15 August 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Seventeen: Taking Flight

Significant Digits, Chapter Seventeen: Taking Flight

  1.  Every State shall make provisions for expeditious transport to the John Snow Center for Medicine (alias The Tower) for any injured or ailing persons (hereafter Users) of the following types:
    1. Full-blooded witch or wizard.
    2. Half-blooded witch or wizard.
    3. Muggleborn witch or wizard.
    4. Such Beings as qualify under the text of Article 1, Section 2. (Amended)
    5. Squibs or other non-magical relatives, as defined in the text of Article 1, Section 4. (Amended)
  2.  This transport shall be provided under the following terms:
    1. Transport shall be free of charge for all Users.
    2. Should it be necessary, States may impose a monetary penalty or criminal charges to those Users who are deemed to be abusing the service.
    3. Such penalty shall, nonetheless, not be incurred on any User’s first trip to the John Snow Center for Medicine.
    4. Transport shall be expeditious, as defined in the text of Article 1, Section 7.
    5. Transport shall be safe, taking place only under such circumstances or employing such means as will assure the well-being, both physical and mental, of Users, as specified by the parameters of Appendix F. (Amended)
  3.  Any attempts to sabotage, disrupt, delay, repurpose, alter, or otherwise interfere with the operations of the aforementioned transport, regardless of whether or not said sabotage, disruption, delay, repurposing, alteration, or interference is within the bounds of the signatory State or any other State, including both signatories and non-signatories, shall incur a penalty commensurate with the number of preceding penalties already incurred, according to the chart of Appendix B, and as determined by an impartial vote of representatives of all signatory States. (Amended)
From Article 3 of the Treaty for Health and Life.


April 16th, 1999
Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry

Hogwarts is a dangerous place, even at the best of times.  Even aside from the menagerie of dangerous creatures that live in and around its grounds.  The castle itself is a vast labyrinth of ever-changing corridors, dimly-lit dungeons, and variable staircases.  Wizards and witches are supernaturally hardy in many ways, but Madame Pomfrey, the matron, always had her hands full -- even without classroom mishaps.

It was tragic, then, but hardly suspicious when Sammy Meroveni-Bowles slipped on the stairs on his way down from Divination and Probability, felt the railing give way in his hand, and fell down the gaping center of the tower’s spiral staircase.  Several children were behind him on the stairs, and could see the accident.  The witnesses should probably count themselves as fortunate, since if they’d left class first, they might have been the ones to slip on the small puddle of castor oil on the staircase.  Sammy was always the first to rush down to luncheon, though, so that was unlikely.

Sammy fell like a stone, followed by a piece of railing, his Divinations and Probability textbooks, and the bracket that had torn free.  He bounced off of the staircase on the opposite side of the tower after a moment, his skull smashing into the stone and rebounding him back the other direction.  By the time he hit the floor of the tower, he was unrecognizable -- a tangle of battered bones, meat, and robes.

Lawrence Bradwian was the first to reach the boy.  He’d been in the lavatory, returning to class, and so he was kneeling next to Sammy and gingerly turning the boy over by the time their other classmates arrived.  Sammy and Lawrence were known to be dire enemies, and so many thought it was a mark of great kindness that Lawrence shouted for a Safety Stick.  Professor Placela bustled halfway down the stairs with one, his black-and-gold robes gathered up in his fists, before he realized that it would be faster to simply drop it.  Lawrence caught it awkwardly with the tips of his fingers.

“How do I do this, without going along?” he asked, looking around.  He seemed quite upset.

His friend Annabeth huffed in frustration, and grabbed his hand.  “Just go!” she said, and yanked his hand and the Stick down into Sammy’s bloody chest.  It snapped, and with a slippery pop, all three of the children disappeared.

The rest of the class looked at each other, uncertain, as Professor Placela reached the bottom of the stairs.  He was puffing and red-faced, but he still had wind enough to insist they have an impromptu lesson on the availability heuristic.  Just because events like these sprang quickly to mind when one thought of stairs, did not make stairs any more dangerous than before, since so many people used them without incident on a daily basis.  Everyone groaned and complained that they weren’t planning on reconsidering the use of stairs, but the excitement and mild shock of the accident had made them tractable.  The students found seats on the stairs, scrunching together and grimacing, as their teacher discussed base rates.


At any given time, more than half of the aurors stationed at the Tower were positioned in the Receiving Room.  At night and in the wee hours, the flow of patients transported by individual Safety Sticks or one of the two dozen fixed Safety Poles slowed significantly, as trauma cases were replaced by scheduled rejuvenations, long-term illness treatments, and the highly complex changes in magical nature that the Tower made possible (such as restoring vampires and lycanthropes).  During those hours, there might be as few as twenty aurors in the Receiving Room.

Weekday afternoons, on the other hand, were often quite busy, and a full fifty aurors were bustling around the reception area.  The vast majority were native British aurors, as usual, although an increasing number of foreign aurors were being posted at the Tower, as well.  Exceptional Transfiguration skills were considered the most important asset in any potential Tower auror, as well as warding, scanning, and a general aptitude for learning new magics.  Foreign aurors -- and healers, too -- were ready, willing, and able to assist in the implementation of the Treaty for Health and Life, and so they were made welcome… after passing an assessment by the Director of the DMLE, Cedric Diggory, and by the head of Tower security, Alastor Moody.  It was only fair to permit their countries to send them, but they still had to meet the Tower’s high standards.

Political considerations made their inclusion a smart move, anyway.  As new countries joined, and their citizens saw the physical disabilities of their neighbors vanish and magical hospitals empty, replaced by a stream of fresh-faced, healthy, and delighted young witches and wizards, it was important to make sure that each state felt fully invested in the process, and that the entire clinic operation be as transparent as possible in order to allay suspicion.

Fairness and politics aside, the foreigners were necessary.  There were just too many sick, wounded, and elderly for the British aurors to handle -- even with the aggressive recruiting that had doubled their ranks.  Every hour of every day, aurors were needed for the reception squad, the scanning squad, the chizpurfle squad, the traffic squad, and the detector squad -- plus those additional aurors who simply remained vigilant and directed traffic.  One experienced and level-headed auror -- in short supply, these days -- was also necessary to be the cryptically-named “Mayor of Terminus,” usually just called the “Terminus,” for any given shift.  The Terminus was in command of the Receiving Room, and the post had become highly sought-after in recent years.

This particular Friday afternoon, forty-two aurors were on duty in the Receiving Room.  The cavernous hall, which had seemed silly in its enormous scale when the Tower opened, was bustling with people working efficiently.  Every ten or twenty seconds, a new arrival would spin into place in an empty spot, flickering with red as he or she was rendered unconscious, and an auror trained in triage would swoop in, visually inspect them, cast a quick scan, and check their ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation).  If there was no pressing emergency -- and there usually wasn’t -- then the patient would be passed off to a pair of colleagues, who would start the autonomous patient record and begin security scans.  The patient record, a specialized Quotes Quill and pre-printed parchment form, followed the patient and filled in information obediently after the scans as bottled chizpurfles were used to ferret out any magical items or spells that the scanners had missed.  Wands and any dangerous contraband were confiscated and bagged and tagged.  Then the patient was floated on into the Tower proper, where the real work could begin (and sometimes continue, holding stable long into the night, waiting for Harry to come inspect the healing).

They’d already caught Moody once, today, but everyone was still doing their best work, highly conscious of the fact that he would sometimes make more than one attempt to breach security.  Last year, he’d tried thirty-two separate times in a single twenty-four-hour period, and his last attempt had taken the form of conjoined twins, one of whom was apparently in cardiac arrest, trying to smuggle in a wand.

He wasn’t the only security concern, either.  There were frequent intoxicated people “running safety,” occasional attempts at organized protests, and even the rare assassin or two.

Truly novel attacks were rare.  That may be why this one was so successful at disrupting the Receiving Room.

Three children spun into existence, two crouching over a third bloody body for a moment, before they all fell limp.  Half a heartbeat later, a large burlap sack and a big mahogany cabinet both erupted from the pocket of the injured child, sprouting sideways as though they were the fruit of some monstrous plant in the injured child’s garments.  And half a heartbeat after that, the doxies trapped inside of the bag burst free.

Harry Madagascar was Terminus this afternoon, and he was highly competent.  His wand already was in his hand before the sack had finished its emergence, and his eyes flickered around the room to pick out additional threats and to make sure everyone was on task.  They were: two aurors physically moved to block the golden entrance into the Tower proper, calling out a warning to the guards within, who rolled the barrier into place; the reception squad and scanning squad focused on shielding and stabilizing their patients; the chizpurfle squad handled incoming patients in the same way; and everyone else concentrated on the threat.  It appeared to be an isolated attack, rather than a distraction -- no one was trying to make a break for it, and the various wards and jinxes on the Room all seemed to be functional.  The cabinet that had also sprung from the child’s clothes seemed to be inert, thank Merlin.

However minor the threat, two dozen doxies had escaped from the bag in the few seconds before an auror hit it with an Immobilus, containing the rest of them.  And unfortunately for the annoyed aurors, the escapees scattered throughout the room.  Biting Faeries, as they were also known, were nasty little pests… covered in coarse “hairs” of black chitin, they had shiny brown beetle-wings and a hard little nugget for a head.  They were small and didn’t do much damage when they bit, but they were venomous.  Each needle-like tooth was covered in an oily venom; doxies had two rows of them at any time, shedding one row and growing another each month.  Not particularly fearsome creatures, although their venom could cause serious, persistent swelling if left untreated.  Doxycide was the usual treatment, since the blasted critters were so hard to hit.

Madagascar kept a careful watch as the situation was dealt with by the professionals in the Receiving Room.  No additional instructions seemed to be necessary, as the aurors on task were ably freezing or killing each doxy.  They were quick and agile beasts, and they managed to bite a few people as they buzzed around the room, whipping and weaving to avoid attacks, but there was never any real threat.  Maybe just a prank, Madagascar thought.  Was that lazy thinking?  How could someone benefit from this?  As a diversion, while an assassination attempt was underway?  Well, that wasn’t his look-out: he was Terminus, and so he just needed to wrap this up as soon as possible.  The bloody little things were zipping around and trying to find places to hide for a moment, so they could bite.

Perhaps seven or eight minutes later, the last elusive doxy was obliterated with a short-range blast of fire by an angry auror named Pilar.  She’d been keeping a badly-injured older woman stable during the fight, but had seen an opportunity to end the conflict before it dragged on any further.  She’d swept up her wand, cast her curse, and returned her wand to her patient in the span of a moment… but it was still a bad risk.  Outside of the Tower, and without whatever wandless magic Harry Potter used to complete the Higher Transfiguration spells within its walls, Transfiguration sickness could have caused serious problems even in the span of that moment.  Madagascar would have to scold her.

No apparent remaining threats, he thought, glancing around the room again.  But that kid is going to pay for this prank.  Unless -- for whatever insane reason -- he had some valid excuse.

“Harry!” called out Geraldine Stein, an auror normally on chizpurfle duty whom he’d once taken out for a quiet drink.  She was standing next to the burlap sack, looking inside at the frozen pests that hadn’t escaped.  “Mr. Madagascar, sir!” she corrected herself immediately.  He didn’t believe anyone would actually think she was being too familiar, but Stein was a careful woman.  “The rest of the doxies are dying!”

Poison, gaseous attack, trap -- his mind span through some possibilities, and he opened his mouth.  Then it snapped shut as he realized.  “Transfiguration sickness,” he called to her.  “That’s how they got here and were triggered… they were Transfigured into something small, and the transfiguration was dispelled when the caster was stunned.  That means it was someone here.  Better put up the first precaution, though, just in case.  Bubblehead the three kids.  And keep a close eye on them… one of them did this stupid prank.”  He paused, eyeing the cabinet.  “And seal that piece of furniture, too.”

Stein followed through on his commands, putting the Bubblehead Charm on the three unconscious teenagers and putting up the air ward of the first precaution to make sure that anything dangerous didn’t spread any further.  Then she touched her wand to the large wooden cabinet, dark wood with scrollwork along the top, that had also made the trip, and cast a full-strength Colloportus.  Whatever strange attack the cabinet was intended to convey, it was now locked-up.

Madagascar glanced around the Receiving Room, looking for any other threats.  He didn’t see any.  Just a swift of aurors all huddled or standing, attending to their patients.  They needed to get everything clear and moving again, or the incoming injured were going to start backing up in such great of numbers that those present wouldn’t be able to care for them.

“All clear, I think,” said Gregor Nimue, who was standing by the door, looking bored.  His arms were crossed, and his wand dangled casually from loose fingers.

“Give the knock, then,” said Madagascar.  His voice was a bit short, since he didn’t particularly like Nimue.  The man regarded himself as too good for his current circumstances, since he was competent and experienced, but had been stuck at the bottom of the duty roster for years.  Never knew that quadruple pay was going to cost so much, down the line, did you?, thought Madagascar.  Serves you right.

Nimue shrugged, and went to the heavy silver plate that had been rolled into place across the Tower entrance by the door guards just inside.  He knocked three times, then five times.  It sounded like someone was thumping on the bottom of some immense cauldron.  After a response from within, Nimue knocked two more times.

The door didn’t open, and Nimue looked even more annoyed as he realized something.

“What is it, Gregor?”  Madagascar asked, frowning.

The older auror scowled.  “This is the same alert pattern as earlier this month, when those protesters overwhelmed the guard in Bloemfontein and tried to just send as many Muggles through as possible, to swamp us with bodies.  Diggory didn’t change it, and now I bet they’re realizing that.”

“Well, they’ll need to fix that protocol, I suppose,” said Madagascar, trying not to lay blame anywhere -- not in such a public way, that is.  He certainly didn’t want his career to dead-end, just because he didn’t have enough sense to shut up.  He was going to add something else, but at that moment a silvery bat flapped its way out of some unknowable place and into sight right in front of his face.  Its leathery, translucent wings shed a glittering mist as it flew in place, and spoke in the voice of Director Diggory: “What is going on?”

Madagascar looked around the room, hesitating, then said resolutely, “We gave the correct knock, Mr. Diggory, I’m sure of it.  The situation is under control.”

The bat flapped out of existence, only to return a moment later, saying, “Monkey monkey monkey.”

He sighed and replied, “I like bananas, dress me like a doll.”  The call-and-response phrases were supposedly randomly generated by Mad-Eye Moody using funny little black-and-white cubes and a dictionary, but all the aurors were certain that he kept rolling the cubes until he got a sufficiently embarrassing result.

“Sir… look at this,” said Auror Stein.  She was kneeling down next to the injured boy in the trio of teenagers who had started this mess, a bottle of chizpurfles in one hand.  She held up a signal abacus in the other, just like the ones possessed by senior aurors.  “Someone must have forgotten to report a loss, sir.”

“And that,” said Nimue, from the other side of the room, “is a Vanishing Cabinet.  That boy with the doxies and abacus seems to have had quite a plan.”  He clucked his tongue.  “And it almost worked,” he added, even though the scheme plainly had not even come close to working.

“There’s a note here, too, sir,” said Stein.  She’d set down the abacus, and had a tightly-folded piece of parchment.  She glanced up at Madagascar, raising her eyebrows significantly.  “It’s in code.”

“Put the three kids under arrest,” said Madagascar, sighing.  Four aurors surrounded them.  He rubbed his eyes with his off hand.  At least it didn’t seem like it was another Moody attack.  Once in a day was enough.  Although it had been fun to give Pip credit, since no one saw Madagascar cast the stunner.  Madagascar grinned, remembering, as the door guards rolled back the silver plate blocking the Tower.  The enchanted barrier scraped the stone as it rolled, as if it was reluctant to be moved.

J.C. Kraeme, one of the guards, came to stand in the open doorway, still in the Tower.  She had her bubbler in hand, and she reported into it with a wry tone, “There are prisoners!  And they’re students!”  She lowered the bubbler, looking at the big dresser, the teenagers sealed off with Transfiguration precautions, the burlap sack full of dead doxies, and the twenty-four deceased ones littering the Receiving Room..  “What in Merlin’s name is going on here, Mr. Madagascar?”


NOTE:  This is the complete contents of the parchment that Stein found in Sammy’s pocket:


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