Owl Post

"All the kids want owls, they're dead useful, carry yer mail an' everythin'."
-- Rubeus Hagrid (PS5)

Owl Post

Owl post — owls carrying letters and parcels — is one of the most common ways that wizards communicate with each other. Wizards either tie messages or parcels to owls’ legs or have the owls carry the parcel in their beaks. Considered by wizards to be “the normal way” of communicating (GF3), owl post functions in a manner similar to Muggle post, complete with post offices. It is different, though, as it seems to simultaneously serve the purposes of both Muggle post and the telephone, as well as replacing newspaper delivery boys.

Owls can travel much more quickly than Muggle mail delivery; extremely urgent messages are sometimes sent this way (PS16) and even letters sent from Scotland to Romania can have a reply back within a few days (PS14), though it does take Harry many weeks to hear back from Sirius when he’s hiding in the tropics (GF15). The long journeys are tiring for the birds; Hedwig often sleepily flies off to snooze in the Owlery after a trip (GF15) and after particularly tiring journeys, Hagrid has to sometimes nurse owls back to health (PS12).

Owl Magic

Some magic is used by owls in finding their recipients; Hedwig, for example, is able to easily locate Sirius Black when he is on the run from the Ministry of Magic, even though Aurors are unable to do so (PA2). Hedwig also routinely hunts Harry down in Hogwarts, in Gryffindor Tower or even his classes (OP17), and Pigwidgeon successfully delivers a letter to Harry while he is on the moving Hogwarts Express (PA22). However, wizards cannot send an owl to someone they want to find and then “follow” the owl to discover the person’s whereabouts (JKR).

Other birds are also sometimes used to carry messages, including tropical birds (PA1) and phoenixes (OP22).

Owls at Hogwarts

At Hogwarts, owls live in the Owlery in the West Tower and deliver mail to students once a day, at breakfast – though more urgent messages are frequently delivered toHarry in his dormitory. Hogwarts also has a number of school owls, which can be used by students who do not own an owl themselves. Harry used school owls on several occasions when he needed to contact Sirius without attracting attention (GF18). These owls seem to be used on occasion even to communicate across the school, such as when Hagrid sends a note to Harry at the end of his first week at Hogwarts (PS8), though this method seems to be given up by Harry’s sixth year, when notes are instead regularly delivered in the hands of students (HBP22).

Beginning in Harry’s fifth year, all owl post into Hogwarts was searched and inspected as a security precaution. This was originally seen as an overbearing method of control by the Ministry of Magic and Dolores Umbridge (OP17), but once Voldemort’s return became public it was widely accepted (HBP8). Intercepting owls, it seems, can be done crudely or routinely; Hedwig is hurt when Umbridge intercepts her letter (OP17) but the Weasleys’ mail (HBP4) and Hogwarts mail (HBP8) is later searched as a matter of routine, with no harm coming to the animals.

Use by business

Owls are also used for institutional deliveries; indeed, the first time we see an owl making a delivery is when one arrives with Hagrid’s Daily Prophet in the hut-on-the-rock. In this case, the owl has a pouch which it uses to collect Hagrid’s money (PS5). Later, though, Hermione takes out a subscription to the Daily Prophet as well, and the owls that deliver it don’t seem to collect anything (OP12). Owls are also used by some businesses for Owl Order Service, to deliver goods. This service comes into prominent use, at least for Harry, when a Slug Club Christmas party is approaching his sixth year, and girls buy love potions from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes through Fred and George’s Owl Order Service (HBP15).

List of letters we've seen sent by owl post: PS & CS

  • Hagrid writes a note to Dumbledore letting him know he's successfully picked up Harry (PS6)
  • According to Hagrid, Cornelius Fudge peppers Dumbledore with owls asking for advice (PS6)
  • Harry gets a note from Hagrid inviting him to visit, and replies "Yes, please, see you later" - his first owl post letter (PS8)
  • Professor McGonagall sends a note along with a new Nimbus 2000 to Harry (PS10)
  • Charlie sends a note Ron with Hedwig agreeing to take Norbert, after Ron presumably writes him to ask, and Ron replies (PS14)
  • Quirrell sends Dumbledore an urgent note, supposedly from the Ministry of Magic, to lure him away from Hogwarts (PS16)
  • Hagrid sends owls to James and Lily's old school friends to obtain photos of them for Harry (who are they, besides Lupin?) (PS17)
  • Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid send a "thick wad of envelopes" to Harry over the summer, but Dobby intercepts them (CS2)
  • Shortly after Dobby performs a Hover Charm, Harry receives a letter from Mafalda Hopkirk warning him against doing magic (CS2)
  • Second-year booklists arrive from Hogwarts while Harry is at the Burrow (CS4)
  • Ron uses Errol to write Hermione, and she replies with plans to meet them at Diagon Alley (CS4)
  • Dumbledore writes to the Weasleys and Dursleys after Ron and Harry crash the car into the Whomping Willow (CS5)
  • Mrs. Weasley sends Ron a Howler when she finds out he took the car (CS6)
  • Harry addresses envelopes to be sent to Gilderoy Lockhart's fans while in detention (CS7)
  • Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore sends Nearly Headless Nick a letter rejecting his application to the Headless Hunt (how did he send that?) (CS8)
  • Dumbledore writes to Azkaban to secure Hagrid's release (CS18)
  • The eleven governers of Hogwarts, other than Lucius Malfoy, barrage Dumbledore with owls asking for his return to Hogwarts (CS18)

List of letters we've seen sent by owl post: PA & GF

  • Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid all write to Harry on his 13th birthday (PA1)
  • Harry's third year Hogwarts letter arrives with Hagrid's birthday gift as well (PA1)
  • Augusta Longbottom sends Neville's Hogsmeade letter directly to Professor McGonagall (PA8)
  • Neville receives a Howler from Augusta as well, after he loses the Gryffindor Tower passwords (PA14)
  • Hagrid writes to ask Harry and Ron to come visit him, to discuss Hermione (PA14)
  • Hagrid writes to Hermione to let her know that Buckbeak lost at his trial (PA15)
  • Hagrid writes to Ron to tell him that Buckbeak's lost his appeal as well (PA16)
  • Harry receives a letter from Sirius on the Hogwarts Express, explaining the Firebolt, giving him permission to go to Hogsmeade, and giving Pigwidgeon to Ron (PA22)
  • Sirius says that Crookshanks took his Firebolt order to the Owl Office, where presumably it was then sent in (PA22)
  • Sirius writes to Harry twice from his hiding place; the letters are sent not with owls but tropical birds (GF2)
  • Harry writes to Sirius for the first time to let him know that his scar twinged (GF2)
  • Ron sends his first letter with Pigwidgeon to invite Harry to the Quidditch World Cup (GF3)
  • A large number of people send Howlers to the Ministry of Magic to complain about Quidditch World Cup security (GF10)
  • Sirius writes Harry to let him know he's flying north, worried about Harry's safety (GF14)
  • Harry responds to Sirius to ask him not to return to Britain, and sends the note with Hedwig (GF15)
  • Sirius writes back to Harry with Hedwig to let him know he's hidden in Britain (GF15)
  • Harry sends a school owl to Sirius informing him that his name was picked for the Triwizard Tournament (GF18)
  • Sirius replies to Harry and asks for a face to face meeting on November 22 (GF18)
  • Pigwidgeon delivers congratulations from Sirius on Harry's getting past the Hungarian Horntail (GF23)
  • Sirius sends a brown owl with a very short letter: "Send date of next Hogsmeade weekend by return owl." (GF26) Harry replies
  • Sirius asks Harry to bring him food and meet with him on the next Hogsmeade weekend (GF27)
  • The trio writes to Percy to ask whether he's seen Mr. Crouch (GF27); he responds irratibly (GF28)
  • After Rita Skeeter's article defaming Hermione, she gets hate mail; Hagrid says he'd received some too (GF28)
  • Harry continues to regularly write Sirius in the cave near Hogsmeade (GF28)
  • Fred and George send owls to Ludo Bagman demanding their money, though the trio doesn't figure it out until later (GF29)
  • Harry sends Sirius an owl to tell him about his excursion into Dumbledore's Pensieve (GF31)
  • Sirius berates Harry for walking the grounds with Viktor Krum (GF29) and starts sending daily owls (GF31)

List of letters we've seen sent by owl post: OP & HBP

  • A barrage of owls is sent to Harry after he produces a Patronus in Little Whinging (OP2):
    • Mafalda Hopkirk expells him from Hogwarts and informs him that his wand will be snapped;
    • Arthur Weasley tells Harry not to leave his house or surrender his wand;
    • Mafalda Hopkirk again writes, rescinding Harry's expulsion and notifying him of a hearing;
    • Sirius writes to tell Harry not to leave the house;
    • Dumbledore sends a Howler to Petunia with the mysterious message, "Remember my last"
  • Hogwarts booklists - and prefects' badges - arrive at number twelve, Grimmauld Place (OP9)
  • Harry sends a cryptic message to Sirius about Umbridge and Hagrid; Filch accuses him of placing dungbomb orders but Cho backs Harry up (OP14)
  • Cho Chang sends some message, presumably, as she meets Harry in the Owlery (OP14)
  • Percy sends an unexpected letter to Ron, urging him to distance himself from Harry (OP14)
  • Sirius sends Harry a note - "Today, same time, same place" - but Hedwig is intercepted and injured en route to Harry (OP17)
  • We see Hermione write a letter to Krum, but never get confirmation that it is sent (OP21)
  • Molly Weasley sends a letter to Sirius, Harry, and her children that Arthur is alive after the snake attack, though it is sent with Fawkes rather than by owl post (OP22)
  • Gilderoy Lockhart announces that he still receives fan mail (OP23)
  • When his Quibbler interview is released, Harry receives a number of letters from those agreeing and disagreeing with him (OP26)
  • Percy Weasley sends an owl to the Daily Prophet when Dumbledore confesses to forming an army against Fudge (OP27)
  • Dumbledore sends Harry a note to let him know he'll be coming to pick him up at Privet Drive (HBP3)
  • Owls deliver O.W.L. results to Harry, Ron, and Hermione at the Burrow (HBP5)
  • Booklists arrive at the Burrow, with news that Harry is Quidditch captain (HBP6)
  • Bob Ogden sends an owl to notify the Gaunts he will be coming, but they don't accept it (HBP10)
  • Parents send regular owls to their children at Hogwarts to make sure they're okay after Voldemort's return (HBP11)

List of items we've seen shipped by owl post

How are Christmas gifts shipped? Errol certainly couldn't manage to bring six sweaters and loads of candy to Hogwarts for Mrs. Weasley, and Harry gets gifts from theDursleys every year, who certainly wouldn't use an owl themselves. This is probably a question to which we'll never know the answer. Here are the items we've seen shipped by owl for sure:

  • A Daily Prophet for Hagrid (PS5), and delivered to Malfoy, Hermione, Harry, and others in many places
  • Packages of sweets, which Draco Maloy routinely gets from home via the Malfoys' eagle owl (PS9)
  • A Remembrall, given to Neville by his grandmother (PS9)
  • A Nimbus 2000 broomstick, from McGonagall to Harry (why didn't she just give it to him?) (PS10)
  • A few things Neville forgot from home, shipped by his Gran (CS6)
  • The Kwikspell course, though not explicitly stated, seems to have been sent via owl (CS8)
  • A Pocket Sneakoscope, Ron's present to Harry for his 13th birthday, sent with Errol and nearly killing him (PA1)
  • A Broomstick Servicing Kit, Hermione's present to Harry for his 13th birthday, which Hedwig showed up to pick up (PA1)
  • A copy of The Monster Book of Monsters, Hagrid's present to Harry for his 13th birthday, sent with a school tawny owl (PA1)
  • Dragon dung, which Fred and George have delivered to Percy's office (GF5)
  • A ham, a dozen cakes, and some fruit, that Harry sends to Sirius when he's hiding in Hogsmeade (GF28)
  • Bubotuber pus, enclosed in hate mail sent to Hermione (GF28)
  • Easter eggs from Mrs. Weasley, though Hermione's is very small (GF28)
  • Prefects' badges for Ron and Hermione (OP9)
  • A copy of the Quibbler, which Harry receives after he gives an interview (OP26)
  • Molly Weasley sends Easter eggs for her children and Harry (OP29)
  • A copy of Advanced Potion-Making, which Hedwig brings Harry from Flourish and Blotts (HBP11)
  • Love potions, as part of Fred and George's Owl Order Service (HBP15)



Rowling's comments on owls:

Because they possess an innate bent for magic (just as pigs are reputed to be innately non-magical), or because generations of their ancestors have been domesticated and trained by wizards and they have inherited the traits that make this easy, owls learn very quickly, and seem to thrive on their task of tracing and tracking the witch or wizard for whom their letters are intended.

Of course, owls have been associated with magic for a long time, and feature in many old illustrations of witches and wizards, second only to cats as Most Magical Creature. The owl's association with wisdom was established in Roman times, for it is the emblem of Minerva, goddess of wisdom (Pm).

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