Katelyn decided that tonight was going to be the night. It came to her quite naturally. She'd been wondering when she would know it was the proper time, and now, looking around the abandoned classroom, it was clear. It felt perfectly right. For the first time in her life, the way forward was crystal clear.
She surveyed the empty, cobweb riddled bookshelves and dimly flickering torches one last time before she set to work unfurling the tangle of rope that she had dragged out of the broom closet. She didn't know what the rope was doing there (she suspected it was a remnant of what Filch often called the 'good old days') but she took it as a sign that she was following the right path.
She was glad that she had been given the invisibility cloak. It had given her the chance to see her parents, to confirm her suspicion that she didn't belong at Hogwarts. There was a reason that no one liked her, or talked to her, or wanted anything to do with her. Why her relatives hated her, and hit her, and did other awful things.
She wasn't meant to be here. She was meant to be with them.
Katelyn was tired of faking it, tired of pretending. Tired of Hermione feeling obligated to act like her friend just because she had accidentally helped her on Halloween. Tired of Ron acting like he wasn't just letting her follow him around out of pity. The feeling of receiving her first and only proper Christmas gifts out of pity still made her feel sick to the core.
After Dumbledore caught her looking at the mirror, he'd told her that there was no way to bring her parents back. She'd heard, and she'd understood. It wasn't about bringing them back to her - it was about finding her way back to them. And she didn't care to wait. There was nothing for her here. There never had been, and never would be.
After the students had returned, and the term resumed, it had never been more clear that she didn't belong. Every day was agony, plodding back and forth between classes, forcing food down her throat, trying to make herself useful at practice, trying to remember the muscles that resembled a smile. She was sick of smiling.
And what good would magic do her in an empty world, anyway? She'd have been just as well off at Stonewall. Better, in fact, since the Dursleys probably would have helped her.
So with one desk stacked atop another, and a few knots that she had spent night after night practicing in secret, she was ready. She gave a strong tug to ensure the chandelier would hold before returning the desks to their original positions, climbing atop a chair, and slipping the noose over her neck.
She had initially thought that jumping from the astronomy tower would have been easier, but eventually decided that would have been far too messy. Likewise, cutting herself would have been painful and gruesome, and drowning was utterly terrifying. Poison was too risky to obtain, but it would have probably been much more pleasant.
So, hanging it was. With her mind resolute, and with a final, great sigh, she kicked the chair away and fell.
Despite her best efforts, dying turned out to be incredibly painful. The rope was supposed to kill her in one clean snap - she must not have left enough slack, and her neck had not broken like it was meant to. Despite herself, her hands flew to her throat in a desperate, instinctual rage to free herself. Her consciousness knew that she wanted to die even now, but her body would not release as frail fingers clutched at the rope that slowly choked her life away.
She mustered every ounce of willpower to stop struggling against the explosive pressure building in her head. She was ready for this. The pain would only last another minute. There was a note under her pillow if anyone cared to look.
The lights began to fade. It was her time. At last.
Severus did not have time to be angry. When the Bloody Baron had appeared in his quarters to interrupt his sleep, shouting about a student that was attempting to hang themselves, he did not even have time to ask where. He'd simply summoned his cloak and taken off at a sprint after the shimmery white contrails of the Baron, who was already flying down the corridors at breakneck speed.
Severus tried not to be surprised, as a general life policy. When he arrived, panting for breath, to the sight of Katelyn Potter dangling lifelessly from a dusty chandelier, there was nothing but cold, jagged shock.
He did not have time to be angry that she would do something so mind-numbingly stupid - no, she could be lectured for days on end provided he still had the chance to save her life.
He bounded into the room, already reaching out to slice the rope apart with his wand, and he caught her in his arms, carefully lowering her to the floor, before sending a patronus to Madam Pomfrey, in case the Baron was not already alerting her.
After the noose was carefully cut away, he felt for a pulse, only to find to his horror that there wasn't even the faintest of a flutter. Her skin was white as a sheet, save for the deep purple bruises already forming around her neck. Her expression was sickeningly peaceful, and he couldn't bear to look any longer.
"Rennervate," he said tightly, his mind going blank with panic, leaving him unable to recall if the spell would even work at this point. What else would help? He couldn't bloody remember a single spell. He was panicking, like he had not done for years.
In a fit of desperation, he bent down to begin performing muggle CPR. Somewhere deep in the back of his mind, he might have thought how utterly ironic it was, as he pinched her nose shut and tried to force air into her lungs. At the fore of his mind, however, was a singular thought: How could he have failed Lily so miserably, so spectacularly?
He had pledged his life to protect the Potter child in her memory, and now Katelyn Potter lie dead at his feet. He wanted to cry for the first time in a long, long while, but he would not let himself, as he began delivering chest compressions and trying to recall exactly how fast one was supposed to apply them.
Though Severus was not keeping track, he would continue to apply CPR for well over five minutes.
When Madam Pomfrey finally reached the dungeons, gasping for breath, it was to find Severus Snape holding a sobbing Katelyn Potter in his arms. She would never have imagined she would see the day that he showed concern for another student, let alone the bizarre sight before her, but after a letting out a weak sigh of relief that was barely audible between her labored breaths, she simply said, "Well, come along, then. We'd best use your floo, Severus."
He nodded tightly, before carefully adjusting the frail little girl in his arms and following along after her.
She didn't get a proper look at the girl until Severus carefully lowered her onto one of the beds. Pomfrey instinctually moved to cast her most trusted charms, gently sussing out what injuries needed attending most.
When she had finished assessing her condition, she was surprised to realize that Severus was still standing at her bedside. His expression was frozen, tight with worry as he stared down at her.
"Severus, you'd best take a seat," she said gently, effectively rousing him from his stupor.
He simply nodded, and conjured a chair on the spot, sinking into it with a deep sigh, putting his face into his hands.
Katelyn was still sobbing softly into the pillows.
"Alright dear," Pomfrey said, stooping down to Katelyn's level and putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. She was concerned to see the girl flinched, even now.
"I'll need you to just hold still for a moment," she said softly. "Professor Snape cast some very good numbing charms, but you did a real number on your throat. You may still feel some pain. I promise I'll try to make it quick. Alright?"
Katelyn didn't respond, but Pomfrey wasn't about to let her go on with a crushed airway for longer than necessary, and so she quickly cast an obscure set of charms that would bind and repair her throat in a trice. The feeble cry of pain as the charm snapped her throats tissues back together tore at Pomfrey's heartstrings, but it had to be done.
Once more she reached out to brush a hand across her shoulder.
"There there, dear," she said, frowning when Katelyn briefly twitched away from her hand again. "All done."
Just then, a clicking latch and hurried clapping of footsteps announced the arrival of McGonagall and Dumbledore to the hospital wing. She quickly conjured privacy curtains before going to meet them.
"Tell me it isn't true, Poppy!" Minerva said through teary eyes. She was still in her nightgown. The headmaster was calmer, but likewise looked deeply saddened. "How could we never have noticed?!"
"There there, Minerva," Albus said, squeezing her arm. "There will be time for appointing blame and righting wrongs later. For now, we need to ensure that she is okay. Is there anything we can do to help, Poppy?"
The Matron shook her head.
"Physically, she will have some lingering damage, but otherwise she is healthy and stable. Her mental health, however, it remains to be seen."
Minerva sniffled into her sleeve, and Albus draped a comforting arm over her shoulder.
"I have not had a chance to speak with her yet. Severus was there. He saved her life, but I can only assume they didn't talk. I think it's best we give her some time before asking any questions."
"But do we know why she would do such a thing? I though she was doing so much better," McGonagall said, wiping her eyes.
"I'm afraid I have a guess," Albus said. "But I agree that it's best we wait until Katelyn has had a chance to rest off a rather dreadful night."
"I suppose you're right," she relented, turning to Severus, who was still seated, staring at the closed curtain. "I can watch her tonight, Severus. You should get some rest."
He blinked in surprise, as if he hadn't noticed them there until just now. He shook his head slightly, and some of the haunted expression was siphoned away from his face. He was further surprised upon standing, when he received a crushing hug from the head of Gryffindor house.
"Thank you for saving her, Severus," she said, ignoring his awkward stillness. "I don't dare imagine what might have happened if you hadn't been there in time."
Severus nodded. He had, naturally, been doing almost nothing but imagining what would have happened had he arrived even a few moments later. Regardless of the outcome, he was already growing more conscious of how clearly it was affecting him by the second, and he had no desire to garner any pity from his colleagues.
Albus, put a firm hand on his shoulder as he went for the door.
"I would like to take over your class, Severus," he said in a tone that was infuriatingly kind and yet left no room to argue. "At least for tomorrow. You deserve some rest, and I should think that there will be quite a house cup upheaval if you're unleashed upon the students in this state."
Severus just nodded, ignoring the attempt to lighten the mood. He would need time to sleep off the inevitable hangover, so he didn't argue.
"Goodnight, my boy."
He simply nodded once more, and left for his quarters.
With Snape gone, the headmaster and McGonagall held a hushed discussion, deciding that they wouldn't make any announcements to the school just yet. It took a mighty effort to talk Minerva down from waking her entire house at three in the morning and shouting herself hoarse, but in the end they decided that Katelyn deserved privacy most of all, and that reckonings could be delivered another time.
The girl in question had fallen asleep through her tears, and was now curled up on the bed, looking oh so small and frail. Albus volunteered to watch her for the night, sending the two women to get a last few hours of fitful rest before classes resumed.
Katelyn was too tired to cry properly anymore. Her eyes stung, but she couldn't keep them closed. Her mind was spinning, a slow, drunken waltz, that was both manic and mournful. She didn't know what would happen to her. What they would do with her, where they would send her. What would happen when the rest of the school found out, as it surely would.
Would they laugh? Would they despise her? She wondered if it was like in the muggle world, where no one really wanted to talk about such things. She doubted she would be so lucky.
Her miserable, fitful stupor was interrupted by soft footsteps approaching her bed.
"Katelyn," came the delicate voice of the headmaster. "Would you mind talking with me for a while?"
She was relieved that he didn't sound angry, at least. Snape had seemed livid with her - she remembered the blazing look in his eyes as she had regained consciousness, and forced the resulting shudder down her weary spine.
Dumbledore slowly made his way past the privacy curtain, and settled himself into a chair before her. She couldn't bring herself to look at him.
"Katelyn, oh Katelyn …" he said miserably. "In a thousand lifetimes, I could never apologize enough for letting it come to this."
She furrowed her brow, and squinting her bloodshot eyes. Why would he be apologizing to her?
"I had believed that, after seeing your parents in the mirror, you might have found a beacon of light and hope. It seems instead I simply allowed you to be tempted by the dark. And for that, I am so utterly, desperately sorry."
He sniffled, and she thought for a moment that he might have been crying. She couldn't look. Couldn't get her eyes to focus.
"Had I known how bad it was for you, my dear, dear child … oh I've been a fool. I thought that perhaps you would find strength … become forged in the fires of adversity … "
She heard him sniffle.
"The only thing I could do to further prove how little intelligence I possess would be to hope that you might ever forgive me for allowing you to suffer as I have done …"
"So you knew about everything … " she croaked weakly, finally finding her voice.
"I had an idea that you were not well liked by some, yes, but my frail old mind simply refused to imagine it could be so terrible. Though even now I do not know the particulars of the abuses you have suffered while under my care, rest assured that I will do everything in the considerable scope of my power to ensure that you are made to feel at home here at Hogwarts. Perhaps I have given you no reason to trust that I will honor my word … but simply allow me one single chance, and I will not fail you again, Katelyn."
"I … I don't want that. I just want to be with my parents. I hate it here, I hate waking up … being alive … I don't want any of it."
Dumbledore hung his head.
"I see," he breathed. "I take it that … given the opportunity, you might attempt to … reunite with them once more?"
Katelyn felt her eyes burning more harshly now. She longed to disappear, to stop everything from hurting. She was tired of lying.
"Yes. I'd still do it again."
"I appreciate your honesty with me, Katelyn," he said. "Hopefully you can understand that we cannot allow you to harm yourself further."
" … I know."
"I will have Poppy see to you in a moment. Thank you, Katelyn, my dear child, for allowing an old man to bear his guilty conscience to you. I will not fail you again."
She watched him go without saying a word.
At breakfast, McGonagall was so lost in thought and worry that she didn't notice a disheveled, pajama-clad Hermione Granger sprinting towards the head table.
"Professor McGonagall!" she wheezed, leaning on the head table for support, gasping for air, "Katelyn - she - come quick!"
There was a note clutched in her hand, tears streaming down her pale face.
"Come with me Miss Granger," McGonagall instructed gently, ushering her off into a side room. Though the great hall was mostly empty this early, she had the eyes of every student and professor in the room, save Snape, who was likely still asleep in his quarters.
"There's - there's no time - she's -"
"It's alright, Hermione. Katelyn is alright."
McGonagall closed the door behind them, and, on second thought, conjured a pair of slippers for Hermione, who had apparently been in such a hurry that she hadn't thought to put on her own.
"Does that mean that she really - did she … she really …"
"Have a seat, Hermione," she said, gesturing for her to put the slippers on. "Did she tell you what she was planning?"
"No!" Hermione cried, aghast. "I didn't think she would ever - … I … I went to wake her up and she wasn't there! I found this under her pillow!"
She handed over the single, small sheet of parchment, on which was neatly scrawled a hauntingly short message.
I have gone to join my parents. My body will be in an old classroom in the dungeons. "
As McGonagall looked over the note a second time, Hermione began crying in earnest, and she bent down to hug the frightened girl.
"There there, Hermione. She's going to be just fine. She's resting in the hospital wing as we speak."
"I was s-so afraid," she sobbed. "I hadn't seen her since dinner last night - I w-was certain it was going to be t- t-too late…"
"You did the right thing, coming to me as soon as you could. Don't blame yourself, dear."
"But it … it is m-my fault! I should have noticed something was wrong - I thought everything was getting better …"
McGonagall conjured a small table, and a tea set, offering a cup to Hermione.
"We … we didn't get along, before Halloween," she admitted sullenly. "I … wasn't very nice to her. I don't think a lot of people have been been very nice to her. But when she saved my life, on Halloween, I realized that I was being so awful …"
"So you thought what was getting better, exactly?"
Hermione stared down at her conjured slippers, dragging her toes back and forth below the chair.
"Well, when I finally got to know her, it was pretty obvious that she was depressed. We weren't very nice to her for a long time. The Quidditch team picks on her … the other girls and I teased her … the other houses too … but I thought it was getting better."
She took a moment to steady her breath, while McGonagall was trying not to show anger hearing that her team was still being cruel to her after the talking-to she'd given them months ago.
"Ron and I were keeping an eye on her, making sure she ate properly … she accidentally told us that she'd never gotten a Christmas present before, so we even got her some gifts. She really seemed to be doing okay. Now I don't know what to think."
"Well, it was very good of you to look after her like that, Hermione. But why didn't you come to me if you were concerned?"
Hermione blanched, and began fidgeting with her pajama bottoms. She had yet to drink any of the tea.
"I'm not angry," she insisted. "I'd just like to know if there was a reason you thought you couldn't bring your concerns to me."
"I was worried that if I told you … Katelyn would find out. She isn't very trusting. It took her ages just to get her to believe that I really wanted to be her friend, not that I blame her after how mean I was."
"Yes, professor. I almost thought she would never open up. But after a few weeks, she would start talking a little here and there. We really … we really thought it was getting better."
"There there," McGonagall told the girl who was only growing more and more upset as she talked. "You haven't done anything wrong. How would you like to come up and see if you can't visit her for a little? I'm sure it would mean a lot to her."
Hermione nodded sadly, wiping her nose on her sleeve until McGonagall conjured her a handkerchief.
"I'd like to see her."
"I don't want to see her."
"There's nothing to be ashamed of, dear. She's just been worried about you."
She realized that Madam Pomfrey wouldn't understand her sarcasm, but the matron was already crossing the ward to bring her over. Dammit. All too suddenly, Hermione was standing at her bedside. She wished she'd thought to adjust her pajamas to hide the scar on her neck, but it would be far too obvious now.
"You didn't have to come."
"I wanted to come. I wanted to make sure you're okay."
Katelyn shook her head.
"No. You don't have to pretend anymore. I'm done pretending."
"What … what do you mean?"
"You don't have to keep acting like you want to be my friend. I think we've moved past that."
"Katelyn … I am your friend. Ron and I care about you," Hermione said weakly, sounding hurt.
"Please. Stop this. No one starts caring about someone over a single night."
"Is that what this is about? You risked your life so I could get away. You opened my eyes … made me see how terrible I was being. I care about you because I finally had to face reality and see that you're a good person … I was jealous … I … Katelyn … look at me. Katelyn … just look at me."
"I don't want to do this anymore. I just can't do it anymore."
By now, both girls were crying, and Madam Pomfrey finally decided to intervene, gently taking Hermione by the arm and steering her into a chair on the far end of the wing.
"Why won't she believe me?!" she pleaded. "What did I do wrong?"
Pomfrey sighed deeply. Her world was broken limbs and cursed boils. They didn't teach a class on this kind of thing.
"I've spoken with her some, about why she did it," she said, placing a gentle hand on her Hermione's arm. "She's not in a very good place right now, dear. It's not unusual for a person with low self esteem to be unable to accept that someone else would care about them. I admit, I am surprised she hid it so well … but you mustn't be hard on yourself. I doubt she blames you more than anything or anyone else."
Hermione looked up, tears still glistening in her eyes.
"What do I do? How can I make things better?"
"Just be there for her dear. We'll see to her wellbeing, but in time, she'll need to find it in herself to truly believe she's loved. And all you can do is try."
Hermione nodded in resolution.
"I will try. Can I say goodbye?"
"Yes, but it's best you make it brief."
She nodded once more, and returned to Katelyn's bedside, trying to act calmer than she felt. Katelyn didn't turn over to look as she approached, but Hermione soldiered on.
"Katelyn, I just wanted to say … I'm really sorry, for everything. All of it. Madam Pomfrey told me that you might have a hard time believing me, that I really am your friend … so … if there's something I can do to show you that I really do care, just tell me, when you're ready."
She sighed, wishing it was easier to talk to her backside and pretend it was helping.
"Anyhow, I'll come visit you after class, if that's alright." She waited a moment, but, if her friend was listening, she didn't object. "I'll see you again soon, Katelyn."
"Oh, hello Miss Granger, Mister Weasley. I'm sorry to say that Miss Potter is asleep at the moment. She's just had a round of potions, so she'll likely be out for a few hours. You might try back tomorrow, in the morning."
"O-oh. That's alright, I'll come up after breakfast. Thank you Madam Pomfrey."
"Good evening, Miss Granger."
"Good evening, Katelyn," came the voice of her head of house.
Despite herself, she rolled over. She didn't have it in her to be disrespectful to an adult no matter how empty she felt.
"Hi Professor," she said meekly, pulling the blanket up to her chin.
"Madam Pomfrey and I have spoken with the headmaster, and we have agreed it's best that you see a mind healer."
"I believe muggles generally call them therapists, or perhaps psychiatrists. I'm not quite clear on the distinction, I admit."
"Do I have a choice?"
"You told the Headmaster that you don't regret your actions, did you not?"
" … I did."
"Then it would be woefully irresponsible of us to allow you to return to classes in your current state of mind, don't you think?"
"There's nothing to be sorry for, Katelyn. But we have a responsibility to you, to care for you and keep you safe, and we've failed you. We want to make it right."
"Do you … think it will work ... if … if I don't want to get better?"
"Oh Katelyn, dear, all we ask is that you try, alright? You have a long, happy life ahead of you, don't throw that away. Won't you try for me?"
She was silent for a long moment.
" … okay. I will. I'll try. … When do I see them?"
"I'm so happy to hear you say so. They can meet you tomorrow afternoon. Is that alright?"
"I think so. How … where do I have to go?"
"You'll be taking the floo in Poppy's office to Diagon Alley. I will be escorting you."
"But who … you have class, don't you?"
"Albus will take care of it. The meeting is only for an hour or so."
"I'm sorry I'm causing so much trouble. I didn't meant for all of this to happen."
"It would have been far more trouble had you succeeded, Miss Potter. However, that is in the past. Don't you worry yourself for even a moment about us. If we had been doing our jobs properly, you wouldn't be here in the first place."
Katelyn didn't have a response to that.