For the savior of the wizarding world, Harry Potter did not have a very active social calendar. Partly this was due to a natural aversion to publicity, partly to his duties as an Auror, mostly to the nature of most of the invitations he received. Almost every single one was made out to Mr. Harry Potter +1 Guest.
He never had the heart to write back to these well-meaning hosts and hostesses, and ask if he could up that to +2.
Not that he, Ron and Hermione were public about the nature of their relationship. Well, not explicitly public. They didn't hide the fact that they lived together, and they all had become quite handy at deflecting questions about their personal livesHarry muttered "No comment," Hermione said something vaguely prim, and Ron either lied extravagantly or swore until the asker went away. It wasn't exactly a secret, but it wasn't something they shared aroundand so the social mavens of the wizarding world continued to send out invitations to Harry Potter Plus One Guest. That was more than a good enough excuse for him to turn them down.
Oh, Ron had suggested in the past that he wouldn't mind if Harry took Hermione out and left him behind, but something about it had always struck Harry false, and it wasn't a risk he was willing to taketheir bed was small enough without letting jealousy into it, and he had sworn from the beginning never to exclude either of them from anything. Hermione had occasionally suggested Harry take Ron and leave her at home, but Harry had the same objection without even considering the scandal that would inevitably result. Even when they had enough invitations to go around, and they were coincidentally free on the same night, and they all actually felt like going...Harry still usually declined. Not because he didn't want to be seen with them (oh, how he did) but because he feared the repercussions. He didn't like the thought of putting himself or his lovers on display, and attending a social event together without attending together felt less like discretion and more like out and out lying.
It was several years before this gloomy state of affairs was altered by the intervention of Providence, in the form of Fred and George Weasley.
And that was how Harry had ended up dressed as a vicar.
It had all started months ago, when Harry awoken from a post-field work nap feeling sluggish and dull. Ron and Hermione had already begun eating supper, but they had laid out three identical letters near Harry's plate, one addressed to each of them. Two had been opened already, but Harry's was still neatly sealed with a blob of magenta wax; the impression was a set of interlocking Ws that he would've recognized anywhere. "Morning," he said. "What's this about?"
"Eh? Oh." Ron glanced up from his lasagna with the most affected air of boredom Harry had ever seen. It should've been his first warning. "Read it yourself."
"It's very interesting," Hermione added, though she was looking at the salad and not Harry.
Harry plopped down, pulled open the letter, and began to read.
COME ONE COME ALL
WEASLEY'S WIZARD WHEEZES
Messieurs Weasley and Weasley hereby invite you to a Gala Masque to be held on the night of 31October at our premises on Diagon Alley.
Come dance away the night in total ananymity while enjoying the finest refreshments our establishment has to offerIF YOU DARE!
This event is invitation-only!
NO ONE WILL BE ALLOWED IN WITHOUT A MASK!
(guests may purchase mask at the door at their own risk)
(costumes should be flame-retardent for maximum safety)
It went on like that for quite a while. Harry looked up at Ron and Hermione with a frown. "Are they serious?"
Ron shrugged and gestured vaguely at the other two letters. "Pretty serious, from what I could tell."
"And we all got one of these?"
"Mmm-hmmm," Hermione said. "They misspelled a few words."
Harry looked it over again, and noticed there was a second sheet behind the first. It was labeled Waiver of Liability (counts as RSVP). He looked up, intending to ask what the joke was, but instead found a plate of salad being shoved into his face from one direction and a plate of lasagna from the other. He grabbed both and juggled them onto the table, and just barely avoided knocking his wineglass over. "What's this all about?" he asked.
"Nothing," Hermione and Ron said in unison.
That should've been the second warning.
Rather than commenting, Harry dug into the salad and managed to hide a wince when he tasted one of Hermione's "healthy" vinaigrettes. "Any idea what they're on about?" he asked, taking a sip of wine to rinse his mouth out.
"You know," Ron said, in between bites, "I reckon it's publicity. They're getting a run up on the Christmas season, showing off new products."
Hermione frowned. "Doesn't it say something on the flier about cameras, though?"
Ron grabbed his letter and glanced at itHarry was confident he hadn't actually read a word. "Yeah, it's on the waiver'no photography allowed.' Right under 'absolutely no one under age seventeen admitted unless they're really really clever.'"
"Well, then, how can it be publicity for their new lines, if they're not allowing photographs?"
Ron shrugged. "Word of mouth? I dunno."
"But," Hermione said with uncharacteristic patience, "if everyone's wearing a costume and a mask, how will anyone be able to tell who was really there and who wasn't?"
"Maybe that's the idea," Ron said with uncharacteristic calm. "Let people lie and gossip and tell stories. Still good publicity, and they can always deny anything that gets out of hand."
"Hmmm, yes. It seems like a recipe for lots of deniable actions, isn't itmasks and alcohol."
"Sounds good to me."
"It sounds like an opportunity."
As one they both looked to Harry, whose mouth was full. Somewhere far away, he thought he heard the sound of a trap slamming shut. "Wha ha?" he asked, covering his mouth his hand.
"What do you think of that party?" Hermione asked.
Harry swallowed hard. "It sounds, erm, what? You want to go or something?"
Ron shrugged. "Sounds like a laugh to me."
"It sounds perfect to me," Hermione said. "Well, not the bit about the products, butthink of it, Harry. We can all go together for once, be ourselves, and it won't end up on the front page of the papers. Even if someone recognized us, they couldn't really prove it."
"Do you really think that?" Harry said skeptically.
Ron nodded. "The twins know about us, remember? They'll back us up if we have to deny anything."
Harry hesitated on the edge of a word, but it did sound like a golden opportunity. Even he was starting to get bored with evenings in and with visits to the Burrow, and the idea of being able to flaunt their relationship in public for onceflaunt it without any consequences, evenwell. His responsible inner voice was prodding him to rattle off a long list of objections, but the only one that actually made it to his lips was, "What if I can't think of a costume?"
Ron and Hermione shared a significant look. They really were very scary when they worked together. "Oh, I don't think that'll be a problem," Hermione said airily.
Ron patted Harry's knee under the table. "Just leave everything to us."
Harry did leave everything to them, and for several weeks there was no mention of it. For a while, in fact, it actually slipped his mind; he would look at the large red star on Hermione's desk calendar and have to think a moment before he remembered what it signified. When he did think of it, he occasionally asked either Ron or Hermione what the status of the costumes was; invariably he got some sort of maddeningly ambiguous response. That started to alarm him, just a little, even though on the whole he trusted them far more than he did the twins. "Don't worry so much," Hermione had told him several times with a reassuring kiss on the cheek. "Everything's going according to plan."
And everything did, until the actual week of the party. That was when a perfectly normal raid on smugglers of cursed artifacts turned into a minor mushroom cloud over North London. Half of Harry's team were laid up in St. Mungo's and three-quarters of the Ministry were breathing down his neck with questions like, "Did you secure the perimeter completely before entering the premises?" and "Is it normal practice to use pyrophoric jinxes in the presence of unstable Dark magic?" and "Good lord, Potter, how are we supposed to explain all this to the Muggles?" Hermione brought him hot lunches in the middle of the day and Ron gave him brilliant massages when he dragged himself home in the evenings, but in the end the calendar ticked away at its usual pace and the situation showed no sign of abating.
"I think," Harry said on 30 October, "I'm going to have to miss the party."
"What? No!" Ron said, face falling. "You think?"
Harry sighed. "I'm up to my arse in bureaucrats and paperwork, mate, and I've got to speak to the committee for something or other tomorrow afternoon about our exploding-building policy. I'll be lucky to escape before midnight."
Hermione snuggled up to Harry with a cup of tea. "Certainly you can delegate some things, can't you? McKinney is still on crutches, she can certainly help."
"I'm not shifting the blame for this," Harry said mulishly.
"Nah," Ron said, "but, look, you deserve a break more than ever now, after this week."
"We don't have to stay at the party all night," Hermione said.
"And we've been working on the costumes forever," Ron added.
Harry sighed and took a sip from Hermione's teacup. "I don't know..."
They were all quiet for a moment, then Ron shrugged and sighed. "If you really don't want to go..."
It was very tempting, given how demolished he felt, to say he didn't. At the same time, Harry had been looking forward to the night as much as they had. He thought for a moment. "Even if I leave straight after the committee meeting, I won't have time to get dressed."
Hermione patted his hand. "Don't worry about that. Your costume won't take but five minutes. It's...er...simple."
That was the first clue she had given him for weeks, and he raised an eyebrow, but still added, "I'll make us all late."
"We'll go ahead, if you're that far behind," Ron said. "Let the twins know to save you a drink or two."
Harry thought about it, and once again quashed the inner voice of responsibility. This was just too good a chance to pass up. "We'll see," he said, and when Ron and Hermione looked downcast, he added, "I'll try. Really."
Their faces lit up again. "Trust us," Ron said. "You are not going to be disappointed."
And Harry had tried, hard, but the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly, and he had to send a frantic owl telling them to go on ahead and leave his costumewhatever it wason the bed. He got a note scribbled back in Ron's handwriting. We'll find you there. That only intrigued him more.
When he finally did get homefar too late and far too tiredhe thought that they had made a terrible mistake. At first glance, the clothing laid out on the bed looked like nothing more than an old black dress robe with severe silver-plated fastenings. Only when he examined them more closely did he notice the notched collar and gathered cuffs; it was an old-fashioned vicar's costume, with billowy sleeves, and tucked in the front pocket was a plain silver cross on a sturdy chain. On the pillow rested a wide, flat hat, a black half-mask with small silver accents, and a note from Hermione.
We'll meet you at the party. Don't worry about finding us, we'll find you. Also, your mask has several different Misdirection Charms on it, so people won't notice you too easily, but be careful if you talk to anyone! Also you won't have to wear your glasses. Remember to shave and please do something about your hair (I left a bottle of Sleekezy's on the sink for you.)
Harry quickly threw off his uniform, shaved, and slipped into the costume. The mask didn't have any sort of string or clip on it, but when he pressed his face into it, it stayed in place perfectly, and went high enough up his forehead to conceal his scar. As promised, some kind of charm on the eyeholes removed the need for his glasseshis vision wasn't quite perfect, but good enough for one night. It took a lot of comb work and half the bottle of Sleekezy's, but Harry got his hair to lay flat, toohe combed it back from his face and tried the mask on again. Misdirection Charms may not have been necessaryhe hardly recognized himself. He snatched up the hat and his invitation, tucked his wand into his sleeve, and all but leapt through the Floo to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.
Bursting out of their fire, he initially thought he had the wrong grate; Fred and George had really outdone themselves for the party. The interior of the shop had been transformed into an echoing reception hall, complete with crystal chandeliers and fluted columns in between the racks of merchandise. Everything had then been decorated with cackling jack-o'-lanterns, squeaky rubber bats, and crepe streamers that snuck up and tickled the unwary. The fire belched Harry out in some sort of anteroom, but he could hear the sounds of rock and roll music echoing from the main floor, and a few partygoers loitered outside, some with drinks. The doors into the main hall were guarded by two suits of armor, both grotesquely deformed and spotted with rust, clutching large, wicked-looking spears.
A couple dressed as a butcher and a pig (complete with bloody apron for the former and cloven hooves for the latter) approached the doors arm-in-arm. As Harry watched, the suits of armor jumped to life, barring the doors. "Invitation only," croaked the one on the left, and the pig had to fumble for several minutes before producing one of the magenta fliers. The right-hand suit nodded with a rust squeal, the spears fell away, and the doors opened; before they slammed shut again, Harry got a glimpse of the two halves of a hippogriff dancing vigorously, and more chandeliers flashing different colors.
Other costumes Harry could see on this side of the doors included a house-elf, Quidditch players, and three different Martin Miggses, who got in an argument about whose costume was the best. Harry also glimpsed several couples with costumes that went together. Besides the butcher and the pig, he spotted a damsel and a knight (who got a thumping from a suit of armor as he passed), another vicar and a tramp, an ink-pot and what he supposed was meant to be a quill, and a pair of owls. He wondered vaguely if Ron and Hermione had somehow coordinated their costumes with his, except he couldn't think of two other things that might go with a vicar. A nun and a monk, perhaps? A priest and a rabbi? A tramp and the Archbishop of Canterbury?
These speculations only lasted Harry so long, and as the entry hall began to empty, he began to get impatient. He watched a group of startlingly young people in grotty rubber Cornelius Fudge masks get turned away for lack of an invitation, while someone with the gall to come dressed as Harry Potter (complete with a grotesquely oversized lighting-bold drawn on his mask in red ink) scampered throughthough not without a firm thump from one of the suits of armor. The real Harry Potter fumed behind his plain black mask, wondering where on earth Ron and Hermione had got off tothey should've arrived long before him, unless they had made some kind of detour after leaving the flat, but where would they go? Had he rushed home from work for nothing?
"Excuse me, Father," came a high, sweet voice from behind him. Harry almost didn't realize the newcomer was addressing him. He turned, ready to make some quick, polite reply before going back into his sulk, but found himself stopping and staring at what he saw.
An angel was standing behind him.
Not just in the metaphorical sense, either.
The witch was dressed like an angel, and once Harry got over his shock, he noted she didn't seem like a particularly virtuous one. Her flowing white robe was daringly low-cut, and over it she wore a white satin corset trimmed in gold that accented her breasts beautifully. Her mask was made of the same materials, with little golden tassels dangling from the temples and catching in her hairher beautiful blonde hair, which flowed unbound down her shoulders in glowing waves. Literally glowing: a soft nimbus of light surrounded her, barely perceptible to the naked eye, and it picked out every facet of crystal and gold from her delicate sandals all the way up to the shimmering halo that hovered an inch or so over her head. And of course, there were the wingsnearly a foot taller than the witch herself, all downy white feathers shot through with bits of gold dust. As the angel smiled serenely at Harry, those elaborate wings twitched with such lifelike motion that he almostalmostmight've thought she was the genuine article.
Until she clucked her tongue at him, in an all-too-familiar way. "Father, you're drooling," she said playfully. "What would your parishioners think?"
Harry shook his head and leapt forward, but somehow he still couldn't quite bring himself to touch her, as if the illusion might shatter. "You...you..."
Hermione grinned. "Yes. Me. Good."
"Your hair," he blurted, and fingered one shining golden lock. "Those wings. You...christ, Hermione, when you said you'd been working on this costume for weeks..."
And before he was even done processing this, a long, lanky body pressed itself against him from behind. "Why, Vic, I'm surprised at you," Ron's voice said clearly. "Taking the Lord's name in vain and all. Your bishop would be so disappointed."
Harry caught one of the hands that had latched onto his hips and pulled it forward; Ron's familiar freckles, all right, but his forearm was encased in a sleeve made of rich red silk, with glittering garnet cufflinks. Harry laughed a bit. "Can I guess what you're dressed as, then?"
"Why bother guessing?" Ron said, and together he and Hermione spun Harry gently around.
Red and black. That was what Harry saw. Red and red and black. Ron was dressed as a smirking devil (wellperhaps the smirk was his own) in a red silk shirt open halfway to his navel, an open black waistcoat, and black trousers so tight they must've been charmed onto him. He wore a harsh bronze chain for a belt, and Harry realized that the settings for the cufflinks were bronze as wellas were the eyelets of his tall boots, and the single hoop pushed through his left ear. His mask was glossy red fabric with black and bronze trimming, which neatly matched the color of his tousled hairhis hair, and the pointed goatee that now surrounded his mouth. And sprouting from his forehead, as if they'd always been, were two short conical horns, slightly curved at the tips. Red, of course, with a shining bronze ring around the base of each.
"Well?" Hermione asked, pulling Harry close (and not so incidentally rubbing her breasts against his back. "Do you forgive us for being so late?"
It took Harry a moment to answer; all his blood was being diverted away from his brain. "Yeah. Sure."
Ron laughed and completed their embrace, holding Hermione from behind. "We didn't want you to walk in on us half-dressed, see," he said, rubbing his new goatee against the side of Harry's neck. "Didn't want to spoil it."
"You're amazing," Harry blurted. "Both of you. Thank you."
"Thank you," Hermione said. "We're doing this together, aren't we?"
"Plus," Ron snickered, "the look on your face..."
Across the room, one of the suits of armor clanked its visor up with a rusty squeal. "Oi!" cried a voice from inside, a voice very different from the harsh croak it had been using earlier. "Get a room, you three!"
"Yeah!" cried an identical voice from the other suit. "And hurry up so we can get out of these things!"
Harry started, but Ron just rolled his eyes and stepped away. "Piss off," he snapped back. "You're the ones who had personally stand guard."
The helmets popped off, and Fred and George's heads popped outHarry had no idea how they had gotten into those monstrosities, unless they had transfigured away some of their limbs first. "What, and miss the look on Harry's face?" Fred asked.
"Though we didn't realize it was you at first, mate," George added. "Otherwise we might've dropped you a heads-up."
"You let that bloke dressed as me in," Harry pointed out.
Ron and Hermione scowled in unison, but Fred snickered. "That bloke," he promised, "is going to have one of the worst nights of his life."
"Only he won't figure it out until morning," George said.
"We guarantee it."
"Now get a move on." George stretched out the suit's many-jointed arm with some difficulty and plucked up his helmet. "We expect you to keep our guest entertained with various provocative antics until we can get these contraptions off."
"Will do," Ron said, and took Harry's left arm in his. "Coming, vicar?"
Harry grinned, and took Hermione's arm in his right. "Right behind you."
The twins opened the doors, and Harry, Ron and Hermione entered the party together, the vicar with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Three of them side-by-side, just as it ought to be.