Teeny tiny note that will be relevant after you read the first paragraph, but yes, I am aware Saturday detentions are a thing (and Danny more than likely knows that too).
Last Time: Professor Umbridge is the Worst™, and Danny made a friend in the Fat Friar.
There were few school related activities worse than Friday detentions. What should be the beginning of a weekend of freedom was instead marred by continued entrapment within school walls.
Danny had had his fair share of Friday afternoon detentions due to various unexplained absences and tardiness, so theoretically the situation should be nothing new. Detention with Professor Umbridge, however, was a harrowing experience beyond any school activity he'd ever engaged in.
Danny and Harry arrived for their final night of detention in a mixed state of relief, trepidation, and frustration. Umbridge began the session by asking to examine their hands; the cuts on Harry's right hand had scabbed overnight but were clearly present, while Danny's left hand remained unmarred, his healing taking care of the minor injury overnight. Umbridge silently fumed over the discovery, and for a moment Danny worried he was about to be assigned more nights of detention, but Umbridge merely huffed and set them to their lines.
"A little more effort from you tonight, Mr. Fenton," she said softly, once the boys had taken their seats. Danny nodded stiffly, the now familiar feeling of fatigue already sinking its claws into him. Umbridge continued to watch him, and in a moment of short-sighted frustration, Danny scratched his first line extra hard into the parchment. When his hand sported deep cuts with large drops of fresh blood, Umbridge nodded satisfactorily and returned to her paperwork.
Danny wished fervently that he could vent to Sam and Tucker about this whole experience (he felt it was a bit too heavy and morbid to lay on Jazz, all things considered), and the thought was met with an abrupt sense of guilt that he had yet to reach out to them since his early morning call to Sam. Danny endeavored to call them that weekend; maybe he'd try to call them after detention, he could certainly use a distraction.
Part of Danny welcomed the pain induced by the quill; it was the only thing keeping him conscious at this point. Writing the words was almost entirely muscle memory by now, and Danny found himself looking for anything to distract him enough to stay awake. Harry seemed distracted too, he noticed, looking out the office window whenever he felt it safe to, and Danny had taken it upon himself to keep an unofficial watch to make sure Harry didn't get caught.
The cuts were beginning to languish as the night wore on, and yet Danny knew he'd be healed by the next morning. Harry, on the other hand, would likely end up scarred from the whole experience, and the thought caused a cold pit to form in Danny's gut that had nothing to do with his ice powers.
Walking into danger, accepting the pain of doing so, living through torture, was so much easier when it was yourself and not someone you cared about doing so.
And Danny did care about Harry. They may not be friends yet but he was still family, and Danny had long since vowed to protect his family. You didn't need to like someone to care about their wellbeing (Danny almost wanted to cite Mr. Lancer as an example and stopped just short of actually doing so).
Danny was met with another stab of guilt as he thought their situation over for the nth time that week. Realistically he knew this was wrong, that what Umbridge was doing to them was inhumane and at the very minimum not tolerated within school walls. He understood Harry's hesitance to say anything to an authority figure, on a more visceral level than he'd like to admit, but it hardly excused the fact that he was quite literally sitting idly by as his brother was tortured.
He'd thought about it over the week, telling someone like Professor Sprout or Professor Dumbledore about what was happening. There was one night in the Hufflepuff Common Room where he'd even walked halfway towards Beatrice Haywood but diverted to a nearby bookcase at the last minute.
He wanted to help Harry more than anything, but the part that ate at him was whether saying anything would actually help. Both Danny and Harry attended Umbridge's detention after all, and if they tried to claim that the Blood Quill had been used on both of them, Umbridge could easily deny its usage when it was clear Danny hadn't been (visibly) injured at all. And when Harry's hand was mentioned, Umbridge would probably come up with an absurd claim that Harry had done it to himself in a misguided cry for attention.
Danny had never hated his healing abilities more than he had at this moment.
"Let's see if you've gotten the message yet, shall we?" Umbridge said finally, making her way to their table. She stopped in front of Danny first and gestured for his hand impatiently. She inspected his hand with a perverse sort of satisfaction.
"Yes, I believe that will reinforce the lesson adequately," Umbridge commented, releasing his hand. As she moved to inspect Harry's hand, Danny took the opportunity to gather his things and stand; the sooner they could leave this office the better. He wavered slightly with the movement and hastily reached out a hand to hold onto his chair.
Danny's scar seared suddenly with pain, and while it was by no means equivalent to the pain he'd felt in June, that accompanied with his current physical state of being nearly reduced him to his knees. Only his grip on his seatback kept him on his feet. It was short and fleeting but it was sharp, accompanied by a spike of anger and fear.
The emotions reminded Danny that for once he knew exactly the circumstances behind the flood of foreign emotion, and he directed his attention back on Harry, who had just yanked his arm away from Umbridge with a look akin to horror.
"Yes, it hurts, doesn't it?" she said softly.
Danny's eyes flashed with anger, and yet while it was usually associated with a sense of chill, the cold rush of his powers leaking into his human form, this time he was met with a sharp burning sensation. He hissed in pain, unable to stop himself, and slapped a free hand to his eyes.
Umbridge said something that Danny couldn't decipher beyond the smug tone, but before he could try to work out the words, there was a hand on his elbow leading him from the room. Unprepared as he was for the sudden movement, Danny's stomach churned unpleasantly and he sacrificed his stabilizing hand to cover his mouth. The hand on his elbow adjusted to take on the sudden weight and led him on with renewed urgency.
As focused as Danny was on not vomiting all over his shoes, he didn't recognize the change in scenery until the comforting chill of the cold wall behind his back seeped through his school robes. Danny sighed in relief through his nose, giving himself time to let the nausea abate.
"Huh?" Danny mumbled through his hand.
"Should I get Madam Pomfrey?" Harry repeated. Danny opened his eyes, grateful not to be met with the same burning from earlier, and took in the worried, pale face of his brother.
"No, m'fine," he said, letting his hand drop. "Just need a minute."
"Listen, is this, er, related to your—uh," Harry waved a hand (the unmutilated one) helplessly, "half-dead thing?"
Danny froze, taking an extra second to remember how to breathe.
"It's just that you're kind of, well, dead on your feet."
"Ha ha," Danny intoned. He decided to count his blessings; it was as good of an opening as he could ask for to pass along Jazz's cover story. "No, that's uh, not related. Fatigue isn't a symptom so much as full on passing out, and the nausea would've progressed into vomiting."
Harry didn't look convinced, and Danny couldn't really blame him; just a moment ago, vomiting seemed like a very real possibility.
"Look, I have a brain aneurysm," Danny said quickly, as though saying it fast would hide the fact that it was a complete and utter lie. "If that was the problem, I'd have a pretty gnarly headache to go with this due to, you know, blood flooding my brain and all. There's a bunch of other symptoms and stuff, but, yeah..." Danny was reluctant to go into them all, if only because he was worried he'd forget a big one or add one that wasn't real.
"Right..." Harry said, and Danny could tell that whatever questions Harry had were going to go straight to Hermione, and he was totally okay with that. "It's not, y'know, hurting you now, is it?"
"Nah," Danny assured. He didn't want Harry to get too worked up about it. "It's pretty passive, all things considered. So long as it doesn't burst, it's like it's not even there."
Ha ha. Ha.
"Are you gonna be okay to make it back to your Common Room?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," Danny said, really meaning it for the first time since leaving Umbridge's office.
"How is it?" Harry asked awkwardly, as if struggling to maintain conversation. "Hufflepuff, I mean?"
"Everyone's been really nice for the most part. Things can kinda get somber in the Common Room because of...you know..." Danny immediately regretted his choice of response when Harry grimaced and looked away. Danny could have kicked himself; what was he thinking bringing up Cedric's death to Harry of all people? He blamed it entirely on the fatigue.
"My sister had a field day about the badger thing though," he said quickly, desperately trying to paddle away from dangerous waters. "I get the distinct impression I'm going to get flooded with University of Wisconsin apparel. That and badger memes from my friends back home."
"What about that man you hate?"
Danny scowled. "He doesn't know yet, but I'm sure my dad will bring it up. That or Vlad will find out about the Wisconsin apparel being packed. He's got bugs in our house but only my sister and I know. Well, I heavily assume and Jazz agrees." Danny explained when Harry looked quizzical, but his confused look quickly morphed into disgust the more Danny spoke.
"He's kidnapped you and is actively spying on you and your family and you don't want to do anything about it why?"
"Same reason for Umbridge, I guess."
Harry didn't have anything to say to that and settled for grimacing at the wall.
After separating from Harry, Danny triple checked the hallway before shifting into ghost form and flying out the nearest window. He flew above the castle and sat on one of the turret edges, well out of the way of any foot traffic this time of night. Danny cleared his throat, trying to rid himself of the latent exhaustion from detention, and called Sam, intending to start a group call with Tucker.
Instead of the connecting tone however, Danny heard the three tones that signified loss of service. Danny frowned, checking the phone, and was dismayed to find a 'No Service' message in the corner.
I guess they wouldn't have cell towers out here, Danny thought glumly, remembering the train ride through the countryside. Maybe he could ask Jazz to look up where the nearest settled town was and he could fly there to call Sam and Tucker.
Resigned to another night of not hearing from Sam and Tucker and unable to muster the energy to go out and fly around in earnest, Danny made his way back to the hallway outside of the Hufflepuff Common Room, shifted back into human form, and made his way inside.
"Not too late tonight, Danny!" Justin called from an armchair, grinning at Danny's return.
"Yeah, not too bad," Danny said tiredly. Danny wondered if Harry had confided in Ron and Hermione about what Umbridge had done to them.
"Wanna join us? We're working on McGonagall's Inanimatus Conjurus essay—"
"Actually, I think I'm gonna write my sister and then go to bed," Danny interrupted, "I'm pretty tired."
"Alright," Justin said, frowning slightly. "G'night."
Danny shuffled into the dorm room, grateful for its emptiness as he dug out his journal and set to writing Jazz.
'Hey, could you do me a favor? Can you tell me where the nearest populated area is to Hogwarts? We don't have any cell towers near here.'
Danny had to wait several minutes for a response, and Jazz's answer wasn't what he was hoping for.
'I don't know where Hogwarts is so I'm not sure I can help you short of listing every town in the UK.'
'It's in Scotland.'
'That doesn't help at all. Mom and Dad say hi, by the way, they're here too.'
'Hi Mom, hi Dad!"
'Hi, sweetie! How's school going?'
Danny grimaced, his hand still smarting from detention.
'It's great! We've been learning how to vanish things in Transfiguration and I was one of the few people who didn't get critiqued when we were brewing a Draught of Peace potion.'
'That's wonderful, Danny!' Maddie replied immediately. 'I'm glad you're having a great time! Oh, and about your phone, you shouldn't need cell towers, it functions as a satellite phone. You should have service anywhere above ground.'
'Really? But then, why don't I have service at Hogwarts?'
'Have you tried leaving the school grounds? Maybe the latent magic of the castle is interfering.'
'That might work. I'll try—'
Danny paused, almost writing 'flying away from the school.'
'That might work. I'll try going to the neighboring town by the school.'
'Hogsmeade, right? We returned the permission slip Albus sent us, so you should be all set!'
'Great,' Danny replied, not entirely sure what she was talking about. 'Listen, I should go, I'm pretty tired. Good night!'
'Bye, Danny!' Jack added.
'Talk to you later, bye Danny!' Jazz finished.
Danny closed the journal, slightly reluctantly, but he'd be unable to talk more with Jazz until his parents were away from the journal. But it was nice to hear from his parents, even in writing, and if he could figure out the phone issue he could call them later. After talking to Sam and Tucker, of course.
Content with the plan to figure out his phone issues in the morning, Danny got ready for bed and settled in for the night.
The next morning, Danny went to breakfast with the intention of getting a quick but large bite to eat before taking a much needed flight around and away from the Hogwarts Grounds. With the detentions he'd had every night, he hadn't had much time to devote to exploring, or even using his ghost powers at all, and he was beginning to feel antsy with the build up of his powers.
Before he could escape the Great Hall, however, Susan's offhand comment about the Daily Prophet had him choking on this last mouthful of eggs.
"Huh, Sirius Black is suspected to be in London," she said idly. "The stones on him..."
"Alright there, Danny?" Justin asked, thumping his back a couple times as Danny tried to recover from inhaling eggs the wrong way. "So long as he doesn't start making his way towards Hogwarts again, it's not much of a concern, is it?"
"No, I wouldn't think so," Susan muttered, seemingly already moved on to another article. "He was sloppy when he first broke out; people spotted him all the way along until he made it here, but he's been either off the grid or spotted in nonsensical patterns for the last year or so. Maybe he's gotten bored of hiding in random places."
Danny swallowed thickly, chancing a look at the Gryffindor table. The trio were bent over their own copy of the Prophet with grim looks on their faces. Maybe it hadn't been a good idea for Sirius to come with them to Kings Cross. He'd been so sure that it'd be fine with Sirius remaining in dog form, but maybe he was incorrect in his assumption that no one outside of the Order knew about his dog form.
Now itching to fly more than ever, Danny offered a hasty explanation of homework concerns and left the Great Hall, quickly seeking a hidden nook where he could shift into ghost form. Once he had, he made his way out of the castle and soared high above it, checking to confirm that his phone still showed 'No Service' before he made the effort of flying far from Hogwarts.
It was odd, viewing the castle and surrounding grounds from above. On the outside, Hogwarts looked like an ordinary (if not massive) castle in the Scottish countryside. There was nothing overtly magic about its walls, the grounds and neighboring forest looked like any other greenery he'd seen in a movie's panning scenery shot, and the lake stretched on beyond the horizon line, no Loch Ness monster or a single magical creature visible from Danny's vantage point. It all looked so normal, like something he'd see on a documentary about medieval Scotland or something, but it was breathtaking all the same.
Scanning the horizon, he wondered which direction he should fly. Whichever direction he chose, he knew he'd have to keep a better eye on his surroundings than he had in London; there'd be no help from Tucker in getting back to Hogwarts if he got lost.
From his scan, Danny noticed a stadium in the near distance, with two tiny dots flying around its confines. Curious, Danny flew towards the stadium.
The closer he got, the more obvious it became that this was the Hogwarts Quidditch Pitch; Danny recognized the rings on either end from the deep dive explanation he'd gotten that summer. He was surprised to find Harry and Ron using the pitch, both flying around on brooms with Harry throwing something towards the rings and Ron trying to block it. He'd last seen the pair in the Great Hall, but then maybe Danny had spent more time surveying the grounds around Hogwarts than he thought.
Danny went invisible before approaching the pitch, intending to watch the pair as they continued their practice. Danny knew Harry was a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, but he hadn't heard anything about Ron being on the team as well. Perhaps that had changed with the recent tryouts.
Harry was a natural on his broom, maneuvering and flying with an ease that couldn't be taught. It was like he had been born in the sky, and Danny couldn't help but feel as though Sirius had been spot on with his toy broomstick gifts on their first birthday.
Thinking of Sirius soured his thoughts slightly as he remembered the Prophet article, and he turned away from the pitch, refocusing on his goal to get his phone working and call his friends. The pitch was on a high enough ridge that Danny felt comfortable using it and the castle as an anchoring point in order to make his way back to Hogwarts, but he hoped he wouldn't have to fly that far in order to find cell service.
Danny had been flying at a leisurely pace for about thirty minutes when his phone showed a singular bar of service. He was surprised to note that it already seemed to be lunch time; he must have been watching Harry and Ron flying longer than he'd thought. Good thing I ate a large breakfast, Danny thought wryly. Not wanting to wait another moment, Danny called his friends, only slightly guilty about the early morning wakeup call he was about to give them.
"Danny?" Tucker answered first, groggily. "Bout time you called, but did you have to call so early?"
"Sorry, Tuck," Danny chuckled. "I got impatient—"
"You're impatient?" Sam interrupted, voice slightly scratchy from morning disuse. "We haven't heard from you all week!"
"Yeah, I know, sorry," Danny said guiltily. "I tried calling last night but the school is in an impressive dead-zone. I had to fly about 15 miles away from the school to even get service, and I was in no mood to do that last night."
"Could've figured that out earlier in the week, y'know," Sam grumbled.
"Yeah, but I, uh, I've been pretty tired," Danny said, voice dropping slightly. "I've had detention every night this week."
"How?!" Tucker asked. "You've only been there a week!"
"We have a new teacher this year, she's the worst," Danny said. "On day one she had a go at Harry so I spoke up to defend him and she gave me detention for 'not respecting authority,'" he said with a mocking voice.
"Wow," Sam said, sounding genuinely stunned. "A week's detention seems like overkill for back-talking a teacher."
"She technically only gave me one night at first and gave Harry a week because he really went off on her, but then she said I wasn't putting in enough effort during detention and she made me stay the rest of the week."
"What'd you have to do?" Tucker asked.
Danny grimaced. "She, uh...she gave us lines."
"Lines?" Sam said incredulously. "What year is it? Who still does lines for detention? What'd she have you write?"
"'I must respect authority,'" Danny said bitterly, flexing his hand. He had been correct in his assumption that his hand would be healed by morning, but he knew Harry wouldn't have been so lucky.
Sam snorted derisively. "Writing lines isn't gonna make you change any behaviors. Mr. Lancer would've had you write 'I will not miss class.' a thousand times over if that would help at all."
Danny silently agreed, but the psychological warfare of having someone carve a mantra into their hand was another thing entirely. He wished he could vent about the Blood Quills but knew there was no way to do so without exposing them to the Wizarding World.
"Detention with your brother has to count for some sort of solidarity, right?" Tucker said after a moment.
"He did thank me for sticking up for him," Danny said. "The whole class was in on it at one point but Umbridge shut it down when she took away house points for the first time. I only got detention because I kept pressing."
"Oh, yeah, they're like a punishment/reward system. Everyone gets assigned to a house when they first get here and then you win and lose points for good and bad behavior, and at the end of the year the house with the most points wins the House Cup." Danny paused for dramatic effect, "Guys, my house's mascot is a badger."
Sam had the good grace to disguise her snort as a sudden coughing fit, but Tucker had no such compunction. "Oh, dude, that's the worst," Tucker said, not sounding commiserative at all.
"I hate you guys," Danny said resignedly, and Sam and Tucker merely laughed at his misfortune. Danny grinned despite himself.
"So, how have things been going at Amity? Any ghost issues yet?" Danny asked.
"It's been awful," Sam said, voice deadpan.
Danny's heart stopped, "Wait, what—?"
"The Box Ghost has been the only ghost we've seen in a week," Sam continued.
Danny looked skyward, grateful that nothing horrible had happened but still letting the coil of anxiety loosen around his gut.
"Oh no, what a nightmare," Danny droned. "We've seen the same amount of ghosts this week."
"Wait, what?" Tucker said, echoing Danny's earlier thrown statement.
"What ghost?" Sam asked urgently.
Danny smirked. Payback was certainly sweet.
"Cujo." When Sam and Tucker groaned dramatically, Danny continued with a grin. "He found me the first morning and has stuck around a little bit to play. I'm pretty surprised he tracked me here, all things considered. It was a long train ride from London. He either followed the tracks the whole way or lucked upon a natural portal near the school. No, I don't know where the school is, I haven't asked for a map," Danny added quickly, hearing Tucker's intake of breath.
"Darn it," he huffed.
"There's a post office in the neighboring town though, I could get you that address probably," Danny placated. "You know, if you wanted to send anything."
"Is this your subtle way of telling us that you're not gonna be home for the winter holidays?" Sam asked, and Danny's stomach dropped at hearing the latent disappointment in her tone.
"What? No!" Danny assured quickly. "I'm-I'm definitely planning on coming home for winter break." He hesitated slightly on his answer, mostly because he hadn't actually made any plans with his family, but the sentiment stood. He did want to go home for Christmas. The thought reminded him that he'd probably need a passport before that time came, unless he was to be magically spirited home again.
"Good," Sam said shortly.
"For the record, I was implying that you could send a thermos or two, or any ghost gear that I may need but don't already have with me," Danny said after a short period of silence.
"That makes more sense," Tucker said, also sounding relieved at Danny's holiday plans. "Are you expecting more ghost activity?"
"I'm not sure," Danny admitted. "I mean, the fact that Cujo found me definitely means that Skulker could, even if I haven't expelled significant amounts of ghost energy yet. And the local ghost population here already knows about me even if they're all benevolent—"
"Local ghost population?!"
Ah, crap, Danny winced. He was so used to talking about ghosts with Sam and Tucker that he'd forgotten the fine line between magical and paranormal at Hogwarts. Luckily, he hadn't mentioned anything about their magical background. Doubly luckily, he hadn't blurted anything about Professor Binns, as much as he wanted to.
"Yeah, it's a pretty old area, so there's a lot of ghosts that linger around the school. They're a bunch of old gossips, honestly, but they don't cause any trouble," Danny explained, glad he could at least be honest about that.
"And they already knew about you?" Tucker asked. "That's awesome! Dude, you're famous!"
"Yeah, and they already agreed to keep my ghost secret," Danny said. "Well, the one I spoke to assured me the rest would keep quiet and I have no reason to think otherwise. Not much I can do to stop them, I guess."
"You could put them in a thermos before they talk," Sam suggested jokingly. Danny couldn't respond with his doubt at the statement; he wasn't sure the thermos would work on non-substantive ghosts, and he wasn't about to try it on ghosts that had done nothing wrong. Perhaps the Friar would agree to an experiment, but having been stuffed in a thermos before and knowing how uncomfortable it was, Danny was hesitant to invite that upon someone else.
"Uh, I gotta go, guys," Tucker said suddenly. "Mom's calling me for breakfast; she wants to drag me to the store this morning, ugh."
"I should go too, I'm starving," Sam agreed.
"Same," Danny said. "I kinda skipped lunch."
Tucker gasped dramatically, causing Danny and Sam to laugh.
"Look, guys, I might only be able to call on the weekends from now on," Danny said hesitantly. "With how far I need to go for service, it's not all that practical for me to leave the school every night. I'm technically not supposed to leave the grounds."
"We get it, Danny," Sam said, valiantly attempting to mask her disappointment.
"Yeah, we're just glad you don't have to go completely radio silent on us again," Tucker added, but he too sounded a bit disheartened.
"I'm sorry," Danny repeated. "You know I'd be calling and texting every day if I could."
"We know," Sam said. "We'll talk to you next weekend, okay Danny? We'll be able to catch you up on all the hot Casper gossip," she added a tad contemptuously.
Danny snorted, "Hey, count yourself lucky that you're still on vacation."
"Barely," Tucker drawled. "I've still gotta finish my summer work."
"That sounds like a you problem," Sam gloated. "Talk to you soon, Danny."
"Bye, Sam. Bye, Tucker."
The line beeped dead and Danny sighed, drooping a bit in midair. While he was glad he could talk to Sam and Tucker again after a week of silence, he couldn't help but notice the lingering disappointment at yet another block between them. It was hard to maintain a conversation when so much of what you wanted to share was off limits. And Sam and Tucker were smart; they had to know that Danny wasn't telling them everything even if they didn't call him out on it.
Danny sighed dejectedly, stowing his phone as he looked back towards the direction he came from. The Quidditch Pitch was still barely visible over the horizon line, for which Danny was grateful as he began making his way back to the school. If he hurried, he might be able to get some homework done before dinner.
Thoughts of homework fled his mind as he approached the pitch, distracted by the full team now flying around for practice (and a not insignificant amount of hecklers in the stands). The Gryffindor Quidditch Team was warming up by passing one of the balls (the Quaffle?) between each other. Ron had just chased down a pass he had just barely missed catching, and Danny could seem him blushing madly even from his view in one of the top boxes. The hecklers, who Danny had now identified as Slytherins with Malfoy front and center, were howling with laughter.
"Come on now, Ron," one of the Gryffindors called crossly. "Pay attention."
Danny winced; he could certainly sympathize with athletic blunders, but that was why he had never volunteered himself for public scrutiny by trying out for a sports team.
Danny watched as the practice progressed, steadily getting worse as time went on. One of the players had ended up with a bloody nose from an enthusiastic pass from Ron, and the player with a whistle kept cutting practice short to correct something or other. The practice finally came to an abrupt halt when the previously injured player was suddenly whisked away to the hospital wing due to rapid blood loss.
Danny had admittedly been hoping for a better exhibition of Quidditch and so he returned to the castle glumly; he'd hoped the fresh air and speaking to Sam and Tucker would lift his spirits but Sirius's potential exposure, Sam and Tucker's disappointment at the lack of future phone time, and Gryffindor's abysmal Quidditch practice had done little to cheer him up. All he'd managed to accomplish with his day was burn time he could've spent putting a dent in his homework.
As it turned out, he arrived with barely enough time to change back into human form and return to the common room before most people were getting ready to go to the Great Hall for dinner.
"Danny! Where've you been all day?" Justin asked, joining him on the way to the Hall.
"Around," Danny said vaguely.
"I didn't see you in the library earlier," he said. "And you weren't at lunch! You must be starving."
"Yeah," Danny agreed. "I kinda lost track of time. I, uh, was talking to some friends from back home."
"With that ecto-phone of yours?" Ernie asked. "You mentioned it at the Start of Term Feast."
"Yeah, it took a few tries for it to work," Danny said. "I ended up having to get pretty far away from the castle for it to work."
"Leaving the grounds without permission in your first week, you really are a latent Gryffindor, aren't you?" Justin grinned. "Don't tell the prefects," he added, smirking behind Danny towards Ernie.
"It's funny," Ernie said flatly, not looking at either of them, "how the last few seconds have been entirely silent."
Danny and Justin both sniggered as the group found seats at the Hufflepuff table.
"Seriously though, how far'd you get? Hogsmeade?" Justin asked eagerly, keeping his voice down. Ernie's face adopted a long suffering look as he attempted to block the conversation from his attention.
"Yeah, pretty much," Danny said, accepting the silver-plattered lie.
As people talked about the work they'd accomplished that day, Danny began to feel slightly nervous at the amount of homework he had remaining for him. He'd likely have to spend most of Sunday finishing it, despite having told people that he'd planned to work on it today. At least he'd been able to come clean to Justin and Ernie (for the most part) about what he'd really been up to; maybe they'd be willing to help him if his homework situation ended up becoming dire tomorrow.
"Danny, do you have a minute?" a voice behind his shoulder asked suddenly. Danny had only just turned and identified Ginny when she hauled him off the bench by his arm. "Brilliant," she said, not giving him a chance to respond beyond an indignant squawk.
"See you later, Danny!" Justin, the traitor, grinned at him, stealing what was left of his dinner.
"What was that about?" Danny asked crossly once Ginny had dragged him into the Entrance Hall. While he'd managed to inhale about half of his dinner, he'd been hoping to feast on a bit more to make up for his missed lunch. Maybe he'd ask Justin if he knew how to access the Kitchens later; Beatrice had made it sound like a common occurrence during her speech.
"I wanted to get outside before dinner ended so people won't spot us," she explained, which did nothing to really answer his question.
"Why are we going outside?"
"We're going to the training grounds and borrowing a school broom," Ginny said briskly, still pulling him along. "Then we're gonna find a section of the grounds away from the windows; Ravenclaw booked the pitch for six so we won't be able to practice there."
"Flying, of course. Now, come on!"
Danny didn't have an immediate answer to this as he already knew how to fly and yet could not share this fact with Ginny. Although, if she meant she was going to teach him how to fly on a broomstick, that was something different entirely.
Ginny led him to a deceptively-rickety shack with an intimidating padlock on it. Rather than take out her wand, she fished two metal picks out of her pocket.
"Fred and George taught me how to pick locks the muggle way," she explained, working on the padlock. "Only Madam Hooch and Quidditch captains have keys, and you can't magically unlock it, so..." she trailed off, focusing on the lock, and about a minute later, the lock clicked and she yanked it open with a triumphant grin.
Danny waited patiently outside, taking the time to observe what he could of the shack. There were a few dozen broomsticks lined up on the side that Ginny was studiously picking through, as well as a few heavy-looking chests. There were also netted bags filled with what looked like dented soccer balls, as well loose metal pieces that looked like detached bike pedals.
"Okay, these should work," Ginny declared, holding two broomsticks and making her way outside again. "A lot of the school brooms are pretty lousy; they'll drift or vibrate if pushed too hard, but these ones are passable. C'mon, we better get going. We don't want Davies to find us; he won't notice a couple brooms missing but we don't want him to rat us out if he finds us here."
She closed and locked the shed again before leading him towards a clear alcove behind the castle, one with no windows in sight. The Forbidden Forest was several hundred yards opposite, leaving them with plenty of room to work.
"Okay," Ginny said, setting both brooms on the ground pointed towards each other. "The reason I've kidnapped you for the night is because first year Flying Lessons will be starting next week, and as you've never flown on a broomstick before, you've got two options. One, you can learn now and hopefully get good enough to test out and not deal with the lessons for the rest of the year, or two, admit you've never flown before and get stuck in first year classes."
Danny cringed, remembering the awkwardness of standing with the first years during the Sorting. The last thing he wanted to do was make a fool of himself in front of children four years his junior.
"That's what I thought. So. Here we are. Stick your hand out over the broom and say 'Up!'"
"What?" Danny said flatly.
Ginny looked up at the sky briefly and then repeated herself. "Look, watch me," she instructed. She held her hand over her broomstick and in a steady voice commanded, "Up!"
The broom shot upwards into her waiting hand, and Danny's jaw slackened along with it.
"Now you try," Ginny encouraged.
Danny looked at his broomstick dubiously. "Up," he said, and the broomstick rolled over pitifully.
"Not like that," Ginny critiqued, "you've got to mean it. Say it with feeling, like you're ordering the broomstick to listen to you."
Danny nodded, then looked at the broomstick with new determination. "Up!"
This time, the broomstick shot upwards and Danny caught it instinctively.
"Good," Ginny said approvingly. "Now, swing your leg over the broom like this, and then push off gently from the ground." She demonstrated as she spoke, pushing herself into a hover just a couple feet off the ground. "Once you're in the air, if you feel uncomfortable, just lean forward a little bit and you'll lower to the ground. We'll see how you do with hovering and go from there."
Danny nodded again, following Ginny's instructions and pushing off from the ground as though jumping. Danny jolted slightly at the sensation of being suspended on the broom instead of gravity letting him land back on the ground. He looked down and saw himself floating a couple feet above the ground, but it wasn't his first time defying the laws of gravity so the sight and sensation didn't bother him much at all.
"If you're good not landing, put your feet on the broom pedals; it'll be more comfortable and you'll get better maneuverability on the broom."
Danny braced his feet on the pedals, which was immensely more comfortable, and immediately understood what Ginny meant about improved maneuverability.
As Danny quickly realized, flying on a broomstick was very different from flying as a ghost. As a ghost, flying felt more like controlled weightlessness. His entire body was immune to the effects of gravity and his body knew instinctively what direction to move and how fast to do it. He thought, he focused, and he moved as fast as his will and power allowed him to.
On a broomstick, the sensations were separated. Danny's body still felt in control but he could feel the weight of his body relying on the external movement of the broomstick. Moving the broomstick still felt instinctual, as though his body knew exactly how to translate his ghostly flight into the required commands for the broom. He put pressure on the broomstick handle and it pointed in the desired direction with ease. He leaned forward, flattening his torso to the handle and he shot forwards in a burst of speed. He straightened up again and pivoted his weight, doing an about-face towards Ginny.
Different, but not difficult.
Danny grinned, elated at the sensation of flying in human form. It was so different but it was just as exhilarating; he figured he had a much better understanding of what Sam and Tucker felt when he carried them.
Ginny gave the impression that she'd been gaping at him and had quickly schooled her face when he faced back towards her. "I thought you'd never been on a broomstick before!" she accused, flying towards him.
"I haven't!" Danny grinned. "I dunno, it just felt...right."
Despite his initial exhibition, Ginny still walked him through the general principles of flight, like how to drift and translate in flight by leaning without directing the handle, and how to control the speed and direction of forward flight. She showed him maneuvers of increasing difficulty as the sun dipped lower in the sky, bathing the grounds in an orange sepia.
It was starting to become difficult to see each other when Ginny beckoned him over to her. "It'll be curfew soon, but there's one last thing we need to do."
Ginny led him in flight along the grounds, low and below the treeline until they reached the Black Lake. She kept a healthy distance between them and the water's surface but it was beautiful in the moonlight, sparkling in the lightly rippling water below. Ginny banked gently and Danny followed her, and she dipped even lower, flying at a gentle pace about ten feet above the water.
"It's mostly our fault that you missed the boats that first night," Ginny said finally. "I'm not sure how to access the boats but I wouldn't want to boat across the lake alone at night anyway. And I think the view accompanied with flying is a better experience."
"The view?" Danny asked. From where they had flown, they couldn't even see the castle. They were surrounded by the vastness of the lake and a forested bank that blocked the castle.
Ginny merely smiled and flew. Danny followed.
They reached the edge of the forest bank and finally the castle came back into view. Danny let out an audible gasp, understanding with sudden clarity why Professor McGonagall had seemed so apologetic at missing out on the tradition.
For most muggleborn and muggle-raised children, Diagon Alley was their first exposure to the magical world. It was wondrous and fantastical in the context of an ordinary shopping district, and while it did much to open their eyes to the magic of the Wizarding World, that first exposure was so overwhelming that it was hard to separate dream from reality. It felt like merely visiting the Wizarding World, observing it as if a tourist on a well-hidden tour.
Seeing Hogwarts for the first time, a lit up silhouette in the backdrop of the night sky, surrounded by the reflection of the stars on the dark lake waters beneath them, felt far more like being welcomed into the Wizarding World. No longer an observer, but being read into the secret, the entire night sky enveloping you into the magic of it all as the castle drew steadily closer. Not imposing as a large and magnificent castle may appear, but a promise of home and belonging.
Hogwarts Castle was beautiful.
"I always feel horrible when there's bad weather on the first night," Ginny said softly, entranced by the view herself. Danny wondered if children born into the magical world felt the same sense of welcome that he had upon seeing the castle in this light. "The castle never looks ugly, but everyone deserves to see it like this."
"Thank you," Danny whispered reverently. "For showing this to me. I never would've known what I was missing."
When Danny returned to his dorm room for the night, he found Justin and Ernie there, both seemingly waiting up for him as they sat to attention and looked at him expectantly.
"So, you and Weasley, huh?"
"You think that's wise? She's got six older brothers, you know."
"Three of which are still in school and are in a position to—"
"What are you talking about?" Danny interrupted, looking between Ernie and Justin in utter confusion. The pair exchanged smirks and then Justin faced Danny with a knowing smile.
"Come on, Danny. You disappear after dinner with a pretty girl and return after curfew—"
"What are we supposed to think?"
Danny gaped at them. "What? No!" Danny said, hands flailing in front of him. "Ginny and I are just friends."
"Hmm, first name basis friends," Justin grinned cheekily.
"I call everyone I've met by their first names," Danny defended petulantly. He collapsed on his bed, tugging off his shoes with more attention than he might've given the task otherwise.
"You don't call Malfoy by his first name."
"That's Malfoy," Danny said, as if that explained everything. It probably did. "Besides, I just mean that I met her on the train so I had a lot of time to talk and get to know her. Them. All of the people in the carriage," Danny carried on hastily when Justin and Ernie's faces lit up with glee.
"Lots of quality time," Ernie said wickedly.
"I hate you guys," Danny muttered half-heartedly, giving the pair wane grins when they cackled with laughter.
"Seriously, then, what'd she want?" Justin said once they'd recovered.
"She, uh...when do first year flying lessons start?" Danny said.
"Next week, usually in the afternoon some time. Not sure who Hufflepuff will be paired up with," Ernie mused. "We had our lessons with Ravenclaw; not nearly as eventful as the Gryffindor/Slytherin lessons."
"Potter almost got expelled during his first lesson," Justin said, sounding almost reverent, "and instead McGonagall waived the first year rule and let him join the Gryffindor Quidditch Team."
Danny blinked at the new knowledge, though not entirely surprised by it if what he had witnessed that morning was any indication.
"That was an impressively executed subject change, but don't think we've forgotten about Weasley," Justin said suddenly, turning an accusing look on him.
"No, I promise it was relevant," Danny said hastily, laughing slightly. "She was helping me practice flying; apparently I'm gonna need to test out if I don't want to deal with attending first year flying lessons all year."
Ernie snickered. "Oh, mate, that'd be horrible. Merlin, you'd be stuck going through the basics of Up! and being forced to hover for exactly two seconds before touching down again. Merlin forbid you actually get to fly for the first month—"
Danny felt it prudent not to mention that he'd only learned how to properly summon a broom that evening.
"Did your flying lessons at your old school not transfer over here or something? I mean, they let you start in fifth year classes for everything else," Ernie said.
Danny grimaced, faking a cough to buy himself a few extra seconds to come up with an answer. "It's more, uhh...I mean, with real classes, they know right away that I'm up to speed on everything, but since flying isn't required for us...I guess they just want to make sure I'm good to go. I'm not sure when I'll have to do anything though—"
"Probably during their first lesson, so long as it doesn't overlap with your normal classes," Ernie said.
"Good thing you're planning on testing out, you'd be exhausted every week," Justin said, settling into his bed. "First year was fine, our class load was way less than it is now. But adding first year flying lessons to a fifth year schedule? Nope."
Zacharias entered the room then, giving the room a sweep with his eyes to see who was there. His eyes landed on Danny and he gave him a just short of friendly grin. "How was your night with Weasley?"
"No," Danny said shortly, causing Ernie and Justin to laugh. "It wasn't like that, we're just friends." Danny pointedly turned his attention back to Ernie. "What do people do if they're taking flying lessons in their upper years?"
"Talking about flying lessons?" Zach asked. "How can I help?"
"Zach's on the Hufflepuff Quidditch Team," Ernie explained, giving Zach a praising grin. "And he's in the optional upper year flying lessons."
"It's an excuse to fly for class credit, easy choice," Zach shrugged.
"When are the classes?"
"They're only once a week, usually after dinner. First years get the cushy afternoon times, they have a ton of break time in their schedules," Zach explained. "The upper year classes are full combo classes too, like NEWT classes. Not enough demand to split it up completely."
"How many people take the class?" Danny asked.
"Not a lot, 'specially since our year is already so small," Zach said. "There's only nine of us; Thomas from Gryffindor, me, Lily, and Sally-Anne, Nott and Bulstrode from Slytherin, and Corner, Brocklehurst, and Goldstein from Ravenclaw."
"Why take lessons if you're already on the Quidditch team?" Danny asked. He assumed that's why Harry didn't bother with the class; the whole concept of optional athletic classes was fairly appealing if he were honest. At Casper, everyone was required to participate in gym class, even the jocks who got plenty of physical activity after school (and even the half-ghosts with ghost powers who got plenty of physical activity during all hours of the day).
Realistically, he knew the benefit of staying active (especially after his horrendous ordeal with Dash, Skulker, and the Fenton Crammer), but as flying was a singular activity, it was nice that not everyone was forced to take it once they'd learned the basics.
"Like I said, why not get class credit for something I'm good at?" Zach said.
That was fair, Danny supposed. He'd have had a much better time academically at Casper if he could've gotten class credit for his ghost activities.
"Not like you're gonna have to take a flying OWL," Ernie said mildly.
"So Zach, if they make Danny test out of flying lessons, would it be during first year classes, or your class?" Justin asked curiously.
"Honestly? It'll probably depend on your class schedule," Zach said, giving Danny a once over. "Our class meets after the first years', so if you don't go to their class, and then you end up failing the test, you'll be a week behind. But, if you have class during their lessons, you'd probably end up with us anyway. I'm sure Professor Sprout will get on you about it if it's important."
"Joy," Danny said dully. While his lesson with Ginny had gone very well, test anxiety was starting to set in. The last thing he wanted was to be stuck in first year classes all year.
Harry stared at his unfinished Astronomy essay, thoughts entirely elsewhere as he flexed his hand idly. The scabs pulled on his skin as his hand contracted, radiating a muffled sharpness in contrast to its application. He didn't regret staying silent about the whole thing, despite Ron and Hermione's insistence that he go to a teacher about it; he was not about to give Umbridge the satisfaction of having gotten to him.
He didn't regret staying silent.
At least, for his own sake.
His thoughts were currently stuck on Danny, who had suffered through the same punishment with the same silent diligence as he had. He tried to imagine what he would do if it had been Ron or Hermione sitting next to him in detention.
He tried to imagine what he would do if it had been Dudley sitting next to him.
Harry grimaced, rubbing the bridge of his nose under his glasses.
Why did Danny's presence have to complicate things so thoroughly? Harry had been genuinely touched that Danny had stuck up for him in class, even when no one else had. He was grateful to Hermione for trying to reign him in, to a point. He knew that was Hermione's way of caring and looking out for him. But Danny had vocally supported him and openly defied Umbridge when no one else had, and it meant a lot to Harry when so many of the people around him still doubted him.
Had Harry had time to think about it after that first night of detention, Harry thought he would've gone to Professor McGonagall about it. He remembered her reaction to Moody (Crouch) transfiguring Malfoy into a ferret, and while he maintained that the incident had been hilarious, objectively he knew McGonagall had been right to put an end to it.
But for some reason, Danny had agreed with him about keeping Umbridge's detentions secret. While relieved at the time (and still morbidly relieved now, if Harry were honest), Harry couldn't help but wonder why Danny was willing to keep quiet. As much as Harry could've gone to Professor McGonagall at any point this week, Danny could have done the same, or have gone to Professor Sprout, or even Professor Dumbledore—
Harry scowled at the thought. Why should he tell Dumbledore about this if he couldn't even stand to look at him when in the same (court)room together.
Harry looked up, finding both Ron and Hermione's eyes on him. Harry wondered when Hermione had given up on her knitting to come join them. "What?"
"You look like you're personally offended by Jupiter's moons," Ron said, looking both bemused and concerned.
Unwilling to vocalize his musings, Harry cast around for an acceptable distracting topic.
"Hermione? What do you know about brain aneurysms?"
Hermione looked suitably thrown by the question; she was very likely expecting a question about the Astronomy homework still incomplete in front of him.
"Aneurysms are distended blood vessels; they're inflated," Hermione clarified before Harry could ask. "The blood vessel is more at risk of breaking because the vessel wall is thinner. The severity of a burst aneurysm varies based on the location; a brain aneurysm would obviously be very dangerous if it burst. Why do you ask?"
"Danny has one," Harry revealed; Ron's jaw settled into a painful looking grimace and Hemione let out a soft oh, settling into an open armchair. "He's been really out of sorts during Umbridge's detentions, so I asked about what he said this summer—"
"The half-dead thing?" Ron asked.
"Out of sorts how?" Hermione asked.
"Just, really lethargic and stuff. He nearly passed out the first night when he stood up too fast, and it just kept getting worse all week. I thought I'd have to drag him to the Hospital Wing Friday night, it was really bad."
"He seems fine in class," Ron said, but he looked uncomfortable at the news.
Hermione's brow was furrowed in the way Harry knew meant she was working on a problem that she wasn't close to solving. "How bad was he on Friday?" she asked after a long silence.
"He never had the energy to write as much as I did, which Umbridge isn't happy about, by the way. And he'd get really pale and shaky, like he was close to throwing up, and he'd have trouble standing on his own. The last night, there was something wrong with his head, I think; he made a pained noise and covered his face right before we left. I had to carry him out of Umbridge's office—no, I mean, he was still walking, I just had to support him the whole way out," he added hastily when Hermione looked horrified.
"You'd never know based on seeing him throughout the day," she said softly, echoing Ron's earlier comment. "He looked fine at breakfast yesterday, didn't he?"
"He always seems to recover pretty well when we leave," Harry said. "I wouldn't just leave him there if he were that bad off," he added defensively.
"No, of course you wouldn't," Hermione agreed assuringly. "It's interesting, isn't it? That he's only affected when he's in her office?"
"That we know of," Ron said. He had a point; they didn't see Danny nearly as often as they had while at Grimmauld Place. But even so, they had never seen Danny present the same symptoms at any point during the summer.
"Danny asked if there was a type of spell that could make him feel like that," Harry said.
"None that I know of," Hermione said contemplatively. "A potion perhaps, but unless she gave you anything to drink—" Harry shook his head, "—well, she could've aerosolized it, I suppose—"
"But then Harry would've been affected," Ron said, frowning in thought.
"To your earlier worry, a brain aneurysm wouldn't cause these on and off symptoms, so at least that isn't the problem," Hermione said.
Harry nodded, "That's what Danny said, although some of the symptoms he listed looked a lot like how he looked, without the recovery I guess."
Hermione frowned, looking away in thought. She suddenly straightened in her seat, pointing towards the nearest window. "Ron, look! Isn't that Hermes?" Hermione said.
"Blimey, it is!" Ron marvelled, throwing down his quill and getting to his feet. "What's Percy writing to me for?"
As Ron's face changed as he continued down the long letter, Harry couldn't help but feel dread slowly pool in his gut. Whatever Percy had written, Harry had the feeling it couldn't be anything good. And he was only proven right when Ron thrust the letter at them with a disgusted look. Hermione and Harry bent close together to read the letter at the same time.
At least I'm not the only one having brother problems, said a cynical voice in Harry's head, trying to pass off the letter as a joke as he handed it back to Ron. So one more person thought he was touched in the head, it shouldn't bother him at this point, especially when he knew that Percy was at odds with his whole family at the moment.
As Hermione took pity on them both and offered to correct their essays, Harry tried his best not to let Percy's words get to him. It should be no different than Seamus's declaration against him; hell, Seamus had been public in his belief of Harry's madness. And yet Percy was someone he had known for years, spent summers with, shared a tent with, and he'd never given Harry the impression that he'd suddenly turn on him in favor of Ministry ambition.
Danny's been on your side and he's only known you for a month, and look how you treat him, a nasty voice said. Harry frowned, focusing on the charred logs in the fire. Harry had treated Danny unfairly, but it was so difficult not to feel envious of his circumstances. Danny hadn't lived through the hardships Harry had, Danny grew up in blissful ignorance with parents and an older sister who loved him.
It was so easy for Danny to look at Harry and see a brother and see someone he should support. And yet Harry looked at Danny and saw someone he couldn't relate to, someone who hadn't had to live near invisibly in the shadow of Dudley, someone who could turn on Harry at any moment if it became advantageous to him. Like Percy had done.
Harry blinked, focusing on the fire again. Lost in his thoughts as he had been, he hadn't actually been paying attention to the fire, but for a moment it had almost looked like Sirius.
Sirius would tell him that he wasn't giving Danny enough credit, and maybe he would be right. Danny had stuck his neck out in front of Umbridge, and he had sat through detention with Umbridge with him. And Harry was sure he'd caught Danny keeping watch when Harry's attention had been captured by the faraway Quidditch tryouts. Harry didn't know why Danny agreed to keep quiet about Umbridge, but maybe it wasn't fair of Harry to have expected it of him. Maybe Harry could convince Danny to tell someone about detention, so Danny wouldn't have to hurt himself again for Harry's sake—
Wait, that was Sirius's head in the fire. Harry slid to his knees, giving Sirius a grin that he readily returned.
"—Harry?" Ron asked hesitantly. "Why are you down there?"
"Because I've just seen Sirius's head in the fire," Harry said calmly. Sirius visibly withheld a snort.
"He wouldn't do that now," Hermione said, not yet in a position to see the fire, "it would be too—Sirius!"
"I was worried you lot would go to bed before everyone else had disappeared," Sirius said, grinning at both Hermione and Ron who had joined Harry in view of the fireplace. "I've been checking every hour."
"Every hour?" Harry said, half-laughing.
"A few seconds each time," Sirius said, his head bobbing slightly as though he'd shrugged. "Just to see if the coast was clear yet."
"But you could've been seen!" Hermione said fretfully.
"A first year may have gotten a glimpse of me earlier, but it's fine!" he said hastily to Hermione's gasp. "I was gone a moment later and she probably just thought I was an oddly shaped log. I didn't see Danny tonight, did he retire early or was he studying elsewhere and I missed him?"
Harry and Ron exchanged a look. Danny must not have written to Sirius yet, which was actually probably a good thing. Harry wasn't sure anyone had imparted on Danny how important secrecy was when it came to addressing things to Sirius.
"Danny's not in Gryffindor," Hermione answered.
Sirius's face dropped slightly. "He's not?...Where'd he end up?"
"Hufflepuff," Harry answered this time.
"He wasn't happy about the badger part of the deal," Ron smirked.
Sirius blinked and then huffed out a laugh. "Well, Tonks will be thrilled."
Harry settled his weight onto his heels. He'd forgotten Tonks was in Hufflepuff. When he thought of Hufflepuff he usually thought of—nope. No, not going there.
"But Sirius, this is taking an awful risk—" Hermione began.
"You sound like Molly," Sirius said, tone indecipherable. "This was the only way I could come up with to answer Harry's letter without resorting to a code—and codes are breakable."
At the mention of Harry's letter, Hermione and Ron had both turned to stare at him. "You didn't say you'd written to Sirius!" Hermione accused.
"I forgot," Harry said truthfully; running into Cho in the Owlery had driven everything before it out of his mind. "Don't look at me like that, Hermione, there was no way anyone would have got secret information out of it, was there, Sirius?"
"No, it was very good," Sirius smiled. "Anyway, we'd better be quick, just in case we're disturbed."
Talking with Sirius did settle Harry's fears somewhat in regards to Umbridge having anything to do with his scar burning, even if the talk did nothing but increase his hatred of her. He hated that her prejudices were actively hurting Lupin, and he hated that they weren't going to learn anything useful in Defense this year because of Fudge's infuriating paranoia.
He wished Sirius had given them better news about Hagrid's whereabouts, but if the Order wasn't all that concerned about it then he'd do his best not to linger on it. And Sirius was right; the last thing they wanted to do was highlight his absence to someone like Umbridge.
Harry tried not to feel bitter about Sirius's parting words, about how he was less like his father than Sirius thought. Harry didn't think he should be faulted for wanting Sirius to remain safe, and with Lucius Malfoy likely recognizing him on the platform, it just wasn't worth the risk. Harry understood Sirius's cabin fever better than many would, but his words hurt more than he wanted to admit. He could only hope that Sirius wouldn't do anything reckless enough to get himself captured or killed.
The morning post arrived in a flurry of owls, and Susan absently shoved aside a plate of eggs to make room for the owl that arrived with her copy of the Daily Prophet. Rather than disappear behind it like she normally did each morning, the paper promptly crinkled in her hands the moment she eyed the front page.
"Bloody-Nora!" Susan hissed immediately, eyes narrowing as she studied the front page intensely.
"What happened?" Hannah asked, sounding resigned.
"'Ministry Seeks Educational Reform: Dolores Umbridge Appointed First Ever High Inquisitor,'" Susan recited, face darkening as she continued. "'In a surprise move last night the Ministry of Magic passed new legislation giving itself an unprecedented level of control at Hogwarts...Minister has been growing uneasy about goings-on at Hogwarts for some time...responding to concerns voiced by anxious parents—' what anxious parents? Oh, Lucius Malfoy, of course," Susan muttered, still reading aloud haphazard sections of the article as she read it through.
"She's been a WHAT?" Harry's voice drifted over from the Gryffindor table. Danny grimaced, eyeing the article Susan had now laid flat on the table. Danny spotted a quote that claimed Umbridge had been an immediate success, and there were no doubts in his mind as to which section Harry's outburst had been spurned from.
"Inspecting the professors, what rubbish," Susan muttered, still reading the article in full.
"Not like some of them don't need it," Zacharias inserted. "Trelawney's not exactly a shining beacon of teaching aptitude—"
"You don't even take Divination," Hannah said, though she didn't say much to dissuade his opinion.
"And Hagrid's classes are—"
"You don't take Care of Magical Creatures, either," Susan interrupted, looking up from the paper with a stern look. "Besides, Professor Grubbly-Plank would be the one inspected anyway, she's great."
"I wonder what she'll think of Binns," Justin said wryly.
"I'd pay galleons to see McGonagall inspected," Susan said wistfully, finally moving on to other sections of the paper.
"How long d'you reckon they've been planning this High Inquisitor stuff?" Ernie asked. "I mean, we've only been in school a week, this mostly came out of nowhere."
"Nobody expects the Umbridge Inquisition," Danny couldn't hold back. He was rewarded with a loud snort from Justin. Danny took a large bite of a biscuit, grinning as Ernie asked what was so funny.
"Mr. Fenton, do you have a moment?"
Danny swallowed quickly, turning to face Professor Sprout. "Sure," he said, already having an idea what she wanted.
"While there hasn't been an issue with your previous school's credits transferring over—" (Shocking in its own right, Danny thought wryly) "this is primarily because your professors here have been able to note your aptitude in each subject. You haven't appeared to struggle thus far, and I hope you'd tell us if you were?" she asked, giving him an imploring look.
"Yeah," Danny said quickly. "I mean, I don't feel like I'm behind anywhere. Hogwarts is definitely different, but, um, I mean, I haven't had any class issues yet."
"Good," Professor Sprout nodded contently. "Well, I'm afraid the only problem thus far is that we haven't been able to record your Flying aptitude, what with it only being a first year requirement. Your schedule appears to have an opening during the upcoming first year lessons on Wednesday afternoon at four o' clock, so please report to the training grounds at this time. Madam Hooch will evaluate you and determine whether you'll need additional lessons."
"Sounds good," Danny nodded, doing his best to quell his rising anxiety. Please let him not be stuck in first year classes for the rest of the year...
"Wands away," Professor Umbridge instructed them all smilingly, and Danny thought he did a valiant job withholding the sigh that so desperately wanted to escape. He'd held onto the mild hope that maybe Umbridge had been planning on having the class read through the entire chapter before doing something practical, but that did not seem to be the case.
"As we finished chapter one last lesson, I would like you all to turn to page nineteen today and commence chapter two, 'Common Defensive Theories and Their Derivation.' There will be no need to talk." Justin, Danny noted with a wry bit of humor, had no such compunction in withholding his sigh as they both turned to the required page and began their reading.
"I've read that too. I've read the whole book."
Danny looked up, drawn by overhearing Hermione's voice after making it through half a page of reading. Professor Umbridge was ducked low in front of her desk, keeping her voice down in an attempt to keep the rest of the class out of the conversation.
"He says that counterjinxes are improperly named," Hermione continued promptly, seemingly responding to a test of whether she'd actually read ahead in the book. "He says 'counterjinx' is just a name people give their jinxes when they want to make them sound more acceptable."
Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows, looking like she was reluctantly impressed.
"But I disagree," Hermione continued.
Professor Umbridge's eyebrows rose a little higher and her gaze became distinctly colder. She repeated Hermione's statement still in that low tone of voice.
"Yes, I do," Hermione said.
"Here we go," Susan whispered gleefully somewhere to Danny's left.
"Mr. Slinkhard doesn't like jinxes, does he?" Hermione continued. "But I think they can be very useful when they're used defensively."
"Oh, you do, do you?" Professor Umbridge said, voice rising to a normal pitch. The rest of the class had now abandoned their reading in favor of the much more entertaining verbal exchange. "Well, I'm afraid it is Mr. Slinkhard's opinion, and not yours, that matters within this classroom, Miss Granger."
"But—" Hermione began.
"That is enough," Professor Umbridge said definitively. She walked back to the front of the class and looked out towards everyone with a flat face. "Miss Granger, I am going to take five points from Gryffindor House."
There was an outbreak of muttering at this, even from the Hufflepuffs.
"What for?" Harry burst angrily. Hermione turned sharply towards him with an urgent hiss.
"For disrupting my class with pointless interruptions," Professor Umbridge said smoothly. Many students clearly found this to be unfair; Hermione had raised her hand to start the conversation after all, and Professor Umbridge had chosen to engage her.
"I am here to teach you using a Ministry-approved method that does not include inviting students to give their opinions on matters about which they understand very little. Your previous teachers in this subject may have allowed you more license, but as none of them—with the possible exception of Professor Quirrell, who did at least appear to have restricted himself to age-appropriate subjects—would have passed a Ministry inspection—"
"Yeah, Quirrell was a great teacher," Harry interrupted loudly, "there was just that minor drawback of him having Lord Voldemort sticking out of the back of his head."
The classroom was so incredibly silent that Danny was sure everyone could hear his heart thudding in his chest. He knew exactly what was about to happen even as Umbridge inhaled to speak. "I think another week's detentions would do you some good, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said, sounding as though she were merely commenting on the weather and not condemning Harry to another week of torture.
Danny glared outright at Umbridge, and it was at that unfortunate moment that Umbridge's gaze shifted to him. Her eyes seemed to light up as her lips twisted into the slightest semblance of a smirk, and Danny knew she was baiting him. But Danny couldn't think of anything to say; he knew nothing about Quirrell, nor Voldemort's head supposedly sticking out of his head, and the last thing he wanted to do was highlight his lack of knowledge. So Danny reluctantly settled his face into a less spiteful frown and returned to his assigned reading, breaking eye contact with Umbridge.
Umbridge spent the next few minutes prowling the rows of tables, watching everyone closely to make sure they were focused on the reading. When she made it to Danny and Justin's table, she paused on Danny's left side, longer than she had at any other table.
Danny froze, resolutely keeping his gaze on his book. His left hand was clenched in a white-knuckled fist on the top of the table, and he knew it was the focus of Umbridge's attention. He wondered what was going through her mind, seeing the lack of evidence of her weeklong attempt to imprint her doctrine on him.
After another long moment, Umbridge moved on, and Danny immediately relaxed, letting the tension fall from his body. Justin tilted his head in his direction slightly but didn't make a sound.
"Mr. Fenton," Umbridge called after she'd already sat at her desk again. Danny looked up at her reluctantly; Harry's head had shot up. "I'd like to see you after class."
Danny nodded, throat tightening. Would she make him stay for more detentions just because his hand had healed? It wasn't Danny's fault he had an accelerated healing factor.
Well. Technically, it was his fault.
As the class period came to an end, the bell rang and Danny took his time packing up his things. Justin gave him a commiserate shoulder bump, promising to save him a seat at dinner before leaving with the rest of the Hufflepuffs. Harry hung at the door for a moment, giving Danny an indecipherable look, before Hermione and Ron urged him to move. He wouldn't have much time to grab his own dinner before returning for detention.
Swallowing down his nerves, Danny closed his bag and hefted it over his shoulder, approaching Umbridge's desk as though approaching the gallows.
Umbridge let him stand there in silence for a few minutes; it was entirely obvious that she knew he was waiting for her but was intentionally neglecting to acknowledge him.
When Danny's stomach reminded him that he was very much looking forward to dinner, Danny decided to break the stalemate. "Professor?"
Umbridge placed her quill on the table with more than required gentleness and then finally brought up her gaze to meet his. "Mr. Fenton," she answered primly. "I should like to know how you have been avoiding your due punishment."
Right to the meat of it, then. "I'm not sure what you mean, Professor," Danny said stiffly.
"Oh, I'm sure you do, Mr. Fenton," Umbridge said, standing and placing both palms on her desk; the position still required her to look up to meet his gaze. "While you have seen fit to slack off during my detentions, you have certainly been doing something to try and-and—"
"Hide the evidence of your torture sessions?" Danny interrupted against his better judgement.
Umbridge bristled. "I am merely disciplining unruly children. Perhaps if you weren't spending so much time trying to avoid the consequences of your actions, my lessons would be sinking in."
"I haven't done anything, Professor," Danny insisted, telling the truth to a point. Just because he knew what the reason behind his healing was, that didn't mean he was actively doing anything to use it. "And you watched, you know I was writing the whole time. "
"Well," Umbridge said, doing an impressive job of withholding a frustrated huff. "I cannot say that you haven't learned something from your punishment. You did well to hold your tongue today in class."
Danny's stomach churned with the reminder that Harry would be back any minute for his next round of detention.
"See to it that you continue to respect myself and my classroom, and there will be no need for additional punishments. Is that clear?"
"Crystal. Professor," Danny added belatedly.
"Good," Umbridge nodded, returning to her sweet persona. "You may go, Mr. Fenton."
Without waiting another moment, Danny spun on his heel and left the classroom.
By the time Umbridge let Danny leave for dinner, so much time had passed that Danny ran into Harry, who had returned after a quick bite to eat for his next night of detention. Upon seeing Danny leaving the classroom, Harry's shoulders slumped visibly in apparent relief.
"I thought she was about to make you stay again," Harry said when he got closer.
"Me, too," Danny muttered, scratching the back of his neck. "I'm sorry you're stuck here again.
"Yeah, well," Harry grimaced, unconsciously mirroring Danny's movement. "It's hard to let her lies go, y'know?"
"Was Voldemort really sticking out of the back of your professor's head?" Danny asked. He'd seen some gross things during his time ghost fighting but a face sticking out of someone's head was definitely something he wasn't enjoying visualizing.
"Yes," Harry answered, defensive.
"Gross," Danny replied, and Harry's face loosened immediately with a small smirk.
Danny grinned slightly, but it soured when he looked at the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom door behind Harry. Once again, Harry would be slicing his hand open every night for a week, and once again there was nothing Danny could reasonably do to stop it.
"I'm sorry we can't tell someone." "I think we should tell someone."
Danny and Harry blinked at each other, and as the silence stretched on, Danny only grew more horrified. Had Harry said those same words last week, Danny would have been relieved. He had wanted to tell someone, even if he understood Harry's reluctance to.
But now, knowing that his healing factor would only work against them, Danny hated that he'd have to be the one to talk Harry down now that he was finally willing to come forward.
"We can't," Danny said, sounding heartbroken to his own ears. "Harry—"
"Why not?" Harry said stubbornly. "She doesn't deserve to get away with what she's done to you—"
Oh. Oh, of course.
Because clearly Danny wasn't allowed to get the monopoly on having a hero complex in this family.
Harry was entirely willing to deal with the next week of detention that awaited him if only to save his pride, but it was the fact that Danny had suffered too that prompted him to speak out.
Danny grimaced, eyes burning. "If we come forward, what's the first thing they're gonna do?"
Harry scowled, arms crossed in front of himself in both a defiant and defensive gesture. "Maybe they'll sack her," he said.
"They're gonna investigate," Danny said softly. "What's the first thing they'll look at?"
"Our...hands..." Harry's voice dropped, silently coming to the conclusion Danny was forcing him towards.
"They won't find anything on my hand," Danny confirmed. "And they'll think you made it up in an effort to disgrace a teacher you hate. They'll think you—"
"Did this to myself," Harry whispered, sounding horrified as he stared at his hand. His face contorted suddenly and he looked at Danny in a desperate sort of confusion. "Why does your hand heal?"
Danny gulped nervously. "I don't...know really, I—" Danny glanced away from Harry's beseeching face. "It's not something I do consciously," he finally settled on. "I just...tend to heal fast."
"That's useful," Harry said. Danny couldn't exactly decipher his tone.
"Yeah, well, not in this case," Danny muttered. He nodded in the direction of the classroom door. "You don't wanna be late," he said.
Harry's lips thinned, and his body straightened, as if steeling himself. "Yeah," he acknowledged in a drawn out breath. "Listen," he said, dropping his gaze, "you should talk to-to Snuffles when you get a chance. Ask Ron or Hermione," he added by way of explanation.
Danny nodded, entirely confused by his words. Who the heck was Snuffles?
Seemingly appeased, Harry made his way into the classroom.
Danny scrubbed his face with both hands, scratching at the frustration that had welled up within him. It wasn't fair that Harry had to suffer through this again, especially after finally being willing to step forward about it. Maybe now that Harry had detention alone, Danny could find an excuse to have another teacher walk in on them—
Danny shivered as a cold breath escaped his mouth.
"Oh, come on," he hissed, searching the immediate area for witnesses. Finding the area clear, he ducked into a hidden alcove for extra cover. "Going ghost!"
He shifted into ghost form and immediately searched out the source of his ghost sense's warning. Floating through several walls and a floor or two, Danny found himself in a cluttered room full of random items and artifacts, all but deserted except for one occupant who was searching through the items. The person was cloaked, but Danny caught sight of a green arm extended from beneath the deep red cloak, covered in black tattoos.
"Lydia?" Danny asked incredulously. "What are you doing here?"
Lydia hissed in distaste, immediately shifting into a defensive position. "Phantom," she spit, glaring at him. "Are you really so bored that you felt the need to chase me to another continent? Haven't you done enough?"
"What? I didn't follow you—hey!"
Lydia had taken Danny's moment of confusion to bolt, flying out of the room through its only door. Danny followed, noting with alarm that they were on the first floor, rapidly approaching the Entrance Hall.
Lydia was waiting for him in the Entrance Hall, her tattoos peeling away from her body as he approached. Danny noted a few stragglers for dinner were gaping at both of them; it was probably the first time they had seen muggle ghosts. Oh great, that's just what I need right now—
Some of the bats focused in on the gaping stragglers and Danny shot them with a few precise ectoblasts to get them away from the students, but the majority of the bats were following Lydia, who was attempting to retreat.
"Oh no you don't!"
Danny didn't make it far, yelping suddenly as Lydia's tattooed bats swarmed him to prevent his pursuit. Danny swatted at them as best he could but they wouldn't relent, biting and clawing at him painfully.
"Okay, that's enough—" Danny coiled his body and let his ghost energy build, abundant in its lack of use over the last week. He released it in a mild shockwave, forcing the bats away from him in furious screeches.
Danny swiveled around wildly, looking for where Lydia had disappeared to, but what he did see brought him up short.
Danny had followed Lydia into the Great Hall.
Hundreds of student faces were now gaping up at him.
Three months again! I'm on a roll!
I hope everyone is dealing with this self-isolation situation well enough. I've definitely had my ups and downs so far. I'm in a WFH situation so writing is still going to come at the same pace probably. Do I even have a pace? Who knows.
I know this chapter was probably a bit slow, but a lot of it was set up for things that need to happen later, and it just wasn't possible to shift it to later chapters. I'm only a little sorry for leaving you with the cliffhanger I did, but last time I left you with an awful cliffhanger I was much more motivated to write the next chapter, so we'll see what happens this time :)
I had a lot of requests from the last chapter to post my class schedule charts, so I'm working making a post for that here. Not sure when it'll go up, but eventually.
As always, thank you so much for reading! I look forward to hearing what you think :)