An Assortment of Hats
Dear Sandra Kellgren,
The Association for Black Wizarding Excellence is pleased to inform you that you have been officially nominated by ABWE’s board of trustees for membership within our association.
The ABWE is devoted to promoting equity and advancement for Black wizards, a community hitherto overlooked by the governing bodies of the Wizarding World. Membership is offered to those who have made significant contributions to the furthering of Black Wizarding interests.
To complete the application process . . .
Sandra read the letter once again, although she had the words set to memory. She tucked a lock of her curly hair behind her ear while exhaling in exasperation. What was she to do?
The familiar sound of piercing laughter approached from across the courtyard. Quickly, she folded the letter up and slipped it into her bag where it had sat, nestled for the past week. She had not been quick enough because as her friends approached, Kelsey rolled her eyes.
“Why do you keep reading that letter?”
Nico Park, Gryffindor in spirit though not in actuality, spoke up in ascent, “Just accept the membership!”
Sandra began to protest. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t that simple. They all came from white wizarding families except for Nico, who was Japanese-Korean but still solidly from the wizarding world. Sandra, on the other hands, was mixed and essentially Muggle-born. She had been raised by her white Squib father and Black Muggle mother. She didn’t feel she could rightfully stand as an example of excellence in Blackness or wizardry.
Before Sandra could speak, Samantha, or as the guys of the school called her, “the pretty blonde one,” cut her off.
“We know. You’ve said already, ‘you’re not sure if you’re Black enough,’” she said in a sarcastic tone. “I’ve never really seen you as Black either, but you’re smart and Blaise Zabini has been on the cover of Witches Weekly twice!”
“She probably thinks she’ll be too busy at that Charms facility to be wooed by Blaise Zabini!” said Kelsey.
“Don’t be selfish, Sandra. Think of your friends! I won’t be too busy,” exclaimed Samantha.
In a huff, Sandra got up from the courtyard bench and said, “It’s the Radford Research Facility and we’ll be doing important work studying and developing charms to potentially improve the quality of life for wizarding folk with disabilities!”
They weren’t listening. Samantha and Kelsey were chatting animatedly about Blaise Zabini’s most recent Witch Weekly spread. Nico gave her a sheepish shrug before turning her attention to their friends.
Two more days passed and Sandra still had not responded to the letter. Alex Johnson, the ABWE Board of Trustees Secretary, had requested response no later than April 17th. She had a little over two weeks left. That was plenty of time to think it over. In the meantime, she had thrown herself into her Charms work.
Dusk was fading over the trees of the Forbidden Forest outside of the classroom window. The Charms Club meeting had run a bit over, and Sandra was diligently working on her current project—charming a chair to hover as directed with some new techniques she had read in a few scholarly publications. Professor Flitwick, out of appreciation for her skill and her leadership within the Charms Club, often let her use his classroom after hours to work on her research.
The chair was hovering as directed, but the effort required in willing it to turn as you would direct a Muggle wheelchair was far more than could feasibly be leveraged over a long period of time.
“Ah, of course I should not be surprised to see you at work at this late hour Ms. Kellgren.”
Professor Flitwick ambled towards his desk where he began to remove some things from the drawers, placing them into a briefcase.
“Sorry Professor Flitwick, I know it is quite late. I wanted to see if I could enchant the chair to be ambulatory with thought alone before leaving for the break.”
Flitwick seemed impressed with her work as he generally was. She explained the limitations she was currently experiencing and he nodded thoughtfully. He assisted her for a few moments, leaving his belongings on his desk, forgotten. This happened frequently. There wasn’t a puzzle the Head of Ravenclaw House had met that he could resist taking a crack at.
“Will you be journeying far for the Easter Holidays?” Flitwick asked.
“Not very far. My grandparents have arranged a Portkey to take me to their house in Alderley Edge.”
“Yes, it’s a village in Cheshire county.”
Sandra had always appreciated Flitwick’s feigned ignorance on the matter. Everyone knew of the Kellgrens of Alderley Edge. They were a family of quiet notoriety and substantial wealth. They were not of the Sacred Twenty-Eight that were infamous in England — that she knew, Kellgren was a Swedish name. They were however, of comparable status. Most people reacted in shock “The Kellgrens of Alderley Edge? I didn’t know they had a granddaughter.” Which in truth, she hadn’t known she was their granddaughter until recently.
Her father was a Squib, and like many Squibs and Muggle-borns, had gone into hiding at the age of 17 during the First Wizarding War. Believing Dumbledore’s warnings that Voldemort was not truly gone and having met his future wife, he had remained estranged from the world and his family since. It was not until Sandra had received her Hogwarts letter that she knew anything of the Wizarding World or her grandparents whom she had long assumed were dead.
“I’m sure I do not need to remind you of the importance of continuing your studies through the holidays.”
She glanced away from the chairs she was now stacking and putting away with a wave of her wand, to give him a glare.
“You know my acceptance as an apprentice to the Radford Research Facility is conditional on my N.E.W.T. results.”
“Which is all but written history, but I do appreciate your drive. Your grandparents must be so proud of your acceptance. The Radford Research Facility is very prestigious.”
“Yes, I imagine they will be.”
“Oh you haven’t told them?”
The truth was that she had only known her grandparents for 6 years. Beyond her agreed upon annual visit over the Easter Holidays, they merely exchanged a few letters throughout the year. A deeper facet of the truth was she didn’t want them to know.
She couldn’t shake the vexing thought that people had found out who her grandparents were and that it was the reason why she was getting all of these opportunities. Sure there was her work to give credit of the offer from the Radford Research Facility, but the ABWE was a different story. To receive both was too good to be true.
“No, Professor, I haven’t told them about either of the offers.”
She explained to him about the letter she received from the ABWE and her wariness. Although Professor Flitwick was not Black and was raised in magical society, he did have a mixed heritage like she had, being part goblin. Also, he was also a very attentive listener, whose insight she trusted.
“That is what your long face is about? I would imagine your true heritage is a secret to all except those who you choose to share it with,” he said. Upon seeing the doubtful look on her face, he continued, “Of course you deserve the membership. You’re one of the most talented students I’ve had since Hermione Granger herself. She’s a member of that association you mentioned, I believe, and she is a Muggle-born.”
Sighing, she thanked him. A lot of people compared her to Hermione Granger. She assumed that it was because they were both Black and smart. That she could tell, that’s where the similarities ended. She was a Ravenclaw, who was very risk averse, came from a very average background, and had very average friends. Hermione Granger, indeed.
The holiday with Grandfather and Grandmother Kellgren had passed by surprisingly pleasantly, with Sandra spending most of her free time studying. The magical Kellgrens lived in a very large cottage-style house with multiple servants at hand.
Generally, she felt very out of her element when visiting her grandparents. It had taken two visits before she managed to stop calling them “Mr. and Mrs. Kellgren,” and had settled on the formal “Grandfather and Grandmother.” Her father, though supporting her pursuance of magical education, still did not want anything further to do with the magical world or his parents.
She had to admit to herself that she didn’t feel very disposed to like her grandparents either. But, they were relations within the wizarding world that wanted to know her, and being brought up outside of the magical community, she didn’t feel she could turn that down.
This holiday she spent most of her time locked away in the guest bedroom they had made up for her, studying. However, on the 9th they insisted she accompany them to Diagon Alley and join them for dinner in celebration of her 17th birthday.
The walkways of Diagon Alley were packed for the Easter Holiday. There were sales going on all around. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes boasted bouncing savings on their Repeating Rabbit Muggle Magic Trick set. Quality Quidditch Supplies was selling novelty Snitches decorated in the style of Easter Eggs. Although, Sandra had very little experience with magical creatures, she was very intrigued by the color-shifting rabbits on offer for the holiday at Magical Menagerie.
There were a few Hogwarts students she recognized from the halls; she waved to them as they passed. Some waved back, but most gaped at her grandparents behind whom she was trailing. It must have been an odd sight.
Sandra had her kinky dark hair pulled back in a low ponytail and was wearing her normal skinny jeans and trainers with an old faded cardigan. The clothes suited her typical Muggle life and school friends. But her grandparents’ presence exuded magic. They wore simple clean wizard’s robes, but even the untrained eye could see that they were made of the finest materials. Their fair complexion and shiny straight hair almost made them look regal. Embarrassed, she ducked her face down and tried to place distance between herself and her grandparents.
“Sandra dear, do catch up!” her grandmother called over her shoulder.
They were approaching a small but rather elegant storefront. In clean curly font, the small sign read Twilfitt and Tattings. She recalled hearing the store mentioned by Slytherin students of a certain caliber when bragging about their new robes and hats. Stifling a groan, she jogged to catch up with her grandparents. She supposed it had been wishful thinking to want a nice set of journals for her birthday.
Inside was well-lit and not unlike a boutique you would find on London’s high street. A finely dressed blonde-haired witch immediately greeted her grandparents.
“Mr. and Mrs. Kellgren. Lovely to see you again. I presume you’re here for your order.”
“Ah yes, thank you. In fact, it’s a gift for our beautiful granddaughter who comes of age today.”
Her grandmother shoved her forward to the sales associates gaze. Her eyes raked over her kinky hair and Muggle clothes, making Sandra feel self-conscious. She glanced around the small shop. There wasn’t another person of color to be seen and certainly no Muggle-borns.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” said the sales associate with a tight smile. “Let me go retrieve your order from the back.”
Immediately, she began to try to dissuade her grandparents from giving her such a lavish present.
“I really would be fine with a new set of journals. There’s a particular set of leather-bound ones at Scribbulus – “
“Nonsense, dear! It’s not every day a witch comes of age. The occasion calls for celebration,” her grandfather said.
Sandra sighed. She often felt her grandparents got the wrong idea. Her family wasn’t poor. They were very solidly middle-class. She could afford to buy more wizards robes and cloaks, but they weren’t practical around her parents and friends at home.
The flaxen sales associate returned with a rather tall hat box. She gently set it down and the three of them approached the counter. Despite herself, Sandra felt a jolt of excitement as the witch waved her wand, lifting the elegant silver lid off the box. There amongst the tissue was a wool emerald green witch’s hat. The witch levitated the hat before them.
“It’s beautiful,” Sandra said just above a whisper.
And it was. The cone scrunched at the top ever so elegantly, standing tall and proud. A satin ribbon of a darker forest shade wrapped the base in a tasteful bow. The brim was wide and curved upward which she knew to be the style of high fashion based on what she had seen in the halls of Hogwarts. It was absolutely not her style. It was too much, too tall, too magical, too beautiful even.
She became very conscious of everyone’s gaze on her.
“Do you like it? Green is a traditional color but if you want something more understated, Trina can—”
She shook her head not really hearing her grandfather’s words as she stared at the hat. She owned no other witch or wizard hat other than the one she had been required to buy for school.
“I’m not sure that it’s very much my style,” she said as politely as she could manage.
The sales associate witch, whose name she now gathered was Trina, looked aghast.
“I assure you, ma’am – these vintage styles have come to us straight from Paris.”
Sandra blinked, slightly taken aback. She looked desperately around, her eyes landing on a case of wizards and witches hats.
“It’s a beautiful hat. I just think something more understated might suit me more. Like perhaps that one.” She pointed to a black hat with a smaller more rounded cone and small brim. It was accented with a lace bow tied around the base.
Sandra stood nervously as her grandparents looked at each other contemplatively. She could tell they had put a lot of thought into their gift and were proud to be able to offer it, and while they were not close she didn’t wish to offend them. Her grandmother looked from the black hat to Sandra as if trying to conjure an image of it on her head. Before she could suggest that Sandra try it on, Trina spoke up.
“My lady, I’m not sure that that hat would fit over your hair. I think you’ll find that this one will be much better.”
Dread filled the pit of her stomach as color flooded her cheeks. She was too shocked to feel the anger she usually might. Most people pretended to not notice her wildly curly hair.
Her grandmother whipped her head to look at the associate.
“Do Undetectable Extension Charms not work on hats?” she asked in a dangerously curt voice.
The usual lilt to her grandmother’s speech was gone. Something about the way she spoke reminded her of Headmistress McGonagall. If Sandra didn’t know any better, she’d say she was angry.
Trina stammered, “Oh well, y-yes ma’am. I –“
“We’ll have both and whatever else our granddaughter would like.”
And with that final word from her grandfather, the woman boxed up both hats in addition to a short grey tweed cloak that her grandmother had insisted upon.
They said nothing more of the shop incident even after they had returned from their shopping trip. In fact they hadn’t spoken much until dinner that night as they sat in the dining parlor.
“Thank you again for my gifts. It really wasn’t necessary,” Sandra said.
“My dear, turning 17 is a big deal for a witch. It shouldn’t be overlooked,” her grandfather said.
Sandra gave a little laugh. She said, “In the Muggle world, it’s 18 that a person becomes an adult. I suppose in my mind that’s always been the milestone I was heading towards.”
“Well, there’s no reason they can’t both be important,” her grandmother said.
Sandra thought this was an odd response. She had never considered celebrating both.
“Besides, if you had refused the gift for your birthday we would have just made it a congratulatory gift,” her grandfather said.
At seeing Sandra’s confused face her grandmother burst into laughter over her soup.
“If you’re going to be doing work at the Radford Research Facility you really must look the part, dear.”
“How did you know about that?” Sandra asked, uneasy.
Were her suspicions correct? Had her grandparents influence been what had gotten her the apprenticeship and the membership with the ABWE?
“Of course we knew,” her grandfather said. “Headmistress McGonagall sent a letter to your parents, as well as us, informing us of the achievement.”
Sandra audibly sighed, relieved. So it hadn’t been their doing. Which likely meant they didn’t know about the ABWE. She had only told a select few about that.
They shot her curious looks.
“I thought that you might have had something to do with my acceptance,” she explained sheepishly.
Her grandfather looked disappointed.
“My dear! Your grandmother and I both were sorted into Hufflepuff. We value hard-work and dedication. There is nothing that the Kellgrens get that they do not earn.”
Resisting the urge to look at them incredulously, she bit her lips and merely nodded. She had known them for long enough that she shouldn’t be surprised at such a tone-deaf statement. But as they sat eating in the dining parlor the Kellgren Cottage, a country-cottage styled mansion passed down for the last three generations, it was almost impossible not to roll her eyes.
Nevertheless, she was pleased with the stance and what it meant for her affairs. She was still a mixed Muggle-born with the last name Kellgren as far as everyone else was concerned. But it wasn’t her grandparents’ influence or esteem that had made either entity offer her a position.
“There is one more thing,” her grandmother said as one of the servants she knew to be named Lisel cleared the dessert plates from the table.
Sandra sat as patiently as she could. This dinner had been more enjoyable and comfortable than any other that had passed with her grandparents. However, she was still itching to be alone where she could truly relax.
Her grandmother summoned a box that she hadn’t noticed before from the buffet table. Carefully, she levitated the package down in front of Sandra. Unsure, Sandra began unlacing the ribbon tied around the package.
She didn’t want any more high-end presents. It was nice of her grandparents to try so hard for a granddaughter they had never known. But it wasn’t necessary. She was perfectly happy to have a pleasantly cordial relationship.
The ribbon fell away easily. She lifted the lid to the box and gasped. Inside was a beautiful brass pocket watch. In lieu of hands, a series of stars and moons circled the face of the watch.
“It’s tradition that a wizard is given a watch for their 17th birthday. This one should have gone to your father. It’s been in the Kellgren family for years.”
Her grandmother was staring wistfully at the watch. Sandra furrowed her brows. While she knew her father would not want anything to do with the watch now, she still felt the injustice that it had never been offered to him.
“Thank you very much,” she said as she lifted the watch from the box.
As she lifted it, she saw it was looped around a long chain.
“While it’s not traditional for witches to carry pocket watches, I thought it might be appropriate to have it affixed to a chain. It can be worn like a brooch that way.”
Smiling, she nodded her approval.
Once back in her room, Sandra stood before the vanity mirror. She slipped the chain around her neck. The watch hung around, resting against her abdomen. The gold of the chain was flattering on her light brown skin. It almost felt warm to the touch, which made her wonder if it was actually imbued with centuries of magic. Though he had never owned it, the weight and warmth of it made her feel more connected to her father and to their magical upbringing.
Upon returning to school, Sandra was feeling better and worse at the same time. She felt satisfied knowing her future was her own and not some plot contrivance from her distant relations. However, feeling that distance between her and her own relations made her miss home. Her mother would know how to craft the perfect letter back to ABWE, if only she knew anything about wizard society.
Kelsey and Samantha were animatedly describing the disastrous Quidditch scrimmage that took place over the holidays that had landed Macmillan in the hospital wing as they relaxed on the grounds during their free period.
“Oh you two,” Nico said as she sat to join them, “Can’t you tell she isn’t in the mood?”
The two looked affronted, getting up from their spots on the lawn next to her and walking away.
“Those two will never clue in will they,” she said rolling her eyes.
Sandra laughed. “How’d you know anything was wrong with me anyway?”
“Because you’re an easy read.” Nico shrugged. “You’ve been getting exponentially more stressed as N.E.W.T.s approach and since you got that letter.”
Sandra couldn’t help her groan. There were three days until she needed to respond and she still wasn’t sure what she should do. She was a mixed girl from a multicultural Muggle neighborhood in London. What did she know about Black Wizarding Excellence?
Nico rolled her eyes pressing forward, “Anyway, I talked to Maggie about it. I’ve been worried about you!”
This surprised Sandra. Maggie was Nico’s step-mother who was Ugandan and had attended Uagadou. She had spent some time one summer holiday with Nico and gotten to know Maggie. It wasn’t surprising where Nico got her spunk.
“OK, well what did she say?” Sandra asked skeptically.
“To show you this.”
She handed her an old copy of Witch’s Weekly, Blaise Zabini’s first cover issue specifically. Sandra scowled at her.
“No no! It’s not that. It’s this,” she said, flipping the pages in Sandra’s hand before landing on a specific article.
The article was titled “Black Wizarding Excellence – a Movement Spearheaded by Blaise Zabini.”
“They interviewed Hermione Granger. I think you’ll appreciate what she has to say.”
“Can people please stop comparing me to Hermione Granger!” Sandra said, exasperated. “Not all Black girls with curly hair look alike, ya know.”
She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the trunk of the tree. She opened one eye to look at Nico. She had her hands raised in defense.
“Hey, that’s not what I’m saying. Stop listening to Kelsey and Samantha, they’re idiots. That’s not why you remind me, or Maggie for that matter, of Hermione Granger.” When she saw that Sandra was not going to protest she kept going. “It’s like in Astronomy when you look at the sky without a telescope. You can always tell which objects shine brighter. Hermione was a blazing comet. You are, too.”
Sandra was touched by her words. She opened her mouth to apologize for snapping at her.
“Just read it,” Nico said, cutting her off. “I can’t validate your identity for you, but she seemed to think this might do the trick.” She added with a wink, getting up to leave, “If this doesn’t work, then I suppose we can try boundless praise from your Asian best friend.”
She was surprised by her friend’s perceptiveness, but she probably shouldn’t be. Professor Trelawney had always been amazed at Nico’s ability to read auras. She snorted to herself and began to read.
Hermione Granger is the Department Head of the newly formed Magical and Non-Magical Relations Department for the Ministry of Magic—whose notable accomplishment has been getting new legislation regarding Muggle-born integration passed. She is more widely known as a member of the Golden Trio who are credited with the defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. She thinks Zabini’s organization is being formed at an opportune time.
“When you look at how diverse wizarding society has become — it’s always been diverse really, it’s only just now being recognized — it’s wonderful to see programs and institutions like this being established. You see the Women in Quidditch initiative, the influx of diverse employment in professions like Alchemy, and even the formation of my own department. Blaise spearheading this institution only makes sense.”
Some critics suggest that with the Death Eaters defeated and anti-blood-status prejudice laws in place, these movements are unnecessary. Notably, the Daily Prophet’s recent op-ed piece “Muggle Politics in a Wizarding Society,” suggests that these are new tensions merely arising from the rising interest in Muggle-culture.
“This is nothing new, I assure you,” says Granger. “I owe a lot to the Black Student Union that Blaise and Dean [Thomas] founded. I didn’t join until third-year but I needed it desperately. Everyone assumes that being friends with the Boy Who Lived made me who I am, and it did. But the Hogwarts BSU rooted me in my identity. Coming in as one of the only Black female students in my year, I didn’t have that before.”
Dean Thomas, the co-founder and later President of the Hogwarts Black Student Union, is the owner of Kuumba Art Studio in Diagon Alley. He isn’t acting in an official capacity in Zabini’s newest venture but was influential in the process of getting it off the ground . . .
It hadn’t occurred to Sandra that the legendary Hermione Granger might not have always been secure in her identity either. Of course, now it seemed obvious that she had been projecting onto her like people projected onto Sandra. She felt buoyant and invincible. Was this how Gryffindors felt all the time? There was nothing for it. She gathered up her things. She had a letter to write.