Disclaimer: The Standard Disclaim applies…

AN: Oh…my…oh my gosh…you are all so awesome, I don't know what to say. Thank you for your encouraging words; either to inspire me to finish this story, or in my life endeavors. I am so touched, I literally got tears in my eyes. This story has hit over 1,000 reviews even with the way I am so slow to update (sorry about that, again, by the way). Anyway...This is a cause to celebrate.

That said, here's the next chapter! Ta~!


James said, "We have a plan, Lily. In order to take down Toma, we must do so in a manner that he doesn't expect. That is why I agree with Master Dumbledore: we must switch to the tactic of stealth in order to defeat him."

Unable to stand his vagueness any longer, Lily demanded, "What are you trying to say?"

James quietly responded, "We will be sending in one man to do it."

And now Lily knew exactly what he was hinting at. Her grip on the railing slackened in her incredulity. " Are...are you…are you mad? You're willing to throw away your life? For what? The chance to be hailed a hero?" she sneered the last word.

"People are dying, Lily!" James snapped back. "This war has gone on for far too long. I just want to end this. I thought you would support me."

"Are you out of your mind?" Lily demanded. "How can I support you knowing that you are walking into a battle you are going to lose?"

"I would not wish anyone else this danger. Not after everything they've already been through."

What a hypocrite.

It wasn't as if he had been sitting back and relaxing while everyone else had been doing all the work. If anything, he was more worn out than any of them. What made him think that he was in a better position to handle the stress?

Frustration built in her again. "Oh, James…" Lily sighed. "I don't want to argue any more. I can't take this right now." Why couldn't he understand her?

Or…what if it was her?

Was it because she didn't understand him?

Chapter 33

- Confidence -

The soldiers stood in straight rows, lined up according to rank and division, all of them watching the procession ahead of them in somber silence. Coffins wound through the city, accompanied by the slow beat of shuffling footsteps and a sad melody that was performed by a group of trumpeters. At the head of the column was Sir Cyath, who had once again taken control over his Hold and its members.

What was left of them anyway.

There were many that had fallen in this war.

Those whose bodies they could not recover were being honored by torch bearers who followed the line. They were dressed in brown and gray robes, their cowls pulled up to hide their faces.

The sense of loss was overwhelming, unbearable. It worsened when the crying began. The mourning mixed in with the haunting tune, like unintelligible lyrics that everyone understood.

The Commander occasionally reached out a hand to comfort someone in the crowd but he didn't stay for long, continually leading the march onward toward the pyres that had been prepared in the middle of the city.

Up on the ramparts of the main barracks, Peter stood with the rest of his friends, watching, eyes trained on one particular coffin bearing the crest of House Mactavish. He swallowed around a lump in his throat as he remembered the man who had always been so strong and sure; so selfless. He had become the diversion so that Peter could escape, and the boy saluted him for that. The unfortunate thing was that many more would do so for his sake, and willingly. The thought was depressing.

He was distracted when Lily stepped onto the balcony to join them. She stood a bit hunched over, most likely due to her injuries. Despite the fact that she'd been asked to rest as much as possible, she looked tired and pale with dark rings under her eyes. She looked anything but rested, in his opinion. She wore a loose-fitting, drab, gray cotton dress that had most likely been borrowed from the Barrack's Mat. As an Elite, she usually donned the customary uniform of slacks and coat, so it must be confessed that the dress she now wore made Peter do a double-take. It had been quite some time since he'd last seen her in anything remotely feminine.

He schooled his expression and waved slightly to welcome her, moving over a bit to make room between himself and James so she could stand there if she so chose.

Instead of heading their way though, Lily paused, raising one hand up to her brow to shield her eyes against the glare of the sun. Then, she gave Peter a small, watery smile and a brief dip of her head before surprising him by turning to walk in the opposite direction. She proceeded to plant herself beside Sirius and Remus to watch the ceremony below.

Peter did not miss the way James lifted himself out of his slouch against the wall to regard her. As she moved toward the other side, he returned to his original position - folded arms resting against the ledge, acting as if he didn't care that she'd decided to avoid him.

This entire nonchalant display was enough to confuse the young prince into momentarily forgetting his grief.

Peter met Sirius' gaze and knew that he was not alone in noticing that something was wrong. When he opened his mouth to comment on it, Sirius gave the slightest shake of his head. Wisely, the prince bit his tongue and turned back to the ceremony.

His curiosity would have to wait.

In the meantime, he listened to the echo of voices below and braced himself against the ledge as his earlier sorrow returned with a vengeance.

It was going to be a long morning.


Everything was going wrong.

The Academy had fallen apart.

The Elites were fewer than ever and the Philologi disbanded.

The country was basically in ruins.

What good was it being in the position she was in if she couldn't do anything?

James had been right there and yet, they had never been further apart. Granted, she had been the one avoiding him as much as possible over the last couple of days, but that was only to cool her head and try to come to terms with his mission. She hated arguing with him, but sometimes, he just made her so angry.

Lily wiped another tear away. It seemed that that was all she was doing lately and the funeral rites hadn't done anything to help better her mood.

Her frustration mingled with her despair and her physical pain. She wondered how much longer she could handle the stress. The other Elites were probably taking it much better than she was and truth be told, she wasn't feeling confident enough to present herself to anyone in her present state.

What good was an Elite who was bending under pressure?

Surely, the King wouldn't need someone like that.

Maybe she really was in over her head…

She swiped away more tears, scowling at how pathetic she was. Lily Evans, the first female Elite, hiding from the world and breaking down: what would the others say if they saw her wallowing in her self-pity?

Just as she thought that, the door to the room she had stolen into opened, and Lily jumped. She scrubbed guiltily at her face to remove any signs of her tears.

"Oh…pardons…" came the immediate response upon seeing her. Then, "…Lady Lily…?"

It was Pavel.

Her stomach tightened at his voice. How absolutely mortifying. She hadn't wanted anyone to see her moment of weakness, especially not a member of the Academy.

She hastily got up from her seat. "I'm sorry!" Her voice croaked and she mentally cursed at it. "I didn't think anyone would need the room…"

His smile was reassuring. "There's going to be a brief discussion in here," he said. "I'm a little early."

She sounded nervous as she asked, "Discussion?"

He let himself into the room fully and slowly moved toward the tables that were set up in a blocky half circle in the center. The area came complete with a small podium at the front – a makeshift boardroom of sorts. "Yes. A few delegates have been talking about sending us back to Russia. But there's also argument about how it is dangerous to do so, because we aren't sure of the King's stand."

Lily reached out to steady herself against a window sill, glad that he was purposefully averting his gaze to give her some measure of privacy as she tried to pull herself together. When she was certain her voice wouldn't tremble, she asked in disbelief, "You think your King is collaborating with Toma?" He shrugged and leaned a hip against one of the larger tables in the room, crossing his arms. "I doubt it…but Toma has managed to convince some of the army to follow him. Who knows what lies he's whispered to the King?"

People were dying - people she knew had died - and it was all because of that monster. And now, because of him, James would be marching to his death.

Her heart twisted in her chest at the reminder and she clenched her fist. She wasn't the type to hate someone, but Toma certainly stirred that emotion from her.

"Are you…all right?" the hesitant question brought her back out of her brooding and Lily quickly wiped at her eyes again, in embarrassment. He was looking straight at her, now, worry written all over his face.

"I-I just needed a moment…" she stuttered.

He nodded, sympathetically. "It's understandable. Everyone is allowed to mourn when tragedy strikes. And with the war getting worse, you are more than justified to have time to yourself."

"It seems like there isn't an end in sight," Lily agreed, sadly. "I just feel so powerless. I'm an Elite, but I can only stand on the sidelines. People don't want to listen to me."

"Well…if…if you ever feel the need to talk to someone…I am always here," Pavel offered, clumsily. Then, he seemed to backpedal and deflate. "But you already have Sir James for that, don't you?"

At the mention of his name, Lily lowered her gaze. "We're in a fight," she admitted.

Pavel made a small hum of surprise and Lily took that as her invitation to spout off the feelings she had bottled up inside. "I don't understand why he needs to prove himself to people. Is it male ego? Is it a need for a sense of adventure? The promise of people praising him and hailing him as their savior?" the words were tumbling from her mouth as her frustration built again. "He is willingly going to put himself in danger. Of course I'd be upset! Who wouldn't be? He'd be crazy if he thought I would just smile and nod and send him off with flowers and well-wishes. I'm so worried that I can't think straight. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I can't concentrate on getting better when I know he will get hurt again. Or worse, killed."

She paused when she realized that her voice had risen and that she was gesturing angrily as she spoke. In her excitement, her hair had fallen over her shoulder and she sighed, hooking it behind her ear. Pavel watched her silently and she felt herself blush under his scrutiny. "…I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump my frustrations on you."

He gave her an encouraging smile and her blush deepened. He really was handsome. She remembered thinking that when she'd first laid eyes on him. Or correction, when he had first laid eyes on her. "No. I did say I would listen to whatever you had to say – even though I cannot imagine what Sir James is thinking leaving you behind yet again."

She looked away and gave a short laugh. "You must think that I'm such a selfish person, huh?"

He shook his head. "Of course not. There is nothing wrong with wanting your gentleman friend by your side."

She absently began to twirl the flower pendant around in her fingers. "He means to do it alone," she told him, at last. "He doesn't want anyone else getting involved…"

"The 'knight in shining armor' that always thinks of everyone else except himself," Pavel said, with a teasing lilt to his voice.

That got a small smile from her. "I know," Lily said, and admitting it allowed just a bit of her pain to go away. "It's his nature and I love that about him." She stopped playing with the pendant, fisting it instead. She couldn't fault James for wanting what was best for the country. It was about more than feelings, after all. It was about more than just her. "I just wish…" she trailed off when she heard voices and footsteps echoing in the hallway just beyond their room – the delegates would be there, soon. She turned to him and finished with a quiet, "I just wish he thought about me, too…that for once he would choose me."

Shaking herself out of that line of thought, she shrugged the shoulder that was not injured, resignedly. "Anyway, he didn't. His duty comes above all else. I should have known that, too." She moved toward the door, intent on leaving before the others arrived. If delegates were involved, then no doubt her father was amongst them and she was hard pressed not to let him see her in her current state of distress. It would only cause him more worry and she knew that everyone had enough already to worry about.

"Sir James doesn't know how lucky he is to have you," Pavel said, his tone tinged with disgust. Before she could leave, he demanded, "You once told me that you didn't like the paths that he chooses, but that you would support them all the same. Has that changed?"

Pondering that, Lily shook her head. "I want to support him…I really do…up until now, he's always returned to me. But if he does this mission, he won't come back. If he goes alone, he'll die and I won't be able to bear it."

He sighed and gave her an apologetic bow of the head. "My Lady. If you were offended by my statement, then please know that I did not mean to upset you. I always seem to, and it is never my intention. And…I know you've made your decision, but I can't help but worry about you. I…I can't quite shake you from my thoughts, just yet."

He was so painfully honest that Lily thought it was endearing. She nodded and slowly eased the door open. She wanted to leave as quickly and quietly as possible - she felt she had been humiliated enough for one day, thank you very much. "Don't worry about me, sir. I'll be fine. It's really James you should worry about. He's the one looking for a fight."

She left Pavel standing in the middle of the room to contemplate her words.


"So, are you going to tell us what you are up to, or do I have to drag it out of you?" Sirius' question was unexpected and James slowed to a halt. The Marauders were walking toward the Dining Hall to grab an early dinner together.

Peter, on James' other side, looked up from his thoughtful examination of the floor. His sandy-brown hair had grown longer over the time he'd been hospitalized that he had to shake it out of his eyes when he peered up at them.

To James' left was Remus, who hadn't noticed that they had stopped walking until he was already a few paces ahead. He too, paused to glance back at them.

Sirius waited, folding his arms , but James didn't meet his gaze.

"It's…complicated…" he started. "I'd rather not talk about it."

When he made to move forward again, Sirius reached out to block him. "I would rather you did. A certain Lady to whom we are both in acquaintance does not seem very happy with you."

The muscle in James' cheek twitched, a sure sign that he was not pleased with the way his friend was persisting. Usually, the man knew when to drop it, but he seemed to be of a different mind today.

Remus took a step back toward them, intent on being the peace-keeper. "Sirius, perhaps - "

"No, Remus," Sirius ordered, curtly. "I'm sorry, but I cannot stand by and pretend as if everything is fine when it isn't."

To James, he said, "Lady Lily is clearly avoiding you. Now," he slowly let his arm drop away, "I know you to be an upstanding lad; one that would never purposefully make a Lady cry. I also know that you can be rather self-righteous. So, either you have become lax in your manners, or you have decided on doing something foolish." He let his tone rise at the end, indicating a question. "Or both," he added, on an afterthought.

James glared, his nostrils flaring slightly at the accusatory remarks. He opened his mouth to retort, but the telltale clack of footfalls alerted him to the fact that they were about to become party to some more company.

The four friends turned as one to see Lucius Malfoy walking toward them, the Lady Narcissa hanging off of his arm. As they drew level, the four friends gave stiff nods to him and smart bows to his companion.

When the formalities had been taken care of, Lucius drew back his cape and tossed it to the side with a flick of his wrist. The very action was haughty enough to set James to clenching his teeth and that, in turn, set the muscle in his cheek to twitching again.

"Sir James, I heard tell of your recent rise to inheritance. Might I congratulate you, belatedly?"

James bit back a snarky reply and replied, "Thank you."

"And also, might I congratulate you on your most recent promotion?"

Narrowing his eyes, James said, "Word travels fast. I had thought certain things were meant to be kept private."

Chin lifted in a way that was just irritating, Lucius favored him with a small nod. "Certain things," he agreed.

Peter finally spoke, "Then, let certain things be kept that way."

The message was clear. Lucius curled his upper lip slightly but had no choice but to dip his head in acknowledgement to that command.

"Hiding behind connections is poor sport to avoid confrontation," he addressed James, now not hiding his hostility. Watching James' face contort in bridled anger, he continued: "As is hiding behind one's injuries to avoid duties. Do tell your Lady that when it should please her, we Elites are ready and waiting for her to return to hers. We, of course, wish her all the best in her recovery."

Back straightening, James bristled at the insinuation. Peter, at first dazed by it, took to glaring at his cousin. How someone could be so infuriating with so few words exchanged was beyond them, but Lucius had the act down to an art.

Seeming to enjoy the way he'd rustled them all up, Lucius leaned forward slightly, turning his sneer on Peter. "I hope my lord has thanked her appropriately for her service to the Crown. It's good to know the commoners do their part when forced to."

Clearly the man was in a rather spiteful mood. Perhaps it had been the funeral rites that set him off. Or perhaps he was just a nasty person in general. James was not willing to think it was anything but the latter. That jibe was outright offensive and he swore he was starting to see red. In his peripheral vision, he could see Sirius practically vibrating in anger. If it weren't for Remus holding him back, James would have sworn Lucius would be sporting a very black eye for all his snide remarks.

Even Narcissa seemed to be taken aback because her eyes uncertainly shifted back and forth between the group and Lucius. She was wise to keep her mouth shut because none of them were feeling particularly forgiving at the moment.

Giving them all a mocking smile and an equally mocking bow, the Slytherin Elite glided away, leaving the Marauders standing in disbelief, watching him leave.

When he had disappeared, Peter burst out, "What a dreadful thing to say! I ought to have…to have…" he cast about for something to add but settled on making a fist in one hand and smacking it into his other, open palm.

The gesture was so unlike Peter that James had to fight back a smile. Instead, he let out a breath and shook his head. "I'm afraid Sir Lucius has an ego that is too big to beat out of him, my lord."

"To say that about Lady Lily!" Peter huffed, "It's unforgivable."

"Agreed," Sirius murmured. "She doesn't deserve to be treated so unkindly." James knew that that statement was directed just as much to him as it was to Lucius. "I won't pry, but you also know me not to stand by idly when a woman is upset. I don't know you to do so either, so Lady Lily's distress warrants some sort of concern from me." He eyed his friend, whose right hand had taken to unconsciously gripping the weapon by his waist.

"I'll thank you to stay out of our business," James snapped. It caused Peter to shrink away a bit – fights between Sirius and James were few and far between but when they did, it could get quite heated.

Sirius shot James a cool look. "It becomes my business when your Lady friend comes to me and demands me to be the middle person."

This caught James off-guard. "W-what?"

Sirius' eyes flashed. "She was so willing to blame herself for Sir Dane's death. She probably feels that whatever disagreement you are having right now is her fault, too."

When James opened his mouth to protest, Sirius held up a hand to stop him. "I know every couple has their spats. But, so help me, James, if you hurt her any further, we'll have some words, you and I."

The argument was giving James a headache. Why on earth would Lily feel guilty? She had done nothing wrong. She probably felt terrible because Dane had been fatally wounded in battle, but that hadn't been her fault. She had nearly been killed herself! If anything, James was the one to blame: not only had he been the one to push her into the line of fire but he had used Dane as a cover to get to their enemies.

What a despicable person he was.

And here he was, breaking Lily's heart by leaving her alone again.

All her life she had been left behind and she had told him so when he'd asked for her to stand by him as his Lady. He realized how selfish he really was and once again, admired her for putting up with someone like him.

Defensiveness leaving him, he hung his head. "I never meant to hurt her," he pleaded. After Lily's righteous anger at him, he realized he desperately didn't want his friends upset at him as well. "…It really is complicated," he tried, when Sirius did not drop his rigid stance.

Remus asked, "Are we not friends? You have always entrusted us with your thoughts before."

James flicked his sleeve, anxiously. He had never meant to make his friends feel like he never trusted them. "Of course we are and of course I will," he said, feeling like he was floundering.

"-Good," a voice interrupted their conversation, quite rudely.

For the second time that day, the Marauders turned as one to face yet another person who decided to grace them with his presence, his stride long and purposeful. They had not noticed him in the heat of their disagreement. He halted a good foot or so away from them. "I'd like an explanation, too."

Pavel looked angry enough that James' automatic response was to put his hand to his weapon. He was so taken aback by the man's demand that he wondered whether it was the Russian's habit to overlook manners or if he just didn't care for them. "Sir?"

"Lady Lily told me you what you are planning," the man growled.

James blinked. "She did?"

Pavel waved his hand impatiently. "She made no specific mention but it was easy enough to put two and two together. And, for the record, I want to tell you just how opposed I am to your brilliant idea."

Sirius narrowed his eyes at that, no doubt annoyed at the thought that he had not been filled in on any details when others supposedly had been. If there was one thing he hated, it was being kept in the dark. He was going to give James what-for when his friend put his hands up in a gesture of defeat, "Very well, I will tell you, but…let me forewarn you that you may not like what you hear."

"I don't already," groused Sirius, through gritted teeth. "But go on, sir: I am prepared for the worst."

James took a deep breath, murmured, "I don't know about that…" and began.


The soldiers were all talking at once. Some stood up to make their points, as though standing would give them an advantage over those who were seated. It certainly drew the eye but it didn't make the argument end.

It was not pretty, discussing execution for treason.

It had been decided that the trials would last no more than a few hours, since the men convicted had gone against the Crown and had been witnessed by many. It was those who had been under their command that were currently being heavily disputed over.

Some believed that they were innocent, while others put forward that they were guilty because the views of their commanding officers must certainly have been passed down to them. The officers who had proven themselves loyal were now discussing whether a punishment should be dealt to the traitors or if they should get the chance to plead their innocence.

The disagreement continued to grow in intensity, and James swept his gaze toward where Master Dumbledore stood, listening. He wondered if the man would say anything or if he would simply watch to see which argument would win. It would be just like him, the boy thought bitterly, to let the others do the fighting and then move on with the winning side.

That was what the Optivi did, after all, right?

No, he couldn't think that way. It wasn't fair to.

Dumbledore had willingly put himself into harm's way to save his students during the first infiltration, after all. Who knew what had been done to him when he'd been in captivity?

He abruptly remembered Moody's wooden leg and glass eye. That man had suffered and lost a lot, too, in his days as an Optivus.

No, they had thrown themselves into the fray and had done what was necessary to to protect the King and his country – even if it meant trading morality, loved ones or even limbs. He knew they would sacrifice whatever they had to for the sake of the Kingdom and its people. He couldn't look down on that.

It wasn't for glory. After all, he was willing to sacrifice himself with his latest mission.

"I'm fighting so that others don't have to," James had told Sirius and the others.

His friends had gotten understandably upset when he laid out his plans for them. Peter had been against his going alone, and so had Pavel. Sirius had cautiously said that if James felt it was his duty, he would not argue, but he would feel better if his best friend brought back-up.

To the surprise of all, Pavel had instantly volunteered. He'd argued that the best way to get past guards was to listen to their intel, or if it came down to it, they could try to bargain their way through. With no knowledge of the Russian language, James would be hopeless at either strategy.

James was more than chagrined when Pavel insisted that Aleksey come as well. If Toma was still loyal to the King of Russia, then he would have to bend under the Prince's command, as would Toma's men.

Pavel's reasoning was so sound that James could not refute it.

Of course, his friends were more than willing to come along and help, but he couldn't risk their lives life so carelessly, especially not Peter's. Peter was the last game piece and he needed to be protected at all costs. If they lost him, they would lose the war. The other Gryffindors were charged with keeping their Prince safe. If James failed in his mission, at least Peter would be out of harm's way.

As if those issues were not enough, there was still the rift between him and Lily to contend with.

After their fight, James hadn't been able to concentrate on much of anything. He hated that they had argued. He hated that he had let her down yet again. But while she'd made a good point - there were others who could do the job - it wasn't that simple.

Of course there were capable soldiers with more experience who could do this mission.

He just didn't trust them.

He didn't know who to trust nowadays.

No one did.

This very meeting was being held because of that.

A few men in the room had taken to yelling at each other and James finally forced himself to pay attention. He put his chin in his hand and propped it up onto the table with his elbow. The movement caused his sword to clang against the metal chair of his neighbor and the gentleman looked up at him for the first time. No doubt he was probably wondering what on earth James was doing sitting in on this meeting.

As a matter of fact, the moment the former Elite had stepped into the room, he'd received more than a few curious glances.

James was not up to being scrutinized or frowned down upon – he had been enduring the latter, as higher officers often got quite conceited. If anyone asked, Sir Cyath himself had asked James to be present, but that didn't make him feel less conspicuous.

"If we plan on going against Toma, we need all the manpower we can get," a tall, dark man named Sir Trevil reasoned, his voice a rich baritone that carried over the other voices. It caused James' neighbor to resume his focus on the meeting. "Executing everyone without being sure of their real loyalties would be a waste."

"I would rather be certain of the loyalties," Sir Alton, a muscular soldier, shot back. "I want to trust the person who is covering my six."

"Unless Veritaserum becomes something more than a myth, there is no possible way to be certain," Trevil argued.

Again, the arguments spawned smaller conversations, until the room was buzzing with agitated voices all clamouring to be heard.

James spoke before his brain could catch up to him. "So, let us make it seem as if they will be executed," he proposed. All eyes turned to him and the room fell into a tense silence, wolves waiting to tear into a lamb. He felt his shoulders hunch automatically. He hadn't meant to give his opinion or draw any more attention to himself than was necessary. With all the glares pointed his way, he hurriedly sought to explain himself. "Men who are faced with death often tell the truth."

"Or lie through their teeth," Quentin countered. "They will offer you only that which you wish to hear. You would be no closer to the real truth. Under duress and their desire to survive, they will admit to anything. They will give up any names if it means sparing themselves."

James nodded his head in deference. "This is true, Sir. But I would rather not take judgement upon someone wrongly," he said.

Quentin glanced at the rest of the men assembled. "Then we are at an impasse, unless someone has another suggestion?"

Everyone exchanged looks with each other, but other than a few murmurs, nobody piped up. Perhaps they were tired of arguing because even those who had been so fervently giving their opinions earlier had taken their seats. Others were positioned much the same as James was, leaning over the table with their arms either crossed or propped up in some way as they waited for the final verdict. A few even looked bored - the meeting had gone on for quite some time.

Dumbledore spoke at last, seeing nobody else would. "There can be no mercy on the battlefield," he said quietly. And although it was addressed to the room, James felt as though the words were directed at him. He flinched, feeling that same helpless, incredulity he had had when Moody had spoken to him.

What sickened him the most was the way he had practically said those same words to Lily the night they had chosen to climb the Keep's walls. Yet again, he was reminded of his own merciless actions of killing thousands of people back at the Academy. He was disgusted with himself at how easily he could justify taking the lives of so many. It hadn't even been a battlefield; the people he had killed had not done anything to warrant death at the time. He was glad that no one was paying attention to him, because he almost gagged in an attempt to bite back the bile that rose in his throat. He forcibly pushed the feeling away and stood. "The innocent should not have to suffer on the behalf of those who are traitors," he said, stoutly. "No mercy should be shown on the battlefield but off it, we should show mercy when we are able."

He glanced around to see if anyone would contest him and was relieved to see a few people nodding their heads. He was surprised that Dumbledore dipped his head in acknowledgement as well. "You're right of course," the Master said, softly. "So, what do you propose we should do?"

This was a test.

It was as if all the people in the room were not present and it was just James and Dumbledore, talking about strategies like they used to back at the Academy. They had often debated about sensitive topics but in this instance, friendly back-and-forth was not a possibility. They didn't have the luxury of time now, nor the freedom to throw ideas out in the open willy-nilly without consequence.

People's lives were on the line.

James had made a promise to himself to keep his humanity in this war. Back at the Academy, Dumbledore had always stressed that that was important and he understood now, more than ever the value of life. He also understood how having power could corrupt and he was adamant not to be lured by it.

He lifted his chin and met his Master's gaze. "I suggest that we bring the Commanding Officers out and try them in front of their subordinates – let their soldiers be the jury. Those who believe they are guilty are clearly the ones who are not against the Crown. Those who stand firm with their Commanders and their treachery will share their fate."

Complete silence met him when he finished speaking and he waited for someone to shoot down his idea, or to at least refute it. After several seconds with no rebuttal, James nervously looked toward Sir Cyath, who wore a thoughtful expression. "Sir…?"

"Let it be as you have said," the Commander agreed, at last. "We will carry out the orders for tomorrow at sundown. If there is no opposition, gentlemen?"

Nobody offered another suggestion so Sir Cyath got to his feet as well. "Then, you are dismissed."

As everyone moved around him with low murmurs and many skeptical and incredulous looks his way, James met Dumbledore's gaze yet again. The twinkle in the old man's eyes and the small smile meant that he'd passed whatever assessment that had been lain out for him. James caught himself wondering if that had been the reason they'd included him in the meeting.

He got his answer when Sir Cyath passed him and clapped him on the shoulder once. "You did well, Sir James. I'm glad to be working with you in the Service."

"Thank you, sir," he murmured, and Sir Cyath left the room.

As Dumbledore slowly ambled after him, James stepped into his path. "Master, I will not be moved around like a piece in a game." And though he didn't mean it to, it came out as threatening.

The Master actually had the grace to look abashed, not quite able to meet his gaze and when he did, not being able to hold it for very long. "I didn't mean for it to seem like - "

"- I'm tired of being the pawn," James interrupted. "I know you mean well, but if you have given me this position, I will move in the way I see fit. On my terms, not yours."

It took a moment for Dumbledore to respond, but when he did, it made James feel a bit better. "You've grown up, Sir James. I am so proud." He repeated Sir Cyath's earlier action of clapping the boy on the shoulder but instead of letting go, he squeezed once and let it rest there. "Very well. You may do your mission the way you deem it best."

"Thank you, sir." James saluted. "I will do my best."

"I expect no less," the Headmaster said. "It's his life or yours."

When he put it that way, it made the mission seem much graver and more frightening.

There was no room for failure.

He suddenly realized why Lily had been so upset: only one of them would walk away from the fight ahead and he wasn't quite confident that it would be him.

His hands shook and his body broke out into a cold sweat as he thought about the impossibility of his task.

Good lord, what had he gotten himself into?

To Be Continued…

AN: Okay, everyone, I hope you enjoyed! I want to thank you for your constant support and your reviews. It means the world to me. And also, I want to thank my sister who really encouraged me to get this written and get it posted after she read through your reviews and the story, too. Without her, I would never have finished this chapter. (She also scolded me for always leaving you guys hanging.)
As I've told you all before, I have been very busy lately and hardly have time to write anymore, not to mention a huge lack of inspiration/motivation. But, I do promise you that I am trying my best to stretch my creative muscle again and get it active. Your reviews really help, I can't stress it enough. If you would be so kind as to leave me your thoughts on this chapter, I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks for reading,