Chapter 1 : Songbird
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Beneath you, the shopkeeper walks around the floor, ensuring that every creature he sells protected from the public -- or most likely, from escaping. It's exactly what you would do if he opened your cage door, and you're sure he knows this. He approaches you with a frown -- he's never forgiven you for your third attempted escape, where you bit his finger so deeply that there's a satisfyingly deep dent in it -- and using some long metal contraption you don't know the name of, replenishes your seed and water. Strangely, despite the name of this establishment being the Magical Menagerie, you've never seen the shopkeeper use a wand.
When the door opens and customers come into the shop, you don't pay any attention to them. You're too expensive a creature for most of their pockets, and those who have the money to pay for you wouldn't be good owners at all. However, suddenly you hear the voices of children and you look up, interested. Children are adorable; their actions cannot be predicted, their thoughts new and unorthodox and honest.
You would know this best of all: you were a mother once, before a group of wizards with brooms, earmuffs and wands stole you from everything that you had ever known.
The girl makes an instant beeline for you, most likely attracted to your polychromatic appearance. You've seen yourself in the reflection of the water; in the mirror hanging on the wall in the other room when your cage was been transported past it; in the rivers of home. As she stares at you wide-eyed, it's clear that she is fascinated by your appearance -- but that feeling is mutual.
She is small, with speckled dark skin and curly black hair that seems to grow in all directions. Her eyes are large and brown, the exact shade of the frogs who live in blue wrappers that you've seen jumping around the shop. Her gaze keeps flickering between your eyes and your tail, and you don't blame her: you've heard people whisper how your tail looks like it's furry while you're covered in feathers. Clearly, she's trying to work out what it is, and you wish you could give her the answer.
"Roxanne, come along. We've got to buy a cat for Freddie," a tall woman calls out, approaching the girl and taking her hand to tug her away.
"She'll be fine, Angie," a man with red hair insists, a tall boy standing next to him -- the boy is almost identical to the girl in appearance, and so he must be her brother, while the two adults are presumably their parents. "Let her look at the birds while we see the cats; she won't come to any harm here."
Angie frowns, pursing her lips in distaste. "I don't know how you passed your Care of Magical Creatures O.W.L., George; that's a Fwooper."
While George looks confused and Freddie walks away from his family -- presumably towards those infernal cats -- you watch Roxanne smiling at you. Even you know that she won't be able to hear you, you open your beak and move it as if you're singing; hopefully, she'll appreciate the gesture at least.
"Mummy, Daddy," Roxanne says, not seeming to understand. "Will you be quiet, I can't hear the bird."
The shopkeeper takes his cue to intervene. "Oh no, sweetie," he simpers, in a tone that should only be reserved for babies. "This bird is a Fwooper; that's why she's got a Silencing Charm on her."
You watch as Roxanne's expression changes: first there is confusion, then horror, before she settles on a murderous gaze that you're sure would be fatal if she was a cockatrice and not human.
The tone of her voice is sharp and plaintive, like only a child's voice can be. Even as you watch, people are slowly trailing off their conversations to watch the shopkeeper's reaction to Roxanne's question.
"Erm... Well..." the shopkeeper flounders, clearly unused to be the centre of attention. "You see, Miss Weasley, the Fwooper's song is known for driving humans insane. That's why, to protect the innocent public, Silencing Charms have to be placed on them before they can be sold."
You watch Roxanne's reaction curiously. You know what the shopkeeper has said is true; charms were placed upon you when you were caught in amongst the African trees of home, and all you can do is hope that some kind person will buy you and lift the charm themselves. Her expression is puzzled, her eyebrows furrowed as if she is thinking over something with her utmost concentration.
"Why are you selling Fwoopers then, if they drive people insane? Don't the poor things like to sing?" she asks.
"They're harmless when there's a Silencing Charm on them," the shopkeeper insists. "And people do buy them."
She reminds you of one of your children; he was only a little chick the last time you saw him, but he was exceptionally inquisitive. Despite your warnings, every time you flew the nest to bring home food for your babies, you always returned home to discover that he had ventured from the nest in search of new and interesting things.
"Roxy, hush," her mother says, but it is too late: the shopkeeper has replied.
"I suppose because they're pretty."
It is the wrong thing to say. You watch her take a deep breath and poise for an argument, but before she is able to say anything, her mother and father take her by the shoulders and lead her out of the shop. You can hear her voice wailing in the distance -- "...but it's cruel, it's not her fault that her song drives people insane..." -- until the door is opened and the sounds of Diagon Alley outside filters into the shop, masking whatever she is saying and then they are outside, the door closing behind them.
The shopkeeper mutters a few select words under his breath while the other shoppers resume their browsing, the interruption already forgotten. You know that you won't forget -- you never will. Unlike every other patron of the Menagerie, Roxanne Weasley cares.
It is night when you see her again, though you aren't expecting it. You blink in the darkness, half-convinced that you're seeing hallucinations while the young girl tiptoes through the shop. When she reaches your cage, she stares at you hesitantly before tapping her wand against the lock.
"Alohomora," she whispers.
You're astonished when the door opens suddenly; so surprised that at first you don't notice Roxanne straining to reach her hand to your cage, holding it like a perch. Nervously, you step on her fingers, unsure of what to expect. This isn't a part of your normal routine, and though you like the girl, you can't help being scared. When she lifts up her wand again, this time looking more nervous than before, you fly away from her in alarm and perch on a shelf of food packages. She's released you, so what more does she want?
"Please, Fwooper!" she says. "I just want to take away the Silencing Charm; I just haven't done it to something that's alive before, only Dad's Anti-Burglary Detectors when they go funny; they're still a new product..." And then she looks up at you imploringly. "Please. I'm sure I can help you."
Against your better judgment, you return to Roxanne and stay still as she mutters the counter-curse. Once she's silent, you can't resist the temptation to see if the spell was successful and open your beak to sing a single note. Instantly, she clamps her hands over her ears, her wand falling to the floor and your wings flapping, your safe perch no longer there.
In the end, you perch on the table next to her and cock your head to the side. You want to tell her that you're sorry, but you don't know how to do that without singing. Somehow, she still understands. Slowly, her hands leave her head and begin to stroke your feathers happily.
"I hope you'll be happy in the wild, Fwooper," she smiles. "I hope you find your way home."
You wish you could smile like she does; convey to this human child that you see a kindred spirit in her. And then suddenly she runs over to the door and opens it wide before waving her hand in a gesture that you know means /goodbye/. You blink your eyes once, twice, thrice before she nods in understanding.
Happily, you take flight, overjoyed to feel the wind beneath your wings again after so long in captivity. It's when you're far above the city buildings that you're able to sing once again. It is the only song you will ever sing again, in remembrance of that mischievous little girl who saved you.
It is the song of freedom.
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