A/N: My source apparently lied to me about Polish slang! (or at least severely overstated their knowledge on the topic). I am very embarrassed.

I will rewrite that small part of last week's chapter. My apologies and thanks to the actual Polish readers who let me know!

CW: Teenage sexuality

The walk after dinner never happened; Karkaroff had appeared, demanded to know where his champion had been, and led Viktor off to the ship for a restorative – apparently, he looked ill, with his flushed face and bright eyes. Hermione rather thought the heat in his eyes was from something other than a fever, but she wasn't about to tell that to the Death Eater Headmaster. Neither was Viktor, from the looks of it – he shot her an anguished, mournful look as he was led away, and Hermione only smiled slightly and shook her head slightly in understanding.

She still felt all wound up throughout dinner, an odd tension sitting high in her chest and a pressure low in her center as discussion moved around her.

"Full moon tomorrow night," Draco told her. He smirked. "We're doing your lands tomorrow, in Exmoor. All of them, despite the size – it seems like every hedgewitch is eager to help pay you back for your help, now that it's time to protect you."

"That's incredible," Hermione said honestly. "Thank you, Draco."

"Of course." Draco looked pleased. "Whatever we need."

An errant thought flew through her head – what would he do if she asked him to touch her, to take care of her need? What he would do, what he would say? She imagined he'd probably choke on his pumpkin juice and ask her to repeat herself, before stammering some excuse about propriety or a prior obligation.

She sighed, pushing her food around the plate.

She eyed Blaise. Blaise, she imagined, if she asked him, would agree in a second – and it would be good, she imagined – Blaise would know her and be able to tell what she needed, even if she couldn't articulate it herself. But with Blaise there was the danger of getting carried away, of going further than she wanted, and she didn't want to do all that yet; she didn't want things to get messy and tangled – she just wanted the need to go away so she could think straight again.

She retired early after dinner, citing exhaustion from the Hogsmeade trip and the cold. She changed into a short muggle nightgown, something completely inappropriate for the weather, and spelled the curtains of her four-poster shut and silenced them. She knelt on the bed, putting a pillow between her legs, and she closed her eyes, imagining that it was Viktor's leg again, that he was still kissing her, that he was still looking at her like he wanted to devour her, with her seriously considering letting him.

Her hips moved of their own volition against the pillow, thrusting a few times against the pillow until Hermione was crying out, gasping for a long moment until she slumped over onto her bed, heart racing and exhausted.

Maybe this was puberty, she reflected, dragging herself under the covers to go to sleep. Maybe before, her growth spurt, her fancying people – maybe that had been only the beginning. Maybe this, this desire, this hunger, this want – maybe this was the part everyone talked about in the romance novels. Maybe this was the hormones her mother had warned her about, the ones she had cautioned her about - the ones that made it easy to get carried away.

It certainly fit – if Viktor had asked her to undress there in the alcove despite the cold, for a wild moment, Hermione would have considered it – she'd been considering asking him to unclasp his cloak as it was – and if Viktor had proposed Apparating to his bed on the Durmstrang ship (yes, she knew he couldn't Apparate directly there, but it was just the thought), she would have done so without a second thought.

Hermione wondered if that was okay. If she was ready for that, what all she was ready for. What she wanted to do, and what she should do. What was proper, and what was not. Who she would want to do things with, who she would let do what.

She fell asleep wondering how far her dormmates had gone down that path. For some reason, the idea of being the first one to go far was scary; she'd have to ask Tracey what all she'd done, what it was like, and if it had helped stem the incessant desires.

On Sunday, the grown-ups had a fight.

It had come seemingly out of nowhere – everyone was eating breakfast, and Draco was explaining that the hedgewitches now had a stack of community daggers that they would be able to use – when there was a commotion at the head table and a loud cry of, "Absolutely not!"

Hermione and the rest of the Slytherin table all turned to look, seeing Karkaroff stand and throw down his napkin, glaring down at Dumbledore.

"Igor," Dumbledore pleaded. "Please. We're trying to avoid an international incident—"

"You already have an international incident, you blind old man," Karkaroff snapped. "I will tolerate your mysterious second school at the challenges only. If my students are now expected to openly interact with these—these aberrant children—"

"We only need to invite them," Dumbledore said. "They will likely decline—"

"Zhey do not even 'ave robes to wear," Madam Maxime added dryly.

"—and then at least the offer was made," Dumbledore went on. "If we do not invite them, then Blackwell could later claim discrimination and lodge a cheating allegation—"

"Cheating allegation!" Karkaroff exploded. "Cheating allegation! From the school that wasn't supposed to be here? The school that didn't exist?"

"Igor, be reasonable," Dumbledore pleaded.

"Reasonable? Reasonable would have been quitting this tournament when this all began!" Spittle was flying out of Karkaroff's mouth, he was so mad. "If you are so determined to have this school of rats at your ball, Dumbledore, then Durmstrang will step aside. But if you think this won't cause an international incident of its own, you are sorely mistaken!"

Ignoring any further pleading from Dumbledore, Karkaroff stormed down from the head table, sweeping over to the Slytherin table to stand behind Viktor.

"We will be finishing our meal on the ship," he snapped at them all. "With me. Immediately."

To their credit, all the Durmstrang students immediately sprang to their feet, grave and serious expressions on their faces. Satisfied, Karkaroff turned and stomped out of the room, his students filing out after him. Hermione looked up at the head table, where Madam Maxime looked rather confused by what had just happened, and Dumbledore looked lost. He was just staring at the table in front of him, one hand holding his head as if he had a headache.

Hermione exchanged a wide-eyed look with her year mates.

"…maybe we shouldn't depend on them being there for the ritual tonight?" ventured Tracey.

Draco looked disappointed, but he shrugged. "Shouldn't be a problem. We've got enough hedges, and now that there's a ley line through the center directly, we should be fine."

The reminder of the ley line brought something to mind, and Hermione brightened.

"…Actually, can I bring someone else along?"

"This is so interesting," Fleur said, looking over the tiny grove they'd planted curiously. "These trees, I would not expect them to all be natural to this climate. And yet they grow."

"Well—" Hermione winced. "We did use magic to help them along."

Fleur gave Hermione an amused look. "I presumed."

While Fleur looked over the trees with curiosity, Draco lurked nearby a small distance away, trying to be unobtrusive and keep himself together. When Hermione finally turned to address him, leaving Fleur to look at the health of the yew tree, he seemed relieved to give his report.

"We're almost ready for moonrise," he told her. "There are 77 runes to be charged and buried. With the Shadows here, we'll have enough people to charge them all."

"77?" Hermione was surprised. "That's a very particular number."

"I didn't want to use every hedgewitch," Draco explained. "Given this is your land, and there's nothing here yet, really, I only wanted people who genuinely would consider moving here and helping keep the land itself to help protect it."

"Excellent instincts," Susan said, appearing behind Draco's shoulder as if from nowhere, and Hermione suppressed a smile at Draco's violent jerk of surprise. "Blood wards are the most effective if they're tied to the people who a place will protect. It's worth doing fewer runes overall in exchange for them to be more powerful."

"Right." Draco looked relieved. "Anyway. Given there's no set layout of living yet here, it's just a very large net over the area with a double-corded outer loop. Will—" Draco cleared his throat "Will your guest be assisting with your ritual?"

Draco's voice had gone unnaturally high, two spots of colors blooming high on his cheeks, and Hermione looked at him curiously.

"What, Fleur?" Hermione asked.

Draco nodded, and Hermione shrugged, ambivalent.

"I don't know. I haven't asked her," Hermione said reasonably. She paused. "I can do that now, though. Hey, Fleur!"

Fleur looked up from examining a tree on the other side of the grove and came over, sweeping up to Hermione with a dazzling smile, a smile Hermione returned.

"Would you like to participate in the ritual tonight?" Hermione asked. "It's the werewolf protection ritual."

"Ooh!" Fleur clapped her hands together, her eyes dancing in excitement. "This is one of your ley line rituals, yes?"

"Yes," Hermione said. "One of the first ones that helped the hedgewitches learn how to use the ley lines."

"Absolument," Fleur said very firmly. "I would be honored to participate, Hermione."

Hermione flushed. "I'm happy to have you participate, Fleur, but I don't know about being honored by it…"

Fleur moved closer to Hermione, Hermione's words drying up as she did.

"My blood will help protect you, yes?" Fleur asked her, lowering her tone.

Hermione's voice was weak. "I mean, yes…"

"Then it is an honor," Fleur told Hermione again, her eyes holding hers. "I would kill for you, Hermione. I would die for you. Bleeding for you is nothing but an honor, a privilege. Besides," Fleur said, stepping back from Hermione, her eyes excited again, "I want to feel what a large ley line ritual feels like. I am curious if the ley lines here differ from those in France. It will be so interesting! I am always happy to learn."

Fleur went back over to the trees, looking at them curiously and examining their growth, and Hermione turned back to Draco, who was an unusual shade of red that contrasted sharply with his coloring.

"Everything okay?" she asked him.

"Splendid," Draco said, his voice strained. "It's just—it's difficult to think straight around her, you realize. And I don't want to offend her or you by saying the wrong thing."

"Offend me?" Hermione was surprised. "I mean, I'd be annoyed with you if you were rude, but—"

Draco gave her an incredulous look.

"Hermione, she's under your protection," he told her. "Any insult given to her would be an insult given to you."

Hermione blinked.

"Fleur can protect herself," she said slowly. "Do you mean under the protection of my House?"

Draco's answering look was sharp, astonished.

"Are you seriously—" he started, before faltering. "Merlin's balls, I can't. I need help. Pansy!"

Draco called out for Pansy, yelling across the field. In the distance, a figure turned, coming over with an impatient look.

"What?" she snapped at Draco.

"Hermione doesn't realize that she's put— put Fleur under her protection," Draco said. "Can you help explain?"

Pansy's eyes immediately lit with understanding. She bit her lip, considering her words before turning to Hermione.

"Consider from Draco's point of view," Pansy said carefully. "The day before Beauxbatons arrived, we had a discussion as a House of how to behave and what connections to make. During that discussion, you sat on a throne in front of us all, making a crown, and announced that you already had a connection with Beauxbatons you refused to give up. That crown—" she said, nodding across the grove toward the veela "—is now on Fleur's head. What kind of statement do you think that made?"

Hermione's eyes widened.

"So—giving Fleur the tiara, when all of Slytherin house saw me finishing it," she said. "That marked Fleur as under my protection?"

"Heads of Houses often give charges under their protection visible tokens for others to see," Draco added. "You don't exactly have a well-known House Crest yet, so a locket wouldn't be terribly helpful. Making that diadem in front of us all with your pointed remarks made it clear that she wasn't to be bothered or touched."

Hermione looked at Pansy, who shrugged and gave her a look.

"Her being under my protection isn't a bad thing, right?" Hermione asked finally. "It just means people know if they mess with her, they mess with me?"

"Yes," Draco said, relieved. "And no one with any sense in Slytherin wants to mess with you."

"Especially after you pointedly leaving certain people out of our House summit," Pansy said, with a nasty smile. "I don't think people will knowingly chance your wrath from our house anytime soon."

Pansy went back to help finish distributing the giant pile of gold and silver wards – large, heavy things that needed lugged or levitated all over Exmoor – while Draco looked back at Hermione, shrugging helplessly.

"It's—It's hard to think, with her around," he said. "She's your guest, so of course she's welcome, but it's—"

"Do I unsettle you, Monsieur Malfoy?" Fleur asked, appearing from behind Hermione. She batted her eyelashes at Draco, mischievous. "Does my beauty distract you so?"

Draco made a strangled sound, and he turned and awkwardly walked off to go help somewhere else, and Hermione turned to Fleur, who was laughing.

"That wasn't very nice," she chided.

"No, it was not," Fleur agreed. Her voice was smug. "He is gone now, though. And now I have you to myself."

Hermione's breath caught.

"There are over fifty witnesses here right now," she hissed at Fleur. "If anyone of them sees and tells Madame Maxime—"

"Hermione, come look at what I have found in the willow tree," Fleur said, loudly enough to be overheard. "Come, you must see—"

She took Hermione's hand, pulling her after her, and Hermione obligingly followed, trotting to keep up with the taller girl. When they arrived at the willow tree, Fleur pulled her behind it, shielding her from view with both the willow's trunk and its slender, draping branches. Hermione's face was flushed, but Fleur's eyes were dancing with mirth.

"Is this wise?" she managed to ask.

"Probably not," Fleur admitted.

"We'll still be here later, after the ritual," Hermione said, looking up as Fleur drew closer. "We can—we could wait until then—"

"Ah, but Hermione," Fleur murmured, reaching to tilt Hermione's chin up, "your beauty distracts me so."

It was Hermione's turn to make a small, strangled noise, but in her case it was because Fleur had captured her lips, and Hermione allowed herself the small indulgence of closing her eyes and kissing Fleur back, the two girls sheltered by the growing willow's small glade.