When young the orphan is commonly sent to an asylum, where by careful cultivation of its rudimentary sense of locality it is taught to know its place. It is then instructed in the arts of dependence and servitude and eventually turned loose to prey upon the world as a bootblack or scullery maid.
— Ambrose Bierce.

Houses are where people have to go when they are trying to hide. Inside them, we escape other horrors. They are our chosen shells.
— Catie Disabato.

The school mascot was an image of burning ambition: a griffin blazing like the sun.
— Tim Appelo.

How would a dragon live here?
— Douglas Adams.

#

Fir Tree Two (1: Minor Crime).

"In," directed Professor Snape, stepping aside, and they walked in with heads ducked in simulated shame. The Professor stared at them as though he were contemplating...well, possibly Scrubbadubbio. They were rather grubby post-collision: both decorated with dirt and leaves, and Malfoy had a very late-season dandelion crushed into his shoelaces.

"Fighting," said Professor Snape, looking them up and down, "is a notable offense, even outdoors."

Dandelion, thought Harry — and said "Skulk and Stalk, sir."

"What?"

"Skulk and Stalk," said Harry again, making it true on the grounds that Malfoy had certainly been skulking around invisibly, and that he personally was, at least now, stalking Malfoy, because anyone skulking around invisibly needed watching, so far as that was possible. There's no point being invisible unless you've got something to hide.

"Not fighting, only playing, sir," he added.

The Potions Master looked down at A) The Boy Who Lived and B) the son of the major funder of Slytherin, and said "Really."

"Lost track of the time, sir," said Malfoy, sounding like he'd gone with the actual truth, or at least an actual truth. "He can't remember the rules."

"I've never played it before," said Harry, and that also was completely true. "Bit exciting."

"He's completely awful," said Malfoy, with increasing enthusiasm. "I didn't even notice it getting dark, he's that bad."

"It must be a Seeker thing," said Harry. "Night vision. —Are we not supposed to play outside when it's dark?" he asked Malfoy.

"No!" said Malfoy. "It's against the rules."

"I must have forgotten," said Harry. "I mean, we do Quidditch practice outside in the dark, aren't we out of bounds a lot?"

"School activities don't count," said Malfoy.

"CEASE," directed Professor Snape. "Rest assured, your...positions will not allow you to go unpunished. You may go about your other affairs; this one, crossing Houses as it does, shall be remanded to the Headmaster."

He swept away stairward, leaving them in his wake. Harry waited to see what Malfoy would do next, which was essentially nothing but take a few uncertain steps forward as though he didn't know which move to make.

A couple of heartbeats later a head was poked out of the Buttery doorway. It belonged to Percy Weasley.

"I heard every word of that, Potter," said Percy, emerging into the entrance hall with a dismayed expression and a large cup of coffee. "I know not what course the Head may take, but I'm afraid I must deduct two points."

"Thanks, Perce," said Harry.

"It's my charge," said Percy, and sighed with a trace of sadness mixed with nobility before exiting towards Gryffindor.

Harry and Malfoy stood alone in the entranceway for a moment; Malfoy broke the silence.

"Why'd you cover for me?" he said, giving Harry a suspicious sidelong glance.

"I don't know, it was the spur of the moment," said Harry. "Shouldn't I have?" Somewhere in Slytherin, he was fairly sure, there was a poster or flag or pennant or tapestry with a segmented snake on it, captioned STICK TOGETHER. "Doesn't House loyalty count for anything?"

"This isn't a Wednesday," said Malfoy, shooting a glance up the stairs before breaking away and heading towards the dungeons. "You're only a Slytherin on Wednesdays."

"Am I?" said Harry, vaguely offended. A few equally vague and blobby thoughts shifted around in his mind and he decided to follow Malfoy.

"Why are you following me?" demanded Malfoy.

"What makes you think I'm following you?" retorted Harry. "I don't answer just to Percy, I might as well get it over with in the point-docking department."

Malfoy made a pfft noise and walked faster, which in his case meant accelerating to a speed normal for other people. Harry was tempted to suggest he pace himself.

They were halfway down the stairs to Slytherin level when Malfoy piped up again.

"Where do you get off, anyway?" he said. "Why are you the one who gets to go up and down?"

"Huh?"

"Freedom of two common rooms, nobody else gets that."

"Pretty sure Fred and George have it..."

"Only because one of my prefects tells them the password!" said Malfoy, jumping three steps to the floor.

"What, you want to know the Gryffindor password? It's 'fairy cakes'."

"That's not the — 'fairy cakes'?"

"Yeah, why?"

"...We had that one last week."

Around the curve of the dungeon wall they found, conveniently enough, Terry Beaconsfield, just outside the concealed entrance to the Slytherin common room. He was standing with his wand pressed to the wall and gave no indication he'd noticed them coming up behind him.

"Prefect override," he said. "New password."

If he was expecting a result he didn't get it.

Harry noticed that there were several volumes of the Prefects' Daybook on the floor, plus a copy of Fintann's Wand Theory. Possibly the last was the reason Beaconsfield had several different kinds of crystals spellotaped to his wand.

"What's going on?" asked Harry and Malfoy before raising eyebrows at each other.

Beaconsfield turned at last, and his expression would have darkened any summer day.

"Someone," he said, "possibly as...A Joke, has Confundused the door. The new password's stuck on...an epithet that's not going to be heard in this House while I'm a prefect, thank you very much." He waved his wand at the stack of Daybooks. "I remembered reading about a solution to a similar incident back in the '40s but apparently this one's not similar enough." He eyed Harry thoughtfully. "So now I'm thinking brute force. Lend us a wand, will you? It's worth a shot."

"Mine's no good?" said Draco with carefully concealed resentment.

"I never refuse help authentically offered," said Beaconsfield.

Harry reached into his inside pocket and fumbled for a moment before selecting the holly wand. He held it out, matched by Malfoy with his own. He

"Will it work for you?" asked Harry.

"For me, who can say," said Beaconsfield. "For us, quite possibly —" he wrapped his lightly callused hands around both of theirs and pressed all three wands to the door — "or it's next stop confringo, are you listening, door? Prefect override. New password."

After a long moment the wall emitted a sharp crack.

"New password?" said the wall in a gravelly voice.

"Kingfish," said Beaconsfield.

"New password, kingfish," said the wall.

"Not swordfish?" said Harry.

"Not Slytherin enough," said Beaconsfield. "—Kingfish!"

The door opened to reveal Slytherin as it was on most normal nights.

"Accio sock!"
"Oi! I'm using that, you bug!"
"You want to practice transfiguring tube socks into rattlesnakes, Al, use your own bloody socks, okay? —Sorry, did I say practice? I meant attempt for the perpetually first time."
"You stonking hypocrite. How many times did I catch you with your claws on my scales before I gave up and let you just have it?"

Beaconsfield released their hands and tapped the door shut again. "There, you see?" he said. "We work together, we make progress." He bent down to collect his books. "Now," he said, with some calculation, "who wants a gift certificate to the new pizza place in Hogsmeade that has elf delivery until eleven o'clock?"

They both raised their hands.

"Right," said Beaconsfield. "Malfoy," he said, handing him the book on Wand Theory, "run this back to Madam Pince — personally, mind. Potter, return these —" he buried Harry in the remaining stack — "to the cupboard." He glared at the wall again. "Meanwhile I," he said, "have to go see a man about a...let's go with 'pup'."

"If you mean Professor Snape, I don't think he's in his office," said Harry from around his stack. "I heard him say he was going to talk to the Headmaster about...something."

"Splendid!" said Beaconsfield. "I'd like to talk to the Headmaster too. — Better let him know I'm coming..." As he strode off after Malfoy he drew his wand, gave it a whiplike wave, and said "Expecto Patronum." A small silver cloud popped into existence at about knee height, and disappeared upwards through the wall.

Harry made a mental note to look that one up, and said "Kingfish" to the door.

From over the topmost book on his wobbly stack he could see that Beaconsfield's couch had a Keep Off sign on it, and the Keep Off sign had Millicent Bulstrode's cat on it, while the rest of the furniture and several carpets was occupied by...slithy coves, wasn't it?

"You call that a rattlesnake? It looks like a slug."
"Yeah, but you have to take the source into account."
"That's true. Al, how often do you wash your socks?"
"Don't answer that, Al! Not until I whip up some veritaserum."
"It was a trick question, he never washes his socks. —Ow."

Harry made his wobbly way to the Slytherin storage cupboard and managed to get all the way inside before dropping Prefects' Daybooks, volumes 1940-1949, all over the floor. While picking them up again he gradually realised that he was, in fact, picking up Prefects' Daybooks. And that he was stacking them on a shelf full of Prefect's Daybooks.

He had the impression that they were supposed to be kept secured: prefects-only sort of thing. Whatever that password had been it must have been pretty nasty to make Beaconsfield forget to re-seal the enchantment...

He finished inserting the books into the appropriate spot on the shelf, turned to leave...

...and stopped — he wasn't quite sure why. He turned his head. Handwritten titles filled the shelf.

1940-1949 1950-1959 1960-1969 1970-1979 1980-1989 1990-

That wasn't it, was it? Something about it? Or maybe the stacks of Rites Of Ktlbgpq! on the shelves underneath, maybe. Something about them had triggered a thought. He stood there, and did nothing, except of course listen, because that just happened on its own. In the common room people were still squabbling. And down a long corridor in his mind he could hear Rupert singing "I've Been Working On The Railroad".

The Daybooks and the back issues of Rites intersected in his mind:

1970-1979

Oh. Oh yes. That cartoon from 1974. The one that said Gryffindors break the laws. The one with with the Quidditch-playing lion, the one that, once he'd come to realise it, looked remarkably like him personally. And hadn't...hadn't his father been at school in 1974? Surely he'd have played...

I'll be owner of this railroad
One of these here days.
I'll be owner of this railroad—

{ Rupert. }

And I swear your pay I'll raaise...
I'll invite you to my mansion—

{ RUPERT! }

—Yes?

{ That speed-reading thing you do. }

...Yes?

Harry pulled out the Daybooks for 1970 to 1979.

{ Do it for me, would you? }

Hm, said Rupert. All right, but why?

{ I don't know yet, } said Harry.

Ah, you're-no-sey, said Rupert in a bad Spanish accent. Riffle those pages, my Captain!

Harry riffled...

After he'd closed the seal on the Daybook shelf he poked his head out into the common room again. No one took much notice of him as he sidled across the room and sat down at an empty desk, the only empty desk, and narrowly avoided a wet elbow from its surface, and waited silently.

"Has anyone fed Salazar Jr. today?"

There were assorted not-me's and no's in reply.

"What, no one?"

Pause.

"...I haven't seen Zabini lately," said someone.

Another pause.

"Is it just me or does this snake look a bit overstuffed?"

"Not funny," shouted Blaise Zabini up the first-year stairs.

There was a stack of battered newspapers on a shelf nearby; they looked like they'd been used as packing material, and when he leaned closer he saw they were Phoenix Gazettes. The one on top was the sport section so he took it to read the headline:

DETECT THE RABBITS!
Former Buns Beaten Again
STANFORD DRAGONS FALL TO UTAH TEAPOTS
Scandalous Performance At Quodpot Dome

He spent a pleasant time reading about alien sport until the common room door opened again and Beaconsfield entered, accompanied by Tim.

"The Silent Study's booked?" Beaconsfield was saying. "By whom?"

"Divination classes," said Tim. "All the way through to exams. Trelawney says silence is necessary for auguries to be free from error, and it's nice that she finally found out about the place."

"What rubbish," grumbled Beaconsfield. "We should just inclose the Quad and get in a few fire-barrels. I should put that forward at the next interhouse." At this point he noticed Harry and pointed at him, and then pointed at the stairs leading to the seventh-year dormitory. Harry grimaced and set down his paper before heading over.

"—Surely there's somewhere in the school that doesn't require dressing for the next polar expotition and isn't already in use," complained Beaconsfield.

"Ah, but I've got that covered," said Tim, smugly twirling his wand. "Any empty classroom."

"I said that doesn't require Everest chic."

"I heard!" said Tim. "Check this out." He pointed his wand at himself and said "Pyromoluccellaevis!"

Instantly he was bathed in pale green flame.

"Greenbell flames," he said proudly. "Like bluebell, but they don't need a jar. They stick to the body, and they're completely safe for clothes and books. Toasty!"

"Stylish. I like the colour. Where'd you pick that up?"

"Pick it up?" said Tim, offended. "I invented it." He leaned against the wall and folded his arms decisively.

Beaconsfield raised his eyebrows. "You picked out the name 'Pyroverrucawhatzis'?"

"Well, I got the idea from a herbal somebody'd left out," said Tim. He looked at the wall, which was now on fire.

"Mphm," said Beaconsfield, watching the flames slowly spread up towards the ceiling. "Yes, I can imagine you invented it..."

"I think we need to dust more often," said Tim. "Still, good idea, no?"

"I'm not criticising, am I?" said Beaconsfield, waving Harry down the stairs ahead of him. "Just, you know, lock the main door until you shut it off. You can shut it off?"

"Yes! Pretty sure..."

Harry went down the stairs.

The room hadn't been rearranged since the last time he'd seen it, which was a good sign. And yes, this was the room with the STICK TOGETHER pennant; he knew he'd seen it somewhere. It was hanging next to the bed with the badger plush toy on it...and a box of nutmeg ginger apple snaps from Colin & Thomas.

There were of course portholes in the walls, and he peered into the nearest not expecting to see anything given the depth and the darkness outside, but no, there was a shoal of small fish lit in neon colours swirling around like a living firework display. He watched it with fascination until thumping footsteps drew him away.

"Well, try subclassing it," called Beaconsfield, coming down the stairs backwards. "Invert the colour, cast it again and no one will know it's still burning...

"—Ah, Potter!" he said, waving Harry to a chair while taking a position behind a lectern borrowed from the Debating Society. "Got a couple of things on our plate."

"Oh good," said Harry.

"First, old business! That two-house plan of yours. I'm pleased to say I've made arrangements with the editor of the Howler for a column by yours truly detailing with exquisitely detached logic and carefully selected facts either A) why it's the most sensible thought anyone's had since the school was founded, or B) why it's a completely terrible, awful, no good and very bad idea — your choice."

"Why would you want to convince people it's a bad idea?" said Harry, confused.

"Sorry, I thought you were raised by muggles?" said Beaconsfield with mock puzzlement.

"I was!"

"Well, so am I — by choice, mind. —Merlin!" he said, slapping the top of the lectern, "if politics were magic, they'd be over us like a lawn roller. If you were a Dark wizard how would you push this thing through?"

"Er," said Harry, and cast a line into his memory, hoping to hook something on how Dark wizards did political things. He'd read most of his History book over the course of August, and a third of it again since...there were several Dark wizards who'd set up minor fiefdoms with, no, not the Imperius, that was Unforgivable, what was it, oh right, the same thing as was cast on the wall—

"Confundus," he said.

"Spot on," said Beaconsfield, "but they'd expect that, so to get away with it you'd need to be a really good Dark wizard — you should pardon the expression.

"Alternatively, use a standard muggle technique they'd never see coming. A way to get people to believe whatever you want, even things completely opposed to other things they already believe, no confundus required. And it's trivially easy. I call it Political Syllogism Number Zero."

"Which is...?"

"Bad People are Wrong; X is a Bad Person; therefore X is Wrong.

"It doesn't matter what I write, what matters is who they think I am when they read it. The set of people who know me to be a Slytherin scalawag know that what I say cannot be right no matter what sense it makes. Since I made the strongest argument I could against it, that entails rejecting facts and logic ab initio, so there'll be no changing their minds. They'll convince themselves that Two Houses is a good idea, cos there's no rhetoric more persuasive than what you tell yourself on the inside." He looked over to the stairway, which was looking a bit green and flickery. "Of course, I leave it up to you. My read on it is that between the Gryffindors who don't want the world to find out about their Slytherin better angels — saving your presence of course — and the ones who are tradition-bound as some of us down here — the ones who don't want change no matter what it is — it would make more rational sense to take road B. But you know the mood in your other common room better than I do."

"Huh," said Harry. He rolled the ideas around in his head a bit and no conclusion came to him, although something obvious did. He frowned. "Don't the, you know — adults have anything to say about it?"

"Ah," said Beaconsfield, "that debate will happen in homes over the Christmas hols, and I'm fairly sure I'll have nobbled the oppo on the school's directorship before then. The adults will be preoccupied with things that matter to adults."

"What things?"

"Multiple jet blast pipes," said Beaconsfield cryptically, and tapped the side of his nose. "Trust me, they'll be listening to their children on things that matter to students." He cast a glance to the stairway, which was now clearly on fire.

"Mind if I decide after dinner?" asked Harry.

"By all means. You're not of age to consider it drunk and sober, the way the Greeks did, so hungry and satisfied is a reasonable substitute. Hang on a moment."

Beaconsfield went to the foot of the stairs and drew his wand. He pointed it up into the flames and said "Finite Incantatem."

The green fire went out. After a moment there was a sound like someone had dropped a wide selection of cookingware.

"Not very precise, is it, finite incantatem," he mused. "Now," he continued, returning to the lectern, "new business! Regarding the adjustment of house points vis-a-vis being outside after sundown."

"Percy already docked me two points for that," complained Harry.

"I know," said Beaconsfield. "Sound chap, that Weasley, good for him! You can see why I want him in Slytherin — conscientious, and devious."

Harry blinked. "Percy? Devious?"

Beaconsfield nodded understandingly. "I know, you wouldn't think so — it's those piercing blue eyes — but very much so. As you may know, we don't like to dock points around here — and not just because it sets us back in the competition, but because it's more effective discipline not to."

"Is it?"

"Oh yes! For example, if you've read your Blue Book you know that by the rules we are very keen on disallowing the nicking of food from the kitchens. Did you know we caught Malfoy coming back from doing the dirty deed? Very in flagrante delicto, bread crumbs all over and a wine stain on his shirt."

"Really," said Harry.

"He said you were there," said Beaconsfield enigmatically.

"Did he," said Harry.

"And we said, maybe, but he's not here. Which he was. And Crabbe, and Goyle, and we could have docked them all, but instead pointed out that if we did their parents would have to find out. They've all been very well-behaved under the Sword of Damocles ever since.

"But now Weasley's gone and docked you two points, meaning it'd be favouritism for me not to dock Malfoy, so the whole thing's net negative for us. Do the right thing and leave your opposition the worse for it — so much better than doing the right thing and leaving your own side the worse for it. I wish I had a time turner, I'd swop Weasley for Saintly Tom in a shot."

That sounded...strange. "...Saintly Tom?" said Harry.

Beaconsfield grimaced. "An object lesson in bad management. He's in the Daybook. The Purest Prefect. Couldn't have been more upright with a three-foot wand shoved up his rectitude. I mean, credit where credit is due, he broke the enchantment on the password the last time, but you know that line about all the Dark wizards coming from Slytherin? It was never true, but it was him, with the best of intentions, that put us on the course to everyone believing it."

"What on Earth did he do?"

"Oh ho ho," said Beaconsfield, pulling off his glasses and breathing on them. "What did he do.

"There was a tradition in Slytherin," he said, polishing his lenses reflectively, "called the Amnestia Box. If you had something that you shouldn't, and you just wanted to be well shot of it without having to explain why you had it or how you'd got it, or worse yet how you'd made it, you dropped it in the box on Christmas Eve, maybe with a few bikkies, and in the morning you'd find that Father Christmas had been and taken the box away with everything in it, no questions asked, no questions answered. Everything guaranteed destroyed or otherwise disposed of by qualified persons."

Harry said "Dark artifacts?"

Beaconsfield stopped polishing his lenses and held his glasses up to peer at Harry through them. "Not necessarily. Maybe an unauthorised pet that had gotten larger than it was supposed to and maybe was turning out to be a dangerous quintaped instead of the harmless pentapod you thought you'd purchased, and how do you get rid of it without getting even more trouble than you've got already? You need somebody to run the thing out to the Forbidden Forest for you...

"But, yes," he said, giving his lenses a few final strokes, "sometimes Dark artifacts. Sometimes our little snakelets do wander a bit too far. As the saying goes, bad boys can come clean, but you've got to meet them halfway, especially when it's halfway into the dark.

He put his glasses back on and turned a sharp gaze on Harry. "And then tattle-tale two-shoes Saintly Tom took the box and turned it over to the Headmaster the first chance he got, and no-one could ever trust that box again. He thought it was a good thing. Needed a good clean-up operation, this house, he said, put a very prim note in the Daybook about it.

"Splendid idea, don't you think? Sticking all those thoughtless but not evil children with things they had to hang on to until they found a way to get rid of them on their own, since they obviously couldn't trust their Prefects either, or wait to leave them behind in June — an additional six months of temptation. The thoughtless reformer does more damage than any mere scoundrel.

"Now Weasley, I don't think he'd perpetrate that kind of floater — not after setting me up the excellent body-bind like he's actually done.

"Snape, you'll note, kicked the whole business upstairs, but I have to dock Mallers, and with only six days left in the month the odds are fair that we might miss our point spread in the pools, being as we're not doing as well as we usually do for some reason. I can buy a day because I don't officially know what he's done yet, but Weasley has left me well and truly nobbled..."

And at this point he smiled serenely.

It was obvious that he was expecting it, so Harry said "...except?"

"Except," said Beaconsfield, with increasing cheer, "that the reason I know Snape kicked the whole thing upstairs is that I was in the Head's anteroom and heard the whole story."

"Er, yeah," said Harry. "Did you happen to hear what we're going to get as punishment?"

"He said he'd take it under advisement. Meaning he'll run it past the parents first, he likes to get a bead on things..."

"I hope he doesn't ask the Dursleys," said Harry gloomily.

"Tough, are they?"

"They'd suggest giving me detention with Voldemort."

"Ouch!" said Beaconsfield. "Well, there's at least one good thing I can relate, and possibly two. When Snape and McGonagall left and I went in, I was very careful to note you and Malfoy helping with the door, and so the Head awarded both of you a point.

"And the House Point counters...?" he said, and waited.

"...don't do fractions," said Harry.

"Precisely," said Beaconsfield, "if that's the word I'm looking for.

"Incidentally, if you've ever seen Zeus roil up a thunderhead on the horizon? it was about like that when I told the Head about that password..."

"Good," said Harry. "What's the second thing?"

"Ha," said Beaconsfield. He left the lectern and sat down on his bed to take a nutmeg ginger apple snap from his box. "Well. As I say, I was in the anteroom, and while I was listening, a DMT student-subsidized-fare document came in via Floo."

Uh-oh, thought Harry. "Did it," he said.

"They love their paperwork at the Ministry," said Beaconsfield through a mouthful of bikkie. "That, by the way, is how I found out that you'd been off campus, and not because I was at the travel agent's in Kirkus Square and saw you. That would mean I was off campus, and that would be unruly of me!

"Anyway, the Head says hello, what's this, and McGonagall says oh, that's probably Mr Potter as well, and Snape, he gets a bit excited, and McGonagall says no no, she's got paperwork signed off by the Dursleys, and would the Headmaster like to see it, and he says, no, that's fine, Minerva, I'm sure it's all in order, splendid to see the Dursleys taking an interest, and Snape says the question is why hasn't he seen anything, and McGonagall says she's wondering the same thing since she'd put a copy in his staff mailbox just in case, despite some difficulty fitting it in there and did he ever empty his box, and he said yes, only this morning and he'd have another look — which I want to see, given he generally empties his staff mailbox straight into his office stove this time of year — and did the boy really do the thing properly, and yes you had.

"From the school, by way of a Ministry-authorized-and-run transport, to the authority of a doctor, and back again." He beamed sunnily. "I sometimes have to do for naughty snakelets who slithe off without having read the rules, but you saved me the bother," he added, and the sun started looking like he it gotten away with something. "In fact, I'm thinking it might do to award you a point for it! Which is to say, a half-point, equitably spread, and half-points hardly count, now do they..."

Harry did the math in his head.

"You are the most Slytherin person I know," he said.

Beaconsfield shrugged modestly. "Ta," he said.


Children need the advice of expert children, and generally all they can find are grown-ups, or, at best, adults.
— Jon Kitman.

We hear the accusation that muggles are born merely to eat and excrete — yet even if we accept lies as truth, our bread would be flat without yeast, and our wine, mere grape juice.
— Merlin.

There comes a point where working with others is probably a good thing.
— Brian Lunduke