“Moony, I am not going to return to my home with my son, just to pretend I’m still dead!” James snapped, furiously glaring at his best friend.
“It wouldn’t be forever! Just until we can get a lay of the land.” The werewolf replied impatiently. “For Merlin’s sake, James, you were an Auror! You know you shouldn’t just blindly walk into a potentially dangerous situation without gathering intel first!”
“But what better way to get an unguarded reaction than to just show up?” Sirius spoke up lazily, brandishing a white and silver gilt invitation at him. “This, my dear Lupin, is an invitation to the annual Autumn Gala. The creme de la creme of the pureblood wizarding society will be there, as well as anyone else wanting to see and be seen. This is the last gathering before the children go to school and the Wizengamot is in formally in session, so it is prime opportunity for politicking and negotiations from all ages. The young ones seek to form allies and gain cohorts, and their parents look over their companions and begin negotiations for betrothals and business transactions, as it were.”
The other man raised his brows in astonishment. “Betrothals? At age eleven?”
“Oh yes. Negotiations, anyway; dowrys, land, gold, magical goods, and all that. Most purebloods never left the Regency era when it comes to our women and children.” James smiled humorlessly. “Why do you think it was so easy for me and Sirius to pull so many girls at Hogwarts? Most of them were doomed to loveless marriages and lives as society wives, all fluff and no substance, as was long ago deemed appropriate for pureblood witches.”
“What’s your point, Potter?” Lupin sighed.
“What better and more efficient way of letting everyone know that Harry and I are back and alive than to crash the most talked about social event of the year?” James said smugly. “Especially since they will have had to relax the standards on who is invited post-war; can’t show anti Muggle-born animosity after all, or you might be a traitor and a Death Eater, despite whatever excuses they gave to escape imprisonment. So when I say everyone is going to be there, I mean everyone.” His eyes narrowed. “Including our esteemed Minister of Magic.”
“You’re absolutely mental.” Remus groaned. “But fine. You two are not going into that viper pit without me to watch your back though.” He sighed, silently questioning once again what he had done to deserve such insane friends. “Do you think Madame Maulkin’s can alter one of your robes to fit me before tomorrow?”
The next evening, the three wizards touched the invitation, each man also holding one of Harry’s arms as an extra precaution. It was a Portkey, set to deliver them to their destination at precisely 7:45 pm.
“Wait – how did you get this in the first place if everyone believes that you’re dead?” Remus asked suddenly, as the hands on his watch counted down the last few seconds. “James!”
They were whirled away before he could answer, Harry’s surprised yell of delight lost in the whirlwind. The journey only took a few seconds, and there was a recognizable slowing that allowed the men to brace themselves for the landing. Remus bent his knees slightly, absorbing the impact with the instinctive ease of a half-wild being. James stumbled a bit, but managed to right himself before he took Harry down with him. Sirius, of course, landed with careless ease. James fought the urge to shove him on his arse for it.
“That was wicked!” Harry exclaimed. “Can we do it again?”
“Later, son. Time to keep your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds.” James answered sternly, his wand out as he scanned the area.
The Portkey had taken them directly into the Atrium at the Ministry of Magic, though the Gala itself would be held in the main ballroom, which made sense. No need to give a particular sect the political and social power and advantage that was gained in hosting an event like this; best to have it on relatively neutral grounds. The portkey landing area was separated from the main ballroom by a set of doors and stairs, as well as two very large guards that were checking each invitation suspiciously before waving the people through.
“Harry.” James said quietly. “Remember what I told you.”
The eleven year old nodded earnestly. “Got it, dad. Stay in the public areas. Left cufflink is a portkey; right is shield. Wave my bracelet over food to check for poison; don’t leave my drink unattended. Be polite, but don’t let them push me around; let them come to me.”
“Perfect.” his father smiled affectionately down at him. “C’mon, mini-me. Let’s go make an entrance.”
They strode up the steps side by side, Sirius and Remus flowing silently behind them, and into the foyer, where the check in line began.
“Name?” The guard said, not really paying attention.
James smirked, his eyes alight with mischief. “James Alexander Potter, Lord Breckenridge, and his son, Harry James Potter, the Boy Who Lived.” he said, winking at Harry. “Although I suppose technically that title would apply to me as well, as it were…”
The man’s head shot up, his eyes wide. “But – you – you’re-dead!”
“Apparently not, as it turns out.” James drawled sardonically. “But I can see how we might not be on the list, despite having received an invitation…” He knew as well as Sirius did that nearly everyone who could afford it was invited, so the guest list was impossibly long and grew longer every year. It was magically updated, somehow being automatically aware of deaths, births, and incarcerations, which was why he had received an invitation as usual but Sirius had not. The list was not sentient, and as they were a bit of a unique situation, it probably hadn’t updated to include Sirius’s new social status after his private pardon.
Sirius took that moment to pointedly clear his throat. “I suppose that would also apply to mistakenly convicted murderers, especially since my primary victim is also my plus one?”
James mock scowled. “You should be so lucky, you old dog. Harry is my date this evening – otherwise I’d be going stag.”
His companions groaned simultaneously.
“Daaad!” The boy turned to the still sputtering doorman. “Please, sir, let us in before he starts on his routine of bad jokes!”
James obligingly started, “So, a witch, a wizard, and a broom stick walk into a bar…”
“Enjoy your night!” The poor man exclaimed, gesturing for them to enter. He didn’t even bother to stop Remus, who had watched the entire performance, highly entertained.
“I think that was some of your finest work, Padfoot, Prongs.” He murmured. “And nice assist, young Harry! We have taught you well.”
Snickering, the quartet strolled through the grand double doors, only to be stopped by yet another line and crowd.
“Like sheep, herded from one line to the next.” Sirius grumbled.
“Oh, come now Sirius; at least call them cattle, since some of them are no doubt branded like one.” James replied, not bothering to lower his voice.
His remark caught the attention he had intended; people glanced over, some with an obviously scathing retort on the tip of their tongue, only to stop short in surprise. Whispers flooded the room, yet no one quite dared to approach them.
“Oh for – excuse me.” Sirius pushed his way to the front of the line, the others following in his wake. “Let’s get this over with. Announce us, please.” He ordered the major domo, handing him a card. “Let the gawking and squawking commence.”
The man cleared his throat, rapping the floor with his staff three times. The crowd below quieted and turned to stare; the domo only used the staff to announce royalty or foreign dignitaries.
“His Grace, Sirius Orion Black, Lord Blackmoor; His Grace, James Alexander Potter, Lord Brackenridge.” he intoned solemnly. “His Lordship, Harry James Potter.” He glanced over at Remus, who shook his head silently. Remus was there primarily as bodyguard detail and was perfectly happy with that fact, more than content to fade into the background.
In perfect sync, they stepped through the doors and paused at the top of the stairs, waiting. There was a beat of perfect silence. Then the flash from the camera was like a lightning bolt, startling everyone out of their shock.
James and Sirius knew full well what a striking picture the three of them made, decked out in crisp dark tuxedos, their cravats and vests expertly pressed and tied. Diamond cuff links sparkled from their wrists and every inch of their clothes and demeanor screamed wealth and power. Remus prowled slightly behind them, darkly elegant in his charcoal grey suit, his eyes glinting gold as he surveyed the room.
“Sirius, darling, is it really you?” A feminine voice called as they reached the last step, Harry still safely protected between his father and Padfoot. The woman deftly weaved her way through the crowd to where they were standing to throw herself into Sirius’s arms in a flurry of perfumed silk.
“Hello, Anastasia.” Sirius laughed, catching her easily. “Ten years, and you haven’t changed one bit.” He kissed her cheek, and set her down. “Gentlemen, this stunning creature is Lady Anastasia -”
” – Greengrass now, Siri.” She interrupted. “Andrew and I married, nearly straight out of Hogwarts.” She flashed her left hand and wiggled her fingers, making the large diamond sparkle in the light.
“Staci, you remember James Potter, don’t you? He was in Gryffindor with me and Remus. Staci was a Ravenclaw, two years above us.” He added. “And this, of course, is young Harry.” He smiled down at the boy. “He’s due to start at Hogwarts next month.”
Anastacia was too well bred to scoff – of course I know who he is! – instead offering her hand to James, Remus and Harry in turn. “It is very nice to finally meet you, young Harry. There’s no doubt that you are your father’s son, that’s for sure!” She gushed, smiling brightly. “You are the spitting image of him at that age, young rascal that he was. So you will be starting at Hogwarts, hmm? Then you’ll be in the same year as my Daphne. Darling!” She raised her voice slightly, gesturing. Almost instantly, a young blonde girl materialized beside her.
“Sweetheart, this is Harry. He will be attending Hogwarts with you. Be a love and introduce him to your friends, there’s a girl.”
Harry and Daphne watched in bemusement as she looped an arm through one of James’s and one of Sirius’s, pulling them away and calling for champagne. Remus shook his head, watching them. “Well, miss, I would guess that you are having your own gathering in one of the receiving rooms nearby?” He said to Daphne.
“Yes sir. It’s the big library, just down that hallway, second door on the left.” She answered quietly. “We will be there for the rest of the evening. They even set up food and drinks for us, so that we could stay out of the way.” Her lips twisted slightly. “We served our purpose for the night, after all. Social rounds are done, for the moment. Time for the grown ups to discuss things that we couldn’t possibly understand.”
He was surprised at the blunt words and sardonic tone – she was only eleven! – but managed a smile. “Well, I like to claim that I never grew up, so I may end up slipping out and joining you.” He replied lightly, and was rewarded by her surprised laugh. “Harry, make sure you come out and check in with one of us on the hour, yes?”
“Yes sir.” Harry replied, a bit impatiently.
“Go on then.” He waved them away with a smile, watching as the bright and dark heads disappeared into the crowd. Sighing, he returned his attention to the crowd around him, beginning the tedious process of tracking down his friends.