As the door of Hagrid’s hut swung closed behind them, the smell of wood smoke greeted their nostrils. In the hearth, a fire crackled merrily, licking the bottom of a cast iron kettle hanging on the rod over its flames. All manner of traps, baskets, saws, snowshoes, ropes, and hooks dangled from the rafters.
As they pressed into the room, the girls quickly assembled in front of the fire, rubbing their arms to warm up. Goosebumps dotted Lily’s pale skin, James noticed, before catching a convenient view of the back of her legs. How long ago, it now seemed, since they’d been swimming in the lake.
“Yer welcome ter borrow my moleskin coat,” said Hagrid, gesturing to a hairy hunk of fabric hanging on a wooden peg by the door that bore a strange resemblance to a skinned bear.
Sirius flicked his wand and floated the coat over to them. It zoomed across the cabin, slowing as it reached their backs, wrapped around their shoulders, and easily accommodated all three of them at once. They caught sight of it as it enveloped them.
“Thank you, Black,” Lily said with pleasant surprise and the others chimed in similarly.
“Don’t mention it.” Sirius flashed the smallest of smiles.
Collectively, the boys crowded in behind them, trying to soak in some of the wonderful heat from the flames while the girls threaded their hair out from under the hefty collar. Lily’s hair formed a glorious fan of red on black that caught James’s eye. How many times had he sat behind her in class, her school robes in lieu of the moleskin, willing his attention back to the board?
He and Sirius squeezed towards an open spot on the girls’ left. Remus picked up an old pine lute leaning against the fireside armchair and turned it about in his hands for a quick assessment. “Do you play, Hagrid?” he asked, before taking a seat with it.
“I’m learnin’ ter.”
“Mind if I give it a try?”
“Be my guest,” said Hagrid, checking the oven, which was built into the side of the brick chimney.
Peter claimed a seat on the bench at the table and leaned back on his elbows to gaze at the fire.
James flashed him a small smile. Did everyone feel so drawn to fire? he wondered, as they let its warmth seep into their bare skin. Or were Gryffindors more attracted to it than most? He could never picture the Ravenclaws huddling around the fire in their common room with the same zeal and communality as they always did in the West Tower. He’d even asked Hazel Blott that question once; she’d looked at him like he was daft.
At his feet, the flames twisted and curled like a snake to a charmer’s flute, occasionally launching an errant spark onto the already singed and threadbare rug.
“You look a bit like three evil sorceresses huddled under that coat,” remarked James as Remus began plucking a few strings to tune.
“Ha, imagine the things we could Transfigure you into,” replied Bonnie in a clear reference to the famous witch, Circe, a part which James thought Lily, with her streaming red hair, could play especially well.
“Evans already threatened to turn me into a Billywig earlier,” he quipped.
“Fortunately, I didn’t have to go that far,” Lily cheeked with a glint in her eye.
Remus started into a few chords of what sounded like The Girl from Impanema, drawing everyone’s attention.
“Sorry—I’m rusty,” he winced after hitting a wrong note. James spotted the usual blush at the tips of his ears; it naturally occurred whenever Moony found himself at the centre of attention.
“Sounds really good,” said Hagrid. “Maybe you could give me sum lessons?”
“Sure. Anytime,” Remus replied, without lifting his eyes from the strings. “If you don’t mind very inexpert ones.”
Typical Moony. “His mother’s a music teacher,” James pointed out.
“Why haven’t we ever heard you play before?” Florence asked quizzically. Bonnie, too, leaned out past her friends to listen.
“Because Remus hides his talents,”answered James. Remus glanced up and flashed him a small, grateful smile, though a slightly abashed one, nonetheless.
“Well, I’m not surprised,” said Lily. “I heard him play in the music room once.”
“When was that?” Peter asked, scrunching up his brows.
“That a boy, Remus. Nose to the grindstone,” said Sirius. Remus immediately blushed.
“Puh-leez,” said Lily. “I shudder to imagine what you and Potter would accomplish on rounds.”
Sirius’s face slid into a grin. “Oh, we’d accomplish something. I’m just not sure it would fall under ‘rule enforcement’.”
Lily smiled in spite of herself, as did everyone else, but the exchange was soon punctuated by the sound of water hissing on the flames.
“Water’s ready,” Lily called over to Hagrid as she slipped from beneath the coat and pulled out her wand to take the kettle off. Her lavender shorts, white shirt, and pale skin contrasted with the flames, but her hair met its equal.
Hagrid peered over from the kitchen. “I’ll take the cakes out, too, then. Should be plenty warm by now.”
Lily expertlyfloated the steaming kettle across the room, setting it down as though cushioned against the trivet she slid underneath. Hagrid doled out a tin of tea and a tea ball and Lily set it steeping. Setting aside the coat, her friends wandered over to help. Meanwhile, Hagrid plated the cakes.
James and Sirius exchanged a bloke-ish glance of ‘Should we pitch in?’ and Remus looked up from the lute to ask the same.
Then James spied the earthenware mugs stacked on the open shelves above the sink. “Suppose we could set the table,” he suggested. “Moony, don’t budge,” he added, seeing as the kitchen only provided enough space for one giant—or three normal wizards—in which to pivot and Remus’s music enlivened the hut as much as the fire.
James floated the mugs down in a vee formation like flying geese, prompting them to split when they reached the table’s edge and then circle to their proper places. Sirius brought the sugar, creamer and spoons along in a corkscrew, setting them down in the centre amongst the drips of candle wax.
Finally, the girls coronated the tea kettle with its own little cosy, Hagrid set down a tray of tea cakes, and everyone claimed a seat around the scrubbed oak table. James was pleased to find himself sharing a bench with Sirius and adjacent to Lily, who claimed a spot on the next one over.
Hagrid sat down with a creak which made James wonder if the poor bench underneath him would hold, then began doling out the tea cakes, each one falling onto the plate with a curious ‘clink’ as though it were a mineral straight from Prospero’s in Hogsmeade. Lily directed the tea pot to pour.
“Hagrid, can you tell us more about the falcons?” she asked.
“What d’you want ter know?”
“Well, for starters, how do we tell the males apart from the females?”
James took a sip of tea, which tasted of fresh mint, and wondered if Hagrid had picked it himself. It grew on the banks of the stream in the Forest. Prongs always crushed it with his hooves while cantering past.
“You’ll have ter wait ‘n’ see,” answered Hagrid. “The females’ll be bigger o’er time. Otherwise they’re identical. S’not like peacocks where the males get showy.”
Sirius knocked James’s knee under the table. James knocked it back harder and threw him a dirty look. Sirius did his best to stifle his grin, but not the amusement in his eyes.
“Have a feelin’ you got two females an’ one male, judgin’ by the size o’ their legs. That’s the only way’er tellin’ right now.” Hagrid dunked his cake into his tea to punctuate the remark.
Before James had managed his first bite, he saw Bonnie teething hers as though it were a gold nugget. Across the table, Remus was trying to break his in half: His expression became strained and then puzzled. He set it back down and reached for his tea instead.
“One of them is a little devil compared to the others,” said Florence. “He was pecking everyone—at least, we assumed it was a ‘he’.” She glanced up at Hagrid for confirmation.
“It probably hatched firs’ too, then.” Hagrid chuckled. “Pipped its way right out of the shell as soon as it could. They have an egg tooth on their bill, see, like a pick. Must ter fallen off already, I looked fer ‘em.”
James picked up his cake and tapped it against his plate investigatively. The suits of armour on the third floor clanked less.
“So, er, what do they eat?” asked Bonnie. “Can we feed them the same as our owls?”
“That’s a good start,” replied Hagrid. “You won’t have ter regurgitate anythin’. They’ll eat ‘em whole.” He seemed to miss the revolted looks everyone exchanged.
“They’ll also eat snakes ‘n’ insects in a pinch.” Sirius and James’s eyes glittered. “Once they’re older, they’ll mos’ly eat other birds, like pigeons.” Peter darted a watery glance of relief at James.
“They eat their own species?” Florence’s nose wrinkled. “I’m not sure I like them as much anymore.”
“S’different with animals,” Hagrid protested. “Wouldn’t be any fish in the lake if