You are one of many. You must patiently await your turn.
You swivel your head and gaze to your left. You do the same to the right. Your huge black eyes take in the scene. The line is orderly and silent. Almost a hundred tawny backs stand straight and tall. None of the others are moving; they all look forward, silently waiting.
You are nervous. You are new to this, new to the school and new to the job. This will be your first task, and it is an important one. Last night, the Owlery was all aflutter, because today is the day.
Every owl tried to sleep through the night, unnatural though that was. You were awake long before dawn, and when the call came, you followed the flock into this large room. Its ceiling reflects the sky, dawn glimmers to the east.
When you flew in through the open window a man with hair the colour of ripe wheat conjured the long wooden beam on which you perch. The wooden bar stretches the length of the Great Hall and on it a parliament of owls sit, waiting for their missions.
The man stands at the right end of the line. He begins his walk. You are two-thirds of the way along, maybe more. You cling to your perch and wait for the man to reach you. His progress is slow, but steady. He holds a large pile of envelopes in his hand and passes them out one at a time. His voice is quiet but your sharp ears hear his every word. You hear him recite name after name.
As the man walks towards you the pile of letters gets ever smaller. With a rustle and a flutter the line of owls steadily reduces in length.
The man who will give you your first job is now only three owls away.
'Stephen Oxford,' the man says. Another owl takes flight.
'Jocelyn Peabody.' The next owl leaves. He has almost reached you. You puff out your chest and feather your wings as he reaches the owl perched next to you.
'Marissa Plenty,' he says. Your neighbour grasps the envelope in her beak and spreads her wings.
Finally, he reaches you. You eagerly open your beak, but he hesitates. Have you done something wrong? Is he going to bypass you? You unfurl your wings and flap worriedly.
'Well!' The man looks at you and bares his teeth. This isn't a threat; the humans call it a smile. He stares at the envelope.
'You're a young owl,' he observes. 'Have you been with us long?'
You tilt your head, blink, and screech, telling him that this will be your first flight for the school. The blond-haired man doesn't understand; he simply shrugs.
'Take care of this one, and safe flight, young owl. You're going to deliver this to James Potter. Tell him "hello from his Uncle Neville".'
The man finally hands you the envelope. You seize it firmly in your beak, spread your wings, and launch yourself into the air.
'And Rani Rathod, too,' you hear the man say to the next owl. 'I wonder if you and James will be Gryffindors, Rani; like Harry, Ginny and Parvati.' You hear no more. You are gone, out through the window and into the skies.
The name was enough for you. There is magic in it, for the moment you heard the name you knew where you were going. The owl who seeks Marissa Plenty is already far ahead of you. A multitude of owls are disappearing into the distance. You are lagging behind, but the delay is not your fault. The man's long speech was the cause. Nevertheless, pride takes over and you flap powerfully in your attempt to close the gap. You follow the flock over the forests.
Already the owls are dispersing. The steady line of owls which streamed from the window began to diverge by degrees the moment they left the hall. In the distance you see one owl flying west, toward the Hebrides. Several more head south west, toward the Irish Sea and, ultimately, Ireland. The majority, however, continue to fly south, towards the Scottish lowlands, England, and Wales.
Your wings carry you onward, crossing the Firth of Forth, flying high over the great grey city of Edinburgh and then on past the rolling Lammermuir Hills. You soar high, expanding your horizon. To the east, the North Sea is a tumult of grey-blue, to the west you can make out the Solway in the hazy dawn light. You are approaching the border, a land of forests, hills and sheep. You press on into the Cheviot Hills, into England.
Perched on a hillside you see a huge, oddly shaped boulder, a massive stone standing on a ridge. To the east of the stone there is a road and, hidden between stone and road a house nestles in the woodland. Your mission is almost accomplished. It is still early morning as you glide down towards the old stone farmhouse, Drakeshaugh. Your final destination is merely one mile away. You are confident that this is the place. The July sun creeps slowly up from the horizon. It is still low in the sky and the gravel yard is bifurcated by the long shadow cast by the farmhouse roof.
As you approach the house, a girl steps out from the shadow. Her hair is as red as oak leaves in autumn. She places a hand above her brow and squints into the sky, sunlight reflecting from her large round eyes of glass.
''Mum, Dad, I can see an owl. It's here. The owl post is here!' The girl's voice rings out, as clear as a bell, across the yard.
You hear shouts from inside the house. The words are muffled by the thick stone walls, but the sense of excitement, the sense of urgency, is not. This is definitely the place; you can feel it. From your remiges to your rectrices, from your beak to your claws, you are certain. He is here. He is somewhere close.
You look around for somewhere to land. There is a large black car parked in the yard, and next to it, a black motorcycle. The handlebars form an ideal perch. With a frenzy of flaps you create a down thrust and you land neatly on the bright chrome bar.
You have an audience. The girl has been joined by others. You examine them carefully.
Immediately behind the girl stands a woman with hair an identical shade of red. Next to the woman stands her mate. He is taller, and dark haired. Like their red-haired chick, he has round eyes of glass. You have found the sire, dame, and one of their hatchlings, but the one you seek is not yet here.
'It's the Hogwarts letter,' the chick says. She is jumping up and down; her flailing and flying hair glows red-gold in the sunshine as she moves.
'It's James's Hogwarts letter. I know it is. Hurry up, James!' The girl's voice is loud, high and excited. 'James, James, JAMES!'
The girl squeals and dances as she watches you. Behind her, another conversation is taking place.
'He's much too young,' the sire says quietly. 'I don't want him to go, Ginny.'
The dame, Ginny, places her arm around her mate's waist and pulls him in close.
'Oh, Harry,' says Ginny. 'He's almost twelve. He's more than nine months older than you were when you got your letter.'
'Nine months isn't much,' Harry says.
'I've been pregnant three times, Harry,' she tells him. 'Nine months is a very long time, have you forgotten?'
'When he set off those fireworks in his bedroom yesterday you told him that you'd be glad when he went to Hogwarts, that then he'd be somebody else's problem,' says Ginny.
'That was yesterday, and I was angry with him. Sometimes he has no sense,' says Harry. 'He could have hurt himself.'
'He's eleven, Harry,' says Ginny. 'Don't try to tell me that you didn't do anything stupid and dangerous when you were his age: troll, three-headed dog, must I go on?'
'But yesterday he wasn't really going. That is his letter, Ginny; I can see the crest. Yesterday was a long time ago. Today, he really is going to Hogwarts. After September, we'll only see him during the school holidays. He'll be gone for most of the year.'
'He'll be gone for most of our lives, Harry,' says Ginny.
'But…' Harry begins. Ginny interrupts him.
'We've had him every day for eleven years, Harry. But we'd have to lock him in a cage to keep him with us forever.' Ginny hesitates and then continues quietly, 'On our wedding day, when Dad was getting ready to lead me down the aisle, he got really emotional,' she continues. 'He said "When you were born, I knew you'd always be mine. When you went to Hogwarts, I hoped you'd still be mine. But as from today, you're not mine. You are Harry's, and he is yours. Please don't forget your old Dad." I told him that he was wrong, that I'd always be his little girl. I reminded him that, when we were little, he'd always told us to share. I told him that he'd been sharing me with the world from the day I was born. James will always be ours, Harry, but we have to share him with the world.'
A boy runs out into the yard and Harry and Ginny's conversation stops. He is black-haired and green-eyed, and you instantly know that he isn't the one. The red-haired girl dances around and watches the boy approach.
'James is still in the toilet,' the boy says. 'Is that it? Is that his Hogwarts letter?'
'It certainly looks like it,' says Ginny.
'Wow!' says the boy. He turns to his parents.
His still-dancing sister is now chanting, 'Hogwarts, Hogwarts, hoggy warty Hogwarts!'
The boy ignores her and moves closer to Harry and Ginny. 'Does James have to go to school?' the boy asks quietly.
Harry looks down at his younger son and sighs. It's an exhalation of resignation, a facing up to the inevitable.
'No, he doesn't,' Ginny admits. 'But he should, and you know that, Al. You'll be getting the letter yourself next summer. You'll miss him, won't you?'
'But please don't tell him, Mum,' Al begs.
'We won't say anything, Al,' says Harry. 'We'll miss him too; we'll miss him a lot. It will be a lot quieter around the house when he's gone. I'll miss the noise.' He puts an arm around his wife and hugs her. 'But we have to share him with the rest of the world.'
Ginny turns to Harry and they touch their beaks together in that odd way humans do.
'Eurgh. Why are you kissing now? You're always kissing. It's sick!' a fifth voice complains from the doorway. He is running towards you.
This is him. You know instantly; every feather on your frame confirms it. You preen and flap and prepare to deliver your letter.
'James Sirius Potter, have you washed your hands?' Ginny asks as the boy stops directly in front of you.
'Yes, Mum,' says James as he curls his hands into fists and hides them behind his back.
'Do them again,' Ginny commands.
'But… My letter…'
'Do them again,' repeats Ginny firmly.
Harry steps behind his son and pulls out his wand. 'Scourgify,' he says.
James shivers. 'I hate it when you do that, Dad,' he says sullenly.
'Then remember to wash your hands, James. And don't lie to Mum. She always knows, and so do I,' Harry tells him.
'This is his first job,' the girl says quietly.
'What're you chuntering on about now, Lily?' James asks as he takes the letter from your beak and tears it open. You flap your wings in relief. You have finally accomplished your mission.
'The owl, it's his first delivery, he's nervous. I'll get him an owl treat,' says Lily.
You remember the blond man's words and you screech and flutter his greeting.
'Uncle Neville says hello, he handed out the letters,' Lily says.
'Tell Uncle Neville, hello from Al, Mr Owl,' Al says to you. His voice is almost drowned out by his brother's.
'How do you know that, silly billy Lilyloo?' asks James scornfully.
'The owl told me,' says Lily.
'I'm not a silly billy, and Lilyloo is a baby name, I'm called Lily,' she adds forcefully. She dashes into the house and, while you wait for the promised owl treat, you watch the family cluster around James Potter. They read the letter over his shoulder.
'Still "no brooms allowed" for first-years,' Harry says. 'I thought that Headmistress Sprout would have changed that rule by now.
'Who is this Professor Terence A.P.S. Milligan?' asks Ginny. 'He's deputy headmaster according to this.'
'Defence Against the Dark Arts,' Harry says. 'He took over from Professor Dawlish the year after the Bletchley incident. The list hasn't changed much, has it? Cauldron—robes—all of the usual stuff. When can we take James to Diagon Alley?'
'Are you going to be all right, Harry?' asks Ginny in an undertone.
He nods. 'I am, because you're right, as usual. Our babies are growing up, and there is nothing we can do to stop it,' he tells her.
'My dad says that he doesn't like growing old, but it's better than the alternative,' says Ginny.
Lily arrives back and offers you an owl treat. You accept it gratefully and prepare to take flight. The family all begin talking at once.
'Bye bye, birdie. Say hello to Uncle Neville from me too,' says Lily.
'Can we all go to Diagon Alley?' says Al.
'Can I have an owl? Are we going today?' asks James.
'Merlin! We'll have to buy James a wand,' exclaims Harry, he shakes his head worriedly.
'We'll go to Ollivander and Thomas's,' says Ginny. 'It's a long time since we saw Dean.'
'Can I have an owl too?' asks Lily.
You take to the sky and return home to Hogwarts, leaving the family and their confusing conversations behind.