A common grey squirrel straddles two intersecting juniper boughs, contentedly gorging on the tree's berries, when a great, white blur streaks passed him. Sputtering, nearly choking on what he had been eating, the squirrel stares, mouth agape, towards the end of the limbs outstretched before him. Gingerly, he creeps towards the end of the northernmost branch, disregarding his hoard of berries as they topple into the snowbank fifteen meters below. As he nears the tip of the limb, three more blurs of varying shape and color sweep past him—1, 2, 3! The squirrel, quick as lightning, plasters his body against the juniper's trunk, clutching his heart and quivering in fear. After what feels like an hour, [although, squirrels do not have any concept of time, so let us just assume that eight minutes pass, and then] the squirrel finally relaxes his previously petrified limbs and peels himself from the juniper’s papery bark. Cautiously, he descends down from his sanctuary. As he re-harvests his juniper berries from the powder snow, he stares absently into the forest, mouth still somewhat gaping, and contemplates his sanity.
Deep in the Albanian forest, four owls congregate at the base of an abnormally broad pine tree….
"On the day of our final exam!" wheezes an exasperated Short-eared owl. "Oh, of all the days to be late!"
"You're too excitable, Quincy," sighs Hedwig, the smaller of the two Snowy owl, as she tenderly bends back the tree's bark revealing the Entranceway to the Albanian Preparatory Post & Parcel School for Owls. A thwipping and thwufting of feathers ensue as the four owls awkwardly wedge themselves through the entrance and into the trunk of the pine, which interestingly resembles a miniature elevator.
"If you wouldn't mind, Manchester, remove your damned talons from off my toes! You're a bloody heavy oaf!"
"Pardon, er, sorry," the great, white, Snowy owl half-whispers in an abject tone.
"Going down?" a voice whirs through the elevator's intercom.
"Yes," the quartet sounds in unison.
“Tut, tut, tut,” the voice murms, before the miniature elevator begins its descent into the bowels of the frozen earth.
The owls plummet deep into the ground in a matter of seconds. At their destination, the doors of the elevator open and the students shoot down the longest corridor towards a large auditorium. At a podium in the center, a stern-looking Tawny owl squints over the top a pair of rectangular spectacles.
"Eule Witherwings? How nice of you and your companions to join us. Please, I've just called your name. Come up to the podium to pick up your exam and take your seat. The rest of you will please wait until your name is called to pick up your copy," said the Tawny owl.
"Sorry Professor McPhalanx," an optimistic Barn owl beams, as she bounds away from her friends towards the professor. The professor gives Eule her final exam, and then continues to call names until each student has a copy of the test.
"You will be permitted sixty minutes for the written portion of the exam," explained Professor McPhalanx, pacing across the front of the auditorium. "Once your exam is complete you must report to the upper floor to receive your deliveries for the Wings-on portion. You will be given a package to deliver to a randomly assigned location. You are permitted no more than two hours to fly to your location, drop off your assigned package, and return back to APPPSO."
Hedwig walks dreamily out of the elevator on the upper floor, towards the headmaster's office to obtain her package and delivery location. She inspects the posters lining the knotted, pine walls:
Drama Club Presents
22nd of June
Now Hiring! Owl Messengers
at the Ministry of Magic
Improper Use of Magic Office
Give Resume to Professor Erroll
She's hardly paying attention and walks straight into someone else—Headmaster Strigiformes. She tries to apologize but only manages to spit and sputter all over the headmaster.
"Ah, Hedwig! Going to be picking up your package and assignment?" Headmaster Strigiformes asks cheerily. He is a large, prestigious-looking Great Horned Owl, and wears a pair of half-moon shaped spectacles at the end of his beak. Hedwig only speaks to him on rare occasion and never for more than a minute or two.
"Er, yes, Prof- er, uh, Headmaster," manages Hedwig.
"I took notice to your assignment in particular, Hedwig. You're going just past the Northern Forest. Be careful—and good luck." The headmaster continues down the corridor, leaving Hedwig confused. He took particular notice to my assignment? And ‘be careful’…. Hedwig puzzles, picking up her package from the mailboxes adjacent to Strigiformes's door.
The common grey squirrel is quite pleased when he discovers that he has successfully hidden his hoard of juniper berries in just under an hour. Bounding and vaulting across the branches of junipers and pines, the squirrel cannot help but feel overcome with happiness. What a wonderful end to a day that began so strangely, thought Squirrel. He was feeling better than he had been in the morning now that he had not seen anymore of those things that he had seen earlier, whatever they were. I’m quite sure they were just pinecones, the squirrel assured himself, pinecones that fell horizontally at an alarming rate of speed. (Squirrels, you must know, are excellent at coming up with ridiculous explanations for things that scare them. Out of the six feelings that squirrels are capable of experiencing, paranoia is their least favorite. This could be a reason that many squirrels are victims of automobile hit-and-run accidents. Each time they narrowly miss death at the wheels of a car, truck, or snowmobile, they are able to convince themselves that these vehicles are merely large, friendly, and herbivorous animals that humans like to ride at alarming rates of speed.)
Squirrel was smiling contentedly as he descended down the trunk of his favorite juniper tree. He sprang a few feet from its base, then stopped, struck with horror. A berry was resting in snow, probably one of his own that he had dropped from this very tree earlier that morning. Squirrel let out a sigh, then scooped up the berry and began ascending the juniper. It will only take me an hour to get back to my stash and back here again, he thought. Once he was safely nestled in the branches of his favorite tree, the common grey squirrel began retracing his leaps through the tangled, twisty labyrinth of branches back to his hoarding hole.
Hedwig is quite pleased when she discovers she has delivered her parcel to its destination in just over an hour. Flying back over the Northern Forest, she thinks she may stop to get a bite of squirrel since she has another hour before she has to return to APPPSO to mark the completion of her assignment. After a moment she spots a grey squirrel sitting out in the open—she dives. Hurtling toward the ground, she hears a blood curdling scream. In her shock she crashes into the branches of a pine, her wings and body crumpling. The grey squirrel meanders into the forest's undergrowth, unaware how close he was to death.
Hedwig shakes her head and tries to focus her eyes on her surroundings. That scream… From above she searches for the source of the scream, scanning the forest from every angle. She begins to think she's crazy, but then, out of her periphery, she sees movement. A man lies in the fetal position in the snow, clutching the back of his head, and heaving with uncontrollable sobs.
"Stop crying!" a chilling voice hisses, "Do you not know what an honor it would be to become one with me?!"
"I-I-I'm sorry, my L-lord," a second voice stammers. Those voices… Hedwig thinks …are they coming from the same man? To her horror, Hedwig discovers that the voices are indeed coming from the same man, because as the man removes his hands from his head she sees a second face—whiter than the snow, with horrifying snake-like features—on the back of the man's head. A feeling of deep foreboding overwhelms Hedwig and she feels as though she may faint. Even the Owl World had heard of this dark wizard. Vulcanmore? Voltesmore? Oldevore? Hedwig thought, trying to recall what his name was. Supposedly he was once a deadly and dangerous wizard. Owls usually would have never noticed that anything horrible or dangerous was happening in the Wizarding world; they just deliver parcels and letters, and occasionally provide wizards and witches with companionship. However, this evil wizard had often interrupted the flights of owls or the delivery of parcels with his dark magic. Owls had needed to circumnavigate around areas where large, emerald skeletons were glowing in the sky, or where wizards in dark cloaks shot up into the air to leave the scenes of scorched cottages and murdered wizards and witches. Of course, many owls had come back to their wizards and witches after delivering post to find them murdered, clutching their loved ones. Sometimes owls came back and found nothing but the smoldering remains of where they once lived. However, this Vulcanmore character was thought to be defeated eventually, when a curse backfired on him as he tried to murder a child. Hedwig tries to recall the boy’s name….
"Now, Quirrell," snaps the voice of Lord Voltesmore, "What is the date? How many months until the term at Hogwarts begins? I must kill Harry Potter!"
Upon hearing this, Hedwig took off into the sky. In such shock, she didn't even remember flying back to APPPSO. When she finally arrived on the upper floor's balcony, her wings felt numb. She bolted down the corridor towards Headmaster Strigiformes's office—she must tell him what she had heard! He must be in, he must be in, she thought desperately. His door creaks open.
"Hedwig. I've been expecting you," greets the Headmaster.
"Sir—I've just come back from the Northern Forest, I-I saw—"
"Hedwig! Please, calm down! I believe I know what you've come to tell me…"
Hedwig stares blankly at her Headmaster, "Um, sir?" she implores.
"Hedwig, for several years now we've become aware of something sinister growing in the depths of our very own forest. Every now and then an animal acts so strangely, so out of character, that their loved ones become concerned that dark magic is involved. These animals-- badgers, boars, deer, squirrels, birds, even other owls-- have come to us at APPPSO requesting our help. You see, no more than one animal has become affected at any given time. This has led us to believe that some sort of magical, dark, possession has been occurring. The animals come to us because we are in contact with the wizarding world. I spoke with one Albus Dumbledore, a prominent wizard, and he asked me to monitor the situation, as he feared the worst. He asked that we owls prevent humans from becoming victims of this possession. So, we have been monitoring some suspicious activity in the Northern Forest. There have been reports of animals becoming… acting… well, possessed, in that area. Recently, one of our scouts noticed a young man in search of dark creatures, possibly dragons, in areas surrounding the Northern Forest. Did you see such a man, Hedwig?"
"Yes, sir… I believe—I believe that the Dark Lord has… taken over his body. His face… was on the back of a young man's head."
"So it is what we feared," said Strigiformes, staring out of his office window into the dark Albanian woodlands. "Hedwig, I've received a message from this Albus Dumbledore. He is headmaster of one of the wizarding world's schools. He contacted me recently and expressed his fear that one day very soon someone woud discover the Dark Lord. He has asked of our services at APPPSO. He requires an owl to protect The Boy Who Lived. This owl must be fearless, and make sure Harry's mail never is intercepted by the wrong sort of wizards. You, Hedwig… I believe you are destined for this assignment," the Headmaster turned to look at a very surprised Hedwig.
"Me?" Hedwig asked incredulously. "Surely, sir, you can't be serious!"
"In actuality, Hedwig, I am very serious. You are the owl for this job. Top of your class, courageous, cool-headed… Yes, I'm sure it must be you. You will report to me on the thirty-first of July. From here you will be transported to Eeylops Owl Emporium on Diagon Alley. The wizard Dumbledore has informed me that he will make sure that Harry chooses you to be his pet owl, with the aid of enchantments, I believe. Hedwig—no matter what the cost—you must protect Harry Potter from the Lord Voldemort!"