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SEVENTH HEXISCHOLEIAD ENDS IN SUCCESS...AND TRAGEDY
Only Two School Champions Killed -- A Record Low
Bo Dwyer reports exclusively for Broom & Wand...
Until this year, few British sport fans have followed the Hexischoleia Tournament, held every sixth year since 1972. This is not extraordinary, seeing that none of the six schools competing in the Hexischoleiad are in the U.K. What is extraordinary is the level of enthusiasm this year's tournament generated among British witches and wizards. Six schools, six champions, six challenges, six countries - and at every stage, a contingent of loyal supporters from our fair isle.
Our own Algernon Nutwicke, Interim Minister for Magical Games and Sports, offered me his explanation during the tense buildup to the Fifth Task: "Since the downfall of You-Know-Who, our lot have felt a weight lifted off them. There is a greater sense of freedom to travel, and a growing openness to foreign folk. Plus, after that Diggory chap bought it in the last Triwizard Tournament, there hasn't been much joy in the international sport line, if you follow me."
When I asked Mr. Nutwicke to place that last remark in the context of this year's spectacular Quidditch World Cup Final, he simply added: "Well, it was between Suriname and Burkina Faso, wasn't it?" If this sentiment is shared by many of his constituents, it makes the large number of British camp followers at this year's Hexischoleiad all the more extraordinary.
It is ironic that the Triwizard Tournament has only been held once since the 1960s, and is unlikely to come again for at least a few years. Why Ironic? This Nutwicke explained later, during the memorial service for Santa Ardilla's champion Pilar Lopez, whose mishap over the Gorge of Interminable Loneliness ended the Hexischoleiad's record streak of six consecutive tasks with no fatalities (counting the last two tasks of the 2002 Hexischoleiad). In an address to the mourners, Nutwicke explained how it was the Triwizard Tournament that inspired the six largest European schools of wizardry after Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons to combine in their own interscholastic competition.
"Until the middle of the last century," stated Minister Nutwicke, "the heads of the Santa Ardilla, Isola Indietro, and Iphinassa schools of magic frequently petitioned the Triwizard Schools to be included in Europe's oldest interscholastic magical games. They argued that their schools deserved to participate because of their size and high reputation. But unfortunately, the enchantment on the Triwizard Cup was unalterable, having been established at a period when Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons were the only large, coeducational, and residential schools of magic in Europe. Simply put, it was considered impossible at that time for any other schools to compete for the Triwizard Cup. Furthermore, after all three school champions perished two tournaments in a row, there were doubts that the Triwizard tradition would be continued at all. And so, in 1972, the first Hexischoleiad was held.
"The aforenamed Spanish, Italian, and Greek schools," Nutwicke continued, "were joined by representatives from Tummetot Academy, the Finsteraarhorn Fliegenschule, and Horzeltuin Hall. Together, the sixth schools have put forward some of the most exciting champions in the history of magical sport, achieving a glory made up of equal parts cunning and courage, glorious victory and noble sacrifice. And now, how touching - even, perhaps, ironic - to find graduates of the three Triwizard Schools gathered among us to honor the latest fallen hero of the Hexischoleia Tournament."
Pilar Lopez was not the last hero to fall, however. Considering the perils involved in all six tasks, it is remarkable that only two champions were lost this year.
The first task, hosted by Tummetot, required the six champions to defeat a troll in single combat. Iphinassa's Aris Palamas took an early lead using a maneuver he learned from Xenophilius Lovegood's unauthorized biography of Harry Potter (levitate club, drop on troll's head).
In the second task, Finsteraarhorn challenged the youngsters to rescue hostages from a mountain pass haunted by snow demons. Palamas tied with Horzeltuin's Saskia Troost by working together, using an avalanche as a diversion and sneaking up the pass while the yetis were rebuilding their tunnels.
Isola Indietro's champion Bruno Fenoglio narrowly survived an obstacle course designed by Horzeltuin's charms master, who seems to have a fondness for booby traps and sharp-edged projectiles. The best score in that round went to to Lopez, with Palamas taking second and maintaining his overall lead.
There was another close call in the fourth task, this time for Finsteraarhorn's Constant Malheur, whose string of bad luck took on gruesome dimensions when Santa Ardilla challenged the champions to find their way out of a maze of mirrors armed with transfiguration traps. Lopez achieved the best time, but her score was docked because she came out of the maze with asses' ears; first place then went to Tummetot's Gunnar Almkvist, who amazingly navigated the maze blindfolded.
By this time, a new 36-year safety record had been set. Yet, surprisingly, supporters continued to pour in from all parts of Europe, including one party of elderly sport hoodlums who had been banned from the Triwizard Tournament since the 1950s; several of them were deported after Lopez's fall into the Gorge, though it is unlikely that either their burning of Iphinassa's administration building (which was, after all, only a replica of Taureian temple of Artemis) or the stampede that followed it could have caused the second-place champion to miss her footing. It was the champions with their daring, dash, and dazzle that brought more attention to each successive task; but now that blood was spilled, the attendance at the sixth and final task was beyond all expectations.
"At the last moment we had to double the number of tiers in our Quidditch pitch," commented Isola Indietro's headmaster, the diminutive Professor Presto. "There still weren't enough seats to go around."
"They had more spectators than the World Cup Final," Minister Nutwicke agreed.
Going into the final task, the scores stood thus: In first place Palamas of Iphinassa with 312 points; runner-up Lopez of Santa Ardilla with 298 but no longer with us; Almkvist of Tummetot at third with 244; Troost of Horzeltuin in fourth with 228; Fenoglio of Isola Indietro in fifth with 225 points and a home-field advantage; and in last place, but effectively out of the running, Finsteraarhorn's Malheur with 176 points. Anyone but Malheur or, of course, Lopez had a chance to win, given that a full 100 points would be given to the winner of the task.
The rules of the task were simple. The winner would retrieve a life-sized falcon figurine hidden somewhere in the city -- yes, outside the gates of the school -- and bring it back, undamaged, without doing any magic in front of muggles. The figurine (on loan from Malta) had undisclosed magical properties and could be hidden indoors, outdoors, or even underwater. It would be, as Professor Presto called it, "the ultimate scavenger hunt." Anyone breaking one of the rules would be instantly disqualified. And the champions had 24 hours to finish the task.
I spoke with Fenoglio six hours into the task, after he was disqualified for levitating himself out of a canal. While members of the Italian Ministry for Magic modified the memories of a passing gondolier and his passengers, a soaked and shivering Fenoglio explained how he had tried to use his knowledge of local magic to his advantage. "I knew about a wizard who owns an entire, unplottable island in the city. I had heard that he kept falcons, so I reasoned that the figurine might be with Il Comte's birds. I had always heard bad things happened to kids who tried to sneak onto Il Comte's estate, but I assumed that was part of the challenge."
Fenoglio continued, "I've been studying to become an animagus, so I reckoned that would be the safest way to get across the grounds. I haven't passed the license test yet, so no one else in the tournament knew about it. It was kind of a secret weapon. Now the time finally came to use it."
Here I asked Fenoglio what animal he turns into. "A boa constrictor," he said. "Just like my mother's cousin, who gave me the idea. He got so good at it that he forgot how to turn back into a human. Last I heard of him he had escaped from a zoo somewhere."
"He must have been very convincing as a snake," I put in.
"My mother always said he was," said Fenoglio. "Don't tell her about this, all right? I don't think she would like it."
I promised to take the secret to my grave. Then, dear reader, young Fenoglio went on with his stunning tale. "It had gotten dark by the time I reached Il Comte's weathering yard. That's where they exercise the birds, you know. I went scaly and crept out of the woods, tasting the air to make sure nobody was around. All I sensed was bird, so I slithered toward the shed where they keep the mews. Getting in under the wall took a bit of work, but I finally did it and turned back into me. I conjured up a bit of cold fire and started searching the mews for a bird figurine. That's when it got interesting.
"One of the falcons wasn't hooded. When I looked in on it, it seemed to be trying to tell me something. I thought this was pretty unusual, so maybe it was the figurine with those mysterious powers old Presto mentioned. I had to pick a lock to let it out. Then it got really scary.
"The bird flew right at me, like it was going to chew my face off. I fell on the floor and shielded myself, but the sound of flapping wings stopped. Suddenly this man was standing there. He must have been an animagus too. He grabbed me and made me run away with him -- dragged me, almost -- all the way to the canal, where we got into trouble. Il Comte must have detected us somehow, because his golems were waiting for us -- yes, that's what I said, men made out of clay. I never thought I could run like that. If we hadn't found that boat we would have had to swim for it."
The Hexischoleiad champion and the strange man were pursued, now by wizards who had no qualms against shooting curses at them in front of muggles. They got separated when one well-aimed curse blasted their boat to splinters. What became of the other wizard, or who he was, is still unknown. The local authorities claim to have spoken with Il Comte and his staff, but no information has been forthcoming. But, understandably, other concerns have taken higher priority.
For even while I was interviewing one champion who had narrowly escaped with his life, another champion was killed while holding the falcon figurine.
...TO BE CONTINUED...
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #147 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) on this blog
, 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.
SURVEY: Who killed the Hexischoleiad champion? A) Il Comte di Bestemmia or his minions. B) Another school's champion. C) A magical creature linked to the falcon figurine. D) Somebody connected to the mystery of Penelope's Yak.
CONTEST: Invent an original and colorful "wizard swear" or magical insult that can be published on a family-oriented website
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