A/N – All right there’s something I wanna clear up real quick. Someone mentioned in a review that they thought Draco was going to the Shrieking Shack, but that’s NOT where he’s going. If you remember, in Chapter 12 Draco took her to this little hut on the outskirts of Hogsmeade and told Ginny it was his hideaway of sorts as a kid. THAT is what I was referring to last chapter.

‘Kay, that said, thanks for the reviews, and on to Ch. 25!

- - - - -

Chapter 25 — Missing

Draco could still taste her the next day. It was Christmas morning, but that seemed a minor thing in comparison to the memory of yesterday, her kiss lingering in his mind peppermint flavored like she’d just eaten a candy cane, the taste only slightly subdued by the hint of her sandwich. He could almost feel her fingers clutching at his shoulders again, the soft sigh of her breath on his lips, and for just a few precious seconds, the feel of her Quidditch-toned body in his lap. Before she ran.

He still couldn’t understand it. Not just the running, but all of it. What prompted her to kiss him in the first place? He’d dreamt up fantasy after fantasy where he finally stole the kiss he so badly wanted, but never in a million years did it cross his mind that she might initiate one. Did it mean she felt for him? Or had it been impulse, a mistake that became regret? The running certainly supported that theory.

But she’d said she was sorry. That made him wonder if she was afraid he didn’t want it. But couldn’t she tell from his reaction that he more than approved?

With a huff of frustration, Draco rolled onto his stomach, burying his face in the pillow and absently wondering how long it would take to suffocate.

Even for all the confusion, though, it had been worth it. Behind closed eyes he could still see the sudden determination in her eyes before she did it, and his skin recalled every brush of hers. She had been fire, turning the blood in his veins molten as she burned her way through his defenses, as she seared the memory of her touch into his brain. And he wanted more.

He flipped over suddenly onto his back again, though he kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut. If only he know what the hell she was thinking!

He turned his head to look out the window, noticing the brightness of the sky. He rolled out of the bed and walked over, craning his neck to see the sun almost directly above. It must be lunchtime, or somewhere around there, and Ginny still hadn’t come. He hoped she wouldn’t start starving him now because she was too embarrassed or too disgusted to see him.

Could she be disgusted? Disgusted with herself for doing it, or disgusted with him for not responding how she wanted? Maybe he’d come on too strong, or, God forbid, kissed her like he was trying to inhale her face or some other equally horrifying display of bad skill.

Draco threw himself back on the bed with a groan. Lord, what was he anymore, a woman? He needed to stop obsessing like this. It was going to drive him mad.

Just then he heard the sound of the ladder coming unfastened as it fell to the ground. His heart jumped into his throat and he quickly pushed himself upright, his pulse pounding in his ears.

When Ginny crawled into the little room, she showed him a small, uncertain smile, glancing at him quickly and then immediately looking away without ever quite meeting his eyes. Draco could feel his stomach sink. So it was going to be awkward, then.

“Happy Christmas.” She pulled a foil-wrapped plate out of the bag slung over her shoulder and handed it to him before retreating to the room’s one chair. “Sorry I missed bringing you breakfast. Christmas morning, you know. With opening presents and all I really couldn’t find time to slip away until now.”

Draco just stared at her. He couldn’t believe it. She was going to pretend it never happened. He could tell from her tone and the guilty look in her eyes, pleading with him to play along.

Ginny quietly cleared her throat. “It’s…uh, turkey and roasted potatoes.” She waved towards the still covered plate on his lap. “Leftover from the twins’ dinner last night.” She attempted another smile. “Don’t worry, I ate all of it and seem all right, so it should be safe. It was actually pretty decent.”

Draco was utterly torn. He wanted more than anything to toss the plate aside and demand to know what it all meant, but the way her eyes begged him to keep silent held him back. Or, if he were honest, maybe it was just because he was afraid to find out the truth. So instead, he peeled back the foil and looked at the food.

“It’s good,” Ginny repeated. “Try it.”

So, mechanically, he picked up the fork off to the side of the plate and ate a bit of turkey. He hardly tasted it, but said anyway, “Good.”

Ginny exhaled slowly, smiling with a bit more confidence now. “So how are you today? I can’t imagine it’s been a very cheery Christmas, up here all by yourself, but besides that?”

How could she do it? How could she sit there and make small talk like nothing happened? “I’m all right,” he answered reflexively, still grappling with conflicting impulses, to bring it up or just go along.

Ginny chewed at her lip, running the toe of her shoe back and forth over the same spot. She suddenly looked up. “Oh, I have something for you. I mean…nothing special, but…” She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, then abruptly got up, plopping her bag on the table. She dug around until she found a small box tied with red and green ribbon and laid it on the edge of his bed with a quiet, “Happy Christmas, Draco.”

Mind still not quite all with the situation at hand, he numbly picked up the tiny package and pulled the ribbon. It slithered apart, and he lifted off the top. Inside rested a small, thin silver chain, unornamented but shining brightly nevertheless. He scooped it out on two fingers and held it up.

“It’s real,” she told him. “It was my grandfather’s. His bracelet. I know…I know it’s not very manly or anything, but my Da gave it to me after,” a haunted look swallowed up her eyes, “after the Chamber. He wanted to show me I wasn’t evil, that he was proud of me for trying to stop it once I…once I realized. Anyway, Grandfather never would have been able to afford it, but he helped stop a Dark Wizard from murdering this woman one time, and the Minister of Magic gave it to him in recognition. A few others helped and got one too. They wore it on their wand hands because the circle was supposed to show the infinite bravery they showed by using that hand.” She shrugged. “Or, at least that’s what Da told me. He said now it would symbolize my bravery against the Darkest Wizard of all.”

“Why are you giving this to me?” he asked. It didn’t take a genius to recognize that this was something of profound value to her.

“Because…” she seemed to grapple for an explanation, “because it felt right. And it’s the only thing of any real value I have. After what you gave me, I wanted to find you something special.”

Draco felt the confused look that passed over his face. “What I gave you?”

She smiled and reached into her sweater, pulling out his necklace. “I haven’t been wearing it in case Mum and Da saw, but today…well, this morning I just felt like I needed to wear it. But you don’t have to wear the bracelet. I mean, I’ll understand. I know it’s kind of plain, not as fancy or expensive as the stuff you’re used to, but — ”

“Ginny,” he cut her off quietly, “this is the best present anyone’s ever given me.”

He saw her shoulders visibly relax, a warm glow shining in her dark eyes. “Supposedly, it has some special properties too, but Grandfather wouldn’t talk about them. Said if he went around announcing all the tricks he had up his sleeve, they wouldn’t be very tricky anymore.”

Draco nodded. “Can you put it on? I never was very good at working these ridiculous clasps one-handed, let alone one this small.”

She got up and walked over beside the bed, putting one knee on the edge to lean over his arm. He handed her the bracelet, their fingers brushing, and he noticed the way she stubbornly avoided looking at his face. With nimble hands, she unfastened the clasp, put the bracelet around his wrist, and secured it again. Her fingers still held on to the bracelet, though, hands hovering over his wrist. She looked up at him, and their eyes met for the first time since yesterday.

He saw so many emotions whirling through her stare that he couldn’t begin to pull out any individual ones. He felt his breathing slow, and the world grow silent, and he saw a questioning, almost nervous look grow prevalent in Ginny’s eyes. As they gazed at each other in that moment, an understanding passed between them, and Draco answered her questioning look with a silent nod. Obviously relieved, Ginny mimicked the gesture and finally released his hand to crawl back off the bed.

Upright once more, she looked around a little uncertainly and tucked her hair behind her ears. “I…uh, should probably be getting back. I just said I was going out to stretch my legs a minute, so they’re probably getting curious.” She smiled at him. “Happy Christmas, Draco.”

With a monumental effort, he managed to return her smile despite the slight ache left in his chest from their silent exchange, a regret he couldn’t dismiss so easily. “Happy Christmas, Ginny. And thank you.”

She showed one last small smile, and then disappeared down the ladder. Draco watched her go, wondering when — or if — she would finally be ready.

- - - - -

Pierce fisted his hands in the man’s shirt and slammed him against the wall. “You had to have seen her!” he shouted in his broken command of Italian. “You’re the last bloody person in the last bloody village!”

Shaking, the man stuttered, “I s-swear it! If I’d s-seen a w-woman that m-matched that description, I would t-tell you! Why w-would I lie?”

Pierce released the Italian disgustedly, whirling around to punch the café’s countertop. The man was right, he knew. He had no reason to lie, just like all the other villagers he’d already interrogated hadn’t. According to them, no one like Naomi had ever come down to this little town, nor any of the other surrounding villages.

So what happened to her?

Without a backward glance to the proprietor still cowering in the corner, Pierce turned and stormed out the door, nearly sending the thin wooden door swinging off its hinges as he bulled through. He walked until he was just out of sight of the townspeople before apparating back to his villa.

He stared at the terracotta-colored walls, the shingled roof and classic angles, and he tried to picture Naomi leaving it. He willed his mind to construct the truth, to envision her departure and the direction she might have gone, but it was a fruitless pursuit, and he shook his head and slammed through the back door into the kitchen.

He didn’t even bother with a glass as he snatched up a bottle of firewhiskey and tipped back a swallow big enough to make his eyes water and his throat burn on the first go.

He took the whiskey and threw himself on a sofa, flinging one arm over his eyes. The distinct crack of someone apparating out front forced its way through the oblivion Pierce sought, but other than an annoyed groan, he didn’t bother acknowledging the visitor.

The visitor, as it turned out, didn’t bother knocking either, but simply strolled right through the front door. Pierce sat up with an angry start at the sound of the intrusion, but relaxed when he saw the hooked nose and greasy mop of Severus Snape.

“Damn it, Sev!” he snarled. “Are you ever going to grasp the concept of knocking?”

The man showed the ghost of a smile as he helped himself to a chair. “I enjoy catching people unawares. It’s served me well all these years. I see no reason to change now.”

Pierce just glared and tilted back his head for another long swallow straight from the bottle.

Snape raised his eyebrows. “Does Christmas depress you that much?” he asked mildly.

“No, the world does that. Christmas just disrupts the natural flow of pain and agony.” He took another sip.

Snape eyed him critically. “So it’s one of those days, I see. Any particular reason you’re gulping down firewhiskey like its air?”

Pierce stared stubbornly ahead. Snape was the last person he would talk to about Naomi. The Potions Master would only gloat that he’d warned him about her.

At his silence, Snape sighed and pushed himself out of the chair, walking through the villa with his hands clasped behind his back. “It seems like ages since I’ve seen this place. How long ago did you get it?”

“Only about a year after graduating.” Pierce tipped back another swallow. “One of my tests. I went through more bloody tests for that Dark Lord of yours than I can count.”

Our Dark Lord. And it was his only way to be sure. You were — are — atypical of our lot. You know that.”

Pierce grunted, starting to feel that pleasantly fuzzy sensation in his head that told him the drink was taking effect. He took his next sip more carefully.

Snape wandered into the kitchen, opening random cabinet drawers and sweeping his black gaze over everything. “Certainly can’t say that the Dark Lord doesn’t reward good work. I wouldn’t mind a place like this.”

“What are you complaining about? He let you keep a mansion after you did in that one bloke. The one in the government.”

Snape nodded, finishing up his inspection of the kitchen. “Snape Estate. True, but a quaint villa would be a welcome retreat occasionally. Much nicer to summer in than Spinner’s End, I can assure you.”

Pierce watched him walk out of the kitchen and start going towards the bedroom, and suspicion broke through his dulled senses. “What are you doing here, Severus?”

“I can’t call on a friend on Christmas day?” Snape called over his shoulder.

“Since when do you celebrate Christmas?”

“Since when did my visiting bother you?”

Pierce got up and followed him into the bedroom. “It just seems a little…” he trailed off as Snape turned to him, one eyebrow raised and women’s lingerie in his hand.

“New look for you,” Snape drawled.

Pierce snatched them away. “They’re not mine, you wanker. I had…company.”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. “Jon, please tell me those don’t belong to Naomi.”

Just hearing her name felt like a punch to the gut. “Fine. These do not belong to Naomi.” Pierce turned and jammed them into a drawer.


He whirled back. “What is so wrong with her? What is so terrible about me having something to look forward to?”

“Because it’s a false comfort!”

Pierce rolled his eyes. “Not this again. She’s not some bloody spy, Snape. You’re paranoid.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “Are you really sure about that?”

“Of course I’m sure,” he snapped.

“Then tell me,” Snape murmured, “where is she now, Jon?”

Pierce felt his fingers curl into fists, jaw clenching.

“Don’t know? How curious.”

“Something must have happened to her,” he gritted out.

Snape shook his head. “Would you wake up? She’s double-crossing you.”

“Why are you so damned bent on thinking that?”

“Jon.” Snape’s voice was quiet. “I know it.” He walked over to the window and looked out, hands held loosely behind his back. “I ran into her at Lucius’s.”

“You…ran into her…” It was taking an effort for his alcohol-fogged brain to process what the other man just said.

“She’s working for him, Jon. Has been all along.”

“No.” Pierce put the heel of his hand to his temple, giving his head a slow shake. “You’re wrong.”

Snape turned back. “Jon, I spoke with the woman. Lucius wants you to betray the Dark Lord, and he was using her to see that happen.”

He remembered one of the last conversations he’d had with her. They’re ruining your life, you know? Just leave. We’ll run away together. He felt sick. “When did you see her?” he demanded.

“A few days ago. The morning.”

Pierce had to sit down. He staggered over to the bed and eased down onto it. “Where is she now?” Snape was quiet for a very long time, only staring at Pierce through unreadable eyes. A frown tugged down his thin lips and made the lines in his face all the more prominent. Pierce’s fingers dug into the bedspread. “Damn it, answer me! Where is she now, Severus?!”

“I don’t know.” Snape’s voice barely rose above a whisper. “She ran, Jon. I tried to catch her, but….”

“She ran.” Pierce felt his insides turn to ice. Could it be true? No, it couldn’t. But Snape had seen her, the same time she had first gone missing. If she feared discovery, it only made sense that she would flee and not come back. What other explanation was there?

“Are you all right?” Snape asked, voice almost gentle for once.

“Sev?” Pierce lifted his hazel eyes up to the former professor’s, locking in his gaze. “Get the hell out of my house.”

Snape’s lips pressed tightly together for a moment. “Jon, I was only trying to help. I — ”

Get out!

Snape stared at him another second, then shook his head slowly. “One day you’ll thank me, Jon.” Then he turned and walked out of the room without another word. Seconds later Pierce heard the crack of his disapparating outside.

Jon eased himself down onto his back, eyes staring unseeing up at the ceiling. Had he really let himself be played so thoroughly? He remembered all the times he thought of how she could manipulate him with that voice of hers, and needle-like pains flared behind his eyes. And I still let her use me, even after recognizing that.

It was just sheer stupidity on his part, a selfish desire to feed some part of himself that he should have let starve until it died and could plague him no longer. His emotions, his heart, his soul, whatever it was, he should have let it wither away. Instead he let it rule him, and look at where it got him. A brief moment of happiness, and then all the pain of betrayal.

A man in love does stupid things, Jon, he reminded himself. And he had been in love with Naomi. Now, in the clarity of truth’s painful searing away of falsehoods, he realized that. His own clever trick, the one he planned to use against Draco, had been turned against him. And he let it, damn it. He let it because he let someone in. Snape had been right all along, damn the man. He was always right.

Pierce let his eyes slide shut, the calm of his face belying the torment ripping him apart. Never again, he promised himself. No one would make the fool of Jonathon Pierce ever again.

He swung his legs off the side of the bed all at once and stood up, feeling remarkably sober. Actually, for the first time in a long while, he felt like his old self. Strong, capable, clear-headed. Before, he swore to find a seat at Voldemort’s right hand, to attach himself to the man so thoroughly as to ensure his own security. That goal changed now. He’d been pushed too far, and he wouldn’t be satisfied with playing second best.

Pierce would kill Weasley as soon as they returned to school, and he would frame the Order for her death. It would take no effort at all to convince a grief-torn Draco of that, especially when he would already be looking for someone to blame. Just a simple explanation like Weasley knew too much, or was a weakness to Potter, and the Malfoy heir would be sprinting to take his Mark and avenge her. Voldemort would be pleased, which would get Pierce closer, and when he got close enough…Pierce would find a way to take the lunatic’s place completely.

Lord Pierce. He gave a slow, bitter smile. The title sounded much less ridiculous when his name followed it.

He looked around the bedroom, feeling impatience churning around inside him. He knew right away he would not be able to stay in this villa even another night, so despite the fact that it was early yet, he turned immediately and hauled out his luggage, shoving his things into it without regard to organization or wrinkles. In minutes he was packed, and after a quick sweep of the house to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, disapparated. He simply left Naomi’s things where they were. He would burn them later.

The gates of Hogwarts rose up before him, the grounds eerily quiet. He pushed inside, setting down his luggage and taking out his wand to levitate the heavy bags in front of him. He managed to avoid any contact with passersby as he descended to the dungeons, and once he was in his rooms, he promptly locked and warded the door.

The following days dragged by at a snail’s pace, setting Pierce’s nerves on edge. Never in his life had he wanted so badly to fast-forward time, but the more he wished for it, the slower it seemed to go. So he simply went through the motions of living, ordering his food from the kitchens, sleeping whether he felt tired or not, and forcing himself to only think of Naomi when he wanted to reinforce his will — even a passing thought of her filled him with enough cold rage to make him feel capable of anything.

After what felt like months, the wait finally ended, and the students returned. He was sitting at the Head Table with the rest of the professors when they flooded through the doors to the Great Hall for their supper. Their chatter expanded to fill the entire room, bouncing off the walls and having a nearly deafening effect on Pierce, who had spent the past days in near utter silence.

“Boisterous bunch, aren’t they?” McGonagall called over the ruckus.

Pierce summoned his familiar smile. “True, but honestly, what would we do without that noise?”

The Headmistress smiled. “You have a point.” Her sharp eyes swept across the room. “I have grown attached to them.”

Pierce nodded along, though he didn’t agree in the slightest. The color of Ginny Weasley’s fiery mane suddenly jumped into the corner of his vision, and he turned his head as quickly as he dared to find her. She sat with one of the Creevey boys, the older of the two. Her mouth smiled, but Pierce thought her eyes looked troubled.

Reflexively, Pierce started searching more intently for Draco. He shouldn’t be too surprised that the boy wasn’t with Weasley, given their House differences, but it still struck him as vaguely odd that they wouldn’t be together after having been apart all through the hols.

A quick scan of the Slytherin table turned up nothing, so he started going through each person in turn. Draco was not among them. By now all the students were seated at their respective tables, so there was no chance of him being anywhere else. Feeling the beginnings of panic, Pierce looked anyway. No Draco.

McGonagall was on her feet, arms out wide in a welcoming gesture as she spoke, but Pierce didn’t hear a word of it. Where could he be? Had he gone to the dormitories early? Were students allowed to do that upon returning? Pierce decided that must be it. What other explanation was there?

McGonagall sat, and the tables exploded with an array of food fit to make a king’s mouth water. Pierce hardly tasted any of it as he shoveled forkful after forkful into his mouth. He cleaned his plate in record time, excused himself with an easy smile, and slipped out of the Great Hall. He jogged the rest of the way to the dungeons.

The Slytherin common room looked ghostly, the usual student traffic having left it untouched through the hols. The fireplace mocked him, dead and cold, as did the perfectly fluffed sofas and armchairs. Draco obviously hadn’t stopped in this room.

Pierce continued on. He found Draco’s dormitory, and after knocking to no result, walked into the room uninvited. His stomach churned at the sight of the perfectly made beds, all with a trunk at the end…all except Draco’s. The foot of his bed remained empty, his trunk missing.

Pierce swore. What did it mean? How could Draco have just not come back? Where would he go? He had nowhere else. Come to think of it, where had he gone over the hols? Certainly not home to his father. By all rights, Lucius still wanted nothing to do with his son. Draco would have had to find someplace else, but where?

Pierce cursed again, kicking the doorframe. Why hadn’t he thought of that earlier? But he knew the answer. Naomi. The woman had blinded him to everything, to the truth of who she was, to this, to every shred of common sense he had.

He stomped back out of the dungeons, shoulders rigid, just as the students stared trickling out of the Great Hall. He watched them jostle by until he caught sight Ginny Weasley’s bright banner of hair. He sprinted over and grabbed her wrist, pulling her out of the stream.

She let out a surprised yelp, and when she twisted around to see who had her, the color drained from her face, making her chocolate eyes look even darker as they widened at him. “P-professor,” she stuttered. “I…uh, didn’t see you.” She glanced down at his arm then hastily away again.

Under normal circumstances Pierce might have paid closer attention to her odd behavior, but tonight he had more important things to worry about. “Hello, Miss Weasley.” He forced a charming smile, forced a calm, polite tone of voice. He couldn’t let her know anything was wrong. “How was your Christmas?”

She was eyeing him warily now, but that wasn’t surprising. He would be a little curious too if his professor randomly snatched him away for small talk. “It was good,” she said, stealing a quick look over her shoulder at the thinning line of students.

Pierce nodded. “Glad to hear it. It’s important that you children find time to relax.” When she only gave him an uncertain smile in response, he continued, “So, how about Mr. Malfoy’s vacation? Did he say if his went well? I actually haven’t seen him yet.”

Something flickered behind Weasley’s eyes, but it was gone so fast he couldn’t be sure if he’d just imagined it. She shrugged. “I’m not sure. I haven’t seen him since the train when we left.”

“You didn’t see him on the train coming back to the school?”

She shook her head. “No, but Pansy probably wanted to sit with him or something.” The girl made a face. “She’s been especially annoying about that lately.”

Well, that probably explained where Draco spent his hols, anyway. He might have considered staying with Weasley herself, but he couldn’t imagine her parents being very receptive. No, Parkinson would make more sense. But that still didn’t explain Draco’s absence now.

Pierce looked back to Weasley, who was shifting her weight back and forth, eyes constantly darting behind her. He gave an inward sigh. She hadn’t seen Draco, and she was obviously eager to get to her dormitory. “You may go, Miss Weasley. I just wanted to say hello.”

She smiled, though it seemed a tad forced as she backed away. “Thank you, Professor. Have a good night.” Then she turned, feet carrying her to the stairs in long strides.

As Pierce watched her retreat, it occurred to him that he couldn’t kill her now, not without knowing where Draco was. Lord only knew what trouble the boy had gotten himself into, and Weasley may very well come in useful when it came to getting him back.

Pierce stood alone in the Entrance Hall for a long time, indecision racking him, then he finally made up his mind to do what he never imagined he would do willingly: he decided to go see McGonagall.

He jogged to her office and muttered the password without announcing himself. He wasn’t in the mood for formalities tonight. He climbed up the winding stairs and found the woman seated behind her desk, spectacles perched on the tip of her nose as she peered at some document or another. Her eyes flashed up at his entrance, though her head didn’t move a muscle.

“Professor Pierce.” She straightened up, posture as severe as ever. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Pierce shot an uncomfortable glance at the rows of former Headmasters staring down at him. His gaze fell last on Dumbledore, dozing in his portrait at the moment, kindly face wrinkled and at peace in his slumber. At least I didn’t have anything to do with that mess, he told himself. He’d been in Germany at the time. He caught McGonagall pressing her lips together impatiently and turned his attention back to the matter at hand.

“Sorry to disturb you, Headmistress, but I seem to have a student missing.”

“The child’s probably wandering the halls, trying to impress his housemates by breaking curfew. I’m sure one of our prefects or a patrolling professor will turn the student up soon.”

Pierce shook his head. “No, it’s nothing like that.” He was very aware that he was still standing when manners dictated that he sit, but the thoughts of settling down beneath the watching judgment of all those dead men in their paintings made his skin crawl. “The student never even returned on the train.”

McGonagall reached up to remove her spectacles and released a small sigh. “Draco Malfoy, yes.”

Pierce blinked. “You know?”

One corner of her mouth twisted in something that resembled a smile. “Of course I know, Professor. They are my students. It is my responsibility to know.”

“So what are you going to do about it?”

McGonagall returned her glasses to perch on her long straight nose, picking up the parchment again. “Absolutely nothing.”


Her cutting stare settled on him from above her spectacles. “Professor, it is not my responsibility to ensure that every student who is accepted attends this school. That is solely up to the child in question, or their parents. A student only becomes my responsibility when he steps on that train. If he never boards,” she raised her eyebrows, “well, then he never becomes my concern.”

Pierce felt his temper threatening to overpower him and had to clasp his hands behind his back, pinching the soft inside of his wrist to keep calm. “But he attended the first half of the year. That must count for something.”

“If he chose not to return, then no, it does not.”

“He could have gotten into trouble!”

McGonagall’s smile came out sour. “I’ve no doubt of that, Professor.”

Pierce was sorely tempted to send a good strong Cruciatus her way. “Then why are you ignoring this?”

She finally put down her parchment again, flattening her hands atop it with her fingers spread wide. “Let me put it to you this way, Professor Pierce. Draco Malfoy has been a thorn in my side from the moment he stepped onto these grounds seven years ago. He has since only proved himself to be an abomination of a human being, and if it weren’t for the Ministry of Magic ordering it, I never would have let him near school grounds again after what happened last year. As far as I’m concerned, Draco Malfoy’s absence is the best thing that’s happened to this school since Dumbledore’s murder.” Then she resumed her examination of her parchment, a clear dismissal.

Pierce stood there seething for several minutes before he could bring himself to speak calmly. “And if he’s absent against his will? If he’s hurt?”

McGonagall lowered the parchment, slowly placing the full weight of her gaze on him. “As far as I’m concerned? All the better.”

Pierce stared in open disbelief at her bluntness, and this time when she refocused her attention on the documents, he knew better than to try again. Without a single word of farewell, he spun on his heel and strode out of the room, away from all those former Headmasters and their watching eyes, away from Minerva McGonagall’s apathy…and towards panic. Because he knew that if he couldn’t find Draco, his mission failed in the worst possible way.

And Voldemort did not deal kindly with failures.
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