Weeks turned into months, each one worse for Dumbledore's reputation than the last. The amount of angry letters had lessened, but his reputation was in veritable shambles. Not only had the original article about Harry's childhood hit him hard, but Rita Skeeter had published the very same book she'd written about the headmaster in Harry's first life, only more factual thanks to Harry's funding for research.
Dragging up Dumbledore's early days with Grindelwald, and continued visits to Numengard since the man’s imprisonment, had almost been the final nail in the man's proverbial coffin, and yet he still stubbornly clung on to his position at Hogwarts. Harry wasn't happy about it, but he accepted it for now, he still had a few cards up his sleeves.
His main focus was sorting out guardianship over his younger persona. Skeeter's articles were definitely helpful in that regard, always painting him in a good light whenever Peverell was mentioned in the Daily Prophet.
Harry found himself in a lavish ballroom within Lord Greengrass’ manor. It was one of the Ministry’s yearly fundraisers, a ridiculous thing that was actually more of an excuse to gossip, drink and eat expensive food. Harry always attended even though he found them stifling and dreadfully boring. It was a great place to network, and the fact that he always left a large donation at the end helped boost his public image.
Green eyes scanned the crowd for his current prey, and Harry grinned internally as he finally caught sight of her. Slowly, so as not to arouse suspicion, he made his way across the room, chatting with people on his way.
"Madam Bones, how lovely to see you again!" Harry cheerfully exclaimed with a boyish grin full of charm once he caught up with his target.
Meeting the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry fundraiser was a perfect opportunity to gain some sympathy for his case.
"Lord Peverell, charming as always I see." The middle aged woman replied with an amused twitch to her lips.
"I am merely telling the truth." Harry chuckled and shook her hand with a firm grip.
The conversation flowed freely between them, and eventually an opportunity arose as she talked about her niece Susan. It was the perfect segue onto what he truly wanted to discuss.
"May I ask you something?" Harry quietly questioned, face a thoughtful frown.
"Of course." Bones answered, having clearly picked up on his hesitation.
"If you knew that you had a struggling family member out there, a child in fact, would you take the risk of going to court to gain custody of them?"
The witch's attention was fully on him now, her eyes and mind sharp as daggers as she unpacked his loaded question.
"You aren't speaking just metaphorically, are you." It was a statement and not a question.
Harry shook his head and sighed, looking out over the many witches and wizards who mingled in the grand ballroom, eating and drinking to their heart's desire.
"I thought I was the last of my family, and in a sense I still am… but when I went to Gringotts a while back, I found out that I had an heir." Harry slowly began, feeling amused at the shocked look Madam Bones gave him.
"Before you make assumptions, no, he is not my child. The boy is a bit too old for that." Harry wryly added.
"And this child, he has no one else to look after him? No parents or close relatives?" Madam Bones questioned before taking a sip of her non-alcoholic beverage.
"His parents are both dead, I'm afraid, and the only relatives I'm aware of are far from suitable." Harry bit his bottom lip, playing up his insecurity in the matter.
"I wouldn't have made an issue about all of this if he were living in a decent family, but from what I've come to learn these past few months, his home life has been negligent at the best of times, and abusive at the worst. Even if I'm young and haven't met the boy in person yet, at least I have the means to provide for him. I fear my youth will be to my detriment if it were to go to court however... as would the fact that I'm not married. But… the boy is family. We are both the last of our lines… fighting for him would be the right thing to do, wouldn't it?" His voice was soft and troubled.
"From what you've told me, it would." Amelia Bones replied, her usually stern features softened by compassion. Family was something she valued highly, seeing as she had lost most of her own during the last war.
Harry gratefully smiled back at her. He sipped his drink awkwardly, trying to play the role as best as he could.
"You said he was too old to be your own, does he perhaps go to Hogwarts?" Madam Bones queried.
"He does…" Harry hesitantly replied, making sure his face showed just how much he debated telling her the truth or not.
"His identity is also what makes me wary of all of this. I worry that if I brought the case to the Ministry's attention, both he and I would be put in front of the entire Wizengamot."
The woman's eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up to her forehead. Amelia was not a stupid woman, and Harry was sure she had already patched the pieces of the puzzle together. There weren't many children whose custody hearing would cause such a commotion.
"I can take it, I'm in there all the time, but I worry about the pressure it would put on him." Harry stated, pretending to be too concerned to notice his companion's reaction.
"Would it be too bold of me to ask for a name?" The woman pried.
Harry sighed yet again, rubbing the left side of his face in an uncommon show of emotion.
"It's Henry James Potter." He murmured, so quietly it might as well have been a whisper amongst the live music and chattering high society.
Amelia Bones was shocked, that much was clear, but Harry thought she understood his worries now that the boy’s identity had been revealed.
"Poor child, he's gone through enough already. I hate to admit it, but I am grateful for Skeeter uncovering his horrible homelife, I would never have guessed something was wrong otherwise. Although, I shudder to think what Mr Potter must be feeling right now, knowing that everyone is aware of how he was treated by those that should have loved and cherished him, it is surely difficult."
For a woman of justice, who was in all aspects but blood, a mother, her heart truly went out to the young, abused Potter heir. Imagining her own niece, Susan, being put in the same situation brought chills down her spine.
Harry could tell the moment his web of lies had managed to convince Madam Bones to help him get custody. His carefully crafted manipulations had tugged at the woman's heart strings, and he was not apologetic for taking full advantage of it.
"You are absolutely right Lord Peverell-" Madam Bones began, only to be cut off mid sentence.
"Call me Harrison, I think we've become acquainted enough for that by now." He said with a wry smile.
To her credit, the witch did not seem phased by the sudden sequitur and in fact responded in kind.
"Amelia then." She nodded her head.
"What I was about to say, Harrison, is that Mr Potter is indeed a high profile individual. His change of guardianship will draw a lot of attention, both from the public and those who wish to contest your claim. I'm not doubting your wish to look after him, nor your familial bonds as you claim, not yet at least, but they will have to be verified. I cannot make any promises, but for Mr Potter's own sake, I might be able to schedule a more private custody hearing, and if that is not possible then hopefully we will be able to keep him out of the chaos that is the full Wizengamot."
True to her words, Amelia had managed to push forward a private hearing before the Department Heads and a select few within the Ministry.
The summoning came one early morning with an official looking owl. The large, brown beast pompously landed on the garden fence of Harry's newly renovated house in a rural part of Maidstone, far away from prying muggle eyes. Not that they would have noticed anything either way, since the area was warded.
He was currently there to inspect the work of his elves. To be able to raise, well, himself , Lord Peverell would need a more public address. Sure, most people wouldn't know about it, but he expected the Ministry would be rather adamant about vetting Henry Potter's new guardian, having a suitable home was definitely a part of that.
Harry took the sealed letter from the owl's outstretched talon and flicked open the wax emblem. His eyes scanned over the parchment with its bureaucratic lingon, well versed in the dry formality of it all.
The meeting was set for the tenth of December. A lot rode on this, someone else getting custody of his younger self would greatly diminish his freedom, even with a Time-Turner. It wasn't impossible to live with someone else, he could always Imperio whomever his new guardian turned out to be, but it was an imperfect solution that he preferred to avoid.
Before the custody hearing, Harry spent a lot of his time in the Ministry, subtly buttering up those that would decide Henry Potter's future guardian.
The day itself arrived without much fanfare. Harry had shown up hours before he actually needed to be at the Ministry, the situation with his court case for underage magic still clear in mind. Although he didn't have anyone out for his blood this time around, there were still plenty of people who would want custody over Britain's little child celebrity. Harry didn't want to take the risk of running late.
"Lucius… I did not expect to see you here, there are no problems I hope?" Harry calmly asked, internally cursing his abysmal Potter luck.
Of course Lucius fucking Malfoy would stick his snobby nose in Harry's business. He smiled tightly at the blonde prick, whose face was as smug as ever.
"Not at all Harrison." The older man affably replied. "I suspect we are both here for the same reason today, are we not? Opening our hearts and homes to poor Mr Potter who's been through more than any child should." His tone was dripping with saccharine sincerity that was so clearly fake.
Harry raised an eyebrow and smiled blandly, once again suppressing his urge to mess up Lucius' pretty face with his fist. Narcissa wouldn't take too kindly to that, however.
"I suppose Narcissa put you up to this then?" Harry asked, knowing that the true answer would be both a yes and a no.
The married couple both wanted Potter in their custody, but for different reasons. Narcissa would do it because Harry obviously made Draco happy, and she once confessed to Peverell that she wanted more children, but was unable to conceive after her son was born.
Lucius on the other hand wanted control of the boy for political reasons. Being the man who 'saved' the boy who lived from his horrible muggle relatives and took him into his home out of the goodness of his heart would paint a beautiful picture of his kind and generous nature.
In addition, if the Dark Lord ever returned, he would have a lifeline tucked away in the form of a child. In that way, Lucius was brutal. He would gladly submit a child to the tender mercies of Voldemort if it meant safety for his own family. Harry could understand it, even if he didn't condone it.
"Ah! Lord Peverell, Lord Malfoy, just in time!" Cornelius Fudge, their current muppet of a Minister exuberantly exclaimed, his lime green bowler hat almost falling off his head as he rushed to his feet to greet them as they entered the meeting room.
"Minister! How wonderful to see you again. I didn't expect to meet you here today, surely you must have much more important things to attend." Harry charmingly replied as he shook the portly man's clammy hand, smiling warmly.
Fudge preened under the attention of one of wizarding Britain's most powerful Lords and his chest puffed up in pride. He did so love to feel important, and stroking someone's ego? Well, that was something Harry had learned to do over the years.
"Oh come now, Lord Peverell! It would hardly be appropriate of me to not personally see to it that the mistakes of the previous administration in regards to Mr Potter's placement didn't get rectified." The Minister for Magic laughed, making sure to highlight the fact that it was indeed his predecessor that had erred.
"Of course, right you are." Harry chuckled and allowed the man to shift his attention to Lucius.
Harry let his eyes roam over the gathered crowd, smiling and nodding politely to each of the attending members. Most of them he already knew, like Amelia Bones and the other Department Heads. He was not surprised to see Arthur Weasley with his balding ginger hair and excitable personality chatting along with one of his co-workers.
Even if the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office was rather small and looked down upon, Arthur was still the Head of its department. Harry held fond memories of the man, even if he thought he was just as prejudiced against muggles as Lucius, just in a different way. His prejudice was rooted in ignorance rather than malice.
The fact that he led a department that dealt with muggle artefacts, something he was passionate about, yes, but had no actual clue how they worked… well… It left a lot to be desired. Still, that didn't keep Harry from liking the man.
"Good evening Arthur, how's the wife and children these days?" Harry kindly asked as he sat down next to the ginger at the large, oval conference table.
They were far from close, but the distrust towards Peverell had waned over the years due to all the good he'd done for the community. Harry wondered if the Weasleys still supported Dumbledore, or if the recent media ruckus had made them open their eyes to the truth.
"Can't complain! Molly still finds the house a bit empty with all but our daughter either at Hogwarts or moved out, but everyone is healthy and that's all I ask." Arthur chuckled jollily and cleaned his glasses with the hem of his threadbare robes before shoving them back on his nose.
Before Harry could reply, someone loudly cleared their voice from across the table, making every head turn.
"Settle down, please!" Madam Bones' stern voice cut through the room, drawing their attention.
"Now that everyone has arrived, the hearing can begin!" Fudge continued once Madam Bones had silenced the occupants.
"Custody hearing on the tenth of December, for guardianship over one Henry James Potter, born July 31st 1980, is now in session. Interrogators, Cornelius Oswald Fudge-" The Minister began, detailing each and every one present and their roles within the Ministry and the hearing itself. Miranda Brown, the current court scribe, took rigorous notes.
"It has come to the Ministry's attention that there are four possible candidates to Mr Potter's guardianship, Lord Peverell, Lord Malfoy, Mr Weasley and Mr Doge. We are gathered here today to ascertain which one of you has the highest familial claim as well as the ability to provide properly for the boy's needs and welfare." Amelia continued, taking the word once Fudge finished speaking.
Elphias Doge, who was clearly there on Dumbledore's behalf, went first. His so-called claim was ridiculously low, if it even existed. The familial connection was so muddied and far back that they might as well have brought in someone from a different country in his stead. He played on the fact that he was old and had all the time in the world to look after and dote on the boy, but that was also to his detriment. It was clear to everyone that his being there was a joke.
Mr Weasley was next. Had this happened in his first life when Harry was a child, he would have done anything in the world to be able to live with the Weasleys forever and be considered family. He had always envied Ron for the warmth and care he received at home.
During the summers, when he visited the Weasleys, Harry would get a taste of what it was like, and it always felt so bittersweet. He desired it more than anything, but knew he couldn't have it.
Although Mrs Weasley cared for him and fed him, he was never really considered one of her own, he wouldn't have been left with the Dursleys again and again if that was the case. She always commented on how thin he was but never took the matter further, never showed him the same concern as the rest of her children. It was natural, even if it hurt at the time.
"Me and Molly already have children so we know how to care for them. Our youngest, Ronald, is even in the same year as him at Hogwarts. We think it would be good for him to live with children his own age. Harry would have a loving home with us and want for nothing." Arthur said.
"And how exactly do you expect to be able to financially support another child when you can barely keep your own brood fed?" Lucius sneered at his nemesis.
Harry privately agreed with the blonde arsehole, no matter how much that hurt to admit, even to himself. Arthur, no matter how well his intentions were, did not have a great financial situation.
Lucius' biting words caused Arthur's face to burn red in anger and embarrassment, the colour clashing horribly with his hair. He was just about to snap back a retort when Amelia cut in. Everyone knew about the rivalry between the two men and would avoid a fight if they could.
"Mr Weasley, you mentioned that you also have a familial claim to Mr Potter, do you have any official proof of this?" Amelia questioned to stave off any explosive arguments.
Arthur took a deep breath before he nodded. "My grandfather Septimus Weasley married Cedrella Black, Dorea Potter née Black's cousin. I ha-"
"Wasn't she cast out of the Black family though?" One of the Department Heads asked before Arthur could continue.
There was a murmur of assent spreading through the room.
"And besides, even if she wasn't, that's still not exactly a close relation." The same man finished sceptically.
In the end, Arthur's claim was there, yes, but it was a weak one. He was in the running but nobody really expected him to come out of the hearing as Potter's guardian, his already strained financial situation took care of that. They didn't want a new guardian to rely on the Potter heir's trust vault to get by.
Lucius sent Arthur one last derisive glance of disgust before he procured a leather folder from within his pocket, unshrinking it with his wand. With one swift flick, the documents within multiplied and spread out to each participant of the hearing.
Harry scanned the first parchment and was, despite himself, impressed. Lucius truly had gone all out in his attempt to gain custody.
"As we all know by now, Dorea Potter née Black was Henry Potter's grandmother. As you can see from the family tree that has been verified by Gringotts, Dorea was also the younger sister of one Pollux Black, who so happens to be the grandfather of my beloved Narcissa, who I'm sure you've all met." He flashed the crowd a pretty smile and went on with his rehearsed pitch.
Lucius played on the ties to the Black family, laid out his wealth and ease of both giving Potter everything he could wish for, as well as his ability to protect him. In addition, Narcissa and Draco featured heavily. How he and his wife had always wished for more children, but had been unable to conceive again after their son was born.
It looked like Lucius had nearly everyone charmed to his side by the time he was finished. Harry kept his polite, public smile but on the inside he was seething. He had worked too hard, planned too long, for this to all go up in smoke due to Lucius' political aspirations for his younger self.
"Thank you, Lord Malfoy." Madam Bones voiced, with a nod of her head to the blonde aristocrat.
Arthur's face had been pinched and taut during Lucius' monologue and following questioning. He could see that he had no chance of 'saving' Harry, and so his only hope was that Peverell's claim would be stronger as he was the lesser of two evils.
"Lord Peverell, if you would." Amelia gestured for him to speak.
All eyes shifted expectantly to him as he procured a stack of documents for everyone, it was showtime!
"Unlike Lord Malfoy and Mr Weasley, I am not able to claim family bonds to the Black family, at least not to any closeness that would matter." He said with a light chuckle that earned him some laughs and smiles.
"However, throughout history the Potters and Peverells have always been close, ever since one of my ancestors, Iolanthe Peverell, married Hardwin Potter. Henry James Potter is a direct descendant of this match. Still, it is not by blood I wish to make my claim, but through magic." Hushed murmurs went through the crowd at that proclamation.
"If you'll please have a look at the first document, I think you will come to be just as surprised as I was when it was brought to my attention by my account manager." Harry began.
True to his expectations, as more read the parchment in front of them, exclamations of shock and confusion were uttered.
Legally, Henry James Potter was Lord Peverell's heir, not just because of blood ties, but because of family magic. Ragnok had eagerly verified this for Harry when he asked for documentation, finding amusement in the entire situation.
"Henry and I share the Peverell family magic. Even if I had children of my own there is no guarantee that they would be able to inherit my title. Henry, however, will. The Peverell gifts have been fickle over time, it is the reason why I am the first Peverell able to claim the Lordship since my ancestor Gerrard Peverell held the title over four hundred years ago. Please do not deprive me of the opportunity to teach and guide my kin." Harry pleaded.
"I might be young, but I am fully resolved to do everything in my power to make sure Henry is loved and protected, he deserves it after everything he's been through, don't you agree?"
"Cheers! To the best manipulative mastermind of the century!" Sirius cheered loudly, lifting his cocktail glass high in the air.
"Hear hear!" Marius laughed and joined in, clinking his tumbler of scotch against the two youngsters' glasses.
Harry's laugh bubbled out and he threw an arm over Sirius' shoulders. He'd allowed himself to indulge for once and he was already well and truly sloshed, the alcohol burning hotly in his veins.
"Y-you should 'ave-- should 'ave seen L-Lucy's face wh-when he lost!" Harry slurrily got out through his drunken giggling.
"You'll have to show me a Pensieve memory some day!" Sirius cackled, patting Harry's back.
Their celebratory dinner lasted well into the night, Harry and Sirius getting more and more drunk as time passed.
His self-proclaimed dogfather had taught the elves to make everything from margaritas to cosmopolitans after he found a book on mixology in muggle London, so now they were drinking glass after glass of sweet, alcoholic beverages, garnish and umbrellas included.
Sirius loved them and Harry wasn't one to complain. He wasn't much of a drinker anyway, normally preferring to stay sober, but the drinks were tasty and he had plenty of fun.
At some point both he and Sirius had transformed into their Animagus forms. Corvus walked on unsteady legs that clacked against the wooden floor, both wings stretched out for balance. Not that it helped much, more often than not did he fall over, only for Padfoot to wheeze in laughter at the affronted bird.
Padfoot honestly wasn't faring much better, bumping into everything in his path as he wobbled through the room, breaking a few vases and picture frames in the process.
Marius didn't drink as excessively as the two younger members of the household, and instead made sure they both made it back to bed before they properly passed out.
The day after, Harry, much to his own horror, found out that he had been a rather emotional drunk, weeping and slurrily mumbling how much he loved his grandfather when he was put to bed. Marius thankfully found it more amusing and touching than Harry did.
Harry swore to himself never to drink again, just as he had the last time he woke up with a hangover, and the time before that…