I realised quite a while ago that I have lived my entire life defined by men. The first female Weasley for a couple of generations, last after all my brothers. So I was the baby, and the hope. Then I was Harry Potter's biggest fan, which made me a target.
They all got very nervous after the diary incident – I wasn't allowed to go anywhere on my own, in case I picked up something nasty again. And that was when I realized. I was being kept out of things to keep me...I don't know, pure?
The not-so-subtle disapproval when I dared to look at other boys. I really was supposed to sit around and wait for Harry Potter to notice me, to claim me, like I was some kind of prize. I wasn't supposed to fly, to play rough sports, to be anything other than the little princess in her bower waiting for her prince.
Well, sod that.
Poor Mum. All she really wanted was a demure little daughter. She spent my entire childhood putting me in pretty frocks, and trying to get me to sit quietly and play with my dolls. But I grew up with six big brothers. I can fly with the best of them, I've had black eyes and broken bones and hexes, I've faced a basilisk, Death Eaters, bloody Voldemort, and I will not settle down into being a good little wife and mother, just because Harry Potter wants to recreate the homelife he never had.
In fairness to Harry, he was as freaked out as I was, when Mum started dropping heavy hints, about June weddings and wouldn't it be nice?
I think I will always love Harry. But I don't want to be Mrs Harry Potter.
We aren't the same people, now. I always knew that he would give up everything for whatever he felt he had to do. I would have gone with him on that quest of his, but I wasn't included. I was supposed to stay safe and quiet and wait. Well, I stayed behind, but I wasn't safe and I wasn't quiet. We went through a different kind of hell in that place.
There was a reason I never went back after Easter. Dad got an anonymous letter on his desk that stated very clearly that I was a target, that I would be used as bait for Harry. They tried not to let me see it, but I found it. Personally, I was quite proud of the bit about 'making an utter bloody nuisance of herself.'
I wasn't waiting. I was fighting. And then Harry came back, and I was told to wait in the Room. Just wait for him.
And then he went off round the world, to get his head together. Mended that flying motorbike, and flew off into the sunset. I don't blame him. He needed some time to himself, without newspapers and crazy people. But there I was, waiting again.
We buried Fred, and we coped with George breaking every mirror in the house. Fleur announced her pregnancy, and moaned about her ankles swelling, and gave Mum someone else to fuss over. I went back to finish my education, spent most of the year helping Hagrid and Professor Kettleburn. Everyone could see thestrals now.
And I met somebody. Well, got to know somebody, got to see him in a different light.
I just never saw him as evil quite the same way the others did. Evil is when you wake up with blood on your hands and a memory of small bones breaking under your fingers. When you can't rely on your own mind because someone else has been in there with you. I have to wonder sometimes... did Lucius give me that diary, so Riddle wouldn't take Draco?
He was less arrogant, quieter. He didn't have his entourage around him. I didn't have the Golden Trio overshadowing me. Too many people wanted to be my friend. Very few people wanted to be his. And somehow, we found each other, while we were hiding from the world.
And then Harry came back.
I've always known that I'm going to have to marry a pure-blood, carry on the family line.
There simply aren't enough of us in the magical world – without a wand, most witches or wizards are just frightened vulnerable human beings, and we suffered enough during the Burning Times. I'm not saying my parents don't love each other, or me, but that's just a bonus – there simply aren't enough magic users to take chances. We face extinction unless we face certain realities. And those realities are... breed or die.
Some families are literally embracing Muggles and Half-Bloods. Others would rather die than lower the standard, pollute their bloodline.
I've got the blood-line, but we're also walking that fine line now. It isn't popular to go flaunting your pureblood credentials in public, don'tcha know? Especially given the delicate nature of the recent past.
Mother's quick thinking earned us a respite – that is, we weren't all hauled off to Azkaban without trial. But it puts us rather at odds with, well, everyone. The name of the game now is public contrition, tread carefully. Do Not Offend.
To think I was the most powerful wizard in the world for a while, and I didn't even know. I'm not sure what I would have done, if I had known. I'd like to think I'd have made a right choice, but that's hindsight. I was a right little shit when I was younger, and I'd like to go back and ding myself round the ear.
I never meant to go falling in love. Certainly not with her. Blood-traitor, dirt poor... His girlfriend. A skinny little witch, in battered overalls. She's not dainty or delicate. She has no respect for my family name, my social position, she'd drop me without a thought to go chasing after one of her damn lizards. She certainly wasn't supposed to take any notice of me. Son of a Death Eater, failed murderer, on both side's shit-list.
But she did. We were both surprised.
The big problem is that Potter came back. Dropping out of the sky like some leather-clad embodiment of all things heroic on that bloody motorbike. He'd picked up a tan, and dark glasses, and he looked cool and magnificent.
How the hell do you compete with that?
I deliberately ground out my hopes along with the cigarette under my boot. And I left her behind. I had no place there, after all.
Love is a luxury.
So I looked my father in the eye, and told him to just pick one off the list and tell me when to turn up.
I can do this. I got through my life so far without a heart, I knew it would come to this, after all.
Astoria is a lovely girl, perfectly sweet and charming. Pretty, too. We don't hate each other. It could work. A business arrangement. We can have our own separate lives.
She's never going to turn down a Reserve position with the Holyhead Harpies, because she got offered a chance to spend the summer in The Hebrides. She doesn't have a family who want to kill me, or a world-famous boyfriend.
"Mum's been asking why I don't have a girlfriend yet." Charlie gives a soft, sad laugh. "Bless her, she doesn't give up, does she?"
"No." I rest my chin in my hands. Charlie and I have always got on well. I have all his old books on dragon-keeping. "She's dropping heavy hints about some double-ceremony with Ron and Hermione, now."
"Oh, yeah, bet they'd love that. Has he actually asked her?"
"I think Hermione has it all planned out, and she'll tell him when he's supposed to." I'm only half-joking. Hermione is terrifyingly organised – she's either going to be the youngest Minister for Magic, or Head Warder at Azkaban.
"So, what about you?"
I can tell Charlie. He lives away from it all, with his dragons, a different country, a different world.
"I...can't do it. I just can't. I don't want this." Wave my arms a bit wildly. "I love Harry, I really do, but I don't want to settle down and be Mrs Harry Potter, and never do anything for myself."
All the chains that bind. Bill's face, Charlie's dangerous job, Percy's defection and return, George really only half a person now, Ron always a target... Always a reason not to add to the worry.
"I'm tired of feeling guilty for wanting my own life, Charlie."
He pats my back as I cling to him, his broad, scarred hands.
"Talk to him, Ginny."
So I do. And I'm not sure which of us was the more relieved. He loves my family, they've become his family, he doesn't want to hurt them, he wants to belong. But... I've grown to think of him as... probably more like a cousin, than a brother, frankly, because, um, yeah, there's been kissing of a definitely not-a-brother sort. Yuck. And...I think Harry wants a family more than he wants anything else just yet.
..."I can't keep doing this, Harry. I can't keep waiting for you."
"Is there someone else?"
Too many people have lied to him. I won't.
"There...might be." ...
Complicated, unresolved. A handful of glances. Nervous, unexpected touch of hands, mouths. We know things about each other that nobody else knows.
But - he's getting engaged to Astoria Greengrass. She was the year below me, I remember her. Very pretty, very rich. Never worn a hand-me-down in her life. I don't know why that makes me want to cry. So I'm sitting here, with a mug of instant coffee and an out-of-date gossip magazine, and watching the rain slash past the windows. It suits my mood.
The full name of the place is something like 'Cenedlaethol Ddraig Reserve Chan Gwrymiau.' Most people just call it Llanddraig.
If some of the keepers suspect that 'Jenny Whistler' might not be all she seems to be, they don't let on. I have a tiny little cosmetic charm that hides my freckles, turns my hair brown – but cosmetic charms aren't illegal. I'm not precisely hiding – I'm of age, I can work where I want – but I don't particularly want either gossip columnists or brothers descending.
It's the first time I've lived on my own. The cottage is tiny, just two rooms, and a cramped little cupboard of a bathroom. But I like it. It's all mine. I can leave the bed unmade, and mugs in the sink, and books on the table. There are seven student keepers here at the moment, and I'm the youngest, which means I get the lovely jobs, like the late night feed and cleaning out the pens of the sick hatchlings. I won't say that it's exactly enjoyable, being up to my elbows in old chicken guts or dragon sick, but...I'm nothing special here, and I like it that way.
We are sitting in the foyer of Nessus and Sons, and I'm about to be fitted for my formal dress robes. I have no idea how things might have turned out, if I hadn't seen the magazine. It's some trashy gossip thing, Astoria is twittering away about some Irish Quidditch player getting married, when I see the picture. Flash of red, that I know so well. And Seeker reflexes, I've got the thing out of her hands before she can do more than squeak.
'Where is she now? Ginevra Weasley, who has broken the heart of the wizarding world's greatest living hero...'
She left him. Frankly, I don't actually believe that Potter would ever be 'too distraught to comment'. The expression in that picture is far closer to the one he gets just before he hauls off and hits someone. That's not a good picture of Gin, either. I know that scowl. Someone probably got a faceful of bat-bogeys shortly afterwards.
But. She left him. They broke up. I don't know why, I don't care why. Well, no, I do care why, I hope it was because of me, but... she left him, and she's free, and she could be my Ginny again, and I...
...am about to get bloody engaged. Damn.
I look up. Astoria is looking at me, her mouth a perfect rose-bud 'oh'. I realise that I may have said all that out loud.
"Oh..." Her eyes fill with tears. "That's the most romantic thing I've ever heard."
I winch my jaw shut.
That's one word for it. 'Suicidal' would be another one. Her family are going to kill me. Ginny's family are going to kill me. My family are going to kill me. Potter is going to kill me.
I'm not sure I care.
Following in my father's footsteps so far has left me with a long list of enemies, a scarred forearm and a deep aversion to unexpected houseguests. I'm all grown up now. And I've had enough of hiding away in the mansion, and pretending that I'm going to be the good and dutiful son.
The rest of the world might be unsure of where she is, but I think I know.
He's just standing there, in the rain. As if this was the most normal thing in the world. That he would skip town on the eve of his own engagement party, and walk five miles through a muddy landscape full of dragons in the middle of a cold, wet night to knock on my door.
"Bloody non-Apparition wards, bloody no-fly zone. Bloody dragons." Same pointed chin, same grey eyes, same irritatingly superior smirk.
Same arms, same mouth, and same scorching kiss that nearly makes me forget how angry I am with him.
I haul off and slap him, for the sake of my self-respect. But my hand seems to want to stay on his cheek afterwards. Blast.
"What the hell, Draco...?"
"I..." Looks up from under his ridiculous fringe. "Where else would I be, Gin?"
"I don't want Astoria."
"He came back."
"Oh, Draco, you idiot." Stupid, stupid man. "I didn't want to marry him."
That didn't come out quite how I meant it to. I think I might have just proposed. Draco blinks. And then he grins, wide and wicked.
"Good." It's pretty much a growl. "I would refuse to carry on with another man's wife." And he's kissing me, hard and fierce, "My own is quite another matter." He grins down at me, and then his smile fades. "I'm not letting you get away from me again, Gin."
"I'm not going anywhere."
I'm done with waiting. I wrap both hands in the collar of his coat and pull him in through the door.