AN: Here's a little piece I wrote for SIYE, where my penname is Drakir.
People often seem to forget the harsh realities of war, despite the fact that television has granted most of us the opportunity to realize that it's not just a bloodless or gore-less situation, but rather a plethora of tragic and horrifying events that leave those who fight emotionally scarred and bitter. So before you write another fairy tale-like story or tell of glorious wars, or even damn an obviously scarred soldier for keeping a war going, think on what really goes on in war.
Note: Takes place within the Technomantic world of WaW (World at War).
The old man watched with a weary eye as his family sat in the family's living room. He heard them bicker, snap, and accuse, and was rapidly growing weary of it. It was an argument he'd heard over and over again. He'd heard it in his youth, given it during his teenage years, and realized its foolishness in his adulthood. He was no stranger to it, and would scowl at whoever gave it in his presence, unless they were family. For he could not blame his family. It was in their blood, after all. His grandfather had done it. His father had done it. He'd done it, too. His family was simply made for it. But that didn't mean he was gullible or poetic about it. He found there to be nothing poetic about it, in fact. He'd led men, orchestrated strategies, executed plans, and driven armies to war. He had lied, maimed, and killed.
But he had sworn never to lie to himself.
He hated what he was good at.
He hated being good at war.
Of course, he hadn't always known he was good at it. In fact, when he was younger, he deluded himself into thinking he was scared of it, to the point where he truly did develop an aversion to fighting.
But he always felt its pull.
He fought constantly against his instincts to simply draw his wand and fire off curses. He deluded himself into rationalizing that his prowess in Defense Against the Dark Arts, unmatchable by his peers, was simply the result of hard work and discipline.
But he eventually began to realize what he tried to deny to himself.
It wasn't hard work, or discipline.
It was talent.
It was instinct.
And he hated it.
He even remembered the moment when he finally came to grips about his war-like nature. It had been in fifth year, after the skirmish at the Ministry. After trying hard to deny to himself that he'd actually felt thrilled during the fighting, he finally got his epiphany.
He was good at fighting.
In fact, he liked fighting.
He wasn't a war maniac, however. He knew there were limits–civilized limits, made to stop humanity's baser instincts from running wild and unleashing the full extent of its potential horrors.
So he kept to them, and again deluded himself into believing that since he was fighting for a cause, it was all right.
His second epiphany came during the end of his sixth year, when Dumbledore was assassinated.
He realized then that Dumbledore had been wrong. That his entire message of redemption and honourable fighting was way out of touch with reality.
War was total, absolute–war had no purpose other than to entirely consume and ravage the land and its people. War had no limits, no rules–you either died or lived.
And to live, you must kill or surrender.
And, as he realized that he wasn't about to bow down like some spineless dog, he was going to need to kill.
And so he became good at it.
Very good, in fact.
Indeed, he became so good that Voldemort began to pay more attention to him. He began to rate him a bigger danger than before.
So the attacks increased, and he killed some more. To the enemy, he became the byword for death.
And so they feared him.
That was years ago, though. Now, after years of fighting, Harry gazed on his family with a critical eye as his wife of 57 years, Ginny, sat impassively at his side, both watching the ramblings and snapping of their family.
Another Dark Lord had risen, and his family now wondered on the wisdom of letting the new generation enter the battlefield. Harry's grandson was arguing heatedly with his own son, who wanted to join the war effort while the boy's mother was weeping nearby. On the couch near the feuding family sat Harry's son, who looked at his own son with the same look as Harry; criticism–knowledge. Harry had marched to war. Harry's son, James, had gone to war. James' son, however, had not yet, but both he and Harry knew that James' son's christening in the flames of war would come soon. Now it was time for young Alexander, Harry's great-grandson, to join the ranks of Potter men and women who had gone to war.
And so Harry stood up slowly, aided silently by Ginny, as he looked at his grandson with a frown. Almost instantly, the man shut up as he watched the Potter Patriarch stand up. Even at age 77, Harry was still an imposing and awe-inspiring figure. He could still silence an entire room with but a look, or command attention with a single movement.
"That is enough, young Mathew," spoke Harry as his grandson stopped speaking in favour of listening to his wise grandfather.
Harry turned his attention to Alexander. "Alexander, why do you wish to join this conflict?" he asked softly. Nearby, James looked on with a knowing gaze on his face.
"Because it is the right thing to do, grandfather!" exclaimed Alexander, chest puffing up in pride, "The Light must triumph over the Darkness, or else the world is done for!"
Mathew made a move to protest but was quickly silenced by James' touch on his arm. Harry looked at Alexander critically.
"Such a grand cause it is, this Light, isn't it?" he asked softly. When Alexander nodded fervently, Harry asked then, "But what is the Light?"
Alexander looked on blankly, so Harry continued. "What does the Light represent, young Alexander? What does it mean?" he pressed on, "Is it righteousness? Justice? Honour?"
Alexander was about to nod and confirm this when Harry suddenly slammed down his cane on the marble ground. "It is nothing!" he shouted, making Mathew, Alexander, and Mathew's wife flinch. Ginny and her son's family were used to it by now.
"The Light is nothing!" repeated Harry, "It is an abstract idea–a myth! Made to lure in and recruit young men and women to another human being's own cause–his own agenda!" he berated his great-grandson, while Mathew looked on with an "I-told-you-so" look. Harry noted this and turned to Mathew then.
"But make no mistake, Mathew–Alexander will fight this war, even if you don't like it," he then said, making Mathew gape, while Alexander smirked. "It is in our blood. I went to war. My father went to war, as did his father, and his father before him. The Potters have been at the frontlines of every conflict this country has ever seen, always fighting for he whose agenda fit our ideals the closest."
Now it was Alexander's turn to look smug, and so Harry turned back to him. "But you must think it noble and courageous to fight a war, don't you, Alexander?" asked Harry. "You must have been told that dying and killing for a cause was noble, poetic, and/or worthy, haven't you?" Alexander meekly nodded, "Well here's something they don't tell you at those thrice be-damned rallies."
"War is hell. There is nothing glorious or poetic about it. Dying doesn't mean painless passing, nor does it mean an intact body for many of those who die. Limbs are strewn all over a bloody plain; screams of the agonizing and dying soldiers litter the field, haunting you with every step you take as you fight for your own survival. Enemies and allies alike beg for mercy and curse to high heaven as they lie on that blood-soaked field, wondering, 'Why me?'"
"Courage fails you as you watch another man's arms and legs be blown apart by spells, or by more physical means. You scream in horror as your long-time friend beside you suddenly has his head explode as you storm an enemy safe house or lair. All the time, you wonder why you're still alive, asking yourself why you couldn't just die like the rest of them; you begin to suffer from guilt–deluding yourself that you had a voice in their death; that you could have made it all change, only to later realize that you really didn't, and that drives you near to insanity."
"You live in dirty camps and humid tents. Hygiene gets tossed out of the window and cleanliness becomes nothing more than a cherished memory. Your nights no longer become precious to you as you lie haunted by the faces of men you've killed and seen die. The screams of other men around you, going through the same also rob you of your sleep. Eventually, you learn to do without, but even then, the dead's faces still come to you every now and then, demanding impossible things of you, or demanding you why them and not you."
"Killing also loses its taste. You begin thinking 'This is for the cause' and kill happily the enemy. But then you realize–every man you've killed, it was someone's brother, cousin, nephew, son, godson, father, lover, and/or husband. For every man you kill, there is someone who will now think of you as a murderer. You live with yourself seeing your hands tarnished with infinite blood that refuses to be washed off. You lie at bed in your happy home years later and still see their faces in your dreams and you wonder…when will it end?" ended Harry as Mathew, his wife, and Alexander looked on, pale faced. Beside Harry, Ginny was looking at her great-grandson calmly, nodding every once and again at Harry's rant, having been a party to such conditions during the Dark Wars.
For his part, James and his wife nodded as well, as both had lived through the subsequent Wizard Civil War.
Harry looked at his grandson's family critically before nodding and starting again. "But in the end, you find your reason to keep fighting," he said softly, catching their attention, "You find the reason for which you did not cast your wand and weapons to the ground and ran for it or surrendered. You figure out–it's not worth it dying for an abstract idea that you don't even know if your leader will fulfill in the future. It's not worth dying or killing for mere words or utopian ideals."
Harry put his gnarled hands on Mathew and Alexander's shoulders. "We fight, my beloved sons, for the safety of our family, for the safety of our friends. We do not fight to save the world, for it is too big to save. If you must fight, Alexander," he addressed the youth, "fight to protect your family and to give it a better world. Fight for the safety of your friends and, when the time comes, your lover and children,"
Harry turned to Mathew. "There is no honour in staying behind either, Mathew. All Potters have gone to war, and not always for honour's sake. We all feel the pull of the battlefield, and eventually give in. It's in our nature. You may be a stonewall pacifist, my boy, but can you honestly tell me you're happy? That you're not jealous, in some way, of Alexander's readiness to jump into a battlefield?" he asked rhetorically. "One thing you learn after fifty years of life, Mathew, is that there is no such thing as eternal peace. There will always be another battlefield, another war to fight. Before you advocate for peace, fight a war, so that you know what you are talking about."
With that, Harry turned back towards his seat and, with help from Ginny and James, sat back down in his armchair. Silence now permeated the room as Mathew, his wife, and Alexander pondered on the truth of Harry's words. They had been intense, full of experience and pained memories, and full of wisdom.
Nervously, Alexander looked up to his great-grandfather's eyes and, flinching slightly from the intense look in his eyes, asked, "Grandfather, why did you join the Dark Wars?"
Harry gave a soft smile as he looked beside him at Ginny, who smiled back. "I joined to protect the woman I loved, the family that took me in, and my friends who accepted me," he replied, before turning his gaze on Alexander. "But just as importantly, because I felt it was the right thing to do."