The Gryffindor common room was full as students of every year watched Professor McGonagall intently.
"All students will return to their House common rooms by six o'clock in the evening. No student is to leave the dormitories after that time. You will be escorted to each lesson by a teacher. No student is to use the bathroom unaccompanied by a teacher. All further Quidditch training and matches are to be postponed. There will be no more evening activities." She sighed sadly. "I need hardly add that I have rarely been so distressed. It is likely that the school will be closed unless the culprit behind these attacks is caught. I would urge anyone who thinks they might know anything about them to come forward."
Fred watched the professor leave and turned to Lee, who was talking loudly.
"Isn't it obvious all this stuff's coming from Slytherin?" he was saying. "The Heir of Slytherin, the monster of Slytherin – why don't they just chuck all the Slytherins out?"
The crowd around him erupted in cheers. Fred smiled, though he knew Lee was overreacting.
"I hate to think what's going to happen next," said Angelina suddenly.
Fred rolled his eyes, but was careful to make sure she didn't see. "Just don't think about it." He saw Ron coming and held a hand out to stop him. "Ron, you all right?"
Ron shrugged. "Sure."
Fred thought his brother's tone was very unconvincing. "Where're you off to?"
Ron thought a moment. "Oh, uh, the owlery…to send Mum a letter."
"I'm sure she'll find out soon enough," George said, "with Dad working at the Ministry and all."
"Right, well, see you later." Ron hurried out of the room after Harry.
"I can't believe Dumbledore's gone," George said sadly a few days later at breakfast.
Fred stared at his brother, eyes widened in fury. "Dumbledore's the best thing that's ever happened to this school – everyone knows that!"
"Apparently some don't," said Katie mournfully.
"Shh!" someone whispered. "Professor McGonagall's going to make an announcement!"
The professor of Transfiguration stood up, wearing her usual robes of emerald green. She cleared her throat and said, "I have good news."
Before she could go any further, the Great Hall exploded with chatter. Several people yelled things out, but the only one Fred caught was from Oliver, who was sitting a few seats away from him. Oliver shouted hopefully, "Quidditch matches are back on!"
McGonagall crossed her arms and waited for the chatter to die down. "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."
Fred cheered loudly along with nearly everyone else, slamming his fists on the table. "Hey, Ginny," he said when his sister came up to the table and sat down.
She didn't say anything or even smile, so Fred turned away and focused once again on his breakfast.
Angelina grinned at him for the first time in several weeks.
"My, aren't we happy," he said, returning the smile. "And when one of those people wakes up and reveals the Heir, you'll see there was really nothing to worry about, and you were perfectly safe."
"Fine, you were right. I did worry a bit too much," she admitted.
"Oh, look, it's King Percy," said George sarcastically as Percy nearly forced Ginny out of her seat, taking it himself.
Ron, Harry and Percy held a bit of a conversation, Fred noticed, before Percy sputtered, "Well, er, if you must know, Ginny, er, walked in on me the other day when I was – well, never mind – the point is, she spotted me doing something and I, um, I asked her not to mention it to anybody. I must say, I did think she'd keep her word. It's nothing, really, I'd just rather —"
At that point, Fred looked away and finished his breakfast quickly. He was eager to start his first class – the sooner it started, the sooner it would be over.
So the Gryffindors went to their classes as usual that day, though they were all escorted by teachers. They were all grateful to get back to the common room that afternoon – finally they would be away from their professors. What they didn't expect, however, was to find Professor McGonagall waiting there for them. She looked very nervous and kept peering over the heads of the incoming students.
She caught Fred's eye and beckoned to him, then George – Percy and Ron were already standing beside her.
"I have received news of a terrible…terrible incident," she said, choking on her own words. "Your sister…Ginny…has been taken into the Chamber of Secrets. Word has been sent to your parents." She took a handkerchief to her nose. "I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell you this."
Fred stumbled backwards into a chair. He heard Professor McGonagall making some kind of announcement, but was unable to comprehend the words. Ginny…in the Chamber. How did she get in? Why did she go there? She had been acting a bit strangely over the last few days…
The minutes crawled by, then hours. No one spoke to the Weasleys and none spoke amongst them. Fred couldn't take it any longer. In a sort of trance, he rose from his seat and walked up to his dormitory, collapsing on his bed when he got there.
Angelina had been right. He should have paid more attention to what had been going on around him. Why hadn't he noticed Ginny's strange attitude before?
The door opened and George came in. He glanced at Fred saying nothing, then went to the window. After a few minutes, he said quietly, "Ginny." He sighed. "Why did it have to be Ginny?"
Fred grabbed his pillow and put it over his face.
"Hi, guys," said a small voice. Angelina.
Fred removed the pillow and looked at his brother. George was curled up into a ball and was rocking back and forth next to the window.
Angelina closed the door gently. "I…um, I heard what happened." She stared at the twins sadly. "I'm so sorry." She sat down on George's empty bed. "George," she said quietly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Are you going to be okay?"
He uncovered his face. Fred raised his eyebrows, he had never seen his brother cry before, but he had definitely been crying. His face was red and his eyes were puffy, Fred noticed.
Apparently Angelina had noticed too, because the moment he lifted his head, she threw her arms around him. "Everything'll be fine. Don't worry," she said gently.
Fred closed the hangings around his four-poster and changed into his pajamas. Then he climbed into bed and attempted to sleep. He heard someone slide the hangings open, and felt a hand on his forehead. When it was removed, the curtains slid shut, and the dormitory door was closed.
He opened his eyes with great difficulty. Lee Jordan was shaking him. "What is it?"
"It's a party, mate!" Lee said happily. "He brought her back! Harry brought Ginny back!"
Fred jumped out of his bed excitedly and joined his classmates in the Great Hall.
The celebration went on into the morning, and classes continued, of course, with the exception of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. Those had to be canceled, considering Professor Lockhart was in no state to teach. Luckily, final exams were also canceled, because none of the students would have been able to concentrate on them anyway.
Before long, Fred was saying good-bye to his school chums and boarding the Hogwarts Express.
"Expelliarmus!" he shouted, disarming George for the third time in a row.
"Ginny – what did you see Percy doing, that he didn't want you to tell anyone?" Harry asked suddenly, when they were nearly at King's Cross station.
She laughed. "Oh, that. Well – Percy's got a girlfriend."
"What?" Fred said, fairly amused, dropping a few books on George's head.
"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 said quickly.
A mischievous grin crept upon Fred's face. He suddenly got the feeling his birthday had come especially early. "Wouldn't dream of if."
George laughed. "Definitely not."
"Bye, Harry," Fred said, clapping a hand on his back. "Hermione, see you next year."
Harry and Hermione smiled and waved at the Weasleys.
"Hey, Percy," Fred said after a moment.
"What, Fred?" Percy asked, rather impatiently.
"How about that Penelope Clearwater, huh? She's cute, isn't she? I'd fancy snogging her in an empty classroom." Percy looked furious, turning bright red, and Fred smiled. It was going to be a good summer.