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Slaughter at the Wedding

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Harry ought to have known that going to a Dursley family wedding of all things would end in disaster.

 

Ideally, Harry wouldn’t have had to go at all. Only Vernon’s relatives were the sort who thought they could have their cake and eat it too—a luxurious wedding with none of the accompanying costs. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had agreed with this sentiment, which was how Harry had found himself strong-armed into joining the waitstaff for the wedding dinner.

 

He had gotten the usual lecture on behaving himself and not embarrassing the family, and a good number of threats to top it off.

 

Harry wished they would have left him behind, if only because he would have been able to better catch up on the news while left alone at the house. Because no one was telling him anything, not even his own friends, and so Harry was forced to pick up news wherever and whenever he could, trying to see what Voldemort was up to.

 

What Harry did know was that his friends wouldn’t approve if they knew he was leaving the house. Voldemort could be looking for him, and to leave the house would make him an easy target.

 

But Harry was restless and feeling more than just a little spiteful. And so he wrote back to Ron and Hermione, keeping his letters short, concise, and free of any wedding mentions at all.

 

If Voldemort came and found him at a Dursley wedding, then… well, to be completely honest, Harry had no idea what he would do if that happened. He would just have to keep his wand and cloak on him at all times and hope for the best.

 


 

The wedding was as Harry expected, though he did not see much of it, occupied as he was with moving the catering into the giant venue and preparing it to be served. From the brief glimpses he had caught, the groom looked like Dudley, only more grown up, and the bride looked like a miniature version of any of Aunt Petunia’s rude, gossipy friends.

 

Harry pushed at his sleeves for the fifth time today. The cuffs were too big for him, and so the sleeves kept falling past his wrists. It was annoying because all the other staff had had their outfits selected to size, and Harry had been given no such option.

 

Eventually, it was time for dinner.

 

Serving went as badly as Harry could have imagined. The food was a set course, a lavish spread of dish after dish. Caesar and garden salad, quinoa with seeds and fresh berries, roast lamb legs, mixed grain rice loaded with vegetables. It all smelled amazing, mouth watering, and was leagues better than anything Harry had eaten all summer.

 

Due to his shorter stature, Harry tried to stick with the other workers so he wouldn’t get singled out. All the people at this wedding, either related to or friends with Uncle Vernon’s relatives, were the type of people you would expect to be associated with a married couple who locked a boy in a cupboard. Harry would have much liked to have nothing to do with them.

 

As dinner progressed, Harry was yelled at by three different tables and had narrowly avoided getting a wine glass chucked at him by someone at a fourth.

 

By the time the meal was done with, Harry was relieved to have a break. There was still some food leftover, even extra meat. He ate quickly, savouring the richness of the food and the flavourful spices, and then he was assigned to dish duty while the wedding party segued into dancing.

 

Harry scrubbed at dishes and helped load the dishwasher. They were maybe a quarter of the way through when Harry accidentally let slip that the pompous family at table seven were his relatives.

 

It was then that some of the older workers took pity on him and sent him out to join the guests, saying it wasn't fair for such a young boy to be working in the kitchens anyways. Harry would have rather stayed in the kitchen, where it was safe, but he had little choice as they ushered him out, telling him to enjoy the night while it lasted.

 

The venue was pretty fancy. The newlyweds had rented some fancy gardens and set up huge pavilions with white and silver fabrics. The tables were covered with small candles and a scatter of smooth clear stones around a tall floral centerpiece that was composed of white lilies and sprigs of lavender.

 

Harry hovered by the wall, not wanting to intrude on the festivities or draw attention to himself.

 

It was only because of this that he noticed the man had snuck into the room. He was facing away from where Harry was standing. The mystery guest was tall, long-limbed, and wearing a dark suit. And a bowler hat. Harry had seen all of the wedding guests—or at least, he'd thought he had. But this man had not been among them.

 

Then the man shifted, moving towards the dancefloor where the rest of the guests were currently congregated.

 

Harry's relatives were there; Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were dancing with each other, and Dudley was with a girl who looked not unlike him, only in female form.

 

The newcomer stood out, Harry thought. He didn't fit in with what Harry's aunt and uncle would have called 'the right sort' of people.

 

Harry continued to watch as the man wove his way closer to the center of the crowd, passing by the moving throngs of couples with little effort. It was a dance of its own, in a way. A slow, languid path that the man threaded around the swaying bodies. A step to the left, a step to the right. The man didn't bump or knock into anyone; a feat Harry would have never been able to accomplish, seeing as his dancing skills had been labeled as 'worse than abysmal' by Parvati Patil.

 

And then the man turned, his head angled just enough that his face was visible underneath the brim of the hat—

 

Harry gasped without thinking. The sudden inhale of air sounded cartoonish and idiotic, but what other response could there have been?

 

It was Voldemort, the Dark Lord, standing in the middle of the dance floor, dressed to the nines and surrounded by the whale-like relatives of the Dursleys.

 

This was a scene out of Harry's nightmares. It had to be, only this was nothing like the memories that had haunted him all summer. The graveyard, the resurrection, and Cedric Diggory's body—

 

Harry swallowed, blinking hard. The chalk-white skin and noseless face looked different in the current setting. Harry blinked again, trying to clear the sight, but the vision of Voldemort did not fade away. In fact, Voldemort was not looking at Harry at all. He was looking, Harry realized, at the DJ.

 

A bone white wand slid into Voldemort's hand.

 

Harry's entire body froze. His own wand rested in its holster, which was strapped around his waist so that his wand was pressed up against his back. But what could he do? Could he scream, tell people to run? Harry already knew what would come of that; no one would believe him. The Dursleys wouldn't believe him, and they'd make sure everyone else knew that Harry was an attention-seeking liar—

 

Voldemort's wand rose up. Harry could feel a scream building inside of him, or maybe it was bile, and then his hands scrambled for his wand, because it would be better to be armed than to have no wand at all.

 

Harry had barely stumbled a single step forward, a wordless cry parting his lips, when Voldemort cast the first spell.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Harry waited for the screams of terror he had once heard at the Quidditch World Cup. The sounds of Muggles being tortured for sport. But none came, the music only continued—no, wait. The music was slowing to a stop.

 

The song came to an abrupt halt. Many of those who had been dancing were confused; they had been in the middle of a song.

 

Harry looked up at the DJ. The past year's Defense lessons with Barty Crouch Jr. sprung to mind. How the Imperius Curse was practically undetectable if cast correctly on an unresisting victim. A Muggle would have no hope of resisting such a spell.

 

Then a new song began to play, and the crowd settled. Harry, of course, was not reassured by this, and so he listened to the opening chords, trying to place the sounds.

 

It was... it was something Harry associated with watching movie cassettes at Mrs. Figg's. The heavy scent of cats in the air, the static of the old television. Sharp, dramatic beats and a slow build up, all accompanied by the distinct thrum of a violin.

 

If the universe had not imploded on itself, then Harry was faintly sure that what was now blaring from the large stereo speakers was vibrant, expressive tango music.

 

As the song change registered with the guests, the atmosphere shifted into one of confusion. One of the groomsmen went to approach the dais, but Harry's attention was fully ensnared by the movements of the Dark Lord.

 

He was dancing.

 

Only, dancing was a very loose term for what was actually going on, because Harry had seen dead fish at the shops that had more fluidity to their motions than Voldemort did.

 

In fact, the more Harry thought about it, the more he was certain that Voldemort must have cast some kind of spell to disguise himself from Muggles. There was no way that everyone else was just failing to notice what Harry could only manage to describe as very bad dancing.

 

And though Harry was no expert himself, he did know what looked bad, and this was most definitely bad. He'd once witnessed an entire group of fourth-year Gryffindor students learn to dance under the tutelage of Professor McGonagall, and Voldemort underclassed them all.

 

Harry finished extracting his wand from his holster, but he had no idea what he planned to do with it. From what he'd seen, it did not seem like Voldemort had come here to attack him, Harry.

 

Voldemort had come here to dance.

 

Voldemort had come here to dance, only the fates were so tragically stacked against Harry that Voldemort had happened upon the one wedding that Harry had been forced into attending.

 

The song was now in full swing, tango music blaring all throughout the classy pavilion, and the DJ was refusing to change the track even though three groomsmen and two bridesmaids were yelling at him.

 

The entire scenario would have been the perfect setup for a comedy, only Harry was half-frozen in place with fear and hard pressed to muster up any other emotions. Any moment now, Harry was sure, Voldemort was about to snap and start killing people.

 

Up at the front of the pavilion, the groomsmen had succeeded in reaching over the DJ and switching the music off. A bridesmaid had gotten a hold of the microphone and was apologizing profusely to the crowd of guests. Harry supposed that, to a group like this, anything that wasn't a 'traditional' type of wedding song was cause for an uproar. Many of the elderly along the sides of the room looked horrified.

 

Voldemort's reaction was swift and immediate. As soon as the song had come to a screeching end, the yew wand was back in his hand, slashing through the air.

 

This time, there were screams.

 

For this odd, pale stranger had suddenly appeared in their midst, tall and threatening, looming over most of them, his vermillion eyes flashing despite the lack of proper lighting. And even if his appearance had not been utterly horrifying, the fact that he was so clearly out of place was likely more than enough reason for shock and terror amongst the wedding guests.

 

Harry began to move towards the crowd, which was now backing away from Voldemort. The Muggles could probably sense that Voldemort's presence meant danger, even if they didn't know why.

 

A few seconds must have passed, but Voldemort had yet to cast any new spells. Instead, he was regarding the crowd with a disturbingly calm expression. His shoulders were relaxed, the pivot of his body smooth as he turned to gaze up at the DJ's dais.

 

Harry's wand was loose in his hand. He could cast right now, cast a spell, and then the Ministry would come for him for doing underaged magic. Then the Aurors would come, too, and they would see Voldemort and protect the Muggles—

 

Voldemort's wand hand rose, the motion mesmerizing. Harry was struck by the sight of it—how could someone so terrible at dancing still be capable of such fluid, precise spellwork?

 

Then Voldemort cast, his wand spinning in a complex pattern that Harry couldn't recognize, and the dais exploded, the sound equipment and speakers blasting apart into flaming pieces that flung out towards the unsuspecting crowd. If the guests had not already been screaming, they now most certainly were.

 

People were now running, stampeding in Harry's direction, and Harry was knocked about in his struggle to avoid getting trampled.

 

All of these Muggles had just witnessed Voldemort's magic, Harry realized. Voldemort had cast magic in this area, and there were no Ministry summons arriving. Harry tried to recall how long it had taken for his Ministry warning to arrive at the Dursleys. Surely it ought to be here by now, since Voldemort had already cast the Imperius on the DJ?

 

Only... this was not Number 4, Privet Drive. There was no reason for underage magic to be detected at this random venue in London. Harry's hand trembled as the implication sunk in. He was alone, without assistance, and Voldemort was about to kill all these Muggles with no one to stop him. And if any Muggles did live, they would be Obliviated of the experience altogether.

 

In the time it had taken Harry to think all of this through, Voldemort had succeeded in casting another spell. The screaming around them was getting louder. The people who had escaped behind Harry were still screaming, too, and their voices were rising in pitch. Harry could just make out the words—

 

"We're trapped! We can't get out, oh, god—"

 

Voldemort must have put up wards around the tent. Harry whipped back around to where Voldemort was standing. Indecision tore at him. He didn't know how to dismantle wards. They were all penned in here like sheep, and Voldemort was going to kill them all. That meant the only hope Harry had left was to get the message out that they were here. Even if no one could come and save them, then at least people would be warned of the danger Voldemort posed.

 

More screaming sounded from the dance floor. Voldemort was in the throes of his murder spree now. What Harry needed was a way to contact someone, only Voldemort had put up wards everywhere and there were no owls at this ridiculous Muggle wedding.

 

Harry spun around, desperate for some sudden inspiration, some clue as to what he ought to be doing.

 

And then he saw it.

 

There was the girl that Dudley had been dancing with, cowering behind a table, her face streaked with tears, her dress streaked with ash. Only in her hand was a mobile phone, and she was... taking a photo? Or filming the entire ordeal, Harry wasn't sure.

 

But there it was: a device that could contact people outside of the wards. Harry just had to get his hands on one.

 

This idea, the perfect solution, was now all that Harry could think of. He had to get his hands on a mobile phone. That was the task he now had, and he would do it.

 

Harry scrambled in the direction of the girl. There were things going on in the background, but Harry was tuning them out. He was solely focused on his mission. Get to a phone. Get to a phone and contact someone.

 

Something landed with an ear-splitting crack to Harry's left. It was a table, Harry noted distantly. Voldemort was now tossing the furniture around. At least Voldemort had not brought his Death Eaters with him. It was unlikely Harry would have been able to escape notice for as long as he had if that had been the case.

 

When Harry glanced over, he saw that the girl had moved. But where? Harry spun around, disoriented now that the subject of his focus was gone.

 

Then he spotted the Dursleys.

 

They were a bit farther up, huddled behind a larger table, the cloth partially draped over them. Harry wondered if they had tried to run, only to be stopped by the wards. Dispassionately, Harry noted that even the large table was not enough to hide the bulk of all three of the Dursleys at once.

 

But Dudley had a phone. Harry knew this because Dudley never ceased to rub it in Harry's face that he had the latest model with the largest screen.

 

Harry changed directions, his feet carrying him forward. The Dursleys didn't even notice his approach, they were so focused on the carnage Voldemort was inflicting on their fellow party guests. Harry crept up to them. Dudley even had his phone in hand, and he was taking pictures of Voldemort.

 

For a half second, Harry wondered if Voldemort would even show up in photographs. What if he was like a vampire in a Muggle movie, and when you tried to take a photo, the camera died or the photo was empty?

 

Dudley was the first to notice Harry’s approach. He squeaked, nearly dropping his phone, and pointed a thick finger in Harry's direction.

 

"You," said Uncle Vernon in a low, thunderous tone. "You did this, didn't you, boy? This is your fault, bringing trouble wherever you go, and now people—people are—" Vernon could not seem to finish the sentence, however, and so he went still, the vein in his forehead throbbing fit to burst.

 

Harry paid him no mind. "Dudley," said Harry. "Give me your phone, I'm going to contact someone for help."

 

"And what good will that do?" Vernon hissed. He cast a nervous glance over his shoulder, his moustache twitching. "We've already called the police, and the emergency, and I'm sure everyone else has done the same."

 

Petunia was shaking like a leaf, her eyes shifting back and forth between Harry and her husband. "Vernon, d-dear, let the boy make a call, what can it hurt—?"

 

Harry was growing impatient. He dropped to a crouch and wrenched the phone out of Dudley's hand, prying the meaty fingers off of the device. Then Harry scuttled back as Dudley made a swipe for it. His back bumped into the fabric of the pavilion.

 

Harry braced his free hand against the tent and shifted away from the Dursleys, knowing that Dudley wouldn't follow; certainly his mother would not allow him past the safety of the table they were huddled behind.

 

Phone in hand, Harry scrambled backwards a few table lengths until he reached a section where the fabric was split, held together only loosely by velcro. With one hand occupied, it was difficult to pry the patches apart. Harry stuffed the phone into his back pocket, wrenched the fabric open, and then nearly fell head first through the gap he had just created.

 

He landed with both palms flat on the grass. Pulling himself up quickly, Harry settled on his knees, heedless of the grass stains on his trousers, and held Dudley's phone up to eye-level.

 

It was already open to the photo that Dudley had taken. Harry navigated through the rest—all similar photos at different angles, and then also a short video. The video would take too long to upload, Harry thought. Which meant it would be best to just upload as many photos as possible.

 

Now, what did Dudley even have on his phone? Aunt Petunia frequently cited its usage for emergencies, but Harry knew that Dudley would have gone out of his way to abuse the privilege as much as possible. So there would be games and other things. Harry exited the gallery and glanced through the applications before settling on AOL Instant Messenger.

 

From there, it was only a matter of selecting every single one of Dudley's contacts and choosing the option to send photos.

 

Some small portion of Harry's mind recognized that the data charge for all this was going to be astronomically high, and this thought resulted in an undignified, slightly hysterical snort to bubble up in his throat.

 

Harry finished picking all the photos and hit send.

 

And then he sat there, adrenaline still roaring in his ears, because he had now completed the task he'd originally sought to accomplish.

 

So Harry went back to check that the messages had been sent, just in case. Then his eyes fell upon the list of contacts, and it was as though someone had just walked over his grave.

 

Because this was Dudley Dursley's phone, and his list of contacts was less than ideal for when you wanted to talk to someone who was actually important.

 

Harry had already been breathing quite hard, but now he was beginning to feel downright lightheaded as he reopened some of the chats and began to type out messages for help. With the extra words, maybe they would take the photos seriously.

 

A massacre of this level would require heavy cover up from the Ministry, but by the time the Aurors got here, Voldemort would be long gone. Harry needed these photos out there so that everyone could see that Voldemort was back and take the proper precautions. Not just wizards and witches, either. With photographs for proof, even Muggles would be on the lookout for Voldemort.

 

Harry was only part way through a sentence when he registered the thick scent of smoke in the air. Jolting upright, Harry pivoted on the spot to see that large parts of the pavilion were now up in flames.

 

Was Voldemort burning up all the evidence?

 

Harry's heart rate accelerated further as he stood on weak legs, debating whether he ought to go back inside to see what had happened.

 

Maybe the Dursleys were dead. Harry didn't know what he would feel if that was the case. It would be different, at least, than having seen Cedric killed right in front of him.

 

Another choked laugh forced its way out from behind Harry's closed mouth. Was there something wrong with him, that he couldn't seem to take any of this seriously?

 

Uncle Vernon had said all of this was his fault, probably because he thought Harry was a freak. But this was the one time where Harry had been here by accident, and not because a homicidal maniac wanted him dead.

 

Well, Harry was here. He was here, and Voldemort was inside the tent, killing people, and he would kill Harry as soon as he got the chance to do so. So what did it matter? Harry would die either way. But if he bought some more time, maybe Aurors would show up and get the rest of the Muggles out.

 

Harry had done his best, had done all he could, and fate had gotten to him in the end.

 

It was this conviction that carried him forward, past the flaps of the white and silver tent fabric, towards the man who had killed his parents.

 


 

Harry woke to darkness and the strong smell of ash and charred barbecue. His eyes strained, protesting even in the absence of light. It took some indeterminate period of time before he was able to sit up.

 

The tent was in tatters. Some of its metal skeleton remained, but the fabric was gone or mostly gone. Harry was laid out in the center of it all, surrounded by debris.

 

Voldemort had killed him.

 

Harry touched at his forehead, then at his heart. His heart was still beating.

 

But Voldemort had killed him, had sent the Avada Kedavra right at him. What had happened?

 

Dazed, Harry rubbed at his face. His hand came away slightly damp and very sooty. He wasn't dead, and Voldemort was nowhere in sight. Harry supposed it would be too much to hope that Voldemort was dead, that the Killing Curse had somehow rebounded a second time and gotten rid of Voldemort for good.

 

The background noises were getting louder and louder. Harry focused on the distant lights, red and white, and the emergency workers who were now running headlong towards the massacre site. Relief sunk in. People had come.

 

Harry waved an arm in the air, and some of the people changed directions, running over to him. As they approached, Harry took in their outfits. They were not Ministry workers, Harry realized belatedly. They were Muggles.

 

Though he did not learn this for some time, Harry eventually found out that he was, in fact, the sole survivor of the entire sordid affair. An affair which was being classified by Muggle authorities as a tragic accident, an explosion due to the malfunction of sound equipment.

 

It had the fingerprints of the Ministry all over it, but Harry was past caring about the ridiculous measures that magical people would go to when keeping their existence a secret. What he really wanted to know was if they knew it had been Voldemort or not.

 

Harry stayed in the hospital for the next 24 hours. He no longer had any living relatives to take him in.

 

At some point, Harry figured, someone else would come for him. Someone from Hogwarts, or maybe even the Weasleys. He hoped it was the Weasleys.

 

So Harry spent most of that 24-hour period fast asleep, and when he woke, he learned that the hospital workers were calling him the boy-who-lived.

 


 

Eventually, people did come for him. Harry was greeted by strangers—members of an organization called the Order of the Phoenix—and brought to Number 12, Grimmauld Place, where he was told he would spend the remainder of his summer.

 

Harry sat through Ron and Hermione's explanations. Dumbledore hadn't let them tell him anything. Dumbledore had sent Order members to fetch him as soon as they knew what had happened. Dumbledore was handling it—

 

What Harry really wanted was access to Muggle news, so he could see if the photographs had gotten anywhere. But no one was letting him leave the house, and it seemed even Sirius—who was the only person here who was even trying to tell him anything—was a prisoner in this death trap of a house.

 

The longer Harry stayed here, the more sullen he got. Harry didn't understand what was to be gained from holing him up in this house.

 

A few of the Order members had asked him what had happened at the wedding. The interrogation—and that was what it felt like, an interrogation—had been brief, but for some reason, Harry couldn't bring himself to tell the whole truth.

 

He had told them everything leading up to his decision to go back inside the tent. He had not told them that Voldemort had tried to kill him a second time and failed.

 

Harry had even withheld this information from Ron and Hermione, though he wasn't quite sure why. Maybe because he felt they wouldn't understand. Maybe because he was afraid what another evasion of death would confirm about him. The boy-who-lived twice over.

 

If they wanted the truth out of him, then they could damn well start telling him the truth about everything else.

 

What Harry was also hoping for was that Professor Dumbledore would finally talk to him, so Harry could demand answers. Why had Voldemort failed to kill him? Would he live in this house forever? With Sirius?

 

To live here with Sirius wouldn't be so bad, only not while all these other people were constantly in and out of the place. Sirius had given Harry a room of his own, a room that he said had once belonged to his younger brother. Harry hadn't known that Sirius had a brother.

 

The House-Elf, Kreacher, hated the fact that Harry was in the house. Or perhaps he just hated that Harry was in the room he was currently in, because the elf had been most fond of Regulus Black, and that meant Harry was a trespasser.

 

It was about a week into his stay at Grimmauld Place that Harry figured he could use this to his advantage.

 

Kreacher had been raised in a Pureblood household with bigoted values. He had been taught to cherish and uphold the ideals of Voldemort's ilk, and he was privy to all that went on in the house.

 

So in the end, the solution to freedom was simple: all Harry had to do was convince the elf to let him out of the house so that Voldemort could potentially come and kill him.

 


 

The problem with leaving Grimmauld Place was that Harry had no idea where it was actually located. He knew his best bet for information was to find either a local library with computer access, or a shop that sold newspapers. But even with newspapers, it was doubtful that there would be any recent news on a tragedy that had occured over a week ago.

 

Maybe, he thought, he could make his way back to the Dursley's home. There were computers there that he knew how to access. So even if there was nothing at the library, he could go there as a last attempt at finding out answers.

 

Decision made, Harry resolved to walk as far as he could and ask the first person he saw for directions to the nearest library.

 

Harry had not gone very far at all when he saw a figure in the distance. A tall, suit-clad figure wearing a bowler hat.

 

"Oh, come on," Harry said. This was getting a little ridiculous.

 

Voldemort was now stalking towards him. Harry had both his Cloak and his wand on him, only he felt no real need to reach for either. Voldemort had already failed to kill him twice. Third time's the charm, wasn't that what they said?

 

Harry waved hello as Voldemort came to a stop a mere pace away. Then Voldemort drew himself up to his full height, his expression working into something clearly meant to be intimidating and threatening.

 

Only Harry had just suffered through what was the worst experience of his life to date, and had then been holed up in a house full of things that were inadvertently trying to kill him at all times.

 

So really, this run-in was not the worst thing in the world. Harry had been half-expecting it as soon as he'd stepped out of Grimmauld Place.

 

"I have a question for you, Potter."

 

Harry nodded. Voldemort must want to know how Harry had survived the Killing Curse yet another time, especially since the resurrection ritual meant his mother's protection was gone.

 

"Your cousin's name."

 

That... wasn't a question. Harry opened his mouth to say so, then wisely realized that antagonizing Voldemort was not in his best interests.

 

"Dudley Dursley," said Harry. It wasn't as though the information mattered anymore.

 

"He owned a mobile phone."

 

"He did." Harry still didn't understand what Voldemort was trying to get at.

 

Voldemort's face morphed into a scathing scowl. "There was no phone on the body," he snapped. "Which means that someone else must have stolen it."

 

Harry had been the one to steal the phone. Volunteering this information, however, seemed like the sort of fatal mistake he ought to avoid doing.

 

"Did you need help looking for it?" Harry asked.

 

Voldemort's red eyes narrowed to slits. "I am looking for the perpetrator. Seeing as all the wedding guests are now deceased, it is impossible to Legilimize any of them for the relevant information." Here Voldemort paused, looking thoughtful. "I don't suppose you saw the theft occur?"

 

"Er—" Harry was at a total loss for words. "Why are you looking for the phone?"

 

All Harry could think of was how the Order said Voldemort was looking for a secret weapon of some kind. Only this couldn't possibly be it, because what on earth would Voldemort be planning to do with Dudley Dursley's phone?

 

"Because," Voldemort began, and Harry had the distinct impression that if Voldemort had a nose, the nostrils would have flared indignantly, "whoever they were, they are responsible for the defamation and mockery of myself in the Muggle world."

 

Never had Harry more dearly wished that someone, anyone, had given him more information on what Voldemort was up to other than 'looking for a secret weapon'.

 

Harry was going to regret asking this but—

 

"What do you mean, defamation?"

 

Voldemort shot him a glare so withering that Harry actually took a step back. "You very well know what I mean, Potter,” said Voldemort. “I am sure your Order has kept you well informed of the developments—"

 

"Well, they haven't," Harry said, irritated. Even Lord bloody Voldemort thought he was being kept in the loop; it was laughable. "So I would very much like it if you could get to the point!"

 

The space between them vanished, and Harry found Voldemort's wand suddenly pressed against his jugular.

 

"Hey," Harry protested. "What—"

 

They backed up on the pavement, moving off the street and into an alleyway. Then Voldemort shoved him into the wall, holding him in place with a free hand, and Harry fell silent, waiting to see what would happen.

 

Voldemort slid a hand into the breast pocket of his jacket and retrieved a folded piece of paper. What was odd about the paper was that it was not parchment. It was a folded sheet of white printer paper.

 

Harry was released from his place against the wall as Voldemort paused to unfold the paper. Harry watched, dumbfounded, as the page revealed one of Dudley's blurry photographs.

 

Only, it wasn't just the photograph. Someone had drawn all over it with black marker, so that—so that—

 

Harry was suddenly having a hard time breathing. He choked a little, his eyes watering from the effort of holding back the noises in his throat.

 

Someone, maybe a primary school child under the age of 10, had drawn graffiti all over the picture of Voldemort. Namely: devil horns, matching devil's tail, a mustache, and a cock.

 

Harry gazed at the image a bit longer, then revised his mental estimate of the artist's age. Whoever had done this had to at least be smart enough to use and have easy access to a printer.

 

"So you're looking for whoever drew this?" Harry clarified.

 

"I am looking," Voldemort said, "for the photographer.

 

"Ah," said Harry.

 

Voldemort was glaring at him again, and Harry wondered if this was how Death Eaters felt when they were being ordered to do things that were beyond the scope of their abilities.

 

"I think," Harry said, "that the problem isn't really the photographer. The problem is that people—" (Children in school with too much time on their hands.) "—are, um, drawing on the photo. Is that right?"

 

"Go on."

 

Thus emboldened, Harry continued, "So what I think you need to do is to release a better photo, one that will inspire, ah, greatness. And ambition." What else did Slytherins like? "And cunning," Harry finished. "That way no one would ever dare to draw on the photo to begin with."

 

Voldemort snatched the photo out of Harry's hands. "Your suggestion may have merit," Voldemort said. "I accept your offer of assistance."

 

Wait, what?

 

"Wait, what?" Harry said.

 

“Your assistance,” Voldemort snapped. “Do keep up, Potter. You offered to help find the device, and now you have suggested that we stage an improved version of the original image. Do you have any conditions?”

 

“What?” Harry repeated.

 

"Requests. Demands." Voldemort made an impatient gesture with his hand. "I am not unreasonable."

 

At first, Harry had no idea what he could even demand from Voldemort. What did Voldemort have that would make sense to ask for? Only Harry's mind seemed to have other ideas because his mouth opened up and began to speak.

 

"I want to be involved in things," Harry said firmly. "I want to be given information. Because no one has been telling me anything, not even my own friends, all summer long."

 

Voldemort's expression turned shrewd, and then he broke out into laughter. "Very well, Harry Potter. You shall have your free rein of information."

 

"And," Harry added as an afterthought, "once this is done, you have to let me go."

 

"So we have ourselves a deal," said Voldemort. "Your aid in the creation and dissemination of a new photograph in exchange for information and safe passage amongst my ranks."

 

"Yes," said Harry. "We do."

 

From there, Voldemort arranged to Apparate them to a new location. Harry had never Apparated before, and so the sensation was new to him. But aside from the oddness of being compressed and passed through a long, suffocating tube, Harry could only wonder just how long it was going to take to repair the public image of someone who looked like Voldemort.

 

Harry was going to have his work cut out for him.