September 2, 1996

"Hello, everyone. My name is Professor Semiramis Ramat and I'll be your teacher this year. Welcome, all, to Defense Against the Dark Arts."

Complete and utter silence blanketed the classroom. No rustling of papers, no scratches of quills, no breathing, even, could be heard. Everyone and everything had frozen still, all eyes unblinkingly staring at the Professor. For a brief moment, Harry wondered if time itself had paused, if all the world was stuck in this vacuum of silence. Nature abhors a vacuum, though, and as all things must, it came to an end. Sound exploded back into the room all at once, loud mutters arising from the congregated students.

Harry remained silent. A flicker of pleasure appeared in the shadows of the Reaper's eyes, retreating just as quickly as it had appeared. Her gaze darted to Harry for a split second, appraising him. Harry automatically straightened in his seat, wanting to be found worthy of whatever she was looking for. Without acknowledging him further, she took one smooth step forward, carrying her body out of the white circle she'd been standing in.

Sliding her right hand behind her back, she retrieved her wand. To the untrained eye, it appeared as if the wand had simply been held between her shoulder blades, presumably supported by an unseen sheath. To Harry, however, he saw a brief displacement of air shimmer behind her neck before a thin rod of wood appeared in her hand. He'd had to become good at observing his surroundings. Knowing what was happening around him meant the difference between getting walloped by his uncle's broad hand or stepping just out of reach, between getting hit by a curse or sliding to the side so it harmlessly passed him by.

The newly named Semiramis Ramat silenced the class with a deafening bang issuing from the faintly glowing tip of her wand - pine, Harry realized, as he examined the unusually light coloured shaft.

"I trust you're all paying attention now? Good." Wand disappearing up her sleeve, the Professor stepped back into the circle. "Right, I've only got a year with you lot, so let's make the most of it. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect effort."

A glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye made Harry look toward the back of the classroom, where a visibly nervous Michael Corner was raising his hand.

"Yes?" Professor Ramat said, cocking an eyebrow.

"Er, you said you're only staying for a year. You don't plan to stay longer?" Michael asked, his voice unconvincingly calm.

"That is generally what one means by that, yes," was the dry response, causing several around the room to chuckle and Michael to sink further down into his seat. "I'm afraid my employer is only loaning me to Hogwarts for the year, then it's back to the same old soul-crushing job as always," she joked, eliciting more laughter. Eyes wide, Harry snorted into his elbow, hardly believing her brazenness.

"As N.E.W.T. students, you should all be familiar with the practice of dueling, yes?" Nodding heads answered her questions. Recovering from the shock of Professor Ramat's entrance, the DA members looked slightly more confident. Harry had worked them hard last year and now they'd get a chance to show that knowledge off.

"Excellent, excellent, we'll be practicing that today. There should be enough of you for twelve pairs," she said, gesturing toward the parallel rows of circles on the floor, "each of you get one circle. Once you step in, you cannot leave until your opponent is incapacitated. How you achieve that end is up to you. Six feet of room to move around in should be enough. All you need is your wand, go ahead and pair off."

The students rose as one, wands appearing from sleeves and holsters. Harry stood as well, gripping his holly wand tight.

"Psst, Harry, you and me?" Ron looked at Harry with hope in his eyes.

"One more thing!" The Professor called out over the din. "Your partner may not be in the same House as you." A collective groan rose at that, disgruntled students shooting glares at the Professor, who for her part looked very entertained. Harry felt relieved that he wouldn't have to duel Ron, they hadn't been on the best of terms lately. Instead, he ended up across from Terry, who grinned at him from his circle while bouncing on the balls of his feet. Looking down at the chalk line as he stepped over it, Harry noticed that the white line emitted a brief, warm silver glow and became a solid grey as soon as he was completely within its confines.

"As I'm sure you've noticed by now, your circles are no longer white. I've added a trick of my own to them; you physically cannot cross the border while your duel is in progress. It's not that I don't trust you all to keep to the rules… actually, that's exactly why." Professor Ramat shrugged, grinning unrepentantly. "Make sure you're in the proper stance, it'll make it harder for your partner to hit you. Like so…"

The Professor quickly shifted her stance; her left leg came forward, the right went behind. Her hands clenched into fists and her expression became fierce, the corners of her lips pulling up in a near growl. In that moment, Harry understood how this woman had become a Reaper, one of Death's favored. Every line, every curve of her body screamed danger, screamed that you'd best not cross her or she might hunt you down and gleefully rip into you just as she'd rip into a particularly delicious meal. Pine wand back in hand, a bright purple jet of light burst forth and slammed into a target that had appeared just above Susan Bones' head.

In the quiet that followed, she said," Angling your body back like this presents less surface area as a target. You should also be able to move more agily from this position." She relaxed the stance then, vanishing the punctured target. "Sorry about that, Susan." The girl in question mumbled that it was okay, still a little shaken.

"All right, no lethal spells, no intentionally causing harm, no blood if you can avoid it, are we clear?"

"Yes, ma'am!"

"Your circle will release you upon the conclusion of your duel. Return to the seat behind you once it has. Begin!"

Harry turned away and faced Terry, eager to duel. Every year when the Hogwarts Express carried him back to the tender mercies of the Dursley's, his magic vociferously protested, manifesting in an eternal itch that could never be sated until Harry returned to Hogwarts. Upon his return, using his magic once more felt freeing, like he was feeding a fire in him that rose higher with every spell until using his magic came as easy as breathing to him. Harry knew he'd never tire of casting, never tire of watching objects defy the laws of physics and gravity on a daily basis. He'd never lost that childlike sense of wonder he'd felt seeing a half-giant casually light a fire in the fireplace of a crumbling shack in the middle of the sea, and Harry supposed that was one of the few things he could thank the Dursleys for.

The pair sketched a bow toward each other, secret smiles passing between them. Each member of the DA knew everyone else's fighting style, a consequence of spending so many hours in the Room of Requirement together. Terry was a rather playful dueler, he enjoyed toying with his opponent before landing the final blow. He was also someone who liked moving around the battlefield as often as he could, which is why Harry knew he would likely struggle with the circles.

" Expelliarmus !" Harry cast, watching Terry neatly sidestep the blue spell. Terry returned the favor with an Incarcerous and they continued in this vein for a minute or so, simply feeling each other out. Harry noted Terry's wince when, while dodging a Depulso , his foot hit the edge of the circle he stood in. Smart of her to cause the barrier to shock us.

Tiring of the slow pace, Harry decided to use one of the spell chains he'd devised over the summer. Quickly sifting through his mental list, the majority were discarded for being too violent. He'd designed them to take down a Death Eater after all, not a classmate.

"Impedimenta, Petrificus Totalus, Incarcerous, Stupefy, Expelliarmus!" The spate of spells jetted from his wand tip and Harry nearly smiled at Terry's obvious panic. Terry couldn't dodge as he clearly wanted to since Harry had made sure to aim each spell at a different area of Terry's circle, knowing that his first instinct would be to move out of the way.

"Protego!" Terry yelped, the blue shield crackling to life just in time for Harry's first spell to slam into it.

Rather than wait for Terry to drop the shield, Harry went for the brute force approach. Might as well, it's not like I've got anyone else to fight.

" Bombarda! " muttered Harry, sending another hailstorm of curses toward Terry. The man in question doubled down on his shield, gripping his wand with both hands. As each Bombarda impacted the blue light, the shield emitted a loud, gong-like sound, drawing the attention of those who'd already finished their duels.

The seventh Bombarda was the limit for Terry, his Protego shattered under the pressure and Harry immediately seized his chance while Terry was still reeling from the backlash.

" Flipendo! "

Terry was blasted backwards, sliding completely out of his circle. He managed to roll to a stop just before he would've crashed against the desks against the wall. Registering the conclusion of the duel, both Harry and Terry's circles lit up and returned to their original white colour.

Still breathing hard from the adrenaline rush, Harry pocketed his wand and helped Terry up from where he'd collapsed.

"You all right, mate?" He asked, watching Terry dust himself off.

"You kidding?" Terry snorted, "That could've been much worse! Good job, Harry." Glad that Terry didn't hold anything against him, they shook hands and Harry retreated to his side of the room.

Hermione and Padma were still going strong, as were Draco and Anthony Goldstein. Ron was sitting a few chairs away from Harry, nursing a red welt on his forearm. Harry was privately glad that Ernie had landed a hit on Ron, though Ernie could also stand to be taken down a peg or two.

Up at the front of the room, Professor Ramat was lounging back in her chair, feet up on her empty desk. She looked immensely entertained and Harry couldn't blame her, duels were fun to watch. Her lips were quirked up into a half smile, which only fed the air of mischievousness about her.

Harry looked back to the two duels still in progress just in time to witness Padma just barely duck out of the path of an Incarcerous, only to step straight into an Expelliarmus. Her wand went flying across the room, rolling to a stop next to Harry's foot. Hermione smugly smiled at her victory, returning to her seat without saying another word to Padma. Harry stooped down to retrieve Padma's wand, tossing it back to her with an apologetic shrug.

"Thanks, Harry." Padma said, giving Harry a small smile.

With that, everyone's attention was on the last pair standing. Draco was beginning to look frustrated with Anthony, while Anthony looked as if he was having the time of his life. Draco's aim was steadily getting worse as Anthony continually deflected his curses, returning fire easily. Once an Impedimenta flew by Anthony a foot to his right he evidently decided to end the fight, disarming Draco with a well placed Expelliarmus .

"All right you lot, good job!" Professor Ramat called out, swinging her feet off her desk and standing up. "Hopefully you noticed some things about your partner's fighting style. We're going to duel once more, same partners, and I want you to see if you can use what you noticed against your partner. Same rules, no harm, no blood, am I understood?" She asked, pinning a few Slytherins with a glare. A muttered "Yes, ma'am," answered her question and she gestured for the second round to begin.

The second duel lasted longer than the first had now that both Terry and Harry had gotten warmed up. Ultimately, Harry managed to hit Terry with a trip jinx and landed an Incarcerous on his torso after the barriers failed to return to white once Terry was on the floor. Terry popped right back up with a smile on his face and managed to make Harry laugh with his infectious energy.

As far as he could tell, the outcomes of the duels were the same as they had been the first time around. Harry was quite proud that the DA members in the class usually won their duels, proving that he'd managed to teach them something in those months they'd been sneaking around.

"A couple things before I let you go," the Professor said once everyone had settled back down, "those of you who held the position I showed you had an easier time of it. Also, nearly all of you have to work on adapting your strategy to a change in terrain. A lot of you went in with the mindset that you'd be able to fight the same way you would in an open field with zero obstacles. I'm not going to assign an essay, I'd just like you to think about that. You're free to go now." Given the green light, there was a mad scramble as students grabbed their bags and made their way out of the classroom.

"Oh, and Harry, I'd like to talk to you." Professor Ramat called out to him over the crowd. Having expected something of the sort, Harry sat back down. Ron and Hermione paused, looking back at Harry with puzzled expressions. He shooed them out the door, mouthing that he'd meet them in the hallway once he was done.

Once Ernie and Justin left, the door swung shut behind them, leaving Harry and the presumed Reaper alone.

"Ah, Harry Potter," the Professor murmured, reclining back in her chair. "I've heard a lot about you."

Harry fidgeted in his seat, feeling awkward with that lead-in. "I reckon it's hard not to." He offered.

"Oh, certainly," she agreed, "especially when your boss won't shut up about you."

"Your boss?"

"Something tells me you already know who my boss is." Professor Ramat stated, cocking an eyebrow.

Harry nervously swallowed. Here was his chance to confirm his theory. Well, either confirm it or come off as mental in front of the new Professor. "Death."

"Got it in one. Like I said, he won't shut up about you," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Why?" Harry asked, morbidly curious. "Professor." He hastily added, not wanting to disrespect her.

"Oh please, call me Rami," Rami said, waving off the honorific, "He keeps an eye on you, you know, pops in every now and then. He's insanely proud of what you've done so far. He took a big risk when he interfered with the going ons of mortals and he's thrilled that it's paying off so far."

"Right," said Harry slowly, trying to grapple with the idea that a primordial deity was proud of him, "so what happens now?"

"Now? Now, we start getting rid of Lord Voldie." Rami stated matter-of-factly, grinning wildly.

"Yeah, I got that. But how?"

"Oh right, right, my boss told you about Horcruxes, yeah?"

"Briefly."

"Good enough. He's got six of 'em out there, seven including you."

"Hang on," Harry sputtered, "Death said there were six including me."

"It turns out Voldie had a busy summer. He made one more, his snake, Nagini." Rami said grimly. Horcruxes were just as big of an affront to her as they were to her boss, and it rankled a bit that she'd have to rely on a mortal kid to get rid of them for her.

"Great, just fantastic." Harry slumped in his seat, mentally cursing Voldemort's homicidal tendencies.

"So that's the bad news. The good news is that we can't go after them for a while, we've got to train you up first." Rami said, causing Harry to perk up.

"How so?" He asked.

"You've got a lot of untapped power in you right now. You've already seen some hints of it, yes?"

Harry paused, thinking back to when he'd first stepped foot on Hogwarts grounds. He'd seen images, flashes of the past relating to the House Ghosts. "Yes, I have," Harry admitted.

"That was all involuntary, we need to get you to the point where you can consciously tap into your powers."

"That sounds great and all, but what exactly are my powers?" Harry asked. Death hadn't given him many details before disappearing - literally.

"Let's see, you can heal soul damage, you can look at the life of a ghost who hasn't passed on - you've got to be in the same place for that though," she added as she ticked off each point on her fingers, "you can talk to ghosts who have passed on as long as you're at their burial site, you can manipulate soul energy, you can glean some surface details about a living person's life, you're immune to the killing curse - but you can be killed in other ways, so don't get cocky - and you can kill someone if they annoy you," she finished, grinning.

"I assume you mean through a method other than the killing curse?"

"Well, think about it. A dementor sucks the soul out of people, you can manipulate souls, you're pretty much the human equivalent of the Dementor's Kiss!" Rami said. "You don't have to kiss people though, don't worry."

"That's such a comfort." Harry deadpanned.

"I thought it was," Rami grumbled. "Anyway, I was thinking you could stay after class every Monday and we could work on training up some of those skills."

"That's fine," Harry agreed.

"Excellent! I'll see you next week for our first session. You're free to go join your friends, who are valiantly trying to eavesdrop by the way." Rami flicked her fingers at the door, which opened to reveal Ron and Hermione hovering by the now open doorway, obviously trying to listen in.

"Please collect your friends, Harry," Rami smiled in amusement at the clear embarrassment of the trio. Harry just sighed and went to do as she said.

"I'll see you three back in class on Thursday," she directed to Ron and Hermione, both of whom were sporting brilliantly red cheeks. Harry hustled them both down the hall, wincing when the door slammed shut behind them.

Would his friends ever learn?