The rain pounded the roof of the tent so hard it sounded like a hail of Muggle marbles instead of raindrops. He huddled on his narrow pallet and pulled his blankets closer around him, trying not to think.
Footsteps passed by outside, audible only as squelching and, occasionally, swearing as the passer-by slipped and slid in the muck. Never very loudly, though; not only was it the middle of the night, but the Aurors had more important things to spend their energy on than swearing at the weather. Things like staying warm and alive were topmost on their lists.
Harry rubbed his face with both hands, sighing. Two years this war had dragged on since he'd left school--two years, while the bloody war of attrition on both sides ate slowly away at their ranks. For three or four months, it had looked like Voldemort might actually win, but then the tide began to turn; although the numbers of Death Eaters had grown, fueled by recruits from Europe, Canada, the States, and even Australia and New Zealand, Auror recruits had started appearing as well, from the same countries. And not only recruits--trained Dark Wizard fighters had come over to assist. It had become almost like the World War II of the wizarding world, complete with its Allies, its Axis--and its Führer.
I wonder what Ginny's doing tonight.
The thought passed through his mind before he could stop it, and he groaned, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyelids. He'd tried everything he could think of, up to and including exhausting himself utterly in the course of the day (not difficult under these conditions), but it was never quite enough. He might fall into bed and immediately to sleep, but at some point in the middle of the night he'd always wake, and his first thought would go to her. Where is she now? What's she doing? Is she safe? Is she happy?
He rolled onto his side and pulled the covers up over his shoulders. Lightning flashed, and the light from it caught the gold band on his left hand. Darkness fell again as thunder rolled, and the afterimage of both hand and ring were burned onto his retinas. Loneliness welled up in him, and he rubbed the ring with his right thumb, taking comfort in its smooth, cool solidity. They'd been married more than a year now--had married within a week of her finishing her NEWTs--and yet it felt as though it had happened to someone else; as though he'd attended a wedding as a guest, not as a groom. The Aurors had shipped him out to Belgium as soon as he'd reported back after their honeymoon, and he'd hardly seen her since.
We're losing so much time, he thought pensively, still rubbing the ring as though it were a talisman. There's so much we could be doing--so much I'm missing--so much lost that will never return. We can never have these days back.
If he weren't here, if he wasn't doing this, they might have a present, but without a doubt, there'd be no future. "Neither can live while the other survives"--that was a pretty clear statement. No way round that. And yet--there were times he felt as though the only thing keeping him even close to sane was the memory of Ginny's face. She made him whole in a way he couldn't begin to explain or describe.
If only he could stay alive just a little longer. This last push would take them to Voldemort; their intelligence was positive that the Dark Wizard was holding a line just beyond the next ridge. Despite the influx of new Death Eaters over the past month, the Aurors and their allies had been steadily eating away at Voldemort's ranks, until he was left with only a handful of followers anywhere near him. This was why Harry was trying so hard to sleep; he knew the next day would bring either death or success, and he was bound and determined that it should be the latter.
If only I can stay alive long enough to hear her voice again.
A spasm of unreasoning anger flashed through him. Why him? Why him, of all people? Why did the rise of the most evil wizard in memory have to happen just when he was born--and why did he have to be the one who would defeat him? Why couldn't he just turn his back on everything, walk away and take Ginny off to Alaska or Africa somewhere and live their lives away from the horror and the anguish and the pain?
Because you're the only one who can stop it, said a small voice in the back of his mind. Because if you don't, then he wins--and he'll chase you until the prophecy is fulfilled. He can't let you live... and if he can take all you care about in the meantime, that's even better as far as he's concerned.
And even more than that, if he walked away, he'd be condemning countless thousands, if not millions, to death and torture. Not just wizards and witches, either--Muggles by the barge-full would suffer because he chose to leave.
And so he couldn't. No matter how much he despised Fudge and his toadies, no matter how much he loathed the genial, we're-all-in-this-together, once-more-unto-the-breach heartiness of the generals, no matter how much he detested the outward superficiality of many of those who claimed to be fighting on his side, he could--not--leave.
Harry turned onto his back again, giving up the fight against thinking about Ginny. There was no winning it; he'd only keep himself awake for hours, forcing himself to think about anything other than his wife.
And besides... if this is my last night, it should be happy. Or as happy as one can be in this bloody place.
And so he let himself go and lost himself in the lush, voluptuous memories of her. Of the warmth of her body, lying entwined with his; of the satin of her skin beneath his hands; of the heavy fall of her beautiful red hair, shining in the sun; of the dazzling effect of her smile, especially when it was leveled at him; of the spark in her eye when she was angry, and the way she'd stand on her left leg, right knee cocked and hands on hips, to give him a piece of her mind; of the soft murmur of her voice and the surprising strength of her arms, holding him as he'd wept for those who would never return.
She was like sunlight pouring over his soul, illuminating the dark places and warding off the chill. He had never begun to know how he could be worthy of her. He still didn't.
He shifted again, and a chill breeze trickled under the covers and down the back of his shirt, making him shiver. The loneliness, the emptiness--they were worst at night, when there was no work to distract him and no friends to entertain him (such entertainment as there was in a bivouac of troops). And if he was lonely, amongst all that he must do during the day when he shifted character from Harry to The Boy Who Lived, how must she be feeling?
Helpless, he thought sadly. Hopeless. Terrified to read the papers; terrified not to. Sitting glued to the Wizarding Wireless Network for lists of casualties or for headlines: Boy Who Lived Dies in Battle. Working behind the lines to keep us informed out here, and unable even to see her husband for months. Unable even to know for certain which of her family is still alive.
If I can just get through tonight... all the fear will end, at least for me. One way or another.
He heard footsteps and voices coming down the path that had once been of dirt, and was now six inches deep in slick, goopy mud. For one moment he froze, startled, then forced himself to relax. This happened every time he let himself think of Ginny--he'd always imagine that he could hear her voice somewhere near. Sometimes it was another woman talking; more often than not, it was purely his imagination.
Yet more proof that I'm slowly losing my mind, he thought.
Another flash of lightning lit the white canvas walls of his tent, and he heard the squishing-sucking sound of footsteps stop beside him. "This is it," Kingsley Shacklebolt's voice said. "Wait a moment--all our nerves are on edge, and you don't want to surprise him." He raised his voice slightly. "Potter! You awake?"
"Yes," Harry said, a little sullenly. He wanted to go back to his daydreams.
"Clear up the attitude, lad; you've a visitor. Go on in," he added more quietly to whomever it is.
"I don't want a visitor!" Harry snapped, pulling himself into a sitting position and glaring at the tent flaps, which were clearly being untied from the outside. "Go away and I'll talk to you tomorrow. I'm trying to get some sleep."
The flaps opened and a small figure tumbled inside along with a deluge of water. The intruder quickly fastened the tent back together, then turned to face his glare with a calm expression on her freckled face. "And here I thought I could help you with that," she said.
Harry gaped. It wasn't--it couldn't be-- "Ginny?" he whispered, disbelieving.
She smiled, and he felt his heart suddenly ready to burst with too many emotions to name--love and shock and delight at her appearance; horror and terror that she would be here, where it was so dangerous. "I--you--how?" he stuttered.
"The Ministry gave me leave to come." The smile grew broader. "Actually, the Ministry realised that I was going to come, like it or not, so they gave me leave and had me escorted. Dad wasn't best pleased, but Bill and Charlie convinced him that I was going to do it anyway, so I might as well be as safe as possible while I did."
He barely heard what she said; he was too busy staring at her, trying to convince his brain that this wasn't just his imagination or a daydream gone overboard, and that he hadn't simply fallen asleep and dreamed it. He reached out slowly and brushed his fingers over her cheek, feeling the familiar satin beneath the raindrops. "You're here," he whispered, marvelling. "You're... you're really here."
She leaned forward and touched her lips to his, and suddenly the reality of it hit him like a freight train. He groaned deep in his chest and gathered her into his lap, kissing her hungrily even as she tried to devour him in turn. He retained just enough sense to cast Silencing charms before he lost control altogether.
It was much later when, wrapped warmly about each other, they spoke. "It's been so hard," Ginny whispered, her head on his chest. He tightened his arms around her. "So hard to make sense of our lives--of trying to survive together, while living apart. Trying to stay connected. Trying not to dwell on what I knew you must be doing, or on the fact that the requisitions that came across my desk may very well be going to you. I burst into tears every time I came across requisitions for medical supplies or--or body bags."
Her voice caught in the last sentence, and he tightened his arms around her. "I know," he murmured, stroking her hair. "I know. And every time there was an attack in or near the Ministry, or Diagon Alley, or in Devonshire, I was always terrified that it was you, or Hermione, or one of your family who'd been injured or killed. And I was doubly afraid that if one of you were hurt, I might not be told because they need me here so badly. They might not have told me what was going on if they thought it would 'distract' me."
She raised her head and looked at him, shocked. The storm had passed and the moon had apparently come out; a dim, pearlescent light shone through the tent walls. It was just enough to see by. "You don't think they'd have told you if I were killed?" she repeated.
"I doubt it." He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. "You don't know what it's been like out here, Ginny. We're so desperate for people... and they know I'm the focus of the Prophecy, they know that if I don't do it, nobody will."
"But you wouldn't leave!" she protested. "You'd never leave until Voldemort was dead! They know that!"
"I'm not positive they do," Harry said.
"Well, I know it," she said defiantly. "It's why I let you go in the first place. You couldn't have lived with yourself if you hadn't done what needed to be done to keep the world safe; and I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't let you. You have to do this, Harry; I know that, and so does everyone else who has a glimmering of intelligence. And I didn't sign up as well because I knew it would distract you to know I was in danger, and I was afraid that if you were distracted, you could get hurt or killed. So I stayed behind."
He stared at her, stunned by her admission. "You stayed--Ginny, you didn't have to do that!" he said.
"Yes, I did." She sat up, looking down at him with determination. "Love isn't about doing what I want and insisting you do the same. It's about being the support for your beloved when nobody else will. It's about keeping them safe and letting them do what has to be done. It's about letting them live their life, not about forcing them into yours. I couldn't have done anything else, Harry, because I love you."
He blinked, gaping at her. He'd had no idea she felt this way, and he couldn't imagine how he'd managed to deserve her. "I--" he began, fumbling for words. "I--"
She pressed a finger against his mouth to quiet him, then lay down again, pulling the covers back over them and snuggling against his side. "You have to do this," she said softly. "You have to face him. It's down to the last days; I know that. In fact, most of the rest of the wizarding world knows that. Everyone's focused on what happens here tomorrow. So, Harry, what I've sacrificed is nothing. What you've done--that's what's amazing."
"I couldn't have done any of it without you," he said, his voice thick with emotion. He turned them both over and, propping himself on an elbow, looked down at her, trying to put all the emotions he couldn't speak aloud into his eyes. "Ginny, you--you've done so much--you've always been with me, even when you weren't physically there. Whenever I start to think 'that's it, then, I can't do more,' it's the thought of you that spurs me on. Knowing you're there makes it all somehow... worthwhile. I haven't done anything for the 'good of wizardkind.' I haven't even done any of it for me. Everything I've done has been for you." He brushed his knuckles over her cheekbone. "I know the past year has been one endless sacrifice for you," he said quietly. "And that you've done it for me is--astounding. There's so much you've forsaken, so that I can live this life."
"Sacrificed, yes. Never forsaken. I did it because I wanted to, Harry."
"I know," he said. "That's what makes it so amazing. Because all I ever wanted to do was to protect you the way you've been trying to protect me."
His vision was blurring, and he realised his eyes were filling with tears. Ginny, too, was blinking tears away, and when she drew him down to her, he didn't even contemplate resisting. "He hasn't a chance, you know," she whispered as Harry settled himself atop her. "Voldemort, I mean. Not a chance in hell against you."