An Inauspicious Beginning

Present Day

A new year was beginning at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and speculation ran rampant on the Hogwarts Express. Professor Umbrage was gone and yet again, the position for Defense Against the Dark Arts was open. The Slytherins were sure Snape would get it this year, while the other three-quarters of the school was hoping against hope that someone, anyone, else would get it. There would be a new professor regardless. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny shared a compartment on the train. Pigwidgeon was hooting and flitting about his cage, next to Ginny, while Hedwig tucked her head under her wing and tried to ignore him from the seat opposite. Hermione had let Crookshanks out of his basket and he was draped across her lap like a furry ginger blanket.

"If Snape got the Dark Arts job, I'm getting right back on the train and going home," Ron stated.

"No you won't, you'll just complain even more than usual," Ginny retorted. "Besides, maybe if he finally gets the job, he'll lighten up."

Ron looked at her disbelievingly. "Use it as an excuse to hex Gryffindor into oblivion, more like."

"I don't see the point of discussing it, it's not like we have any influence on who gets what," Hermione broke in from behind a very large, very old-looking spell book. "I just hope the new professor is better than that horrid Umbrage woman."

"So you're hoping it's not Snape then, too?" Ginny snickered at Ron's joke. Hermione didn't answer from behind the tome, but Ron could feel her disapproving gaze through the yellowed pages. "Hermione, we're not even at school yet and you're already studying? Don't you ever take a break?"

"I'm looking up new spells for DA Club, if you must know. We are continuing it, right Harry? Harry?"

Through this whole exchange, and most of the train ride for that matter, Harry had been staring disconsolately out the window.

"What?"

"Harry, are you okay?" Hermione asked, looking concerned. It had to be the one-thousandth time she'd asked since she'd arrived at the Burrow two weeks prior.

He's dead and it's my fault. "Fine." Harry wished she would stop asking.

The Dursleys, of course, never bothered wondering if he was all right. They had never once asked Harry how he was. Though, it might have been due to the Order's intimidating farewell. Or the fact that for the two short weeks Harry had spent at number four, Privet Drive, Harry had hardly come out of his room. Amazingly, his aunt and uncle hadn't demanded he keep up with his chores, nor did Dudley bother him. Maybe Dumbledore had sent them a letter. Maybe Mad-Eye had stopped for a visit. Harry didn't know, nor did he care. For once, when the Weasleys arrived to take him to the Burrow, Harry didn't feel the elation he usually would to be escaping the Dursleys. The fact remained: no matter where he went, Sirius would still be gone forever.

At least after the first week, the Weasleys had realized 'fine' was the only answer Harry would ever give, and they finally stopped asking. By the end of the summer, they'd even started to act almost normally. That was, until Hermione had shown up and pestered him incessantly about how he was doing. Then everyone else's looks of concern had returned. The only time Harry felt somewhat normal was when they practiced quidditch or worked on their summer homework. Since it took most of his concentration, when they were done, he was too tired to have nightmares. Even so, he had them more nights than not.

Harry had once overheard Mrs. Weasley giving Ron and Ginny permission to do pretty much anything that Harry showed an interest in, in the hopes of pulling him out of his guilt-induced melancholy. Unfortunately, beyond quidditch, he was only interested in avoiding everyone and staring into space. He supposed if it were Ron acting this way, he'd be worried, too, but he couldn't face it all just yet. Ginny was the only one he didn't mind talking to, mostly about quidditch or Hogwarts, because she was the only one who didn't give him uneasy sideways glances when she thought he wasn't looking.

"Are we keeping on with DA Club then?" Ron was hoping to lure Harry into the conversation. They were all hoping if Harry got back into teaching DA club, he'd come out of his depression, or at least be distracted from it for a while.

"I guess. It really depends on the new professor, doesn't it?" Harry answered without enthusiasm.

"I think we should do it either way, it's good practice," Hermione replied. And it'll get you out and interacting with people.

"Maybe you should take over, Hermione." Harry turned back to the window. The other three exchanged nervous glances. His disinterest was not a good sign.

"But, why? I mean you're a great teacher and you know more..." Hermione didn't get to finish.

"I'M NOT A GREAT ANYTHING!" Harry shouted, glaring at them. "And I don't know anything about defense against the dark arts, either. If I was any good then…he wouldn't be dead."

A ringing silence followed his outburst. Though it wasn't the first time, the others still didn't know what to say. Usually, this was where Harry would storm off for a few hours and return as withdrawn as before, but on the train he didn't have anywhere else to go. He turned back to the window.

"Harry it wasn't…" Hermione started, but Ginny put her hand on her sleeve and shook her head. She and Ron knew that was definitely not the right thing to say. The remainder of the ride passed in uneasy silence.

They shared a carriage to the castle. Harry snorted as he saw the thestrals and glanced at Hermione, remembering her thoughtless comment that she wished she could see them. She still can't. She was unconscious when it happened. Harry didn't really care. He couldn't really remember who had been in the room other than Sirius, Lupin, and Bellatrix. They were the only ones who mattered. His expression turned deadly when he thought of Bellatrix. The others noticed his shift in mood, but said nothing. The uncomfortable silence from the train continued. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny fervently hoped Mrs. Weasley was right when she said that going back to Hogwarts would probably be the best thing for Harry.

Students milled around the entrance waiting to be let into the Great Hall for the Sorting and the feast. Ron and Hermione had been pulled aside briefly by Professor McGonagall. Harry assumed they were getting the common room password and whatever other information prefects had to have on the first day back. They returned quickly, but Harry wasn't really paying attention. He didn't see the concerned look Professor McGonagall gave him, either. He tuned out the chatter around him, mainly about who the new DA teacher would be, while students who hadn't seen each other on the train exchanged ideas and hopes.

"Of course, there's not just a new professor starting this year."

Ron turned at the voice that always made his blood boil. "What are you shooting your mouth off about now, Malfoy?" he demanded.

If they had been enemies before, it was nothing to how Ron felt about Malfoy now. Draco's father had been caught and sent to jail, but had spent less than a week there. Arthur Weasley had returned home one night, virtually shaking with rage that Lucius had been released on a technicality. Even Harry had roused himself out of his misery to exclaim with angry disbelief that Lucius had been let go. Lucius' powerful connections had set the whole Order of the Phoenix scurrying into activity, trying to determine the state of the Ministry of Magic. Arthur had muttered darkly how it was too like the days when Voldemort had been rising in power: no one knew who was on what side until it was too late. Mrs. Weasley had hushed him before he could say any more about the chaos at the Ministry.

"Well, if it isn't the Weasel King. Where's Potty? Or did you two break up over the summer?" Draco sneered.

Ron flushed red and went to grab his wand but Hermione stopped him. Harry was lost in his own thoughts, oblivious to the whole exchange.

"We haven't even gotten to dinner yet!" Hermione hissed.

"Since your family obviously still hasn't the… and it's not even like it's big news," Malfoy scoffed, "I guess they don't even trust your father with minor happenings."

Hermione and Ginny were actively restraining Ron by this point, and Harry had finally taken notice.

"Either say what you were going to say or stop wasting everyone's time," Hermione spat at Malfoy.

"Commands from the Mudblood? I'll humor you this once, Granger. Seems as though there'll be a new Caretaker this year, too," he said with a smug smile. Ron shook the girls off.

"Filch is gone?" he asked.

"Hardly. But he is rather old, don't you think? Looks like Dumbledore thought he needed help, so he brought in someone new. Filch's niece," Draco said in a superior tone.

"He has a niece?" Ron said incredulously. It hadn't ever occurred to any of the students that Filch might have anything as normal as a family.

"You are thick, Weasley. Yeah, I bet she's a Squib, too." He laughed with Crabbe and Goyle as they moved into the dining hall.

"I bet she's twice as ugly," Ron commented, venting some of his anger.

"And three times as mean," Ginny contributed, trying to soothe him.

"Honestly, you haven't even met her yet," Hermione said, exasperated. She turned to Harry, hoping he would join in, but she was disappointed. When it became apparent that Draco and Ron weren't going to duel in the hallway, he had turned back to his thoughts.

"I heard she's so mean, they kicked her out of America and Filch had no choice but to bring her here. And Dumbledore felt so bad because she was so ugly that he gave her a job."

All four turned at the unfamiliar voice behind them. It came from a girl with long honey-blonde hair. Her gold eyes danced with laughter as she moved past them into the hall.

Ron stared after her. "Who was that?"

Harry had a similar look. "Seventh year?"

"Really you two, she's obviously too old," Ginny said, watching the two with amusement. It was almost as bad as Fleur, she thought, as most of the boys she passed stopped talking and stared.

"She didn't look that old…" Ron mumbled. She was half a head shorter than he was and even Hermione and Ginny were taller. Her height was misleading, giving her the appearance of being younger than she was.

"And if that weren't enough, the American accent should have tipped you off," Hermione sniffed. "Put your eyes back in your heads. Come on, it's time for the Sorting." At least Harry responded to something. She wasn't thrilled about the subject, but showing interest in anything was an improvement in her book. Hermione guessed Ginny was having similar thoughts, judging by her expression as she watched Harry.

"Maybe she's the new DA professor," Ron said hopefully as they sat.

"She's way too young!" Hermione exclaimed, but glanced at the Head Table.

"Tonks is young and she's an Auror," Ginny replied, following Hermione's eyes. Sure enough, the mystery girl was sitting at the Head table, but not in the DA professor's seat. She was at the end, next to Hagrid. She looked positively tiny next to him. They were talking and laughing. She held out her hands and showed Hagrid something but from the Gryffindor table, but they couldn't tell what it was. A man in dark brown robes filled the DA professor's seat.

"Looks like she's not the new DA professor after all," Hermione stated.

"But then who..." Ron continued to stare.

"You are dense. She's obviously Filch's niece," Ginny laughed.

"No way. She's…" Ron caught Hermione's glare, "…normal."

Just then Professor McGonagall led the new crop of first years into the hall. They clustered together looking terrified. The Sorting Hat began its new song, but Harry tuned it out. He watched the new girl and Hagrid for a few moments, then studied the new first years, thinking back to when he had started at Hogwarts. Finally, he'd escaped the Dursleys and met his first friend. He didn't know about Sirius yet, but he had been happy, happier than he had ever been. Everything was so much simpler then; he wished he could go back. The song ended and the Sorting began. Harry clapped halfheartedly for the new Gryffindors, resolutely ignoring Hermione's concerned glances.

Dumbledore stood. "Let the feast begin."

Plates filled magically with food. Ron dove in as usual, Hermione and Ginny taking time to actually chew. Harry poked at his food, pushing it listlessly across his plate.

"Harry, you've got to eat something," Hermione implored when they reached the dessert course, "Look, treacle tart, your favorite."

Harry took it from her but just stared at it. "I'm not hungry."

"How can you not be hungry? You've hardly eaten anything in three months." Ron was hungry if he hadn't eaten anything in the last three minutes. Harry glared at him and doggedly took a few bites. He was glad when Dumbledore stood and distracted everyone from him.

"Now that we've all been fed and watered, I have a few start of term announcements. Mr. Filch has asked me to remind you, yet again, that magic in the corridors is prohibited. Also, an additional fifteen forbidden items have been added to the extensive list which can be found attached to his office door." He paused and turned slightly, "I would like you all to welcome our new Assistant Caretaker, Mr. Filch's niece, Persephone Hade."

All eyes turned to the end of the Head table, and Persephone smiled. Filch, standing at the back of the Hall, glowered at her. She caught his eye and her smile vanished as she glared back. The entire hall watched with interest.

"Looks like they don't get along," Ginny said, "Maybe she'll be nicer than Filch."

Harry considered. He knew what it was like to live with relatives who didn't like you and didn't want you. He wondered why she had come here if they disliked each other as much as they seemed to.

Draco watched from the Slytherin table. Hade, I know that name. I'll have to ask Father.

"I would also like to introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Dunn. I'm sure he will be a fine addition to the staff." Scattered clapping followed. Dunn seemed indifferent to the whole process. Snape cast an evil look his way. "Quidditch tryouts for the house teams…"

Harry almost laughed; Snape had been passed over, yet again. Good to know some things never change.

The feast was winding down and students were beginning to trickle out. Ron, Ginny, Hermione, and Harry remained. Ron was having a third helping of trifle, Hermione was still prodding Harry to eat, and Harry was still trying to ignore her. Ginny was watching the Head Table with interest. McGonagall had walked to the end of the table and was conversing with Persephone who had stood to leave, only making it to just in front of where she had been sitting. The hall was quiet enough that Ginny caught some of what she was saying.

"…request that you dress more, appropriately, while fulfilling your duties here." McGonagall indicated her robes.

Persephone glanced down the table and noted the dress of the rest of the professors, most of whom were watching them with mild interest, and compared their attire to her own. She had chosen a long skirt and sleeveless laced top, since it was still summer and the castle was warm, whereas most of the professors were wearing light-weight robes that concealed far more. She knew the American style was slightly more casual than what the professors wore, but didn't think it mattered since she wasn't one. She had actually chosen her outfit for the Welcoming Feast with care and thought she looked nice. She had a feeling that McGonagall's dictate had more to do with establishing authority than suitability.

"There's nothing wrong with what I've got on." Her shoulders stiffened.

"I must insist. Your current dress seems to be…distracting," McGonagall said, eyeing her form-fitting top.

Persephone looked around the half-filled Hall, and indeed some people were staring at her, but she thought it was due more to her being lectured in front of the whole hall, than to what she was wearing. Her jaw tightened.

"It's not like I'm naked." At 'naked' what little conversation there was stopped and all eyes were on the Head Table.

"You will find a more suitable uniform." McGonagall was getting angry, Harry could tell by the way her lips had gone thin. By the stiffness in her posture, Harry could tell Persephone was dangerously close to losing her temper as well. The other professors ranged from mild amusement to outright disapproval. The way Professor Sinistra was shaking her head made it obvious she thought the new girl should just do what she was told. Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling, as were Flitwick's. They obviously found the dispute entertaining. Persephone looked from the Head Table to the sporadically populated student tables and seemed to come to a decision.

"All right." With every indication of doing as she was told, Persephone took out a wand from a pocket in her skirt. With a flick of her wrist, she transfigured her clothes into what she thought Professor McGonagall would deem 'appropriate': her old school uniform.

Only, the white shirt was much too small and the skirt was far too short. Her hair was in pigtails. She angled her head to the side. "Better?" She looked over her shoulder, examining her outfit. "Hmmm, doesn't fit quite like it used to."

A hundred utensils hit the floor in unison. Dumbledore was chuckling, Professor Sinistra looked shocked, and Snape was pouring pumpkin juice six inches away from where his glass was.

"I guess she's not a Squib," Ginny said, laughing. Hermione looked appalled, Ron and Harry just stared, Ron's last bite of trifle--as well as his fork--was now residing in his lap.

"Something appropriate for a caretaker of this castle!" McGonagall exclaimed, fuming.

"You're right; I'm not exactly a student here." With a smile and another flick, she transfigured her clothes again. "More like this?"

McGonagall sputtered. The schoolgirl uniform had been replaced by a muggle French maid's outfit, complete with a short black skirt covered with a white pinafore and fishnet stockings. Her hair was now in a bun topped with a maid's bonnet. She stuck her wand through the bun and turned to leave, ignoring the stares as she made her way to the door. McGonagall finally recovered enough just as Persephone reached the door, to raise her wand, and hit her in the back with a spell. The maid costume transformed into long black robes. Persephone turned around, looked down at the robes for a moment, and then looked back at McGonagall with a wicked grin.

"The least you could've done is given me some underwear." With that, she exited the hall. When she was out of sight, the hall burst into laughter.

"That…was the best Welcoming Feast…ever," Ron gasped out between laughs. Ginny was laughing hysterically, and even Harry was snickering. No one had ever seen anyone get the last word with McGonagall.

"I can't believe she did that!" Hermione was scandalized, "Professor McGonagall wasn't being unreasonable."

"Oh, come on, Hermione. It was funny. No harm done." Ginny was still laughing. It took guts to do that in front of a room full of strangers. "Too bad Fred and George weren't here." Three of the four were still laughing as they left for the common room.

"The Headmaster wants a word with ye, girl," Filch scowled at Persephone from the doorway of her room. "I heard about that stunt after the feast. Still shaming the family, I see. With any luck you'll be packing your things tonight."

Persephone paused for a moment as she went through the door, to stare him in the eye, her voice as cold and deadly as a killing frost, "I have no family."

Filch had gotten her to the stone gargoyle and given the password, then left, mumbling about dire consequences and punishments. Persephone ignored him, but as she climbed the stairs, she couldn't help but wonder if she'd gone too far. She knocked hesitantly on Dumbledore's office door. "You wanted to see me, Headmaster?"

"Yes, please have a seat."

Persephone sat and noticed Professor McGonagall was in the room as well. She looked livid. "So I guess you're going to ask me to leave, I understand." Persephone stood up.

"On the contrary, we need to discuss your duties as Assistant Caretaker," Dumbledore said mildly.

"But…" She sat back down.

"Before you do that, I would like to know just what it was that you were thinking," McGonagall demanded. Persephone looked over at her and narrowed her eyes.

"Well, couldn't you have waited to criticize me? Or asked to speak in private? It's fine if you don't approve, but was it necessary to demean me in front of all the professors and half the students?" Persephone challenged.

McGonagall just stared at her, it sounded much worse worded that way. "I suppose you have a point," she admitted, but she felt she hadn't been entirely in the wrong. "Just let me advise you, behavior like that will not be tolerated again."

"I don't suppose it will be," Persephone agreed. They watched each other for a moment, each judging the will of the other. They seemed to come to some unspoken agreement.

"It was a decent bit of transfiguration, at least," McGonagall offered.

Persephone was surprised at the olive branch. "Thank you." McGonagall left.

Eyes twinkling, Dumbledore handed Persephone a roll of parchment. Unrolling it, she saw it was a list of her duties.

"Wow, I guess Filch does a lot around here. Oversee the house-elves? Somehow I can't picture him doing that."

"That's why it's your job." Dumbledore smiled.

"Ah. Help Hagrid with care of magical creatures. Really? What kind of creatures?" Persephone couldn't keep the excitement from her voice.

"I have to warn you, Hagrid has an interesting perspective on magical creatures. I thought, however, considering your background, you'd be willing to help."

"Of course. We talked at dinner. He seems nice."

"Any other questions?"

Persephone scanned the list. "No, I think I'll be fine." She looked up, still expecting some kind of punishment. "I hope the thing in the hall didn't…"

"Oh, no. That was really quite amusing. I don't think I've seen anyone get Minerva like that in some time. It's probably good for her." Dumbledore chuckled.

Smiling, Persephone got up to leave. She was about to reach for the door when it flew open, almost knocking her off her feet.

"Ow!" She looked up rubbing her shoulder and collarbone, Snape stood in the doorway.

"A word, if you would, Headmaster."

"Of course. You're all right?" he asked Persephone.

"Fine." She and Snape locked eyes. He backed down first.

"My apologies." Snape swept past her into the room. Persephone headed back down the spiral staircase thinking her first night could have gone worse, though she wasn't exactly sure how.

Dumbledore regarded Snape from across his desk, patiently waiting for him to begin.

"I assume you know why I'm here," Snape said, a slight edge to his voice.

"I have several theories, but am anxious to see which is correct," he replied with a slight smile.

It did nothing to improve Snape's mood. "I am requesting you reconsider your addition to my NEWT potions class. As in years before, I only accept those students who have received an 'O' on their OWL exams. While Potter may have scraped by," Snape paused to dispel the irritation that arose with the thought that Potter had somehow managed an 'O', "Weasley on the other hand…"

Dumbledore's gaze hardened slightly. "I believe we have discussed this. They will both take the class. One additional student will hardly make a difference."

Snape only glared in response. He got up to leave, thinking any other student would have been better. Potter and Weasley together were nothing but trouble.

"Want a game of Exploding Snap, Harry?" Neville asked. He had finished organizing his things and was headed to the Gryffindor common room with a deck of cards. Harry did not move his gaze from the space above his bed, which he'd been staring at since they'd gone to their rooms after dinner, nor did he reply. Ron looked at him worriedly from his position in front of his own messy trunk.

"Sure, Neville. We'd love to play." Ron stood. Harry turned his head slightly and opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Ron grabbed his arm and dragged him into a sitting position. "I'm not going to let you brood up here all year. It'll get your mind off…things."

Harry tried to think of an appropriate reply but decided Ron was only trying to help. "Yeah, all right." He plodded past Neville and down the stairs.

"Is he all right?" Neville asked in a concerned tone.

Ron looked at him. "Would you be?" He sighed. "Come on. Let's go see if we can bring him out of it for a little while, at least."

Hermione looked up and saw Harry walk into the common room. "Harry! I didn't think you were coming down."

"Neville wants a game of Exploding Snap." Harry plopped into an armchair.

"That's awfully loud. Don't you think you should be study-OW!" Hermione glared at Ginny, who had slapped her arm and given her a dirty look.

"Hey Ginny. Wanna play?" Harry half-smiled. It was funny to watch Ginny try to abort Hermione's attempts at mothering. At least, it was until he remembered why she was doing it in the first place.

Ginny smiled at him. "Sure."

Ron and Neville came in and sat by Harry as Ginny walked over, and they started the game, much to Hermione's annoyance. Later that night, as Harry tried to fall asleep, he had to admit that Ron was right. For a while at least, he had forgotten. He closed his eyes and hoped the day had worn him out enough to keep the nightmares at bay.

Persephone woke the next morning to bright sunlight and a pair of baby-blue eyes.

"Mmmmph." She rolled over. She felt a prodding on her shoulder. "Mmmmph. Ow. That still hurts. Okay, okay. I'm up. You happy?" She stumbled into the bathroom. Feeling marginally more awake after her morning routine, she went back to the bedroom to dress.

"I see why you wanted me to get up, you wanted my spot. Too bad, you're helping me today." The blue eyes closed and buried under the pillow. "Nope, up. You're coming with me." Persephone grabbed a thick leather bound book and they headed down to breakfast.

She stopped in the kitchens first. About ten house-elves rushed to her.

"How can we help, miss? Dumbledore told us a new Missus was coming," one squeaky voice piped up.

"Well, I'm sure you all do a great job already, but I'd like a list of your names and what your main jobs are, and all the other house-elves, too."

"Whatever Missus wants!" a house-elf standing by the ovens exclaimed. He pulled out a tray of freshly-baked pastries and set it on the low table behind him. When he turned to greet Persephone, his tennis-ball eyes widened even more and he let out a small squeal of surprise.

"Is something wrong?" Persephone asked, puzzled by his expression, a mixture of fear and alarm.

"N-n-no, Missus," the house-elf stuttered.

"You are?"

"Dobby." He bowed.

She shook her head, wondering at his behavior. She mentally shrugged. Perhaps he was expecting someone more like Filch. "Can you do me a favor? Can you watch Noir? I don't want to bring him to breakfast. Try to keep him out of trouble. Oh, and if you could, give him something to eat? No bacon, it makes him sick." She nudged Noir toward the house-elf. Noir looked at her reproachfully. "Don't give me that look. There's coffee up there, right?"

A female house-elf rushed up to her with a steaming cup. "Oh. Thanks."

Persephone walked into the Hall, sipping her coffee. She spotted Harry, Ron, and Hermione at the Gryffindor table. She headed over and sat next to Hermione, ignoring her black look. Harry was happy for the distraction. Without Ginny there to diffuse it, Hermione's mothering and Ron's awkward sidestepping were almost more than he could take.

"Hi. Harry. Ron. Hermione." She pointed at each as she said their name.

"Yeah. How did you know?" Ron asked, bewildered. "Well, Harry, obviously…"

Persephone smiled and tossed her book on the table. In black letters along the top, it read 'Argus Filch'.

"You stole Filch's diary?" Hermione exclaimed.

"Filch has a diary?" Ron laughed.

"It's more a log of student transgressions, and no, I didn't steal it. He told me to read it so that I would be 'prepared'."

Harry looked at her, mildly interested. "Prepared for what?"

"I have no idea." Persephone shrugged, Ron and Harry laughed, and Hermione sniffed. "It's rather entertaining, though. You three come up quite a bit, though not as much as Fred and George. Your brothers?"

Ron nodded. "Yeah, they left last year to start a joke shop. It's actually doing pretty well."

"If what's written up in here is any indication, I don't wonder why. Quite inventive, those two," Persephone said admiringly. "Oh, I wanted to ask: there's quite a few entries about a…" Persephone flipped though some pages. "…poltergeist. Peeves? What's that all about?"

"Filch has had a war going on with Peeves for years," Harry explained. "It started long before we got here, so I don't know why, other than Peeves is generally nasty, dropping stuff on students, and making messes everywhere. Keep a watch out, since you're related, Peeves might concentrate on you for a while. The only one he listens to is the Bloody Baron, Slytherin's ghost."

"I see. Thanks for the heads-up."

"Good morning, Gryffindors!" Nearly Headless Nick wafted over to the table.

"Speaking of heads-up, Miss Hade, this is Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor Ghost," Hermione formally introduced them.

"I prefer Sir Nicholas, if you please. Ah, our new Assistant Caretaker." Nick made a sweeping bow, which caused his head to slip slightly.

Persephone smiled. She'd heard him mentioned before. "It's very nice to meet you."

Nick paused. "You look very familiar. Did you go to school here?"

"No. I went to school back in America," she replied. Harry saw her expression change slightly, becoming far more guarded.

He peered more closely at her. "You do look like someone I know. Can't think of whom…yes, well, when you've been here as long as I have, sometimes it's hard to remember things." Nick sighed. "Well, I bid you good day. Charmed to meet you."

The table waved as Nick drifted off.

"I wonder if he thinks I look like Filch," Persephone mused.

"You don't look much like him at all," Hermione commented.

Persephone winked at Harry across the table. "No, I'm twice as ugly, remember?"

Ron turned pink and stuttered, "Um, I'm sorry about the ugly comment, I didn't…"

"Don't worry about it," Persephone laughed.

"She obviously doesn't care what other people think about her appearance," Hermione grumbled. Eyeing Persephone's outfit, stylish pants and a grey button-up top with the top buttons undone, Hermione decided Persephone had obviously not taken McGonagall's request to heart.

Persephone turned to her. "Are you talking about last night? Listen, the only reason I did that was because McGonagall was asking for it."

Hermione snorted derisively, "All she asked for was for you to put on something decent."

"In front of all the professors and half the students. If she'd done it in private, I'd have agreed. She wanted it to be a big deal, so I made it one."

"Hmmph."

"What happened?" Harry changed the subject, pointing at the large dark bruise on her collarbone only partially concealed by her shirt. It hadn't been there at dinner last night, he was sure. At that moment, Snape walked past their table. He and Harry exchanged menacing glances.

Persephone turned around to see who it was. "Door." Snape glanced at her and frowned, then continued to the Head Table.

"Why don't you go to Madame Pomfrey and get it taken care of?" Ron asked.

"It's just a bruise; it'll go away on its own," she said with a shrug. "We didn't have a Healer back home. Not for minor stuff anyway."

Harry noticed red marks not too far below the bruise. Persephone caught his look and quickly buttoned another button.

"You guys have Care of Magical Creatures first?" she asked, glancing at Hermione's schedule.

"Yeah. With the Slytherins," Harry said.

"It's still a good class, though," Ron added.

"I'm sure it will be. Well, nice to meet you. I'll see you later." She grabbed a muffin and headed back to the kitchens.

Ron looked back down at his schedule as soon as Persephone was out of sight, his expression becoming more confused as he examined the rest of the week. "Read this." He thrust the parchment at Hermione.

She took it with a puzzled expression and did so, out loud. "Care of Magical Creatures…"

"No, tomorrow's," Ron broke in.

"Transfiguration, double potions, astron…double potions?" Hermione looked up. "I thought you got a…"

"I know what I got on my potions OWL!" Ron said angrily. "So why is potions on my schedule for this year? The one thing I was happy about all summer was I would never have another class with Snape."

Hermione shrugged but noticed Harry staring off into space on the other side of the table. She suddenly had an inking of why Ron might have been added to the class roster. She and Ron exchanged glances, and it seemed to dawn on him, too. Ron got Harry's attention and they headed out to Hagrid's hut.

Dobby was chasing after Noir, trying vainly to catch him. "Noir must not eat that!"

"Noir! What are you doing?" Persephone demanded as she walked back into the kitchens. Noir halted, dropped the bacon he had stolen and looked up with innocent baby blue eyes. "Has he been giving you trouble?"

"No, missus! He is just very fast for one so small," Dobby implored.

"He doesn't listen, either. Come on, you. Time for class."

Hermione, Ron, and Harry walked past the greenhouses to Hagrid's hut, eager for their first Care of Magical Creatures lesson.

"I wonder what he'll have this year," Hermione mused.

"Something poisonous no doubt," Harry replied. Hermione slid a sideways glance at him, not liking his tone. She hoped he was only joking but, by his grim expression, she wasn't sure.

"Maybe it'll bite Malfoy." Ron had just spotted him walking with Crabbe and Goyle.

They reached the hut and stood with the other Gryffindors and Slytherins around a wooden table set outside. Hagrid stood grinning at them. To their surprise, Persephone was there as well. She smiled at them. Ron tripped.

"Welcome to yer firs' Magical Creatures class of the year! We have a guest today. Yeh remember her from las' night, Persephone." A few of the students snickered. "She's lent us a magical creature ter study. Yeh were supposed ter do it las' year but…"

"Maybe this won't be so bad after all," Pravati whispered to Lavender.

Persephone placed a small ball of fur on the table. The creature was mostly black with dark brown spots, large ears, and a lion's tail. It uncurled and yawned, exposing sharp white teeth, then began to wash, haughtily ignoring the students.

"This is Noir."

"Ooooh!" the girls sighed.

"He's so cute!" Lavender squealed. Even the Slytherin girls looked enraptured.

"A kitten? What so magical about that?" Malfoy sneered.

"It's a kneazle kitten. Don't you know anything, Malfoy?" Hermione scoffed.

"Righ', Hermione, five points ter Gryffindor. So, this here's a kneazle. They're independent sorts…"

Persephone's head shot up at Malfoy's name. There was a Malfoy here? It couldn't…Dumbledore would've said something, but how many Malfoy families were there? She looked in the same direction Hermione had and spotted Draco.

Harry watched as Persephone caught sight of Malfoy and was surprised at the intensity of the hate that showed in her eyes. If he didn't know better, he would have said she hated Malfoy more than he did.

"So if yeh want ter pet him, I think that'd be all righ'. Just don' crowd too much." Hagrid continued lecturing as the students took turns petting his soft black and brown fur.

Noir closed his baby blue eyes and accepted the gleeful petting as his due, ruffling only slightly at some of the Slytherins. But when Malfoy reached for him, Noir arched his back, laid back his ears and hissed. Malfoy snatched his hand back, narrowly escaping the sharp-clawed swipe Noir aimed at him.

"They have an uncanny ability to detect unsavory characters." Persephone glared at Malfoy with utmost loathing. Malfoy stared haughtily back.

"Hade, I asked my father about that name. There was a friend of his named Hade, who died a while back,. Was he related to you?" Malfoy's expression left no doubt he knew exactly how his father's friend was related to her. Persephone's eyes narrowed. "My father was there when Hade's wife died, too. He sent me a picture. She looks a bit like you. Did you know her?"

"YOU SON OF A…!" Persephone whipped out her wand and tried to jump over the table to get to Malfoy, but Hagrid caught her with one massive hand and held her back. The rest of the class watched in amazement.

Still holding on to her, Hagrid addressed the class, "Well, I think that's enough fer today. Why don' we go inside and have some tea," he said to Persephone, who was still fighting to get to Malfoy. When Hagrid released her, she scooped up the still hissing kitten, and followed him into his hut.

Ron, Harry, and Hermione exchanged glances as they headed back to the castle.

"I wonder what that was all about," Ron said.

Harry wondered as well. Her family was connected to the Malfoys? That meant she was probably a pure-blood. Hadn't Sirius once said something about all pure-blood families knowing each other? Were they Death Eaters? Maybe her family was like Sirius', and she was the only one not on Voldemort's side? Maybe she had known Sirius? She was younger, but not by much.

And how did Filch fit in? Harry thought for a moment. If she was his niece, and they didn't have the same last name, then it must have been Filch's sister who was her mother. Both her parents were dead? Maybe her family was killed by Aurors. Anything that had to do with Voldemort and his possible supporters interested Harry, especially if it involved the Malfoys. Did the Order know about her? They must, Dumbledore had to know something. Harry was burning with curiosity, and for a moment, it pushed out all his other thoughts. Who could he ask?Not Dumbledore; he never gave Harry straight answers. Sirius would have told him…Harry felt the familiar drop in his stomach. Maybe Lupin could tell him something. He had said to write if he ever needed anything.

Harry thought about Lupin as they walked back to the castle. Early in the summer, he'd stopped by the Burrow and talked to Harry. Harry had a feeling Mrs. Weasley had said something to him, because the first thing Lupin had said was what happened hadn't been Harry's fault. Lupin told him Dumbledore had asked him to take Buckbeak to a magical wildlife refuge in America and he wanted to make sure Harry was all right before he left. Harry still flinched when he thought of how Lupin had looked. Aside from the strain of being a werewolf, Harry could see he was not taking the loss of his best friend well. He supposed that was the real reason he had left.

If you need anything, Harry, anything at all, let me know. And I wouldn't mind the occasional update from school either, just to see you're doing all right. He was glad he hadn't seen Lupin for the rest of the summer. In the extra time they had from Care of Magical Creatures being cut short, Harry wrote a letter.

Dear Professor Lupin,

I'm doing fine and glad to be back at Hogwarts. It seems that Snape has been passed over for the Defense Against the Dark Arts job again. There's a new professor, Dunn. Haven't had him yet but I'm sure he'll be better than Umbrage, at least. There's also a new Assistant Caretaker, Persephone Hade. Apparently, she's Filch's niece. She's much nicer than Filch, and seems to have an even worse opinion of Malfoy than I do, so I think she was an excellent choice. Hope everything went well with Buckbeak and that you had a good summer. I'll let you know if anything unusual happens..

Harry

Harry reread the letter. He thought the tone was light enough to convince Lupin he was fine, and hoped it didn't seem as though he was fishing for information. He checked his watch. If he hurried, he could make it to the Owlrey before his next class.

"I'm going to send this before Divination. I'll meet you there," he told Ron who was sorting through papers, looking for his schedule.

Persephone stalked angrily into the castle. How dare Dumbledore not tell her Lucius Malfoy's son was at Hogwarts? Hagrid had plied her with tea until he thought she had calmed down enough to leave. As soon as she could, she headed back to the castle and Dumbledore's office, leaving Noir happily purring on Hagrid's bed. She stopped in front of the stone gargoyle she had gone through the previous night. She let out a frustrated groan. The password had changed.

"Is there a problem?" Professor McGonagall asked as she watched Persephone pace back and forth in front of the statue.

"I need to speak with Professor Dumbledore. Now." Persephone was agitated and McGonagall was not likely to help her.

McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "Acid pop!" The gargoyle sprung aside and the passageway opened.

Persephone walked inside. "Thank you." Acid pop? She reached the top and knocked on the door.

"Come in."

She stood in front of Dumbledore's desk and demanded, "Why didn't you tell me Lucius Malfoy's son was at this school?"

"I think you know why." Dumbledore sat back and leveled his gaze at her. "I hope this hasn't changed your mind."

"Not in the slightest," Persephone said through clenched teeth as she left. But it sure doesn't make my job any easier.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat at dinner, each lost in their own thoughts. Harry wondered how long it would take Lupin to answer, and if he would have written anything about Persephone and the Malfoys. Hermione, as always, was lost in some huge tome, extracting every detail she could and trying to stay ahead of her studies. Between bites, Ron was stealing surreptitious glances at the Head table where Persephone sat, toying with her food, and looking unhappy.

"She looks upset about something," Ron said, breaking into Harry's thoughts.

Hermione didn't look up. She knew who Ron was talking about. "If Malfoy had said something like that to me, I'd probably be upset too."

Harry shook off his thoughts and followed Ron's gaze to the Head table. "If Snape were staring at me, I wouldn't be too pleased, either."

Ron and Hermione turned and looked at Snape. Sure enough, he was staring at Persephone, who seemed unaware. His expression was unreadable.

"Doesn't look like she's noticed." Hermione went back to her book.

"He's not the only one staring." Harry had just spotted Malfoy watching her with a malevolent smile. "He's planning something."

Persephone got up to leave. She wasn't hungry, and she couldn't stand being in the same room as Malfoy. She knew he was sneering at her. Looking to the side, she saw there was no way to her rooms but to go past the Slytherin table and out the main door. She had just passed Malfoy snickering with his friends when he turned and spoke in a low hiss.

"I know all about you."

Persephone froze and turned around to face him.

"He said there's still a decision to be made." He looked at her contemptuously. "But it seems to me you're as foolish as your mother. She deserved what she got and so do you."

It happened so fast, no one had time to react. Persephone grabbed the back of Malfoy's robes and threw him face down on the floor, twisting his left arm behind his back. Her other hand was holding the back of his neck down and her right knee was in the center of his back. All the professors had jumped up, and Crabbe and Goyle seemed confused, but realized they should do something and stood up.

"One more step and I break it." She twisted Malfoy's arm and, by his involuntary cry of pain, they could tell she was dangerously close to doing just that. Turning back to Malfoy and leaning down so only he could hear, she hissed, "He should be well aware of my decision." She pulled slightly on his arm and was rewarded with another yelp. "And if you ever speak of my mother again, I will make sure there won't be enough pieces left of you to put back together."

Persephone let go and got up. Malfoy rolled over, clutching his shoulder. Crabbe and Goyle backed up when she glared at them. She stalked out of the silent hall, students and professors staring after her.

"Dumbledore will see you out of here for that, girl. And if not him, Lucius Malfoy will make sure of it," Filch said as he passed her in the corridor. Persephone didn't answer.

Back in the hall, everyone was slowly getting over the shock of what had just happened as whispers returned to normal voice level.

"I haven't seen anyone take down Malfoy like that since Harry and Fred last year. I bet he's fuming a girl pinned him in front of the whole school," Seamus said watching Malfoy leave, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, as though expecting another attack.

"I wonder what he said to her," Ginny said, looking at the doorway.

"I wonder what she said back," Ron said, eyes wide.

"I wonder if she'll get thrown out for attacking a student," Hermione added.

The other three turned to her. "What do you have against her, anyway?" Harry asked.

Hermione didn't respond, focusing on her plate. Ginny looked from Hermione to Ron then to Harry. Harry and Ron looked back at Ginny with expectant faces. She shrugged and stood up. Taking it as a cue, they left the Hall, followed by many other students speculating on what had happened.

Persephone sat on her bed waiting for the summons to the Headmaster's office. Even if her remaining at Hogwarts depended on it, she wouldn't tell him what Malfoy had said. The moon rose and fell. She fell asleep around dawn.

She woke with a start. She'd only slept for a couple of hours. Still, no summons. She sighed and dressed, then headed downstairs. She figured she may as well do something besides hide while she waited for Dumbledore to request her presence.

Snape was stalking through the dungeon hallways on his way back to his office. He had just checked on Malfoy in the hospital wing, and was thinking Draco's poor judgment was going to get him in real trouble someday. Dumbledore had asked him to send Persephone to his office if he ran into her. Snape almost laughed at that, if she was smart, she'd already left. Apparently not, he thought as he spotted a flash of gold out of the corner of his eye. Down the corridor to his left, he saw her peering into an empty classroom, mumbling. She closed the door and moved to the next one.

He watched her for a moment before speaking. "What are you doing?"

She whirled around, wand out, eyes wide. Slowly, she lowered her wand. "I thought I'd take a look at my office before I got kicked out. Just curious, you know. Too bad I can't find it."

"The Headmaster would like to see you," Snape said icily.

"I bet he would," she sighed and walked past him. Snape grabbed her arm and she turned toward him.

"I'd like a word as well." Their gazes locked. She shook him off. He followed her back to the entrance hall.

"Just the person I wanted to see." Persephone froze at the familiar voice. "It's been too long since we last met, Persephone." Lucius Malfoy stood in the entrance hall, his voice as cold as his smile. "Imagine my surprise when I found out you had graced Hogwarts with your presence. After hearing about your…activities, I had to see for myself. Such a pleasure to see you again."

"I can't say the same, Lucius," Persephone replied, her tone glacial.

Lucius moved closer and raised his hand to touch her face. "My, my, my. You've changed, my dear."

"You haven't." She jerked away from him, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her closer.

"You still have a decision to make," Lucius hissed so only she could hear.

"Like I told your son, you should be well aware of my choice. Or have you forgotten?" she said with clenched teeth.

"I think it's you who's forgotten." His grip tightened. "There are those of us who still remember promises made."

Before she could reply, Snape broke in, "While you seem to have recovered quite well from your recent…confinement, I would hardly advise your appearance here."

Lucius considered. "Good to know you still have my best interests at heart, Severus."

Persephone tried to detect any sarcasm, but was distracted when Snape grabbed her wrist and jerked her backwards and out of Lucius' grasp.

"In that vein, I will see to an appropriate punishment myself." Persephone turned her glare from Lucius to Snape.

"It's good to know I can still count on you." The cold smile was back as Lucius turned and left.

Snape didn't release her as he made his way to his office. She stumbled to keep up, temper rising with every snickering student they passed. He held on even after they had reached his office and he closed the door. Her wrist was throbbing in pain as Snape turned to face her. She tried to pull away, backing up until she felt stone wall behind her. Snape leaned until his face was an inch away, his eyes burning into hers. His voice was low and dangerous.

"You would do well to control your temper. You are drawing far too much attention to yourself, and it will cause nothing but trouble. Count yourself lucky you did not go into the entrance alone."

"I don't see how that is your concern," she said with barely controlled fury in her voice.

"It does concern me, and a number of other people. And if you're not careful, you will end up like your mother."

Persephone's free hand flew up to strike him, but he caught her wrist barely an inch from his jaw. "You know nothing about what happened to my mother." She was shaking with rage.

Snape held her wrists pinned to the wall. They stared at each other for several minutes, Snape tightening his grip. She broke their gaze and turned her head to the side. "You're hurting me."

Snape observed her profile for a moment, then slowly backed up and released her. "Be back here at one o'clock. As I told Lucius, I will see to your punishment myself." Before she could spit out the angry words he knew she would say, he added, "Undoubtedly, the Headmaster will agree."

Persephone stormed out without a word.

Ron, Harry, Ginny, and Hermione sat at lunch, trying to piece together the truth from all the rumors flying around the school.

"…apparently Snape dragged her off to his office. I heard it from some first year Slytherins who saw them in the dungeon hall," Ginny said. "I guess Dumbledore is letting him decide what to do. I wonder why."

"I wonder what Snape has in store for her," Ron mused aloud. "I bet it's something awful."

"She'll get what she deserves," Hermione said.

"A medal?" Ron snickered. Hermione shot him a look. "Don't tell me you're on Malfoy's side! You slapped him once."

"Of course not! But, she attacked a student. Dumbledore couldn't let it go unpunished," she stated. "Besides, I just slapped him. I didn't pin him to the floor and try to break his arm."

Ron was about to reply when he caught sight of Persephone walking in for lunch. The four of them watched as she passed by, and saw her wrists were circled with dark bruises.

"You don't think Snape let Filch hang her from the ceiling, do you?" Ron asked. Filch had threatened students with that since their first year, bemoaning the outlaw of said practice. He had come close to having it reinstated with Umbrage's help the previous year.

"Maybe she just bruises easily," Hermione said with a shrug.

Harry wondered, Ginny said Snape had dragged Persephone to the dungeons. He remembered how tight Snape's grip had been the day he had been caught watching his memory in the Pensive. He'd had a nasty bruise after that.

Persephone grabbed a piece of fruit and headed back out the door. She had no desire to sit and be the focus of stares and speculation. By now the whole school had heard about Snape dragging her off to some unknown punishment. She walked through the grass and sat in the sun, near a tree by the lake. Eating her apple, she idly wondered where Noir was, but as she had left him with Hagrid the previous day, she wasn't worried. Tossing the core into the lake, she lay back in the sun and closed her eyes. It was only noon and she was already exhausted. I have an hour before I have to go back.

A shadow blocking the sun woke her. "What do you think you're doing?"

Persephone sat up quickly, her heart slowing when she saw who it was. "I fell asleep," she said evenly. It was all she could do to suppress the flip remark she longed to say. She sensed aggravating Snape further would not be a good idea.

"You were supposed to be in the dungeon an hour ago," Snape's voice was cold. "You will make up the time. Starting now." He turned to leave.

When they reached the potions classroom, Persephone noticed a cauldron had been set up in the back corner. Snape pointed to it.

"I want to see how adept you are at potion making. You will join my sixth year class for today."

Persephone felt her anger rising. He was going to humiliate her in front of his class? Snape saw the fire flash in her eyes. "You are well aware I have-"

"I prefer to see for myself," he said. She stalked over to the bench and sat, aiming the full force of her angry glare at him. "If you had been here on time, I would have tested you in private. And I expect you to control yourself in my classroom."

Students began to arrive and she understood Snape's warning.

"I hate double potions with the Slytherins. I was this close to never having to do this again," Ron grumbled as he and Harry sat at their usual bench with Hermione across from them and in front of Persephone. Right behind them was Malfoy, leading a group of Slytherins. He caught sight of Persephone and shot her a look of pure hate. Her jaw clenched slightly, but she acted like she hadn't seen him. Ron, Harry, and Hermione turned around, surprise showing on all their faces. Ron managed a smile.

"What's she doing in our potions class?" Hermione whispered to Harry.

"Her presence here does not concern you, Miss Granger," said Snape as he walked past Hermione and set several jars in front of Persephone, then returned to the front of the classroom.

"Today you will make a Calming Solution. Read the instructions carefully." Snape fixed his gaze on Ron. As the formula appeared on the board behind Snape, students rose to get the ingredients they would need. Snape made his way back to Persephone's table. "You will be making the Wolfsbane Potion." He indicated the jars in front of her. "Everything else you need is in the student cupboard."

Harry, who had just sat with his ingredients, looked over at Persephone, surprised. He remembered three years ago when Lupin was the DA professor, he had said the Wolfsbane Potion was particularly complex. Persephone seemed unfazed by her assignment and rolled her eyes when Snape turned around. She rose, collected the rest of the necessary ingredients, and set to work.

Snape, as usual, walked about the students, glaring into their cauldrons and making remarks about the quality of their work. "Weasley, it is supposed to simmer, not boil," he sneered as he glared at Ron, who grudgingly lowered his flame. Persephone glanced over for a second, then focused back on her own work.

Snape moved on, stood by Persephone's table, and watched as she measured, added, stirred, and adjusted her flame. She ignored him. She didn't seem to notice Malfoy shooting her hate-filled looks every chance he got, either. Snape moved back to the front of the room. "Your Calming Solutions should simmer for ten minutes," he said as he looked over the class.

Harry gave his potion a final stir and lowered his flame. The rest of the students cleaned up their benches. In ten minute's time they poured their solutions into glass vials labeled with their names, and placed them on Snape's desk. Harry's solution, along with that of most of the class, was crystal clear. Ron's was slightly cloudy. He regarded it with disgust, then labeled it with his name and dropped it on Snape's desk. Ron and Harry looked over at Persephone, who frowned as she continued to stir, measure, and add ingredients.

"I suppose it takes longer to make," Harry said to Ron as they left.

Twenty minutes later, Persephone poured the potion from her cauldron into a large glass bottle. "It's done." She placed it in front of Snape. He poured out a small amount and examined it, then added a few drops of a purple liquid. The sample turned bright blue.

"It seems you have some skill for potion-making. You will help formulate the potions Madam Pomfrey requires." Persephone started to get up but sat back down when Snape continued, "That is not all. You will also clean the potions storeroom. Without magic."

Persephone stood up and put her hands on the desk. "Fine."

Snape looked down and saw the dark bruises circling her wrists. "Get that taken care of."

She looked at her wrists and shrugged. "There's really no reason…"

Snape glared at her. "Sit."

She sat while Snape went into his office and returned with a small bottle and two strips of cloth. He sat across from her. "Give me your hands."

Looking at him suspiciously, she placed her arms palm up on the desk. He took her right hand and poured some of the solution from the small bottle over her wrist. She jerked back as she felt the all-too-familiar burn, but Snape held onto her hand.

Not looking up, he wrapped one strip of cloth gently around her wrist. He held her left hand and repeated the process, then examined her wrists. "Leave that on until tomorrow." Not releasing her hands, he looked up.

"Thank you," she said. He let go and she left.

The burning had subsided into a warm tingling as she walked down the cold passageway. Persephone decided to visit the laundry house-elves as long as she was in the dungeons, hoping she would find her office somewhere along the way. She found the laundry room first. A house-elf came up to her, brandishing a list.

"Missus wanted a list of names and duties," the small female elf squeaked and bowed.

Persephone took the list. "Thank you…" she trailed off expectantly.

"Tween, Missus." The house elf continued to bob curtsies as Persephone looked around the room.

It was large and circular, containing several large brass tubs filled with steaming liquid and assorted clothes and linens. Eight house-elves stood around each tub, stirring. Clothes were moved from the first soapy tub to the second to be rinsed, the third tub being final rinse enhanced with a dirt-repellent charm. From there, they were sent through a wringer, then magically dried and folded by the house-elves surrounding a long wooden table. They placed the clean folded clothes into labeled sacks to be brought back to their proper owners. She had wondered how the house elves could run the laundry without being inadvertently set free, as technically, each student and staff member was a 'master'. Dumbledore had explained the complicated system that had been set up so only the intent of any person living within the castle giving the house elves clothes would set them free. Otherwise, handling clothes would have no effect. Persephone watched linens float from one tub to the next for a moment before speaking.

"You're allowed magic here?"

"Yes, Missus. Professor Dumbledore allows it, as it is faster and easier this way. But only for work." Tween continued to bob in place.

"I see. Looks like you're all doing great. If there are any problems, let me know." She turned to leave but saw Tween was on the verge of saying something. "Is there a problem?"

Tween looked as though she was fighting the urge to say something. "No, Missus."

Persephone looked at her closely, "All right, but if there is, you let me know." Tween bobbed again and scurried back to the folding table.

Persephone walked out of the laundry and down the corridor she thought led back to the stairs to the front hall. When it turned and ended in a wall, she decided it was not. However, she had finally come across her office.

"It would be at the end of some dank, unused hallway in the dungeon." She dusted off the Assistant Caretaker plaque with her sleeve and opened the cobweb-covered door. Light from the torches in the hall barely illuminated the small rectangular room. An ancient desk stood in the center, and behind it, an equally ancient cabinet. In the wall facing the desk was a fireplace. Two bookshelves, devoid of books, faced each other from opposite sides of the room. Everything was covered by a thick film of grime. "Cozy."

With a wave of her wand she lit the torches in the room, the layers of filth gleaming dully. She set to work cleaning the years of neglect off the furniture, floors and walls.

"Scourgify!"

When she finished, the wooden furniture showed it had once been stained a dark cherry color, but even with the dirt removed it still had a beat-up look from the scratches and gouges. She shrugged. It wasn't fancy, but that made no difference to her. At least now it was clean and the grey granite walls sparkled with chips of mica instead of cobwebs.

"I could use some chairs, though." She left the office and headed toward an unused classroom. Grabbing the only two wooden chairs without pieces missing, she carried them back to her office. Placing one behind the desk and the other as a guest chair, she transfigured them into matching rich brown leather armchairs. She sat and opened the drawers of the desk. All were empty except one, which contained a stack of faded and crumbling parchment. Persephone lit a fire in the fireplace and dumped the unreadable papers into it. Turning to the cabinet she reached for the key in the bottom half to unlock the doors. The cabinet gave a lurch.

Suddenly her father was standing in front of her. Her scream echoed down the hallway.

She had scrambled backwards over the desk and fallen on the floor before she regained her senses.

"Ridikulus!" The boggart vanished in a wisp of smoke. She stood up, staring at the place the boggart had been, breathing hard. Snape rushed in the doorway.

"I heard a scream." He watched her shaking in place.

Pulling her hair up and twisting it into a messy knot, she avoided his gaze. "I'm fine."

He looked at her disbelievingly and took a step.

She looked down at her watch. "It's time for dinner." Brushing past him, she headed towards the stairway. He frowned at the place she had been standing, then followed.

Persephone stopped in the girl's bathroom on the first floor. She splashed water on her face and stared into the mirror, then looked away, disgusted. Head held high, she walked into the dining hall and immediately spotted Malfoy grinning evilly at her. Looking around quickly, she saw Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny sitting at the Gryffindor table.

"Mind if I join you?"

Ron looked up and choked slightly on his roll. Harry patted him on the back. "Not at all."

Ginny rolled her eyes at Ron, while Hermione frowned and served herself mashed potatoes.

Ron recovered enough to speak. "How'd the potion turn out?"

Persephone was surveying the selection of food. "Hmm? Oh, fine. I have a secondary degree in Potions, but apparently he had to see for himself. Pass the potatoes, please."

As she took the bowl they noticed her wrists, now wrapped with white cloth.

"Snape didn't let Filch…hang you from the ceiling, or anything did he? He's been trying to do it to students for years," Ron asked. Ginny jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. Persephone just looked at Ron as she set the bowl down. He flushed. "Sorry, I…"

"No. Filch has barely said anything to me since I got here." She helped herself to the potatoes.

"You don't seem to get along," Hermione said.

"No, we don't." She poured a glass of pumpkin juice.

"Why…" Harry stopped himself. It really wasn't any of his business, though he did know what it was like to be stuck with relatives who didn't like you. Perhaps Persephone knew this and that was why she answered.

"He thinks I'm like my father." She looked at Harry across the table. Harry pondered for a moment. Snape hated him for the same reason.

"Are you?" Hermione inquired.

Persephone stared at her coldly. "No."

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

Harry took another stab at conversation, hoping he might get some answers to his questions on his own. "Why didn't you sit at the Head Table?" he asked. She looked to the Head table, then around the room.

"I'm trying to avoid…" Her gaze fell on Malfoy and his cronies. "…temptation."

"That was some move you pulled on Malfoy. Everyone knew he had it coming," Ron said enthusiastically.

"Was it worth it?" Hermione asked. Persephone turned to face her then turned back to her plate.

"I should have broken it," she muttered.

"Why?" Hermione persisted. Harry had an uneasy feeling. Why was Hermione pushing her?

"Because he deserved it." Her tone was icy.

"Somehow I doubt that." Hermione muttered under her breath, but everyone heard her.

Persephone faced Hermione again, her eyes cold and hard. "Lucius Malfoy and another Death Eater tortured and murdered my mother. His son seems to think it's fun to remind me of that."

Everyone at the table just sat in stunned silence. Persephone got up and left without another word.

"What is wrong with you?" Ron demanded, rounding on Hermione when Persephone was out of sight.

"I thought she was just being…I didn't know…I mean I…" Hermione got up and ran out of the hall.

Ron and Harry did not speak to her for the rest of the night. Still, Harry felt some of his frustration ease. Malfoy's father and another Death Eater killed her mother; that's what Draco had been goading her about. But who was the other Death Eater? And why? The questions that had been answered were replaced by many more. Harry found sleep a long time in coming.

"I wondered when you were going to show up," Persephone said as she walked into her room. "You haven't been bothering Mrs. Norris have you?"

"Rrreow." Noir jumped on the bed and curled up next to her pillow. Persephone unwound her hair and picked up her brush from the top of the dresser. The mirror beside it was not reflecting the torchlight in the room, its face flat silver. Persephone tapped the surface with her wand. "Memorandus."

She watched a familiar face appear in the mirror as she listened to the message. Noir had opened one eye in curiosity. She patted his head when the mirror's surface had returned to normal. "You'll have to go to Hagrid's again. I have to go out for a few days."