Merlin, it was hard to concentrate. Was the bloody man related to Binns? Draco rubbed his forehead wearily and interrupted the solicitor's droning. "Wentworth, I asked a simple question. In case you failed to comprehend it the first time, I repeat: what course of action do you recommend?" Considering how many times the team of legal professionals that the Malfoys kept on permanent retainer had managed to keep various family members out of Azkaban in the past, Draco was confident that following the man's recommendations would give him the best chance at salvaging something from the disaster that his life had become.
Wentworth hesitated, then admitted gravely, "As I'm sure that you are aware, sir, under a state of war, the Wizengamot's War Council is convened and assumes absolute authority. In light of the fact that the Ministry has indeed declared a state of civil war between the ruling government and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the firm strongly advises that you consider accepting one of the agreements on offer, Mr. Malfoy.
"The Wizengamot's War Council is currently considering a resolution such that merely bearing the Dark Mark will carry an automatic twenty-year sentence and forfeiture of all assets. A second resolution calls for the immediate trial of any accused Death Eaters, with life sentences upon conviction of any charge more serious than Simple Muggle-Baiting; also, those convicted who were previously tried and exonerated on the basis of having been victims of the Imperius Curse will receive an automatic death sentence. Both resolutions are strongly expected to pass within the month."
Since his mother had accepted the Mark as part of the price for the Dark Lord pardoning Draco's failure to personally complete his assigned task - Snape's actions were the direct result of hers, after all - and both she and Draco had been captured during a suspiciously half-arsed mission to break his father and a number of the Dark Lord's other followers out of Azkaban, that meant that they were both in deep trouble. And as one of those who had previously played the Imperius card, his father was as good as dead. The Malfoy name and fortune did not carry the same weight under Scrimgeour's wartime administration as it had when Fudge was Minister of Magic. Particularly since there were no Malfoys currently in a position to access funds for any purpose other than legal counsel.
Wentworth continued, "In light of the probable sentence and the accusations and evidence involved, the firm does not feel that it would be in any of our clients' best interests to risk going to trial. Therefore, we are advising that those who are offered an alternative bargain - such as the power bonds currently on the table - should take it."
"What do you mean 'those who are offered an alternative'?" Draco demanded sharply.
"A limited number of offers will be tabled. Only wizards and witches nominated and approved by the War Council may claim the rights to a power bond in order to further the war effort. Those individuals may then select any power bonding ritual from an approved list, as well as choosing which prisoner of war to offer the bond to; only those so chosen will be given the opportunity to avoid trial. Currently, acceptance of such an offer is voluntary; however, acceptance or refusal is final."
While the finality of a response meant that careful consideration prior to reaching a decision was critical, Draco could also see why the solicitor was advising clients to accept an offer quickly, while there was still an element of choice involved. A non-consensual power bonding ritual would be even more unpleasant than a voluntary, albeit reluctant, one.
His first priority was to stay alive - and, preferably, out of prison. His second was to save his family. Agreeing to a power bond would guarantee the first and might just give him a shot at bargaining for the second.
"Very well. Tell me what offers are on the table."
Draco had hundreds of questions running through his mind, but in the end, they all boiled down to the same one. Leaning forward, manacled hands resting on the table between them, he narrowed his eyes and demanded, "Why?"
"God, Malfoy, start with an easy one..." Harry shook his head and blew out an exasperated breath. "Why what? Why is the Ministry allowing the War Council to do this? Why me? Why you?"
Typical Malfoy. Always had to make things difficult. In a strange way, that very predictability was almost comforting. Harry shook his head and gave an irritated yet faintly amused snort. "Okay, fine. From the top: as the ultimate authority under a Declared State of War, the Wizengamot's War Council pretty much has carte blanche. Due to the number of Dark Creatures and foreign wizards joining Voldemort's ranks, the War Council is concerned about the balance of power. The Council decided that utilizing power bonds with prisoners of war was the simplest and most efficient way to ensure an equally strong opposition to his forces. Unlike training more Aurors and Unspeakables, it gives an immediate power boost to existing trained, experienced wizards and witches, and incidentally removes the need to house and guard the prisoners involved, which frees up further resources."
Reluctantly admitting the simple elegance of the solution, Draco nodded and flicked his fingers in a gesture for Potter to continue explaining. "Go on."
"I really can't say why I was chosen to participate; I'm not actually a member of the War Council, after all. But, given the opportunity, my participation was a foregone conclusion." Harry shrugged. Now that Dumbledore was dead, no one with any political influence knew about either the details of the prophecy or the horcruxes. Even if Dumbledore hadn't made it clear that he shouldn't share that information, Harry had his doubts that he could have convinced Headmistress McGonagall that not only did he have more important things to do than attend classes but that, in fact, all of the War Council's elaborate strategies were in vain. He'd given in and returned to classes when they'd begun last week rather than fight everyone over it. Finding and destroying Voldemort's horcruxes was going to require a lot of research anyway, and being at Hogwarts at least provided ready access to the library. The additional training sessions that he was receiving wouldn't exactly hurt either. He'd take every advantage that he could get, whether it be knowledge, skills, or power. "With Voldemort out to kill me, I'd be a fool to pass up the chance to increase my available resources," he finished flatly.
Draco certainly couldn't disagree, though the explanation sounded much more like Slytherin reasoning than Gryffindor. "But why me?" he insisted grimly. "And why that particular ritual? Why those terms?"
"I could say that it was because Dumbledore thought you deserved a chance, and I won't deny that had *some* bearing on your name even coming under consideration, but the truth of the matter isn't quite that sentimental," Harry admitted. Had he not been present during that final confrontation between Malfoy, Snape, and Dumbledore... Had he not known that Malfoy had been unable to bring himself to kill Dumbledore... Had he not known that Dumbledore had offered Malfoy protection... Well, he didn't know whether he would have been able to see past the annoying, stuck-up prat who'd been dumb enough to take the Dark Mark and let Death Eaters into the school. Didn't know whether he would have managed to see instead that maybe Malfoy was just another shit-scared, confused kid, one who'd been too sheltered for too long and then forced to grow up too damn fast, a kid who'd only wanted to protect himself and his family and who'd made some bloody bad choices along the way. But he had been there, and he did know, and it did indeed make a difference.
Harry had spent enough time as a shit-scared, confused kid himself to know just how easy it was to make the wrong decision for what seemed like all the right reasons. Especially when your friends and family were in danger. Maybe Malfoy really did deserve a second chance.
Not that he was about to admit any of that to Malfoy, of course. Fortunately, in addition to the noble Gryffindorish reasons, there were other, far more practical and tactically sound, far more *Slytherin* reasons for Harry to have chosen him.
Even more fortunately, there was no need to mention the more personal and far more confusing reasons behind his decision, since Harry didn't exactly understand them himself. Nor was he putting an effort into doing so. Frankly, he preferred not to think about them at all. So he didn't.
Or, at least, he tried not to.
Leaning forward, Harry stated bluntly, "In terms of raw magical potential, out of all those within ten years of our age, the optimum age gap for a power bond, your potential is probably the closest match to mine. Your strengths lie in different areas, but they're complementary to mine. I'm strong in Defense against the Dark Arts but weak in offense in general; I have no doubt that your knowledge of curses and hexes is far broader than mine. You're better at Potions; I'm better at Charms. And so on.
"Also, magic use is completely natural and automatic for you; it's not for me. Dumbledore had his reasons for leaving me to be raised by my Muggle relatives, but it means that using magic tends not to be my automatic response to a situation. It means that there are simple, everyday things about the wizarding world in general that every other non-Muggleborn child knows, but that I've never heard of." Harry grimaced. "That can be a problem at times." A massive understatement, to say the least. Despite knowing bloody well that he'd been raised by his Muggle relatives, the wizarding world had a nasty tendency to simply assume that he knew everything about their culture just because - well, he was *Harry* *Potter*, after all! Of *course* he knew everything!
Well, he didn't. He had a Muggleborn understanding of magic and the wizarding world, when he needed - and everyone expected - him to have a pureblood one. He desperately needed to fill that gap in his knowledge, and he didn't have years in which to do it.
"Look, details aside, we've always been rivals for a *reason*, Malfoy. No one else challenged either of us the same way; no one else pushed either of us to our limits. If we hadn't been closely matched, our rivalry would have died out long before sixth year."
Again, Draco was forced to - reluctantly - accept the truth of Potter's words. He also had to admit to a sneaking satisfaction that none other than the Boy Who Lived himself had just implicitly acknowledged him as a worthy rival. An equal. Small comfort under current circumstances, but satisfying nonetheless. And if Potter wanted more than his raw magical energy from the bond, that certainly answered the question of why Potter had chosen that particular power bonding ritual.
A Family Allegiance Bond was one of the very, very few bonds that allowed the sharing of knowledge and skills in addition to power. It was quite possibly the only such bond that would be even marginally acceptable in the current anti-Dark and pro-Muggleborn political and social climate. Even then, it was bound to be controversial as it was a blood ritual and also required that the participants be of true wizarding heritage - a minimum of seven unbroken generations of either pureblood or halfblood. It was truly ancient and powerful ritual magic, originally crafted to create unbreakable allegiances between wizarding families during turbulent times when alliances shifted at a whim and whole bloodlines were wiped out in vicious feuds over petty squabbles. Breaking a Family Allegiance Bond was theoretically possible - but considering that doing so would not only kill the individual responsible but would also render the entire bloodline of the faithless party to Squibs for seven times seven generations, no one had ever put that theory to the test. As power bond rituals went, it was a damn good choice for Potter to make.
"Why such - generous - terms?" Draco insisted suspiciously, gesturing at the scroll lying before him. He was over a barrel and Potter had to know that, yet the terms being offered were more than fair, considering.
Merlin, that stung his pride, a Malfoy dependent on the generosity of a *Potter*, and one with a Mudblood mother, at that. Of course, Draco reflected morosely, it could be worse. He could be at the mercy of a Weasley or an actual Mudblood.
"Because you need to get something out of this too," Harry said honestly.
Draco gave a disbelieving sniff and drawled, "Oh puh-lea-a-se, Potter, don't try and convince me that your Gryffindork sense of fair play is behind this. You lot took advantage of your privileged position at Hogwarts far too often for me to buy *that* bill of goods."
Harry shrugged, refusing to rise to the bait. In retrospect, he had to admit that the Gryffindors had always gotten away with rather more than the other houses, particularly Slytherin. For all the Sorting Hat's warnings about House unity, neither the Headmaster nor any of the professors had made any genuine effort to promote such a thing; if anything, their behaviour had encouraged the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin into outright animosity. Malfoy did have at least some grounds for legitimate skepticism regarding Gryffindors and the notion of fair play. That being said, Harry did, in fact, feel that it was only fair that Malfoy gain something more from the agreement than merely the exchange of one type of loss of freedom for another. However, there were other, less altruistic, reasons behind his offer as well, reasons that Malfoy would be more likely to accept.
"This is a lifelong bond, Malfoy," Harry pointed out. "Assuming that I survive this war, I'm going to be stuck with you for *the* *rest* *of* *our* *lives*. The bond may prevent you from actually harming me in any way, but there's nothing in it to stop you from acting like a complete git. Consider the terms to be a bribe towards ensuring a bare minimum of civility and common courtesy both now and in future." Choosing this particular bond might have meant giving up any hope he'd ever had of eventually living a 'normal' life, but that didn't mean that he couldn't still try to salvage a *good* life out of it. Out of all possible bond partners - and there were several others whose magical potential matched his own more than well enough to make them true possibilities - Draco Malfoy was the one that seemed his best chance at having a halfway decent life after the war. It would by no means be *easy* - Malfoy had *never* made *anything* easy - but at the very least he would never be *bored*.
Civility would be enough to make life bearable. But, if Harry was right about Malfoy's intense devotion to family, life might - eventually - end up being considerably better than that. At the very least, the desire for a safe, happy family would give them something very important in common.
Distinctly horrified at the thought of a lifetime bonded to *Potter* - and slightly surprised by the degree of forethought and logical reasoning being displayed by the ultimate rash Gryffindor - Draco managed a rather weak smirk and a condescending, "Why, Potter, how very - *Slytherin* - of you."
He was even more taken aback - and reluctantly intrigued - when Potter smirked back. "Why, thank you, Malfoy."
Setting aside the fact that Potter had apparently taken the Slytherin reference as a compliment for later consideration, Draco perused the terms again, with Potter's explanations in mind. The Malfoy holdings would be retained in the family, though they would be held in trust for his heirs with both Potter and himself as trustees, with Potter having veto power in decisions. Irritating, but better by far than complete forfeiture. The family title would be retained, though its ancestral political power, including the seat on the Hogwarts Board of Governors, could be exercised only by a representative appointed at Potter's discretion. Again, annoying but far from the worst possible outcome.
Draco paused at the clause regarding children. It had been many generations since the magical womb in the Conception Chamber at the Malfoy Estate was last used - though the need for a magically-conceived-and-borne child had arisen on several occasions, none of the pairs in need had been sufficiently well-matched and powerful magically to use it - but he had no doubt that it would still be functional. Nor did he have any real doubt that he and Potter together would have sufficient magical strength to use it. He did not, however, understand why Potter was stipulating so many children.
"Why a minimum of three children? All that's needed is one Malfoy heir and one Potter heir. One plus one equals two," Draco pointed out dryly.
"My godfather, Sirius Black, left the Black estate to me. Your mother is his cousin, and you're the eldest male in the most direct line of descent." Harry shrugged. "A purposely-conceived heir would reunite the bloodline and the estate and revive the House."
Draco nodded thoughtfully. "A Black heir is appropriate," he agreed. Since he carried the Black blood and Potter had legitimate rights to the estate, specifying an heir for that line during the magical conception ritual would bring the Black traits that he carried into dominance over the Malfoy ones, creating a true heir for the Black bloodline. Too many of the old wizarding families were dying out or merging with one another. While he would never condone families of Weasley-ish proportions, especially not on a Weasley-sized budget, he had to admit that the single-child families that had become so common amongst the purebloods were far from ideal. Especially when taking into consideration just how many had died or would die in the war with the Dark Lord.
"The 'minimum' is in there as a precaution," Harry added. "In case either of us wants a daughter, for example." The Black, Malfoy, and Potter lines were all ancient and all required a male Head of House and therefore a male heir; that was the very reason that Sirius had remained heir and had later become Head of House despite his parents having declared him a blood traitor. The House of Black itself would not accept a female Head of House, nor would it accept the minor male child of a female heir so long as a male in a more direct line of inheritance survived. Harry himself could only inherit the estate because a blood ritual had been used to make Sirius his godfather - and that still did not make him Head of House, only Regent for the House of Black.
"Or in case something goes wrong," Draco acknowledged grimly. Something such as the loss of an heir to death or a condition such as insanity - always a concern in the Black line, though less of one with a magical conception which could filter out most undesirable traits during the ritual.
Draco decided that there was something extremely surreal about two teenagers sitting down and discussing the birth and possible death of their potential future children. The fact that it was he and *Potter* carrying out the discussion only added to the surreality of the entire situation. Although, in many ways, the terms laid out for the power bond were no different than those traditionally included in a pureblood marriage contract. Speaking of which...
"What about existing marriage contracts?" Draco demanded, skimming down through the scroll. Traditionally, his father would have informed him of any such agreement on his seventeenth birthday but, under the circumstances, there had been no opportunity for that to happen.
"The ritual itself supercedes any existing lesser bindings, which would include anything short of a consummated formal wizarding marriage."
Draco couldn't believe that he was seriously considering this. Permanently bonding his knowledge, skills, and magical power to *Potter*?! But...
Despite the Potter-factor, Draco had to admit that it was a far more attractive offer than anything else on the table - and there were several other power bond offers available to him. However, as Potter's Bondmate, he would be allowed to both finish school and take his N.E.W.T.s; most other power bonding rituals would make him a Bondslave and therefore ineligible for the N.E.W.T.s. As Potter's Bondmate, the Malfoy name, bloodline, and estate would be preserved, he would have substantially higher social status and more personal freedom than any other type of bonding ritual would allow, and - if he understood the Family Allegiance ritual itself correctly - he could request to have his family, and possibly even a few friends with formal ties to himself personally or to the Malfoy family, brought under the bond's protection in exchange for adding their own magical strength to it. Potter had veto power, of course, which might rule out his father, but surely at least his mother would be acceptable. Wouldn't she? And maybe... maybe he could offer Potter some sort of concession in exchange for accepting his father...
Watching Malfoy repeatedly read through the description of the ritual itself, Harry thought that he could guess what was worrying him enough to have him unconsciously chewing on his thumbnail. At least, assuming that concern for his family's safety had really been a large part of his reason for his previous actions. "Under no circumstances will I accept your aunt, Bellatrix Lestrange, into the Allegiance Bond," he warned. Aside from the fact that the woman was completely insane, she was directly responsible for his godfather's death, and that was something that he was not willing to overlook in exchange for *any* amount of power. Lestrange deserved to get what was coming to her.
Harry wasn't too thrilled about overlooking Lucius Malfoy's many sins, either, especially considering how much of a strain this was going to place on his relationship with the Weasleys, but he had decided that it was one of the major concessions that he needed to make if he wanted Draco to commit to the bond as fully and as willingly as possible. Even if Draco were extremely reluctant, the bond would *work* but, the more willingly that Draco participated, the more that the efficiency and degree to which power, skills, and knowledge were shared would improve. And, incidentally, the more bearable their personal lives would be, both now and in future.
"The rest of your immediate family is acceptable; just keep in mind that they will have to willingly and knowingly accept their place in the Allegiance Bond." Harry had to admit that a part of him hoped that Lucius Malfoy would be too proud to give way and swear allegiance to him under the bond's terms. On the other hand, Malfoy Senior was a far from weak wizard; adding even a fraction of his magical reserves into the power bond via the strong father-son link to Draco would be a substantial advantage.
Besides, no matter how much Harry loathed the man personally, Lucius was Draco's father, and Harry would not willingly take away someone else's parent, so long as another option could be found. Family was important.
Despite his best efforts, Draco couldn't quite conceal his surprise and relief at Potter's words. "Understood," he responded quickly. He had no doubt that his mother would agree, and thought that it was unlikely that his father would balk either. Survival and protection of the family and bloodline were Malfoy priorities as much as Slytherin ones, and a Family Allegiance Bond with Potter now appeared to be the best way to assure both.
Potter had always shown signs of having great magical power; however, he had also always been distinctly lacking in other traits necessary to achieving the eventual defeat of the Dark Lord, surviving on blind luck as he charged around with typical Gryffindor brashness. Now that Potter was finally demonstrating a more Slytherin awareness of tactics and strategy, Draco could only wish that the bloody prat had done so earlier. The Malfoy family might not have gotten into such a damn mess if Potter had; Lucius was a consummate strategist and would never have allowed their family's future to become so thoroughly entangled with that of the Dark Lord had he believed that there was any genuine chance of Potter defeating their leader.
Draco couldn't help thinking rather resentfully that things might also have turned out very differently if Potter had accepted his hand in friendship on the train back in first year. Lucius had been much more inclined to indulge him back then, and would most likely have been amenable to taking Potter, as Draco's friend, under his wing once the boy's sheer potential became clear. The association would have provided the additional political power that Lucius craved and the bloody Boy-Who-Lived would have been trained up properly, meaning that the Dark Lord would have been gone and Lucius Malfoy would have been Minister of Magic. He and Potter might even have been properly betrothed; abominable fashion sense aside, the git wasn't exactly hard on the eyes and he was certainly powerful enough to justify overlooking his halfblood status.
Yes, this mess really was all Potter's fault, Draco decided indignantly. Therefore, it was only fair that Potter should be the one to fix things, at least as much as they *could* be. Of course, that didn't mean that he should make it *easy* for Potter; Merlin forbid that a Malfoy ever be mistaken for *easy*.
"My mother always wanted a daughter; I want you to guarantee her a granddaughter," Draco dictated imperiously. "Or even two." Five children wouldn't be too excessive under the circumstances. After all, they actually *required* three male Heirs, and his mother would adore having two granddaughters to spoil. And magical conception would eliminate the risks that tended to keep pureblood families small, namely the potential for Squibs and hereditary problems such as the Black insanity. No, five children would not be too many to be seemly; it would simply guarantee the continuation of their bloodlines.
Besides, unlike the Weasels, they could actually *afford* that many children. The Potters were nearly as wealthy as the Malfoys, and with the Black Estate added to that... Well, none of *their* children would be wearing secondhand clothes.
"Oh, and this monthly spending allowance simply will not do; double it," Draco ordered. "And since I'll have a choice of shagging *you*..." he sneered, "or a lifetime of *wanking*..." The sneer became a grimace of definite distaste; neither prospect was particularly appealing, but complete celibacy would be the only other option, as the bond would automatically consider infidelity to be a violation of its loyalty oaths. Shagging Potter would be the best of a bad lot of choices; the prat was tolerably good-looking, or would be once his wardrobe was completely replaced. "...I want my conjugal rights guaranteed in writing..."
Harry wasn't sure whether to laugh or choke with outrage as Malfoy's list of demands grew. Oh yeah, some things just never changed. Even locked up in Azkaban, Malfoy was an arrogant, demanding little git. Fortunately for him, he was a demanding git with at least a few redeeming qualities, most notably his magical potential - and his care for and loyalty to his family. He was as perfect a candidate for a Family Allegiance Bond as Harry could possibly choose from those available, and Harry was pretty sure that they could learn to scrape along together well enough to make life bearable. Eventually.
Well, once he taught the annoying prat the meaning of the word 'compromise', that was. Even if he *did* understand that this little show of bravado was at least as much about trying to maintain a little dignity as it was about the demands themselves, he wasn't about to set a precedent by letting Malfoy have *exactly* what he wanted. "No, you may *not* always top, you arrogant little git!"
No, life with Draco Malfoy as a Bondmate would certainly never be either easy or boring. But the bond would give Harry the power and knowledge to help ensure that they would *have* a life after the war. And if it also ensured a future family of his own - even if that family *did* have the misfortune to include Lucius Malfoy - Harry thought that it would be worth it. Draco might be an annoying prat but after six years of rivalry... well... He'd kind of gotten used to the bloody git.