Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Even though I said the next update might take a year, I broke. With having a lot of the descriptions and dialogue already written from the movie and the books, it did simplify the work I had to do with this chapter better than I thought, so i was able to be more productive on it in my spare time. So here it is.
Note: If you spot any grammar or spelling error please bring them to my attention through a PM and not as part of a review.
Disclaimer: I do NOT own Danny Phantom (Except my design of the older version of Danielle) or any of the Harry Potter books or movies.
Chapter 11: Being a Hufflepuff
The weather remained undecided as the Hogwarts Express traveled further and further north. Rain spattered the windows in a halfhearted way, then the sun put in a feeble appearance before clouds drifted over it once more. When darkness fell and lamps came on inside the carriages, Luna Lovegood rolled up The Quibbler, put it carefully away in her bag, and took to staring at everyone in the compartment instead.
Danielle finally gave in to the temptation to take a flight outside the train, now that it was dark. She excused herself from the compartment, saying she was going to use the restroom, found a secluded place to Go Ghost, turned invisible and phased out of the train through the caboose. Danielle made sure to stay above the roof of the train, making sure no one who happened to be looking out the windows would have a chance in seeing her. It wouldn't do at all to give even the slightest hint of her identity on the first day at Hogwarts.
The fresh air was such a relief compared the stuffy interior of the compartment. How were all those students able to stand it for a whole half of the day? After only the first five minutes, Danielle began to see a vast castle with many towers and turrets looming above the trees ahead. She had never seen Hogwarts from the outside before. Dumbledore had teleported her directly inside his office with the Portkey. It was quite the sight with all the flickering lights coming from the windows, cutting through the darkness of the moonless night. Now she understood what Dumbledore had said about not wanting to spoil any surprises. If just the outside had such magnificence, Danielle was getting all the more excited about exploring more of the inside.
Before long, Danielle realized fifteen minutes had already come and gone and decided she should return to the train to avoid being missed. She turned invisible before phasing inside and found a good place to transform back into her human self. No one seemed to suspect anything as she casually strode down the corridor. Once she slid open the compartment door, she found Hermione, Harry and all the others getting into their school robes, saying that they would be arriving at Hogsmeade Station soon. Danielle already knew this from her short flight outside, of course. Nevertheless, she followed suit in pulling out her robe. She saw Ron and Hermione pin their prefects badges carefully to their chests. Ron was checking how it looked in the black window.
At last the train began to slow down and a racket started erupting up and down it as everyone scrambled to get their luggage and pets assembled, ready for departure. Ron and Hermione were supposed to supervise this; they disappeared from the carriage again, leaving Danielle and the others to look after Crookshanks and Pigwidgeon.
"I'll take him," said Ginny to Danielle as she picked up Crookshanks. Danielle wasn't at all feeling like touching, let alone carrying, any cat. She was willing to take Pigwidgeon from Harry, however, but Luna beat her to it, allowing Harry to hoist Hedwig's cage more securely in his arms.
They shuffled out of the compartment, feeling the sting of the night air on their faces as they joined the crowd in the corridor. Slowly, they moved towards the doors. Danielle kept thinking to go intangible to just walk through the wall to the side and get onto the platform early but had to refrain from doing so in knowing how many people would see her and make a scene of it. Finally, she stepped onto the platform, looking around as a brisk female voice was calling, "First years line up over here, please! All first years to me!"
A lantern came swinging toward them and by its light, Danielle saw a prominent chin and sever haircut of a witch that was carrying it.
"Where's Hagrid?" Harry was asking aloud, looking at the witch with the lantern, confused.
"I don't know," said Ginny, "but we'd better get out of the way, we're blocking the door."
All that had been in the same compartment with Danielle became separated as they moved off along the platform and out through the station. Eventually, they were all shunted onto a dark rain-washed road outside of Hogsmeade Station. Here, there were about a hundred or so carriages that Hermione had said always took the students above first year up to the castle.
The creatures that pulled them looked very strange to Danielle. They resembled horses, though there was something reptilian about them, too. They were completely fleshless, their black coats clinging to their skeletons, of which every bone was visible. Their heads were dragonish, and their pupil-less eyes white and staring. Wings sprouted from each wither—vast, black leathery wings that looked as though they ought to belong to giant bats. Standing still and quiet in the gloom, the creatures looked eerie and sinister. Danielle cocked her head to the side in realizing that they were also strangely transparent.
It may have been Danielle's first time here, and truthfully she had seen more ghastly-looking creatures come from out of the Ghost Zone, (and of course she never forgot the dementors back in Little Whinging) but she couldn't understand why hardly anyone else seemed to be bothered by these creatures pulling the carriages. Not even the second years. Also, she could have sworn Hermione had told her that the carriages pulled themselves.
Before Danielle could dwell anymore on the strange sight of the reptilian horses, she felt a tug on her shoulder. Hermione had showed up and was already holding Crookshanks.
"Come on, Danielle," said Hermione with an encouraging smile. "Let's all get a carriage together before they all fill up."
Hermione already started heading off towards the nearest unoccupied carriage as Danielle lagged behind, looking around at all the other students who seemed to be taking practically no notice of the strange horses; perhaps because they were already used to them. That was when Danielle caught the sight of Harry grabbing Ron's arm and wheeling him about so he was face-to-face with the winged horse that was pulling the carriage in which Hermione and Ginny were already sitting. Ron stared straight at it for a second, then looked back at Harry.
"...what am I supposed to be looking at?"
"At the—there, between the shafts!" said Harry impatiently. "Harnessed to the coach! It's right in front—"
Danielle's interest piqued as Ron continued to look bemused. She watched as Harry seemed to have a thought occur to him.
"Can't...can't you see them?" he said.
"See what?" asked Ron.
"Can't you see what's pulling the carriage?"
Ron looked seriously alarmed now.
"Are you feeling all right, Harry?"
Harry looked utterly bewildered. Danielle herself was finding this observation quite peculiar. Was the reason the other students were not being bothered by the horses because they couldn't see them at all? If that was the case, why was Danielle able to see them? She would have supposed it had something to do with her ghost-powers, but somehow, Harry was the only other one seeing them and was looking quite uncomfortable by it.
"Shall we get in, then?" said Ron uncertainly, looking at Harry as though worried about him.
"Yeah," said Harry. "Yeah, go on..."
"You're not going mad, I can see them too," said a dreamy voice from beside Harry as Ron walked off to join Hermione and Ginny in the carriage, "you're just as sane as I am."
Harry turned towards Luna, giving her a look as though he wasn't sure he quite believed her or not. Smiling faintly, Luna climbed into the musty interior of the carriage after Ron.
Neither Danielle nor Harry mentioned anything else of the horses as they sat down inside the carriage and Harry slammed the door behind them.
"Did everyone see that Grubbly-Plank woman?" asked Ginny. "What's she doing back here? Hagrid can't have left, can he?"
"I'll be quite glad if he has," said Luna. "He isn't a very good teacher, is he?"
"Yes, he is!" said Harry, Ron and Ginny angrily.
Danielle nearly jumped, staring at them from their sudden outburst. Harry glared at Hermione; she cleared her throat and quickly said, "Erm...yes...he's very good."
"Well, we think he's a bit of a joke in Ravenclaw," said Luna, unfazed.
"You've got a rubbish sense of humor then," Ron snapped, as the wheels below them creaked into motion.
Luna did not seem perturbed by Ron's rudeness; on the contrary, she simply watched him for a while as though he were a mildly interesting television program.
"Not afraid to speak her mind, is she..." whispered Danielle to Hermione, who didn't at all seem to know what to say.
Rattling and swaying, the carriages moved in convoy up the road. They soon passed between tall stone pillars topped with winged boars on either side of the gates to the school grounds. Danielle felt her heart beating faster and faster the closer the castle loomed up ahead. The carriages jingled to a halt near stone steps leading up to great oak front doors. Once Danielle got out of the carriage, she had to crane her neck to see all the way up the castle. It looked even better up close than it did when she was flying outside the train. Even with such dim outer lighting, Hogwarts was truly a magnificent sight.
"Are you coming or what?" said Ron beside Danielle as he was passing her to go up the stone steps.
In looking around at him, she found that he had been talking to Harry who was at the moment looking at the strange, skeletal creatures standing quietly in the chill night air, their blank white eyes gleaming. Harry seemed to not have been completely convinced that Luna could also see them.
"Oh...yeah," said Harry quickly, though he kept staring between Ron and the creatures as he was heading towards the main entrance of the castle. Danielle couldn't help feeling sorry for Harry in looking so awkward and alone. If she told him that she too could see the horses, perhaps that would help him feel better. But what if the reason she could see them was because of her ghost-powers like it had been for the dementors?
"So, you see them too?" Danielle whispered to Harry in spite of herself as he was just about to pass her in going up the steps.
Harry stopped in mid-step at being addressed in such a secretive tone. "What...? You mean you can?" he said desperately, turning towards Danielle. He glanced carefully at one of the creatures before asking in an undertone, "What do they look like?"
Danielle didn't blame him for wanting to test if it was really just him having this hallucination, if that's what it was. Danielle took a moment to look back at the horse-like creatures.
"It's like a weird cross between a horse and a dragon," described Danielle in a whisper with a shrug, "bat wings, practically all skin and bone, kinda creepy-looking eyes..."
"They weren't there last year," said Harry, scratching the back of his head, seeming convinced, as well as relieved, that he really wasn't the only one who could see them and that Luna hadn't been lying. "Or at least I couldn't see them then."
"Yeah. Hermione told me the carriages were supposed to be horseless too," Danielle reassured, adding to the confusion she and Harry were both feeling.
"So why are we the only ones that can see them?" Harry wondered.
"Maybe we aren't," Danielle suggested with a shrug. "Maybe a few others just don't want to admit it."
Though this thought did seem to make Harry feel a little better, it still didn't solve the mystery of how they were able to see the horses in the first place. If Harry had only started seeing them this year, why now and not before?
Ron was starting to get impatient waiting for Harry at the top of the stairs, so Harry and Danielle both joined the crowd, hurrying up the stone steps to the castle.
Just as soon as Danielle crossed the threshold of the main entrance she started to feel very warm inside. She thought it was from coming inside from the cold when the warmth suddenly rushed out from her chest and escaped her lips upon her next exhale. Danielle stifled a gasp, clapping a hand over her mouth in realizing her Ghost-Sense went off. Purely out of habit, she tensely cast a wary eye about, looking for signs of trouble.
"What's wrong?" asked Ginny as she was coming up from behind her.
"Uh...nothing...new place...it's...it's huge," Danielle quickly evaded. No one seemed to notice the faint puff of steam that had come from Danielle's mouth.
"I thought you came here to get sorted," said Ginny, tilting her head to the side, giving Danielle a perplexed look.
"I only saw Dumbledore's office," clarified Danielle as she was staring about at the ceiling.
"You get used to it I guess," reassured Ginny with a shrug as she moved along with the rest of the crowd.
Idiot! Danielle thought. Hermione had told her that there were ghosts at Hogwarts. How could she not have thought of her Ghost-Sense picking them up? Danielle was going to have to learn to really restrain herself when she sensed a ghost was near her or people would start suspecting something. Thankfully, that was one thing about her ghost-powers that was easy to go unnoticed; the fact that it didn't seem to be as prominent as it usually was back home also helped. However, how was she supposed to cover something like that if they did start taking a notice of it; especially when she was in warmer places like this?
Not wanting to worry about it at the moment, Danielle took to looking around at the entrance hall. It was so big you could have fit the whole of the Fenton's old house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches, the ceiling was too high to make out, and the magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors. The hall echoed with footsteps as the students crossed the flagged stone floor for the double doors to the right, leading into the Great Hall.
This place was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables where the rest of the students were finding places to sit beside their friends. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. Dotted here and there among the students shown misty silver beings that glided occasionally towards the ceiling. Well, Danielle knew were the ghosts were now and what they seemed to generally look like. In all honestly, she found them to be rather dull compared to the ghosts from the Ghost Zone. All the same, they were not at all how Danielle expected and they still triggered her ghost-sense. Something she was going to have to be mindful of through the whole upcoming year.
"Hufflepuff is over there..." said Hermione over Danielle's shoulder and pointing to the table second from the left. At which were students whose robes were lined with black and yellow hemming, just like Danielle's was.
Danielle looked nervously in Hermione's direction as she was already being caught in the crowd towards the Gryffindor table next to it (their colors being red and gold). Though the tables of these separate houses were right next to each other, Danielle still wouldn't be close enough to Hermione if she needed to ask her anymore questions. Taking a deep breath, Danielle slowly walked towards the Hufflepuff table without anyone nearby that she already knew. She passed by Malfoy and Pansy Parkinsen who were sitting at the table next to Hufflepuff on the other side. Both were giving her malicious glares as she passed by. Great, Danielle thought with an inward sigh of frustration: Friends on one side and enemies on the other at mealtimes. She had to be by the green and silver table where the school bullies had easy access to provoke her. Then again, Malfoy seemed to be despaired by the same thought.
Danielle sat down at the most vacant spot at the table that was furthest away from the Slytherin prefects as she could find. A few of the Hufflepuffs nearest her looked at her curiously as she sat down, having never seen her before and noticing she was definitely too old to be a first year. Mainly to avoid the staring, Danielle looked upward and saw the black ceiling with a few various clouds. She had read in Hogwarts: A History that the ceiling of the Great Hall was bewitched to reflect how the weather looked outside. There didn't seem to be much of interest up there at the moment though, as it was a starless night.
Danielle looked away from the ceiling down to a blond girl that was approaching her at the table. She seemed to be about Danielle's age and accompanied by a stout boy. Both were wearing curious, but perplexed expressions on their faces.
"Never seen you before," the boy said. "What's your name?"
"Um...Danielle..." said Danielle, mildly surprised at being addressed at all.
"Danielle what?" the boy prodded.
Danielle paused before answering, "...Fenton,"
She watched the two kids carefully, as well as others around her, seeing if any of them recognized her last name and what it would connect her to. The boy looked thoughtful for a moment, making Danielle a bit nervous.
"That's funny, I don't remember anyone by the name of Fenton being in Hufflepuff."
"Hold on," said the girl, looking to be in thought herself.
Danielle held her breath, watching the expression on the girl's face lighten up as though a realization was slowly coming to her.
"I heard there was an exchange student transferring in this year. Is that you?"
Danielle quietly let out the breath she had been holding. "All the way from the USA," she said in relief.
"Oh, so you're the exchange student!" said a boy with curly hair that was sitting with another group at the table and had been listening in. He scooted towards Danielle, looking interested. "I didn't know you'd be in Hufflepuff." He held out his hand for Danielle to shake. "Justin Finch-Fletchley. Welcome to Hogwarts."
"Thanks," said Danielle, taking Justin's hand with a somewhat relieved smile.
"Aw, come now, Justin, you can't let us be prefects first?" said the boy, looking a bit disappointed in being beaten to the greeting. Danielle had just noticed the prefect's badges both he and the girl were wearing on the front of their robes.
Justin simply shrugged, smirking at the prefect boy before scooting back over to his own group at the table with one last nod towards Danielle in welcome. The prefect boy shook his head before turning back to Danielle.
"Anyway, I'm Ernie Macmillan and this is Hannah Abbot," he indicated the girl prefect beside him who smiled at Danielle. Ernie stretched his hand across the table to shake Danielle's. Hannah did the same.
"We're the Hufflepuff prefects," added Ernie as he puffed out his chest and flashed his prefect badge for Danielle to see. "So if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask."
"Good to know," acknowledged Danielle.
Danielle took a moment to look around the rest of the Great Hall. She noticed that people were staring mainly at the Gryffindor table. They were huddled together watching Hermione, Ron and Harry. Whenever Harry looked in their direction, they'd either quickly look away or huddle even closer to their friends whispering urgently. Of course, Danielle thought. The Daily Prophet had been feeding the whole Wizarding World lies about Harry being a show-off. That was why they were acting strange around Harry. In fact, aside from the friends back from Grimmauld Place, the closest person sitting next to Harry at the Gryffindor table at all was at least four seats away.
"So. United States. You're a long ways from home aren't you...?" Hannah was saying before Danielle even realized she was being talked to again.
"Oh—well, I'm...trying to get used to it," said Danielle, distracted.
"The United States?" said a kind voice.
Danielle spun around to see one of the ghosts had come up behind her. He resembled a fat little monk.
"Then you must be the fifth year foreign exchange student I've been hearing about," the ghost monk smiled warmly in greeting.
"Well, yeah, but...what have you been hearing?" said Danielle a bit timidly.
"Well, some of the teachers have told me that you seemed to be a delightful and bright young lady. And I think I already agree. I was ever so happy to hear that you'd be in Hufflepuff."
The Fat Friar nodded and turned to glide away when he unexpectedly did a double-take back towards Danielle. Danielle unwillingly leaned back as the Friar was leaning towards her as though examining her face.
"Uh...something wrong?" said Danielle awkwardly.
"Oh no, forgive me," The Fat Friar apologized, quickly drifting back as though he hadn't realized he had been staring. "It's just that you seem...somehow...familiar..." his face screwed in confusion again as though he couldn't quite place the name or face of who Danielle reminded him of. Danielle on the other hand had a feeling she knew exactly how familiar she looked to a particular someone. Could it be possible that Danny Phantom was known among the ghosts of the Wizarding World even though the Wizarding World itself seemed to pass by Danny's London statue without a second thought? Danielle looked towards the Hufflepuff prefects who were now looking more curiously at her than she felt comfortable with.
"Well, uh..." Danielle cleared her throat before facing the Fat Friar again. "I can't imagine where from, as this is my first time being here...but it's nice meeting you nonetheless, sir."
"The feeling is mutual, my dear, miss...er..."
"Fenton. Danielle Fenton."
"Welcome again to Hufflepuff, Miss Fenton," said the Friar with a nod and a smile. Then he turned to leave once more. Danielle was relieved that he didn't seem to recognize her last name, although in the corner of her eye the Friar paused as though a memory had sparked in his transparent head and he looked back again at Danielle before finally moving on. Perhaps being in Britain and in the Wizarding World allowed Danny's human identity to escape revelation. Even if just barely. Hannah, Ernie and a few other Hufflepuffs were still looking baffled by the exchange between the new girl and the Fat Friar.
To Danielle's gratitude, before anyone could ask about it, the doors from the entrance hall opened. A long line of scared-looking first years entered, led by Professor McGonagall, who was carrying a stool on which sat what Danielle recognized as the Sorting Hat.
The buzz of the Great Hall faded away. The first years lined up in front of the staff table facing the rest of the students. Professor McGonagall placed the stool carefully in front of them, then stood back.
The first years' faces glowed palely in the candlelight. A small boy right in the middle of the row looked as though he was trembling. Danielle couldn't help feeling sorry for the poor terrified boy but was ever so glad she didn't have to be up there with them to be Sorted.
The whole school waited with bated breath. Then the Sorting Hat burst into song.
In times of old when I was new
and Hogwarts barely started
The Founders of our noble school
Thought never to be parted:
United by a common goal,
They had the selfsame yearning
to make the world's best magic school
and pass along their learning.
"Together we will build and teach!"
The Four good friends decided
And never did they dream that they
might someday be divided,
For were there such friends anywhere
as Slytherin and Gryffindor?
Unless it was the second pair
of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw?
So how could it have gone so wrong?
How could such friendships fail?
Why, I was there and so can tell
the whole sad, sorry tale.
Said Slytherin, "We'll teach just those
whose ancestry is purest."
Said Ravenclaw, "We'll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest."
Said Gryffindor, "We'll teach all those
with brave deeds to their name,"
Said Hufflepuff, "I'll teach the lot,
and treat them just the same."
So Hogwarts worked in harmony
for several happy years,
But the discord crept among us
feeding on our faults and fears.
The Houses that, like pillars four,
had once held up our school,
now turned upon each other and,
Divided, sought to rule.
And for a while it seemed the school
Must meet an early end,
What with dueling and with fighting
and the clash of friend on friend
and at last there came a morning
when old Slytherin departed.
And though the fighting then died out
he left us quite downhearted.
And never since the founders four
were whittled down to three
Have the Houses been united
and they once were meant to be.
And now the Sorting Hat is here
and you all know the score:
I sort you into Houses
Because that is what I'm for,
But this year I'll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
still I worry that it's wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting
May not bring the end I fear.
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
the warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
from external, deadly foes
And we must unite inside her
or we'll crumble from within
I have told you, I have warned you...
Let the sorting now begin.
Danielle vaguely remembered professor Flitwick saying that the Sorting Hat also sang, but she never really took the thought seriously. Now she really understood what he had meant. The hat became motionless once the song ended; applause broke out, though it was punctured with muttering whispers. Danielle wasn't really sure why. Did the hat not always give advice or warnings?
Danielle wasn't able to ask Hannah or Ernie about it as McGonagall was giving the whispering students a sort of look that scorches. The muttering came to an abrupt end as professor McGonagall lowered her eyes to her long piece of parchment and began to read aloud the names of the first years. One by one, as their names were called, the students sat on the stool and professor McGonagall placed the hat on their heads, just as she had Danielle. One of the four tables applauded loudly whenever the Sorting Hat called out the name of their house and the newest members sat down to join them. Danielle joined in the applause whenever a new Hufflepuff was sorted to them.
Slowly the long line of first years thinned. Finally the last one was sorted into Hufflepuff. Professor McGonagall picked up the hat and stool and marched them away as Headmaster Dumbledore rose to his feet.
"To our newcomers," he said in a ringing voice, his arms stretched wide and a beaming smile on his lips, "welcome! To our old hands—welcome back! There is a time for speechmaking, but this is not it. Tuck in!"
There was an appreciative laugh and an outbreak of applause as Dumbledore sat down neatly and threw his long beard over his shoulder so as to keep it out of the way of his plate—for food had appeared out of nowhere, so that the five long tables were groaning under the joints as pies and dishes of vegetables, bread, sauces, and flagons of pumpkin juice covered them.
In remembering how hungry she was Danielle gratefully followed the other students' lead in helping herself to whatever she liked that was in front of her.
"So, have you been in this county long, Fenton?" said Ernie as he was putting chops on his plate.
"I got here during the summer," Danielle answered casually.
"And how d'you like Britain so far?" asked Hannah, looking hopeful.
After a thoughtful pause, Danielle simply answered, "well it's...different."
"Good different or bad different?"
Danielle shrugged. "There are things that are still surprising me."
"That's life," said Ernie with a knowing smile.
Danielle almost laughed. "That's true."
"So are you staying in Britain for long or are you just here for school?"
"Just for school. The rest of my family's back in Americ-aah!" Danielle had turned to take a boiled potato from the platter to her right when she realized her arm had gone straight through another ghost that had been staring at her. Her arm felt like it had been dunked in ice-cold water and she immediately withdrew it. This ghost was wearing a ruff and tights and didn't seem at all bothered by the fact that Danielle's hand had been reaching right through his stomach. In fact he was still staring at her curiously. Danielle noticed that some Hufflepuff students were beginning to give her strange looks again.
"Uh...can I help you?" Danielle asked the ghost awkwardly.
As the Fat Friar had before him, he seemed to realize only now that he had been staring and quickly backed off.
"Oh! I do beg your pardon m'lady. You just...reminded me of...someone..." without another word, other than another confused glance in her direction, he steadily hovered away, leaving any Hufflepuffs who had witnessed the exchange looking quite perplexed.
"Twice in the same hour," Justin said quietly in wonder, staring after the ghost that had just left.
Danielle became aware of the several Hufflepuffs that were looking expectantly at her as though for some explanation. Danielle let out a heavy sigh looking down at her plate.
"And I thought I was already getting stared at just for my accent," she said gloomily.
"Oh, I'm sure they don't mean anything personal," Hannah said quickly and almost apologetically.
"Yeah. I mean; we don't often get foreign exchange students here, much less ones from an entirely different continent," said a girl whose name was Susan Bones.
"Yeah, they're probably just curious," said Justin. "Frankly, I'm sure everyone is."
"Though it is odd that two of the ghosts would think you resembled someone they knew," Ernie said thoughtfully to no one in particular.
"Well, they've been around for a long time. Who knows the sort of people they've seen." Justin said casually.
The general chatter of the rest of the Great Hall continued as Danielle concentrated more on eating what she had put on her plate. Before long, she found herself looking around at the staff table. She recognized the heads of house from her Sorting and Dumbledore himself of course, but there were several others that she had never seen before. One in particular she noticed at the far end looked like someone's maiden aunt: squat, with short, curly, mouse-brown hair in which she had placed a rather horrible pink Alice band that matched the fluffy pink cardigan she wore over her robes. Overall she looked rather like a large, pale toad with a flabby face, very little neck and a very wide slack mouth. Her eyes were large, round and slightly bulging. Danielle couldn't help feeling slightly uneasy just looking at the witch.
"Hey, can you tell me about some of the teachers that are at that table?" Danielle finally spoke, leaning towards the two Hufflepuff prefects.
"Like who?" asked Hannah, looking toward the staff table and seeming eager to help.
"That short witch at the far end in the pink, for starters," Danielle pointed out.
Both Hannah's and Ernie's gaze rested on the toad-like woman before their faces screwed in thoughtful confusion.
"You know, I'm not entirely sure," Hannah admitted.
Ernie shrugged and returned to his plate. "I suppose she must be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
"That's practically a given every year isn't it," said Justin. "New Defense teacher at the start of term."
"Every year?" said Danielle, mystified. "Really?"
"The job is rumored to be jinxed," Susan whispered. "Anyone who has ever taken it on has never had it again the next year."
This was rather intriguing to Danielle. "And it's always been like that?"
"For as long as we've been here."
Other Hufflepuffs nodded in confirmation of this fact.
"Maybe Snape jinxed it," whispered a boy Danielle had yet to be introduced to and who happened to be listening in on the conversation. "He's always wanted the job after all and Dumbledore's never given it to him."
"Oh, Zack, stop being ridiculous," Susan retorted with a shake of her head.
"Snape's the potions master by the way; the one with the greasy hair sitting by the new teacher," Hannah pointed out to Danielle. "Oh and of course you must get to know Professor Sprout. She's the head of Hufflepuff and the Herbology teacher. She's the short one with the frizzy hair that's not wearing the cardigan."
Danielle already knew both these teachers of course, but she humored Hannah anyway by looking in the direction she was pointing and nodding in acknowledgement. Afterwards, Danielle looked towards the toad-woman again. If Defense Against the Dark Arts was the subject Dumbledore had needed the new teacher for, then that woman was the one Dumbledore had said was the reason for Danielle coming to Hogwarts in the first place. She didn't really look capable of much trouble, but Danielle knew far too well not to make judgments based off appearances alone.
Danielle resumed eating for the remaining time of the feast, still taking occasional glances at the new teacher. When all the students had finished and the noise-level in the hall was creeping up again, Dumbledore got to his feet once more. Talking ceased immediately as all turned to face the headmaster.
"Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices," said Dumbledore. "First years should know that the forest in the grounds is out of bounds to students — and a few of our older students ought to know by now too."
"Oh come on," Danielle complained in an undertone that was barely heard by anyone else. She was half ghost; she loved exploring at night. Perhaps with Dumbledore having her enrolled here undercover he'd allow that rule to slide a bit for her. Not that she'd tell if she was going to do it anyway.
"Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four-hundred and sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in the corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr. Filch's office door," Dumbledore went on.
"We have two changes in staffing this year. We are pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures while Professor Hagrid is on temporary leave. We also wish to welcome our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Delores Umbridge, and I'm sure you will all join me in wishing the professor good luck."
There was a round of polite but fairly unenthusiastic applause during which Danielle looked in the direction of the Gryffindor table. She remembered Harry, Ron and Hermione mentioning a Hagrid before on their way up to the school and they seemed to now be exchanging slightly panicked looks in hearing that Hagrid was being replaced, even if only temporarily. Dumbledore never mentioned for how long. Danielle made a mental note to ask about it in the future.
Dumbledore continued. "Also, tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will take place on the—"
He broke off, looking inquiringly at Professor Umbridge. As she was not much taller standing than sitting, there was a moment when nobody understood why Dumbledore had stopped talking, but then Professor Umbridge said, "Hem, hem," and it became clear that she had gotten to her feet and was intending to make a speech.
Dumbledore only looked taken aback for a moment, then he sat back down smartly and looked alertly at Professor Umbridge as though he desired nothing better than to listen to her talk. Other members of the staff were not as adept at hiding their surprise. Professor Sprout's eyebrows had disappeared into her flyaway hair and Professor McGonagall's mouth became quite thin. Based on the way everyone was reacting, Danielle figured it must not have been normal for any new teacher to interrupt the headmaster. This woman was breaking the usual protocol of Dumbledore's start-of-term announcements.
"She was at my hearing, she works for Fudge," Danielle caught Harry whispering urgently to Hermione and Ron even from this distance away. Danielle's senses were sharper than any average human and she had been listening carefully for any verbal reactions to Umbridge's interjection. No one else seemed to have heard or bothered to hear what Harry had said specifically to his two friends.
"Thank you, Headmaster," Professor Umbridge simpered, "for those kind words of welcome." Her voice was high-pitched, breathy, and little-girlish. "And how lovely to see all your bright happy faces smiling up at me."
Danielle glanced around. None of the faces she could see looked happy; on the contrary, they all looked rather take aback at being addressed as though they were five years old. Danielle couldn't blame them. She was finding herself not liking the woman at all.
"I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all, and I'm sure we're all going to be very good friends."
Students exchanged looks at this; some of them were barely concealing grins.
"That's likely," Fred and George said sarcastically in unison, looking rather bored.
"I'll be her friend as long as I don't have to borrow that cardigan," said a girl from the Gryffindor table whispering to another one, and both of them lapsed into silent giggles.
Professor Umbridge cleared her throat again ("Hem, hem"), but when she continued, some of the breathiness had vanished from her voice. She sounded much more business like and now her words had a dull learned-by-heart sound to them.
"The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. Although each headmaster has brought something new to this historic school," she gave a significant glance towards Dumbledore who nodded back as though flattered, "progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices that ought to be prohibited."
She sat down. Dumbledore clapped. The staff followed his lead, though several of them brought their hands together only once or twice before stopping. A few students joined in, but before they could applaud properly, Dumbledore had stood up again.
"Thank you very much, Professor, that was really most illuminating," he said, bowing to her. "Now—as I was saying, Quidditch tryouts will be held..."
Danielle became more caught up in the quiet conversation that was happening at the Gryffindor table than in Dumbledore's final announcements.
"Illuminating," said Ron, surprised, "what a load of waffle."
"There was some important stuff hidden in the waffle," said Hermione grimly.
"Well, what does it mean?" said Harry
"I'll tell you what it means," said Hermione ominously. Danielle chanced a look in Hermione's direction. They made eye-contact and Danielle made a slight nod of her head with a grim expression of her own in agreement to Hermione's next statement before she even made it. "It means the Ministry's interfering at Hogwarts."
There was a great clattering and banging all round them; Dumbledore had obviously dismissed the school, because everyone was standing up ready to leave the Hall.
"Well, Fenton," Ernie was saying, standing up. "Hannah and I are supposed to escort the new first years to the common room. You can come with us or you can just follow the other Hufflepuffs..."
Danielle nodded with a smile. As she was getting up though, she glanced up at Dumbledore who was looking straight in her direction. His eyes shifted briefly towards Umbridge and back to Danielle, indicating to her that her job in observing the teacher from the Ministry had now officially begun. Danielle tried to look as much like she was acknowledging Dumbledore's signal as possible without making it obvious to the students around her before allowing herself to get caught up in the flow of the crowd heading out of the Great Hall.
"Over here, Fenton," called Susan Bones excitedly, waving Danielle over to the right as soon as Danielle had come out of the door of the Great Hall.
Danielle slowly headed towards Susan and Justin who stood waiting for her by a door that other Hufflepuffs were going through and that was to the right of the marble staircase: The one Danielle saw Ron and Hermione guiding the new Gryffindor first years up. Danielle felt slightly out of place going towards a different group of people than the Gryffindors she had come to get to know over the summer, but she supposed it was bound to happen before long. She would have to not be so clingy to those who were already familiar to her if she was going to stay inconspicuous anyway.
Danielle followed Justin and Susan through the door and down a flight of stone steps. Instead of ending up in a gloomy underground passage like she had expected, they found themselves in a broad stone corridor, brightly lit with torches, and decorated with cheerful paintings that were mainly of food. On the right hand side was a nook in which several large barrels were stacked up against the wall. To Danielle's confusion, this was where Justin and Susan stopped.
"Here we are," said Justin happily. "The entrance to the Hufflepuff common room."
When Danielle simply looked perplexed, Susan explained. "You tap one of the barrels in sequence to get in—Here, I'll show you."
Other Hufflepuffs were already beginning to gather around behind Danielle as Susan pulled out her wand and went over to the barrel that was two from the top and middle of the second row. Using her wand, she tapped the lid of the barrel twice, paused for a split second, and tapped an additional three times. The barrel lid swung open revealing a tunnel passage that looked like it went all the way through the wall behind the stack of barrels.
Danielle nodded, impressed as some of the students began to climb into the barrel and crawl through the tunnel on their hands and knees with still quite a bit of room leftover for their heads.
Danielle lagged behind with Susan and Justin for a while longer.
"You want to make sure it's this barrel here that you tap," Susan explained as she stowed away her wand. "Oh, and you don't want to be getting it wrong either or you'll get doused in vinegar and barred access until the next Hufflepuff comes along."
"What? Really?" said Danielle taken aback, but still finding the idea rather amusing. She was half hoping to get a demonstration of someone getting it wrong just so she could see if that was really what happened.
"Trust me—Don't test it," said Justin sternly. He must have read Danielle's expression. He then chivalrously indicating the barrel hole for Danielle to crawl through first.
Danielle felt herself actually getting more and more excited as she climbed into the barrel. Although she made a note that if her fake wand didn't work on the barrel, she'd have to either always come with someone else that did have a real one or make sure no one was on the other side and just go intangible through the wall. She'd have to test it out some time soon. Perhaps tonight when everyone else was asleep...
The entryway widened to where Danielle was able to stand before it opened to a large round, earthy and low-ceilinged room. The plush sofas and chairs that were all around were upholstered in yellow and black patterns and touched with burnished copper. Danielle remembered it being dark outside last she had checked, but there was sunlight coming through the round windows and had a view or rippling grass and dandelions. Danielle had read in Hogwarts: A History that the windows were always like that no matter what time of day it was to make it always feel sunny and cozy in the room. In addition, there was an assortment of different plants hanging from the ceiling or resting on the windowsills.
In hearing a commotion coming from the entryway, Danielle turned to see that Hannah and Ernie were coming in with the first years.
"Ah, good. So you found the place, Fenton," said Ernie to Danielle before turning to the first years that were gathering behind him and Hannah.
"Welcome to the Hufflepuff common room. Professor Sprout, our own head of house is also the Herbology teacher here at Hogwarts. She often brings in the most interesting plant specimens, some of which can dance and even talk."
He indicated some of the plants that were about the room. The first years let out a collective "ooooooooooooooh" in seeing some of the plants moving. One of which, Danielle had only just noticed, was directly behind her and gently stroking her dark messy hair with a soft leaf for a hand, as though trying to smooth it down.
Danielle stepped away from the plant in surprise, getting a fleeting impression of Undergrowth (a self-healing killer-plant ghost from back in Amity Park). Upon a second glance in watching the plant dancing gracefully on the windowsill, however, it seemed much more peaceful and friendly to her. In fact, even though a lot of the plants seemed to be moving and actually speaking in greeting the enthusiastic first years, Danielle found she actually quite liked being in the room. It was certainly nothing like the Fenton residence, but still quite homey.
"Now, then," said Hannah. "Curfew is just about to start so this concludes our tour of the Hufflepuff wing of the castle. But the rest of the school has yet to be explored starting tomorrow morning. Until then, boys retire in the dormitories that are through that door on the left of the fireplace and the girls to the door on the right."
Hannah indicated the round doors in the walls of the common room that were on either side of a gloriously lit fireplace with an oval-shaped portrait of a woman hanging above the mantle. Danielle guessed the portrait was of Helga Hufflepuff herself; the founder of the house.
Hannah and Ernie dismissed the now yawning first years and walked over to Danielle, Susan and Justin.
"So what do you think, Fenton?" asked Ernie, indicating the common room to her.
Danielle took a thoughtful moment to glance around the room, grinning.
"I like it," Danielle replied with an impressed nod.
"Wait till you see the rest of the castle," said Justin, though through a yawn.
"Tomorrow though. I think people are ready to just turn in by now," said Hannah, noticing how tired everyone seemed to be getting. Danielle herself failed in suppressing a yawn of her own.
"Just Danielle, please," said Danielle, not really feeling comfortable at being formally addressed by kids her own age, "Dani for short, with an 'I'"
Hannah smiled. "Okay, well, the girls' dormitory is this way. Everyone's belongings should have already been brought in."
Susan and Hannah bade goodnight to the boys and guided Danielle through the door to the right of the mantle. It led to a series of tunnels through which Danielle followed Hannah and Susan to yet another door where the fifth years slept. They entered and Danielle found herself in another circular room lit by warm copper lanterns that hung over four-poster beds, all of which were covered in patchwork quilts. Copper bed-warmers hung on the walls in case of cold feet.
Danielle saw her trunk was set by one of the four-poster beds and happily flung herself in that one. After changing into her pajamas, Danielle was too tired to think much of anything else. She pulled the hangings around her bed and got under the warm blankets, barely say anything else to the other Hufflepuff girls other than "good night".
As Danielle lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, she could hardly believe she was actually sleeping in a castle tonight. She had never slept in such a magnificent-looking room in her life. The Fentons had told her that Vlad once lived in a castle in Wisconsin. If Vlad had cared to truly treat her like family, perhaps he'd have given her a bed like this in a room of her own... Even if this setting was only temporary and for an undercover mission...Oh, the look on Vlad's face if he could see her now.
The more Danielle dwelt on these thoughts however, the more and more she began to remember the Fentons and the fact that none of them were there with her to share the observation of this irony. She'd wake up tomorrow morning as though she was starting an entirely new life... without her cousin...
Sleep tight, Dani.
Danielle's heart leapt in suddenly hearing the instantly recognizable voice inside her head. How long had Danny been in telepathic range? He was probably not even in the room at the moment, but Danielle suddenly felt calmer in knowing he was somewhere around the castle.
Thanks, Danny. She thought back telepathically as she closed her eyes with a relieved smile. Good night.
Danielle fell asleep that night, having a feeling that her experience at Hogwarts was definitely going to be interesting; for better or worse.
Note: If you spot any grammar or spelling error please bring them to my attention through a PM and not as part of a review.
Hopefully this didn't feel too rushed. I'm trying to find ways to simplify the story so I don't have to go through every detail of the book. You may have noticed the descriptions being taken from a lot of the books in the Harry Potter series as well as some bits from the movies. The descriptions for the Hufflepuff common room are from harrypotterwikia. Just a fun fact.
Anyway, now Danielle's at Hogwarts. And yes, she can see thestrals because of her ghost powers. Being half ghost, always hanging around 'dead people' and having been close enough to death herself that both she and Danny thought she really was a goner, I thought it would be enough to count as having seen death and therefore to see thestrals. Even if not as completely solid. So yeah, I cheated. I thought it would add to her being unusual compared to the other students in not having the same kind of 'magic.'
That on top of the ghosts seeming to recognize her Phantom side. So, what did you think?
Now. Even though I had finished this chapter sooner that I said I might, don't be getting your hopes up about the next one. I had already been slacking off more than I should have been on the project I'm supposed to be working on to finish this chapter. I can't say when I'll be able to start on the next chapter at all, so don't expect it within as good timing as I used to with my other stories. In the meantime, I hope you have been enjoying this rendition of the Order of the Phoenix so far and will still be with it by the time I pick it up again.