As dusk settled on Avistrum, the students began arriving at the school for the start of the year. Looking around, they noticed that Headmaster Dowling was nowhere to be seen. No matter, thought many of them, he often arrives just before Opening Ceremonies. As 6:00 PM drew near, however, he still was absent. The evening edition of The Morning Oracle lay scattered around the school, informing students that the Headmaster’s one-time nemesis, Nikolai Matado, had escaped from Alcatraz in a daring daylight breakout. Could there be a connection? It also contained the news that the PRevention of Transfiguration-Enhanced Deception (PRETEND) Act had been repealed, just in time for the new school year.
Professor Kobiyashi called the students to order in the Great Hall, and began. “Welcome everyone, to a new year at Avistrum. I know all of you were expecting to see the Headmaster. I want to assure you that all is well. He was called away on urgent business. We are expecting him back at any time. The staff and I are looking forward to another great term, and we hope you are as well.
“I know some of you are new to us this term, so allow me to introduce the faculty and staff of Avistrum. I am Deputy Headmistress, Head of Lobostro House, and professor of Charms, Professor Sachiko Kobiyashi. This year I’ll be taking a break from my usual subject and teaching the Care of Magical Creatures.” She gestured to each of the other faculty in turn. “Next we have Head of Enigmus house and Practical Magics professor, Mistress Storm Craefter. Our Head of Colubrae house, professor of History of Magic, and Colubrae House Ghost, Professor Aleator Boudreaux. And of course, Head of Parador house and, since the repeal of the PRETEND act, once again our professor of Transfiguration, Professor Polonius Aberfoyle.”
“What a relief. I was not looking forward to having to teach Divination again,” Aberfoyle remarked.
“Oh, but you were so good at it,” Kobiyashi teased him.
“Ha-ha,” Aberfoyle replied, clearly not amused. “Can we move on?”
Kobiyashi continued. “Teaching a class in Potions this year is our intern, Mr. Trent Voertigern. Our Quidditch coach and, leading our Muggle Safari, Coach Vittoria D’Medici. School nurse Miss Signa Rose Jones. Groundskeeper Mr. Maldraco Davante. Our Enigmus house ghost, Lady Viola Fey. Our other teaching intern, Miss Audrey “Trouble” Deserand. Now for our student leaders. Head Boy, from Parador, Mr. Solace Mare. Parador prefect, Mr. Rein Darkshine. Enigmus prefect, Miss Susan Jevoli. Lobostro prefect, Miss Leyla Roffignac.
“And now, let’s begin the Sorting. Heads of House, please join me.”
The new students were sorted, and everyone returned to their seats. The Deputy Headmistress returned to the dais to continue her remarks. As she was about to speak, she was interrupted by the entrance of Maldraco Davante, the school groundskeeper.
“Freakin’ owls!” He walked straight to Kobiyashi. “Got a note here – looks to be from the Headmaster.” Instead of handing the note to her, however, he unfolded it and began to read out loud. “Bats, Maltese, and Lightning…”
“Thank you, Maldraco,” Aberfoyle tersely interrupted. “I’ll take that.”
“Whatever,” Maldraco shrugged, handing him the note. “I gotta go clean up owl stuff. Owls!” he grumbled, shaking his fist as he shuffled out of the Great Hall.
Aberfoyle eyes scanned the handwritten page quickly. Arching his eyebrow, he looked at the Deputy Headmistress. “Perhaps we should excuse the students now,” he suggested.
“Very well,” she replied. Turning to the students, she said, “Students, you are dismissed. Enjoy the dessert social.”
Everyone adjourned to the Roaring Mouse tavern for dessert and beverages. Aberfoyle, Kobiyashi, and Craefter all hurried to a corner, where Aberfoyle unfolded the note once more and began to read aloud. “I’ve picked up Matado’s trail, and I’ve managed to get a few hairs off of his goon Perkins. I’m about to take the Polyjuice Potion and make my move. I will contact you once I know how he escaped. I suspect that Matado will go after an artifact I have been hiding. I can’t tell you more in case this note is intercepted. The item is safe, but be on guard for his attack. I will write more when I can. Read up on Khufu. – Osiris.”
“This wasn’t a good plan.” Kobiyashi shook her head furiously. “We only had enough Polyjuice on hand for 48 hours. What if he’s made by Matado?”
“He’ll be alright. He’s Clark, after all,” Aberfoyle offered bracingly.
“Yes, but this undercover business is dangerous,” Mistress Craefter said disapprovingly. “He doesn’t have his armor, or any of his normal defenses.”
“We have to trust that he knows what he’s doing. He caught Matado before, he can do it again,” Aberfoyle insisted.
“What is this artifact Clark’s referring to? The Holy Grail?” asked Craefter.
“No, Clark told me once that the Grail was just a cover story. That cup on his desk isn’t even real,” he replied.
“He sure didn’t tell us much about whatever it is. What’s Khufu?” Kobiyashi wondered.
“Not what, who. He was an Egyptian pharaoh. He was the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza,” Aberfoyle explained.
“Is it a code? What does it mean?” Craefter mused.
“We’ll just have to hit the Library, I guess,” was Aberfoyle’s reply.
The three professors ended their conference, hoping none of the students overheard enough to piece together what was happening.
Everyone feasted, and the students headed off to their dormitories to get a good night’s sleep before classes.
Classes began on Saturday with a dueling lesson for the whole school. Head Boy Solace Mare and Parador Prefect Rein Darkshine led the class, teaching defensive stances and spells, and conducting drills.
Following dueling, Coach d’Medici read the rules of the Quidditch tournament to the students. Then Professors Aberfoyle and Boudreaux gave instructions for the Muggle Studies field trip. The students began choosing Muggle disguises from the school’s stores. Signa, the school nurse, came into the Great Hall with a note, handing it directly to Aberfoyle.
“Professor, another note,” she said as she handed it over. “This one’s addressed to ‘Maltese.'”
“Thank you, Signa,” he replied, “it’s for me.” Then, muttering under his breath, he said, “We’re going to need new code names after this.” Shaking his head, he opened the note. Scanning it quickly, he turned to Professor Kobiyashi and said quietly, “Clark wants us to begin patrolling the Grotto. He says Matado knows a lot about our security here.”
“Is the Grotto where the artifact is hidden?” she asked.
“It would seem,” Aberfoyle replied. “I’ll take the first patrol.” With that, he headed toward the staff quarters.
Following an uneventful Muggle Studies trip, the students returned in the afternoon for more classes. Lobostro and Parador attended Practical Magics with Mistress Craefter, while Enigmus and Colubrae had Transfiguration with Professor Aberfoyle. Since he was unable to teach the subject last year, he gave them a very advanced lecture on Gamp’s Elemental Law and the five principal exceptions.
At the end of Transfiguration, Rein came into Aberfoyle’s classroom, very eager to show him something. It was a jeweled chalice. “Professor, check out this cup my aunt just sent me. She says it was a wedding gift to her great-grandmother.”
“Interesting,” Aberfoyle remarked. “May I see it?”
As Rein handed him the chalice, Aberfoyle’s spine went rigid. He stared straight ahead, not even looking at the cup, and began speaking in a strange voice.
“Vessel of power, chalice of kings.
Sacred cup, formed by the gods,
Stolen by mortals for venal pursuits.
Beware its might, lest you lose yourself,
Forever in thrall to its master.
With that, he dropped the cup, slumping to the ground. As Rein helped him to his feet, he said, “I don’t know, Professor, I’m pretty sure it’s just a nice cup.” Aberfoyle shook the cobwebs from his head, and headed off to find Kobiyashi and Craefter.
The rest of the afternoon, Mistress Craefter was overheard mumbling the word “ushabti” over and over to herself.
Lobostro and Colubrae had Potions with Mr. Trent Voertigern in the late afternoon, while Enigmus and Parador had Care of Magical Creatures with Professor Kobiyashi.
Following the last classes of the day, the Quidditch semi-finals and finals took place. For the third year in a row, Andrew Harcrow took the cup for Parador.
The evening was occupied by the Dark Wizards’ Ball, once again a costumed event in celebration of Halloween. Students and staff danced the night away, then headed to their beds for Sunday morning.
As the students filed in for classes on Sunday, they caught sight of the latest Morning Oracle, with more news on Nikolai Matado and the Headmaster’s disappearance.
Pondering this, they headed to another session of dueling instruction. This time, Rein and Solace focused on offensive stances, casting, and spells. At the end of class, they had students and staff duel in front of everyone. Professor Aberfoyle, a former Salemania dueling champion, seemed to be off the whole time, losing in embarrassing fashion on two straight bouts. He explained it away as being tired from patrolling the night before.
At the end of the lesson, looking tired and a little disheveled herself, Professor Kobiyashi came in to the Great Hall carrying a large book and a sheaf of papers. She summoned Aberfoyle and Craefter, and began showing them what she had found. Professor Boudreaux also came over, intrigued as a historian. “It took all night looking through Clark’s office,” she said excitedly, “but I finally found what it is we’re protecting. It’s the Chalice of Khufu!”
“The Chalice of Khufu? What is that?” Aberfoyle inquired. “I’ve never heard of it before.”
Kobiyashi answered, “The pharaoh Khufu had a chalice that gave him the power of mind control. He was able to use it to produce fanatical devotion in his subjects.”
“That explains how he was able to get the Great Pyramid built,” Boudreaux observed.
Kobiyashi continued. “It was buried with him at Giza, but the tomb was looted by grave-robbers about 400 years after his death. Accounts of its whereabouts for the next 2100 years are sketchy, but Clark’s notes suggest that it turned up in Germany in 1937, and then in Russia in 1948. After that, it looks like it was lost again.”
“Until Clark found it 6 years ago!” Aberfoyle exclaimed. “That’s what Matado was after when Clark captured him!”
“Right,” Kobiyashi confirmed. “Can you imagine if a man like Matado got his hands on something like this?”
“He’s already formidable with the Imperius Curse, from what I’ve heard,” Boudreaux said grimly.
“He would be unstoppable with this,” Mistress Craefter added. “We have to keep it away from him at all costs. Were you able to figure out what ‘ushabti’ means?” she asked Kobiyashi.
She replied, “It doesn’t make any sense. They’re these little mummy-like figurines that were buried with Egyptian nobility to do their bidding in the afterlife. Literally, it means ‘to answer.'”
“Well, that’s clear as mud,” Aberfoyle said dejectedly. “Still, good work, Sachiko. We’ll just have to keep up the patrols and hope Clark makes contact to tell us where Matado is.”
Coach d’Medici came in at this point with another note. Handing it to Mistress Craefter, she said, “This is addressed to you.”
Mistress Craefter looked at it. “That’s strange,” she said, “it’s addressed to ‘Storm’, not ‘Lightning.’ That’s not like Clark. He must have been in a real hurry.” Opening it, she read aloud. “‘I think he’s on to me. Find the Chalice and protect it at all costs.’ He really was in a hurry. He didn’t even sign it.”
“Well, it’s my turn for patrol again,” Aberfoyle said. Nodding at the others, he headed off to the Grotto. Mistress Craefter also left, still muttering the word “ushabti.”
Coach d’Medici joined the students for Muggle Studies on Sunday, leading them on a safari through the MileHiCon convention. They returned to turn in their essays and trade classes from the day before, with the Colubrae and Enigmus students taking Practical Magics and the Paradors and Lobostros attending Transfiguration. For the second block, Lobostro and Colubrae went to Care of Magical Creatures, while Parador and Enigmus went to Potions.
As the final classes of the day let out, and the students headed toward the common room, Mistress Craefter returned from patrol holding a chalice in her hand! She spied Professor Kobiyashi across the room and made a beeline for her. When the Deputy Headmistress spied the cup in her hand, she exclaimed, “You found it! How?”
“I was on patrol, and I kept muttering that word, ‘ushabti,’ trying to figure out what in meant. All of a sudden, a passage opened in the wall. The chalice was there inside! I really have to kick this habit of talking to myself.”
Kobiyashi looked very worried. “We need to find someplace safe for it.”
The doors of the school blew wide open, and a tall figure in a cloak and a pale white mask strode inside. It was Nikolai Matado! “There’s no need for that,” he said menacingly. “I’ll take it!” Aiming his wand at Mistress Craefter, he cried, “Petrificus Totalus!” The teacher froze in place, as though encased in ice.
Kobiyashi reached for her wand, but Matado was too quick for her. “Expelliarmus! Stupefy!” The Deputy Headmistress’s wand went flying from her hand, and she slumped senseless to the floor.
The other instructors sprang into action. “Stupefy!” cried Trouble. The spell had no discernible effect. Matado wheeled toward her and froze her as well.
“Impedimenta!” tried Coach d’Medici, but Matado strode right through it and stunned her.
Maldraco also tried to stun him, but Matado once again showed no reaction, and immobilized him with a Leg-Locker Curse. Signa immediately turned to try to help Maldraco, and Matado stunned her as well.
That left only Professor Aberfoyle and Mr. Voertigern. They both raised their wands, but just as Trent was about to attack, Professor Aberfoyle cried, “Stupefy!” and the teaching intern slumped to the floor. The Transfiguration professor stood there, his mouth agape, horrified at what he had just done.
Matado tossed his head back and laughed. “Is that the best you’ve all got? I over-planned for this. Now, Polonius, if you don’t mind, bring me the chalice.”
Aberfoyle didn’t move. Sweat began to bead on his forehead. “No!” he shouted, fighting the Imperius Curse with all his might.
Matado was undeterred. He gazed at Aberfoyle, and repeated, “Bring me the chalice!”
Slowly, like a puppet, Aberfoyle began to move. He stumbled over to Mistress Craefter and wrenched the chalice from her grasp. He began to shuffle slowly toward Matado, his pace slowing with each step as he fought harder and harder.
Rein Darkshine shouted at Matado, “We won’t let you do this!”
Leyla Roffignac joined him, “Everyone, wands out!”
Matado regarded them as an annoyance. “You are powerless to stop me! Don’t be fools. There’s no need to get yourselves hurt.”
“Stun on 3, everyone!” Susan Jevoli shouted. “One, two, three!”
On the count of “three,” Matado made a sweeping motion with his hand, and Aberfoyle leaped in front of him, taking the full brunt of the spell as the students cried, “Stupefy!” The combined force of the blasts sent him sprawling against the wall, where he slumped like a rag doll.
Unseen to Matado in the confusion, Professor Kobiyashi came to her senses, and pulled a holdout wand from her boot. “Expelliarmus!” Somehow, the spell worked this time, and Matado’s wand went flying. “Petrificus totalus!” He froze, unable to move. Kobiyashi struggled to her feet, saw Aberfoyle lying in a heap, and cried, “Polonius!” rushing to his side. With a wave of her wand, she freed Mistress Craefter and Signa. While Signa came over to tend to Aberfoyle with her, Mistress Craefter revived the other staff members.
“He took too many stuns at once,” Signa said. “I can’t revive him on my own. Maybe if everyone combined their strength again…”
Professor Kobiyashi looked at the students. “Everyone, we’re going to use ennervate on the count of three. One, two, three.”
“Ennervate!” cried the students, and Aberfoyle woke with a start.
He grabbed his temples. “Ow, my head!” Looking up, finally, he saw that there were still many wands trained on him, and realized what had happened. “He got the drop on me during my patrol,” he began to explain. “He put me under the Imperius Curse, and then he used a leech charm on me. I kept trying to break free, but he was sapping my power. That’s how he was able to withstand your attacks – he was using me like a battery. Once you knocked me out, he became vulnerable again.”
Professor Boudreaux, meanwhile, began to question Matado. “Where is the Headmaster? Is he safe?”
“That’s going to be my little secret. Let me go, give me the Chalice, and I’ll release him.”
“No deal,” Boudreaux replied instantly.
“Do you really value his life so little?” Matado responded. “If I don’t return in 30 minutes, my men will kill him.”
Boudreaux retorted, “He would rather die than let you have such a weapon. Now start talking. How did you know about the Grotto?”
Matado seemed unable to resist bragging. “You must think I’m really a simpleton, that I couldn’t tell Perkins wasn’t himself. Dowling is an accomplished occlumens, I’ll give him that. But he was no match for my combination of Veritaserum and the Cruciatus Curse. You’ll be proud to know that he lasted several hours before he broke and told me where it was. But I couldn’t get the password from him. He used a Memory Charm on himself to erase it.”
“So, you sent the second note, in the hopes that we’d find the Chalice for you?” Boudreaux pressed on.
“I reasoned that he told someone the password, so if I gave you the location, you’d find it for me, yes,” Matado continued to gloat. “It just took time. Now, I’ll tell you again: give the Chalice to me, or he will die!”
An idea came to Boudreaux. He turned to Mistress Craefter. “Mistress, you’ve studied legilimecy, yes? Can you get the information from him?”
“I can try,” she replied. Since Matado’s mask covered his eyes, she stood to the side of him, placed her hand on his head, and spoke. “Legilimens!” Her face screwed up in concentration, trying to find a way past his defenses. After a few moments, she broke the connection. “I can’t break through,” she panted with exertion. “He’s too powerful.”
“Wait,” Aberfoyle said weakly from the corner, where he still sat cradling his head. “I can still feel his connection to me working. Let me try.” He began to struggle to his feet.
“Polonius, no, you’re too weak,” Kobiyashi pleaded with him.
“This is Clark we’re talking about!” he insisted. “I have to try.” He looked into her eyes. “He would do it for me.” She nodded reluctantly, and Aberfoyle handed his wand to her. “Keep my wand in case he regains control of me.”
He struggled to Matado’s side, placed a hand upon the villain’s head, and cried, “Legilimens!” His face contorted with pain almost instantly, but he maintained the link. Matado, too, began to tremble with pain. Finally, screaming in agony, Aberfoyle released the spell, stumbled backwards, and fell prone on his back.
He lifted his head, weakly, and gasped, “They’re in an old miner’s cabin, about 13-and-a-half miles up Clear Creek Canyon, on the north side. There are six guards. Matado came here alone.” With that, he passed out, overcome with the exertion and pain.
Kobiyashi took charge again instantly. “Signa, you and Mistress Craefter stay here and take care of Professor Aberfoyle. Aleator, you and Maldraco summon the Aurors and guard Matado until they arrive to take him in. Coach, Trouble and Trent, we’re going on a rescue mission. Students, you are dismissed. We should be back before Closing Ceremonies.”
When the students returned for Closing Ceremonies, they saw that the Deputy Headmistress was good as her word. They took their seats, and she addressed them once again. “I know this has been a stressful term. All of us have missed the Headmaster’s firm hand at the wheel. Thanks to you students, Nikolai Matado has been returned to Alcatraz.
“We did get to Professor Dowling in time. We captured all of Matado’s gang, and turned them over to the Aurors. The Headmaster is in rough shape, and he is at St. Sebastian’s Hospital for Sorcerers for treatment. The healers there expect him to make a full recovery within a week or two. He was awake when I left, and he thanks all of you for your bravery and your help in bringing Matado to justice. He wishes very much that he could be here in person to thank you.”
“We still have some business to attend to before we say goodbye, so let’s get right to it. Let’s see the scoreboard!”
The scoreboard was uncovered, and revealed the scores. She read them out, “In fourth place, with 270 points, is Lobostro house. In third place, with 330 points, is Colubrae house. In second place, with 410 points, is Enigmus house. And our new house cup champions, with 440 points, is Parador house!”
The Enigmus students, to their great credit, began a chant of “Game over! You win!” as Mistress Craefter congratulated Professor Aberfoyle, who was still walking a bit stiffly, but beamed like he was still a student himself.
“Thank you, students, for a wonderful year. You are dismissed!” the Deputy Headmistress said, and the year came to a close.