Danny sniffed, and wrinkled his nose. He'd retreated upstairs, but the smell had worked its way into his room. It wasn't enough that Mom's weird friend from college was visiting today (and Mom had picked her up straight from Vlad's, at that!) but she had to fill the house up with scented candles and incense.
The woman called Serena Goodrich had apparently been the 'fourth leg' of the Ghost Research Club his parents and Vlad had belonged to, and she'd been the occult expert. A self-proclaimed psychic and medium.
Personally, Danny didn't think much of her abilities if she couldn't tell what he and Vlad were (she said she left Vlad's because they got into an argument), but she... unsettled him. He disliked her on sight. He wasn't entirely sure why, except for her association with Vlad. But once she started talking about ghosts she had exorcised, monopolizing Mom's time, burning all that incense, and lighting all those candles, he felt his dislike was justified.
He sniffed again, more fiercely. He could just leave, take a flight around town, join Jazz at the library (where she had retreated an hour hence), or hang out with Sam and Tucker, but the idea of leaving her unsupervised in his house with his parents grated on him. True, he was hiding out up here, out of sight, but at least he'd be around if she showed her true colors and did something nasty, like set the house on fire with all her candles. It was a ghost thing.
Besides, this was supposed to be his day to hang out with Mom and Dad. He'd worked hard to take care of all the ghosts and arrange for some of the warriors from the Far Frozen to guard the other side of the portal from unwanted visitors. There were still the natural portals, true, but he'd planned on letting Valerie take care of those unless something really big came through, and most of those opened up near the Fenton Portal on the Ghost Zone side, anyway. Near enough for the yetis to look after them for a day.
Instead, he was up here, trying to ignore irritating odors for long enough to get a head start on his English homework. He sneezed. Once, twice, three times. He groaned, rubbing his nose. He bet that woman had put anti-ghost herbs into her candles, or something. Giving him an allergic reaction... stupid... He grumbled under his breath.
"Danny?" called Mom from downstairs. "Can you come down? We need your help."
Danny groaned again, more loudly, at the thought of having to descend into the smog.
"Coming!" he said. He got up from his desk, and opened the door. Ugh, it was worse outside his room. He sneezed again, eyes watering. He was definitely allergic to something in those candles.
He made his way down the stairs coughing, and glared at some candles burning unattended in the living room. With a flick of thought, he put them out with a gust of wind, and smiled. He was getting better at controlling his haunt.
"Where are you guys?" he asked.
"Kitchen!" called Mom.
Danny stepped into the other room.
That was a mistake.
He felt like he had put his foot down on hot lighting, a current running up his leg and spine, directly to his core, where it transformed into a vice and squeezed. He dropped to his hands and knees, gasping, unable to hide the sudden and unexpected pain. Each breath brought more cloying smoke into his lungs, and his head swam with it.
"See?" crowed the not-so-fake psychic. "See how he's affected? I told you, Maddie. He's been possessed." She sounded far too happy about that. "Sit up, let us look at you."
Against his will, his body shuffled back from all fours to sit cross-legged on the floor. He could see, now, that a circle with a pentagram had been drawn on the tile floor with something white. Paint, maybe, not chalk. In between when he had fallen and now, someone had put candles on each point of the star. Something wet ran from his eyes and nose. He lifted his hand to wipe it away.
"Stop that," snapped the woman, brushing back her long fake blonde hair.
His hand fell heavily into his lap.
"Look, Maddie," said Dad. "There's traces of ectoplasm in his blood and tears. That doesn't happen in normal overshadowing."
Mom looked troubled. "Why is he bleeding?"
"It's the ghost trying to escape," said the woman, dismissively, "to force the host to move. Don't worry, we'll get rid of the ghost."
Danny opened and closed his mouth soundlessly, trying to communicate to his parents with just his eyes. He had never seriously considered exorcism as a way to go, but it sounded not fun and he was scared. His vision wavered with unshed tears.
"What is you name?" asked the woman as she sat down in front of Danny, just outside the circle.
"Danny." The word was practically pulled from his mouth.
The woman looked over her shoulder at Danny's parents. "This happens sometimes. What is your other name?"
"Fenton," ground out Danny. He apparently had some control, even like this. "What are you doing-"
"Speak only to answer the questions I ask, spirit," ordered the woman, confidently.
Danny's mouth snapped shut, and he swallowed. His eyes stung, whether from the the haze of smoke in the air, his tears, or both, he didn't know. He closed his eyes, hard, hoping at least to be able to see better.
He closed his eyes-
And he saw.
The thing sitting in front of him wasn't a woman, and certainly wasn't Serena Goodrich. It wasn't human. It wasn't a ghost. It was a hole in the world covered by empty meat, and it was hungry.
A hole in the world, like the portal downstairs. Like Danny.
Except he'd been added to, hadn't he? He was human and ghost, and other things besides, and this, in front of him, most certainly was not. It was his antithesis. His opposite. Wrong. It didn't lead to the Ghost Zone, to the Infinite Realms. It lead to The Place That Is Not, to the Red Country, to the Unspoken Land, to the Unworld.
Inside Danny, a shift took place. The ghostly part of him was curled in on itself, terrified. His human element was confused, and, frankly, out of its depth. The parts of him that were both and neither moved forward, taking charge.
"What is your full name, spirit?" asked the thing wearing a woman's body.
Danny opened his eyes. "My name's Danny!" he said, cheerily. "What's your's?" His dislike made more sense now. He must have been able to feel this thing under its human disguise.
It imitated a sigh. "This is probably the reason it fixated on your son, the-"
"Because it sure as heck isn't Serena Goodrich," interrupted Danny.
The thing glared at him, then sneered. "Your tricks won't work here, ghost."
Danny tilted his head to one side. Changing his nature had freed him from some of his bonds, but not all of them. "Mom?" he said, looking up at her. "Did you see Vlad when you picked this thing up?"
"Don't answer it, that's how they gain power over you."
"Because I think he might be dead."
The phone started to ring. Jack, the closest, picked it up. "Hello? I'm afraid this isn't a good time- What do you mean, Vladdie's dead?" He froze for a moment, listening to the voice on the other end of the line, then dropped the phone and whipped out an ectogun. Maddie copied the motion.
Not-Serena now had two giant ectoguns pointed at the back of her head.
"It isn't like I lied to you," it said. "This thing is no more human than I. I'm doing you a favor by getting rid of it."
"I'm infinitely more human than you. You aren't what you eat. No matter how many people you eat."
The thing snarled, red that wasn't red bleeding into its stolen irises. "It doesn't matter. I have you in my jaws. I know your name. It's only a matter of time."
"Then I think you've bitten off more than you can chew," replied Danny, calmly.
"Daniel Janus James Fenton-Phantom."
Danny hissed in pain as his core tugged towards the hole. Two ectoguns went off. Their shots never seemed to hit the Serena-thing. To all the world, they looked like they had vanished before hitting it. But Danny was not all the world. He could see, and he saw the ectoblasts vanishing down the hole's gaping maw.
The candles around the circle flared tall and red, their odor increasing. Blood blossoms. Now that he understood, he saw how they were connected to the World That Was Not A World.
"This is my house," he said, through gritted teeth. The candles went out, and the electric lights flickered. A sense of cold fell on the room. "Did you think I'd be as easy as Vlad?"
His awareness spread down and out, briefly brushing the portal before spreading out along the floor. Tiles lit up, cold green fire flicking along their edges, making a rough circle around the door to the Unworld. Mom and Dad jumped back.
"No. You're better. You'll fill me."
"Nothing could fill you," said Danny, disgusted.
"You're just like me."
"I'm really not."
"A door to another place."
That was... true enough. "I added where you consumed." He needed a little more to make this work. "I am Danny Fenton. You cannot possibly call yourself Serena Goodrich."
"What does it feel like, to be a door to heaven?"
The Infinite Realms, as remarkable as the were, were most definitely not heaven. "What is your name?"
"I am Gula, the Devourer! And you shall not escape me, Phantom! I will feast on you and your world!"
"Alright, Gula, the Devourer. Bye, Gula, the Devourer."
He pushed on the hole, and, in the basement, the portal whined, the vibrations shaking the entire house. The Serena-thing screeched and fell.
Slowly, the house, and Danny, returned to normal. He curled in on himself, panting. This was supposed to be his day off, darn it.
He looked up at Mom and Dad. Were those their 'two supernatural entities, one of whom is our son who we love and cherish, just had a grudge match in our kitchen' faces, or their 'the supernatural entity possessing our son just killed our college friend in our kitchen' faces?
Because all semblance of life had fled from the body of Serena Goodrich.
"Mom?" he asked, nervously. "Dad?"
"What," said Maddie. "What was that?"
Her weapon wasn't pointed at him. That was a good sign.
"A hole in the world," said Danny. "What happens when a portal goes wrong." He pushed himself up slightly.
"And what are you?"
"She called you Phantom," added Dad.
Danny swallowed, and sat up the rest of the way.
"How long have you been dead?"
"That's- I- I'm not really dead. Not entirely, but-" he licked his lips, and looked down. "I'm what happens when a portal goes right." He took a deep breath. "I am still me, I'm just... more, I guess."
There was a long silence, and Danny didn't dare look up. Something moved towards him, and he flinched, coming up against the barrier behind him, which, for some reason, was still active.
He curled up again, afraid. He was trapped, and exposed, and the smoke was still in his lungs, and-
The barrier dropped. He tilted back without the support, and almost fell, but Mom caught him and pulled him into a hug.
"It's okay, sweetie, it's okay. I'm sorry we didn't help you more."
"But you did, by not believing it anymore. That took away a lot of its power over me, I think."
"It's lucky the police called when they did, then!" said Dad, far too loud. "The police!" He scooped the phone up off the floor, put it to his ear, and frowned at it. "Dial tone?"
"Not luck, exactly," said Danny. "It was me. I can- I can do stuff like that. Haunted house stuff. You should probably call them, though. And check on Vlad. I really hope he's not dead." Danny coughed.
Mom inhaled shakily. "You have a lot of explaining to do, young man." She sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
Danny knew the feeling.
"Okay, but can we do it outside? Away from all this smoke?"
"You don't see it?" said Danny.
Mom sighed, and stood, helping Danny up. "I suppose we need to get our story straight for the police, too. Oh, Serena..."
"I'm sorry," said Danny.
"Let's go outside, son," said Dad.