A puddle was beginning to amass under Nova’s right side as she pulled out the map Angelina shared with her. It was two hours before dinner in the Great Hall, so the corridor of the seventh floor was empty as everyone unwound from classes and prepared for the meal. As she tried to remember the instructions Angelina had given her, she could still hear Pansy Parkinson’s taunts during Quidditch practice.
“Oi! Sweettrickle! Next time maybe don’t land in the lake! What an absolute loon! You look like a wet poodle! Here girl! Here!” Pansy made kissy noises at Nova as the other Slytherins laughed while she pulled herself out of the lake. The kind of noises you would use to call a dog to your side.
“Do you want a treat, girl?” Pansy and the Slytherins roared with laughter as she held out her hand with an imaginary treat.
Clearly, Nova had not meant to land in the lake, but she was so focused on chasing the Snitch that she hadn’t seen the tentacle of the giant squid as it emerged from the water. The collision bothered the squid very little, but knocked poor Nova clear off her broom and into the lake.
“Looks like a bit of water has done that nest on your head some good, Sweettrickle!” Pansy teased.
If she could have, Nova would have cursed Pansy bald, right then and there. But she didn’t know how, so punching the little snob in her throat would have to do until she could learn. Nova balled up her fist and made a beeline for Pansy who was too busy laughing to see what was about to happen. Before she could pull back to hit her, a tall girl with skin the color of deep sepia, a head full of tiny black braids, and Gryffindor Quidditch robes stepped in between them.
“You’re one to talk about hair Parkinson, with that stringy mess you’ve got!”
“No one was talking to you, Johnson!” Pansy hissed.
“Well I’m talking to you, Parkinson!”
Another girl stood next to Angelina, hair slicked back in a sleek and sexy ponytail, also in red and gold robes with S-P-I-N-N-E-T on the back.
“Ok so her hair is a little wet because she fell in the lake, Pansy! But you always walking around looking like Snape with titties, so what’s your excuse!?”
Two other girls — clearly twins, in robes of yellow and black, with caramel colored skin, freckles that actually sparkled (that had to be an enchantment, right?), and hundreds of bright red curls held up on opposing sides by Hufflepuff bows — laughed.
“Yeah Pansy,” the twin with the left bow said, “all this magic…”
“And you STILL look tragic!” the other finished.
The group of girls laughed. Pansy turned red as a howler. She was clearly outwitted and outnumbered, so she went for the jugular.
“Right. Like I even care what you people think!”
She hissed the insult, hard and fast, careful to make eye contact with each girl so they could feel the weight of her words. The pitch went quiet like the moment just before a Dementor’s Kiss. The joyous laughter left Angelina’s face as she stepped up into Pansy’s personal space. The girls followed her lead and flanked her sides, making even more of a wall between Pansy and Nova. Pansy looked to the group of Slytherins on the side of the field. No one was coming to her aid. She had gone too far. They knew it and so did she. She was on her own.
“Probably a good idea if you headed into the castle to get ready for dinner, Parkinson.” Angelina’s voice was steady and low, but the threat it carried was loud and clear.
“I…I…I don’t take orders from you, Johnson!”
A sly, half smile slid across Spinnet’s face.
“No, Ang. Let the trick stay. Hermione just taught us that new spell and I would LOVE to use Pansy as my guinea pig!” She lunged forward, but the twins held her back.
Pansy jumped back in surprise and rushed to compose herself.
“Whatever! I have more important things to do!” and she stomped off in the direction of the castle.
Nova stood there, still wet, a bit in a daze. Pansy had been making fun of Nova for the last month. Enchanting paper airplanes to fly into Nova’s hair. Constantly bumping into her and then commenting in a poorly acted stage whisper how she “found” a “gross curly hair” on her robes. She had really been the absolute worst. Everything in Nova wanted to strangle her, but every time she tried, she remembered her Aunt Quinta.
She had taken her in when her parents disappeared. Nova was eight years old then and Aunt Quinta raised her and loved her like she was her own. When Nova turned eleven and got her Ilvermony letter, she was so proud of Nova, even though she hadn’t done a thing to earn it. When her Hogwarts Student Exchange Letter came a year letter, Aunt Quinta smiled for days. This all made her aunt so happy, so she promised that she would behave and do well. But Pansy never let up no matter how nice she was. In fact, being nice almost made it worse.
Then today, this group of girls who she didn’t really know came to her rescue. They stood up to Parkinson. Most of the kids in her classes just pretended they didn’t see, not wanting to earn Pansy’s attention. But these girls didn’t give one lick about her. They were amazing!
“You ok? Uh…”
Nova hadn’t realized anyone was talking to her.
“Huh? Oh! Me? I’m…I’m Nova. Nova Sweettrickle. Ravenclaw, second year,” she answered Angelina.
“Oh wow! Oh cool!” Right Twin said.
“We’re also in the second year of school!” Left Twin finished.
“Do they always do that?” Nova asked Angelina.
“What? Rhyme? Or finish each other’s sentences?”
Spinnet laughed. “Finish each other’s sentences? Yeah most of the time. The rhyming thing…well SOMEONE thought they could cheat their way to rap fame.” She playfully eyed the twins.
“Thank goodness this is only temporary!”
“If we stayed like this, it would be so scary!” They nodded in unison.
Angelina smiled and shook her head.
“Left bow is Charli. Right bow is Cyn. I’m Angelina and this is Alicia.” Alicia, the girl with SPINNET on the back of her robes, who had lunged at Pansy, quietly nodded as she pulled her long ponytail over her shoulder. “I don’t remember seeing you last year.”
“Oh, well, I’m an exchange student for Professor Dumbledore’s Magic Abroad program. I did my first year at Ilvermorny. My grandfather was actually a Hogwarts alum.” Nova shivered as she answered.
“Damn Ang! You see the girl is shivering. Maybe less third degree and more drying off?” Alicia said.
“Oh yeah, sorry! Of course!” Angelina apologized.
“Uh… let’s see…” she pointed her wand toward the lake soaked girl…
“Aer calidus totalus!” and a gust of hot hair wrapped itself around Nova.
Suddenly her socks were dry. No…wait… just her left sock was dry. Also the left half of her skirt, her undies, her top, her robes. Everything was suddenly dry on one side! Even her hair. HER HAIR!? Oh no! All that water, then just a hurricane of hot hair. She could only imagine what a poofy frizzy mess she must be. The girls’ faces really said it all. Quick as she could, she flipped the hood of her robes up. If Pansy saw this…Merlin’s beard! It would never end! Hard as she tried not to, the tears started to well up.
“Oh, hey girl, please don’t cry!” Alicia begged, “Sometimes Ang is a bit more powerful than she realizes.” Angelina nodded and shrugged.
Alicia looked back at Angelina, “Ang, how the hell did you dry one side of her!?”
Nova was really having trouble controlling the tears and each tear seemed to panic Alicia more.
“Hey, it’s ok, really. It’s not that bad, right girls?” The twins whistled and looked everywhere but at Nova. “It’s nothing a smoothing spell won’t fix. Do you know any good smoothing spells?”
“No.” A huge tear fell and Angelina began to look a bit sheepish.
“I know it might not sound like fun,” Cyn started.
“But what about a spell for a ballerina bun?” Charli finished.
Nova just shook her head this time. Her face was getting hot. Every suggestion upset her more and more.
“My Aunt Quinta says my curls are too much…so she uses this straightening potion. It’s supposed to last for 3 months and then she re-applies when she visits. But I don’t know how to make it. And I’m not…I’m not…I’m not…” Nova was fighting back the tears as hard as she could but it seemed to be a losing battle. Angelina finished her thought.
“Not supposed to get it wet? Yeah. We all been there.” All the girls looked at each other with embarrassed expressions and nodded. “Hey Nova…would you give us a second?”
Angelina’s question caught Nova off guard.
“Uh…yeah,” she sniffled. “Sure.”
The girls walked away, just out of ear shot. They huddled and immediately began whispering fervorously. After about a minute, Cyn giggled and Charli whooped, Alicia shushed them both, and Angelina stood up straight, crossed her arms and nodded, as if a very important decision had been made. They walked back to Nova, surrounding her in a little half circle. As always, Angelina spoke first.
“Alright, Sweettrickle! Executive decisions have been made!”
“Believe it or not,” Charli started, “cause it true…”
“You’ve got spunk,” Cyn finished, “so we like you!”
Alicia spoke next.
“You were ready to knock Parkinson on her ass and anyone who wants to punch Pansy in her fat, racist little nose is a friend of ours. Plus…we gotta stick together.”
Nova understood what the “we” meant. It had not escaped her attention that Hogwarts had far fewer wizards of color than Ilvermorny. She thought she was prepared for how few there would be, but she was so shocked by the reality. It hadn’t really bothered her too much until Pansy started in on her and she felt more isolated than before.
“You should sit with us at dinner, Sweettrickle. But first, we gotta handle that hair.” Angelina pulled what looked to be a folded piece of parchment from inside her robes. “Being friends with ‘The Chosen One’ has its advantages…”
And that was how Nova had found herself pacing the seventh floor corridor, just opposite an odd tapestry that looked like trolls doing…ballet? She looked at the map again. Hundreds of tiny footprints moved across the map of the school, including the girls, whom she could see where near the Quidditch pitch with a few other kids she didn’t know. In a bathroom on the third floor, she saw two sets of footprints squished into a small wash closet. She didn’t know who “Dean Thomas” was, but his foot prints were awfully close to whoever “Hermione Granger” was. She regained her focus and tried to remember what Angelina had told her. She just had to think of those words while she paced this corridor three times.
“I need Aso’s help,” she thought to herself. She could already see the evil smirk on Pansy’s face at dinner if this didn’t work. Two first year Hufflepuffs scurried by her with wide eyes.
“I need Aso’s help.” Her thoughts became more frantic. This was stupid. They hadn’t even told her what was supposed to happen. They were probably having a laugh at her, just thinking about how gullible she was. The dumb American…but they seemed so nice…and they rescued her from Pansy…stood up for her. They were the only ones who had helped her in all this time.
She took a breath and tried to steady her nerves. Without realizing what she was even doing, she wished the girls were right and honest and wanted to be her friend. She wished it with every fiber of her being. Then she paced the corridor one last time.
“I need Aso’s help. Please,” the final words actually spilling from her lips in a whisper of desperation.
She opened her eyes and waited for several beats before the disappointment set in. For the second time today, tears began to well in her eyes. There was nothing. No one. She was still there, alone, hair still dripping wet but also a giant frizz, in partially soggy robes in the same corridor as before. Same dumb statues at the other end. Same dumb tapestry of the same dumb dancing trolls in their dumb tutus. Same dumb door.
Wait. Door? Was that door there before? Nova was pretty sure it hadn’t been. But now here it was. Was this why the girls had sent her here? Was this what would help her?
She cautiously reached for the door, turned the knob and opened it. As soon as she stepped in, her jaw dropped.
The scene laid out before her was strange and yet familiar to Nova all that the same time.
To her left, three young witches of various shades of brown, magazines in hand, sat with their heads under floating bubbles that looked like sparkling plastic. Inside the bubbles, though not touching the girls, little orange and red fire salamanders ran round and round, chasing each other, creating an orange cloud of heat that was drying the hair of each girl.
To the right were three small waterfalls that looked like they were pulled directly from nature (how was the water flowing directly from the wall!?). They spilled into small whirlpools but there was no water on the ground. It was like the whirlpools were just…there. Nova could see the soap bubbles disappearing into the water but where they went Nova couldn’t say, since there were no drains that she could see. Two young ladies sat back, an empty station between them, hair in the whirlpools beneath the waterfalls, while two ladies, bare foot with dresses of finely woven kelp and faces that more resembled seals than humans, washed their hair.
In the back of the room, atop a large wet rock (where was the water coming from?) sat a chubby girl with a head full of big, brown curls, a round face, and a joyous smile, flute in her lap. She sang a song Nova had never heard before but already liked.
“I do my hair toss, check my nails! Baby how you feeling!?” The lyrics seem to speak to Nova. She was almost drawn to the girl beyond her will. But the sight, center stage, had distracted her.
In the middle of everything sat the largest spider Nova had ever seen! Atop the head of the large, black creature was a beautiful yellow head wrap covered in bright blue peacock feathers. At the end of each of its eight large legs were three fingers (Nova didn’t know what else to call them) and each finger had a little claw that was painted hot pink. Two ladies sat in front of it, one on each side, floating mirrors directly in front of them. The first two arms on it’s right ran a hot comb through one client’s hair. The first two arms on it’s left were parting the other woman’s thick, fluffy hair, preparing it for large braids. Around the spider’s mid section, two arms worked quickly, almost faster than Nova could see, creating a beautiful silk magenta bonnet with dragonflies. As soon as a dragonfly was knit, it would shake, as if coming to life, and turned from magenta to a sparkling gold, before settling back into the weave of the bonnet. The last two arms (or were they legs?) took the silk coming from it’s iridescent backside and quickly worked it into the thread the middle two arms used to knit the bonnets. A second spool of silk from its backside hung in a mass from the ceiling, keeping the creature floating and able to reach freely around the room, which it did from time to time, checking in on the other shop patrons, and grabbing tools and supplies from around the shop. This was NOT like any salon they had back home.
“What cha here for, girl?” An accent she couldn’t quite place spoke to her. “Girl,” the spider said, “what cha here for? Braids? Curls? Press? Weave? I’m a busy lady, Sakuri.” Nova suddenly realized all eyes, including the spider’s eight, were on her.
“Oh, uh, just a press please.”
“A press, eh? And who sent you, chile?”
“Um. Angelina Johnson.”
“Aye. I should have known. That girl…” Nova missed the last words she said. The girl on the rock had begun singing again and for a reason Nova could not quite place, she was mesmerized.
“Boss up and change yo life…” If Nova could just touch her, maybe she would be her friend. Maybe they could hang out all the time…forever. Forever? What a weird thought. Was it weird though? What was so wrong about her being the girl’s friend?
“Let me simplifyyyyyyy…” Gosh she was so amazing. Nova was just thinking about how she could listen to this song and nothing else for the rest of her life when the music suddenly stopped. A voice cut in…
“Melissa, sweetie,” the spider said, “The song is coming along nicely, but how ‘bout we take a break, eh?” The girl shrugged, picked up her flute from her lap, placed it to her full lips and played a quick melody, before saying “BYE BITCH” and poof, disappeared! As soon as the girl was gone, it was like Nova had released a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. She could think again. Everyone laughed.
“Sorry, chile. Melissa is half-siren and sometimes has trouble controlling her powers around newcomers. I’m Aso.”
“Huh…oh uh…yes. It’s nice to meet you…uh…ma’am. I’m Nova.” Without thinking, Nova curtsied. Everyone laughed again.
“No need to bow to me, chile.”
Nova felt stupid. Of course she didn’t need to bow, but in all honesty, she had never seen anyone like Aso, so she wasn’t really sure what to do. Not that she should have been surprised. Since learning she was a witch, her life had gotten so freaking weird that a giant, hair-styling spider really should have been expected.
“I suppose you’ve never seen anyone like me?” Aso asked. While the spider removed her cape, the lady on the right was admiring how smooth her hair was.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but no.” God, did she really need to broadcast how out of place she felt even when she wasn’t speaking!? Aso laughed. She had a nice laugh, one that calmed some of the nerves in Nova’s stomach.
“Well, no worries, girl. I don’t plan on eatin’ ya. I enjoy making money too much. You have money, don’t cha?”
Nova pulled a purple, velvet bag from beneath her robes.
“Yes, ma’am, I do. My aunt gave it to me for school stuff and a little extra for emergencies…”
“Well your head is definitely an emergency, if I do say so, myself. But I’ll get you fixed up, no worries, Sakuri. Go see Rian.”
One of the girls beside the small waterfalls waved to her with sharp nails atop webbed hands. Nova nodded and headed toward the girl. She wasn’t sure what “Sakuri” meant, but hearing Aso call her that, it reminded her of her Aunt Quinta and made her feel safe somehow. Almost like she was at home.
As Rian washed her hair, Nova tried to settle into the atmosphere. Rian’s little claws felt amazing on her scalp and the shampoo smelled of fresh rain and pineapples. Nova’s hair tingled right down to the root. Suddenly, she could feel every strand on her head and they were thrilled to be caressed so delicately.
Rian washed and scrubbed and rinsed Nova’s hair as she gossiped the other girl, whose name Nova learned was Siobhan, talking in a way Nova barely understood. It wasn’t exactly English. More like Spanglish, except instead of Spanish, the two girls spoke a language made up of growls, barks, and grunts mixed with heavy Irish English. Most of what Nova understood was from Aso’s responses. What Nova understood, she laughed along with. What she didn’t, she waited for Aso’s response and responded in kind.
Once her hair was washed, Rian took her over to the fire salamander dryers. Only one girl was there now. The girl who had been getting large braids was done and gone now and two new girls sat in front of Aso. One was getting what looked to be a neon green bob, and the other, a finger wave. Rian, took out the two small salamanders that had been in the dryer when Nova had arrived. She gently placed them in a small tank. Inside, a small rock glowed red with heat and they both ran to lay on it, falling asleep coiled around one another. Two new salamanders were placed inside the dryer as it was placed atop Nova’s head. Nova looked up to see them through the bubble. As soon as they saw each other the chase began and the heat built up.
Nova watched, mesmerized as Aso worked quickly. Aso, Rian, and Siobhan worked in sync, fluid like dancers who changed partners often. Aso had already finished the girl with the finger wave. With skin like obsidian, she admired her hair in the floating mirror. The silver color really suited the girl, but Nova noticed what was truly unique about the girl’s hair. Along her hairline, her baby hairs had been slicked down in beautiful intricate designs, like lace and every few minutes, the design of the “lace” changed. One moment it was soft waves around her face, the next it was a quilted pattern with tiny crystals that sparkled at the intersections. Nova had never seen hair like this.
As she took a last look in the mirror, the girl next to her was running her fingers through the fresh, neon green bob.
“Ok, Monae,” Aso said, “Now shake it.” Monae gave Aso a look like she didn’t quite understand. “Oh for heaven’s sake, girl. Will ya trust me and shake ya head!”
Monae shook her head as she was told. Slowly, from the tips up to the roots, her hair went from green to bright blue. Both Nova and Monae’s eyes grew in surprise. Aso laughed. She had a rich laugh that felt like all the ancestors, past and present, laughed with her.
“Again!” Aso commanded. Again, Monae obeyed. This time, her hair went from blue to hot pink.
She turned to Aso and smiled. Now understanding, she shook her head once more and her hair was back to neon green. Monae was overjoyed.
“Oi! Aso! This is brilliant, mate! I’ll be the talk of the common room for days!” Monae handed several gold coins to Aso. Aso handed her and the other girl a bonnet each. The girls thanked her, put on their yellow and black robes, and headed for the door.
“Ok missy…your turn!”
Nova stood up and sat in one of Aso’s chairs.
“So, Little Miss Nova, tell me how you got to be such a mess in the first place.”
As Aso parted and combed her hair, Nova told her about wanting to be on the Quidditch team like her grandfather, who had been a Hufflepuff Seeker before he opened his sweet shop and moved to the States… about the squid and Pansy… about how she always struggled to get her hair right, so Aunt Quinta had relaxed it and how that almost made it harder. So many rules to keep it “tame.” Before she knew it, she was crying a bit and telling Aso everything.
“Oh now chile,” Aso wiped a tear with one massive spider hand, “no need to cry. Aso has just the thing for you.” Before she could see herself in the mirror, Angelina, Alicia, Charli, and Cyn popped in.
“Hey Miss Aso! Over there looking like an eight legged goddess!” Alicia playfully bowed.
“Hush yo mouth, girl!” Aso dismissed Alicia’s silliness with a half smile that showed her top fangs. “Angelina, you send this girl to me!?”
“Sure did, Miss Aso. She needed your magic hands and I see you did your thing.” Angelina’s compliment made Aso blush.
“Oh hush girl.”
“Wowie, wow!” Charli said. “Lookie here girls…”
“Our Little Miss Nova has a head full of curls!” Cyn concluded.
Nova had almost forgotten to look at herself. Charli and Cyn were right! She suddenly had curls. Hundreds of them, honey brown with red highlights that brought out her brown eyes. They framed her face like a fiery, golden halo. She almost didn’t recognize herself.
“Now I know you wanted a press Miss Nova,” Aso said, “but it would be a shame to hide such beauty. This is special, just for you. Rian!”
Before Nova could ask what she meant, Rian splashed a small stream of water directly at her! Instinctively, Nova put up her hands, trying to protect her hair, but the water never even made contact. Siobhan tossed a small pebble from the base of the waterfall.
“Hey now!” Nova said, but like the water it never made contact with Nova or her hair. Four inches before it reached her, it just lost momentum and fell to the ground. Nova was amazed.
“It will take a lot more than that girl to mess up your hair now.” The way she spat the word “girl,” Nova knew Aso meant Pansy. “You just trust Miss Aso, now, ya hear?”
“It’s so beautiful, Miss Aso! Thank you so much! Honestly I’ve never seen it like this before. Aunt Quinta is gonna flip.”
“You tell Quinta I said hello, ya hear.” Before Nova could ask what she meant, Alicia read Nova’s look.
“Girl, our Spider Goddess knows everyone! Ain’t that right, Queen!?”
“I done told ya to hush now, girl!” Aso playfully batted at Alicia.
Angelina gently elbowed Nova.
“Give her 1 Galleon and 10 sickles. Give 3 sickles to Rian and Siobhan as well.”
Nova did as Angelina said, leaving Aso’s payment last.
“Miss Aso,” Nova said, “thank you so much!” And before Aso could respond, Nova gave her a hug where she could reach around her exoskeleton.
“Of course, girl.” The giant spider patted her head, hair bouncing right back into place.
“Don’t forget your bonnet, Miss Nova,” Aso said as Nova pulled back to see Aso had placed a beautiful, peridot green bonnet, with gold dragonflies in Nova’s hands.
“Oh! Miss Aso! This is my favorite color! How did you know!?”
“You heard the big mouth, girl! Miss Aso knows everything, chile!” Alicia feigned a hurt look.
“Come on, Sweettrickle. Can’t wait to see Parkinson’s stupid little face when you walk in looking like that!” Angelina and the girls made their way to the door.
“Yeah yeah it’s time for dinner!” Cyn said.
“When Pansy loses, you’re the real winner!” Charli finished.
“Thank you again, Miss Aso.” Nova said.
“Of course, chile.”
As they stepped through the door, back onto the seventh floor corridor, Aso’s Salon disappeared. The girls started down the hall, and Nova took one last look at where the door had been.
“Come on you guys!” Angelina lead the pack, “Let’s go show off Sweettrickle!”
Alicia teased and mocked Nova, “Oh Miss Aso!” She laughed as she mimicked Nova with a comically high pitched voice. “You’re such a goodie goodie, Nova!”
“Shut up, big mouth,” Nova said playfully.
The girls all froze and turned to Nova. Had Nova gone too far!? The girls looked at Nova and a look passed between them. Suddenly, they burst into laughter. Relieved, Nova laughed, too.
“She got you, Alicia! You took her for a dummy!”
“But it turns out Nova is really quite funny!” The twins laughed.
And as they walked down the corridor to the Great Hall, smiling and laughing, five carefree Black witches, Angelina looked to Nova and shared a smile.
“I think you’re gonna fit in just fine, Sweettrickle. Just fine.”