OPTIVUS by: P.P.V.V.

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


AN: Happy New Year! (Yet again!) I hope everyone enjoyed their festivities and holidays. I know that mine gave me renewed inspiration. For those of you who have so patiently waited, I present to you the next chapter – at last. And to those of you who have so graciously written me reviews and encouraged me to continue on, thank you yet again. I love getting your feedback. Even your threats. No, seriously. Anyway…

Enjoy.


Previously:

Lily felt that nothing at this point could possibly shock her more.

James pulled at her. They could not stand idle because the fighting grew in intensity and so he urged her backward as more soldiers poured into the already-crowded hallway.

Jeremiah was quick despite his age. His experience in battle was evident as he cut down soldier after soldier with an ease that was almost disturbing. His eyes had taken on a wild look, but even he could not fend off that many people by himself. His fellow comrades, who had followed his lead, were arrested. Jeremiah was taken down shortly after.

"It's over," James reassured Lily, who had taken to clutching his arm with a death grip. His left arm circled her waist for fear that she would faint. "It's over, now, Lily…don't worry."

A voice from his left spoke, quietly, with an authority that Lily was acutely attuned to, and yet was not expecting.

"Actually, sir, it has only just begun."

Mind reeling, she whirled in her spot to face the speaker. She'd been wrong. Her shock made her knees knock together. "D-dad?"


Chapter 30

- Reading Between the Lines -

Sir Eric Stevenson looked older than he had in the photo that James had seen of him in Lily's locket. That light of happiness that the boy had admired in the elder man was missing. Well, given the times, he supposed it could not be helped. The man was taller than expected, too. With his dark hair and eyes, it was hard to see how Lily could possibly be related to him. But when Sir Eric flashed a smile at them briefly, James finally saw some resemblance.

At once, James found himself break into a cold sweat at the thought that this man was Lily's father. He found himself nervous of the man's scrutiny and wished they could have met in better circumstances.

"Explanations come later," Peter's voice cut into their would-be reunion, (or in James' case, an introduction) shocking everyone even further with his sudden appearance. James was fairly sure that his mouth fell open in astonishment because he found himself gaping openly at the young Prince. He looked well enough in health, he supposed, thinner than usual but otherwise no worse for the wear.

And if Peter was here, then that would mean Sirius was here, too.

Sure enough, Sirius pushed through the crowd to stand next to Peter. His friend sported a fading black eye and a scabbed over lip which told of scuffles he'd been in. His hair had grown longer in the months that they'd been apart. He even had the makings of a beard, lending him a scruffy look. He had an air of indifference, most likely because he'd forgotten about them - and for someone from the Black Household, it was very disturbing indeed for they were known to care greatly about their outward appearances. "We must get to Sir Cyath. Sir Vincent and Bourneau will lead us there."

The two aforementioned soldiers stepped forward, flanked by Remus, Dane and Lucius.

Lily looked like she wanted to ask a million questions but Peter had already gestured for the soldiers to move and so, the others followed automatically.

Lucius took a moment to turn and give James a smug smile as if to rub in the fact that he was party to knowledge that James wasn't before sweeping forward, his blond head held high.

Chagrined, the ex-Elite bit the inside of his cheek and pushed his impatience back. It would solve nothing to get riled up, now. He needed to keep focused and rising to Lucius' bait was not going to help. The sense of fatigue made itself known to him again in a rude reminder that he was seriously lacking in rest. It made concentrating that much harder so he was glad for Lily's arm when it snaked out to anchor him against her.

The small group took care to skirt the fights that were in full swing around the barracks. Several times, they had to stop and wait not wanting to get involved, keeping Peter securely in the middle in case trouble found them.

They were almost to the big double doors of the Conference Room when a loud, familiar sound echoed through the corridor: a gunshot. It cracked around them in a deafening roar, making everyone duck automatically and gasp aloud. The motion combined with the ear-splitting sound made James' head spin sickeningly. It took him a moment to gain some equilibrium and he blinked his eyes against the feeling.

"Lay down your weapons," someone ordered, "and hand over the Prince." A squad of soldiers, about six, had managed to sneak up on them and each had guns in their right hands.

When none of them moved, the gunshot was set off again and Dane lifted his hands. "Don't shoot! We will do as you say." Glancing at the others with him, he slowly moved to get his sword. As he made a show of unclasping it from his side, he met James' eye and the raven haired boy inclined his head slightly, understanding the unspoken message.

He used the distraction by leaning in close to Lily and pressing his mouth against her ear. "Take Peter," he breathed, "and run for the doors. We will cover for you."

Eyes widening in dismay, Lily jerked against him but his other hand came up to grasp her forearm in a vice-like grip. "Go," he ordered and before she could do anything, he pushed her backward, into Peter as he unsheathed his sword.

Blindly, Lily reached out to grab a hold of Peter and, staying crouched, pushed forward with him in tow by the collar. The boy made a tiny sound of surprise as her fingers caught a few strands of his hair but she did not look back, intent only on moving as fast as possible.

There was another gunshot and a piercing cry that sounded like Dane, but she did not dare to stop, her adrenaline forcing her to move despite the fear that tried to ground her to a halt.

James ducked to the side and the others followed his example in order to keep out of the way and scatter themselves into moving targets. "Sirius!" he called and his friend looked up in time to catch whatever it was that was thrown in his direction.

Hand closing upon a revolver, Sirius snatched it from midair. Without thinking twice, he fired off the first shot but it missed his target completely. Their enemy ducked and James moved closer when they did so.

Someone tried to shoot him, but he was upon them before the man could get a good aim on him. His sword swept up to sever the man's hand from wrist to ring finger. The gun went flying and the man's scream sounded doubly loud in his still-ringing ears.

Lily was almost to the door when she felt something slam into her, causing her to trip and fall forward. The sensation was white hot and the most painful thing she'd ever experienced. Her scream joined the chaos around them, and she quite forgot to catch herself, falling face-first onto the floor.

She was aware of someone shouting her name and shaking her. She gasped when the pain flared to life again, throbbing from her chest. "Lady…Lady…Lady!" it was Peter, eyes wide and face streaked with blood.

Her blood.

"R-run," she managed to command just as another gunshot was fired.

Somehow, she found the strength to throw herself in front of Peter and she felt another bullet slam into her. This time, she didn't even have the breath to scream making only a muted grunt and felt warm blood trickled from her arm.

He moaned in dismay, torn between wanting to stay where he was to make sure she was still alive, and obeying her words.

James turned in time to see Lily crumple from the second shot and he swore that he felt his heart stop beating. He heard himself shout in rage, and his sword cleaved the next target in two. It might have been an arm. Or a shoulder. He didn't care which, his blood roaring in his ears as his heart kicked itself to life again. Anger, anguish and fear fought for first place in him.

He moved on automatic, not really hearing the shouts or seeing the blood. He fought without thinking, moving from target to target. He was clouded by the realization that Lily was gravely hurt. Oh, God…he had let her walk into this situation. He was so angry with himself. So angry with her.

He felt someone touch his shoulder and he spun, bringing his sword arm up in reflex. He stopped himself just in time to see Remus staring at him, his face white and gray eyes wide. "James," he spoke quickly, breath catching most likely due to fear, "it's…it's me. Calm down. It's just me."

James had to blink several times to focus and remember where he was and what he was doing. He found himself staring at something red on his hands, and a part of him marveled at how it covered them completely, while the other was repulsed by it.

His sword dripped with it, and it ran down his arms, staining his coat. It covered his chest and he could feel it dripping from his fingers.

He gasped a breath when he looked around to see the bodies around him. They were still and staring lifelessly in the directions they had fallen in. "I…"

"It's all right, mate. Let it go," Sirius' tone was cautious as he approached. James realized he was talking about the weapon in his hand. "They can't hurt anyone, any more."

Trembling, James forced his body to obey, and the sword fell to the floor with a dull clatter.

For a long moment, no one moved. Even Sir Lucius seemed to have turned to stone.

No one had ever seen James move like that before. In fact, no one had ever seen him kill with such cold precision. He'd handled all of them in a matter of moments. It must be confessed that the violent deaths they had just witnessed had them cowering in fear.

"I…I…" His shock was catching up to him and the roaring in his ears increased in volume. His heartbeat doubled its already thrumming speed and together, they made the room spin.

Remus must have caught him halfway when he fell to his knees because when he came to his senses again, his friend's arm was supporting him by the elbow. "Easy, now," he was saying, "breathe, James."

When had he started to hold his breath?

His body wouldn't obey so easily this time around. Instead of letting it out, he sucked more in.

"He's hyperventilating."

"Let's get him inside."

"Someone go check on Sir Peter and Lady Lily."

The name registered enough to let him puff out a breath. "Lily..." He wanted to say more, to ask if she was okay, but his vision was tunneling, the shock getting the best of him and his fatigue overwhelming him.

This time, he could not fight it and like a puppet whose strings were cut, he went limp and blacked out.

0-0-0-0-0

The world came back agonizingly slow. The sounds around him were muffled and slow, fleshing out into words but they were unintelligible. Next came the smells: antiseptic and another fragrance that he couldn't place. Finally, came the lights, but they were too bright, so he closed his eyes against them.

When he felt like he would not vomit, James opened them again. Everything was blurry despite the fact that he blinked several times to try and clear his vision.

Oh.

His glasses were missing.

Well, that would explain it.

He saw someone shift on his left side and he jerked a little in surprise. "Hey, you're awake!" Sirius kept his voice down, thankfully, and James relaxed a little. He felt his friend hand him his glasses but he made no move to put them on. Sirius let out a rueful sigh. "How is it that I find myself back in a hospital, sitting vigil next to one of you, again?"

That caused James to smile slightly and he stiffly tried to sit up. Sirius helped him and he leaned against the headboard, trying to get his bearings back.

So, he was in a sick room. How much time had passed? What had happened after that horrible fight? Had anyone else been hurt?

Was Lily…?

He opened his mouth to ask after her but Peter's form burst through the curtains, an action that, had it been Madam Pomfrey's hospital wing, would likely have had him thrown out if he were anyone but the Prince. "Oh, James! James, I'm so sorry! It was all my fault! I shouldn't have let her take the bullets for me, but she just pushed me, I couldn't stop her! I should have run, but I couldn't move and she got hurt because of me and I didn't know what to do and I just stared and stared and oh, James, it all happened so fast, I - "

Sirius' hand came out to grasp Peter's shoulder and the boy snapped his mouth shut against his babbling, whipping around to face him. "That's enough," said Sirius, firmly. "You're making quite a scene. The poor lad hasn't come to his senses as yet and here you are, disturbing him."

Peter blushed under the slight scolding and James couldn't help but smile fully at it. Somehow, the boy's blunders were too endearing to truly get mad at. It was also very comforting to know that he was all right. That still didn't ease the fear that was knotted in his stomach, though.

James spoke at last. "Where is she?" He could not formulate the other more pressing question that he feared to know. He hated how cowardly he was.

Peter stepped closer to the bed. "She's alive. She's in recovery."

His knowing answer made the world spin for James again, and he closed his eyes in relief, fighting off another fainting spell. He almost missed Peter speaking again. "She needs her rest. And so do you, sir. You need to stay abed." James was not surprised at the way his friend knew what his next plan was.

Sirius concurred by pushing James back into a lying position. "Peter's right. You need to rest. You've put your body under a lot of strain. Sir Quentin told us that you pushed yourself entirely too hard whilst fevered. And to top it off, you have reopened the wound that the Madam stitched." Peter moved to pull the blankets up to his chin again, but not before James slipped his glasses on. Everything came into clarity and he let his eyes adjust before turning them back to his friends' worried faces. "You will be no good to us weakened. Sir Cyath has ordered you to be fully recovered before you leave this hospital ward." Peter moved back to stand by Sirius again and added, "They've already made the announcement that visiting hours are over. I'm very fortunate that they let me in to see you."

As if to prove his point, he could hear Healers telling other guests that they had to leave to allow the patients to rest. It was only a matter of time before they reached James' partition and they politely but firmly asked his friends to leave as well.

Peter turned to him one last time, his once-round face puckered in regret. "I really am sorry."

"It wasn't your fault," James assured him.

Of course it wasn't.

It was his.

That realization twisted inside James like a hot knife. He should have been the one to take those bullets. Why oh why had he thrust Lily into danger like that? He had no one to chastise but himself.

Sirius put a hand to Peter's shoulder again and murmured, "Come, Your Highness. We must go." To James he said, "We'll be back. We'll fill you in on the details later. Rest easy."

James raised three fingers in farewell and watched as his friends left. He wished they could have stayed a bit longer because they had been separated for far too long, but he knew that it would not be allowed. This was not H.W. Academy and these Healers were not familiar with them as Madam Pomfrey had been.

He hated being left in the dark, but he resigned himself to staying put. They were right: he was tired and beaten inside and out. The call of sleep came back with a vengeance and he surrendered to it so quickly that he was unable to even remove his glasses again.

He woke in the middle of the night when one of the Healers came by to redress his wound and give him something to eat. The woman introduced herself as Mistress Firman, her accent pronouncing the name with such elegance that James was certain he'd butcher it if he tried to copy her inflection.

He polished off the meal while she worked and when he was done it all, he ventured to ask, "Mistress, there was a Lady who was injured in battle. She acquired wounds from a gun and I am pressed to know if she is all right."

Mistress Firman gave James a smile that told him that she knew exactly who he was talking about and why he was so anxious. "Lady Lily will survive but will be worse for the wear for the next couple of weeks. She's lost a lot of blood and is in a lot of pain."

Taking a chance on the slim hope that he might actually be allowed, James asked, "May I…may I see her?" before he could be refused outright, he continued, "I need not speak with her. I just want to see for myself that she is all right. I promise not to disturb her rest."

The Mistress narrowed her eyes slightly and James gave her his best pleading look. With or without her permission, he would find her but it did not hurt to ask first. A full ten seconds passed before she finally nodded. "That will be fine. She is located in the adjacent wing, third bed on the left."

James broke out into a grateful smile that he swore made the woman redden and he gingerly swung his legs up and over the side of the bed. "Take it easy," she admonished, sounding slightly amused, "you have suffered a concussion and its effects do not wear off easily. You may experience some vertigo."

He bowed his head to her in acknowledgment.

She helped him clamber down, and before he left the partition she warned him, "You are to be back here before the sun rises, Mr. Potter. Am I understood?"

James swallowed against the sternness in her voice. "Yes, Mistress."

She watched him leave and he breathed a little easier when he was not under her scrutinizing gaze.

His body protested the fact that it was not lying down and he sympathized with it, knowing that he hadn't been giving it the proper rest it needed. Trying to ignore the hollow feeling in his legs, James moved forward, glancing around him nervously when other Healers turned to give him disapproving looks.

The knowledge that he'd gotten permission for this helped him straighten his back and walk with more confidence. He even mustered up the courage to ask one of them where the next wing was and was relieved when the man did not scold him for being out of bed.

He followed the directions to another long room which quite resembled that of the Hospital Wing at the Academy. The iron postings of the beds, complete with their pristine white coverlets brought back a feeling of nostalgia, for many were the days he would come and visit Peter when the boy had been ill.

There were only two Healers in the room, both of them giving him such looks of warning that he momentarily had to stop in his tracks and back down a shiver of fear. Funny how they were able to strike it in him so quickly and he suddenly felt very naked without his sword at his hip.

"I…I'm looking for the Lady Lily," he said when one of them came over to see who was intruding in their sanctuary. "I was given clearance to see her by Mistress Firman." He winced inwardly at the way he pronounced it.

This Healer did not relinquish ground. "Patients need rest to recover, including yourself, Mr…?"

"James Potter," James offered.

The Healer looked taken aback by the name and before he could tell him to turn around and go back to his own bed, James firmly stepped forward. "I will only be a moment, Sir. Please."

For a moment, he was certain he'd lost the battle, but the Healer sighed in frustration. "You're likely to wake my other patients should we continue to argue like this. I have a feeling you won't go back quietly unless I let you pass."

James lifted his chin stubbornly and shook his head.

"Very well. But be warned, Mr. Potter. I shall not tolerate you aggravating my patient."

The Marauder side of James wondered just what would happen if he broke that rule, but he knew better than to chance it. He also wondered just how they were able to sound so threatening and decided that Matrons of a Hospital Ward were the scariest people to walk the face of the earth. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to have them at the front lines of the army. He had the fleeting thought of Toma's men retreating before them and he had to fight to keep a grin off his face.

When the man finally left him to his devices, James made a mental note to himself never to try this stunt again. His stress levels had elevated to the point where his head had begun to spin again. He took a moment to brace himself before setting out to look for Lily again.

When he finally found the correct partition, he slowly opened the curtains that surrounded her bed, fearing what he would see.

She was fast asleep, her brow knitted and whether it was in pain or in a nightmare, he did not know and he dared not wake her for fear of the Healers who hovered just outside her makeshift cubicle.

Instead, he slipped up to her bed to gaze down at her, wanting to be near her, even just for a moment.

He could not see the extent of her wounds because she was tucked in neatly under the coverlet. He made out bandages that wound upward toward her neck, but that was all. She lay face up, her red hair fanned out over her pillow. It had been brushed out so that it looked like silk.

She was okay. She was alive.

Tears came to his eyes, unbidden, and James swiped them away, glad no one was in the room to see his moment of weakness.

He hadn't meant for her to be directly involved like this. He was supposed to protect her but he had failed, putting her, quite literally, into the line of fire.

His fear at seeing her hurt, possibly killed, had been crushing. It had been the same as when he'd seen her fall from the third floor railing several months ago. This time, however, he'd gone livid and had wanted one thing.

Revenge.

James slowly glanced down at his hands, turning them so that his palms were up. They had been washed clean, but somehow, he could still feel blood coating them. He could also feel the muscles in his arms throbbing as a painful reminder of the exertion he'd expended in the fight.

A fight that, come to think of it, he didn't remember very clearly.

The faces of those dead people sprang to mind and he involuntarily took a step back, knocking into a chair that was placed close to Lily's bedside. It screeched in protest and he snapped his mind away from the frightening image, to reach out and steady the metal thing from crashing to the floor.

It brought Lily awake and James glanced fearfully behind him, preparing himself for the Healers to burst through the curtains in all their righteous anger. When nothing happened, he glanced back at her, certain she could hear his heartbeat.

For a minute, Lily looked confused, but then, she caught sight of him and relaxed slightly.

Cautiously, James moved forward again, offering her a small smile.

She returned it, although he could trace pain in it and he felt the guilt twist itself anew.

Where did she get her strength? He marveled at her courage, at her ability to let him walk toward something so dangerous every time. He could never be as strong.

She started to open her mouth, maybe to say his name, but James put a finger up to his lips to signal her to silence before leaning in to press a reassuring kiss to her forehead. He wanted to say so much to her, but he couldn't so he knelt next to her instead, their eyes locking and holding.

Slowly, her hand came up to trace its way to his arm, toward his chest and up the back of his neck to his nape. Her fingers gently ruffled the hair there in a tender fashion and he knew no words were needed.

0-0-0-0-0

He was dead.

Lily couldn't believe it.

Dane had always been the strongest, the person everyone had looked up to and respected. The most invincible, and yet…

Beside her, Peter collapsed into tears and Sirius stepped up to offer him comfort.

Remus stood a little ways off along with Severus, who hid his features with his long greasy hair. Sir Quentin, Vincent and Bourneau were present as well, next to Sir Cyath, hanging their heads in respect. Sir Lucius knelt next to the body, mouth moving in what looked like prayer.

Last, but not least, was James, whose face was so pale that Lily feared he would faint again. He'd fainted on the way back to his bed just a few hours ago and she snaked her hand in his for support just in case. She could feel him shaking through his crushing grip – the only sign of grief he was willing to show.

"His Household will have to be informed," Sir Lucius was the first to speak. Were those tears in the man's voice? "And his Branch…and his friends…and his Lady…" he trailed off, to swallow against what must have been a lump in his throat. Everyone averted their gazes in an attempt to give him some sense of dignity.

Dane's hands had been folded over his chest and the blue cape he'd worn so proudly as an Elite was draped halfway over his body. His legs were covered with the crest of his Household, an intricate pattern that twisted and danced over a shield and a cross. If anything, he looked to be sleeping and for a fleeting moment, Lily believed all she had to do was shake him to get him back.

The hall's doors being thrown open caused the small group to turn.

In strode Lorien, his blue cape trailing out behind him. He looked harried, far from his usual composed self. His hair had been undone from its usual tail, left to fall about his shoulders in waves, lending a sort of wild air to him. His voice rang out in the vast chamber. "Where is he?!" His steps faltered when he caught sight of the body on the floor but he recovered quickly, doubling his speed. They parted for him as he came forward, wanting to give him passage.

Lily watched through her tears as the Ravenclaw Elite fell to his knees next to the body of his best friend and checked for a pulse.

Lucius spoke softly and gently. "Sir Lorien… there is nothing more we can do…"

In response, Lorien clutched at Dane's body, desperately. "Dear Lord…it's not…it's not possible…!"

"He has passed…" the Slytherin Elite murmured.

Lorien gasped a breath and let out a strangled cry that didn't sound human. It was filled with such grief that Lily had to turn away from the scene and bury her face in James' jacket sleeve.

For a long time, all that could be heard was Lorien's sobs as he hugged the body of his fallen friend to him and mourned.

It was a while before Lily realized that her shoulder was hurting fiercely but it was only because James had caught her up into a tight hug. She didn't care, welcoming the warmth that soothed the ache in her chest.

They'd lost too many people already.

She could feel hot splashes on her neck and she reached up as best she could to hug James back as he wept.

Master Dumbledore joined the party shortly afterward, gliding in soundlessly. His hat was slightly askew owing to the way he'd rushed to get there. He sounded winded when he offered quietly, "He was a good man. One that did his duty well."

A few of the men murmured assents and fell silent once more.

"Justice," Lorien hissed at last, brokenly.

The ferocity in his tone took everyone by surprise. His dark eyes were ablaze when he lowered Dane back to the floor. "I demand it!"

Dumbledore nodded once briefly. "It has been served," he assured him. "I think it only fitting if we bury Sir Dane before we deal with the other traitors. But first, Gentlemen and Lady, if we might clear the room," he nodded toward the doorway where a soldier was escorting Lady Chrissa in by the elbow, "for some privacy."

They reluctantly began to file out, leaving Lorien behind. Not one of them looked back for surely they would not be able to keep their composures if they did. Sir Lucius picked up his pace no doubt wanting to grieve without an audience and Severus hurried after him.

Remus and Sirius were stuck with the task of calming Peter down.

James stood by Lily just beyond the hall's doorway, unwilling to relinquish his hold on her hand, a faraway look to his eyes. She could tell that the man was still exhausted. Dressed down in a robe that belonged to the Hospital Ward of the Keep, he resembled a young boy who did not quite fit into the harshness of his surroundings.

She was about to suggest he go back to the Ward to get some rest when Master Dumbledore made his way out of the hall and called his attention. "If I may, Sir James."

James sounded slightly resigned. "Master." He absently kneaded Lily's hand as if in apology before disentangling himself from her.

As he walked away from her, she wrapped her arms around her middle, ignoring the way her wounds throbbed at the motion.

If the gunshots she had taken for Peter had been fired accurately, she could have been lying there right next to Dane. As it was, she'd been spared from any serious damage. The bullets had hit her in the left upper arm and the right collar bone, missing any vital organs.

Dane had been shot when she'd been busy trying to get to Peter during their scuffle with the traitors. If she hadn't moved, he would have been spared. He would have been right here along with everyone else… "This shouldn't have happened."

"It's not fair, my Lady, to blame yourself so," Sirius came up from behind her, his steps cautious as if afraid to scare her or send her into hysterics. His tone was knowing and quiet.

Lily turned wide wet eyes to him. "Isn't it?" she asked, her lip quivering as more tears trailed their way down her cheeks. She couldn't help sounded accusing, as if daring him to contest the real question she was asking.

Isn't it my fault?

He hesitated under her smoldering glare but he never backed down. "No, it's not."

She had trouble believing him.

"I'd rather you pin the blame on those who were responsible," he continued, staring at her hard.

"Toma," she said, stiffly.

"Indeed."

Lily suddenly felt small and lost. "Sir Sirius…I can't do this." And she meant it. The war. The leading. The decisions. And…she watched James' broad back as he walked down the hall with Master Dumbledore.

Her mind pictured him on the floor instead of Dane, hands resting over his chest in what looked like peaceful slumber.

Something stirred within her and she was disgusted at herself for it.

Relief.

Relief that it hadn't been him.

How could she be so selfish?

It could still happen. And if it did, then…she didn't want to be a part of it.

Yes.

She was unreasonably selfish.

Sirius' eyes widened slightly as he caught her meaning. Lily knew he would. He always seemed to know what she was thinking.

"Lady, don't say that."

Unable to bite back her sob, she fingered the chain around her neck and tugged, feeling the clasp break. "I'm so sorry," she told him. She held out the flower pendant and chain to him. "I can't..."

"But Lily-"

She shook her head to dissuade him from any more protests.

Someone, take this responsibility from me.

His fingers finally curled over hers, pressing them back around the beautiful piece of jewelry. "It is yours," he said, simply.

Her choice.

Her burden.

She fisted the necklace, angry at his refusal to help and pounded his chest with it. "I hate you!" she said, viciously.

"No you don't."

She hit him again, but this time, with only half the resolve. Her hand shook when she realized she was being childish. Sirius was right: she had to get mad at those who had brought all these problems, not those who were trying their best to hold things together.

And now, her necklace was ruined. She sniffed in frustration. "I want someone to fix things," she growled, petulantly.

Sirius smiled and let her hit him again. "Well…you're the one who broke it."

Her confidence.

Her determination.

Through her tears, Lily chuckled. She could always trust Sirius to make her feel better, to understand her like no one else would. For good measure, she punched him once more and she heard him mirror her laugh.

His eyes sparkled as he bent down to give her a kiss on her cheek and set her back. With an embroidered handkerchief (most probably from Celena), he wiped her cheeks. Then, he fingered a lock of her hair meaningfully before turning back to Remus and Peter, who had been watching the whole exchange, no doubt thoroughly confused.

In a painful reminder of their losses, Lady Chrissa's wails of anguish echoed down the hall.

To Be Continued…


AN: Okay. Before you all get mad at me, let me just say that I regretted Dane's death. I didn't plan it. I also didn't plan for Lily to get shot. But things happen and when you're inspired, the story takes a life of its own. If anyone was confused by the ending of this chapter, I apologize. The next chapter should be a mess of strategies, love issues and action. That's my intent, anyway. I hope it happens and soon! Inspire me again with your awesome reviews!

Thanks for reading,

-P.P.V.V.