The Sugar Quill
Author: Evelyn Dreamtrot  Story: A Sudden Lack of Wingspan  Chapter: Part Two
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine.

 

[Author's Note: Thanks to the two Sugarquillers that got the plot bunny rolling again (going to the owl post office and meeting Malfoy I must accredit to them). I didn't catch your names before SQ got revamped, but I hope you know who you are!]

 

 

A Sudden Lack of Wingspan: Part Two

 

 

Hedwig led them down a chilly, dusty hallway, her pointed nose was high in the air. A ray of cold light flickered across her face, and she turned toward it, still not bothering to move her eyes without the movement of her head. She strided toward the boarded-up door as the others followed, curious despite themselves to see what she was going to do next. Their curiosity was satiated when she began to try to pry dusty boards off of the doorway.

“No!” they all said at once, and Hermione rushed forward and pulled Hedwig from the door. Their objection was swallowed by the darkness; in the musty silence that followed they all stood quietly, waiting for the house to reassure them they were welcome. Harry turned and watched the dust in their path settle through a slice of the cool light. He took off his glasses and turned to the others, rubbing the dust off the lenses.

“There’s another way, Hedwig. We don’t want anyone to know there’s a way into Hogwarts here. We’d just prefer it kept secret,” he whispered, replacing his glasses and blinking. Dust had already begun to settle on the lenses again.

He led the way to a window in the back with hinged boards that swung open as one and held it open for the others to go through. They didn’t even have to bend over to climb out the window, which reached several feet above their heads. It would have to be, wouldn’t it, for a stag to get through…

Standing in the sill he traced his fingers through the scratch marks in the wood above him. He had found them weeks before. They looked the exact type of scratches antlers would make in old wood.

“Harry! Come on!” Hermione shouted gleefully. The others were relieved to be outside, away from the suffocating, silent Shrieking Shack.

Harry leaned on his arm and watched a snowball smack Ron in the face. Hermione laughed wickedly and began to form a second in her hand.

“Hey Harry!” He turned toward Hedwig in time to see his world turn white. He brushed the snow off of his face and laughed. As he jumped down she stuck her hands under her armpits and muttered ruefully. “Bloody stupid bald hands. I’m freezing! What you people do without feathers I’ll never know.”

“Let’s get some butterbeers, then, and breakfast,” said Ron, casually approaching Hermione, pulling the collar of her cloak and shoving a snowball down her back.

She yelped and clawed at her shoulder, then smacked him on the head playfully as he smiled and walked past her.

“Ha! Such flirts! Don’t even need an excuse, do they?” Hedwig was saying, walking some ways behind the two and, thankfully, they weren’t paying attention. Harry pointedly pressed a finger to his lips. “Oh, all right, then. Let them continue their little game ‘o denial. What’s this butterbeer stuff Ron’s so fond of?”

The Three Broomsticks was crowded, and the three tried to be discreet so no one would notice out-of-place students. Unfortunately, only three of them wished to be discreet. Hedwig, whistling loudly, leaned over the bar so far with both her arms that she looked as though she would tip over to the bartender's side.

“Hedwig!” Harry hissed, smiling sheepishly at the bartender, who was giving Hedwig a quizzical look.

“What does this lever do? Ah… Is this butterbeer, Ron?”

Harry grabbed a handful of her robes and pulled her back.

“Say, shouldn’t you kids be in-”

“Good to see you! Can’t hear you much over the noise! See you later!” Ron shouted, smiling brightly at the bartender and shoving his friends further into the pub.

"Ron, you do know-" Hermione began as he guided them into a booth near the back. He conspiratorially hunkered down over the table so the Weasley hair couldn't be seen over the chair back. Hermione and Harry exchanged glances.

"Staying low isn't going to be as easy as I thought," Ron said. "I'm even scared to order."

"Why?" Hedwig wanted to know, inspecting a cashew as she weeded through a bowl of nuts that, for the sake of the season, had been colored green or red.

"Because he thinks we're not supposed to be here," explained Harry.

"But we're not… are we? What's the point of sneaking out if…"

"Well, we're not allowed to be out now. But around lunch time every student above second year will be in here. It's a new privilege. But what's a few students a few hours early?" said Hermione, relishing, as she always had, proving herself right and Ron, inevitably, wrong. "What do you think I was trying to tell you?"

Ron drummed his fingers on the table and straightened his back to sit up straight, embarrassed. He skillfully masked this by flagging down a waitress and ordering a round of butterbeers. Hedwig watched as Ron's ears changed a few shades of red, then Hermione's cheeks; she was watching him. Hedwig didn't bother to hide her grin. She'd never had experience hiding emotions as an owl. Hermione tried to look away from Ron only to find Hedwig grinning unabashedly at her. She did a double take.

"What?" Hermione asked, distractedly grabbing a handful of cashews.

Harry kicked Hedwig under the table. "Hoo! What?" she asked irritably. He shook his head and rested it in his hand. "Oh, like they couldn't be more obvious."

"Hedwig!" he hissed. They now had Ron and Hermione's attention. He sighed.

"What?" It was Ron's turn now.

"Harry is just being an owl-pellet, that's all. I don't understand," she emphasized the words, which were directed at Harry, "what he's ruffled his feathers about. It's obvious you both are attracted to each other. What is the big deal?" she asked Harry pointedly, failing to notice with all her animal powers of observation the look of horror on his face.

Ron tried to brush it off, staring somewhere past Hedwig's ear. "What do you mean?"

"I mean you two obviously want to be each other's mate." She took a swig of butterbeer and snorted. "It tastes fine but the texture is disgusting, Ron. I don't know what the big whoop is. It doesn't taste at all like butter." The rest of the table was silent.

"You always seemed so sensible as an owl," muttered Harry.

"That's because owls can't talk," hissed Hermione, but the venom couldn't mask the tears in her voice or the blush on her cheeks. She stood abruptly and left her butterbeer at the table with them. They heard the distinct jingle of the bell over the door.

Harry watched her go. A thud on the table brought his attention back to Ron, whose back was to the door. He'd thumped his head on the table, and it rested there.

"Dammit, Hedwig," he whispered to the table.

"What?" she asked.

"I never should have encouraged you," said Harry, shaking his head at her.

"Why not?" Hedwig finally seemed to get something, including the gravity of the situation.

"Just because they like each other doesn't mean you have to bring attention to it!"

"What do you mean 'like each other!?'" Ron's head whipped off the table. He glared suspiciously at Harry. His face softened.

"You think she likes me too?" he asked.

Hedwig grinned.

* * *

 

"And what have we learned?"

"Never mention 'things like that' in front of the people they concern. For some reason, people feel the need to hide their affection. It's much simpler when you're an owl."

"I'm sure it is, Hedwig, but we're not owls."

"And I'm not human, Harry. I don't understand these things."

Harry and his pet owl-turned-girl bustled through the crowded streets, tucked deep into their cloaks.

"I wonder where they got off to," Harry muttered into his collar.

"Probably somewhere warm," Hedwig insinuated. He could hear the grin in her voice and stopped walking to turn to see that while her mouth was hidden in her collar her cheeks were indeed raised in a grin. He made a disgusted noise in his throat and, shaking his head, started walking again.

"What? Over the line again?" Hedwig was giggly. Harry remembered her getting in moods like this when she was an owl, not giggly of course, but more playful than usual. Particularly after coming out of the cage the Dursley's once made her stay in for half of one summer. He felt a twinge of shame. It was probably worse for her than he thought, because now picturing her in a cage for a month seemed inhumane. Pun intended.

"Just don't say that stuff in front of them."

"Duly noted. It's weird for you, isn't it?"

"A little." His voice was different, however, a little quieter, and he'd stopped walking again. Hedwig turned to see another girl approaching, one with hair as red as Ron's.

"Ah," she said. "That must be Pig's other human."

"Hey, Harry!" Ginny fell into step beside him. "I've lost Susan and Angua. Have you seen them?"

Harry vaguely realized he didn't know who she was talking about. Had he thought she didn't have friends outside of Gryffindor? He shook his head.

"Can I wander around with you, then? Just 'til I find them…"

"Sure." He scolded himself for saying it a bit too quickly.

"Who's your friend?" she asked, her tone changing.

"He-He…Harriet. This is Harriet, Ginny. Ginny, Harriet," He introduced them.

"Hey there. We're on our way to the Owlery. Harry has to mail a letter through there because I'm-"

"Because Hedwig's off mailing a letter for Ron," Harry interrupted.

"What about Pig? Why didn't Ron use him?" asked Ginny.

"He's… sick…"

"He wasn't sick this morning! Is he okay? I better pick up some owl cold medication-"

"…And tired. Ron is sick and tired of having to lasso Pig to get a letter on his leg, you know?" Ginny laughed.

"Yeah. It gets inconvenient," she said playfully.

"To say the least," said Harry, and she laughed again. He immediately tried thinking of other potentially funny things he could say. Hedwig noticed the slight change in her master but took a lesson from experience and held her beak.

The Owlery was busy with holiday mailing traffic. They could hardly see the ceiling for the owls. And, thanks to the same reason Hedwig was now human, they were all chattering noisily.

"Out of the way, bub! I've got an express here and-"

"You get out of my way, ya bloody horned owl! Think yer king of the skies do ya?"

"Aw, if yer wingspan was half as wide as yer beak-"

"Oh, Harry. I can't believe I forgot to tell you; you weren't at breakfast this morning. I'm glad you're not surprised! You must have noticed already that all the animals can talk. How stupid of me to forget to mention something like that," she laughed, looking upward.

"Not stupid," he said, but she didn't hear him. Or notice that he wasn't watching the owls.

Hedwig looked up too, and was sent into a fit of giggles. "Is this… how we look all the time?" she asked between gasps.

"Well, how you look, but not how you sound."

"You can see all their arses!" And she nearly pitched over guffawing. "Just wait until I tell Pig!"

"What do you mean 'how we look,' Harriet?" Ginny asked, still watching the colored owls pinwheel above her.

"How we look when we're flying in the mail during breakfast-"

"I'm sure she meant 'they'. She's never visited while it was this busy." Harry tried to distract them. "I don't think there's a single owl on the shelves."

"Did I tell you? Errol yelled at me this morning about tying a letter on his leg too tightly. He says I do it all the time and by the time he gets the letter home his talon's all blue."

"His talon," scoffed Hedwig. "That's what he always calls his feet. Like he's a bloody eagle or something."

On their way out Harry collided with Hermione, literally, as he pried open the wind-sucked door. She was ruffled, but it wasn't only her hair. There was a crease between her eyebrows, and she looked worried.

"Have you guys got Ron yet?" She had checked back with them earlier and they had told her he had gone looking for her. "I can't seem to find him. I'm sure there's a Weasley in every likely store in Hogsmeade but none of them are him."

Harry, Hedwig, and Ginny followed her out under the awning. "I'm sure he's fine. What kind of danger could he get into in Hogsmeade?" asked Harry, rubbing his gloves together for warmth.

"I don't know if you've noticed," she said, looking pointedly at his hands, "but it's very cold. And it's snowing. Hagrid said this was about a notch below a blizzard, and Professor McGonagall thinks we shouldn't have gone today at all."

"Who cares what McGonagall thinks, Hermione. This isn't a blizzard. It's cold, snowing, and windy. He won't freeze to death or anything." Hermione threw him another worried glance. "He won't."

"Let's just split up," said Ginny. No one but Hedwig noticed the very small and careful sideways step she took towards Harry. "In pairs so we don't get lost ourselves."

"I don't know what you two are fussing about. This is Hogsmeade, not ruddy London."

"You sound like Ron, Harry," Hermione sniffed.

"Yes, well. Somebody had to say it, hadn't they? Harriet, you come with me so I can keep an eye on you. You two go check the far shops, we'll check those on this side of the street." Again, only Hedwig noticed the slight slump of disappointment in Ginny's shoulders.

The two girls had turned to cross the street when Hedwig gave a hoot of surprise. Harry watched as she darted about randomly like a fish on a hook, her nose in the air and the wind her current.

"He's upwind!" she laughed. "I can smell him!" The smile faded from her pale face. She lowered her nose, ruffled her own cropped hair, and smelled again. "Oh, no."

"What?" asked Ginny, panic starting to show on her face. Hedwig's face was grave. "How can you smell him, Harriet? What's wrong?"

But Hedwig was already off down the street, Harry's robes trying desperately to billow about her thick form and instead whipping the only fabric that was left to them. Her run was sporadic, and every few feet she did a sort of hop skip that reminded Harry for a second that she was really a bird. Snow stung his face; when he tried to blink ice from his eyes she disappeared. He kept running forward until he heard Ginny gasp and someone grabbed his collar and pulled him into an alley. He heard Hermione's voice.

"Put him down this instant, you oaf!"

Ron was a strong boy, and taller than the two of them after his growth spurt this summer. He had caused them some damage in defense. But there were, as said, two of them. Not counting Draco Malfoy.

Harry's friend was being pressed violently against the brick wall by Crabbe, who also had a fistful of Ron's hair. It looked for all the world like he had been knocking Ron's head against the wall with the convenient red hand-hold, and Goyle's fist was poised to punch him in the stomach. There was a trickle of blood running from Ron's purpling nose.

"You bloody-" Ginny yelled something that proved that the Weasley hair came complete with the Weasley mouth. "Coward!" She started at Malfoy with fingernails unfurled.

Goyle glanced at Malfoy once before punching Ron under his ribcage. The hollow wheeze that escaped Ron as the wind was knocked out of him only maddened Harry further. They all set into action at once, Harry and Ginny going straight for Crabbe and Goyle, and Hedwig, squawking, for Malfoy. But before they could reach any of them Hermione's voice rang out loud and clear over the throng.

"Petrificus Totalus! Petrificus Totalus! Petrificus T-t-totalus!"

There were three sequential thuds. Hermione approached the stock still Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle where they lay, passing her three friends, her face a mixture of disgust and cold fury.

"Didn't you think we would find him? What were you going to do, kill him so he couldn't snitch on you? Ginny is right. You are bloody cowards." Harry couldn't see her face and he was glad for it. "Well, you're getting snitched on, all right. You can just wait here until we do.

"And I want you to know that we could have beaten the snot out of you. But we are real wizards. Not cowards," she hissed. "Not you."

There was a groan from the other side of Goyle's mountainous form. Ron was trying to stand by bracing himself against the wall, but his knees buckled and Ginny caught him under the arms and sat him down. He spit blood onto the snow.

Harry wanted more then anything to kick one of them in the side, but Hermione had made her point. Only Muggles and cowards fought without a wand.

"Ron, are you-" Harry started.

"I'm fine," he whispered, trying to sound strong. "Just let me… get my breath back." Ginny protectively knelt beside him, and he tried to gently push her away. "Really, I'm…" He rested his forehead on his knees. The blood was already drying on the back of his head.

"Ron," said Hermione, and Harry saw she had bent in the snow to pick up a broken wand. It wasn't Ron's. "What happened?" she asked.

"The usual, really," he said, meaning they had exchanged the usual insults. "But then he challenged… me to a duel… here and now. He tried to shoot… but stupid git held his wand backwards… It hit me and I was so mad… broke it in half… Said he didn't need a wand and…" he spit blood again. Hermione was silent. No one spoke but no one noticed, because it was Hermione who was silent.

"Let's get you out of the cold," said Ginny finally. She and Harry got on either side of Ron and supported his weight by putting their arms around his shoulders. He groaned when they pulled him up. As they walked him out of the alley, Hermione and Hedwig lagged behind, standing around the three Slytherins like they were no more than furniture.

Hermione leaned down and whispered something into Hedwig's ear. Having done so, she innocently followed the others out of the alley, ignoring a grunt of pain behind her.

"I have just been reminded," said Hedwig, giving Malfoy another kick for good measure. She grinned down at him. "That I am not a wizard at all."

 

* * *

 

Ron’s nose was broken, and remained crooked even after Madam Pomfrey had healed it. She offered to straighten it, but it would have taken a painful night of Skel-o-Grow, and he assured her that it was all right, really. He didn't mind it.

Hermione had stormed into the Three Broomsticks, where the teachers were eating, all blustery snow and fury, pointed to Ron and told them where the perpetrators undoubtedly still were. She'd said: "you may want to get them before they freeze to death." It had all been very dramatic.

But in the corridor outside the hospital ward Hermione finally let her defenses down. Harry walked out to find her crying softly into the wall.

"Hermione," he began, nervous. "He's perfectly okay now. His nose is a bit crooked but-"

"They hurt him, Harry! If I hadn't left the pub he wouldn't have left either. He would never have been hurt." She sniffled. When she cried was the only time her lisp came back, and she sounded younger than she was. He put a supportive hand on her back. "I'm being ridiculous, aren't I?" she asked.

"Yes. But you humans often are. It's in your nature, I suppose." Hedwig used Harry's shoulder as an arm rest and leaned casually. "I don't think I've seen any of you do anything that wasn't ridiculous all day long."

"Oh, Hedwig. I'm so sorry. You're only day as a human and I've ruined it," said Hermione.

"Hermione. This wasn't your fault. It wasn't," Harry began.

"Look, you two can talk particulars. I'm going to go see the invalid," said Hedwig, starting for the door.

"That's a good idea. Hermione, you go with her. I'll be right back."

"Where are you goi- What are you up to?" corrected Hermione, noticing him taking the Marauder's Map out of his pocket.

"You'll see. Just go visit him. I'll be right back," he said again, waving behind him as he ran down the corridor and out of sight.

"Okay, but we won't wait up," Hedwig called after him.

"Do I look all right?" whispered Hermione.

 

* * *

 

"Great idea, Ron," joked Harry later in the afternoon. "Getting the snot beat out of you and all so we could have the hospital ward to ourselves. Great outing."

There had been a raiding of the kitchen it seemed, and several snack pantries were a good deal emptier. Their contents and their wrappers littered Ron's hospital bed, where the five sat in a circle chatting and generally feeling better about things.

"No problem. Anything for a friend," said Ron through a mouthful of Chocolate Frog.

"So, Harriet's Hedwig?" asked Ginny.

"Harriet was never Harriet," said Hedwig. "Always Hedwig. Hoot hoot. See?"

"Ah. That proves everything."

"It was the telescope you slept under, Hedwig," said Hermione. "Has to be. I went and looked where you said you slept last night."

"Over-achiever," said Ron.

"What? Don't you want to be able to make her human again six decades from now?" asked Hermione. "So we can give her a day worthwhile."

"When we're seventy?"

"Um, owls don't live that long," said Hedwig. There was an uncomfortable silence from the other four. Ginny was looking sympathetically at her.

Hedwig burst out laughing.

"You think I'd rather live another sixty as a human? I've got a good ten years left on me as an owl, and that's how I prefer it, thank you. You and your species really think highly of itself!" She guffawed.

"Must be the opposable thumbs," said Ron.

"That is a plus. But then, how many candy wrappers do I need to open as an owl? I really didn't think any of this would taste as good as it does." She popped a Chocolate Frog in her mouth. "The shape helps. We need chocolate rodents."

"You know," said Hermione. "I haven't opened a single present all day. I left them in my room."

"I totally forgot," said Harry.

"Wait! I think I feel a premonition coming on," said Ron, massaging a temple.

"Those Divination classes finally taking hold?" asked Hermione, arching an eyebrow.

"Quiet, you. I got… a sweater with an 'R' on it and… treacle fudge. Am I right, Harry?"

Harry tapped his nose in affirmation. "'Cept I made the sweater this year." This was met with general chuckling and giggles, except for Hedwig, who guffawed again. Hedwig, Harry decided, liked to laugh.

She flicked up an Every Flavor Bean and caught it in her mouth. "Mmmmm. I do believe this is rat flavored…"

"Wow, look at that," said Ginny, swinging herself off the bed and crossing the room to a far window. She pulled apart the curtains. "Sun's setting already."

The room became silent. Even Ron's chewing slowed as they watched Hedwig's reaction.

"Oh. Hoo. Well." She stood up and strode out of the room. The other four followed, Ron still in his striped pajamas.

They didn't realize where she was heading until she opened a tower door that lead to one of Hogwarts' long, flat roofs.

"I wanted to watch it from here. And jump. See how falling feels," she said a little distractedly.

"Jump?" asked Ron.

"Right as the sun goes down. Very romantic like. And fly."

"You okay, Hedwig?" Ginny asked.

"Yeah. I'm glad to be going back but… there are nice things about being human. I guess," she said resentfully.

"Could Hedwig be admitting that we are the better species?" Ron asked incredulously.

"Don't hold your breath. You can stick your opposable thumbs up your arses. I'd take flying over them any day," said Hedwig. "By the way, does anyone have any letters they want delivered?"

"Oh, yes!" said Hermione, and she started checking her pockets for something. "It's for my parents… if you could?"

"Please. That's my job." She took the letter from Hermione and put it in her mouth. The sun was a crescent over the forest horizon. Hedwig's white hair looked orange.

Ginny stepped forward suddenly, a pair of scissors in her hand. She clipped a good length of Hedwig's hair and tied it in a ribbon she had had on her. She smiled, a bit unsure, and waved the lock of white hair a bit.

"An idea I had. A memento. Before it turns to feathers, you know? Listen, I'll see you later, Hedwig, okay? I'm going to go talk to Pig while he can talk back." Turning to go, she asked over her shoulder. "So you can understand us all the time, right?"

"Yes."

"Good. I think." Ginny left the four of them. No one spoke. They stood in a line on the edge of the tower roof, watching the sun shrink.

"Harry?" said Hedwig, and he jumped, too used to the silence.

"Yeah?"

She turned to face him. "I'm only going to do this because… I can't in a couple of minutes, okay? I'll never have this chance again and I… want to know how it feels?"

Harry remembered later that she didn't pucker her lips, simply pressed her mouth to his, and he didn't even close his eyes. It didn't matter. She was just trying to express her affection. Love comes in many forms; an entire spectrum is available to the human psyche. It was unclear which this chaste kiss represented.

Girl to boy. Sister to brother. Pet to master.

She turned quickly away from him, and he was sure it was nothing like she had expected. Ron cleared his throat to hide a grin.

Hedwig started to unbutton her robe, and Hermione sprang into action.

"Both of you go over there and turn around," she ordered. Hedwig muttered something which Harry couldn't quite catch all of, but which sounded like "just an owl…" a bit resentfully.

"Right. Bye, Hedwig," said Ron, waving a bit. She waved back while she unbuttoned with the other hand.

"Bye, Ron. Hermione, can you lend me a wing here?"

"See you… later, Hedwig," said Harry.

"Later, Harry. I love you."

To his own surprise the words didn't surprise him, neither did his own.

"I love you, too. Fly safely."

"I will." She let the robes drop down her shoulders without a trace of self-consciousness.

"For goodness sakes, will you two turn around!" snapped Hermione, grabbing the shoulders of the robes and holding it up before it could reveal anything indecent.

"Why don't you have to?" snapped Ron.

"Because it's nothing I haven't seen before!"

Ron turned bright red before she'd even finished saying it and wordlessly turned around. Harry took one last look at Hedwig, prayed the pictures they'd taken in the ward would come out, and turned to follow Ron a few steps away from the girls. He heard mumbled good byes and then the sound of someone jumping from stone.

"You can turn around now," said Hermione. She was holding Harry's robes.

For a second they couldn't see anything but the sun's afterglow. Finally a single white owl came into view far off, looking as though she had left from a lower window, when in truth she had turned bird again halfway down the side of the castle. There was a letter in her beak. They watched her until she was a speck on the horizon.

But Ron, Harry slowly realized, had stopped watching Hedwig. His eyes were on the back of Hermione's head. Her bushy hair bunched around her in the wind, and the new night's glow framed her mature form.

"Are you ever going to tell her?" asked Harry, glancing at Ron.

"Tell her what?" he eyed Harry suspiciously and caught himself. "Tell who what?"

"Hermione. That you have feelings for her."

Ron seemed to cede something. He made a scoffing noise. "Oh. Yes. When pigs fly."

At that moment, with uncanny good timing, Pig alighted on Ron's shoulder.

Ron froze. His eyes grew wide.

Harry grinned. He turned to go through the tower door, where Ginny was waiting for them.

"Well, then," he called over his shoulder. "You had better get started."

 

*** ** ***

//
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