Severus could not help but feel trapped in this whole situation and it was a feeling he did not like at all. He could see Dumbledore’s insane plan clearly now, even if the man had not done much more than hinting towards it. But he had witnessed the old goat’s manipulations for years, and understood what he had been doing. It was what Albus had been doing with him for years now, never giving concrete orders and rarely asking him to do anything at all. It was always a helpful suggestion here or a brilliant but somewhat reckless idea there, inspiring him to draw the right conclusions himself. It often resulted in him making the necessary decisions without the man’s input, decisions that were often accompanied by hefty sacrifices he had to make. Severus had endured this tactic for years despite being aware of Albus’ manipulations. For years he had not cared, as he had the opinion that there was nothing left for him to lose after Lily’s death. But now that he had Miss Granger, or at least hoped he’d have her one day, he realized how wrong he had been.
Today it was the same, only that this time Albus’ scheming was directed towards her - his bond mate. And Severus would not allow her to be manipulated like this.
“What was it you wanted to talk to me about, Professor?” he heard the girl ask, her voice sounding small and confused. He could only imagine how lost she felt, facing the threat of losing one of her best friends forever. She was still so young, so pure, and had not faced a loss such as this in her life.
“The Headmaster wants you to sacrifice yourself for Mr Potter,” he said, without sugarcoating the truth. “He hopes that the bond will save you, but there is no saying if that would truly work. But in Dumbledore’s great scheme, in which we are all mere chess pieces, Harry Potter is the king and you are merely the queen. He would risk your life in the hope of still winning the game.”
Maybe those words were too harsh, but Severus thought she needed to hear them. She needed to have all the facts, to make an educated decision.
Miss Granger looked at him with wide eyes, but he could see he was considering his words very carefully.
“It sounds like you do not have a very high opinion of the Headmaster, Sir,” she said, her caramel brown eyes staring at him as if she tried to read him and judge his intention. She still did not trust him, Severus realized, and he could not blame her.
Severus sighed. “I have served Albus Dumbledore for years, Hermione,” he said, giving his voice a gentle and understanding tone. “I have faced losses and endured torture under the man’s watch and the only consolation I got was that it was done for “the Greater Good”. Do not misunderstand me. Headmaster Dumbledore was the one making sure Lord Voldemort did not reach his goal, he was the man making the plans and pulling the strings. And he did so masterfully, very much like a muggle General.”
The girl stared at him with a thoughtful expression. “Do you think that is what he does? Treating people like troops, like canon fader, instead of seeing the fate of every person? Do you think that’s what he’s doing here - with me ?” She had not spoken those last two words aloud, but Severus had still been able to hear them somehow.
She looked almost sick at the thought, but her gaze did not waver. Her eyes took on a sad and almost pleading expression. “But I can’t just let Harry die , when there’s something that could save him,” she said, her voice sounding small and lost. And for that moment he wanted nothing more than to pull her into his arms and comfort her. But he was not sure if she would even allow it. Probably not. Still, his fingers ached to touch her, to hold her and never let her go again. Because the prospect of losing her, of sacrificing her for someone that did not mean nearly as much to him, was more than he could take.
“I do understand, Hermione. I once had a friend I would have done anything for,” he confessed, his heart thundering because of the confession he was going to make. “I… lost her,” he said, his eyes trailing to the boy lying unmoving on the bed in front of them. “She gave her life to save her son, Hermione, and losing her almost ripped me apart. I can not stand to lose you too, not after I just found you.”
“Your friend was Lily Potter,” the girl breathed, her voice full of wonder and disbelief.
"Indeed," Severus confessed, his heart heavy with sorrow and fear of losing her, too. “We met before we both entered Hogwarts. I was the one who told her she was a witch. She was my first and only friend.”
Miss Granger did not speak for a long while, but her eyes said everything her voice did not. She pitied him, Severus realized and even though that meant the girl felt something for him, he did not like the feeling at all.
“I am sorry you lost her,” the girl said and suddenly he felt her hand softly touching his arm. “I can't imagine how hard it must have been… well I can , considering…" Her eyes drifted towards the unconscious boy on the bed.
For a moment Severus allowed himself to close his eyes and relish in the feeling of her touch.
“But you do understand it too, Severus, you’ve said it just now. You would have done anything for your friend, for Lily . Therefore you surely understand that I would do the same for her son.”
Of course, he understood, he understood only too well . He was pulling the short straw again and he would be once more abandoned for a Potter. He took a deep, steadying breath. No, he would not give up so easily this time. He would not be abandoned again, not if there was a way to prevent it.
“The bond will not be strong enough to heal this, Hermione. The Headmaster is insane if he thinks this could work. You barely trust me any longer, which is understandable given the circumstances. And I…” he did not finish the sentence aloud. She did not need to know that he had watched her snogging another man for most of the day and that the memory of it was ripping him apart. It was almost like he could feel the bond unravelling below his fingers, unable to do anything to stop this.
“I do trust you, Professor - Severus. I always knew you would protect me and all the other students from the school, I never doubted that for a second. It is just that I was hurt by what you did and said, because I always wanted you to like me, and to want to spend time with me, not because you had to,” she said and her voice was so full of emotions, that he just had to open his eyes and look at her. Her eyes were huge and he could see the tears building behind them, threatening to spill over and run down her cheeks. But she held them in and plastered a brave smile on her face. Gods, he could have had it all, could have had her , if he had not been such a fucking idiot . If he’d just told her he liked her from the very beginning, she would not have dated Weasley the idiot and the three of them would have been in Hogsmeade together and he would have carefully watched all three of them. History was indeed repeating itself, considering it would be his fault again, that one of his friends sacrificed herself for Harry bloody Potter - Lily’s son or not, this just wasn’t fair .
“I do like you, Hermione, I already told you so, but I guess I was never very good with words,” he said smiling crookedly and before he knew what he was doing, he pulled her against him, closing his arms around her back to pull her into a tight embrace. “And see where that brought us. I swear I’ll spend as much time with you as you want, because there’s nothing else I’d rather do. I could take you book-shopping to Diagon Alley or, in your holidays, we could visit the magical section of the British Museum. There’s so much I’d love to show you, teach you,” he mumbled, burying his nose in her hair. “Please Hermione, you don’t have to do this.”
To his surprise, she did not pull away but melted into his embrace, her face burying itself in his robes. It felt so natural to hold her like this - so right - that he was almost sure she’d be able to feel this too. They belonged to each other, not just their mind and their magic, their bodies too.
“I know I don’t,” Hermione mumbled after they had stayed like this for a while, her small hands gripping his robe at his chest. “But apart from the fact that I could never again face myself in the mirror if I just stood back and did nothing , Harry is the one who can vanquish You-Know-Who, Severus. There is a prophecy about him, you know? We heard it when we went to the Department of Mysteries last year.”
Severus closed his eyes in despair, her use of his given name tugging on his heart strings as much as the question that followed. Of course he knew of the fucking prophecy, it had been what had started this whole misery. And here it was again, coming to bite him in the arse…
He sighed heavily, while his hand carefully gripped one of Hermione’s curls, testing the feeling of them between his long fingers. He at least wanted to do this once, before…
“Very well,” he said, before abruptly letting go of her. “I see you are determined to save your friend, no matter what.”
His wand was in his hand a moment later, the spell to cast a Patronus leaving his lips, while his eyes remained focussed on her. That was why he only realized some moments later that the ghostly animal waiting in front of him was no longer a doe, it was a lioness .
Severus stared at it in silence for a long moment, his heart shuddering as he understood the implications of this change. But finally he cleared his throat and said: “Headmaster, you can come back in. Miss Granger and I have finished our discussion.”
The proud animal stalked away momentarily, a thin trail of mist following it as it disappeared through the wall.
It was only a moment until the door opened, the Headmaster walking in more quickly than one would think possible at his age. Severus did not give him or Miss Granger the chance to say a word, the decision in his mind unchangeably made.
“I will do it,” he said, staring at the man that also somehow had become a kind of father to him, with an unwavering gaze. “I am going to absorb the curse in Mr Potter’s body, Albus. Don’t try to change my mind in this. This is the only solution you’ll get, because I’ll not let you use Miss Granger as a pawn sacrifice.”
“Very well,” the Headmaster replied, while he heard Hermione behind him gasp. Obviously she had just caught on to the fact that he had never planned to let her die.
“No Professor, you can’t,” she whispered, her voice pleading, and Severus could not help but wonder if she at least felt part of the agony he had felt with facing the possibility of seeing her die.
“I can and I will,” Severus said, before slipping off his black robe and throwing it onto the next chair. “But you can try to stop me from dying through that curse, if you wish to try working a miracle.”
He looked at her with a crooked smile that was hopefully at least partly disguising the heartbreak that he felt. He was not doing this for Lily, or Harry, not even for Hermione. He was doing this for himself, as life without her would be no life at all. And therefore sacrificing himself was probably the most selfish thing he could do, given the circumstances.
Hermione stared at the scene unfolding in front of her in horror. Until now she had somehow still felt she was in control of things, even though the situation had been dire and somewhat hopeless. But she had known a way out, had known what she could do to help, even though it would have probably cost her life. Only it suddenly wasn’t her life on the line any longer, but Professor Snape’s. This simply couldn’t be happening!
The man had been Dumbledore’s spy for almost two decades! He was an incredibly powerful wizard, one that could really be an asset to the Order. And still it looked like Dumbledore would just let the man die, without even trying to change his mind. Why?
But then again, what was he supposed to do ?
Like in slow motion Hermione watched Professor Snape walk towards the sick bed, now only clad in a crisp white shirt and black trousers. He pulled a chair close and sat down on it, looking first at her, then at the Headmaster, while she seemed frozen in place.
“Promise me you’ll watch out for the girl, Albus, I want your word on it,” she heard Severus say and just when the Headmaster gave his promise to do just that, her legs finally started to move. Without caring about how it might seem, she dashed towards Severus' side, closing her arms around his upper body, pinning his arms in place.
“Please Professor. Tell me what I can do, how I can save you…” she pleaded, the tears welling up in her eyes. But the man just looked at her with a calm but reassuring smile.
“This I do not know,” he admitted, ignoring the Headmaster’s or Harry’s presence in the room. “But if you could hold my hand while the energy is transferred to me, I would very much appreciate it.”
Hermione nodded, slowly releasing his chest, before carefully taking his left hand into hers. She could feel Professor Dumbledore’s eyes on her - on them - but she did not find it in her to care. She would stay at Severus’ side, no matter what, and she would not let him die, she could not, because suddenly she realized that her life would never be the same without him. She wanted those hours of friendship and companionship he had promised her and other things she did not dare to think about right now. Hermione wanted Severus at her side and she would not let something as mundane as death take him from her.
“Of course, Sir,” she mumbled, gripping his hand tightly. “I’ll stay right here, don’t worry.”
“Good. Now brace yourself.”
Hermione did not have the chance to say something else, as an unknown spell left his wand a moment later. For a moment there was a blue light that seemed to connect Harry’s and Severus’ bodies. It was gone a moment after, the body next to her going limp and keeling forward until it landed on the bed with a muffled thud. Hermione watched it happen in shock, her mind only registering briefly that a moment later Harry opened his eyes on the bed. But to her it did not matter, as her world had just broken apart.