Chapter Twenty Four
Travelling by floo powder was my new least favourite means of transportation, followed closely by being thrown through a wall and my Dad's driving.
"It's usually a one person at a time kind of set up," Diggory had stated as he'd led me to the fireplace in Dumbledore's office. "But, since we can hardly have you getting yourself lost, I figure we might as well suffer the discomfort together. Hand on my shoulder, please, and could you pull out that invisibility of yours, there's a good chap."
'Discomfort' had been putting it lightly. While it wasn't quite as claustrophobic as a Fenton Thermos, it was tight. I had to turn my elbows intangible to stop them grazing against whatever brick tube we were falling through and the green flame that encompassed us was nearly blinding. It felt like we were spinning, dropping down a waterslide of fiery doom before we were eventually spat out in some large room surrounded by swarms of people covered in soot.
With a glance at Stubble, I spread my intangibility through to him, allowing the thick black dust to fall from his ruffled suit. No one was paying him enough attention to notice, too consumed with whatever it was they were rushing off to.
"Ah, thank you," he whispered, voice tinged with unsteady gratitude. I didn't respond, hand still invisibly latched to his shoulder as I let my gaze fall across the room.
Room didn't exactly cover it. It was more of a large hall. Fireplaces lined the walls either side of us, all large enough to fit my dad and expensive enough looking that they could have been designed by Vlad. The people that were marching past all wore very official looking robes and held briefcases that looked like they belonged in the 1940s. I swallowed my unease as Stubble led me through the crowd and past an obnoxiously ornate water fountain towards a collection of rickety looking elevators. My backpack felt heavier the closer we got, gifts from the trio whispering words of encouragement into my muscles.
We slipped into one of the elevators, Diggory moving to the back so that I wouldn't have to hover above him in order to stay out of the way. I sank against the elevator wall and watched as the small space became very crowded very quickly.
"Amos! How are you?" a loud voice called as its owner locked eyes with Stubble. I watched as a man with hair as red as a forest fire pushed his way through disgruntled workers to stand beside us.
"I am well, thank you, Arthur. Well indeed. And yourself?"
The doors closed and the elevator began to rise.
"Also well. I heard about your boy Cedric."
"Ah, yes. I told you before, he's a champion at heart. The Triwizard Tournament won't know what hit it."
"I'm sure. Say, Amos. You don't happen to be here for the…?" The red haired wizard gave a very deliberate raise of his eyebrows, head twisting to pin his apparent friend with a meaningful look. I felt Diggory tense beneath my hand as he checked to make sure no one else was listening in, which was stupid because it was such a small space, everyone could hear everything anyway.
"Indeed," came the man's only response.
The wizard named Arthur's eyes scanned the area around Stubble, skirting past me so closely I felt a spike of irritation.
"And is he…?" Arthur asked, with another deliberate bob of his head.
I fought the urge to groan at how indiscreet the pair were being. The whole point of me being invisible was to not cause a scene but naturally heads were twisting from all over the elevator to give the both of them curious and suspicious glances.
The lift shuddered to a stop and several people exited, only to be replaced with less dusty but more tired looking witches and wizards. A swarm of paper airplanes swept in to hover above our heads. Arthur and Stubble remained in place as the elevator began to move once more.
"Fred and George haven't stopped hounding me for information, you know." Arthur whispered, though I suddenly got the impression his words were no longer meant for Diggory. "I told them, I said, not my department, but would they let up? Of course not. Quite taken if you ask me."
"Have you heard about your Ron?" Stubble probed. Fred, George, Ron. Suddenly it clicked in my head. Ron's dad worked for the Ministry. Of course. I let myself examine the guy more closely, only now recognising where I'd seen those eager blue eyes before.
"Ron? No? What about him? He's not in trouble again, is he?"
I blinked, suddenly wanting to know when he'd been in trouble before. The look of concern on Ron's dad's face was weathered, wrinkling in all the right places and enhancing his kindly appearance.
"No, no. Nothing like that." Stubble shifted so that he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Arthur, turning his head to breathe in his ear. "Turns out your boy's been friends with the… with him for weeks. Kept it all secret, him, Potter and that muggleborn girl."
"Really. Your stop, old chap."
Arthur blinked away the shock as he realised the elevator had stopped again. He give Diggory a bewildered look before laughing and shaking his head.
"It's just like them, that. Continue this later?" He waited for confirmation before muttering a short farewell and darting out of the doors. They slid shut the second he'd passed them. Stubble gave a small, contented sigh before going back to watching the people around him.
I'd just indirectly met Ron's dad. The thought circled through me like a confused owl. Out of all the things I'd expected to happen today.
"Good man, Arthur Weasley," Stubble murmured as though guessing my thoughts. "Has a mountain of children, all as red-headed as each other. Couldn't be doing with all the noise."
I gave the slightest whisper of a laugh which made his ears twitch with satisfaction. The next time the elevator stopped, we headed out.
The corridor we moved through was lit by bright lamps that dotted the ceiling. The walls were decorated with framed photographs of creatures I'd never seen before, tentacles and claws thrashing at the thin paper that housed them. Painted dragons danced between the numerous doors, oily fire licking at any patch of wall that found itself momentarily empty.
Compared to the pristine, glossy walls that seemed to line every other area of the Ministry, I decided, begrudgingly, that this place was actually pretty cool.
Amos stopped outside a door to the left, pulling a key from his pocket and pressing it into the handle. My eyes lifted to the golden plaque on the door.
Deputy Head of The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
Huh. I always thought the guy was just unlucky when he'd landed me as an assignment. I wouldn't have put him as deputy head of anything. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. If my 'case' was as high priority as he made it out to be, they likely wouldn't have assigned it to anyone lower.
The door swung open and Stubble gave my hand a light tap to let me know it was all right to let go. The second we were both inside, the door swung shut. I dropped my invisibility, gazing at the office as though I'd just been brought into a teacher's house.
Much like a stereotypical office, the room held a pale wooden desk complete with swivelling chair, pots of quills, and files stacked to unfair heights. Family photos hung from yellow painted walls and the large window behind him showed a bright grassy landscape that couldn't be real.
"Short stop, worry not. Just need to go over some final details and then we'll be off," he said, marching over to his desk and pulling a thin file from the top of a stack. He didn't look at me as he sank down into his chair.
I moved over to one of his bookshelves, reading the titles of the books on display and admiring the glass swan bookends that held them in place. If the books were anything to go by, he was a huge fan of Quidditch.
"Now, the Minister is likely going to ask for a name. He'll want to know who you were before you became what you are today. Dumbledore has advised that this is something you might not be so happy to share and I understand entirely. What I would suggest is that you come up with a reason to keep this information secret. The one thing I would advise you not to do, is lie outright. Coming up with a false identity is likely only going to cause us all more work."
He twisted the lid off his ink pot before plucking up a quill and scribbling something in the folder he'd opened. I couldn't tell what surprised me more. How official and collected he seemed without Dumbledore peering over his shoulder or the fact that he was warning me about something.
"I'll come up with something," I murmured, the shock turning me quiet. He gave a sharp nod without looking up.
"The other big thing to worry about is that tendency you have to lash out."
"I don't lash out. I just…" I paused, catching his wary glance. "Get… defensive." My cheeks burned an uncomfortable shade of green as I ducked my head back towards the bookshelf.
"Yes, well your getting defensive often results in more problems. And the people in that room know it. I wouldn't put it past Umbridge to start riling you up on purpose. No matter what is said, don't, I repeat, don't let your temper get the better of you. We're working to prove that you're in control of yourself and your abilities, anything like your stunt with Mad-Eye and this whole thing could fall through." His eyes were on me completely now, glistening with a sincerity I hadn't seen in him before.
Harry's story about how he'd stood up for me the night of the Goblet echoed in my mind. I suddenly found myself regretting ever saying anything bad about the guy. Despite his misguided views on parenting, he cared. Something I'd failed to notice before but perhaps should have.
"I'll… Keep that in mind."
"Final thing," he continued, closing the file and setting it aside. "Honesty. You're here to give your side of the story. Anything you can't answer or feel uncomfortable sharing, don't answer at all or find some way to deflect. Don't speak unless you are spoken to directly and try not to get upset if people start talking around you instead of directly to you. Those in our department are used to dealing with creatures unable to talk comfortably for themselves and those outside of it... Well, it depends on their mood. Now, if we can just-"
A knock on the door interrupted his speech and a hint of the anxiety I was used to seeing bled onto his face. His gaze flicked to mine in silent instruction and I turned invisible once more.
"It's unlocked," he called in way of welcome.
The door slid open with slow importance.
A silver cane was shortly followed by a man with silvery-blonde hair almost as long as Jazz's. My gaze swept down his pristine black robes and back up to the pinched and important look on his face. My dislike for the guy was instant.
"Diggory." He gave a nod so small, it might as well have been a twitch. I didn't miss the way his eyes slunk around the room obviously on the lookout for something. Someone.
"Malfoy," Stubble greeted stiffly, remaining firmly in his chair. I frowned as the name caught in my mind. Wasn't Malfoy the name of that Slytherin kid the trio hated? "Can I help?"
Malfoy sniffed, eyes still in motion. "Is he here?"
"Is who here?"
"Don't play the fool, you know who I mean."
"I don't see as it is any of your business, Lucius."
The dark robed wizard's mouth twitched in challenge as his eyes locked onto Diggory's. The look of distaste was obvious in his sneer and my dislike trebled.
"Who are you to say what my business is or isn't? I've spoken closely with the Minister in regards to this case and I would very much like to see the thing that has caused the Ministry so much havoc this past month. Would you deny me that?" The sharpness of his tone was paralysing and the strain on Stubble's face as he tried to fight against it was evident. However, the mention of the Minister had drained whatever resistance the deputy head had and after a few seconds, he let out a tired sigh.
"Very well. Danny."
It was so tempting to stay invisible - to deny this pompous douchebag any kind of satisfaction from his minor victory but Stubble's advice about not… 'lashing out' was quick resurface and not wanting to put any more pressure on the guy, I let the invisibility drop.
I had to fight to subdue my glare at the smirk Lucius Malfoy adopted when I appeared across the room from him. Smugness rolled off him in waves but his eyes remained full of judgement and dissatisfaction as they travelled over me.
"Hmm," he hummed thoughtfully. "I thought he'd be… taller."
My tongue twinged in protest as my teeth sank into it. Dress rehearsal. If I could get through a conversation with an older version of Draco, I could get through the hearing no trouble. His face turned cold at my lack of response, giving me the slightest pang of pride.
"I don't know whether to be impressed or disgusted," the man continued, upper lip curling cruelly. "That something so small and pathetic looking could stand up to your department's famous Tracker Force. Either he's more powerful than he looks, which wouldn't be hard, or your force is in dire need of retraining."
I pulled my hands behind my back, fists balling so tight, I could feel the strain in my muscles. Stubble granted me an apologetic look before he turned his scowl to Lucy.
"We actually have somewhere to be very shortly, so if you're done with the insults, I'd ask you to leave us to it," he said tersely. An impressed smirk quirked onto my face at the harshness in his tone. It was nice hearing Diggory be short with someone other than me.
Lucy didn't respond, eyes shifting to the insignia on my chest. My hands began to ache with the strength I was clenching them, decidedly uncomfortable with the man's disdainful interest.
"Of course, the hearing. Wouldn't want to cause you any delay," he finally said, gaze lingering on me a second more before snapping to meet Stubble's. "I hope you manage to come to reasonable solution. If this creature is as strong as rumoured, I believe we shall all feel better when he is safely locked away."
I blinked away the burning of my eyes as he drawled those final words, not giving me a second glance before he marched out of the office. He left the door wide open, causing Stubble to sigh. It swung closed with a small wave of the Ministry worker's wand.
"I do not like that guy," I growled, glaring at the exit as though I could still see his pompous silvery locks.
"I don't think anyone does," Stubble agreed. A smile snaked its way onto his face as he glanced me over. "I have to say though, you act with the restraint you kept there in that courtroom and I think we're well within a chance."
The courtroom was decidedly the worst place in the Ministry so far. Large and lit by powerful lanterns that lined the top of the four walls, it looked as though it had come straight out of the Eighteenth Century.
The second Stubble and I walked in, all eyes were on us. Pushed up against one wall were layered stalls which seated at least forty unfamiliar witches and wizards. Their faces were a mix of prideful curiosity and pinched suspicion as they took me in.
I swallowed as my eyes drifted from their severe expressions to the tall glass box in the centre of the room. The side closest to me hung open, beckoning.
"What's that for?" I murmured, hoping against hope that it wasn't what I thought it was.
"Your bag, if you please," Stubble responded in unsettling ignorance of my sudden anxiety. Reluctantly, I pulled the backpack from my shoulders, passing it over to him with hands that weren't all that steady. I quickly scanned the room for any sign of Dumbledore or Snape and was filled with uneasy relief as I spotted them on stools to the left of the room. The relief was washed away the second I recognised who was sitting next to them.
Hawthorne looked just as grizzly and scowly as he had the morning we'd met. The glare on his face hit me with the force of an ectoblast as Stubble continued to propel me towards the box.
I spun to face Diggory, eyes wider than I'd've liked and core throbbing with such force I half expected to find myself fleeing. "Are you for real?" My voice broke as I stared at him, willing him to say otherwise. The look on his face was grim.
"Remember, no speaking unless you're spoken to and…?" He lifted an eyebrow. I took a steadying breath before nodding.
"Watch the temper," I breathed as though reciting a line from a play.
"Perfect. Now on you go." He nodded towards the box. I grimaced turning to face the glass prison. Had I made a mistake in coming here? My eyes caught on Dumbledore's as he gave me a gentle and apologetic smile. He'd get me out. He had to. There was no way I was spending the rest of my afterlife watching the world behind glass.
I stepped inside.
The side that had rested open quickly closed behind me and with a flick of Diggory's wand I felt the familiar weight of the confinement spell settle in my core.
I already hated everything about this.
Stubble passed my bag to an official that leapt from the stands at the front of the room. I watched warily as the man moved over to a table that sat a short distance in front of my prison and unceremoniously tipped out everything inside. My laptop fell with a clatter, a large crack appearing across the lid as the box that held the Snowglobe landed heavily on top of it. An indignant cry died in my throat before it could form. Had this guy never heard of respecting other people's property?
As soon as the contents had been searched and deemed unimportant, the man began to poke his wand at the lining inside. I was instantly thankful that I'd remembered to give my photographs to Hagrid the night before because, just as I thought, this guy was being thorough.
Eventually the search ended and the bag was dropped beside its previous innards. The man sent a nod towards another man who sat very importantly in an open topped box of his own, high in the stalls.
I gave the inside of my wrist an anxious scratch as I realised who the guy in the box must be.
The Minister for Magic was a smallish man. His greying hair wisped around his head like tumbleweed and his purple and white pinstriped suit emphasised the fact that he wasn't the slightest bit in shape. All in all, he didn't look like much but knowing he was the deciding vote on whatever was about to happen made him the most important person in the room.
"Investigative hearing of the second of November into the continued observation of the creature known as The Phantom," he started, taking me by surprise with the formality of his tone. A sickly looking wizard sitting below him began writing with such speed, I was half convinced his hand would fall off.
"Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic; Amos Joseph Diggory, Deputy Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures; Jacob Maximus Hawthorne, Head of the Magical Creatures Tracker Force."
If the situation had been different, I might have sniggered at the fact Hawthorne's middle name was Maximus. As it was, I found myself wanting more and more to simply sink through the floor. Why had I let myself get talked into this? I could have been flying home the second we'd burst through that fireplace. Instead I was listening to this old guy drone on about who was present and what their role was.
My fingers twitched around my wrist as he went on to name Dumbledore and Snape as my defence. I missed the name of the guy that was scribbling every word but I figured it probably wasn't important.
"Mr Diggory, if you'd like to take us through the case," Fudge prompted after his name throwing had come to an end.
Diggory hadn't moved from his spot beside the glass, eyes flitting importantly around the gathered witches and wizards.
"Of course. On the fourth of October, the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures received word of a number of sightings that described a black and white glowing blur hurtling towards the west coast of England. Thinking the blur in question to be some type of flying beast, the Department saw fit to dispatch Mr Hawthorne and his Tracker Force to investigate. When they caught up to the creature in Carlisle, they found none other than our Phantom.
"After discerning that the boy had neither a licence, nor a wizard responsible for him, Hawthorne made to apprehend him only for the Phantom to break free. A chase occurred during which a number of the Tracker Force were knocked from their brooms before he was eventually hit with a sedative spell in a muggle hotel. Rather than risk transferring him as far as London, Hawthorne made for the closest magic imbued location and I was called to Hogwarts to investigate the creature for myself."
The room was eerily quiet as Stubble went on to describe the arrangement he'd made with Dumbledore and the events of the past month, including the tests I'd done with Snape. I was oddly relieved when he didn't bring up the events with Moody after the Goblet had given up Harry's name. Hearing him talk about it all with disconnected clarity went against everything I thought I knew about the guy. Gone was the stuttering and uncomfortable man I'd grown reluctantly fond of, replaced instead with a man of authority. If I wasn't so disgusted with the whole situation, I'd've been proud of him.
"Does this Phantom have a name?" the Minister asked distractedly as he leafed through the notes on the surface in front of him. It took me a second to register that this was a question directed at me.
"Uh. It's. Danny. Danny Phantom," I replied. My voice echoed inside the box, and left through a small hole in the top right corner. It seemed to have some kind of microphone effect as my hearing picked up on the increased volume of my words as they flooded the courtroom. Fudge lifted his head to pin me with an unimpressed look.
"And before you were that?"
I glanced across at Stubble who gave me the briefest of nods. My throat became uncomfortably dry.
"I don't… really remember much. About before," I responded tightly. Fudge lifted an eyebrow but remained otherwise still.
I shrugged, unwilling to go into it any further. The more I talked, the more it would sound like a lie and the last thing I wanted to do was push my luck.
"Very well, Danny Phantom. Tell me. Why come to England?"
I shifted uncomfortably under his stare, eyes wandering to the many other fascinated if not uneasy faces. I fought the urge to sigh as I realised a lot of this questioning would simply be a case of repeating what I felt like I'd said a thousand times.
"An… acquaintance of mine who thinks of himself as a really good hunter challenged me to hide and I thought another country would be a pretty good spot to do just that," I answered cautiously.
Fudge didn't seem content with my level of detail as his raised eyebrow sunk back level with the other.
"This acquaintance. Is he a Phantom like yourself?"
"He's a ghost," I corrected. Phantom was my thing, I wasn't letting Skulker anywhere near it.
"I see." Fudge leaned back in his chair, eyes jumping from Diggory, to me and then to Hawthorne. "Describe to me what was going through your mind when you attacked the Tracker Force."
I fought the urge to scoff. I attacked them?
"I… I was confused," I started, sparing Hawthorne the smallest of glances before leveling my gaze on the Minister. Not lashing out was one thing, but I wasn't going to play meek. Not today. "I didn't know anything about who they were or why they were so desperate to take me in, or whatever. So… I tried to get away. When they started flying after me and lights were flashing everywhere I freaked out. I've never seen anything like that magic before and so I thought maybe if I slowed them down, they'd leave me alone. Obviously that… didn't happen."
I clenched my hands before letting them relax again, focusing on the way the gloves moved across my skin so that I wouldn't have to concentrate on the weight of all the eyes.
"So you found yourself in Hogwarts and were told you were to stay there for the month and keep out of the way. Is it true that rather than follow the rules set in place for you, stating that you should refrain from interacting with students, you befriended three fourth-year Gryffindors?" His passive stare and the heaviness of his words made the walls around me feel like they were closing in.
"It is," I breathed. Dumbledore gave a gentle nod from across the room which eased a little of the claustrophobia.
"What exactly was the reasoning behind that?"
"Well…" My right hand lifted to grasp at the back of my neck as my left balled into an anxious fist. Had there been any reasoning? I paused as the answer hit me. My pride stung at the idea of talking to a room of magical folk about it but Diggory's words about honesty were quick to push it aside. I let out a soothing breath and my arms drifted back to my sides.
"They saw me. Even when I tried to hide they promised me they weren't going to say anything and that they just… wanted to be there for me. I… I'd spent that whole first week getting upset about how my world had suddenly turned upside down and I felt so… alone. When they appeared out of nowhere and started saying all this stuff about how I deserved to have people to talk to? I caved. I wanted it so bad. I've never been great at making friends but they… made it so easy. And the rules just… didn't seem as important anymore."
I shrugged awkwardly, ignoring the ache in my core as I gazed across at the presents they'd given me that were still spilled out on the table. I would never regret my decision to talk to them. They'd made Hogwarts bearable. More than that, they'd made it a second home. I flinched at the mutterings that sounded across the stalls, not caring to listen enough to make out what they were saying.
Being judged like this sucked worse than sitting alone in a room with Snape, and that was saying something.
Fudge gave a low hum before turning to the Head of the Tracker Force. "Mr Hawthorne, your say on the matter?"
Hawthorne stood from his stool and swept towards me, piercing gaze holding tight to mine as though he intended to strangle me through the glass. I refused to glare back.
"My Tracker Force is no stranger to delusional creatures such as this. It claims to be ghost and yet it bleeds. On occasion, it even breathes. The fact that it has shown a capacity for brutality should in itself be proof enough that such a thing should not be allowed to roam this world or any other, freely. Through Professor Snape's notes, we can see that this Phantom has a temper that often results in fireworks of one kind or another. I believe that only two days ago he made to attack Alastor Moody after the man theorised he was responsible for Harry Potter's name being drawn as champion for the Triwizard Tournament."
Stubble's eyes sliced to meet mine.
I grimaced as I forced the words to die in my throat. I didn't go to attack Moody. If anything, he attacked me.
Hawthorne's head twitched in challenge, causing me to grasp my upper arms tightly beneath my hands.
"And do you believe Professor Moody's accusations?" Fudge prompted, stare hot on my face.
Hawthorne left it a few seconds before answering, eyeing me up like a carcass his cat had spat at his feet. "No. Getting around spells and enchantments isn't something I'd say is on high on its list of capabilities." His eyes drifted mockingly over the glass box.
My grip on my arms tightened.
"Anything else you'd like to say to the court?"
Hawthorne's glare was back on my face. "Where did he go?" He asked me, voice hot with anger. I frowned.
"Where did who go?"
"The boy you gave your backpack to. He went into that hotel and was never seen again. What did you do to him?"
My human half. I blinked as I realised what his fury was all about. He thought I'd hurt someone. An innocent kid.
Before I could answer, a sudden burning pressure seared through my skull. My eyes shot up to stare at the crowd across from me, trying to pinpoint the cause as I deflected the mind reading spell. The ectoplasm charged energy blast that burst from my head was invisible to the naked eye, but I knew for a fact it packed a punch to whoever tried to breach my mind. It was the sickly young wizard with the quill that recoiled. His eyes connected with mine, mixture of surprise and annoyance threaded through his pained expression. Rather than gift him with any kind of reaction, I looked back at Hawthorne.
"He's fine. He's safe."
If safe meant currently contained in a glass box while a bunch of witches and wizards decided whether or not they should make his imprisonment permanent. Hawthorne's expression twitched in disbelief.
"If that's the case, where is he?"
I sagged a little, not having the slightest clue what I could say that would make him believe me.
"I don't know. He ran out before you burst in. I swear, I didn't hurt him."
"Ahem. Mind my intrusion, but I hardly see how this is relevant," a sickeningly sweet, high-pitched voice dripped from beside the Minister. The woman it came from was quite possibly the ugliest woman I'd ever seen. Her face looked like someone had grabbed both of her cheeks when she was little and had pulled too hard. Her abnormally large mouth twitched into a dangerous smile as she gained the attention of the entire room.
"How isn't it relevant?" Hawthorne growled, unhappy with the interruption. "If this thing hurt a human, a muggle? It's about as relevant as you can get."
I begrudgingly agreed.
"My apologies Mr Hawthorne, but I disagree. Might I ask the Phantom a question of my own?" She looked at Fudge, seeking his permission to continue. He gave a short nod and she pinned her golf ball eyes on me.
"You see yourself as an intelligent being, do you not?"
My eyes narrowed slightly as I sensed a trap. I glanced across at Stubble who looked more than a little weary. That boded well. "I guess."
"You guess? Either you do or you don't, my dear."
"... I do?"
"Excellent. You see, the relevant question here isn't what happened to the muggle you potentially abused, but about what a wizened creature such as yourself would be doing fraternising with muggles in the first place?"
"Fra- what?" My face became a scrunched up mess as I tried to get my head around the new accusation. When had I talked about 'fraternising' with muggles?
Her smile stretched further as though I'd somehow amused her.
"The report we have on the conversation you shared with the teachers of Hogwarts on the fifth of October states that you claimed this muggle to be a friend of yours who 'happened to be in right place at the right time', did you not?"
"And is it not also true that you confessed to being accustomed to attacks from alleged muggle 'ghost hunters'?"
"It seems you spent a lot of time around muggles before you found yourself in Hogwarts."
"I do not think I need to impress upon those present how serious this interaction with muggle-kind is. To expose abilities far beyond that of their already limited imaginations puts all of us, internationally at risk." The smile didn't leave her face and her words slithered around me like a magic imbued noose. "Not only is this dangerous to both muggle and wizarding communities alike, but it also shows a flagrant disregard for the International Statute of Secrecy."
"I didn't even know-" I started only for the woman to cut me off with a sharply lifted hand.
"It appears to me that this creature we find ourselves with suffers with delusions of humanity. Not only does it believe it has the right to talk to whomever it so chooses, but the choices it makes break any rule it can find. When pulled away from a world of muggles, it sought out students it knew to be off limits."
Despite my best efforts to stay calm, I felt my eyes flare. My feet lifted from the ground ever so slightly as the smallest of glares slipped onto my face. Being cut off was one thing, being told I had 'delusions of humanity'? Talk about a sore spot. Stubble noticed my change in demeanour and stiffened, but not even his warning glances could quell the anger that had risen within me.
She wasn't finished.
"I ask you all how exactly it is we are supposed to trust the integrity of a creature dictated by impulses that have it getting close to those it has no right to? It told us itself, the urge to befriend the three Hogwarts students made the rules seem important no longer."
"May I interrupt," I cut cooly. All eyes fell to me and I ignored the obvious discomfort of Stubble as he gave a cautious shake of his head. The woman cocked her head a fraction, smile unflinching. When it was obvious no one was going to stop me, I let myself continue.
"I broke the rules at Hogwarts. I'm not denying that. My reasons might not be the strongest, but I stand by them and their very human qualities. You making out that I'm some serial offender is a joke because I didn't know the first thing about the International Secrecy whatever. No one sat down and explained wizard law to me the second I died. I didn't even know there was a rule to break so my 'impulses' had nothing to do with it." The cold calm that dripped from my voice seemed to startle the rest of the room as much as it did me. One good thing. It wasn't a lightshow.
The woman gave a titter of a laugh, gazing at the people around her as though I'd just told her a particularly funny joke and she wanted to see if anyone else got it. "Ignorance of the law does not excuse the breaking of it."
A bitter laugh of my own escaped me as I looked her over. Warning bells were ringing in my head but I ignored them in favour of an irate smirk. "You know, you remind me of someone who once said something similar. You have lot in common, I mean… his face looks a little less messed up and he's a whole lot taller, but he doesn't have a heart either so…" I shrugged, folding my arms more casually across my chest.
My smirk grew a fraction when her own smile faltered, her face turning an ugly magenta. "Why you little-"
"If I may, Minister-" Dumbledore stood from his chair, eager to cut off any more insult throwing. The Minister gazed across at him almost thankfully, grateful he hadn't had to be the one to break anything up.
"Go ahead, Dumbledore," he instructed, voice cautious.
"Thank you, Cornelius." Dumbledore gave a courteous nod to both Fudge and the mass of robed people surrounding him. "Danny has been in Hogwarts' care for the last month and I can quite honestly say that it has been a pleasure having him with us. Much like with any teenager, there have been ups and downs, that cannot be denied, but in the small space of time he's been within our grounds, he has formed a firm friendship with not only our three Gryffindors, but also the school's poltergeist, Peeves, and most importantly, our groundskeeper, Rubeus Hagrid. Hagrid has asked me to let you all know that there is no one he would put his faith in more."
I dropped my smirk, warmth blossoming inside me at the mention of Hagrid. My face rested into something gentler and I pulled a hand from its position under my armpit to rub at my shoulder.
"What I ask the court to consider is that this here is a boy who has found himself in a series of impossible situations. Not only was the day of his capture the day he learned about magic, but it was also the day he found himself demoted from human to creature. A boy who had once been free enough to travel across the world on a self set challenge became a captive, seen by many in this Ministry as nothing more than a dangerous animal to be monitored and tamed.
"He underwent the tests you called for and while his temper sometimes caused him to rather justly complain about his situation, he never once caused harm to any student or member of staff. I ask that you all consider whether you yourselves would have behaved as amicably had the situation been reversed."
There was a rumble from the wall of people which I couldn't tell if was a good sign or a bad.
I let my feet reconnect with the floor, giving the wide-faced lady a careful glance. Her skin was returning to its usual pink but the smile had long since been cast aside. Her eyes were latched to Dumbledore with a ferocity that seemed too much for her short frame. She made it look like defending me was some heinous crime that the Headmaster should be shot for.
Apparently eager to move on, Fudge gave another one of his distracted nods before his eyes sailed to Snape. "Severus, you were the one selected to perform these tests, were you not?"
Snape opted to remain seated as he peered back at the Minister through his curtains of oily black hair.
"And how did you find The Phantom's temperament while these tests were being implemented?"
"He was quick to anger but showed significant restraint. I believe had he wanted to cause injury, he easily could have. This was not the case."
There was something odd about hearing Snape admit that I was capable of hurting him. He was always so high and mighty with a 'you couldn't hit a cow even if someone stood you right next to it and lifted your hand for you' kind of expression.
"When you say he was quick to anger, was that over a specific detail? Something to do with what you were doing perhaps, or maybe he showed anger towards a particular person or group of? Would you say there was any ill intent there?"
The look of annoyance on the Potion Master's face gave me a small sense of satisfaction. It seemed I wasn't the only one who thought this whole thing was stupid.
"I'd say it had something to do with the spells, potions and exercises you set," he retorted, voice slinking across the room like molten lava. "As for ill intent, the boy has such an annoying sense of morality, I'd say he wouldn't be able to find it in himself to deliberately hurt a Billywig."
I didn't like Snape. I would never like Snape. But boy was I happy Dumbledore had dragged him along because his testimony was by far the most entertaining. The snideness of his tone had ruffled a fair few feathers if the mutterings from the stands was any indication. Fudge had adopted an expression of mild disdain as he peered down at the professor, nose twitching as though it had just come across an unpleasant smell.
"Thank you, professor. Does anyone else have anything they'd like to share with the court?"
My stomach dropped to the floor as no one spoke up. Hawthorne had dragged himself back to his stool and was looking particularly contemplative, whereas Dumbledore and Stubble stood on either side of me like guards, ready to protect should the situation call for it.
This is it.
I let my arms drop to my sides, swinging them slightly as though to shake off the sudden increase in nerves. All eyes were on the Minister as he leaned down to talk to the guy with the quill. I strained my hearing to catch his low hum.
The guy with the quill gave me a careful look before turning to face his boss and shaking his head.
"He has some kind of… protective barrier around his mind. It's like nothing I've felt before, it's… sharp."
I blinked as I realised the attempted mind probe had been a deliberate and planned attack. I fought to keep the scowl off my face, pretending I couldn't hear a word despite knowing Snape's notes likely told a different story.
"Try again." Came Fudge's harsh instruction.
The younger man grimaced, turning back to face me. His eyes met with mine and there was a distinct gleam of determination that I found bizarrely entertaining. Snape's lessons had been painful, humiliating and long but they'd worked. Magic and ectoplasm didn't get along. I'd found that when I'd tried to overshadow him. But where it worked against me in so many ways, there was one thing it had gifted me. My head was now impenetrable.
The burning pressure came heavier this time, eye contact giving him a stronger hold. Rather than deflect it like I had last time, I let my mind's shield hover in place, holding tight to the memory of the green orb I'd found myself in the first time I'd broken the spell. It was satisfying watching the concentration on his face as he searched for a gap in my defences. His frown deepened as the struggle continued.
Having left it long enough, I narrowed my eyes a fraction before sending a deflective shockwave in his direction.
The man gasped as he drew back, hand lifting to caress his temple.
"Well?" Fudge probed.
"I can't breach it," the man whispered back.
To say Fudge looked annoyed by this would be a huge understatement. He gave the man a sharp look before shuffling his papers once more and redirecting his gaze to me.
"Despite assurances by both Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape, it is clear to me further observation is required to ascertain whether or not the Phantom can be trusted to roam freely among the wizarding and muggle worlds alike. His tendency to orbit around those he shouldn't and the powerfulness of the abilities described in Severus's notes indicate a danger we cannot let go unchecked."
His declaration was like a stab of ice to my chest. My feet slipped from the ground once more and I hovered agitatedly a foot in the air. At a glance, I noted that Dumbledore's expression wasn't one of surprise but one of preparation. If he was preparing something, he'd have to do it fast because my core felt ready to explode.
"Mr Diggory, is there anyone in the department that would be willing to take on the task of monitoring this creature or will I have to select someone myself?"
A small smile tugged at Diggory's face as the question hit; as though he'd been waiting for this exact moment. He took a calm step forward, arms clasped professionally behind his back. I couldn't see his face anymore but if the slight bounce of his feet was anything to go by, he wasn't at all distressed by the situation.
"Actually, Minister, I have been discussing a verdict such as this with Professor Dumbledore, and I have to say, his proposition is one that I fully support."
The confidence in the man's voice seemed to catch Fudge off guard. His eyes swept from Diggory to Dumbledore, eyebrows furrowed warily.
"And what is this proposition exactly?"
Dumbledore didn't spare me a glance as his head lifted. His spectacles glinted in the lamplight as his hands settled calmly over his beard.
"I simply suggested that should further observation be required, it would make sense for it to happen at Hogwarts. Not only is it a place far from muggles, but there are plenty of members of staff, professors and otherwise, who would be able to keep a constant eye on the situation. Should anything get out of hand, which I firmly believe it would not, with Severus's knowledge of the boy and his abilities I believe we are the best equipped to deal with the situation."
Suddenly it clicked. The offer he'd made the night of the Goblet. His insistence that his intention had always been to offer me Hogwarts. This was his plan to get me out. A glimpse at the Minister's face told me the proposition was one he wasn't taken with. If he was as close to Lucy as the silver-haired wizard had made out, I didn't think his own ideas would be ones I'd be in anyway fond of. My core throbbed, sending icy blasts beneath my skin.
"I hardly think a school is the best place to keep a dangerous unknown," the Minister said, eyes on Dumbledore with the same fixation as a cat being cornered by a rottweiler.
"On the contrary," Dumbledore started, voice threateningly polite. "I believe that since you are looking for proof that Danny can be trusted among magical folk or even muggles, a school is the best possible place. There lies the opportunity to observe the way he acts around other people, young and old. I believe you'll have very little chance of that if you keep him locked away from the world, do you not agree?"
Fudge's face twisted into an unflattering constipated expression as Dumbledore's reasoning seeped through him. Even if what the Headmaster was saying didn't make sense, he had a way with words that made arguing against him almost impossible. The dry feeling in my mouth returned with a vengeance as I gazed between the both of them. There was a silent war going on behind their eyes, one that I prayed Dumbledore was winning.
"You realise that should this creature ever decide to lash out and hurt someone, you'd be putting your students in mortal danger," the Minister tried, eyes flooded with determination.
"No one is ever entirely safe, Cornelius. If we were afraid of a little danger, we wouldn't be reviving the Triwizard Tournament, now would we?"
"I hardly think-"
"Shall we put it to a vote?" Dumbledore interrupted. Fudge's face looked about ready to fall off in his frustration as he glowered at the older wizard.
It took a second for me to realise I'd started breathing. Not only that, I was pretty sure there was the slightest hint of hyperventilation. The seconds ticked by as Fudge tried to think of something to say that might sway the court to his side of reasoning. My chest inflated and deflated at an uneven rate that I seemed incapable of fixing as my gaze slipped to the rest of the room. The faces were impossible to read. Impassive and passionate, placated and aggressive all at the same time. I clenched my fists behind my back in an attempt to quash my nerves.
Eventually, the Minister let out a sigh and gave a bad tempered nod.
"The counter proposition remains to be that the Phantom is placed under direct Ministry supervision, monitored at all times and retrained to understand the wizarding world he is apparently so unfamiliar with."
That didn't sound like a proposition I was in anyway eager to explore. My fists tightened.
"All those in favour of the Ministry's proposition, raise your hand."
I flinched at the significant number of hands that lifted into the air. With everyone sitting so close together it was hard to tell just how many had voted but my stomach swirled as my mind did the math.
Fudge's voice was tight when he spoke again. "And all those in favour of Dumbledore's alternative."
The sea of arms shifted as the second half of the vote was cast.
I dropped to the floor so suddenly, I stumbled.
"Very well. Hogwarts shall get its Phantom back." Fudge's glare flicked to me for half a second before settling on his notes. "The monitoring of this creature will remain the duty of Mr Diggory and I would suggest that Mr Hawthorne and a representative of my choosing be present at least twice a month to keep track of the Phantom's progress and report back. I believe three years shall provide us with enough information to make a final verdict. It is your responsibility, Dumbledore, to make sure that the Phantom is present for each and every review. Should he miss one or leave Hogwarts without the Ministry's written permission, the repercussions shall be severe. Is that understood?"
"It is," Dumbledore replied, tone light and smile victorious. I glanced across to find a similar grin attached to Stubble's face.
My stomach dropped.
While Dumbledore's victory was significantly better than the alternative I wasn't planning on sticking around to accept it. Three years was a big 'never going to happen' but severe repercussions?
I gave the Headmaster a grimace of a smile as his eyes finally slid to mine.
This was going to suck.
AN: Guess what? I have a chest and sinus infection that means I'm off work until Thursday. Bad news for me and my suffering body, good news for Spellbound. Updating is hard when working...
Also, Danny had his trial! I'm both insanely proud of this chapter (because it was daunting and scary and it turned out better than I could have ever have imagined) and slightly dubious. It's an important one. Big and important. Mostly because here ends Arc One. Yup. This is a long fic. I haven't worked out if we're going for three or four, but chapter 25 will be our first step into Arc Two, so that's pretty cool! Stuff happens. That's all I'll say.
Shout out to RosyThorn for keeping me motivated and giving me compliments when I need them most. If you haven't checked out her fics, you definitely should. Her words are gold.
Think that's everything I wanted to cover... If you've sent me a PM or a question in the reviews, I'm sorry but my ability to answer is very limited atm with time, work and, more recently, illness getting the way. I love you all and hope that you continue to enjoy Spellbound for a long time to come!
Over and out!