December 3, 2012 | Brad B.
This story is one of the winners of the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Contest. Congratulations!
Chapter 1. Tundra
The first feeble rays of sunlight were just starting to appear on the horizon. Papa raised himself slowly and stood in the center of what was left of our nest. He stretched his powerful wings and ruffled his majestic, white feathers. Settling himself back down into a seated position, we all drew in closer to the warmth of his body. The dreaded time was approaching, but it had not yet arrived. For a few precious moments, we all still had each other.
When we were young hatchlings, Mama would tell us stories while Papa was away from the tundra nest, hunting for lemmings. She explained to us that we were in the middle of the Time of Lasting Light, a time when the Arctic never gets truly dark. But she also told us about the Great Cold Darkness which overtakes the land every year. Snow would cover the ground in a thick blanket. The only sound would be the howling wind, and there would be only the dimmest of light, even at midday. How strange it seemed! So impossible, so distant. As we listened to her stories, the earth around us was warm, and blooming flowers dotted the tundra with color. We could not imagine a world other than the one that surrounded us, filled with sunlight, sounds and smells. It was a very happy time.
As the days passed, Papa started to take longer and longer to find enough lemmings for our family to eat. Mama never discussed how worried she was as Papa flew farther and farther away each day to find a more plentiful source of food, but the look of concern in her round golden eyes needed no explanation. We tried to help out around the nest as much as we could, each of us learning to fly as quickly as possible so we could practice hunting whatever small rodents or birds were around. For some reason though, all the animals seemed to have disappeared and our practice hunting runs usually ended up targeting clumps of dried grass or small rocks instead of actual prey.
Late one afternoon, Papa returned from a long day of hunting with one lone scrawny mouse as the entire dinner for six hungry owls. Several of my siblings squawked in discontent. One of my brothers asked, “Mama, is this a famming?” “Not famming”, she quietly corrected. “Famine.” She had told us that story too. We all fell silent. As I nibbled on my meager ration of mouse I remembered her tale of a glorious feast year when it was said that the lemmings were so plentiful that an owl could eat until it was in danger of being so fat it could scarcely fly. Other years, she had cautioned, were the opposite. I was seeing a pattern here: all daylight or all darkness. Feast or famine. I preferred daylight. And feasting.
It was shortly after that when Papa broke the news. The dark hours had started to claim a larger portion from each day. The weather was growing colder and snow was beginning to appear. “Food is available,” he said, “but farther south and in short supply.” It was time to leave the nest. Go our separate ways.
Mama had told us this would happen. “Migration” she had called it. She had done her best to prepare us for the journey but at the time, the need for such extreme measures seemed to be a lifetime away. We would stay in our warm, comfy, sunny nest with each other forever, wouldn't we? Hunting practice was just a game, wasn't it?
But then there we were, huddled in the nest for one final morning. Papa had spent our last night reviewing the rules for navigation, reminding us to keep a safe distance from wolves and big white bears, and warning us not to venture out above the Land of the Unending Waters. We all savored those last moments of family togetherness as the sun peeked above the horizon and then suddenly, the appointed time arrived and they were gone. Both Mama and Papa were airborne, without warning, without hesitation, headed due south. It was a struggle not to join them but they were adamant in their lessons -- as a group there will not be enough food. It was time to separate. The goodbyes had already been made earlier so that there would be no time lost at first light. As I took to the air, I headed southeast in my assigned direction. I looked over my wingtips and could see Mama and Papa disappearing in the distance and my siblings scattered over the horizon. Would I ever see them again?
Chapter 2. Migration
Before this, I had never flown for such a distance in a straight line. I had ventured away from our cozy tundra nest, but until now I had always circled back to the place from which I started. This migrating thing was a completely different experience! Each wing beat took me someplace new. As I soared along, interesting landmarks would catch my attention and sometimes I would call out with excitement until I realized that I was alone and there was no one else with whom I could share my discovery. My sadness didn't last for long though, because it seemed there was always a new sight to behold.
The hunting was slow to start, but once I managed to catch one mouse, then two, and finally an actual lemming, I started to gain confidence. I was also glad I paid attention during the navigation lessons. The problem, though, is that when everything is new and different and exciting, it's easy to lose track of exactly how far you have gone. My mood was soaring from my hunting success, and I guess my wings were soaring from a strong tailwind that was giving each flap an additional boost. On the horizon I noticed an odd, dark line which seemed to be growing larger. This was quite interesting. I had never seen anything like it. Of course I had to investigate.
As I grew closer I saw that it was not just a line, but a whole new territory of a completely different nature. It rippled like fields of grass in a strong breeze but it looked cold like rock, and it was shiny. Suddenly, I knew what it was. This was the Land of the Unending Waters that I had been warned about. I had no intention of disobeying Papa's directions. I simply wanted to get a closer look. I wanted to fly above the Waters, just for a little bit, to see what they were like. And so I did, and that one decision changed my life forever.
3. The Land of Unending Waters
I flew close to the surface, just above the wave tops. The spray collected on my wings, and its saltiness found its way onto my tongue. The Waters had a curious smell, so odd, so different than the tundra. What a wondrous place! What harm could there possibly be in having a look around? If I flew a little higher to let my wings dry off, I was able to see creatures underneath the surface of the water. Some were like the fish I had seen in the rivers back home and some were much larger.
The birds were different here too. Many soared above the Waters, but others sat bobbing on top of the waves or perched on small, rocky islands, and a few even dove straight down into the depths. There were vast numbers that squawked loudly in large flocks. At the sound of their chatter, I was overwhelmed with homesickness and missed my little family. I headed toward one large flock just to see if I could overhear a bit of their conversation and find out what all the commotion was about. Suddenly, the entire squawking flock turned and headed straight in my direction. I was so frightened - how could I defend myself alone against their sheer numbers? As they surrounded me, I prepared myself for their attack which surprisingly never materialized. Relieved, but still confused by the birds' actions, I listened harder to their shrieking and squawking, trying to understand what their message was. Although their language was unfamiliar, there was something I did understand. The tone of their voice contained two things: intensity and fear. They were not attacking. They were escaping something.
As the whirlwind of wings cleared around me I decided to circle back toward land. I redirected myself back in a westerly direction to face the shore. But it was not there. I could not see land. How far away from the shore had I flown? Below me were only cold, gray waters with large white-capped waves and above me was the most terrifyingly dark cloud I had ever seen. Now I understood: this massive storm was the thing that had scared the flock. I watched as in one swift movement, the birds all suddenly swooped in a new direction and quickly began to disappear into the distance. They were heading farther out above the Waters but escaping from the storm cloud. The tailwind that had been my friend for so long was now my foe, pushing me farther and farther out over the open waters. Those other birds could bob upon the surface of the Waters if they needed a rest, but I could not. I needed to find land. As the dark storm clouds piled up overhead the winds became even stronger, and it seemed like they came from many directions. Land?! Oh, where was the land?! And then it began to rain.
Honestly, I do not know how long I was in that storm. Fierce clouds blocked out the sun so that daytime became like night but then lightning illuminated the nighttime so it seemed like day. The winds swirled around with a wild recklessness and stole away any sense of direction. Rain drenched me, and hail pelted me. I longed to find even one of those tiny rocky islands where the squawking birds had perched earlier, but below me the Waters tossed angrily and no solid places to land were visible. I worried I did not have enough strength to fight this. My wings ached, my sight was blurry and I wanted desperately to rest, but I kept on. I did not know where the land was, but I knew it was not beneath me. Finally, I was nearly exhausted. “Papa,” I whispered. “I am sorry I did not listen to you. I am so tired. I cannot go on!” Faintly through the roaring wind, I heard something. It sounded like a voice, but it was part of the storm, like the wind was speaking to me. Was it the wind, or was it Papa? The voice whispered back, “Then just let me carry you.” And that is the last thing I remember of the storm.
Chapter 4. A New Home
When I awoke, I found myself tucked into a neat, oval-shaped nest. There was a soft downy lining and a warm blanket covering me. As my eyes adjusted to the daylight, I saw a dish of water nearby and a nice, fat mouse on a little plate, ready for my dinner. I had no idea where I was, but that did not matter. I had survived the storm. I slowly looked around the room and blinked my eyes. Now, for the first time, I noticed I was not alone. Something was watching me. With a cautious movement, it stretched out a featherless (and mostly furless) arm and sprinkled some tiny, sparkling crystals on the plump mouse carcass. It nudged the plate a little closer and said something, but I could not understand its language. It had been days since my last meal and the mouse did look tasty, so I nibbled a bit. “Go on”, the voice now said. “Dig in. You must be fairly starved.” I sat up in surprise, my eyes opened wide. Now its language made sense! “Based on your expression”, he said, “I see the Translation Crystals are doin' the trick.”
Eventually, I learned that what he sprinkled on my dinner enabled me to understand many different varieties of speech. My caretaker expertly nursed me back to health in a few days. When I regained enough strength, he let me venture out of his burrow (he called it a cottage) to take short flights. He seemed surprised that I kept returning to the cottage, but after my recent near-tragic experience with the Land of the Unending Waters, I was in no hurry to begin any long distance explorations again (well, not just yet anyway). One evening, he pulled up a chair next to my nest. He began solemnly, “For many years, I was a handler at the Owl Emporium,” he said. “We partnered owls with many wizards. It's a special responsibility for an owl to be able to work with a wizard. Only very trustworthy, loyal, and brave owls are suited for this task. I believe you have some special gifts and would be ideal as a wizarding owl.”
And so, this was the beginning of my training. For many weeks, I learned the finer points of delivering letters, parcels, and howlers. I became familiar with navigating around cities and mountains, found my way around the towers and corridors of Hogwarts, and even learned to overcome my fear of the Unending Waters.
Recently I've met my new young wizard. His name is Harry Potter, and he seems to be intelligent and kind. He has named me Hedwig, which is different than what my owl family used to call me. I think it suits me though, and since no one here knows my owl name, it seems that Hedwig is how I shall be known.
I must be off now. I have a delivery to make. But before I go, I must tell you a little secret about why I like Harry -- when he wears his glasses, the dark rims that surround his eyes make him look a bit like an owl, don't you think?