but I know why. He was the reserve Seeker – there was no one else with enough motive!"
Danny thought that was stretching it a bit, but he was too busy being stunned to say otherwise.
"That can't be true," Bartholomew spoke up, as he had moved back into the fray. "He was with us, and his other friends, when you first disappeared." He sounded unsure, and looked at Danny, waiting for him to talk.
Vaisey, who had remained behind, regarded Malfoy carefully, before adding his own two cents. "When I told him you had gone missing last night, he looked surprised. And mildly disturbed by the idea of his being today's Seeker. I doubt he was the one responsible."
Danny had barely enough of a mind to think, let alone defend himself against such an accusation. So it was nice of these folks to step in for him. But he thought that some form of defense ought to come from the person being accused.
"I didn't do it," was all he could muster, to the collective disappointment of his friends. They were probably hoping for something more eloquent. Danny tried again. "Really, Malfoy, I don't have the skills. You've said so before." Ah, that's better; a little self-deprecation mixed in with his utter incredulity. "I have no idea what you're talking about!"
"Liar!" Malfoy's voice was sharp and irate. "It had to have been you!"
"That," Snape spoke in a quiet voice. "Is. Enough."
Everyone was quiet. Even Malfoy knew better than to interrupt at this point.
"What is your proof, Mr. Malfoy?" Snape asked. It was stated in tones of warning.
Malfoy said nothing, but simply seethed. Snape considered this to be an answer to his question. "Very well. I propose we look into the matter – thoroughly – and when the truth is revealed, we will deal with the consequences." He looked down his rather large nose at Malfoy, who seemed to calm himself forcefully.
McGonagall cut in, after recovering from her own shock over Malfoy's audacity. "We will do no such thing. That is the second blatant attack on Mr. Fenton's person since he stepped onto the Quidditch pitch – if nothing else, such behavior deserves a reprimand. Detention for next weekend," she added, ignoring Malfoy's shriek of disbelief. "That is taking into account Mr. Malfoy's recent trauma," McGonagall seemed immune to the blonde boy's protests.
If he felt relief at McGonagall's words, Danny didn't show it. He did, however, catch Umbridge looking at him in a distinctly disturbing way – with curiosity, like a cat eyeing a new mouse which had inadvertently stumbled onto a dinner plate. He didn't like the look.
Snape's voice was oily here, his face a perfect sneer. "Fair play, Minerva." He turned to Danny for a moment and back to McGonagall. "Have him at the infirmary immediately. I will deal with Mr. Malfoy."
And indeed he did, swooping away with near silent mutterings between Malfoy and his small tribe of sympathetic followers.
Shaking off the feeling that this was going to completely ruin his day – as if it hadn't been ruined already – Danny felt his toes begin to thaw, at last. He could probably hobble back with some aid, and as he quietly mentioned this to Sam and Tuck, they helped him up without a word.
They did both look incredibly angry. More angry than Danny himself, in fact. "I can't believe that guy," Tucker growled. "Like Danny would ever cheat." Tucker was spot on about that, even if Danny said nothing in response.
"He's got no proof, and he comes down here and tries to hurt you like he has every right to!" Sam burst out, finally shattering the illusion of her own serenity.
"Do you need help?" asked Harry, which once again surprised Danny.
Vaisey and Harper were already talking rapidly to McGonagall, Umbridge, and Hooch, pleading for a rematch, and that Danny should be the one to represent the Slytherin team as their seeker. Hooch, on the other hand, was insistent on sorting out the two incidents before making any judgment calls. For now, the results of the match would be up in the air.
Focusing back on Harry, Danny managed a faint smile – which probably looked more like the sort of expression someone would make when discovering that their puppy just died. "Uh, thanks, but I'll manage." He looked down. "Thanks for the save, by the way. I don't know what he was trying to do, but I guess he probably didn't have warm fuzzy feelings in mind, yeah?"
At this Harry laughed a little, looking pleasantly amused. "Quite true."
"It was a good match though, right?" Danny blurted out, and was totally embarrassed by the quiet shame of such a question.
Harry honestly looked like he didn't know what to say. "Yes," he answered, after an alarmed glance at Sam's snarling demeanor. "No, I mean it sincerely. Excellent flying." He too, suddenly looked like biting someone's head off. "Malfoy's usually at my throat; I'm not used to seeing him hostile at anyone else in particular. It still manages to rankle me anyway."
"We can all relate," Tucker drawled. "Trust me. No brownie points for Malfoy."
At that, everyone relaxed somewhat. Harry stilled, before turning his gaze back to a solemn looking Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Danny was not surprised he hadn't noticed them coming closer, disoriented as he was. In a bit of a hurry to get out of anymore uncomfortable conversation, he nudged his friends, who responded accordingly.
"Thanks again," Danny coughed out quickly, before Sam and Tucker hurried him off to Madame Pomfrey's ward.
He felt Harry Potter's eyes on the back of his head as they hobbled off.
Danny thought that tonight would be one of those that allowed him to sleep like a rock. Considering the whole Quidditch debacle and everything that happened before and after, he thought that maybe, just maybe, his head would let him rest in peace. Pomfrey had fed him enough Warming Draughts to light a normal person on fire. As she did so, she had reprimanded Quidditch, broomsticks, and the hazardous nature of Hogwarts, generally speaking. He was lucky that none of the frost had come back while he had been in her presence, or he wouldn't have been able to roam free for the next several days.
Unfortunately, his exhaustion fell prey to never ending anxiety. He was worried about tomorrow, and the consequences of his actions today. He knew Sam and Tuck would most likely always have his back, but he was starting to get used to having others do so as well. Not that Sam and Tuck weren't plenty enough when it came to support, but Danny felt that, when it came to allies, more was better.
Luckily, he was sneaking in after his usual rounds, so he didn't have to greet any of his roommates, or anyone else in Slytherin for that matter. The majority of them believed in Malfoy's accusations, and despite there being no real proof of his involvement, they took the other boy's side.
Harper and the others who had befriended him gave him their full support, unconvinced that the transfer student had anything to do with Malfoy's entrapment.
Not that it meant anything to anyone else, but still; the sentiment was wonderful to have.
Wondering how he was going to face people tomorrow without snapping at anyone and being generally moody (he had already had a fun time trying not to strangle Harper in his frustration over being Mother-Henned – and Harper was surprisingly good at acting motherly), Danny floated back to touch the ground. He admired the slight glow he gave off in the darkness, but shook it off with a yawn.
He had just changed back to his normal self when he felt a small hiccup in reality, and Clockwork appeared.
Decidedly unusual – he hadn't seen the time controlling, all-knowing ghost since the Incident, so why would the illusive ghost appear before him now, of all times? He looked down at the pendant around his neck, and glanced up at the grandfather clock – which had stopped. Eventually, he turned back to what was probably his only ally inside the Ghost Zone.
"Danny Fenton," Clockwork intoned, nodded deeply.
Danny nodded back, a little shocked by the polite tones. "Um. Hi. Uh – not to be rude, but what're you doing here?"
"I thought it might be prudent to visit, seeing as you are outside your normal territory. It might relieve you to know that most of those who would normally terrorize Amity Park find it…lacking when you are not present."
This would have been funny if it hadn't been so sad. Danny muffled a snort. "Huh. That's new. I'd have thought that they'd all be over here by now to try and catch me off guard." He had been feeling somewhat homesick since this afternoon. Not for ghosts, or anything, but the familiarity of a world he knew better than this one.
The impassivity of Clockwork seemed to melt slightly. Danny tried to hide his despondent expression, but obviously, he hadn't tried hard enough. "You look – unwell."
The Time Ghost stuttered – that alone should have been alarming, but he seemed to mean well.
So Danny responded in turn. "Just had a rough day. I'm never good at adjusting to new things, I guess." He shrugged.
"You adjusted well to your powers," the ghost said, eyeing him oddly.
"That took almost month. I've been here for nearly three months," Danny sounded harsher than he meant to, his frustration finally finding an outlet. It happened to be the wrong one, however – so he backpedaled. "I mean, I'm not the smartest person in the world, but I think three months is a long time to adjust to something."
"That depends on what that particular 'something' is."
Eyes narrowed in an annoyance that was not directed at Clockwork, but it was about time to vent. He'd been holding back for long enough. "I just don't get it. What am I even doing here?" Danny burst out, his frustration evident. He covered his eyes, and ignored the stinging he felt behind them. "I left my family, my home, my – my job, and for what? To come here? To help?" he scoffed.
Clockwork said nothing.
"I've been completely useless so far. I can barely save my own town once in a while, and I usually only win because of dumb luck. Now I'm over here and I can barely help myself, let alone other people!" He nearly shouted this last bit, but was stopped by a small noise of dissent.
"You may think you are failing," Clockwork said calmly. "And in some areas, you might be. But you have done much good since you've come into this world, and have helped several others realize their potential for it."
"I can't imagine," Danny said resolutely. "Who could I have possibly helped?"
"Everyone you've met," Clockwork said, equally unyielding. "You must trust me in this. I have seen what this timeline is like without you. An event with dreadful consequences would have happened earlier this day had you not come to Hogwarts. Several events of disastrous import have still occurred, but when you first decided to fly, the timeline was forever altered."
Anger dropped from Danny's face, and he frowned. "How?" he asked.
"That, I cannot say," Clockwork admitted. "But you must trust me. Do not undervalue your presence. It may hurt you, in the long run."
Clockwork's advice was always something to take seriously. The ghost knew practically everything anyway – or at least, what was, and what would be. Danny shuffled his feet, uncomfortable by the mild reprimand – or was it praise? With Clockwork, it was hard to tell. "Why …why do you have so much faith in me?" he asked in a quiet voice.
Clockwork clapped a gentle, freezing hand on Danny's shoulder. "I have always had faith in you, Danny." His voice was unsure, like he hadn't spoken in such a way for many…well, a long time.
Danny was beginning to like the feeling of being reliable. "Really?" he asked after a moment. He sincerely hoped he didn't sound too needy.
The Master of Time floated, temporarily a young child, and came around to face Danny. "I always have doubts about those who I put my trust in." He turned to stare out the window. "It is unlike me to say so, but it is true. Many of those whom I have protected have betrayed me, and when you first fought Pariah Dark, I thought you would be yet another."
Danny knew he shouldn't have felt surprise that Clockwork had been watching him since before the 'Dan Incident,' but he still managed it. "You knew about that? I mean, I know that you know about everything but – you really had tabs on me from that far back?"
"Of course," Clockwork said, and Danny couldn't believe he was seeing it, but there it was. An evasive glance to the high ceilings of the dungeon, and that tone of voice…Clockwork was hiding something from him.
"But, why did you think I would go… y'know, evil or whatever?" Danny asked, despite himself, frowning. He didn't want to push Clockwork. That tactic usually went badly.
The now elderly ghost smiled a little, and shook his head. "You were on the verge of victory, Pariah's minions and a whole kingdom lay before you. You held the ring, the crown, and the key in your hands." Middle-aged Clockwork floated sideways and touched his fingers to one of the grandfather clocks. "You could have ruled…well, you had access to unlimited power and influence. Yet, you did nothing to advance yourself. You locked away Pariah, saved your town; even your enemies led you to safety." Clockwork waved a hand. "A similar story with the Reality Gauntlet." Another moment passed and he thoughtfully added: "You also have yet to take advantage of me, which is something even the well-meaning have done before."
Danny blinked at the truth of this and crossed his arms, simultaneously a little uncomfortable and enthralled by the idea of ruling over ghosts like Skulker and men like Vlad. "So? I mean what's your point?" he asked, his tone curious.
"The fact that you ignored all the fame, power, and glory for your family and your friends is a ringing endorsement for your character. I could not deny aid to someone whose soul held so much caliber and good inside."
While being mildly embarrassed, and feeling that this little bit of praise only illuminated his faults, Danny's mind drifted in a different direction, and he looked up at Clockwork through hanging bangs. "Why the heck am I in Slytherin then? I mean, most of these guys have nothing but ulterior motives. I can't think that far ahead to save my life – sometimes literally."
Clockwork gripped his staff tightly, and shot Danny a distinctly dry look. "As I recall Slytherin himself saying once before," he swiftly morphed into a child and looked askance at Danny. Danny, once again, smothered his surprise that Clockwork knew his house's founding father. "Ambition lies not only with the sly, but also with the intuitive and determined. Most have only enough aspirations for themselves. Your ambition simply lies in several places at once." The ghost gestured with one hand upwards. "I also recall the Hat being rather clever for an inanimate object. Perhaps it sees something within you that even I cannot."
Danny pursed his lips and scratched his head, preventing a yawn. "You know, you still haven't told me why you're here."
Clockwork's serious face came back, not that it was very far away to begin with. "Correct." He floated closer to Danny, who was busy trying not to fall asleep. "I came to give you a warning, a piece of advice, and one gift."
The raven-haired boy's expression twisted into one of silent alarm. "Geez, I knew this couldn't be just a friendly visit," he grinned a little, but nervously.
"Perhaps another time." The old ghost raised his staff. "A word of caution – there will be an attack on someone you know, someone in your Order of the Phoenix. It will come when you least expect it, and I would like you to prepare for it."
He felt his heart clench. "Who? Who's going to be attacked?"
"I can only tell you who, or what, will be attacking him." A quick flash of disgust passed over Clockwork's face. "And you have met them once before."
"The Death Eater guy with the really blonde hair?" Danny asked, not so enthused by the idea. The last time he saw him, he'd nearly been sliced in half.
"No. It will be the snake." Clockwork sounded deadly serious when he said this. "Though you were not aware the first time, this snake is already being controlled, somewhat, by another outside force. This is why you were unable to overshadow it yourself."
Danny followed this line of thought surprisingly well, despite it being three in the morning. "Alright – so the snake's going to attack someone. If I can't ask who…then, uh, where?"
Clockwork let himself look pleased. "At the Department of Mysteries."
He had no idea where that was, but the location was duly noted. "When?" Danny pushed, frustrated that he wasn't allowed to know the potential victim involved.
"December the eighteenth, late in the evening at approximately 11:53pm."
Danny leaned back; he was genuinely surprised he was able to squeeze that much information out of the most vague of his allies. "Why are you telling me this?"
"This timeline is not entirely unexpected, and I have followed all of its possible outcomes. The most positive ones resulted in me visiting you now, giving you this information. But I am still taking a risk in doing so." Clockwork's red eyes were impenetrable. "The Observants already want you monitored – I thought I would satisfy everyone's needs as much as I could manage."
Well, Danny thought that this was just peachy. "And you want me to try to help, or save the nameless person being attacked? Okay – I mean, it's a snake. I think I can handle a snake."
While Danny muttered to himself, and unintentionally worrying himself more, Clockwork cleared his throat politely. Danny's attention refocused almost instantly. "I also advise you to visit a potential friend." He took out a very old, very delicate looking scroll. "He will certainly be amiable, and quite useful in eliminating your…chilly problem."
Darn it. Danny had hoped this wouldn't come up, but – as it always was with Clockwork – such things were inevitable. "I have it under control," Danny lied, glaring half-heartedly at his somewhat-not-really mentor.
Raising an eyebrow, Clockwork simply raised the scroll to Danny's view, handing it out to him expectantly. "His name is Frostbite. He resides in the Realm of the Far Frozen. You will find him most cooperative; after all, he was the one who leant you this."
Danny took the parchment and carefully toyed with the wooden knobs at the ends. "What is it?"
"A very interesting map," Clockwork said, this time with a voice trying desperately not to be amused. "The Map of the Infinite Realms. I believe it will be useful in many different ways. You may find Frostbite's realm with this."
The halfa's face lit up with genuine excitement. "Wow; and here we've been trying to make one for months," he murmured, opening it. Only to find that it looked blank. "Uh, I thought this was a map."
"It has mapped every possible ethereal plane destination within the ghost zone itself and outside of it," Clockwork answered. "And it will help you get there; that is the definition of a map, yes?"
If Danny didn't know any better, he'd think Clockwork was actually being sarcastic. "Uh huh." His eyelids sauntered to half-mast. "How do you use it then?" He was getting better at asking the right questions, he supposed, when he saw Clockwork begin to answer.
"Simply state your destination and it will transport you there. Or, to find the locations of portals – and their subsequent destinations, ask," the ghost smirked. "And ye shall receive."
Danny gave the old scroll a more appreciative glance. "That's slick. Thanks."
"There remains one last thing." Clockwork spoke after Danny was done carefully re-rolling the scroll back to its original shape. He adjusted his staff and grinned openly. "I believe I have taken more time out of your existence than was necessary. I'll indulge you with a few more extra hours." He gestured to the necklace around Danny's neck. "That will provide you with three hours of sleep before it disintegrates, and awakens you, allowing the flow of time to once more run smoothly."
At this, Danny smiled gratefully. "That's the best gift anyone's ever given me, I think."
"As well, you should talk to Sir Nicholas," Clockwork seemed to be reproachful here. "He did ask you to speak with him. I'd advise you to do so; you will learn more than you ever have about the Ghost Zone with his help."
Danny looked appropriately sheepish, and didn't even bother thinking about how Clockwork knew so much about his daily life. "I had forgotten about that, thanks."
Another sharp look at his youthful charge, and Clockwork seemed to regain his normal state of inexpressiveness. "Heed my advice, Danny," Clockwork warned him. "Or things may become much more difficult." He tapped the top of his staff and chimed, "Good luck."
Clockwork disappeared in a flash, and left Danny grinning at the frozen grandfather clock.
Ah, to have friends in high places.