"Your hair's not so blue anymore." Fred commented as they entered the Great Hall a few days later.
Anna took a piece of her hair and lifted it so she could see. Sure enough, some of her typical brown was just visible through the faded dull blue.
"Yeah, you're right. Maybe soon my hair will be back to normal." she commented.
"Well, I wouldn't ever call your hair normal, considering you can change its color at will and all that." Fred pointed out with a smirk.
"Good point." Anna agreed as they took their seats, George a few steps behind them with Lee. Just as the last of the students were sitting down and serving their breakfast, Professor McGonagall stood up from her seat at the High Table, causing everyone to fall silent as they waited for her to speak.
"I have good news."
Instantly, the Great Hall erupted with dozens of people voicing what they thought the news was.
"Dumbledore's coming back!" several people shouted.
"You've caught the Heir of Slytherin!" a Ravenclaw girl squealed excitedly.
"Quidditch matches are back on!" Wood shouted.
In true McGonagall fashion, she waited until everyone quieted down before continuing. "Professor Sprout has informed me that the mandrakes are ready for cutting at last. Tonight, we will be able to revive those people who have been Petrified. I need hardly remind you all that one of them may well be able to tell us who, or what, attacked them. I am hopeful that this dreadful year will end with our catching the culprit."
There was an explosion of sound as everyone in the Hall erupted in cheers, the twins even standing up in their seats and yelling at the top of their lungs. It took everyone nearly ten minutes to calm down and go back to finishing their breakfast before their first class.
When the fourth year Gryffindors were finished with Transfiguration, Professor McGonagall walked them to the Great Hall, where they could wait for lunch, hang out, and maybe study for exams, which started in three days. Of course, with the Weasley twins at her side, there was no way Anna was getting any studying in.
They were bored waiting for their next class, so Anna was flicking crumbs at the twins, who made circular goals out of their thumbs and index fingers. Their game was interrupted by McGonagall's voice echoing loudly in the halls, clearly magically magnified.
"All students are to return to their House dormitories at once. All teachers return to the staff room. Immediately please."
Anna exchanged a worried glance with the other Gryffindor fourth years, but they all stood up silently, along with everyone else in the Great Hall, and headed toward their common room.
Anna and the twins sat curled up on the couch by the common room fire, their friends around them. Katie was squished down onto the couch with them, so Anna was snuggled between her and George. Pretty much every single Gryffindor was in the common room, sitting on every chair, table, and space on the floor. It was nearly impossible to move around without nearly stepping on someone. They waited for a good half hour, speculating what could've happened, before Professor McGonagall entered through the portrait hole.
Everyone fell silent and turned to look at her, waiting anxiously for some kind of explanation. Her eyes scanned the room, lingering faintly on the group on the couch, and near the far corner, where Anna noticed Percy was sitting with some other Gryffindor prefects.
"I'm afraid I have some…grave news." McGonagall finally started speaking. Anna instantly tensed with worry. "It has just been brought to our attention that a student has been taken into the chamber itself." she admitted slowly.
Gasps fill the room, several people glancing among themselves with horrified expressions before they turned back to her, hoping for more of an explanation.
"We have someone who has volunteered to go into the chamber to try and save her…but I fear any attempts will be futile. And you should all know, as well, that there is a very good chance that Hogwarts will be closing tomorrow."
Disappointed murmurs went around the room before a seventh year girl spoke up, "Do you know who was taken into the chamber, Professor?"
Professor McGonagall took a subtle, deep breath through her nose, her eyes flickering once again to the group sitting on the couch.
Finally, she seemed to work up the nerve and say, "Ginny Weasley."
Anna felt like a lead brick had landed in her stomach, her head turning in slow motion to look at George next to her, and Fred just past him. Both their faces had paled before her eyes, their eyes glazed over as if in shock.
Everyone in the room had turned to look at one or all of the Weasleys; the twins, Percy in the corner, and Ron sitting nearby with Harry.
"I shall let you all know if anything changes, and your dinner will be sent up here. I want no one leaving the common room." McGonagall continued quietly before leaving through the portrait hole.
It was dead silence that followed, no one even seemed to want to break into their groups to whisper. No one knew what to say.
Then, Fred and George silently stood up from the couch and moved to sit with Harry and Ron in the corner. Anna would've let them be, unsure if they wanted her with them, but Fred had grabbed her hand when he stood up and pulled her with them. So, they all sat in a ragged circle in the corner, no one knowing what to say as they stared blankly at the floor. Everyone moved away from their group, seeing that they needed to be left alone. Percy only stopped by to tell them he was going to write to their mum and dad before going up to his room.
The afternoon dragged on with little to no conversation among the entire Gryffindor House. Anna found herself repeatedly checking the clock on the wall, feeling as if it was frozen. Eventually, she ended up leaning her head on George's shoulder while Fred laid on his back on the floor, his head in her lap.
Anna didn't know what to think. She may not have been best friends with Ginny, but she did consider the young girl a friend. She cared about her, and had been worried about her multiple times over the school year. And what would the Weasleys do? She was the baby of the family. Molly and Arthur's only daughter, the baby sister of all the boys. It would tear them all apart. She could already see the guilt burning in the twins' eyes.
When the sun was setting, casting a reddish glow in the common room, the twins both stood up.
"We're going to bed." George explained quietly when Anna, Harry, and Ron looked up at them.
Anna looked at them both worriedly. "Are you sure? You haven't had dinner yet."
They both shrugged simultaneously. "We're not hungry." they answered together.
"Oh, okay. Well,…do you want me to…I mean, could I…" Anna trailed off, unsure how to word her request, or if they'd even accept it.
But they both smiled gratefully and Fred jerked his head toward their staircase. Smiling, Anna stood up.
"I'll just stop up in my dormitory and change into my pajamas. I'll meet you in your room in a minute."
So, she rushed up to her own room and quickly changed into her pajamas before going to the twins' dormitory. The twins had already changed into their own pajamas and were laying in George's bed, facing each other on their sides. Fred looked over his shoulder at Anna just as she entered the room. He scooted closer to George and patted the space left on the bed behind him. Smiling sadly, Anna approached and carefully laid down on her side behind Fred, curling close to his back.
They laid in silence for several minutes, no one near sleep. Finally, Anna needed to talk.
"You guys don't blame yourselves, right?"
Their silence was answer enough. Anna draped her arm over Fred's side and took George's hand in her own.
"It's not your fault. There was nothing you could've done."
"Why would she be taken?" George whispered. "She's a pureblood. She never did anything to anyone. Why would she be taken out of everyone in the castle?"
"I don't know." Anna whispered, turning her head and resting her cheek against Fred's back.
"She's been wanting to come here for years. She was so excited when she finally got her Hogwarts letter." Fred whispered just loud enough for Anna to hear him with his back to her. "But she's been unhappy for months and we never did anything. We tried to make her laugh and talk to her, but…"
"We should've done something." George whispered when Fred trailed off.
"You did your best." Anna whispered. "All of you did. You guys tried to make her feel better in the best way you knew how, to make her laugh."
"But it wasn't enough." Fred whispered.
They fell silent, none of them having any other words to make the situation better. They eventually dozed off close to midnight. It seemed like they'd only just fallen asleep when Anna felt something shaking. She blinked her eyes open, hearing someone talking.
"Mr. Weasley! Mr. Weasley! Ms. Black! Wake up, they found your sister!"
Anna shot up, accidentally knocking heads with Fred when he did the same. Professor McGonagall was standing at the side of the bed.
"What? What happened?" the twins demanded, climbing out bed.
"I'm sure your brother and Mr. Potter will be happy to tell you the story." she explained hurriedly, "Your parents are with your sister down in the hospital wing! I shall go wake your older brother." she told them, backing toward the door, "Oh, and Ms. Black?" Anna looked up as the professor turned back to her, "I'll let this slide," she gestured to her and the twins in the same bed, "but don't make a habit of it."
Anna blushed instantly, "I won't, Professor. I was just supporting my friends."
McGonagall smiled slightly. "I know."
When she disappeared up the stairs to wake Percy, the twins hurriedly slipped on their slippers and rushed toward the door, but they paused and looked back when they realized Anna wasn't following them. She smiled at them, still sitting on the edge of George's bed.
"Well? Are you coming or not?" Fred demanded.
"You want me to?" she checked, surprised.
"Of course!" they both exclaimed. Anna smiled, quickly pulling her slippers back on and rushing out the door after them. Anna followed them in a sprint down the corridors until they threw the hospital wing doors open with a bang.
Molly and Arthur were sitting next to a bed, which Ginny was sitting up in and drinking a mug of something. They all looked up at the loud entrance.
"Ginny!" the twins shouted, bolting forward. Ginny sat up straighter and placed her mug on the bedside table in time for George to hug her tightly. After a few seconds he stepped back and let Fred do the same. Ginny was covered in grime and she had tear tracks trailing down her cheeks, but she was smiling.
While Anna stayed back, she glanced around. She noticed Madam Pomfrey giving some kind of potion to one of the Petrified students. A thrill ran through her when she realized it must be the Mandrake juice.
Within a few minutes, Percy rushed in, glanced anxiously at one of the Petrified students, and then hurried over to his family to check on his sister. A moment later, Ron came in pulling a stumbling Lockhart with him. They were both disheveled and covered in grime, and Lockhart looked dazed as he looked around the room with complete awe.
Madam Pomfrey hurried over and helped Lockhart into a bed so Ron could join the family.
"Hey, Ron?" Anna whispered when he came to a stop next to her. When he turned to her, she continued, "Why's Lockhart here? Did he get hurt?"
Ron snorted, a smirk tugging at his lips. "Oh, he tried to use a Memory charm on me and Harry when we were going down to the chamber and accidentally hit himself. He doesn't remember a thing."
Anna snorted also. "Maybe if we're lucky he won't be our teacher next year. Anyway, where is Harry?"
"Dumbledore kept him behind to talk. Not sure what it was about." he answered with a shrug.
"Oh, Anna!" Anna jumped at the sudden voice of Molly addressing her. The motherly woman stood up and hurried around her daughter's bed to hug her. "Oh, sweetie, your mother told us about the trial! I'm so sorry this had to happen to you!"
Anna instantly blushed, looking awkwardly over Molly's shoulder as the twins and Arthur gave her sympathetic grimaces.
"Oh, um, thanks, but I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley." Anna mumbled as the woman pulled back.
"Oh, dear, call me Molly, honestly." Molly smiled before turning to fix the twins with a stern look. "And I certainly hope you two have been supporting her through this, as well."
The twins looked affronted. "Of course we are!"
"They really have, Molly." Anna agreed, "They've been great, honestly."
"Good." Molly stated, "And just remember, dear, we're all here for you."
Anna blushed, looking down and wishing the ground would swallow her. "I know. Thank you."
Luckily, Madam Pomfrey chose that moment to stop by and check on Ginny, pulling everyone's attention back to the little redhead.
"Well, physically you're doing much better. There's really not much more I can do, the rest will be all up to you and your friends and family." Pomfrey told her gently. "If you want to have some more time with your parents, you can stay here for a while, but I've been informed they're throwing a feast down in the Great Hall to celebrate all this being over. If you all want to head down there, you're free to go."
Ginny looked at her parents questioningly.
Molly smiled and tucked some of Ginny's long hair behind her ear. "We need to get home. I need to write to Bill and Charlie to let them know you're okay. Why don't you go down to the feast and have a good time with your brothers and friends?"
Ginny smiled, looking both nervous and relieved. "Okay."
"You could sit with me and the twins, if you want to, Ginny." Anna told her gently, wanting the young girl to know she always had a place if she needed it.
Ginny's smiled widened just a bit. "Thanks, Anna."
They stayed for a few more minutes before Molly and Arthur left and the kids headed for the Great Hall. Fred gave Ginny a piggyback down the corridor, making her giggle and smile.
"So, we're having a feast in the middle of the night, in our pajamas?" Anna commented as they reached the entrance hall. Ginny slid off her brother's back and they stepped into the already-crowded Great Hall.
"I'm not complaining." Fred grinned as they all headed toward the Gryffindor table. Everyone watched them, beaming happily at the sight of the youngest Weasley safe and sound. Fred, George, and Anna sat among their friends while Ron and Ginny sat right across from them. While still tired and pale, Ginny looked truly happy like she hadn't in ages. As if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Harry joined them as the food was served, looking worse than Ron and Ginny, but still beaming. He was covered in dust and had some bloody scratches marring his skin, but he didn't seem to mind as he sat next to Ron and served himself some food.
As they were all eating and talking happily, the doors opened and all the students who had been Petrified entered the Great Hall. Hermione Granger instantly ran toward Harry and Ron, who stood up to greet her excitedly. She was practically screaming, "You solved it! You solved it!" before throwing her arms around them both in a tight hug, which they returned.
At around half past 3, Anna couldn't stop herself when Hagrid arrived in the Great Hall. She jumped to her feet and hurried over to hug him, quickly followed by Harry. He was big enough that both of them could hug him at once, his huge hand nearly covering Anna's whole back as he returned the hug. They only pulled away when Dumbledore, who had been reinstated as the Headmaster, asked everyone to return to their seats.
Blushing as several people were staring at her, Anna returned to her seat between Fred and George and waited for Dumbledore to speak.
"We have a few announcements to make. To put rumors to rest, Slytherin's monster was a basilisk, a large serpent with the ability to kill it's victims by merely making eye contact. Mr. Harry Potter and Mr. Ronald Weasley made the courageous trip into the Chamber of Secrets and Harry single-handedly defeated the serpent with a sword. For their efforts, I am awarding them 200 points each. Which, I believe if my math is correct, earns Gryffindor the House Cup for the second year in a row."
Everyone at the Gryffindor table stood up, cheers erupting and echoing off the walls. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff cheered enthusiastically as well, while all the Slytherins scowled, very few of them giving a few polite claps.
McGonagall stood up alongside Dumbledore, waiting until the cheers had died down and everyone had returned to their seats. Fred and George were the last to do so, having stood up on the table.
"Also, as a school treat, all final exams for this year have been cancelled."
Even the Slytherins couldn't scowl at that bit of news, though Anna laughed when she noticed Hermione actually looked disappointed. Everyone else cheered yet again.
"Finally," Dumbledore raised a hand and waited for them to fall quiet again, "I should also inform you that Professor Lockhart will be unable to return as Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor next year because he needs to go away and get his memory back."
Anna gave both Fred and George a high five. Everyone pretended to be disappointed, but it was easy to see no one, not even the Professors, would miss him. Except maybe a few of his fan girls.
With the feast lasting well into the morning, and no exams, everyone spent the next morning relaxing and enjoying the freedom of a monster-free Hogwarts. Too full from the feast to eat breakfast, Annabelle rested her head on her hands atop the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall. She was completely at ease listening to the twins bicker back and forth about something.
Anna instantly sat bolt upright and turned to see Professor McGonagall standing behind her. Unlike last night, when she'd been joyful and carefree-looking, the stern Transfiguration Professor looked stressed and worried.
"Yes?" Anna asked worriedly. The twins had stopped talking and were watching the exchange as well.
Taking a deep breath, McGonagall held a piece of folded parchment out for her. "This arrived at my office this morning."
Anna's stomach dropped as she slowly took the parchment from her, not moving her eyes away from her Professor.
"It's about the trial, isn't it?"
McGonagall gave one brief nod.
Taking a deep breath, Anna looked down and unfolded the parchment. She mostly skimmed the letter, her mind not taking in any of the words until she found a date.
'Ms. Annabelle Black's trial against Marcus Flint has been scheduled in Courtroom 8 at the Ministry of Magic for 10:00 AM on July 24th.'
Anna took a deep breath. "The trial's on July 24th." she announced quietly so the twins knew.
"Yes. Your mother probably got the same notice, since you're a minor." McGonagall told her gently.
Anna nodded slowly, clearing her throat. She slowly held the letter out back for her professor to take. "Thank you for telling me, Professor."
McGonagall nodded, taking the parchment slowly. "I'll also remind you, that I will be joining you and your mother for the trial, as your defense so to speak should the trial take a turn. I'll be meeting you there that morning. I'll work out the details with your mother soon."
"Okay, thank you." Anna nodded slowly.
Professor McGonagall looked at war with herself before resting her hand on Anna's shoulder. "Whether we win or not, it'll all work out, Ms. Black." she assured her before turning and leaving the Great Hall.
Anna dragged her trunk onto the train, stuffing it into the space above her seat in a compartment. The twins followed her lead before they all sat down. Ariel hooted from her cage at Anna's feet, so Anna stuck her finger through the bars to scratch her head.
"I'll let you out as soon as we get home, Ariel. I promise." Anna told her quietly.
They were joined in their compartment by Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Anna had noticed that Ginny was acting more and more like her usual self. Happy, fun, and strong-willed.
"Hey, Anna?" Fred asked quietly from his spot next to her. "Are you going to tell Charlie what happened before the trial?"
Anna froze for a moment before taking a deep breath through her nose. "I…I don't know." she admitted, putting her hand to her forehead. "I wanted to tell him to his face. That's just not something you tell someone over a letter, you know?" she told him looking up to see Fred and George both looking at her. They nodded in understanding. "But I suppose I'm running out of options, huh? I'd prefer he know before the trial, that's for sure. But I think I'm putting it off."
"Well,…you never know. Maybe Mum can convince him to come home during the summer and someone, whether it's you or one of us, can tell him in person." George suggested.
Anna nodded slowly. "Yeah. I think I'll put it off until sometime in July. If no opportunity presents itself for him to be told in person, then I'll write to him."
"Sounds fair." George nodded.
"Right, enough of the sad stuff." Fred stated loudly, gaining the attention of the other occupants in the compartment. "We've only got a few more hours that we're allowed to use magic before the holiday starts. Let's make the most of it."
Over the ride, they played several rounds of Exploding Snap, used the last of the twins' Filibuster Fireworks on some Slytherins in the next compartment over, and practiced disarming each other with their wands. Anna noted that Harry was getting very good at it when he managed to disarm pretty much everyone in the compartment at some point.
"Ginny, what did you see Percy doing, that he didn't want you to tell anyone?" Harry asked as they were nearing Kings Cross Station. Everyone looked between him and Ginny curiously.
"Oh, that." Ginny giggled, "Well, Percy's got a girlfriend."
Fred, who had been digging something out of his trunk above their seats, dropped the stack of books he'd grabbed on top of George's head. George didn't seem to notice. "What?"
"You mean I was right?" Anna added about the same time, completely shocked.
"It's that Ravenclaw prefect, Penelope Clearwater. That's who he was writing to all last summer. He's been meeting her all over the school in secret. I walked in on them kissing in an empty classroom one day. He was so upset when she was, you know, attacked. You won't tease him, will you?" she added anxiously, looking particularly worried when she looked at the twins. Anna looked at the twins as well, and instantly knew why Ginny was so worried.
"Wouldn't dream of it." Fred assured her, though the glint in his eyes wasn't comforting. He looked like his birthday had come early.
"Definitely not." George added, sniggering deviously.
"Come on, guys. Don't give him too hard of a time." Anna told them, knowing deep down it was useless.
"He's been writing to her since last summer. So, what, that means he's probably been dating her for nearly a year." George pointed out, glancing from Anna, to Ginny, to Fred.
"Imagine Mum's reaction when she finds out he kept this a secret." Fred added with a growing smirk.
Anna sighed in defeat, rolling her eyes as the train pulled to a stop at the station. She followed the others in getting her things out and following the crowd off the train. It was easy to find her mother, because she was with Molly and Arthur with their flaming red hair.
They quickly approached their parents and Wren instantly pulled Anna into a tight hug.
"Did Dumbledore tell you about the trial?" Wren asked gently, pulling away with her hands on her shoulders.
Anna nodded. "McGonagall told me. July 24th."
Wren nodded briskly before greeting the other kids. While she was talking with Ginny and Hermione, the twins moved to stand on either side of her.
"You'll write a lot over the summer, right?" George asked, draping an arm over her shoulders.
Anna smiled up at him. "Of course I will." she assured them. "And you guys better not send Ariel back to me without a response, either. Because we both know how long Errol would take getting a response to my house."
"Deal." they chorused as Fred slung his own arm over her shoulders so all three of them could give a group hug.
After spending a good ten minutes saying their goodbyes, the different families split up and headed their separate ways for the summer. As Annabelle followed her mum through the crowded station to a place they could Apparate home, she couldn't help letting her mind wander.
When she'd been sorted into Gryffindor House her first year, she couldn't understand why the Sorting Hat thought she'd fit in the House of courage. She wasn't brave. Sure, she'd gotten better since becoming friends with the Weasleys. They dragged her into uncomfortable situations and managed to get her to let loose. And then there was Professor McGonagall's words.
"Bravery…is doing what's right, facing danger, and pain, and hardship…being scared,…and acting anyway. Bravery isn't a lack of fear, it's facing that fear head-on."
Maybe Anna was placed in Gryffindor because she needed to learn how to be brave. Even though the thought of facing Flint, of being the center of attention at a trial in front of the whole Wizengamot, telling all of them that she'd been raped, terrified her to no end, she knew she had to do it. She couldn't let him get away with it.
Did that make her brave, then? She certainly didn't feel brave. But she was acting despite her unending fear.
Maybe she did belong in the House of Courage after all.
I'll be posting the first chapter of the sequel right after I've posted this, so go to my page and read it. It's titled 'Family of Courage'.
And remember to review to let me know what you thought of this last chapter, and the story in general.