Come to the front of the class
And we'll measure your brain
Give you a complex and we'll give it a name
--"Measuring Cups" - Andrew Bird
"Well, you're quite an interesting young lady."
My eyebrows must have disappeared under the Sorting Hat's brim, when it opened my Sorting with that. And the bugger of being at the end of the alphabet is that everyone else had nothing better to do than watch me get shocked by a hat. I could only hope no one asked me what it had said to bring that on; I hadn't really explained myself to myself, so I wasn't remotely ready to try explaining myself to anyone else.
The hat chuckled. "You're not the first person to come to me in this state, my dear, and you won't be the last. Unfortunately, I can't do much about how people will take the physical end, but that's not what we're here to consider... hmm. I don't imagine Gryffindor would quite suit your temperament. Nor would Hufflepuff - pity, that, there are some people there who could help you sort things out. You would do quite well in Ravenclaw, quite well indeed."
I had my doubts about that. I'd never truly been an academic sort; I didn't mind learning a thing or two, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in a library.
"You're sure? Acceptance won't come easily, where that leaves you... very well, then, you've got the drive to hold your own. I suppose it had better be SLYTHERIN!"
I sighed, and made my way to the Slytherin table after Professor McGonagall took the hat off my head, sitting down as far away from Malfoy as possible. I could muddle through a conversation with anyone else, but Malfoy had already proved likely to ask the sort of questions I didn't want to answer. I couldn't put him off forever, but I hoped he'd be too preoccupied with indoctrinating his new henchmen to worry about me until I had something to tell him.
Mum had always said she'd hoped for a daughter, but I hadn't got around to telling her she might have one, at that point. I think I had it in my head that puberty might change my mind, and I didn't want to get her hopes up in case it did. In any case, I was stuck with my decision to keep mum from the moment I went into the boys' dormitory - but I thought I'd be all right. What was another few years of keeping it to myself?
I kept my head down - as much as one could, with Malfoy occasionally demanding people agree with him - and got on with school, and that was all right for the first few years. I thought the basilisk incident might give me some trouble, at first, but both it and Malfoy were more focused on blood status; in that regard, at least, I had nothing to worry about. My father was what the Americans call old magic, and Mum can trace her family back further than the House of Black; they just haven't been in England for most of that time.
But then fourth year came, and everything started going to shit.
Puberty finally arrived, but it didn't do much to make me feel at home in myself. I'll grant that it could have been worse. My voice didn't drop as much as it might have done, and I inherited Mum's build rather than my father's. (He was an American footballer - I've yet to work out why they carry the ball the whole time - who'd fallen on hard luck and come to England. Harder luck, after he met Mum.)
But anyway. Even with those small mercies, I still felt more betrayed by my body than anything else. Not many girls shoot past six feet on their last growth spurt, and certain morning-related issues were... just bloody weird, even knowing all the boys in the dorm had to deal with them.
All the fuss surrounding the Triwizard Tournament didn't help matters, either. I gave the Yule Ball a pass, in the end; better to be seen as a picky bastard, I thought, than feel completely out of place in the dress robes. There's more difference in robes than Muggleborns and Americans think; a lot of it's in the cut of the chest. And while I would have enjoyed the girls as much as their dress robes, I still would have thought I was there in the wrong thing.
I was grateful to be taking an interest in girls, all things considered. Blokes likely would have got me in a world of trouble, especially the way Malfoy thinks, and I could at least tell a half truth about my inclinations.
Spring term, I started considering taking matters into my own hands. For all Parkinson and Bulstrode raged about their cramps, bleeding once a month sounded infinitely preferable to waking up with an erection every few days; there had to be some kind of spell that would do the trick. Or a potion, really, since I was better with those than transfiguration.
I didn't have much luck, which mostly stood to reason; what I was after was probably in the Restricted Section. But Mum had inherited a rather large library from my second stepfather, and I could try that over summer hols. Besides, it was more planning for after I left school than anything immediate; at that time, I wanted to know the option was there far more than I trusted myself to do the spell - or potion, whichever it turned out to be - properly.
That was just as well, really, since Voldemort came back at the end of term.
This is what you need to understand about Malfoy: There is no room, in his world, for more than two categories of anything. You entirely agree with him, or you entirely disagree; you will go on to sire children or bear them, according to your birth sex; you support pureblood supremacy or you're a Muggle-loving blood traitor to be offed along with everyone else.
There were many reasons I kept my mouth shut around Malfoy, nearly all involving the fact that I did not fit into any of his binaries. Aside from my more personal struggles, when it came to the mess that was politics, I saw myself on the fourth of three possible sides. I do happen to think it's better to know where you come from, but... well. The Ministry couldn't do anything right as it was, Voldemort wasn't likely to get anywhere useful with 'kill all the Muggles' as his central message, Dumbledore was a manipulative old git using people's enthusiasm to make himself look good, and I was screwed no matter who won. Better to keep my head down and at least live through all the fuss.
Malfoy's political rants got easier to tune out, as fifth year went on; I could agree with a few of his points, at least, so it didn't pain me too much to nod along. But about a month before OWLs, he caught a pair of Ravenclaw boys snogging in a disused classroom, and wouldn't shut up about how much fun he had reporting them to Umbridge. He kept on about 'it's unnatural' this and 'how do you know who's the woman?' that, and all sorts of related idiocy, to the point where I could barely concentrate on my Arithmancy essay.
"At least there aren't any queers in this House," he said, and Crabbe and Goyle rumbled in agreement. I didn't say anything, and hoped none of them noticed that I'd snapped my quill in half.
I still haven't worked out why he had Crabbe and Goyle Polyjuice into girls for most of sixth year, after all those objections; if they only needed to be inconspicuous to be Malfoy's lookouts, they could have done that as blokes. Part of me wished I'd felt invested enough in the cause to get in on that plan, even though I knew Polyjuice would hardly be the most accurate way to learn what I wanted.
Mostly, though, I was more certain than ever that Malfoy was repressing something that fell outside of his beloved binaries.
There must have been other students in situations like mine; the Sorting Hat's comment about Hufflepuff was enough to tell me that. But I rather thought the time to find them was not after Malfoy had arranged some sort of byzantine plot that left Dumbledore dead. It meant that Voldemort meant business, and that my silence might well keep me alive through the end of this, whatever the end turned out to be.
But my silence was beginning to chafe.
I couldn't do anything at school; Malfoy would hear about it before I could blink. I couldn't tell Mum; I didn't want to put her or myself in danger, if someone thought she was worth going after. I couldn't go to the continent for some sort of release; there were too many people there with ties to Britain.
That left Muggle London, as much as I loathed the idea. I would look far too much like a tourist for my own good, I would be at risk if the Death Eaters got frisky, I might well cock up the whole affair... But no one passing by would be likely to know me, and dressing the part didn't mean going out without my wand. Besides, if anyone I knew did happen to spot me, I could always feign ignorance on the matter of proper clothes for blending in. It had been perfectly true for half of everyone at the Quidditch World Cup, after all.
The Leaky Cauldron had a bin of Muggle clothes back by the loos, for people who needed to run errands outside of Diagon Alley; I'd never needed to partake before, but it was the only way I was likely to find what I needed. After some rummaging, I found a skirt and blouse that didn't seem like they'd be at odds with the summer weather, and even a bra - why that had been cast off, I couldn't say, but I wasn't questioning my luck. I ducked into the loo, transfigured my findings so that they would fit, and set about cleaning myself up.
I'd become quite good at shaving charms since fourth year - stubble drove me nearly as batty as morning hard-ons, some days - but this was the first time I'd tried one on my legs. The position was a bit awkward, but I made it work in the end. I filled out the bra with wads of toilet paper, being careful not to go too large. There wasn't much I could do about my Adam's apple, or my hair; I'd tried letting it grow when I was younger, with disastrous results, so I wasn't about to try charming it longer.
Still, I couldn't help but smile at the finished product, before transfiguring my robes into a passable handbag and Apparating to a park in Muggle London. I felt slightly less suffocated by everything I needed to balance to get through the coming school year alive.
That was the first time I dressed the part that summer, but it wasn't the last. For all I kept telling myself keeping it up would only make going back to Hogwarts that much more difficult, I found I needed those moments of sanity. I didn't even mind the people who stared at my chest, not if it meant they saw just another girl watching people feed the ducks.
Besides, I only had to put up with this nonsense for one more year. Mum's library had turned up exactly the kind of potion I'd been hoping for, and gathering the ingredients would be no hardship. If Voldemort kept his hold for longer than that year, or if the Ministry still wasn't worth putting up with, I could leave - go to America, or Australia, or somewhere that wasn't Europe.
Keeping my head down was starting to chafe, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I could only hope it didn't turn out to be an oncoming train.
That school year was all the wrong kinds of interesting.
I wasn't a target, since I'd kept my mouth shut, but by Christmas hols I would have given quite a lot to be a target, if only so people would know I didn't fit into their boxes. Not that I would have had any support from my school mates; the resistance, being mostly made up of Potter's followers, likely wouldn't have thought a Slytherin could disagree with Voldemort and mean it. And while Malfoy seemed far less certain as a junior Death Eater than he had the year before, I was sure he'd jump at the chance for a little queer-bashing, if it presented itself.
I had wanted nothing more than to survive for quite some time, by then; I suppose that was the ambition upon which the Sorting Hat based its decision. But it wasn't enough, as the year dragged on. I needed to survive on my own terms - not Voldemort's, not Dumbledore's, not anyone else's. Not that I knew how I was going to pull that off, but my clothing experiments from the summer had only clinched it.
I saw no good reason to act until May, when Potter and his cohorts decided to grace us with their presence. I doubt it really surprised anyone that Voldemort was on their heels, and I didn't think handing Potter over would keep Voldemort from attacking the school, no matter what Parkinson had to say.
That would have been all of my thoughts on the matter, had Professor McGonagall not used Parkinson's remark as grounds to dismiss my entire House, as though none of us could possibly have an interest in staying.
Halfway out of the front hall, I stopped and turned around, disregarding the protests of the firsties and lower years I shoved past. Parkinson and Bulstrode were too far ahead to stop me, and Malfoy and his henchmen were nowhere to be seen - upstairs plotting something, no doubt. Beyond that, I didn't have time to worry about anyone else.
I returned to find Professor McGonagall trying to turn out one of her underage students, which struck me as a losing battle; she turned away from that, paused, and raised an eyebrow at me. "May I ask why you haven't accompanied your House off of school grounds?"
"I do believe you said anyone of age could stay, Professor," I said, trying to ignore the feeling that this was the stupidest thing I'd ever done. "Besides, no one else is going to fight for me, so I might as well do it."
She considered that for a few moments, then nodded. "You do have a point there. I suggest you make your presence known to some of the others, to reduce the chances of becoming a target from all sides."
I nodded, and took her suggestion in the brief time until the Death Eaters closed in. I still felt bloody stupid, but more relieved than anything; I think I'd forgotten, since summer hols, how nice it was to do something for myself.
Staying to fight wasn't completely stupid. Since I came by my heritage from places other than Britain, I didn't have relatives in the Death Eaters, unless one counts the family of a few of my stepfathers. (But Mum's never counted them, so I don't either; it only complicates things.) That did me the service of cutting down the number of people who knew me.
In any case, I'd been working on a shield charm that still permitted one to cast other spells for my charms NEWT, and it served me well. I did my best to only leave people unconscious, given that I wasn't truly taking anyone's side.
When the fuss died down, I left everyone to their celebrations, found a quiet chamber off the Great Hall, and sat down. The matter of my allegiances was at least somewhat resolved, though I'd likely have people wondering why I didn't support the Ministry either. But that was only the beginning, and I doubted anyone would take me seriously if I announced the rest with a month of my last term left--
"You're Zabini, right?"
I did my best not to jump, and looked toward the door; a Ravenclaw girl - sixth year, if I didn't miss my guess - was standing there, waiting for an answer.
"And what if I am?"
"The Sorting Hat said I should talk to you. Didn't seem like a wise move until now, but it... seemed rather certain on the matter."
I frowned at that, but I could think of very few reasons for the Sorting Hat to recommend anyone talking to me - most of them having to do with why it tried to sway my Sorting. "Ah." I sighed. "So I've been outed by a talking hat, then?"
"I didn't tell anyone - that's your business, not mine. Besides, I only got round to this in October. It would have been silly to call you out before I'd owned up to it myself."
"October? How'd you pull that off without being hexed to bits?"
She snorted. "Very, very carefully. But I wasn't sure I would have the time to wait. Two of my roommates still think it's a social experiment, Bradley never talked to me anyway, so there's nothing lost there, and Anthony..." She trailed off, and just stood there smiling for a bit. "We're working out what that means for us as we go along, but he's trying."
I nodded, though I didn't quite see her point at first. But then her boyfriend's name rang a bell, from a rant that I'd wished I could have tuned out. "Wait, you were one of the..."
"One of the boys Malfoy hauled up in front of Umbridge, yes. I can't blame you for not doing anything for yourself, having to live with him. But I thought you might like to know you're not alone. Better late than never, right?"
"I... suppose there might be something to that." I still couldn't see myself taking the step before I left Hogwarts, but I already felt as though the last thing weighing me down was beginning to lift.
Not that I expected to be remotely pleased with the Sorting Hat any time soon.
Talking to the girl - she'd taken to calling herself Morgana, but wasn't sure if it would stick yet - made that last month far more bearable. So did what Malfoy was probably calling a strategic retreat; he'd run home with his mum after the battle, so whatever he thought it was, he wasn't in my hair anymore.
I don't think anyone else knew what to do with me. The few in my House who came back to finish the term, other than a handful who had stayed to fight for their own reasons, couldn't fathom why I'd turned around any more than Potter and his cohorts could. I didn't bother enlightening anyone - it wasn't as though they'd believe me, after all - and focused on getting through my NEWTs.
I want to say the first thing I did when I got home was talk to Mum about my situation, but my nerves got the better of me, and it came after I dragged out unpacking my school trunk as long as I possibly could. She needed me to go over it three or four times, but she never once seemed likely to turn me away for being her daughter rather than her son.
"The important thing is that you are mine," she said, once I'd explained enough for her to grasp it. "I raised you to go after what you want, and you are doing that. And I cannot deny that I have always thought women are safer than men."
"Would that be why you marry rich arseholes and give them what they deserve after they've had time to change their wills?" I said, and Mum laughed.
"Part of it, dear," she said. "Though I'm sure you will find your own niche, even if that's sticking to one person."
Mum's the one who told me - via the man who briefly became my fifth stepfather, who worked in Experimental Potions at the Ministry - that the potion I'd unearthed in her library is illegal in Britain. She recommended I go to America on the pretext of meeting my father's family, and I took her advice. (I want to see where she was born, one day, but it's been deadly to be a magic user in Libya since 1969. No matter; I'm bound to outlive the doddering fool who thinks wizards would dismantle his glorious republic.)
Perhaps the best thing about going to America was that I could set the terms of how people saw me, even before I introduced the potion into the mix. It didn't even matter that I'd never considered renaming myself; there's an unbelievably high number of Americans who think Blaise is a perfectly acceptable girl's name. In rather short order, I felt better than I ever had at Hogwarts.
The potion took a few months to fully work; it's taken in three doses, and it starts with the important bits and goes outward from there. I suppose the theory there is if you can't cope with the change to what's in your knickers, it's easier to back out before you've changed everything else. And I will admit, my first period was every bit as horrible as Parkinson and Bulstrode had made the experience sound, but it was well worth it, for not having a penis anymore.
I rather liked America, somewhat to my own surprise; once I got used to the changes the potion made, I applied to university. I've nearly finished with that, though I've yet to decide whether I want to go back to Britain for the long term. America has a way of making one think, and having reconsidered some matters, I don't know that I could stay in England comfortably. Besides, I'm not sure that Valerie would like all the restrictions the Ministry puts on magic use in public, after growing up without them. I know she wouldn't enjoy the casual use of memory charms on Muggles, and... well, her opinion matters very much, now.
In any case, Hogwarts is having a reunion of sorts - for survivors of the Second War - this summer. Valerie's said she wants to see wizarding London, Morgana wants to catch up and finally see the results of my transition, I rather miss Mum, and I think the reunion itself is something I need to go to.
After all, I feel much better in the boxes I made for myself than the ones other people tried to put me in. I may as well show off my work.