Mummy, that lady has an owl!"
Weasley, striding across the main floor at King's Cross Station, took
an involuntary step toward the voice and narrowly missed walking into
a set of luggage carts. Glancing around to make sure no one had
seen his misstep, he caught sight of the owner of the voice. A little
girl and her mother were standing a few meters away, and the girl was
pointing to a woman sitting on a station bench.
woman did indeed have an owl, a small tawny, which was standing on the
perch bar of a wire cage. Percy's lips narrowed into a disapproving
frown; not only was the woman openly displaying the owl in a public place
full of Muggles, but she was making only a marginal attempt to dress like
a Muggle herself. She wore a long skirt of dark blue with gold flecks,
a blouse of similar material, dark boots, and a long cloak.
considered for a moment. Obviously it was a good thing his father
had asked him to accompany two of the Ministry's cars to the train station.
Not only would he be able to report a successful foray into the Muggle
world (an experience that would, of course, look good in his job file),
but he'd also be able to stop a potentially embarrassing scene with the
witch and her owl. He glanced at his watch. And he'd still
have time to meet the train at Platform 9 3/4.
drew himself up, tugged the bottom of his jean jacket into place over
his dress slacks, straightened his tie, and strode purposefully in the
woman was smiling at the girl and her mother. "His name is
Hannibal, and he's a tawny owl," she was saying. "Would
you like to look at him?"
me," Percy interrupted. All three of them turned to look at
him, and the girl began to giggle. Percy, focusing on the woman,
ignored her. "Could I have a moment of your time?"
certainly," the woman replied, eyeing him with a hint of amusement.
She turned back to the girl and her mother. "I'll be right
back. You can look at him as much as you like, but please don't
open the cage or poke anything between the bars."
soon as Percy judged they were far enough away, he began, "Do you
have any idea how much trouble you could be getting yourself into?"
woman blinked at him. "No, I guess I don't, Mr., ah....?"
pulled out his identification card with its Ministry of Magic insignia
on it. His picture promptly squared its shoulders and all but barked,
"Percy Weasley, Department of International Magical Cooperation,
Ministry of Magic!"
woman stared at the card, a delighted smile spreading across her face.
"Remarkable! Where did you get this?" She turned
the card over to reveal the picture of Percy's late supervisor, Bartemius
Crouch, who vouched for the authenticity of the card's owner.
typical Ministry ID," Percy replied smugly, tucking the card back
into his pocket. "And you are?"
Steward," the woman replied, offering her hand. "But I'm
afraid I don't have any cards as fancy as that one."
waved the last comment away. "Listen, Miss Steward, you really
need to be more careful in a place like this. We don't want to give
ourselves away to the Muggles."
we don't?" Steward said, sounding puzzled.
glanced around to make certain no one was standing too close, and the
woman copied his gesture; her gaze lingered on something over Percy's
shoulder before returning to his face. "Certainly not,"
he continued. "For one thing, you really need to make more
of an effort to wear appropriate clothing, so you blend in when you're
in Muggle society."
studied Percy's outfit of jean jacket, blue flowered shirt, striped tie,
dress slacks, and white sneakers. This time there was a definite
twinkle in her eye. "Like yours, for example?"
except that you'd want something more appropriate for a woman, of course."
Percy relaxed a little; he could probably get away with just giving this
woman a verbal warning without actually having to report her to the Improper
Use of Magic Office. "Oh, and another thing; you really need
to keep your owl hidden."
tell," Steward remarked dryly, folding her arms. Again her
gaze went briefly over Percy's shoulder.
Miss Steward. We can't afford to let the Muggles see any signs of
our activities. It's far too dangerous."
she repeated. "And they would be...?"
here who can't work magic," Percy replied promptly. "All
we'd need is for them to spot one owl carrying the post, or one of us
dressed improperly--" He trailed off, a nagging suspicion suddenly
becoming a clear and alarming thought. Everyone in the magical world,
no matter what his or her background, knew what a Muggle was. If
Steward didn't know, that could only mean....
was giving him a look that suggested he belonged in St. Mungo's Hospital
for Magical Maladies and Injuries, preferably in a room with padded walls
and no sharp objects. "Owls carrying the post? People
who can't work magic?" Her eyes narrowed. "Excuse
me, but which department of the government did you say you worked for
began backing away; he needed to get Steward somewhere less crowded.
A Memory Charm in front of this many people -- he'd be the one hauled
into the Improper Use of Magic Office. "Er, well, perhaps we
should discuss this someplace else--"
suddenly bumped into something solid. Turning, he found himself
staring up at a station guard, undoubtedly the person that Steward had
been looking at over his shoulder. The guard scowled down at Percy.
"Stop right there." His gaze went past Percy to Steward.
"Is there a problem, Miss?"
woman smiled. "I don't believe so, Officer. As I was
going to tell this young, ah, gentleman when I could get a word in, my
name is Dr. Eva-Marie Steward, and I work for the Hutchins Institute and
Bird Sanctuary." As she was speaking, she reached into a pocket
of her cloak and drew out a sheaf of papers. "My ID."
She showed them a plastic card with her photo and name.
"Among other things, I do school presentations on birds.
My companion and I--" she pointed to Hannibal the owl, still in his
cage and being admired by the girl and her mother, "--are on our
way to an assembly at a primary school this afternoon."
could feel the blood draining from his face.
do have a permit for him," Steward was continuing, showing the guard
another piece of paper, "and permission to take him on public transportation."
She smiled. "I usually drive, but my car's in the shop."
guard glanced over her paperwork and handed it back. "Seems
to be in order." He looked meaningfully at Percy, who was now
beginning to perspire.
was expressing concern about my owl," Steward explained, smiling
at Percy."Which was
quite thoughtful of him, but really unnecessary. Hannibal was a
little nervous about being in a place this crowded and noisy, so I took
the cover off to check on him."
slid a small rectangle of cardboard out of the sheaf of papers and handed
it to Percy. "Here's my card, Mr. Weasley. If one of
your, ah, postal owls ever gets injured, bring him 'round to see me.
We also do bird rehabilitation." She nodded to the owl in his
cage on the station bench."That's
how we acquired Hannibal last year; a group of children found him in a
hollow tree and threw stones at him. He'll never fly properly again.
But as you can see, he does help us teach other children to respect wild
ah, yes, an -- an admirable goal," Percy stammered. He accepted
the card with trembling fingers.
guard still wore a suspicious scowl as he turned his attention back to
Percy. "All right," he said finally. "Beat
it. I don't want to see you harassing anyone here again."
sir. Thank you, sir." Percy bid both Steward and the
guard a hurried good-bye and retreated as quickly as decorum would allow.
Steward and the guard gazed after him.
fellow," Steward remarked with a chuckle, tucking the papers back
into her pocket. The guard shook his head.
get all kinds here, Miss."
sure you do," Steward replied. "Thank you, Officer."
With that she turned back to the mother and daughter who were waiting
patiently for her.
all but fled King's Cross Station, stopping only when he had found an
alley he was certain was empty. Then he took a moment to catch his
breath and resolutely Apparated to Platform 9 3/4 to pick up his family
and a couple of family friends. By the time he had assembled his
siblings, gotten carts for the luggage and escorted everyone safely across
the barrier, Dr. Steward and the guard had both disappeared.
wasn't worried about the guard, who basically knew nothing. Dr.
Steward, he thought uneasily, was another matter entirely, but of course
by now it was too late for a Memory Charm. Although he did have
he ushered everyone into the Ministry cars, he was relieved to think that
at least he hadn't been arrested and sent to a Muggle prison. At
the very least, he probably would have lost his job; it would have added
insult to injury if his family had gotten involved. He wasn't sure
which would have been worse: having his father running loose in a Muggle
"please-station" trying to rescue him, or giving Fred and George
yet another golden opportunity to laugh at him for the rest of his life.
late afternoon Dr. Steward and Hannibal had returned to the Institute,
and Steward was addressing an envelope containing a copy of a report she
had promised to a colleague. She was interrupted by a tap on her
Steward, I'm ready to let the barn owl go," one of her assistants
told her. He had the owl perched on a heavy glove on one hand; the
bird swiveled its head as it studied the office. Steward looked
the owl over carefully and nodded.
right, Ed, I guess he's ready. Let's take him out back."
She laid the envelope on her desk.
the field behind the offices, Steward unlaced the jesses and removed them
from the owl's legs. Her assistant tossed the owl into the air.
owl's wings snapped open and it glided across the field toward the woods.
Then it banked and glided back, past the two startled scientists, and
flew through the open window of Steward's office. Steward and her
assistant exchanged stunned glances. A moment later the owl soared
back out the window, Steward's envelope clamped firmly in its beak, and
began flapping southward.
humans watched it go in silence, Ed shaking his head in amazement.
"I've never heard of anything like that happening before."
said nothing for a moment; then she glanced at her watch. "Ed,
remind me to call Dr. Coolidge tomorrow afternoon."
tell him why the report's going to be late?"
She watched the owl's receding form. "To see if his post arrived
note: I don't know how many wildlife rehabilitators there are carrying
owls around in London train stations, but this idea was too much fun to
pass up. Many thanks to Pogonia, who kindly agreed to beta read
this story. Percy Weasley and his family (and family friends) belong
to author J.K. Rowling, as does the Ministry of Magic, its various offices
and departments, the concept of postal owls, and St. Mungo's Hospital
for Magical Maladies and Injuries. The Hutchins Institute and Bird
Sanctuary is, as far as I know, completely fictitious. However,
there are several rehabilitation centers with websites for those interested
in more information on this profession. The sites include:
for The Owl Pages (a list of links to Bird of Prey sites);
for National Bird of Prey Center;
for the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society; and
for The Hawk and Owl Trust.