DISCLAIMER: Due to a three-way tie in Chapter 145's Survey, the solution to our "whodunit" may seem quite preposterous. You can help future chapters work more smoothly. Simply take part in the Double Challenge at the end of this post!Continuing his coverage of the Hexischoleiad Final, Bo Dwyer reports for Broomstick and Wand...
My interview with Bruno Fenoglio, disqualified from the final round of the late Hexischoleiad Tournament, was abruptly cut short by a screech from the catlike marsupial that rode everywhere on my photographer's shoulder. "Skreep!" it yowled. "You've got mail!"
"Did that thing just talk?" Fenoglio squeaked, looking pale as death.
"No worries, mate," said my photographer, whose name I forget. "This is only my PDQ."
Fenoglio squinted at the odd creature. "What is a PDQ?"
"Parchment Delivery Quoll," said What's-His-Name, drawing a tiny scroll out of the animal's pouch. "And this is an IMP."
The boy shuddered under his towel, showering me with drops of water from his still-wet hair, and stammered, "Th-they come in all sh-shapes, I reckon."
"No, not that kind of imp, ye muggle's squib! I-M-P, as in Irruptive Memorandum Parchment. It's going to replace owls, you'll see; just as soon as these little blighters come back from the brink of extinction..."
"Rodney," I groaned, "would you please shut up and pass me the IMP?"
"My name is..."
As soon as I unrolled the slip of parchment, the words "Thundering thestrals!" burst out of my mouth.
"What is it?" Fenoglio gasped, stretching his neck to read over my shoulder.
"That's just a random-exclamation spell," Wossname explained knowledgeably. "They put them on all IMPs, to draw attention and maybe prompt bystanders to..."
"Hopping hippogriffs!" Fenoglio blurted.
"You see?" said the photographer. "It's a sales gimmick. Right clever, if you..."
"Cheezit, Felix," I muttered. "Pack up your gear. We have to get to the Palazzo di San Nazario. Something's happening. Look."
The photographer took the parchment, muttering something about slaving for fourteen years and still not being called by one's right -- then he interrupted himself with a shout of "Salem's nooses! This is big!"
I tousled Fenoglio's head, said, "Tough luck, kid," and grabbing my photographer's elbow grunted, "Let's go, Ralph." He disapparated immediately, and pulled me after him.
We came out in a crowded square surrounded on all sides by high, blind walls. On one side of the square, a group of younger witches and wizards stood with lit wands raised above their heads, chanting loudly and levitating bedsheets with slogans painted on them in color-changing, marquee-sized letters. Closer to where we apparated was a somewhat less cramped collection of journalists and bystanders, many of them wearing armbands in a variety of national colors.
"Well done, Roger," I muttered acidly, picking my dripping feet out of the ankle-deep water of the fountain in the center of the square.
"It was the only place open enough to apparate into," Wossname muttered back.
Everyone was facing a dais at one end of the square, where a plump, sweaty, nervous wizard was even now clearing his magically-amplified throat toward the tip of his wand. The chanting and clamor gradually subsided. I climbed up onto the wall of the fountain and found that I could easily see over everyone's heads that way. My photographer set up his tripod beside me.
I grinned at him. "As I said, Gustav, well done!"
"Thank you for your continued patience," the perspiring wizard announced, his quavering voice echoing off the blank wall opposite. "Be assured, we are expecting Il Comte to arrive at any moment. We apologize for the delay. While we wait, p-perhaps I could take a few questions from the front five or six rows..."
Dozens of hands clawed at the air above the press corps' heads.
"You, there," said the plump wizard. "The witch with the duck on her head."
"Is it true," screeched the witch in question, "that Don Maledicto intends to announce his candidacy to be the next Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards?"
"I'm afraid I can't speak to that," said the gentleman at the rostrum, tugging on his collar. "Next -- let's say, the bloke with the bone in his nose."
"I represent Shamans For Justice. As you know, it is very difficult to make a living in our specialty without revealing the existence of magic to the muggles. We would like..."
"Excuse me," the emcee cut in, "but, my goodness, are you a real witch doctor?"
"I do hold a doctorate from the University of Timbuktu, though I prefer the term 'wizard practitioner.' Anyroad, we want to ask Il Comte to pledge that, if elected Supreme Mugwump, he would work toward the repeal of the Statue of Secrecy, so that..."
"I'm sure he will take that into consideration," said the announcer. "If, that is... and I can neither confirm or deny..."
"Excuse me," piped a piercing voice, coming from the front rank of the young protesters. Whoever it was, he must have been far enough along in his magical studies to know his way around a Sonorus charm. "I know we're too young to vote in this election, but you must hear us. After all, we are going to inherit the magical world you leave behind."
"Oh, dear." The plump wizard mopped his brow with a limp handkerchief. "All right, son, we'll hear you. But make it..."
"Everyone knows Don Maledicto is the darkest wizard this side of the Adriatic," piped the same boyish voice. "What do you think he's going to do - turn over a new leaf the day after he's elected? You don't need a long white beard to know which way Il Comte will steer the world. He'll dial everything back to before Dumbledore came into office."
At the mention of Dumbledore's name, many of the youngsters began to chant again. This took a few moments to die down before the youthful speaker continued: "We're concerned about our environment. Magical creatures are dying out. Dragons are going the way of the dinosaurs. Giants, unicorns, and four-leaf clovers are racing each other to be the next magical species to go extinct. Every year there is less room for us to be ourselves, to do magic without being seen. Something has to be done before it's too late, before our world shrinks to the vanishing point!"
"I don't hear you making any suggestions," the announcer gloated.
"Not electing Don Maledicto would be a start!" the youth bellowed. His supporters cheered. "Did you know that studies show the magical world's shrinkage accelerates when dark wizards are at large? Did you know that every pay-per-spell and ready-brew potion sold at Vold-Mart kills more fairies than all the kneazles in Europe combined? Did you seriously think mooncalf flatulence was causing the hole in the earth's thaumatic field? We have to reduce the cloven hoofprint of the wizarding world, before..."
"Now, that's enough," shouted the sweaty wizard. He looked highly flustered. "Let's all settle down now. Il Comte will be here presently."
At that moment, however, someone else appeared on the dais. Below me, many people in the crowd craned their heads to see the tiny headmaster of Isola Indietro, who prevailed on the speaker to give him a leg up onto the podium. Standing on what appeared to be the manuscript of Il Comte's planned speech, the short wizard pointed his wand at his own throat and said, in a surprisingly deep baritone voice that resonated throughout the palazzo: "I regret to inform you that Signore Maledicto will not be available this evening. There has been a tragedy. The final task of the Hexischoleiad Tournament has ended without a winner. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Gunnar Almkvist..."
"Irving, you idiot," I spat at my photographer. "You brought us to the wrong story."
"For the umpty-eleventh time," he spat back, "my name is..."
"I know what it is, you grass-eating, walnut-sniffing... never mind, Clint. If we move quickly, we may still make it to the infirmary at Isola Indietro before the witnesses stop making unguarded comments. Hurry, now!"
Once again, I side-along apparated with Herbert(?), this time appearing on respectable, dry ground, in a familiar old corner of the school's sick berth, from which we had eavesdropped on many a quidditch game post-mortem while some player or other recovered from a bludger to the head. This time, we overheard this...
MALE VOICE 1 (in singsong, Nordic tones): There is no such thing as a wereyak.
MALE VOICE 2 (younger, in a heavily trilled, rolling accent): I'm telling you what I saw. I wish it had been a dream. But it was real.
FEMALE VOICE 1 (a local witch whose hoarse voice I recognized as that of the Isola Indietro magical sport teacher): The boy's story is consistent with the marks on the victim's body.
MALE VOICE 1: But this is absurd! Have you drunk too many of your own potions? No one has ever described such a thing. How does this Palamas boy even know what a yak looks like?
MALE VOICE 3 (older, but in the same accent as Male 2): I assure you, Aris is one of the most widely traveled wizards his age. And he has a special understanding where beasts are concerned...
MALE VOICE 1: To be sure, he seems to have a special aptitude for everything!
MALE VOICE 3: Now, Sandstad, you must calm down. It is understandable that you feel frustrated. Your student would have won this tournament, had he survived this task.
MALE VOICE 1: And instead, your well-traveled little favorite walks away with the laurel, by default. And he just happens to witness - if his ludicrous account is to be credited...
MALE VOICE 2 (shouting): How dare you! Look at my leg, my face! Would I do these things to myself? Would I do such a thing to my friend? You know nothing about me!
MALE VOICE 3 (some foreign mumbo-jumbo in a soothing tone of voice).
FEMALE VOICE 1: Well, at any rate, whatever attacked these boys will have the carabinieri on its trail - the wizarding ones especially. And if it is true that this wereyak is one of Il Comte's henchmen, they will have fled together. For the moment, it seems, our city is well rid of them.
FEMALE VOICE 2 (another voice I immediately recognized from our interview together, when she was on the Romanian Owlympic team): Rest assured, the Rogue Magic Bureau takes Mr. Palamas's account very seriously. My people will search for Il Comte, and when we find him we will hold him accountable for this.
MALE VOICE 1: But what could he possibly want with this crude, cracked, worn-out old eagle?
MALE VOICE 3: Cracked? What are you talking about? The falcon figurine is made out of solid thingummium, that stuff you can't even cut with a diamond. It can't be melted, sanded, or forged - nobody knows how it was made - isn't that why the Maltese are so wild about it?
MALE VOICE 1: Well, look at it. There's a crack right here.
MALE VOICE 3: Give it here.
MALE VOICE 1: I beg your - look out -
FEMALE VOICE 1: Well, there's a surprise.
MALE VOICE 3: What is that among the fragments? See how it catches...?
FEMALE VOICE 2 (abruptly): Don't touch it! Everyone, back away carefully...
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #149 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next. [EDIT: This discussion is now closed.]
SURVEY: When we last heard from Spanky, he was having doubts about his old friend Lionel Niblet. When he goes back to Mangeford, Spanky finds that Sir Lionel has been: (A) put under an Imperius Curse; (B) replaced by a polyjuice-swilling imposter; (C) quietly missing for some time, and his estate is now controlled by an icky heir; (D) living a life of crime on the sly.
CONTEST: Describe an extremely rare (i.e., totally invented) creature that uses camouflage to disguise itself as something else. The more absurd the disguise, the better!