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hush now
close your eyes before the sleep, and you're miles away

--ed sheeran

i.

Winter is immovable. Frozen. The frost sets hard over the earth, paints a fragile twinkling crystal over everything. Animals retreat, and everything is left quiet. The trees sit bare boned, stripped down to nothing.

Inside the cold stone walls of Hogwarts, Albus, too, stands bare, stripped down to nothing, and looks in the mirror.

Nothing in the reflection is right at all.

Albus has a skirt, stolen from Lily, who owns so many hundreds she surely wouldn’t miss one. With trembling fingers, Albus pulls it on, over hips too narrow for any of it to be really convincing. Then the crisp white school shirt, still shaking fingers button it up. Then the green and silver tie, laying far too flat on Al’s chest.

Al looks in the mirror again, still trembling. It’s still not right, but it feels better. Closer to maybe, somehow, something which is comfortable, something Albus can be proud living like.

A beat of silence.  In the reflection, Al's limbs are too long and lanky, chest too flat, hair too short, Adam's apple bobbing up and down as Al swallows, hard, and it's all just wrong again.

Albus tears the skirt off, throws it blindly towards the bath, collapses down onto the floor, hands balling into fists, eyes filling with tears.

I’m a boy, Albus thinks, helplessly, hopefully. I’m a boy, I don’t need to wear a skirt. I’m just a normal boy.

Albus has thought that enough times to know how categorically untrue it is.

Albus is not a boy. Albus knows this for sure.

But it’s winter. Frozen, immovable, lifeless winter. So nothing changes at all.

ii.

Spring, and things emerge. Things change. New life springs forth. Flowers bloom in every direction, and the lambs are born, and the sky lightens, and warmth begins to hit the air again, even through the drizzle and cold breezes of the Scottish mountains.

Finally, the frozen winter is over, and things can move again.

One of those things is Albus.

“You need a hair cut, Albie,” James says, grinning wickedly, when they’re home for the Easter holidays and playing exploding snap in the living room while everyone else is out. “You look like a right girl like that.”

“What if I was?” Albus asks without even thinking about it, doesn’t have a clue why, feels possessed by some strange Gryffindor alter-ego or something, feels suddenly transported to a world where the word Albus is synonymous with brave, not weird quiet Slytherin who can’t admit to anything real.

“What if you were what? A girl?” James looked puzzled. Al can’t really blame him. “Well, you’re not, so why does that matter?”

“I think I might be,” Albus blurts out then, the words tumbling out all in a rush and uninvited and shit, Al can’t believe that was outloud. “A girl, I mean. I think I might have always been a girl.”

James freezes for a moment, stares at Albus, eyes wide. And Al can’t breathe, might throw up, Al’s heart is racing so fast it might leap right out of her chest. Why - why did she say that? It’s the first time she’s ever said it aloud, and all of sudden, it’s so fucking real. What if James hates her. They’ve always been close, what if this is the end of that, what if he tells everyone and her whole life is ruined? Albus feels like she might be about to have a panic attack, and she doesn’t know how to stop it. She’s never said it before - has only, really, admitted it to herself in the last few months. 

Then James shrugs.

“Oh,” he says. “Then don’t bother cutting your hair.”

Albus is so shocked she can’t even cry or react or anything, and they just keep playing exploding snap, and afterwards James pulls her into a tight hug for just a few seconds before heading off to his room to write to his girlfriend. And Albus is left feeling far too emotional, far too confused, far too everything-but-normal. But still somehow kind of okay.

Thing is, then it’s out. She knows James would keep the secret if she asked, but she doesn’t want to ask, it’s like just telling him has opened the floodgates. She’d once wondered if she’d ever be able to say those words. Now she doesn’t know how she can’t.

So Al decides to tell her parents.

She practices in the mirror for hours, and puts it off again and again, but knows this isn’t something which can be done by letter so has to get it out before the Easter hols are over. It’s on the last night before they head back to Hogwarts, after dinner, that Al corners Harry and Ginny in the living room, sits down in front of them on an armchair, takes what at the time feels like her last breath.  It's not really like she thinks they're going to hate her, but at the same time, she can't believe that fully enough, can't bring herself to hope that they'll be okay with it.  The hoping would hurt even more, she thinks.

“Mum, Dad,” Al says, shaking, terrified, but determination rattling through every word, as they stare at her with wide worried eyes. “I have to tell you something.”

“You got someone pregnant, didn’t you,” says Harry, sighing and putting a hand to his temple. “Merlin, I always thought that’d be James.”

“No,” says Albus, and before her dad can get any further down that train of thought or her mum can start coming up with far worse theories of her own, blurts it out, because the putting it off won’t help and it needs to just be out already. “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl. I’m trans. I - I want to transition.”

Silence. Silence. Silence.

“Are you sure?” asks Ginny, voice quiet. Albus can’t say another word, throat closing up, so just nods.

Seconds later, Albus is being enveloped in the biggest hug she has ever received.

“Oh, Albie,” says Ginny, squeezing Al so tight she feels like she might explode.

“We love you so much,” says Harry over Ginny’s shoulder.

“So much,” Ginny agrees, patting the back of Al’s hair.

“We’re proud of you,” adds Harry, reaching out past his wife to grip Al’s shoulder in a way which is probably supposed to be comforting.

“Us girls are finally gonna outnumber the boys in this house!” says Ginny, and she still doesn’t let go from the hug.

“Is there a new name you want us to call you?” Harry asks.

Albus doesn’t actually know what to say. She had been so busy thinking of all the horrible, terrible, bad things which could possibly happen when she told them - she’d forgotten to think about the good.

“I, um, hadn’t got that far,” she admits, and her eyes well up with tears as she stares across her mum’s shoulder at her dad, and in that moment, he looks so full of love, and she can understand for the first time how people can see him as more than just her goofy awkward father who burns the toast every single morning and used to fly around the garden two feet off the ground with her perched on his shoulders. She can understand how people see him as something great. “Just Al, is fine, for now.”

Her mother still doesn’t let go of the hug. Al lets herself cry, because everything’s going to be alright.

iii.

In summer, the world flourishes. Everything is vibrant, so full of life, it all seems to go faster and every turn is unpredictable. There is excitement, and sweltering heat, and long long days full of fun. Sweat and ice cream and sand between her toes at the beach, warm summer rain to run around in and screech, loud songs on the radio, all the excitement which can’t be fit into the school year.

Al doesn’t stay just Al for long.

So sixth year at Hogwarts lets out and the whole world is waiting. A new world, a world she’s never seen before, never seen like this.

The first week back from school, Ginny takes her bra shopping for the first time. She’s Mary, then, a simple name for a simple girl, which is how she feels at first. Her hair is growing fast now she’s stopped cutting it, and it hangs halfway down her back, dark and wavy and unremarkable. She still has her thick-framed glasses and her freckled nose, still looks the same in a lot of ways, but also she’s wearing pink lipstick and earrings shaped like snitches and her body is finally starting to curve the way she wants it to. Still, she doesn’t feel remarkable in any way, not yet at least, so she’s Mary, at first. Mary has a new figure and a mother who loves her, and Mary buys five bras, all plain white cotton, and two skirts, ones which actually fit her and haven’t been stolen from Lily, and one dress, soft silk with tiny pink flowers patterned all over it which swishes around her knees.

Ginny looks proud, and Mary loves her mother so much she cries in the car on the way home. She wishes she had red hair. She wishes she could be exactly like her mum. Her mum is the best person in the world.

The next week Mary stops fitting, and she is Ivy.

With Rose as a best friend and Lily as a sister, the floral theme seems fitting. Rose and Ivy go to the park and sit amongst the flowers and eat a picnic, thick crusty french rolls filled with mozzarella and spinach and tomatoes from Rose’s garden at home, and two bottles of butterbeer, and chocolate frogs for pudding. Rose hadn’t even blinked an eye when Ivy came out. Rose had promised she’d hex anyone who said a bad word about it, and Rose knows some very strong hexes.

“So do you fancy anyone?” Rose asks, eyes twinkling, as they lie back in the sun with their shirts tucked up to try and get their pale freckled skin to tan, bare legs stretching out in front of them, kicking lazily at each other with their flip flops, matching ones, free on the cover of the latest issue of Witch Weekly. Ivy laughs, even as her cheeks flush red a little.

Of course she does. Ever since first year she’s sat behind Scorpius Malfoy, the quiet shy Hufflepuff who hardly anyone talks to, in Charms, and ever since first year she’s got the worst Charms grades of the whole year because all she can do is stare at his messy hair and the gentle way he flicks his wand. She’s talked to him a lot even if they’ve never quite made friends and he’s always been funny and odd and kind and sometimes even looked like he maybe might like her back, but - that was before.

“It doesn’t matter,” she tells Rose, which is the truth. “I’m happy just trying to be me, for now.”

Trying to be her takes up enough time for the moment. With the potions the healers have her on, and the therapy, and sorting everything out with Hogwarts about what things will be like when she returns for her seventh year as her rather than him, where she’ll sleep, how it’ll work, whether her studies will be affected, how she’ll deal with bullying, and besides all that just how plain tiring it is to have her body changing like this.  The potions work near miracles but not quite near enough, and she's growing and changing and - it's a lot. She doesn’t really have time to worry about how cute Scorpius looks when he pushes his glasses up his nose.

She doesn’t say all that to Rose. Just keeps kicking at her, matching purple flip flops hitting together, and they grin. If Ivy had red hair and no glasses, she thinks they’d kind of look alike now. Rose always has been tall. Maybe they’d even kind of look like sisters.

The third week of summer, Ivy wilts away and she is Indigo.

A name as unique as she is. She likes the idea of it, etches Indigo Potter over and over again on pieces of parchment and hangs them around her room. Figures she’s never gonna fit in - so why not lean into standing out? Indigo and James go to an art gallery in London, and he talks non-stop the whole way around, and eats an ice cream, and points out every single pair of boobs in every painting. James doesn’t really like art, but Indigo does, and she loves her big brother because he knows that, so he takes her anyway. He buys her a badge in the gift shop on the way out, pins it onto the edge of her cardigan for her carefully with his tongue sticking out the edge of his mouth and then ruffles her long hair.

“Good call on not cutting your hair,” he says, considering her. “Looks much better like this.”

Someone wolf whistles at her as they’re leaving, a group of idiots sat on the steps outside.

“Oi!” says James. “That’s my sister, pervs!”

Indigo feels oddly flattered by the wolf whistle, and rather predictably emotional about James’s retort, and she winds her arms around her brother and leads him away, stealing the last bite of his ice cream cone. He protests, shoves her. She shoves him back. He tickles her, and they screech with laughter as they race across the square. And life is good.

The next week she remembers she’s always been shit at art and doesn’t like attention anyways, and Indigo is replaced by Bella, who is less of a statement. Bella and Harry are the only two early risers in the house, and at seven AM every morning they sit at the kitchen table together, drinking tea, as Harry burns the toast, and they listen to the sounds of the world just waking up around them.

“Ready for your appointment?” Harry asks through a mouthful of burnt toast, just like he does every week, when he takes her to St Mungo’s. And she nods, just like she does every week, and he nods back, smiling. They look at each other through their equally stupid thick glasses, and Al regrets all those weeks ago when she’d wished she could look just like her mum. Looking like her dad is okay, too.

At the appointment with the healer she has to talk a lot, and her dad waits outside, and then she is given her new lot of potions for that week. She still has to sign for them as Albus, but that’s alright, because she doesn’t know what else she’d sign as anyway. She comes out of that appointment, seven tiny potion bottles tucked into her backpack, hair tucked behind her ears, hands fiddling with the hem of her skirt. Her dad smiles at her. And she realises she’s not a Bella.

As they exit St Mungo’s, she notices the Welcome Witch wears a nametag which says Ruth. That’s a nice name.

So the next week, she's Ruth.

“What would you have called me if you’d known I was a girl when I was born?” Ruth asks Ginny one day, as they stand in the kitchen together, back door open to keep the room cool, bright hot yellow sunlight streaming in through the blinds, the screeches of James chasing Lily around the garden with an aguamenti charm echoing around, but a kind of stillness in the kitchen nonetheless, a warm soft kind of stillness.

They stand there and cut up vegetables for the lasagne Ginny’s teaching Ruth to make, and Ruth watches their hands next to each other on the chopping board. Ruth has her nails cut short, and painted green but the polish is chipped all around the edges because she’s still not very good at doing it. Ginny’s nails are plain, but somehow their hands still look a whole lot alike. And it suddenly occurs to Ruth to ask that, the question which might somehow be the end to all her naming troubles.

“Oh, we would’ve called you Lily,” says Ginny, shrugging as she throws a handful of carrot slices into a saucepan. “And then your sister would’ve been called something else. Not sure what, really. Everyone else had used up all the other dead war heroes by then.”

She grins in her warm wicked way so Ruth knows she’s joking, but still it doesn’t help much.  That’s pretty much the end of that conversation.

“Should I start on the sauce?” she asks instead of anything else important.

The next week, August draws to a close, and it’s time to go back to Hogwarts. She isn’t Ruth anymore, had found the name Celene in a book she quite liked and decided to run with that, so it’s as Celene she returns to school for her seventh and final year, one which promises to be a hell of a lot different to the last six. She gets a lot of looks on the platform. She’s wearing her school uniform already, not the robes because it’s still sweltering but her new pleated skirt and crisp shirt with the sleeves rolled up and her green and silver tie, just like always, only now it hangs different over the swell of her breasts, and she loves it.

(It seems like she’s getting less looks from the first years and after a while she wonders if, just maybe, people who haven’t known her for years before can’t even tell.   Which is weird and scary and thrilling all at once.)

“That skirt’s too short,” her uncle Ron says when he sees it. Uncle Ron’s always been overprotective like that.

“It’s longer than Lily’s!” Celene protests, and Rose laughs, drags Celene away to a carriage before she can say anything else.

“Bye, dad!” Rose calls over her shoulder. Celene leans out the window of the compartment Rose forces her into and waves to her parents. They wave back.

Celene doesn’t even realise Scorpius Malfoy is in the carriage too until the train pulls away from the station and she moves back from the window. It’s fair enough - he’s had his head hidden behind a rather large book. Celene immediately squeaks, and turns bright red, before kicking Rose in the shins when Rose starts to laugh. Obviously her cousin has figured out her rather unfortunate crush.

“Hi,” says Scorpius, smiling up at Celene, all bashful and wide eyed behind his glasses which are almost as dorky as hers. No different to how he used to, not even a little bit. “Did you have a nice summer, Al?”

It’s in that moment that she realises she can’t bear to give him the name Celene, so that one is scrapped too. Instead, she just nods, and flings herself down into the seat next to Rose, who is still giggling, and watches the sun outside the window.

She thinks she’s probably changed the most over this summer than the rest of her whole life. But then, that’s what summers are for.

Scorpius asks if they want to play exploding snap, and the sunlight streams in through the window warm against their sides, and Mary-Ivy-Indigo-Bella-Ruth-Celene nods, crosses her legs, chews on a pink-painted nail and laughs through her blush as he fumbles with the deck, looking adorable as he does. In that moment, she actually really does just feel like Al, again.

iv.

Autumn takes hold of the world all at once, and the leaves change, splashing everything with hues just as bright as summer but different somehow, warmer, quieter, more subdued. Life slows down a step after the frantic summer - there's a sense of balance to things again.

Then the leaves fall, staining everything those soft warm colours, burnt reds and rich yellows and a thousand shades of brown, and then they settle on the ground.

So, too, does she settle.

Settles into her body, settles into her new life, her new mind. Settles into the stares people still give her sometimes, but which are lessening with every day she stomps her way around the castle. Settles into her new bed in the girl’s dormitory, and everything it represents, and how shocked she still is that she’s allowed to sleep there, that the three other Slytherin seventh year girls have no objection to it - since the governors left it up to them in the end.

Settles into her new name, which is really, kind of actually her old name.

“Allison,” she tells everyone, writes a letter home to her parents to the same effect. “But you can call me Al for short.”

Because really, all she’s ever been is Al, anyway.

There are autumn leaves on the ground, and a chill in the air, and every breath Al takes, she feels like her whole body is lighting up all over. Life is pretty hard, sometimes. But it’s pretty fucking good too.

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