Fall from Grace

(Note: we strongly suggest you watch the Avistrum movies A Soldier’s Story and Fugitives to get the whole story.)

As sunset came on a chilly October night, the students began to filter into the Great Hall of Avistrum castle for another year’s start of term. The mood among the faculty was somewhat somber, due to the continued absence of Headmaster Clark Dowling and Professor Kraven Bloodthorne. The two were on the run from the Federal Aurors’ Service after fleeing the courtroom following a sham trial before the Wizengamot, which had wrongly convicted Kraven of mass murder at Timmernak.

As the students were gathering, they saw Senator Oswald Kensington pacing back and forth through the hallways. This was curious, as Acting Headmistress Sachiko Kobiyashi had specifically banned him from the school grounds the previous spring. She and Polonius Aberfoyle, Head of Parador, saw Kensington, who was Aberfoyle’s chief rival in the Wizard Senate, and grew visibly agitated. Deciding not to cause a scene right at the start of the term, however, they held their tongues and breathed a sigh of relief as Kensington left the Great Hall without a word. The two professors joined Professor Aleator Boudreaux, Head of Colubrae, near the lectern.

“Have you heard from Congressman Drake?” Boudreaux asked them.

“No, not since yesterday,” Aberfoyle replied. “I know he asked to address the students at the start-of-term ceremonies, but he hasn’t been in contact today.”

“Well, I think we’d better get started without him,” Kobiyashi murmured.

“Agreed,” they both said, and took their seats.

Kobiyashi stood at the lectern and began to address the students. “Welcome, students, to a new year at Avistrum. For some of you this is the first step in your magical education, for others it is nearing the end of your journey. For all of you, I am hopeful this will be a fulfilling, wondrous and illuminating term. For those of you who are new to the school I am Dep…” she trailed off, not used to the feel of her interim title. “I am Headmistress Sachiko Kobiyashi,” she began again.

“We are without some of our more… tenured professors this term, but I and the rest of the faculty are very much looking forward to guiding you in your studies. I would now like to introduce, or for some of you, reintroduce, our wonderful faculty.” She introduced all of the staff, and then proceeded on. “Now, Heads of House, please join me to invoke the Great Eagle and begin the Sorting.”

Boudreaux, Aberfoyle, and Lady Viola Fey, Head of Enigmus, joined Kobiyashi at the platform in the middle of the room.

“Parador,” Aberfoyle intoned, pointing his wand at the platform, and the first quarter of the dais, engraved with the Parador phoenix, began to glow ruby red.

“Enigmus,” Viola said, and the sphinx in her corner blazed a brilliant sapphire color.

“Lobostro,” Kobiyashi chanted, igniting the wolf of Lobostro with an amber glow.

“Colubrae,” Boudreaux finished, and the dragon in front of him shone with an emerald light.

The Great Eagle awoke and began to speak, the voice coming from the very air around the student body. “Greetings, students.” The eagle went on to tell the story of its birth, how the founders of Avistrum each gave a gem representing their house, which the eagle uses to peer into the thoughts of each student and determine their best place. As each student was sorted, the light for the house they would join shone alone on them. As the ceremony finished, and the students re-took their seats, Kobiyashi made her way back to the lectern. “Congratulations to all of you. I wish you the very best in your new houses,” she said, leading the applause before her tone turned more serious. “Now, there are two crucial things I need to inform you of before we begin our term. I’m sure all of you have noticed the representatives from the Aurors’ Office in our school this term. Let me assure you that they are strictly a precaution and are here to ensure your safety. You do not need to be alarmed but I must insist that you listen to them as you would your professors. Also, you will notice the archway we have set up here outside the Great Hall. Please feel free to study it with a prefect or faculty member present but study it only. Any student seen tampering with the archway will cost their house 500 points. Do all of you understand?”

As the students gave an emphatic “Yes!” the Headmistress smiled, and began to dismiss them. “Well, I believe that’s enough doom and gloom to start things off. Students, welcome to a new term.”

As she spoke, however, Congressman Simon Drake, the Muggle liaison to the school under the Muggle Cooperation Act, finally arrived. He was flanked by two bodyguards in black suits with black ties.

Aberfoyle rose to greet him. “Congressman Drake. I’m glad to see you arrived safely. We were starting to fear the worst,” Aberfoyle said, shaking the Congressman’s hand.

Kobiyashi motioned for Drake to join her at the lectern. “Students, for those of you who are new, this is Congressman Kensington,” she began, clearly still rattled by the real Kensington’s intrusion.

“No,” Aberfoyle hastily corrected her, “this is Congressman Drake.”

“Right,” she replied, embarrassed. “I was still excited from the sorting. As I was trying to say, this is Congressman Simon Drake. You may have read about his role as Muggle liason and his visit to our school last term. I trust you had a pleasant journey, Congressman?”

“I did, and I apologize for my delay,” he replied graciously. “I think you’ll find that I had good reason.” He gestured toward the hallway, where Professor Dowling and Professor Bloodthorne were entering, clearly bruised and shaken, wearing Muggle disguises, with Scorpio Douglas and, most surprisingly, Secretary of Magic Greywolf, who had been missing for over a year.

“Clark!” his wife Robin gasped, running to him and embracing him tightly.

Professor Audrey Deserand followed suit. “Professor Bloodthorne!” she exclaimed, trying to give him a hug.

“Get off of me!” he said in apparent horror, shying away from her.

“How is this possible?” Aleator asked them as they reached the faculty dais.

“It’s a long story,” Clark replied.

“I was on a fishing retreat in the mountains,” Drake explained, “and suddenly these three stumbled into my camp carrying Greywolf.”

“Why didn’t you notify us?” Lady Viola interrupted.

“We have a very powerful enemy out there, I didn’t want to risk an owl getting intercepted. When I found them,” he continued, “I decided that the best thing to do was to bring the four of them directly to the school.”

“Stand right there, Bloodthorne!” a voice thundered, and Kensington stepped out from behind a pillar. Clearly, he had not left the school after all.

“What is the meaning of this?” Kobiyashi countered, blood beginning to boil.

“Headmistress, Faculty, Staff and students of Avistrum Academy,” Kensington blustered imperiously, “in the name of the Wizengamot and the Department of Aurors, I demand that you assist me in the arrest of Kraven Bloodthorne, Clark Dowling, and their accomplices, Scorpio Douglas and the Muggle Simon Drake!

“I’ve had four cells in Alcatraz specially prepared for this day,” he leered, looking Bloodthorne right in the eye. Bloodthorne stepped aside, revealing Greywolf, whose presence had been shielded from Kensington’s view.

“Your order is countermanded, Senator Kensington,” Greywolf said simply, as the color drained from Kensington’s face. “I furthermore sustain Headmistress Kobiyashi’s expulsion of your person from the grounds of Avistrum Academy.”

Kensington was apoplectic, but struggled to maintain his composure in front of the Secretary. “With all due respect, Mr. Secretary, I have no intention of letting these fugitives escape again. They must be held accountable for their crimes!”

“Fortunately,” Drake interrupted, “their fate is not in your hands.” He grabbed Kensington by the collar and shoved him roughly against the wall. Kensington’s expression shifted back-and-forth between furious and terrified. “Mr. Secretary,” Drake said, “I believe the floor is yours.”

Greywolf stepped to the lectern, the months of pain and exhaustion etched on his face. He began to address the assembly. “As you can imagine, I have been through quite an ordeal over the past few months. The torture I have endured has left me quite weak and, sadly, forced me to the realization that I am no longer fit to serve as Secretary of Magic. Therefore, effective tomorrow morning, I will be stepping down from that position and returning to my home in Scotland.” There was a moment of confusion as Kensington’s cane clattered to the floor, its owner clearly shocked by the news. “However,” Greywolf continued, either oblivious to or choosing to ignore Kensington’s shock, “I wish to make one final decree as Secretary of Magic. Mr. Drake?”

Drake nodded and withdrew an official-looking letter from his attache. He handed it to Greywolf, who began to read.

“This document states,” Greywolf declared, “that after careful consideration by the Chief Justice of the United States that the DNA evidence provided during the trial of Kraven Bloodthorne was more than sufficient to clear his name. The Statute of Secrecy states that Wizarding law shall be the final word as it pertains to the violation of laws involving wizards, but I find the conclusion of the Chief Justice more satisfying and far more coherent than that of the Wizengamot. I therefore endorse the ruling of the Chief Justice and declare Kraven Bloodthorne innocent of the crimes committed at the Timmernak School for Boys.”

The students and faculty erupted in applause, overjoyed at this news. But Greywolf wasn’t finished.

“And for their part in aiding Kraven in his quest to prove his innocence, I also pardon Clark Dowling and Scorpio Douglas.” Once again, the room exploded in appreciation. “Let me state without pause,” Greywolf continued, “that none of these men were involved in my kidnapping or torture during the last two years. And while saving my life may not have been a completely altruistic decision, these three men did so with very little regard to their own. And such a thing should be applauded.” He joined the applause this time, and the three men began to look a little embarrassed at the attention.

Finally, Greywolf said, “I cannot find the words to adequately thank you men, but know that this old man is grateful. Truly grateful.” He turned to Kobiyashi. “And now, I am tired. Quite tired indeed. Madam Headmistress, might I impose on you for the evening?”

“You would have to ask the Headmaster,” she demurred, then turned to the students. “I hereby relinquish my duties as Headmistress back to their rightful owner.”

Dowling came to the lectern, limping a little but otherwise unharmed, and said, “Thank you, Deputy Headmistress. Mister Argiletum, please escort Greywolf to the guest’s quarters.” As Mordecai led Greywolf out of the Great Hall, Kensington began remonstrating with him, apparently trying to get him to rescind his pardons. They soon left the hall.

Clark began to address the students, but Drake had another idea. “Headmaster, this is a great day for the Muggle/Wizard alliance. I believe this calls for a photo opportunity.”

“Certainly, Congressman,” Clark replied, perhaps a little annoyed but gracious nonetheless. He motioned for Scorpio and Kraven to join them. Kraven attempted to walk away, but Scorpio grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him over toward the other two.

As Scarlett the school photographer snapped away, Drake began to speak to each of them.

“Thank you, gentlemen. It’s a privilege to know such acts of bravery still exist,” he said, addressing Dowling.

“It was more an act of desperation, Congressman, but thank you all the same. I’m just glad that we were able to find Greywolf and clear Kraven’s name,” Dowling replied, shaking Drake’s hand.

“As am I,” Drake said. He turned his attention to Scorpio. “Mr. Douglas, congratulations,” he said, shaking his hand as well.

“Glad I could help,” Scorpio grunted.

“And you, Professor,” he said, turning to Bloodthorne, “congratulations on your pardon. How does it feel to be a free man again?”

“It will feel a lot better once we stop the ones who committed the crimes, congressman,” Kraven replied, a little icily, offering his hand with his glove removed.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Drake said, and drifted toward the arch in the hallway, absently forgetting to shake Bloodthorne’s hand.

As Scarlett continued snapping away, Bloodthorne leaned in to the others and grunted, “I still don’t trust him.”

“Because of his influence we are no longer fugitives and the charges against you have been dismissed,” Clark replied, a little angrily. “What will it take to prove to you that he’s an ally?”

“I don’t trust him either,” Scorpio growled. “He was fishing just a few miles from a spider den and they never caught his scent, never came down for a taste? Something about it doesn’t sit right.”

“The two of you can believe whatever you want. I trust Simon Drake implicitly,” Clark replied.

“Headmaster!” Lady Viola Fey called to him from across the hall.

“Excuse me,” Clark said to the other two, apparently glad for an opportunity to end the conversation. He broke away from the photos and walked over to the Enigmus ghost.

“Whatever, Noggy,” Scorpio grunted, and turned to Kraven. “He’s more stubborn than I am, and that’s saying something.”

“He’s right a lot, too,” Kraven replied. “It’s infuriating.”

Scarlett kept snapping pictures of the two heroes as Clark approached Lady Viola. “I’m happy to see you safe, Headmaster,” the ghost greeted him.

“All is well that ends well,” he replied. “Kraven is innocent and Greywolf is safe.”

She looked at him bemusedly. “You’ll never learn, will you?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, clearly puzzled.

“This is not the end, Clark. The end is still to come,” she said, floating past him to greet some of the new students in her house.

Clark raised an eyebrow and returned to the faculty platform for more pictures. “If anyone wants a picture with the three of us, you’re more than welcome,” he invited. “Especially Kraven. He really enjoys that,” he joked as Kraven looked at him with annoyance. “Otherwise, you’re dismissed. Enjoy the feast.”

The students filtered into the hallway toward the food, and encountered Drake standing facing the ancient stone archway that was positioned along the side of the passage. Daemoh, whom Professor Kobiyashi had introduced as being on special assignment from the Aurors’ Department to study the archway, cautioned him. “Be careful, Mr. Drake. It’s very old.”

“What is this?” he asked, his tone almost accusatory.

“We’re not exactly sure. The Headmistress found a letter from one of Avistrum’s former professors, Tyler Ward, describing this structure. He left clues as to where it was hidden. We eventually found it in the animal sanctuary. Supposedly it acts as a type of portal but we don’t know what to,” she explained.

“The Void,” Drake murmured absently.

“I’m sorry?” Daemoh asked him, having not heard properly.

“How does it work?” Drake responded, perhaps not having realized he had spoken.

“So far, it doesn’t. We followed everything that Professor Ward left behind and researched what we could find but we haven’t been able to solve it,” she replied.

“And you determined,” he began, his voice rising in anger, “that the safest place for it would be in the castle near the students?”

As Daemoh looked at him in alarm, Kobiyashi quickly intervened. “Mr. Drake,” she began, soothingly.

“I can’t believe you would bring this into the school without notifying me,” Drake thundered, pointing at her. “I want every piece of documentation regarding this archway available in my quarters immediately.” He turned and stormed off towards the guest quarters.

Kobiyashi paused for a moment, then turned to the Auror. “Daemoh, please gather all the information you have on the archway and see that it is delivered to Congressman Drake’s quarters.”

As Daemoh left, Mordecai whispered to Kobiyashi, “There might be some documentation we haven’t discovered yet. Mr. Drake might think we are being subversive.”

“Mr. Drake is our ally, not our master,” she assured him. “If we find more information we will share it with him. Until then, he knows as much as we do. It’s alright, students,” she said, turning her attention to the small gaggle which had gathered around the archway and observed the incident. “Back to the party.”

The students enjoyed the desserts and the butterbeer, pumpkin juice, and firewhiskey available in the Roaring Mouse, as Clark, Robin, and Aleator stood near the bar.

“I miss Johnny,” Robin was saying to Clark, referring to the ghost who had taken up residence in Lobostro house the previous term, but who had since disappeared again. “Did I ever show you the letter he wrote me?”

“No, I don’t believe so,” Clark replied.

“Me, neither,” Aleator responded.

Robin withdrew a letter from her pocket and unfolded it, showing it to Clark. Aleator’s face froze.

“May I see that letter?” he asked the Headmaster. Clark handed it to him, and Aleator studied it for a moment. Suddenly, he became very agitated. “Flame! I need a flame!” he shouted.

Scorpio was nearby, chatting with Professor Kobiyashi. “Calm down, chief,” he said, drawing a cigarette lighter from his pocket and lighting it behind the letter.

“Clark, look at this,” Aleator said.

As Clark looked at the letter, he furrowed his brow. “It says, ‘Help me.'”

“That’s freaky,” Scorpio commented.

Clark turned back to Robin. “When did Johnny give this to you?”

“He didn’t,” she replied. “Professor Deserand found it in the garden.”

“Audrey?” Clark called to the Professor, who was across the room. “Where did you find this letter?”

“In the garden,” she responded, coming over to them, “buried near the apple tree.”

“There was a hidden message,” he said, showing her the letter.

Deserand’s face blanched. “Oh my God,” she said, “how can we help him?”

“Kraven?” Clark called to the Divination Professor, who strolled over, looking annoyed as always.

“What is it?”

“I need you to touch this and tell me what you see,” Dowling said to him.

“Why?” Bloodthorne asked cautiously.

“It’s a letter from Johnny. Audrey found it buried near the apple tree. Show him,” he told Aleator, who once again held up the letter. Scorpio lit the lighter behind the paper again.

“Give it to me,” Kraven said, pulling the glove from his right hand. Aleator handed him the letter, and Kraven closed his eyes in concentration. Touching the piece of paper, he was knocked back, as if by an invisible force.

“Whoa!” Scorpio said, catching him. Several of the other faculty rushed to see what was going on.

“Kraven, are you alright?” Clark asked Bloodthorne.

“I am,” Kraven said gravely, “but Johnny isn’t.”

“You could see where he is?” Aleator asked, clearly concerned for his friend.

“I could see him but I couldn’t see where,” Kraven explained. “It was like he was suspended in space being pulled in every direction. And I could see the archway, but only in fragments.”

Floating towards them, Viola Fey said, quietly, “He’s stuck in the Void.”

The others turned to stare at her. “The Void?” Dowling asked, incredulously. “How do you know for sure?”

“The Void is what the archway opens,” she replied. “I don’t know how he got stuck there, but that is what you saw.”

“We need to get him out of there,” Aleator said.

“Only ghosts can enter the Void,” Viola said to him. “It won’t accept flesh and blood.”

“That’s true,” Mordecai added. “Everything I’ve read about the Void implies that any physical being who enters it is never heard from again.”

Kraven said, with more worry in his voice than his posture betrayed, “We have to get him out of there.”

“Out of the Void?” Robin said. “We don’t even know how it works, let alone how to wield it.”

“We have to try something,” Aleator insisted.

“Kraven, Aleator, come with me,” Dowling said, and headed for his office.

“I’m coming, too,” Scorpio insisted, and the four of them left the party.

They returned a few minutes later, and held whispered conversations with the other faculty members as the feast continued into the late evening. Finally, the students’ curfew came, and they were sent off to their dormitories.

As the students began to filter in on Saturday morning, they saw the common room, decorated this year in Colubrae colors, with breathtaking leaded windows depicting various dragons, defaced with letter-shaped scorch marks. Everywhere they looked, the letters p, b, and d were scarred into the wall. Professor Aberfoyle and Professor Kobiyashi were each studying one of the marks, and Maldraco Davante, the school groundskeeper, worked to remove some of the others.

Clark and Kraven entered, deep in conversation. Clark looked around, saw the letters, and froze. “What happened in here?” he demanded.

“We’re still trying to determine that,” Kobiyashi answered him. “It must have happened after…” she paused, looking for a way to express the thought without alarming the students, “after we were all in our quarters.”

“I checked the castle’s defenses with the aurors last night,” Clark insisted. “There’s no way anyone could have penetrated them.”

Daemoh nodded. “I concur. The defenses are sound.”

Kobiyashi noted ominously, “We said the same thing last term.”

“And look how that ended,” Kraven said ironically, touching one of the scorch marks with his bare hand.

“I am certain that the defenses are intact.” Clark was adamant. “If this was done during the night then it was by someone already in the castle.”

“You believe it’s another enchantment?” Sachiko asked him.

“Possibly,” Clark replied grimly.

“Maybe,” Daemoh speculated, “something came out of the Archway when Aleator went in.”

“Has it showed any sign of activity,” he asked her, “since… since last night?”

“No,” she replied. “What if he’s trapped? He has no way to contact us.”

“He knew what he was doing, and we all agreed it was our best chance to save Johnny,” Sachiko said. She went to the piano in the corner, and the others came in toward her, to keep their conversation from the students. “We have to stay strong, and as much as I hate it we have to keep what we’ve done from the children. They’ll have too many questions and we don’t have any answers.”

“Agreed,” they all said grimly, and Kobiyashi urged the students on toward dueling class as the others worked to clean up the damage.

All four houses gathered together for dueling class. Rein Darkshine, the school’s head boy, was teaching with Maldraco. Since bad things were afoot in the world, he said, they had been authorized to begin teaching more advanced, less formal dueling techniques. They began to introduce the styles they had developed in honor of each of the house mascots, when Kensington entered and rapped his cane imperiously on the classroom steps.

Rein gave him a frosty glare. “You were expelled from these grounds, Senator,” he challenged him.

“That expulsion expired when Secretary Greywolf became unable to execute his office, Mr. Darkshine, to which you and your students are all witnesses.” Kensington allowed a self-satisfied smile to creep onto his face. “Hence, I announce to everyone my candidacy to replace Secretary Greywolf as the United States Secretary of Magic.”

The students murmured, and a few scattered boos came from the corners of the room.

Professor Aberfoyle began laughing. “Really?” Then he grew serious. “Kensington, I refuse to allow you to be our party’s nominee in this election.” Turning to the students, he proclaimed, “Therefore, I hereby also announce my candidacy.” The room exploded with cheers.

Kensington’s face turned sour. “Typical, Aberfoyle. A time of crisis is upon us and all you can do is turn it into a contest to see whose wand is bigger.” He brandished his cane, pointing the heel of it straight at Aberfoyle’s chest. “You know in your heart that I am the most qualified individual to succeed Secretary Greywolf!”

Aberfoyle became indignant. He swept Kensington’s cane away with his hand and shouted, “The only job you’re qualified for, Kensington, is that of village idiot!”

“You know,” Rein suggested, “we could just settle this right here.” He held out two of the practice wands used for dueling. Kensington snatched one eagerly, holding it right under Aberfoyle’s throat.

The professor regained his composure. He drew a deep breath, and said, “No thank you, Rein. We’ll let this contest be decided on wits alone.” Unable to resist, however, he continued, “I just hope Kensington brings his entire half with him.”

“You pick the most amazing time to make jokes, Aberfoyle,” Kensington growled. “We’ll see who’s laughing when the smoke clears!” Disgusted, he thrust the practice wand back into Rein’s chest and stormed out of the dojo.

Rein and Maldraco got the class back on track, only to be interrupted again a few minutes later by Drake walking right through the classroom and summoning Daemoh and Mordecai for a conference. He offered a brusque apology, then led them out into the side passageway.

Just as it seemed the two instructors might finally be able to finish their class in peace, however, the archway began to emit an eerie glow. Suddenly, smoke began to pour from the opening. Alarmed, Professor Aberfoyle tapped Bloodthorne on the shoulder. “The arch!” he exclaimed.

Bloodthorne, annoyed, said, “Yes, it is.” Then he did a double-take. “Wait, is it supposed to be doing that?”

An otherworldly sound came from the arch, and a tall figure emerged. He was dressed in the livery of a Confederate cavalry officer from the Civil War, but he bore a striking resemblance to Professor Boudreaux. He stepped forward, obviously confused, and said, “Where am I?”

“Aleator?” Aberfoyle asked, confused.

“That’s not Aleator,” Bloodthorne replied with an unusual certainty.

Drake came charging back into the classroom. “What’s going on?” he demanded.

Nobody answered him. The archway was not done. The light, smoke, and sound continued, and a Union artillery soldier emerged from the arch, sword drawn. He immediately charged the Confederate officer, swinging his sword. The man in gray sidestepped the blow and drew his own blade. He sliced at the soldier in blue, but his target stepped aside, turned, landed an elbow in his back, and took the weapon, throwing the cavalryman to the ground. The Federal soldier raised his own sword again to strike, but suddenly Robin’s voice rang out, “Johnny, no!”

Robin had recognized the Lobostro house ghost. Johnny paused, confused, and turned to look at her. “Johnny, my name is Robin,” she said, approaching him. “Do you remember me?”

Johnny looked completely lost. “I… I don’t know,” he said quitely.

“We met last term in the garden. One of my colleagues found this letter you wrote to me. Do you remember it?” She held out the note to him.

He furrowed his brow, struggling to recall. “I think I do. Yes, I remember. You said you could help me.”

“And I can,” she replied gently, taking him by the hand and leading him toward the infirmary. As they left, Johnny’s gaze drifted across the classroom. His eyes met Drake’s, and he froze, staring, as though struggling to remember something important. Drake stared coolly back. Finally, Robin pulled more firmly on Johnny’s hand. “Johnny, come with me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Johnny replied, looking away and following her out of the classroom.

As they left, the man in the grey uniform had finally struggled back to his feet. “Alright,” he said in an unmistakable Southern drawl as he dusted off his hat and put it back on his head, “can somebody please tell me where the hell I am?”

“I would be happy to help you… Professor?” Kobiyashi said to him, trying to determine why he so closely resembled Aleator.

“Professor?” he replied, somewhat angrily. “Professor? No ma’am, I’m Colonel Alain Boudreaux of the Confederate Army. And who might you be?”

“My name,” she said firmly, “is Sachiko Kobiyashi, and I am Deputy Headmistress here at Avistrum.”

“Avistrum?” he said, with a look of incomprehension. “I’m back at Avistrum?” He gazed around and saw the house banners, the scoreboard, and the other memorabilia, and realized she wasn’t lying. “Where am I? What’s going on? I heard them mention my boy,” he said, charging toward Aberfoyle and Bloodthorne.

“If you’ll follow me, I can explain everything,” Kobiyashi, and he nodded, accompanying her from the classroom. Daemoh returned to her position guarding the arch, in case any further ghosts were to emerge.

Finally able to finish class without any further distractions, Rein and Maldraco taught the students about the dueling styles of wolf, sphinx, phoenix and dragon, and gave demonstrations. The students caught on very quickly, and were very excited to learn.

That attitude carried into the second class block of the morning, where Parador and Colubrae went to Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Dowling to learn about patronuses and build patronus boxes, with a happy memory and a wand core inside. Lobostro and Enigmus learned about palmistry from Professor Bloodthorne in Divination.

As class was wrapping up, and the students headed to lunch, Professor Dowling entered the common room to see Drake and the taller of his two bodyguards playing Muggle chess. He summoned the students over to take a closer look.

“I didn’t realize you played, Congressman,” Clark said to Drake.

“Oh, I dabble,” he replied.

“Who’s winning?” Clark asked him.

“I am,” Drake said, “just barely. I’m looking at a queen sacrifice to keep it that way.” For some reason, the guards thought this was very funny and laughed.

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” Clark said, and dismissed the students for lunch.

Upon their return from lunch, the students were asked to gather in the common room for an announcement. Professor Aberfoyle called for their attention and spoke. “Students, I would like you to meet our acting History of Magic professor, Mr. Alain Boudreaux. I’m sure most of you are familiar with his son Aleator.”

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, students,” he said, tipping his hat to them.

“And I’m sure most of you,” Professor Kobiyashi continued, “remember Johnny from last term. Johnny will be assisting Mr. Boudreaux with his class. Johnny, would you like to say anything?”

“Just that I’m happy to be somewhere safe, ma’am,” Johnny replied.

“And we’re pleased to have you back, aren’t we, students?” she asked them, and they responded with a healthy round of applause.

“Such eager young minds. I guess we’d better get ready, Johnny,” Alain said, and the two of them began to exit the room as Drake and his bodyguards entered. Johnny froze once again, staring at Drake, but saying nothing.

“Come along, Johnny,” Alain said, with the air of an order. Johnny snapped to attention.

“Yes sir,” he replied, and they left the room.

Aberfoyle and Kobiyashi exchanged a look of intrigue over what had just happened, and to break the tension, Sachiko asked Drake, “Will you be auditing any classes this year, Congressman?”

“No,” he replied distantly, staring down the hall at the archway. “I think I’ll go visit Tyler Ward’s quarters with Daemoh instead. I think it would be a more productive use of my time.” He left as abruptly as he had come in. Puzzled, the professors sent the students on to class.

Parador and Enigmus attended Charms with Professor Kobiyashi, where they reviewed a number of charms from previous years and chose one to demonstrate for the Professor. Falchion, the Lobostro prefect, was kindly willing to be the target for some of these, and must have been hit with the body-bind curse about a dozen times that afternoon. Colubrae and Lobostro had Potions with Professor Voertigern, where they made an ooze with special magical properties.

Those classes passed fairly uneventfully, although Drake’s guards did begin walking through the classrooms, which was distracting. In the final class block of the day, however, things became a bit unbearable.

Mister Argiletum taught Arithmancy to Parador and Lobostro, while Professor Aberfoyle had Enigmus and Colubrae for Transfiguration. Drake’s guards were becoming extremely belligerent, wandering the classrooms, knocking over items on the instructors’ desks, even blocking students views of the board. Drake himself was standing outside of Aberfoyle’s classroom, gesturing wildly as he talked to Professor Deserand about what Aberfoyle was teaching, which was the properties of various types of wood and magical cores in wands as they relate to Transfiguration power. It was the practicum portion of the class, however, that seemed to set Drake off, as Aberfoyle had the students take turns conjuring and vanishing a handkerchief. His bodyguard began clutching at the bag Aberfoyle was holding, as though it was a Muggle parlor trick, and would not leave even after Polonius drew his wand and summoned the Aurors.

Incensed, Polonius stormed out of his classroom to confront Drake. “Simon, you need to control your guards! This is completely unacceptable!”

Dowling stepped between them. “Cass, take it easy. I’ll handle this,” he said, hoping to calm Aberfoyle’s temper. Polonius finally backed down, and the Headmaster turned his attention to Drake. “Mr. Drake,” he began, “as happy as we are to have you back at Avistrum, I must insist that you and your guards let our
faculty operate without interference. That includes letting them teach their classes without your guards present.”

“I apologize if my guards were a bit overzealous, Headmaster,” Drake said to him as Mr. Argiletum and Professor Kobiyashi also came into the hallway. “I can assure you that their only interest was the protection of your students. Especially since your professors are dabbling so liberally in the Dark Arts.”

“The Dark Arts?” Aberfoyle thundered. “Conjuring is not a Dark Art! And besides that, our students have always been taught about the Dark Arts and always will be. It’s necessary for them to be able to defend themselves!”

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t teach your students about the Dark Arts,” Drake countered, “I’m saying that you should do it with a modicum of responsibility.”

Aberfoyle was so angry with his supposed ally that he threw his hands in the air and laughed in frustration. Kobiyashi interjected, “Our faculty is nothing if not responsible.”

“Is that so?” Drake demanded, rounding on her. “Last term three of your faculty, including your Headmaster, allowed themselves to be enchanted into thinking they were once again students at this school. Furthermore, you failed to place the proper defenses on the grounds, allowing Kraven Bloodthorne to enter the castle at will and wreak havoc on this academy, the end result of which was an injury to one of your prefects. Now, I am glad Professor Bloodthorne was deemed innocent but that doesn’t change the fact that this staff has a history of doing what they believe to be right instead of what is necessary.” He turned to Dowling. “If you had destroyed Persephone outright three years ago instead of Obliviating her she would not be out there right now plotting against us, Timmernak would still be standing, Kraven would never have left his post, would never have gotten Imperiused and would never have attacked this school!” He looked back at Kobiyashi again and finished, “Do not tell me that this faculty is responsible because its history proves otherwise. And until I determine that this school, its students and its faculty are safe from their enemies and themselves, my presence will continue to be felt at Avistrum.”

Drake walked away leaving the faculty completely baffled at this change in his tone and the way he was so clearly overstepping his bounds. Kraven approached Clark and pointed after Drake. “There! What further proof do you need?” he asked, incredulously.

“He is doing his job, Kraven,” Clark responded. “Any threat to our school is surely a threat to the Muggles as well.”

“I’m starting to remember why you and I never got along. Do yourself a favor and admit that there is a possibility that his intentions might not be as noble as he’s led you to believe,” Bloodthorne said angrily, and marched off.

Aberfoyle and Argiletum hastily finished up their classes and dismissed the students for last-minute qualifying for the Quidditch tournament.

The Quidditch tournament was, as always, a thrilling affair. In the first semi-final match, the scoring was completely one-sided, with Lobostro taking a 30-0 lead before the Snitch appeared. However, Colubrae took the match after a spirited chase for the Snitch, to win 150-30. In the other semi-final, Parador was ahead 40-0 until Enigmus found the Snitch to advance.

The consolation match was perhaps the closest match in years. Parador went ahead 20-0 on goals, when the seekers spotted the snitch. They battled back-and-forth chasing the golden ball, and when they both reached out to grab it, nobody was sure who had it until Lobostro came up holding it to win 3rd place in the tournament.

The final match pitted Enigmus versus Colubrae, and Enigmus took a 20-0 lead. When the chase for the Snitch began, Colubrae came close before the Enigmus seeker zoomed ahead to grab it, giving Enigmus their first Quidditch Cup win in over a decade, 170-0. The first-place points put Enigmus in a very close second place for the House Cup at the end of the day, but the 75 points Colubrae earned for 2nd place kept their lead intact. The students were then dismissed to go enjoy dinner and the Dark Wizards’ Ball.

The students arrived back at school on Sunday for their remaining classes. Parador and Colubrae went to Divination with Professor Bloodthorne, and Lobostro and Enigmus joined Professor Dowling for Defense Against the Dark Arts. About 10 minutes before the end of class, Falchion, the Lobostro Prefect, brought a note to the two professors, who abruptly left their classes in the care of other faculty members. The two quickly left together without any explanation.

As Professor Aberfoyle finished up in Defense, and Professor Deserand led Divination, Secretary Greywolf stumbled into the hallway. Seeing the archway, he began to scream in terror, “The Deeper Darkness! I see it! The Deeper Darkness!” The old wizard crumpled to a heap on the floor and passed out.

Dowling and Bloodthorne came rushing back in, and were the first to reach the Secretary. As the other professors came running from their classrooms, Clark began checking for a pulse.

“What is the meaning of this?” Professor Kobiyashi demanded.

“Is he alive?” Aberfoyle asked Dowling, concerned for their old friend.

“Barely,” Dowling replied grimly, still trying to determine what had come over the old man.

Kobiyashi went into action. “Signa,” she ordered, “take Mr. Argiletum and get Greywolf to the infirmary.”

Before they could act, however, Simon Drake stepped in. “Wait,” he said, “what’s that in his hand?”

Clark reached over and opened Greywolf’s clenched left fist to reveal a crumpled piece of paper. Opening and reading it, he said, darkly, “It’s a taunt. From Persephone.”

He started to hand the message to Bloodthorne, but Drake demanded, “Let me see it.” Dowling handed him the paper, and he read aloud:

thE DEEpER DARKnEss RisEs. RivERs Ebb. An innocEnt
fAlls. KingDoms cRumblE. thE End is hERE. I kEEp my
pRomisEs.

Kraven became suspicious. “How did you know he was holding something?”

“How did you miss it?” Drake countered. He turned and handed the note to one of the aurors. “Get this filed into evidence immediately. Rein,” he called, summoning Mr. Darkshine, “help Signa get Greywolf to the infirmary. Take her with you,” he said, gesturing toward the other auror.

“Why do they need an auror to go with them?” Dowling asked, confused.

“Safety first, Headmaster,” Drake replied coolly.

“Persephone can’t get on the grounds,” Bloodthorne insisted, as Rein and Signa struggled to get Greywolf to his feet and headed to the hospital wing. “Not with the enchantments we have up.”

Drake regarded him for a moment, then spoke. “How do you know it was Persephone?”

“What do mean?” Dowling interjected, not liking where this was going.

Drake continued. “The note wasn’t signed by her, and there’s no way anyone could have penetrated the school’s defenses. Isn’t that right, Professor?” he finished, looking face to face with Bloodthorne.

“Is that an accusation, Congressman?” Kraven responded, glaring back at him.

“Consider it a statement of fact,” Drake said simply. He turned and began addressing the whole faculty. “If Persephone was the one who put Greywolf in this condition, she would have needed assistance from someone who had experience penetrating the defenses of this school.”

“Now, wait,” Dowling cut him off. “Kraven and I were teaching our classes when Greywolf was attacked. There’s no way we could have…”

Drake rounded on him. “You left your classes without explanation,” he replied. “Moments later, Greywolf enters the hallway ranting and falls unconscious, and the two of you are the first to find him. What are we supposed to think?”

“Congressman,” Dowling attempted to reassure him.

“I’m sorry, Headmaster,” Drake responded. “This goes beyond circumstantial evidence.”

“You have no authority here,” Kraven reminded the Congressman.

Drake turned to the Deputy Headmistress. “Kobiyashi?”

She remained silent. Drake marched over to her. “Professor, are you going to do what is necessary?” Kobiyashi turned away. “Your loyalty is touching,” he said, “but it will be your undoing.” He turned to face the students and other faculty. “As liaison to the Muggle community, I accuse Clark Dowling and Kraven Bloodthorne of the illegal use of magic. Aurors, please inform your office of what has happened. Professor Aberfoyle, take the aurors and escort these two to their quarters and confine them there until preparations can be made to transport them.”

Aberfoyle stood in stony silence, making no effort to move. Dowling pleaded with his Deputy, “Sachiko, we didn’t do this. We did not do this!”

Kobiyashi’s face betrayed her inner turmoil. Finally, she lowered her head, and said quietly, “Polonius, take them away.”

Aberfoyle responded angrily, “Sachiko, please, this isn’t right, don’t…”

“Polonius,” Bloodthorne said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Cass, don’t fight it. They’ll realize their mistake soon enough.”

Reluctantly, Aberfoyle took Dowling’s wand and marched the two towards the door. Unseen to most, however, especially Drake and his bodyguards, he handed it back to his friend before they even rounded the corner to the faculty quarters.

The somber mood continued into the next class block, as Professor Kobiyashi began Charms with Colubrae and Lobostro. Sitting next to her on the desk were copies of the mysterious note Greywolf had been clutching. “Students, we can’t wait for the Aurors’ Office to begin their investigation,” she said, passing the copies out. “We need your help to determine who sent this letter. Please understand that the reputations of Professors Dowling and Bloodthorne are at stake, and they are running out of lives.” Professor Voertigern made a similar announcement as he began Potions with Enigmus and Parador.

As the end of the hour approached, and the students were concentrating on their projects, the silence was shattered by the cackle of a deranged-sounding voice. “Soon, my sweets, very soon,” the woman said, filling the entire school with the sound, “the Deeper Darkness will swallow you whole. By this time tomorrow, one of you shall fall!”

The staff members fanned out, looking for the source of the sound, but could find nothing. As Aberfoyle came to the Charms classroom to report to Kobiyashi, he asked, “What about the Congressman?”

“Good point,” she responded, and came out of the classroom to speak to Drake, who was once again intently studying the arch. “Congressman, I believe we should make arrangements to get you away from Avistrum as quickly as possible.”

“Absolutely not, Headmistress,” he replied. “My duties as an ambassador obligate me to stay until the end of term.”

“Then I must insist,” she said, “that you stay in your quarters until we can ensure that our defenses are sound.”

“Very well,” he replied reluctantly. “May I leave my guards with you? Simply as extra protection.”

“As long as they stay out of the classrooms, certainly,” she answered. He nodded, and allowed Rein and Maldraco to escort him to the guest quarters.

Lunch and the first class block of the afternoon fortunately passed without incident, as Colubrae and Enigmus went to Arithmancy with Mr. Argiletum, and Lobostro and Parador attended Transfiguration with Professor Aberfoyle.

The final class of the term came, as all four houses gathered together for History of Magic with Alain Boudreaux and Johnny as their substitute teachers. Thinking the classroom format was too stuffy, the ghosts had the students move all the furniture over to one side of the room, and gathered them in a circle to tell ghost stories. The entire faculty, minus Dowling and Bloodthorne, joined the class, and some other guests joined them as well, including Robin, and Clark’s father Samuel Dowling. Alain and Johnny took turns telling stories, and sparring over the issue of slavery which had divided their two sides in the Civil War.

Alain struggled to explain why he had owned slaves himself on his plantation in Mississippi. As wizards, they were in hiding, he said, and they had to keep up appearances. He defended himself by explaining that he had made sure to obtain slaves who were themselves wizards, and to allow them to use magic to do their work, thus making their lives much easier than they would have otherwise been. Johnny seemed unpersuaded, saying that no human being can own another, and Alain grew very sad. “That’s the same thing my boy Aleator said to me the last time I saw him. He was home from Avistrum for the holidays, and we fought about it. He said I should free all our slaves, and do the work myself using magic. I argued that we would be discovered as wizards if we did that. He left and went back to school, and we never saw each other again. That was Christmas Day,” he said, choking up as he recounted the story.

After a couple more stories, Alain began telling his last tale. He told of a seamstress who created a flag during the American Revolution to be carried into battle. This seamstress was also an enchantress, however, and she enchanted that flag to always have a protector, a boy she had known who would always defend the ideals of America, and could be called forth whenever the Republic was threatened to come to its aid. The flag itself has been nearly destroyed, with only a single star remaining. The boy’s name was lost to history, an unknown soldier.

Alain turned to Johnny. “I call you forth by name, Johnny. I call you to come to the aid of your country. Do you know who you are?”

Johnny’s face lit up with recognition as he heard the story. He straightened up and saluted the colonel. “Yes, sir. I am the champion of the flag.”

Alain saluted him back. “Welcome home, son,” he said, grabbing Johnny in an embrace.

As he stepped back away from Johnny, Alain said, “Now I realize why I was called here from the Void. I have achieved my purpose, and now I think it’s time for me to go. Deputy Headmistress, I want to thank you for your hospitality.” Kobiyashi bowed in recognition of his gratitude.

“Alain,” Professor Aberfoyle said, rising to his feet. He pulled a silver, dragon-shaped ring off his hand and extended it to the ghost. “Before Aleator entered the Void, he gave me this for safe-keeping. After hearing the story you told, and about how the two of you left things, I believe he would want you to have it, to remember him by.”

Alain reached out for the ring, and as he clasped it in his fist, he thought about his son. Nonetheless, he handed it back to the professor. “Thank you, but I believe he gave you this as a token to find his way back from the Void. If I take it, he may not be able to return.” Aberfoyle nodded, and slipped the ring back on his finger.

Alain made his way toward the archway, and it began to glow, and smoke began to form around the portal. Turning back toward the assembly, Alain’s eyes sought out Viola Fey. “Lady Fey, if you’re ever in the Void, look me up,” he said, winking at her. As the students catcalled and whistle, he ambled toward the archway, and stepped over the threshold, vanishing. The archway fell silent.

“Students,” Professor Kobiyashi said, “let’s all welcome back Johnny with a salute.” As the students stood and saluted the Champion of the Flag, they began hearing the rumblings of explosions from elsewhere in the castle.

Simon Drake came tearing into the hallway. “They’ve gone crazy!” he screamed. “They’re attacking everything!”

“Faculty, form a wall! Protect the students!” Kobiyashi commanded. The staff fanned out and encircled the students, herding them all into the corner of the classroom. Falchion was desperately trying to get the staff’s attention, waving his copy of Persephone’s note, but they were all distracted getting into defensive positions. Finally, he managed to get Johnny to look at the paper.

Johnny screamed in pain, clutching his hands to his eyes. Robin held him as he began to fall. “Johnny, what is it?”

“The Deeper Darkness!” Johnny shouted. “I see it!”

“Get back here, Persephone!” came the voice of Professor Dowling, over the din of more explosions.

“You can’t run from us!” Bloodthorne shouted from down the hall, as the dark witch came flying into the hall, her hair wild and disheveled, and a maniacal gleam in her eye.

“It’s Persephone!” Kobiyashi exclaimed. “Students, get down!”

“Reducto!” Persephone shouted, firing the spell back toward the entrance, where Dowling and Bloodthorne were pursuing. As they took cover, she turned and aimed at Drake. “Sectumsempra!” The Muggle barely dodged the deadly curse.

Kobiyashi saw an opening. “Stupefy!” she bellowed, but Persephone blocked the stunning spell and laughed wickedly. “Silly wizards – totally outnumbered,” she cackled.

“Expelliarmus!” Dowling shouted, and her wand went flying from her hand.

“Oh, toast,” she cursed.

Dowling’s fury was on full display. “You dare enter my school and put my students in danger? Give me one good reason not to destroy you right now!”

“Clark, you can’t!” Kobiyashi began to try to reason with him.

“I’ll give you three reasons,” Persephone replied gleefully. “One, you don’t have it in you. Two, it’s against the rules. And three,” she said quietly, “Master will stop you.”

“You have no master here, you pathetic excuse for a witch!” Dowling screamed at her, his wand against her temple.

“Clark, put your wand down,” Kraven cautioned him. “She’s not worth it.”

“He’s right, Clark,” Polonius agreed. “There’s been too much blood shed at her expense already.”

“Has there?” Clark replied. He seemed unconvinced, but he slowly began to lower his wand.

“Congressman Drake,” Kobiyashi asked, “are you alright?”

“Better than your head girl,” he said, as they all turned to face him. He grabbed Amelia Emberwing by the throat and clutched her to his chest as a human shield.

“What are you doing?” Clark asked him, alarmed.

“Taking a souvenir,” Drake replied, an evil grin coming to his face.

“Master caught a pixie,” Persephone sang, dancing a little jig.

“Simon, let the girl go,” Polonius said. “You’re hurting her!”

“I know,” Drake responded, matter-of-factly.

Johnny had risen to his feet. He pointed at Drake. “It was you this whole time. I knew I recognized you!”

“What?” Dowling said, incredulously.

“Johnny, be a good boy,” Drake said.

From the classroom, Rein commanded, “Let her go, Drake.”

Drake looked at him bemusedly. “No.”

“I said,” Rein repeated, “let. Her. Go!” His dual steel wands shot forth, and he charged, attempting to leap the barrier between the classroom and the hallway where Drake stood holding Amelia hostage.

Suddenly, Drake revealed a wand, and leveled it at Rein mid-air. “Stupefy!” he screamed, and Rein fell into a heap alongside the classroom wall. Drake turned and aimed at Johnny, who began to charge. “Immobilus!” Johnny froze as though he was a statue.

Dowling aimed for Drake and attempted to disarm him. “Expellia-”

Drake was too quick. “Crucio!” he screamed, and Dowling’s wand clattered out of his hand as he cringed in agony, falling to his knees. “The next wizard to raise a wand to me kills her,” he warned the rest of the faculty.

“You can’t cast two spells at once, Drake,” Kraven noted.

“I held you under the Imperius Curse for over two years and still managed to work my way into the highest levels of Congress. I think I know my power better than you do,” Drake countered.

“You’ll have to release Dowling if you want to cast on the girl,” Kraven responded.

“Then I’ll keep my wand on Dowling,” he said, tightening his grip on Amelia’s throat, showing more strength than any of them might have imagined for his size, “and break her neck with my bare hands! Now drop your wands.” Drake’s bodyguards revealed wands of their own, and the faculty realized they were surrounded. Reluctantly, they all placed their wands at their feet.

“Persephone,” Drake commanded, “go fetch your pretty. And pick up theirs as well.”

The insane witch began flitting back and forth, grabbing wands wherever she saw them. She stopped next to Sachiko. “Hello, batsy,” she baby-talked. “I missed you bunches. I missed you all so, so much!”

“I thought I was going to have to wait longer for this,” Drake mused, “but here we are. Some of the most powerful wizards and witches in history, and you’re all helpless.” He turned and looked down at Dowling, still writhing under the Cruciatus Curse. Drake reached toward him with his wand, as though driving a knife deeper into an invisible wound, and Dowling arched on the floor, the pain overwhelming him. As he passed out, Drake finally released the curse. “Pathetic,” he spat.

Mordecai looked at him in shock. “You gave the order to destroy Timmernak,” he said, as the realization dawned.

“Of course I did,” Drake replied. He seemed amused that it had taken so long for Argiletum to figure it out. “I would have told you sooner, but there is something to be said for the element of surprise.”

“Why would you do that?” Kobiyashi demanded in horror.

“Because I can,” Drake snapped.

“Let the girl go, Drake,” Professor Deserand pleaded. “She has nothing to do with this.”

“Oh, but she’s so sweet,” Drake said, rubbing his cheek against Amelia’s as the head girl tried to twist away in disgust. “I think I might keep her.”

“No!” Kobiyashi shouted defiantly.

“No?!” Drake screamed back, even louder. “How are you going to stop me? You’ve only seen a fraction of the power I command.”

“What do you want, Drake?” Samuel Dowling asked him.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, Mr. Dowling,” Drake answered him self-assuredly. “If there’s something I want, I’ll just take it. It’s not as if any of you can stop me. But I do,” he said, turning his attention to Polonius, “want to extend my personal thanks to Professor Aberfoyle.”

“Why?” Aberfoyle growled at him.

“For initiating the Muggle Cooperation Act,” Drake said smoothly. As Aberfoyle bowed his head in shame at what he had enabled, Drake went on. “As an ambassador of ‘goodwill’, I’ve been able to come and go as I please. I’ve been privy to every defense you’ve placed on these grounds and have been able to exploit a weakness for each one.”

“We did what we thought was right for our way of life,” Samuel protested.

“Instead of what was necessary,” Drake snapped at him. “I warned you about that, didn’t I, Kobiyashi?” Turning to the Deputy Headmistress, he continued, “and look what it’s gotten you.”

“Nothing but ‘trouble,'” Persephone whispered, leaning over Professor Deserand’s shoulder. “Toast!”

As Persephone scampered back toward her master with the wands she’d collected, Audrey started to charge at her in fury. Aberfoyle caught and restrained her, whispering, “Don’t! Think of Amelia!”

Finally, as she calmed down, Drake mockingly admonished Persephone. “Now, don’t be rude, my sweet. We’re guests.”

“We will stop you,” Kobiyashi assured him with cold fury.

“Will you?” Drake asked coyly. “My Muggle ‘superiors,'” he continued, spitting the word out as though it left a foul taste in his mouth, “know exactly where I am. If am captured, or disappear, or am harmed in any way, it will initiate nothing less than full-scale war between Muggles and wizards.”

“So we’re either at war with you or at war with the Muggles?” Aberfoyle challenged him.

“By the time I’m done,” Drake assured him, “there won’t be any difference. I’m about to become the third-most powerful person in the United States government. So, ask yourselves, how far are you willing to go to stop me?”

Bloodthorne spotted his wand, which somehow Persephone had missed as she was picking up the others, and made a dive for it, but Drake spotted him. “Ah, ah, ah,” he chided him, as he warned Kraven away from it. He flicked his wand toward the others, indicating that Bloodthorne should join his colleagues in the classroom.

Kraven clenched his fists in fury and moved towards the classroom. He punched the wall in frustration and turned back to toward Drake, bellowing, “You won’t get away with this!”

“I have gotten away with it!” Drake screamed in exultation. “None of you have the will to stop me! You’re just like the Muggles – completely helpless.”

“Silly Muggles, silly wizards,” Persephone chimed in, “the Deeper Darkness is here, and it can’t be stopped.”

“I wish I could say it was easy,” Drake mused, as he began dragging Amelia, struggling, toward his guards. “You wizards did throw a few unpleasant surprises my way. For instance,” he said, kicking the unconscious Headmaster’s side, “I didn’t think getting Dowling here appointed Headmaster would galvanize this school the way it has.”

You had my son appointed as Headmaster?” Samuel asked in disbelief.

“Of course,” Drake replied, with a hint of annoyance in his voice. “He was too young and too reckless to be given the position based on his own merits. Did you really think that when such a careless, selfish young man was put in the position of filling these young minds that no one was pulling the strings?”

“My son is a good man, a brave man,” Samuel insisted defiantly.

“He’s an insignificant bug lying unconscious on the floor!” Drake screamed, stepping over Clark’s prone form, dragging Amelia by the throat. “But your loyalty is touching,” he continued, more calmly. “Why, you were even loyal to Kraven after he destroyed Timmernak!”

The faculty turned to Kraven, stunned. “Kraven?” Mordecai asked in a choked voice.

“Oh, yes,” Drake assured them. “Kraven was there. I knew one of my minions would be captured during such an undertaking, and, since there is no cure for veritaserum, I needed them to be able to say with complete honesty that Kraven was an accomplice.”

“How did you know one of them would be captured?” Kraven demanded.

“Because I trusted the fall of Timmernak,” Drake replied icily, “to the same foolish creature that got herself obliviated by this staff!” He rounded on Persephone, pointing his wand at her and flinging her to the floor.

“No, Master!” she screamed. “I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked!”

“Silence!” he thundered at her, and she began to clutch her head in agony, dropping her wand. “You let yourself be defeated by two wizards I have spent years weakening! You have failed me for the last time.”

“Angry Deeper Darkness, wants Persephone to suffer,” Persephone mumbled.

“Drake,” Kobiyashi pleaded with him, “whatever you’re about to do, please, don’t do it in front of the children. They’re innocent!”

“No one stays innocent forever,” he chided. As an evil grin came to his face, he raised his wand and screamed, “Avada kedavra!” The blast of green light hit Persephone, and she slumped to the floor dead.

“You son-of-a-” Kraven growled.

“Careful, Professor,” Drake cut him off, “the children.” He looked at Amelia. “Speaking of children, I don’t think I want this one anymore, either.” He shoved Amelia toward the others and raised his wand. Kraven raced to reach her, putting himself between Drake and the girl as Drake once again bellowed, “Avada kedavra!”

Nothing happened. Kraven, realizing he wasn’t dead, straightened again, and Amelia went running for the safety of the classroom.

“What is this?” Drake asked in confusion, looking at his now-useless wand. Clark began to rouse from his unconsciousness.

The realization gradually dawned on Aberfoyle. “It’s the lockdown,” he said in amazement. “If a murder is committed by magical means anywhere on the school grounds, all magic is suppressed until the Aurors can arrive and begin an investigation.”

“Amelia is safe from you,” Clark said, struggling to his feet. “It’s an even playing field.”

“For now, Dowling,” Drake replied, “for now.”

Johnny charged Drake, but the villain opened his left hand to reveal a tattoo of a star, and Johnny went flying back as though he had hit an invisible wall. “Good to see you again, Johnny,” he taunted, as he stepped behind his bodyguards. “Gentlemen,” he commanded them as he brushed past, “do your jobs.” With that, he fled, leaving his guards to cover his retreat.

The guards smiled, and dropped their wands, cracking their necks and knuckles as they prepared to fight. The professors came up the stairs and lined up behind Clark and Kraven, preparing to do battle. Seeing how many they would have to fight, the guards apparently thought better of it, and turned to flee. Just as they turned, however, they saw the aurors advancing on them. One threw a punch, but the auror dodged it and cast “Immobilus,” freezing the guard in place.

“Incarcio,” both aurors said, and Drake’s guards found their arms pinned behind their backs in invisible handcuffs.

“In the name of the Aurors’ Service and the Wizengamot, we place you under arrest,” the lead auror said.

“Where’s Drake?” Kraven demanded as they began marching the prisoners out.

“He disapparated just as we arrived,” the other auror replied grimly.

Dowling’s knees buckled with exhaustion, and he began to fall. “Clark!” Robin gasped, as she and Kraven caught him.

Kobiyashi suddenly remembered the situation. “Get the students out here,” she commanded. Several of the professors formed a wall in front of Persephone’s lifeless body as the others began ushering the students from the classroom. “Signa, take the Headmaster to the infirmary immediately.” Signa and Robin walked on either side of Clark as they made their way to the hospital wing.

It seemed so unimaginable to continue with the end-of-term ceremonies, but the Deputy Headmistress knew they had to carry on, so she reconvened the students in the Great Hall. As the students took their seats, they noticed that the Headmaster was not with the rest of the faculty. As Kobiyashi opened her mouth the begin speaking, the archway once again hummed to life, and the familiar form of Aleator Boudreaux stepped forth. “Did I miss it?” he asked, coming to Kobiyashi at the lectern.

“No, we’re just about to begin, Aleator,” she assured him.

Aberfoyle stood and held out the ring to him. “I’m glad you made it back safe, Aleator.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Aleator said, and walked down among the students. Johnny approached him.

“Your dad gave this to me to pass on to you,” Johnny said, holding out an antique-looking revolver. “I’ll need to tell you the story of how he died later.” Aleator was clearly touched by the gift, and hugged the other ghost tightly.

Once again Kobiyashi began to speak, but this time was interrupted by the sight of the Headmaster entering the Great Hall, clad in black armor from head to toe. Sachiko looked at him with concern. “Are you alright?”

“I will be,” he assured her, and stepped up to the lectern.

“Students, faculty, my friends,” he said, looking at all of the staff members seated on the dais. “I am sorry. An evil was allowed to enter this castle and it spread darkness into every room, every corridor, and every heart. As Headmaster I am charged with the protection of this school and protection of those who occupy it. I failed. Kraven, you were right. I was never the best one for the post of Headmaster.” Kraven nodded, but for once, he didn’t seem to be serious. Dowling continued. “Drake knew this, and he believed that placing me as the Headmaster would weaken Avistrum to make it ripe for the picking.

“His plan didn’t work. But it was not due to me or my efforts. The castle remains out of his clutches because of you. You are a remarkable group of witches and wizards whom I admire, respect and will be forever indebted to. The school will be in far better hands now. I hereby relinquish the post of Headmaster of Avistrum Academy.”

Everyone gasped, but Dowling forged ahead. “I offer it to a more worthy successor, Professor Kobiyashi, who has shown the skill and temperance necessary, and who has earned the respect of both her students and colleagues. As a Headmaster I was quite the hypocrite, telling all of you to mind your manners and obey the rules while I treat Wizarding Law as mere suggestions. ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ that could have been my credo.

“I am afraid my cavalier attitude towards the law is only going to get worse. Make no mistake, my leaving the headmastership is no indication that I am done fighting. Now all of my attention, and that of the Dark Hunters, will be focused on taking down Simon Drake and bringing him to justice. But I am going to keep an eye on you here, so remember: Do as I say, not as I do.” He gave them a sly grin. “Or just be clever about it.” He turned to the Deputy Headmistress. “Professor Kobiyashi, these students are yours.”

Kobiyashi still looked stunned. “I understand that you have other responsibilities,” she said, chokingly, “but this school and these students still need you. If I accept, will you stay on as our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor?”

Clark hesitated for a moment, unprepared for the question. Finally, he said, “I will.”

“Then I accept,” she said, and bowed to him.

“Um, before we make this official, I have a request,” Aleator interjected.

“Yes, what is it, Professor?” Clark asked.

“In the void,” Aleator said, “my father told me… well, he didn’t tell me, it was more of an impression… oh, it’s hard to explain. He could use an extra pair of eyes in there.” He looked at Lady Viola Fey.

Clark gave Viola a very serious look. “Lady Viola Fey, do you wish to accompany Alain into the void?”

Viola looked back at him, and tears were welling in her eyes. “I do,” she whispered.

“Very well,” Clark replied, and he began to choke up as well. “Lady Viola Fey, as my last act as Headmaster of Avistrum, I hereby release you from your post.”

“Thank you,” she said, as her voice trembled.

“No, thank you,” he replied kindly, knowing how difficult this was for her.

Viola ascended the steps toward the archway, but as she passed Dowling, he commanded, “Wait.”

She paused, and he trained his wand on her. “Rendorum corporealus.” The air shimmered around her, and suddenly her form opacified. Clark swept her up in a tremendous hug. The tears were now streaming freely from her eyes. He released her, and she held out her hands to Aleator and Johnny.

The two poltergeists came to her, each taking a hand, and she said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” They nodded, and each of them bent and kissed a hand.

She turned back to Clark, who reluctantly raised his wand again. “Rendorum noncorporealus.” The air shimmered again, and Viola resumed her ghostly form. She drifted past the staff, turned to them and said, “I love you all,” then approached the archway. It hummed to life, and she passed through the light and the fog. She was gone.

Clark wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, and said, “Well, we really should be moving this along. You all have your homes to get to.” He returned to the lectern. “I call for a vote of confidence in Professor Kobiyashi as my successor. All those opposed, raise your hands. Put you hand down, Kraven,” he said, never even glancing to see Bloodthorne’s raised hand. “All those in favor,” he called, this time looking as the entire faculty, Bloodthorne included, raised their hands. Then it is official. Good luck to you, Headmistress,” he said, bowing to her.

“And to you as well, Professor,” she said, bowing in return. As the students and faculty applauded, he hugged her tightly, then took a seat as she began to speak.

“I thank you friends, for your support. I hope to do the position as much justice as my predecessor,” she began.

“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Kraven said, to laughter, although no one was quite sure if he was really joking.

“Well, it’s time to award the Quidditch Cup!” Kobiyashi said, inviting the Enigmus competitor forward with Professor Deserand to award the cup and pose for photos.

“Drum roll, please,” Kobiyashi said, and as everyone drummed in their laps, she said, “it’s time to reveal the scoreboard and award the House Cup! Gentlemen!” Aleator and Johnny pulled away the shroud to reveal one of the closest scores, top-to-bottom, in recent memory: Lobostro, with 565 points, in fourth, Enigmus in third with 570, Parador in second with 585, and, with 600 points, Colubrae as champions for the second year in a row!

“Congratulations, Colubrae!” the Headmistress said, as the Colubrae students began chanting, “Back to back! Back to back!” She let them savor the victory for a few moments, then she motioned for them to retake their seats and her face grew serious once again.

“Students,” she said solemnly, “I regret that you were exposed to such atrocities this term. But,” she said, her tone becoming a little less somber, “I ask that when you remember this term you think not of the darkness but of the friendships that you made, the lessons you learned, and the goodness we all sought to protect. You are dismissed.”