Cho Chang: Outsider, Insurgent, Builder of Bridges — Not Walls

Cho Chang, in her seven years at Hogwarts, never gets to see herself reflected in the heroes and histories of her school. She never sees herself reflected in its larger student body. This is what it means to be The Only One: there are so few role models for you, and every day you walk into the world you must gather your courage and your imagination. All the narratives surrounding Cho tell her, “Be smart. Be decorative. The most you can ever hope for is that a white boy will notice you, will make you the romantic heroine of his story.” She’s told, “You’re not good enough for The Chosen One. You’re not chosen by anyone.”

And yet, what does Cho do? She tries out for Seeker, a position held by boys in every other House, for a House team where boys play every position. Here, too, she is the only one, representing women, representing her people. There are whispers; of course there are. Are your eyes big enough to see the Snitch, Cho? Your kind aren’t really athletic, are they? What you’re really good for is distracting the boys on the other team, Cho, hike up your robes and flash them some leg, will you?

There is such loneliness, when you’re the only one.

And yet she stands with her head held high. When a Triwizard champion asks her to the Yule Ball, she says yes—not because being Cedric’s girlfriend will give her worth, but because she genuinely likes him. She likes that he is loyal and kind and smart enough to solve riddles. She knows how the weight of an entire people’s expectations feels upon one’s shoulders, and she likes that he bears the burden both gravely and gracefully. She knows there is a soft power in things like dancing and being diplomatic to the students and teachers of other schools. She knows that sometimes diplomacy saves the world. And who better to practice diplomacy than her? She knows what it feels like to be an outsider at Hogwarts, to have its students ask insensitive questions about your culture, to be looked upon askance because of your appearance.

Cho would always rather build a bridge than a wall.

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What kinds of dreams did she dream about her future, before Cedric’s death, before Voldemort’s rise to power? She was a fifth year; Cedric was seventeen. They weren’t too young in the world of Hogwarts to be seriously in love, to be thinking of marriage, to be planning for a life together. And she was the person most precious to him in the Lake, wasn’t she? The Tournament organizers could have brought him a family member, as they did for Fleur, but they chose her.

All those dreams get snuffed out in an instant for Cho, inside a maze she can never get to the center of, no matter how hard she tries. Her grief is shunted to the side by the adults who are supposed to be sworn to protect her. She’s told she’ll get over her schoolgirl crush. She’s told to pull herself together, that her grief is affecting her flying, for heaven’s sakes, and she wonders why it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone else that the maze in which Cedric died was built on the Quidditch pitch where they first met. She thinks Harry was with him. Harry will understand, but trying to get close to Harry only makes the whispers grow louder. Slut. Who does she think she is? Why is she so needy? Why is she so easy? Has to be in the spotlight, doesn’t she?

And yet she is kind. And yet she is loyal. She believes Harry the moment he says Voldemort is back. She’s clever, Cho is. She knows how to read the signs. She joins Dumbledore’s Army against her parents’ wishes, even though she knows her involvement could get her kicked out of Hogwarts. She drags Marietta to the D.A. meetings because she’ll be damned if she lets another person she cares about fall prey to the Death Eaters because they were unprepared.

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Harry complains that he can never get Cho on her own, that she’s always with a group of giggling girlfriends, but Harry doesn’t understand what it means to be a woman surrounded by other women, the strength it takes to refuse to be pitted against those you know are not your enemy. If Cho is the sun at the center of an orbit of other women, it means that she is perceptive enough to see their individual strengths, generous enough to celebrate their achievements, wise enough to bind them together into a sisterhood. Bridges, not walls.

When Marietta betrays them all, Cho stands by her friend. She empathizes. She sees everything Marietta has at stake and thinks, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” She tries every spell and potion she knows to erase “SNEAK” from Marietta’s face, because she knows what it’s like to be judged by only one facet of who you are. She knows how unfair that is, how unthinkingly children visit cruelty on each other, even the children who are fighting on the right side.

She keeps faith—with Cedric’s memory even when he’s dead, with Harry’s resistance, even when he goes missing, even when people whisper about her that she was discarded, not good enough for The Boy Who Lived. After graduation, she could have left Hogwarts, the place of her trauma, and never looked back. She could have told herself a pretty lie that the Death Eaters who’d taken it over weren’t her problem, but instead she waits and watches. And when the time comes to fight, she tumbles through the portrait only seconds after two brothers who are as good as Harry’s own blood.

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What do we know of Cho, after? We’re told she marries a Muggle. Does she turn her back on a magical world that never seemed to have a place for her? Or does she keep doing what she’s always done best—reaching across lines of ethnicity, nationality, magic, reaching across every boundary other people have told her exists, in order to say “I see you. We’re alike, you and I.” She has a foot in each world, but that’s what she’s always done. Cho builds bridges, not walls.

That’s what you do when you’re not the chosen one, but the only one.

Sharon Hsu lives near Seattle, WA. She is currently working on a dissertation in British Modernism and a historical-fantasy novel about the American transcontinental railroad. You can find her @pensyf.

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