A Sixth year (pre-HBP) story: Harry decides the best way to fight back is to take the DA to the next level. He succeeds better than he thought he would. In this chapter, Zoric meets with Dumbledor...
Chapter 03 Thursday, July 25, 1996
Harry woke up just after dawn, which hadn't happened so far that summer. A soft "hoot" from the window gave him a strong hint why. This was a common barn owl, but it was bearing a message.
Harry got up and took the owl's letter and give it one of Hedwig's owl treats. Harry looked around after the owl left, but Hedwig was still delivering his letters. "Probably had to go to Sweden to give Luna hers," Harry muttered. He yawned and opened the letter.
It was from Remus.
I was very glad to hear from you. From the look of Hedwig, you decided to catch up on most of your correspondence at once.
What can I tell you about Tomas Zoric? Not nearly enough.
Our year was the most academically competitive in this century. Seven of us competed every year for the top grades on Hermione's level or higher, and there were a few others who gave us competition in different classes (Peter was very good at Care/Creatures for example). I'm sure you can guess at five if not six of us: your parents, Sirius, Severus, Tomas, and myself. You may not have known that Professor Sinistra was in our year as well (I always think of her when I need to remind myself there can be GOOD Slytherins).
I don't remember every year's standings, but I do remember the fifth year totals -- awards for the top grades accumulated in the basic curriculum over the five years are mailed out in early August and they are announced in that Alumni news letter the American exchange students started thirty years ago or so. There is one for each subject, plus one for the top five in the seven core courses (hint: buy at least one present for Hermione, Harry!) That year, the seven of us held the top seven spots in all of the main seven classes. Tomas just managed to top all of us overall.
We all received O.W.L.s in all our subjects, by the way, although I admit I have forgotten what level everyone earned.
Tomas and I met during our Third year, as we shared Runes and Arithmancy. We were also prefects together. We were very good friends, although never as close as I was to your father and Sirius and Peter. However, your father and Sirius were closer than twins, and Peter was never an intellectual. Tomas filled that niche for me. I never told him about my condition, but he was well-able to deduce it himself at some point.
Even though your father replaced me as a prefect due to Sirius' little stunt in Sixth year, every one expected Tomas to be the Head Boy. Why wasn't he? I have always suspected it was due to the fact that he somehow learned exactly what had happened in the tunnel, and appeared at my hearing.
I was almost 'put down' Harry. Having Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick, Pomfrey, and my dorm mates testify for me helped, but I have little doubt that Tomas showing up and calmly saying that I was no danger helped save my life. The Zorics have been famous 'dark hunters' for almost a thousand years -- vampire hunters, aurors, hit wizards, etc. I really think the Governors deliberately skipped over him, although at least that made your father head boy.
In case you're wondering, your parents reconciled Sirius and myself just before the start of our Seventh year.
I've run into Tomas a number of times since we left Hogwarts. He is really hard to know. He had one sibling, a very sweet younger sister who was two years behind us. She was killed over the Easter break our Seventh year, when the Muggle-born's family she was visiting was killed. And yes, I was dating her at the time. Tomas had always been reserved, if not stoic, but he partially retreated, at least to everyone except his wife. He married a really sweet Hufflepuff who was two years behind us and his sister's other best friend just a few weeks before your parents were killed. Even though she was injured in that same Death Eater attack and her health has steadily declined, they still managed to have one child (I think she starts next year) and have wardship over three magical orphans. The youngest two are both Hufflepuffs, a year behind you, the oldest left school the year before I taught.
I trust Tomas. He no doubt appears an unfeeling person; I can assure you, he is not. He has trained himself to give little away in most situations. I wish I could act as your tutor, but the current regulations make that difficult, as Tomas may act in part as your magical guardian (in case you haven't heard the details, however, Dumbledore twisted enough arms to get me a one-year reappointment as the DADA instructor). Failing my taking on the role, I am glad that Dumbledore has managed to recruit Tomas. He is an incredibly powerful and well-rounded wizard. With his auror and detective background, he will teach you and protect you. And, to be frank, I doubt if any Death Eater who knows of him (and most probably do) would want to tangle with him, one-on-one.
I hope to see you on your birthday, and failing that, my owl will find you. I have already told the Headmaster that I will be giving you the passwords to my inner office and my private rooms. I will not permit a situation to arise like it did at the end of your last term. I am certain either Tomas or I will always be available for you to consult. Since he was an auror, take Tomas' advice on your classes over mine, but I recommend Muggle Studies and, if you're really interested in it, Basic Medicine. Otherwise, I suggest Creatures.
I can never replace Sirius, any more than Sirius could replace James. I swear that I love you, Harry, and have since before you were born. I accepted the position at Hogwarts your Third year not because I love to teach, for although I do I knew that I would be exposed and be hurt at some point. I came because I love you, and I tried to protect you. I failed. Sirius and I failed you last year. This time, I will be there for you as you need me. I will do my best not to fail you again.
Harry considered what Remus said, and decided he should sleep on it a while.
A few minutes before 8:00, Professors McGonagall and Snape met at the entrance to the Headmaster's Office. "Any idea what pleasant subject we shall be discussing so early this morning?" Snape inquired with just a slight sneer in his voice. He had been summonsed to several low-level meetings with the Death Eaters. The stress of the various possible scenarios were affecting him more than he had remembered.
"Not really," McGonagall replied. "I just know he wanted us a few minutes before the hour. Jelly babies." The entrance opened, and they ascended.
"You wished to see us, Headmaster?" McGonagall asked as they entered the office proper.
"Yes, I do," he replied. "I am certain you have speculated why, and perhaps reached a conclusion?"
"Let me guess," Snape said, with a sneer that was rarely used in front of the Headmaster, "Potter needs yet more favoritism?"
Dumbledore raised his hand, preventing McGonagall from commenting. "He needs more help. There is a difference. If you prefer being ruled by Voldemort, you may leave. If you still dislike that possibility, you may stay."
"I resent that!" Snape stated, flushing slightly. "I would hope that you would remember that I opposed relying too much on this prophecy even before I knew what it said or who made it!"
He turned to McGonagall. "We may disagree about many things -- perhaps even most things -- but I think we both believe that even the greatest prophecy at best outlines the most probable course of events. A prophecy is not fate!"
"You know he's right, Albus," McGonagall said softly. "While I disagree with Severus -- I think we must give Harry all the help we can -- we cannot rely totally on his defeating He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"We are not," Dumbledore retorted. "In both veins, I hope we are going to have a special consultant staying with us. In part, he will be tutoring Harry this summer. If he stays with us over the next year or two, he will also provide a set of very capable eyes, and help with the Defense class when necessary."
"Why would we need help with Defense?" Snape demanded. "Who have we been stuck with this time?"
"The Ministry have given us a variance on some of their sillier rules, so we will have a returning professor."
Snape struggled to his feet. "NO!"
"Really!" McGonagall enthused. "How wonderful!"
"It is not wonderful! He could kill or infect someone!"
"Hopefully, the potion will be more effective this time. . . ."
"It only partially failed once! And he didn't take it that last time!" Snape sat back in his chair and pouted. "If he wasn't so dangerous, I would refuse to make it!"
"Perhaps I shall make it, if you find yourself incapable," a deep, expressionless voice from the doorway almost snarled.
"Ah! Tomas. . . ." Dumbledore started.
"Zoric! What are you doing here?"
"I work here."
Dumbledore beamed, and McGonagall smiled. "I am glad you are taking us up on the offers," Dumbledore said with great sincerity.
"Having met him, I believe I have no alternative."
"I suppose that blasted boy has you wrapped around his little finger, too," Snape complained.
Zoric looked down at him. "You are an incompetent, bigoted ass." Somehow, the near-expressionless tone made the statement seem very factual.
Snape bounced up again. "How dare you. . . ."
Zoric turned to Dumbledore, cutting Snape off. "You know that I have two wards attending the school, plus one that recently left. I became very concerned about some of the things they have told me, so I have done a little research. Do you know, only one teacher's marks do not seem to predict his students' performances on the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s to any degree? For every other professor, even the Divination professor, nearly every student who scores over a 96 every term scores an O.W.L.; students who constantly score over a 93 have a 91% chance of scoring their O.W.L., and almost no student who scores under an 81 in both their Fourth and Fifth year ever makes the O.W.L. And yet this professor's House constantly under-performs in the O.W.L.s based on their grades in his subject, and the other Houses vastly out-score their grades."
"Now see here. . . ." Snape stabbed Zoric in the chest with his finger.
It was as if a statue had sprung to life. A look of great anger and greater disgust went over Zoric's features, and he grabbed Snape's wrist, twisting it behind his back and forcing Snape over Dumbledore's desk, all in one smooth, brisk motion.
McGonagall exhaled in shock, and Dumbledore leapt to his feet. "I have learned how you 'taught' Potter Occlumency," Zoric snarled in a tone that worried Snape, frightened McGonagall, and startled all three, including Dumbledore. "If you mastered it being taught that way, you are truly a prodigy. If you didn't, you are a disgrace."
"Let him go, Tomas," Dumbledore ordered. Zoric twisted and flung Snape effortlessly into a chair. He recaptured his mask, which sent chills into all three. "No one 'wraps me' around anything, Snape." He looked up at Dumbledore. "I will tutor the boy. I will defend the boy."
"And what does that mean?" Snape demanded, massaging his wrist.
"You are a native speaker of English. My meanings should be plain."
"It could also mean you are accepting him as an apprentice," Snape said snidely.
"It could at that," Zoric mused. "I will think upon it."
Snape's and McGonagall's eyes grew wide -- the relationship between a Master and Apprentice was a sacred one, if one that was rarely invoked anymore in Western Europe at this level. And Tomas Zoric's reputation was such that few wizards, other than Voldemort, would care to tangle with his apprentice.
"Well, at least that would get the boy out of this school," Snape muttered.
"Not necessarily," Dumbledore stated. "The Master may use others to tutor or teach the Apprentice, although he must closely supervise that instruction."
"I see no advantage to making Voldemort think Potter is weaker than he is," Zoric mused. "The boy is incredibly powerful for his age -- I have never seen anyone like him. Not a brilliant scholar, but lots of raw power."
"But he thinks he is responsible for everything that goes wrong," McGonagall commented.
Snape snorted at that. "He does, Severus," she insisted. "He doesn't seek out the limelight, like his father, but in this one respect, you are right. He does think it always comes down to him."
"Is that why he fouled up so badly in June?" Snape demanded. "I will grant you, he had little choice but to inform me in front that . . . that . . . woman. Why couldn't he then leave things well-enough alone? If he had just stayed put. . . ."
"What?" McGonagall demanded. "What consequence do you regret?"
"I admit it, I hated Sirius Black since our mothers tried to make us friends in the crib," Snape answered, pain in his voice. "He and Potter were everything I dislike in a wizard of any background. But I did not want either of them dead."
"Leaving that one horrible aspect aside," Dumbledore added, "Harry's invasion had many more positive consequences than negative. It exposed Voldemort's return and led to the capture of the most influential Death Eater. . . ."
"I'm surprised he's still in jail," Snape muttered.
"As I am," Dumbledore admitted. "Still, that is not a bad thing. It gave Harry three more allies, and he needs close friends. It humiliated the remaining core of the Death Eaters -- to be fought nearly to a draw by six students! And best of all, it exposed Voldemort's greatest weakness as far as his followers are concerned."
"And what is that?" Snape demanded. "Why wasn't I told?"
"I was hoping you would learn it through the meetings," Dumbledore admitted. "Still, since you have not, it is time to tell you. Tell me, what sort of ancestries do the Death Eaters look down upon?"
"Muggle-born, Squib-born, Half-bloods, Mixed-bloods, and of course Half-breeds of all types," Snape answered.
"Now, Bellatrix Lestrange insulted Harry by calling him a Half-blood, but of course he is not. By that nomenclature, he would be a Mixed-blood, the child of a wizard and a Muggle-born witch. Tom Riddle was a Half-blood; his mother was a witch, but his father was a Muggle."
Both Snape's and Zoric's eyes grew large. "No!" Snape said in horror.
"Yes. Voldemort was Tom Marvolo Riddle when he was a student here. His father was a pure Muggle, not even a squib."
Snape smiled evilly. "Does anyone else know this for certain on His side?"
Dumbledore shrugged. "Pettigrew does; I do not know if any others do. Malfoy of course knows Voldemort's real name, but may not know his background, although his father was a fellow Slytherin with Riddle."
"That should be sufficient."
Zoric looked at them all. "Plot and plan all you wish. I will speak with the boy this afternoon." He strode from the room.
"I remember him being smart," Snape said, "but is he really as tough and powerful as his reputation?"
"He can defeat anyone allied or following Voldemort except the Dark Lord himself," Dumbledore stated. "And if he can't kill Voldemort, I think he can at least hold his own long enough to escape. He is what Harry needs, someone who respects him, but doesn't love him."
Snape looked at Dumbledore in surprise, but then he understood. After all, Dumbledore loved even a former Death Eater like himself. Dumbledore could only love those he trusted first. He had helped Snape more than Snape thought he deserved. Realizing that Dumbledore also loved, and therefore trusted, the boy, explained a lot.
"If I might be excused, Headmaster, I wish to review Zoric's allegations. You know why my cover requires me to act as I do. However, if the gap is as wide as he stated, I will strive to modify the effects."
"It should be easier to do so, now that Harry will be in a class of like-minded students."
Snape gave a twisted smile, bowed, and left.
"Daddy's. . . ." The teen's enthusiastic welcome died on her lips. Her guardian was still in 'work mode' as he strode angrily into the anonymous London suburb a little after 9:00.
Tomas realized his error at once. He halted, and took a deep breath. Animation seeped into his face and body language. He opened his eyes. "Sorry, Princess. It's been a rough morning already."
Ginny Driver smiled. Her guardian could be a very intimidating man, especially when he was in what his family called his 'business' or 'work mode', or 'wearing the mask.' "That's okay, Daddy."
"Where are your sisters and mother?"
"In the retiring room," Ginny answered. The injured Mona Zoric only came down to the sunny ground-floor room on her 'good days.'
Tomas smiled. "Great. I need to talk to all of you." Ginny wrapped her arm around her guardian's waist and he draped his arm over her shoulder.
Mona looked up from her Victorian 'fainting' couch and gave her husband and ward a large smile. Ginny was the 'daddy's girl', bright and bouncy, while Georgia Anderson was the 'mummy's girl', stylish and attempting to be sophisticated. Their natural daughter, Irena, was everyone's favorite and yet not-quite spoiled.
"What brings you back?" Mona asked. "I thought you were on assignment all summer?"
"I am, but I did say I would probably be able to pop in a lot."
"So, just here for a short 'pop,' Pop?" Ginny asked with a leer.
"You have been watching too many old American television programs again," Tomas said as he pretended to cuff the back of her head. "Shoo, girls; I do have to talk to your Mum. That's talk, you little perv." Irena giggled.
Georgia stood with her practiced languid movement. "Father, you know we're both all talk, no action."
"Considering you both just turned fifteen, I would hope so," Tomas growled. "Shoo!" Ginny pulled his collar, and all three girls kissed his cheek as they left.
Mona patted the couch. "So, can you tell me about your secret assignment?"
Tomas sat. "Harry Potter."
Mona's eyes went wide. "Oh, my!" She thought a moment. "So, is he crazy or a super hero?"
"Neither. He's an extraordinarily powerful, fairly bright, confused and abused boy."
"Abused," Tomas confirmed. "Those Muggle relatives of his should be convicted of mental and emotional child abuse."
"Why hasn't Dumbledore done anything about it? Why hasn't someone else?"
Tomas sat. "It's complicated. Harry was never really physically abused, so it never triggered the wards. And his relatives hate magic so much, it was difficult for us to intrude. What puzzles me is why the Muggle authorities never caught on." He frowned. "They dressed him poorly, in his much larger cousin's cast-offs and they never fit. Harry was never starved, but he was not well-nourished. The difference between the two boys, who were in the same class, should have triggered investigations. I went so far last week as to break into his schools and read his records. I found his teachers and district workers repeatedly wrote margin notes, which they then erased or crossed out. Dumbledore seemed shocked when I told him -- if he was, it was because he was never made aware of the problems, because the problems were ignored."
"Who did it?"
"I don't know if anyone did it, if Dumbledore didn't," Tomas admitted. "I next questioned six different people -- three teachers, two district visitors, and a school head. As best I can tell, they changed their minds in real time. That excuses for the problems would simply pop in their head."
Mona was a very pale brunette, but somehow she became even more pale. "It sounds like Higher Magic."
"It does. And it made me feel like I need to help him."
"How did it start?"
"Dumbledore asked me to consider to act as Harry's tutor and bodyguard. I didn't want to do either, but I agreed to do some background work. I investigated Harry for two weeks; that's when I investigated his Muggle school background and such. I was confused; I still didn't really want to work for Dumbledore at Hogwarts past this summer, let alone babysit Potter. Then I met him Monday."
Tomas looked out into space. "Mona, that boy. . . ." He shrugged. "Just one look, and I simply told him I would tutor him for the year, if he would work with me. He's pretty depressed from the events of the last year or so, and from having to go back to those . . . people."
"What can you tutor him about during the summer?" Since Harry was under 17, he of course could not use any 'active magic.'
"Ah. That makes some sense, but why does he need to learn . . . oh, wait . . . He's still after Harry, right?"
"What's more, Harry has some sort of connection to Him, through that curse scar. Harry could sense Him, and sometimes even His thoughts, but the Dark Lord learned about that close connection last winter. That's how He lured the students to the Ministry last month."
"Is he learning anything yet?" She knew Occlumency could be difficult.
"Severus Snape gave him some half-ass lessons. It only took me one day to straighten Harry out, and after a mere three days, he's as good as most Auror candidates are after the full three months' training -- and Snape's training held him back more than it helped."
"Very impressive," Mona admitted. "So, what are you going to do for him? Or can't you tell me?"
"Not yet. It would be nice if he could spend some time with us in August at the coast, but I don't know if that would be a good idea or not."
"I don't know, Tomas. Could we trust him with the girls. . . ."
"As shy as he is, we would have to worry more about what the girls would do to him, but that is a consideration."
"Shy?" The idea that The-Boy-Who-Lived might be shy had never occurred to her.
"Painfully shy. Still, think about it but don't mention it yet. I have a place to take him to next week, and hopefully one or more of his friends will be able to come. I shall watch them interact."
"I have the feeling I have an assignment, too," Mona teased. She knew where her husband would take Harry to train him, since it had been her dowry.
"Talk to the girls about him. They're only a year behind him, after all, and even if he's in a different House, they must have opinions, even if they might not be well-informed ones. Also, see if they know anything about his friends."
"Names, dear? Or is this a blank slate?"
"Ask first, but the names I am most interested in are Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom, Gryffindors from Harry's year; and two girls from Ginny and Georgia's year. Ginny Weasley, Gryffindor, and Luna Lovegood, Ravenclaw."
"Ginny Weasley is a popular tom-boy type," Mona said. "Our Ginny admires her because she took Potter's place as the Gryffindor seeker after Umbridge banned him. If Luna is who I think she is, she's an eccentric, even by your House standards." Mona Osgood had been a Hufflepuff and liked teasing her husband. "Her father runs that silly Quibbler."
"That might pose some problems. I asked Mike to check out her location; Harry thinks she might be in Sweden. I have to check in with him before I go to Harry's at One." Mike was one of Tomas' newer junior agents.
"So, when will we see you again?"
"Hopefully before Monday, but I'm not sure when." He leaned over and kissed his wife.
"Try to eat some lunch, dear," Mona reminded him.
"I'll do my best. I doubt if Mike has a long report."
"Go! Go! Go! Go!" the three girls chanted while Tomas captured his mask. While they disliked seeing their father walk in with the mask, they got a kick out of seeing him 'put it on.'
Tomas bowed stiffly to the three girls and walked out of the house's side door. He locked the door with a charm and disapparated to meet his agent. He was early, but he preferred being early for everything; something very few people knew.
Tomas was meeting Mike in a run-down area of back alleys in the East End. He popped into existence, invisible to any Muggle and to almost any wizard's eye, a trick that few could ever master.
Five minutes later, Mike appeared, fifteen minutes early. Tomas stayed invisible.
Less than two minutes later, three others appeared, all wearing hooded cloaks. "You're cutting things close," Mike protested.
"Then talk quick," one of the wizards snarled, with a Canadian accent. "What's your boss on about?"
"I don't know," Mike answered. "He just asked me to find out the location of a Hogwarts student."
"Is it Potter or Granger?" another wizard demanded.
"No, Luna Lovegood."
"The Quibbler editor's brat?" the first wizard asked, puzzled. "Why her?"
Mike shrugged. "Don't know."
"Maybe she was the one we couldn't identify who was with Potter in the Ministry," the second wizard mused.
"Find out," the third wizard said, speaking for the first time. Tomas thought for a moment it was Lucius Malfoy. Then he realized that this did not sound like the Lucius Malfoy of today, but of Lucius Malfoy as he remembered him when he was a student a few years ahead of him at Hogwarts. Despite the hood on the cloak, Tomas managed to confirm this was Draco Malfoy.
Malfoy tossed Mike a small money bag. "Fifty galleons. Have better information next time." The three Death Eaters disappeared.
Tomas waited just over a minute, then simulated apparating in.
"Chief! You're early!"
"So are you," Tomas said in his usual toneless voice. "What's wrong? You look . . . ill."
"I'll take some pepper-up when I get home," Mike said, covering for himself well.
"Did you find Miss Lovegood's location?"
"Not exactly; she and her father will be coming back from Sweden Saturday, most likely to their cottage near Ottery St. Catchpole."
"Thank you, Mike."
Tomas turned, as if to walk away.
"Say, chief. . . ."
"Yes, Mike?" Tomas turned and stared.
"Err, not that it's any of my business. . . ."
"But you are interested in knowing why I wished to know Miss Lovegood's location." Tomas made full eye contact as he said this, and had seized access to Mike's mind, although the young agent didn't realize it.
"It was just an off-the-books job, so I wondered."
"So it was. By the way, what do you call giving information on my work assignments? Is that something new?"
"No different than the other times," Mike confirmed, shocked he would reveal his activities. It suddenly occurred to him that something was forcing him to tell the truth.
"Sorry I ever trusted you," Tomas said, exploding two key arteries inside Mike's brain. He collapsed.
Tomas started to turn, then remembered that Mike had no close relatives. He retrieved the money bag, and decided he had just enough time to summons the Aurors. He would tell them Mike had been free-lancing, and Mike had asked to meet him because he might have incriminating information on Draco Malfoy.