Chapter 7: In Which We Stand United
It did not come. As it turned out, Percy had not been reaching for his wand. He had merely put his hand in his pocket to give the appearance of bored pomp, so as to better look down his nose at his mum. Mrs. Weasley, stone-faced and silent, was not giving any ground.
"Hello, mother," said Percy.
"Hello, Percy." Mrs. Weasley replied to him as though she were exchanging pleasantries with the butcher. Her voice was solid, formal, with none of its usual affection.
They may as well have been strangers. Harry quickly stashed his wand and stared at the floor. He would rather be anywhere than here, seeing this. This sort of thing happening between mothers and children … it wasn't right. The room was silent.
"Molly, how capital to see you!" The headmaster's cheerful interruption startled everybody. "How are you faring, my dear?"
"Fine, Albus," Mrs. Weasley said, hitching a smile on her face. "I just came for our new little family here. Ah, hello, Hermes!" she trilled, stepping over to Ron and helping Hermes to station himself on her shoulder. She stopped in front of the nest and began to dig around in her bag, pulling out a large padded blanket. "And there's our proud mother. How are you, love?" she inquired of Hedwig with some emotion.
Hedwig hooted happily and flapped her wings. She stood up briefly so Mrs. Weasley could see the owlets, and she made a fuss over them worthy of grandchildren. She bustled around happily for a few moments, and with Hermione's excited assistance got the nest and Hedwig onto the blanket and bundled it up gently in her arms. Harry and Ron closed up her two traveling bags, which rested for the moment on Neville's bed.
"Well, I'm off to the train station," she said, sticking her wand in her apron pocket. "Harry dear, I will be contacting you. Be good, all of you, all right?"
"Bye, Mrs. Weasley!" most of the room answered her. "Bye, Mum!" Ron said. They watched her go with the nest and the owls, bumping past her third-eldest son as though he were furniture.
Said son looked like he wanted to evaporate on the spot. His cheeks were burning and he wouldn't take his eyes off the floor. It was painfully clear to him who had come off better in this confrontation, who had won this battle.
"I can't stand it," Hermione said softly. "This stupid war is tearing everybody apart."
Harry was the only one who heard her. He nodded. The room was painfully quiet for a moment, until they heard something unexpected … a sigh from outside the door.
It was Mrs. Weasley. The gathered boys and Hermione all looked a bit surprised. Percy, more startled than any of them, leaned out the doorway.
"Y-Yes?" he asked.
His mother was standing two steps below the landing, her arms full of owls. She took him in with exhausted eyes and said, "Will you help me with my bags?" She asked this tentatively, like she half expected him to say "no."
To everyone's great surprise, Percy, rather than pull up taller and say something idiotic, slumped a little at this request. He looked almost relieved, for some strange reason.
"Of course," he said, a little embarrassment peeking through the strained politeness. "Let me get them. I'll escort you to the train station."
Mrs. Weasley smiled then, just a little, and waited for her son to follow her. Things were far from fixed, but this was a very promising start.
It was Saturday. May had bloomed everywhere, bringing with it new sun and covering the hills and dales around Hogwarts with wildflowers of every color and long green grass perfect for downhill rolling competitions. Most of the students had taken the opportunity to get outside and go to Hogsmeade or play some pick-up Quidditch, or lounge about on the lawns with their homework rather than hole up in the library or the common rooms. The school was fairly empty and quiet as a result.
There was however one corner of the building that was ringing with noise and excitement – the headmaster's office.
"Ouch! Nimue, you naughty thing, stop that!" Harry scolded. "Circe, don't even think about it."
Harry was off to one side of Dumbledore's desk, wearing his bottle green dress robes (neatly pressed the night before) and wrestling slightly with his precious burden. Hedwig's three daughters were bundled in his arms, facing out so they could watch the show. The little owlets were leaning against his best white dress shirt. Two of them were looking about with interest. But the one in the middle and the biggest of the three – a heavily banded snowy owl with striking brown eyes named Nimue – had decided that Harry's shirt would make an excellent breakfast. Her sister Circe, a screech owl like Hermes (who nonetheless had big golden eyes like Hedwig) was taking too much of an interest for Harry to ignore her.
Thessaly, the smallest owlet and the spitting image of Hedwig, nipped at her siblings and inclined her head – there was something happening at the front of the room, and besides, their mum was staring at them sharply from her perch on Harry's shoulder. They behaved themselves and left Harry's shirt alone.
None other than Bernie Barnall was waddling to the front of the room, a large dusty ledger under on arm and a quill tucked behind one ear. He winked at Harry as he passed. Harry smiled. On some level he couldn't believe he was here, and that this was really happening.
So much had changed since Mrs. Weasley had left with the chicks. True to her word, she'd had Harry stick his head in the fire on a weekly basis to see the progress of the owlets and keep in contact with Hedwig. The little birds had grown enormously – they were actually getting a little heavier the longer Harry stood with them. They were all flight ready. In fact, they had made their first tentative attempts last week. Soon they would be leaving the nest forever.
Looking around, it appeared that they were almost ready to start. The room was full of animated conversations. Dumbledore was in attendance, as was Hermione and a smattering of Weasleys – Ron, Ginny, their parents, and most surprisingly, Percy, standing next to his younger sister with Hermes on his shoulder. He looked the most relaxed Harry had ever seen him. This mellowness would have surprised Harry, if Harry hadn't had the goods on what had recently happened.
Ron had picked up some gossip from his dad about Percy not only escorting his mother to the station, but actually taking the train with Mrs. Weasley all the way to her stop, rather than simply Apparating back to work. They'd talked the whole way. And then when Ron went home for Easter break, Fred and George had locked him in a broom closet "by mistake." Ron was really annoyed at them, but his awkward position in the closet let him listen in on the kitchen perfectly, and by happenstance he overheard the exact moment his pompous elder brother had broken down and apologized to his mum, tears and all.
Ron was reasonably good at being discrete, though. He hadn't told anybody but Harry.
"Ahem!" Bernie said, stopping most of the conversation. "We are ready to start, everybody. Gather round please, gather round. Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, you two must come to the front with your owls."
Harry and Percy stepped forward. Bernie began to leaf through the ledger, stopping a few pages from the front, and adjusted his thick glasses.
While Bernie was distracted, Percy leaned down to Harry's ear. "Set on having this, Potter? It's permanent, I hope you realize. You're not just creating a bond between these birds. You're creating it between us – you and me, and by extension, my clan."
"What of it, Percy?" Harry murmured back. "I don't like you much, but Hedwig deserves to have a proper family. I know how hard she worked to make one. I know how much it means."
Harry held himself taut after this remark. He expected a snippy comeback, something along the lines of "Poor Harry Potter, trying to create what he never had himself," or something equally childish. But Percy, rather than attack, swung his eyes around to take in his mother and father and siblings. He looked back at Harry with a sudden illuminated look on his face, like he finally understood something he hadn't before.
"Yes," he said quietly. "I expect you do."
"All right, found it!" Bernie said. He cleared his throat and began to read. "In the name of the Ministry of Magic, I welcome all attendees to this Owl Joining, taking place on this most glorious third of May. We are here to honor the commitment of two owls, the lovely Hedwig on my right and the charming Hermes to my left, to consecrate their mating (which is for life), and to officially and publicly record the names of their offspring, Nimue, Thessaly, and Circe. Before I perform the rituals and welcome the little ones into the sacred circle of owl society, we shall hear either side speak on behalf of the owls." He turned to Harry.
Harry, looking at Hedwig on his shoulder, blindingly white and fluffy in the light coming through the window, felt suddenly lost. He had no idea what to say – he hadn't even realized it was expected of him. Hedwig, sensing his unease, hooted softly at him and brushed his face with her wing. Harry turned around and looked at the assembled. Hermione was smiling.
"Erm," he began. "I want to thank Ron, otherwise I wouldn't have even known about this ceremony at all. And I want to congratulate Hedwig on finding such a fine mate …" and then he looked down at the three owlets, "… and producing such beautiful daughters. May there be many more," he finished.
There was applause. "Thank you. Most eloquent, Mr. Potter," Bernie said. "And now you, Mr. Weasley."
Relieved that Percy was now in the hot seat, Harry relaxed and watched the older boy. Percy took a good look at Hermes (and Hermes considered him right back) before beginning. He turned to the assembled and took a breath.
"When I found out this feathery fool had knocked up Harry Potter's owl, I was mortified." Percy's lips went through some interesting contortions as his family laughed heartily at him. He pulled himself together, though. "However, once I got used to the idea, once I saw how devoted Hermes was to Hedwig and 'the girls,' as I've come to refer to them, I have the utmost faith that my owl made a wise decision. He could not have chosen a better owl for a mate." Percy's voice dropped, and he stared at the floor. "This is partly because I have not known a better owl … and partly because I cannot think of an owl owned by a better wizard."
Here it was – Percy's apology for everything. The nasty letters, the fighting, the name-calling, all of it. It was not much, in fact it was rather vague, but this was as good as it would get, and Harry knew it. So he accepted the gesture and shook the other boy's hand.
"Thank you, Percy," he said sincerely. Percy nodded at the rug. Again, there was some applause.
"Well done, both of you," Bernie praised. "And now comes the fun part."
He placed the ledger on Dumbledore's desk behind him, signed the names of all the owls involved in an elegant script, and then turned to everybody with a small sack. Carefully opening the top, he dipped a pudgy forefinger into it and gently touched Hedwig's forehead. Harry looked at her – she now had a smudge of ash there. The procedure was repeated for Hermes and then for the three little ones.
Bernie then shooed everyone away a few steps.
"Owls," he said as he rolled up his sleeves, "have very powerful bonds with witches and wizards. While we stand united, so do they. This ceremony marks not only the coming together of this exquisite avian pair, but of two families, one quite small," he said, leaning his head at Harry, "and one quite large," he continued, inclining his head at the gathered Weasleys. "But both are equally important to the safety of this new, beautiful little brood." And here he inclined his head at the chicks. They peeped at him.
"However, as much as this ceremony is about the human element, it is ultimately, shall we say, for the birds." There were smiles all around. "These chicks are fledging, and in accordance with the sacred ritual, I shall lead them and their parents on a short flight to welcome them into owl society. Please excuse the commotion."
And without anymore warning than that, Mr. Barnall disappeared and in his place was a large, creamy-colored barn owl, with a heart-shaped face and glittering black eyes. He flapped up onto Dumbledore's desk and hooted loudly, beating his wings and preparing to take off. His call sounded ancient, like a song of the earth. It was taken up by Hedwig, Hermes, and then by Thessaly, Nimue, and Circe, who were itching to break free of Harry's grip and fly. The barn owl pushed off the desk and flew out the open window, followed immediately by Hedwig and Hermes, and Harry gave the little ones a toss (he felt his heart explode a little as he did it) to get them airborne. They flapped magnificently, effortlessly following their parents and the leader.
Everybody hurried to the window to look out and watch the formation flight around the grounds. Harry, exalted by the sight, was whistling and cheering them on. Hermione threw her arms around him. Ron was crying. After a few moments of flying around, the owls came gliding back in through the window. Hermes landed gently on Percy's head. Hedwig stopped on her usual perch on Harry's shoulder. But the chicks, who hadn't quite mastered the art of landing just yet, careened into Harry's arms while flapping wildly, and knocked him on his rear end. Hedwig was forced to take off to avoid hitting something, and only re-settled when her wizard was upright with his glasses back in place.
The barn owl flapped in almost lazily, padded across the floor to stand before Dumbledore's desk, and suddenly Bernie was back. "I hereby declare this Owl Joining complete," he said, wiping his face with a rag. He turned to the all the owls and wiped the soot from their faces. "Welcome," he said to Hermes. "Welcome," he said to Hedwig. "Welcome Welcome Welcome," he said to the owlets.
Everyone laughed. In the middle of such a dreary war, no one in the room was about to take this tiny spark of happiness for granted. Harry knew that in a few weeks the owlets would be gone for good, off to the ministry to be trained as carrier owls and then to Eyelops to find good homes. But just for now, in these few blessed moments of peace, he relished the feel of Hedwig's sharp talons on his shoulder and held her babes as tightly as they would let him.
Author's Note: Hedwig, being a magical owl, has a magical owl e-mail address. She can be reached at prettygoldeneyes hootmail. com. Hootmail is for owls only, but Hedwig and I worked something out, so I have been granted rare access. If you wish to ask her a question, go ahead and type one in your review. I will pass it along to her and try to get an answer for you. :D Thank you for reading!!!