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In the beginning of Goblet of Fire, Harry sends Snuffles a letter. Hedwig somehow finds him after the extremely specific command from Harry, "Just find him, okay?"

Theories:

  • Hedwig has a scanning system, like Baymax in Big Hero 6.
  • Hedwig got super lucky.
  • Hedwig flies really, really fast.

Now I know that owls are intelligent beings in the Harry Potter canon. But.... those ideas are just as crazy as the next.

So how did Hedwig do it?

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    I don't know that it is explicitly stated (so this is a comment rather than an answer), but I always thought that owls had a magical ability to find the people they were sent to. – Blackwood Aug 12 '16 at 3:29
  • @Blackwood Same. I think the answer here is going to simply be "magic". It's like real-world homing pigeons, except instead of 'home bases', Owls instinctively know how/where to find their destination, by some unknown method of location. – Singular1ty Aug 12 '16 at 3:49
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    "Snuffles"? When is Sirius/Padfoot ever called snuffles in the books? :) – RedCaio Aug 12 '16 at 4:02
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    @RedCaio All throughout Goblet of Fire whenever Harry and the gang talk about Sirius in public? – Singular1ty Aug 12 '16 at 4:22
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    @RedCaio Padfoot was a compromised codename - Snape knew it, and anyone who'd had the Marauders Map knew 'Padfoot' as a name. Considering Sirius was supposed to be dead, they adopted a new codename for him - Snuffles. – Singular1ty Aug 12 '16 at 4:30
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From JK Rowling's own writing on Pottermore:

"Whether 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.

The mystical association between the name and the human who bears it has long been understood by witches and wizards of all cultures. While the process remains mysterious even to those who train up owlets to become wizarding pets or postal owls, the birds appear to be able to make such a connection between the name and its possessor that enables them to trace the witch or wizard concerned wherever he or she may be. An owl does not need to know an address, although witches and wizards generally add the place to the envelope on the off-chance that the owl is intercepted and the letter falls into other hands."

So it's a mostly mysterious branch of magic at least to most - Kind of like wand lore or the subjects of the Department of Mysteries, but most owls can do it.

  • So here's a question: If the ministry wanted to find Sirius, why not just get an owl, attach a letter to its leg with Sirius' name on it and follow it to him? Seems like with owls at one's disposal, it should be really easy to find anybody. – DisturbedNeo Aug 12 '16 at 12:18
  • @DisturbedNeo - The article does explain some ways to avoid owls, so I think as with lots of JK's magic, you're ok if you find the right spell or solution. – ThruGog Aug 12 '16 at 12:41
  • @DisturbedNeo: based on my overall impression of the way the HP-verse works, my guess is that if anybody is following an owl, the owl's magic won't work. – Harry Johnston Aug 13 '16 at 23:33
  • Not only owls, siruis also sent exotic birds. – Bernard the Bear Apr 27 '18 at 12:20

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