A/N: This chapter references events from chapter 192. While the event in question was less than a year ago for our esteemed heroine, it's been considerably longer for readers. :)


"You expected muggles to see magic?" Susan repeated. The coven was in the woods behind Luna's back yard, with everybody digging holes and preparing the area for their coven headquarters. She blinked. "Hermione."

"I didn't think they'd see magic," Hermione shot back, shoving her spade into the ground and jumping on it. "I thought they'd see the light."

"And… you didn't realize the light was magic…?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know that?" Hermione snarled. "Light's a particle. It's a wavelength and a beam. I didn't know magic could be a particle just the same."

"Easy, Hermione," Blaise cautioned. "It's a simple misunderstanding. Susan grew up knowing that magic could look like that, while you did not."

"How would I have known that?" Hermione said frustratedly, digging up a large clod of earth. "I thought magic caused the light, not that magic was the light. Ugh."

"Well, at least we know the spell worked," Harry said cheerfully, digging with his own spade. "We're using an adapted version of it for our foundation wardstones, right?"

"Yes," Luna said. "After we bury our wardstones, we can lay out the outside border of our tree house for the builders to use."

"Is it still a treehouse?" Susan mused. "Or is it more of just a clubhouse?"

"If it's going to be around that tree, and sprawl up into the branches, I'd say it's a treehouse," Harry grinned. "Wouldn't you?"

Blaise looked at Hermione from his place, some distance away where he was digging his hole.

"You alright there, Hermione?" he asked.

"I'm fine," Hermione grumbled. "Now I just have to find a way to do a double-slit experiment with bloody magic to figure out what magic is…"

Blaise gave her an odd look, but he shrugged, returning to digging his own giant hole in the ground.

Each time Hermione thought she understood something about magic, the rules shifted and changed, she thought, annoyed. She'd thought she'd understood how runes worked, and then secondary runic meanings had come into play. She'd thought she'd understood how Dark magic worked, only to realize no, she didn't, now oops, it was too late to go back. And she'd thought she'd understood that magic could cause physical effects, so it could cause a beam of light.

She scowled at herself, furiously digging her hole. She felt stupid about it, now, in retrospect. Spells looked like colored light in duels, didn't they? Had she really thought they were shooting beams of light at each other, instead of thinking that magic could look like light?

It was embarrassing, honestly, even if only to herself.

"We need ten holes?" she heard Harry ask, and she tore herself out of her angry self-reflection to look up and answer his question.

"Ten holes," she confirmed. "One at each of the vertices, and one midway between each one of those."

"Are we sure we want a pentagon house?" Harry asked skeptically. "I mean, I get that there's five of us, but I feel like it's going to look a little wonky…"

"Harry, it's literally meant to house our coven," Susan said. "Of course it has to have five points and five sides."

"I'm just saying, it seems a bit silly! So does building it with this great big tree right in the middle of it – why not start off on one side instead? It doesn't make sense—"

"This is the treehouse we're meant to build, Harry," Luna told him solemnly. "This is right."

Harry faltered in the face of Luna's certainty. "Well – sure. It's just unusual, though…"

"Everything we do is unusual, Potter," Blaise drawled. "You're not used to it by now?"

Her holes dug, Hermione went over to the pile of runes she had brought. She had taken a gold ingot from her vault back to the hedgewitch village, and Blackbeard had been all too happy to assist her, helping melt it to cast her Shield Knots in gold and trading five Quarternary Knots in silver for the remaining gold. She levitated each ward over to its appropriate hole.

"So we're not using a leyline for this, right?" Blaise asked her. "We're not using the moon either. So how's this going to work differently?"

"We'll unite as a coven and use our own personal magic," Hermione told him. "I mean, I guess the blood might light up in the color of our magic? So mine would be purple, Harry's red, yours green, and so on. But that's just a guess, honestly. We'll have to wait and see."

"What about the chant?" he asked.

"It's a simple alteration," Hermione assured him. "Don't worry. Really."

"This one's really common," Susan added in. "Old families still do this one all the time. Though, granted, they usually do it in Latin…"

"Better English than Latin," Harry said. "I don't know if I'd be able to pronounce any of that right."

"English is better," Luna agreed. "We're in England, not in Rome."

Hermione blinked. "…right."

There was a scuffle for a moment as Susan handed out ritual robes and everyone put them on. No one had wanted to get their formal robes dirty as they dug holes, and there were a few moments of everyone doing up the clasps on the front, keeping their arms inside, and quickly undoing the buttons on their other robe, shucking the dirty clothes to the ground before they were hastily stuffed into bags.

They each got into position by their hole at a vertex. They'd agreed to arrange themselves in the same pattern they'd been in when they'd united as a coven, and Susan had dug out their original candles, the ones that had turned colors on Beltane. They'd set up the colored candles opposite their vertex, to form a reversed pentagon within their own.

"Is everybody ready?" Hermione asked.

"No," Harry said, looking around. "I can't find my knife. Where did it—"

"Got it," Luna said, finding it near a discarded shovel. "Catch!"

She tossed the dagger across the clearing, and despite Hermione and Susan both yelling in protest, Harry plucked it out of the air effortlessly, eyes wide.

"Jeez, Luna," Harry said, laughing awkwardly, though he looked pale. "You could have impaled me!"

"You could have stepped aside and let it land behind you," Luna pointed out. She laughed. "You decided to actually try and catch the silly thing."

Harry turned red.

"Err—that's true," he admitted. He cleared his throat. "Alright. I'm ready now."

Each of them knelt, settling their ritual robes around them on the ground. Hermione closed her eyes, focusing on her core and settling into her magic, and around her, she could feel her coven doing the same thing. Across the clearing, Susan began to hum, and Hermione joined in, all of them harmonizing as their magic evened out and harmonized with itself too.

As if as one, they all opened their eyes. They each took their dagger, pressing it hard into their palms. Hermione winced as her palm stung sharply, the pain burning, and she watched as blood streamed down her hand, filling up the gold channels of her rune.

"With our daggers, we cut our hands," they chanted. "With our blood, we defend our lands."

Hermione thought she was used to the feeling of powerful magic building in the air by now, but each time, it still took her breath away.

The blood against the gold looked striking up close, even in the dappled sunlight through the trees. Hermione was reminded of an old legend she'd heard, where a metal smith had been charged to cast a great bell, but the casting had been cursed, and the bell had turned out pitted, as had the recasting. The third time, the metal smith's daughter had hurled herself into the molten metal itself, horrifying everyone but breaking the curse, and the bell had turned out whole, though with the metal streaked with red.

"With our silver, we repel all harm," they chanted. "With our gold, we charge our charm."

Hermione watched as the blood in her ward began to brighten, turning from a dark red to a glowing violet light. Next to her, the Quarternary knot wards' channels lit up with magic, glowing blue and yellow next to her, and the candles at each spontaneously lit.

The magic in the clearing continued to build, almost tangible, as they finished their spell.

"With our magic, we combine and connect," they chanted. "With our spell, this place we protect!"

There was a whoosh, and the wards lit up with a blinding white light, glowing brightly. Hermione had to look away from the brilliance until it faded to a more manageable level, making a massive pentagon around the central tree of their intended clubhouse.

"It worked!" Susan crowed, from across the clearing. "We did it! It worked!"

"You said it was really common," Blaise challenged, grinning. "Now you sound surprised that it worked at all."

"I'm not surprised, I'm just excited," Susan defended. "I've never done it myself!"

"Well, now you have," Hermione said, laughing. "Let's get these buried in the ground. I don't know how long the light will last, but it seems like a good idea to get this all finished before it goes out, right?"

"Race you," Harry challenged Blaise, shoving his body into the mound of dirt next to his pile.

"Oh, Potter, you're on." Blaise began shoveling dirt into his hole as fast as possible, and Hermione rolled her eyes but grinned as placed her ward in the hole and filled her own hole in. Filling her hole was much faster than digging it, at least. They'd decided together to dig their holes by hand as part of the magic, instead of making holes in the earth with their elementals, and it had been a lot more grueling than Hermione had anticipated. Her respect for the hedgewitches who had done nothing but dig holes all afternoon had significantly grown.

Harry won the first fill-in-the-hole race, to much laughter and sarcastic applause, and everyone had rotated around the tree to the hole across from their original one, filling in the hole where their colored candle stood.

"So our blood magic is going to keep it safe?" Harry asked. "So no one who means one of us harm will be able to enter?"

"Exactly," Luna said. "We had to do this step ourselves because of that. But now Daddy will be able to send the builders in. The builders won't mean us harm, so they'll be able to start building immediately."

"Neat." Harry looked mildly impressed. Hermione glanced at him, but he seemed occupied with filling in his hole.

"They should be done within a few months," Hermione said, watching him carefully. "Before the summer for sure."

"Really?" Harry said. "Excellent." He paused, making a face. "I'll have to see if the Weasleys will let me stay again, after I'm free to leave the Dursleys' again, so I can come join you all for coven things."

Hermione paused.

"Harry," she said gently. "You won't have to go to the Dursleys' again."

Harry sighed and gave her a sad, resigned smile.

"No, I do," he said. "Dumbledore explained it to me. I have to go to the Dursleys' once a year for a while because—"

"Because of the protection your mother gave you, and her blood running through her sister allotting you some sort of protection at her house," Hermione cut in. "Right?"

Harry was caught off-guard. "Err—yeah, something like that."

"Your mother's blood also runs through you," Hermione pointed out. "And Harry, you just put up a real blood ward around what will be a house of your own."

Harry faltered, his eyes growing wide.

"Wait," he breathed, staring at Hermione. "There's no way—"

"Whatever protection is in your blood will have been in the blood that filled up the channels of your ward," Hermione said. "Harry, this treehouse—it will be safe for you in the summer. In all ways," she stressed, looking at him, "not just from Death Eaters."

It was interesting to watch the change that came over Harry. He'd been patting the dirt overtop of his second hole, settling it in, only to stop and stare at Hermione. His eyes had grown wide, his mouth slightly agape, and shock had played over his face as Hermione had explained. He stared at her silently for a moment afterward, astonished, his bright green eyes slowly filling with tears before Hermione abruptly found herself tackled to the ground in a violent hug, Harry yelling in her ear.

"—never go back! I'll never have to go back! Oh, Hermione, I could kiss you—"

"Let me up!" Hermione laughed, pushing Harry back a little. "Harry! Let me breathe!"

"What's all this, Potter?" Blaise drawled from behind her, as Hermione fought to sit up. "We all help make the blood wards for you, but only Hermione gets a hug? I'm hurt."

There was a sudden impact from the side, toppling Hermione and Harry to the ground once again, and Hermione squealed as Blaise was suddenly tackling them both.

"Blaise! Get off!"

"Oh no, if this is a coven group hug, then I get to give hugs too—"

There were twin whomps from the other side as Luna and Susan joined in, laughing, throwing themselves into the hugging pile on the ground. Someone's robes were in Hermione's eyes, someone's knee in her ribs, and she was fairly sure Harry's face was still buried somewhere in her armpit, but Hermione couldn't help but join in the laughter. It was such a happy and triumphant moment for them all, for Harry, and the laughter felt like pure joy.

As they settled down, pushing back and sitting up one by one, Hermione was gradually freed from the pile, until it was only Harry clinging to her around her waist.

"Harry," Hermione said, laughing. "Come on."

"No." Harry's voice was somewhat muffled against her middle, tickling her.

"Harry!"

"Nothing doing," Harry said stubbornly. "I'm not done hugging you yet."

Hermione laughed again, and she ran her fingers through his hair fondly. Susan laughed and started cleaning up, Luna assisting with gathering the bloodied daggers. Blaise raised an eyebrow at Hermione, who shrugged helplessly. What was she supposed to do? Harry was clearly emotional, and if he still needed to hug her for a while longer, who was she to deny him?

She let him stay like that, clinging to her for a while longer, before she moved from running her hands through his hair to patting his back.

"Harry…" she said gently. "Come on."

"Oh, fine," Harry said. He pulled back, pouting. "If I must."

The others laughed, and they finished gathering up their supplies. Hermione packed up the ritual components and checked to make sure she had all their candles before slinging the bag over her shoulder to head back through the forest to the Lovegood house.

"We're lucky we were able to do this during the spring," Luna mused. "Walking around in ritual robes in the sun in summer would have been hot."

"We could have used cooling charms," Blaise said, looking at Luna in alarm. "Surely this area's been designated a magical area by your father?"

"Oh, yes," Luna said. "But the robes would have still been quite hot, wouldn't they? Unless you cast your charm on your robes, instead of yourself, but people often don't think of what their clothing might be feeling in addition to themselves—"

Harry fell into step alongside Hermione, taking up the back, and he nudged her. She looked up, his bright green gaze meeting her own.

"Thank you," he said. "Hermione, thank you."

"You don't need to thank me," Hermione dismissed. "It was all of us—"

"Don't," Harry cut her off. His eyes were intense on hers. "Don't pretend you didn't do this for me. You would have had us do this over the summer, and we'd probably have built the treehouse ourselves, too, if I hadn't told you about the Dursleys."

With his eyes piercing hers, Hermione found she couldn't lie.

"…I accelerated the timeline," she finally admitted. She bit her lip. "After you told me… Harry, I just couldn't let you go back…"

Harry's eyes looked wet.

"I didn't tell you all that so you'd help save me," he chuckled, rubbing his eyes and looking away. "Not that I'm not grateful, mind you—"

"Oh no, I know," Hermione assured him. "And your story did help, you know – I was able to dig deep and harness my Sith side after all."

Harry laughed.

"Well, I'm glad I helped with that at least," he said. He gave her a grin. "But… really, Hermione. Thanks."

Hermione gave him a soft smile, her heart warm. "Anytime, Harry."

Harry walked quicker, catching up with Susan and Luna, and Blaise fell back to fall into step with Hermione at her side.

"Your 'Sith' side?" Blaise questioned.

Hermione chuckled. "It's nothing. It's a reference to—"

"The muggle space drama," Blaise cut in. "The one with the light swords."

Hermione turned to stare at Blaise.

"…yes," she said slowly. "Star Wars. How did you…?"

"Professor Burbage showed us one of them in class when she wasn't feeling well," Blaise said. "She told us muggles had gone to space, and when some students didn't believe her, she figured out a way to play the film on the wall with magic."

"Star Wars is not factual," Hermione objected, horrified. "Don't tell me—"

"Oh no, she made sure we knew it was made up," Blaise said hastily. "Not everyone understood the concept of fiction, but—well—she didn't have video of the actual moon landing, so it sufficed. Anyway…"

He looked at her squarely, eyes serious for once.

"If you've gotten in touch with your 'Sith' side…" he said, trailing off. His eyebrows quirked, questioning, and Hermione felt her mouth dry.

"I…"

"I trust you," Blaise said quietly, gently. "Whatever the reason, I trust it was a good one." His eyes met hers again, soft. "But Hermione… why didn't you tell me?"

Hermione couldn't speak; her throat had dried up, her mouth as if it had been coated with sand.

"I…" she coughed. "Blaise, I…"

She faltered, looking away under Blaise's intense gaze, and she cleared her throat again. Next to her, Blaise waited patiently, not saying anything. They walked in silence for a long moment, Hermione gathering her thoughts.

"I didn't want you to think ill of me," she admitted quietly. "I didn't—I wanted you to stand with me because you wanted to, not out of fear—"

"Did you think I'd immediately jump to you being a Dark witch?" Blaise asked, astonished. "Hermione…"

"No, no, I didn't," Hermione protested. "I didn't. But I…"

She trailed off, looking for the words.

"I didn't want you to think poorly of me," she said again. "I just—I didn't want to have to deal with that again…"

"Think poorly of you? Again?" Blaise said, incredulous. "Hermione, when have I ever thought poorly of you? There's no one I hold in higher esteem—"

Hermione's heart clenched hard, aching, and Blaise's words abruptly cut off, his eyes going wide. Luna cast a worried glance back at them.

"You don't—" Blaise said, faltering. "Surely you don't—you don't still think—"

"Think what?" Hermione snapped, temper flaring. "I don't think what, Blaise?"

Blaise fell silent next to her, looking away and not saying a word.

They walked in silence next to each other as the coven navigated through the trees, Susan teasing Harry about how he'd need to become his own housekeeper, Harry making jokes about using his Firebolt to sweep the floors. Luna was laughing, adding comments about different magical creatures Harry would have to defend the coven house from, and Harry declared he was ready to fight off armies and armies of gnomes, slashing at imaginary hordes with a long stick he'd found.

"It was nice, what you did," Blaise said quietly. "Accelerating the timeline like you did, for Harry."

Hermione glanced over at Blaise. He glanced up, meeting her eyes briefly, before, looking away again.

"It was," he said. "It was very selfless, Hermione."

It was as if a great weight was suddenly lifted from Hermione. There was a sense of a pressure loosening around her heart, as if a tight rope had been squeezing it this whole time and she hadn't realized, like she'd just grown so used to it she didn't remember it hadn't always been there before. She took a deep breath, as if she hadn't fully breathed in ages, and when the air filled her lungs, somehow, it felt cleaner than before.

Blaise watched her quietly from her side.

When she looked over at him again, he offered her the ghost of a smile, and he grabbed her hand from where it hung next to her, squeezing it tight. He tugged on her hand, making her stumble into his side for a moment, and he raised her hand to his lips, pressing a reverent kiss to the back of it.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, his eyes holding hers. "I didn't know it needed to be said. But I'm sorry, Hermione. I was wrong, before."

Hermione tugged on her hand, letting her hand drop back to hang between them, but Blaise didn't let go, holding her hand and squeezing it again even as he turned to face front and make his way over a series of fallen logs. He lifted her hand silently, helping her clamber over them after him, and he didn't let go after that either, their hands quietly swinging between them as they made their way.

Despite the heavy bag of ritual components weighing her down, Hermione somehow felt lighter than she had in years.