James took a few more steps towards his son, drinking him in. “Yeah. It’s really me.” He breathed, darting forward to pull the boy into a crushing hug.
Harry jerked slightly as he felt a spell hit him. It was like a door opening in the back of his mind, flooding it with images – growing up running wild at Wolf Haven Sanctuary; nights sitting at a table with James and Remus, patiently learning how to read and write; his first flying lesson with his dad, darting around and making the pack mothers scold him for dive bombing the chickens, amid James’s background laughter; their flight home on a Muggle airplane, excited about seeing Britain and getting his letter to Hogwarts; that trip to Diagon Alley with his dad disguised as Remus, with the sun shining so bright and everything sparkling with new promise and hope…
“Three years.” He growled. “Dad, what happened?”
James sighed. “I don’t entirely know, Mini-me. But it was Dumbledore. He hid me at a Muggle hospital as a coma patient, and modified your memories so you believed that you were meant to live with the Dursleys-“
“You’ve been alive all this time…Dumbledore! But why—I’ll kill him myself!”
“Whoa! Harry, calm down and listen! You can’t kill the Headmaster.” James exclaimed, grabbing the struggling teen by the arms and forcing him to a standstill.
“But he made me believe you were dead! And I didn’t even recognize Uncle Remus all year! And he made me go live with the Dursleys!” Harry snarled, still struggling.
“Harry James, control yourself. Now.” James ordered, making his voice firm, though he was completely on his son’s side. If he didn’t already have plans for Dumbledore and his minions… “Enough!”
The teen subsided, sulkily. James blew out a breath, cursing his own stupidity. Part of Harry’s extreme reaction was just teenage hormones and adrenaline, but some of it was a result of the overstimulation caused by the memory blocks being removed. He waited a few more moments.
“Harry!” A young female voice called, making James blink, because it sounded a lot like a young Lily Evans.
The young woman who stepped warily out of the trees, wand drawn and pointed steadily at James, was similar enough in height and build that it made his heart jump for a minute. Her hair was curly and dark, where Lily’s had been red, and her skin a soft brown, though her voice still had that familiar cadence and tone.
“Hermione!” Harry exclaimed, moving over to her. “It’s okay! This is my dad! I really did see him!” He glanced over to where his earlier self and Sirius were still slumped. “It was just a glimpse, before I passed out. I thought it was before the Patronus, but that was me casting it. He came after. Dad, this is Hermione Granger, my best friend and the most brilliant witch I know. Hermione, this is James Potter. My dad.”
“Pleasure.” Hermione said faintly.
“Son, you’re rambling.” James said fondly, though he didn’t move; Hermione still hadn’t lowered her wand. “Miss Hermione, I really am James Potter.” He let a small smile curl his lips. “I so solemnly swear, on my honor as a Marauder.”
That got her to lower her wand. “But – you’re dead!”
“Right to the brink and back again.” He replied cheerfully. “Twice, actually. But that’s an extremely long story and we don’t have time for it yet.” He looked across the pond. The bodies were gone now, having been picked up by a small group of people that included Dumbledore, if the sparkly magenta robes were any indication. He made an educated guess. “Unless you want to use your time-turner again?”
“Oh!” Hermione jumped, as if stabbed with a pin. “Harry, we have to go – Sirius should be in the Tower soon.” She glanced back into the wood. “I’ll go get Buckbeak. He found me while you were…otherwise occupied.” She waved her hands, encompassing the clearing, pond, James. “I’ll be right back.”
“Sirius? Sirius Black?” James demanded. “How’d he escape from Azkaban! He’s a traitor!”
“No, he isn’t.” Harry protested. “He switched being Secret Keepers with Pettigrew! It was a double blind – no one was supposed to know. He wanted to keep the focus on him and even set up a trap, but Wormtail betrayed us to Voldemort!”
James stared at him, absolutely dumbfounded. “He…tricked us? He never actually turned Dark?” he breathed, his mind racing as the missing pieces fell into place and the sense of absolute betrayal faded away, followed by a rush of new burning rage. “That rat faced, cowardly piece of hippogriff shite!”
The teens exchanged an entertained look, as Buckbeak snorted. James couldn’t help the reluctant smile at the hippogriff’s reaction. “Sorry. I’m going with you to get him.”
“You can’t.” Harry shook his head. “Dad, Sirius was in Azkaban for thirteen years, under the influence of the Dementors, all while believing that you and mum died believing that he had betrayed you. The shock of you being alive might just send him back over the edge after all!”
“Besides, sir, we have to get up to the North Tower. And while there’s room on Buckbeak for the three of us on the way up, there won’t be enough room for all four of us on the way down.” Hermione added as she led the hippogriff over to a boulder low enough for her to climb on.
“Yes, but I won’t need to ride up with you if I borrow one of the brooms from the Quidditch shed.” James argued. “I need to do this. Besides, it’s better if Sirius and I have this conversation before he finds a wand. I still want to kick his arse for not telling me about his plan in the first place!”
The teens exchanged a look, conversing -arguing- silently. James watched them, inwardly amused once again by how much they reminded him of himself and Lily.
“Fine.” Hermione said abruptly. “We’re running out of time. Mister Potter, if you can get one of the brooms, then meet us up there.” She pointed at the tower, highlighted against the light of the moon. “Let’s go, Harry.”
She and Harry watched as James transformed into Prongs, who snorted at them and shoved Harry hard with his nose before leaping off into the forest, heading straight for the pitch and the Quidditch sheds.
“Well.” Harry said after a moment. “Let’s get back to our rescue mission, shall we?”
The dappled grey hippogriff snorted, but obligingly broke into a short canter to give him enough speed for takeoff. Harry didn’t have time to enjoy the flight, being left breathless from both the speed and Hermione nearly squeezing the life out of his ribs in fear.
“It’s okay, Hermione.” A familiar voice soothed. “You made it up here in one piece. Let go of Harry and come down to me. You’re fine, darling.”
Hermione turned her face slightly from where she had buried it into Harry’s shoulder to squint at James. Her friend could feel her trembling still, a violent mixture of fear and adrenaline. She squeezed him briefly once more, this time in silent thanks, and gingerly began to maneuver enough to ease down to James’s waiting arms. Harry knew that if Ron had been with them instead, he would have been merciless about teasing Hermione about her phobia of heights and flying and was a bit happy that the redhead was laid up in the hospital instead of with them.
Pushing away the sudden surge of disloyalty at the thought, he jumped down from Buckbeak, and joined his father at the door of the cell.
“Sirius?” He called, motioning for his father to hang back. “It’s me, Harry. Stand back, we’re going to get you out.”
Instead of the blasting spell that Harry had assumed she would use, Hermione waved her wand in a very familiar motion. “Alohomora.” The door swung open silently. “Wizards depend way too much on whether or not their prisoners have a wand.” She tsked, shaking her head.
James was the first one inside. “Dammit! They weren’t worried about his escaping, because they beat him. No, Hermione, stay outside with Buckbeak. Harry, at the door, but no further.”
“Harry? Is that you, or a figment of my imagination?” Sirius murmured, from his prone position on the floor. “You look so much like your father…”
“It’s me, Padfoot.” James said gently, even as he moved steadily, assessing the amount of damage done. “I’m back. Right now, tell me what happened. Pettigrew betrayed us?”
Sirius bark-laughed hoarsely. “I’m about to be rescued, not that there’s much to rescue anymore, and I’ve officially gone ‘round the twist, because my ghosts are talking back to me. Still, I’ll play along. Yeah, Jamie. Wormtail and I switched Secret Keepers. Double blind. I was the obvious choice, so I could draw the fire away from you and your family. They could’ve tortured me, and I wouldn’t have – couldn’t have – betrayed you, by blood and magic. Not even Dumbledore knew.”
“Wormtail was the spy in the Order.”
“One of ‘em, yeah. Still is a traitor. Tried to kill him and missed. Was framed. Saw him in the newspaper, living with the Weasleys. Don’t know if they were stupid or blind, not wondering about a 12 year old garden rat with a toe missing.”
Harry started to defend his friend but subsided at James’s head shake.
“I promise that I will find him and kill him for you, Siri. Marauder’s oath.” James said, his voice harsh with tears and fury as he smoothed the matted hair off of his friend’s forehead. “It’s okay, Padfoot. It’s just a sleeping spell. I’m going to get you out of here and someplace safe. Sleep, Siri.”
Sirius abruptly went dangerously still. James immediately leaned forward, placing his ear first at Sirius’s mouth and then on his chest, as his fingers searched for and finally found the faint, fluttering pulse.
“No!” Harry cried, lunging forward. James caught him before he got too close, using his larger body to shield the boy. “It’s not fair! Why would they do that? They nearly killed him! He was fine the first time, before Hermione and I used the Time-Turner…”
“Easy, son.” James soothed, holding on as the teen railed and wept. “He’s fine. He’s still breathing, I promise you.”
Hermione crept over to where they were standing, and Harry didn’t hesitate to turn to her as she gently touched his shoulder.
“Harry, we don’t know how things played out.” She murmured, as he sobbed silently into her shoulder. “All Dumbledore said was that Sirius was in the North Tower. I don’t think even he knew what would happen…I don’t think he would’ve encouraged us to go through with all of this if he had known…”
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?”
The teen managed a wan smile, avoiding his gaze. “My education here at Hogwarts has been…lively.”
“That’s an understatement.” Hermione muttered, and Harry shot her a warning glare. “We really need to go, sir.”
He nodded. “Harry, take the broom and Hermione down to the ground, carefully. I will take Sirius on Buckbeak.”
Harry murmured something to Hermione and handed the broom to her before going to stand at the hippogriff’s head, stroking him soothingly.
“Easy Buckbeak.” James said quietly, bracing himself for a moment before gathering up the too light form of his brother’s body and draping it across the animal’s withers, before scrambling up on his back as well. “Okay, kids. Go on.”
They silently complied without argument, and James took an abstract moment to appreciate the depth of trust that they had in each other, even after just a couple of years of friendship. They were a pair to be reckoned with already, and he made them a silent promise to protect them both in any way he could, to ensure that they had a future at the very least, and that he was around to be a part of it if he could. The flight down was mercifully quick, though Hermione couldn’t quite muffle her scream on the way down.
On the ground, James directed Hermione to shrink the broom and put it in his pocket, knowing that Madame Hooch would definitely wonder but put down the theft to student mischief. This wouldn’t be the first time someone had broken into the broom shed for a bit of midnight flying.
“Go on. I’ll see you both soon.” He said gently, not wanting to prolong the inevitable any longer.
The teens backed away as he clucked to Buckbeak, who had been fidgeting and pawing the ground. He leaped instantly into the air at the signal, wings flapping hard as they gained altitude and distance and eventually flew out of sight.
Hermione gasped as the clock began tolling, signaling the hour. “Come on!” She took off running again, Harry hot on her heels. Just before they reached the hall where the Hospital Wing was located, she pushed Harry to the side, making him slam against the wall.
“Dammit Hermione, stop doing that!”
“Harry, listen to me. We have to act as if everything is normal.” Hermione said fiercely, ignoring his complaint. “As far as Dumbledore knows, Sirius escaped, your father is dead, Professor Lupin is just another werewolf, and you no longer have a reason not to go back to the Dursleys at the end of term.” She shook him lightly as his eyes widened. “Let me do the talking, to him and to Ron. You just focus on controlling your temper. There’s way too much at stake here right now, and we can’t trust anyone. Not even Ron yet.”
She held his gaze, her own resolute and hard. He grimaced but nodded. They resumed their trek, skidding to a halt in front of the Hospital Wing as Dumbledore stepped out, closing the door behind him.
“We did it.” She said breathlessly, saving Harry from having to speak to the headmaster himself.
“Did what?” The wizard replied archly, his eyes twinkling as he passed them. “Good night…”
Harry rolled his eyes, following his friend as she burst into the room, where Ron was still sputtering.
“How’d you get over there, when I was just talking to you there…and now you’re there!”
“Harry, what’s he on about?” Hermione said innocently, her eyes sparkling with mischief as she turned to look at him.
Harry grinned; mischievous Hermione was always fun, and it was a breath of fresh air after their adventures that night. “Don’t know. Honestly Ron, how can someone be in two places at once?” he replied, in a near perfect imitation of one of her earlier retorts. She snorted in surprise at the uncanny resemblance – it was really a quite good imitation – glancing up at exactly the wrong moment to catch his eye. That was the last straw, both of them collapsing into helpless giggles as Ron watched in bemused resentment from the bed.
“Someone want to catch me up, or would you prefer to have your dumb little private jokes?” he said sulkily.
The laughter instantly ceased as Harry tensed and opened his mouth to retort. Hermione touched his wrist, forestalling the angry words as she smiled apologetically at the redhead.
“Sorry Ron. It’s been a long, crazy night.” She said quietly. “We were just relieving some stress. And there really isn’t much more we can tell you.” She shrugged. “We freed Buckbeak, avoided Professor Lupin and the Dementors, and got him to Sirius, and they both escaped.” She yawned suddenly. “And I’m exhausted. C’mon Harry. Ron, we’ll come visit tomorrow, first thing. I promise.”
It was clear he wanted to protest, but he mumbled a ‘good night’ and slumped down in bed, still sulky, deliberately turning his back to the door. Harry suddenly felt a wave of guilt; here he was, with the best night and secret ever, and he hadn’t told his best friend about it yet, but instead had teased and laughed and made jokes. He resisted Hermione’s gentle tug, his gaze on the other boy. “Hermione…”
“We can’t. Not yet. C’mon, Harry.” She murmured, too low for Ron to hear. She firmly pulled him away. They were nearly all the way back at Gryffindor Tower when she said, “I know you wanted to tell him Harry, but we promised.” She stopped just inside of the portrait hole and turned to face him, offering a tired smile. “Despite everything, I had fun tonight.”
He couldn’t help returning the smile. For all her quirks and strange habits and ideas, she was truly one of the most important people in his life. “I’m glad you were with me.” He replied, though his cheeks heated slightly. “We made a good team.”
Her smile brightened. “We did, didn’t we?” She studied him for a moment, then impulsively leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. “Good night, Harry.” She darted up the stairs, leaving him staring after her.
After a moment, he shook his head. “Witches.” He muttered. “I will never understand them.”