The Winter Witch I
Hermione realized it began with a sense of Impending Doom.
Her danger sense wasn't as finely tuned as Harry's, of course, but they didn't survive years at Hogwarts, and then a year on the run on just Harry and his incredible luck. Hermione's knowledge certainly helped, and of course, after a while, Harry's sense of 'something wrong' rubbed off on her. It hadn't always – she still felt the stinging shame of her sixth year to this day – but she learned from it and did her best to adapt.
Which was why she felt Impending Doom settle on her shoulders the further she walked in the forest.
It was the end of summer in 1999, she was nineteen, turning twenty, and put off a job working for Kingsley Shacklebolt at the Ministry of Magic for a gap year to help Professor McGonagall and the other Hogwarts professors rebuild Hogwarts. Hermione, not always magically powerful but magically intelligent, oversaw documenting what needed repairs and maintaining the inventory before moving on to the library and working with the books, repairing and copying them. (And if she copied them for her personal collection, well… Harry and Ron's less than pristine morals had rubbed off on her over the years, too.)
But she didn't quite understand Professor McGonagall's latest order, of venturing into the Forbidden Forest in search of the remnants of the Centaurs, to treat with them. Firenze was unable to, due to his exile, but a witch from Hogwarts was a better choice? Hermione didn't argue, but she was disgruntled. The last time she had been in the forest was during the final battle – and before that, in her fifth year leading Umbridge towards Grawp and the Centaurs (that wasn't her brightest move, she'd admit, but she did get vindictive pleasure out of the terror in Umbridge's face), and before that, helping Sirius escape and nearly having her soul sucked out by Dementors. She didn't have fond memories of that forest.
Yet, here she was.
That Impending Doom she felt earlier? Well, it was strong enough that after she met with McGonagall, Hermione marched straight back to the Gryffindor dormitory, packed hardy clothing for an overnight trip, and re-established the spells on her beaded purse. Impending Doom was telling her being prepared – like how they had been during the war – would be a good idea. Hermione decided to listen.
That had been three days previously and she was still in the forest.
"Honestly, you'd think I'd have come out at the other end already," she muttered angrily under her breath, her wand flat in the palm of her hand, spinning wildly. "Point Me Hogwarts!"
The trees were unrecognizable: their trunks were too large and thick, the leaves the wrong shape to anything she knew, and the lack of magical beasts to snack on her – werewolves, or acronumantula, or centaurs – was worrisome. Where was she?
"This is useless," she continued to mutter. The air was growing colder as the sun set, streaking through the thick canopy of leaves above her. The forest itself was quiet, with birds beginning to wind down their chirps and songs for their nests; other noises, the rustles of leaves and branches, began to grow louder instead.
With a deep sigh, Hermione squared her shoulders and dropped her beaded bag on the hard ground in front of her. She knelt, opening the flap to the bag and then stuck her arm in. Had anyone been around to see her, they would have been astonished to witness Hermione's entire arm disappear into the bag as she knelt over, her head tilted to the side as she pushed through, searching for something elusive.
The young woman's brown eyes lit with joy as she finally found what she was looking for. She gave a hard yank, and fell backwards with momentum. In her hand was a small, flat green square of shiny material.
Hermione began to hum to herself. She stood, walked to a relatively clear area of the forest, and then place the tiny square the middle of the clearing. Several paces away, she stood straight and brandished her wand, prepared like a conductor was.
"And now," she murmured to herself, swishing the wand.
The small green tent grew from the small, green square by doubling, then tripling, and further, in size and sprung up, stretching and twisting until it resembled a relatively small, triangular camping tent. Spokes and lines stretched the held the tent upright and firm.
With a smile, Hermione nonverbally erected familiar wards and charms: notice-me-not, muggle repellent, proximity alerts. Several were variations of what she used during the war, and others were much more basic.
"Time to figure out where I am," she concluded, unzipping the tent flap and stepping inside. Contrary to the exterior, the interior was magically expanded into a comfortable two-bedrooms and shared living and kitchen space, with a sink. The bathroom was also fully functional and shared between the two bedrooms. In the living space, a freestanding fireplace made of cast iron lit, basking the living area in a warm glow and comfortable heat.
Hermione settled in, curling up in an armchair with one of the many copied tomes from the Hogwarts library in her lap; a cup of tea rested on the small side table.
"Now," she began quietly, "Let's see if I can figure out where I am."
At first, she thought it was a matter of where. A couple astronomy and geography books, and a night outside with a portable, collapsible telescope told Hermione that it wasn't a matter of where, as none of the stars lined up with her charts and her known reference points. The young witch retreated into her tent and began to theorize anew.
The next day, after a sleepless night scribbling over several feet of parchment, Hermione decided it was a matter of when. She was in the past, and of course, stars would change between the now – the past – and then, her future. Stars going out, galaxies spreading further over the millennia – it made sense.
Except, it didn't, as the second night attempting to pinpoint the stars demonstrated that there was no Little or Big Dipper, no Southern Cross from the first night, but also there were no other distinct planetary or sun reference points for Hermione to situate herself in. As far as she could tell, she wasn't even in the Milky Way! She wasn't on a planet orbiting a different star, like Polaris or Cygnus. She was literally on another world in another galaxy.
But that didn't make sense, she thought. One second, I'm in the Forbidden Forest, and the next I'm on another planet? How does that even work?
Books on astronomy and geography and time travel were put back in her beaded bag or on the shelves of the few bookshelves that stood on either side of the freestanding fireplace, beginning to clutter amongst the other books Hermione had begun to hoard there.
"So, now what?" she asked out loud with a loud huff and flew herself backwards in the armchair. There was no way to document or theorize her way out of this one, if she truly was on another planet.
"Okay, think Hermione," she muttered, standing up and beginning to pace. "It can't be a different planet. That makes no sense – you don't travel thousands upon millions of miles like that. It wasn't a wormhole or FTL because you didn't have a space ship and there wasn't any indication that you even stepped through a tear. So, what's left?"
Hermione paced to the bookshelves, then across to her armchair and beyond into the kitchen. It was twenty-three steps from either end of the tent to the other, and she made the trip five times before crouching on the floor and letting loose a loud scream of frustration.
"I didn't travel millions of miles," she muttered resolutely. "That's not physically possible. I didn't Apparate, I didn't touch an illegal PortKey, and I didn't enter a wormhole to another galaxy or a Stargate." She felt her lips twist into a wry smile.
Standing, she turned to gaze into the fireplace and said, firmly, "Occam's Razor: 'Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.' If I follow the logic, this is what I get when I remove variables: I didn't time travel and I didn't travel through space. What is left? I travelled into another dimension. Therefore, I am in another dimension and need to find my way home."
With a firm nod, Hermione settled back in her arm chair and reached for her earlier abandoned parchment and quill. She had a long night ahead of her with Arithmancy calculations.
Or, she would have, if it wasn't for the loud shouts that drew her attention from her calculations hours later.
The Battle of the Whispering Wood was messy, loud, and gory.
It was no different to any other battle Robb had led, and he was certainly gaining much experience alongside his uncle, the Blackfish. He had successfully routed the Lannister army earlier in smaller skirmishes (but no less diminished by importance) and this one was proving to be quite fruitful – even if it meant the possibility of serious injury, given the ragged and menacing presence the Kingslayer sported as he slashed his way through the battlefield towards him.
Grey Wind was busy lunging at Lannister soldiers, attempting to halt their movements as much as possible while Robb was engaged with others. His guard, Daryn Hornwood, Eddard Karstark and Torrhen Karstark, formed a loose circle around him, and it was Daryn who met the Kingslayer's first slash.
It was hard to move in the Valley, and many times Robb stumbled over a loose rock or root as he tried to gain sure footing. Of course, for every rock he stumbled over, so did his opponents. None were fully comfortable in the dense forest, but the cleared area they slowly maneuvered into was the best to meet the Lannister soldiers.
Daryn let out a loud shout as he planted his left foot and dug the heel in to stabilize himself, swinging his sword forward towards the Kingslayer, who ducked and weaved out of the way. Immediately, Eddard Karstark was there, as was his brother Torrhen, who in a synchronized move both slashed high and low at the golden-haired knight.
"STARK!" the Kingslayer shouted, bodily pushing Torrhen to the ground and forcing his sword forward in a violent stabbing motion, catching Torrhen high in the right shoulder. The man screamed and pulled back, yanking the sword out through his stumbled backtracking.
Robb raised his sword, ready to engage in battle with the famed knight. The golden-haired man snarled and shifted his weight, planting himself just as Robb did opposite him, waiting for the other to move first.
"WHAT IN MERLIN'S NAME IS GOING ON HERE?"
Although the battle around them waged, Robb, in surprise, along with the Kingslayer, Daryn, Torrhen, and Eddard, turned to the loud, angry, feminine shout.
Before, in what Robb would have sworn was an empty clearing around them, was a green tent in a design he had never seen. But what caught his attention was the young woman who stood outside the tent, uncaring of the dirty, bloodied men around her. He blinked, wondering if he was hallucinating, but – no, she didn't disappear.
"I said," she began again, eyes darting from each frozen man to the next, "What is going on here?"
What struck Robb the most was her appearance. She wore strangely patterned trousers cut off at the ankle in a soft pink, and a matching button-up shirt. She was barefoot. She was slim, but not unhealthily so, and of average height. However, her hair was a riotous mess of brown corkscrew curls, and her eyes flashed a strange amber in the twilight.
But most bizarrely, was the steaming goblet in her left hand, and the dark wooden stick in her right.
It was the Kingslayer who moved first, moving away from the woman and turning back to Daryn and Eddard, bringing his sword down diagonally in a long slash, but both men jumped back to avoid the swing. The Kingslayer fluidly continued the movement to a sweep that came from below and up with a deft twist of his wrist. Daryn met the upward swing and parried it with his own forceful down stroke.
"Excuse me," the woman huffed, and Robb saw her stamp a single foot in frustration as everyone around ignored her.
The Kingslayer wordlessly roared and pushed against Daryn's sword, forcing the man back as he pushed himself forward, closer to Robb. Torrhen boldly stood to Robb's right, ready to engage in the fight again, despite the blood pouring from his shoulder.
The Kingslayer finally pushed hard enough to knock Daryn back and Eddard took his place, but the Lannister was enraged and eager to meet Robb and wet his sword with the young Stark's blood. His sword slash and flashed against Eddard's chest plate and high, catching the fleshy, thin skin of his neck. Shocked, Eddard dropped his sword and brought his hand up to his neck, gurgling as blood began to erupt out of the long cut.
Torrhen screamed in rage, and darted forward, his sword held high and ready to bring it down on the Kingslayer's head – but he was stopped.
A flash of blue light hit Torrhen in the chest, and then another hit the Kingslayer. Both were frozen, their eyes wide and immobile as statues.
"That's a bit better," the woman said, and Robb swung his head around to face her. Her eyes were shrewd as they took in the four men, but they lingered on Eddard, who was lying on his back on the damp, churned grass and mud, gasping for breath as blood seeped between his fingers.
Although not frozen in the same way the Kingslayer or Torrhen were, Robb was unable to move as he watched the young woman fearlessly move between the two frozen men until she knelt next to Eddard.
"Right then," she muttered, eyes darting from the blood bubbling from Eddard's throat to the fleshy skin. The right hand, holding the strange stick, was held aloft and pointed at Eddard's neck but she woman realized she needed another hand, and with a huff, Robb watched in awe – and perhaps in horror and fascination, too – as the steaming, strange goblet the woman held in her left hand remained stationary in the air once her fingers left the handle.
"Consarcino," murmured the young woman, pointing the tip of her stick at Eddard's neck, just as she gently moved his hand away from holding the flapping skin together. Under the tip, moving from one end of the cut to the other, the skin began to knit back together. Eddard's laboured breathing and gasping breaths slowed, just as the blood pouring from the wound did.
Unwittingly, Robb took a step forward for a better look in surprise. How did she do that? Magic? Was she a witch?
"Tergeo," she said next, and the blood and dirt and muck on Eddard's face siphoned off slowly, sucking towards the stick's tip and gathering there in a big, blobby ball. With a deft flick of the stick away from Eddard and Robb, the glob shot off like a discarded insect flicked away, landing on the ground with a splat. The young woman's brown eyes raked over Eddard's face, critically, and she nodded. "You've lost a lot of blood. And you probably need a pick-me-up."
She pointed the tip of her stick over her shoulder and moments later, Robb's mouth dropped open. Two bottles – one with a ruby red liquid and the other orange – came floating out of the tent's flap and came to a rest, hovering at eye sight next to the young woman.
"Blood replenishing," she said, uncorking it. "It'll replace the blood you lost."
She eased her hand behind Eddard's head, supporting his neck, and raised him slightly with a silent urge to drink.
Eddard flashed a horrified look at Robb, who stepped the last few feet closer to the two. He nodded slowly and with confirmation from his liege, Eddard carefully opened his mouth enough to sip.
The woman sighed. "Best just chuck it down in one go. It doesn't taste that good."
Eddard did as told, grimacing at the coppery taste, and then did the same with the orange one ("It's Pepperup," the woman said as though that it explained everything). Steam blew out of his ears and with a shocked breath, out of his mouth and nostrils.
Robb leapt back, immediately falling into a battle stance.
Even Eddard looked shocked, going cross-eyed as he tried to stare down his nose towards his mouth. However, he soon raised a shaky, leather-clad hand to his neck, massaging the skin with wide eyes.
"My lady…?" he trailed off, eyes roving up to the young woman's face. "My… my wound?"
"Healed," she sniffed, tilting her face up with a twitch of her nose.
"That should have killed him," interjected Robb, moving closer again, peering at Eddard's neck, where his hand was still gingerly touching the previously flapping skin. It was now shiny and pink, free of the mud, blood and sweat that covered many of Robb's men.
The young woman turned to him, and Robb sucked in a breath. Her eyes… her gaze was strong and focused entirely on him, and Robb felt something in his stomach shift. Her eyes were a strange, glowing amber in the twilight, framing a heart-shaped face with a dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her cheeks were flushed from her earlier annoyance, and her mouth was flattened in a tight, annoyed pink line.
Robb's cheeks flushed and his eyes darted away from the young woman to the still frozen Torrhen and Kingslayer. Their eyes were moving, terror and annoyance waring behind their immobile forms.
"Ah, my lady?" asked Robb, turning slightly back to the young woman. "My man and enemy?"
"Hmm? Oh." Her face took a distinctly unhappy look as her brows pinched. "Them." She glanced back at Robb, put her hands on her hips and then demanded, "Will you lot be quiet now? I have very important work that I'm trying to do, here."
"Here?" asked Robb, glancing around the cleared land.
"In my tent."
He looked at the flimsy green structure in askance.
She caught his look and sighed. "Look, I'm just trying to do some equations, but you're all so loud. Besides," she glared at Robb, "You shouldn't be fighting."
"Shouldn't be fighting?!" Robb sputtered, echoing her. "My lady, do you know who this man is?"
She turned and deliberately looked the Kingslayer from head to toe, then turned back to him and shook her head. "No. Should I?"
Robb felt the familiar rage swell in the pit of his stomach, warming him as it bubbled up through his neck. His cheeks flushed – this time, he was sure it was anger and not that strange other emotion when her eyes lit on his – and his breaths quickened. "He attacked my father, killed all his guards. He is guilty of incest and spawning children with his sister – a child, I might add, who wrongly sits on the Iron throne, claiming to be King of Westeros. This same king," he spat the word, "Had my father beheaded, claiming him to be the traitor to the kingdom."
The woman slowly nodded. "Well. That's quite the list of accusations."
She waved the stick absently in the Kingslayer's direction, and immediately, he stumbled forward with the swing of his sword as his body was once more his to control. He quickly regained his footing and turned blazing eyes on the woman. Robb stepped forward, just as Eddard struggled to stand.
"And what do you have to say for yourself?" she asked him, eyes wary as the Lannister met her gaze.
"I deny nothing," he spat, blue eyes flashing.
She was silent for a long moment, watching the man as he held himself tall and powerful, taking pride in the accusations levied against him.
"No," she finally murmured. "I don't suppose you do."
She then sighed, closing her eyes. The sound of the battle around them was fading into moans of pain and cheers of victory – for which side, Robb was unsure, but the battle was coming to an end. A howl pierced the woods and he felt Grey Wind nearby, making his way towards him.
"I am so very tired of battles," the young woman whispered, but her voice carried and was heard by all in the clearing. When she opened her eyes, there was a steely hardness to them. "Play your games, then. Keep me out of it and keep it quiet. I have better things to do."
With that said, she stepped forward and began walking towards her tent, all the while unafraid of the armoured soldiers around her. As she passed between the Kingslayer and Torrhen, the other man unfroze and staggered forward but caught himself, eyes wide, watching the young woman.
The Kingslayer, however, did not wait, and launched himself forward with his sword high at her unprotected back.
"My lady-!" shouted Robb, both he and Eddard darting forward just as Grey Wind burst through the trees. However, Torrhen managed to raise his sword to block the Kingslayer's downward swing. Sparks flew between the two blades as the steel sang, and as they separated, Torrhen made to parry with a side swing of his own – only, the young woman had turned back around, stick pointed at the Kingslayer.
"Stupefy," she muttered, and the Lannister collapsed to the ground like a puppet whose strings were cut, a tense expression still on his face.
Silence fell amongst the four standing.
"Is he dead?" asked Torrhen finally, edging forward and nudging the Kingslayer's boot with his toe.
"No," the woman answered, eyes on the man. "Just unconscious. He'll be like that for quite a few hours unless I revive him."
"What… who are you?" asked Robb lowly, reaching a comforting hand out to Grey Wind, whose head comfortably came to his chest. Although his muzzle was coated with blood and bits of flesh, Robb welcomed the companionable nudge.
The young woman turned her gaze back on him, a small smile on her lips. "Someone very far from home," she replied with a tiny sigh. "I'm Hermione Granger, how do you do?"
"Lady Hermione," began Robb, "You saved one of my men from death and stopped the Kingslayer without shedding blood. Just… just what are you?"
She turned her back on him, moving back towards her tent but threw over her shoulder with a friendly, if not slightly vicious grin, "A friend. Best of luck out there." And then she was gone, back through the flaps.
Not even moments later, Dacey burst through the treeline gasping out the results of a resounding victory, even more so now with the Kingslayer unconscious. Yet, between the glances shared between Torrhen, Eddard and Robb, they couldn't help but notice that Dacey didn't notice or look in the direction of the green tent, even once.