Kassandra loved books for Christmas. Her parents made sure the space under the Christmas tree was piled with the latest, greatest, on-trend toys, the ones that required them to send the housekeeper to stand in lines the day after Thanksgiving, with cash in her pocketbook and strict instructions not to let anyone else get the last of whatever toy was on their list.
This led to many disappointing Christmas mornings, when Kassandra’s response to opening the package with the it-toy was less than ecstatic. The girl never meant to be ungrateful. She just cared not a bit for toys.
Her first Harry Potter Christmas was better, for her and her parents, and the dear patient housekeeper who had stayed at the bookstore nearly overnight to make sure to get the second book in the series within minutes of its release. Kassandra loved books, loved Harry Potter, loved the universe in which children had power, even if they spent their formative years locked away under a staircase.
She loved the whole idea of magic hidden in the fabric of daily life, there to be seen if one only knew where to look. After reading that second Potter novel, Kassandra expressed to her mother her wish to visit the train station, to seek out a hidden platform, convinced it would be there. Her mother’s refusal to entertain “such foolishness” formed an early sign of the rift between them. Kassandra’s attempts to hide her conviction that magic was operating all around them were never quite successful, and that was her first and last Harry Potter Christmas.
At least as far as her mother was concerned. The next year, the third Potter novel appeared, wrapped in sparkling paper, on the foot of her bed before she ever came downstairs for breakfast. When Kassandra skipped down the stairs, ready to thank her mother, the housekeeper intercepted her, gave her a hug, wished her a very merry Christmas, and whispered: “Don’t tell me the ending of this one, mind. I’ve just started reading my own copy.”
This kindness and secrecy impressed upon Kassandra an early knowledge of subversion of class, parental roles, and expectations. She went into her adolescence ready to find her way through the world, using the magic at her disposal, and kept her housekeeper’s gift with her always. In her apartment on Pine Street, a worn and much-read copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets held pride of place alongside books on welding on her single bookshelf.