All rights to the world of Harry Potter belong to J.K. Rowling and a number of very large corporations, none of which is me, and I do not intend to make any money whatsoever from this endeavour.

Particular thanks must be given to Tithenai and, especially, Phoenix Writing who have helped make this a much better story in both style and content. Any mistakes which remain are, indubitably, my own.

Additional notes are available before the prologue, and constructive criticism is always very much appreciated.

A new scene has been added to chapter 12 as well (once it shows an edited date of 10 Nov 2011), so you may want to re-read it, if you haven't already.

Originally posted 10 November 2011

Through The Mirrors of Perception

When Draco cast another Tempus Charm and saw how little time had passed since he'd last checked, he sighed and threw back the covers. He'd take advantage of the few hours he had until he had to get ready for class, he decided, since it had become painfully evident that he wouldn't be getting any real rest tonight. The first part of the evening had been sacrificed to restlessness, augmented by the guilt he felt — both his own and bond-generated — for avoiding Harry. When he had finally fallen asleep, his dreams had been fitful, dark and lonely and disturbing.

A run might help.It had proven to be an effective method of stress relief. He'd certainly had ample opportunity to evaluate his options this term.

His return to Hogwarts in September had been a mixed blessing. He'd known that sooner or later the Aurors would have to relax their surveillance of the Manor — they did not have unlimited resources, so it was inevitable. When they did, Lucius Malfoy would be able to return home, destroying Draco's sanctuary. It had been a relief when September had arrived before that nightmare had come to pass.

He'd barely returned to school, however, before discovering he'd needed to learn as much as he could about Fidelitās Dominōand any possible avenues of avoiding it — in addition to his heavy course load, his Head Boy and Quidditch duties, and his own extracurricular interests and projects.

He'd exhausted the available resources in both the general and restricted sections of the Hogwarts library in short order, and rather than bemoaning the lack of access to the family texts or endlessly re-reading the books available at the school, he'd devoted himself instead to his own project, fuelled in part by the teasing possibility of freedom — the hope that somehow, If he was successful, he'd have an avenue of escape. That would have been more than worth the effort, the discomfort, and the lack of sleep. Instead, three months at Hogwarts had given him a moderately successful form of stress relief and more stress than any one person should have to endure.

He no longer pretended he could run away, but even without a destination, running was a state in which he was surprisingly comfortable, and the Hogwarts grounds provided ample space for clearing his thoughts. Unfortunately, he had few opportunities to ditch others and find the necessary privacy, but tonight he'd decided it was worth the risk, so he'd crept out of the castle.

It had been a great run, long and full out until he'd caught a trail he didn't recognize. He'd been distracted tracking it — dangerously stupid, considering he was in the Forbidden Forest. He'd gone further than he'd intended and hadn't realized until too late that he himself was being tracked.

It was a mistake he would not make again, assuming he survived to have the opportunity.

Deep in the forest, Draco was grateful for the nearly full moon as it was the sole source of light available as he tried to keep track of his opponent while he contorted to free his wand. When he'd chosen his hiding spot, he'd severely underestimated the space needed to hold the body of a nearly seventeen year old, even one as slight as he was. To be fair, though, there hadn't been many other options, and it didprovide enough cover for him to be able to draw his wand, which was all that mattered.

He began casting defensive spells.

Despite magical creatures being one of the few areas of DADA they'd covered thoroughly, the creature was nothing he recognized, and he hadn't any real idea of how to fight it. His predator was huge, at least three times the size of Hagrid, and curses that should have been debilitating seemed to cause only localized discomfort. It was reptilian in appearance, but its body was covered in scales which acted as shields; Draco manageda few lucky hexes that hit under them, but few enough that it was too tricky to rely on as a strategy. He resorted to casting randomly, seeing what did and didn't work, hoping to keep the creature at bay long enough to find a way to defeat it — or at least long enough to escape.

Shortly after adopting that tactic, he discovered that — with the proper motivation — he couldpress himself further back into his hiding space. He was also willing to lay odds that the spray the thing sent at him was venomous.

He distracted the creature temporarily with a Confunding Cloud shield and took the opportunity to scramble awkwardly clear of the brush he'd been hiding under. The ability to move freely had become far more important than the minimal cover he'd had.

Avada Kedavrawould be the easiest solution to his problem — the illegality of it notwithstanding — but for two things: he hadn't yet managed to cast it successfully, no matter how much Lucius Malfoy had demanded he practice, and even if he could, the residual energy from such a Dark spell would draw all manner of Dark creatures. He was too far into the Forbidden Forest to take that risk.

He'd run too far this time; he could admit that much, at least to himself.

He shot off a Burning hex, if only because it hadn't been tried and it might prove effective. Unfortunately, it proved to be a Very Bad Idea. Heat energized it, and Draco was forced to focus on a sequence of rapid defensive spells for longer than he hoped. Eventually Draco caught it with a combination of frigid water and icy wind that left whatever it was encased in ice, neutralized for the moment. He considered how best to make his way back to the castle, then tucked his wand away: moving quickly had to take precedence. Once there, he'd have to try and identify the creature, in case it would be a danger to the school. Explaining how he knew about it was a different problem. Once he would have just schemed a way to trick Potter into 'finding' it; for obvious reasons, that was no longer a possibility.

It wasn't long before Draco recognized a clearing from a previous excursion in the forest, and he was grateful to learn that he was closer to the castle than he'd thought — he must have turned further south than he'd intended when running from the creature. He was glad of it, since the longer he was out, the greater the likelihood that Hagrid would be awake and on the grounds, and that people would be walking the halls.

He stopped when he reached the tree line; he would be safer on the school grounds if he had his wand accessible.

There was no sign of Hagrid, but given the luck he'd been experiencing recently, he wasn't at all surprised when he came upon Filch's cat within minutes of entering the castle.

Knowing she wouldn't have wandered far from Filch himself and not wanting her to sound an alarm, he turned a corner too quickly and was nearly caught by Professor Sinistra. It was only her complete absorption with the charts and notes she carried that prevented her from seeing him.

Quickly and as silently as he could manage, Draco retreated into the closest window alcove, grateful that it had curtains that he could hide behind and that they weren't completely shut, so he could slip behind them without setting them in motion. He held his breath until she passed, letting out the air slowly and quietly once the sound of her footsteps was barely audible.

When he deemed it safe to leave the shelter of the alcove, he found Mrs. Norris waiting for him. Draco would swear under Veritaserum that the cat smirked at him before turning back the way Draco had come. Racing down the hall, she announced the success of her hunt, wailing in the way Draco had come to associate with Granger's feline menace bringing her a dead mouse.

Draco appreciated being prey as little as Granger appreciated the gifts.

It wasn't far to the door to his room, however, so he risked picking up his pace; the sound of his footsteps would be covered by the echoes of the screeching.

By the time Draco reached his destination, he was exhausted and ready to scream in frustration. Unfortunately, getting into his own room was sometimes the trickiest bit of all. Granger, who seemed to need remarkably little sleep, had caught him returning on several mornings already and nearly caught him on several more. There was a very good chance that she'd be awake and no chance at all that she would believe that he would have gone out looking the way he did presently.

Normally, he would make up an excuse — that he'd been flying or brewing had worked previously and on occasion had even been true — but he'd caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the window of the alcove. It had confirmed he looked at least as sweaty and dishevelled as he felt. He was too knackered to come up with a plausible explanation as to why he hadn't used the Quidditch showers or what he had been brewing that had exploded, so he did what any reasonable wizard in his position would do: he Disillusioned himself before opening the door.

The precautions were prudent, as Granger was not only awake but working at the table in their meeting room. He closed the door as quietly as he could, but she looked up just as he was removing his hand. Draco froze, knowing that it was more difficult to see through a Disillusion Charm when the subject wasn't moving.

She stared blankly at him for a long moment, and Draco was afraid the charm had fallen. She must have simply been deep in chase of a thought, however, because she only smiled a little and wordlessly turned back to her note-taking.

Draco managed to hold in his sigh of relief until he'd cast a Notice-Me-Not Charm on his bedroom door, opened it, and slipped inside. But it was another close call.

Once safely in his room, he leaned against the door and gratefully took several long, deep breaths. If running wasn't just about the only thing keeping him sane, he'd almost be tempted to stop. Because it was, he promised himself he would stay closer to the castle next time and pay more attention to his surroundings. Resolved, he opened his eyes and pushed himself away from the door.

Seeing the Dark Lord's books on his bookcase reminded him that his room was not entirely a refuge, and he would need to force himself to open the books and at least pretend to read them. They werespelled, and it wouldn't do to be summoned away from the school early, and his father had already threatened to do just that. Casting a Tempus Charm, he realized it would have to wait, at least a while longer. He would have to start getting ready if he was going to make it to breakfast on time. He was glad the time was a quantitative excuse. It would be too easy to rationalize to a less legitimate argument because he didn't want to know what was in those books. He really didn't.

In the shower, the water pressure was painful as it pounded on his shoulders. It was unusual for him to be so tense even after a run and was indicative of exactly how much strain he was under — though today had been a less restful excursion than usual, by far, unfortunately.

Lacking a proper night's sleep and the peace he usually found after a run would make it more difficult to keep his head when he was challenged by students from other houses and especially by other Slytherins. The latter was an unfortunate consequence of the perception that the son of Lucius Malfoy was "coddling the Mudbloods." Even after several attempts, he couldn't seem to make certain housemates understand that it was one of his duties as Head Boy to be as impartial as possible and to promote unity (two tasks at which his predecessors had failed spectacularly for each of the six years he'd been a student at Hogwarts), and even if that weren't the case, Slytherin was the house with the most to benefit from school unity.

He took pride in being Head Boy — he had been sorted into the house of the ambitious, after all — but he missed the simplicity of his younger years, when he had been playing at politics rather than risking his life because of them; when keeping his temper had been a distant third concern, well behind winning and making sure Harry Potter lost; when the people he cared about and the people he could trust were the same.

In particular, he missed being able to confide in Pansy; she'd been a good friend to him. Unfortunately for Draco, in this particular situation, her best qualities were also the ones that precluded him from doing so: she knew him too well and was too perceptive by half. She'd been suspicious since the beginning of term, so much so that he'd been avoiding her as much as he could. Refusing to confide in her was only exacerbating her curiosity, but no matter how much he valued her perspective, giving in to the temptation to confide in her and try to convert her loyalties would be dangerous — now, at least. It wasn't worth the risk before the holidays, but it might be worth trying to convince Harry and Severus to considering approaching her after the break. She'd be a valuable asset.

Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for Vince and Greg. They'd been fun as children, but he'd grown away from them — mentally, at least, if not physically. Without school and parental intervention, they'd rarely speak now. Crabbe and Goyle Senior had them so scared of Lucius Malfoy that they couldn't comprehend disagreeing with Draco, let alone arguing with him. They'd stopped years ago, and Draco wasn't sure they remembered how.

Without Draco, they would be fodder when they were dragged into the ranks of the Death Eaters, and the Dark Lord was not known to be forgiving of mistakes nor likely to help his followers when they fell into trouble. Knowing it would take even more effort to sufficiently overcome their indoctrination to convince them to switch their loyalties than it would Pansy, Draco tried to protect them as best he could, and, as subtly as possible, he'd encouraged them to spend time with Zabini. Thankfully, they seemed to have followed his advice. They weren't valuable enough on their own that the Dark Lord would try to recover them. He hoped.

Blaise had been a friend but not an ally. His parents had been unmarked but supporters of the Dark Lord's cause during his first rise, but since Mr. Zabini's death ten years ago, Blaise's mother had begun distancing herself, and his last four stepfathers had been either neutral or firmly on the opposing side — the most recent had even been Muggleborn. Despite evidence that families were not made of homogeneous individuals, that was enough to make Lucius Malfoy doubt their loyalty, and Draco had been instructed to keep him at a distance. As a result, he wasn't as close to Blaise as he was to his other friends. Of course, if Lucius was right, that was exactly the reason Draco might be tempted to confide in him now, if they were closer.

There's irony in that, he thought, picking up Severus's scar balm.

His father's scar balm.

It would take time to think of Severus that way. Draco had spent more time interacting with the older man as a professor than a godfather, and most of this term Draco been trying to learn to accept him as a dominus. He was better suited to that, in many ways; he was certainly more like what Draco expected from a Head of Family than Remus was.

Then again, Draco was better suited to the role of dominus than Harry Potter. It was Draco who was heir to two Ancient and Noble Wizarding Houses, who understood the significance of ritual magic, who understood the importance of power and the need to wield it effectively.

Draco laughed, a dry, sardonic sound that could have been made by his godfather. Of course, under those criteria, Voldemort was equally better suited than Harry. Unbidden, his gaze slid back to the books he'd been given. He was grateful to Harry, he always would be, regardless of how things turned out, but in the privacy of his own room, he decided, he was allowed to resent that gratitude and the need for it. And that a Malfoy had forced a Malfoyinto the situation.

Mostly, he resented that Slytherins like Voldemort, Fudge, and Lucius propagated the stereotype so effectively that no one would believe the current Slytherins capable of being anything else.

Granger was gone by the time he left his room, and the halls were empty — of course, he thought sourly — though it was little wonder, since the halls he was using were not directly between any of the dorms and the Great Hall, and he himself was nearly late. The only person he saw, in fact, was Harry Potter.

Draco was hard-pressed not to react when Harry appeared from the direction of the Owlry staircase, though not because he was surprised. Just the opposite, in fact, the bond had enthusiastically drawn Draco's attention to both Harry's arrival and the fact that he'd slept poorly.

"Draco. Um. Good morning."

"Good morning. Posting a letter?" It was a banal comment to introduce a conversation, and his mother would be disappointed, but Draco was pleased to have found his vocal chords functional.

"Um, yeah. A, uh, a letter to Remus, actually," he replied awkwardly, and Draco knew he needed to change the subject.

"Have you been to breakfast?" It was late enough that it wasn't impossible that he'd already been and gone.

"No, I'm just on my way now. You?" As he asked, Harry seemed to realize the direction Draco was walking made the answer obvious, but Draco nodded anyway.

"I am, but I don't mind waiting, if you want to go ahead."

When Harry and Draco had prepared to leave the Potions classroom for dinner together, Snape had reminded them rather forcefully that they were still under observation and should endeavour to be seen together as little as possible. Walking into the Great Hall together would draw attention, from their observers and from Severus. Neither was prudent.

Harry turned to leave but hadn't taken more than a few steps before walking back to Draco. "Do you know what could have caused a reaction in the bond early this morning?" he asked quietly. "Like it was worried?"

Draco nearly panicked before he realized that a portion of the truth would be explanation enough. "I was out on the grounds; I must have been too close to the Forbidden Forest."

Harry looked like he was going to argue but nodded and left without saying anything else.

Draco leaned against the wall and waited, considering. He should have expected that an attempt on his life wouldn't have gone unnoticed. He would definitely have to be more careful, and not just when he went running.

Harry was still out of sorts and not just because of the change in the bond, but far less so than last night. Yesterday, he'd been sufficiently upset that Draco would have noticed even if the bond hadn'tbeen clear on the matter. Harry didn't want to leave Hogwarts.

Draco himself had mixed feelings.

His life was in such upheaval right now that he would prefer the familiar surroundings of Hogwarts — though that was at least partially why it was traditional for the vectigal to follow the dominus to his home. A new country, even a new village would encourage the vectigal's dependency. Of course, had Draco been bound to the Dark Lord, he would have been at Malfoy Manor, and he was horrified when he imagined his childhood haven desecrated by that experience.

Between the court challenge for the Black inheritance and the circumstances of Fidelitās Dominō, however, he'd been thinking more about the Black side of his family recently, and he was interested in the Black home. He remembered only vague images from a few visits before his Aunt Walburga had died; it had been dark and gloomy, and he was having difficulty imagining Harry in it.

Of course, once he was there, he wouldn't be able to share what he would learn about the Blacks with his mother. He'd hoped to keep some contact with her; evidently she did not feel the same. Accepting that soured any excitement he'd felt at the thought of staying at the house for the holidays.

Since they'd seen each other on Saturday he'd assumed that she hadn't thought it necessary last week. It was particularly disappointing, as he'd hoped for an explanation as to why she hadn't warned him about his father's plans to trap him in Hogsmeade. It had been a surprising betrayal.

It probably shouldn't have been.

Dear Remus,

After getting back from Hogsmeade, I realized I'm short a gift – two- well, no, three, really. You can probably guess who they're meant for, and it's a bit short notice. Any suggestions?


Flitwick, as promised, had assigned the topics for their Charms research projects so they could begin working on them before and during the holidays. It was a barbaric practice — Harry had to agree with Ron about that, though he may well have more time than usual for that sort of thing this year.

Requested topics had been granted where possible, and when they weren't, alternates had been randomly assigned; as expected, Harry's Charms topic was uncontested. From her pleased expression, Harry was able to deduce that Hermione had received her first choice as well.

"Wildsmith!" Ron's disgruntled mutter made it equally clear he hadn't.

As there had been several people requesting Bowman Wright, famous for developing the golden snitch, it wasn't altogether surprising. As Ron tossed his assignment dismissively onto the desk, Harry was able to ascertain that Flitwick hadn't specified whether the assigned topic was a first choice or not; that in turn meant that no one needed to know he'd asked for Eustacia Sigismund specifically, which could have been somewhat suspicious under the circumstances.

"What's wrong with Ignatia Wildsmith?" It was a sign of Ron's disappointment that he didn't notice the danger approaching, even in the face of Hermione's helpful tone of warning.

"What did she do, really? Just invented Floo Powder!"

"Ronald, that invention was instrumental in—" Hermione broke off suddenly. "You know what, never mind. I think Lisa's unhappy with her assignment as well." She waved in the direction of Lisa Turpin who was pleading with Padma Patil and looking very close to tears. Ron went off to see about negotiating a trade, and Hermione sighed and shook her head before focusing on Harry.

"You're not complaining; who did you get?"

Harry, grateful she hadn't asked if he'd gotten his first choice, shrugged. "Eustacia Sigismund. It's all the same really."

Hermione's eyes lit up. "Oh! She's done some really interesting work with Unbreakable vows. I came across some references in my research for one of my Arithmancy essays last year." She reached for his parchment, obviously intending to write out an initial book list, something for which Harry would, under most circumstances, be extraordinarily grateful. Now, Harry wished he'd put his assignment directly into his bag; pulling the paper away would be really obvious. It was too much to hope that she wouldn't notice that Draco Malfoy was listed on his assignment as the student in the other section assigned to the same. Her eyes widened before her face cleared of all expression. "You're working with Malfoy." She said neutrally. "Again."

That was not the rumour Harry needed circulating just now. When Harry and Draco had prepared to leave the Potions classroom for dinner together, Snape had reminded them rather forcefully that they were still under observation and should endeavour to be seen together as little as possible. "We won't be 'working' together, just sharing books," he replied, a bit too curtly, as it happened.

Hermione looked concerned. "Are things alright? With Malfoy?"

Harry was careful to keep his comments restricted to expressing fear that Draco would be difficult to share books with, given his busy schedule. "It's hard enough to find him when we need to work on our Potions research; I'm not looking forward to having to coordinate times and locations to exchange books for this assignment as well."

"Oh, honestly," she sighed before phrasing her following remarks as though they were a dare, "Then work together. You can use the Prefects' lounge. Of course, if you don't think it would be beneficialenough for the two of you to actually meet in a place that public, I can promise to make sure I'm not there." That last was unexpectedly pointed, and Harry didn't understand why, but he was saved from replying when Flitwick called for attention.

As Ron was returning to his seat, Hermione spoke quickly and quietly, which did nothing to disguise her exasperation, "He won't be here over Christmas; you'll have lots of time to read all the books you want." Ron was whispering excitedly about his successful trade as he sat, so Harry couldn't be sure what she added after that, but it sounded like she muttered, "You're the only student in the school with an invisibility cloak, Harry, and I'm far too familiar with how you use it to be fooled by it."

Heading to the dungeons after Charms class on Tuesday morning, Harry hoped he'd be able to find enough of the fabled Gryffindor courage to bring himself to broach the subject of his professor's upcoming fealty pledge.

He would be glad when the ritual was finished. He hadn't realized he'd grown accustomed to notdreading the walk to Professor Snape's office until this whole thing started. Now, it felt like every time he came down he was filled with trepidation. He missed the lack of it.

Wondering how long it would be before his life would return to normal, or something that could pass for it, since 'normal' had been redefined several times since his introduction to the wizarding world, he braced himself before knocking and, determined, entered when bid. It took only a few steps to bring him to the desk opposite his teacher, but that was more than enough time to recognize that the older man was in a strange mood. His expression wasn't angry, exactly, but serious and something that might have been disappointed. Harry debated whether he wanted to risk broaching the subject of the upcoming pledge regardless until his professor spoke, and the thought vanished.

"What is the current state of the bond?"

"It's steady." Harry swallowed. "There was a period early this morning - less than an hour - when it was tense, but it had settled by breakfast."

Professor Snape nodded, as though he were unsurprised, and it made Harry nervous. "When you were speaking with Draco in my office yesterday, you began a movement and aborted it; what were you intending to do?"

"I was just going to put my hand on his shoulder," Harry replied defensively. The question had been deliberately mild, curious rather than accusatory, but that didn't stop him from reacting as though it were the latter.

"To what end?"

If Snape doesn't know, he's even more an outsider than I was at the Dursleys. If he did, Harry hoped he was asking out of more than a desire to see Harry squirm. He considered pretending he didn't understand what his professor was talking about, but decided that Snape was tenacious enough to pursue it, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation got, and that would be far more embarrassing for both of them, so Harry answered, awkwardly, as emotionlessly as possible, "Ron does that sometimes; it was just a... gesture of support." He was proud of the neutrality he achieved, at least until his professor's pointed response.

"Then why did you stop?"

I don't know; why would Harry Potter catch himself before touching Draco Malfoy?Sarcasm, no matter how satisfying, would not be conducive, so he tried to think of a way to express his reasoning. "It seemed too private, too personal. Intrusive."

Professor Snape nodded as though that was the answer he'd expected. "I am afraid, given the situation, you don't have time for that. Fidelitās Dominōis easily summarized as the joining of two people symbolising two cultures too caught up in history and vengeance to be able to communicate neutrally. In practice, however, it was created as a diplomatic tool and is not simply representational: it is a physical embodiment. Given that it is intended to demonstrate that harmony between the families is possible and to serve as a catalyst, it requires that the bonded pair succeed, and quickly. In artificially expediting the process, relationships are not permitted to evolve naturally. Instead, social and emotional roles are dictated from the onset by the bond with the tools available."

He looked at Harry for a long moment before asking, "Have you considered what you will expect from Draco?"

Uncertain what he meant, exactly, Harry replied cautiously, "I gave him back the badges."

The answer didn't seem to be a surprise, so Harry assumed he'd interpreted the professor's hints correctly, though apparently not his question.

"Your partner, your friend, your employee, your pet — what you are willing to let him be is up to you, but he's yours. You have to accept that, or all of this will have been for nothing. Do you understand that?" Professor Snape asked gravely.

Harry nodded uncomfortably in acknowledgement of the question. The first bit had probably been rhetorical, but Harry considered it anyway. He wanted a friend... but something more than that — a brother, sort of. A partner, definitely. "Family." He heard himself speaking and realized he'd said that last aloud. "But how?" he asked, pushing aside his embarrassment, "I mean, it can't be as simple as asking."

Harry imagined himself having that conversation with Draco and grimaced, reconsidering his use of the word 'simple.'

"Indeed." His professor's eyes twinkled with amusement. Harry was proud that he'd managed it, that he'd recognized it. He hoped to manage both more frequently in the future.

"Clearly, your own... situation was lacking, but you must have spent time with more fitting examples." He spoke not emotionlessly but in an even way that Harry had never heard from Snape.

The Weasleys were the best family he could imagine, and he thought about what made them so enviable. He pictured them, at the Burrow, of course, because the house was as much a part of the family as the rest. Considering the memories, he was struck by their physicality with each other — the hugs, the roughhousing, their comfort in and freedom with each other in affection and reprimand alike; by Percy, who was rarely touched by any of them but Molly and obviously the outsider; by Fleur, viewed with suspicion at first, but nearly smothered in hugs when the engagement was announced. Unbidden, his mind called forth memories of Petunia and Vernon fawning over Dudley, rarely touching Harry and never with affection. He thought of the Gryffindor common room, of Sirius, fleetingly, and of Remus a few days ago, and he knew why Professor Snape had mentioned the 'aborted gesture.'

Professor Snape nodded when he looked up. "No matter how much things have improved in the past year, you and Draco have too much negative history for this situation to be considered ideal, and time, of course, is one thing you have in limited quantity. He will need reassurance." He stared at a shelf of jars for several moments before turning back to Harry. "Trust, openness — these are not easy, nor are they instinctive for either of you."

Harry, considering Professor Snape and Remus, silently amended that observation to 'any of us.'

"Matters are made more difficult by the fact that your vectigal is a Malfoy: he has been trained in manipulating language and finding loopholes since before he could speak. To assuage his fear will be impossible to accomplish with words alone."

Harry tried not to feel daunted. "Then how?"

"Contact, particularly repeated actions that are comforting or gentle rather than harsh or painful, will act as positive reinforcement, accentuating the differences between your past rivalry and your future relationship and mitigate the transition." He sounded more like Remus than Harry would have imagined could be possible.

Harry thought about Draco, with whom he'd had the occasional scuffle, but their most severe confrontations had been fought with words or wands. Professor Snape seemed to follow his line of thought.

"To your benefit, the lack of touch between you in the past can be used to your advantage, especially as the Malfoys are not physically affectionate parents. Establishing patterns of behaviour that clearly delineate the differences between his old life and his new will ease the transition."

Harry had a sudden image of the nature shows that Petunia liked to watch so she could drop into conversation the fact that she had, shows that Vernon and Dudley tolerated, hoping for blood and carnage.

"It sounds like domesticating a wild animal."

"Were Draco bound to the Dark Lord as his father intended, your comparison would be more apt than you realize. If the vectigal refuses or is unable to learn to please his master quickly enough, there would be no personality change per se, but the more the vectigal fights his bonded, the more his magic and eventually his life force are drained until he becomes very dependent upon his Dominus."

Remembering that the schedule Voldemort intended to follow had a training period of mere hours, Harry had to suppress a shudder.

"I trust you will do better by him."

Professor Snape's even, steady gaze seemed to demand a response, and Harry nodded earnestly. He wasn't quite sure how he was going to manage to do that, but when he had an idea, he could come back and make sure that it wasn't stupid.

"This is one instance when improvisation is likely to be disastrous, not only for Draco but for you as well." Harry was nearly distracted by the implication that Professor Snapebelieved there were situations in which it might not be, but his next words brought Harry abruptly back on topic. "Regardless of his experience or lack thereof, any caretaker will make mistakes. In your situation, it is vital that you ensure that your bond — that your relationship with your bonded — is secure enough that those mistakes don't have devastating repercussions."

Professor Snape was obviously uncomfortable, but he continued, regardless, underscoring the importance of what he was saying. "With knowledge of a desired outcome, you will be able to help Draco anticipate your expectations. For him to succeed, however, consistent behaviour is vitally important. Without it, he'll be uncertain and wonder, expecting, however unconsciously, you to react as his father would have." His mouth twisted into a humourless smile. "However impossible they may have been, Lucius Malfoy was veryclear in his expectations and clear in both praise and reprimand."

Harry grimaced. "I don't want to be anything like Lucius Malfoy."

"That's your right, of course," Professor Snape agreed, far too mildly, before his tone hardened, "but your behaviour this term suggests you have finally come to understand the dangers inherent in making judgements based on sweeping generalizations, and you've professed a desire to aid your dominus as much as you can … . Draco is accustomed to clarity, and not everything 'Malfoy' is evil." His expression softened, just slightly.

"There is an element of fear present in trusting your entire being to the care of another. Depending on the age and experience of the individual, it can be as mild as uncertainty or as severe as terror. So too, is there fear in becoming responsible for another, be it a parent for child, teacher for student, a dominus for a vectigal."

Harry hadn't thought of it that way before, the similarity between what he was feeling in this situation and the fear he'd felt when they'd first began the DA. Apart from the general tension of that year, Umbridge and the need to be secretive, there'd been the fear of someone getting hurt. The first lesson on Stunning Spell had been daunting, even before he'd witnessed the attack on McGonagall and learned how much harm they could do. Harry hadn't considered his teachers might feel the same anxiety; given the danger of their subjects, he realized a probable reason why Snape and McGonagall were so strict.

Unaware of Harry's sudden empathetic epiphany, his professor continued his explanation.

"That fear is protracted by the power dynamic of the bond, which reinforces the vectigal's submission." He stared at Harry, dark eyes piercing and intense. "Fear and power are powerful weapons, given to the dominus to see if he takes advantage of it, if he is worthy of the trust he has been given. It is your choice to use them on Draco's behalf or your own."

While Professor Snape turned to his cupboard to retrieve a stack of parchment, Harry took the opportunity to glance at his watch. Not nearly as much time had passed as he'd hoped. When he noticed the professor had retrieved Draco's financial records, he found himself in the astounding position of wishing they actually were having an Occlumency lesson, even one of the fifth year lessons. Almost.

"I took the liberty of sorting through the records in advance. A number are the same or similar enough to the Potter portfolio — investments, endowments, Hogwarts scholarships, etcetera. The majority will have far more in common with the Black estate, though given how thoroughly it was scrutinized in the fight between the Ministry and the Malfoys, I'd be surprised if any of the truly creative accounts made their way to you." He separated a portion of the records from the others.

"The likeliest investments to contain the sort of traps we're concerned about are these. Each of them is a highly unlikely candidate for Lucius Malfoy's support, and in most cases have higher than expected expenses with dubious justifications. They are likely to be hiding illegal activities that if uncontested after the bonding would reflect on you as Draco's master, not Lucius Malfoy."

He looked up and caught Harry staring at him blankly. "Is there a problem?"

Harry didn't like any of his options when it came to answering that question, but he knew that the truth would make Snape angry for the least amount of time. "I don't understand?"

"What do you mean you—" he cut himself off as realization dawned. "Has no one discussed your financial estate with you?"

Harry shook his head.

"You're seventeen! You've been of age for months and heir apparent for years prior!" He turned to the book cases, selecting texts and rejecting others, muttering all the while. "A Potter! James and m-his cousins were taught this before they were of Hogwarts age!"

Harry might have let Snape continue — listening to him railing about Harry rather than athim made the tirade almost funny but that last bit of information was too important. "Cousins?" he interrupted.

Professor Snape froze, then slowly put books down on the desk before replying. "Yes."

"Professor McGonagall mentioned other relatives," Harry offered tentatively, "Were they...?"

"Your great uncle and his wife died in same accident that killed your grandparents, their daughters a few months later."

"How?" Harry asked tentatively. It had likely been a deliberate omission, and the answer was probably unpleasant, but he needed to know.

He looked at Harry for a long time before replying, "They were kidnapped by Death Eaters."

The difficulty he had biting out even that much was obvious, but Harry risked a final question. "Did you..." do it"...know them?"


He had the strangest certainty that Snape was answering the question Harry hadn't asked.