The ferocity of the bolt that crashed into the wall where my head had rested seconds ago, was spine-chilling. Sparks singed my ears as I rolled to the side, bringing up my ectoshield in the desperate hopes that it would stave off a second attack. My eyes latched onto the wand. All I had to do was disarm him and then he'd be weaponless.
The only problem was, every time I lowered the shield to try land an attack, there was a fresh wave of magic blasts, and I'd been hit by enough of them to know that they hurt. Not surprising. I'd worked with Snape enough over the past week to know that he never did anything that didn't somehow cause me pain.
Careful to keep the potions professor in my eyeline, I glanced around the room, hoping that something might inspire me. We'd been at this for the past three hours and, although my energy levels had picked up a lot since Monday, I could feel myself waning. This would have been so much easier if I could just teleport and snatch his wand from behind him. As it was, my teleportation, Ghostly Wail, duplication and overshadowing were abilities I'd managed to keep secret and I was fighting like Skulker to keep them that way.
I ran to Snape's left, kicking over one of the tables he'd pushed to the side, so that it lay like a barricade, giving me the perfect spot to hide. I let my shield drop and built an ectoblast in my hand.
The table was hit with a purple light and within a heartbeat, transformed into a small wooden hairbrush. I didn't give him a chance to cast anything else as I shot the ectoblast at his wrist, hoping to knock the wand from his grip. Before it could hit him, he gave his wand a flick and a silvery shield of his own formed. I felt my core flare as the ectoblast hit the shield and flickered out of existence. His retaliation was faster than I anticipated and his next blast hit me square in the chest.
I gasped as I was thrown backwards, head colliding painfully with a corner of a cupboard. I wasn't gifted recovery time as I sensed another attack. The room swam as I forced myself to bring my shield back up. The red light that hit it sent spiderweb cracks through the green. I couldn't keep this up much longer.
I shot the professor the most powerful glare I could muster as I pulled myself upright. Knowing it wouldn't do much, I shoved the damaged shield forward, as though to knock the wizard over. As he obliterated it with another blast, I shot an ice beam at the soles of his feet.
Snape tried to jump out of the way but in doing so, slipped on the now frosted stone and crashed to the floor. The relief that flooded through me was almost tangible as I ran forward to disarm him.
However, this was also short lived.
Just as I was in reaching distance, Snape's wand flicked a final time. Too close to protect myself, I found myself bathed in the same purple that had hit the table before.
I don't think I will ever forget the bizarre feeling that followed Snape's spell. It was as though the room had suddenly grown, and my body twisted into a shape I hadn't realised was humanly possible. My eyes were firmly fastened to Snape's growing smirk as the man lifted himself gracefully from the floor, so much taller than he had been before. Something was very wrong.
"Well, would you look at that? Transfiguration works on Muggle Ghosts. Who would have guessed?"
I opened my mouth to demand an explanation but rather than words, my throat produced an embarrassingly high pitched bark. I blinked again. Slowly, core throbbing with dread, I looked down at myself.
Where I'd hoped to find hands pressed against the stone floor, I found white, dainty paws. I twisted to look at the lower half of my body and growled as I realised what he'd done. Despite my new, very non-threatening form, I could feel my eyes glow green as I glowered back at Snape.
His sneer was maddening.
"Your voice is a lot less annoying like this. Just as whiny, but these things can't be helped." He tucked his wand back into his robe and wandered over to his desk as casually as he would have if he were ending a lesson.
My attempt at an angry retort came out as another sharp bark. He was not leaving me like this. This was not okay.
Closing my eyes so as not to have to look at the warped classroom, I concentrated on the feel of my core. I was incredibly thankful when the familiar cold chill of my ghost powers flooded through my temporarily canine body.
I had an idea. I peered through half closed lids to see Snape settle at his desk and contentedly pull out the journal that detailed each and every session we shared. My nose twitched against the heightened sense of smell as I clumsily spun to find a discrete hiding place. Unused to walking on four legs, I stumbled forward, trotting to rest up against the side of the furthest cupboard.
As soon as I was out of sight, I focused on forming familiar white rings around my torso. Thinking firmly of my ghost form, I let the rings wash over me, desperately hoping that my theory was correct and I wasn't just stuck with the body of a small dog until Snape decided otherwise.
To my relief, I felt my body change shape once more, settling into a position I was much more comfortable with. When I pried my eyelids open, I was beyond happy to find that my hands were hands once more and the only white hair in sight was hanging in my eyes.
I pushed myself away from the cupboard.
"What was that?" I demanded, watching heatedly as Snape leisurely lifted his gaze from his page. If he was surprised that I'd managed to change myself back, he didn't show it.
"Transfiguration. I did say. I would have thought, with your advanced hearing, you'd have learned to listen a little better."
I shook my head, anger pushing back the exhaustion.
"I thought you were just using battle spells? Pretty sure there aren't that many battles that end with one person becoming a household pet."
"Seen a lot of Wizard duels, have you?" he replied snidely. My eyes narrowed. He was mocking me, that much was evident. It seemed to be one of his favourite pass times, when he wasn't throwing me up against walls.
"No. No, I haven't. You know why? Because they're too busy doing everything they possibly can to ruin my life."
Snape raised an eyebrow.
"Interesting choice of words."
I rolled my eyes. "You know what I mean. I can't imagine turning me into a dog is on the list of Ministry recommendations, so what gives?"
"Pure curiosity and recent inspiration," he answered honestly. He went back to writing in the journal.
"You realise how creepy that sounds, right?"
He made no move to reply. I sighed.
With half an hour still to go, I dragged myself over to perch on a desk. I wasn't over the whole transfiguration thing by a long shot, but I'd learned that arguing with him only ever worked to prolong the pain.
"So, do you have a discovery of the day, or are you just praising your own stupid curiosity?" I prompted, resting my head up against the wall as a wave of tiredness hit.
"You rely heavily upon your flight, invisibility and intangibility in a fight, but when those are restricted, your threat level diminishes significantly. Put simply, you're a lot better at running and hiding than you are at actual combat," the razor sharp tone of his voice held nothing but disdain, as though his own words had disappointed him.
I frowned, disliking his insinuation. "Hey, we were non-stop for three hours. Of course the last fight was gonna be the worst. I don't have a limitless supply of energy, you know? It's not like I'm just waving a stick around. Besides, in a normal fight, I'd have all of my abilities so what's the point in testing me without them?"
Snape's eyes shot to mine once more, an edge to them that I couldn't quite place.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it true that Moody can see through your invisibility? What would you do if you found yourself caught in an enclosed environment with no room to fly? If there were enchantments on the walls that prevented you from passing through them? We've already established that going intangible does little against heat based spells. Think before you speak, Phantom."
"Danny," I corrected, half-heartedly. He'd put a lot of thought into this, I realised. The way he spoke, it was almost like he was doing all this to train me. But that was insane. Snape was supposed to be finding ways to control me, not teach me how to better defend myself. Wasn't he?
I dragged a hand across my eyes, brain too strained to attempt to make any sense of it. By the time I looked up, Snape's quill was moving once more. I reached down to pull my pocket watch from my belt. If we were just going to sit in silence for the next twenty-five minutes, I might as well leave. I eyed the door, wondering if it would even be worth asking. From the whole 'turn up five minutes early' rule, I guessed probably not.
A few minutes passed and I found my eyelids drooping. To go from being thrown about and turned into an animal, to suddenly sitting in silence waiting for Snape to finish whatever he was writing was draining. My body, already tempted by my current inactivity, was desperate for complete relaxation. I shook my head in an attempt to dispel the fatigue. My brain searched for things to keep it awake.
It was then that I remembered something Ron had mentioned yesterday. Something that had been thrown at me quite regularly by Moody as a reason I couldn't be trusted.
"So… what exactly is this Triwizard Tournament everyone's obsessed with?"
It took Snape a while to answer, hand twisting across the page as he continued to scribble. I was starting to think he hadn't heard me when he abruptly stopped, dropped the quill on his desk and snapped the journal shut.
"The Triwizard Tournament is a competition between three European wizarding schools where a Champion from each school is chosen to undergo a series of tasks. The Champion that wins is awarded the Triwizard Cup and a monetary prize," he droned, as though reciting a passage in a book that he'd been forced to read over and over. He didn't look up from his desk as he slid the journal into the top drawer.
"What kind of tasks?" I asked, curiosity piqued. "I'm guessing we're not talking egg and spoon race?"
"It's a little more advanced than that," Snape retorted coldly. "I don't know about your little muggle games, but I believe the last tournament involved a Chimaera. A dangerous creature with a lion's head, a goat's body and a-"
"I know what a Chimaera is."
"You know something? That is rare."
Ignoring his digs had become almost second nature by this point. I frowned, pressing an uncomfortable hand against the back of my neck.
"Isn't that dangerous though? I mean, I read about Chimaeras for a mythology essay. They're not exactly advertised as friendly."
"That's because they are not. I believe a Champion died trying to get past it."
I froze, hand still latched to my neck. "A student died?"
Snape finally met my gaze, though his face had adopted that annoying blank expression that was impossible to read.
"That is the Triwizard Tournament. Anyone who puts their name forward either knows that there is a risk, or they're idiots. This is the first time it has taken place in centuries. There is a lot of excitement."
The way he talked about it, he could have been talking about what the weather would be like next week. So nonchalant – like it was the most normal, mundane thing in the world. I felt sick.
"So… people are getting excited about a competition where they could potentially sit and watch a student get killed?" I thought magical folk were scary before. This was a whole new level of horror.
The corner of Snape's mouth twitched upwards.
"Dumbledore has put in place a number of safety measures to decrease the chances of severe casualties."
"Dumbledore shouldn't be letting this happen at all." Somehow I couldn't equate the man who'd fought to keep me safe from the Ministry with a man that would allow for the resurrection of a tournament kids had died in. It sounded like there was a pretty good reason for the competition to have been shut down for so long. Snape leaned forward in his chair, elbows resting on the desk, and fingers steepled under his hooked nose.
"And why exactly is it that you care? As I understand it, you'll be out of Hogwarts just days after the Champions are announced. You'll be gone before the first task and you've made it clear you have no interest in the wizarding world. Why should it matter to you?"
I could sense a trap, but I didn't know how to avoid it.
"Just because I won't be around to see it doesn't mean I'm not allowed to disagree with it. It's called being a decent person. Something you should maybe try sometime."
That last comment was unnecessary but I was becoming increasingly aware of his eyes on me. The same, hungry look passed over him as he'd worn when we first met in Dumbledore's office. I glanced over at the exit once more.
There was an uncomfortably long silence in which I found myself fiddling with the pocket watch and trying my hardest to ignore Snape's stare. I began to wish I hadn't said anything.
"Maybe you should be around," Snape commented eventually, voice nonchalant despite the obvious weight behind his words. I snapped my head round to frown at him.
"It's what Dumbledore wants. He thinks keeping you around would make the tournament marginally safer. Invisible assistance. Making sure no one gets too badly injured. There's a darkness looming and having a powerful pet like you could only be a good thing."
My eyes flashed at his use of the word 'pet' but there were too many other things racing through my head to complain about it. Dumbledore hadn't said anything to me about this.
"Is this something to do with the person people are afraid to say the name of?" I'd heard the phrase 'You-Know-Who' thrown around too many times these past weeks to know that it was unlikely to be a coincidence. I hadn't asked before because I hadn't wanted to get involved but since we were on the topic…
Snape's throat dipped momentarily and I couldn't tell if my question upset or excited him.
"You have been paying attention." His voice slid around me like the rising tide, again infuriatingly unreadable. I think it was a compliment? I didn't justify it with an answer, snapping the watch open and closed again.
Snape pushed himself away from the desk, leaning back in his chair as he looked at me. From the slight rise of his brow, I guessed he was deciding on how much to tell me.
"This 'person people are afraid to say the name of', is an incredibly powerful Dark Wizard who struck terror into the hearts of the witches and wizards over a decade ago. He was defeated and disappeared. Over the past few years, there have been… signs that he is resurfacing. The Quidditch World Cup that occurred only months ago was the site of an attack by Death Eaters, the Dark Lord's followers, and the Dark Mark was seen floating above the grounds. The timing is suspicious with it being so close to the Triwizard Tournament and this has put Dumbledore on edge."
By the waver in Snape's voice, Dumbledore wasn't the only one 'on edge'. I twisted my head slightly as though the change in angle would help me better inspect the professor's face. If I didn't know any better, I'd say there was a hint of fear behind those cold, black eyes. Anything that scared Snape couldn't be good. I resisted the urge to comment on the stupidly clichéd titles he'd used. Dark Lord? Dark Mark? Death Eaters? They were so dramatic, they were laughable.
"So that's why Moody is so suspicious of me?" I guessed.
My frown deepened.
"Dumbledore hasn't said anything about any of this to me. He's like… the advocate for letting me go. Isn't that why he's going up against the Ministry?"
"Of course. Dumbledore is going up against the Ministry of Magic out of the kindness of his own heart. It's not like he has anything to gain by winning your favour. For someone who claims to be dead, your naivety astounds me."
And just like that, my head was spinning again. When he put it like that… Was this another one of Snape's games or was I being played?
"You're saying Dumbledore is… manipulating me?" I hissed, struggling to form words through the mess that was my mind. The backwards tilt of Snape's head was the only answer I got and my stomach churned. "Why are you telling me this?"
His sneer was back.
"Dumbledore is a clever man. I'd hate to see you twisted around his finger." The way he said it made it blatantly obvious that he wouldn't hate it in the slightest. "I simply wonder just how far that sense of morality you're so fond of stretches. After all, if you left and something terrible did happen… wouldn't that make you partially responsible?"
There it was. The glare that had formed on my face was bright enough to paint the area around me green. The way his words danced around me sparked anger so strong, I could feel my body buzzing with ectoplasmic energy.
"No. It wouldn't. If Dumbledore wants to risk the lives of three suicidal teenagers, then that's down to him. If there's a threat of this dumb Dark Lord dropping in, then that's all the more reason to just shut the whole thing down. This has nothing to do with me. As soon as I can get out of this prison, I'm flying as far away as I can." It took me a second to realise that I was floating. Knowing I was reacting exactly like he'd hoped did nothing to quell the disgust swirling inside of me.
I didn't want to believe that Dumbledore's kindness was simply a tactic. He was the one fighting my corner – the one person with the authority to protect me. I'd been manipulated by far too many people since becoming half-ghost and the idea that it could possibly be happening all over again made me want to puke.
Snape knew he'd hit a nerve and it was clear he was loving it. The smirk on his lips coupled with his dangerously narrowed eyes made me want to throw an ectoblast at his head. Instead, I clenched my fists at my sides and glared pointedly at the door.
"If there's nothing else, I'd like to leave."
"I believe you'll find you missed a crucial word, Phantom," he hummed, sickeningly pleased with himself. The snarl that formed in my throat was reminiscent of the growl I'd released as a dog. It was getting harder and harder not to hit him but knowing the repercussions wouldn't be worth it, I slammed my eyes shut so as to kill the green light.
That was it. Without waiting another second, I pulled up my invisibility and shot out of the room.
Any time I thought I was getting somewhere with that piece of crud, he found the perfect way to tear it all down. It was infuriating. What was worse though, was that after only a week, he already knew the exact buttons to press. Was I that easy to figure out?
Classrooms and hallways whizzed past like they were being played in fast forward.
What made it all worse, was that Snape's words had stung. The idea that I could be even minutely responsible for any accident or tragedy that came about from this Gladiator competition was stupid, and yet, it swirled in my mind like a hurricane. While I may not have met many students, I'd watched them sit through their classes and gossip around their tables in the Great Hall. The thought that any one of them could become a Triwizard casualty burned my core.
Staying wasn't an option. Even if I wanted to, which I didn't, I had a life back in Amity Park. I was already stressing about the amount of catch-up schoolwork I'd have to do when I got back and that was after a month. A whole year? Not only that, but I had a duty to protect the town from malicious ghosts. I'd only left because it had been quiet for weeks. It took everything I had not to toss and turn every night hoping that there was still a town to go back to and it hadn't been blown apart by a ghostly invader. Or my parents. I couldn't just continue to leave them unprotected.
Besides, even if there was a casualty at Hogwarts, it wasn't like I'd ever hear about it.
My flight slowed. Surprise sparked in my chest as I realised that I was actually somewhat saddened by the thought. Tomorrow was Sunday making it two weeks since I woke up in the Hogwarts cell. Despite all the anguish and the hatred I felt for the Ministry and those who supported them in their want for me, I'd made friends.
The thought of never speaking to them again actually physically hurt.
No more nights falling asleep listening to Hagrid's stories of Dragons and Nifflers. No more invisible hovering over Hermione, Ron and Harry as they attempted to complete their stacks of homework in a secluded corner of the library. Even Peeves had grown on me.
While I'd slowed down with the pranks, the Weasley twins had been on the receiving end of a fair few. Rumours of my being here had spread to the entire school by this point and it was starting to become obvious that Peeves wasn't always acting alone in his mischief. Fred and George had taken my attacks as a sign that their reputation preceded them and wore them like a badge of honour. I got the feeling that if they ever actually met me, I'd have to watch my back. I knew from experience that revenge pranks were always the most savage.
All in all, for everything that massively sucked about this place, I'd settled. And in just over two weeks, I'd never return.
I came to a halt.
Why was I even thinking about this? It had been Snape's intention to mess with my head, and I'd just let it happen. I let out a sigh loud enough to startle a nearby painting.
The hallway I found myself in was unfamiliar. The view from a window off to the left told me that I was pretty high up. Apparently my flight hadn't been as horizontal as I'd first thought. Behind me was a large tapestry that showed a medieval man being clubbed by what I could only guess were trolls. The wall ahead was uncharacteristically blank of decoration. With a smaller sigh, I dropped to the floor.
The best way to clear my head would be to fly above Hogwarts and focus on cloud formations, but after so long being Phantom and having exerted myself with Snape's stupid 'duels', I didn't think I'd have the energy to sustain the flight for long, especially when I'd have to remain invisible.
I wasn't in the mood to go back to Hagrid's cabin, and most of the school was spending the day in a nearby town, so there was no one to follow around or annoy.
Not for the first time, I wished there was somewhere I could go that was completely away from prying eyes. The only safe place to be human, was Hagrid's and even as Phantom, everywhere else I went required invisibility. All I wanted was one secluded area that I could just be myself and maybe even spend an evening with the trio that didn't require whispering.
The rumble from the blank wall made me jump. My eyes inflated as I watched an ornate, polished door appear from within the brickwork.
"Well, that's new…"
I spun to see if there was anyone around that could have maybe magicked the door into existence but I was completely alone.
A few cautious steps had me standing inches from the brass handle. As odd as Hogwarts was, mysteriously materialising doors were definitely different. I bit my lip, unsure about what to do next. What if someone was in there? What if the door had appeared from the other side of the wall and any second, someone would pull themselves through?
I pressed an invisible hand up against the wood and turned myself intangible. I couldn't tell if I was surprised or not when I couldn't pass through.
It didn't take long before curiosity swamped caution.
With one final glance down the hallway, I pulled the door open.
AN: Eesh. This chapter. I love it and I hate it. I can't decide which wins out. (Minor edits may occur) Whaddya think? Is Snape just trying to get under Danny's skin or are Dumbledore's motives less clear than he makes them out to be? Either way, Danny's been given a lot to think about! If you can't already tell, we're picking up the pace a bit now. Chaos to ensue.
In case you didn't notice, the rating of this fic has gone from K+ to T. Main reason - I started planning the ending in hyper detail (worry not, there is a lot to get through before we're there) and it's not all that gentle. Maybe keeping it at K+ would be fine, but I am a cautious potato so... Also we've changed categories from 'humour' to 'drama' because I couldn't think of anything else that fit. Things are a-changing!
Aaand my wrist hurts so I'll stop typing.
Thanks again for all the reviews/favourites/follows. 1000+ followers - you guys are insane! I love you all and I hope chapter 16 didn't disappoint! Til next time!