Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters! They are all the brainchildren of JKR. :D
Summary: A late night conference between three diversely tempered owls and one large cat, post-"GoF."
Notes: I don't know if this idea has been explored elsewhere in a fic, but I have wondered for a while what Errol, Pigwidgeon, Hedwig and Crookshanks would be like if they could talk. So while I harbor strong suspicions that Crookshanks is, in fact, an Animagus in hiding, this story was born. *giggle* Mind you, it's my first HP fic, so some facts may be a bit screwy. I don't proclaim to be an HP expert - I leave that to my friend Jen. ;) LOL! There's a brief appearance by Ron and Hermione in the end; I wish I could have included my other favorite characters - Snape (*swoon*), the Twins, Sirius, and/or Lupin. But alas, 'twas not to be. I hope you all enjoy nonetheless!
Late one night - so late, it could really be called "early morning" - a tired feather duster slept quietly beside a chirping ball of fluff and a small ginger doormat.
Closer inspection would have revealed, of course, that none of these things were as they appeared. The feather duster was actually an elderly owl, who looked as though one good sneeze would knock all the feathers from his aged form. The ball of fluff was also an owl, though he was much younger than the first. Despite being fast asleep, the tiny owl was trilling softly to itself, obviously dreaming of delivering enormous packages to far off, exotic climes. He was extremely proud of his profession.
The small ginger doormat was actually quite a large ginger cat, and he, unlike the two owls, was wide awake. He was stretched out comfortably on a window ledge, his sharp, luminous eyes following a white speck on the horizon. The speck was drawing steadily closer, silhouetted against the dark sky. With a leisurely swat of his paw, the cat thumped the smaller of the two owls on top of its feathered head.
The bird awoke instantly, twittering and sputtering with excitement. "Yes! Yes! Hoot! What is it! Hoot, hoot!"
The ginger cat watched with quiet amusement as the small owl frenzied in circles around the other owl's head. "Owl coming," he finally purred, gazing out the window once more. The approaching owl was much closer now. The cat could make out snow white feathers, and sharp talons clenched tightly around a crisp white envelope.
The small owl collided with the windowpane in his excitement to see the newcomer. "Whooo? Whoooo?" he hooted eagerly. "Whooo is it, Crookyshanks?"
The cat calmly squashed the owl under his paw, holding the twittering ball of feathers still atop the ledge. "Calm, Pigwidgeon. It's only Hedwig." He watched as the Snowy owl flew to an upper window, presumably to deliver a message to a human on one of the floors above them. "She must have a note for your human, Pig."
Pigwidgeon struggled under the cat's paw. "Let me up, Crookyshanks!" he squeaked, wriggling. "Master Ron may need me to-woo deliver an important note for him! A reply!"
"I'm sure if young Ron needs to-woo send a reply, Pigwidgeon," a new, older voice broke in wearily, "he will do-woo so using Hedwig herself."
Crookshanks calmly turned his head to look at the elderly owl, who had just awoken and was struggling to sit up. "Good morning, Errol."
Errol managed to shudder himself into a sitting position, coughed a little, and stretched his tired wings. "Is it morning already? Hoo..." He twisted his neck, and Crookshanks narrowed his eyes at the sound of cracking joints. "I believe I must finally be going blind, for to-woo me, it is still dark outside."
"That's because it's only very early morning, Errol."
"Ah, I see."
"May I say you look quite tattered today, old man. Would you like me to eat you?"
Errol laughed; or perhaps he was coughing. Crookshanks couldn't tell. "Not today, Crookshanks. But thank you-oo for the offer. What's that noise?"
Pigwidgeon had given up wiggling as a way of escaping from Crookshanks' grasp, and had begun shrieking at the top of his small lungs. He obviously hoped the cat's sensitive hearing would be affected.
"It's just Pig," Crookshanks said, rather bored. The owl was too small, and his screeches too wispy, to be more than annoying. "He almost flew through the glass, trying to meet Hedwig." With another thump on the head for good measure, Crookshanks let the tiny owl fly free.
Pigwidgeon immediately started zooming around the Weasley's small living room. "Errol! Errol!" he squeaked excitedly. "Do you-oo think Master Ron will be needing me? Do you-oo? Perhaps Hedwig has brought plans for a secret plot from Master Harry, and he will be needing all three of us owls to-woo coordinate! Ta-woo! Ta-woo!"
Errol let out a shuddering sigh. "I hope not, young Pigwidgeon. I am too-woo old to help coordinate plots."
Pigwidgeon seemed only slightly phased by this reply. "Do you-oo think Hedwig has brought a note for your mistress too-woo, Crookyshanks?" he asked eagerly.
Crookshanks licked his paw and began quietly washing his face. "I would not be the least surprised." His mistress, Hermione Granger, was staying with the Weasley family for the summer.
Pigwidgeon would doubtless have answered this with some enthusiastic comment about adventures and excitement, but he was interrupted by the dignified and silent arrival of Hedwig, who fluttered down to perch on the back of a weathered arm chair beside the window. "Helloooo," she hooted, bobbing her head in greeting.
Errol bobbed his head as well, and Crookshanks had the overwhelming urge to hold out his paws to catch the owl's old, feathered head in case it fell off, which it threatened to do at any minute. "How are you-oo tonight, Hedwig? Good flying?" the old owl asked.
Hedwig opened her beak to reply, but ended up squawking in quite unladylike fashion as Pigwidgeon barreled into her stomach, almost knocking her off the chair. "What did you-oo bring! What did you-oo bring!" he twittered wildly, zooming in circles around her head.
"Sit down, you-oo silly excu-woose for an owl!" Hedwig replied angrily. She snapped her beak at the smaller owl as he whooshed past her face, and a small POOF of feathers floated to the floor. Pigwidgeon obediently perched on the windowsill beside Errol, though he still bounced enthusiastically from foot to foot.
"What news DO you bring, Hedwig?" Crookshanks asked.
The Snowy owl pulled her sharp yellow eyes away from Pigwidgeon, who she seemed to be considering eating, and eyed the cat. "That is a secret between myself and Harry."
"No one here but friends, Hedwig," Errol said tiredly. "We all hope Harry is well?"
Hedwig still looked like she was debating telling them anything, then sighed. With a ruffle of her feathers, she nodded. "He is. Though sad. And afraid."
Crookshanks mewed quietly. "With good reason." His fur prickled with electricity as it stood on end, and he flexed his claws. "I should have eaten that rat while I had a chance. Perhaps none of this would have happened."
"You-oo? I should have done it!" Hedwig responded, tightening her talons on the back of the chair. "Three years I had the oppurtu-woonity." She twisted her neck in a show of frustration, then looked back to them.
"You could not have known, Hedwig," Errol observed diplomatically. "No more than I. Loo-woosen your talons, lass, you're tearing the upholstery."
"I'll eat him!" Pigwidgeon screeched excitedly, bouncing up and down. "I'll eat him! Next time we see him, I'll swoo-woop down and HOO! HOO!" He launched into the air and did a series of wild somersaults.
Crookshanks watched him calmly. "I believe the rat was bigger than you, Pig. It would be an interesting fight, but I think the rat would win in the end."
"I have a very big mouth, Crookyshanks!"
"That you do," the cat purred, washing his face again.
"Much as I'm sure you-oo would enjoy doing battle with that wicked rodent, Pigwidgeon," Errol said sagely, "I find it hard to-woo believe he will assu-woome that form again unless absolu-wootely necessary. He is too-woo vulnerable as a rat."
"He is vulnerable as a man, too-woo," Hedwig muttered, flexing her talons again. She looked ready to do battle with a wildcat. "He will not hurt Harry."
"I don't believe he is the one we must worry about," Crookshanks said. "It's his master who will cause the most trouble."
Pigwidgeon stopped his wild flying and landed on the windowsill in front of the cat. "Master? Whooo?" He hopped forward curiously, cocking his head and blinking his huge eyes. "Whooo is the ratty man's master, Crookyshanks?"
"Voldemort," Crookshanks purred calmly, then hissed and pulled back as the other two owls started hooting up a storm, beating their wings.
"Do-woo not say that name!" Errol cried, his voice sounding stronger than it had in ages.
"Stu-woopid cat!" Hedwig screeched, snapping her beak in his direction. "Do-woo you-oo wish to-woo bring the dark wizard to-woo our door?" Her anger brought out the extra owlishness of her speech.
"It's only a name!" Crookshanks yowled angrily. "Sirius, the dog, told me about him!"
"You-oo still should not speak his name," Errol said wearily, slumping again. The outburst seemed to have drained him completely.
Hedwig calmed a little, but her sharp yellow eyes didn't lose their fire. "I've always felt a cat that is friends with a dog is not to-woo be trusted," she remarked.
Crookshanks let his eyes rest on her. "If I were untrusworthy, I would have eaten Pigwidgeon here a long time ago, Hedwig."
"Yeah!" Pigwidgeon agreed with an enthusiastic flutter of his wings. Crookshanks chuckled, a low rumble in his throat, and chucked the small owl gently under the beak with his paw. Pigwidgeon tumbled onto his back, but hopped amiably onto his feet again, pecking affectionately at the large cat's whiskers.
"These are dark times," Errol intoned somberly, and even Pigwidgeon calmed down enough to pay attention. The tone of the older owl's voice meant he was going to tell a story, and when Errol told a story, it was a big event. "Dark as they haven't been in almost fifteen years."
He shivered, his tattered feathers fluffing out, as if to guard against encroaching cold. "I remember, young ones, the days when the dark wizard first walked these streets. Oh, he was a cold one. He didn't use owl post; his dark mark was all the communication he needed." Errol shuddered, revolted by the thought. "I knew his owl, however. The one who worked for him, before he changed. A fine creature, she was, named Taraloo. A beautiful Barn owl." He hooted softly, shaking his weary head. "A fine creature, with a cruel master. I met her once, in the post office at Hogsmeade. Thin, shaking. 'I mustn't go back,' she told me. 'Master, he has me fetching such wicked packages for him.' She'd just returned from Transylvania, with a heavy-bound book wrapped in shoddy brown paper. I didn't dare ask her whooo had given it to-woo her 'But Errol, I must go back. If I don't, Master will be so angry. So angry will he be!'"
Errol closed his eyes, bowing his head. He was quiet for so long, Crookshanks thought he had fallen asleep again.
"I told her not to-woo go back," the old owl finally said, making the others start with surprise. He raised his head, and his tired eyes looked haunted. "I told her to-woo give the package to-woo someone else. To-woo Dumbledore, or someone else trustworthy, who could handle the situation better than a post owl. 'No, Errol, ta-woo! Ta-woo! Master, he will know if I do-woo not bring him the package. He will make me come to-woo him! He has bewitched my wings!'"
The others gasped at this. Bewitching of an owl's wings - or a horse's legs, or an elephant's trunk, or any part of an animal's body - was the animal equivalent of the Imperius curse. "What happened?" Hedwig asked quietly. Pigwidgeon was staring at Errol with huge eyes.
Errol sighed very softly. "She left that very same night. Hoo... Hooooo..." Crookshanks saw a large tear roll down the owl's elderly plumage, but didn't mention it. "I never saw her again after that." He swallowed, his feathers ruffling. "But shortly thereafter, I started hearing talk amongst the owls of many messages going to-woo and from the Ministry. Of owls left stranded because their masters... went away."
His elderly eyes swept over the small group. "Most of the homeless owls found new homes, or employment. Some went wild. I hope, when the dark wizard had no more use for her, that Taraloo was one of them." He hooted mournfully. "I cannot bear to-woo think what the other possibilities might be."
The small group was very quiet for a few minutes. Even Pigwidgeon was silent.
The stillness was finally broken by the sound of quiet footsteps on the stairs. All four animals - three owls and one cat - turned their eyes to the staircase, where two figures - one in pajamas, one in a nightgown - had appeared.
Pigwidgeon started chirping again when he saw his master. "Master Ron! Master Ron!" he squeaked excitedly, bouncing up and down. "Here! Here!"
Crookshanks put his paw on the small owl again. "He can see you, Pig," he said softly. "So can my mistress. Shush."
Indeed, Ron and Hermione had already crossed the living room, talking anxiously to each other. "You don't think I woke Ginny when I got up, do you?" Hermione asked.
"Not a chance. She sleeps like a log, like Percy. Besides, we needed to council on what we were going to tell Harry."
"Do you really think the Dursley's are that horrid? That they'd laugh when he told... when he told them about Cedric..." She sounded close to tears.
Ron's voice was hard when he responded. "Absolutely. Awful buggers, the Dursley's. How Harry could let that story slip, though, I don't know. Must've been a wicked mistake."
Crookshanks meowed soothingly as the two young people stopped near the window. Hermione smiled tearfully, and stroked his ginger coat. "Hello, Crookshanks," she said quietly. "I'm sorry if we've woken you."
"That old cat can't understand a word you're saying, Hermione," Ron said flippantly as he knelt on the seat of the chair in front of Hedwig, and held out a roll of parchment to the owl. "For Harry, Hedwig." The Snowy owl took the message gracefully.
"You don't know that, Ron," Hermione said indignantly, scratching behind Crookshanks' ears. "You heard Sirius. He said Crookshanks was the smartest cat he'd ever met." Crookshanks purred with pleasure at the compliment, and Hermione beamed down at him.
"I think Sirius isn't playing with an entirely full deck, if you ask me," Ron remarked. "I don't care how together he seems - spending that long in Azkaban would make even the sanest man go a little loony after a while."
"Ron! How can you say that! After all he's done for Harry!"
"What! I'm not saying I don't like the bloke, but, well..." He made a few circles around his temple with his index finger.
Hermione glared at him. "You're just saying that because you still don't like Crookshanks!"
"That's not true!"
"Yes it is!"
"Bloody hell, woman! I'm surprised Seamus isn't terrified of you. You scream like a banshee! I told you I like Sirius, and I like Crookshanks, too." Annoyed, Ron turned to Hedwig again. "Take that note to Harry lickity split, Hedwig, all right? If he wants us to come break him out, fly right back with his reply. If he doesn't - which I doubt - fly back even faster, so we can surprise him and nick him out of that cell of his double quick, because it'll mean they've brainwashed him."
Hedwig bobbed her head, and looked at the others. "I'll be seeing you-oo soon," she hooted, before lifting into the air on silent wings.
Pigwidgeon squeaked excitedly. "Bye, Hedwig!"
She hooted again, then flew up the stairs, heading for Ron's open door and open window.
Pigwidgeon managed to wriggle out from under Crookshanks' paw, and started zipping in circles around Ron's head, twittering wildly. "Master Ron! Master Ron! Give me a message too-woo, Master Ron! I can carry a message for you-oo too-woo!"
Ron scowled and swiped at him. "Cut it out, Pig! You'll wake mum and dad!" Crookshanks stifled a laugh as the red-headed human snatched the excitable owl out of the air and set him on the window ledge beside Errol again. "Shhhh!"
Pigwidgeon whined, hopping around on his small feet, but Ron ignored him. "We'd better get back to bed, or Mum and Dad WILL wake up and start asking all kinds of crazy questions," he told Hermione. "I'll go first, so I can intercept them if they're up already." With a quick smile, he hurried up the stairs.
Hermione turned to the remaining animals and gave them all a warm smile. "Go back to bed, all of you." She rubbed behind Crookshanks' ears again, then stroked Errol's back. Patting Pigwidgeon on the head, she soothed, "Don't worry, Pig. He's actually very fond of you."
The tiny owl preened as she pulled back.
"Goodnight!" she whispered, waving once more. Crookshanks meowed in response, and watched as she hurried up the stairs again, treading quietly.
"What do-woo we do-woo now!" Pigwidgeon squealed eagerly. All the excitement of late night messages and talk of breakouts had gotten his tiny heart speeding.
"You heard her, Pigwidgeon," Crookshanks said calmly. "We sleep."
Pig deflated visibly. "But...But..."
"Shhhh," Errol said drowsily. "Sleep...." The old owl tucked his head under his wing, and within seconds, he was fast asleep.
Pigwidgeon whined, and looked up at Crookshanks. "Crookyshanks, I'm an owl. Aren't I supposed to-woo be up and flying around at night?" He bounced into the air.
Crookshanks mewed softly, letting his eyes droop. "If you were a normal owl, Pig, then the answer would be yes."
"I'm not normal?"
"Ooh! Hoo! What am I then, Crookyshanks?"
With a wide yawn, Crookshanks reached up with both front paws and pulled the little owl down to the ledge again. "You are a wizard's post owl, Pig," he said, tucking the owl under his chin and hugging him firmly so he couldn't start flying about again. "And that makes you very special indeed."
"I'm special? Ta-woo! Ta-woo! I'm special!" The tiny owl squirmed a little, but quickly gave up when he realized that Crookshanks wouldn't let him go. "Crookyshanks?"
"Mmm?" The cat yawned again, ready to fall asleep.
"What do you think happened to Taraloo?"
"I don't know, Pig," he said drowsily. "I bet she managed to get away and turned wild."
"Do-woo you-oo really think so?" Miraculously, the small owl was sounding sleepy as well. Probably because Crookshanks himself was quite warm and cozy, as Hermione had reminded him on many occasions.
"Good." The little owl yawned, then chirped. "Sweet dreams, Crookyshanks."
"Sweet dreams, Pig."
A few minutes later, Pigwidgeon was fast asleep, his small feathers twitching with each quick breath.
Crookshanks, on the other hand, was wide awake. Pigwidgeon's question had robbed him of any desire for sleep. He spent the next few hours staring out the window, watching the sky for owls. But as the gray light of dawn began to paint the horizon, he still hadn't seen any. No snow white feathers carrying a letter to an upstairs window; and not a single Barn owl, flying free across the dark night sky. It would have been nice if he had seen one, just one, so he could convince himself that what he'd told Pigwidgeon was the truth.
He'd just have to content himself with hope instead.