Chapter 1: Double Marks
The Quidditch World Cup had been, by Harry's estimation, everything he should have wanted from the often bizarre world to which he belonged.
For ten glorious months, anyway.
With heart-stopping dives, chanting, spell-flinging fans, beautiful women who became fierce avian furies to hurl fireballs at leprechauns, and premium seats among Ambassadors and Ministers, it should have been one of the best days of his life.
Looking back, he would only agree that it was instead one of the most pivotal.
Music and revelry filled the late afternoon air outside the Quidditch World Cup Stadium; riotous and loud and altogether as invasive as the roaming stench of firewhisky and sick.
Harry stepped to the side, avoiding a stumbling man's attempt to turn him into a support. A quick flinch to the side kept him out of the way of flailing arms and he tried to pretend he didn't hear the heavy thud or intoxicated groan that followed.
It wasn't a hard thing to do.
Music filled the air and mixed with blaring amplified voices from giant advertisements charmed to shift every minute to try to sell some fancy item he had never seen before.
Pest Control for a Busy Wizard
Divine your future through secretive realms
Official broom of Viktor Krum
all hung in the air on a rotation, the last sending jets of light zooming through the cloudless blue sky, a mixture of browns, reds, and oranges combining to create flaming brooms sailing high overhead.
Hermione's far-too-frequent gaze brought his attention back to Earth. As she often did during their first few weeks reunited, she watched him for something.
For what, he was afraid to ask and far more afraid to know.
The small hairs at the back of his neck had prickled since he had arrived at the Burrow the night before; finally free of another painful summer with his relatives, only to find that he was under near constant surveillance by one of his few friends.
His suspicions had been confirmed earlier when he'd spotted an appraising half-smile crossing her face when he'd been caught scanning the Top Box during the Veela mascot's show, and again during their transformative blazing orange rampage.
Ron had been right. Tickets like theirs to the World Cup was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he knew he should have been more excited, more demonstrative, just...more.
But it was hard to shake the lingering welts that had made it painful to sit back in the chair and watch the match, or the nagging voice in the back of his head following a curious thought that reminded him he was meant to be seen not heard.
Another drunken fan, his team preference unknown due to the fact that the middle-aged wizard had stripped himself of whatever jersey he'd been wearing, sprinted through the middle of their group, parting the Weasleys to either side of the narrow path.
More such paths stretched to either side, leading the thousands of attendees back to the campsites to continue either their celebrations or to nurse their wounded pride. Off to their left, however, Harry caught glimpses of red jerseys and silver hair as the Bulgarian team trudged back to their camp in defeat, their site just on the other side of a copse of trees from where the Weasley's had set up their tents.
Mr. Weasley's VIP tickets had afforded them special accommodations, allowing them access to a very small group of campsites that, prior to the match, both teams had wandered through, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Ron's sudden voice made him jump and he masked it with a long stretch. Both his friends were staring at him.
"Er…what?" Harry said, scratching at his nose. "Sorry. I wasn't listening."
Hermione followed his gaze through the trees. The tips of his ears burned when she turned back to him with a knowing smile.
"Tell Hermione that the Wronski feint isn't 'some flashy dangerous move that could get someone killed'."
He cast his thoughts back to the heart-stopping dive that had taken Ireland's Seeker out of the game and sent the crowd into a raucous chant of 'Viktor Krum! Viktor Krum!'
"It's the first time I've seen it," Harry said, "but I'm pretty sure I remember Wood mentioning it at some point. Even if it was a warning."
Rather than join in the fledgling argument, he kept his mouth shut, glad for the distraction to Hermione's inquisitive nature.
It wasn't easy to shrug off the Dursley-shaped weight that sat impediment on his mind so soon after leaving Privet Drive, but if she was so focused on him already, he needed to try harder.
He shook his head.
The only way to be sure he didn't slip up was to force it out of his mind and make sure nobody saw the healing bruises on his side and back. Maybe he could swipe a potion from Madam Pomfrey to use at the end of each summer.
Despite his best efforts, a black pit settled on his chest as he stepped around a graying wizard laying on the ground whose cheeks were redder than the jersey he sported. If Sirius hadn't been forced back into hiding, he would never have had to go back to live with people who hated him.
For one glorious moment, he'd had the weight of his relatives lifted off his shoulders. Dumbledore's Patronus rescuing them by the lake, and Pettigrew's subsequent escape had ruined that for him.
"Harry?" Hermione's voice poked its way through his darkening thoughts.
With a silent curse, he brought his thoughts struggling back into the present to find that they had made it back to their campsite. Mr. Weasley was hunched over the firepit, a flint and steel held awkwardly in his hands.
"Are you okay?" She asked, putting words to his least favorite question. Despite his proficiency at it, he didn't like lying to his friends.
"I'm fine. Ron's snoring kept me up, so I'm pretty tired."
Not an outright lie. Ron's snoring had been atrocious. Better at least to offer some semblance of truth.
"Oi!" Ron said, dropping down onto the ground next to the as yet unlit fire. "I'm not that bad."
"I would have woken up not long after that anyway," Harry said with a quick shrug. "It was no big deal."
"While I believe it's always productive to start your day early, I'm not sure getting up at the crack of dawn is quite the way to do it," Hermione admonished.
"He's always been an early riser," Ron said from the ground. "Lay off, Hermione. I don't think he came to the World Cup to be nagged to death."
She huffed and stomped over to the girls' tent, following Ginny inside with an angry toss of her head.
Harry sat down next to Ron, declining Mr. Weasley's offer to try out the flint and steel. The long grass made for a comfortable seat in their sizable campsite. A small ring of dirt surrounded the large stone-ringed firepit, while small paths of tamped down grass branched out to their tents.
Bill watched his father, spinning his light-brown wand between his fingers. The idle movement stopped when one of the sparks finally took and a tiny flame sprang to life in the mix of dry twigs and grass. The elder Weasley laughed in delight, blinking his eyes rapidly against the puff of smoke that floated into his face as he hovered over the tiny fire.
Late afternoon wore into evening with conversation and slightly burnt food cooked over the eventually roaring fire. Hermione rejoined the group shortly after leaving, though she made it a point to sit on the other side of Harry, opposite Ron. After the sun had sunk below the horizon, leaving only faint wisps of red painting the clouds, Hermione turned to Harry with a sly smile when Ron got up to play a game of Quaffle Catch with Charlie and the Twins.
He eyed her, deciding not to give her the satisfaction of reacting. It was the same expression as when she had caught him staring at the beautiful silver-haired witch in the top-box, and again when he'd colored from meeting the woman's curious gaze as they'd left.
It wasn't difficult to beat Hermione in a battle of wills, most especially when there was something she wanted to know. A simple war of attrition would see her crack soon eno-
"So, how'd you do it?"
"Keep from acting like an idiot around those Veela? The others nearly lost it when the first came into the box with us, not to mention when those cheerleaders came out."
Her curiosity faded, replaced by concern.
"What were they thinking? People jumped onto the field to get to them when they were dancing. Someone could've been hurt. Not to mention when they got angry…"
"I didn't do anything," he answered, shrugging.
They had been beautiful, including the younger one that had joined them in the premium seats, but he hadn't felt whatever it was that made the others vie for their attention.
At least…any more than he'd normally want the attention of someone so good looking. He grimaced at the memory of him returning the woman's glance with a blank one of his own.
"What even are Veela?" he asked instead; an attempt at diversion.
To his surprise, Hermione shrugged.
"I don't know much about them. As far as I'm aware, they're classified as magical beings, similar to Vampires. As such, they're not taught in schools, and information is somewhat hard to come by, besides what people already know. They have some allure that makes most men lose their wits, they can transform into bird-like creatures, and they can throw fire."
"But you're muggle-born, and I might as well be. How do you know all of this and I don't?"
A superior smile met his question before it faded away.
"I don't spend half the school year on a broom with my head in the clouds. How you aren't in constant awe of the magical world is beyond me."
"I dunno. It seems…normal. Even with all the weird stuff it has."
"Harry, you've turned into a different person before. An entirely different human being. You've stabbed a giant snake in the mouth-"
He shushed her, glancing over to where Ginny sat nearby.
"Sorry," Hermione said, chagrined. "But my point stands. You've spent over half your life thinking you were just some normal person, and you're going to tell me you aren't the least bit curious about the fact that vampires are real?"
It was Harry's turn to shrug. In truth, he'd spent over half his life hearing, and dutifully repeating, the admonition that he was a freak. It had been a relief to finally understand why.
The thought of his relatives sent a stab of pain through the angry bruise on his side, a stark reminder of the other life he led. He pushed the thoughts away and focused on Hermione.
"You don't think all magic is fascinating," he pointed out. "You quit divination."
"Because it's not magic at all. It's phony theatrics and lies." She huffed, gesturing to the stadium. "Do you see any other form of magic advertising like those crystal balls? 'Titania's Crystal Balls'? No other branch of magic has things like that. If you saw that on the muggle telly, you'd think it was a scam."
He nodded, though he couldn't relate. It was against the rules for him to watch anything at all on the Dursley's fancy television.
"They had Krum up there selling Firebolts," Ron said, back from his game. "How's that any different?"
"Yes, an athlete selling expensive equipment with promises to make you more skilled. How novel."
Ron shook his head and Harry could see the frustration already returning to his friend's features.
"Are the players going to come through again?" Harry asked, hoping to avoid the argument he could see forming. "I saw the chasers spin their brooms in a way I'd never seen and wanted to ask about it. I bet I could use it to catch the snitch when it flies underneath me."
"I hope so. I still don't have Krum's autograph."
Hermione let their conversation die and stood, stepping over to where Bill loitered with a butterbeer in hand. She had mentioned wanting to ask the Curse Breaker about his job and had clearly decided that yet more Quidditch talk was the time to do so.
"I don't know what she expects," Ron griped. "It's the Quidditch World Cup, after all."
"Knowing her, she probably hoped it'd help her make sense of it all."
"Fat chance of that," Ron said with a laugh. "She nearly jumped out of her seat when Krum pulled out of that dive and Lynch hit the ground. Magnificent it was…"
Harry let himself be dragged into more Quidditch talk, the safe topic, and Ron's enthusiasm made it easy to slip further away from Harry the freak and back to what felt most like himself.
Midnight came and went, the nearby parties losing none of their exuberance or their penchant for loud song and louder fights. Mr. Weasley finally called an end to their own mild party and shooed the younger participants to bed.
Harry joined Ron at their bunk and changed into his sleeping clothes. He pulled the ratty drawstring tight on Dudley's old threadbare bottoms and tied it in a quick knot. Fred and George would never let him hear the end of it if his trousers fell to the floor in the middle of the tent.
He climbed into the top bunk, taking care not to exacerbate his aching side.
His last thought as he drifted off to sleep was a hope that, for once, his body would let him sleep a bit longer than when it normally woke so early in the morning.
Rough hands jerked him awake. His eyes snapped open and his arms flailed protectively in front of his face.
Had he overslept? It'd been a long time since he'd made such a costly mistake.
A voice filtered through the foggy confusion, and a blurry figure materialized next to him as he blinked.
"Get up," Mr. Weasley said, bending down to shake Ron awake. "Grab your things and put on some clothes. Quickly. We've got to go."
"Whazzat?" Ron grumbled from below.
Harry sped into motion at the near-shout, blind panic pounding in his chest. He threw his trousers on over his pajama bottoms and snatched his wand and glasses from his bed. Once they dressed, he hurried outside and into pandemonium.
Shouts and screams echoed through the campsites, though just as indistinct as before, the panic held inside them made the hair on Harry's neck rise in response. The near distance shone orange as tents burned, the flames licking at the nearby treeline. Shadows flashed in front of the burning camps as people ran and a loud crack sounded nearby as a flaming branch fell.
None of these things pulled at Harry's attention for long, for over the nearby stadium hung a shimmering green skull, its rictus smile parting to allow a snake to slither out into the cloudy night sky. The snake cast an eerie emerald glow onto the low-hanging clouds, the reflected light bathing the area around them into a muted green hue.
Bill cursed and tightened his grip on his wand, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Harry fumbled his out of his pocket.
"The Dark Mark," Charlie breathed, his own wand held loosely in one hand, hanging limp at his side.
Ginny and Hermione hurried out of their tent, both stopping short as they surveyed the area. Hermione's hands flew to her mouth when she caught sight of the mark.
Mr. Weasley waved them over to the group. "Good, that's everyone. Stay tight together." He pointed to Bill. "You stay at the back. Charlie and Percy to either side. The rest of you stay between us. Wands up, everybody."
He pointed with his free hand away from the stadium. The group turned as one, Ginny's shoulder bumping into Harry's arm as they moved.
They had yet to clear the edge of their spacious campsite when the green glow suffusing the area grew brighter and more malevolent. Mr. Weasley turned to the source and even with the colored light, Harry could see the blood drain from his normally jovial features.
A second mark hung in the sky, its skull visage so near that they could see the snake materialize behind the closed jaw.
Orange light sprang to life from the direction of the team camps, screams of terror following close behind.
"Dad-" Bill began, stepping forward.
Mr. Weasley pushed his lips into a thin line, his gaze locked on the skull overhead.
"It's the Ministry's job," he said. "I can't put you all in danger."
"But we're the Ministry," Percy said, his brow furrowed. His wand hand trembled but he ignored it. "A part of it, anyway."
"We'll help," Harry said, drawing a startled glance from both Ron and Hermione.
"Absolutely not!" Mr. Weasley snapped. "But you're right, Perce. Bill, you're coming with me. Charlie, Percy, you get everyone to the safe areas the Ministry should be setting up. It should be near to where we portkeyed in. We'll check to see if there's anything we can do, then meet up with you there."
Charlie nodded his assent and Mr. Weasley and Bill broke off, sprinting between the tents and into the woods that separated their camp from where the teams stayed.
"Let's go!" Charlie shouted, waving an arm for everyone to move. "Percy, you get to the front, you're better at directions than I am. I'll be at the back."
Percy did as he was told, his numerous freckles standing in stark contrast to the pale but determined set to his features. With a mutter, light sprang to life at the end of his wand and the rest followed suit.
"Stay close and watch your step," he said, leading them from the camp and into the nearby woods. "If somebody does come after us, duck behind a tree and let me and Charlie handle it."
Orange light blazed bright through the trees from behind them, illuminating the darkness. Other smaller groups ran through the trees not too far away, some clutching bags, others holding crying children to their chests. The light faded, leaving them to the much fainter illumination of their spells.
There was a yelp and a hand grabbed at Harry's sleeve. With a muffled thud, Ginny fell to the rocky ground with a gasp of pain. In moments, Charlie was crouched next to her, calling for the group to stop.
"I-I didn't see it," she muttered, her voice a hoarse whisper. "My eyes weren't-"
"It's okay," Charlie said, turning his broad back to her. "Climb on, and don't put any weight on your ankle. It doesn't seem broken, but we shouldn't risk it."
He grunted as he stood, Ginny's small arms wrapped tight around his neck.
"Sorry," she mumbled, her eyes closed tight against the pain.
"Trade places," Fred said, pointing to Charlie. "Gin's not going to be the one with her back to all that business."
"We'll stand at the back," George added, already moving. "But let's get going. The further away we are the better."
Without further discussion, the group continued their trek through the woods. Eventually, the green light stopped peeking through breaks in the canopy and the flickering firelight was nowhere to be seen. Aside from a curse and a stumble from Ron, there were no further accidents and the trees finally began to thin as they neared the edge of the woods.
Percy waved a hand, signaling them to stop, and he stepped forward, taking shelter behind a large tree at the tree line. He stuck his head out and looked around and his shoulders sagged in relief.
"Come on," he said. "We're here. I can see a medical station set up next to the safe zones, so we can get Ginny's ankle looked at."
They stepped out into the clearing, Harry realizing with surprise that he knew where they were. Off in the near distance to their right was the hill that had seen them deposited roughly onto the ground upon their arrival. Percy led them to a small group of open canopies where a few witches and wizards in white tended to a handful of people.
"What's wrong?" one of the witches asked as they drew close.
"Broken ankle, maybe," Charlie answered, lowering Ginny gently to the ground.
Harry looked to the medi-witch and started when he saw the man she was working on. Half the hair on the left side of his head had been burned away and his skin was an angry, mottled red.
The man grimaced as the witch's wand gingerly tapped the burned area and Harry found his hand subconsciously raising to the left side of his face. Forcing it back down to his side, he looked over at Ginny.
It could've been so much worse.
"I'm sorry," the medi-witch said, shifting through a large pocket at the front of her robes. "We'll help you as soon as we're able, but we need to prioritize the more critically injured first."
She produced a potion and handed it to the man before rushing to help a new arrival who held a limp form in their arms. To Harry's surprise, it was Bill, and held delicately in his arms was one of the Bulgarian cheerleaders, her long silvery hair brushing the ground.
After a quick diagnostic and a determination of simple exhaustion, Mr. Weasley and Bill joined the rest of them, the latter gently setting the unconscious Veela on the ground.
More people trickled out of the nearby woods, some at a dead sprint, some peering around the perimeter trees to check for safety as Percy had done. Some hurried to the medical tents, various burns, scrapes, and broken bones adorning the newcomers. The twin skulls surveyed the panicked people scattered below, beady points of a familiar emerald light shining in deep black eye sockets.
The pace of fleeing people began to slow and an elderly medi-wizard shuffled over to where Ginny sat, offering a small vial of bright blue liquid with admonitions to drink it one gulp to avoid the sour after-taste. Her lips puckered after a quick gulp, and a deep sigh of relief followed as she extended her leg, rolling her ankle in the air.
The Veela stirred, her light blue eyes fluttering open. She sat up with a quiet groan, eying Bill as he squatted down to assist. The fine red fabric at the back of her dress was shredded, exposing angry, discolored skin beneath.
"Perce, Ron, boys, you four go over there," Mr. Weasley said, pointing to an empty medical tent nearby. "She'll want some time to recover and it'll be harder to get you lot to leave once she's feeling better."
The four stepped away reluctantly, their gazes, with the exception of Percy's, lingering on the injured woman.
"Thank you," she said, her voice a rough, accented whisper. "And thank you for coming to my aid. Not many would have done so."
"Nonsense," Mr. Weasley said. "Besides, we didn't do much. They ran once they saw us coming. How's your…er…back?"
A small smirk lifted a corner of her pallid lips. "It stings but it is otherwise unhurt. We are hardier in our other forms, and the spell impacted one of my wings." She patted the side of her deep red dress and frowned. "I suppose it is too much to hope that he dropped my wand in his haste?"
"Ah. I had wondered why you…no matter. I'm sorry. Before we could do anything, you collapsed and changed back."
Her perfect features twisted into a grimace. "Gregorovich will not be happy to construct me another wand. He said he'd make me one out of plywood next time instead of holly. And as short as my thumb." She sighed. "Perhaps they will be apprehended, and will recover my wand."
"I can pass along a message to Barty Crouch," Mr. Weasley offered. "He'd be the one in charge of something like this."
"Nine inches. Holly, with a Dragon-Heartstring core." A wan smile crossed her features before it fell away and her gaze flitted over to where some of the other injured people were staring at her. "I hope you do not find it rude, but I should go find my sisters. It is…uncomfortable to be among others in this way. I am unsure how I could repay your kindness…"
"Arthur. And my son, Bill. Charlie, Ginny, Hermione, and Harry."
Harry saw her eyes flit up to his scar, but she made no comment, instead returning her gaze back to Arthur and Bill. "I am Mariika. If they find anything, or if you may somehow require my assistance, please let me know. I am in your debt."
"No, no. No debt," Mr. Weasley answered quickly. "We don't need any of that now. It's just what any sensible person would've done."
"You are far too kind," she said. "Regardless, my offer stands."
She rose from her place on the ground and brushed bits of grass from the back of her dress.
"Thank you again."
"Actually," Mr. Weasley interrupted, pointing towards the safety zones the Ministry had erected nearby. "There's Barty and the Minister now. They may know where your sisters ended up."
Harry looked over to see the Minister approaching alongside a stern-faced man with sunken features and what seemed to be a perpetual frown. Mariika turned to greet them, her hands clutched in front of her.
"You must be Mariika," Crouch said by way of greeting, his severe frown somehow growing deeper. "Your companions will be glad to know you're okay."
"I am," she said, confused. "How did you know?"
"They reported two missing. Yourself, and Ashye. We found Ashye already. She didn't make it."
"Merlin's sake, have some tact, Barty," the Minister cut in. "We're sorry to be the bearers of such terrible news," he continued, addressing the pale-faced Veela. "But the rest of your family is safe, and just over there. Come along, we'll take you to them."
"Go ahead, Minister," Barty said. "I want to talk to Arthur for a moment. His campsite was nearest to theirs, and I'd like to know what happened."
"Good work, Arthur. William," Crouch said, his gaze darting to where the Dark Marks still hung in the sky. "Did you get a look at who did it?"
The two men shook their heads.
"They were in their old getups," Mr. Weasley said with a sigh. "It was a pair of them and we didn't even hear them say anything. When we got there, that young woman had already transformed, and they ran once they saw us. She said one of them got her wand, so I can only assume the second already had one." He frowned, following Crouch's stare to the marks. "What's going on, Barty? They never did two marks before. Why now?"
"I don't know. But I aim to find out." Mr. Crouch glanced down at Harry, his frown twisting into something that could have been an attempt at a smile. "I'd like to think we won't need your services this time, Mr. Potter, if it is indeed something to do with You-Know-Who. Though, I expect it's likely nothing more than a select few looking to cause some panic. The dead don't come back to terrorize the living unless they're ghosts, and somehow I doubt that would be what He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would have chosen."
Harry felt a churning inside his chest. Anxious thoughts flew through his mind as his arm burned where a basilisk fang had pierced him, and a phantom throb behind his scar as Quirrell burned beneath his touch. He clenched his jaw shut and forced himself to take control of his spiraling thoughts.
Better to be seen than heard.
AN: Here we are, back at the beginning. Quite a bit different than you remember (if you'd read the old version). I hope you enjoy this new version and regular updates. You'll see a new chapter every 3 days. I do, of course, need to thank Triage, Honorversefan, Golod, Raph, Nauze, Blazor, Red, Charl, and loads of people in the flowerpot server. Especially sprint gang, who helped me bring this bad boy home.
I do, of course, need to thank Triage, Honorversefan, Golod, Raph, Nauze, Blazor, Red, Charl, and loads of people in the flowerpot server. Especially sprint gang, who helped me bring this bad boy home.
Hope you enjoy!