The first day had been fairly uneventful as far as Draco was concerned. There had only been two exploding cauldrons, and Harry's day seemed to have passed without even such trifles to bother him. That was why Draco was in an almost buoyant mood as they sat in the Room of Requirement waiting for Hilde to arrive for their weekly training session. The bubbly woman had been on holiday down in Cornwall since her visit on Boxing Day, and Draco hated to admit it, but he had started to look forward to her company.
The Slytherin in him would say it was because she helped Harry almost every time they saw her, but the part that had given up and admitted that he was picking up Gryffindor traits had to admit she was also fun to be around. Hilde was definitely a Hufflepuff, so her sense of humour required some warping, but Draco was working on that.
"She should be here by now," Harry said suddenly, from where he was wandering around the room.
When Draco looked up there was a frown on Harry's face, and he could feel the undercurrent of worry that had wormed its way into Harry's mind. Since Harry had been in as cheerful a mood as Draco only a few moments before, he knew that there was more to this than simple anxiety.
"What did you do?" he asked simply.
"I just touched the oath bond," Harry replied, walking over as he did so. "I do it occasionally when Hilde is here; you must have felt me at some point."
Draco nodded, he had felt Harry reach out every now and then, it seemed to be something of an unconscious action on Harry's part, but he had not been paying attention for the latest one.
"She's not close," Harry continued, looking very much perplexed, "but she should be by now. She's already half an hour late."
"Maybe she was delayed coming back from Cornwall," Draco offered, but something about the way Harry was reacting made him sceptical about that possibility.
Harry thought about that, but then shook his head.
"You know Hilde, Draco," he said, worry clearly evident in his voice, "she would have sent a message. Something must have happened."
It was not unknown for Harry to overreact to some situations, but if there was one thing Draco knew, it was his soulmate usually had a good reason for reacting in the first place.
"Can you do any more with the oath bond?" he asked, trying to look at the whole situation more rationally.
"I don't know," Harry admitted with a shrug, "I've never tried. There is just a faint connection between us whenever she is at Hogwarts."
Draco was beginning to regret that there was little information on the limits and applications of the oath, other than its protection application. Everything written about it concentrated on the benefits to the Hecatemus rather than if there was anything going back the other way.
"Okay," he decided, "then we have to make it up as we go along. Come and sit down."
Harry did as he was told and Draco stood, moving in front of his soulmate and resting his hands on Harry's shoulders.
"I know it's not the same as our bond," he said, "but see if you can use it in a similar way. If there is a connection between you when she is here, there must be a connection all the time, it's just too faint for you to feel it. See if you can find it."
With a nod Harry shut his eyes and a familiar look of concentration crossed his features. It never ceased to amaze Draco how, at times such as these, Harry would do exactly as he was told. It also surprised him that he always seemed to have an idea about what to do, as if instinct kicked in whenever he needed it.
Shutting his eyes as well, Draco firmed his presence in Harry's mind and leant his soulmate all his support as Harry lowered his mental barriers and reached out with his very powerful mind. For what seemed like a long time they stayed that way, Harry's thoughts distant and searching as Draco held them, grounded to the here and now. When Harry finally came back to himself, all Draco could feel was the worry coming from him.
"She's there," Harry said, his voice tinged with anxiety, "but I can't tell where ... and it doesn't feel right. Something's wrong, Draco. What if she's hurt?"
"Then we'll make sure she's found and healed," Draco replied in a tone which he hoped begged no argument.
He was not about to let Harry worry himself sick about this. He did not voice what the Slytherin core of his mind suggested, because he really did not believe it, but the seed still sat at the back of his mind. What if the wrongness was Hilde circumventing the protections the oath gave; what if she was a threat to Harry? It was a small thought, and one he knew would never occur to his Gryffindor soulmate, but there was a reason he was the protector and a Slytherin.
"We should go to Dumbledore and tell him," Draco decided, pushing his suspicions to the back of his mind for now. "He may give us a lemon drop and tell us we are worrying over nothing and that Hilde called him to cancel, we just didn't get the message."
The expression on Harry's face was decidedly unconvinced, but he nodded anyway and Draco took his hand before heading for the door.
* * *
Unfortunately Dumbledore had not been able to tell them that everything was perfectly alright and they were worrying over nothing. He had also told them that Professor Snape had been summoned to a Death Eater meeting only an hour before. Which was why Draco was sitting up, trying not the think too loudly after successfully tiring Harry out enough so that Harry had fallen asleep.
What was keeping Draco awake was not the worry he felt for Hilde, but the nagging suspicion that would not leave him be. He did not want to think badly of the woman, but he knew Harry never would and hence he had to. There had been no reported Death Eater attacks anywhere, and yet Hilde had disappeared and Snape had been called. Draco did not like coincidences.
He could not see how she could betray them since they had researched the oath and had found no loop holes, but the doubt was there and Draco could not sleep. What if he had missed something? What if there was a way round the oath? What if Hilde was not what she appeared to be at all?
Sorting through every memory of her he tried to find anything, any sign of falsehood. He had to be sure.
Draco was contemplating climbing out of bed and walking around the room, when he felt something from Harry. He turned to his sleeping soulmate immediately to see a small frown on Harry's forehead. For a moment he thought it might be a nightmare brought on by the stress of Hilde's disappearance, but as he tried to ease himself into the bond between them it soon became clear that it was not a simple dream.
There was a voice calling; a woman's voice, begging for help, and it took him only a moment to realise that it was Hilde. Before Draco could even try to understand what was happening he was thrown back to complete outside awareness as Harry sat bolt upright in bed.
"The Vassal calls," Harry's voice was tinged with power and resonated around the room.
As Draco stared at Harry he was torn between wonder and horror; Harry's eyes were actually glowing from the inside, and Harry did not seem to see him at all.
"I must protect the Vassal," Harry declared and went to climb out of bed.
There was no way Draco was letting Harry go anywhere in the state he was in. He did the first thing that came to mind: he lunged at Harry and pinned his soulmate to the bed with his whole body weight.
"[Harry, snap out of it,]" he demanded on a mental and physical level.
For a moment Harry struggled underneath him, but as Draco forced his mind into his soulmate's, Harry finally went limp, breathing hard, but making no further move to resist. Then and only then did Draco dare give Harry some room. When he pulled back he found confused and anxious green eyes looking up at him, thankfully without the glow.
"They're trying to break the oath spell," Harry said in a very quiet voice.
Sitting back, Draco pulled Harry up from the bed into his arms, comforting his obviously distressed soulmate.
"What did you see?" he asked, needing to understand.
"It was just a flash," Harry told him, arms like a vice around him, "but for a moment I saw through her eyes. The Death Eaters have her, Draco; I saw them."
"And how do you know they are trying to break the oath spell?" Draco prompted slowly.
The way Harry had reacted had frightened him more than he cared to admit. If Harry had really wanted to leave, Draco was not sure there was any way he could have stopped him, and that the whole plan was to lure Harry to his death was not an idea Draco liked at all.
"I felt it," his lover replied. "It was a curse I think, but the oath spell held."
"Show me, love," Draco said, pulling Harry closer. "I need to know."
The images and sensations that flashed through his mind lasted only a moment, but Draco understood in that short time why Harry had reacted so forcefully, although he could not explain the eyes or the voice. Hilde was terrified, angry, desperate for help and surrounded by Death Eaters. The oath bond had flexed under their combined onslaught, but it had held.
"We have to wake the headmaster," Draco decided quickly. "The Order has to find her."
* * *
Harry's cocoa had gone cold a good twenty minutes previously, but he still held on to it and stared at the almost untouched drink as if it was one of Professor Trelawney's divining bowls. Draco was sitting next to him, being a paragon of strength and Dumbledore was sitting in his chair, gently stroking Fawkes who was perched on the desk. They were all in their night things, bundled up in robes against the cold, and they had been sitting in silence for a good half hour since the conversation ran out.
It had been a consensus of opinion that none of them were returning to bed after Harry and Draco had woken Dumbledore and explained what had happened. For a while they had all tried to pretend they were not waiting for Snape to return or something else to happen, talking of irrelevant things, but the words had eventually fallen into silence. It was obvious what they were really doing.
Harry had felt nothing further from the oath bond, even when he had tried to use it to trace his friend. It was frustratingly useless. Hilde was alive, that was about all he knew. He was unpleasantly aware that the only time he seemed to get anything more from their tentative link was when something very nasty happened. He was beginning to realise that the oath spell had been well designed to protect the "Liege lord" from betrayal, but it had not been so well designed to act in reverse for the benefit of the "Vassal".
It was a noise from the fireplace which finally shook Harry out of his reverie, and his eyes turned immediately to the source. Only a moment later, Snape stepped into the room, black robe still in place and mask in hand. The Potions master appeared tired and worn, and the moment he laid eyes on Harry he sneered. He and Snape had a peace treaty of sorts, but that did not mean they were pals of any kind. When in a bad mood Snape could still be found to take it out on the son of his school nemesis.
"She is alive and mainly unharmed," the man said without ceremony. "The idiots used some ridiculous curse they were sure would break the woman's connection to you, Potter. The next plan of attack was more brutal, but I arrived in time to prevent most of it. I have them convinced that she must be kept well if they are to try and break the oath bond again."
Harry could not help but wince at Snape's direct tone. He really did not wish to analyse the "most" qualification the Potions master had given about the Death Eaters' activities. He had known the moment Hilde tied herself to him that she had made herself a target, but Voldemort had never focused his efforts even close to her before. It had come so unexpectedly, and it was all his fault.
[She willingly took the risk,] Draco's voice filtered into his mind. [Now we have to find her.]
[And I'm doing such a wonderful job of that as well,] Harry snapped back.
He could not find her and it bothered him more than he could express to anyone except his soulmate.
[You are not omnipotent, Harry,] Draco told him patiently. [The Order will handle this one.]
"Is there any way that Hilde may be retrieved this night, Severus?" the headmaster asked in his usual calm tone.
Harry only had to look at Dumbledore to know that the head of the school was nowhere near as serene as he pretended to be, but that Dumbledore could still maintain the illusion for everyone else was a blessing. It was if Albus Dumbledore's famous calm in the face of all life's troubles slipped that things were very bad.
"I do not know where they have taken her," Snape admitted with a grimace. "I was summoned to Norfolk Lodge, but they were moving from there as the rest of us were dismissed. I have been instructed to formulate a potion to lower her resistance to any other curses they may try. I will be summoned on Sunday."
"But the strength of the oath bond doesn't come from Hilde," Draco pointed out, "it comes from Harry."
Snape appeared unimpressed by the observation.
"I am aware of that, as are all of you," the Potions master said as if speaking to children, "but the Dark Lord is not. The imbeciles who have researched the ritual for him did not have access to certain sources in the Ministry; I suggest we make sure they never do."
It was as Snape was speaking that Harry saw the man sway in place. Up until that moment he had been so worried about Hilde that he had not considered the fact that Snape had just been to a Death Eater meeting, which had probably not been pleasant. Without pausing to think he pulled out his wand and did what he had seen Dumbledore do so many times before; he conjured a chair. Looking over at the headmaster, Harry realised that he had beaten Dumbledore to the draw, since his mentor had his wand in his hand as well. The headmaster gave a nod of acknowledgment and seemed to content himself with summoning a tray of steaming hot chocolate.
"Do sit down, Severus," Dumbledore said in a very fatherly manner, "you must be exhausted."
Snape for his part appeared rather shocked by the sudden influx of concern, but did as he was told anyway. Only once the man was settled did Harry ask the question that was bothering him.
"What happens to her if they realise she is of no use for information?" he said slowly.
"Luckily for Professor Praeceptrix, information was not the primary goal of her capture," Snape revealed as the tray of hot chocolate floated next to him in a very pushy manner. "The Dark Lord has given his minions one week to extract what they can from her, and then she will be used to bait a trap for Mr Potter. I am not privy to the details, but it would be prudent to rescue her before that time."
The Potions master finally took the offered hot chocolate when the tray floated closer to him for the fifth time. Harry was almost too preoccupied to notice the scowl Snape sent at Dumbledore.
"Then I shall call in further members of the Order immediately," Dumbledore said. "However, I believe it would not be prudent to advise the Ministry of our knowledge at this time."
"Leaky ship," Draco commented.
Harry was loathe to agree, he would have preferred as many people on the case as possible, but the Ministry did have a tendency to haemorrhage information. For immediate problems they had their uses, for anything more long term, it was best to play it safe.
"Dammit," he said, "why can't I be more use?"
"Because, My Dear Boy," Dumbledore said before Snape could voice a scathing response, "we are none of us, all seeing."
It was exactly what Draco had told him before, but it didn't help.
"If this is anyone's fault it is mine, I should have made sure Hilde had greater protection," the headmaster added.
"But she's bound to me," Harry snapped back.
"And because of that bond she is still alive," Dumbledore pointed out. "It is quite possible that, had she simply been useful to you and not bound to you, she would have been killed to inconvenience you, rather than kidnapped to trap you."
"It would still be my fault."
"Harry, calm down," Draco said gently, but firmly. "This is the fault of a psychotic megalomaniac, we all just happen to be caught in the middle of it. If anyone can find Hilde it will be the Order."
The words didn't really help, but the love and support Draco sent along with them did. Harry wanted to object, but there didn't seem to be anything else to say. He squeezed Draco's hand and tried not to let his thoughts become any darker.
"Sorry," he apologised.
"Not at all, My Dear Boy," Dumbledore said, "we all understand the desire for action, however, sometimes patience can produce far more useful results. And on that note, I do believe it is time for sleep. None of you can be of assistance with the communiqués I must send, so to bed with all of you. Severus, we will talk more tomorrow."
Snape looked mutinous for all of a second and then simply nodded.
"Are you sure we can't help?" Harry asked.
"Perfectly, Harry, thank you," Dumbledore said. "I will send word immediately should any news return."