Hey! I'm back again! And in time for Christmas! I told you it wouldn't be nearly as long a wait as the last chapter.
Now, I'll warn you ahead of time, I've recently had an update in my document writing software, so you may see a few changes in grammar or other ways of writing a few things. At least until I get the new software figured out.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the chapter.
Disclaimer: Danny Phantom owned by Butch Hartman and Nickelodeon. The Harry Potter books owned by J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter movies owned by Warner Brothers studios.
Chapter 17: The Next Move
The following Tuesday morning in the Great Hall at breakfast, Danielle observed, even from a distance, that Harry's hand was raw and red again. Further, based on the general air of indifference to it, or simply ignorance of, he still was refusing to say a word about it. All while still being ridiculed by his Quidditch team captain, Angelina Johnson, for having to skip even more Quidditch practices than he already had from the first time he had received detention from Umbridge. In fact, Angelina shouted so loudly at Harry that Professor McGonagall came sweeping down upon the pair of them from the staff table.
"Miss Johnson, how dare you make such a racket in the Great Hall! Five points from Gryffindor!"
"But Professor—he's gone and landed himself in detention! Again!"
When Professor McGonagall became aware of the curious Ravenclaws that were trying to listen in behind her, she lowered her voice. Due to which, Danielle couldn't make out much of the rest of their conversation as the transfiguration teacher dismissed an irritated Angelina. Danielle did however see afterwards how Professor McGonagall's head tilted downward and how Harry seemed to try to hide his right hand as a response. Danielle could only assume this meant that the Head of Gryffindor House had already guessed exactly what Harry's second week of detentions entailed, having been informed by Professor Dumbledore the first time.
Since there was no apparent confrontation toward Umbridge after McGonagall returned to the staff table though, it seemed that the good professor had chosen, for the moment, to feign ignorance to the back of Harry's hand. There was, however, a most rare but certain look of ruefulness on Professor McGonagall's face by the time she re-seated herself. Dumbledore had likely already warned McGonagall that doing anything more about Umbridge's treatment of Harry might make things worse. So for now, she, just like Danielle, was unable to do anything to help him with the injustice of the whole situation.
True, Danielle had occasionally been having her own fun with Umbridge, such as the time during the first Defense Against the Dark Arts class at the start of term, but she could only make a scene of herself so many times while still pulling off the 'innocent' act. If the undercover ghost hybrid wasn't careful the next time she contradicted the High Inquisitor, she might very well be added to the Ministry's watch list right underneath Harry and Dumbledore. Over the next day or so, Danielle had noticed that her mention of Danny Phantom had already earned her some odd looks from her fellow students. However, as the incident happened right alongside Harry Potter's most recent outburst about Voldemort's return, the attention on the foreign exchange student's misinterpretation of myths was surprisingly short lived: for better or worse. As no one had bothered to ask her about Danny Phantom directly before the hype subsided, she could only assume that they had all drawn up their own conclusions that were likely nowhere near accurate.
Danielle did remember how Hermione had said back at Grimmauld Place that there might be a surprising number of people who had never even heard of Danny Phantom. So far, only Hermione herself seemed to have bother looking into the story of the Phantoms enough to even care that Danielle might be connected to them. Of course, the fact that even the muggleborns around here had bought into the Ministry's lie about her own cousin being a fairytale didn't make Danielle feel any better about it being spread in the first place.
The weeks past and the weather was getting colder. With the inspection of the teachers Umbridge had been doing, Danielle did make an effort to let Dumbledore know which teachers the High Inquisitor seemed to have her eye on specifically, but it was still nothing more than one more thing she couldn't prevent Umbridge from doing.
For that matter, Danielle's magic school life started becoming routine, boring, and increasingly wearisome with the accompanied double-life as a seemingly unneeded spy. It wasn't that the classes themselves weren't interesting to Danielle, but more that what she was learning from them was only to help disguise herself from Umbridge rather than actually being helpful in stopping her. What made it all the worse was that Umbridge was the whole reason Danielle was enrolled in this school in the first place.
One of the only sources of relief from Danielle's constant frustrations of the day was the Quidditch practices Zacharias Smith kept putting the Hufflepuff team through. As boneheaded and unorthodox as Zacharias sometimes was during the practices, Danielle did find a certain level of pleasure in seeing the look on the team captain's face whenever she pulled new stunts on her mediocre broomstick that he never thought anyone on a Shooting Star would be able to accomplish. What's more, Danielle would often find Jake Hollingsworth from the tryouts watching the practices from the stands, always smiling ecstatically whenever Danielle had the chance to wave to him. It reminded her of when the younger kids back in Amity Park always cheered for her and Danny whenever the two of them were on flyby patrols: A small but still appreciated comfort in an otherwise strange and sometimes lonely world.
October came with light snow on the ground, as well as the school's first Hogsmeade weekend of the year. Apparently, students that were third year or above with signed permission from their parents or legal guardians were allowed to leave the school grounds on designated weekends to visit a little all-wizard village named Hogsmeade that wasn't far from Hogwarts School. Something of a shopping center or a tourist attraction, from the sound of it.
A few days before this Hogsmeade visit, Danny had managed to get his parents to fax the required signatures to him from America through an Internet café in London, which he subsequently gave to Dumbledore to approve of Danielle leaving the Hogwarts grounds. Dumbledore, who seemed to have noticed Danielle's gloominess lately, advised her to take the opportunity of visiting Hogsmeade with the other students to take her mind off things. He even offered her a few gold galleons to spend there. His insistence that she use them to maximize her enjoyment there ended up outweighing her protest against taking them.
"That is, if you haven't already paid a visit to the village," Dumbledore had implied covertly with a playful wink during Danielle's latest report to his office.
Danielle shrugged with a sheepish smile. Dumbledore had probably already guessed that she had been using her powers to wander the castle grounds on nights when she found it hard to sleep.
"As much as I've been tempted to at times," Danielle admitted. "Like you said, I've…had a lot on my mind."
Dumbledore chuckled knowingly. "Well, at least there's some sense of self-discipline with those otherwise unrestricted abilities of yours."
So, the morning of the Hogsmeade visit, Danielle found herself lined up along with perhaps half the students in the entire school at the front doors in the entrance hall. The caretaker Mr. Filch was stationed there with his pet cat, Mrs. Norris, checking off the very long list of names of the students that had permission to visit the village.
Once finally past the cranky caretaker and down the stone steps, Danielle followed the long line of students making their way down the long wide drive down the hill and through the grounds. Once outside the gate, there was a left turn on the road and just beyond, across a bridge, laid the village of Hogsmeade.
It was a rather quaint place with a certain charm about it. Like all wizard architecture Danielle had observed thus far, the buildings were quite old-fashioned, but the general air about the whole village certainly made Danielle feel more cheerful. If it had been closer to Christmas with more snow on the ground, Danielle wondered if it would look like a town of gingerbread houses. Danielle cracked a smile at the thought. Perhaps Dumbledore had been right in insisting she come here.
It was a bit windy today, so most of the students bustling about were bundled up in their cloaks and scarves and hurrying to get indoors to avoid the cold as soon as they reached the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Danielle, on the other hand, was only wearing her winter cloak and scarf to look the part. Her resilient ghost hybrid status made her perfectly fine with even the icy Far Frozen realm of the Ghost Zone. Even if she couldn't Go Ghost in public around here, her Phantom Phlare power working as a furnace inside her chest in her human state always came in handy. The wind tossing her long bangs around her face was also nothing she hadn't already gotten used to through her years of aerial combat experience.
Danielle wondered if Dumbledore had foreseen the wisdom in this sort of timing. With everyone else hustling to get out of the wind and cold that she didn't mind so much, Danielle was free to wander the resulting empty streets without much interface or fear of speculation.
The trouble was more deciding where to begin her exciting exploration. Just the brightly lit window displays were enough to get her going. There was a place called Zonko's Joke Shop that Danielle had been curious about, having heard of it from some of her fellow Hufflepuffs. Not to mention Fred and George Weasley, to no surprise. The post office was also supposed to be interesting with all the many different owls that were supposed to be able to take letters all the way across the continent. And Honeyduke's was supposed to be a sweet shop with the most succulent products around that were also available for sampling.
Before Danielle could decide where to go first however, something else caught her attention: Several fifth-year Hufflepuffs she recognized had not yet gotten out of the cold into one of the cozy-looking shops. Instead they, along with a surprising number of other Hogwarts students, were going off the main road and up a side street that didn't look to be all that used compared to the rest of the village. What's more, the only building in that direction seemed rather run down.
Of all the places to go first upon entering Hogsmeade, why would any Hogwarts student simply walk right past all these other clearly more inviting places to go all the way to a shabby place like that? Let alone such a large group of them.
Danielle knew those students were more seasoned visitors than she was, probably having already seen every shop on this street several times, but that building in particular looked to be the type to be off the main road for a reason. Danielle wasn't quite sure if there were any buildings within Hogmeade that students were not allowed to go into, but she definitely didn't remember being told of, or even heard mention of, that place in all the hype of the upcoming weekend. Danielle could believe Sam Manson, Danny's Goth girlfriend from back home, appreciating at least the gloomy feel of a place like that, but certainly not a shy and sweet girl like Hannah Abbot who was among the group heading in that direction. Could something be going on?
Danielle froze. Then stiffly turned around to find that Professor Umbridge had just arrived in Hogsmeade and was walking right up to Danielle with that overly sweet simper.
Danielle's mind began to race. She only just remembered that she hadn't been attending very many of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes lately. Umbridge was surely going to ask about it. Danielle had half the mind to just wave casually and be on her way to avoid her altogether. However, what of that strange group of students, heading towards that beat up building? If Umbridge noticed them, Danielle a feeling they would be doing something the old hag wouldn't approve of, whether they were truly stepping out of bounds or not. If that led to putting even more people in those unpardonable detentions…
"Hello, Miss Fenton," Professor Umbridge said cheerfully approaching.
Making a fast decision, Danielle turned to face the hateful woman.
"Oh! Hi, Professor Umbridge," Danielle attempted as pleasantly as possible, and trying to ignore the feelings of acrimony that had arisen at the mere sight of the woman. "Wow, so teachers come on these Hogsmeade visits too?" she asked innocently as she playfully skipped her way around to the other side of Umbridge, pretending to be excited to see her.
As planned, this turned the squat little professor around, resulting in her back being directly towards where the suspicious group of students was heading up the side street.
"Oh, quite often, yes," Professor Umbridge replied happily, seeming completely oblivious to the scene happening only a short distance behind her. "I haven't seen you around much, though, Miss Fenton. You've not been to my classes lately. Is everything alright?"
"Oh. Well…" Having seen this question coming, Danielle thought fast. "I started getting hit with a lot of things at once. I was starting to think that I'd have started working on stuff from other classes while in yours, and I…didn't think you'd really appreciate that."
"I see…" Umbridge replied slowly, staring at Danielle before turning her head.
For a split second, Danielle was afraid she'd turn all the way around and see the suspicious-looking students, but she only looked at Danielle again after only a short glance from side to side.
"But what's a lovely little girl like you doing wandering about by herself?" asked Umbridge.
Danielle ignored the pang at being called 'little' so cutely before she simply replied casually, "Oh, you know: First time visit here." She smiled, looking back and forth as though admiring the scenery, but also checking that the students on the side path were gradually slipping away. Apparently a few stragglers had only just caught up as well, looking around uncertainly. So those students were definitely up to something that wasn't normal.
"But surely you'd have a much more enjoyable time if doing so with a friend or two that's been here before?" Umbridge inquired.
Danielle shrugged. "Well, they didn't seem to offer guided tours of this place."
For some reason Umbridge began to stare at Danielle.
"Um…" was all Danielle could say, even if only to break the unexpected and rather awkward silence.
Umbridge only cocked her head to the side as though inspecting Danielle. Was she suspecting something?
"Uh… Can I…help you, Professor?" Danielle stammered, uncertainly.
"I'm not entirely sure you're the one who should be asking that question." Professor Umbridge stated.
Danielle glanced to the side, starting to get nervous and confused.
"Tell me, dear, could part of the reason for your isolation be that you've not managed to make any friends since attending Hogwarts?"
Danielle blinked. "Oh, no. I've been able to get to know lots of people here," she said rather quickly. This was true, even if she wasn't really sure she'd call them 'friends'. "The other kids in my house are really nice." She added, though also looking past Umbridge to see that the students on the side street had finally disappeared from sight by now.
"But if you've made so many friends, why are you spending your first ever visit to Hogsmeade alone, rather than with them?" Umbridge went on, with her curious look.
Danielle glanced to the side for a moment. Why did Umbridge even care? What could she possibly find wrong about a single student exploring a village she had permission to visit? Surely Danielle wasn't the first to have done this alone, even for an exchange student.
Danielle only shrugged, starting to feel a bit confused. "Well, being from a different country, I've just—"
"Oh, you poor, deprived little girl!" Professor Umbridge cried suddenly, clutching at her heart as though having just heard the saddest sob story that Danielle didn't remember telling in the slightest. "Had I known Dumbledore was neglecting his own foreign exchange students in such a way…"
Danielle's eyes widened. "Wha…neglecting?" she replied, bewildered.
Before she knew it, Umbridge began fishing around in her flowery handbag. "Allowing one such as yourself into the school may seem to some as a sign of acceptance, but to otherwise ignore your integration into a society you're unfamiliar with is simply cruel of the current headmaster," Umbridge declared, pulling out a small piece of parchment and a quill. "I will most definitely be adding this to my report as High Inquisitor."
As Professor Umbridge hurriedly busied herself in writing down a note on the parchment, Danielle glowered distastefully. Dumbledore was one who celebrated people's differences, unlike this woman's prejudicial way of thinking and wanting everyone to be like herself. Now, not only had Umbridge already labeled Danielle as unintelligent and gullible just for being from a different country, now she was trying to use that fact as yet another point to attack Dumbledore before even letting Danielle explain herself. Further trying to sugarcoat it as an act of pity. All right, if the pitying act is how you want to play it.
Danielle took on a downhearted expression. "Um…professor?"
Her plan worked. Umbridge looked up from her note with some urgency at Danielle. "Yes, dear?"
"I…I didn't really want to say this…but…I can't help feeling like I should tell you…"
"Tell me what, dear?" Umbridge insisted.
Danielle could hardly believe she was even considering this charade. But if it would turn the tables in her favor… "I—well—it's just that… Please don't be mad."
Danielle nearly shivered at the unexpected touch of the stubby, overly ornate little hand that she suddenly felt placed on her shoulder, as though in comfort.
"I won't be mad, dear, I promise. Tell Professor Umbridge what's wrong," Professor Umbridge encouraged so sweetly, Danielle felt like vomiting.
Trying to fight down the disgust and the strong urge to swat that hand away, or even set it on fire, Danielle somehow managed to maintain her downcast manner, shoveling her foot at the lightly frosted ground.
"It's just…well… Your class…isn't the only one I've been skipping lately."
Danielle kept her gaze firmly on her own feet as she felt Umbridge pause for a moment. "Miss Fenton," she said, sounding surprised. "Are you telling me that a stalwart student such as yourself has been purposefully absent from even her official classes?"
"Well…ever since that Divination class when you and I…discussed the phenomenon around the asteroid, I… the other kids look at me weird now…and…"
"Oh my…" Umbridge gasped dramatically, removing her hand (to Danielle's relief), as though in shocked realization. "Oh, I suppose I did make rather a spectacle of you during that Divination class, didn't I. How could I not have realized…"
Gotcha. Danielle thought. Now Umbridge was connecting Danielle's assumed "lack of friends" to when she called her out about Danny Phantom rather than to Dumbledore. Although, the pain of going through with this strategy in the first place…
"I'm so sorry, my poor girl!" Umbridge went on. "If I had known that your marks were slipping because of the fix I had put you in…"
Danielle just managed to keep herself from rolling her eyes. The self-absorbed old toad was clearly faking the guilt to the 'ignorant outsider' to seem more the good guy between herself and Dumbledore. Well, at least it seemed to be distracting Umbridge from noticing the kids on the side street that had now disappeared from view entirely.
"It…was kind of embarrassing, ma'am," Danielle painfully continued with the charade.
"In retrospect though, I probably shouldn't be so quick to believe whatever I hear in the first place. If anything, I guess I should be…thanking you for helping me realize that."
As excruciating as it was even faking these words, it seemed to be exactly what Umbridge wanted to hear: and she bought it.
Professor Umbridge put a hand over her heart, as though grateful. "Well, looking back now, I really could have told you the truth of the Danny Phantom nonsense in a far less public and more gentle manner. But, as long as I ultimately did my job as your teacher, I suppose we both learned a lesson," she said, smiling again.
Danielle shrugged, cracking a fake smile. "I suppose so, Professor."
"Come, my child," Umbridge announced, unexpectedly wrapping an arm around Danielle's shoulders. "It's a bit chilly standing out here in the cold. Why don't I treat you to a hot beverage in the Three Broomsticks?"
Danielle nearly started panicking in finding herself being steered towards the popular pub by the odious witch.
"Perhaps afterwards, I'll even give you a grand tour of the village; as you don't seem to have anyone else to do so. Perhaps I'll even take you shopping." Umbridge went on.
"Um—actually, Professor," Danielle said quickly, spinning out of reach of Umbridge. "Number of friends aside, to tell you the truth, I kind of like exploring new places by myself first before getting a guide."
"Oh?" Umbridge said, looking slightly put out by Danielle's rejection, but at the same time intrigued by her reply.
"I like to challenge myself in that way," Danielle said with an innocent smile, rocking back and forth on her feet with her hands behind her back. "You know, a bit of a…study session before a quiz, if you will."
Umbridge's eyebrows rose. "I see."
There was a short pause before she smiled as though impressed.
"Thinking academically even outside of school hours: I like it. How wonderful to see that even after a few missed classes, you still have that same fondness for learning." She nodded as though in approval. "It is rather a pity you're not enrolled in my class officially, Miss Fenton. I quite envy your other professors for having such an ambitious student. When you actually attend their classes that is."
As Umbridge giggled girlishly at her own joke, Danielle smiled sheepishly with a nod, also noting mentally how Umbridge had jumped at using Danielle's supposed loneliness to blame Dumbledore and yet was just as quick to let her be on her own anyway. Perhaps Umbridge wanted to make that moment in Divination seem like water under the bridge as soon as possible. Or she truly wasn't interested in playing buddy-buddy with a student if she could help it.
"Well. I suppose I'll leave you to it then," Professor Umbridge said, turning to go inside the Three Broomsticks. "But if you have any questions later, I still wouldn't mind taking you shopping to answer them."
"I'll keep that offer in mind, ma'am," Danielle replied, turning to go in the exact opposite direction of Umbridge.
"But really, my dear, Miss Fenton." Danielle stopped, turning to face Umbridge again. The professor had paused in front of the door to the Three Broomsticks, giving Danielle a very deliberate look that she wasn't sure to make of. "I know you must feel out of place among the other students here, but your education is still important. Especially since you're from abroad. So try not to skip anymore of your classes."
"Yes ma'am," said Danielle, feigning guilt with an embarrassed expression.
Umbridge smiled widely in response. "Thank you for telling me the truth, Miss Fenton. I do hope you'll come to me like this in the future, should you ever need to talk again. About anything at all. After all, as Hogwarts High Inquisitor as well as your teacher, I'd hate for you to feel that there's no one you could trust in a land with such differing customs than you're used to."
"Of course, ma'am." Danielle smiled as genuinely as possible. "Thank you, ma'am."
Satisfied, Umbridge nodded, opened the door to the Three Broomsticks and finally went inside.
Just in case Umbridge was still watching from the window, Danielle walked as calmly as possible to the other side of the road, but scowling the whole way to the Honeyduke's sweet shop once her back was towards the Three Broomsticks.
Once she was safely inside and out of sight of the revolting teacher, Danielle let out a violent shiver, feeling like Umbridge's stubby arm was still around her shoulders and trying to brush it off. And sheesh! The way Umbridge was talking to her the whole time, it was like she thought Danielle was too young to be able to count to three. Was that because of being from another country, or did she always treat those younger than her like that?
Danielle took a deep, calming breath, trying to think of anything positive that had managed to come from that gruesome encounter as she allowed herself to be absorbed into the indifferent crowd in the shop. What did she learn from it?
Clearly Umbridge was relentlessly looking for every possible way to get at Dumbledore she could. Now she was seeing Danielle as a new access point. But seriously; This so-called 'professor', who was racist against half-breeds and watched kids cut into the backs of their own hands as a pastime, was honestly thinking she would win the favor of the foreign exchange student that she didn't truly care for in the first place? Did Umbridge honestly think that she might gain some form of advantage over Dumbledore in having Danielle on her side?
Well at least she had gotten across to Umbridge that her allegiance was not going to be won over so quickly after that moment in Divination. Perhaps in having appeared to agree with Umbridge on Danny Phantom being a myth will also continue to throw any suspicion off Danielle not being an actual witch for that much longer.
Danielle sighed. Well, if nothing else from that experience, she was at least sure that she had succeeded in distracting Umbridge from noticing those students going towards the…
Oh, that's right! That group of students Danielle had been wondering about. She had become so absorbed in having simply escaped Umbridge, she had forgotten why she had bothered indulging the hag in the first place. And that she herself had been wondering what was up with them going into such an unattractive building. Well, now that she had managed to keep Umbridge off their scent, Danielle had the chance to find out if they really were up to something unorthodox.
The Honeyduke's shop was so crowded with students busy browsing the numerous shelves that no one seemed to notice one more student coming from outside in the first place, let alone slip around a corner to turn invisible and phase out of the store entirely. True, Danielle could have simply gone right outside again by the door, but if Umbridge had still been watching, she was not in the mood for another 'friendly chat' with her.
It wasn't difficult to walk invisibly up the street, taking intangible shortcuts through any other shops between herself and that building up the side street, occasionally getting a whiff of something delicious that Danielle made a mental note of to come back to check out later. She remained invisible as she turned onto the side street where she was able to get a better look at the building at the end without her view being obstructed by the other fancier and more inviting shops on the main road.
It looked like a small inn of some sort that was evidently called The Hog's Head. A battered wooden sign hung from a rusty bracket over the door. On it was a picture of a severed wild boar's head leaking blood onto the white cloth it was set on. The sign creaked in the wind as Danielle approached, making her wonder all the more why any Hogwarts student in their right mind would even want to go into a place like this, let alone so many at once.
Still invisible, Danielle phased herself through the door. The inside of this place was not at all like the other shops Danielle had passed through that gave off the instant impression of warmth and cleanliness, even for as short a time as she had spent in each one before arriving here. The Hog's Head bar comprised of one small, dingy and very dirty room that smelled strongly of something that might have been goats. The floor seemed, at first glance, to be earthy, but the numerous amounts of fresh footprints from the door had uncovered what was evidently in reality a stone floor covered in centuries-worth of accumulated filth. The bay windows were so encrusted with grime that very little sunlight could permeate the room, which was lit instead with stubs of candles set on rough wooden tables.
The farthest table from the bar was circled by what Danielle estimated to be at least twenty Hogwarts students that clearly didn't belong in such an environment with the few strange-looking people that were also in the bar. Hermione Granger seemed to be at the center of the group, surrounded by Harry, all four of the Weasley siblings Danielle knew, several of her own fellow fifth year Hufflepuffs and many who even seemed to be from Ravenclaw, including its prefects and Luna Lovegood.
"…I'm sure we can find a night that suits everyone," Hermione was saying impatiently to the other students. "But you know, this is rather important. We're talking about learning to defend ourselves against V-Voldemort's Death Eaters."
Danielle blinked in surprise. Hermione usually avoided saying Voldemort's name. Apparently it had not been the first time she had said it to this crowd either, because no one gasped or had so violently shivered or otherwise jolted in the way Danielle had come to expect as a reaction. Something had clearly changed in Hermione lately for her to decide to brave saying the name aloud to so many people.
"Well said!" barked Ernie Macmillan, whom Danielle only realized just now, was among the group. "Personally, I am at a loss to see why the Ministry has foisted such a useless teacher upon us at this critical period."
Danielle folded her arms in interest, leaning her back against the closed front door, deciding to, for now, remain invisible and watch how this whole thing played out.
"Obviously they're in denial about the return of You-Know-Who," Ernie went on. "But to give us a teacher who is actively trying to prevent us from using defensive spells—"
"We think the reason Umbridge doesn't want us trained in Defense Against the Dark Arts," said Hermione in response, "is that she's got some… some mad idea that Dumbledore could use the students in the school as a private army. She thinks he'd mobilize us against the Ministry."
Nearly everyone looked stunned at this news. Danielle herself raised an eyebrow about Hermione also knowing of what Danny had reported to her and Dumbledore not too long ago. Then again, both Harry and the Weasley siblings also had family members in the Order. If Danielle was getting such news from her cousin, it was certainly within reason that Harry and those other Gryffindors from back at Grimmauld Place would be getting the same news through their own family members.
All the same, now Danielle really was glad she had decided to redirect Professor Umbridge. If these guys were planning to defy the High Inquisitor in this way… Danielle took another look around the pub, not feeling entirely sure that this was a good place to be planning such a thing.
Luna seemed to be one of the few in this circle of students who was not at all surprised by the Ministry's misplaced paranoia that Hermione mentioned. In fact, she piped in saying, "well, that makes sense. After all, Cornelius Fudge has got his own private army."
"What?" said Harry, completely thrown by this unexpected piece of information.
"Yes, he's got an army of heliopaths," Luna said solemnly.
With Hermione rolling her eyes at this, Danielle could already see where this was going.
"What are heliopaths?" asked Neville Longbottom, looking blank.
"They're spirits of fire," said Luna, her protuberant eyes widening so that she looked crazier than ever. "Great tall flaming creatures that gallop across the ground, burning everything in front of—"
"They don't exist, Neville," said Hermione tartly.
Danielle shook her head, grinning. Here we go again. And she was actually rather intrigued by these 'spirits of fire" Luna was describing.
"Oh yes they do!" said Luna angrily.
"I'm sorry," snapped Hermione. "But where's the proof of—?"
"Hermione," Danielle called out in a lazy voice, just after making herself visible, giving Hermione a knowing smile. "You might want to just stop talking."
All the Hogwarts students present suddenly spun around, startled to see the newcomer leaning casually against the door they had never heard being opened, or closed again for that matter, as though she had been listening the whole time.
Hermione blinked, wide-eyed at the sight of Danielle. Then her eyes darted around wildly with the reminder of Danielle herself being the perfect example of something that existed without proof showing up all over her mortified face.
"Oh! Er… Hi, Danielle," Hermione stammered.
"Who invited you?" said a rude voice from among the circle of students.
Danielle shot a look at the source of the voice that was unsurprisingly Zacharias Smith.
Danielle shrugged. "No one, apparently," she said simply, approaching the group and looking right at Hermione, who seemed to be the ringleader of all this.
Hermione fidgeted a little, looking guiltily back at a still smirking Danielle. "I… It was nothing personal, Danielle, I—"
"We've already got one hothead here," Zacharias interrupted haughtily, jerking his head towards Harry. "We don't need to deal with a second."
"True." Danielle replied, pretending to be examining her fingernails. "With your natural tendency to create friction in any conversation, it's a wonder you're not one of these 'heliopaths' yourself, Zack." Then she added, leaning in Zacharias's direction in mock suspicion, "Or are you?"
Ron snorted with laughter and Zacharias glared at him.
"Huh. There's never been any record of them having metamorphic abilities." Luna began in consideration. "However, if it is so, it would explain how not many people have seen them." Then she started looking suspiciously at Zacharias. "And how the Minister is able to spy on the—"
"Hem, hem," said Ginny in such a good imitation of Professor Umbridge that several people looked around in alarm and then laughed. "Did you need something, Danielle?"
"As a matter of fact," replied Danielle, grinning. "Hermione, can I talk to you for a second?"
This request seemed to take Hermione completely off guard.
"Erm…I'm a bit busy at the moment," she said, indicating the large circle of students she had been addressing. "Can it wait?"
"It could, but it probably shouldn't," Danielle said casually, but reinforcing it with a pressing look that made Hermione hesitant.
"I…well, alright," Hermione replied, trying to sound nonchalant as she circled around the table to get to where Danielle stood. "Er…be right back, everyone."
With that, the rest of the students began chatting about nothing while Danielle led Hermione to a lone corner of the pub, as not to be overheard by anyone, student or otherwise.
"I…I really am sorry, Danielle," Hermione said before Danielle could even speak. "I just thought… well…considering your circumstances, you might not have been interested."
Danielle scoffed, shaking her head. "I'm not upset at not being invited to the party, Hermione." Then she gave a hard look around at all the strangely clad adults and bartender in the room, saying in a low voice, "It's other people that might be interested in it for other reasons that I'm concerned about."
There was a man at the bar whose whole head was wrapped in dirty gray bandages, though he was still managing to gulp endless glasses of some smoking, fiery substance through a slit over his mouth. Two figures shrouded in hoods sat at a table in front of one of the windows. In a shadowy corner beside the fireplace sat a witch with a thick black veil that fell to her toes. Had Danielle not just been talking to Umbridge a moment ago, she would have instantly assumed that veiled witch to be the High Inquisitor herself in disguise. But even so, any one of these people could be in the Ministry's pocket. What were Hermione and those guys all thinking, meeting in a place like this?
"We're allowed in here, I checked," Hermione whispered back confidently. "And even asked Professor Flitwich about it. Even if Umbridge did know we were here, she couldn't call us out for having a… a study group."
"In, let me guess…" Danielle couldn't help pausing for drama. "Defense Against the Dark Arts?"
The confidence in Hermione's countenance suddenly wavered.
"More specifically, the otherwise prohibited use of the spells?" Danielle added quietly, giving Hermione a look.
Hermione's eyes widened. "How did you—?"
"Allowed to or not, a group of students this big suddenly coming into what looks like the last place in the whole village students would even want to go?" Danielle pointed out with a raised eyebrow.
Hermione paused, looking around the bar uncertainly. "Well…when you put it that way, I suppose a different venue would have been a better idea—"
"That or at least stagger the number of you guys coming in all at once," Danielle stated, folding her arms. "That was already weird enough. But then finding all of them gathered around the same table as the Daily Prophet's designated 'nutcase'?" she indicated Harry at the table. "Not to mention with the very distinct lack of school supplies everyone seems to have brought with them for a 'study group'."
Hermione stared around in dawning realization. "It's really that obvious?" she asked urgently.
"Oh, no. It doesn't have 'suspicious' written all over it in the slightest, Hermione," Danielle said with heavy sarcasm before lowering her voice even further. "Especially from an Inquisitive perspective."
Hermione looked on the verge of panic now. "You're not saying she—?
"I only just managed to shake her before coming in here myself."
Hermione moaned despairingly, rubbing her forehead. "Who else has noticed out there?"
"From what I could tell, most everyone else seemed too busy with their own things to really care much, if they did notice." Danielle reported with a shrug. "But I'm still not sure this is the best place to openly talk about sensitive issues," she eyed the non-student personnel in the room suspiciously, emphasizing her point all the more to Hermione.
Hermione looked towards the group of students and then at the bartender, and then at the other people, seeming completely at a loss.
"Well, what should we do?" she asked, looking rather desperately at Danielle.
Danielle looked towards the students circled around Harry. Now that the spokesman of the group was occupied, it seemed that they were starting to give Harry looks that were really starting to annoy him. It's probably been a long time since this many people had been willing to be around Harry at all. Clearly all these guys thought this meeting important enough to hold it without Umbridge knowing, even if their choices of going about it were not the best. Chances were that there wouldn't be very many opportunities for all of them to meet up like this in the future either. The Hogsmeade visits were not very frequent and the new High Inquisitor had ostensibly picked up the habit of prowling around Hogwarts castle, sniffing for troublemakers wherever Mr. Filch and his cat were not.
"Well…." Danielle sighed heavily. "You already have them all gathered here. I suppose I can keep watch for you while you have your meeting."
"Oh, would you, Danielle?" Hermione must have barely kept herself from crying out.
To Danielle's surprise, she then put a hand on her shoulder as though using her in support for the overwhelming sense of relief that had rushed over her. "Oh, that would be such a…" she suddenly paused, thoughtfully. "Oh, but…this is your first visit to Hogsmeade isn't it? I couldn't ask you to spend it doing us favors like that."
"As it happens," Danielle smirked, slowly steering Hermione's hand from her shoulder. "I've got my own bone to pick with that power-hungry showboat. If you guys are cooking up something that would help with that, I want in," she concluded, folding her arms.
Hermione didn't look entirely convinced, but Danielle's determined expression seemed quite decisive on the matter.
"Well…all right then…" Hermione shrugged. "Fair enough."
"Just…" Danielle sighed, covering her eyes for a moment before giving Hermione a tired look. "Just promise to think things through better next time."
"Right," said Hermione, embarrassed, though still looking extremely grateful. "Thanks, Danielle."
With that, Danielle gave Hermione a playful salute of departure and made her way out of the Hog's Head, leaving Hermione to rejoin her group and continue their meeting. Once Danielle was out of sight of the people inside the inn however, she checked for spectators on the outside as well, carefully made her way around to the back of the building to Go Ghost and then perched herself on the roof of the inn, invisible. Once she was sure no one would be heading towards the Hogs Head, (not that much of anyone seemed to want to in the first place) she phased her way back inside to check on things.
After a moment of conflicted thought, ensuing hesitation, and then a bit more thought, Danielle decided her idea was probably for the best. One by one, she overshadowed the suspicious figures in the tavern, making them walk out of the inn, leaving their bodies with the slightly nudging thought that there was nothing of interest in the Hog's Head, and to go somewhere else. Danielle tried to be as covert about this as possible while also trying to be quick about it. The less anyone else heard what the Hogwarts students were discussing, the better.
Once the last of them were out, Danielle remained invisible on the roof, keeping an eye out in case any of those people shook off the aftereffects of the overshadowing to head back inside. None did, except the heavily bandaged man who seemed to have decided he had not yet had enough to drink of that fiery substance that undoubtedly wouldn't be sold anywhere else in town. However, by that time all the students had started filing out of the Hog's Head. Danielle could safely assume that Hermione's secret meeting had been adjourned, so there would be nothing for that man to overhear in returning now. Danielle grinned in amusement in seeing the man scratching his bandaged head in confusion at the sight of so many teenagers in Hogwarts robes coming out as he was going in.
Hermione, Ron and Harry were the last to come out, Hermione looking relatively satisfied with herself.
Looks like this Phantom's work is done then. Danielle thought to herself with a smile.
So, she secretly took off from the roof of the Hog's Head to find a place to revert back to her human form. After seeing Hermione lead the two boys into a shop called Scrivinshaft's Quill Shop, (how typical of Hermione to go shopping for more school supplies on a weekend off) Danielle decided to duck down behind the building across the street to power down. Once she strolled casually back onto the main road, she started feinting fascination of the window display at Zonko's Joke Shop just a few buildings down from the Quill Shop Hermione, Ron and Harry had just entered. Danielle figured this way, she'd be the least conspicuous while also being withing close range of the three Gryffindors.
After a few minutes though, the fascination of the quite active Zonko's window display ended up being less of a feint and quite real. Incidentally, Danielle got so distracted, she missed Hermione, followed by Ron and Harry, coming back out of the Quill Shop. She only realized they were directly behind her when Hermione tapped her on the shoulder.
"Oh! Hey guys." Danielle stuttered, embarrassed at having so easily been caught off guard.
"I'm pretty sure there's a difference between being a lookout and taking in the sights, Danielle," Hermione said playfully with a smirk.
"I only got here after seeing you had finished." Danielle assured before looking around, seeing that Ron and Harry had already passed by without Hermione. "The boys have plans or something?"
"I told them you had some questions for me about an Ancient Runes assignment, and then they just left me to it."
"Huh." Danielle nodded, rather impressed. "Quite the improvement on cover stories."
Hermione smiled, standing just a little higher in response to this. Not only was it a good excuse for why Danielle would want to talk to Hermione during the Hog's Head meeting, but it was perfectly plausible of Hermione especially to want do homework, even on a Hogsmeade weekend. The fact that Harry and Ron also knew Hermione and Danielle to be frequent study partners made the alibi all the more sound.
With that, Hermione offered to give Danielle a tour of the village and as the two girls started walking together down the frosty road, Danielle asked, "So how'd it go?"
"I think it went rather well actually," Hermione replied with a satisfactory nod.
"So Zack didn't go all "heliopath" before the end?" Danielle teased with a grin.
Hermione rolled her eyes with a groan. "Uhg… did you really have to encourage Luna like that?"
"You know," Danielle stopped walking for a moment, giving Hermione a cautionary look, "myths and rumors are often built off of stories that have some form of truth behind them."
Hermione stopped walking too. "Well…" she wavered for a moment, but the skepticism still returned in full force by the time she finished with, "Not always."
Danielle scoffed before looking side-to-side for anyone who was watching before sneakily igniting a small flame in her bare hands. "But still often," she said with a grin.
The flame was only just noticeable enough for it to be only within Hermione's line of vission, but still significant enough for her to jaw to drop upon seeing it.
"And yes, I can do this with my whole body." Danielle specified even further as the skeptic of a top-notch student was staring at the flame and the impossible girl generating it in the first place.
It only took a moment for Hermione to come back to herself this time before frantically waving her hands for Danielle to stop. "Oh, all right, all right, you've made your point!" she whispered pleadingly, looking back and forth as though afraid someone might see. Or perhaps simply afraid that Luna Lovegood might.
With a quick clench of her fist, Danielle easily extinguished the flame in her hand, feeling rather satisfied by Hermione's flustered look at being proven thoroughly wrong once again.
"On another note," Danielle went on, continuing down the road as though nothing unusual had happened. "You're sure no one in that meeting will report it to our esteemed High Inquisitor?"
"I've thought of that," Hermione replied more confidently, patting her bag with a sly smile. "And I've got it covered."
After a thoughtful pause in which Hermione's assurance seemed to maintain this time, Danielle shrugged. "Well, if you're sure—"
"I am this time. Trust me." Hermione said cunningly. Then she shivered from a sudden gust of wind, which reminded Danielle of how much more durable she was to weather changes than most humans.
After they both ducked into the Three Broomsticks, (Danielle had looked around to make sure Umbridge had left already) both for Hermione to get warm as well as for Danielle to check out the place and see what was on the menu, Hermione continued on with the conversation. This time with the cover of a bustling crowd to mask what they were talking about. Looks like Hermione was already learning.
"Though, I can't account for anyone that might have been listening from outside that circle."
"You were being rather conspicuous," Danielle agreed.
Hermione sighed heavily. "Well…it helped knowing at least someone was keeping an eye on things out there, even if I wasn't."
Danielle shrugged modestly. "You just have things to learn that can't so easily be found in books, that's all. And, to be fair, given my…'experience'…I do have a bit of a habit in looking out for things like that anyway."
"Hmm. Then perhaps the next time I consider breaking rules, I'll come to you for advice first." Hermione said sarcastically.
Danielle grinned mischievously. "Fred and George would be proud of you."
"Oh, please don't!" Hermione said suddenly before they both started giggling.
After a few moments of looking around, Danielle decided she'd like to try one of the beverages that had been talked about so much. In all honesty, she had her eye more on the cold fruity drinks, but there was a notice on the menu that they were only available in the summer. Besides which, Hermione pointed out that getting something cold with how the temperature was outside would be crazy. Even though the weather outside was no problem for Danielle, Hermione did have a point that ordering such a thing might draw more attention to herself than she'd like. So she settled with what Hermione was also getting for herself with a little bit of the money Dumbledore had lent her for the occasion.
After the innkeeper, Madam Rosmerta, had given them their refreshments, the two girls found an empty table in a secluded corner to seat themselves. Danielle took a moment to analyse and saver the taste of her beverage before turning to Hermione again.
"So, what's your next move?"
Hermione needed no specification.
"Well, we're still figuring out where and when we're going to practice," she said quietly. "All of us are going to brainstorm some suitable places, but…I don't suppose… you could also do some "scouting" for us—"
"I'll start tonight." Danielle said instantly.
"Er—" Hermione seemed quite surprised by Danielle's sudden agreement. "I mean—if it's not too much trouble, of course." she clarified further, uncertainly.
Danielle leaned back in her seat, grinning at the thought of finally making more practical uses of her powers now. A sleepless night she could actually make proper use of.
"Trouble? Please, Hermione." Danielle replied with an increasingly gleeful smile. "Helping anyone to do anything under the nose of that hypocritical glory hound will be entirely my personal pleasure."
Reminder: IF YOU SPOT ANY GRAMMAR OR SPELLING ERRORS, PLEASE BRING THEM TO MY ATTENTION THROUGH A PRIVATE MESSAGE. NOT AS PART OF A REVIEW!
And that's it for now. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, my encouraging and supportive readers. ^_^ Thanks for keeping me going.
Now, while I do have some ideas on what I want to have happen for the next chapter, I really have no idea when I'll be able to update again. With the holiday season happening now and some new stuff starting up for me immediately following New Years, things are going to be a bit busy for a while again for me. I do hope it's not for more than a year like it was for chapter 16. But if it was going to be such a long time before the next update, I figured I'd at least leave you hanging on a more positive note than I had with the last chapter.
Anyway, I know not all that much really happens in this chapter but…feedback please!
How was that encounter with Umbridge in Hogsmeade? I particularly had fun with the points where Danielle kept on teasing Hermione about the possibility of Luna's "Fantasy" creatures being real. I do fear I might have put in a few paragraphs that weren't really necessary because of my own tendency to be long-winded, but if you're going to point out flaws you find in my writing, especially in the reviews, I do ask that you do so in a civilized manner.
See you on the next update. ;)