Summary: Half-blood Harriett Potter dreamed of going to Hogwarts to study under the greatest Potions Master in England, but in an AU where the school only accepts purebloods, the only way to reach her goal is to switch places with her pureblood cousin—the only problem? Her cousin is a boy. Gender-bender (sort of).
A/N: I know sometimes gender-bender means the character actually switches gender, but I'm really doing an Alanna the Lioness take on Harry Potter. So there's lots of gender-confusion, but the genders don't physically change, ok? Also this is AU so I changed a lot; seriously, there's no prophesy, Voldemort never attacked the Potters, he's a politician, and—oh yeah, Harry is now Harriett (sorry die hard canon fans, this story is not for you). And this is my first fanfic so feedback is much appreciated. Here we go :).
A/N Take Two: Thanks to some helpful anonymous feedback, I've decided to start again, this time trying much harder to give the main character actual character, not just Mary Sue. So wow, I'm feeling sheepish, but definitely going to make this better even if I have to revise it a hundred times, but if you read this and think Harry's unredeemable as a female, perhaps I'll scrap the project. Either way, let me know. Thanks!
The Pureblood Pretense
"Has one of my father's pranks turned your brains to porridge?" Arcturus Rigel Black clamped a hand over his cousin's mouth while glancing about the musty hallway anxiously, "You can't just say things like that in the open, Harry. Do you know what your mum would do to us if she heard?"
Harriett allowed herself to be pulled down the hall, up the narrow staircase, and into Archie's bedroom, quite used to her cousin's dramatics. Her mother was safely tucked away in the kitchen with Sirius and her dad, and it's not like the decapitated heads of his ancestors' house elves were going to be ratting them out anytime soon, but when Archie wanted drama, drama he created. She waited patiently while Archie dragged the chest of drawers over to barricade the door and settled for a very small eye-roll when he stuffed his handkerchief in the keyhole for good measure.
"Okay, now," he plopped down on the bed as if the last five minutes had exhausted him beyond endurance and stared at her through his untidy fringe, "Pleasepleaseplease tell me you weren't joking."
She took in his pathetically hopeful expression, "I wasn't. I convinced mum and dad that I want to attend the American Institute of Magic."
"I can't believe it," he blinked like an owl dazed by the sun, "It's happening. I'm really going to be a Healer. Harry, I—" he took a deep, steadying breath, "I don't know how I'll ever thank you."
Harry reached out to pat her cousin gently on the hand, "You're helping me just as much. Without you taking my place at AIM, I couldn't take yours at Hogwarts, could I?"
"Right, guess not," Archie laughed a bit breathlessly and a grin lit up his round face with mischief, "So, what's next?"
Harriett pulled out a well-worn piece of parchment from her pocket. She took a quill and ink from Archie's nightstand and crossed off 'lie through teeth to parents' from their list (Archie had written the list), "Well, we can't switch trunks until the night before we leave, so other than getting hold of the potion, that's it."
"Okay," Archie said slowly, "So when I get to AIM, I'll tell the Headmistress that whoever transcribed the forms over floo messed up, and my name's Harry, not Harriett. They won't know the Potters in America well enough to think anything of it."
"Yeah, but what I don't get is how you," here Archie pointed skeptically in the general direction of her face, "are gonna be me."
"Because you're so unique," Harry said dryly. Her sense of humor had always been kind of… deadpan, in Archie's opinion, "Everyone knows of the Black heir, but you don't really have any friends-"
"—besides me, and I inherited enough pureblooded features from my dad to pass even Lucius Malfoy's scrutiny," she finished, tilting her nose up to emphasize the afore mentioned 'good' breeding.
Archie narrowed his eyes in mock judgment, "Hmm, yes, this one does have the pureblood nose and cheekbones. The eyes are a bit vulgar—if only they were a stately grey rather than that common green hue—but the perfectly pointed chin more than makes up for it. But the hair! Oh, dear Merlin, never did a pureblood see the like."
Harry tossed a pillow lazily at his snobby expression, "Our hair is already the same color—black as your family name."
"It's not the color that's the problem," he chuckled, "it's the texture. The Potter Mop is quite distinctive."
"It's not that bad," Harri narrowed her eyes at her cousin's patent disbelief.
Archie shook his head ruefully, "Sorry, cuz, but anyone in England who sees that hair will right away associate it with your father. His picture's in the paper too often. The hair has to go if you want to pass as me."
"But you have long hair," she frowned, "it's Black family tradition to grow out their hair."
"Not anymore. Tomorrow you and I are both cutting our hair in honor of the end of our childhood—at least that's what we'll tell our parents. Really we just need to make you look less like a girl."
Harry grimaced, imagining the look on her mother's face when they came back from the salon tomorrow, but in the end there was nothing for it. The next day she and Archie went to a muggle barber shop and said goodbye to their long and (in Harry's case) unruly hair. Gone was the wayward crow's nest, and in its place were close-cropped locks that curled gently around her forehead and ears.
"I look too delicate with my face all exposed," Harriett frowned while squinting at herself in the mirror back at Grimmauld Place, "They'll know I'm a girl."
"Naw, purebloods are all really delicate anyway, and you only think you look exposed because you're used to seeing your face with glasses on," Archie said, "Which reminds me, we need to get you contacts, preferably grey or at least a dull hazel."
"I'm going look like you when this is all over."
"That's kind of the point."
The last week of August arrived soon after, and Archie packed up everything he could possibly need for a school he wouldn't ever be attending. He felt rather guilty at the prospect of lying to his dad for the next seven years. Now that mum was gone, he was all his dad had left, but on the other hand, it's not as if they were hurting anyone. Harriett got to chase her dream, and AIM had the best Healer certification track of any Western magical school; by the time he graduated he'd be a fully-qualified medi-wizard. If the two of them could pull it off, that is.
The night before he'd be leaving for school, Archie and his dad went over to the Potter's place in Godric's Hollow for dinner. Uncle Remus was there, too. Of course, Remus wasn't really his uncle; nor was James, come to think of it, but they all considered each other family, so exact blood-relations didn't really matter.
"So are you psyched to go to school, Archie?" James asked across the table. Lily nudged him reprovingly with her elbow, glancing at Harry with unveiled concern, but James grinned unrepentantly at his wife and continued talking over the spread, "You're going to love Hogwarts—no place like it anywhere. Why, the things me and your uncle and father got up to when we were there… you'll have to carry on the family legacy of course—"
"—the legacy of pranking the daylights out of unsuspecting Defense Against the Dark Arts professors!" Sirius laughed uproariously while slapping Remus, who was sitting next to him, on the back in reminiscence. Remus shook his head fondly at his good friend, but didn't say anything to rebuke him. Archie knew it was Remus' opinion that it was far too rare that Sirius laughed like that. His wife, Archie's mother, had passed away a few years ago of a rare wasting sickness, and his dad really hadn't been the same since. Neither had he, for that matter.
"Why just the DADA professors?" Archie asked, "Is that part of the tradition?"
"Eh, not really, just that they're usually the best targets," James rubbed his neck in thought, "See, the job's been cursed as long as anyone can remember, so you never get the same one two years in a row."
"And rookie professors are always the easiest marks," Sirius winked at his son, "Though if you want to prank Snivilus once or twice your old man would be much obliged."
"Don't call him that!" Lily said automatically, her tone revealing how often she gave her husband and Sirius that very lecture, "He's a good man."
"Not to mention a genius," Harriett added quietly into her fish. No one acknowledged this remark, as it, too, was commonplace.
Harriett had been in a state of near-idol worship (or as close as someone with Harry's disposition could get to it) with their dads' old school rival ever since she read an article in Potions Quarterly about his work with the Wolfsbane potion. She came off as dull and uninteresting, if not downright cold, to most people, but she had harbored a deep fascination for stirring up unlikely concoctions for as long as he could remember. Archie knew his cousin wanted nothing in the world but to brew Potions for the rest of her life, preferable alone, but the only way to become the greatest Potions Mistress in the country was to study under the greatest Potions Master in the country, and he was at Hogwarts.
"And don't you think eleven years is a bit long to hold onto such a childish rivalry?" Lily looked to Remus for support.
"Come on, guys," the werewolf said cajolingly, "There's no need to perpetuate this, is there? I'm sure by now he's washed his hair."
Sirius and James burst into fresh gales of laughter, and Lily gave Remus an exasperated, thanks-for-nothing stare. He held his hands up in surrender and cheerfully changed the subject, "So, Harry, how are you looking forward to America?"
"Can't wait," she glanced up at Archie before continuing, "I'm actually thinking of trying the Healer-tract."
"Really?" Remus chewed thoughtfully, "That's quite a difficult area of specialization. I thought you were planning on pursuing a Potion's career."
"Well all the really advanced Healing is mostly Potions now a days anyway," Harry said, toying casually with her vegetables, "And this way I'd get to help people, not just invent new Potions for money."
Archie didn't think she was lying—she almost never did, directly. She had told Archie she wouldn't mind helping people one day with her Potions, and Medi-wizards did rely heavily on Potions for more complicated cures to magical maladies, but he knew she didn't want to be a Healer. That was all Archie. After watching his mother suffer for months because of that horrid sickness, with almost no viable treatment options, he became obsessed with the idea of one day saving lives. Sirius wouldn't hear of him going to America, though. Archie thought maybe he was afraid he'd be losing his son in a way, too, if he went so far away. His father insisted he attend Hogwarts, where his parents has met and fallen in love, so when Harry had first suggested the switch, Archie immediately agreed. He knew he could never bring his own mum back, but if one day he could be the difference that saved someone else's loved ones, he'd lie to the whole world if he had to.
After dinner the two cousins went up to Harriett's room for a private goodbye. They wouldn't see one another until summer, after all.
"Did you get your dad to shrink it?" Harry asked.
"Yeah. You have the Potions from uncle James' Auror kit?"
They switched their miniaturized trunks, which wouldn't be un-shrunk until they reached their respective schools the next evening, and then Harry pulled out two beakers from under her bed, pouring a vial's worth of mud-brown liquid for each. They both plucked hairs and drank the vial with the other's essence. It was more pain than either had anticipated, but soon enough each felt as if they were looking into a mirror.
"Weird," Archie squinted his newly-green eyes, "You have awful eyesight, give me your glasses."
"That explains why the world's so blurry," Harriett blinked, taking off her spectacles and apparently enjoying her now-perfect vision. They had enough stolen Polyjuice to last until they were safely away from their parents the next morning, and after that Harriett had the contacts he'd gotten her to correct her vision and change her eye color to an unremarkable grey, while he had green contacts—just for thoroughness' sake.
"I packed extra potions books into my trunk for you, in case mum mentions something I would know about," Harry said, "Don't forget to learn a handwriting charm first thing so you can answer my parents' letters, and I'll do the same for the letters your dad sends. Keep an extra copy of what you write and we'll exchange them by owl post by the end of the school year so we can keep our stories straight over the summer."
"Yeah, yeah, I remember," Archie said. Honestly, Harry acted like it fell to her to take his mum's place sometimes. Not that he minded. Much. He thought absently that Harry must be more nervous than she looked if she was rambling on like this.
"That's it then. This is…goodbye. And good luck."
"Yeah," Archie felt a bit lost at the thought.
Harry took a deep breath, "Even if this blows up in our face and they kick me out before the first class, I'm saying right now: I don't regret anything."
Archie was taken aback at her unusual forthrightness, but squared his eleven-year-old shoulders, "Me neither. Thank you. This was your idea and without it I would have taken years longer to reach my goal."
"Same. Thanks for letting me borrow your name, Arch," Harriett said with her usual off-beat sense of mirth, "I'll try not to blacken it too much in the next seven years."
"Gee, thanks, cuz."
Harry ducked into the boy's bathroom on the Hogwarts Express and waited in a stall for the Polyjuice to wear off. Then she changed into her school robes and blinked her new lenses into place. Staring back at her from the mirror was a sober-looking, eleven-year-old boy with a halo of onyx curls and flat, grey eyes. His eyelashes were perhaps a bit too long to be masculine, but the lips were just thin enough and the fragile bone structure could have belonged to any number of pureblood lines. His voice was too high-pitched at first, but with a little practice it dropped to a more natural octave for a young boy.
Satisfied, she exited the restroom and began to walk the length of the train looking for a spare compartment. Glancing around at all the excited faces, it began to dawn on her that she'd really done it. She'd gotten as far as the train without discovery, and everyone she met from now on would be complete strangers, so anything she messed up on would simply be attributed to Arcturus Black's unknown character. On that subject, she thought maybe she should go by Archie's middle name. That way she's be less likely to get confused. Yes, she thought, I'll be Rigel from now on. Rigel Black, the best Potion's student Hogwarts has ever seen.
Rigel was nearly to the end of the train before she saw what looked like a promising compartment. There was only one boy sitting quietly within, reading the first-year Herbology textbook. She slid open the door and nodded slightly in greeting when the boy looked up. He had an open, cheerful face, with lank brown hair that fell across his forehead and plain brown eyes that held not a hint of malice.
"Are you saving these seats for anyone?" she asked.
"Uh, no," the kid looked surprised that she would think that, "You can sit, if you want."
"Thank you," she shut the door and took a seat across from him, "I'm Rigel."
"Neville," he smiled tentatively, probably used to giving his last name when first introduced to someone. She'd rather not bring up her borrowed last name just yet, however. Either he'd be a light-raised kid and automatically hate anyone named Black, or his dark pureblood parents would have told him the only Blacks left were blood-traitors.
"Pleased to meet you. Is that 1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi?" Rigel nodded at the book in Neville's lap. He glanced down at it as if to check, but caught himself and flushed.
"Yeah, um, have you read much of it yet?"
"I have," she said, then backtracked as the boy looked significantly alarmed, "I don't think you need to have read any of it though. I was only interested because Herbology has a lot to do with Potions."
"Oh," Neville looked much relieved, "Yeah, probably. So you like Potions then? I read the introduction to that book, too, but it looks quite complicated. And the first potion listed uses toad parts. I have a toad, his name is Trevor," the boy explained, "I don't know if I like the idea of dissecting animals for parts."
"You won't have to do the harvesting, most likely. The professor will have the ingredients already," Rigel said.
"You think? Maybe it won't be so bad then," Neville swung his feet a bit nervously, then blurted, "What House do you think you'll be sorted into?"
"I'm hoping for Slytherin."
"You—uh, Slytherin?" Neville squeaked.
"From that reaction, you must come from a family of Gryffindors. So do I," Rigel admitted.
"And you're actually hoping for Slytherin?" he looked half-scared, half-confused.
"The Potions Master at Hogwarts is the Head of Slytherin House," she explained, "I heard he favors his own House, so the best chance I have at getting extra tutoring from him is to be a Slytherin."
"All that for some extra help in Potions?" Neville bit his lip, "Can you even do that? Pick your House like that, I mean."
"Maybe not, but I think I can meet the requirements if I get the chance. I just have to act sneaky, right?" The last bit was a bit facetious, but she didn't think Neville had noticed.
"Well, good luck," he offered.
"Thank you. I hope you like the House you get as well."
After that they spent the rest of the trip in comfortable silence. The only interruption was when Neville quietly asked if Rigel would leave so he could change into his school robes. Rigel didn't mind stepping outside to wait if it made the shy boy more comfortable, though she was quite desensitized to the male form because of Archie's complete lack of modesty.
While she was standing outside the compartment, a tall boy with dark hair and a surly complexion approached her from the end of the train she was faced away from. Instead of just walking around her he veered and slammed a heavily-muscled shoulder into her back. She fell forward at an angle and awkwardly broke her fall with her elbows. She pushed onto her back and glared at the boy, who was sneering down at her.
"Are you blind?" she asked, remembering to pitch her voice deeper, the way Archie's went when he got angry, just in time.
The moment the older boy's eyes narrowed, she knew she shouldn't have said that, but despite how often Archie claimed she had the disposition of a rock, Rigel didn't take open hostility lying down unless there was a purpose for it. The bigger boy advanced on her almost casually, whipping a foot toward her middle. Only a swift roll in the opposite direction saved her from a bruised rib or two. She got to her feet and rounded on the kid, who could have been maybe a fifth or sixth year, "My apologies," she said, thinking to diffuse the situation, "Obviously you're not blind, just rather upset, but there's no need to take it out on me."
He took a step toward her with clenched fists, then paused and pulled out his wand instead, a nasty smirk on his face, "Little first-years should know better than to talk faster than their wand can move. Consider this your first lesson: when an upper-classman kicks you, you stay down."
I would if I thought it would make them go away, Rigel thought resignedly, stiffening her spine and preparing to take whatever curse he tossed her way.
Before either of them could make a move, a stern voice from down the train broke in, "You, there! No fighting on the train!" A thin redheaded boy with a gleaming gold badge on his chest strutted importantly up to stand between Rigel and the surly boy, neither of whom had relaxed their stance, "Flint!" he said upon catching sight of the other boy's face, "I might have known. I'll be taking ten points from Slytherin when we get back for pulling your wand on another student—and a first year no less."
Flint curled his lip at the boy, "Weasley." Apparently that was enough said in his opinion, for he turned and stalked off with one last annoyed glare in Rigel's direction.
"Nothing but trouble this time of year, that one," sighed the freckled boy. He looked down at Rigel "You all right there? Bad luck getting in Flint's way your first day. Likes to hold a grudge for a little while, so be sure to steer clear of his group of Slytherins for a few weeks, okay?"
"I certainly won't go seeking him out," she said, "Thank you for the intervention."
"It was no trouble," the boy said airily, "I was only doing my duty as a prefect."
"Right," Rigel nodded once more in thanks, then turned around and re-joined Neville in their compartment.
[end of chapter one].
A/N: To anyone who's read this far: thank you for giving an unusual idea a chance.