Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or the Potter-verse, which belongs to J. K. Rowling, and am not making a profit out of this. This disclaimer covers all chapters.
Prelude - The Nightmare Begins
Hermione Granger screamed like mad. One minute she had been thinking about her upcoming detention with Professor Snape, and the next she was staring into Harry Potter's lifeless eyes. It could not have happened, it was too sudden, there had been no warning. She closed her eyes, willing herself to wake up but, deep inside, she knew she wasn't having a nightmare. Slowly, her breathing returned to normal with her exercises. One, two, breathe in. Three, four, breathe out. A few minutes later she opened them again, carefully. The setting hadn't changed. She forced herself to look away from Harry, only to be greeted by the sight of a dead Neville Longbottom. The scream that was about to resurface died stillborn when she saw Ginny Weasley. Also dead. And then the rest of her common room. Hermione darted upstairs to her dormitory, hoping to find someone, anyone, with whom to share this horror, but it only deepened; Parvati Patil's body was there, her throat slit open. When she ran to the boy's dormitory, she already knew she would have no luck. Still, it didn't stop her collapsing when she saw Ron Weasley and Dean Thomas sitting on the floor in front of a chessboard, unnaturally still. There was a pool of congealed blood on the ground between them, both of their blood oddly mingled. Then the world closed upon her and she knew no more.
Blood. Pain. And Death. All around him, spreading, stopping him from breathing. Engulfing him like a flame. He was standing just outside Hogwarts' infirmary, and he could see the bodies of Poppy Pomfrey and several of his students, hardly recognisable within the mass of blood. The stench was copper laced with fear, so strong it made his nostrils hurt. He couldn't, for the life of him, figure out how it had happened. He had had a trying seventh year Slytherin-Gryffindor class, where he had awarded the Granger girl a detention for once again ignoring a direct order and trying to assist Neville Longbottom, and he had been meaning to go to the infirmary to check if there was lack of any important potion in the matron's stores. He had no recollection, however, of actually having walked there, certainly no memory of an attack, but proof of one was lying just before his eyes. Albus. Albus would know what to do, how to deal with an attack so sudden that he could not, for the life of him, remember how it had started. All dignity cast aside, Severus Snape ran like a madman, dodging corpses he tried his best not to identify and fighting a violent surge to vomit. All around the school, everywhere he looked, he could see nothing but corpses; there was Susan Bones, a knife still in her chest. However much he ran, the office only seemed to be farther and farther away... there was Minerva McGonagall, lying with her skull cracked open, just outside the Great Hall; he could still make out Flitiwick's half-smashed head as he sped to meet the Headmaster, panic rising with each step. Finding the gargoyle wide open and showing no sign of ever having been a magical guardian only served to increase his fear. He rapidly climbed the once-moving staircase, two steps at a time. When he opened the door to the Headmaster's office, he already knew what awaited him.
She woke up feeing sore. Her left arm was numb, and her eyes were swollen, as if she had cried. And she was very, very cold. The dormitory walls seemed to be closing in on her, choking her, preventing her from breathing. Completely taken by panic, she ran as fast as she could, out of the dormitory, out of her room, away from Gryffindor Tower. She was seeing more and more bodies as she ran, but the Headmaster had to be alive. He was more powerful than even Voldemort, he would have survived, he would be able to help her through this madness.
When she reached the gargoyle, it was wide open. Soon after she had begun running up the now still staircase she heard crying. There was someone in the Headmaster's office, and that someone was crying. Hermione slowed her pace, unsure of what to do. If it were the Headmaster, surely he would be trying to do something, not hiding in his office; but, if it were the enemy, wouldn't they be happy? She took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, and steeled herself for what she would find. Not bothering to knock, she kicked the door open and promptly screamed again. Half-lying on top of his desk was the body of the Headmaster, his white hair marred by streaks of red. And, desesperately cradling his head and crying like a baby, was a very much alive Severus Snape.
Severus was startled out of his misery by a terrified scream. He had been too engrossed in his pain to hear the footsteps, but it was impossible not to have heard the scream. He looked away from Albus to the face of Hermione Granger who, at some point, had managed to stop screaming. She rushed over to him.
"Professor." There was a note of hysteria in her voice. "Professor, what happened? Everyone is dead, what happened?"
"I don't know, Miss Granger. Wherever I look I see signs of a struggle, and yet I heard nothing, saw nothing. Is anyone else alive?"
Although his voice didn't reveal it, he was deeply relieved. It hardly mattered that she was the annoying Gryffindor know-it-all. She was another human being, she was alive, and that made her welcome. Severus could easily b described as a solitary man, but a castle full of corpses was not his ideal type of solitude and, truth be told, he only desired solitude when it was not imposed on him.
"No, Professor. Everyone in Gryffindor Tower is dead. I don't know about the other houses."
Very gently Severus laid the Headmaster's head back on the table and closed the old wizard's eyes, oblivious to the bloodstains on his own clothing. "Rest in Peace, Albus," he whispered, then took his wand and cast a spell unknown to her. The Headmaster's body glowed a bright white, and then disappeared altogether. Answering to Hermione's unspoken question, Severus explained. "It is an ancient spell that was conceived during one of the first wars. It releases the soul, and has the side effect of disintegrating the body. It is used mainly during wartime, since it isn't elaborate and poetic like our most common funereal rites, and it doesn't take much energy. I am going to check the castle for survivors now. You may come along if you wish." His voice lacked its usual sting. He had been tested to his limits, and felt like he was going to crack at any second but, for once, he didn't feel the need to take it out on the nearest person. That the nearest person was, to the best of his knowledge, the only one alive also helped. It was obvious that Hermione had gone through enough already.
"Yes. I don't want to be alone. Please."
Author's Note: I am aware this chapter is quite depressing, as will be a few parts of upcoming chapters. Also, please bear in mind that both Severus and Hermione will be out of character in other parts, but there is a reason for both of this, which will be revealed later on. If anyone of the people who read Last Wish is reading this, I know some of you asked me to let you know when my next fic was out, but I don't have an internet connection and have to use friends' occasionally. That is also the reason why I don't do shout-outs, although I read every review (hint!). To the kind person who left me a review on Last Wish offering to be my beta (I don't have your name here, but I saved your e-mail, I swear), if your offer is still up when I get a job, I will most definitely take it. By that time I will either be online at work or have enough money to reactivate my home connection. Anyone in need of a Graphic Designer with five years of experience? ;) I am Portuguese, though, I live in Lisbon. If anyone didn't take the hint earlier, REVIEW, please!