Severus was going to kill her when he found out.
"It is unfortunate that no one can ever know about this, Miss Granger," McGonagall said from the middle of her office. The old headmistress sat in a leather wingback chair with Hermione at her feet. It seemed about right for the situation. However, Hermione was down there because she did not have arthritic knees and it was easiest to lay out all her notes on the floor around them. "The way you have combined potions with transfiguration runes could open up an entirely new branch of magical medicine. If it didn't involve blood sacrifice, you could've won another Order of Merlin for this. Certainly, there could've been a Lufkin Medal of Magical Excellence."
Hermione frowned at the notes blocking them in. "I'm not doing this for any medals, Professor." Though that didn't mean it didn't sting. Hermione had secretly fantasized about winning a Lufkin since she was twelve and first learned about it. Gryffindors dreamed of winning an Order of Merlin. Ravenclaws aspired to the Lufkin. She wouldn't have turned her nose up at the prospect of having both.
"I'll be satisfied if we simply don't end up in Azkaban over this," Hermione mumbled.
"Hear, Hear." McGonagall pointed her wand at a pile to their right. Three rolls of parchment floated into her lap. "I know you believe the weakness to be in the runes, but I cannot help but think it might be in the potion."
A chill ran up and down Hermione's spine. "Oh! Don't let Severus hear you say that!"
McGonagall nodded with a grim smile. "He was only a man. It's possible he made a mistake. Even Albus made them." The headmistress seemed to pause in thought. "Of course… It is also possible that Severus made no mistake but the potion is still wrong."
Hermione shook her head without even thinking. "That makes no sense."
"What I mean to say, Miss Granger, is that perhaps…" McGonagall seemed to rethink what she was going to say. She pursed her lips like Hermione had seen her do hundreds of times before giving out a detention in class. "Perhaps Severus did not mean for you to succeed."
"Of course, he does, Professor. If we do not, he dies. No, even worse! Every time we don't succeed, he has to die all over again. It is a living hell for him."
Her professor sounded so sure that Hermione's bones went cold. It made a twisted sense. She had gone over every other element, from the basic incantation down to the orientation of the planet, and could not find the fatal error in her calculations. She had checked and rechecked the stars and the quality of her own blood. She had investigated Greek runes, Egyptian runes, even Mayan runes and woven the most powerful ones into transfiguration spells that she had only read about in theoretical papers that McGonagall had published fifteen years before. The one element that she had never doubted and thus never checked was the potion. She remembered her father quoting Sherlock when she was a child. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
"Why would he do that?" she whispered.
"Severus always had a martyr streak in him," McGonagall said with a strange sort of affection. "It was his own sort of nobility. This self-sacrifice. It made him a perfect spy. No one really liked him, himself included. In everyone's plans, he was always supposed to die, Miss Granger."
Hermione's eyes began to sting. She wasn't sure why. She was angry. She felt betrayed. She was heartbroken. She was a dozen different things. Most of all, she was exhausted. "Then why wouldn't he just kill himself while I'm sleeping one night? Why all this fuss and bother?"
McGonagall sighed and rubbed her temple. "To be honest, I think he always thought that death was too good and easy for him. He always wanted to suffer. He always thought he should."
"Please, professor, stop talking about him in the past tense. He's not dead yet. Well," Hermione said, "he's not dead at the moment."
"Yes," McGonagall said, "and perhaps we're doing no favors for him there. Have you considered that, Miss Granger?"
The fire in the hearth, almost too warm on her back, sputtered as a log cracked. There was a magical clock somewhere in the room, tick-tick-ticking. The past professors in their portraits snored and shuffled, impersonating various little life-noises that no portrait in her mind ever really had the right to make.
No, Hermione had never considered whether or not Snape wanted to die. Perhaps she was too consumed with whether or not she could undo it. She was that insufferable little know-it-all, too overcome with the how-do-I to wonder about the should-I.
That was not the point. When she first revived him that morning in the Shrieking Shack, he could have told her then that she was wrong. It would've been his right to tell her to go bugger off and then take back his rightful death. She wouldn't have understood it, but could have respected it.
But a year! For a year, she had devoted herself to him and saving his life. No one else might have thought him worth it, but she thought they owed him that little chance. That was her reasoning in the beginning. Then it grew on itself. After the first time, if he died, it would've been her fault. She couldn't count how many nights that thought kept her awake. Her conscience was wrapped in with his fate in knots.
It was more than that.
She had threatened her freedom for him. Hermione risked Azkaban. She had asked Harry for his home, taken advantage of his trust.
She had done terrible blood magic of which the wizarding world didn't even quiet understand the ultimate cost. Some said that it weakened the soul and magical core of a witch or wizard. Others said it damned them to Hell. No one really knew. It certainly cost her some longevity. To give him a year of life, it had taken two from her.
It had started with guilt and perhaps hubris. Then it was conscience. Yet, then it became something like friendship. She thought there was understanding, trust, and a common goal. She thought he respected her sacrifice.
Perhaps she was too wrapped up in her own motives to see his.
"I'm going to kill him," she said, finally deciding to focus on her anger because it was the least complicated. "I mean it this time."
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