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The seventh annual Ministry's Magical Masquerade was an event Harry Potter had been dreading all year. The ball was held in honor of many good causes; celebration of the war's end, honoring fallen heroes, showing respect to the surviving warriors, promoting a good cause, this year supporting tolerance for werewolves, and raising money for various charities. All of the good done by the function made many feel too guilty about not attending. It didn't matter that they couldn't actually force attendance, but they made a compelling case to assure everyone was present. The pressure to do so was high. People would talk if certain others missed out. Unfortunately, Harry was one of those souls that the entire world held so many expectations for. Making an appearance at this masquerade was one of them.

Most of his friends were comforting, offering their support, promising to divert reporters as well as keeping him occupied with good excuses to not have to mingle too much with those who wanted too much from him. All of the Order would be there. It was a good place to catch up with old friends. However, such reasons were just barely enough to sway him. The Ministry didn't host this masquerade to do good in an altruistic way. The good it did was for their reputation. It was pathetic! All it ended up being was an opportunity for many a wealthy or politically powerful wizard to blackmail and manipulate others. Then the spectacle it made of the war! Everything about it was somehow made glamorous despite the horror of the entire ordeal.

One such example of the mockery made of that terrifying period was lying on his bed. Harry glowered down at the box it was held in, grinding his teeth, eyes a furious green fire that was prepared to burn its target to a crisp. The anger that twisted his handsome features softened as he glanced sadly up at the bathroom door.

It wasn't fair. The Ministry would never outright demand something like this, but everyone who read the letter saw it for what it was. The invitation suggested that those who had been Death Eaters wear their masks to the ball. In fact, they wanted them to don their old costumes, as they would if they had been called to Lord Voldemort's side. The wording was designed to seem friendly, making it out to be something fun, an example of how things had changed. How funny, to see those once loyal to the Dark Lord flaunting their old uniforms as proof that no one need be afraid any longer, that their loyalties now lie with the Ministry, that good could be found anywhere, or any number of crackpot reasons they gave. Harry knew well what this was. This was punishment, one of very few that could be used to make ex-Death Eaters pay for old crimes. Doing this made them into a big joke, to embarrass the lot of them. No one ever said anything aloud, but it was those smug and superior looks directed at those who donned the masks, thinly veiled insults tossed their way that made you realize differently.

He might have preferred them screaming, throwing hexes, doing anything. The games that were played were despicable and the last thing he wanted to do was to have to sit through another night of them. Especially when he would have to put up with people treating Severus that way because of it.

Reaching out, Harry plucked up his own mask from the bed. It was gold with bright rubies and emeralds. If you looked closely enough, you could see the design of phoenixes carved on either side, the beaks forming at the top corners while the tails curled around and met at the nose. It was a beautiful piece that the Ministry had gifted him with shortly before the first masquerade. Every year, he alternated between red and green dress robes with hints of gold to match the jewels of his mask. He had been fine with wearing his old black ones, but Hermione and Ginny had convinced him to coordinate with the mask. Besides, most people, even the men, wore brightly colored robes at this function. This year he was back in red.

It had taken him a while to understand why everyone wore such extravagant colors. Harry eyed the black robes resting beside the box. Death Eater robes. As if the masks weren't enough, they were encouraged to stand out even more. Spots of darkness in a sea of light Hermione had once muttered bitterly. She tried arguing against sending out that letter with the invitations, but everyone insisted it was all in good fun and that she should lighten up about it all.

Many times, Harry tried convincing his husband not to follow through. He bought the man new dress robes and masks every year, but Severus was stubborn so he insisted on wearing them. Maybe he felt as though he deserved the humiliation. Perhaps he wanted to go on as a show of support for the others who would always wear them. Harry didn't know. Severus refused to talk about it.

Uncooperative, stubborn, proud old bastard.

Harry eyed the box again, as though expecting it to leap out and bite him any second. Fingertips drummed on the smooth front of his mask. The shower was still running. He didn't have very long though, he was sure of that.

Tossing his mask back onto the bed, he pulled the box towards him, removing what was inside. Bone white, intricate lines winding all around it, the snake eye slits, the strange design of the mouth all made for a monstrous face that was cool to the touch. He wished a tighter grip would make it crumble, or that it would melt away beneath his hard gaze. Destroying it would only enrage his husband. Perhaps another course of action would better suit whatever reasons Severus had for keeping the damned thing.

Instead of flinging it across the room, Harry covered his own face with it, adjusting it until he could see through the slits. The full mask made it harder to breathe than his phoenix mask, but he would survive the night. An unpleasant shiver danced down his spine as it settled into place, stomach churning as he looked at himself in the mirror. The Boy Who Lived masquerading as a Death Eater. He was tempted to wear the black robes, place the hood over his head, really pull off the look. The only thing that kept him in his red was the fact that he wanted people to recognize him. In his hair and his robes, they couldn't doubt it was Harry Potter behind this mask.

Hearing the shower turn off, Harry quickly placed his own mask on top of the black robes before hurrying downstairs.