Pain is binding. Sometimes pain can bind you to another person deeper than any other feeling, deeper even than love. But more than bringing people together, it can also tear them apart so completely that the resulting wreckage is worse than a natural disaster. When one lived in a world that was steeped in pain, one found that it was impossible to survive without it, in much the same manner as a drug addict needs the drug of their choice to function. Draco Malfoy was a pain addict. He lived to inflict it, loathed to feel it, and loved to ensure that no one ever saw just how much it truly affected him.

Hermione Granger, on the other hand, did not like to inflict pain upon people. It wasn't in her nature. Slytherins were more liable to do that sort of thing but Gryffindors - hell girls like Hermione in general - simply didn't know how to intentionally hurt someone. But things change, people change, given the right circumstances. And for all intents and purposes, Hermione had definitely changed. It wasn't a comfortable change, nor was it one that happened upon you without knowledge, swift and silent like death in the night. It was nearly abrupt, given that it had come within the first month of her sixth year at school. In relation to her life, it was like she had closed her eyes and opened them as an entirely different person.

When she started her sixth year at Hogwarts, Hermione had no idea how the year was going to turn out for her. She knew the threat Voldemort posed to the wizarding world was steadily growing since his full rebirthing and that something had to be done to stop him. He'd already eliminated some of the greatest witches and wizards the world had ever seen, not to mention the greatest human beings you could possibly know, and neither Hermione nor her friends could stand to see him continue to take them out, one by one. Working with the Order of the Phoenix allowed her to fight indirectly against him and helped to ease her soul. Who knew that things would flip so completely in such a short amount of time? That she would do a complete 180, both in personality and outlook on life?

How does one truly know when some characteristic, some staple to the way they behave, has changed indefinitely? Is it a physical feeling, a shift that takes place within you? Can you feel it? Does it cause you pain? For Hermione, it was all mental but the pain it inflicted was the worst she'd come to know in her short time on Earth. It was a pain that she could live with, had to live with, and in time, a pain she had invariably come to need. It never would have happened if it weren't for one Mr. Draco Malfoy, a boy she had somehow fallen for, dived recklessly headfirst for, and landed wrong-side up in her world of rightness because of. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

How, you might ask, did she ever come to mingle with the pureblooded prat who'd done nothing but torment her from day one? How had she ever managed to exchange any sort of niceties with the boy who literally made her blood boil with rage every time he dared to call her a Mudblood? How had she come to fall under his spell and not only accept him as a friend, but as a lover as well? Life worked in mysterious ways, Hermione had learned, and Draco was nothing if not mysterious. This wasn't the result of a spell gone haywire or a potion slipped in her morning pumpkin juice, however. It was the natural solution to the equation of hate plus hate equals passion. And that had been Hermione's undoing.

The train ride to Hogsmeade Station, departed from Kings Cross at exactly 11 in the morning, had not been a particularly eventful one. No Dementors boarded the train, no major spats broke out, and kids just milled about being kids. First years chased each other down the halls, the older kids that knew how completely tactless that was sat in their compartments, munching on goodies brought 'round by the snack trolley, and Hermione, Harry, Ron, Luna, Neville, Ginny, and whoever else could fit in their compartment, discussed varying topics, ranging from Chocolate Frogs to the newest article in The Quibbler, the wizarding magazine run by Luna's father, Xenophilius Lovegood.

There was nothing about the day, nothing in the atmosphere, that had given any sort of indication to the day that Hermione was about to have – or the next month, for that matter. Slytherins still hated Gryffindors and the Earth still spun on the same axis, much in the same way it did the previous day. But there was definitely something different and Hermione had been on edge because of it, though the only visible sign of her distress was the fact that she couldn't relax her back from its stiff, upright position. No one seemed to notice, or if they did, they simply shrugged it off and didn't question her about it.

By the time she and her comrades disembarked the scarlet Hogwarts Express, Hermione had set her mind to focus on relaxing and trying to enjoy the first day of her sixth year. She would enjoy the Sorting Hat's song, the ceremony to follow, and the grand feast that awaited them (despite the fact that she loathed the idea of house elves slaving away over it). She, Harry, Ron, and the rest of the crew climbed into the horseless carriages – though Hermione now knew they were really pulled by Thestrals, beings who she hoped remained invisible to her – and the ride to the castle was silent, as each of them seemed to have something on their minds. That had been a month ago.

Hermione tried to remember with vivid clarity the first time her eyes had ever fallen on the grandeur of stone that made up Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It felt so long ago, like a distant memory that was tucked in an unused corner of her mind. She vaguely remembered the rough wood she had perched herself upon in the tiny rowboat with four other unknown (at the time) companions. Her head had been swimming with facts she'd read about the castle, things she'd memorized not because she'd had to but because she'd wanted to know everything there was to know about Hogwarts. From there, she only barely just remembered making her way to the inside of the castle and through the large oak doors that garnished the entrance of the Great Hall, where the buzz of older students thrummed along with the buzzing of the blood in her veins.

One vivid detail Hermione recalled was the exact thrill that had coursed through her body the moment she'd sat upon a worn, obviously well-used stool and was sorted by the legendary Sorting Hat into Gryffindor, the House of the brave. She'd rushed over to join her fellow classmates and was welcomed with open arms. For Hermione, there'd never been any doubt as to where she truly belonged. Many might say that her brains were better suited for Ravenclaw, but they were entirely logical beings who acted with great care and consideration and Hermione had proven time and time again that she simply didn't fall into that category (though that may have been due to the fact that her two best friends were entirely reckless creatures carried through life by the whims of their own two feet).

Hufflepuff didn't quite suit Hermione either. They were sort of the "every man's man" of the Hogwarts Houses. As harsh as it sounded, Hermione felt like they were the kids who didn't have any real truly defining characteristic that set them apart from anyone else. Ravenclaws had their intelligence, Gryffindor their bravery, and Slytherin their cunningness. Not to say that Hufflepuffs particularly lacked any of those traits but they just weren't as prominent in them as they were in others.

As for Slytherin, up until recently, Hermione had always vehemently rejected the idea that she could ever belong with the snakes, if not for more than just the fact that she was nothing more than dirty blood to them and didn't fit their idea of a worthy Housemate, or even a worthy witch. But that had been at the start of the term. Now things were different. Now Hermione doubted very much whether the Sorting Hat had been in the right frame of mind when sorting her, because it was obvious that she was no longer the Gryffindor she'd once proudly boasted she was. She was a coward, afraid of her own reflection, for mirrors always showed Hermione the truth she never wanted to acknowledge.

She was startled out of her reverie by a whispered voice in her ear. "We leave tonight." The words were not particularly threatening by themselves but the implications of what they meant were enough to shock Hermione into insensibility. Tonight? Was it time already? Had the time for her fate to be decided really come upon them so quickly? Hadn't it been just yesterday that she'd learned the truth of Draco's sullenness, of the existence of the Dark Mark that tainted the beautiful, pale flesh of Draco's left forearm, the very same mark she now bore in exactly the same place?

He'd found her in a dark alcove on the fifth floor, the very place they'd shared their first kiss, thus it being "their place" to go when they wanted to talk in private or attend to... other matters. Lately Hermione had taken it upon herself to visit the spot without Draco whenever she'd needed a moment to herself to contemplate certain things, things like how life had managed to turn so completely upside down in such a short period of time. "Very well. My things are ready. Could I just... have an hour?" Hermione didn't look at Draco, didn't need to. She heard him murmur his assent and moved away from him, emerging from the alcove and heading straight for the stairs. She knew that if she'd turned to accept the comfort he wanted to offer her, she would have lost all nerve to do what she wanted to do.

She knew where her feet were taking her, though her mind screamed at her to turn around and abort the suicide mission she seemed to be on. She hadn't talked to Harry and Ron in a month and she knew nothing could be gained from a conversation with them now but... she had to see them one last time. Even if they hated her and completely misinterpreted her actions, she had to know that they were going to be alright without her, because if they crumbled and gave up, there was the very real possibility that Hermione could die very soon.

The Fat Lady was not in a welcoming mood tonight, especially when she seemed to sense something very un-Gryffindor-like about Hermione as of late. She gave Hermione a moody look as she'd muttered the password and very grudgingly allowed her into the common room that she no longer felt like she belonged in. Her eyes fell upon a pair of heads, one with flaming red hair enhanced by the fireplace in which it sat in front of, the other with jet black hair that was unruly as ever, despite her numerous attempts to tame it both with Muggle and wizard remedies.

Thankfully neither Ron nor Harry saw her approach, so neither had the opportunity to shirk her and her unwanted friendship before she managed to get close enough to speak with them. "Harry, Ron, could I talk to you for a moment, in private?" The two boys looked up from the sofa they were seated on, neither of them looking particularly happy to see her, not that she'd expected any different. If anything, their expressions only darkened.

"Why should we?" Ron asked defensively.

Hermione sighed, wanting to roll her eyes. She had known they would be this way, especially Ron, but she was determined that they hear her out before she left. She might never see them after this again and they deserved some sort of answer, even if she couldn't tell them the whole truth. "Please? I promise I'll leave you alone for the rest of the year."

They exchanged glances, considering her words, before Harry nodded and they rose, following her out of the common room to a secluded area of the castle where there wasn't much foot traffic and therefore less of a possibility to be happened across. "I'm leaving."

Despite the fact that it was obvious both boys were trying to feign indifference when it came to Hermione, they weren't well enough actors to hide the concern that sprung into their eyes, even if their voices remained coolly detached. "Oh? And where are you gallivanting off to now?" Harry asked.

"Going to elope with your boyfriend?" Ron sneered.

Hermione wanted to tell them to stop acting so childish but a part of her reprimanded herself for wasting time with such trivial things and she reminded herself to stay focused. "I can't tell you any specifics-"

"Big shocker there," Ron muttered angrily.

"-but I just needed to let you know that..." this was the hard part, "I'm leaving and I might not see you again."

This alarmed both the boys, even if they'd rather cut off their tongue than admit it. "What do you mean?" Harry asked with guarded eyes.

"I can't tell you. I'm on orders to keep everything vague but I just needed you to know that I have to leave and there's a very real possibility that I won't come back."

Ron looked at Harry before looking back at her. "What sort of trouble have you gotten yourself into Hermione? We were your best friends. Why won't you let us help you?"

Hermione sighed and rubbed her face. She hadn't been sleeping well lately and it was starting to show. Large, purple rings the color of bruises were dusting the skin beneath her eyes and there was a hunch in her shoulders that hadn't been there before, as if the sorrow that hung over her head like a threatening raincloud actually weighed down upon her. "You can't help me. No one can. This is something I have to do on my own."

"You have Draco. He knows what you're doing. He's helping you."

"Look, that's not what I came here to discuss!" Hermione said a bit frantically, her voice cracking at the end to show just unnerved and under pressure she was. "You don't understand. I can't tell you. Believe me, if I could I would because this secret-keeping is killing me. Whatever happens, you can't give up what you're doing to bring down Voldemort. Even if you act like you don't care about me, I know you do." Neither boys made a move to deny it and Hermione felt her heart lighten at the thought. "Which is why I need you to promise me that you'll keep fighting against Voldemort even if you never see me again tonight. You need to keep going. Promise me that. This is the last thing I ask of you."

Neither Ron nor Harry seemed to know what to say for a moment. Harry spoke first, looking as if he were torn between wanting to reach out to Hermione and hold back to avoid further complicating this already complicated mess their relationship had become. "I promise." And he said no more.

Hermione looked back and forth between Harry and Ron before she lunged at them, hugging them tightly. Before they had a chance to react, she pulled back, gave them one last fleeting look, and then turned and vanished. She had requested an hour from Draco and she intended to use that hour to the best of her abilities.

Hogwarts was her second home. It housed many of the memories she was fond of and it had seen its fair share of tears and laughter on her part over the past five years. If she never saw it again, the least she could do would be take a few of those memories with her to her death so that she might have a chance of dying peacefully, no matter how she met whatever end might await her. Using the rest of the hour she had left, she visited every part of the castle that had become dear to her, including the classrooms of her favorite classes, the Quidditch pitch, the Great Hall, even the dungeons. By the time her hour was up, Hermione was feeling melancholic and nostalgic and didn't know if she had it in her to leave this place behind.

As soon as she met back up with Draco, however, she knew what had to be done. Life as a Death Eater meant she had no room for Hogwarts, no room for all the love she was bursting at the seams with from reliving old memories, no matter how far off in the distance they were from the very moment in which she was living now. Being a Death Eater, though not by choice, meant having to say goodbye to everything she had ever loved for the sake of living, for the sake of keeping both herself and Draco alive for just another night.

Her life had become a mess since accepting the Dark Mark a little over a week ago. There were times when she still didn't understand how she and Draco had managed to fool the others into believing that, though she was a Mudblood by nature, she was very much an avid supporter of Voldemort and wished to become more like him and his motley crew. She shuddered at the indecency of the idea momentarily before putting on the mask of the coolly refined girl she'd become as of late, the Hermione that undoubtedly belonged in Slytherin and the Hermione that scared her into never looking at her own reflection.

Making sure they had their belongings, she and Draco stepped into the fireplace in the office of Severus Snape and with the utterance of a word and the emission of a bright green light, they were gone.

A/N: Please, please, PLEASE review! This is my second WIP fanfic and I'd love to know what you think! What you love, what you dislike... everything!

Why do you think Hermione became a Death Eater? What do you think happened to cause her to make such a choice? Answers coming in the following chapters. I'd love to hear your theories!