It was the night before a new term at Hogwarts was to begin. Harry was suffering from another nightmare. His whole body was convulsing, he was perspiring rapidly and was begging for mercy. Suddenly he woke up. He sat upright in the bed as he attempted to normalise his breathing. After a couple of moments he turned to face his alarm clock. The screen indicated that it was 5:00 am. Harry put his glasses on and glanced across the room. He saw Ron lying on his side with one arm over his head. Fortunately Harry had not disturbed his friend`s slumber. Instead of trying to go back to sleep; Harry decided to get up. Once he put on his dressing gown and slippers, he went downstairs to the kitchen. Consequently, he wasn't the only one up.
"Remus, what are you doing up?" Harry inquired curiously.
Remus smiled kindly at Harry who took a seat beside him at the table as he replied
"Roxy and Danni were hungry. Once I fed them I couldn't get back to sleep. Tonks of course is completely oblivious to it all." He laughed lightly as Harry smiled.
"What is your excuse Harry?" Remus asked as he sipped some of his tea.
Harry sighed momentarily. He glanced at Remus, embarrassed to have to admit his reasons for being up.
"I had a nightmare Remus. I know what you are going to say so please don't."
"I take it that you haven't been practicing occlumency then?"
"No." Harry answered flatly.
"We could do some now if you wish."Harry shook his head.
"Thanks Moony but I am going to have decline this time. For the last few weeks my head has just been buzzing so much that I honestly haven't slept much lately. I can only hope that this will soon change but I doubt it."
"I have to agree Harry especially since Hogwarts will have extra protection this year. Anyway I think I might try to get another couple of hours sleep. I would advise you to do the same." Remus smiled softly at Harry as he left the table and headed back to bed.
By 8:00 all members of the Potter and Weasley household were having breakfast in the kitchen. Moody and Kingsley were due to arrive at Grimauld Place as an extra protection force at Kings Cross Station. Although the table was lively with the sound of excited chatter, Harry was contemplating the dream he had a few hours ago. Sirius, who sat opposite him, noticed this.
"Are you not hungry this morning Prongslet?" He enquired delicately.
Harry looked straight at him. He checked that nobody nearby could hear what he was about to say. He leaned across the table and replied
"I need to speak with you, dad and Remus before we leave here. I am going to leave now and head to the front sitting room so could you please arrange for the three of you to meet me there in five minutes?" Sirius looked at his godson anxiously but nonetheless agreed to his request. Fortunately Harry left without been seen. As promised the marauders met Harry in the front sitting room. However, his three guardians were quite perplexed by his summons. Harry stood by the fireplace whilst the marauders sat on the furniture. He looked at them all in turn as he said
"I had a dream last night. It was the strangest one I ever had. In the dream, I could see this long corridor. There were doors on both sides. At the end of the corridor there was this large door. I saw Malfoy and Fudge outside it, talking but I didn't hear what they were saying. I didn't get the chance to see what was inside the room because I woke up. I`m sorry dad, Sirius, Remus because I know that it isn`t much to go on but it has to be something to do with Voldemort right? There is something in that room that he wants, right?" Harry asked his three guardians. The three of them glanced at each other momentarily before James stood and approached his son.
"Yes, it is possible that Voldemort is in pursuit of something. We honestly don't know what that is yet. Although it may be difficult to not focus on him, I need you to try to turn your attention to something else. I promise you on my life that if there is something which you need to know, I will tell you. I also think it is advisable that you and Remus concentrate on occlumency together. It is prudent that you block your mind to him champ. Now, have you finished packing?"
"No." Harry replied flatly.
"Ok, well please go and finish because we will be leaving within the hour."
Harry nodded his head and left. James breathed a sigh of relief once he did. He collapsed on to the couch, throwing his arm over his head.
"We need to tell him James." Sirius said from across the room.
"You don't think I know that Sirius? The problem is Dumbledore wants us to wait a while."
"We can't always oblige Dumbledore, James. The kid has a right to know!"
"Sirius, cool down mate. You getting angry is not helping." Remus said calmly.
"Well what do you suggest Remus? Let him find out some other way?"
"I suggest that we practice occlumency. Harry was quite successful at it until recently. I am confident that he can re-master that skill."
"All right here is the plan. We will consort with Albus about this latest development. Remus, you and Harry will practice occlumency tonight. Sirius, please don't say anything to Harry."
"I won`t so long as Dumbledore proves to me that he knows what he is doing is right." James rolled his eyes and returned to the kitchen with his friends.
At 10:00 Moody arrived at Grimauld Place with Kingsley in tow. Moody stumbled through the house barking orders at everyone in sight. When he didn't see Harry he ordered James to get him.
"Moody will you calm down. Everything is going according to plan."
"Now you listen to me Sirius, it is my job to ensure all of those kids board that train at exactly 11:00. If either one of them misses it, especially Harry, it will be on your head."
Harry arrived in the kitchen with James and Ron. Moody marched over to him and asked roughly
"Are you fully aware of the plan Harry? Do you know the method of transport we are using to arrive at Kings Cross Station?"
"Yes, dad told me that we are apparating." Moody eyed them both before taking a step back and explaining the procedure.
"Here is what we are going to do. Harry will apparate with James and his sister will go with Lily."
"Hello, my name is Arielle." Arielle injected before receiving stern glances from her parents.
"Sirius, you will take Rob and Ryan can go with Kingsley. Remus, you travel with Ginny and Tonks you can go with Ron. Fred and George are now of age to apparate by themselves. Are there any questions?"
"Yes, what about our cases and books and everything else we need to take with us?"
"A ministry car has been organised to take care of all of that Miss Potter."
"Mad Eye, this all seems rather crazy. Why can't we simply travel in the car?"
"This is the way I want it to be James so can we please get together?" Moody marched out to the back garden where the others proceeded to follow.
"This is a whole new level of stupid Prongs." Sirius muttered to James.
"I agree Sirius but what choice do we have?" They both sighed.
As they got to the part of the garden where they would apparate, Moody ordered them all to pair up. Once this was done, screams were heard by all the young witches and wizards until they safely landed outside the train station. The ministry car would soon arrive with their luggage. While they were waiting the marauders took Harry to the side and said
"I know son that this year will be difficult. There will be some changes both within and around Hogwarts. I just want you to know that you are safe under Dumbledore's protection. If anything at all is bothering you, please don't hesitate to go to him or Remus. Sirius and I will be around the school too from time to time. I am conscious that I am asking a lot of you Harry but please keep an eye on your sister and the two boys. We will need to stick together firmly this year, do you understand?" James asked in a pleading tone of voice.
"Yes, dad of course I do." James nodded as he embraced his son tightly.
"Rob, come here a minute please." Sirius called.
"What`s up Sirius?" Rob asked anxiously.
"I need you and Harry to stick together firmly this year. Where he goes, you go. This year will be the biggest threat to the wizarding world in over a decade. I need you to be safe. I need you to keep your brother safe. Ryan and Arielle are still new to this game so I am depending on you and Harry to have their backs, ok?"
Rob nodded in agreement as he hugged Sirius back.
At exactly 11:00 the train began to pull away from the station. Once his family was out of sight Harry slumped into his seat, closed his eyes and sighed. Remus who was sitting adjacent to him smiled and asked
"Are you ok Harry?"
Harry who had one hand over his left eye tiredly said
"Yeah, Remus I`m all right. I just suddenly feel exhausted by this year and it hasn't even started yet!"
Remus laughed lightly. He placed his book on the seat beside him and calmly said
"You are not alone Harry. There are many people around you to lighten the load. I am conscious that the war will be draining but it will be worth it in the end."
"You know what Remus? Sometimes you just feel exhausted from fighting for the cause. I know I have barely started yet but all the work Dumbledore has implored on me..."
"He wouldn't ask if he didn't think you could handle it, Harry."
There was a knock on the carriage door. Harry and Remus saw Cho sliding it open.
"Hello Harry, Professor Lupin. May I speak to you for a moment Harry?"
"Yeah, Cho come in, sit down." Cho reciprocated Harry`s smile as she sat beside him.
"I just wanted to say thank you Harry. Cedric told me that you saved his life last spring during the last task of the tri-wizard tournament."
"I think Cedric is exaggerating a bit Cho." Harry replied abashed.
"No, I don't agree Harry. He told me that you ordered him to take the cup back to Hogwarts. If you didn't warn him of this, he may not be here today. I thank you for that Harry and also to offer my services to you."
"What do you mean Cho?"
"Cedric also told me that Professor Dumbledore asked you to form a wizard army. I would be happy to join. I was raised to fight against the dark side. My family despises Voldemort so anything I can do to help, I will."
"Thank you Cho. I appreciate all of that. I still need to speak to Professor Dumbledore about the army but when I do, I`ll come back to you. For now though could you please keep that to yourself?"
"Oh, sure Harry, I won't say a word. I`ll see you both at Hogwarts." Cho said as she smiled, got up and left the carriage. Ron and Hermione arrived soon after. Hermione sat down beside Harry as Ron took a seat next to Remus.
"Did ye find any disruptions along the carriages?"
"No nothing at all mate. It seems even Malfoy was behaving himself. He was playing a card game with his group of Slytherins." Ron replied matter-of-factly.
"I think that Ron was hoping to catch someone doing something though. My bet of course would be Malfoy." Hermione said as the others laughed lightly.
"I did see Cho leaving the carriage though Harry. What did she want?" Ron asked.
"Oh, it was kind of weird actually. She wanted to thank me for saving Cedric`s life last year during the tournament and to offer her services in the army."
"I thought that wasn't official yet." Hermione exclaimed.
"Well it isn't or at least not until I speak to Dumbledore. I have been thinking about it though. Initially I wasn't sure because I didn't think anybody beside you guys would be interested but if Cho is..."
"I do think it is quite radical but maybe that`s what we need to be. What do you think Professor Lupin?"
Remus smiled as he said
"Hermione, how many times must I tell you to call me Remus? I do agree with you though. If Dumbledore thinks it is necessary then that's good enough for me. I will help in any way that I can."
"I heard something quite strange along the train. I heard someone say that they heard from someone that there was to be a ministry official starting at Hogwarts this year."
"Hermione, there is no way that Dumbledore would allow any ministry official to teach at his school."
"I`m just saying what I heard Harry. Perhaps there is to be a whole new regime this year. That could very well be the reason for him wanting you to establish an army."
"I doubt it Hermione but I guess we will have to wait and see."
Harry, Hermione and Ron continued chatting throughout the journey. Remus however, contemplated on Hermione`s last remark. It seemed that Dumbledore had omitted this information from the order. Remus` only hope was that it was merely a rumour. He knew how disastrous it would be for Hogwarts if the ministry were deeply involved.
The train soon arrived at its destination. Harry and his friends boarded the carriages.
"Where is Remus?" Harry asked as he looked all around.
"Maybe he decided to walk it this year." Ron suggested.
"Yeah, maybe you`re right. Do either of you see Arielle or Ryan?"
"I saw them with a group of second years on the platform." Rob interjected as he jumped into the carriage with Dean and Seamus."
"Thanks Rob. How are you Dean, Seamus?" Harry asked as he eyed Dean anxiously.
"We`re fine Harry. Aren't we Dean?" Seamus replied."
"Yeah, I`m doing fine thanks Harry, how was your summer?"
"That is something we cannot discuss here Dean. I`ll explain it later."
Although they were confused, Dean and Seamus nodded in comprehension.
Dumbledore was in his office with Snape and Mc Gonagall when Remus walked in.
"Is it true what I heard on the train Albus?" Remus asked concernedly.
"If you are referring to the ministry`s presence at Hogwarts then yes, Remus."
Remus chuckled sardonically as he shook his head. He walked over to Dumbledore at his desk saying
"How can this be happening Albus? You know the consequences of the ministry`s interference."
"I am sorry Remus but it is out of my hands." Dumbledore replied as he walked to the front of his desk, facing his colleagues.
"Albus, there are teachers at this school who will be under severe scrutiny and Remus will certainly be one of them. The ministry official will declare him as unsuitable to be around the students. If you don't do something fast, Hogwarts will be ruined."
"I am quite aware of the implications of this decision Minerva. However, the ministry official`s job here is ensure Hogwarts has the best staff on board. They do not have the authority to dismiss my staff."
"How long do you suppose that will last for Albus? Once they step a toe over the threshold that is it." Mc Gonagall exclaimed sternly.
Dumbledore sighed tiredly. At the time he believed he was doing the right thing. Now that his staff members were opposed to such an intervention, he felt tired.
"My welfare has and will always be primarily concerned with Hogwarts students. At this time we are required to be in the great hall, welcoming in the new and embracing those returning. We can discuss this matter later." Dumbledore swiftly left his office, followed by his three colleagues.
Down in the main hall Sirius and James stood, eying a toad like woman. She stood at the entrance of the great hall, smiling at students flocking inside. She wore a knee length pink dress with a matching coat, shoes, hat and bag.
"What do you suppose old toad face is doing here James?" Sirius whispered.
"I have no idea but I am sure we will find out soon. Look, here comes Dumbledore."
"Yeah, Remus and Snape look rather friendly." Sirius remarked as he James approached them.
"Hello, Ms. Umbridge. I didn't expect to see you here until tomorrow." Dumbledore explained as he shook her hand.
"Yes, well Minister Fudge wanted a report on who was sorted into each house Professor Dumbledore. I do hope this will not inconvenience you." She replied politely.
"No, not at all. Perhaps I could take this opportunity of introducing two members of my staff. Professor Severus Snape teaches potions and Professor Remus Lupin teaches defence against the dark arts." She smiled at them both. Remus and Snape merely nodded upon introduction.
"I will be looking forward to watching you both in action; especially you Professor Lupin." She smiled cynically at Remus who eyed her sternly.
"Good evening Albus." James called. Dumbledore and the others turned to face James and Sirius.
"Good evening James, Sirius. How are you both?"
"We have no complaints, yet." Sirius retorted as he glared at Umbridge.
"I wasn't aware Professor Dumbledore that Hogwarts was an open door for strays."
"What the hell are you implying, Umbridge?" Sirius barked.
"I am merely concerned with Hogwarts safety and judging by your quick temper, it needs to be noted that unauthorised personnel come and go."
"I can assure you madam, that Sirius Black and James Potter are not unauthorised personnel. They are two of the finest young aurors the order has at the moment. Their children are learning to follow in their steps under the finest teachers Hogwarts has to offer. Now, if you will excuse me, my students are waiting." Dumbledore brushed past her followed by Snape. Umbridge smiled creepily at the marauders as she said
"I will be keeping a very close eye on all three of you." She smiled again before entering the great hall.
"What the hell is Dumbledore thinking having her on the grounds?" Sirius asked his two friends.
"I have no idea yet, but I will find out. What brings you and James here?"
"Moody told us about Dumbledore`s idea. He will be along later but he asked us to come and check it out."
"If anything is to be done, we are going to need to act fast. Are ye joining the feast?"
"No, Moony we thought we could stay in your room until it was over."
"Yeah, if you`re sure. I`ll contact ye through the mirror when it`s over."
"Ok, thanks Moony." James replied as he, Sirius and Remus went their separate ways.
Arielle and Ryan sat across the table from Harry, Hermione and Rob. Ron and his siblings sat alongside them.
"I see you two finally make an appearance. I was looking for you when I got off the train."
"I`m sorry Harry but we were with some friends on the train so we shared the carriage with them. If I had seen you on the platform I would have said." Arielle exclaimed.
"We need to stick close this year. Dad and Sirius made Rob and I promise to look out for both of you. If we don't; it will be our heads."Harry replied with a small smile.
"Ryan, did you hear what Harry said?" Rob asked. Ryan looked up and said
"Yeah, I heard him." He then reached across the table for a bread roll.
"Well in future answer someone when they talk to you." Rob retorted sternly.
Ryan looked at his brother perplexed and said
"I`m sorry Harry, I promise to stay close and keep an eye on Arielle."
Arielle scoffed and thumped a grinning Ryan. Rob and Harry smiled at one another.
As the feast came to a conclusion, Dumbledore stood at the podium and called for attention. All of his students turned to face their headmaster.
"Once again I welcome all our new students to Hogwarts. I hope that you all will have a thrilling experience here. Also, I welcome back our older students and I hope that your summers were happy ones. I have a few start of term notices before you all leave the hall this evening. I won't keep you long as I am sure ye must be anxious to get to bed. The first is to acknowledge that we have no new staff members to introduce; although there is one minor change to defence against the dark arts. Professor Lupin will be teaching this subject without the assistance of Professor Moody. I am certain there will be no complaints."
A loud cheer erupted within the hall as the Gryffindor table led a standing ovation for Remus. Dumbledore and other staff members smiled as Remus laughed lightly to himself, feeling both embarrassed and honoured by the reaction. Once the hall had settled down, Dumbledore continued.
"Yes, indeed we are all thrilled to have Professor Lupin still with us. He is an excellent teacher who genuinely cares passionately for all of his students. Hogwarts would not be the same without him. For now I would like to introduce you to a ministry official by the name of Dolores Umbridge." Dumbledore stepped away from the podium as Umbridge took a stand.
"Thank you Professor Dumbledore for that lovely tribute. I can see how passionate all you young witches and wizards are. As your headmaster has said, I am Dolores Umbridge. I am the secretary to the Minister for magic. My duty is merely to ensure you all are acquiring the best education possible at Hogwarts. I look forward to speaking to some of you throughout the coming year." She smiled wryly before taking her seat at the staff table. Dumbledore returned to the podium briefly.
"Yes, well I am sure we benefitted from that contribution. I do feel it's time to call it a night. So, off you go."
"What the hell was that all about?" Ron asked looking towards Hermione.
"It means the ministry is interfering at Hogwarts." Hermione replied drily. She and the others began leaving the table as Remus came towards them.
"I wish to thank all of you for the standing ovation. I suspect you Harry were responsible for instigating it." He said with a smile.
"Actually, it was a joined effort between Fred and George too." Harry replied smiling.
"Professor, why is the ministry interfering at Hogwarts?"
"I have no idea Hermione. A few of us have a meeting with Dumbledore right now about the matter."
"You have to get her out Remus. She will cost you your job."
"Harry is right Remus. We have to stop her." Rob interjected.
"I don't want you worrying about that. I am sure it won't even be an issue." Remus replied unconvincingly.
"Dad! Sirius! What are you guys doing here?" Arielle cried running over to them.
"We have a meeting with Dumbledore, sweetheart. Are you ok?" James asked.
"Yeah, dad I`m fine. Harry is looking after me as you told him to."
"That`s good." James answered looking at Harry anxiously.
"Hey Prongslet, how are you?" Sirius enquired.
"I need to talk to you and dad right now." Harry replied seriously as he walked towards the front doors. Sirius and James followed him.
"What is it champ?" James enquired concernedly.
"Dad, what the hell is going on? A ministry official is here at Hogwarts. You know what this means? Please, tell me that you know what this means." Harry pleaded.
James and Sirius looked at one another momentarily before Sirius said
"Prongslet, we know that you are concerned about Remus` job. We are too which is why we are having a meeting with Dumbledore in a few moments."
"What if it is too late to do anything Sirius? Remus is the best teacher we ever had for this subject. He is passionate about his work and his students. He has taught us so much. It would be grossly unfair if he was fired."
"It probably won't come to that Harry." James interjected.
"You can`t know that dad until you have spoken to Dumbledore and even then it may be irreversible. I am not letting Remus get pushed around by anybody so even if Dumbledore can't do anything, I will."
"Harry, don't go drawing attention yourself this year. I know you want to look out for Remus..."
"Sirius, you and dad need to fix this. I meant what I said." Harry exclaimed fiercely.
"James, Sirius, are you ready?" Dumbledore asked approaching them. They turned to face him as James replied
"Yes, sir we are. Harry was just laying down some of his concerns..."
"And what concerns might they be Mr. Potter?" Umbridge asked walking towards the door.
Harry glared at her before answering. She merely smiled insincerely.
"I think you know what I am referring to but it's just that you're too warped to fess up to your plans."
Dumbledore and the marauders inhaled deeply, sensing Harry had over stepped the mark.
"You do realise Mr. Potter that if I were your teacher I would give you detention for being so offensive to those in authority. You will need to learn your place. Goodnight gentlemen."
Up in Dumbledore`s office, the marauders gathered with Moody, Snape and Mc Gonagall. At the moment they were discussing Harry`s encounter with Umbridge.
"Dolores Umbridge is a dangerous force to be reckoned with James and if Harry can`t restrain himself, we all could suffer the consequences." Moody remarked.
"Oh, come on now Alastor, don't you think you are being a little bit dramatic?"
"No, James I do not. I suggest that you keep an eye on your son before he costs us everything we are working towards." Moody suggested staring hard at James.
"Alastor, Harry was merely looking out for me. He is quite passionate about those he cares about. I feel it`s a very desirable trait for the order." Remus interjected calmly.
"Honour is one thing Remus but stupidity is something completely different. If Harry screws anything up..."
"He won`t I assure you of that." Snape droned earning him glances from everyone in the room.
"So, you are going to watch out for young Potter are you, Snape? You are going to ensure that he doesn't behave irrationally? You are going to act as his guardian angel?" Moody questioned cynically. Snape glanced at James and Sirius before focusing his attention on Moody.
"I like the rest of the staff here know how imperative it is that Potter remains inconspicuous. If the ministry have no reproach towards Hogwarts then Umbridge`s time here will be limited. I will keep a close watch on him." Moody studied Snape scrupulously for a few moments before he hobbled over to James saying
"You need to keep your son in check for all our sakes."
"I assure you Alastor that Harry will not be a problem." James replied.
"Who is on duty tomorrow Albus?" Moody enquired.
Dumbledore looked up from his desk and tiredly replied
"Tonks, Sirius, Kingsley, Lily and James."
"I will come by to lend some assistance too. We also need to speak to Hagrid about getting his large creatures to guard the grounds. This year Hogwarts will have the upmost protection Albus."
"Yes, it will because I am calling on a very old friend to be of assistance to both the order and to Harry. I believe you are already familiar with him Sirius." Dumbledore quirks a small smile towards Sirius who merely stares at his old headmaster perplexed.
"I am speaking about Dobby. The beauty of this little elf is that he has both magic and incredible loyalty to Harry especially. I believe he will of great assistance."
"He did save my life once and he warned Harry of a conspiracy here three years ago but where do we find him now?"
"Oh, he is working below in the kitchen. All I have to do is this." Dumbledore clapped his hands once and Dobby appeared before him.
"How can Dobby be of assistance Professor Dumbledore sir?"
"Woah! Dobby, long time no see. How are you?"
"Oh, Sirius Black! What an honour it is sir."
"I always liked that elf." Sirius whispered to James who smiled back at his friend.
"Dobby, I need you to help the order. Dolores Umbridge will be coming and going from Hogwarts throughout the coming months so I need you to keep an eye on her. I require you to inform me of her activities and if you would be so kind as to keep an eye on Harry too. He may need all the help he can get."
"But of course sir." Dobby answered bowing a little. Dumbledore smiled.
"Thank you Dobby. If we need you again, we know where to find you." Dobby bowed once more before vanishing. Moody glanced suspiciously at Dumbledore.
"Alastor I assure you that Dobby will be a valuable asset to us."
Moody merely nodded before leaving Dumbledore`s office a few moments later with the others.