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The next morning, the final exams started after breakfast. During breakfast, the loudspeaking item was busy announcing the fact that seven students, including Jen Greenbelt, Bob Flammifer, Cath Place and even (sigh) Keven Minehart, were going home early with grades of F on all their finals.

“They should be suspended,” said Cloud.

“I was hoping they’d be expelled,” said Tom, rubbing his head, which still ached a little.

“It’s the best we could hope for,” said Angelica. “These are the Maroons we’re talking about. Their parents have pull like you wouldn’t believe. What are ours? A couple of teachers, a couple of troublesome toy makers, and a couple who own a bar.”

“And a dead cop and a Normal,” said Arnulf. He looked at Ahir, who held his hands on the table. “And a couple of Iranian dissidents.”

“And a soulless Amazon,” said Daphne grinning. “Let’s talk about something more upbeat. What finals have you guys got today?”

The answer was: Sear, History of Magic, which everyone but Arnulf had. Tom: “I’m glad I read that footnote about potion regulations in the Ministry period.” Cloudius: “What was the Ministry period?”

Then it was Ash’s Defense final all afternoon, which all of them had to get through. Arnulf: “Sorry, um, Cloud, man, I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.” Cloudius: “Wha—?”

Then they were eating dinner and studying and studying some more. Angelica: “I don’t see how Arn’s going to pass anything tomorrow, unless there are a bunch of questions about smooching.” Natalie: “He’s spending a lot of time looking deeeeep into her eyes, so if they ask her eye color, he should get that right.”

Then it was a rainy Tuesday and Temple’s alchemy final, which only two of them had to take. Daphne: “He’s not nearly as evil as you’d think, that Temple.” Tom: “I think I got my name right, anyway.”

That afternoon was White’s English final, which all but Tom were in. Cloudius: “I Englished that real good!” Daphne: “I’m almost sure I misspelled annihilate. Ergh!” Meanwhile, Tom was redeeming himself in Norbert Match’s Light final; his gloating was giving him a glow the others could read by over dinner.

Then they were all back at the School, because first half grades were posted Tuesday night. Arnulf: “A. A. It’s only two, but it is all As.” Ahir: “Very nice, Arnulf! You’re keeping up with me.” Angelica: “I am underperforming. It is not acceptable.” Daphne: “A in History? Two As? How did that happen?” Spiny: “You been working hard, Dapher. I got all Bs so far.” Cloudius: “Ange, I think it’s acceptable.” Rats: “I’m not quite totally doomed.”

Tom was staring up at his Alchemy grade. “So,” he asked no one in particular, “is ‘see me’ better than an F or worse?”

“Depends,” said Arnulf. “You know Temple’s going to give you a Task. That could be good or bad.”

“But probably both,” said Rats.

Then it was Wednesday’s finals, while freezing rain accumulated on the houses, roads, trees and power lines, but it was too much to hope for that the power would go out. In the morning, Tom had Glohan’s English exam: “Not splendiferous, more mediocre, but definitely not a debacle.”

Meanwhile, Cloudius, Ahir and Arnulf had Ash’s Alchemy final. Cloudius was laughing: “I survived. I’m still alive. I might have gotten, oh, a C+!” Arnulf was shaking his head: “There goes my all A semester. My mom would have assumed I cheated.” They looked at Ahir, who tried to damp her bright smile and managed to stop singing for a minute.

That afternoon, Angelica took her Illusions final: “I’m still holding on to my illusion of getting an A in that class.” Rachel: “Oh, honestly, Ange. You killed that class.”

At the same time, Arnulf and Tom had Blaine’s science final. Arnulf: “Mom is not going to believe it. She’s going to think my report card got switched with Ahir’s.” Tom: “Mom’s not going to like this. She thinks a B in science is heinous. Heinous. Good word, that.”

Then it was early morning Thursday, as the three inches of snow that fell the previous night blew around Chicago at fifty miles an hour and the mercury in the thermometers dropped through the floor, through the basement, into the sub-basement. Naturally, that was time for Daphne and Cloudius to do their final with old Timms in the metallurgy shop downstairs. They had nothing to say when they came back up, although they both had smug looks on their faces (and Daphne was nursing a newly healed-up burn down the length of her right arm—not her throwing arm.)

The final finals were Ash’s Math One, with Angelica, Cloudius and Daphne, and Sear’s other section of History of Magic, with Arnulf and Ahir. Daphne swung her imaginary math sword through the air: “Linear inequalities: whack! Laws of exponents: whack! Fibonacci numbers: whack!” Cloudius: “What kind of numbers?” As for History of Magic, all they could get out of Ahir and Arnulf was cuddles, smooches, sweet nothings—and smug looks.

The grades, amazingly, were up that night, and by the next day they had copies of the grade reports that were also winging their magical way home to their parents.

Student: Arnulf Shmoke GPA: 3.73
Class Teacher Grade
Defense I Ash A
English I White A
Science I Blaine A
History of Magic Sear B
Intro to Alchemy White A-

“Not too bad, actually,” said Arnulf. Then he looked over at Ahir’s: six classes, six As. The others looked over her shoulder: her skin was dark enough that it was hard to tell if she was blushing.

“I’m not surprised,” said Angelica. “With all the cuddling you two do, some of you must rub off on him, Ahir. I’m just disgusted that with all my studying, I barely beat Arnulf. I worked so hard in Temple’s class and all I got was a B+!”

“Oh, please,” said Rachel, “you actually got a note from Sear about how great your paper on the Renaissance system was, and you know Shag worships you.”

Student: Angelica Aliyev GPA 3.77
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear A
Defense I Ash A-
Introduction to Alchemy Temple B+
English I White A-
Illusions Shag A
Mathematics I Ash A

Notes: Excellent work in History of Magic. –Ramona Sear
Exemplary work in Illusions. –Ben Shag

“Acceptable, I guess,” said Angelica.

“Better than me or Rache,” said Natalie. “So shut up,” said Rachel. “No doubt,” said Cloudius.

Student: Cloudius Cloud GPA: 3.06
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear C
Defense I Ash B-
English I White A-
Metallurgy Timms A
Mathematics I Ash B
Introduction to Alchemy White B

Notes: Commendation for hard work. –Andronicus Timms
“I don’t care about anything,” said Cloudius, “except for that commendation.”

“I got one too,” said Daphne. “He never gives you a compliment in class. He must really like us.”

“What’s not to like?” replied Cloudius. “We work super hard and we recover quickly from superficial burns.”

Student: Daphne Golden GPA: 3.72
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear A-
Defense I Ash B
English I White A-
Metallurgy Timms A
Mathematics I Ash A
Introduction to Alchemy Temple A

Notes: Commendation for Hard Work. —Andronicus Timms

“Badabing, badabang,” said Daphne, “badaboom.”

“Who needs defense,” said Spiny Norman, “you have your sword. You’re gonna make me one, right?”

Student: Thomas J Hexane GPA 3.33***
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear A
Defense I Ash B+
Light Match A
Science I Blaine A-
English I Glohan C-
Introduction to Alchemy Temple Deferred***

Notes: Exceptional work in Light. –Norbert Match
Extra work assigned, yet to be evaluated. –T. Temple“Extra work, huh?” said Cloudius. “I gotta go see him,” said Tom, looking spooked. “We’ll head over there with you, okay?” said Angelica. “Thanks,” Tom replied.

Meanwhile Rats and Pinhead were barely above water; Spiny was getting a solid B average; Natalie and Rachel were breathing down Angelica’s neck; several of the Maroons would have to seek exemptions to even return to school, since their automatic fails on finals had dropped them into F territory on most of their classes. And Jen Chang was smarting over her B in English, a blemish amongst a sea of As; it dropped her behind Ahir Shaheen, who not only had all As but had a commendation in Defense and another in Alchemy.

“Of course she got a commendation in Defense,” said Jen Chang. “Everyone’s scared to go against her in magic combat.”

“If they’re not,” said Arnulf, smirking at Ahir, “they should be.”

But soon everyone was gone from the first floor hall outside the Library except for the five second-floor Ash House residents. Tom shrugged and said, “Let’s go, okay?”

“We’re with you,” said Daphne, and they were, all the way up to Temple’s office.

“Ah, come in, Mr Hexane,” said Temple when he saw them. “Shut the door, would you?”

And fifteen minutes later, Tom came back out, took a breath and said, “I’m allowed to tell you what the task is, um, when I finish it.”