There was a growing sense of unease within him, Harry noticed, whenever he caught the sight of Ginny, and it had come upon him seemingly overnight. He could not rationalise it, nor could he compare it to anything he'd ever felt before. It was as though his chest ached, or as though something desired to force its way out of his chest and into the pit of his stomach.
He knew it wasn't a crush; of that he had no doubt. He knew, via the talisman that was Cho Chang and her achingly pretty face, what a crush was and the physical reactions therein. Ginny was a pretty girl, but despite that, he never saw it fit for his body to ache at the sight of her before.
It was not jealousy either, for jealousy in all of its forms manifested higher within Harry's body. Jealousy was a force that he felt from the chords of his throat and into his ribcage, and it sank the weight of the world upon him until he could scarcely breathe. Such a feeling was honed at Dudley's birthday parties and the hallways of his fourth year, watching Cedric Diggory hold the hand of the aforementioned Cho Chang. He had nothing truly to be jealous of her for, either. The ache was not even caused by the sight of Dean Thomas, despite him being the boyfriend of Ginny. Just Ginny.
Harry had intended to bring it up to Hermione on the trip to Hogsmeade, if they at any point were without Ron's company, though he was beginning to have second thoughts about doing so as they approached Argus Filch. If the cause was to be magical in origin, she would be perfect, for she truly excelled in the study of esoteric information, her mind well-suited to uncovering minutiae. However, if they were more emotional in nature, he would be as blind as he would be without a word spoken to her. Her mind was entirely her domain, but her heart was a mystery that she could not unlock.
Any talk with Ron was out of the question, too, for obvious reasons.
"Permission slips, now," called out Filch, the caretaker's face lighting up at the prospect of catching a forgetful upper-year without the requisite paperwork and robbing them of their weekend of freedom.
"I'm of age," Hermione told Filch with no small amount of smugness in her voice, her stride taking her beyond the caretaker before he could even think to ask for proof.
Harry approached Filch as Ron set about rummaging through his pockets to find the creased piece of parchment. "Headmaster Dumbledore personally gave me permission."
As you already know, Harry thought but did not add. Ever since the end of third year that had been the case, as Sirius Black had been both his permitting caretaker and a wanted criminal. Given the unique situation, it had been Dumbledore who had spoken for him, though that did not stop Filch from asking him for his permission slip at every Hogsmeade weekend.
The thought of Sirius caused an ache inside him. Thankfully, it was not the same ache as Ginny caused, but an ache still.
Worryingly though, his words did not cause resignation to fall upon Filch's face. Instead, a horrid, twisted grin began to emerge.
"Ah!" cried out Filch. "The Headmaster told me that you were given permission from your Godfather. Given that your Godfather is now dead, you no longer have permission."
That, Harry decided, was perhaps the strangest way in which Sirius' demise had hurt him so far.
"But a caretaker has signed my form," said Harry, pushing away the pain for a moment. "So I have been given permission."
"He can't take care of you if he's dead, can he?" asked Filch, rhetorically, sardonically. "Get a permission slip, or leave."
A large part of Harry wanted to punch Filch then. Or shout, or something, but he'd learned last year that while emotions certainly were important, the reactions they drew from him were not always so useful. He had a scar on the top of his right hand to prove that.
Ron's arm patted Harry's shoulder sympathetically. "Sorry mate," he said, his voice earnest. "Do you want me to stay behind with you?"
"Nah, it's alright," Harry said quickly. "Wouldn't want to leave Hermione alone," he cast a mind back to his third year, and what'd happened then. "Besides, I might join you later anyway."
Ron smiled in recollection. "'Course mate, see you then."
He patted Harry on the back as a goodbye, before he showed Filch his own crumpled letter and ran to catch up with Hermione at the carriages.
So Harry, with the vague air of dejection about him, walked back toward the castle of Hogwarts. The brief excursion to get his cloak was no great pain but the words of Filch did sting, petty though they were.
His thoughts as he walked to the Gryffindor tower though came back to his chest and the feelings therein, as they often wanted to.
The single most perplexing aspect was the suddenness of it all, for Harry. It wasn't that Ginny was wallpaper or anything, but before the summer, she was just another member of his best friend's family. Sure, he'd saved her from Tom Riddle four years prior, but he'd imagine if there were ever to be a connection to be formed from such an event it might have happened slightly sooner.
Take Hermione, for example. He'd saved her from the troll as much as he'd saved Ginny from the basilisk and he wasn't walking about with acute angina any time he saw her. There must be something deeper, he reasoned.
He looked deep within himself then, trying to find something that would illuminate the issue. In fact, he looked so deeply inside himself that he lost all of his bearings and walked straight into another person entirely.
Not in the metaphysical sense, either. The collision was entirely physical and, though he stayed standing, the-one-that-which-he-collided-with did not as a result of said physical collision. Well, mostly due to Newton's Third Law of Motion. Also, in no small part to the Second Law of Motion, for he applied a force that propelled (accelerated, one might say, if they were in an accurate frame of mind) a mass. A good argument could be made for the conservation of momentum playing a part too, though that was essentially Newton's Second Law wearing a pretty dress.
Calling said 'mass' a 'mass' would not bode well, though. Said 'mass' probably preferred the more accurate title of Katie Bell.
Harry rushed to help his teammate up, his mouth muttering apologies as he, red-faced, helped her to her feet. She brushed away his words with a wave of her arms and a warm laugh.
"It's alright Harry, honestly," she said, smiling as he continued to apologise despite her assurance. "What's up with you, then?" she brushed a hair behind her ear. "You looked a million miles away."
"How busy are you, Katie?" Harry asked, his voice soft though his brilliant green eyes were bright with interest.
Katie's eyes met his, and for a moment she looked at him like she'd never seen him before.
Harry found himself doing the same.
"Not very," Katie said, her eyes not leaving his. It was a lie; Leanne was waiting for her in the library to study Defence Against the Dark Arts, a subject that she really did need to revise now that Snape taught it. "What's up?"
"Walk with me," Harry said, with a grin that made him look his own age for the first time Katie had remembered. His words were neither a command nor a question, though Katie both nodded and followed him. "I think you might just be the person I'm looking for."
They were…odd words to hear, certainly. Harry had no idea why he'd chosen them, but he did not hate them as they caused Katie to wrinkle her nose for a moment. He enjoyed the way she looked as she did. She looked quite cute when she was confused.
"Do you ever find it odd how I never really spoke to you, or Angie or Alicia outside of quidditch?" Harry asked, his word once more surprising himself. "I'm sorry about that, by the way. I wasn't ignoring you or anything. I just thought you were all older and cool and didn't want to hang around with me."
Katie's lips quirked up; Harry's eyes dipped to watch them do so. "Funny you say that," she said, before brushing a lock of hair behind her ear. Her hair was brown and wavy and caught the light of the sun in a way that ought not to be fascinating, yet was. "We all thought you were too important to be hanging out with the likes of us."
"What do you mean, 'the likes of us'?"
A quiet laugh passed through Katie. "I don't know about Angie or Alicia, but I don't know," she ran her hand through her hair. "I always thought I was a bit too unremarkable to be hanging around you."
Harry smiled like the expression was a secret just for her, soft and small.
"I find you very remarkable, Katie."
Katie grinned big, bigger than Harry thought possible. "And what are your remarks, Harry?"
"That my initial thoughts about you were accurate. You are too cool to be hanging around with me, Katie, but if I have you for a bit, I think I'd like to ask you about something."
"You have me for a while, Harry, so go ahead." Katie said, tucking yet another hair behind her ear. Harry didn't know if it meant anything or if it was a nervous tick or if he was beginning to hyper-focus. He assumed the latter, though there were worse things to focus upon. Her hair was nice; it was a lighter shade of brown than it had been at the end of last term, as though she'd been in the sun for a long time.
After a moment's thought, Harry decided that nice was perhaps not accurate. Lovely might be better, though pretty could work at a push. Beautiful, if he were feeling bold.
"What would you think if I were to tell you that every time I looked at Ginny Weasley, I felt this odd pain inside of me?"
Katie stopped in the middle of the hallway they were in, before she began to stare at him, her head lifted just slightly. He'd seen the look upon her before, when she was deciding which hoop to throw the quaffle in. "Where do you feel this pain?"
"I'm not sure. Sort of…here?" Harry placed his hand at the centre of his torso, below his lungs but above his stomach, before his hand fell to the stomach, his hand thereby tracing the path that the pain often did.
"Is it everytime you see her, you feel this?" Katie asked. There was an odd quality to her voice, then.
"No, that's the odd part," Harry explained, as he began to watch her watch him. "It's just when she's alone. At breakfast, lunch, that sort of thing."
"I think you might have your wires crossed, Harry," Katie said, before she laced her fingers through his, on the hand that rested below his heart. Her hands were warm, and small, and Harry thought, quietly, that they fit in his perfectly. "Come with me."
It was neither a request, nor a command, but he nodded and began to follow her anyway, though he first had to stop looking into her eyes, which was difficult as she never stopped looking at his. They were a brilliant shade of hazel, too. The kind that looked like gold, sometimes, and with Katie, it seemed like it was whenever she looked at him.
Eventually, by some force quite clearly greater than either of them, they managed to look away. Katie did so with a sigh.
"Oh," she said, confusing Harry. "We're already here."
Funny how magic works sometimes.
Here, as it would turn out, was the Hogwarts kitchens and, with both of them being practised delinquents, they made no effort in tickling the pear and walking into the promised land.
"Winky!" called out Katie, and the inebriant elf popped up at once.
"Hi Miss Katie!" welcomed Winky, her tone not-unlike an energetic primary school student talking to their favourite teacher. "What can I get for you?"
Katie's eyes flicked back toward Harry.
"What's your favourite food in the world, Harry?"
Harry thought back to the last truly great meal he'd had for the answer. It had been Mrs Weasley's dinner for his birthday, and he'd forgotten to eat lunch as he'd been in the back-garden playing with Ginny so he was starving. He couldn't really remember what he'd eaten that day, and certainly not with Katie's eyes looking at him, but he could not forget the feeling of his hunger being sated.
Before that, it would again be Mrs Weasley's cooking, the day he'd first gotten to the Burrow from the Dursley's. He'd sat across the table from Ginny, like he'd done every year, with Ron to his right and Bill to his left.
The beginnings of that familiar ache began in his chest.
"I think I got Pavlov'd, Katie," Harry said, with a sigh.
Katie squeezed his hand.
"I think you did, too."
Her hand really fit well in his.
"What are you wanting, Mister Harry?" asked Winky, before Harry's mind could get lost amongst the marshes of how soft her skin was and how he never imagined he'd have the urge to let go.
"Cadbury's chocolate." declared Harry, for no other reason than the chocolate was muggle and so hopefully he wouldn't associate it with Ginny.
Katie slid onto a stool with a smile, their intertwined hands ensuring Harry did the same. "God, I love Cadbury's," she told him. A mug slid in-front of her then, no-doubt brought by the house-elves. "I'm down here often enough for them to know how I take my tea."
"And how is that then?" asked Harry, his shoulder leaning just-slightly toward Katie as he spoke.
"Often," Harry laughed, and Katie followed, before her hazel eyes grew serious. "Harry, I have a serious question to ask."
"Cataclysmically serious," Katie told him. "Harry, speak and speak true. Do you put milk in your tea before or after you put the teabag in?"
Harry gasped like he'd just seen a dementor. "After."
"Oh thank God," Katie said, before she closed the distance and kissed him.
Harry brought his arms around her waist, bringing her closer to him. Her lips were so soft, so delightfully soft against his own that he forgot to kiss her back for a moment, but only for a moment. Soon, his mouth truly met hers and Harry had experienced nothing like it, with her lips against his and one hand in his hair and the other resting at his jaw, feeling her skin against his.
"Do you often kiss people who hold the correct opinions about tea?" Harry asked Katie, as they broke apart for air more so than any desire to stop touching one-another.
Katie shook her head, a breathless laugh falling from her lips. "That's not the usual reason, no."
Harry kissed her then, because he couldn't help himself, and the feeling was as excellent as had been the first time.
"Do you often kiss people who harass you about your tea-making practices?" Katie asked, as they broke apart for air once more.
"I don't think I've kissed enough people to draw any concrete conclusions," Harry replied, Katie's eyes making him honest.
Katie leaned forward, and for a moment Harry thought they'd kiss again, but she whispered instead. "I haven't either. I just said it the way I did so that you'd still think I was cool and not slightly terrified."
Harry kissed her again. "I'm glad we're sharing the terror."
"Scary, isn't it?" Katie asked, her hand coming to rest in the front of Harry's hair, playing with it almost absent-mindedly. "This," she gestured to the gap between the two of them, which was nearing non-existence. "How did this happen? An hour ago we were only just friends."
"I don't know," he said, his fingertips brushing against her cheekbone. "I was too busy talking to you to think about what I was doing. I think at one point I started thinking about physics, but I'm not sure."
"Yeah, I find it weird too," Harry agreed. At the table beside them, a stack of dairy-milk chocolate bars had appeared beside them, but neither would've been able to place when it was that they appeared. "When I was younger, I'd hide in libraries sometimes and I used to really enjoy the diagrams in physics books. I used to look at them and pretend to understand what they meant."
Harry had no idea what he was saying, or why he was saying it. He hadn't thought about the library near his primary school in years, and certainly had never spoken about it before.
Katie smiled though, so he didn't regret it.
"I have an older half-brother, and I used to do the same thing with his GCSE books," she said, her eyes falling to the ground, shy. "It's fun sometimes, isn't it?"
Her hazel eyes came to look at Harry again, shining like spun gold and he realised quickly that he was beginning to obsess over her eyes too, as well as the way that she tucked hair behind her ear or the way that her skin felt when touched it, soft and warm.
"What, to pretend like you know what you're doing?" Harry asked, feeling Katie nod against his hand. He leaned forward and kissed her other cheek because he hadn't yet, and he wanted to know what it felt like. She smiled as his lips met her skin, and it made Harry smile too. "I want to know more about you."
Katie's lips touched the edge of his jaw, her voice a whisper. "What would you like to know?"
Harry gave himself a moment, just to ensure that his mind wouldn't melt.
"Where are you from?"
"Sheffield," she told him. "You?"
"Surrey," he told her. She raised an eyebrow, as his words were hardly any use at all. "Basically London."
"How basically is your basically there?" Katie asked, leaning backward in her chair just slightly. "Because Alicia once said she basically lived in London and when I went to visit her after third year I ended up basically at the south coast before I got there."
Harry smiled. "You know Wimbledon?" she nodded. "It's a bit south of there."
"Okay, but how far south is a bit south?" Katie pressed, and Harry could not stop smiling. "Because in the grand scheme of things, a bit could mean a five-minute drive or you could live in France."
"I've no idea, honestly. twenty minutes south of Wimbledon, then," Harry clarified. "Better?"
Harry leant forward. "If you're from Sheffield, how come you don't have the accent?"
"Because when I came to Hogwarts, all the posh Slytherins used to make fun of how I sounded so I stopped."
"Sorry." Harry said, all too aware that his own accent was not greatly removed from people like Draco Malfoy or Theodore Nott.
"Don't be," Katie said, and Harry began to listen to her voice intently, searching for the edges of her accent she couldn't sand away.
"Do you have to stop your accent from coming through, or is how you talk just how you talk now?"
Katie smiled, amused. "If you're trying to get me to talk how I used to, you're not going to."
"No?" Harry asked. He kissed her left cheek, and then her right. "Is there no way for me to convince you?"
"Nope," Katie told him, with a laugh.
He'd find a way, though. He knew he would.
"I always thought you were raised magical, you know," Katie told him, her finger busy with unwrapping chocolate. "With how good you were at quidditch, I just assumed you'd watched a load of games and learned like that."
Harry stole a block of chocolate from her bar, which she pouted at. He kissed her, mostly because he couldn't not.
"I guess I'm just that good."
"I try," Harry said, smiling stupidly. "How did you get into Quidditch?"
Katie finished eating her chocolate bar, and immediately set upon another. "My Dad's the one that's magical, and he's about the biggest Lancashire Lightning fan in the world so after I did accidental magic for the first time he started taking me to games."
Harry smirked. "Is that who you support?" Katie nodded in-between wolfing down chocolate like there was no tomorrow. "And how do you live with yourself, knowing you're supporting the enemy?"
"My Dad's from Manchester," Katie said. "So pretty easily."
Harry was struck, in that moment, with how easy it was with Katie which, given his usual form with women he found startlingly attractive, was quite odd. They'd been talking for a good while, and he hadn't made her cry or wish that he was actually her dead-ex.
Harry met her eyes, as if willing his thoughts to be spoken through their looks, rather than speak them aloud and pop whatever they shared like a soufflé.
"This is really nice," Harry said, after a moment.
"What, the chocolate?" Katie said, in-between bites. "I should hope so, you're the one that-"
"-No, not the chocolate. This," Harry said, nodding toward their hands, which had remained linked the entire time.
Katie smiled, her eyes falling from his to the ground, looking as bashful as he felt. "It is, isn't it?" she dropped the chocolate, leaving her a free hand to tuck a hair behind her ear. "You sound surprised."
"I think I am," Harry admitted. "Being around you is so easy."
"What do you mean?" Katie asked, her voice soft.
"With other people, even Ron and Hermione, there's this expectation of me that I feel from them," Harry told her, the words meeting her ears before his own. "I don't feel that around you."
"I'm glad I put you at ease," Katie told Harry, before she leant in to kiss him once more, her mouth tasting of chocolate and tea. "You're nothing like I thought you'd be."
Harry smiled against her lips. "What did you expect me to be like?"
"Angry," Katie said, laughing. "Whenever I saw you at quidditch or in the common room, you always looked like you wanted to punch something. Last year especially, with the DA and everything."
"I think that's just how my face rests."
Katie shook her head, the waves of her hair shaking as she did. "Nah, I don't think it is," her index finger began to draw patterns on his palm. "Like, I've known you a while, sorta, and I've never seen you not up for a scrap with Malfoy."
"Everyone wants to punch Malfoy," Harry defended, recalling the time one person did. Which, in turn, forced him to remember that he'd told Ron he'd likely be at Hogsmeade, and what he'd actually done was leave Ron and Hermione together, alone, for a full day. "You're probably right."
Katie linked their pinkies. "You have a fair amount to be angry about, though."
"I don't at the moment," Harry said, before kissing her once again. "Hey, Katie?"
"Did it hurt?"
"What, when I fell from heaven?"
"No," Harry said, scoffing. "When you fell to the ground."
Katie laughed before she kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for walking into me today."
"Anytime," Harry said, looking at his watch. "We ought to go before they start cooking dinner."
Harry walked her back up to Gryffindor Tower which, while pointless, allowed them the opportunity to see the interior of a broom cupboard or two. Or five, as the case may be.
He couldn't help it. Her hair was too lovely and her eyes too astoundingly pretty and her smile too devastatingly joyful to not kiss her whenever he could.
Katie made him feel normal, in the most special way possible.
In Hogsmeade, Ron and Hermione had, through a truly odd sequence of events, ended up in Madam Puddifoot's, sharing an ice cream with only one spoon. Neither were much saddened by how things turned out, though.
Leanne remained in the library, and without Katie's company, managed to get through all of her work in quick time and so she went to Hogsmeade by herself.
Madam Rosmerta, later that day, was discovered by Leanne. She, having studied the effects of the Imperius Curse earlier, immediately noticed Rosmerta's odd behaviour for what it was and stunned her lest she do any harm. Leanne took her to Professor Dumbledore and Hufflepuff were awarded a hundred house points for her quick and careful thinking. Unfortunately, Leanne was eighteen and so hadn't cared about the house cup for about four years.
Upon inspection of Rosmerta, Dumbledore found a coin enchanted with the protean charm, with the sole other connecting coin being owned by one Draco Malfoy. The connection would have been damning, had the headmaster not already known of the boy's intentions and so he wilfully ignored it, just as he had many things, in order for his plans to go on as intended.
For Draco, however, panic began to set in as the news of Rosmerta began to circulate. The anxiety of being tasked with murdering the greatest wizard in living memory, a man whom he'd never truly wanted to kill, as well as the sheer terror of watching his own family cower in fear of the man that tasked him to do so, proved too much. He was a sixteen year old boy, not a soldier.
So, he went to the only man who could trust.
In doing so, he managed to inspire the one truly excellent thought of the man's life; the one piece of genius he'd ever created.
Snape realised, then, that he'd managed to earn the Dark Lord's trust and that he was capable enough within the mind arts to deny Voldemort any access into his mind. So, Snape told Voldemort that he'd captured Harry in his home, and took him there to allow the Dark Lord to do as he pleased.
And Voldemort followed him to his home, because why wouldn't he?
After all, Snape had sworn an unbreakable vow to kill Dumbledore, so why couldn't Voldemort trust him?
After he invited the Dark Lord to his home, he immediately hit him with the killing curse, which Voldemort could not protect himself from as he never saw it coming. Of course, Voldemort wasn't dead but Snape, having realised that Voldemort would be forced into an incorporeal form like before, bound him to his house, just as was done to Peeves the Poltergeist to ensure that he did not cause trouble elsewhere.
And, in that moment, Tom Riddle experienced an emotion he'd never felt before. Regret.
He regretted making the horcruxes, as having your soul ripped from your body in the horrible almost-death that he'd experienced twice by then was an agony beyond any mortal comparison, and he'd always hated pain. That was why he became the sadist he'd been, in the vain hope that others would be too scared of what he might do to them to ever consider what they may do to him.
Sections of his soul were ripped from priceless artefacts and a teenage boy's forehead as he truly, honestly regretted their creation, and Tom Riddle passed from this world and into the next. He did so not in fear, but in relief that he'd never have to experience his own death ever again.
He was reborn as a phoenix.
Dumbledore would die within the year, as the cursed ring had ensured. So, on the day before what was to be his final day, Snape, who by then was considered Merlin's second coming and had never hated his life more, killed him, thus maintaining the vow he'd sworn to Narcissa Malfoy.
And, in the kitchens of Hogwarts, Winky discovered a half-finished pile of chocolate melting into its own wrapping. She snapped it out of existence and snapped a bottle of Ogden's finest in front of her.
All was not well, but it would be soon.