A/N: I wrote this before Deathly Hallows came out, so I changed it up a little and posted it, mostly because DH has put me in a morbid, subdued writing mood. You'll notice that I gave another of the characters over to death, but I felt that it was only fair to him—you know?
Disclaimer: Like I've said. I'm not claiming book seven.
The land of the free, because of the brave.
I bit my lips, tears pricking my eyes. It wasn't supposed to have happened like this. The war… it shouldn't have touched us. I had just turned eighteen, for God's sake, and Oliver was hardly twenty-one. My duffle bag sat mournfully on the kitchen table of our flat, dimming the bright room. Now I was in Oliver's Quidditch-decked bedroom, watching him add the last to his own bag.
"It shouldn't be you," I blurted, unable to help myself from voicing the panic that was growing in my chest. "You're a Quidditch player! You shouldn't have to see the field of battle."
He didn't turn to face me, but instead zipped his bag. His eyebrows were drawn together in a tense, mocking way. "And what are you, Katie?" I pressed my lips together and turned my face away. He was right. We were both members of the Order, but I was the one training to be an Auror. "You're a child."
I couldn't even deny the accusation. Compared to the majority of the Order, I was a child. I'd hardly spent a year out in the real world. I've never used a hard curse. I've never seen someone killed. I've never killed anyone. Oliver, at least, had been on missions before—everyone had. He, and Fred, George, Alicia, Angelina, Bill, Charlie, Fleur—everyone.
And to them, I was a child.
I still shook my head. "I may be a child, but I was raised to be a fighter, Oliver. My parents were Aurors, and my brother. Voldemort's lackeys have taken my entire family from me. I was never going to be anything but an Auror. I took all the classes for it and everything. It's who I was supposed to be." He ignored me. "But you… you shouldn't have to be doing this. Quidditch has been your life since you were a boy. You don't have to deal with the darkness in the world. Please Oliver, I'm begging you. You're too innocent for all of this."
Now he stared at me in pure disbelief. "Too innocent? Do you hear yourself? I'm twenty-one! I've already been on missions. What—"
I cut him off. "This is different! This is an all-out war! And you are an innocent, Oliver Wood. You saw what Mum and Dad's deaths did to me! You saw what I was like when Brennan was killed. I can't bear to see you go through what I went through."
He gritted his teeth. "Then you should stay home, because I can only be hurt if something happens to you." The fight went out of me right then, and I collapsed on the edge of his bed, the air rushing out of my lungs as if someone had punched me. He came and sat beside me, wrapping his arms around me and talking into my hair. "I love you, Katie. Goddammit, I love you. But you have to understand that I need to fight for this. I need to be more than Oliver Wood, the Quidditch player. I know that this is going to be different than any mission I've been on, and I'm scared to death. I don't need you to be worried about me, though. I need you to focus on what you've been trained on. I need you to fight, and I need you to live. And when all of this is over, I need you to marry me."
His words didn't shock me. I suppose Oliver and I had always known that we would wind up together. I suppose that when all is said and done, we belonged in each others' arms. And I suppose that there was only one answer to give him.
I looked up into his face, and saw a dark sadness in his eyes. The battle had changed the both of us. I can hardly look in the mirror now, for fear of seeing the thick scar that runs diagonally across my face, from hairline to jaw. Easier to hide are the ones that mar both of my wrists—the ones that look like I had been manacled. Some days it makes me feel quite like Madeye, bless his soul.
Oliver carries no physical scars from our ordeal, but that means nothing these days. That battle slaughtered his innocence as surely as mine had been killed years ago. He's far too serious sometimes, and that was what I had been afraid of. I was supposed to be the serious one, and he the Quidditch Nazi.
Not that anyone can call him the Quidditch Nazi, these days. That was Fred and George's title for him. And sure, Fred was the one who died in battle, but could anyone really expect his twin to live long without him? That would have been a mockery of life itself.
The man before us said the final words, and Oliver gave me a gentle smile, then leaned down and kissed me. I kissed him back with a passion more fiery than I had yet to show him. When we parted, the smile reached his eyes.
Because in those moments, standing at the wedding altar with Oliver Wood, I had realized that we were alive, and we needed to start acting like it. The two of us turned to face our clapping friends. It was a small ceremony—just like we had wanted. The Weasleys—what was left of them—were there, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and Oliver's parents, and a few choice Gryffindors.
As we walked out, hand in hand, I knew that we had both come to the same hardened resolution. I could see it in his smile, in his eyes, in the way he held me. We had to live for those who had died.
And it was all because of the brave.
This is for Ben, 18, who was just deployed for Iraq. This is for Daniel, who is going to join the forces because 'if I don't do it, who will?' This is for the boy standing to my left just now, decked out in full desert camo, holding on to his cup of coffee and his laptop, staring defiantly at the world. This is for Blake, who just watched his best friend go off to war, and is using all of his angry passion for the better of the country by becoming a firefighter. This is for me, who will see several of my friends go to battle, and all I can do about it is keep safe the imagination of this country. And this is for all of the people like us, who watch and see and do. This is for the world, so that we may live in it.