MuggleNet Fan Fiction
Harry Potter stories written by fans!

Masks by L A Moody

[ - ]   Printer Chapter or Story Table of Contents

- Text Size +
Act I

Like silver butterflies, the disembodied faces floated above the clusters of costumed guests in the Ministry Atrium.

Quite a feat to Disillusion one part of the body and not the other, the young woman with the short, spiked hair considered before turning her attention to more pressing matters.

A rather rotund pumpkin with a florid woman’s face poking forth was tugging frantically at her sleeve. –We were promised the Minister would be present for the night’s festivities…” she hissed lowly.

As was I, the younger woman grumbled inwardly. Otherwise I’d be snug at home instead of in this ridiculous get-up. Aloud, she soothed, –I’m certain he’s just running late, madam. Mantle of government and all that, you know.”

–But the Witches Auxiliary organized this gala especially in his honor,” the pumpkin-woman persisted.

–And he was only too happy to accept. See how many other dignitaries have been invited tonight. Lots of important elbows to rub. If only you can guess their true identities…” She left the last statement dangling, the better to tantalize the woman to mingle with the other guests.

She heaved a sigh of relief that it had worked, then nearly started when she caught her own reflection in the polished walls. It was not Nymphadora Tonks, Auror, that guests would see tonight, but a street urchin right out of Dickens. She had intended a fiendish ghoul with black eye sockets instead of pupils, the clothing artfully shredded to give the appearance of rotting fabric. Probably should’ve opted for professional attire -- even if her reputation as the resident chameleon would’ve suffered in the process.

Tonks surveyed the scene with practiced nonchalance. Better that the guests not see her and Kingsley Shacklebolt as bodyguards, but rather as Ministry guest liaisons. Yet another layer of misdirection to their true functions, she couldn’t help thinking.

She caught Kingsley’s eye from beneath the flowing scarves of his Persian potentate costume. He gave her a barely perceptible nod that nothing was amiss on his side of the room. Tonks barely suppressed a giggle as the tall, dark man turned to address one of the guests. Such floating fabrics belonged on a dancing girl! But she swallowed the impulse to ask him to favor her with the Dance of the Seven Veils. With her luck, he’d come up short with only five or six and she’d get an eyeful she’s rather do without.

More and more guests were arriving via the long banks of fireplaces lining the cavernous Atrium. Against the dark polished paneling, they resembled multi-colored comets streaming across the night sky.

At least no one would go thirsty tonight, she considered wryly as a freakishly tall man swept his empty goblet beneath the cascading Fountain of Magical Brethren. His beverage shone a menacing lime green in the low light, but Tonks knew it was just a by-product of his imagination.

Witches far cleverer than herself had spelled the fountain to produce whatever concoction the guest requested. It was nothing but an illusion, of course, but the guests would never suspect there was no real alcoholic content present.

The enticing smell of warm Butterbeer followed her as she did a cursory circuit. Her next pass elicited the scent of sparkling strawberry. Tonks ignored it, taking a swig from her hip flask as duty required.

It was more difficult to turn her back on the endless buffet with its selection of delicacies from the world over. Particularly the tall cake which dominated the scene atop its gilded stand. A full ten inches high, it bore the –M of M” trademark in darkest chocolate like a billboard atop the roof of a modern high-rise. A small wedge had already been removed and sliced into individual portions. Seven layers, Tonks counted to herself, each a different hue and flavor: pomegranate, carrot, nectarine, lemon, kiwi, blueberry and blackberry. She could almost taste the carnival of flavors on her tongue. But she’d have to wait until the event was at an end -- and then only if any remained.

Childhood images of being sent to bed without her supper swirled in memory before she stamped them down with force of will alone.

Percy Weasley gave a heavy sigh, removing his glasses and digging his thumbs into his temples. The walls of the office seemed to be encroaching on him from all sides, a clear indication that he was overtired.

He squinted as his own tidy scrawl, but the letters refused to rearrange themselves. What exactly had Adelaide Stubyns sent the Minister? It was Percy’s job to organize the gifts himself, making careful notes of the contents and the senders’ addresses so that a proper acknowledgement could be sent.

A porcelain parakeet? No, that couldn’t be right.

A porcupine pincushion? That was patently absurd. Might as well be a bisque piss-pot for all he cared!

He suppressed a sardonic grin at the last errant thought. It was just the sort of thing Fred and George would find endlessly amusing. Endlessly, as in ‘til the end of time.

He felt the familiar ache under his ribs at the thought of his family, estranged for going on three years now. Not exactly guilt, but regret nonetheless. He had never planned for his career to drive such a wedge between them. Why was it his father could pursue a Ministry posting with impunity, but he, Percy Ignatius Weasley, was a ruddy Judas in their midst?

He focused on the thank you notes he was writing for the Minister’s signature -- or rather Dolores Umbridge’s approximation of it. As always, he found solace in his work, even if it spoke of a solitary, hermitic existence.

Much to his relief, his memory dredged up the image of an overwrought birdcage housing an exotic parrot. No wonder his subconscious had reverted to the nonsensical! What would a man who dealt in confidential matters of governance want with a bloody parrot? A feathered security leak, what else!

Not that there weren’t others who would welcome such a sycophant. Umbridge, for one. Percy could just envision the self-satisfied smirk on the Undersecretary’s wide mouth at the sound of her very thoughts being aped back at her.

It would be interesting to see who claimed the parrot; he made a mental note to pursue that later. There were so few amusing moments in his life these days; best to make the most of what Fate dumped at his feet.

He got about halfway down the parchment page when an inkblot marred a portion of the last sentence. With a scowl, his wand flashed a quick-drying charm over the pages before stuffing them into the drawer for tomorrow. A deft twist of his wrist and the magical lock engaged.

Hardly state secrets, Percy mused. But in the hands of a determined reporter, they could spell all sorts of trouble. That relentless Skeeter woman had practically made a career of it! Always sniffing around for morsels. The Undersecretary might find her an able mouthpiece, but the garish woman made his skin crawl.

He would look at things with fresh eyes in the morning, he decided. Especially when that day’s shipment arrived for uncrating. Wizards and witches all over the land were forever intent on currying the Minister’s favor in whatever form they could. Percy recalled how gifts for Cornelius Fudge had continued to stream in with regularity, despite all the years the man had been in office.

At the doorway he hesitated, looking uncertainly in the direction of the polished door of Umbridge’s office. It was locked, of course; he’d already checked that. It just seemed strange to be leaving for the day without advising Dolores. If nothing else, that woman was dedicated to her post as Senior Undersecretary, always working longer hours than anyone save the Minister for Magic himself.

Percy shared a nod with the guard at the end of the hall. Always on alert for unauthorized visitors who might pose a threat to the Minister, the post was manned day and night.

–I’ll let the Undersecretary know you’ve gone for the day,” Alec assured him with a respectful tip of his cap. –She’s bound to be rather late returning from the reception.”

The masquerade gala! How could he have forgotten? Another absurd way in which the rabble vied for the Minister’s attention! What would be next: hippogriff races in the sub-basement?

Without a word, he turned towards the truncated corridor which led to rear lift.

Truth be told, Percy preferred the Ministry during the quiescent hours when the majority of its workers, its very lifeblood, were absent. The faint echoes of his footsteps were the beating heart of the institution even as the extremities lay dormant. The Minister’s inner offices served as the nervous system that never really shut down, even in repose. The long shaft of the dedicated lift became the brain stem leading to the cerebellum itself. This evening, it was engulfed in a vivid dream.

Without any exits to the intervening floors, the lift deposited him at the Atrium level in mere seconds. Even as he ducked down the hidden access corridor, he could feel the pulse of the crowds beyond. The very light, usually warm and welcoming, was a riot of swiftly changing moods, a kaleidoscope from the gullet of a fireworks factory.

The short hallway was carpeted to mute the approach of the Minister and his entourage, yet the twin guards at the opening sensed Percy’s presence nevertheless.

–No one beyond this point without fancy dress,” the tall chess rook at the right commanded. The pole ax he dropped to bar the way shone wickedly in the muted candlelight.

–Percy Weasley, looking for Madam Umbridge,” he stammered, trying in vain to catch a glimpse beyond.

–She said she was not to be disturbed,” the Beefeater guard on the left confided lowly. –Don’t want to be responsible for summoning her unless it’s a right emergency.”

–No, no, everything’s as it should be. Just signing out for the night,” Percy replied in much too high a register. Inwardly, he berated himself for being such a fool. After all, he was the Minister’s personal assistant; no area of the building was rightly barred from him, not even the Department of Mysteries under the right circumstances.

–Dressing room’s at the end of the hall, door hiding behind the medieval tapestry,” the rook rumbled under his breath.

Percy shook his head slowly. As much as he enjoyed sidling with political power brokers, at the moment he was not in the mood. Try as he might, he could not mute the persistent reminder that tonight at the Burrow, in the eyes of all the Weasley clan save him, his older brother Bill was getting married.

Percy patted the invitation which nestled in the inner pocket of his robes. Part hair shirt and part reminder that he had not been forgotten, he’d carried it with him since half-blind Errol has delivered it in an exuberant fit.

He slowly backed away from the masquerade entrance so as not to draw unwanted attention. No need to spoil the fantastical setting with a glimpse of rumpled bureaucrat -- hardly the sort of festive attire anyone would don.

Once he was certain the shadows had swallowed him, he made a quick pivot on his heel -- only to come face to face with a ragged, beggar child! The spangles on her tattered costume caught the low light as Percy slowly raised his eyes to her face. It took a few extra moments for the recognition to dawn on him.

–Tonks, I didn’t recognize you at first,” he apologized.

–Wotcher,” Tonks softly replied. –That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

–I just thought you might be….elsewhere.”

–Like at a wedding?” She gave him a knowing look, but thankfully didn’t press further.

Percy managed a nod through the lump in his throat.

–Me, too,” Tonks admitted in a bare whisper. –It’s the curse of being a Metamorphmagus. At the call of a masquerade, everyone expects you to be front and center. As if I couldn’t do this in my sleep!” She screwed up her nose in a fashion that instantly brought his sister Ginny to mind.

How long had it been since he’d seen Ginny in the flesh? Merlin, it had been that disastrous encounter over Christmas dinner. Scrimgeour had been scraping off the dried food from his robes even as they returned to the Ministry. It was a miracle he hadn’t been sacked on the spot. Or at the very least, recommended for psychiatric examination since he hailed from a family of self-righteous baboons!

But no, the Minister had taken it all very stoically. Not laughed exactly, but the corners of his rigid mouth had twitched in the vague memory of a smile. His sole dry comment, –Ah, the exuberance of youth.”

There had been many a time since that Percy had wanted to embrace a similar emotional release. But there was no room for such levity, not when the world stood on the brink of cataclysm -- he just wasn’t certain it would come from the direction that the rest of his family wholeheartedly believed.

Again, the throb of loss threatened to strangle him.

–Are you all right, Percy?” Tonks inquired as she peered up into his face. Her eyes were white pinpoints against the darkened sockets. –You look like you could use some air.”

–On my way home, to tell the truth. Just wanted to sign out with Umbridge. It’s a habit of sorts. Is she …?” he pointed in the vague direction of the tapestry.

–In the green room? Naw, just the Minister adding the finishing touches. I’ll relay your message though. Crowd’s been a bit impatient for the guest of honor to finally show.”

With a wordless acknowledgement, Percy took the steps up to the next level. It was only when he reached the gallery that flanked the Artium to the north that he stopped to catch his breath.

He found the warded panel and pressed his three middle fingers to the shiny surface. With a tiny hiss of magical gears, an nondescript section of wall broke apart to allow him entry.

The Minister’s private reviewing stand. He could see the crowd yet remain unseen, even as he rested his elbows upon the marble balustrade.

The multi-colored hydra wreathed below, iridescent insects burrowing in a common nest. For a moment, Percy thought he caught a glimpse of Umbridge decked out like a rotund, pink cat, but couldn’t be certain as she disappeared between a sequined Harlequin and Columbine complete with white powdered wigs. Something in the possessive way the Harlequin grasped his companion’s arm convinced Percy that he was seeing none other than Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy.

Too many shrouded faces remained a mystery, though, giving the entire extravaganza surreal overtones that were vaguely unsettling. Feeling suddenly dizzy, Percy collapsed into the carved ivory bench nearby.

Kingsley Shacklebolt unbuttoned his Auror robes with numb fingers. Sheer exhaustion had long ago eclipsed any satisfaction he felt about his earlier arrest.

The complaint about the Muggle-baiting salesman had amounted to a big pile of dragon dung. Admittedly, the charlatan had been selling worn Axminsters to Muggle customers; but it was hardly fraudulent to label them as flying carpets when they had indeed once been imbued with magic. Tattered and worn, they were lucky not to separate from their backing before the poor customers got them home. There was no truth in the allegation that the salesman stole the carpets back by waiting until the hapless Muggles were asleep and then whistling. As Kingsley soon discovered, the rugs couldn’t stir up dust in a ruddy cyclone.

Nor were any chimeras lurking in the garbage dump in Newcastle. That Harrington woman was as dotty as they came. Likely pickled her brain with all the red currant brandy she used to steep her teabags.

Quite by chance, however, a tiny establishment posing as a fish and chips shop turned out to be a front for black market unicorn trade. With a heavy satchel of confiscated horns and other assorted artifacts, Kingsley had hauled the proprietor back to London to face charges. The culprit’s weepy eyes reminded Kingsley of a middle-aged Peter Pettigrew silently begging for mercy.

Tell that to Amos Diggory in the morning, he thought to himself. See how much slack he cuts you for destroying such a benign and beautiful creature. If you’re lucky, he won’t compare your crime to the premature murder of his seventeen-year-old son, Cedric.

Kingsley’s attention was diverted by the eerie silence of the Auror pens, as the maze of office cubes had been dubbed. It was still early enough in the evening for those on desk duty to play a round or two of illicit card games. Instead, paperwork had been neatly locked away as if awaiting inspection.

The weariness fell from his limbs as he wound his way to the main levels of the Ministry. The faint whisper of voices rose and fell in the distance like the call of exotic birds. Kingsley followed their trail to the mouth of the soaring Atrium to find an elaborate soiree in full swing.

Not just any reception, but a fancy dress affair. A subterfuge that could easily mask all sorts of sinister plots.

Recognizing that he was projecting Auror suspicion onto what was likely a totally mundane affair, Kingsley located the disguised door to the one-way viewing gallery. He was surprised to find a pale Percy Weasley slumped in the spot customarily reserved for the Minister himself.

–Are you lost, son?” Kingsley uttered, then regretted not having treated the man in a more professional manner.

Percy shook his head slowly. –Just needed some air. All those bodies writhing together…”

–Ah, the stampede at the buffet table,” Kingsley chuckled. –Can’t say I expected to find you here. Shouldn’t you be at Bill’s wedding?”

–Have the announcement right here,” Percy confirmed with a pained grimace. –My sudden appearance would just eclipse the bride and groom, though. Even I couldn’t be that selfish.”

The words sounded vaguely rehearsed, but Kingsley didn’t mention it. Likely, they held a lot of truth nevertheless.

–Sorry to hear you haven’t mended those fences.”

Percy shrugged, then swayed alarmingly before he caught himself against the bench back. –Shouldn’t you be in costume?” he posed, tilting his head upward.

–Impersonating an Auror who just brought in a criminal doesn’t quite cut it, does it?”

–Not really. If you’re truly Kingsley, that is.” Percy’s finger shook slightly as he pointed in the vague direction of the party guests. –There’s another dark-skinned man among the crowd that had me convinced he was you.”

Kingsley nodded that he understood. While he wasn’t exactly the only dark-skinned Ministry employee, the others were venerable members of the Wizengamot -- and well into their nineties, to boot.

–It’s really me,” he insisted lowly. –Kingsley Shacklebolt. Auror. Born of parents from Kingstown, Jamaica. First girlfriends were Shasta, Coralinda, and Hibiscus. Not all three at once.”

The very words demonstrated how ineffectual the Ministry’s official identification protocols truly were. Not that the information couldn’t be verified, particularly by someone as intrepid as Percy, but it hardly allowed for an immediate determination, either. –Ask me anything you like,” Kingsley offered by way of appeasement.

–When was the last time you saw my father? Or visited the Burrow?”

–The night we both assisted Harry Potter to escape from his aunt and uncle’s. We were ambushed and barely made it there with our skins intact.”

Percy’s wide-eyed reaction convinced Kingsley that his instinct to soft-pedal the events had been correct. The lad was looking peaked enough without hearing about his brother’s missing ear and Mad-Eye Moody’s disappearance.

Until they find a body, I’ll be damned if I concede that ornery sod is dead, he repeated inwardly for the thousandth time.

–Then who’s that?” Percy demanded, gesturing towards the broad back of a sultan standing next to the magical fountain.

When the man turned, Kingsley gave an involuntary gasp.

It was his own features staring back at him!

–Didn’t get a chance to ask Tonks before she dashed off to help the Minister stick to his timetable,” Percy supplied.

Tonks was here? No, it couldn’t be, Kingsley decided. She was at the Weasley wedding, accompanied by her new husband. Why Remus had practically witnessed the Weasley brood grow into adulthood. Aloud, Kingsley commented, –Expected she’d be at the wedding also.”

–Me, too,” Percy confided. –She was none too pleased about being called to duty tonight, though; claimed it was inevitable for a Metamorphmagus.”

Bloody hell, she did! Anyone trying that on Tonks was guaranteed to get a lecture about discriminatory employment practices. Kingsley silently acknowledged that Percy had not worked closely enough with Tonks to have a true measure of her irrepressible personality.

–Where is she now?” Kingsley demanded aloud.

–Can’t say. Swallowed up in the crowd. We’ll have to wait until they spit her out again.” Percy sniggered at his own abominable pun. –I think that’s Dolores Umbridge, though. Dressed like a fat, pink kitten.” He squinted at the pinkish blur in the distance. –Wait, make that a round teapot.”

Kingsley brought a tiny omniocular device to his eyes. A turn of the dial added the filtering feature to counteract low lighting even as it leeched the color from everything else.

–Right on both counts,” he acknowledged lowly. –It’s one of those revolting oriental teapots that resemble a kitten holding its paw up to form the spout. But unless someone gave her a mighty kick in the shins, that peculiar hobble belongs to Melinda Mulciber.”

–An established member of the Witches Auxiliary,” Percy concurred. –They organized this event for their members and their husbands.”

Nothing untoward about that, Kingsley noted inwardly, yet his sense of unease didn’t entirely fade. Instinctively, he focused on the security personnel which had been covertly deployed among the guests.

He had little difficulty identifying Walden Macnair in a rather tasteless version of a decapitated hippogriff. And the staggering mountain troll was surely John Dawlish. The slight drag in his lumbering steps established that he was likely under the Imperius Curse. This was further substantiated by slightly unfocused eyes that peaked out of the creature’s neckfolds. Kingsley made a mental note to pay close attention to anyone who seemed overly concerned with the man’s movements.

The two members of the Headless Hunt who seemed to have misplaced their mounts could only be Proudfoot and Savage. No amount of costuming could mask such blatant ineptitude.

His attention was drawn to the lilac-robed figures which stood partially obscured by a wide column. He thought he recognized Arnie Peasegood, but couldn’t be certain. Without the aid of the omnioculars, they faded into the background, their curious, frilly hats emphasized by the low light.

–Here, see for yourself,” he offered.

Percy accepted the small silver device from Kingsley’s outstretched hand. Abruptly, he was immersed in the crowd, disoriented by flashing sequins as silhouettes heaved to and fro in his line of sight. His finger found the filtering option and the shadows receded; immediately the riot was more manageable.

Bone-white faces took prominence over their elaborately robed forms, allowing him to recognize more of his co-workers among the attendees. Jeremiah from Magical Maintenance was dressed as a fire crab, his pincer-like gloves making him slosh his drink continually. Audrey Farnsdale from Owl Dispatch was attired in a one-piece suit of looped wool and a headdress with long, narrow ears. The elongated fangs marked her as a wererabbit, Percy concluded with a note of amusement.

How well he remembered the story his mother had regularly invoked to coerce her children to eat their carrots at supper. Her ploy was met with limited success as they had mostly enjoyed Bellatrix Potter’s whimsical book illustrations. How he missed the familiar anarchy of a large family dining together…

A curious trio of lilac-robbed figures caught his eye -- mostly because they were clustered as a group under the fluted colonnade. In tighter focus, they were revealed as fanged geramiums, their feet hidden behind the lip of an over-large pot. Clever costume, he thought to himself, but not very practical for an event that involved intermingling with the other guests.

–Lilac is what color in the natural light?” he asked.

Without turning his head, Kingsley supplied, –Purple. The filter drains most of the color. Purple is such a vibrant shade that a small echo remains. Most colors are just rendered a prosaic grey.”

A palatable surge in the crowd signaled the Minister for Magic’s arrival. In keeping with the festive theme, Scrimgeour had chosen to mingle among the guests so as to seem more approachable.

It was a public relations ploy that was not without its risks, as the trio of garnet-robed security guards at his sides and back attested. No costumes for these gentlemen, Tonks noted with approval. It was essential that nothing impede the Minister’s recognition of his security detail.

It was an inevitable sign of these contentious times that guards were always close at hand. How well she remembered that Cornelius Fudge had done without -- just as the man’s lackadaisical relationship with the truth had contributed to his downfall. It was not surprising that Scrimgeour had sought to blaze a different path from that of his predecessor.

Recognizing his austere personality would hardly endear him to the masses, the Minister had secured public relations wizards to help him become more palatable. Not that flinty steel could ever taste like pudding, she considered wryly, but the experts had done their best with what they had.

One couldn’t help but admire Scrimgeour’s facility among the crush of bodies. Nor his acumen in selecting a costume that would convey just the appropriate air. Tonks had watched the wardrobe specialists drape the Minister’s body like a glowing skeleton, then add loose, homespun trousers and a frayed straw hat. The thin white shirt was left open to better display his ribcage and the long line of vertebra beyond. With a burlap sack at his side filled with desiccated cornhusks, he was the perfect embodiment of a humble field hand -- or rather the ancestor of one as she recognized the significance of his attire.

Invoking the image of a peasant was a marked departure from Scrimgeour’s reputation as a grim taskmaster. No one was likely to forget his tight-fisted oversight of the Auror Department. The guests took it as a sign of the new Minister’s approachability as they jockeyed for position, an inexorable wave impatient for its due.

It was impossible to tell how Scrimgeour’s leadership would be viewed through the long lens of history. Yet Tonks couldn’t help but suppress a girlish titter when her father’s favorite maxim came to mind: The less resolute the leader, the more arms he needs for support.