Author's Notes: Written months ago for rs_small_gifts on LiveJournal. I forgot to post it then, hence the off-season-ness.
Sturdy Hiking Boots (and Other Warm Things)
Mister Remus J. Lupin
is hereby invited
to a dangerous but educational adventure
led by his most esteemed and knowledgeable guide
Mister Sirius O. Black
at one o'clock in the afternoon
on Saturday, January the fourteenth, nineteen hundred and seventy-eight
to meet by the manky old boot
on the front porch of the Shrieking Shack
which is not there presently
but which will be acquired by the aforementioned date
so there is no use snooping about for it at this time.
Required equipment is limited to
sturdy hiking boots
other warm clothes
(which should include the blue jumper).
"Have you got one, too, Moony?" Peter asked, peering over Remus's shoulder.
Remus blinked up at him. He had been absently brushing his thumb back and forth over the stiff parchment and embossed letters, trying to puzzle out the invitation. It wasn't that the penmanship was illegible (because it wasn't, and that was something strange unto itself), or that the way the letters kept flashing streaks of gold every few words was distracting him from absorbing the meaning of the whole (Remus was glad he'd never been prone to seizures), or even that he couldn't get past the fact that Sirius knew how to emboss letters in the first place (it was useful for forgeries). It was more the fact that it was the most peculiar, unprecedented Christmas present Sirius had ever given him.
Peter waved a similar-looking invitation over Remus's. "My date's different from yours, though," he said. "I've got the Saturday after."
James, whose early morning hair made it look as if something had tried to nest in it during the night, and who, like the rest of them, was still in his pajamas, was scowling down at what looked like an invitation of his own. "I've got the seventh," he said. "Why the hell I've been invited to the Forbidden Forest for 'a bit of fun and practice,' I've no idea. Though I am a bit flattered," he added, pretending, for a moment, to look thoughtful.
Sirius, as if oblivious to his friends' bewilderment, was looking at all of them brightly. "As an habitual giver of extraordinary gifts," he began in a lofty tone, "I've attempted to best myself each and every year."
Remus rolled his eyes, though he could feel a smile tugging at one of his scars.
"This year, however, is our final year. And as such, I worried that I would have to break tradition, for what could possibly best the presents of yesteryear? Then I was struck." He paused dramatically. "The best thing I could possibly give to you all is, in fact, the gift of me."
"Padfoot, you tosser," James groaned.
Peter chucked a pillow toward Sirius, but it grazed Remus's elbow and knocked James's glasses off instead, and the bizarre invitations were momentarily forgotten.
Remus left the castle at noon on the fourteenth swaddled, it seemed, from head to toe in knitwear. He had started out early, which was lucky, because he'd had to double back once to swap out the jumper under his coat for the blue one Sirius had requested, and had only then caught sight of himself in the mirror and noticed how daft he truly looked covered in so many stupid colors. The blue didn't help matters at all. He had spent another quarter of an hour fretting and debating what to do – be practical and warm, or impractical and freeze; he had already been wearing his warmest clothes, and the January air had snapped at the gaps between his coat and scarf and hat while he had been (briefly) outside.
It bothered him, though, that he normally wouldn't have cared; practical was always best, which had always made things simple. But for once, he had the urgent desire to not dress like an idiot in front of Sirius – who wouldn't care, anyway, he tried to reason (it didn't work). Eventually, he decided on turning everything a lovely and incandescent shade of grey which, at the very least, made him looked matched and inconspicuous, though a bit dull. Which oughtn't to matter. Sirius should have known by then that he, Remus, wasn't dull. Of course he knew. Merlin, but there was something wrong with Remus today.
All the way to the Whomping Willow, he fidgeted nervously with his gloves, only stopping to search the ground for a long branch with which to prod the knot on the tree and make it freeze.
His heart did a funny flip at twelve-forty-five when he spotted Sirius through the dingy window of the Shrieking Shack. Sirius appeared to be talking to himself, pacing this way and that, and repeatedly running his hand through his hair in a manner that reminded Remus of James. He was wearing a lot less knitwear, Remus noted self-consciously.
He gave a quick, quiet knock on the inside of the door, and heard Sirius fall silent and still at once. There was a mutter, and then a rattle as Sirius made to open the door – just a gap, so that he could peer in at Remus. A blast of cold air shot past Sirius and into the Shrieking Shack, making Remus shiver, and Sirius frown (Remus just got so cold sometimes).
"You're late!" Sirius exclaimed.
Remus dug into his pocket, fingers fat with the extra layer of warmth, and brandished his somewhat crumpled invitation at Sirius. "I'm early. You said one o'clock."
"Yeah," Sirius replied. "But in Moony time, that generally means twelve-thirty. You all right?" He opened the door wider so that he could step into the room, and then shut it quickly behind him, the tip of his wand alight in the dimness. Sirius regarded him with a frown that deepened each time Remus gave an involuntary shiver. And each time Sirius frowned more, Remus felt more and more as though he'd failed some sort of test – an unusual feeling. He hadn't been this cold before; why did he have to be, now? It was all very inconvenient, and a little nerve wracking, to have Sirius looking at him so closely, as he sometimes did. At least his feet, laced into well-worn but still sturdy hiking boots, weren't having any trouble staying warm.
"Right," Sirius said at last, digging into his own coat pocket. "Reckon I've prepared for this." He withdrew a bar of chocolate and handed it to Remus, who wished suddenly that he wasn't wearing gloves, because Sirius's fingers had brushed against his in the exchange.
The packaging on the chocolate bar was unmarked, which was strange, since Sirius almost exclusively got his chocolate from Honeydukes – though that may have been because, half the time, he pinched it off Remus. Even stranger, he could feel a peculiar sort of heat emanating from it.
"What is it?" Remus asked, only a little suspicious. He turned the bar over in his hands, holding it up in the feeble light and sniffing it.
Sirius, in turn, only looked a little hurt that Remus hadn't stuffed the entire thing into his mouth at once. "It'll help," he said earnestly. "Promise. I've been working on it for ages."
In the end, Remus's trust of Sirius outweighed any misgivings. Gingerly, he unwrapped the chocolate and broke off a corner, placing it on his tongue. To his astonishment, the same heat he had felt from the packaging spread instantly over his tongue, down his throat, his arms, into his stomach and beyond. It was still very... odd, but not unpleasant. It was just warm enough to stop him shivering, but not so hot that he had to start shedding layers right there. Remus flushed at that second thought.
"What is it?" he asked again. He was having a very difficult time pushing the mental image he now had dancing about in his head, one that may or may not have been getting more graphic by the second. "It's, erm..." He tried to focus on the real Sirius, and not the one in his mind. "It's brilliant, Padfoot."
Sirius beamed, and Remus's mental Remus and Sirius stopped what they were doing to watch. "S'just a simple bit of magic, really," he said. "A Warming Charm melted into the chocolate before it forms back up again. I had help, though, in the kitchens. 'M not really a cook."
Remus laughed. "I remember! But really, the chocolate's excellent. I don't feel cold at all."
"And it didn't even burn a hole in your tongue!" (Sirius said this with such relief that Remus didn't dare ask.)
After Sirius was reassured that Remus wasn't going to freeze to death on him, he led Remus outside, and pointed at a boot leaned up against the side of the Shack. It looked a lot like the ones Remus was wearing, except there was a hole where the toe should have been, and it appeared to have been dipped into something foul and green sometime in its illustrious past.
It took him a moment, then he gawped at Sirius. "That's a Portkey!" he exclaimed.
Sirius grinned. "Impressed?"
"I mean, last time – "
Sirius coughed. "I've had a bit of practice since then."
"So we're not going to end up...?"
"Moony," Sirius reassured him, "we will definitely be keeping all ten fingers."
They landed mostly on their feet, though they had to steady themselves against each other for a moment before they could straighten up and look around. The place wasn't familiar, at least not to Remus. Sirius was squinting against the sun with a kind of certainty in his eyes, so apparently they hadn't got lost. (And they did each have all ten fingers.)
They were on what seemed to be the slope of a mountain. Rocks jutted from the ground, and a group of pebbles rolled past them every so often as if giving chase. There was very little snow, though they appeared to be high up, and it wasn't as cold as it had been at Hogwarts. Remus turned around. Definitely high up: he could see only part of the mountain itself, as there was a kind of outcropping a few feet below them that blocked much of the view, but he could also see the ground below it, and the trees alone looked like the tiniest of broccoli florets. He turned back round, letting his eyes trace the sharp outline of the mountain above.
Then he looked at Sirius, who seemed to be waiting, fidgeting with his gloves as Remus had done himself, a short while before.
"We're not quite there yet," Sirius said at last. "S'not far, though. Just over that next bit." He pointed to a flat part of the mountain that Remus hadn't noticed yet, perhaps ten minutes' hike away.
"What – ?" Remus began to ask curiously, but Sirius cut him off in a rush.
"It's sort of stupid," he said. "S'just... well, I thought... Well, it's our last year, y'know, and everyone says a war is coming, and I just wanted... Nothing's certain, right? But see, you lot are my best mates, and I don't know what I'd've done if... So I thought I'd be practical like you, Moony, and not give some useless present... Wanted to spend some time with everyone, to thank... Well, it's stupid. But useful. I reckon."
For the second time that hour, Remus gawped at him. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen Sirius this incoherent. Perhaps the altitude had got to him, and there wasn't enough oxygen? But no, Remus was breathing fine, and Sirius was blushing, and worrying his hands terribly. Remus frowned. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered if Sirius had given James the same stuttering speech the previous Saturday, or if he was his usual, cohesive self. Had Sirius looked this nervous then? (Instantly, he felt stupid for even thinking about something like that. What did it matter?)
"Well," Remus began, "I expect I'll quite appreciate whatever we've come here to see as soon as I've seen it." (It was difficult not to phrase it as a question. Sirius's nervousness seemed to be catching.)
However uncertain this statement came across, nevertheless, it spurred Sirius to action. He at once brightened and, making sure Remus was following, set off toward the part of the mountain to which he had gestured before.
It wasn't a difficult climb. Remus had previously estimated it to be only ten minutes, and was off by only a few more. The altitude made them both pant more than they normally would have done, and their many layers of clothing did impede their movement somewhat, and the rocks beneath their boots were looser than they appeared, but they managed to keep their footing and continue the climb. Right before they reached their destination, Sirius abruptly turned to face Remus, blocking his path.
"Close your eyes," Sirius said, though it sounded more like a question. After a second's thought, Remus nodded, and did as Sirius had (sort of) asked. A moment later, he felt Sirius's gloved fingers thread through his own, and worried that his arms might actually turn to jelly, as they seemed inclined toward doing just then, or that he might go deaf from the way his heart was pounding in his ears. But these thoughts were soon lost as Sirius began to call out directions, telling him where he ought and ought not to step, how far there was left to go, and how spiffing it was that Remus had decided to trust him like this after the incident with the chocolate had gone so well. It might have been Remus's imagination, but he thought he felt Sirius squeeze his hand deliberately more than once, and when Sirius let go at the end, and guided him the last bit of the way with his hand on Remus's back, Remus thought maybe that hand lingered there a few moments longer than were necessary. (Though he certainly wasn't imagining how very little he minded these things, and thought perhaps he might have squeezed Sirius's hand once or twice in return.)
"Okay," Sirius said at length. He was still breathing a bit hard. "I found them, once, by accident – well, I s'pect you know when."
Remus thought he did. Sirius had done a lot of running away that year.
"Anyway." Sirius cleared his throat. "I know you want to work with magical creatures after Hogwarts. You'll be Moony, the Auror-type of the Department for the Protection and Control of Magical Creatures, or something really brilliant like that, 'cause you're really brilliant at everything. Only, I couldn't find any interesting Dark creatures, just normal interesting ones. I reckon we're far enough away that we won't seem a threat to them, but if they look over at us, we probably ought to bow at them, though I don't s'pect they've actually been tamed. This is where the dangerous bit comes in. Did warn you."
"Bow at..." Remus trailed off, a shyly delighted grin slowly spreading across his face. "Have you found what I think you've found, Sirius?"
"Have a look."
Blinking, Remus waited for his eyes to adjust to the new light, and then his grin widened at the same moment his breath caught. On a wide plateau a safe distance off that was covered in what looked like a field of grass was a small flock of hippogriffs. Two sat calmly in their nests, while another burrowed into the ground, searching for insects. Another was sunning itself contentedly on a large rock, a smaller hippogriff curled up beside it.
"They're amazing," he breathed, wide-eyed. Glancing at Sirius, he saw him holding out a quill and parchment. There was an expression on Sirius's face that Remus had caught only a few times before, and had never been able to make out when he had. Sirius seemed pleased with himself, but not smug, more full to bursting with happiness and that other emotion that Remus couldn't figure out in order to read the whole effect.
"Thought you might want to take notes, or something. I remember how disappointed you were when you had to miss Kettleburn's lesson on them a few years back."
"Thank you," Remus told him, taking the quill and parchment. He had, in fact, just been wishing for something with which to take notes, and was only slightly embarrassed that Sirius had thought of it preemptively.
They spent the several remaining hours of winter's daylight perched upon the mountain, watching the hippogriffs as they went about their daily tasks. There were a few times when Remus had worried that they might need to make a quick escape, as one of the hippogriffs grew curious or annoyed and flew right over where he and Sirius were sat, but the most they got was an inclined head or sharp look after they bowed so much Remus thought his back would snap in two. The hippogriffs seemed satisfied as long as the pair of boys continued to keep their distance, which they did, despite Sirius's jokes about saddling one up and riding it off into the sunset. Remus ended up with an entire scroll of notes.
When the mountain began to grow dark, they gathered up their things – discarded coats and chocolate wrappers, the Portkey and Remus's notes – and gazed one last time at their surroundings. The light was faint, but still present enough that it cast the trees below in a purple sort of shadow, and made the tops of the mountains look warm and golden in comparison. The hippogriffs had taken to flight, stretching their wings, Remus supposed, before settling down for the long night.
As Remus made to move toward their little pile of belongings, he found his way once again blocked by Sirius, whom he hadn't noticed coming so close. Remus felt himself flushing again – he seemed to be doing an awful lot of that – and Sirius gave him a fonder-looking smile than Remus had ever seen him wear. The result of seeing this rare gesture announced itself in a quiet pop! that startled them both. Remus looked down at himself (for that was whence the sound had come), and groaned. Unfathomably, his clothes had gone from dull grey to their original ridiculous, vibrant, mismatched hues, only just visible in the last of the light. He must have been distracted when first casting the spell – or else, he was very distracted now.
Sirius took up Remus's hands again in his own.
Yes. Remus was very distracted now.
"There you are, Moony," Sirius said fondly. "You look ever so fetching in blue."
"Don't make fun," Remus complained.
"Moony, Moony, Moony." Sirius sighed, shook his head, and kissed Remus on the lips Remus had just been biting at nervously not a moment before. Both of them forgot all about the blue jumper, neither caring at all about whether or not it matched anything else. Remus felt warm all the way from the top of his hat-covered head to the bottoms of his toes, snugly clad in his hiking boots.
"Sirius?" Remus began some time later, when they were sneaking back across the dark Hogwarts grounds.
"Yeah?" Sirius asked.
Remus bumped against him with his shoulder. "You've definitely outdone yourself this year."