"Sam is going to hate me for this," I muttered to myself as I cleared the final few steps of the Owlery. Still not used to the warmth of blood through my veins, the envelope felt unnaturally cold in my hand. Maybe I was wrong – maybe she'd be totally cool about getting a handwritten note via enchanted owl stating that I was safe but wouldn't be back for another month. I mean… what could she possibly get upset about?
I sighed, almost grateful she wouldn't be able to send anything back. I could just imagine her voice roaring at me through a howler. (Turns out wizards have these letters that exist literally just to scream angrily at each other. Fun, right?) It didn't help that I couldn't write anything magic related. Firstly, she wouldn't believe me and secondly, according to Hagrid, telling 'muggles' about magic was like breaking the biggest of all laws. Which makes no sense since apparently people without magic can have kids that then turn out to be magic and then it's kind of impossible not to know ect, ect – but this was a wasps' nest I wasn't prepared to poke at. So I lied. A lot. There was no way I wouldn't regret this.
I entered the Owlery.
According to Hagrid, all I had to do was pick one of the school's owls and then give it the letter. Somehow the bird would then hone in on the address and drop the letter off before popping right back. When I'd asked if it would be able to travel as far as Illinois, Hagrid had laughed, thumped me on the back and said, "Owls're valiant creatures. They won' let an ocean stop 'em." Because that made complete sense.
The room was silent. The Owlery was pretty much everything I expected; a room in a tower with a ridiculous amount of owls on perches lining the walls. A stone, spiral staircase ran along the interior.
I looked at the owls. The owls looked back.
"Pick an owl, give it the letter. Pick an owl, give it the letter," I chanted to myself under my breath. "Any of you guys fancy crossing the Atlantic for me?"
Unsurprisingly, there was no response.
"Okay then," I sighed, tapping my letter on my thigh. Deciding to try my luck, I moved towards the sleekest, healthiest looking bird I could see. As I got closer, the brown feathered creature cocked its head to blink big, amber eyes at me. "You look like you could handle a challenge, what do you say?"
I lifted the letter in offering. I must have done something totally wrong, because as soon as my hand got close, the owl snapped. Angling its small but insanely sharp beak perfectly, it bit into my wrist. I yelped and drew back, but the owl wasn't done yet. Screeching so loud, I thought my ears would bleed, the creature dove forward and began scratching at my head with its talons, wings flapping like some kind of crazed alligator.
Now, I don't know if you've ever been attacked by an owl – or any bird of prey for that matter, but let me tell you – it hurts. Low hoots echoed around me as the rest of the creatures watched the assault, seemingly cheering on their comrade.
"I'm gonna kill Hagrid," I hissed to myself, shielding my face with my forearm. So much for being easy.
I jumped at the small voice that came at me from the doorway. Exactly what I needed. A spectator.
"Oh, hi," I choked out, attempting to keep my calm and perhaps look suave whilst swatting at my winged assailant. My usual tactic when being caught, of pretending I'm meant to be there, didn't feel as effective this time around.
Before I could think of anything witty to add, the speaker, a young, pale girl who was marginally smaller than me, slowly advanced, making low shushing noises.
I winced as her cool hand wrapped around my upper arm, encouraging me to lower it as the bird's attacks began to subside.
The owl's eyes never left me, but its head twisted slightly as it listened to the girl's soothing whispers. After what felt like a lifetime, the bird's assault stopped.
I had to fight the urge to gape, when creature calmly settled on the girl's arm, allowing her to carry it safely back to its perch. The hoots from the other owls disintegrated. Either I was imagining things, or they seemed genuinely disappointed – like someone had turned the television off during their favourite show. They stopped staring at me and fell back into whatever they were doing before my entrance, preening mostly.
Having deposited my least favourite owl in the universe, my saviour turned back to me, a curious smile on her lips. I couldn't help but notice the distant glimmer in her silvery eyes. My hand landed on the back of my head as I released a nervous laugh.
While it was technically my ghost half that wasn't supposed to interact with students, being caught out in my human half somehow felt a lot worse. If the school got wind of an American, human intruder walking the halls, something told me it wouldn't be long before someone began joining up the dots.
And before you say anything, no one was supposed to be up here. It was like… past curfew or whatever these guys had. I'd just got my human half back and oddly enough, the idea of climbing a crud-tonne of stairs and properly stretching my legs had excited me – leaving my ghost powers out of it and simply taking a stroll. Was that so wrong?
The careful part of my brain gave me a curt yes, before eyeing up the exit.
"The owls don't seem to like you all that much," the girl stated, eyes appearing to stare more through me than at me.
"Yeah… I seem to have that effect on animals." The cuts on my arms stung in agreement. The girl nodded thoughtfully, before presenting her hand in greeting.
The urge to flee instantly increased as I realised she was waiting for an introduction. If I gave my real name and she reported me, I'd be outed almost instantly. I forced a smile and took her hand, shaking it gently as my brain reached out for the first name it could find.
"James." I blurted, mind latching on to my middle name before I could really consider it. I fought the urge to grimace, disliking the formal sound of it before taking my hand back. "But my friends call me Jimmy."
Luna shoved her hands into the large pocket at the front of her hooded pullover. It was only then that I noticed the sewn pattern on her front.
The dark purple material was decorated with pink and pale blue stars, a lighter purple underlining them like stardust. What made it prettier was the way in which each of the stars seemed to glow in the fading sunlight.
Luna beamed back at me, pulling the material forward with her hands still in the pocket as though to give me a closer look. Her long, straw-like hair swayed with the movement.
"Thank you. It was a birthday present. I like it. You're not from here, are you?"
I blinked, unprepared for the change in topic. The way she spoke – it was like a soft breeze, the two topics merging into one breath.
"Uh… what… what gave me away?" My mind was racing again, as I laughed in an attempt to delay the inevitable probing.
"Your face. I haven't seen it around before."
Well, that wasn't the obvious answer I was waiting for. I tilted my head in challenge.
"There are, like, a thousand students here – how do you know I'm not just someone you haven't bumped into before?"
A silence stretched between us as I waited for her to elaborate. She simply stared back at me expectantly with dazed eyes. I shook my head in mild disbelief but chose to laugh it off.
"If you must know, I'm visiting Hagrid. He's a… family friend." As close to the truth as I dared get. Luna's head turned slightly, curiosity lighting up her features once more.
"Oh. Hagrid is lovely. I didn't know he had friends."
I narrowed my eyes as her bluntness hit. I was at a loss. How do you respond to that?
"Well… he does. So…"
"That's nice. I'm happy for him."
Another pause. I felt my eyes roam the room as I desperately tried to think of something to say next. Unable to come up with anything, I began to edge towards the exit.
"Well, it's been fun, Luna, but it's getting late and I have… stuff to do, so I'm just gonna…" Stuff to do? What was I, an amateur? I groaned inwardly before turning and making my way out of the room.
"Wait," Luna called out, stopping me just before I reached the doorway. "Weren't you trying to send a letter?"
Oh crud, I'd completely forgot. I glanced down at the envelope in my battered hand, before turning back to the owls. I shook my head, sad smile spreading across my face.
"Something tells me none of these guys are willing to help me out." Which meant that I was back to square one. Sam wouldn't get the letter, meaning she'd probably panic when I missed my two week deadline and whip the team into a 'Danny's in danger' frenzy. Nothing good could come out of that.
Luna must have sensed my defeat. With a quick shake of her head, she held out her arm and called to one of the owls. As soon as it heard her voice, the large, hawk-like bird leapt from its perch and landed on her offered limb.
"You can use mine."
"Oh, wow… uh..." I looked from the owl to her and back again. "Don't you need it? Isn't that why you're up here?"
"Oh no, I came up here to say goodnight. You don't mind, do you Astrid?" The owl cooed, nipping at Luna's hair affectionately.
My mouth flapped open and closed as I tried to think of a response. This wasn't like borrowing a pen, or piggybacking off someone else's internet. "Thanks for the offer but… what if you need to send a message to someone and… Astrid is still… out and about?"
Luna's eyes flitted around the room pointedly.
"Right," I sighed, remembering that Luna wasn't the one the owls seemed to hate. By the looks of it, they'd be volunteering the second she appeared with a letter.
"So?" she prompted.
I felt a grateful grin spread across my face. Maybe her turning up wasn't entirely a bad thing. I cautiously advanced, holding the envelope out in front of me so as not to spook the bird and repeat the earlier disaster. Thankfully none of the cuts to my arms had bled enough to fall onto the paper. I could just imagine Sam's face if she got a mysterious letter that just so happened to be covered in my blood.
With an encouraging smile, Luna took the envelope from me and gently passed it on to her bird. With a brief head twist the owl snatched it up and, after a loving hoot, jumped from her arm and flew out of the nearest window.
"Easy peasy," Luna chimed.
"Thank you. Seriously. You just saved my skin."
"You're welcome. How long are you staying for?"
Luna, queen of the topic changes. My hand was back behind my neck.
"I dunno. Not sure yet. Not long." I hoped.
She nodded as if that answered everything and beamed up at me once more. "Well, I hope I see you again, Jimmy. You seem nice."
"Yeah, you too." I watched, in a fascinated kind of awe as she waved goodbye and skipped out of the room. I'll be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what had just happened. That whole encounter had been… bizarre but at the same time, kind of amazing.
I shook my head, disbelievingly and turned back to give the owls a victorious glare. The one that had attacked me before let out an angry hoot before twisting its head away from me.
"Yeah, you look away - scaredy owl." I goaded. I mentally added owls to the list of creatures my ghost powers unsettled before heading to the stairs. As I looked across at the main building of the school, I realised going back down in my human form meant I risked bumping into someone else. I could walk invisibly but it was getting darker by the second and knowing me, I'd probably trip up over my own feet - especially since I'd not used them properly for a week.
With a groan, I slipped into invisibility and changed into my ghost form.
As I began to fly back to Hagrid's hut, I spotted Luna trotting down the stone staircase, wand lit and held out before her like a sparkler.
A smile spread across my face momentarily before I remembered how much trouble this could get me in.
"Hagrid cannot find out about this."
AN: Hah. Hahah. Hah. It's been a while.
This chapter started out as the hardest thing in the universe to write and then I sat down yesterday and added 1500 words... I mean, for me that's impressive. But yeah. Luna!
I have nothing more to say... I apologise for the long wait, and I am also sorry that this is such a short installment, but I'm typing away at Chapter 12 while my mind is in the zone, so hopefully there will be more to come shortly!
Thank you for your support and patience!