OPTIVUS by: P.P.V.V.

Disclaimer: The Standard Disclaim applies…all original characters/ideas are mine to claim.


AN: Can you believe I'm updating already? The first chapter of the New Year, and we are two weeks in. I hope you all had a good one. Thank you for all your awesome reviews and PMs.

Onward.


Previously:

After riding a little way, the three riders stopped short when sudden, thundering sounds filled the air, so loudly that they had to cover their ears. The horses neighed angrily, and overhead, the birds flew from their perches in the trees, squawking and chattering, terrified.

Distantly, shouts could be heard, and as if to shield them from the reality of what had happened, Rick pulled Malony around, kicking her into a trot. Eagerly, Thuagor and Jerohim followed, their riders having no choice but to focus on the path ahead of them.

Leaning low over his horse, Sirius turned his head sideways to assess his friend's tear-stained face. "Peter…you know you've just forfeited your father's life, right?"

The Prince closed his eyes and bowed his head. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes, I know."


Chapter 18

- Leading -

In the early, early hours of the morning, one could not expect to see much within the chamber. The natural skylight overhead provided such little illumination that James was obliged to turn on his flashlight.

He had not been to this chamber for what felt like ages, and the large room stared back at him, in an almost doleful manner. There was a rancid smell that, although prominent, did not quite make him gag. At first, he thought it was caused by a dead animal, but he recognized the smell of rotting food. Wrinkling his nose, he shone the light toward the walls, his footsteps echoing on the smooth stone.

The room, which had probably been planned to serve as the Throne Room in the Academy's earlier days, was vast. The walls towered above him and he felt a twinge of fear. It would take him days – weeks - to find what he was looking for. If what he was looking for was there, at all…

Only the cracks in the walls know the secrets over the generations in time…

That's what Master Dumbledore had once told them. The last time he had seen the Headmaster had been here, within the Chamber of Secrets, half a year ago.

If his assumptions were correct, the Master had been trying to tell him something.

"He must have buried whatever he was guarding somewhere within this chamber," James said, aloud, his voice bouncing back to him from all corners of the room. He was certain that the Master had hidden the Treaty there. "Merlin, but there are so many cracks in the walls, it could be anywhere!"

He wished that Sirius and Peter were with him, because the former was an agile climber, and the latter had fingers small enough to poke through those cracks. But they were not there, and so, James resigned himself to doing the task alone.

Passing the flashlight over the stones, he hurriedly thought. Master Dumbledore was an old man. For him to climb to the top of the Chamber's walls would have been impossible, so James ruled out the stones that lined the topmost partition. He also would not have been able to lift any heavy stones, so he ruled out the thought that the Master had buried anything beneath the slabs of the floor. That left the smaller stones of the wall, closer to the floor and platform.

Even then, there were too many places to look.

With a sigh, James ran his fingers through his hair, trying to think back on the last words Dumbledore had spoken to them, but he couldn't for the life of him, make out anything of importance other than the fact that nothing ever came easily.

Ironically, those words could not ring truer.

Picking his way toward the wall, James scanned the stones, running his hands over them.

The King's Army within the Academy had not been happy about his proposal to go to war, but for the most part, they had agreed with him. Toma's treachery had to stop. If, for some reason, the Army decided to change their minds again, James was relieved to know that the other students had made it out to safety. All that was left was a handful of men, who were determined to stand their ground.

In order to do so, however, James still needed to get the Treaty. Another use for it had come to mind, but that would not be possible unless they freed the King. How they were going to do that, was beyond him.

If it came down to a war, the King would surely die.

Pushing the depressing thoughts aside, he bent over to inspect the stones. The Treaty would be no small thing. If Dumbledore meant to hide it, it would be…

"Of course!" he cried aloud, remembering that the Headmaster had sat down on one of the benches in the room. Perhaps it had been a deliberate action…an indication of where he had intended to place it. Hurrying over, the light bobbing in his excitement, James fell to his knees by the stone bench, looking over and under it, thoroughly. He could find nothing, though and with a sigh, he sat back on his haunches.

Perhaps he had assumed wrong…

Glumly, he passed the flashlight back and forth between his hands as he tried to think. His eye caught sight of something, though, and curiously, he bent forward to see it. There, scratched into the floor beneath the bench, was a tiny arrow. The mark must have been made by using a stone to grate, because the arrow had been clumsily drawn and was barely visible.

Sucking in a gasp, James followed the arrow's direction to a stone in the wall, which, upon first glance, did not seem any different from the others. However, when he reached down to pry it loose, he was surprised to see that it was light and smooth, in the form of a box. The makeshift stone was actually made of glass – the same glass that usually nestled the Elites' pendants when first awarded to them.

Inside, was the King's Treaty, and a rather long note. Slanting writing that James instantly recognized as Dumbledore's, lined the page.

Sir James,

I had no doubts that you would find this box. You are, and always have been, much too observant for your own good. When you read this letter, I will have already taken Sir Aesalon's place as captive to the Russian Army. They seek to get rid of everyone in power. They have succeeded in disbanding the Philologi, and in capturing our National Defense Minister as well as our Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I refuse to allow these men to use my students against me. In my stead, I have asked Lewis Edmund to take over the role of Headmaster. For my sudden disappearance, you have my apologies.

Time is short.

I leave the King's Treaty in your hands. While I am gone, I beg you to guard it with your life. The Russian Army will surely demand for it, sooner or later. I must place a burden on your shoulders once again. Know now that I do so only in hopes of safeguarding so precious an item. Another must know of its existence should the case be that I am slain.

Of this, there is a very likely chance. I can trust no one but you. Consider it the wish of a dying man: think of me as thus, and do not try to follow me, for I walk into enemy territory. With all the things that are going on now, stay in the safety of the Academy.

I regret that I was unable to say my farewells in person, or to let you know of this burden beforehand. If the good Lord wills it, we shall meet again, and at the time, should it ever come to pass, I shall crave your pardon.

H.W Academy must hold and England must not fall. May His Majesty live long and prosper.

In the service,

Albus Dumbledore

James slowly folded the paper again. Dumbledore…dead? He had never once let the thought cross his mind. Now that it did, he could feel despair fall over him like a thick and heavy blanket.

Dumbledore was a very powerful man, trusted highly by the King and all the Noble Houses. His service to the Crown was longer than anybody could remember, and he presided over the Academy in such a way that people had come to revere him almost as much as the King himself.

Perhaps it had been in the way he had managed to keep order within the school walls, or the way many of his students had become so successful. But above all, it was his humbleness that moved James to hail him as his Master.

There was no way Dumbledore was dead.

Sick at heart, James pushed himself to his feet, tucking both letter and Treaty into his coat. It had been more than 6 months already since he had last seen the man, but he refused to give up hope. The thought that the Master had chosen to hand himself over into enemy territory made that hope glow dim.

One thing was for certain, though.

He would not leave H.W. Academy without a fight. Dumbledore was right – it had to hold. If the Palace was under attack, this was the only other place that could provide security.

Hurriedly, he picked up his flashlight, trying to sort out the thoughts in his head. With so few within the walls to protect it, he feared that the Academy, so rich and full of memories of the past, would soon become part of those very pages of history.

0-0-0-0-0

"Come on, keep up!" Sir Lucius called. "I know you're weary, but the rendez-vous point is just ahead. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can rest."

Obediently, the students pushed ahead, picking up their paces which had begun to lag. The children were just about dead on their feet, and everyone else's strength had been sapped by their fears and uncertainties.

Remus checked his map again in the dim lighting of the sewer system's cavern. So far, they had made good time and had covered a lot of ground. He hadn't expected to get that far, actually, with all the wagons and burdens that they had brought along. It had been a good three hours walk so he could understand the complaints of his company.

Beside him, Nymphadora stumbled and instinctively, he reached out to steady her. "My Lady?"

"I feel unwell," Nymphadora told him. "I'm very tired…"

He put his arm around her waist to give her some support. "You must be patient for just a little longer," he told her, apologetically. "We are almost there."

Resigned, she nodded, trying to match his pace but failing because he had longer legs than she. She was glad for his support because she wasn't sure she could keep up otherwise: a queasy feeling had started to build in the pit of her stomach. The smell of the sewers wasn't helping her at all.

When she could absolutely not bear it any longer, she pushed away from Remus and staggered to the side to throw up. He was by her in an instant, bending down to rub her back, helplessly until she was finished. In a little while, Madam Pomfrey was also there to offer her aid.

Sir Lucius called, "What's going on, over there? Sir Remus? Is there something the matter?"

While at the same time, Sir Dane demanded, "Has someone been injured?"

Remus came to his feet, dusting his breeches off, quickly. "No injuries," he hurriedly called back. To Madam Pomfrey he asked, "Is it a malady? She has been like this for the last week or so, apparently."

Keeping her voice down, Madam Pomfrey simply said, "It is a natural process that almost all pregnant women experience." She gave him a disapproving frown, both because she was not happy about the fact that the girl was pregnant in the first place, and because she did not like having a woman in such a fragile state doing anything strenuous. "What she needs is rest. If complications arise, it is possible for her to lose the child."

Hearing that, Nymphadora gave a little cry, wrapping her arms around her stomach in a protective fashion.

Remus glanced behind him at the rest of the women and children. A few of the children were being carried by the men on their backs, there being no more room on the wagons that they had brought along.

Madam Pomfrey had her chew something she claimed would help her to quell some of the nausea before turning to Remus. "How much longer do we travel?"

"No more than an hour," he said. "As much as I would like to call a halt, it is unsafe to rest in the open like this. We must get to the shelter that we've secured." He helped his Lady to her feet. "If I must, I will carry you," he offered, but Nymphadora shook her head and insisted that she could walk on her own.

This time, as they set out, their progress was slower, because the path that they had chosen to navigate was narrow and more dangerous. The concrete flooring was slippery and cracked, making the maneuvering of the carts difficult.

Everyone began to get restless, and Sir Lucius burned with impatience. "It is just like the Marauders to choose such a path," he sneered, as he stepped lightly around a fallen boulder.

Remus rose to his bait. "It was the most that could be done what with so short amount of time given to us. We are lucky as it is that we were able to find this escape route."

"We are all of us groping in the dark," Lucius continued, as though ignoring Remus' irritated remark. "How do we know that you are certain of the path and aren't just leading us around, blindly?"

"I would fancy seeing you make better progress," Remus said, hotly.

Lucius waved his hand, dismissively. "At least I would not do so in a blundering sort of fashion. It seems that Gryffindors have no sense of direction."

"And you would expect me to believe that Slytherins do? I'd rather turn back and have myself arrested by the King's Army than follow you and your lot anywhere!"

"Gentlemen, let's not have any of this," Amos interrupted them, in a jovial manner. The man's sudden presence made the both of them jump. In the dim lighting of the sewers, it was easy to identify him. He wore the colors of the House of Hufflepuff as proudly as he had when he had once been an Elite. Dropping his voice, but keeping it amiable, Amos prodded, "It won't do to have the Ladies see such conduct from their leaders, will it? Create a tab if you will, of your grievances and duke it out somewhere else when the time comes. However, shall we agree on travelling in good humor from here on in?"

Lucius bared his teeth, but Remus nodded and held out a hand; the gentleman-like fashion of a truce that he had been brought up to observe.

For a moment, Lucius looked like he would snub the invitation, but at Amos' urging, he grudgingly took it up and shook it firmly.

Without letting go, Remus said, "By all means sir, if you know a better way to get us there, do lead the way," innocently. He couldn't help the grin that spread over his face when Lucius' glared at him.

"I should not want to take the honor," the Slytherin Elite said, through clenched teeth.

"Then we will have no further complaints?" It was more of a statement than a question on Remus' part, and he watched, satisfied, as Lucius jerked his head once.

"No further complaints."

Finally, Remus released his hand and watched as the other man stomped away. Then, he turned to Amos. "My thanks to you, sir. Normally, I would not be so hostile, but with Sir Lucius, one's disposition can seriously be tried."

Amos chuckled, knowingly. "It's best not to show any antagonistic temperament to his likes," he advised. "He does like to flaunt it as much as possible in front of you in hopes to get you all the more aggravated. And more often than not, it works."

At this, Remus hunched his shoulders in shame. Sir Amos clapped him on the back good-naturedly. Of course he would know – he had worked alongside Lucius before being stripped of his title. When Remus pointed this out to him, Amos said, "Ah, but I do not regret losing my title. Indeed, it was a heavy burden to bear. Now, it seems all the more so." And with that, he nodded toward Sir Dane and Lady Lily, who had gathered a group around them for their quarterly report.

"Nor do I envy them," Remus agreed.

"The Lady Lily seems to be handling it quite well."

"I don't think gender has anything to do with it," Remus told him, stoutly, getting his hint.

This time, it was Amos who looked down in shame. "Ah, well…most Ladies would have folded by now, I believe. You know how the women of the Academy are. Fragile like glass, the lot of them."

He did have a point.

Most of the Academy women were known to burst into tears upon pricking their fingers on their embroidery needles. "I see what you mean," he had to agree. "I think it's wonderful that the Lady Lily was able to become an Elite. It gives the women courage and something to try to live up to."

"If you say so, my friend. Our women have a long ways to go, as yet."

Remus shrugged and bent to help his Lady, who had been listening to their conversation the whole time without making a comment. She climbed to her feet, disappointment that her small reprieve was over clearly visible on her heart-shaped features. In a single, swift movement, he pulled her close and brushed his lips across her brow. "I'll take my Lady as is, thank you very much," he announced, and that gained him an appreciative smile from her as well as a few chuckles from surrounding men who had been watching the exchange without Remus' knowledge.

Clearing his throat, embarrassed, Remus firmly said, "If memory serves me well, our resting place is just beyond that bend there."

Word of this news travelled down the lines fast enough, and all the men and women redoubled their efforts of crossing the narrow way.

Remus had no doubts that his argument with Lucius would travel just as fast, and he was correct because by the time they reached the rendez-vous point, most students from the House of Slytherin were darting him disgusted looks. He was certain that if he had had Lucius' rank, they would not dare to do so. He resigned himself to returning a casual, blank expression as he ushered them into a rather large room.

It had been James who had discovered this room. Hidden well, it looked to be a place used to store electrical equipment. Bits and pieces of cables and pulleys still littered the ground. There were large scraps of metal down there too, as well as a few tools. When they had first discovered the room, the two of them had not had the time to clear all the clutter away.

Now, everyone grimly got to work, pushing things to the side carefully, making sure that the children did not try to touch anything. All in all, the room was big enough to bed the large group, even though it was a rather tight squeeze. It would be impossible to fit the second group in, but Remus figured that he'd worry about that when the time came.

The Professors were quick in arranging rows and makeshift beds. A few women shared their blankets with each other, because despite the fact that it was Spring time, it was bitingly cold underground. Overhead, small circlets of light shone, allowing for everyone to be able to see what they were doing. There was even a ladder that ran along the length of one wall toward a small opening in the ceiling.

A passageway to the streets above.

Remus eyed it as the three Elites he was travelling with came forward to have a brief meeting. Sir Dane still looked fresh and ready for action compared to Lily, who looked frazzled and tired. She was absently rubbing at her shoulder as they walked toward him, together. Lucius did not bother to hide his sneer as he joined the gathering.

"…a quick headcount. Afterwards, we should pass out some rations," Dane was saying to Lily. "Then, everyone should get as much sleep as possible."

"I've spoken with several of the Professors," Lily told him. "They've agreed to take charge of one specific group each."

Dane nodded. "Well thought. I will have words with Sirs Lorien and Severus about grouping the men under the same rules when they catch up with us."

Lucius looked toward the metal doorways that they had had to squeeze through. The wagons had been left outside because they were too big. "I'll split the men we currently have into watches. We dare not leave our supplies unguarded."

"That sounds reasonable, too," Dane said. "Create the groups as you see fit, then, Sir Lucius. I'll take care of passing out supplies. Lady Lily, I will leave the lists of groups in your care, then. We'll hold another meeting within the hour." Before they could turn to do as they had agreed, he turned to Remus. "Our thanks to you, sir, for your excellent skills in guiding us."

Remus merely gave him a small bow in response, pretending that he didn't see Dane's pointed look in Lucius' direction.

"You will not join the watches tonight," Dane continued. Remus began to protest, but the Elite firmly said, "We will need you to have every ounce of your strength to guide us again on the morrow."

"Where exactly are we headed?" Lily asked.

"I had hoped to go to my Hold," Remus said. "But we've no idea if that too has been taken over. My father, after all, is the Army's Commander. But if I know Sir Cyath well, he would never betray His Majesty.

"We will try to make our way as close as possible to my Hold. If something is amiss, I'm afraid we'll have to stay hidden in the sewers until we can think of somewhere else."

Lucius snorted. "How comforting to know that we've no set plan."

"It is plan enough," Dane cut in, before another argument could take place, and Remus was very glad he did because he had been on the verge of biting the bait yet again. "Perhaps there will be no need to go that far – if Sir James' suspicions on the King's Army back at the Academy are mistaken, then we can always return there. For the time being, let's take things as they come. And," he added, "let's do so with as much decorum as possible."

His tone left no room for argument.

As soon as everyone left to do their duties, Remus looked at the compass in his hands.

A smart man always knows where he's going.

That's what his father always used to say.

The tiny needle pointed North East. With a sigh, he pocketed the device and made his way to his Lady's side, who was sitting up in her makeshift bed, rearranging her things so that they lay in a bundle on her lap. "Remus?"

"Are you comfortable?"

"As comfortable as I can get," she answered. "You look so tired. Where have you let out your roll?"

He shook his head. "I haven't. I am not sleeping tonight, my Lady."

"But…"

He glanced over his shoulder at Dane, who was speaking with a few professors and men. Remus lowered his voice. "I have gone many sleepless nights in the past before. I've enough energy to do one last thing." As he spoke, he tucked Nymphadora securely under her blankets, and she blinked up at him, worriedly.

"What are you going to do?"

"I will retrace our steps and find the second group," Remus answered. "If they've left on time, they should be no more than an hour's walk away." When she grabbed his hand, he pat hers reassuringly. "I'll be just fine, my dear. It's not for me you should be worried – it's for the second group. After all, James will not be the one guiding them. Sir Severus has taken on that responsibility, with the help of one of our maps."

"Then they should be just fine," Nymphadora said, not quite relenting her grip on his hand.

At this, Remus laughed. "I should not dare to hope. He is, after all, one from the House of Slytherin and you know that I trust them only about as far as I can throw them – and that's not very far at all."

0-0-0-0-0

Instinctively, Sirius reined in his horse, and Thuagor tossed his mane unhappily. Malony took the sudden stop much better, swiveling immediately, even before her rider could order her to. Behind them, Jerohim clacked his teeth in what seemed like a question.

"It's time to rest," Sirius explained to Rick. "Peter's too tired to continue."

And it was true, because Jerohim's rider was slumped in his saddle, his face almost pressed against his horse's neck.

The boy did not argue when Sirius announced that they would set up camp. Instead, he let Rick take most of his weight when the man came over to help him down. His legs felt hollow and his back hurt something fierce. It was to be expected though, because the last time he had ridden a horse had been so long ago.

Seeming to sense this, Sirius said, "Peter, sit down and rest. You don't look well at all."

But Peter shoved the weary feeling away and said, "No, I just need to stretch. Let me help."

"Are you sure, Your Highness?" Rick asked. "You look dreadful."

"I'm sure," Peter insisted. For a moment, he feared Sirius would not let him, but his friend finally said, "Very well. You can help gather firewood. If you wish to relieve yourself, now is the time to do so. But mind that you don't wander far."

Peter nodded and waddled away, keeping his eyes on the floor for any dry sticks that they could use for timber.

When he was far enough, Sir Rick turned to his cousin. "You treat the Prince as though he were a child."

"He is a child, sir," Sirius said, circling the clearing for a good spot in which to hollow out the ground. "I've been friends with him long enough to know that putting on grand airs in front of him only makes him feel awkward. Smothering him doesn't make him happy, either. A little exercise never hurt a body," he added, because he knew that Rick was going to scold him for making Peter help set up.

"Yes, it seems you do know him well," Rick mused. "I would not have known that His Highness was unable to continue."

Finally finding a place, Sirius began the work of hollowing out a shallow pit. Afterwards, he found stones with which to line the circle. He wasn't too concerned about keeping the fire contained, because the ground was still wet from the winter weather. Still, it didn't hurt to be cautious – it wouldn't do to set the forest on fire.

Sir Rick made himself useful by pulling supplies down from the horses and bringing them over to the circle. "Is a campfire really necessary? It may alert our enemies…"

Sirius looked at him helplessly. "It's a risk we'll have to take. The nights are cold, sir. Peter must stay warm. If you have a better idea…"

"I would suggest building a lean-to, but it's not as good as a fire," Sir Rick said, shaking his head. "At least there doesn't seem to be any sign of rain. We shall stay dry this night."

They helped each other tether the horses and unroll sleeping bags. While Rick went to get some water from the river that they had been following, Sirius went about looking for some firewood as well. Between what him and Peter collected, there was enough for a decent flame.

The three of them began to cook a meal of meat and potatoes, roasted on little sticks that Rick provided. A delicious aroma soon filled the air.

Peter leaned himself comfortably against the base of a tree, watching the flames as they crackled and leaped. He jumped slightly when Jerohim, tethered close by, bent down and nuzzled him, in hopes for a morsel of food.

Laughing, Sir Rick pulled an apple out of one of his sacks and tossed it over to him. Peter caught it and proceeded to feed it to his horse, reaching up and stroking the horse's powerful jaws as it chewed its prize. "You are a handsome one, aren't you?" he asked, fondly. "I haven't seen many white horses. I do believe the Optivus are the only ones who usually ride them."

"Some of the Units do, too," Sir Rick said, tossing another stick into the flames, which showed their appreciation for the addition by waving their thanks. "But for the most part, and they're hard to breed. It is said that white horses choose their riders, not the other way around. Black beauties aren't as rare, but are much harder to tame."

Jerohim finished off the apple, core included, and tried to cajole more from Peter but with no success. "Oh, away with you, you brute," Peter laughed, waving him away.

"I've oats for him later, but your meal comes first," Rick told him.

Sirius washed his hands using the water that had been gathered in his flask, and Peter followed his example saying, "I smell of dirt, garbage and horse. Whatever would my father think?"

"The same thing as mine, most likely," Sirius said, with a wry grin. He was glad to see that Peter's spirits were high and that a healthy tinge of pink was back on his friend's cheeks.

You treat the Prince as though he were a child.

Guiltily, Sirius remembered how he had lost his temper with the boy. "Listen, Peter…about earlier…I should not have acted that way. It was ill-suited for my station and I had no right."

Peter wrung his hands out. "What?"

"You remember. Whoever you wish to make acquaintances with is none of my business. Wherever you wish to go, I will follow. You have my apologies if I seemed to be too commandeering. Of course my lord's will should come above all else."

At that, Peter's face clouded. "Sirius, why are you being so formal?"

"I overstepped my boundaries."

"You're being ridiculous."

"I still feel terrible."

The younger boy shrugged. "All is forgiven. It was I who was really at fault. I should not have frightened you like that. I will do my best to watch my own actions with the knowledge that they will most likely affect other people as well."

Sirius punched him lightly in the arm. "Wow, Peter, I think you're growing up!"

Peter laughed aloud, the sound ringing through the small campsite. "I should duel you for that, sir!"

"Now, now," Sir Rick called, "no dueling around the fire, please." He, too, was smiling, having overheard their conversation. "At least, no dueling until you've eaten." He began to pass out the food, saying, "Careful now. It's still hot."

The food was delicious, a welcome change from the hospital's strict and rather tasteless diet. Around a mouthful of his meat, Peter excitedly said, "It's my first time to sleep under the stars! I think I should not want to close my eyes!"

"You'll close your eyes," Sirius promised him, for despite the lad's lively attitude, he looked very weary. His medication would most probably knock him out at this rate.

"It's different than seeing them from a telescope," Peter told them. "I should like to stay awake long enough to try and count them all."

"That would be impossible," Sir Rick said.

"Not impossible," countered Peter. "Merely unfinished."

Rick tilted his head up so that he could see the night sky. "My lord, how would one be able to tell where one last left off?" And it was here that Sirius shot his cousin a look that beseeched him not to contradict the boy.

But Peter did not seem put off at all. "I will find a way. In the meantime, I am glad to breathe fresh air and eat real food. It makes me feel free."

In answer, an owl hooted in the distance, and a triumphant smile stretched itself across Peter's face. Sir Rick missed it though, because he had bent over to rearrange a few strips of meat by the fire. "Sleeping outdoors on the ground is not suited for you, Your Highness," he said, aghast. "If your Lord Father heard of this…"

"He'd be furious," giggled Peter. He craned his neck upward to the endless stretch of sky and the diamonds it seemed to hold in its fist. He stopped laughing after a while, remembering that his decision to fight back had deliberately forsaken his father's life. The smile slowly fell off his face and a feeling of sadness enveloped him.

"Peter?" Sirius asked, so anxiously that Rick looked up at them.

"I…I miss my father," Peter said. "Do you think…"

Rick interrupted him, quickly. "My lord, would you like some more?"

Blinking, Peter stared at the outstretched stick that was being offered to him. Without another word, he took the food and began to eat it, slowly. Both Sirius and Rick exchanged worried glances, and in an effort to cheer him up and change the subject, Rick asked, "Are the Academy's rules against dueling still in play?"

"They are as strict as ever," Sirius responded, eagerly latching onto the new topic.

"If my riding skills have rusted over the years, I fear to think about my swordplay," Peter mused, choosing to abandon his darker thoughts for this lighter subject matter.

"In that case, I think a warm up in both can be arranged," Rick said. "We will start slowly, of course. But it's best if you remember these skills for the upcoming battle ahead. We shan't want to have you defenseless, after all."

Peter finished off his meat and flourished the stick. "Will you teach me?"

Rick seemed to relax a little. "Of course. I'll try my best."

The rest of the meal went by without much more conversation, because Peter became too tired to do so. Halfway through his third stick of meat and potatoes, his eyelids grew heavy and his head began to nod. When Sirius suggested turning in for the night, he readily agreed.

Head spinning, Peter allowed the two men to help him get comfortable. The adrenaline from earlier had gone, leaving him feeling as though he were sapped of all energy. After a while, he could not even make out their conversation, tired as he was.

Rick had come prepared with thick fur blankets which Sirius promptly began to tuck around the boy who watched the night sky, blearily. The stars above were starting to blur with each other. When he tried to tell Sirius how frustrated he was, he found he could not string the words together properly.

Patiently, Sirius piled another blanket on top of him. "Don't worry, my lord," he soothed. "The stars can wait until our next night."

Despite the hard ground and the uncomfortable bulk and straps of his jacket, Peter fell asleep almost instantly.

He did not even stir when his companions let out surprised cries and drew their swords as a horse and rider galloped into their midst.

To Be Continued…


AN: May 2010 bring only inspiration. In so saying, would you be so kind as to leave me a review? They really help in that department and I enjoy reading them so much. Sometimes, when I feel like I don't want to write any more, or if I am at a loss at how to continue, I just go back to my review section and read them all over again and they pick me up significantly. So, do help me out in that respect and leave me a thought or two – a line or two – before you exit this window.

Thanks for reading,

-P.P.V.V.