Disclaimer: I'm not, and never would claim to be J.K. Rowling. She is the queen, and I am but a pawn – now let's play some chess, shall we?

Rating is for language, violence, and my penchant for possibly naughtiness. Warnings: Character death (though I wouldn't touch the Golden Trio) and HBP compliant (read: spoilers).

Reviews: Reviews are a writer's best friend.

A/N: I know that for those readers who have stayed with me through "Bullets & Fairytales", this may seem like a frightful (though short) diversion. Let me just clarify that I love writing strong female characters, whether they be cops, witches, or Sara Sidle. So, really, this isn't too much of a stretch. Promise.

Chapter One

It was an odd sensation, that of standing outside of her own body, detached, unfeeling. After all of these years of training, of preparation, she blindly engaged in all of those curses, deflecting the enemy at the same time she protected herself and those innocents around her. It didn't feel like it was actually her. She didn't feel at all.

"We have to get out of here, Hermione! Gods, where is Harry? Hermione!"

She looked at Ron through the smoldering remains of Hogsmeade. He stood several meters from her, a beacon with his bright red hair, though his face was blackened from dirt and smoke. Several frightened children huddled around him, one girl bleeding from a gash on her arm, the others relatively unscathed. The sun filtered through the haze in patches, its illumination no match to that of the nearby fires, and the ominous Dark Mark that stained the sky above, its green light mocking them.

"Past Scrivenshaft's. Lupin was with him. I'll cover you. Just go!"

Ron paused, staring back at her and Lavendar, the injured girl a huddled mass at Hermione's feet. There were villagers and Order members around them, some barely visible through the smoke as they fought back, some of their comrades and friends scattered like broken dolls along the cobbled High Street. On the outskirts of the once quaint village, she could see the Death Eaters advancing like some army from hell, their silvery masks lit by the green light as they delivered the most unforgivable of curses.

The attack had been sudden, shifting the jovial atmosphere of Hogsmeade into a battlefield in mere minutes. Harry, Ron and Hermione had been researching a possible lead on one of the missing Horcruxes and the endless underground secret passages of Hog's Head. Lupin, who had explored some of these corridors with the other Marauders nearly two decades ago, agreed it would be worth further investigation.

Someone had known they would be here. That Harry would be in town that day. Someone close to them had given them over to Voldemort's army.

"I can't leave you, Hermione!"

The Death Eaters were getting closer. Hermione deflected another curse, sending back a slicing hex through the smoke at the offender as Lavender made some strange mewing sound at her feet.

"Choose another time to debate me, Ron! Bloody go!"

He stood staring at her for a moment, his blue eyes wide as he pleaded silently with her. A tug at his robes by one of his unwilling charges reminded him of the children around him. And Harry. He had to protect Harry. They had all agreed that mattered more than anything else, hadn't they?

As promised, she covered him as he led the children through the smoke, disappearing down the hopefully deserted alley between Scrivenshaft's and Gladrags.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Hermione screamed, the sound coming out choked as her throat suddenly constricted with intense fear. It was too close, she hadn't seen the black-cloaked figure disengage from the others and move towards her, and now that green flash of light was all that was left…

Her gasped name was the last thing that Lavender spoke. Hermione flung back a slicing hex at the Death Eater even as she felt the clammy hold of the other girl's arms loosen from around her right calf. Her friend was crumpling, lifeless, to the cold stone road, her eyes wide, but unseeing.

"Lavender! Oh, Merlin!" She fell to her knees on the cobble stones next to Lavender's unmoving form, her shaky hands touching the other girl's face, the reality of her death pushing the fierce, fighting Hermione back into her own body, back into the bleak starkness of their current situation.

She looked up in time to see the injured Death Eater raise his wand once again to her. The cloaked figure jerked in response to a curse thrown at him from an Order member hidden somewhere in the hazy smoke that was becoming even thicker as the buildings continued to burn around them. But the slicing hex still found her.

Hermione gasped as pain ripped through her side, under her parted robes against the left side of her rib cage. Blood instantly soaked through her plain white, button down school shirt, the crimson imprint visualizing the extent of her injury. She swallowed, her lips trembling at the sudden realization she was hurt. Badly.

With shaky hands, she grabbed Lavender under the armpits, keeping low as she dragged the girl's lifeless body through the smoke to the nearest building, the area thankfully free of fire and other beings, good and bad. She pulled Lavender into a small dark inlet against the side of the building, propping her into a sitting position so they were both relatively hidden to the casual observer.

Hermione's breathing was shallow now, and her eyes were becoming wet, irritated by the smoke and burdened with the raw knowledge that she was dying. It was one of many things she had studied, had read about in her quest for knowledge. She was getting colder, even as the fire burned through the October sky. The blood was alternatively sticky and slick against her flesh, the cotton of her shirt rubbing abrasively into the wound. Light headed, she thought of Ron. How his blue eyes lit up when discussing Quidditch, his red hair so soft, the way his mouth felt when he had kissed her. And her parents. How they would miss her. All of those books, all of those things left to learn, to uncover, to live.

And Harry. The Boy Who Lived, who lived for them all. He had been so selfless, giving so much of his childhood, possibly even his own life so that good would prevail.

Hermione bit her lower lip, trying to quell the trembling as she looked at Lavender. She reached into the pocket of the other girl's robes, pulling out her wand. A tear burned its way down her soot-covered cheek as she tucked Lavender's wand inside her own robes. Several more tears followed as she stared at her fallen comrade for a moment, the emotion choking at her heart, battling the pain that coursed through her torso.

"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," she whispered. "I don't want to leave, but I owe it to Harry. And I owe it to you."

She regarded the other girl for a moment longer, willing herself the strength to move. She couldn't die here. She had to find Harry. She wanted to be by his side, to help him to the very end.

Swallowing down the pain, trying to ease the shakiness in her own body, she slipped out of the shadows of the inlet, cautiously moving into the eerily lit haze at the side of the building. She could still hear the sounds of battle, of hexes, curses and screams, but it all seemed so far away. It didn't help that she had become dizzy; everything seemed so light, distant…

Her knees gave out and she fell to her knees again, her breathing rushed. Get up, get up…

Even through the smoke, the sight of her was unmistakable. He had thought this area deserted, the best location to apparate himself and the boy back to the safe house. But here she was, covered with soot, with that unmistakable riotous mess of curls, her wand clutched in one hand, the other against the brick of the building next to them. She was turned away from them, but from her posture, he knew she was injured.

"Granger," the boy spoke from next to him, his voice low, but hard enough to reach her.

Hermione gasped at the sound of her name, turning even as her body protested vehemently at the sharp movement. Two Death Eaters stood in front of her in the haze, their silvery masks almost ethereal in their evil beauty.

Without thinking, she raised her wand swiftly, only to have the larger of the cloaked figures raise his hand and silently pull it from her. She sobbed, knowing this was the end.

Her school robes were parted, and he could see clearly the extent of her injury, the large crimson stain dark against her left side. Without attention, the girl would die.

"We need to leave," the boy spoke again, his voice low. The man ignored him, watching the unstable movements of Hermione, her head tilted even as her body wavered from her position on her knees. She was trying to place the voice; she recognized the boy, and surely would recognize him.

He strode forward, his Death Eater robes billowing around him in the smoke, the boy close behind him. Hermione flinched, but didn't turn away, facing upwards, her body still shaking with the onslaught of blood loss. She knew they would kill her, and she would try not to give them any more pleasure in her death. She would not show her fear.

He knelt down in front of her, nearly face to face save for the fact of his height. He reached one black gloved hand out to touch her soot covered cheek, smoothing away some of the dirt to reveal her pale flesh. She stared back at him with dark eyes, unblinking even as her lips trembled.

"You're coming with us," he told her, his silky voice almost a whisper. Her eyes widened as she recognized him, all of her memories regarding him, the past, Harry, Dumbledore…


One gloved finger pressed against her cold lips, silencing her. "Shush, girl. We're not safe yet."

"Severus, do you think it's wise?" Malfoy whispered next to him. He did not turn to acknowledge the boy, still staring down at the injured girl in front of him.

"She is dying, boy." His free hand pushed her school robes further open, exposing the large crimson stain. She fought him feebly and he grasped the offending hand. "If she doesn't die first, the Dark Lord will find her."

Malfoy stiffened next to him. There was no need to voice what would happen then.

He moved closer to her, and she pressed weakly against the front of his black Death Eater robes.

"Don't fight me, Miss Granger. Your body is already significantly damaged. I fear that a bind might kill you."

He pulled her close, dragging her into his arms even as she went limp with sudden defeat. Hermione stared up at him with wet eyes, dark with a mixture of hate and fear.

"Traitor." The one word was so quiet, so soft, but held such vehemence that Malfoy jerked back from his position next to the older man.

His grasp tightened around her, his black, fathomless eyes hard behind his silvery mask.

"And don't forget it," he whispered back, his voice caressing her even as consciousness left her grasp, and the world fell into blackness as the three of them apparated from the smoldering ruins of Hogsmeade.