Chapter Twenty Two


This was all my fault.

I'd heard the voices; heard the panic and the fury that resided within them and I'd done nothing. I'd been selfish. For over a week I'd ignored them, brushing them aside because, after all, they were wizard problems. Getting involved would only cause me trouble, perhaps delaying my departure or causing me some kind of emotional strain. I'd pushed aside the familiarity of the voices, wanting nothing more than to pretend they didn't affect me.

Snape's words played on repeat in my head.

"There are bigger things at stake here than your self-preservation."

It was in that same self-preservation that I'd failed him. Harry. One of my only friends in Hogwarts.

No.

In the world.

If I'd done more, asked about what this 'Goblet' could be, gone to Dumbledore in the first place, maybe none of this would have happened. Even after I'd alerted the Headmaster to my suspicions, I'd left. I'd spent the majority of the night watching the sky as I wallowed in self-pity. I should have gone to the Great Hall and guarded the Goblet. Instead, I'd relied upon an old wizard to fix everything.

Some hero I was.

The back room, complete with plush sofas and a roaring fireplace, looked miniscule with the number of witches and wizards packed into it. Like most rooms in Hogwarts, paintings lined every wall and their eyes were very firmly fastened to the war happening in their usually quiet cove.

Harry wasn't hard to spot amongst the mass of robes, drained of colour with his back pressed against the far wall. His eyes twitched from witch to wizard as though he were simply a spectator of his own nightmare.

Ignoring the way Moody's eye snapped up to meet me as soon as I'd entered, I drifted carefully over the heads of the gathered magical folk. I knew that if I got close enough to Harry, there was a chance he'd recognise the cold sensation Hermione had been obsessed with all those weeks ago. Then maybe he'd realise he wasn't alone. I'd failed him before but I was with him now.

"I'm afraid this is not something that can be argued," Mr Crouch's voice rumbled, cutting off the wailings of a woman easily as tall as Hagrid. "The rules of the Tournament must be followed."

Amos let out an indignant laugh that sounded more like a squawk. "Oh, come off it! 'The rules must be followed'. Yes, well the rules have already been broken, haven't they? Isn't it a rule that each school gets only one champion? What harm is a little more breakage going to do?"

I glanced down at the Ministry worker in mild surprise as I floated past him. His face was a deep shade of red as he hung from Diggory Junior's shoulder, looking more and more like a parrot by the second. I'd seen him agitated before, but this outright rage was new.

"You heard the man, old chap. What's done is done. Time for us to move forward and-"

"This boy cheated his way into the competition and you're just going to stand there and say 'what's done is done'?" The Headmaster of Durmstrang huffed, cutting Mr Bagman off without a care. The silver hair that lined his upper lip and jaw made his angry grimace all the more intimidating.

I edged around the back of the Hagrid-sized lady, gaze drifting from the argument to Harry.

"You must think very highly of Potter to believe him capable of hoodwinking a centuries old Goblet, Karkaroff," Moody barked. I forced myself to ignore the prickling of hair on my neck at his voice. The scarred professor stood almost at the heart of the crowd as he fixed Karkaroff with both eyes. The taller man tensed under his glare but rather than back down, he lifted his head a fraction in defiance.

"And I suppose you have other ideas as to how his name got there, eh? A conspiracy theory or three, perhaps. We all know how you love those," he bit back. The ice in his voice was sharp enough to cut glass.

I passed Bagman, ignoring the way he shivered and plunged his hands into the pockets of his robe.

Moody gave a loud grunt as his glare began to drift around the mass of faces. "Something powerful is at fault here," he started, low and warning. "Something dangerous and unchecked."

Stubble inhaled sharply, his grip on Diggory Junior tightening as he caught on to whatever it was Moody was trying to say. "You're not suggesting…"

Snape shifted beside the fireplace as though anticipating an ambush. The discomfort in his expression struck me as odd, but I was close enough to Harry now that if I stretched out a foot, I'd be able to tap him on the head. I focused my thoughts on how to get him to notice me. With him wound up so tightly, a whisper or a tap could easily spook him and the last thing he needed was to draw any more attention to himself.

Despite the concentration I'd put into the conversation that danced across the room, the words faded in and out of my head like radio static.

Maybe if I'd been paying closer attention, I'd have seen what was coming next.

"That's exactly what I'm suggesting, Amos. We've allowed an unknown entity into our walls, a creature known to have attacked witches and wizards before, and just before it's set to leave, Harry Potter's name comes out of the Goblet. Coincidence? Maybe. I'm less inclined to think so since that very something is hovering over our heads as we speak."

Moody's wand wielding almost put Snape's to shame. Before I even registered the emergence of the stick, a wave of energy I was irritatingly familiar with washed over the room. My core sparked into visibility, glowing brighter than the fire beside Snape. I didn't get a chance to react before another spell halted my flight and I landed heavily on my back by Harry's feet.

It was like gravity had suddenly been forced upon me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get myself back in the air.

Moody charged forward, pulling Harry away from me with such a force, the young Gryffindor struggled to stay upright.

If the glow from my chest wasn't a big enough give away, then my yelp of surprise had definitely sealed the deal. All eyes latched onto my core, several wands whipping out from wherever they'd been stored and pinning me in place.

My eyes shot to Snape's. The slight raise of his eyebrow was enough to tell me that there was very little point in my trying to get away. If I made a break for it, I'd look guilty.

I was caught.

Leveling my glare at Moody, I allowed my invisibility to drop.

The gasps that flooded the room brought bile to my throat.

With the vast majority of the room's population having never seen my ghost form, eyes travelled across every inch of me, burning as they moved.

Diggory Junior, who'd obviously heard about me from his dad and the numerous whisperings around the school, stared at me with eyes wide. His face showed no sign of distrust, only surprise as he almost instantly lowered his wand.

The other champions were less accepting, their gazes uneasy and unsure. Stubble looked like he was about to have a heart attack and the heads of the other schools stood protectively and warily in front of their students.

"What is that?" Karkaroff spat, wand swivelling in his hand as though evaluating which offensive spell to use first. My glare slid to the look of disgust on his face. Rather than bite back like I so desperately wanted to, I lifted my hands in surrender and cautiously pulled myself into standing.

Other than Harry, there wasn't a single person in the room who didn't tower above me. With my flight disabled, a spell I'd already experienced and hated via Snape, I found myself begrudging the fact that I'd skipped out on the tall gene in the family.

"Allow me to introduce Danny Phantom. A temporary and trusted resident of Hogwarts," Dumbledore calmly cut in, as though my entrance had been entirely ordinary and expected. I didn't miss the wariness on the man's face as he sensed the same danger I did. All it would take was a single misfired spell and all hell would break loose. Sweat beads were already forming on Mr Crouch's forehead.

"Trusted by you perhaps," Moody growled, still gripping Harry in a way that might have looked protective to anyone else, but to me looked eerily possessive. "I said before that the timing of his arrival was suspicious. After the events of the Quidditch World Cup and the emergence of the Dark Mark, this thing appears out of nowhere and starts attacking Ministry workers."

"That's not what happened," I hissed sharply, already not liking where this was going.

"And then he waits until the night the Goblet of Fire is revealed to tell Dumbledore about some dream he had, predicting that an underaged wizard named Potter would find himself an unwitting participant in the Tournament. Why wait until after the means of name selection is revealed, eh? Unless he was simply waiting for the facts to add fuel to his premature deflection of blame."

I sagged in disbelief as his accusation hit. My glare melted and I stared at the Headmaster. "You told him?"

"I informed Professor Moody of what you told me in order to assist him in his guarding of the Goblet last night, yes. But Alastor, to suggest that Danny was in any way-"

"You mean to say zat you knew 'Arry's name would come out of ze Goblet? 'Ow could you 'ave let zis 'appen, Dumbly-dorr?" The Hagrid-sized woman screeched, her wand jabbing sharply in my direction. I couldn't tell if the 'zis' Dumbledore was supposed to have let happen was the issue with the Goblet, or me.

"Because he put his trust in the wrong person," Moody muttered darkly, both eyes locked onto mine with a malicious gleam I couldn't shake.

"Your accusation doesn't even make sense," I countered, unwilling to stand there and take his attack. "If I did something to your stupid Goblet, don't you think you'd've noticed? Standing guard and everything?"

There was something off about the way he was trying to pin this all on me. I felt it threaded through every word, every glare, dripping like slow acting poison. There was something calculated and precise, something rehearsed.

"Little spies have their ways," he chanted, a seemingly deliberate echo of what he'd said to me that first morning in Dumbledore's office.

I resisted the urge to ball my hands into fists as they remained in their surrendered position. There were too many wands still pointed at my chest to risk unsettling any of them. McGonagall, who'd so far blended into the corner of the room, gave a loud tut as though she could read the thoughts on my face.

"This is ridiculous. Can we put the wands away, please? We're not a Duelling Club."

Somehow, the authority in her voice struck everyone in the room and slowly, amidst reluctant grumbles of discomfort, the wands lowered. It didn't escape my attention that not one of them went so far as to put them away, but it was progress. I let my arms drift cautiously down to my sides, grateful I didn't have to hold them aloft any longer.

I sent the witch a thankful glance which she didn't respond to.

"Well. This certainly complicates things," Stubble murmured eventually, returned to the nervy mess of a man I easily recognised. The hairs on my arms started to rise.

"Wait, you believe him?" My voice came out fractured, broken by yet another wave of disbelief.

"I quite frankly don't know what to believe," the man groaned, finally letting go of Diggory Junior and wringing his hands irately. "It is, of course, simply speculation but should the theory prove true…"

"It isn't!" I lost the fight to keep myself static, arms flying forward in exasperation.

This couldn't be happening. If Moody managed to convince Stubble, and in effect, the Ministry that I was somehow guilty of this, there was no way I'd be back in Amity by Monday. If they considered me too dangerous to travel and used that sedative spell again, it could take months, if not years for me to get another chance to escape.

"If The Phantom is to blame for this mess, I demand that he be held accountable. Malicious or otherwise, tampering with Ministry property and endangering the life of a student are serious crimes and must be treated as such," Mr Crouch declared, shifting his cold stare to hold me in place.

Panic threatened to overwhelm me as I realised half the room looked ready to consider me responsible. I fought to think of something, anything to say that could somehow miraculously rescue me but all my brain gave me was, 'this is it.'

And then things got worse.

"Danny didn't do it! He wouldn't."

All the panic that had risen within me fizzled out to be replaced with a numb sense of dread. All eyes shot to Harry as he pulled himself from Moody's grip and glared across at Crouch, hands balled at his sides. I dropped my head into my hand, bracing for the storm that I knew was about to follow.

"And what makes you say that, Potter?" Moody's voice was like torn silk. Like someone who'd just received a dead cat for Christmas but got some sick pleasure from it.

"Because you're wrong about him. He isn't Dark or dangerous or any of that. He didn't even know about magic before coming here. If he found out about the Goblet of Fire at the same time I did, it's stupid to think that he'd know how it works any more than I do. He couldn't have done it."

He's trying to help, I reminded myself, jaw tense as I fought the urge to beg him to stop talking.

"And how is it, Mr Potter, that you seem to know so much about our guest?" McGonagall clucked, expression stern as she stared down at her pupil. I didn't have to look at him to know that Snape was glaring. What exactly he was angry at, I didn't know, but I could feel it rolling off him in waves.

"Because," Harry stopped and caught my eye. I gave the slightest shake of my head, despite knowing at this point it wouldn't do any good. I'd told him what would happen if anyone found out I'd been spending time with him and his friends. He knew how much trouble I'd be in. But it seemed, in the heat of the moment, his need to protect me from Moody's allegations outweighed his desire to keep the secret. "Because he's my friend."

Mr Bagman gasped in a way that was far too dramatic for any normal person to get away with.

Harry's words sent out a shockwave that flooded the room with unease.

Snape's glare intensified.

Dumbledore's expression turned stoic and unreadable.

The other champions shared confused and bewildered glances.

And Moody. Moody looked like he'd just been told he'd won the lottery.

"Diggory, remind me what the Ministry's policy was on interacting with Hogwarts students?" he all but sang, fixing me with a look so heated, I expected his face to start melting around it.

Stubble shuffled uncomfortably. His stare unnerved me more than I cared to admit as he cleared his throat. "The Phantom should not under any circumstances interact directly with any student of Hogwarts or make himself in any way known," he croaked.

"Sounds to me like someone's been playing by his own rules." The anger that bled through Moody's words did nothing to hide the challenge. I let my hand drop to my side, shooting a half-hearted glare back at him. My chances of escaping the Ministry unscathed now were so slim, I doubted even Skulker, the Ghost Zone's Greatest Hunter, could find them.

"It wasn't his fault," Harry tried again. "We found him. Hermione heard about The Phantom from Malfoy and we decided to investigate. We found him outside Hagrid's cabin one night. He tried to hide but it was too late and we convinced him to talk to us. He didn't mean to break your rules."

His expression was pleading as he threw his admission at Stubble. I tried to feel some kind of warmth from the effort he was putting in to protect me, but it all just faded into the overhanging sensation of doom.

"You're not the only one The Phantom talked to?" Stubble asked weakly. The urge to remind him that my name wasn't 'The Phantom' was almost unbearable; my brain's way of trying to distract from the more important issue.

"Well… no, but… Mr Diggory, we've been friends for weeks and he hasn't done anything to hurt any of us. I don't know how my name got into that Goblet but I know it wasn't him." He was grasping at straws and everyone knew it.

While Moody's smaller eye remained fastened to me, the larger kept whipping between me and Harry. "The little monster's more devious than I thought," he mused, voice barely above a low rumble. "Tell me, Danny-boy. How is it that you're supposedly such good friends with Potter, but you somehow missed the fact that he was the boy you'd heard in your dream? I don't believe there are any other Potters in the school."

As much as I hated to admit it, that hit a nerve. The worst thing about it, was that it was a pretty convincing argument and the truth of the matter stung worse than the continued accusation. I thought I'd gotten pretty close to Harry and yet, I'd not once linked him to the voices in my head. I'd listened to his name being called out in registers before but hadn't retained the knowledge that his last name was Potter. It had slipped through the cracks, dismissed as information I'd never need. He was Harry. Why did I need to know anything more than that?

I felt myself shrink under the weight of all the eyes.

"I," I started but froze as soon as I realised I didn't know what to say. No matter what came out of my mouth, it'd likely sound like a lie - a feeble attempt to cover my tracks. I could see it in the eyes of the heads of the other schools, in the faces of the unfamiliar Ministry officials, they thought I'd done it. What could I possibly say to change that?

Anger flared to life in my chest as it struck me how impossibly unfair this all was.

"Do you remember the name of every person you meet? Because I sure as heck don't. There are so many names being thrown around in this school, I'm sorry if I found it a little hard to keep track," I burst, eyes burning brighter as I gave up on fighting the frustration inside of me.

"You find it hard to keep track of a lot of things, don't you?"

I blinked at the harshness of Moody's voice. There was a distinct undercurrent of hate crafted perfectly for me, so well hidden it seemed the rest of the room missed it. What exactly had I lost track of before that seemed so important? My interactions with Moody had been limited and I couldn't remember a time where I'd done something specific to annoy him.

It was then I noticed the deliberate twitch in the hand free from a magic stick. My eyes slid down his arm to lock onto a very familiar device caged between his thick fingers.

The flashlight. The one he'd picked up by the lake that night.

He knew.

My gaze shot to lock with his, a frown on my face as I tried to figure out if that was what this was all about. His eagerness to blame me for a crime I didn't commit. His clear desire for the Ministry to sink their judgemental claws into me. Could it really all lead back to that?

"Am I being tested? Is that it?"

"Well, I won't be bested by some glow-in-the-dark brat."

"If the Dark Lord-"

No. No way. My eyes narrowed as I took him in, seeing him in a whole new light.

The only reason he'd hate me for that moment would be if he thought I'd heard something I shouldn't have. Which meant I hadn't just been paranoid and biased. Something was going on with him.

And if he was so desperate to pin the blame for the Goblet on me...

It felt like the world dropped away as the pieces slotted into place.

He was the one who'd put Harry's name in the Goblet of Fire. I'd never been so sure of anything in my life. And I'd given him the perfect scapegoat.

"You," I hissed, unable to cling to my 'obedient magical creature' demeanour any longer.

My hands flooded with ectoplasmic energy before I could register what I was doing. A small part of me noticed the temperature drop that suddenly hit the room but I was focused more on the patchwork man before me.

I'd worked so hard to keep myself out of trouble for so long, kept out of sight, kept my complaining to a minimum despite the urge to shout my frustrations from the rooftops. And now, just because I'd heard something I shouldn't, this piece of work was going to do everything he could to make sure that it was all for nothing.

I could feel Snape's warning from across the room but it did nothing to quell the storm inside of me.

Two days. That's all I'd needed.

But now Moody had involved Harry. I had no idea whether he had some maniacal reason for putting Harry forward before I showed up or if it was just a move to bait me and give the Ministry something to keep me in for.

Bait me.

He was baiting me.

The energy in my hands died as I glanced anxiously around the circle of magical folk. The wands that had retracted were out once more, glares, some fearful, others simply weary fastened to almost every face. Snape, Harry, Dumbledore and the Diggorys were the only ones that didn't look ready to shoot at the slightest movement.

The temperature gently rose.

My eyes locked with Stubble's and I felt a stab of fear at the disappointed frown on his face. I skimmed past the poorly hidden triumph in Moody's expression as I sought out Dumbledore.

The second I found him, I knew I'd screwed up.

The dark crinkle had found its way back onto his forehead and his expression was graver than when I'd given him Harry's name.

"Would you mind waiting for me in my office, Danny?" the Headmaster instructed softly. I grimaced at the underlying tone of warning that he'd used so frequently with Stubble, before nodding. I glanced helplessly at Harry, whose face was distorted with concern and the slightest hint of caution.

I didn't grace Moody with the smallest bit of attention as I made my way to the exit. The fact that the weight of the gravity spell hadn't worn off yet meant that I'd have to walk the majority of the way, making it all the more humiliating and stupid. As I reached the door, I tugged experimentally on my invisibility.

The light from my core was nowhere to be seen. Small mercies. Without looking back at the lingering stares, I phased through the door and began the painful march to Dumbledore's office.


The gravity spell wore off by the time I'd climbed the fourth set of stairs. How Hogwarts students coped with walking everywhere was beyond me. It seemed to take a lifetime to move through just half of it.

The second I phased through the Headmaster's office door, every last bit of false calm I'd managed to gather, completely deserted me.

I ran a shaky hand through my hair as I leant up against Dumbledore's desk.

How had Moody known it was me in the forest? He hadn't seen me, I was sure of it - he'd stood an inch away and his magic eye had been zipping around everywhere. The only clues I'd left were the book and the flashlight and those could have belonged to anyone, surely?

I grimaced.

The fearful looks on the faces in that room... I'd caused that. Sure, Moody had goaded me but he hadn't forced me into attack mode. I'd never thought of myself as a particularly aggressive person. I got angry same as anyone my age but to fall so easily into a trap like that, to be so predictable, it made me sick.

I wanted to go home.

At least they don't blame Harry anymore, I thought bitterly, glaring down at my boots. What I wanted more than anything was to fly to the hideout, become human and sink down into the cushions of my armchair. The faster I could get out of my ghost form, the better. Ectoplasmic energy still burned through my veins in angry protest. It was my stupid ghost half that had caused all these problems. My ghost half and my pure idiocy.

I pulled myself fully onto Dumbledore's desk, appreciating the fact that it was currently free of paperwork and trinkets, and brought my knees to my chest.

I could only imagine what Sam and Tucker would say if they'd seen my outburst.

"Dude, chill. Fighting the guy in front of all those adults? Not a good idea." Tuck's voice reasoned in my head. Too late.

"Yeah, you need to wait until you can get him alone. Your ghost powers against his magic, you'd win in like, five seconds flat." Sam's added.

"You'll find a way out of this, Danny. You always do. Head up and just try not to bite anyone else's head off, 'kay, little brother?"

My core gave a painful pang as the familiar heat of homesickness seared through me.

As a rule, I never cried. Tears were pointless, they never solved anything. What was the use of wallowing when you could get out there and fix whatever was bothering you.

This time, the problem felt so far beyond fixing. Frustration leaked from my eyes and splashed to my knees.

It was infuriating how quickly Moody had swayed them. They were so desperate for someone to blame, all he'd had to do was link a few unhappy coincidences and they'd been putty in his hands.

After all. He was an ex-auror. He was obsessed with catching all things Dark. I was an unknown. A creature quick to anger and unworthy of trust.

I drove the heels of my hands against the dampness under my eyes.

Why would Moody, someone who'd apparently dedicated the majority of his life and a large portion of his body to arresting Death Eaters, put the name of a fourteen-year-old boy in a magic cup? If he did have some kind of connection with this 'Dark Lord', what did Harry have to do with it? Was it always his intention to submit him, or had my talk with Dumbledore simply given him a target?

The door to the office swung open with such ferocity, it hit the wall with a loud bang. My head shot up to stare at Snape as he marched in, anger flowing from every pore. His hair flapped by the sides of his face as he moved and he didn't stop until he was a foot from where I sat.

"Why Potter?" he hissed, eyes narrowed to sharp daggers. I let my legs fall and dangle from the desk, pinning him with an irritated glare.

"You seriously think I'm responsible for the Goblet?" I growled back. I'd already thrown away any semblance of being calm when I'd faced Moody. I didn't need Snape at my throat as well.

"Of course not," he snapped. "You're nowhere near clever enough to get past the protective enchantments."

I didn't know whether to be offended or relieved. I settled for disgruntled.

"Then what're you so angry about?"

The Potions Master didn't answer right away, taking a few seconds to recollect his thoughts as he continued to glower at me. I raised a questioning eyebrow which only seemed to irritate him further.

"You were given one rule. Stay away from the students. After everything that's gone into keeping you away from the Ministry, you go and throw it all away in the pursuit of what? Friendship? Friendship won't do you much good when you're seeing the world from behind a leash."

He spun and stomped away a few paces, shaking with a rage I didn't fully understand or appreciate.

"One rule? Really? What about the rule that said I had to deal with you throwing whatever spell you wanted in my face on an almost daily basis, huh?" I pulled myself from the table, glaring across at him as he turned back to me. "Harry, Hermione and Ron showed up one day and promised me they'd keep my secret. Yeah, maybe I should have turned them away, but you know what? I'm happy I didn't. Because they listened and they cared. And I needed that."

A scoff ripped through him, sneer drifting onto his mouth as his eyes dripped scornfully down my tensed body.

"Pathetic. The spells I used were the ones the Ministry asked for. I don't care what your feelings are about me, but painting me as the villain in all this is immature and ridiculous. And as for those three friends of yours, I certainly hope they were worth it, because once Diggory reports back to the Ministry, they'll make sure you never see them, or anyone else who'll 'listen and care' again."

"All right, Severus. That's enough."

I swallowed the unease that had risen in my throat from Snape's words as Dumbledore allowed the office door to swing shut. The younger wizard's anger still burned behind his eyes as he forced his expression into something more passive.

Dumbledore's eyes swept over me as I dropped my gaze to the floor.

"It appears we have found ourselves with a bit of a problem," he said.

My hands twitched by my sides but I couldn't bring myself to look back at him. After everything he'd done to protect me from the Ministry, Snape was right. I'd screwed it all up.

"I didn't do it," I whispered.

"I know."

He let out a gentle sigh before making his way towards the stand that usually housed his Phoenix. He rubbed his fingers through the dust that had settled on the metal surface, as though sifting through the dirt would allow him to find some answers.

"We've talked about your temper before, haven't we?" he eventually chided.

I grimaced, staring down at my fingers as they tugged at the hem of my glove.

"Professor Karkaroff and Madam Maxime have expressed their concern over your light show. Mr Crouch has called for your arrest and Mr Diggory now finds himself in a particularly difficult position." His tone remained gentle but the way the words wrapped around me made it clear he wasn't happy.

I watched Snape fold his arms in irate satisfaction from the corner of my eye.

"And Harry?" I probed, fearing the reaction my question might cause.

"Heading back to his dormitory. He may have to manoeuvre around a few angry faces for the next few days but I'm sure it won't be long before Professor Moody's accusation spreads through the school and the blame is shifted."

Shifted onto me.

My fingers halted their fidgeting.

"I think it was him," I breathed, still not capable of taking my eyes from my hands. "I think Moody put Harry's name in the Goblet and I think he's using me as a scapegoat."

Dumbledore didn't respond right away. He slowly drew back from the stand and I felt his gaze on me once more.

"I'd trust Alastor Moody with my life," he announced, without any resentment or sign that my theory had upset him. "I understand that your experience of him hasn't been flattering, but he is a good man with a good heart. He has only the school's best interests in mind."

I let out a humourless laugh as I realised that was exactly the kind of response I'd been expecting. What was it Moody had said in the woods? "Idiots, all of them. Can't see what's staring them in the face."

Rather than push it, I finally let my head lift to face the old wizard.

"So what happens next?"

He paused again.

"We go to the hearing as planned." His hands folded confidently above his belt as he peered down at me. His usual sparkle was nowhere to be found.

Right. The hearing. The hearing that was very likely going to either get me locked up, or forced into servitude, neither of which I was willing to let happen.

My face must have given something away because Dumbledore released a heavy sigh.

"Danny. As tempting as it might be to run from this, I'd advise you to think first. If you run and you get caught, there's nothing I'll be able to do for you. If you managed to escape, you'd likely find yourself unable to return. If you're as fond of Harry as it appears, I believe exile such as that would only hurt you both."

Snape's glare grew heated once more but I ignored it, focusing instead on the conflict in my core.

I could escape. I was sure of it. But Dumbledore had a point. It wasn't some random wizard kid who'd found himself wrapped up in the Tournament, it was Harry. And if Moody's plan went further than just getting him involved in the Death Games… Could I really bring myself to sever any chance of ever coming back?

I groaned and ran a hand across my forehead, attempting to subdue the fast forming headache.

"I can't just… The Ministry wants me contained. And I just gave them every excuse to do just that. I'm not- I don't wanna become someone's pet plaything. I have… other things that I need to do." I glanced at Snape, uncomfortable in the knowledge that he knew exactly what those other things were. He'd seen enough of my ghost fights.

His expression remained stoic.

The Headmaster took a few seconds to let my words sink in. He moved to his desk chair and gave the back of it a thoughtful tap before pulling it out and sitting down. I shifted uneasily, turning so that I could keep him in sight.

He leaned back and peered across at me above his spectacles.

"I'd like to offer you permanent residency at Hogwarts."

I stiffened.

The Headmaster's fingers twitched as they draped over the arms of his chair. His gaze was unwavering but try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to respond. My brain had had enough of surprises today. This was one too many.

I could feel Snape's eyes on my back.

The silence stretched on.

"Why?"

Dumbledore's head lifted slightly. "Because I believe we can offer you a home here. Before, you talked of yourself as a 'lone ranger'. If your desire to get close to our students is anything to go by, I'd suggest that being alone isn't something you'd want to go back to."

Once again, a lie come back to bite me. It showed one thing at least, Snape hadn't told Dumbledore about the memory sharing sessions.

I ran a tired hand through my hair.

"That's… actually really nice of you, but…" I let go of a sigh. "Something tells me the Triwizard Tournament isn't going to be something anyone wants me to stick around for."

I could only imagine Moody's response to Dumbledore's offer. And if the Heads of the other schools hated me as much as I thought they did, the last thing they'd accept would be for Dumbledore to adopt me or whatever.

"This is not about what anyone else wants. I'm asking you."

"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.

"Excuse me?"

"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."

I grimaced at the memory. As much as I wanted to believe Dumbledore's offer was innocent and heartfelt, I'd been manipulated and taken advantage of far too many times.

"This isn't some weird trick to get me to stick around play guard dog, is it?" I murmured, distrust thick in my voice.

"Danny, I'm not going to make you do anything. I won't lie to you though. I'm afraid for Harry. I believe that neither you, nor he placed his name in the Goblet but someone did. And I fear that this someone has more in mind than simply having Harry play a few games."

The fear wasn't one he had alone. I gave a bitter scoff.

"So you're offering me this for Harry," I said. The Headmaster frowned, grip tightening marginally on his chair.

"Not at all. It has always been my intention to offer you Hogwarts. No one deserves to be alone, especially against forces like the Ministry of Magic. When I look at you, I see a child who deserves so much more than he has been given. Danny. I do not wish to trick you into anything. I simply wish to offer you a place to call home. You deserve that at least."

A lump formed in my throat.

I had a home. A home I desperately needed to get back to.

The voice I now recognised as Harry's echoed through me.

Amity Park needed its protector. I needed my family back.

But Harry needed something too. Whatever Moody had planned, it wasn't good.

I pressed my hand tightly against the back of my head as the headache intensified. I didn't know. I didn't have the slightest clue as to what I should do. I was only one person.

"Thank you," I said, voice tight against the internal strain. "Is it okay if I think it over?"

Dumbledore's mouth twitched into a worn smile as he gave a slow nod. "Of course."

"Do you really think you can give me that though?" I asked, suddenly thinking back to the frown on Stubble's face. "A home at Hogwarts? I broke the rule about students. I… kinda exploded in that room and… well I'm pretty sure most of the people that were there think I messed with the Goblet."

Mr Crouch's venom reverberated through my skull.

Dumbledore's head tilted forward to look at Snape. "Try not to worry. Severus and I shall both be in attendance at this hearing. I believe between us we shall provide an effective defence."

I frowned before turning to face the still simmering Potions Master.

The look on his face was stern but it had settled somewhat from the fury of earlier. His eyebrows raised as I took him in. The majority of the time we'd spent together had consisted of him finding the best way to incapacitate me, and rile me up. To think of him willingly helping me out in a way that wasn't brutal, was crazy.

"I can be absent if you'd prefer," he sneered, obviously picking up on my unease.

"After Hagrid, Professor Snape has spent more time around you and your powers than anyone else. He will be an invaluable addition to your case," Dumbledore cut, settling any potential argument that might have sparked.

It wasn't that I didn't want him there, it was just… a surprise.

"Uh… yeah. Okay. Sure. Sorry, I just…" My stare lingered for a few second more before my focus slipped back to my gloves. "Thanks."

Snape gave a careless hum.

"I believe Hagrid deserves updating, don't you, Danny?" Dumbledore said, tone dismissive. I swallowed before giving a small nod.

Head bowed, I lifted myself into the air and made my way to the exit.

Guilt swept through me as I moved and before I could escape, I turned to face the two wizards.

"I'm sorry." I flinched at the break in my own voice as I pushed every ounce of sincerity I could into the words. "For everything."

Dumbledore's stoic expression softened as I met his eye. He nodded in acceptance of my apology. With Snape characteristically ignoring my words, I gave my elbow an uncomfortable scratch before leaving the office.


AN: I have absolutely nothing to say. I love you all.

Til the 17th!

~Mea

3rd March 2018

P.S. I made small edits to the first chapter if any one wants to head back and check those out. Nothing major. Probably not worth it. But thought I should probably warn you in any case.