She walked down the corridors, running her fingers over the spines of many stories, of many tomes of information. They had strange titles, like How to make your own broomstick, or Quiddich tactics and strategies, to Practical uses of Hyppogriff Feathers, among many, many more. If a corridor had someone in it she avoided those ones. Uschi wasn’t named Uschi on a whim. She was as round as her name suggested, and even the thought of having to push past others between these narrow rows of books made her chest grow tight with anxiety.
Eventually she found a comfortable looking alcove, semi-circular bookshelves against a semi-circular stone wall, a little window in between. She picked a book off the shelf – Fantastic Beasts and their Alchemical Properties – sat gingerly on the wooden stool which creaked dangerously, and started reading under the light of the window behind her.
Time passed and Uschi became absorbed in the book. If anything was her thing, it was animals. She found she got along a lot better with their household cat than she did most humans. She read about hyppogriffs and dragons and the sulphur-breathing Cockatoos of Australia, occasionally pulling snacks out of her long robe to munch surreptitiously, when she was sure nobody was looking. Uschi knew she shouldn’t – she knew this was why she was so overweight – but when she was eating and reading was when she felt the most safe, the most home, the most at peace. It was just a shame it made all other times worse.
It was only after an hour or so she noticed tapping at the window behind her. How long had it been going on she did not know, for she had been absorbed in a chapter on Hedgehogs of the Sea. Turning around, she spotted a small shadow on the other side of the foggy glass, and hinged open the window a little.
A small bird hopped in. A robin? But it was quite large for a robin. It had a red chest but its beak was longer and curved, and it was at least the size of a pigeon. It looked at her and chirped, turning its head this way and that.
“Hello little friend,” Uschi said, smiling for what felt like the first time in ages. She held out her hand and the robin gazed at it as if looking for something to peck, and so Uschi reached under her coat and pulled out some snacks she had pilfered earlier. “I’m sorry. This probably isn’t very good for you,” she said, holding out some pastry treats, and the bird pecked at them eagerly, sending pastry crumbs flying. “Oh, careful there.” Uschi brushed the crumbs away, glancing about carefully to make sure nobody was watching before putting her hand out the window to dispose of them. But when she brought her hand in there was another robin clinging to her wrist, chirping friendlily, happy to be brought inside. “Would you like some too? You can share, you know. Are you husband and wife?”
There was another clatter of tiny footsteps at the window, and lo-and-behold another bird entered. Black this time, like a raven. Perhaps it was a raven. It cawed quietly in its throat and Uschi spared some more pastries for it, until she spotted a couple of mice emerge from behind a nearby bookshelf.
“Ohh no,” she said, glancing this way and that. “Listen, you have to go now. Uh, you could get me into trouble, please…”
Another bird came through the window then, a pigeon, and the two robins snapped at it angrily with a loud chirp. Uschi’s chest grew tight, knowing there would be a librarian baring down on her any moment. She put the pastries away in her pocket but there were still plenty of crumbs about, and another pair of mice emerged to enjoy the feast.
The pigeon fluffed itself up between pecks and left an enormous bird dropping on the fabric of the seat.
Uschi was almost beside herself. But then she took a deep breath, calmed her racing heart, and thought, go, go. She concentrated as hard as she could, imagining the birds leaving via the window, the mice scurrying away, concentrated until that was all she was thinking of.
When she opened her eyes they were gone.
Uschi breathed a sigh of relief and closed the window. No sooner had she than a small feathered figure appeared on the other side. “Go away,” she said again. “Sorry, but go.” Then she turned around, having the distinct feeling that someone was watching her.