Title: Dated 2 May, 1998

Author: Lady Altair

Summary: Severus Snape's last letter is not to anyone important.

Rating: PG-13

Notes: This was supposed to be called Climb until I heard that Miley Cyrus song. :/ And, PLEASE, if you enjoy this enough to favorite it, I would appreciate a review. Unexplained favorites are frustrating!

Katie just tells everyone that she can't remember anything about anything to do with the necklace and the months she spent in St. Mungo's.

If she doesn't remember anything until waking up in that hospital bed, she doesn't need a story to tell. It's just easier; people are curious, people are morbid, they'd want to know, and it is so much easier to shrug and smile and pretend there is nothing to say.

Really, there isn't. There are no words to tell. There are no words at all, there is nothing so human. There is that ripping scream that she feels fissuring her throat – she couldn't hear anything real, see anything true, there was only some unearthly roaring in her ears that must've been the sound of pain crashing through every nerve ending in her body, there were only blurring colors that surely would've made sense if any bit of her consciousness could just stop shrieking in agony. She doesn't want to remember that pain, it's easier to forget the agony, that very specific sensation of wanting to die, the conviction that even if she knew two hundred years of happily ever after waited for her when the pain stopped, she'd take death just to end it a single second earlier.

She doesn't have to remember all those long, grey months, alone and buried in her own mind, slowly climbing out of the black into the grey, up to the surface of consciousness like she was climbing out of a well. It was a long, lonely trek, clinging to a wall with precious few handholds, the memory of what pain the world held a weight tangled around her legs, the strangely soothing knowledge that if she slipped, if she let go, if she could climb no further…there would be no fall, no fear. It was death she climbed away from, that was the soft darkness she had craved while she lay broken at the bottom and that knowledge was like the comforting weight of unfurled wings on her back. But her climb was a challenge and the black grew grey with every effort and she was Katie Bell, so she pulled herself up and grinned brightly down at the dark, this is not a good day for flying, I'll save your wings for another.

And if she doesn't remember anything until waking up in that hospital bed, she doesn't have to remember how Professor Snape's cool hands felt on her face when everything else was hellfire, doesn't have to remember the hours (or maybe just minutes, or seconds) when there was only him and the agony, when he took the pain away and saved her life. She remembers him most clearly of all, more than Leanne, more than Harry, more than Hagrid, more than Madame Pomfrey. She doesn't know why; the others are a few muted words, interrupted cries, a lifting sensation…just pieces, not people, fragmented by the filter of the curse. He alone stands out, the only full memory she can stitch together when she comes around to herself in the bottom of the black well. She remembers his hands gentle and firm on her face, his black eyes locked with hers, and the strangest sensation that someone was sharing her head. And in that painless, peaceful black she just wanted to fade into, that voice pulled her eyes up to the gray above her and said climb. When she turned away, when she curled up in the dark and waited for it to claim her with gentle hands, saying no, it's too far, just let me go, he pulled her up, pulled happy memories from places she was not strong enough to reach and set them into the walls like handholds and said no, Miss Bell, you will climb, because I will not lose.

It's all this that gives her pause, later, that makes her wonder if anything she heard or felt was real at all, and not just in her head, not just the aspects of the curse, because the man she feels picked her up and made her live couldn't have done so, couldn't have cared so much about some stupid seventeen-year-old Mudblood Gryffindor girl…she'd been a pawn to his plan, collateral damage unfortunate only because her tragedy had ruined his attempt. Why would he bother, why he would he not just leave her there, broken and content and finished in the dark?

When someone asks what it all felt like, it's easy enough to look blank and say she doesn't remember; in truth, she's not entirely certain it was all real anyway, and so it isn't so difficult to pretend.

Katie sends 'thank-you' cards to all of the staff in St. Mungo's, and Madame Pomfrey in the Infirmary – her mother bought them, told her it was polite. They're glittery and bright and sweet, and there is one for Professor Snape, too. Long after the rest have been sealed and sent off, long after she has received a few replies wishing her continued health and happiness, she stares at the blank white of the inside of the card, closes and opens it a few times before leaving it. She tries a few times, even begins a few lines. Out of habit, the first word she inks onto the card is Dear, but by the time the quill is about to form the P in Professor, she's already laughing at herself. It's just a ridiculous idea; it's all well and good to send something sweet and sparkly like this to the Healers, another thank you from a grateful patient to pin up at their station and smile over in benevolence, but Professor Snape? He'd probably track her down and make her eat her words (literally), and smirk at the irony if she choked on it and died.

In the end, she settles for a plain bit of stationery, with a date and six words:

14 May, 1997

Professor Snape:

Thank you.

Katie Bell

She sends the thank you and expects nothing more, and receives exactly that.

She doesn't go to her own flat for a long time after the battle; the Healers cling to her for weeks, and she stays with George above the shop long enough that her feet learn his floor. It's frustrating to walk in her own home again, because she trips over the mess she left and even when the floor is clear, she is still rather lost – she knew it all by sight and now that that is gone, she doesn't know it at all.

There are a few letters on the windowsill in the kitchen, left there in all her weeks of absence. It's probably a day before she realizes; she's fumbling for the window latch to open it for the post owl she can hear tapping, and she knocks the letters onto the floor. She grits her teeth and feels around for her wand; she'd set it down and not made a careful mental note of exactly where. Nothing had seemed so hard when someone was around to hold her hand and steer her away from edges and obstacles; it's only when she's alone that the darkness feels so smothering.

She gathers the envelopes up with an Accio and sits down at the table with them. It takes a few attempts to get the spell the Healers taught her - Narro! - to work, but the letters begin reading themselves after she gets the right inflection/wand jab correlation. She hesitantly sets to making tea, still counting to herself, mapping out the flat that is somehow no longer familiar in careful measured steps.

It must be a sunny day, it must be shining in the window; she still has little vestiges of her sight, can still not-quite-see very bright light, like needles of sharp silver-grey sticking painfully in her black…she wonders if that will die, too, will fade like the vision in her left eye did during her stay in St. Mungo's as the curse – slowed, but not yet stopped – crept across her brain, wove its vines across her face and through her nerves.

Oliver's voice is booming through the kitchen – Katie remembers with a wry grin that he writes in stark, black, all-capital letters, which the spell seems to interpret as shouting – with a play by play of his last match. When his letter is concluded with a "I"LL WRITE YOU SOON, KATE!" she flips her wand back at the table, opening the next letter, and moves to pour the boiling water, positioning her mug and tipping the kettle carefully.

Just as she's silently congratulated herself for her first successfully poured cup of tea, her elbow knocks the sugar bowl off the counter – her grandmother's Delftware is in shatters and sugar granules around her feet.

And it's very suddenly not fair at all. That she'll never fly, never read a book, never even put on her own makeup ever again. And it isn't fair to ask why me? when so many others could look at her and ask enviously, why you? because she is alive and sane and mostly whole. And all those little, petty things she'll miss, it's not fair to mourn them in company.

So, she'll grieve alone. She bursts into tears, tracing the curse marks that cut through the right side of her face. She's too afraid to walk, too afraid to step because she can't see where the shatters are, and her feet are bare, and is this how she will walk the world forever? Always in the dark, always fearing what her next step will bring her to?

There is a sibilant voice, quiet in her kitchen. Three words and a date, no address, no signature. Three words and a date, and his voice in the darkness is so intensely familiar that she knows, for certain and for the first time, that everything he did for her was very real:

2 May, 1998

You are welcome.

And Katie recognizes where she is, understands her darkness, takes comfort in the wings still unfurled on her back – their day is not yet at hand. She turns her face up and finds her own path. She'll climb.

She takes a step. The ground is clear.