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Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

"I do solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
    -- Keying phrase for the Marauder's Map
   Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

"I don't know how I let myself get talked into these things, Simon. I really don't." Rodger Gast pushed his glasses up his nose and then quickly tucked his hands back into his jacket. His pleas that it was far too cold to be out and about had fallen on deaf ears; Hojo had firmly insisted that he needed someone to hold the spare wire, after all, and he could always use an extra hand to steady the ladder if it became necessary.

Simon Hojo -- five feet eight inches of pure concentrated mischief, possessed of neither remorse nor (according to his detractors) common sense -- barely spared a glance back over his shoulder for his partner in crime. He had his own gloves off -- the better to feel the tiny motions of the lock's tumblers as he worked carefully on coaxing it open -- but didn't seem to notice the cold. "Easy. You didn't want me to get busted by myself without your sterling example leading the way. Either that or you didn't think I'd actually manage to pull this off and wanted to be sure that you were here when I did it. Shine the damn flashlight on this lock, will you? I can't see a thing."

Gast fished the tiny penlight out of his pocket and obliged. "When we both get arrested, I want it to go on the record that I never touched this lock, all right? I can't believe that you're breaking into the administration building. What's the matter, you couldn't sweet-talk some poor secretary out of her keys?"

Hojo flashed a grin over his shoulder. "Too much work. Forty-five minutes to con some secretary out of her keys versus ten minutes to pick the damn lock. Effecient use of resources, Roger. It is final exam time, after all."

"Believe me, I know." Gast crouched down next to Hojo, having fun despite his better instincts. "How much do you stand to make off this little stunt, anyway?"

"The guys over at Alpha Kappa Rho chipped in for the pool. If we pull it off before exams start tomorrow, we get eighteen hundred gil, free and clear." One of the good things about Hojo, Gast thought, was that he was more than willing to share the spoils of his work. The lock finally clicked open beneath Hojo's fingertips, and he glanced around him reflexively to make sure that they weren't being watched before ducking through the gate and pulling Gast along behind him. "And if we don't, we're going to be the laughingstock of the frat house, so we've got another two hours to uphold our honor. You did remember to pull the fire alarm over in the science building to keep the guards away from here, right?"

"No, actually." Gast hid the smile that threatened to break across his face and give him away as Hojo turned back to glare at him. "Don't look at me like that. I did one better."

"...You'd better have." Hojo's glare got more ferocious. "I trusted you to handle the distraction. What did you do?"

Gast took off his glasses, which were beginning to steam up in the sudden temperature shift, and polished them on his shirt. His tone was perhaps more smug than it should have been as he replied, "Gel-coated potassium chunk in a bucket of water left directly underneath the fire alarm. The gel coating should be melting right about..." He checked his watch, just as the campus's fire klaxon went off. "Now, actually. Think that will buy you enough time?"

Hojo just stared at Gast for a long minute, before throwing back his head and laughing. "Rodger, that's devious. That's amazingly devious. Remind me to let you arrange the distraction anytime. All right, come on. We've got about two hours and a lot of wiring to do."

"You're forgetting something." Gast pointed upwards. "Security cameras. We're probably already on them. You do have a plan for that, don't you?"

Hojo waved a hand, breezily. "Oh, I just thought that I'd blame everything on your bad example -- no, no, stop looking at me like that. I replaced the tape with an endless loop from last night before we left. Come on, do you think that I'm stupid?" He bounced on his toes and headed down the hallway. "Come on," he called. "Clock's ticking."

Breaking into the A/V closet on the ground floor took all of about five minutes; Gast, looking long-suffering, held the ladder as Hojo climbed up it and removed one of the ceiling panels. "When were you planning on studying, Simon? We do have Roberson's Biochem final tomorrow." He shuddered a little. "At nine in the bloody morning."

Hojo's voice drifted back down, accompanied by various clicking and shuffling noises. "Yes, and your average in that class is currently a 98 and mine is a 94, so I think that we can safely say that the final won't be a problem, all right? Hand me up the wire strippers."

Gast reached into his pocket and located the requested tool, climbing up the ladder hesitantly and sticking his head into the cable duct. He was greeted by the sight of Hojo, covered in dust bunnies and looking happier than Gast had seen him in a very long time, lying on his back and in the process of plucking a number of brightly-colored telephone wires off the linejacks. "Sir's wire strippers, sir," Gast proclaimed dryly, holding out the tool. "Would sir care for anything else while I'm up here? Dancing girls? Untold riches? A million gil, a chocobo, and a blowjob?"

"Sir would like for sir's loyal assistant to fetch sir's backpack, actually," Hojo quipped, fighting back a sneeze as a particularly energetic dust bunny landed directly on his nose. "Sir needs the roll of cat-3, the roll of cat-5, and the little black box from the front pocket." He began stripping the ends of each of the phone cables, clipping off the jacks and twisting the wires carefully.

"To hear is to obey, O master," Gast intoned, slipping back down the ladder and returning after a moment with the indicated items held in the makeshift pouch of his shirt held up with one hand. Hojo had finished stripping all the wires by the time he returned, and unrolled and clipped several six-inch lengths of the telephone cable to patch in.

Hojo worked quickly despite being flat on his back in a cramped space; he had not been exaggerating about the narrow time window they had to work with. Gast hovered as Hojo finished patching the last cable and plugged each of them into the telephone ports on the side of the small black box he had spent the last few weeks carefully constructing. Another phone line was attached to the other side, plugging back into the original telephone box; the last jack got a hastily-constructed Ethernet cable, and Hojo squirmed down the cable duct with the roll of cat-5 in his hand, playing it out as he went. "Time?" he called to Gast, his voice echoing.

"Twelve thirty-eight," Gast called back, glancing back down at his watch. "Are you sure this is going to work? You haven't tested it."

"Couldn't test it." Hojo disappeared out of sight, and a muffled <thud> and a curse drifted through the duct. "The theory's sound, though."

"Oh, great. We're risking our necks and our reputations for something that's sound in theory." Gast rolled his eyes. "I'll make sure that it's down on our explusion papers. 'The theory was sound.'"

"Oh, relax. It's almost winter break; they'll have forgotten about us by the time spring term starts back up again. Besides, have I ever been wrong before?" The top of Hojo's head became visible again down the duct as he squirmed back towards the missing panel. "Don't answer that."

Gast scurried back down the ladder. "The hamster, Simon. Tell me how you weren't wrong about the hamster."

Covered in dust, grinning like a maniac, Hojo held up his hands as he dropped out of the duct and hit the floor in an easy crouch. "That hamster wanted to be there. He told me so himself." He dusted himself off and scowled; there was a huge smear of dust directly down his black T-shirt, nearly obscuring the small, neat lettering ('Do Not Place In Direct Sunlight') across the front of it.

"That hamster wasn't exactly in a position to talk afterwards, now was it, Simon?" Moving as smoothly as though they had rehearsed it -- and indeed, he had played fetch-and-carry boy for a number of Hojo's other midnight raids, though never on one this daring -- Gast swept up his and Hojo's backpacks, handing Hojo's over and slinging his own over one shoulder. "Where next?"

Hojo was already half out the door. "Lighting control cabinet on the sixth floor."

Getting into the lighting cabinet took all of five minutes; the lock sprang open easily beneath Hojo's fingertips. "You do realize," Gast mused (loops of electrical wire over his arms and shoulders, so that he looked like nothing more than a Yule tree capped with tinsel himself), "that this isn't going to be visible during the day."

Hojo barely looked up, lifting one hand to shove his own glasses back up his face with the back of his hand and stifling a sneeze as the dust threatened to overwhelm him. "Yeah, I know. It doesn't have to be. It's the sort of thing that works best after dark anyway -- and besides, they'll figure it out soon enough. I don't really expect it to last past morning." He grinned, manically. "Because you know that they're going to blame us."

"They always do," Gast sighed, playing out the wire at a steady rate. "All right, where were we? Whose question is it?"

"Yours," Hojo replied, distractedly, working one-handed on the electrical wires; his other hand was firmly tucked behind his back, a habit he'd learned last year after one too many hits of voltage. "I asked the one about the guanyl-ortho-oxyl-diphthamide catalytic RNA equation." He jerked his hand back quickly as it was followed by a shower of sparks and cursed, then scowled and pulled a many-times-creased circuit diagram out of the back pocket of his jeans, consulting it with a frown.

Gast knew better than to ask what was wrong. "All right, all right ..." He frowned a little and peered at what Hojo was working on. "Are you certain that you know what you're doing, Simon?"

"No, but I'm having fun trying." Hojo grinned up at Gast. "Come on, Rodger, it's your review question."

Gast shook his head and closed his eyes, trying to visualize his exam notes. "All right, all right. Um -- Stripping the HbS molecule of BPG. Does it increase or decrease the tendency of HbS to polymerize in vitro?"

"Hand me one of the null terminators -- no, no, the little orange doohickeys in your pockets." Hojo held out a hand for the little plastic cap and wired it into the nest he was building bit by bit. "BPG stabilizes deoxy-HbS, the deoxy form polymerizes, removing BPG inhibits polymer formation. Come on, ask a hard one."

"Increasing the pH. Inhibits or encourages?" Gast fumbled out another null terminator, in case Hojo needed it, and watched on with interest.

"Stabilizes oxyhemoglobin S, only the deox form polymerizes, so it would inhibit -- oh, Rodger, we're going to ace this exam, I don't know why you're worried." Hojo straightened up and held out a hand. "Gimme the logic board."

Gast fumbled in his backpack for the indicated piece of circuitry, which had been wrapped in bubble packaging for the trip. "Yes, well, Roberson's known for pulling stuff out of his ass for the final, all right? Forgive me for being concerned. I don't know when you had the time to learn all of this; I certainly never see you study, and you've spent every single class period I've ever seen you in either drawing circuit diagrams or mooning over that sophomore with the, ah, tangible assets ..." He handed over the logic board carefully. "Did you ever get her phone number?"

Hojo smirked. "Yeah, she wanted me to tutor her. We worked out a barter system. Who do you think's been doing my laundry?"

Gast rolled his eyes. "I'd wondered ... there has been a rather less distinct eau de used sweatsock in the room this semester ... How much more work do you have left? We don't have much more time."

"I just need to finish this --" Hojo cursed again under his breath as he cut his finger maneuvering the logic board into place, and shook his hand. "And damn, there's the blood -- gotta bleed on circuitry before it works --" The lights on the logic board rippled, and he grinned. "Score. Okay, come on, let's move. Time?"

"Two-oh-three," Gast swept the leftover wire back into his backpack. "Are you sure that you're going to get decent enough radio reception into here?"

Hojo shrugged. "We'll have to see -- if it doesn't work, at least no one will be the wiser, and we can always come back later and try again." He stuck the injured finger in his mouth. "Come on, we can get out of here and pretend we've been studying in the frathouse all night."

As they ducked out of the main gate of the administrative building, closing and re-locking it behind them, Hojo pulled the walkie-talkie out of his backpack. "You guys there?"

Crackle, hiss, spit, and the voice of the fraternity president from the computer-lab fishbowl. "No, we've given up and we're in the bar. Of course we're here, and we've got the binoculars fixed on the building and waiting for your signal. What's the word?"

Hojo and Gast trotted along the pathway back towards the frat house, trying to get as much distance between them and the administrative building as possible. "You got the witnesses?"

Crackle. "We're all here waiting. Come on, Simon, put up or shut up time."

Hojo grinned. "Just type 'tetris', Kenichi. It's all set up already."

And as the two young men got themselves far, far away from the scene of the crime, the windows of the administrative building lit up, one by one, creating the pattern of falling blocks. Their whoops of victory were audible even over the brassy music emerging from the building's PA system.

[Author's Notes: A holiday fic only by the fact that it takes place in mid-December, but I'm sure you'll all forgive me. For those who think that it's out of character, I direct you to the fact that it's never been mentioned anywhere in canon what Hojo was like when he was younger -- and I've known way too many science geeks. With special thanks to Technology House at Brown University, who did it first, and to various and sundry MIT students throughout time, for the inspiration; dedicated, of course, to hackers everywhere, but particularly to my friend Simon, who's always been the model for college-age Hojo in my mind. Hence the name.]

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