Daisy Atwater sat in N.E.W.T. Potions next to one of her best friends, Emmy Leighton. It was the beginning of her sixth year at Hogwarts and while excited by this, there was also a nagging feeling of anxiety that followed her around like a lost puppy. She didn’t want to acknowledge it but it was hard to ignore. Meanwhile, Gryffindor shared Potions with Ravenclaw, who normally received the most house points in class. Most Gryffindors were annoyed by this but not as much as Daisy: she actually knew all the answers but never had the guts to speak up.
There was light chatter in the dungeon as students waited for Professor Forester to arrive. Daisy pulled her robes closed and tightened her scarf. No matter that summer still clung to the trees outside, the Potions dungeon would always be dark and drafty.
“Why didn’t I drop Potions?” Emmy moaned as she looked at the stack of text books sitting in front of her. Her green eyes popped against her alabaster skin; her soft, strawberry blonde hair lay on her shoulders.
Daisy smiled, “Because you love Potions, that’s why.”
“No, you love Potions. I barely got an Outstanding on my O.W.L, yet here I am, continuing the torture.”
“You have me, you’ll be fine,” Daisy said as the doors opened. A few students turned around but most didn’t. Professor Forester took over after Professor Slughorn’s retirement and not as difficult or menacing as the late Professor Snape, didn’t command that kind of fearful attention upon entering the dungeon. But something was different, the students who did turn around let go an audible gasp, making everyone else look as well.
Instead of Professor Forester, a pasty rotund gentleman, there stood a tall, lithe Black woman with shimmering caramel skin and thick, coal-black hair that was wildly curly and free. Daisy’s mouth fell open as the woman entered the room; she couldn’t take her eyes off her.
“Good afternoon, I’m Professor Laine Aphor. Professor Forester is gone this year due to a family emergency, so I’m taking his place,” she said with an airy, regal voice. “I hate that I missed the Start-of-Term feast; I hear it’s quite festive and exciting. It all happened in a flash, really; Professor Forester was met with an emergency, Headmistress McGonagall made the call and here I am!” she said.
A hush fell over the class as Professor Aphor moved to the front. Her robes were a deep purple; underneath she wore a fitted dress that was nipped at the waist and stopped at her knees. It was a mixture of yellows, greens and blues; the pattern couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than an African print. Her thin arms were adorned with chunky gold bracelets; she was luminous. “I know you’re surprised to see me, expecting Professor Forester and all,” Professor Aphor said as she situated herself in front of the classroom. “But change is the perfect ingredient to growth,” she said with a flourish.
Daisy was motionless in wonder. Out of her six years at Hogwarts she never had a Black professor. As matter of fact, she never knew of any Black professors ever teaching at Hogwarts until now. She couldn’t help comparing her own caramel skin to that of Professor Aphor’s as well as her hair—difference was, Professor Aphor’s hair was set loose whereas Daisy’s was in her signature topknot.
Daisy’s hair was always a source of discomfort for her, even though her mum took great care to make her proud of it. Not only was Daisy’s hair big and natural, never being chemically straightened, she was also able to change its color at will. This was most evident when she was a small girl. Whenever she threw tantrums, her hair would turn bright pink, purple, or orange, depending on how upset she was. Of course this surprised her unsuspecting Muggle parents and older brother. After a while, she was able to control her hair color and its unruly tangles. She never changed its color or wore it loose unless she was alone. Attending Hogwarts made her acutely aware of her otherness. Being one of few Black students, she did whatever it took to blend into the homogenous student body. But seeing the way Professor Aphor proudly stood out stirred something in Daisy. She couldn’t identify it—it was fuzzy and out of focus yet very present, taking up space in her lungs, making it hard to breathe.
She cut her eyes to Emmy who immediately mouthed, “She’s beautiful.” Her green eyes wide in amazement. Daisy nodded in agreement, and quickly focused her attention back to the professor.
“Ravenclaw and Gryffindor… I’ve heard great things about all of the houses, especially yours. I’m excited for this term; we have a lot to learn. Before we commence, I’ll start by giving a little introduction of sorts. I was born in Ghana and attended Uagadou School of Magic where I was a six-time Potions Champion in our Mountains of the Moon Potions Tournament. I’ve travelled all over the world and have written countless books. We aren’t going to use them this year. I’ve decided to stick with Hogwarts’ book list; however, if you’re interested in my books, we can chat about them later. Alright, let’s get started,” Professor Aphor said. “Who can tell me the ingredients in Draught of Living Death?” she asked. A Ravenclaw boy’s hand shot in the air.
“Yes, sir, your name?”
“Drew. Drew McCormack, ma’am,” he said with an eager smile.
“Okay, Drew, go ahead.”
“Asphodel, valerian roots, and sopophorous bean,” he said while his housemates nodded in confidence.
“20 points to Ravenclaw! But what’s missing?” she asked, her large attentive eyes, scanning the room in anticipation.
“Asphodel in an infusion of wormwood,” Daisy muttered to herself. Emmy elbowed her in the side, urging her to speak. Daisy shook her head. Meanwhile, no one answered; Professor Aphor looked around, slightly disappointed.
“No one?” she asked. Emmy coughed loudly, drawing attention their table. Daisy lowered her head.
“Do you know, Miss…?”
“Leighton, Emmy. No, I don’t but my mate does. Daisy…?” Emmy said, brightly. Daisy gave Emmy a death stare while Professor Aphor looked on with a smile. Daisy’s face prickled in embarrassment as she worked to control her emotions. The last thing she wanted was for her hair to change color. She shrank a little in her seat as a few of her housemates looked on—shocked, and rightfully so seeing as she never answered questions in class. There was no turning back, thanks to Emmy, so she forged ahead, responding.
“Um…it’s actually asphodel in an infusion of wormwood,” Daisy said.
“Yes! We don’t want to forget that, do we? Very good; 25 points to Gryffindor!” Professor Aphor said before moving onto her next question. The Gryffindors beamed with pride, giving her nods of approval. Daisy let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. Her body buzzed with a tiny surge of adrenaline and pride; she liked how it felt to be seen.
“I can’t believe you outed me like that,” Daisy said as she and Emmy headed towards the Gryffindor Tower after class.
“You knew the answer; you always know the answer but you never say anything.”
“I do…sometimes,” she said in a small voice.
“If I were half as smart as you I’d answer everything.”
“I guess…” Daisy said, trailing off. She wanted to embrace her intellect like her hero Hermione Granger but she just couldn’t do it—the attention made her uncomfortable. At this point, all she wanted to do was blend in. But yet, she couldn’t ignore how good it felt to answer Professor Aphor’s question and earn house points.
“I’m not ready for sixth year,” came a haughty voice from behind. Daisy and Emmy turned to find their other bestie, Monroe Galveston sauntering behind them. Monroe was tan, tall, and lean. She had long black hair that moved every time she spoke and light eyes. She seemed to glimmer with entitlement—a pseudo-pureblood entitlement. Like most Hogwarts students, there were Muggles in her bloodline. Status was the only thing that mattered to Monroe so she rarely ever discussed the Muggle-borns in her family tree. “Professor McGonagall has loaded us with what I deem to be the equivalent of a year’s work in one day. Shrew. How was Potions?”
“Fantastic. We’ve got a substitute—Professor Aphor. She’s from Africa; she’s a brilliant Potions Mistress,” Emmy said in delight. “Something about the way she teaches; it’s like I can actually understand Potions. Well, at least more than with Forester.”
“Where’s Forester?” Monroe asked, turning her nose as if smelling something putrid.
“Family emergency,” Emmy replied.
“Africa? Hmm, that’s…interesting,” Monroe said.
Daisy wasn’t in the mood to chat; something about Monroe’s presence put her off. She wasn’t sure why, they all had been friends since first year. Maybe she needed to be alone; all she wanted to do was think about Potions: speaking up in class and of course Professor Aphor. They moved through the stone halls, heading towards the stairs. Daisy noticed Peeves torturing first years as they quickly scampered away in twos and threes.
“Oy, Daisy, hold up!” Daisy turned to find her boyfriend, Howard Simmons, a Hufflepuff student, running towards her. His cheeks were flush as usual; his thick brown hair flopped into his eye. He smiled, instantly warming her from the inside. Howard was fit—a standard tall and broad athlete; they had been dating since last year. Although they didn’t have much in common, he made her laugh and she hated to admit, more than anything, he made her feel as if she belonged.
“Headed to the common room?” he asked, breathless.
“Yeah, where are you going?”
“Care of Magical Creatures; I hear Hagrid’s got some fantastic beasts for us to poke and prod. Can’t wait! Hello ladies, Monroe…” he said as he voice got noticeably deeper.
“Howard,” Monroe said, dismissing his very presence as inconsequential.
“Hey, Howard,” Emmy chimed in.
“Let’s go, Howwieeeee!” a group of his mates called from a distance. Daisy looked and noticed Devon Swisher, Gavin McKinley and Lewis Davies—all rambunctious Hufflepuff Quidditch players. They giggled and shoved each other like first years as they beckoned him over.
“Are you coming to my Quidditch practice?” he asked.
“I have homework,” she said, confused.
“You always have homework; I need your support,” he whined.
Daisy frowned, “I have homework, Howard. You’ve never asked me to practice before…” she said, unsure as to what was going on. That unidentifiable something stirred in her; she could feel it lengthening in her chest as students moved past them heading in all directions.
“Well…Devon and Gavin’s girls sit in the stands and cheer them on,” he said, pouting. Daisy couldn’t hold onto her contempt.
“That’s because Holly and Isla have nothing better to do; it’s like being a girlfriend is their only purpose,” she said without thinking.
Howard took a step back, stunned. “Fine. I guess I’ll see you at dinner,” he said.
Instantly remorseful, she backpedaled. “I mean, I can come, if I can bring my readings,” she said quickly.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, disappearing into the crowd. She looked after him; that unidentifiable feeling was replaced with dark, heavy anxiety. She swallowed hard.
“I still don’t know why you date a Hufflepuff,” Monroe sneered.
“He’s okay,” Emmy said, casting Daisy a worried look.
Daisy held her tongue; she wasn’t in the mood to defend herself. They pushed through the portrait hole and she made a beeline for her room which was empty—thankfully. She threw her books on her trunk and flopped on the bed. She never upset the status quo with Howard; she wasn’t sure what came over her. She was the epitome of a dutiful girlfriend but something was different. Devon and Gavin’s girls, seriously? Was she supposed to blow off studying to watch them practice? He never asked her to practice; what was he playing at? Moreover, he knew how important her studies were to her. She groaned. Maybe she was being unreasonable—what’s wrong with being the girl that supports her boyfriend…at practice. She rolled on her back, staring up at the deep maroon canopy that draped her bed.
She let her mind drift to Potions and her spirits lifted, instantly. Professor Aphor’s face loomed in front of her; she couldn’t help but review every detail that she could remember. A Black Professor, she thought to herself. She clambered out of bed, and pulled out her topknot. She ran her slender brown fingers through her hair, stretching each strand until they were fully released. Her scalp tingled with relief; she went to the mirror, staring at her reflection. She began changing her hair color. First deep blue, then purple then finally bright pink. It made her skin tone pop—her eyes looked bigger as she shoved her hand in her cotton afro. She eyed her tiny nose and full lips. She imagined wearing bright clothes like the professor and gold jewelry that would make her look like a queen. A queen that was proud of her wits; who wasn’t asked to follow her boyfriend around like a mindless tart. She felt the unfamiliar stirrings again—stirrings that felt warm and untethered, full of unknowable promise.
“Hey, are you okay? Omigosh, look at your hair!” Emmy squealed. Startled, Daisy turned her hair black and whipped it back into a bun.
“I’m fine,” she said, moving to grab her books. “I just needed a moment.”
“I’ve known you for six years, Daisy. You never told me you’re a Metamorphmagus,” Emmy said, slightly hurt.
“No one knows,” she said holding her books close to her chest. Something about the finality in her voice caused Emmy not to push the issue further.
“Why don’t you wear your hair out? It’s so beautiful,” Emmy said, softly.
“It’s a hassle; are you ready to study?” she said, brushing off the conversation. Emmy nodded, quickly getting the point. She gave her a small smile and headed out the room.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” Daisy whispered after her. She had taken such great care to hide her gift; she wasn’t prepared to face something else that set her apart.
Emmy turned around and smiled, “Tell anyone what?”
Daisy smiled, and followed her. As she walked down the steps, she felt the nagging anxiety meld into the unfamiliar warmth in her chest. She instantly realized change was on the horizon. She started to panic but thought about what Professor Aphor said in class—change was the perfect ingredient to growth. She didn’t know what sixth year had in store for her but she was sure of one thing: growth was imminent.
To be continued…