Danny hit the carpeted floor with a groan. The hands that had rolled him off of his bed had left as quickly as they had come, but he was sure the owner was still close enough to hear.
“Get up, dude,” Tucker said, confirming this suspicion. “We gotta leave soon, and you’re not even dressed yet.”
“Where’s Sam?” he mumbled, pushing himself off of the floor. It wasn’t as dirty as most of the house, but it still wasn’t something he enjoyed in close proximity to his face. “She packing her own stuff?”
“We did most of our packing last night while waiting for you to finish up.” Tucker was pulling some clothes out of one of their bags and chucking them in Danny’s direction. “But apparently Fred and George almost murdered their sister so she’s making sure everything’s okay.”
“How did… Never mind, I don’t think I want to know.” He dressed quickly despite his exhaustion. Thanks to his ghost hunting experience, Danny was used to running on very little sleep. Most of the summer had been quiet and restful. Surviving off of only a few hours of sleep was easy in comparison to how most of his school year had gone.
Just then the door swung open and Sam entered. Seeing Danny awake, her moody expression lightened slightly. “Ah, you’re awake. Good. I need you to make a duplicate.”
“Why?” Danny asked, already shifting into ghost form. He could duplicate in human form, but it remained easier in ghost form.
“Apparently we’re short one guard because some guy didn’t show up,” she started explaining as she started checking their bags as well. “We can say Phantom will take his place, since he would be following us to Hogwarts anyway.”
“And since he can stay invisible, Danny can just re-absorb the duplicate almost immediately,” Tucker said, catching on quicker than Danny. “Sam, that’s brilliant.”
With a burst of power Danny formed the duplicate, then switched back to human form again. “In that case, Phantom should head down and offer himself as a guard, right? And then we’ll follow with the luggage.”
“I said Phantom could do it, but yeah.” Sam turned to face him – both copies of him. “That would probably be a good idea.”
The duplicate nodded. Then his colors washed away and he dove through the floor, going to follow the instructions.
Meanwhile Danny had stuffed his sleepwear into one of the bags, shoving his last stuff into his pockets. “We’re ready to leave, then?”
“Should be.” Sam looked the room over once more while Tucker checked his PDA – no doubt checking a digital list. “We did most of the packing last night while you were talking to your family.”
“Yeah, Tucker mentioned that as well.” He rubbed the back of his neck, shooting them an apologetic look. “Sorry, that took way longer than I thought it would. You didn’t stay up too late, did you?”
“I had to get back to my room fairly early, since I didn’t want to risk waking the others.” She shot him a scalding look. “But even so, it clearly wasn’t as late as you. You look like shit, Danny.”
“Thanks,” he replied dryly. Then, “Let’s get going before Phantom gets into trouble.”
“You mean before you get into trouble?” But Tucker grabbed some of the bags and moved to the door anyway. “Because you do realize that just because it’s a duplicate doesn’t mean he isn’t you?”
“I’m aware, thanks.” Danny grabbed some of the luggage as well, and Sam took their last things. “But he’s currently acting on his own, so.”
No one answered as they dragged their stuff down the stairs instead. The ruckus they caused in the process was overshadowed by the screaming from Mrs. Black’s portrait – the earlier shouting from Mrs. Weasley seemed to have quietened.
Or so they thought, until she bellowed “Will you lot get down here now, please!” just as they stepped onto the stairs. Danny barely caught himself so he wouldn’t fall down them – or call upon his powers to float instead.
“Oh kids, sorry, I didn’t see you.” Mrs. Weasley bustled over, already guiding them further into the hall to clear the way. “Do you have all your things?”
“Yes Mrs. Weasley,” they assured her, just as the last of the others appeared on the stairs. Hermione, holding a squirming cat in her arms, was followed by Harry. He, in turn, was holding a cage with an owl and a large trunk.
Seeing them appear, Mrs. Weasley turned to them. “Harry, you’re to come with me and Tonks,” she told them loudly, trying to be heard over the screeching portrait. “Leave your trunk and your owl, Alastor’s going to deal with the luggage. Oh, for heaven's sake, Sirius, Dumbledore said no!”
Sirius, in Animagus form, had appeared at Harry’s side. The two of them were clambering over the various trunks to get to Mrs. Weasley.
She sighed, despairingly. “Oh honestly… Well, on your own head be it!” Then she turned back to the three of them, still looking rather distraught. “You three will go with Arthur and Phantom, yes?”
They nodded in confirmation. Then Mrs. Weasley visibly steeled herself, wrenched open the front door, and left with Harry and the dog.
Getting bored of waiting around quickly, they ended up splitting up to help wherever they could. Sam disappeared upstairs to help Hermione and Ginny wrangle their bags, Tucker left to help Ron, and Danny ended up merging back with his duplicate and fought the covers back onto the portrait of Mrs. Black.
By the time all three had reunited downstairs, Mr. Weasley had appeared to take them – and Ron and Hermione – to King’s Cross.
Everyone tried to coax them into passing through the barrier to the actual train, but the concept of walking through a wall wasn’t all that foreign to them. Even for Sam and Tucker, simple association with Danny and his intangibility had made them rather fearless. That, and the walls in the Ghost Zone functioned the same to humans.
Behind the wall stood the actual Hogwarts Express in all its steaming glory. Sam made a face which both Tucker and Danny shrugged off – soot or not, it might be magical and thus not damaging to nature.
They found the rest easily; Harry, Mrs. Weasley, Tonks, and Moody were crowded around a very full baggage cart. It was almost unloaded by the time Lupin appeared with the last kids – Ginny, Fred, and George.
“No trouble?” Moody growled out the question towards Lupin. Danny was glad that he had remembered to create a new duplicate before they left. He wasn’t sure how Moody’s eye worked, but he hadn’t wanted to risk it.
“Nothing,” Lupin assured the other man.
“I’ll still be reporting Sturgis to Dumbledore.” Moody shook his head. “That’s the second time he’s not turned up in a week. We were lucky that Phantom could take over.”
“Well, look after yourselves.” Lupin shook hands all round, and even gave Harry a clap on the shoulder. “You too, Harry. Be careful.”
“Yeah, keep your head down and your eyes peeled.” Moody shook Harry’s hand too. “And don’t forget, all of you – careful what you put in writing. If in doubt, don’t put it in a letter at all.”
“It’s been great meeting all of you.” Tonks started hugging Hermione and Ginny, but halted at a glare from Sam. “We’ll see you soon, I expect.”
Before their goodbyes could continue, however, a warning whistle sounded. The last students started hurrying onto the train. Sam, Tucker, and Danny shared a short glance, then simultaneously scrambled to get on. They had no real bonds with any of the others, they could find them again later.
As they were making their way down a corridor the train jolted into moving. They stopped to watch out of a window, laughing when they saw Sirius chasing the train. Then they turned around a bend and lost sight of him.
The train picked up more and more speed, and the houses outside flashed past.
“We should… probably go find the others.” Danny looked back in the direction they had come from with a frown. “They might get worried that we got lost or didn’t make it.”
“And we probably won’t be able to have a compartment to ourselves anyway.” Sam looked at the crowded spaces and grimaced. “Might as well share with people we sort-of know instead of complete strangers.”
They ended up moving through the entire train to find the others, and even then only found Harry and Ginny – and two others they didn’t recognize.
“Hi Harry, Ginny, people we don’t know,” Sam said bluntly as she opened the door. “Mind if we sit here?”
The boy – round-faced and holding a toad, of all things – glanced at the two people addressed by name. The girl, with long blonde hair and a wand tucked behind her ear, looked up but didn’t seem very interested.
“If Neville and Luna are okay with it as well.” Ginny looked at the two of them. The boy shrugged, and the girl turned back to her magazine – which, for some reason, was upside-down.
Since none of them protested, Team Phantom pushed their way into the compartment and stowed their trunks and Spooky’s cage. Lilith seemed content to lie in Sam’s arms, although she did send an interested peek towards the toad in the boy’s hands.
Sensing the lack of introductions, Tucker held out his hand towards the boy. “I’m Tucker Foley, since we haven’t been introduced yet.”
The boy accepted it, uncertainly. “Neville Longbottom,” he ended up muttering.
Danny took his hand next. “Danny Fenton, and this is Sam Manson.” Sam nodded a greeting, her hands full with the extraordinarily-fluffy Lilith.
“Pleasure to meet you.” Neville frowned, looking between the three of them. “You seem… Are you…”
“They’re exchange students,” Harry explained, apparently taking mercy on the confused boy. “They’re from America, and they’re joining our year.” Turning back to Danny, Sam, and Tucker, he added, “Neville is in his fifth year, just like us. He’s a Gryffindor, just like me and Ginny.”
The girl – Luna, presumably – didn’t bother introducing herself. Ginny did in her stead. “And that’s Luna Lovegood. She’s in her fourth year, just like me, and a Ravenclaw.”
“How come you three knew Harry and Ginny already, though?” Neville asked, eyes flitting around. “If you’re new, that is.”
“We didn’t get any formal education back home.” Danny grinned sheepishly. “We kinda needed to spend the entire summer catching up to make sure we held up to Hogwarts’ standards.”
“So you didn’t have any experience with magic?” Neville’s eyes were wide with surprise. “How’s that possible?”
“Oh no, no.” Tucker shook his head. “We have plenty of experience with magic – Sam’s grandma taught us. And we don’t have a magic sensor thingy like you guys have, so there’s nothing stopping us from using it outside of school if we’re underage.”
“I don’t think you ever explained why you three didn’t receive any education, anyway.” Ginny frowned at them. “Surely America has Wizarding schools?”
“They do,” Sam confirmed with a nod. “But we slipped through the cracks, you know? We didn’t get picked up and didn’t receive any invitations, and we didn’t feel much for chasing it down ourselves.”
“That, and I didn’t want to give up the beauty of regular life.” Tucker dug through his pocket and pulled out his PDA. “Can you imagine if I went to a Wizarding school before I figured out how to make technology work around magic?”
Danny snorted. “I’m sure you would’ve been fine, Tuck.”
“But you don’t know that!” He grinned, pocketing the device again. Then he took notice of the wide-eyed looks of the others. “What?”
“You found a way to make Muggle tech work even around magic?” Harry asked, voice shocked. “I haven’t heard of anybody managing that yet.”
Tucker shrugged, casual. “Sure, and electrical devices still don’t work, not in magic-heavy areas. But we converted these to run on ectoplasm instead, and they hold up fine. Hold charge for a really long time as well.”
“Recharging them is a hassle though,” Sam complained, stroking the cat in her lap. “Since you need a ghost, and a decently powerful one as well. The weak ghosts most wizards know don’t have enough ectoplasm for it, which is probably why no one else tried it before.”
“You’re saying that there are stronger ghosts out there?” Neville grimaced. “And I thought Peeves was a problem.”
“Of course there are more ghosts,” Luna said, catching everyone off-guard – they hadn’t realized that she was listening. “They are simply better at hiding. The Quibbler has written about them before.”
“Right.” Neville turned back to Sam, still looking confused. “But there really are more powerful ghosts out there? Aren’t they dangerous, if they’re immune to magic?”
“That’s why ectoplasm-based technology exists.” Tucker patted his pocket, one which Danny knew contained a laser lipstick. “It’s the only thing that works against these ghosts.”
“You might get to see some soon enough.” Danny leaned forward, resting his head on his elbow, which in turn was settled on his knee. “Some have a tendency to follow us around. One in particular I can almost guarantee will be seen in Hogwarts.”
Tucker snorted, and Sam’s lips quirked into a smile as well. Harry just rolled his eyes, but Ginny grinned as well – she, too, had realized that he was talking about Phantom, even if she didn’t get the full joke.
After that, they chattered on about less important things for a while. Luna mostly stuck to her upside-down magazine – the Quibbler, Danny noticed – but occasionally added a remark or two to the conversation as well.
A food trolley came by and everyone bought some food – and ate it as well – before Ron and Hermione showed up. Ron stowed the cage in his hands – which contained a shrilly hooting owl – before stealing some of Harry’s food and throwing himself into a free seat.
“I’m starving,” he complained, leaning back with his eyes closed as if he had had a very exhausting morning.
Hermione – who held a cat as fluffy as Lilith but in orange – took a seat as well. “Well, there are two fifth-year prefects from each house,” she started explaining, looking quite disgruntled. “Boy and girl from each.”
They talked about the Prefects a little more – Danny tuned out most of the conversation in favor of making faces at his friends.
Then Hermione gasped, drawing everyone’s attention back to her. She turned to Danny – and Sam and Tucker – looking apologetic. “Oh, I’m so sorry! We’ve been completely overshadowing you three. Do you even know about Hogwarts’ houses?”
“We’ve been told, yeah.” Sam flapped a hand, dismissive. “Don’t worry about us.”
“But if you know about them, aren’t you curious?” Hermione shifted to look at the three of them fully. “To see what houses you’ll be sorted into, I mean.”
“I mean, maybe. But we were already sorted, so…” Danny shrugged. “Didn’t seem like a big deal to me, although it is kind of weird to split the school like that.”
“Wait, you were already sorted?” Ron looked between the three of them, frowning. “When?”
“Uh, when we first got here?” Tucker rolled his eyes. “They didn’t want us to deal with being transfer students and having to get sorted, so we got that over with already.”
“So then what houses were you sorted into?” Harry looked surprisingly enthusiastic, a grin creeping onto his face. “Any new Gryffindors?”
Sam stuck a thumb towards her chest. “That’d be me, yeah. Although apparently we all qualified.”
“I ended up getting sorted into Ravenclaw,” Tucker explained. “More brains than courage, apparently.”
“And I got Slytherin.” Danny shrugged, casual. “So yeah, we all got different houses, unfortunately.”
“Wait, hold up.” Ron shifted, brow creased into a frown. “You’re saying that you’re a Slytherin?”
“Uh, yeah? Why, what’s wrong with that? House of ambition, right?” Why was this a big deal? Weren’t all houses made equal?
“Don’t mind him,” Hermione said dismissively – although she, too, was eyeing Danny speculatively. “Slytherin is typically not seen as a good house. There is a strong rivalry between Gryffindor, which we are, and Slytherin.”
“And most evil wizards come from Slytherin as well!” Ron snapped.
Oh, great. Like he didn’t deal with people thinking he was evil enough. First for being a ghost, and now for being sorted into Slytherin.
“Yeah, well,” he ended up saying, trying to fall back to his casual attitude. “That’s not me. I’m friends with Sam and Tucker, and I don’t plan on giving up on that, house nonsense or not. Besides, we knew nothing except the basic qualities of each house when we got sorted – how was I supposed to know one house was considered evil?”
“You’re not, and you shouldn’t listen to Ron.” Hermione pushed the boy in question back into his seat proper. “There are certainly bad people among Slytherin, and they like to pick on Harry – and you might understand how that has impacted our view of Slytherin as a whole.”
“That’s still unfair towards us – towards Danny – though.” Sam sighed then, petting Lilith for comfort. “But I can imagine so, yeah. We were the same towards the bullies at our school.”
This seemed to pacify Ron a little, and he sat back fully. Still, he seemed rather unhappy about associating with a Slytherin without knowing.
And wasn’t that just a twist Danny didn’t want in his life?