After Viktor had taught the Blackwell students to fly, he landed next to Hermione, hair windswept and beaming.

"They learned well," he declared. "They can to fly now."

Hermione laughed. "They certainly can."

The Blackwell students were still flying around, buzzing about the area on their brooms. Some of them were trying to take their brooms though the groves without crashing – mostly to spectacular failure.

"We have date now?" Viktor asked her, eyes sparkling, and Hermione laughed.

"We do," she said, and she took his arm as they headed off into the grove.

Trying to feel for a tree that spoke to her magic was difficult. There were trees all over, and some of them looked the same as others, making Hermione unsure if she'd already reached out to this particular species of tree or not. Viktor seemed to be looking for certain types of trees, and when she asked him about it, he explained he wanted to see if oak or willow spoke to his magic most, as that was what most broomsticks were made from. It made as much sense as anything else magical and wood-related to Hermione, and they continued on.

Conversation turned from the trees around them to the upcoming task.

"Karkaroff came back yelling," Viktor recalled. "He woke up most of ship. 'It's dragons!' he yelled, and he needed to calm down before he could to tell details."

Hermione smirked. "I'm sure that was wonderful for everyone else."

"Everyone was grumpy," Viktor agreed. "Karkaroff pulled me aside and he told me about the dragons. He wanted to plan with me, but I said I was to go back to bed and plan in morning."

Hermione laughed, and Viktor looked pleased.

"Do you have a plan?" Hermione asked him, looking up at him. "I mean, I know you're champion and older than me and have more advanced magic, but—it's still a dragon—"

"I have plan," Viktor said, nodding. "I have backup plan as well, in case first plan fails. I have rough backup backup plan that I am unsure will work, but two and half plans is good, I think."

"Always good to have a backup plan," Hermione agreed. She paused, reflecting. "…I'm not very good at backup plans, I think."

"You are not?" Viktor looked surprised by this. "You are so thoughtful. Why are you not?"

"Um. Well, I'm rather impulsive," Hermione admitted. "I get an idea, and I run full-tilt with it. I forget to pause and consider what might happen if I fail and what all the implications of that might be."

Viktor was curious. "Were you always this way?"

"Umm…" Hermione paused, thinking. "…no. Well, a little bit, but not as bad." She considered. "I definitely still took risks, but like, with the basilisk, I remember analyzing the situation, all the possible outcomes, and determining that it was worth the risk."

"Did you have back-up plan then?" Viktor asked.

"I honestly don't remember," Hermione confessed. "It seems so long ago, now."

Viktor seemed thoughtful.

"You are how many?" he asked. "Fifteen?"

"Fifteen," Hermione confirmed, and Viktor nodded.

"When I was fifteen, I was silly too," he told her. "When growing up… decision-making part of brain grows up last, I think. I made very silly choices I would not today." He looked at her seriously. "You will to grow up too. Then you make smart choices again."

Hermione snorted. "I do make smart choices. I still plan things. I have so many plans, Viktor, you don't even know—"

Viktor laughed.

"I know you have plans," he told her, smiling. "But maybe you will backup plan more too."

Hermione rolled her eyes, but she sighed.

"That's fair," she said. "I think—it's definitely when there's an unexpected opportunity, I think. For big moves, I plan in advance, but when there's a sudden chance to do something—I think that's where I forget to pause and assess the risks."

Viktor looked mildly concerned. "You have done recently?"

"Well, I made a rather big gamble earlier in the year." Hermione winced. "It all turned out okay, but I definitely should have paused to talk about it first."

"What was risk?"

"Um." Hermione's mouth was dry. "Possession?"

Viktor's mouth dropped open, and Hermione hurried on.

"It would have been fine, really! And it was a sudden chance, and I've since learned not to do that and risk myself like that again, but it was a really good chance, so—umm— I took it."

She winced. Viktor looked rather stunned.

"Possession is not good," he said finally, slowly. "I am happy you are not possessed."

Hermione's lips twitched. "Me too."

"Maybe you need help to learn backup plans," Viktor said. "I can to help you learn."

Hermione groaned. "I do not need help with backup plans."

"You do." Viktor's eyes were sparkling. "Even now, with me. What if I not wanted to teach the children?"

"I would have asked Harry," Hermione said immediately. "He's good at flying, and I think he'd have had fun with it."

"That is good backup plan," Viktor conceded, nodding. "Another: you have plan to help Potter for first task?"

"Yes," Hermione said firmly. "And it's a good plan."

"You have backup plan?"

Hermione's mind went to the ley lines running through Hogwarts, nexus that it was, and the one that went through the Quidditch stadium. "…kind of."

"That is good, but you need to test backup plan too."

"I will," Hermione promised.

There was a pleasant lull in conversation as they found a magnificent willow tree, both of them in silent awe of its sheer size and majesty. Hermione wandered through its draped leaves, as if she were coming through a curtain made of stringed beads, and when she found her way back to Viktor, he was grinning widely.

"Tree likes me," Viktor said smugly. "I can tell."

"Really?" Hermione asked. "How?"

"Is hard to describe." Viktor considered. "Magic feels happy, with tree. And tree feels happy too?"

"Fair enough," Hermione said, smiling. "The next steps were to make an offering, I think." She paused, trying to remember. "Blood, sweat, and tears, I think."

"Blood is easy," Viktor said. "Sweat… maybe. Tears not so much."

"I'll have to tell you a terribly tragic and upsetting story, then," Hermione told him, and Viktor laughed.

"I more likely cry from laughing with you, I think," he told her, smiling. "Is hard to be sad with you with me."

Hermione felt her face heat. "…I'll take that as a compliment."

"Good." Viktor was amused. "It is one."

Viktor pulled what looked like an obsidian dagger from within his robes, cut his hand, and offered blood to the tree. He said something in Bulgarian as he did it – or what Hermione presumed was Bulgarian – that sounded deep and meaningful and ritualistic. When he finished, he slipped the dagger back into his robes somewhere, and Hermione took his hand to heal it.

"Tree is happy with me, I think," he said. "I think it will to give me staff later. Another day."

"Episkey," said Hermione. "And that's great, Viktor!"

Viktor nodded, pleased, before his face grew more serious.

"Hermione," he said. "You have backup plan for staffs?"

"Yes," Hermione said lightly. "They're called wands."

"That not what I mean." Viktor took her hand, looking her square in the eye. "You teach people to make staffs. You have backup plan if one turns against you?"

Hermione sighed.

"Not exactly as such," she said. "At least, as far as staffs go. For my—err—club, we'll say, there's a plan that handles traitors, and that's sort of a backup plan. But I think staff-making comes before initiation, so… I guess I'd just fight them."

Viktor gave her an incredulous look. "You fight them?"

"Yeah. Sure. Why not?" Hermione shrugged. "Either that or flee. I'm not above fleeing if I don't think I can win."

"I am making staff," Viktor said incredulously. "What if I turn on you?"

Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Are you turning on me?"

"No," Viktor said strongly. "But if—"

"Then I'd fight you, I guess." She bit her lip. "It'd be very difficult to, actually. I'd feel very emotional about it, I think, so maybe I would flee."

Viktor paused. "…you think you would win in fight?"

"I think I stand a decent chance," Hermione said honestly. She looked up at him. "Why? Do you want to fight?"

Viktor started to grin. "You want?"

"Do you really?" Hermione's mouth dropped open. "I was mostly joking, Viktor."

"I am not," he said, grinning. "Is good to practice. Especially with person you trust." He paused. "…I not trust many, at Durmstrang. Is not safe to use everything I know."

Hermione's heart panged at that. She'd forgotten what a brutal, ultra-competitive environment Karkaroff had turned Durmstrang into.

"Fine," she agreed, turning this into the weirdest date ever. "We can fight."


They returned to the sort-of field where the Blackwell students had learned to fly. Upon hearing why they needed the field, the Blackwell students were all too eager to clear off, their eyes wide.

"Is this a duel?" Variol seemed fascinated. "Like a formal one?"

Hermione frowned. "I'm not sure what constitutes a formal duel. Maybe."

"We determine rules first," Viktor told her. "Then we determine forfeits."

"Forfeits?" Hermione repeated, and Viktor's eyes brightened.

"Is not fun to fight if you not win prize at end," he said, teasing, and Hermione laughed.

"Alright," she agreed. "We'll fight for forfeits. What rules do you want?"

Viktor shrugged. "No Unforgivables. No Dark magic. No magic you cannot heal."

"That seems fair," Hermione said, nodding. "What determines who wins?"

"When disarmed," Viktor said, but Hermione shook her head.

"No. I can still fight if I'm disarmed," she said, and Viktor looked surprised.

"You?" he said. "You are small woman—"

"I am 5'8", I'll have you know!"

"—and not very muscley," he said. He shrugged. "Okay. To saying 'I give' or if cannot fight anymore?"

Hermione considered. "Okay. That works for me."

"Now: forfeits," Viktor said. He grinned. "What you want if you win?"

Hermione considered, thinking about Viktor and what he could reasonably give her that she would want. Asking him to go flying with Harry immediately crossed her mind, but Hermione thought there was a decent chance of that happening without her needing to force it. She considered a tour to see the inside of the Durmstrang ship, but she rather thought Viktor would just show her if she asked nicely.

"I've got mine," Hermione said slowly. "I want you to do an interview—"

Viktor grimaced. "I hate interviews."

"—on the conditions at Durmstrang and the truth behind Karkaroff's reign," she finished. She looked at Viktor seriously. "I want you to be truthful about what experience Durmstrang students go through and what it's like, and I want you to encourage your classmates to talk to the reporter as well."

"That…" Viktor's eyes were very wide, and he seemed somewhat stunned. "That… would be very bad for me."

"Would it?" Hermione asked. "It's your last year, isn't it? Which you're finishing out here. You wouldn't have to go back. And Karkaroff has little power over you while you're at Hogwarts." An idea occurred to her. "And think of how much good it could do. If you speaking out caused enough backlash to institute reform, you could make it so much better for everyone else still stuck there."

Viktor looked surprised by this. He considered.

"When would interview come out?" he asked finally, and Hermione grinned.

"Whenever would be most politically advantageous," she said, shrugging. "Probably not soon. But eventually this school year, I'd think."

"Okay. I agree." Viktor blew out his breath. "Very big forfeit we fight for, now. I had not to pick so seriously."

"Oh?" Hermione asked. "What did you pick to fight for?"

Viktor looked at her sideways. "I pick kiss."

"A kiss?!" Hermione turned a brilliant red. "You—you want to duel for a kiss?"

Viktor's eyes started sparkling. "You object to my forfeit?"

"Well—no—" Hermione sputtered. "I just—I didn't think of that sort of thing—"

"Ah," Viktor said, nodding wisely. "You now regret not also picking 'kiss', I think."

"Viktor!" Hermione was scandalized, and Viktor laughed.

"We fight," he said decisively. "You for interview, me for kiss. This is good?"

Her face still hot at the thought of kissing Viktor, Hermione nodded, and Viktor grinned.

"Then we are ready," he declared.

The Blackwell kids had formed a large, loose ring around them, all apparently very curious to see what a formal magical duel looked like. Iron Man had emerged to come to the center of the field.

"I'll count you off, shall I?" he said. "Bow to your opponent…"

Hermione bowed to Viktor, who bowed back, a wicked gleam in his eye.

"Turn and count off—one, two, three, four—"

Hermione turned to face Viktor, her wand already in her hand, her magic thrumming beneath her skin.

"On my mark: Three—two—one—!"

Viktor's first spell reached her right after she'd finished snapping off a basic Expelliarmus. It hit her shield spell with the force of a boulder, and Hermine staggered back. Viktor grinned at her from across the field while the Blackwell kids cheered, and Hermione narrowed her eyes, reaching out with her magic into the earth.

When Viktor's next spell reached her, she threw a rock into its path, and it exploded into pebbles. His next spell hit a floating rock too, and the next, and the next. Meanwhile, Hermione was firing off her own spells, quickly realizing that while she knew a lot of ritual magic, she was rather short on the breadth of her defensive and dueling magic. She hadn't really realized just how few aggressive spells she actually knew – or did she know more, and she just couldn't remember in the heat of the moment?

Viktor seemed to have figured out Hermione's rock trick, and his next spell threw conjured rocks at her, which Hermione couldn't deflect with her own rocks. She cast Protego and waited for the rocks to finish bouncing off her shield, the Blackwell students yelling and cheering them both on, before reaching out with her magic into the area.

She cast Expelliarmus again, but this time, when Viktor went to dodge, he found he couldn't – his feet had sunken into the earth up to his shins, trapping him, and it was only with a narrowly-cast Shield Charm that he avoided her spell, to a collective gasp and ooh from the crowd. She tried again, but Viktor just shielded again, snapping off his own spell after he did, which Hermione dodged.

Annoyed that she couldn't figure out how to beat him, Hermione went for something else unexpected: she started throwing fireballs at Viktor, and his eyes went wide. Viktor rapidly shielded, and Hermione could see his shield shake under the impact of each fireball, but she knew she was only buying herself time.

What could she do, what could she do—? Viktor had the obviously greater arsenal of spells, the faster reflexes, and a fully mature magical core and capacity to boot. Other than her elemental magic, what did Hermione have that he couldn't do?

Her strengths were her mind and her planning in advance, Hermione thought dimly. But how to take advantage of that here…? Once it was too late to plan in advance?

A wild thought entered her mind, and Hermione immediately seized it. Diverting from the fireballs, Hermione took all her magic and threw it through her air elemental full force. "Ventus!"

Her air elemental spun into action with glee, and a tight whirlwind swirled around Viktor. She could still see him, somewhat hazy through the fierce gales, and she watched to see if this would work, ready to dodge.

Viktor opened his mouth and began to cast, only to falter. He started again and failed again, looking astonished and frustrated, and Hermione grinned. It was while he had closed his eyes, his face scrunched up in concentration trying to say a spell, that Hermione's disarming charm finally landed, Viktor's wand flying over and landing neatly in her hand. The crowd erupted into cheers, and with a wide grin, Hermione let the air disperse, Viktor's feet finally coming free of the mud with a sucking sound.

"The win goes to Hermione!" Iron Man announced. "Well done, both of you!"

Viktor looked amazed as he approached her, the Blackwell students still cheering.

"How you do that?" he asked. "I could not to speak—syllables were all out of order—"

"Delayed Auditory Feedback," Hermione said, beaming. "When you hear yourself speak at a delay, it throws off your brain and messes with your speech."

Viktor looked startled. "You reflected my voice back to me?"

"I did," Hermione said happily. "And it worked! That's so neat, that it actually worked – I wonder if there's a way to do that with a spell instead of literally reflecting sound waves with the air—"

"And the ground," Viktor said. "I—it turned to mud. I not see you cast spell though—"

"I said I could fight disarmed, didn't I?" Hermione said, smiling up at him. She felt happy and bubbly, now that she'd won – though she would definitely need to work on her arsenal of offensive spells. But Viktor might be willing to help her with that, which could be fun. Her happiness seemed contagious – Viktor started to smile back down at her.

"I am impressed," he admitted. He grinned. "I not think you would win."

"Well, I did," Hermione informed him, and Viktor laughed.

"You did," he agreed. He sighed a very melodramatic sigh. "And now I not kiss you. Hermione, you are very bad at dating me, you know."

Hermione's cheeks were pink, but she laughed.

"I guess I am," she said, smiling up at him. "I'll just have to practicing dating you more, won't I?"

Viktor's face was transformed by the smile that lit up his face. "I am happy to help you practice."