Chapter 4

"I'm saying that I couldn't go on fighting without knowing that you were safe. I needed to know that you at least would have a future after everything was over, that I was actually fighting for something that was worth all my troubles…."

"You surrendered yourself to Voldemort, Harry," she told him accusingly. "Did you think I wanted to go on fighting after that? I thought you had died—"

"You don't understand," he told her, rubbing his face in frustration. "That was different."

"Why?" she demanded. "Because you're the Chosen One?" she asked derisively.

"Yes," Harry said fiercely.

Ginny stared at Harry for several heart-stopping minutes, her expression unreadable.

"So it's true," she said after a while, her voice barely a whisper. "You really are the Chosen One."

Maybe it was the quiet acceptance in her voice, or maybe it was the calm way she looked at him, but something about her compelled him to finally tell the truth he had always wanted her to know about.

Harry nodded slowly. "Do you remember the prophecy at the Department of Mysteries? The one about me and Riddle?" he asked, knowing that she did. "It said that someone was going to be born that would have the power to defeat Riddle."

"So that someone was you?"

"Yes," said Harry. He hesitated for a moment, and then, "And Neville."

He had never told anyone else about Neville being the other boy that the first part of the prophecy referred to. Not even Ron, Hermione, or Neville himself. But, Harry decided right then and there, he was not going to keep secrets from Ginny any longer. He never liked keeping so many things from her. He always felt suffocated every time he thought of all the things he had not told her. It wasn't healthy. He made a resolve to tell her everything she ever wanted to know.

"Neville?" asked Ginny, eyes wide and mouth hanging open in shock. "So…so Neville was a Chosen One too?"

"No," replied Harry. "The prophecy says that Riddle would mark that someone, me, as his equal." He touched the lightning scar on his forehead, "This is the mark. When he tried to kill me that night more than seventeen years ago, he marked me as his equal. So I'm the Chosen One. In a way, he chose me," he added ironically.

Ginny stared at his scar, speechless. Harry continued, "It also says that I will have powers that Riddle does not know about, and that one of us must kill the other…either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives," he quoted. "You see, Gin, I had to be the one to defeat him. I would never have had a shot at a normal life while he was still alive."

"But," said Ginny, her brows furrowing in confusion, "but I don't understand why you surrendered yourself to him. If you're the only one who can defeat him, why did you surrender yourself to him?"

"Because," Harry began slowly, "when Riddle tried to kill me, his soul split, and he left…a part of him inside me, without intending it."

Ginny looked even more confused than she had been a few seconds ago. "You—you have a part of his soul inside you?" she asked, sounding like she was having a hard time believing it. Harry could not blame her.

"Had," Harry pointed out. "It's gone now," he added. It was important that Ginny understood that part. He wasn't sure if she was still listening to him though. She was obviously having a hard time wrapping what he had said around her head.

"I don't—I don't understand," she said after several seconds, sounding extremely distressed. "How could that happen? How could a soul just…split? And how did Riddle's soul got inside of you?"

Harry braced himself for what he was going to say next. He wasn't ready to recount everything that had happened during the long, dark months that he had been away from Ginny—it was too…exhausting to relive all that in one night—but he could at least tell her the reason why he had to go on that months-long quest, why he left her the way he did. He took a deep breath, and then he told her about the Horcruxes and Riddle's quest for immortality.

"Riddle couldn't die with his Horcruxes still intact," Harry continued his explanation. "That was the mission Dumbledore gave to me. I had to destroy all seven of them before I could kill him."

Ginny was silent for several minutes, her face white as she processed everything he had just told her. "He made seven?" she asked faintly, as though she couldn't quite believe that someone would be so evil.

"His snake was a Horcrux," Harry said by way of a reply.

"Neville beheaded it," Ginny said in a tone of grim satisfaction. "What were the others?"

"Mostly, he used artifacts that were very significant in the magical world," explained Harry. "Slytherin's locket, a ring that had been in his family for generations, Hufflepuff's cup, Ravenclaw's diadem—"

"That's what you were looking for," Ginny said abruptly, "back at the Room of Requirement…." She trailed off for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, and then, "The diary—?"

She looked at Harry for confirmation. He nodded grimly.

"And—and you," said Ginny, sounding as though it had only just hit her. "Oh, Merlin," she said weakly.

Suddenly, before Harry could do or say anything else, Ginny pulled him towards her with a strength he didn't know she possessed and enveloped him in a very tight embrace that rivaled her mother's. Harry sank into her embrace, his heart ironically beating more freely the tighter she held him.

Ginny pulled away several minutes later. Her face was stained with tears and she was doing nothing to stop more of them from coming. She stared hungrily at Harry, as though afraid that he might disappear if she blinked. Her hands traveled all over him, her eyes following their path, from his face to his arms and up and down his body, like she couldn't quite believe that he was real. Suddenly, her eyes flashed back to his as her tears subsided and an expression of dawning realization settled on her face.

"At the grounds," she began, "when I was helping that girl…I felt someone pass by…that—that was you wasn't it?" she asked breathlessly. "In your Cloak? That was you…."

Harry nodded. Ginny opened her mouth to say something, but Harry beat her to it. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," he pleaded, knowing that it was what she was going to ask. "I'm sorry I didn't say goodbye…. I—I couldn't…. If I'd stopped and talked to you, I know that I wouldn't have had the strength to continue with what I was about to do. You were—you are the one person I would've missed most and I knew that if you had stopped me, I wouldn't be able to fight you…. I'm sorry," he said again, looking imploringly at her.

Ginny held his gaze, seemingly deciding whether she should accept his explanation. Not for the first time, Harry wished he had a way of knowing what she was thinking. Finally, after what seemed like hours, her expression softened. She wrapped her arms around him.

"It's okay," she murmured in his ear. "What matters is that you're here now. I wish—I wish I could have been there for you, though," she said with a hint of regret in her voice. "I can only imagine what you must've been feeling. I wish you didn't have to do it alone."

"I—I wasn't alone," Harry reassured her in a soft voice.

Ginny sat back, her eyes searching his for an explanation. Harry told her about how his parents, Sirius, and Remus had been with him when he faced Riddle in the Forbidden Forest. He continued to tell her about everything that had happened to him from his walk through the forest—facing Riddle without drawing out his wand; meeting and talking with Dumbledore at King's Cross; coming back and having Narcissa Malfoy cover for him; pretending that he was dead while Ginny, Ron, and Hermione shouted his name; slipping under his Invisibility Cloak during the chaos that had broken out after Neville beheaded Nagini; trying to get to Riddle through the throng of fighters; watching Ginny almost getting hit by the Killing Curse and abandoning his pursuit of Riddle until Mrs. Weasley stepped in and killed Bellatrix Lestrange; casting the Shield Charm to protect Mrs. Weasley and taking off his cloak to face Riddle—up until the moment Tom Riddle finally met his end. Harry also explained the Deathly Hallows: how the Invisibility Cloak that had been passed on in his family from generation to generation had been one of them; how he had used the Resurrection Stone, which was also a Horcrux, to call his parents, Sirius, and Remus; and how he had acquired the Elder Wand which had refused to kill him, its true master.

When he finally finished talking, Harry looked apprehensively at Ginny, afraid that he might see fear, not of him but of the power he wielded through the Elder Wand, in her eyes. But when he gazed into those brown orbs, he saw such tenderness and affection, and, that he felt like a phoenix was singing to his heart and his heart alone.

"Did it hurt?" she asked in a quiet voice after several minutes.

Harry knew she meant getting hit by the Killing Curse. He gave a small smile, more out of the question's familiarity than anything else. He was deeply touched to know that she cared enough to worry if the Killing Curse had hurt him. He shook his head slowly, his eyes never leaving hers.

"Where—where did it hit—?"

Harry pointed to the spot in his chest where the Killing Curse had hit him. Slowly, Ginny rested her hand on the spot over his heart. She stared at his chest and her hand on it.

"Your heart is beating," she said, looking up at him with something akin to wonder. "You're—you're alive," she whispered, her voice breaking as her tears came back with a vengeance.

And then she was kissing him.

She kissed him all over, his forehead, his cheeks, his ears, his neck…. Shocked, Harry did not respond at first, but when she finally captured his lips in hers, he kissed her back, gasping at the long awaited sensation of her lips on his. Her answering moan spurred him to go deeper. He kissed her fiercely, drinking in the half-forgotten taste of her lips, and she kissed him back with equal fervor.

Kissing Ginny felt like coming home after years and years of restless wandering. She bit his lip fiercely making it bleed, validating that he was alive. It was then that Harry knew—really knew—that he had survived Riddle's Killing Curse and that it was all over. The tears he had been holding back finally fell, intermingling with Ginny's tears and the blood on his lip so that he could taste the sweetness of her lips, the salt in their tears, and the metallic flavor of his blood all at the same time. Relief surged through Harry like a huge wave.

I'm alive.

His heart was beating. He was doing the one thing he had longed to do. He was with the one person he had yearned for all those lonely months ago.

She removed one hand from the tangles of his hair and brought it down to the hem of his shirt, snaked up under it, and rested on his bare chest, as though checking that his heart was still beating. His own hands began to wander, travelling down her back, under her shirt, and up again. He reveled in the sensation of her—her hand gently threading through his hair, her other hand on his chest radiating warmth throughout his whole body, the softness of her skin, the pressure of her lips on his, the flowery fragrance of her hair….

After several minutes, or perhaps several warm summer nights, their kiss ended. Harry noticed for the first time that Ginny had somehow ended up straddling on his lap.

"You're alive, you're here," she murmured, more to herself than to Harry. She turned beseeching brown eyes on him. "Don't ever leave again okay?" She paused for a moment before continuing in as even a voice as she could manage. "It's just that…it—it really hurt," she told him, the tightness in her voice indicating just how much. "I don't—" she broke off, taking a deep breath, "I know why you did that, but that didn't stop it from hurting. I don't ever want to go through that again…."

She tried to hide it, but there was a vulnerability in her eyes that belied her fiery character. Harry's heart broke just then. It pained him to realize that, though it was the last thing he'd ever intended, he had been the one who caused her pain. He wished he could take it away, take it all for himself and shield her from any further pain that the world could cause. But that was not in his power, so he did the next best thing: he pulled her close and gently wrapped his arms around her.

"It took all of my willpower to stay away from you," Harry told her sincerely. "I had to keep reminding myself that you would be safer if we weren't together. Now, I—I don't think I would have the strength to let you go again. It—it's too hard," he choked at the last word. He swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat, "I don't ever want to be away from you again. I don't want to give you up again."

Ginny pulled away slightly and looked him in the eye. "I don't want to give you up again either," she told him with her usual defiance. "You know I only let you go because I didn't want to give you another problem, right?" she asked after a moment's pause.

Harry stared at her. He didn't know that, not really. There had been times when he wished that she had fought against his decision to break them up, times when he questioned why she let him go that easily. After all, if he had been in her place, he would have fought tooth and nail to keep them together.

"You had the weight of the world on your shoulders," she continued. "I didn't want to add to that. I really would have fought for you otherwise." Her tone left no question to her sincerity. "I just want you to know that."

Harry nodded jerkily, finding that, yes, he did understand why she let him go, just as she understood why he had to go. Ginny gave him a small smile before resting her head on his shoulder. Harry held her closer. He wanted her to know how much he'd longed for her, how horrible his days had been without her.

"I missed you," he whispered in her ear. "When we were hunting the Horcruxes, I kept thinking of you. I knew I shouldn't. I tried not to. Riddle could see my thoughts through our connection, and if he knew…if he saw…"

Harry remembered it clearly. All those nights staring at her dot in the Marauder's Map, or thinking of her just before he fell asleep. He felt guilty that his thoughts always turned to her, but—

"But I couldn't stop myself," he told Ginny. "Th-there were times when I imagined you and me getting back together after—after everything. I always felt stupid afterwards," he said in a self-deprecating tone. "I never really thought I could make it out alive and thinking of you just made it so much harder."

Harry was grateful that Ginny's head was still on his shoulders. He didn't think he would be able to meet her eyes without the words getting jumbled in his throat.

"But I guess it also gave me something to look forward to," he continued. "I think—I think you gave me something to hope for."

There had been many times over the past months when he thought that he couldn't go on fighting, but when he thought of her, of what they could have if he defeated Riddle, he'd always find that he could.

"You were my last thought before the Killing Curse hit me," he said quietly.

Ginny slowly pushed herself off Harry's shoulder. She gazed at him with something akin to surprise, as though what he had told her was the last thing she had ever expected. Moments later, however, the surprise flitted from her eyes, replaced by warmth and tenderness. As Harry met her gaze, he realized why she had been his last thought: A life with her was the one thing he most regretted not being able to have when he thought he would die. He opened his mouth to tell her that, but his throat had suddenly closed up, as though his body knew that he would screw up his words.

Not taking her eyes off his, Ginny brought a hand to his face and gave his cheek a gentle caress. He closed his eyes and sucked in a contented breath. Harry lost himself in her touch, realizing that he did not have to tell her. She knew. She understood him like no other. No words were needed between them.

"I thought of you too," she confessed. Harry's eyes fluttered open as her hand left his face. "Whenever I felt like giving up, I would remind myself that you were out there fighting…. I knew you'd beat him," she said with certainty. "I knew you'd come through for us…."

Somehow, Harry knew that by 'us', she meant the world in general and at the same time just the two of them. He took her hand and covered it with his larger ones.

"I didn't—I didn't let myself think of what would happen when you didn't," she continued. "When Riddle said that you'd d-died…" she faltered for a moment, then looked down at their intertwined hands as Harry gave a reassuring squeeze, "I didn't want to believe it. I think part of me didn't believe it. Maybe—maybe that was how I stayed sane," she added ironically.

Ginny looked up, her eyes blazing when they met his. "I am so glad you're alive," she said fervently. "I'm not quite sure who, or what, to thank. But I'm glad you're alive. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't lived." She took a deep breath, "I don't think I could have taken the blow, especially after…after everything."

Harry knew that she was thinking of Fred, that she was hurting. He knew she was afraid of losing him, especially after having just lost her brother. He hugged her tightly, promising himself that she never would.

"I'm not going anywhere," he promised.

"You better not," she mumbled threateningly into his ear. It sounded so like her, so…Ginny, that Harry couldn't help the chuckle that came out of his throat.

Ginny pulled away from his embrace and narrowed her eyes at him. "I mean it!" she said indignantly, but Harry could see her mouth turning up at the corners.

He smiled at her. "I meant what I said too," he said solemnly.

Ginny's whole body seemed to relax as she returned his smile. She pushed herself off his lap and settled on the couch beside him.

"Well," she said, her eyes flickering to Harry, "there's my silver lining."

Harry turned his head sideways to gaze at Ginny. She looked so undeniably beautiful right then, with the warm glow of the common room fire lighting up her face. He thought back to those dark months when he had been hunting for the Horcruxes. There was not a day that went by when he did not wish that he was sharing her smile instead of his best friends' grim countenances.

"Gin?" Harry asked quietly after a moment, his uncertainties finding their way into his voice. Ginny raised her eyebrows questioningly at him. "You'll stay with me too, won't you?"

Ginny gave him a fond smile. "Of course," she said, sounding like it was the most obvious thing in the world, like he didn't need to have asked, and in that moment Harry realized all that he could have lost. By surrendering himself to Riddle he had willingly given up the dreams he had for himself, he had given up the chance of ever seeing his friends again, and most of all, he had given up a future with Ginny.

Suddenly, to his utter horror, Harry started crying again. As Ginny held him in a tight embrace, Harry felt the last of his walls break down, the tears he would not shed in front of anyone else falling down to her shoulders. He cried for his parents; for his horrible childhood; for his years in Hogwarts that were marred by Riddle's presence; for the circumstances that had separated him from Ginny; for the long dreary months of hunting for Horcruxes with none of the comforts of Hogwarts, or the Burrow, or Ginny's presence; and finally, he cried over the fact that he had been left with no choice but to sacrifice his own life without even really experiencing life….

It was much, much later when Harry's tears finally stopped falling. He lifted his head off Ginny's shoulders and met her warm, teary-eyed gaze. She smiled tenderly at him, brushed his fringe off his forehead, and reached up to press a gentle kiss on his lightning bolt scar. Harry smiled back, looking reverently into her brown eyes, their amber streaks reminding him of the sun.

He felt…at peace. He felt the biggest knots in his heart loosen up. He felt a large chunk of the darkness that had settled on him being lifted off. He felt the last of the weight he had not realized he was still carrying being thrown off his shoulders. He felt lighter than he had been in ages.

For a brief moment, he saw his unencumbered future in Ginny's warm brown eyes; her eyes that served as guiding lights in the darkness that had surrounded him; her. She was his bright spot, his hope for the future. Maybe that was why he was so desperate to keep her safe. She represented the future for him. Her tender gaze, her vibrant hair, her kisses, her mischievous smile, her mesmerizing laugh, her gentle touch, her uplifting words, her carefree ways—she had given him a glimpse of what life would be like without Riddle. And now—his smile widened—that life was possible. It was his life now—he grinned from ear to ear—not someone else's.

He was free.

He gave a soft chuckle, which turned into a snigger, and then exploded into full-blown laughter. He laughed like he had so many months ago when he spent lunch hours by the lake with Ginny.

"Are you alright?" asked Ginny, sounding a little confused.

"Never—better," he replied laughingly, and moments later, Ginny joined in his laughter.

Their hurts were far from healed. They had suffered because of Tom Riddle, and they had lost people who were very dear to them. Harry and Ginny—the both of them—of all people, knew that the fight was far from over. There were still many things that needed to be done: buildings to be restored, organizations to be restructured, goodbyes to be said, and lives to be rebuilt. But for now—for now they were going to laugh their sorrows and worries away.

Sometime later, when the sky outside was at its darkest, Ginny stared down at Harry as he slept on the couch they had been sitting on. The slightest trace of a smile grazed his lips. His face was clear, bright. She marveled at what a small smile could do to his face. Or maybe it was the absence of the worried furrow in his brow that had seemed permanently etched on his face.

She remembered how Harry had laughed just a while ago, how his eyes had twinkled, and how his face had brightened. She had always found him to be very good-looking, but Ginny thought that he had never looked as handsome as he did at that moment.

She had never seen Harry so…carefree. It hurt to know that he had never had any reason to be. His life was so full of worries, of prophecies, of missions. He was only seventeen, yet he had seen evil far greater than those who were ages older than him. Her heart broke for him, for what he had been through. He knew no love as a child, he constantly faced danger as a teenager, he had lost so many of the people he had looked up to, and many other cruelties that he had to endure.

Yet, here he was, so good and so pure of heart. Only Harry could feel responsible for the lives that were lost in the war. Only Harry could give up his life for a world that had been so cruel to him.

Her Harry.

She loved him. She loved the kid who had asked her mum for directions. She loved the boy who won Quidditch matches for Gryffindor. She loved the reluctant leader who taught the students the spells they needed to defend themselves, but more importantly, to stand up for what they believed in. She loved the boyfriend who broke up with her to keep her safe. She loved the person with the infinite capacity to love despite everything that he had been through.

She loved the shy boy he once had been, and she loved the man he had become. She could admit that now. She had been so afraid before: afraid to love him because he might not come back; afraid to love him because she was too young to fall in love; and mostly, afraid to love him because he might not love her back. Now, she realized it did not matter so much to her anymore. He could love someone else and she would be happy for him. All that mattered was that he was alive, and finally free of the evil and darkness that had followed him his whole life.

Whether he returned her feelings or not, she would still love him. Harry deserved all the love that the world could give, and he would always, always have hers. And, she swore to herself, she would make sure that he would have a much better and happier life from that moment onwards.

Ginny smiled down at Harry's handsome face. Carefully, so as not to wake him up, she removed his glasses and placed them on a table by his feet.

Turning back to Harry, she whispered, "I love you."

Soon, she thought, she'd tell him when he wasn't sleeping. She leaned down and kissed the spot right above his heart. She snuggled close to him and rested her head on his chest, letting the steady, reassuring rhythm of his breathing lull her to sleep.

End of Part 1

AN: This first part is really just about Harry and Ginny getting together. I know there are still some unresolved issues, but I think they've overcome a major hurdle.