Disclaimer: Any work of fan fiction is, by definition, a copyright infringing work…unless, of course, the author is writing about characters and plotlines originating prior to 1924...which I, of course, am not...so it doesn't matter anyways. The point is, I won't be using this work for any personal gain and, therefore, will not be infringing on the interests of the most honored author of origin.
Notes from the author: I always said I'd never do a Harry Potter fan fiction. Why, I asked, mess with greatness? But with the 7th book about to come out, I've got Hogwarts on the brain, and I feel the need to publish this little character piece that's been running around in my head for years now. Although you can look at this first portion as a fully encapsulated story, in my mind, it's always been a chapter in a longer tale. So this may or may not be my only foray into the world of J.K. Rowling's genius. I promise, regardless, to stay true to canon and to not interfere with the personification of any of the characters, locations, and objects therein. Hope you enjoy it.
To Deliver the Mail
It is a very important day in the life of an owl when he is dedicated to his first master.
Some ancient owl families, like the wizarding families they serve, know who their masters will be from their first day out of the egg. But these days, such birds are as rare as the pure blood wizards they serve, and just as concerned about the finer aspects of lineal breeding. The majority of owls are bred commercially for mail carrying and companionship. Their parents are chosen carefully from among the breeder's best stock and, though descent from a prized line is respected and honored within the greater owl community, it is not considered the defining factor of an animal's life. No, a sold owl had to make his own way in life and triumph or fail on his own initiative.
That is why one's first master could be so important. It is natural for a bird to pick up some of the mannerisms of the one who owns it. If the first master was studious and work-minded, then the owl is likely to become an efficient carrier, who is proud of his postal accomplishments. Conversely, a slovenly master, who rarely cleans his owl's cage and who ignores the beast in general, is likely to encourage laziness. A sold owl might go through numerous owners by the time he was forced to give up the harness, but the initial human he was attached to always tended to shape the bird's temperament and outlook more than any of it's following keepers. As such, owls who have not yet been assigned to a particular wizard or witch are understandably concerned about their untenable futures. Snowfall's daughter was no different.
Snowfall's daughter did not have a name; no owl did until his master chose to name him or her, and even then, an owl's "official" name might change from time to time at the whim of her masters. Owls did have a means of addressing one another, regardless of the transient nature of their human companions. However, when a bird was still young and untried, they would go by the name of their mother (owl fathers being always something of a mystery, even in the best of breeding colonies). There were, in fact, at that time, two other "Snowfall's daughters" and one "Snowfall's son", and there had been others that came before as well who had already been sold off and given proper names. In practice, however, all were referred to as "Snowfall's get", which seemed a vaguely insulting term for the offspring of what was generally considered, a premiere line.
Certainly, Snowfall "Silent Wing" of House Barendon was a fine carrier, as her mother had been before her; and this most recent brood, rumored to have been sired by the sometimes tempestuous Alfred "Storm Chaser" of House Barendon, had as good a chance as any sold owl at making something of themselves in the wizarding world. Better, in fact, than most. But, exceptions were not made for birds on the basis of their lineage. A young owl would have to make a name for itself amongst the flock based on its own deeds, and not that of its alleged parents.
All of this was going through the mind of Snowfall's daughter as she crouched drowsily upon the perch of her brass barred cage. It wasn't particularly enjoyable to be locked up in such cramped arrangements. One could hardly stretch one's wings in the room provided by their domed enclosures. Many of the surrounding owls shifted constantly from one end of their perch to the other, swinging around to face the other direction in a nervous, almost neurotic manner. Snowfall's daughter, though, knew that this was a mark of a poorly trained animal. Whenever she was not being fed, or wasn't engaged in conversation with any of her neighboring birds, she tried to remain still and silent, as she thought her mother would have expected of her.
Her mother had been stoic and strict, instilling in her and her siblings a great respect for propriety. She had taught them the basics of how to abide with humans. How to respectfully respond to their commands without acting too much like an inferior. How to show affection while maintaining a dignified aloofness. How to treat the other companion animals (cats and toads and the like) which might populate their master's quarters. And, perhaps most importantly, she had taught them the three canon rules upon which a post owl's service is based:
1. Carry the mail
2. Keep it secret
3. Protect your charge
Generally, the third maxim was taken to be merely a extension of the first two. A mail bird should not allow damage to come to his packages. However, the better avian lines knew that the charge went beyond mere safety of correspondence. No, it was the responsibility of a good mail owl to watch over it's master and keep him safe. Wizard owners were considered by the owl populace to be somewhat loveable buffoons who had their uses (the production of owl treats, for example) but who, if left to their own devices, were likely to blunder about, tripping over their own robes, and generally getting into a world of trouble. It was the solemn duty of the companion bird to, above and beyond mere package delivery, watch out for their masters; and the seriousness of this obligation should be always reflected in the bird's manner and disposition.
Still, it was hard to maintain composure at all times. Twice a day (at noon and midnight), the owner of the shop would let the owls loose two or three at a time into the streets surrounding Diagon Alley to get exercise, but Snowfall's daughter's next chance for relative freedom was still several hours away, and at the moment, that seemed as good as forever to her.
Her reverie was broken when the glass fronted door leading to the street swung open with the tinkling sound of a small bell. Immediately the shop inhabitants, which until then had been languishing in the boredom only a weekday morning can engender, began to twitter and preen themselves. Tails were ruffed out, feathers arranged into a smooth and pleasing appearance, and aristocratic poses were struck. One never knew if this day might be the day you were chosen; if this incongruous patron might be the one.
Snowfall's daughter gave a surreptitious glance at her back feathers. All seemed to be in place. She arranged herself to face away from the storefront and affected an air of disinterest. Other birds might hop around, hooting for attention - some of the tiny barn owls might go so far as to sweep around in their little cages, displaying much of their vaunted tight turning abilities, but little actual skill - but this was not the way of a snowy owl. Snowfall's daughter puffed out her chest and attempted to exude all the qualities which drew patrons specifically to her breed. Intelligence, ethereal beauty, and above all…silence in flight.
However, she couldn't help watching the customers out of the corner of her eye. There were two of them. One made the pupils of her yellow eyes widen in surprise. She had never seen a human of such size before. Granted, her experience of wizards was somewhat limited, having spent her entire youth in the breeding colony and the remainder of her adolescence in this very shop, but she was all but certain this human's size must be, if nothing else, out of the ordinary. His head topped the highest shelf in the Emporium, and he could easily have reached up and taken down the eagles inhabiting the top row without the use of a merchandise pole. His width, too, was prodigious, and Snowfall's daughter saw him turn to the side in order to fit through the doorway. His hair and beard bore an unhealthy resemblance to the less cleanly of the nests at the breeding grounds, and when he clapped his hands together in excitement it rattled the shop's windows like thunder.
The other customer was short, and not just in comparison to his associate. Although Snowfall's daughter was not entirely confident in her human anatomy, she thought he must be a child. His hair was dark and unkempt, and his cheeks were sallow, as if he did not quite get enough to eat. The shirt he was wearing did not fit him well and the cuffs on his sleeves were rolled up several times to expose his hands. A pair of round glasses, the bridge of which appeared to have been broken and repaired numerous times, sat perched on his nose.
Snowfall's daughter did not think she would be interested in belonging to either of them.
"Blimey, Harry," exclaimed the larger one, gazing around at the cages taking up every inch of space along the walls. "Ain't they gorgeous?"
The smaller customer was looking around with wide green eyes. He spun in a circle on the wood paneled floor, taking in the whole shop with his glance. He was weighted down with bags that seemed to hold a number of heavy purchases, and they swung around him, bumping into his legs. A slight smile crossed his lips and, setting down several of the packages, he brushed his black bangs out of his eyes to get a better look.
The eyes of Snowfall's daughter widened even further. Hastily, she turned her head completely away from the two humans. If possible, she held herself even more still upon her perch, frozen in an attitude of perfect nobility. Around her, the Emporium broke into a veritable hubbub of hoots, clicks and screeches.
"I say," exclaimed an elder tawny near the door, "Is that…"
"Course it is," squeaked a downy screech owl, just brought in from the breeding grounds that week. "Who else would it be?"
"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness," bubbled a tiny barn owl, rocketing around in its cage.
"Shut it," intoned a sharp eyed golden eagle from the topmost shelf. "Fool. As if he'd look twice at the likes of you."
"Harry Potter," breathed the owl next to Snowfall's daughter, "It must be."
Snowfall's daughter ignored him. Didn't he know it was impolite to stare like that? But he wasn't the only one, almost every owl in the store was hooting softly to its neighbor, clacking their beaks with excitement, and generally commenting on the short boy's lightning shaped scar.
All owls, of course, knew the story of Harry Potter; the human boy who faced the Dark One and managed, against all odds, to survive. Owls had suffered at the hands of the Dark One and his minions, and the fear he had instilled in all good animals still remained. Some of the older owls remembered the evil times when the Dark One had come to power and told their stories to all who would listen. Snowfall had been hatched after the Dark One disappeared, but she made sure to instruct her offspring with the histories she had learned from others.
The Dark One, it was said, was of such an evil nature, that no owl would serve him. He used snakes as long as a human was tall, and as thick as a hearty tree branch to carry his messages to his followers. Owls have an instinctive mistrust of all snakes, and this was just further proof of the Dark One's despicable nature. Stories there were too, of honest, loyal house-owls who returned home to find their houses in a shambles, their masters brutally murdered, and a strange green symbol filling the sky. Owls had been killed too, some by humans eager to gain access to the letters they were carrying, some destroyed by hideous monsters the likes of which were used to scare disobedient chicks into silence during roosting time. And so, all owls knew of the wizard boy with the lightning scar, and they honored him.
It would be considered a coup for any of the hopeful messengers lining the walls of Eyelop's Owl Emporium to snag such a well respected master.
The boy began to wander about the store, peaking into various cages.
"There's so many kinds," he intoned, speaking for the first time. "Do they all carry mail?"
"Course," replied the large man. "That's basic owl training. Some do more o' course, can help with spells and all. Some of the larger ones will even do yer grocery shopping and pick up yer dry cleaning…course they cost a bit more."
The boy turned to face the tall man. "You know you don't have to do this Hagrid," he said, "I mean, I don't really need an owl."
"Course you do. Can't be goin' to Hogwarts without an animal, and owls are the smartest and most useful pets around." Snowfall's daughter warmed to the large man slightly, hearing this praise. "'Sides, this way you'll have at least one friend at school, even before you get there." The big man smiled through his bristly beard, and the boy smiled back.
"Don' mention it."
Eyelop, the owner of the Emporium, took that moment to emerge from the back room. He was a stooped elderly man with very little remaining hair. His grey robes were faded to white all along the shoulders from years of droppings. He took off his thin wired spectacles, cleaned the glass on the ends of his robes, and replaced them delicately on the end of his rather long pointed nose.
"May I help you," he addressed the man called Hagrid.
"Yeah," the big man replied, ambling over to the counter, "This boy's here gettin' his first owl."
Eyelop peered at the young boy mistrustingly, as if he felt that a child that small should not be given the care of a fine and dignified Eyelop's owl. Harry smiled at the proprietor, and tried to affect an air of responsibility beyond his years. His bangs had fallen down again over his forehead and, if Eyelop noticed his scar, he did not comment on it.
"Off to school then are we?" the aged shop owner inquired. Harry nodded. "Well, what would you be looking for then?" Eyelop shuffled out from behind the counter and approached a tawny several cages to the right of Snowfall's daughter.
"Here's a serviceable bird," he continued, "He's about 4, so he's been around the block once or twice before, and it's good sometimes to have an owl who already knows the ropes." Eyelop looked sideways at the young boy.
"He's nice," said Harry unenthusiastically, as he peered into the dark cage.
"Eh, I dunno," said Hagrid, looking down at his charge, "I was kinda thinkin' we'd get yeh something younger. You know, bein' as yer still just a student yerself."
"Here's another fine example," Eyelop continued, leading them to the front of a young screech owl's cage. "Younger. From a good sire line. Rather touchy about his food, though." Harry raised his hand to the cage, and immediately retrieved it as the bird made a quick lunge at his fingers with its beak. Snowfall's daughter had come to know this owl in her time at the shop. Hot headed and arrogant, he had already gained something of a name for himself amongst the other owls. 'Spitfire' they had started calling him, though not with the respectful tones usually associated with an owl's given name. It was not a moniker that any decent bird should feel honored to have earned.
"Now, he's a nice one," Hagrid opined. Spitfire stared at the large man as he leaned over to examine the cage, opened his sharp beak, and gave an important sounding screech. "Look," Hagrid said fondly, "I think he likes you Harry!" Harry looked at Hagrid with wide frightened eyes. He certainly didn't seem to think Spitfire was exactly the bird for him. Snowfall's daughter didn't think so either. She shifted uncomfortably on her perch and puffed out her feathers.
"Whaddya think Harry," Hagrid asked, nodding at Spitfire's cage, "Will 'e do?"
"Err," Harry replied uncomfortably.
"He comes with papers," Eyelop asserted, "Pedigree and proof of magical orientation ability. And the cage goes with him too." Hagrid raised his bushy eyebrows at the young boy meaningfully.
"Umm," said Harry, apparently on the verge of acceptance.
"No!" hooted Snowfall's daughter. The Emporium seemed to go silent at her sudden outburst, and a hundred sets of jeweled eyes turned to blink at her. Snowfall's daughter ducked her head into her feathered shoulders, as if embarrassed at her own outspoken opinion. The three humans standing before Spitfire's cage turned to look at her.
"Oh," said Harry.
"Hmmm," said Eyelop.
"Eh?" questioned Hagrid.
The young boy strode over to her cage, and peaked inside.
"What about this one Hagrid?" The two elder men followed him. Snowfall's daughter looked aghast at the three humans. Why come to examine her now, after she's made a fool of herself in front of the whole Emporium community. If her mother had been here she would have given her daughter a good hard peck on the forehead for her impertinence. No human, she would always say, wants a snotty, self important owl. So why would these three be interested in her?
"Fairly young," Eyelop stated informatively, "The dam's an excellent producer. This one's from her third crop, best group of fledglings yet."
"Does he do anything?" Hagrid asked, squinting one eye at her.
"She," Eyelop corrected, "Is from a family of Silent Flyers."
"What's that then?"
Eyelop flipped the latch on her cage and held out a gloved hand for her to perch on. Snowfall's daughter crept out onto the shop owner's arm, trying to recapture the dignity she had lost with her solitary call. Eyelop stepped back from the wall.
"Show them your paces, my lovely," he purred. Snowfall's daughter leapt from his arm in a single graceful move. She glided smoothly around the confines of the shop, seeming to pull the air towards herself with the elegant sweep of her wings. Angling behind the three humans, she stuck out her feathered legs and came to rest on the owner's arm, landing as lightly as thistledown upon a motionless lake. "See that," said Eyelop, "Total silence in mid-flight. Makes them excellent hunters, and perfect for handling clandestine messages of all sorts."
"She's beautiful," said the boy. Embarrassed by such ebullient praise, Snowfall's daughter tucked her head beneath her wing. The boy reached out and stroked the smooth feathers along her back. Snowfall's daughter kept perfectly still, as he petted her again.
"Well Harry," Hagrid announced, "If you like 'er, she's yours." The boy smiled. "Happy Birthday, Harry!" said the big man.
The transaction was concluded quickly, or at least it seemed that way to Snowfall's daughter. Eyelop explained at length about proper owl care and he brought out a nicer cage; smaller than the one she had inhabited at the shop, but brightly polished and more efficient for transportation. She kept her head hidden beneath her wing, pretending to be asleep, but paying close attention to everything her new master said and did. He kept smiling nervously up at the big man and thanking him effusively. Eyelop seemed to despair of instilling him with an understanding of correct owl bathing techniques, and rather thrust a thin pamphlet entitled Owl Care for Dummies through the bars of her new cage. Then the big man carried her to the shop's door amongst the hooted congratulations and encouragement of her fellows, and out into the street beyond.
Diagon Alley was familiar to her, but the realm of London they entered upon exiting the pub was completely alien. Here were buildings so tall that one could easily get lost amongst them while gliding hundreds of feet above the ground. The confines of the train they took out of the city was even more unnerving. She did not much like the sensation of movement that was not created by her own wings. She watched the countryside fly past through the bars of her cage and wondered where she was heading to.
She soon found out, and was not particularly pleased to learn that she would be living in the same abode as a very loud man with several chins and no apparent neck, who had started berating her new master the instant he entered the house.
"An owl!" he exclaimed. "A ruddy bird!! No, there is no way you are bringing that awful, disease ridden crow into my household!"
Snowfall's daughter did not like him at all.
The other inhabitants of the house were not much better. A pinched woman in a flowered print apron backed far away from her master upon sighting the cage and, with a screech worthy of an owl of that variety, retreated in fear to the kitchen. The other boy she did not even see, except as a frightened face peering out from behind the kitchen door. She and her master were immediately banished to some dark hole under a staircase. There was barely room for anything in the small room, so her master opened her cage and, after she had removed herself with poise to bedstead, shoved it into the remaining space under his bed.
"Welcome home," he said sarcastically. Staring around the room, Snowfall's daughter clicked her beak in consternation. To think that Harry Potter, a human so famous that even birds knew his name, should be relegated to this spider infested knothole. It was terrible. Her master should not be treated like this, and she meant to do something about it as soon as she got the chance.
Harry threw himself onto the bed and began flipping through the pamphlet Eyelop had given him. "It says here that I should give you a name." He glanced upwards at the bird, who merely blinked at him silently. "I've got no idea what kind of name to give a magical owl," he went on, mostly to himself. Dropping the pamphlet, he reached into one of the shopping bags he had dragged into the room and pulled out a crisp, new, leather bound spell book. He paged through the book with slow consideration.
"Let's see….Matilda…no, that doesn't sound very pleasant...how about Amoritae." The boy looked up from his book quizzically, "Is then even a girl's name?" He shook his head and continued on. "Gracelia…Morgan….err…Charlene, no that doesn't sound very magical…sounds like Uncle Vernon's secretary." He continued on in this manner for some time, fluttering about from one name to the next, before finally settling upon:
"Hedwig," he said, glancing up at the bird perched stoically above his head. "How does that sound?"
Hedwig hooted softly in response, and closed her large golden eyes in sleep.