Content Harry Potter
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September 2, 1996

Harry woke to the usual sounds in the dormitory: the muffled sounds of breathing; snoring; the murmurs of boys who talked in their sleep. Now that he was back in school, he reckoned that he'd improve the room with a round of silencing charms on all the beds. He really didn't care to listen to Ron snore or listen to his best mate bicker with his girlfriend while sleeping.

The layout in this year's dormitory was much like his rooms in prior years, although the beds were a bit bigger, and they each had an extra drawer beneath the spacious wardrobe. After sitting up, he stretched and pushed the curtain open, snagging his slippers with his toes before putting his feet on the very cold floor. Lowering his Occlumency shield, he reached out for Ginny. She was asleep, although he could detect a sleepy response as his mind touched hers briefly. He imagined that she was smiling in her sleep, just as he was smiling now. Three months ago he'd woken up one floor below; his heart then was cold and his mouth full of ashes. He heard Tonks' voice echoing in his mind. "He wanted you to live, Harry." He smiled.

I reckon he's happy now. I feel more alive than I have in years.

Another voice came into his mind. "She's a girl, she needs to hear that."

He nodded resolutely.

Ron had been out late the night before; whether he was doing real Prefect work or merely spending some quality time with the brightest witch of their generation was unknown to Harry; perhaps a little of both. In any event, Ron was still sleeping soundly, so Harry figured that he'd go to breakfast and if Ron didn't join him, he'd bring something back so he wouldn't have to hear Ron's stomach rumbling during their classes. Although he wasn't eager to be writing and taking quizzes and exams, it was good to be back, if only to see his friends again.

The common room was empty as he passed towards the portrait hole. He paused briefly at the stairway to the girls' dormitories, shrugging at the minor inconvenience of not being able to wake Ginny for breakfast. He'd see her soon enough; and now that he had a reason, he figured he'd devise a way around the anti-boy charms on the stairs.

The Great Hall was buzzing quietly; each house table had a smattering of students engaged in breakfast. Hufflepuff, oddly enough, was almost full. Watching the table, he noticed that each first-year Hufflepuff seemed to be accompanied by an older student, mainly sixth and seventh years.

Huh, why did we never do this?

He made his way to the Gryffindor table, taking care to sit next to a pair of first year students, Eoin something-or-other and his sister, Madison.

"Morning, Eoin, Madison," he said, flinching a bit at their shocked expressions.

"Morning, sir," Eoin gulped. Madison said something in reply, but it was inaudible.

"I'm Harry, Harry Potter," he said, trying to look friendly.

"Yes, sir," Eoin replied.

"It's Harry, not Mr. Potter and definitely not 'sir,' all right?"

"But you're the Boy Who Lived," Madison exclaimed.

"Last I checked, Madison, that's not a royal title. My friends call me Harry," he said, reaching for the bowl of scrambled eggs.

"Right, Harry," Eoin said with a whisper of confidence.

"What's your first lesson?" he asked, trying to remember what it had been like to be a first year student.

"Potions!" they replied in unison.

Harry rolled his eyes.   "You've got a substitute - be thankful, I had him for five years.   You're only going   to have him for two weeks until his replacement arrives."

"Is he as bad as they say, Harry?" Eoin asked.

Harry bit into a triangle of toast and thought of a temperate response. He swallowed the toast and swigged some pumpkin juice. "He knows his stuff, but he's very heavy-handed, and he favours his own house terribly," he observed. Thinking back to his own first exposure to Severus Snape, he pinched a sheet of parchment from Madison's bag, scratching down some of the stumping questions (and answers) from his first year. Then, in a fit of mischief, he wrote his own question. "Five will get you ten that he's going to ask some of the following questions, trying to convince you that you know nothing and that you should meekly withdraw from school so as to not waste his valuable time. If you do answer his questions, he'll probably take house points from Gryffindor for being insufferable know-it-alls," he explained.

Madison's eyes were wide. "He wouldn't do that, would he?"

Harry looked at her over the rims of his glasses. "If he doesn't, I'll bring you back some Butterbeer from Hogsmeade," he offered. "If he gets too obnoxious, ask him the last question on that sheet of parchment and let him know that you're a friend of Harry's. If that ends up getting you in detention, I'll do my best to set things right. But promise me this, if anyone give you a hard time, Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, come tell me," he said sombrely.

"You're not a Prefect, what can you do?" Eoin asked earnestly.

"You're right, I'm not, but I do know how to make things happen, and I always stand by my friends. So, can you say that? 'I'm a friend of Harry's?'"

"I'm a friend of Harry's," they recited in unison as they pushed away from the table.

"Enjoy your first day, and welcome to Hogwarts," he said with a smile before he wrinkled his nose. He caught a whiff of a particular spicy smell.

"I'm a friend of Harry's, can I sit down here?" he heard from behind.

"Sure, Cho," he replied, spearing a bite of sausage.

Cho turned the seat sideways, leaning on the seatback with one arm while she refilled her cup of coffee from the carafe on the table.

"Aren't you a cream and sugar girl?" he asked.

"I was, now I'm a 'trying-to-learn-how-to-drink-it-black' girl," she replied with a chuckle. "What you did with the Firsties was very sweet," she said, looking in to his eyes.

"Stop it, you're ruining my rakish reputation — I'm supposed to be described as rugged and manly and risk taking, you know, all those Gryffindor virtues, not sweet. Anything but that," he said sardonically. "I just wish that someone had warned me before my first class," he sighed.

"Would it have helped?"

"Probably not; Snape hates my Dad, so he's been taking it out on me for the past five years going on six."

"What did your Dad do?" Cho asked with concern.

"Made his life a living hell from what I can piece together, but that's beside the point. If Snape ever reproduces, I'm not planning on extending the vendetta for another generation," he said, refilling his coffee.

"Which is why you're in Gryffindor and not Slytherin," she observed.

"It doesn't always boil down to Houses, Cho. Some things are right, some things are wrong. It doesn't matter who's doing it, or why," he said.

"Like breaking school rule and Ministry Decrees?" she asked impishly.

"I never said I was perfect, Cho, just that I recognized what's wrong," he said, putting his knife and fork on his plate in a crossed position. The plate shimmered briefly and then disappeared.

"I'm sure I'd get a different answer on the perfect question if I polled the females of Hogwarts," she said tauntingly. "There are some very interesting rumours flying around about you and the break-in at Gringotts," she said, looking meaningfully over her cup of almost empty coffee.

"Yeah, I'm sure," he said.

"So it wasn't you?"

"It was a dragon, Cho. I'm not an Animagus," he said.

She smiled secretly. "That's good enough for me," she replied.

Harry was suddenly very tired of this dance, and decided to come right out with it. "What's on your mind, Cho?" he asked bluntly. "You've been angling to talk to me all summer." He braced himself, hoping he wasn't walking into a trap.

"Yeah, well, that's been overtaken by events, Harry. This summer I wanted to see if you were interested in giving it a go again," she said, looking down at the table.

"What about Michael?" he asked.

"What about Michael?" she replied. "We dated a while — it was fun, but he didn't propose and I didn't offer to have his name tattooed anyplace that I don't normally show in public," she said.

Harry blanched at the notion.

"I need to ask you a favour," she said.

He raised his eyebrows. "I'm no good with tattoos," he quipped.

"I'm not kidding, Harry. I'm applying to study as an Auror, and I wondered if you would write me a letter of recommendation. You know, in your capacity as leader of the Defence Association," she said, catching her eyes with her own.

He returned the gaze and, to his surprise, found himself feeling and hearing her surface thoughts. Anxiety about her request, regrets about how things turned out between them, and a faint pang of longing. The last bit startled him. He blinked and looked away, pulling up his Occlumency shield for good measure.

"I'm not sure how much weight my name will carry with the Ministry of Magic," he replied.

"I'm not applying to our Auror program, Harry. My Dad is Chinese, my Mum is Korean, I speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and English — I'm applying to the programs in Taipei, Seoul and San Francisco. Your name carries great weight there. The foreign ministries of those countries sometimes have a better grip on what's going on in this country than our own Minister of Magic," she said dourly.

"Not a problem," he heard himself say. "I'll write about how well you caught on to the advanced charms and hexes and about your Patronus. The fact that you can produce one under real-world circumstances should be impressive as well," he said.

When he looked up again, he saw a broad grin on her face.

"Thanks, Harry, that'll be great," she said earnestly.

"Cho?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"Don't kick yourself about the boy-girl thing. I wasn't ready. Not for you, not for anyone. You'll find someone worth the tattoo," he said with a smirk.

"What about her?" she asked.

"That's a very special situation," he temporised. "We—have a lot in common." He hoped that she wouldn't ask for an explanation.

Cho blinked slowly and then nodded. She placed her hand briefly on his arm. As she touched him, he heard Mm'lau growl in the back of his mind. "Thanks," she said.

"That's what friends are for," he said blithely.

"Yeah, and I'm a friend of Harry's," she said, walking slowly back to the Ravenclaw table.

He looked down at his coffee cup — what was left was cold. He felt warm hands on the back of his neck. He closed his eyes, leaning back into the touch, unclenching his shoulders.

"Talking with the ex-flame all that stressful?" Ginny asked sweetly.

"I wasn't aware that it was stressful until the right woman came along," he replied, with a smile for her. "Good morning. I'm glad you're here. If you weren't here I'd be back to that miserable clod of angst that you ambushed last year." He pulled her hand off his neck, kissing her palm and then slowly kissing the web between her thumb and palm.

"Stop it," she hissed. "If you're going to do that, we need to be somewhere else," she said sternly.

"Oh?" he said, looking up innocently.

"You're just winding me up. I need to eat and get out of here," she said before she leaned close to his ear. "I will take a rain-check, though," she said breathily.

Harry shivered. This was going to be a very different year.

~+~

He'd changed his mind; being back at school was a pain in the rump. N.E.W.T. level classes were tough — it was the first day of class and he was already behind. He paused long enough to snarl the password at the Fat Lady and as he entered the common room, he tossed his book bag next to the first open chair. Leaning back in the chair, he closed his eyes, shutting out the sounds of the room, raising his shield to stop the buzzing that was assaulting his consciousness. His glasses left his face, and then warm soft fingers began to stroke his forehead. He lowered his Occlumency shield, but kept his eyes closed.

That better be you.

Who else would dare approach you when you're this tired and cranky?

I'm not cranky. I am tired though. This is the year that I am going to flunk all of my classes.

Nonsense, you're just going to have to pay more attention than normal to Hermione.

Yeah, right. If I follow her planner, I might get to see you for breakfast and maybe lunch every other day.

It's not that bad. I missed you at lunch.

I had lunch with Dumbledore. I'm going to be having special tutoring — I think it's called 101 ways to whip Harry's sorry arse.

Ooooh, can I sell tickets?

Laugh while you can, pretty kitty — as soon as you're done with your Animagus tutorial, you'll be invited to join me — as the co-whippee, not a whipper.

"Changing the subject, I had a long chat with Cho," Ginny said aloud.

"She approves, by the way," Harry said, his eyes still closed as Ginny stroked his eyelids with her fingertips.

"Of what?"

"Of you — of us. She said, quote, good choice, take care of her, close quote, full stop."

"When was this?" she asked.

"On the train."

"Where was I?" Ginny asked.

"You were asleep on my lap at the time," Harry said with a smile.

"So she knows," she said.

"Of course she knows," he replied.

"That would explain the whispering," she said.

"What whispering?" he said, taking her hand from his eyes as he turned to look at her.

"The 'how did Ginny Weasley snag Harry Potter?' whispering," she said, pulling a face.

"Simple, you took advantage of my secret fetish," he said, reclining back in the chair.

"And that is?"

Beautiful red-haired women with one or more dragons etched on their back.

Mr. Potter, you say the sweetest things.

I try.

"Anyway, you interrupted me. Cho dropped by at lunch, looking for you. You weren't there, so she left a portfolio with the recommendation form and a prepaid international owl-mail envelope with me, which I guess makes it official," she said, stifling a yawn.

Harry yawned sympathetically. "What's official?"

"That I'm your official Hogwarts girlfriend. It's in the Girfriend's Manual, you know, chapter seven — other duties of the girlfriend - 'the girlfriend shall act as an extension of the beau for business and social purposes, including, but not limited to, serving as receptionist, carrying messages and small packages to the beau in a timely fashion,'" she quoted, rolling her eyes in the fashion of a schoolgirl reciting a particularly difficult assignment from memory.

"You're okay with that?" he asked, his eyebrows crunched in concentration.

"With what? she asked.

"With the whole boyfriend/girlfriend game. A girlfriend is someone who puts up with you for more than one date; you're much more than that to me," he said, reaching out his hand.

She clasped his hand, twining her fingers through his. She felt the now-familiar rush of his consciousness washing over her mind as she brought her Occlumency shield to nil.

Yeah, I know. I've known since the day we cooked dinner at the Burrow.

Calling you 'girlfriend' seems cheap, maybe shallow I guess.

True, but I'm not quite ready to explain to people that according to the customs of The People, we are betrothed.

She felt a surge of warmth across their bond before he broke off the link.

"Care for an early dinner and then a fly on the pitch?" he asked.

"Sounds like a date, Mr. Potter," she replied.

"Is that a yes?" he asked.

She touched the tip of his nose with her thumb. "That's a yes. Stow your books and we can be off."

Harry pulled out his wand, circling it over his book bag. The bag disappeared in a blink.

"Very impressive," she said, letting out a low whistle. "N.E.W.T. level charm?"

"No, this was one I looked up on my own," he answered.

"You are going to show it to me," she said confidently.

"Of course, let's go eat," he said, pulling up from the chair

~+~

Hours later, Ginny stormed into Hermione's room, throwing her cloak on the floor.

"I hope that you're done with my brother, because I may kill him sometime this week," she said fervently.

Hermione put her finger in the book she was holding to mark her place and looked up at the flushed teenager who looked as if she'd run in from the pitch into the Gryffindor girls' dormitories.

"What's he done now?" she asked.

"Harry and I went to dinner and then went for a fly on the pitch. After that we were walking back to the castle," Ginny said, tugging on the elastic holding her hair into a pony tail.

"So?" Hermione asked innocently.

"So that's when Ron comes out from the castle, calling for Harry to talk about Quidditch practice," Ginny said.

"Connect the dots for me, Ginny. Ron is the Gryffindor Quidditch Team Captain; why is that unusual?" Hermione said.

"Because it was dark by then, and the only way he could have found us was by using Harry's map!" Ginny spat. "I'm fairly certain that Harry was going to kiss me tonight!"

"Oh. Ohhhhh," Hermione said as the significance of the scenario unfolded. "Well, I can't say that I'm surprised, but I will see what I can do to raise Ron's consciousness on the topic of leaving you two alone. I'll let you know tomorrow morning at breakfast, all right?"

"Thanks, Hermione," Ginny said before she leaned over to pick up her cloak.

"But other than that, it was a nice fly?" Hermione asked.

"It was a very nice fly," she said with a broad grin.

"So it wasn't a wasted evening?" Hermione queried.

"No, not at all — it just could have had a more smashing ending than it had with my brother's interruption," Ginny said, looking into Hermione's eyes.

"It will happen, Ginny. I'm sure of it. Now, if I'm not mistaken, you have a paper to write for Herbology, day after next?" Hermione asked.

Ginny nodded.

"You'll find my notes from all of last year's classes in a binder on your pillow. I thought it might save you a spot of time this year, what with all the extracurricular activities you're going to be involved with," she said with a knowing smile.

"Oh yes," Ginny replied. "Quidditch, Quidditch is very important you know," she said with mock seriousness.

"Yes, it's very important that Chasers be able to score," Hermione said, nodding solemnly before she began to giggle.

"You're terrible!" Ginny exclaimed.

"Thank you," Hermione said, opening her book again.

"Thanks, Hermione. Sometimes I just have to blow off steam, and you're the only one besides Harry who halfway understands what's going on in my life," Ginny said, turning towards the door.

"It goes both ways, you know," Hermione said.

Ginny nodded. No further words were necessary.

+++++++++

Copyright 2005 — J. Cornell — all rights reserved

Kokopelli20878@yahoo.com

Author Notes: Welcome to Stories from Sixth Year. I've many stories to tell from Sixth Year, but I'm not going to tell the story of Sixth Year — you'll have to wait for The Half-Blood Prince for that, I reckon. Most of these stories will be single POV, much shorter than the chapters in TLOS Part III, and will sometimes begin and end with narration setting the scene. So, without belabouring the point — Eoin and Madison Norbeck (I knew their names even if Harry forgot) will show up again. They, of course, got into trouble with Snape on their first day of class. Harry interceded on their behalf and got their detention revoked and the lost house points restored. Eoin and Madison are brother and sister, but are not fraternal twins — one of them is adopted, although if you ask them, they'll say that they forget which one is adopted and which one was born a Norbeck. Madison fancies Harry, but realizes that Ginny has beaten her to the punch, but still, a girl can dream, can't she?

Sneak peeks of work in progress can be found on my LiveJournal — Kokopelli20878

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