"Sirius…I think you just made a mistake."
Sirius Black looked genuinely puzzled. "I did?"
Remus Lupin sank down on the couch. "You should not have told Harry that you were going to get guardianship."
The other wizard's eyebrows went up. "I intent to get guardianship. I'm exonerated. I'm well off financially. My situation allows for raising a child."
"Did it occur to you that Harry may not want to live with you?" the werewolf asked.
Sirius barked a laugh. "Come on, Remus. He's been raised by Snivellus of all people. He must be dying to get out of there."
"Petunia and Vernon have been taking care of Harry since he was four, doing a great job in raising both him and Dudley," Remus remarked.
"I know," Sirius' confidence seemed to drain away a little, "He seems to be doing alright…but Snivellus! No child should be subjected to that."
Remus sighed. "Potions Master Snape is not the child you used to torment any longer, Siri."
"Torment? Honestly Remus. A few pranks here and there…if the git couldn't handle that, then he has no business being around my godson."
He paced the room, rubbing his right hand with his left. "Now, I know Harry might not want to come live with me…but I can't in good conscious leave him with Snivellus. Hell, he's even stopped the boy from going to Hogwarts! I'm sure Dumbledore will help me."
Seeing there was, at present, no reasoning with his newly regained friend, Remus settled for trying to convince Sirius again at a later time.
A white-faced Harry sat on the couch in the Dursley livingroom, comforted by the feeling of being slightly squashed between his aunt and uncle.
"I don't want to go live with him," he said anxiously, "can they really make me?"
"We are your closest relatives," Vernon grunted, "that's gotta count for something."
"Not to mention Harry has been living here for eight years, and is well-cared for and happy," Headmaster Sforza, who had joined them, commented. He reached out to grab a pacing Severus by his arm and forced him down into a chair.
"It is true that Sirius Black was your parents' choice of guardian. His incarceration prevented him from taking custody of you. As it now turns out, he is innocent of the crime he was thought to have committed, but that does not automatically mean he can just take you away. He will have to demand a custody hearing."
"Was Harry legally placed in his family's care?" Severus suddenly asked, "Headmaster Dumbledore simply showed up on my doorstep, demanding the boy and saying he was to be sent here."
"Harry's placement here, as far as I understand, is controversial because Headmaster Dumbledore made that decision on his own, which he had no right to do. While he is Head of the Wizengamot, it does not allow him to simply place a child anywhere he wishes. However, Mr and Mrs Dursley are, as Mr Dursley correctly pointed out, Harry's closest relatives. While the decision-making process was highly irregular, the end result was something that would probably, with Sirius Black imprisoned, have happened anyway. To complain about the Headmasters actions now would be highly counterproductive, since his decisions led to the end result we are trying to preserve, not fight."
"Why did Mr Black not even ask me if I wanted to go live with him?" Harry asked, "I do get a say in where I want to live, don't I, Headmaster?"
Headmaster Sforza smiled at the boy. "You certainly have a right to be heard," he assured Harry.
"I don't want to live with someone who insulted Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and Uncle Severus, AND he broke Dudley's leg," Harry leaned into his uncle, "he didn't even escape from prison because he wanted to see me, he just wanted to get Pettigrew."
"I think that the wisest course of action for now would be to invite Sirius Black to a mediation," Headmaster Sforza held up a hand to stave off the inevitable protest, "not to negotiate handing over Harry to him, but to attempt to convince him Harry does not want to live with him. Perhaps once the elation over his new-found freedom has waned somewhat, he will be reasonable."
"I think…no, I know that my presence in any such mediation would incite his rage. He would not be likely to cooperate," Severus admitted.
"I have no wish to see him again," Petunia shivered, "but for us to be able to keep Harry…"
"I would be willing to speak to Mr Black on your behalf," Harry's Headmaster offered. "Initially we would try an informal mediation – I simply meet with him and we exchange our points of view. Should we fail to reach an agreement, we could apply for a formal mediation with the Ministry – a member of the Wizengamot who has otherwise no interest in the case would sit as mediator while both parties present their views and bring witnesses to support those views. The mediator will then try to reconcile both parties and urge them to reach a compromise. Should that fail, there will be an official custody hearing, and the decision made there would be final. Or course, you would need to be present in an official mediation or custody hearing, but I can represent you so your contact with Mr Black would be limited."
Vernon, Petunia and Severus shared a glance.
"We would be very grateful if you would do that for us," Petunia finally said, a small smile breaking through, "let's hope we can resolve this easily."
Dumbledore paced his office, frowning. Sirius Black had come to him, asking his help in getting custody of Harry. He had hinted…no, had been quite clear that if he had custody of the boy, Harry would be going to Hogwarts.
Harry at Hogwarts. It was something Dumbledore had long hoped for.
It had taken Sirius and Remus a few days to arrange Sirius' new living arrangements. Not wanting to live in Grimmauld Place, he had emptied and sold it. A house in the country with plenty of room for flying was summarily bought and furnished. Remus had, with a great deal of effort, stopped Sirius from setting up a bedroom for Harry.
"It is not yet guaranteed you will get custody, and even so, I think Harry is of an age where he'll want to decorate his own room," Remus pointed out, "wallpaper with snitches and brooms may just be a tad too childish for a twelve-year-old."
"James talked about doing his room that way," Sirius defended.
"Yes…when Harry was three," Remus rolled his eyes. He relented at the slightly lost look his friend gave him.
"I'm sorry, Remus," Sirius waved his wand, removing the offending wallpaper, "I keep forgetting how long it's been."
"I think that might be the problem, Siri," Remus said softly, "so much has happened over the years that you've missed. So many things have changed."
The animagus nodded. "Everything just went on without me. Everyone went on without me…even you," he added, tone not quite accusing but certainly unhappy.
"I thought I had lost all of you for good," Remus sighed, "I thought I'd never see Harry again, either, until Minerva contacted me and told me the Dursleys agreed that I could keep in touch with him."
"How kind of them," Sirius sneered.
"Very kind of them," Remus retorted, "they opened their house and their minds to a world they were not only unfamiliar with, but afraid of. That is something admirable, something few people ever really manage to do. For Harry's sake they did that."
"Their son is a wizard," Sirius shrugged.
"They did not know that until the boys were seven. They are not evil, Sirius. The world isn't as black and white as you tend to see it."
His friend shrugged, clearly not committing himself to considering another point of view from his own.
"Do you think Harry would like it if I bought him a broom?" he changed the subject.
With a small sigh, and a reminder to himself that his friend really had not been out of Azkaban that long, Remus consented to catching Sirius up on the latest developments in broom manufacturing.
"Mr Lupin," Headmaster Sforza hailed the werewolf as he walked the halls of Hogwarts.
"Headmaster?" Remus halted.
"Mr Lupin," Headmaster Sforza smiled slightly, "Allow me to get straight to the point. I do not know, I do not need to know if you support your friend in his desire to claim guardianship over Harry Potter. However, Harry's guardians have asked me to represent them in an informal meeting with Mr Black to see if it is not possible to come to an agreement. I realize Mr Black does not know me, so I had hoped you would be willing to pass on to him my invitation for a meeting."
Remus nodded. "Of course." He hesitated. "This disagreement puts me in a difficult position," he admitted, "If I support Sirius, regardless of my personal views on his wishes, I risk losing the Dursleys permission to keep in touch with Harry. If I do not support Sirius, I risk losing my friend once again and, if he is successful in getting custody of Harry, the boy, too."
"Harry is twelve years old, Mr Lupin," Headmaster Sforza said softly, "He is not the toddler Mr Black likely has in mind. If he is forced to live with Mr Black against his wishes, I very much doubt it will make either him or Mr Black any happier. I understand the quandary you are in, and I will mention it to Mr and Mrs Dursley. They will likely understand that you feel a responsibility towards Mr Black."
The younger wizard nodded gratefully. "I will pass on your invitation to Sirius," he said, "and will attempt to persuade him to be reasonable. Harry is of an age where his wishes and opinions cannot be disregarded."
"No. I am Harry's godfather, I am the one he should have been living with in the first place." Sirius folded his arms. At first, when he just realised he could be regaining his freedom, he had felt insecure. Would Harry even want to come live with him? But upon hearing Harry was not only being raised by Petunia and her walrus husband – he could have accepted that, if grudgingly – but by Snivellus, of all people, he had to take a stand. With so many people opposing him, Sirius' stubborn streak kicked in, as well.
"Mr Black, Harry does not want to live with you. He is happy in the care of his aunt and uncle, and has been these past eight years. What good can there come from uprooting him from a home where he is happy and content?"
"He can learn to be happy and content with me, too," Sirius insisted.
"Sirius," Remus said tiredly, "don't you think that Harry should be happy *because* of you rather than in spite of you? Because if you press this while the boy does not want to live with you, any happiness he can still have would be in spite of what you did. Can't you just take time to build a relationship with Harry instead of plunging in and demanding custody?"
"Are you on their side now, Remus?" Sirius snarled.
The werewolf shook his head. "I failed to support you once and I won't make that mistake again, Siri, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with you. If Harry does not want to live with you and you force him, then all you will get is an angry, upset teen who will never want to see you again once he reaches his majority."
"Mr Black," Headmaster Sforza deflected Sirius' outraged reaction, "do not think I am not sympathetic to you. You have lost everything and want to hold on to the one thing that is left to you, your godson. I understand that. I have no interest in hurting you, I am trying to help you regain the relationship with Harry that you crave. For both your sake and his, please postpone your plans for guardianship and let us discuss having you visit with Harry to get to know each other."
For a moment, both men were convinced they had gotten through to the Animagus and he would discuss other options with them. But then the moment passed.
"No," Sirius said, shaking his head, stubborn though the outrage was gone, "I know Professor Dumbledore will support me, and that counts for a whole lot more in the Wizengamot than the opinion of a boy who doesn't know what's good for him."
"Why can't they just leave me BE?" Harry yelled in frustration, stamping his foot like a four year old, "why do I have to go to Hogwarts, why do I have to go live with Black, when I don't want to? Why are they trying to make me do things I don't want?"
The adults seemed reluctant to respond to a temper tantrum that they normally would not put up with, because the boy honestly had a right to be upset. Vernon eventually frowned and grabbed the angry teen by his arms, hauling him to the couch and putting an arm firmly around him. Against the familiar scent of his uncle's shirt, Harry deflated and sniffed.
Vernon's arm tightened around him. "No more screaming, alright? We're doing all we can," he admonished.
"Yes, Uncle Vernon," Harry pulled back his head to look at his uncle, but leaned into him a bit more at the same time.
"I just don't understand. I'm happy here, I go to a great school," Headmaster Sforza smiled at him, "why can't they just leave me be? So what if I was supposed to go to Black..Mr Black? First Professor Dumbledore wants me here, and now Headmaster Sforza says he will support Mr Black in taking me away from here again whether I want to go or not. That's not fair. This is my home."
"No, it isn't fair," Petunia agreed, "We love you and we don't want you to go. And this will always be your home, Harry," she took his face in her hands, "you will always, always be welcome with us."
Harry smiled a tremulous smile. "Sorry about yelling," he offered.
"You need to vent your frustrations," Severus softly said, "but Harry, it is very important that in the official mediation, or the custody hearing, you do not lose your temper. What they must see is an intelligent, healthy, content young man who knows what he wants."
"Harry," Headmaster Sforza drew the boy's attention, "there is something else you must realize. Sirius Black will want to see you. He will demand that he be allowed to visit if he cannot get custody. Are you prepared for that?"
Harry swallowed. "I guess…but can we ask that someone else is with us at first? Or that he visits me at school?"
"That would not be unreasonable, I think," his Headmaster assured him.
"Let's first make sure Harry indeed gets to stay with us," Vernon grunted, "I do not like Dumbledore's involvement, not at all."
Dudley was sitting idly by the lake, trying to read his Charms book. Hermione had been with him for a bit, but she went inside earlier to work on a Potions essay, and Neville was helping Professor Sprout in the greenhouses.
"Mr Dursley," a voice greeting him softly, "I take it you are fully recovered?"
Dudley looked up. "Headmaster," he greeted, not very warmly, "yes, my leg has healed, and with a few more nights of dreamless sleep, Madam Pomfrey assures me I should stop dreaming about the Dementors, too."
"They should not have crossed the wards," Dumbledore said in apology, "I made it clear I did not want them on the grounds."
"Right scary, they are," Dudley admitted.
"They are. The mere presence of so many has driven older wizards than you insane," the Professor sighed, "I am very grateful all of you came through unharmed – or at least, no harm that could not be healed."
Seeing Dudley's somewhat sceptical look, the old wizard stared across the lake. "I hear you are doing very well in your studies. Professor Sprout tells me you are hard-working and diligent, and your other professors praise the obvious effort you put into your work."
"My parents and Uncle Severus would never allow us to slack off," Dudley smirked slightly, "they never ask for anything we cannot give, but they do ask for our best efforts."
"Sensible," his Headmaster commented, "I myself find there is a great deal of satisfaction in a job that is well done, and a lot of joy in learning something new."
He smiled slightly. "Well, carry on, Mr Dursley. I trust you will continue to perform well."
Amelia Bones had readily agreed to mediate, to the relief of all parties. She was known to be scrupulously fair and unbiased. Attempts to bribe her in the past had proven not only pointless, but also resulted in unpleasant consequences for the person attempting to do so.
So in her office had gathered, on either side of the large conference table, Headmaster Sforza accompanied by both adult Dursleys and Harry, who steadfastly ignored Sirius' attempts at eye contact. At the other side sat Sirius Black, accompanied by Remus Lupin and Headmaster Dumbledore.
"Well," Amelia Bones, seated at the head of the table, started, "we have heard the demands of both sides. Mr and Mrs Dursley wish for Harry to remain in their care. Mr Black wishes to take custody of Harry. Is this correct?"
Nods came from both sides of the table. "Very well. Mr Black, if you and your witnesses will present your case to me and to your opponents."
Sirius stood. "There are two facts here. One, I am Harry's godfather and the one who was supposed to be raising him should anything happen to James and Lily. Second, I was imprisoned in Azkaban unjustly, preventing me from taking on my responsibility towards Harry. It was my right to raise Harry, and I have been denied not only that, but to even know the boy. Harry barely remembers me, something his current guardians have done on purpose."
Headmaster Sforza nodded. "That is true."
Sirius and Remus stared at him, shocked by the lack of denial.
"For all Mr and Mrs Dursley knew, you betrayed your friends and became a murderer," Headmaster Sforza said, friendly but firm, in a tone Harry knew all too well from class, "they never spoke ill of you to their nephew, but they did ignore your existence in the hopes that Harry's memory of you would fade, yes. They were reluctant to explain to a four year old boy that his godfather was responsible for the death of his parents, one of their best friends and a dozen others. This was the situation as they knew it at the time, and they could not have known otherwise. It was easier to leave it be."
Sirius cleared his throat. "Yes. Well. The fact still remains that I should have been Harry's guardian. I have been denied that. I am now in a position to take care of a child, as Mr Lupin can confirm."
Remus seemed reluctant, but confirmed. "Sirius has bought a nice house with room for Harry. He has plenty of money to provide for him."
"Be that as it may," Amelia interrupted, "taking care of a child involves more than a house and money. Mr and Mrs Dursley are also able to provide for Harry, as they have proven these past years, so your sole argument for transferring guardianship to you, Mr Black, is that you were named Harry's guardian, and only your wrongful imprisonment – and no one here will deny it was a terrible miscarriage of justice – prevented your taking up this role."
"Harry's placement with his aunt and uncle was not lawful," Sirius said, "Headmaster Dumbledore…"
"If I may, first," Headmaster Sforza interrupted, "As you have said, Madam Bones, it is true that none of us deny that Mr Black was originally named guardian. However, since he was unavailable it passed to Harry's closest relatives. Whether or not Mr Black was unjustly imprisoned is of no consequence. Of course anyone should be horrified that such a thing has happened to an innocent man, but the fact remains that due to his being unavailable, Mr and Mrs Dursley were the obvious next choice."
"This decision was not made through the proper channels," Sirius argued, "thus it cannot be valid."
"Albus?" Amelia asked, obviously wanting the old wizard to speak.
"I…" Dumbledore began, and looked at the tense and mistrusting faces of the Dursleys and Harry, "I…it is true that I made a mistake. I had no right to make the decision of where to place Harry on my own, nor did I handle the transition wisely. In that respect, yes, Harry's placement with his aunt and uncle could be contested."
Sirius beamed in triumph.
"However," the old Headmaster of Hogwarts continued, "had the case been brought up at the Ministry at that time – not now, but at that time – then Harry would have been placed with his aunt and uncle nevertheless. Despite the mistakes I made in handling the situation at the time, they were the only family he has got, and therefore the logical next candidates. And I have not been proven wrong, since Harry is happy and thriving with them."
"This brings me to my next point," Headmaster Sforza interjected smoothly, "Even if, had this situation come up eight years ago, Mr Black might have had priority to guardianship, today Harry has been in the care of his aunt and uncle for all those years. He is, as Headmaster Dumbledore pointed out, happy and prospering. To remove him from what is his home without his consent would be cruel."
Madam Bones fixed her eye on Harry. "A good point you make – without his consent. Is it indeed without his consent? Harry is twelve years old, certainly old enough to make a statement in regards to his wishes. Harry – where do you want to live?"
"With my aunt and uncle," Harry promptly replied, "I do not know Mr Black, I am not convinced Mr Black has my best interest in mind. I mean, he broke Dudley's leg and he thinks it was justified because he was after some bigger goal. He went after Pettigrew instead of getting me when my parents were killed. With Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, Dudley and I come first. I'm not sure I would come first with Mr Black."
"Harry, Harry, of course you would!" A pale Sirius Black practically babbled. He pulled himself together, though still white-faced. "I thought I'd have time to pick you up, I thought they would take you to hospital and the Ministry would release you to me. And I'm sorry about your cousins leg, but if I hadn't caught Peter, I would not be free now."
Harry drew circles on the table with his finger. "If you were not free now you wouldn't be trying to take me away from home," he muttered.
Lupin winced. That was as much as stating outright that the boy wished Sirius was still in prison. Sirius obviously got the message as well, as he flopped down in his chair, too shocked to even speak.
"Mr Black," Madam Bones said, "it is obvious Harry does not want to live with you. There is no reason to take him from the home he has with his nearest kin, who love him and have done a great job raising him these past eight years. I do understand you wish to regain what your imprisonment stole from you…"
"If Mr Black were to drop his claims to guardianship," Headmaster Sforza quickly offered, "then we would be willing to talk about visiting rights."
He nodded to the boy. Harry got the hint and looked at his aunt. Petunia took his hand in her own.
"I want someone to be there when Mr Black comes to visit me," Harry said, "maybe he could come to my school. He could see my room and classes. I could show him my projects."
"If I might speak with Mr Black and his witnesses for a moment," Madam Bones suggested.
As the others left the room, she turned to a recovering Sirius.
"He wants me in Azkaban…" Sirius whispered painfully.
"No, Mr Black. He is afraid of being taken from a home where he is happy and loved. He feels threatened. He wants the threat to end, that is all."
Amelia sighed. "I must tell you, in a custody court you would not have too great a chance. Harry's current situation is entirely satisfactory. He has a stable, loving home. Forgive me for being blunt, but I am not at all convinced that you could provide a stable home at all. You have not been out of Azkaban that long, and the point about breaking young Mr Dursley's leg will not go over well in any court."
"Sirius…"Dumbledore took over from Amelia, "if you lose in a custody hearing, chances are you will never see or hear from Harry again. If you want to have any sort of influence in his life, you will have to abide by his wishes now and take what they offer – visit him and build a relationship with him."
"And leave him with Snivellus?" Sirius snarled, "fat lot of help you two were, anyway."
"Snivellus?" Amelia inquired politely.
"Severus Snape," Remus rubbed his forehead.
"Potions Master Snape?" Amelia looked at them.
"He is Harry and Dudley's magical guardian," Remus explained, "Sirius objects, based on their childhood rivalry."
"Mr Black, I would definitely not bring up that point in any custody hearing. Your own situation is precarious enough without anyone knowing that you object to one of the most respected men in Europe, who has already done a great deal for your godson and his cousin. Take my advice, agree to visit Harry and leave custody with his relatives."
Fifteen minutes later, Headmaster Sforza informed the overjoyed Harry that Sirius Black had dropped his demands for guardianship in exchange for regular visits with his godson.