Will, Kenny, and Vice Principal Goates emerged from the carriage house to a flurry of activity. Mr. Malleus and Mr. Corntassel were converging on them from across the lawn. Mr. Corntassel conjured a stretcher and helped Will lower Kenny onto it. Meanwhile, Mr. Malleus extended a hand to Ms. Goates. She brushed him away, protesting that she was fine.
"Strigia! What the devil is going on?" he demanded. She passed him Tony's parchment. His eyes grew wide, and he in turn passed the note to Mr. Corntassel.
By that time, Will was back on his feet. Without warning, Kate nearly tackled him from behind with a bear hug.
"Will!" she cried.
The pressure was too much on Will's battered body. He pulled himself loose, whipped around, and saw that her wand hand was wrapped in thick bandages. "Kate! Wha—?"
"Talk on the way," Mr. Malleus said. He turned and gestured for the teenagers to follow him. "Principal Towne is waiting for you in the Infirmary."
The three teachers and three students (Mr. Corntassel levitating Kenny on his stretcher) crossed the back lawn and turned toward the Infirmary. Will filled Kate in on everything that happened after she ran to get help for Tony, and she told him what happened to her.
"I knew you would be at the carriage house," she said, limping along a step behind Will. "So as soon as Nurse Choake and I got Tony to the Infirmary, that's where I went as fast as I could. Guinfort was facing off against Greg and Ann—two against one! So, I did what I could. I pulled Ann away, gave her everything I could. She barely looks like herself!" she exulted.
"Anyway, she chased me around toward the greenhouses. I'm still working off her Jelly-Legs Jinx, and she blistered my arm real bad with some kind of Fire Charm. Then she tried to Crucio me, but I hit her hard with a Tenesmus Hex before she could finish the incantation." Kate smiled viciously. "She didn't put up much of a fight after that."
"Remind me never to make you mad," Will said.
"She may not have put up a fight," Mr. Corntassel quipped, "but she did manage to destroy a perfectly good patch of carnivorous chicory."
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that," Kate blushed. "I honestly thought she'd fall the other way. Still, it serves her right. And I did help her get out before it bit her too badly."
"I commend your restraint," Mr. Corntassel said.
"I guess the commotion brought Mr. Corntassel out the greenhouses. He's the one that took Ann and me to the Infirmary."
As they entered Derwent Hall, Will asked, "What happened to Guinfort?"
"He and Mr. Mallary both collapsed in front of the library," Mr. Malleus said. "A first-year saw them curse each other simultaneously and ran to find help. They're both in the Infirmary under Nurse Choake's care. And Nurses Payne and Cotton have both been called in to assist."
"Nurse Payne took care of my hand," Kate said. "She wanted me to stay, but I had to know what had happened to you! I ran back to the carriage house just as you and the others were coming out."
Mr. Malleus ushered Kate and Will into a consultation room off the main Infirmary wing. He and Ms. Goates followed them in.
Principal Towne was already seated at a conference table that was just long enough to accommodate the six of them—for Mr. Corntassel came in as soon as he left Kenny in the care of the Healers. Mr. Corntassel slid Tony's note in front of him. The Principal gasped audibly. Then all of them listened as Will, Kate, and Ms. Goates recounted their stories once again.
Ms. Goates explained that she was returning from Malkinville when she saw Nurse Choake and Kate transporting Tony's unconscious body into Derwent Hall. She ran to investigate, arriving only a minute after Kate tore out toward the carriage house. Nurse Choake had already managed to revive Tony, but he was clearly in discomfort. He insisted, however, on having parchment and quill to scribble his hasty note. As Secret Keeper, anyone who read it would come under the Fidelius Charm.
Fearing others would be in danger, she went straight to the carriage house, sending an urgent message via Patronus to Mr. Malleus to meet her there.
Kate explained once again about her confrontation with Ann Wulverston. To the shock and horror of the teachers, Will told the story of how he had discovered what the Dread Arcanum was up to back in February, and how they had used the Fidelius Charm to keep him quiet for two and a half months. Finally, Will and Ms. Goates told about what had happened with Archie underneath the carriage house.
"But people run into ghosts in the hallways once or twice every year!" Kate said. "Nobody ever gets sick from it. Just a feeling of cold, and even that only lasts for a second."
"I expect that Argyron Goates was no ordinary ghost," Mr. Malleus said.
"He was a specter," Will said. All eyes turned in his direction.
"Very likely, Mr. Proctor," Mr. Malleus said. "But, how do you—?"
"I did a lot of reading after the Quodpot brawl, when people were getting sick. As soon as I saw Archie, I mean Argyron, I figured that was the answer. He was a specter and he was giving people ghost sickness."
"Wait," Kate said. "What's a specter?"
"A powerful Dark spirit," Mr. Malleus explained. "Unlike most ghosts, which are shadows or echoes of a deceased person's entire personality, a specter is the manifestation only of everything that is foul and evil about that person."
"Prolonged contact with them can drain a person's life force," Mr. Corntassel said. "'Ghost sickness,' it's sometimes called."
"Precisely," Mr. Malleus said.
"So…" Kate began, tentatively, "where is he now?"
"Unless I'm mistaken," Ms. Goates said, "the spell he performed keeps him bound to Rick Lombard's body."
"But Rick is a mouse!" Will said.
"So I hear," Principal Towne said. "When he is captured, we shall have to be very careful when we untransfigure him. We don't want Argyron to escape."
"I'll contact the Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Spirits presently," Ms. Goates said. "It would be best for them to have agents on hand when and if Mr. Lombard turns up."
"Agreed," Principal Towne said. He pushed himself away from the conference table. "Strigia, if you would come with me, I think Mr. Rainey and Madame Glapion should read that note of yours as soon as possible. Then all the heads of house will be up to speed about everything that has transpired tonight. And I am also calling an emergency faculty meeting for seven-thirty tomorrow morning."
He turned to Will and Kate. "For now, it may be best not to share this note with the student body," he said. Against their protests, he said, "Your schoolmates will be informed soon enough. But it's only fair for the parents of those who will certainly be expelled because of their activities to hear the news first."
"Yes, sir," Will and Kate said as one.
"It's nearly midnight," Mr. Towne said, "and Nurse Choake will have my head if I don't send you two for a complete check-up. She'll undoubtedly want to keep you overnight for observation. In the meantime, the rest of us have work to do."
Kate, Will, Guinfort spent all of Monday in the Infirmary. Ann, Greg, Kenny, and Tony were kept in the isolation ward and, as each became well enough to move, Magical Law Enforcement officers promptly escorted them from campus.
Later that afternoon, three triumphant elves interrupted a third-year Transfiguration class to present to Ms. Goates a small caged mouse. She dismissed class at once and strode briskly from her classroom. The bewildered Proudfeathers and Quickfangs of course had no clue what that was all about, and when Kate and Will left the Infirmary just in time for supper, they were immediately surrounded by housemates who wondered if they knew why Ms. Goates was so worked up over a single mouse when she always kept at least half a dozen of them in her supply room.
True to his word, Principal Towne posted Tony's note in the Osserly Hall entryway on Wednesday morning. Thereafter, Will and Kate—and finally, Guinfort, whose injuries were more severe and who wasn't released until then—could tell the story of everything that had happened over the past few months, and especially that fateful night when so many kids mysteriously ended up in the Infirmary.
Friday afternoon the visiting Quodpot teams arrived to prepare for the next day's game. The Sasquatch Falls team, in their blue cloaks and matching plaid flannel scarves, looked large and determined. Will suddenly appreciated how well his brother and the other Proudfeathers must have played to have only lost to them by one point!
The team from the Mooseking Institute of Magic arrived an hour or so later. (Will had been so busy fighting Dark wizards and then recovering from the experience that he never heard who had won the Salem–Mooseking game.) They looked just as big as Sasquatch Falls, but somehow more at ease. It was almost as if they weren't overly concerned about the outcome of tomorrow's game. Both teams took lengthy practice sessions at the stadium, and both ate supper in the Dining Hall before turning in early to the Guest House.
The next morning, the fans arrived, and they didn't just come from the two competing schools. Many of the Malkinville townsfolk streamed onto campus, as well as some adult witches and wizards who must have been teachers at the other schools, or parents of some of the players.
The sight of so many visitors on campus was an attraction in itself to the Malkin students, who rarely saw more than a handful of Malkinvillians show up for a Quodpot game. So it was that Will found himself people-watching on the steps of the library. With one eye he went over his Ancient Runes notes. With the other, he watched the many strangers to his school as they wandered around admiring the campus during the hour or so leading up to game time.
"We're going to be late!" someone called.
"The game's not for forty-five minutes."
Will looked up from his book. A couple of girls were walking up the cobblestone path toward the library: a tall girl with long, reddish-brown hair and a shorter black-haired Asian girl.
"But we want to get good seats! If we end up on the bottom row…"
"It'll only take a minute, Kim," the taller girl said. Her dangly earrings looked like miniature fuzzy rabbit's feet. Where had Will seen her before? "I just want to take a look inside. This is supposed to be one of the largest wizarding libraries in the country!"
"It is," Will said. He surprised even himself by speaking up. Both girls turned in his direction. Only then did Will realize he had seen these girls before. It was last Christmas at the Quodpot game in Virginia. These were those two Mooseking girls he was too nervous to talk to!
"We've got a lot of books you can't find anywhere else," he continued. Even tone, Will. No need to yell at them. "The Donovan Sparks collection is up on the second floor, and some early documents from colonial times. There's a lot of stuff on Native American magic, too."
"Donovan Sparks from the Standard Book of Spells?"
Will had forgotten how pretty the taller girl was. His heart began to beat a little faster.
"He taught here for ages. When he retired, he donated all his old notebooks and stuff." Will stood up. He put on his most nonchalant expression and extended his hand. He tried to remember to smile—not some stupid looking grin, but an earnest, friendly, normal-looking smile.
"Andi." She shook his hand. "And this is my friend, Kim. Kim, I've got to see that Donovan Sparks collection!"
"Just go on and save me a seat, okay? I'll be there by tip-off. Promise!"
"Whatever you say, Andromeda!" Kim rolled her eyes and followed the rest of the crowd toward the Quodpot stadium.
"Now, you said that was on the second floor?"
"Let me show you." Will opened the door for Andi to walk through.
"Thanks," Andi smiled. "I guess you guys learn a lot about Folk Charms here."
"A fair bit," Will said. "How about y'all?"
Andi giggled. Will looked at her in confusion. "I'm sorry for laughing, Will, but that accent of yours is so cute!"
"Funny," Will grinned, "I was thinking the same thing about yours."
As soon as the game was over (Mooseking beat Sasquatch Falls ten to seven) B.A.T.S. preparation shifted into overdrive. The first exams began promptly the following Monday morning. Despite everyone's complaining, most students seemed to get through them well enough.
On Wednesday of the second week of B.A.T.S., everyone gathered on the front lawn at four o'clock for a special assembly. Guinfort sidled up next to Will as the two of them made their way down the cobblestone path.
"Proctor," he whispered. He gestured for Will to join him on the steps of Derwent Hall.
"Look," Guinfort's eye darted left and right. When he was sure no one was listening, he said, "You were right. Lombard did have something on me. That's why I couldn't say much about him. After all you had to go through…I just thought you ought to know."
Will was utterly confused.
"The fact is, I've been doing some extra work myself. Stuff they don't teach you in class."
"I nearly got it figured out. Only, after everything that's happened. I think I'm going to hold off for a while."
"What are you talking about?"
"Animagus," he said. Will gasped. "I've been studying to become an Animagus."
"I probably still will, some day. But I've decided I'm gonna do it right. Fill out the paperwork and everything. You might have noticed, I'm not the easiest guy to get to know. I like my privacy. I can do without the headaches of a secret that big hanging over my head."
"Guinfort, you didn't have to tell—"
"I figured if anybody had a right to know, it's you."
"Thanks, Guinfort," Will said. "I can't think of any reason I should tell anybody else. Can you?"
Guinfort offered a subtle smile. "You're all right, Proctor. Let's find a seat."
Will slid by a couple of younger Proudfeathers to the seat his brother had been saving for him, while Guinfort found a place on the back row.
All the teachers wore their dress robes. Even Mr. Slackbrow had taken the time to wash his hair and put on something Will imagined was his best suit—a pea-green robe over dark pants, powder-blue shirt, and a loud orange and green necktie.
It was the second of May: Battle of Hogwarts Day. The students and teachers sat in folding chairs in front of a raised podium where Principal Towne, Vice Principal Goates, and the four heads of house whispered to each other and checked their watches. In the front row, Mrs. Cresswell, dressed all in black, gave the podium her full attention. Two young, handsome men in their late twenties sat on either side of her.
Promptly at four o'clock, Principal Towne approached the lectern and addressed the crowd.
"Students, faculty and staff, alumni and friends of Malkin Academy: We gather here today because fourteen years ago, a group of ordinary students—witches and wizards much like yourselves—became heroes. You know their names. You've read their stories. I don't need to belabor the details. Confronted with a clear and obvious threat, they decided that they would not sit idly by and watch Darkness win. That day, students, alumni, and teachers all quietly agreed that, if their school were going to die, they would die first.
"Battle of Hogwarts Day is still a new holiday, and many are not entirely sure how to celebrate it. I know that in Britain, where the depredations of the Dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort left deeper and far more lasting scars than anywhere else, this is a day of great solemnity. For many here in the States, it is little more than an excuse to eat fish and chips and shoot fireworks all night.
"As I speak with my colleagues from other American wizarding schools, however, my sense is that Battle of Hogwarts Day will always be more than that for us. Fourteen years ago, people rallied to save a school—not merely the bricks and the books but the very idea of a school where young witches and wizards could grow into capable leaders of exemplary character. On the second of May, 1998, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry once again justified its reputation for excellence by the heroism of its students, alumni, and faculty. Today, we salute their many, many acts of personal bravery.
"A Muggle philosopher once said, 'Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgment that something else is more important than fear.' I trust that Malkin Academy for the Magical Arts commands that sort of affection and loyalty for all of you—as it most surely does for me. In recent weeks I have learned of at least three students who were willing to risk, to sacrifice, for the sake of their school and their schoolmates. I believe it is only fitting to recognize them today.
"Kate Burroughs, Kevin Guinfort, and Will Proctor: Will you please join me on the podium?"
Kate and Will glanced across the aisle at each other in shock. Tom gave Will a huge smile, patted him on the back, and practically shoved him out of his seat. Guinfort met Will and Kate at the podium, his arms behind his back and his head down.
Ms. Goates rose to hand Principal Towne three large framed certificates.
"By unanimous vote of the faculty of the Malkin Academy for the Magical Arts, Miss Kathleen Malinda Burroughs, Mr. Kevin Marion Guinfort, and Mr. William Cadmus Proctor are hereby awarded the Principal's Citation for Outstanding Service to the School." Everyone erupted in applause. Will patted Guinfort on the back and smiled.
Principal Towne continued. "And now, Mr. Malleus has a further presentation." He bowed out of the way and let the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher take the lectern. He held a small box in his well-muscled hand.
"As Regional Secretary of the American Anti-Dark Arts League, it is my honor to announce that Will Proctor is hereby inducted as an honorary member of the American Anti-Dark Arts League and awarded the League's Distinguished Service Medal." Mr. Malleus opened the box to reveal a gold medallion hanging from a chain. He slipped the award around Will's neck.
Will looked thoroughly Confusticated, but the audience jumped to their feet. Tom stood up on his chair and clapped like crazy. Phinehas grinned from ear to ear. Kate jumped up and down, laughing and slapping Will on the back. For a second, Guinfort actually smiled.
The last days of B.A.T.S.—and the last weeks of the term—flew by faster than Will would have imagined possible. At the Farewell Banquet on the eighteenth of May, Proudfeather came out at the top of the house standings thanks to Ms. Goates revoking Will's hundred-point penalty for refusing to answer her questions after the stolen-wands incident. After the banquet, the triumphant Proudfeathers carried the immense Malkin Cup, its golden figure now transformed into the shape of a soaring eagle, back to their dormitory.
With classes finally over, the common room was full of students enjoying their last night on campus before going home for the summer. Liza Dunwoody was playing requests on the upright piano near the bookcase. A clutch of third-years had staked out a card table in a far corner where they drank Fizzbangs and snacked on cauldron cakes.
"I don't care what anyone says," Phinehas grinned. "Next year, with Tom as team captain, we're going to be Un. Stoppable." Everyone agreed.
"Anybody got any big plans for the summer?" Rodney asked.
"Just hanging out with my cousins," Kate said, "now that Merlina and I are back on speaking terms."
"We're going to visit my grandma in Florida next month," Felicia said. "There's a Muggle amusement park there I've been wanting to see since I was little."
"How about you, Will? Any plans for the summer?" Kate asked.
Will shrugged. "I figured I'd read up on Trans-species Transfiguration for next year. It's supposed to be really hard." Everyone moaned. Rodney threw his empty cauldron cake wrapper at Will, who turned an impressive shade of pink.
"I guess some things never change," Phinehas said.
"No," Will said, "I don't suppose they do."
"Much," Kate winked.