Alzbeta looked confused as she sealed up her letter and pulled on her outerrobes. "What do you mean, you've never used the owl post? How do you send letters?"
Elspeth looked at her with surprise. "By post. That's how Muggles send their correspondence, always." She straightened her own robes carefully, feeling odd in the unusual black garmet. "My grandomther explained about owls to me once when I was small, but she said because I am -- because I was Muggle, I wasn't to use it."
Alzbeta looked flabbergasted. "You're a muggle? But--" But you sounded so intelligent seemed to be slightly rude, even for a muggle. And then, But I thought you were a lady like me sounded conceited. And But I liked you sounded a bit needy. So she settled for, "But what's the post?"
Elspeth blinked. "Um, yes. There are wizarding blood on both sides of my family, but my parents are both Muggle. I'm the first of magical blood in my father's family for several generations, although my mother was born into a magical family. She's Squib." She leaned back slightly. Alzbeta had a hurt look on her face that made her feel very awkward. "The post is the system to send mail. It's like the owls, but it's people that carry the letters. It's much slower to send anything a great distance, obviously."
Nyssa was leaning against the wall in the back of the common room, away from the celebrating and ignoring the rude remarks, but there nonetheless, looking out a window. She sighed and turned her attention to the party, noticing Alzbeta and Elspeth. She smiled and gave a little wave not having seen them since the sorting.
She thought she would meet them half way and pushed herself through the crowd, again ignoring the party and the boys. She imagined herself in Diagon Alley during the holiday season.
"Up to no good?" she teased when she approached them. She looked around at the party and the mugs of butterbeer. "Want a drink?" she asked.
"What is that?" asked Elspeth curiously, looking at the strange foamey drinks the boys were gaily consuming. "I've never seen such a thing before." She ducked her head when one of the boys laughed at her, feeling a blush rise on her cheeks, and took a deep breath, nudging Alzbeta with her elbow. "Um, perhaps we should go?"
"Yes, let's go. We don't have too much time. And that's butterbeer; it's just something the kids drink when they're not old enough for real alcohol." Alzbeta glanced at Nyssa. "We're going to the Owlery, would you like to come?"
"You know you shouldn't let them get to you like that," she said to Elspeth. She hesitated for a moment and smiled. "Yes, I bet the Owlery is more exciting this pathetic party." She said, in a tone a bit loud so a few of the boys around her would hear. She smiled again, "Come on, I'm not exactly sure where it is, do you?"
"Too true." Nyssa moved passed Elspeth and Alzbeta towards the door. "I'm up for some exploring."
Elspeth shook her head, hoping that perhaps if she moved enough the blush would fade away. "I don't like being laughed at," she mumbled, so softly that she could barely even hear herself. She followed Nyssa to the door, suddenly nervous about setting foot outside the one familiar place. "Is there a map or anything we can look at?"
"I don't know." Alzbeta opened the door and led the way out into the stairway leading down to the foot of Ravenclaw Tower. "I haven't heard of any map of Hogwarts. What with the changing staircases, I don't think any map would stay accurate for long. Perhaps if we spot a professor in the hall, we can ask."
Nyssa shut the door to the Ravenclaw common room and immediately the noise from the party disappeared. "I think we should just go up and hope we see a professor on the way," she said, pointing at the moving staircases. "I'm sure there is someone around who won't be a pain and can help us out."
"Perhaps if we see the Grey Lady, we can ask her?" Alzbet'a voice dropped to a whisper. For some reason the empty halls, silent but for the grinding of the staircases, seemed intimidating, and she cast about for a direction. "Or one of the portraits?"
"Do not worry, you do get used to see them move and talk." Nyssa moved up the stairs enough to see the portrait of the mother and her child. "Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help us," Nyssa whispered, not wanting to disturb the child or make her fuss, "We are trying to find the Owlery. Can you tell us where it is?"
The portrait studied her a bit, shielding her child as if Nyssa was contagious. "Straight up and veer to the south. If you find a statue of Paracelsus then you are heading in the right direction. There you can find the Owlery on your own. Now please go away."
Nyssa forced a bit of a smile and nodded, "Well thank you. You have been of great help." Nyssa moved down the steps.
"A bit nicer but not much. At least she put us on a nice path. Shall we head up?"
Elspeth leaned around Alzbeta to listen to Nyssa's conversation with the portrait.
"How do they do that? Is that what the voice of the painting's subject really sounded like? How do they paint a voice into a picture?" Her eyes had gone wide, and she stared off into space, thinking. "I need to read up on this. Imagine a painting of yourself -- conversing with a painting of yourself!"
"It's not so much that they paint the voice as... well, it was always explained to me as the magical signature of a person. Every witch and wizard has their own magical signature, just as we have our own fingerprints, unique to outself. A good portrait artist can imbue the painting with the signature of the subjects, and when the painting is finished, the portraits take on the memories and personalities of the subjects. But then again, I'm not an artist and our last family portrait was done when I was three, so I don't know for sure." Alzbeta shrugged. "I've never seen a magical portrait of a Muggle, so I suppose the theory holds true."
"My father once told me that some of the portraits were ghosts." Nyssa shrugged, "I don't know if I fully agree with that especially with what you just said, but I suppose perhaps some ghosts could become their portraits if they wanted to, right?" Nyssa shrugged again.
Elspeth smiled more broadly. "Willie is my younger brother. Sawney is our cat. You were in my compartment on the train, weren't you? That was Sawney that I chased after." She shook her head. "Willie told me I should bring Sawney with me so I'd have something of home here with me, in this strange place." Her voice trailed off as she stared into space for a moment before shaking her head and dropping her locket; she hadn't even been aware of holding it. "I have a sister as well, an older one. Her name is Beth, and she is to wed soon." She peered down a corridor as they passed it. "Not this one, I think. It's too quiet, and it doesn't smell like a roomful of birds."
"That's right," Nyssa nodded, remembering the cat coming in and then Elspeth. "I brought my owl Jinx, he belonged to my mother before she-" Nyssa could never say that word when talking with others so she stopped and they walked for a bit. But Nyssa smiled when they paused at a hall, "And the next time you write to your sister, congradulate her for me, will you?"
They walked for sometime more. "The portrait never said how long or how far we had to walk." Nyssa sighed and pocketed the letter. She didn't want to lose it on the way. "Maybe we should go down another hallway to see. We can come straight back to this one if we don't find anything." She shrugged when she noticed an approaching corridor intersecting with the one they were on.
The intersecting hallway proved to hold a staircase leading up, and the faint twittering of birds could be heard in the distance. Alzbeta wrinkled her nose at the faint smell, which reminded her of the family owlery, and then started up the stairs, lifting her skirts to step daintily. Not daintily enough, it appeared, because on her sixth step up, her foot went right through the stair and she fell through to her hip with a shriek, her skirt billowing up.
Nyssa burst into laughter but was immediately up the steps to help. "Are you okay? It's good you didn't fall all the way through." She was smiling and had her hands out to Alzbeta. She grasped onto Alzbeta's hands and was pulling. "Do you think anyone can see you below this?"
Alzbeta wandered down the aisles, carefully sidestepping piles of guano and feathers. There were feathers everywhere, fluttering through the air, piling in drifts against the walls. It made her sneeze.
Against a far wall were the Hogwarts school owls, rows upon rows upon rows of barn owls, screech owls, horned owls, snowy owls, and spotted owls all nestled on perches displaying the school crest. Alzbeta stopped at the nearest owl and tied her letter around its foot. "Take this to the Marchioness Aglionby," she told it. The owl launched itself into the air, the powerful beats of its wings sending feathers everywhere, and Alzbeta sneezed again.
Elspeth picked out a gentle looking brown owl that was watching her curiously. "Hello," she told it, and the owl bowed its head to her, as if acknowledging her greeting. "I need to send this letter to my family. Can you take it?" The owl tilted its head, staring. "Oh! Right, sorry, sorry -- this goes to the family of John McDowell, in Mayfair district of London. Um, the Muggle part."
The owl held out its leg, and Elspeth looked at it blankly for a moment, before realizing there was a small case for the parchment to be tied into. She fumbled as she fastened it, and as soon as she was done the owl hopped into the air, hooting. "Thank you," she called hesitantly after it, as it swooped out the window into the night.
"Ready?" Alzbeta asked Elspeth, watching the owl wing out into the air outside. "We don't have too much time before curfew, and I don't want to start my first night at Hogwarts in trouble."
Nyssa had moved from the wall after Jinx vanished over the forest and turned to Elspeth and Alzbeta. "Feel free to use Jinx sometime. I don't mind," she said, shrugging and smiling. She headed for the door and went down the steps trying to remember the same exact steps she used to get up there. She jumped down the last few steps and looked up and down the hallway. It seemed darker than usual. She waited for Albeta and Elspeth.