James pulled them both to him before she could finish. Hermione took that as a silent cue to break down as well, burrowing into him, seeking warmth and comfort in a night gone impossibly cold. He breathed slowly, staring sightlessly out into the sky as he waited for the children’s shock to subside slightly. He wanted nothing more than to break down himself, but he couldn’t – not yet.
“We – we have to get back.” Hermione murmured hoarsely, pulling away. “Harry – “
Harry pulled away from his father’s hold, deliberately straightening his shoulders and lifting his head in a gesture so familiar it broke James’s heart all over again. He couldn’t help reaching out to brush an unruly lock of dark hair off of his son’s forehead, managing a faint smile. “You’ve grown so much.” He said quietly. “And you’re already so incredibly strong, more than I ever was at your age.” He reached out and tucked a finger under Hermione’s chin, lifting it to smile gently into her eyes. “And you, young lady, are absolutely incredible. You’re a Muggle born, aren’t you?”
She looked surprise at the abrupt change of subject but nodded shakily. “I think my mother is a witch, actually – her parents divorced when she was young, so she grew up in France with her mother. She never talks about her childhood, but she didn’t seem at all surprised when I started exhibiting magic or when I got my Hogwarts letter.”
James nodded thoughtfully. “What is her name?” he said casually. “Her maiden name. I might have known her sister at some point.”
Hermione frowned. “Mari – Marigold is her first name. I don’t know her birth name; her stepfather adopted her, though, and his last name was Sawyer.”
He filed the information away for future; he had some suspicions about who her mother was but didn’t want to reveal them yet. The two teens had already endured enough for the night.
“I will take care of Sirius. You two need to return to the castle and pretend like nothing went wrong. As far as you know, you sent away the Dementors and rescued Sirius, who flew away on Buckbeak. I was never here.” He said firmly. “And, Harry, that means that you can’t interfere when Remus gets sacked, and you have to return to the Dursleys after term ends.”
“But Dad!” Harry protested.
“I didn’t say permanently, son. It likely won’t even be for a full day, if what I have in mind works out. But Dumbledore has to believe that he is still in control, and that means playing along until you’re out from under his twinkling gaze for the summer. Understand?”
Harry glanced away, struggling with his emotions as his companions waited him out.
“You promise that it won’t be more than a day?”
“At the very most, twenty four hours and not a second more.”
They eyed each other for a moment, before Harry nodded reluctantly. “I want a triple double scoop cone when this is done.” He grumbled, hugging his father. “With extra cherries and sprinkles. And a full hour at the broom shop.”
James huffed a laugh. Ice cream and visiting Quidditch Quality Supplies had been the primary prizes for bargaining with a young Harry, before he had ever set foot on British soil. “Fine, not so Mini-me. When did you grow up?”