"The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming."
The screaming started before the silver lynx had completely evaporated. I stood rooted to the spot. I couldn't breathe. The Ministry had fallen? What did that mean? Scrimgeour was dead? Who was the Minister of Magic, then? They were coming? Who? Death Eaters? Coming here, to the wedding?
A flash shot by overhead and something exploded. Bits of glass rained down and more people were screaming, screaming—curses and spells everywhere. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Harry, Ron, and Hermione wink away to somewhere, hopefully somewhere safe, but I still could barely move. A spell hit Bill and Fleur's wedding cake and it burst apart into dozens of charred, smoking pieces.
"Ginny!" Two voices chorused nearby. Fred and George appeared on either side of me, a familiar sandwiching between my two tallest brothers that somehow did nothing to make the situation less terrifying.
"Hold tight now, Gin," George said, wrapping an arm around my waist and gripping the side of my skirt. He'd apparently ripped the scab over his ear open; a steady stream of blood was trickling down onto the shoulder of his dress robes.
"Yeah, wouldn't want to get dropped off somewhere along the way, now, would you?" Fred added. He slung an arm across my shoulders, gripped forearms with George in front of me, and spun tightly on his heel.
After a second of feeling like I was being squeezed through a crack between floorboards, my feet hit the ground so hard that one of my heels snapped off.
"Steady on there," George said, grabbing my elbow as I stumbled. "Aw, Gin, what'd you do to yourself?"
"It's just my stupid high heel," I mumbled. "Damn thing is useless anyway."
"Not that, your face, dummy," Fred chimed in, peering over George's bloody shoulder at me with an uncharacteristically serious look on his face. "You must've caught part of it when someone hit the chandelier with that hex."
George grabbed my chin and started picking at my cheek; I slapped his hand away and touched my face gently. I felt like a cactus; a few shards of the glass chandelier had stuck in my skin just below my right eye. I gritted my teeth and let George pluck them out quickly, then swore colorfully under my breath as Fred cleaned and closed the cuts. My brothers looked at each other over my head, then said together, "C'mon, now, we'd best get going."
They both set off at a quick pace. I stumped along behind, running a bit to catch up, just now noticing and studying the rows of curiously similar houses that lined both sides of the middle class suburb we'd landed in. "Where are we?"
"Privet Drive, eh, George?" Fred responded. "Figured now that the protection here for
Harry's over, no one would expect him to come back."
"And where are we going?" I persisted. "What about Mum and Dad?" I suddenly stumbled to a stop, hands on my knees, trying to force air into my lungs. Fred and George noticed me not following anymore and jogged back, twin looks of concern written on their faces.
"Gin? What's up?"
"Mum!" I gasped, tears rushing to my eyes. I wiped them back with furious hands—furious that Bill and Fleur's wedding had been ruined, furious that I didn't know what had happened to the rest of my family, furious that I was standing in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood crying like a useless little girl.
"Chin up, Gin," Fred said, dropping to one knee in front of me. "You don't think Mum and Dad made it this far by being easy to off, do you? I'm sure they got to each other and got out of there in time."
"Ginevra Molly Weasley!" George barked. Fred and I both looked up at him, me in astonishment and Fred in amusement. "You are not some flimsy, whining child who goes to pieces. You are a Weasley. You have six older brothers, you're a fantastic Chaser and a passable Seeker, you cast the nastiest Bat-Bogey Hex I've ever been on the receiving end of, and you have a very formidable left hook. Now stand up straight, get your wand out from wherever you're hiding it in that outfit, and pull yourself together!"
Fred stared. "Bloody hell, mate, is Mum possessing you?"
George flipped up the collar of his coat. "Nah, just something I've been working on. Now come on, you two, it doesn't do to stand around in the open like this. We need to find a safe place to work out a game plan."
I took a deep breath, hitched up the side of my dress, and pulled my wand free from the elastic band that had held it to my thigh during the wedding. My brothers' eyes nearly bugged out of their heads.
"You use a thigh sheath?"
"How old are you?"
"Does Mum know about this?"
"Does Harry know about this?"
Both twins wiggled their eyebrows suggestively. I politely declined to answer, pulled off both my heels, and slung them over a finger. "Are we going?"
More than an hour later, we stopped walking in front of a decent-looking pub. Fred and George, after one of those annoying-twin-eye-contact things, immediately headed for the doors.
"Wait, guys," I called out.
They turned around impatiently.
"What's the problem now, Gin?"
"There are girls inside. Muggle girls!"
"I could really use a beer—."
I waited for them to stop talking, then gestured down at my ripped party dress, my bare feet, my long red hair and my general lack of being of age. "I'd do it myself, but I don't imagine getting my Trace activated right now would be a good idea."
They looked at each other and chorused, "Well, what d'you expected us to do about it?"
I put a hand on my hip. "Do you seriously expect me to believe that neither of you managed to pinch a bit of Polyjuice Potion during that whole safely-moving-Harry job?"
George reached into an inside pocket, pulled out a small bottle, and winked. He handed the bottle to Fred and sauntered into the pub like he owned the place. A few minutes later, he reemerged with two short hairs in one hand and one long hair in the other, looking pleased with himself. They did a bit of fancy wandwork to make our party clothes look less out of place, and a few minutes later we walked into the pub dressed in normal Muggle clothing, looking distinctly un-Weasleyish.
It was just after midnight and the pub was comfortably full. We slid into a booth along the far side of the pub and pretended to look at menus while talking quietly.
"What do we do?" George asked point blank. He'd given himself long dark hair to cover the hole where his ear used to be and kept blowing the ends of it out of his face.
"Leaky Cauldron?" Fred suggested. His hair was now cropped so close to his head that he kept running his hand over it, like he was trying to make sure it was still there.
I shook my head. "Too dangerous. With the Ministry gone, we don't know who we'd find there. Sirius' place?"
"Too close to the Ministry," Fred countered. "Besides, what if Snape's gone and told all his Death Eater buddies about it?"
We sat in silence for a few minutes. "I have to pee," I announced, standing up abruptly. "Be back in a minute."
I walked through the pub by myself with more confidence than I felt, made it to the bathroom, shut myself inside a stall and took a few deep calming breaths. When I walked out of the stall again, I gave a start at the woman in the mirror opposite me. I knew that my hair was temporarily brown, but there was something about seeing the new shape of my face and color of my eyes that was thoroughly off-putting. I tied my hair back in a ponytail and headed back to my brothers' table, but before I could get there, a beefy forearm crossed my path and planted itself against the wall.
"Hey, sugar," said the owner of the beefy forearm, a beefy, poorly-bathed man who looked me up and down from behind sunglasses, despite the fact that it was night and we were inside.
"Hello," I said curtly, moving to get around him. He moved faster than me and blocked my path again, all muscles and beer breath and stubble.
"Aw, where ya goin', baby?" He said. "I just wanna talk."
"I'm not interested," I replied, again sidestepping. He moved again and I suddenly realized that he'd somehow gotten me backed up against a wall. I took a deep breath—seemed like all I was doing was taking deep breaths recently—and waited for his next move. Logically, I knew I should have been scared. This was a big guy, Fred and George were nowhere to be seen, and no one seemed to be paying attention to our little scene. Instead, I found myself getting angry. Who the hell was this guy and why did he think he had the right to get in my way? My temper rose quickly, and I can't say I was entirely surprised when he grabbed my arm and a loud "BANG" issued from somewhere and he was thrown across the pub.
"Aw, Gin, what the hell'd you go and do that for?" Fred complained, standing up.
"And we were having such a nice night," George chimed in.
Unbelievably, an owl swooped in an open window and deposited an envelope postmarked from the Ministry of Magic in my hands. "You have got to be kidding me," I muttered.
George grabbed my free hand and towed me out of the building quickly, Fred leading the way and a lot of shocked eyes following us.
"Ugh, I don't believe this!" I groaned, shaking the letter open and reading it while allowing George to pull me along at a jog. "'Dear Ms. Weasley, at 12:26 AM at Richard's Pub on 4th and Dukett, an Expulsive Spell was performed in your vicinity…please stay where you are until Ministry officials come to collect your wand'? Are they mental?"
"They'll be here any minute," Fred said, looking up at the sky nervously. "We need to decide where we're going."
"We don't have time to decide, we just need to pick somewhere and go," George argued.
"Well, that makes a bloody hell of a big difference—."
"I'm just trying to help!"
"Help by pointing out absolutely useless rubbish, is that it?"
"Guys!" I shouted. "Let's just go home."
They turned to look at me in surprise.
"Ginny, are you feeling all right?"
"You remember what happened at home just a few hours ago?"
"Things'll have settles down by now. Besides," I added quietly, "I have to pack. I'm due on the Hogwarts Express in a few days."
"Mum'll have a fit if she hears you talking about going back to that school," George said.
"With Snape as headmaster? There's no way."
"I'm just as stubborn as she is," I said. I closed my fist around the letter from the Ministry. "At any rate, I'm a pureblood and underage. It's the law."