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Wizarding World - Everything MagicalOwl Post

Owl Post

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

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About owl post

Owl post consists of wizards either tying messages or parcels to owls' legs or having 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).

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). We don't know exactly how this magic works.

Other birds are also sometimes used to carry messages, including tropical birds (PA1) and phoenixes (OP22). It is possible that owls are a regional bird of choice in Europe, but with Harry's limited realm of experience we have no way to know.

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 to Harry 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 during his sixth year, and girls buy love potions from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes through Fred and George's Owl Order Service (HBP15).

For more on owls, click here; for a list of individual owls, click here.

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

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

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

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 the Dursleys 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:

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