Harry pinched the bridge of his nose. His eyes burned, and the beginning of a headache throbbed behind them. Despite having worked the whole night - the edge of the horizon was turning a pale blue already - he didn’t manage to write more than a meager half-roll of parchment.
Senior Auror Langley expected the reports no later than nine sharp, which was – Harry consulted his wristwatch – in about four hours from now, and Merlin help Harry if he didn’t deliver.
He suddenly missed the times when he could just bullshit his way through assignments (especially Divination) with Ron or ask Hermione for pointers or a proofread.
He paced the room, nibbling on a thumbnail and desperately wracking his brain. It shouldn't be so difficult, he’d written essays since he was eleven years old, damn it!
Maybe some fresh air would help. Harry trudged over to the window and yanked it open.
The cool night breeze felt like a blessing on his face. It alleviated some of the pressure behind his eyes, but didn’t bring the inspiration he’d hoped for.
Harry watched, for a few minutes, clouds passing over the pale sickle of the moon, tinging the sky in a diffuse, misty light. Tried to remember the names of the stars twinkling on the horizon.
Was it really five years since their last astronomy lesson? It seemed like yesterday when they'd clustered around star charts and telescopes.
A small dot appeared over the treeline, growing larger and heading straight for the window.
When Harry could see the moonlight reflected on white wings, he stepped back.
Hedwig alighted on the windowsill in a rustle of feathers, her talons clacking on the wood.
“Hey, girl,” Harry greeted her and offered his arm. Hedwig stepped up, blinking her yellow eyes. “Had a good hunt?”
Her answer was a soft hoot and an indignant glare.
“Of course, of course. My bad. You’re the queen of hunting,” Harry laughed quietly. He scratched her head, smoothing a bunch of haphazard feathers sticking out. “And still molting? Poor girl.”
Pin feathers pricked his fingers, and after throwing him another miffed look, Hedwig nuzzled his hand.
Molting always seemed to make her more affection-seeking. Harry knew it was only the relief from the itching that made her craving more scratches than usual, but he couldn't help but feel touched.
He resumed petting her, carefully sorting through the pin feathers. Hedwig closed her eyes, ground her beak and pulled one leg up. She looked ready to fall asleep, tiring much more quickly compared to a few years ago.
As much as Harry tried to deny it, Hedwig was growing old. Her regal plumage was already thinning out in several places, and molts seemed to affect her more and more every year. Harry tried everything, from a special diet to hour-long scratching sessions to make it easier on her. He owed her this, for keeping him sane during the dull, endless summers in Little Whinging, but even he couldn't stop the passage of time.
The first birds dared to begin singing, now that the apex predator had vanished. Harry continued to absent-mindedly pet Hedwig for a few more minutes, switching from her neck to her chest when she stuck her head under the wing.
Harry carried her over to the perch. “Come on, go to sleep,” he murmured, gently urging her to step down.
Her head emerged, and she threw him a look of pure defiance before clambering up his arm.
A weight settled on his shoulder, feathers tickling his cheek.
“You sure about that? I still have work to do.”
Harry had just picked up the quill when he felt a pull on his hair.
“Returning the favor, huh?”
Hedwig answered with something between a purr and a hoot, and returned to preening his head.
“You know, Molly always said I had a bird’s nest, but I don’t think she meant it literally.”
Hedwig unperturbedly carried on.
Somewhere between the second and third report, Harry felt her weight shift when she settled down to sleep. He'd give anything to be allowed to follow suit, words dancing before his eyes, and his head growing heavier and heavier. He pushed on, hoping his reports stayed roughly on topic.
Finally, the reports were finished. Harry just stuffed them into a file, not bothering with proper form.
At the rustle of parchment, Hedwig opened one eye and sleepily stuck a leg out. Merlin, she was just the best. Harry laughed, affection welling up through him. “No, sweetie, gonna deliver it myself. No need.” He scratched her cheek. “You stay here and rest. Go visit Pig if you want.”
She warbled something like gratitude when Harry put her on the perch, and dipped her beak into the water dish before instantly going back to sleep.
Envious and tired beyond belief, Harry turned around.
Time to go to work.