Chapter 1 ~ Diagon Alley

"Happy Birthday, Muriel!" Papa was grinning from ear to ear as he stepped into Flourish and Blotts to meet her. He held up a small cage, much too small for an owl, with a pretty green cover.

Muriel hurried over to him, still carrying the book she'd been pretending to read. It wasn't often that she let herself be distracted from reading, but the marauders had come in a few minutes before, and she knew better than to let them out of her sight. Who knew what they'd do to her if she wasn't paying attention!

Papa pulled the cover off the cage to reveal a delicate bird that immediately began making small noises. Its plumage was brightest blue. The smile faltered on Mur's face and her stomach flopped unpleasantly.

"I had to look all over for a blue one, I know it's your favorite color."

"Oh Papa, do you know a spell to turn her yellow?" she asked in a small voice, as she put a finger to the cage. The bird nuzzled her finger gently. But her father was already looking past her. He handed her the cage absentmindedly. Malfoy Sr. was also in the shop, and he tended to command attention wherever he went.

Her father hadn't heard her, but the boys behind her certainly had, and they were sniggering wickedly into their fists. She rounded on them in fury, and Remus and Peter cringed. Potter and Black only laughed the louder.

"Black, since you know Mr. Malfoy is going to report back to your mother, you COULD make an effort to look dignified," she said coldly, holding her chin high. This had the effect of shutting him up instantly as he whirled on the spot to see if Malfoy was really present. She smirked, then joined her father.

Although she'd met Mr. Malfoy several times, her father presented her formally and she sat the cage down to shake his hand. "Ah, yes, Lucius has mentioned you. Quite the troublemaker, aren't you?" he asked, his voice unpleasant and oily.

Muriel smiled her best smile. "I'm waiting to behave myself until Lucius is Head Boy. I thought it would be good for the Slytherin reputation." She saw her father suppress a grin, as Mr. Malfoy raised an eyebrow.

"Indeed?" he asked coldly, not expecting an answer. Muriel picked up her bird cage as the man turned his attention back to her father. She smiled prettily at the marauders, who were all gaping at her. It wasn't very often that someone mouthed off to a Malfoy and got away with it. She swept past them without another glance and went to find Severus. He and his mother had been headed to Madam Malkin's. He was growing so fast that the robes she'd had made for him at the beginning of the summer were too short already. Muriel had been given those, since they were still new. She had covered the Slytherin crest with the Ravenclaw one and been satisfied. They were the most appropriate robes she'd had since she'd started school.

"Wow, Mur! Do you know what that is?" Severus asked immediately as his eyes fell on the cage.

"It's my birthday present!" She exclaimed happily.

"I thought you got the broom for your birthday?"

"I did, but I don't think he told Mother about that, so he had to get me something else." They were whispering now, and Madam Malkin, who was hemming his robes, huffed noisily until Muriel stepped back out of her way.

"It's a Cornish Wren," he said seriously, making up for the uncomfortable silence.

"I wonder if Father knew that when he bought it!" she exclaimed. Cornish Wrens were almost as mischievous as Cornish Pixies, although they were very loyal, like owls. Now at least she understood why the little creature was so very blue. "I think he only got it because it was the blue one," Muriel added.

Severus nearly choked trying not to laugh. Muriel had changed the color of every blue thing she owned after last year's unfortunate potion accident.

Madam Malkin finally told him he could step down from the block. "I'll have these ready in an hour, young Mr. Snape," she said primly. He nodded his thanks and paid for the robes before they headed back outside.

"Ice cream?" she asked. He nodded again and they headed off. Halfway there, he took her cage to carry it for her, but the little bird began to squeak pitiably. It seemed she already knew to whom she belonged. Muriel knelt down to look into the cage.

"If you're my bird, you are going to have to be friendly with Severus. He's my best friend!" The bird quieted down, but Muriel could have sworn it was pouting. She laughed.

When they reached Fortunesca's Ice cream shop, they found the marauders already there. Muriel sat with her back to them, which suited Severus fine. It meant he didn't have to. He placed the cage on the ground, causing the little bird to squeak again. He also set his wand down on the table within reach, just in case.

Muriel leant down to the bird again. "If I let you out, will you behave yourself?" she asked it. The bird stopped squeaking and blinked at her innocently. She fell for it.

When their sundaes arrived, the bird was sitting happily on Muriel's shoulder, twittering annoyingly in her ear. "We're going to have to teach her some songs or something," Severus said, noticing his friend's rueful grin. The bird fluffed her feathers indignantly and without any warning swooped down to grab Severus' wand. A moment later, she had dropped it into Sirius' lap, several tables away.

Severus looked as though he might throttle the creature, but Muriel got up and approached the boys. She didn't bother to draw her wand, although she saw that all four of them had theirs on the table. She guessed they'd gotten them out when they'd seen her and Severus take a table.

To the surprise of everyone, she addressed herself to the bird, who was sitting in the middle of their table. "Unacceptable." Then she pulled out her wand and cast a spell on the bird that caused it to jump a little ways off the table. It squawked, and James hissed at her. "The bird has to learn. Otherwise she'll be stealing all sorts of things," she said calmly, with a meaningful glance at their wands.

Muriel smirked as Peter snatched his wand from the table, then looked expectantly at Black, who met her eyes unsmilingly. After a tense moment he held up Severus' wand and she took it from him.

"Thanks," she said quietly. She could feel a flash of anger from James. Sirius had just given up a really good chance to annoy Severus, and that was not something that he could understand. "Rena!" she said sharply. The little bird looked up at her. "That's you. Come here." Muriel knew that this bird was going to be a lot more work than an owl. It would have to be trained, whereas owls were that way when you bought them.

As she walked away, smiling, she heard Black whispering furiously to James, "Next year, mate!"