Cassius Warrington was a big guy. He was very tall and broad-shouldered. These were fine things when evaluating how conventionally handsome and attractive he was as a boy, but extremely inconvenient aspects when trying to maneuver his unconscious, heavy body onto a giant stone rock to shackle into place.

"Just levitate him, Granger!" Pansy hissed, breathing hard as she strained to drag Cassius' left wrist into place.

"I can't," Hermione said again, impatient. She shoved Cassius' left foot towards its shackle. It couldn't quite reach, which meant they'd have to shift his whole body again. "Casting any magic inside the heart of this circle is extremely dangerous, Pansy. None of you – none of you – should even try."

Pansy muttered something crude and unflattering, which Hermione ignored.

"Got it!" Millie said triumphantly, shoving Cassius' body to the center of the stone. "This is dead center, I think. Everyone's limbs should reach the shackles now."

"Oh, perfect," Daphne said. She nimbly shackled Cassius' right wrist to the stone, as if she'd been locking up prisoners all her life. "Got it."

"Got mine," Tracey said, stepping away from the right foot, Cassius' ankle trapped in a manacle.

"I've got his wrist," Pansy said, standing up and wiping her hands down her front.

"And I've got his left leg," Hermione said with satisfaction, as the last shackle locked into place. She stood. "Ready?"

"Are we sure we don't want to lock down his torso?" Millie asked again. "He's a big dude…"

"We can't," Hermione reminded her. "For the nature of the spell, we can't have anything magical in the center of the circles. These shackles are on the intersections of the heart for that exact reason."

"'On the intersections of the heart'," Pansy mimicked in a prissy voice. "Granger, one day, you're going to have to teach us all what all this means."

"Sure, Pansy." Hermione smirked despite herself. "Whenever you'd like."

By the time Cassius came to, all the ritual elements were ready – black candles burning at strategic points of the complicated circle, a protection circle filled with their blood glowing on the outer circle already. There were symbolic sacrifices already in place – a broken mirror, a scorpion, a dagger, a red poppy, and a raven. Watching Cassius come to was interesting, Hermione thought clinically – there was a slow return to consciousness, confusion flitting through his eyes as he looked around, before his eyes went wide with realization, and he began to panic.

"What's going on?" he demanded. "What are you doing? Please, let me go. My family—"

"Oh, now he asks," Pansy said, snide, and Cassius' head whirled around to look at her.

"Parkinson?" he asked. "Parkinson, what's going on? Why am I—"

"Shut up," Millie snapped. "You don't need to speak. You just need to be awake."

"I need to be awake?" Cassius looked frightened. "Why do I need to be awake? What are you—"

Millie looked at Hermione. "Can I please just kick him?"

"No, Millie," Hermione told her, though the request made her smirk. "We can't enter the center of the circle until we're done now."

Millie sighed dramatically. "Rats."

"Millie? Is that Millicent Bulstrode?" Cassius' tone was trying for authoritative, but failing rather miserably. "I know Parkinson is here, and now I know you're here too, Bulstrode. If you do anything, when I report you—"

"You forgot Tracey Davis," Tracey snapped impatiently.

"I'm here too," Daphne murmured, shifting into sight so her hard eyes could meet Cassius'. "Don't forget me."

"And I'm here as well," Hermione said, moving into place to stand before his head, outside of the protection rings. "Hermione Granger. I'd say it's a pleasure to formally meet you, Warrington, but it'd be a wretched lie."

"Granger? The upstart New Blood?" Cassius looked incredulous. "If you're going to petition to become a Great House, my testimony will—"

"Honestly, Cassius," Daphne sighed. "If we thought you telling anyone would be a danger, do you really think we'd be doing this with without masks?"

Cassius' eyes widened, and he went very pale.

"Are you going to kill me?" he asked, afraid. He craned to look up at Hermione. "Am I going to die?"

"Not if you behave and stay still," Hermione informed him. Her expression was dark. "This is a very particular ritual, and if you start flailing around and knock over any of the candles, I can't say what horrible thing might happen to you."

Instead of taking her at her word and settling down, Cassius began struggling anew, even more frightened now. Hermione huffed, irritated, while Pansy laughed.

"Are we all ready?" Hermione called out, clapping her hands. "Places, everyone."

Hermione had altered the ritual slightly once her dormmates had all agreed, putting them in the traditional order of a vengeance ritual. Daphne, the one who had been the one the offense was done to, would be the seam, while Hermione, acting as the lead sorceress, would serve as stone.

The woods seemed to grow silent as all the witches moved into place, and even Cassius felt the shift in the air as each witch took up a point of the circle, his struggling slowing as his eyes went wide. Hermione raised a hand, and white candles in front of each witch lit one by one.

When all five candles were burning, Hermione nodded, and together, the five girls began their chant.

"Beneath the stars on solstice night,
In the woods, our circle's right.
Magic we weave for vengeance's call,
To right the wrongs, we give our all."

The blood they'd each already contributed began to glow brighter, an ominous red. The clearing felt different, as if the wind had taken a breath and was holding it, tense.

Hermione stepped forward.

"With evil's taint, your power's marred," she intoned, "deserving not the gifts you've scarred."

The candle in front of her went out, only to relight itself a moment later, an unnatural black flame burning on the wick now.

"Magic wielded, but dark your creed," Tracey said, stepping closer to the circle. "Deserving not through wicked deed."

Her candle blew out and relit itself black even as Millie started her part.

"Your soul, now tainted and defiled, in darkness dwells, your spirit reviled."

Daphne stepped forward. Her voice didn't waver, but there was an anguish there that the others' voices hadn't held.

"Magic's gift in hands so unjust," she spoke, the incantation condemning. "A promise tarnished, a broken trust."

Her candle lit itself black, and Pansy stepped forward last, her eyes glinting with malice.

"For what you stole from our friend," she said, "we bind you now; we reprehend."

As Pansy's candle went out and lit itself with a black flame, a harsh gust of wind filled the clearing, and visible beams of unnatural black light crossed the circle, as if ropes of neon darkness were binding Cassius to the stone. Cassius looked frightened and afraid, but his eyes now held a note of understanding – a knowing of what he had done to give them just cause.

All five girls held their hands up into the air, chanting loudly against the winds.

"In unity, we stand our ground," they yelled. "Our cause is just, our magic sound. With strength and purpose, hand in hand, we shape a world where justice stands!"

Abruptly, the wind vanished. The ropes of magic still glowed across the circle, binding Cassius to the stone. There was a feeling of suspense hanging in the air, of Magic itself listening, waiting to hear what retribution they sought on longest night.

They went counterclockwise this time, Daphne as seam speaking first.

"With each spilled seed, your magic wanes," she intoned, the power of the incantation resonating in the air. "A price for pleasure, your heavy chains." Her eyes were sharp, dark with anger. "Guard thy essence, lest it drain; For lost power, you shan't regain."

As she spoke the end of her verse, the red poppy inside of the circle caught fire, burning brightly with a black flame. Daphne jolted in surprise, but she held her place, watching as the poppy continued to burn with unnatural black fire, fueled by the magic of the ritual.

Pansy's smile was sharp as she took her turn.

"With every spill, your magic fades,
An ominous curse in darkened shades.
A price you pay, your magic bled,
For what you stole in fear and dread."

The broken mirror caught fire with black flame, and Hermione watched as the lines within the circle, the channels and veins that she'd so painstakingly carved, began to fill with the same glowing dark energy. The magic was like a black liquid, flowing to connect the parts of the circle containing the sacrifices, glowing with an unearthly, aberrant light. The runic pathways guiding the magic began to glow white as the black magic spread, the runes' power keeping the dark magic contained.

"With every spill, the earth's magic reclaims,
As your power wanes in pleasure's flames.
From flesh to soil, in a spectral dance,
The cost of your seized romance."

Millie's verse claimed the raven, its black feathers catching flame, and Tracey began as the magic spread throughout new, unlocked channels.

"As each seed falls, your magic's grip declines,
In passion's fire, where darkness entwines,
Earth reclaims what's been cast asunder,
The cost for your ill-gotten plunder."

It was the scorpion's turn to burn up, and Hermione stepped forward, watching the dagger as she intoned her part.

"Each seed spilled, a pact with shadows weaves," she said. "As magic wanes, earth's hunger cleaves. An ominous toll, a debt you must pay; as in darkness and dread, your power drifts away."

The dagger caught fire, joining all the sacrifices with black neon channels of power while all five ritual elements burned brightly with that unnatural black flame. Cassius seemed unable to speak or move under the ropes of magic restraining him, though he continued to look around wildly, his eyes terrified.

Hermione moved, and the others followed, as they began to walk around the ritual circle, carefully pacing themselves so they stayed equidistantly apart.

"To nature's heart, we shall bestow,
The magic within you that does grow.
To Earth, we grant your mystic birth,
A cycle complete, a sacred worth.
"

Abruptly, the black channels of power vanished, suddenly replaced by a light green glow. Hermione knew that the color of the power of magic didn't really mean anything – or if it did, she didn't know what, yet – but seeing the channels of her ritual circle light up like liquid Avada Kedavra was beyond creepy for her to see.

All five witches stopped moving, now each standing in front of a different candle.

"With incantations dark, in shadows bred," Pansy said, stepping forward, "We bind your magic to your offspring's thread."

There was a sudden scream from Cassius as a thick wave of magic exploded out of the stone next to him, a blinding white light that came with a loud rush of wind. The magic shackled his right wrist to the stone, and Cassius screamed, his face wrenched in agony. It was as if the white light was burning his skin, scorching his flesh, but Hermione could see no wound.

"Our righteous cause, Magic shall heed," Millie said, stepping forward, "as we bind your magic to your seed."

Another shackle of power erupted from the ground, pinning his right ankle to the stone in the same place he was shackled. Cassius's back arched as he screamed again, tears streaming down his face, but Tracey stepped forward, and the ritual continued.

"In ancient ritual, with power profound," she said, glaring down at Cassius as she did, "we bind your magic to the ground."

Cassius was fully sobbing now, another scream filling the air as his left ankle was shackled down, the white magic rending his flesh. Hermione hadn't expected the pain, hadn't anticipated any of this would actually hurt, but it made sense – of course having your magic bound would feel bad. Or was it the white light of justice burning him because of his dark deed?

"In sacred rite, our power we entwine," Hermione said, stepping forward, "binding your magic to earth's design."

His left hand was pinned to the ground with white light wrapping around his wrist, Cassius yelling in agony, and Daphne stepped forward last. Her face was pale, but her eyes were determined.

"Daphne," Cassius pleaded, writhing and crying. "Daph, please!"

"With whispered verses and mystic art," Daphne spoke, her voice laden with power as she ignored Cassius' pleas, "we bind your magic to Earth's own heart."

This time, the magic that erupted seemed to come out through Cassius' chest, and he shrieked as if he were being stabbed with a red-hot dagger. The magic wrapped around his torso, binding him firmly to the stone below his body, and all five witches raised their hands to the sky, yelling their chant.

"Beware, O man, as pleasures take their toll,
With each seed spilled, a piece of your soul.
To earth's embrace, your magic shall descend,
Lost forevermore, no way to mend."

There was a loud CRACK, and the whole area flashed bright white, so blinding that they all cried out, covering their eyes. When Hermione opened her eyes, vision spots fading, she wondered if she'd seen a magical lightning bolt or what exactly had just happened.

Cassius still lay in the center of the stone circle. His eyes were closed, but his chest was heaving, meaning he was still alive. The white shackles of magic had vanished, and Hermione glanced at Daphne, before Hermione stepped forward to say her last part.

"Here, beneath the moon's glow so bright," Hermione spoke, watching as the black neon magic began to creep backwards through the channels in the stone, retreating as if it were being slowly sucked back into the candles with the black flame. "We've cast our spell on longest night." Her voice was soft; the clearing was silent, with no need for her to yell anymore. "With whispered words, our magic takes its flight; and in silent dark, our enchantment takes its bite."

As Hermione finished, the flames on the candles abruptly all turned back into normal fire – normal, yellowy-orange flame. All that was left of the ritual was these five candles burning brightly, and Daphne looked at Hermione, before she spoke last.

"As the ritual's end draws nigh, for justice sought beneath the sky—"

Daphne's voice was almost musical, and the candles began winking out one by one.

"—In balance and in truth we shall part, with grateful and contented heart."

The last candle blew out, and there was an unnatural stillness in the small clearing. Slowly, sounds of life began filtering back in – field mice in the grass, the crickets chirping, an owl hooting some distance away.

"It is done," Hermione said at last, and there was a great sigh of relief as the girls all relaxed, taking deep breaths and stretching, working out the tension of holding the magic so tightly in their bodies. As they did, Hermione stepped up and onto the stone circle that now lay dormant, all the blood burned away.

"Did you follow all of that?" Hermione asked softly. "Did you understand?"

Wordlessly, his eyes wide with horror, Cassius nodded.

"Good," Hermione said. "Stupefy."

Cassius slumped weakly back against the stone, unconscious, and Hermione gestured for everyone to come forward and begin taking him out of the cuffs.

"He's not going to remember it clearly," Hermione said, watching as Tracey fussed with her key. "The pain he experienced, just the surrealness of it all – he's going to think it's a nightmare, probably. His mind will work to repress it, to reject it as a memory."

"That's okay," Tracey said. Her smile was sharp, predatory. "Better he 'test it out' a few times before submitting to the curse, anyway."

"Is this a curse?" Daphne asked, undoing an ankle. "All of this was a ritual, but is what we did laying a curse?"

"Depends on your definition of curse, probably," Pansy said. She shrugged, uncaring. "Does it matter?"

Hermione watched as Daphne looked down at the unconscious Cassius. Expressions flitted over her face, some too fast to catch – affection, annoyance, anger, hurt, betrayal – before her face settled on a look that Hermione had never seen Daphne wear before, but it was one she recognized – she'd worn the same expression after Damon Rowle had been hit with the Whomping Willow.

"No," Daphne said, with dark satisfaction on her face and gleaming in her eyes. "It doesn't matter at all."