Chapter 13 – A Final Judgement

AN

I can't believe we're to the final chapter already!

Having received 2,568 death threats (approximately) following the previous chapter, I thought I'd better get this one posted pretty quickly. After all, the portable gallows that someone has erected outside my house is taking up a lot of room and parking is tight around here.

Thorny Rose 3 is currently under construction and about a third of it is completed. As is my way, I won't start posting it until I've finished at least the first draft of the whole thing. The plot is all worked out, though, so hopefully it won't take too long to complete.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this story, and especially those who left a review. Even the Ron fans (although you guys can stop now, I get the message: you're unhappy!)

Finally, huge thanks to the fastest beta in the West (or East for that matter), Arnel. I'm grateful for you not lobbing that pitchfork in my direction.


Ginny watched in horror as Sirius's limp body gracefully sailed towards the ragged veil hanging from the arch. Desperately, she tried to aim her wand, but she felt like she was trying to move through treacle. She wouldn't make it in time!

"Accio Sirius!" a voice cried.

Sirius's body jerked awkwardly and flew into the open arms of Eva, who stood just at the base of the platform. She caught her fiancé easily and lowered him gently to the ground.

"Who the bloody hell are you?" Bellatrix snarled, "and don't you know it's a bad idea to interrupt me when I'm playing?"

"My name is Eva Katarina Hagen," Eva announced calmly. "I take it I have the displeasure of addressing Sirius's insane cousin?"

"What are you: part troll?" Bellatrix cackled.

"What I am is Sirius's fiancé," Eva replied grimly, "and I don't appreciate you trying to kill the man I love. I would invite you to our wedding, but as I intend to kill you here and now, I don't think that would be appropriate."

"Fiancé?" Bellatrix repeated in amazement before she doubled over laughing. "You? Oh, my dear cousin must have been desperate! What did you do, threaten to beat him up unless he married you?"

"Die, bitch!" Eva howled and threw a Cutting Curse at Lestrange which she narrowly avoided.

A snarl came onto Bellatrix's lips and she cast a Killing Curse at Eva, who threw herself to the ground, letting the curse pass harmlessly over her head. Soon, the two witches were hurling deadly curses at each other at a phenomenal rate.

Although Eva was a skilled and powerful witch, Bellatrix was a deadly duellist and pretty soon the Death Eater started to gain the upper hand. More and more, Eva was forced to raise a Shield Spell to protect herself, giving her no opportunity to strike back.

Eventually, Bellatrix's raw power won through. A Blasting Curse ripped Eva's shield apart and a Disarming Spell tore her wand from her fingers. A look of triumph appeared on Bellatrix's face as Eva's wand sailed through the air towards her.

Knowing she was facing certain death, Eva did something no one expected. Possibly, she remembered seeing the move in Harry's memories when they had been undertaking Occlumency training, or maybe it was just a last desperate act of a beaten woman, but it startled every one when the large, powerful witch charged headlong at her foe.

For a second, Bellatrix froze. Eva was an intimidating witch and the sight of her rapidly bearing down on her must have unnerved the Death Eater. Desperately, she raised her wand to curse Eva, but she was too late.

Eva crashed into the smaller witch, sending her flying backwards. Bellatrix's wand flew from her fingers, leaving both witches unarmed. In such a contest, however, there could be only one winner. Eva grabbed Bellatrix by the throat, while her other hand grabbed a handful of the evil witch's robes. With a howl of anger, Eva physically lifted Bellatrix off the ground.

"Rot in hell, bitch!" Eva roared, and threw Bellatrix head-first towards the veil. Lestrange screamed as she vanished from sight, her final cries being cut off abruptly as she tumbled through the veil.

Eva fell wearily to her knees. A few seconds later, Tonks reached her and frantically began to check her for injuries. Remus headed straight for the fallen body of Sirius and similarly began to treat his friend.

"Look, Malfoy's getting away!" Harry suddenly shouted and pointed to the stairway, which Lucius was struggling up.

"Like hell he is!" Ginny spat and sprinted towards the stairs with Harry at her heels. She heard someone scream at them to come back, but she was determined not to let her hated foe escape.

As soon as he realised he'd been spotted, Malfoy began to run frantically. His injured shoulder was badly hampering him, but his desperation not to be caught gave him new energy. He reached the door at the top of the stairs and disappeared through it. Harry and Ginny gave chase, but the blond Death Eater had a good head start.

The two teenagers piled out of the Death Chamber and into the Revolving Room. There was no sign of Malfoy, however.

"The Atrium!" Ginny declared. "It's the only way he can get out of the building."

"Come on," Harry shouted and grabbed her hand. They sprinted down the dark corridor that led to the lifts and threw themselves into the nearest one. Quickly, they selected Level 8 and breathlessly waited for the lift to halt at the right floor.

As soon as the doors opened they charged out into the main Atrium. It was no longer bustling with people as it had presumably been cleared as a result of the alarm going off. It was easy, therefore, to spot the hunched figure of Lucius Malfoy making his way towards the row of fireplaces used for Floo travel. Harry and Ginny sprinted after him as fast as they could. At the sound of footsteps behind him, Malfoy turned and fired a curse at them. He was forced to use his left hand, so his shooting wasn't very accurate. The teenagers stopped and returned fire with much more precision.

Seeing that he wasn't going to win in a stand-up fight, Malfoy darted behind the nearest cover, the Fountain of Magical Brethren; a huge, ugly monstrosity that a previous Minister had thought was a good idea. From behind this cover, Lucius continued to hurl spells at the teenagers.

"We need to flush him out," yelled Harry as a Cutting Curse narrowly missed him. "Fire Blasting Curses at the statue itself!"

Together, Harry and Ginny both cast powerful curses at the statue. Both spells hit their target and the statue disintegrated in a cloud of dust and smoke. Once the dust had settled, Ginny could see that Malfoy was down. Edging closer, it became apparent that the main part of the Centaur statue had broken off and was trapping the Death Eater underneath it. Ginny grinned triumphantly at the sight.

"We got him, Ginny," Harry started to say. "Look at the… aaaggh!"

Harry suddenly fell to his knees clutching at his scar. Ginny looked on in horror as blood began to trickle from between his fingers.

"Harry, what is… oh, shit!"

Movement had caught her eye and looking over she saw a huge, green snake slithering towards them at surprising speed. She could see it's eyes were a glowing red and it's fangs were already bared.

"It's him… Ginny… it's him," Harry ground out from behind clenched teeth.

"What? What are you talking about, Harry?" Ginny asked in confusion.

The snake was now only about ten yards away. Suddenly, it stopped and wound its body into a coil. Its red eyes watched them intently.

"Ssssooo, we met again, boy," the snake hissed.

Ginny stared at the snake in amazement. Had the beast really just spoken?

"Yeah, it's me again," Harry spat, in obvious pain. "I'm afraid we've just ruined another of your little schemes, Voldemort!"

The penny dropped. Ginny looked at the snake in horror as she realised that the Dark Lord had managed to obtain a new body, just not the one they had been expecting.

"He possessed a snake?" Ginny gasped.

"Ahhhh, it issss the Weassssley girl," Voldemort hissed. "Good, I ssssshall enjoy killing you, too."

"Never! We defeated you once and we can do it again," Harry yelled defiantly.

"Your mind is ssssstronger than it wasssss, boy," Voldemort continued, "but you still can't keep me out."

Without warning, Harry screamed and fell to the floor. His face was contorted in such agony that he barely looked human. Ginny dropped to her knees and ran her hands over him, but she could find no obvious cause for his pain. Voldemort's words suddenly became clear to her: he was trying to possess Harry!

"Fight him, Harry!" she urged. "You're stronger than he is, force him out."

"Kill me!" Harry begged in a ragged voice. "I can't stand the pain! Kill me, please!"

Ginny felt her heart break at his pathetic plea. Tears came to her eyes as she grabbed his shaking hands.

"Please, Harry, fight him!" she pleaded. "I can't lose you, I love you too much. Please fight him."

Abruptly, Harry's body stopped shaking and he opened his eyes. His face was covered in blood from his scar and it had mixed with the tears of pain that he had cried. But the agony that had previously been gripping him appeared to have stopped.

A strange, hissing cry reminded Ginny that Voldemort was just feet away. She looked up to see the great snake was thrashing about while omitting a hideous, strangled shriek. It was clear that Voldemort was now the one suffering. Quickly, she aimed her wand at the undulating creature while she had the chance.

"Confrigo!" she cried, firing a Blasting Curse at the snake. Unfortunately, the spell seemed to have little effect on the snake's thick skin, other than to alert Voldemort to the danger. Slowly, the snake uncoiled and reared up, as in preparation to strike.

"Confrigo! Confrigo!" she screamed in mounting panic. The spells hit, but other than knocking the snake back a few feet, appeared to do no damage. "Shit! Confrigo!"

"Confrigo!" a voice cried out from beside her. Looking over, Ginny saw Harry had managed to get to his feet and had his wand aimed at Voldemort.

The spell Harry fired was so bright Ginny could barely look at it. The beam of purple light leapt from his wand and struck Voldemort squarely in the head. There was a tremendous blast and the snake appeared to disintegrate in front of her eyes. The headless body crashed to the ground with a sickening slap. Immediately, a strange green mist appeared to rise from the body of the snake. Ginny gasped as she recognised it for what it was: a trapped soul-part being released. The snake had been a Horcrux!

Ginny's attention was suddenly diverted by Harry limply collapsing to the floor. She frantically hurried over to his fallen body and was relieved to see his eyes open and his chest heaving.

"Think I… put a bit… too much into that… spell," Harry wheezed.

The sound of running feet made Ginny look up and she saw a group of people wearing the familiar red robes of Aurors approaching them. At the head of the group, she was pleased to see the Auror who had arrest Umbridge, Kingsley Shacklebolt.

"Rest easy, Harry," she said turning her attention back to her exhausted boyfriend. "Help is on the way."

"Ginny," he wheezed, "I… love you, too."

With those words, Harry shut his eyes and let unconsciousness claim him. Tears ran down Ginny's face as she gently stroked his cheek. That was the first time he had ever told her that he loved her.

"What the hell's going on here?" Shacklebolt demanded angrily as he reached them.

"Oh, you lot have finally got here, have you?" Ginny snapped. "While you bloody Aurors were nowhere in sight, me and my boyfriend had to fight off a bunch of Death Eaters and that bloody great snake. Thanks for all the help!"

"Death Eaters? What Death Eaters?" Shacklebolt asked in confusion.

"How about that one trapped under the statue for starters," Ginny snarled, "and you'll find a load more of them captured down in the Department of Mysteries, as well. Now, will you please save the stupid questions for later and get Harry to a hospital!"

"Harry? Bloody hell, that's Harry Potter! What's he doing here?" Shacklebolt gasped.

"We had an appointment at the Test Centre, but it got delayed. Harry's godfather was taking us on a tour of the Ministry when the Death Eaters attacked. Now, will you PLEASE get Harry to a Healer!" Ginny yelled at the bemused Auror.

"Right away, Miss. We have Portkeys that can take him straight to St Mungo's," Shacklebolt assured her.

"I'm going, too," Ginny said forcefully and the Auror just nodded.

Shacklebolt reached into his robes and pulled out what looked like a thin book, but Ginny assumed this must be the Portkey. The Auror placed it on Harry's chest and Ginny put her finger on it, too. Just as the Portkey activated, she overheard one of the Aurors talking to her comrade.

"Sweet Merlin! That's Lucius Malfoy. I always knew that git was no good."

Ginny smiled as the Portkey whisked them away.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

A soft groan brought Ginny to full wakefulness. She stiffly got up from the chair she had been dozing in and approached the bed in which Harry was lying. Sure enough, his eyes were open and he was blinking sleepily.

"Welcome back, handsome," she said softly.

Harry's eyes opened fully and he looked directly at her. A smile lit up his face.

"Hi, gorgeous," he greeted her. "Where am I?"

"Your own private room in St Mungo's," she informed him. "You've been here for two days. The Healers said you damn nearly drained your magical core."

"I got him though, didn't I? Voldemort, I mean," Harry asked in concern.

"Yeah, you got him," Ginny assured him. "It looks like old Tommy boy is bodiless once again."

"Good," Harry said, visibly relaxing. "Everyone else is alright, aren't they?"

"Well, Sirius is in the room next to you, but the Healers say he'll probably be released today. Eva's looking after him even as we speak," Ginny grinned.

"She certainly showed Bellatrix who was boss, didn't she?" Harry noted with a vicious grin. "So, what else has been happening while I've been asleep?"

"The Ministry appear to have bought our cover story. As far as they are concerned, we were all at the Ministry building purely by chance when the Death Eaters attacked. You'll be delighted to know that we're all getting Letters of Commendation for helping break up a ruthless terrorist attack. The Daily Prophet was particularly lavish in its praise of your actions," Ginny smirked.

"Great, just what I need; more people fawning over me," he huffed.

"Hey, don't knock it. It's all good publicity. I'll tell you someone who could do with a bit of that at the moment: Fudge. The revelation that Lucius Malfoy really was a Death Eater has come as a bit of blow to him, seeing as it was Fudgy who pardoned the git in the first place. Our beloved Minister is hanging onto his job by the skin of his teeth," Ginny explained.

"Do we need to go public with our information on him? Give him the final push?" Harry asked.

"I think it will depend on who emerges as his likeliest successor," Ginny pondered. "In any event, there's due to be a full enquiry regarding the matter which could take weeks, so we don't have to decide just yet. I think we can safely leave the decision until after you've taken your exams."

Harry groaned. "Will I be well enough to take my OWLs? They're due to start in just a couple of weeks."

"You should be fine," Ginny assured him. "The Healers say that you have to avoid doing any magic for a week, but after that everything should be back to normal. Or as normal as you get, anyway."

"Great, I blow Voldemort's head off and I don't even get out of doing my bloody exams. Where's the justice in that?" Harry joked.

"Oh, my poor baby," Ginny giggled. "Never mind, at least my mum brought you some nice treats to console you."

Harry glanced at the small pile of cakes and sweets that had been left on his bedside table. "Oh, was your mum here, then?"

"Yeah, she was just here about an hour ago. She's been worried sick about you," Ginny told him.

"That's nice of her," Harry said, smiling.

"I have to confess I helped myself to a couple of the lemon cakes," Ginny admitted. "Oh, don't touch the sweets, though. Fred and George left those."

"Duly noted," Harry laughed. "So what's happening with the Death Eaters?"

"They're all awaiting trial at the moment, but it's looking a pretty forgone conclusion. Dad told me that the Aurors used Veritaserum when interrogating them and the results were pretty damning. It looks like a one-way ticket to Azkaban for that lot," Ginny explained. "Oh, I forgot to say, they finally sentenced Umbridge yesterday. She got ten years in prison."

"I hope Azkaban's got plenty of extra room. It looks like it's going to get pretty crowded soon," Harry noted.

"Shame that, isn't it?" she smirked.

"Ginny," Harry began nervously. "How exactly did I manage to fight off Voldemort when he tried to possess me? I mean, one moment I was helpless against him and then the next he just retreated from my mind like a bat out of hell."

"I don't know, Harry," she replied blushing. "What was going through your mind when you managed to force him out?"

"Pain, mostly, I didn't… wait! You! I was thinking about you! You just told me that you loved me and couldn't bear to lose me. As soon as you said that I realised I loved you, too, and how much I wanted to stay with you. You always said Voldemort couldn't stand feelings of love: was it that which forced him out?" Harry asked in wonder.

"I think so," she replied moving over to take his hand. She looked hopefully into his eyes. "Was it true? Do you really love me?"

Harry smiled. "Yeah, I do. It's taken me a long while to realise it, but, hey, you did say that boys are all thick, didn't you?"

"Yeah, I did," she said, her eyes shining with unshod tears. "I'm just so happy to hear you say it."

Gently, she leaned in and pressed her lips against his. The kiss was slow and tender, as if they were both trying to convey their feelings through it. Ginny felt Harry's hands begin to stroke her hair and she intensified the kiss.

They were suddenly interrupted by the door opening and Albus Dumbledore entering. Ginny pulled away from her boyfriend and scowled at the Headmaster.

"What are you doing here, sir?" Harry asked coldly. "I thought they only allowed family and invited guests in to visit."

"Now, now, Harry, there's no need for hostility. I merely wanted to see how you were doing. I'm delighted to see you're awake," Dumbledore said soothingly.

"Come to check up on your unwilling sacrifice, more like," Harry snorted.

"Harry, please. I never intended for you to blindly fall on your sword, but I cannot change what has happened. You must accept my help or other disasters like this mess at the Ministry could occur again," Dumbledore pleaded.

"Disaster? What, disaster? Bellatrix Lestrange is dead, Lucius Malfoy has been outed as a supporter of Voldemort, and ten other Death Eaters will soon be taking up permanent residence at sunny Azkaban. That seems like a pretty solid morning's work to me," Harry said forcefully.

"You cannot put yourself at risk like that, my boy! It would be a catastrophe if you should…" Dumbledore began.

"Die at the wrong moment?" Harry interrupted bitterly.

"I was going to say pass on before your time, but I suppose that crude phrase will serve just as well. The lives of millions of people are in your hands, Harry. You cannot escape your fate no matter how much I wish it were not so. You have the power to finally defeat Voldemort for good, my boy, but the conditions to do so must be absolutely right or it will all be for nought. I am fully aware that I'm not your favourite person at the moment, but you must accept that you need my help and guidance," Dumbledore said calmly.

This was too much for Ginny, and she turned on the old wizard with venom in her eyes.

"You deranged old bastard!" she spat. "You'd happily send Harry out to his death, wouldn't you? Just as long as it fits in with you cunning plan. Well, I have news for you, you twisted old fruit, we're going to get that bloody piece of Voldemort's soul out of Harry without harming a hair on his head, and then we're going to defeat him for good! And guess what? We're going to do it without your help."

"I'm sorry, my poor child, but there is no way of removing the piece of soul without killing Harry. It just can't be done," Dumbledore told her sorrowfully.

"Quite sure about that, are you?" Ginny growled.

"I rather think I know more about these matters than you do, Miss Weasley," the Headmaster replied sternly. "Don't you think that if there was a method I wouldn't have used it by now? Believe me, it tears my heart to know that the son of James and Lily Potter is doomed to die, but what happened to Harry on that fateful night in Godric's Hollow cannot be reversed."

"If it was a proper Horcrux you'd be right, but it isn't, is it?" Ginny taunted.

"What? What did you say?" Dumbledore spluttered in shock.

"Oh, did we forget to mention we know all about Voldemort's nasty little Horcruxes?" Harry snarled.

"But… how? That is the Dark Lord's most closely guarded secret," Dumbledore gasped.

"We're just full of surprises," Harry laughed humourlessly.

"But if you know about the Horcruxes, then you will know that they can only be destroyed by the most destructive of forces. There is no way Harry could survive that," the old wizard pointed out.

"What's the matter? Is your hearing going? As I just said; that would be the case if Harry was a proper Horcrux, but he isn't! His body was never prepared in the correct manner that Horcrux receptacles are required to be and he wasn't subjected to a Binding Ritual, either. Voldemort's sliver of soul isn't properly integrated with Harry's," Ginny yelled in anger.

"How do you know all this?" Dumbledore demanded. "The method of creating a Horcrux is forbidden knowledge, how did you come by this information?"

"Why should we tell you?" Harry growled. "You were going to blindly send me to my death! You don't tell me a thing, so why should I tell you anything? You won't even tell me what the bloody prophecy says."

"I understand that you entered the Hall of Prophecy. Did you manage to learn the contents of the prophecy?" Dumbledore enquired.

"No, the orb containing it was destroyed in the fight," Ginny said angrily.

"Ah," Dumbledore noted with relief clear on his face. "Then I regret that unless you accept my help and guidance then I cannot supply you with that information."

"You treacherous old sod!" Harry bellowed. "How dare you try to blackmail me?"

"Careful, my boy, you are skating on very thin ice at the moment," Dumbledore said warningly. "You clearly know how to create Horcruxes and this makes me wonder exactly what your intentions are. I foolishly stood back and let one Dark Lord rise under my very nose, I will not permit such a thing to happen again."

"You really are a moron, aren't you?" Ginny said acidly. "Do you seriously believe Harry is trying to become the next Voldemort? Don't worry, Headmaster, neither of us has the slightest desire to make Horcruxes for ourselves. Our only intention is to destroy the ones that Voldemort made and send that scum-sucker screaming down to hell."

"And you believe you have a method of destroying the one in Harry?" Dumbledore pressed.

"Yes, we have," Harry informed him, "and if I have my way, we'll be using that method as soon as possible."

Ginny spun on her heels and looked at Harry. He had seemingly decided that he wanted to perform the Soul Bonding ritual with her! He looked at her with a smile on his lips and warmth in his eyes, signalling that he was indeed willing to go through with it.

"May I enquire what this method is?" Dumbledore enquired. "If anything should go wrong, then it would invite disaster on us all."

"No, you may not," Harry snapped. "In fact, until you decide to start sharing information I have nothing more to say to you."

"Harry, I must insist…" Dumbledore began, but was interrupted by the door swinging open and Molly Weasley entering.

"I just wanted to drop this… Harry! You're awake!" Molly cried before bustling over and enveloping Harry in a fierce hug.

"Hello, Mrs Weasley," Harry gasped as he fought for breath. "Thanks for visiting me."

"Not at all, wild horses couldn't keep me away," Molly replied, loosening her grip. "Oh, hello, Albus. Come to visit Harry, too?"

"Yes, he was just leaving, actually," Harry said quickly.

Molly glanced at the Headmaster's unhappy face and then back at Harry. She clearly sensed the unease in the air.

"Well, that's probably for the best. We can't tire poor Harry out too much, Albus," Molly said carefully. "He's only just woken up and must still be very fragile."

"You're quite right, Molly," Dumbledore replied with a note of defeat in his voice. "I'm sure we can continue this conversation when he's well enough to return to Hogwarts. I'll wish you all a pleasant afternoon."

And with that, Dumbledore turned and strode out of the room, leaving two relieved teenagers and one confused woman.

"What was all that about?" Molly demanded.

"Oh, I think the Headmaster's going a bit funny in his old age," Ginny said quickly. "He was berating Harry for being at the Ministry, even though he had a perfectly good reason for being there. I think he forgets that Sirius is Harry's guardian, not him."

"Ginny, you should be more respectful," Molly scolded her mildly, but she did cast a worried glance at the doorway which Dumbledore had vanished through.

"Ginny's right, Mrs Weasley," Harry insisted. "The Professor is trying to make decisions about me that he has no right to make. I sometimes feel like he thinks of me as his private property."

"Oh, come now, Harry. I'm sure it's not as bad as all that," Molly said before shaking her head. "I still can't believe that the two of you were going to take your Apparation test, at your ages! I knew Sirius was teaching you, but I had no idea you'd become so advanced."

"We're full of surprises, Mum," Ginny grinned, echoing Harry's earlier words.

"Don't I know it!" Molly laughed and took a seat.

Ginny smiled as her mother began to fuss over Harry and insist that he have something to eat, not that Harry seemed to mind too much. Her eyes drifted over to her bag which was securely tucked under the chair she'd been sitting in earlier. A bag that contained an undamaged glass orb that she'd taken from Harry's robes the moment they'd arrived at the hospital.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The next few weeks flew by. While Ginny returned to Hogwarts immediately, Harry was allowed to go home to rest for a few additional days. He'd been worried that Dumbledore might try something foolish while he wasn't there to watch Ginny's back, but in the end the Headmaster bided his time.

That's not to say that Dumbledore didn't try to continue the conversation they had at St Mungo's as soon as he returned, however. Both of them had been summoned to the Headmaster's office to discuss 'disciplinary' matters several times. They had combatted this by insisting that their Head of House attend the meetings, too. Professor McGonagall was apparently still disgruntled with Dumbledore and only too willing to accompany them. The Headmaster had not been pleased, to say the least.

Harry had taken the orb containing the prophecy back to Grimmauld Place with him, and they agreed they would view its contents during the summer holidays. With Dumbledore on the prowl it was better to be safe rather than sorry. They also decided that until they had a chance to listen to it they wouldn't mention that they had retrieved the orb to anyone, even Sirius. It was best that they learn what it said first before they involved anyone else.

Another matter that they had yet to address was what to do about Ron. The lanky redhead had retreated into himself after his botched attempt to steal Harry's blood, and barely said a word to anyone. The fact that he appeared genuinely remorseful complicated the matter and the group of friends were undecided what to do. In the end, they decided it was another thing they would deal with during the holidays. Eva and Remus would both probably provide good advice regarding the matter while Sirius would probably want to disembowel Ron for what he tried to do to Harry, but they would deal with that later.

Ginny was currently sitting in the common room idly leafing through a book and half-listening to the chatter around her. Harry and Hermione were both taking their final OWL exam in History of Magic. They'd both been fairly confident of achieving a good mark; Professor Blackmore had proved an interesting and informative teacher and the class was no longer treated as the perfect place to catch forty winks.

Glancing at her watch, Ginny noted that the exam should have finished by now. Sure enough, the portrait hole swung open and a group of tired looking fifth years entered, with Harry and Hermione among them.

"Hi, beautiful," Harry greeted her as he dropped wearily onto the couch next to her and gave her a quick kiss. Since his declaration of love he'd been even more affectionate than normal, something that delighted her.

"So, how did it go?" Ginny asked her friends.

"Pretty well," Hermione told her, "although I'm a bit worried about question four. What did you put, Harry? I put down that the seventeenth century witch-hunts impacted on the Wizarding world because…"

"Hermione! You always do this. You can't go back and change anything, so there's no point dissecting every exam you take in minute detail. Please, can we just rest?" Harry asked in a pained voice.

"Oh, I suppose so," she huffed. "By the way, Ginny, where's Ron?"

"Why should I care where that prat is?" Ginny grumbled.

"He wasn't in the exam," Harry supplied. "He missed it completely. Some of the teachers were quite worried about it."

"I don't know," Ginny admitted with a frown. "Why don't you fetch the Marauder's Map and see if you can find him?"

"Good idea," Harry admitted, rising to his feet and heading towards the stairs to his dorm. About five minutes later he returned with a concerned look on his face.

"I couldn't find Ron on the map at all, but I did find this on my bed," he admitted.

Harry handed an envelope to Ginny with her name written on it. She recognised the messy scrawl as being Ron's immediately. She ripped it open and quickly began to read.

Dear Ginny

I suppose I'm the last person you want to receive a letter from at the moment, but as you're the best person to explain what happened to Mum and Dad, I really don't have a choice.

The last few weeks have been hell for me as I finally see what a bloody mess I've made of everything. You were right, my jealousy and anger were blinding me and caused me to betray by best friends and my family. Truthfully, I'm disgusted with myself at the moment.

I don't even know why I did half the things I did. I wasn't even really angry at Harry for dating you; in fact, I'd been hoping that would happen for a while. I knew you always carried a candle for him and he was always going to be the best choice for you. Besides, if he was dating you it meant he wasn't interested in Hermione. Not that it matters anymore, I've well and truly stuffed that one up as well, haven't I?

By the time you read this letter I will be long gone. Every time I see you, Harry or Hermione, the shame is simply too much to bear. I hate the person I've become and I need to sort my life out, but I can't do that at Hogwarts. I've decided to travel a bit and see if I can't sort my head out. I would say please don't look for me, but there's no chance of Mum not doing that, is there? She'd drag me back home by my ear if she had the chance. But she won't. I'm not a bad wizard when I put my mind to it, and I'm confident I can avoid detection. Malfoy even showed me how to suppress the Trace on me, so the Ministry won't even be able to detect my magic. It's about the only useful thing that git ever did for me. Hex him for me would you, sis?

Please tell the rest of the family that I'm not gone for good, but I have to work my way through this before I can face them again. Maybe I'll be able to find a way to make amends for all the bad things I've done. That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

Tell the others that I'm sorry and that I hope one day I can earn their forgiveness. Until I see you again look after yourself and don't get into any trouble (some hope!).

Your loving but incredibly stupid brother,

Ron

"Ginny, what's the matter? What does the letter say?" Hermione asked in concern.

"Ron's gone," Ginny said simply, "and it's all my fault."