Actions

Work Header

the Winter Witch

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch I

 WinterWitch photo the winter witch_zpsmvye3s2v.jpg


 

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.


TBC

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch II


Robb sighed. It was hours later, the debriefing between his generals was finally over. The Kingslayer was in a cage on the muddy ground in Riverrun, Grey Wind guarding him through terror and bared teeth; there were nominal losses from the Northern army - and many of his guard survived.

Robb grimaced. Well, he thought, it could've been worse. Torrhen and Eddard could've died if not for Lady Hermione.

Which was another mystery - just who was she, and where had she come from? That tent appeared out of thin air, and questioning Dacey about it later - subtly, of course - left him with more questions than answers. She hadn't seen a tent, she didn't think anything of the faded pink marks around Torrhen's neck. To her, the tent and Lady Hermione didn't exist.

In the Great Hall of the castle they were occupying, in front of the large hearth, Robb stared into the flames and ignored the raucous laughs of soldiers around him enjoying their meal, the constant hum of conversation and the feel of numerous eyes on their silent King.

Robb felt, more than saw, someone come to stand just behind his left, hovering. Pausing.

He turned his head, partially, glancing from the corner of his periphery to see Eddard. There was still a faint, pink line around his neck, from ear to ear, where the Kingslayer's sword had cut through the tender flesh, and where Lady Hermione had healed him.

"Eddard?" asked Robb, tilting his head just slightly but returning his eyes to the fire.

"Milord…" his Karstark cousin and Kingsguard trailed off, shuffling before standing straight.

Robb sighed. When he spoke, his voice was tired. Weary. "What is it, Edd?"

"My father noticed the scar," the tall man said quietly. "And Torrhen… spoke while under the influence of the milk of Poppy, when he had his wound stitched up."

Robb winced. Wonderful. Just what I need - people speaking about what happened when we - no, Lady Hermione - captured the Kingslayer.

"What was said?" he asked instead, his body stiffening in preparation for the worst.

Eddard grimaced, but Robb didn't see it. "He spoke of a strange young woman with powers. Called her a witch, and that she helped saved Torrhen's life. And helped us capture the Kingslayer."

By the Gods…! Robb's molars ground. Karstark was a braggart, brash at times, but proud of his sons and their place near their Stark cousins; there were still moments of bittersweet jealousy that rang through the man's voice - not that Eddard or Torrhen shared their father's thoughts - but still! Karstark could jeopardise the support he had of others within the Northern camp.

"Has he spoken to anyone else about this?" asked Robb tightly, his voice pitched low, barely suppressing the anger.

Eddard paused, and Robb shut his eyes tightly. His kingsguard's voice was small when he finally replied. "A few of the other Lords."

'A few of the other Lords' ended up being all of them, and by the following evening, Robb had a pounding headache as his war room - filled with his generals, Northern Lords all except his Tully uncle - spoke over one another, debating their next moves as well as Lady Hermione.

"-think we should meet with her," demanded Karstark, crossing his arms. "If only, of course, to thank her for saving my son's' life."

Of course, thought Robb, straining in the effort to not roll his eyes. Behind him, he felt Eddard shift guiltily.

"Perhaps we could make an offer of allegiance?" suggested another Lord, and Jon Umber guffawed a laugh.

"If that witch is as powerful as the Karstark boys say she is, then she doesn't need us," he expanded - and Robb felt miffed that the man could roll his eyes to punctuate his point.

"You said she was in the clearing where the Kingslayer was captured?" asked a quiet, reedy voice.

Robb turned his gaze to the pale eyes of Roose Bolton. He dipped his head, minutely.

"Why don't we just return there on our way towards Lannisport?" asked another, and then there were murmurs of agreement. "We can ride past it."

And that was how, a day later, Robb found himself leading members of his Kingsguard - Eddard, a contrite Torrhen, and curious Dacey - as well as Karstark, Bolton, Umber, and his mother towards the clearing where he met Lady Hermione for the first time. Grey Wind prowled alongside his horse, sniffing the ground and darting this way and that as he lead the party, separate but not far from the rest of the war band, through the undergrowth.

Eventually, they reached the same clearing.

And there, off to the side, was the green tent.

Robb quietly sighed and slid off his horse, patting its flank absently as Eddard and Torrhen joined him. However, the men with him, and Dacey and his mother, looked around in confusion.

"There's nothing here," rumbled Umber, glancing around.

Eddard silently pointed at the tent, and all eyes moved there, none resting on the green fabric except those who had been in the clearing a week previous.

As the men arranged themselves behind Robb in two rows of a tight semicircle, his Kingsguard making the first, Robb stepped forward and loudly cleared his throat.

And, from behind the tent, a frazzled voice answered.

"I'm not buying whatever it is you're selling!"

Robb felt his lips twitch. At his side, Grey Wind sat himself on his haunches and looked up at his master with his tongue rolling out.

Oh yes, thought Robb, glancing behind at spotting the very confused and taken aback looks on the other's faces. This will be entertaining.


After the terrible interruption of her work, Hermione returned to scribbling out arithmancy equations, hoping that one of them would be the correct one that could explain just how the hell she ended up in another dimension to begin with.

It took two days for her to realize she just didn't have enough information about the damn place to plug into the gaping holes in her equation and that she would need to either a) make friends, or b) explore the strange world on her own. She opted for b, as the strange medieval warriors didn't stick around after the scuffle she was privy to.

(She also didn't think most of them would answer her questions; the blonde, Malfoy-esque one that tried to cut her down with his sword was probably the norm, given how the others were dressed, despite fighting him - honestly, incest? Who was stupid enough to do that? Didn't they know about genetics? Or was bloodletting cutting-edge medical technology?)

So Hermione did some quick, short Apparation jumps, from her clearing to a spot between the trees she could see, and then from there to another, and another, until she was in the middle of a field and then was able to see some thatched roofs and stone buildings in the distance.

In order to not spook the local natives, she chose to walk into town.

And nearly walked right back out the second she took in the smell. Great Merlin - the smell was terrible. It wasn't just manure from the fields and animals, but also the smell of unwashed bodies, and rotting food, and sweat and blood and burnt corpses that a few people were desperately trying to bury.

The majority of the houses were burnt out - she guessed that was where the corpses came from - and the small hamlet of barely maybe ten houses was utterly destroyed and raided.

A small part of her hoped it wasn't the redhead with bright blue eyes and his army who did the raiding.

Luckily, there weren't any language barriers.

Unluckily, the jeans-and-jumper combo she wore out of comfort wasn't high in fashion in this dimension, and it made those who remained in the small hamlet wary of her.

It took some aggressive negotiations and wide-smiles for her to express that she wasn't there to hurt anyone. She resigned herself to helping dig graves.

But she did gain some valuable information: she was between the Riverlands and Lannister-owned land. There was a war going on (no shit), but there were several interested parties who all claimed to be "king" (the redhead didn't want the crown of the main castle, which she learned was in King's Landing - how original - but rather was the Young Wolf, something about avenging his father; she didn't really care.), the "small folk" as they called themselves were tired of the war and their homes being burnt and their men being conscripted as soldiers and their women raped and, and, and.

Hermione had been through war before. It was painful, and even now, barely a year later, she still had nightmares.

This was just exhausting.

In the end, the small folk of the tiny hamlet she stumbled upon weren't educated enough to help her or answer her questions - in fact, "what kind of orbit does this planet engage in around your sun?" responded with blank stares.

Eventually, one brave soul said, "I think you'll need to go to the Citadel, milady, if you want answers to your questions."

Hermione nodded enthusiastically. "Yes - this Citadel. Where is it?"

"Oldtown."

"And where is Oldtown?"

"Somewhere… west?"

"How far west?"

"A couple weeks, I'd reckon."

"... by foot?"

"From here? Yes..."

"And is there a library?"

"What's a library?"

"What do you mean, 'what's a library'? Where do people go to learn things here?"

"Oldtown."

Frustrated and biting back an unbecoming growl, Hermione handed over some of her rations from her tent as a thanks, walked back into the forest she emerged from until she was out of sight, and then Apparated back to her tent with a sharp crack, feeling tired.

At this rate, she was never going to figure out how to get out of this dimension!

She was in preparation for a long journey to this Oldtown, several days later. Brewing Pepper-Up was child's play, something she mastered in her first year at Hogwarts.

Hermione just wasn't expecting to hear a throat being loudly cleared outside her tent! SHe had proximity alerts woven into her wards and spells that she cast when she, Harry and Ron were on the run, so she knew that there were several people wandering into the clearing, but only three were focusing their attention on where her tent was located.

You have got to be joking, she mentally groaned, realizing who came back.

She looked down at her potion and then shouted, "I'm not buying whatever it is you're selling!"

There was silence, and she sighed, a small smile on her lips as she gathered up the crushed leaves on the flat of her knife and then began to carefully tap them into the potion.

The throat cleared again, louder, different - as if someone else did that. Her hand slipped as she was about to tap the leaves in, dumping it all in one go.

The potion turned a violent, bright orange and Hermione stared at it in horror. She had never pulled a Longbottom before!

There was a new voice that cautiously, but loudly and in a slower tone, ask, "Ah - Lady - Hermione? Are - you - there?"

The potion rumbled.

Angrily, Hermione turned her face towards the tent's opening and shouted, "PISS OFF! I'm very busy here!"

The rumbling continued, and there was blissful silence outside her tent. She scrambled for something to counteract the mandrake leaves she was using, needing something chalky to bring down the acidity.

"Oh, oh, c'mon, c'mon," she muttered under her breath, turning away from the potion to check through her potions' trunk, filled with all manner of ingredients. However, the potion began spewing thick yellow clouds, and Hermione sighed.

What a waste, she thought, and cast a shield charm over the cauldron to contain the explosion. The rumbling intensified and then burst, turning the air above the cauldron into a violent, rolling noxious yellow ball of gas. The scent of sulphur managed to escape the shield and Hermione hastily threw up a bubble-head charm around herself.

"Ugh," she said, eyes cutting towards the tent entrance.

Temper firmly in hand, she stalked forward and shoved the flap aside, her eyes meeting the wide blue one's of the redhead from before - the one the small folk called the Young Wolf. There were several others behind him, arranged in a semi-circle, including, Hermione was amused to see, a wolf. As one, they all took a step back as the fumes wafted out of her tent, a few strangling gasps as she appeared.

"What do you want? You interrupted my brewing and now my tent is going to stink for a week!"

"Erm, Lady…" a burly looking man trailed off, looking her up and down. "Lady Hermione?"

"What?" she growled, turning to look at him directly. Her first impression was if someone had merged a white-haired Karkaroff and Marcus Flint, for the man had the bearing and attitude of the old Durmstrang Headmaster, but the body of the Slytherin Quidditch captain.

"Milady," the man said, rallying himself and stepping forward, but not past the redhead - out of respect? She wasn't sure. "I am Lord Rickard Karstark. I wish to extend my gratitude towards you for saving the life of my sons. It was only because of you and your… magic… that Eddard survived."

Hermione eyed the man for a moment, glancing towards the young man she saved a week previous, having kept his skin together and repairing the damage. He shuffled a bit, not much, but enough to convey his displeasure and embarrassment at his father's grovelling - and Hermione could see the family resemblance in the long, square face, and the small eyes.

She sighed. "No thanks are needed, Lord Karstark."

"Please," the man continued. "It's a matter of honour. May we… speak?"

"Aren't we doing that now?" she asked, crossing her arms.

The Young Wolf stepped forward, drawing her eyes. "Lady Hermione, while Lord Karstark would like to speak to you in thanks for his sons - I too would like to extend my gratitude as Eddard and Torrhen are members of my Kingsguard and friends. Their loss would have pained me."

"Perhaps we could speak here?" a tall, redheaded woman spoke for the first time.

Hermione shook her head. "It's hardly comfortable. I have a couch." She turned to motioned at her tent.

"Erm…"

"Oh? The smell?" Hermione grinned at the tall redheaded Young Wolf, waving her hand. A bit of wandless magic to impress the natives wasn't something that was going to bite her in the arse, she thought, as the air whooshed out of her tent and then up past them with the force of a strong wind, nudging a few to step back in surprise against the flow.

"What smell?" she concluded, and then ducked inside.


Robb felt amusement bubble in his stomach and did his best to keep his face neutral. Lady Hermione's initial shout had confused Karstark. The proud man's face had quickly fallen into confusion and was verging on abject horror when she told him to "piss off." Even if the words - or slang? - was unknown, the message behind it was clear.

On Karstark's other side, Umber tipped his chin down and smothered his smile into his beard.

When Lady Hermione emerged from the tent, however, the entire situation became tense. Perhaps his Lords and mother were expecting someone older - someone wearing long dresses and robes? Maybe even the bright red eyes of the Ashaii?

They weren't expecting a tiny, young woman of an age similar to his and Dacey's, barely reaching his chin. She wore men's trousers and a long, loose tunic, and something about its shape and size had Robb thinking it was a men's tunic. She wore strange white shoes instead of going barefoot. Her brown hair was still as messy and curly as before, but this time was a tumbling mess piled high on her head and held in place with a - Robb took a double glance; yes, those are four quills in her hair, holding it all up.

Karstark continued to make a mess of his first impression, prompting Robb to step forward. He didn't have to, but a part of him wanted those amber eyes back on him and him alone.

And when she disappeared back into her tent, he was the first to follow her.

Immediately, however, he stopped, looked around with an open mouth, and then stepped back outside.

"Robb?" his mother asked, cautiously and her voice tight with worry.

He shook his head, did a quick walk around the tent to everyone else's confusion, and then strode back inside, Grey Wind slinking in behind him, eyes wide and taking in the much larger interior space.

Hermione was standing near what could only be a stove of some sort due to the heat it was emitting, calmly watching him from beyond the rim of a mug she brought to her mouth.

He took a few steps forward, eyes roving from one end of the tent to the other: from his left, an oddly-designed kitchen, and to his right, a living space where Lady Hermione stood, framed by a soft looking seating area and chairs. There was a low lying table in the middle of a colourful rug in the living space, its top covered with piles of books - open and closed - and rolls of parchment and ink bottles.

Beyond, he could see a small hallway and doors, leading further into the tent.

It's a bloody tent! This looks like the inside of a crofter's home! he thought, eyes wide. Behind him, Eddard, Torrhen, his mother as well as Karstark and Bolton stepped forward, each exclaiming wordlessly at the extreme difference.

"Please, would you like to sit?" offered Lady Hermione with all the graciousness of a high-ranking Lady, a sweeping gesture at the furniture around her. Robb immediately went towards one of the armchairs, Eddard and Torrhen flanking him by standing behind and beside it; his mother sat gingerly on the - couch? Lady Hermione had called it - with Bolton and Karstark nervously eyeing the room and remaining standing. Grey Wind immediately moved towards her, and Robb was intensely curious to see how she would handle a large direwolf stalking towards her.

If his men - and mother - were expecting shrieks and cries to call his wolf off - they were disappointed. Hermione's bright eyes lit up at the wolf, and Robb could practically hear her mentally squee puppy! Grey Wind huffed at her, curling behind and then flopping on the carpet in front of where the heat from coming from, picking the best spot to drop into a nap.

"Tea? Coffee?" she asked, a glint in her eyes, turning back to Robb.

There was silence, and Robb broke it with a quick flash of a smile at her. "What is it that you are drinking?"

Lady Hermione paused and turned her attention on him. "Hot chocolate."

"I would like that, then," said Robb, mentally patting himself on his back as they began opening negotiations, demonstrating that he was eager to meet her halfway and get to know her.

Lady Hermione nodded, and made a sharp hand movement with right, flicking it out and making everyone startle; Bolton and Karstark both reached for the pommels of their swords.

"Just my wand," she said evenly, pointing it forward as it was held aloft in her grip, loose. Bolton nearly scrambled out of the way, his back towards the kitchen, but moved with forced dignity closer to the tent flap.

All their eyes were drawn to the kitchen space, where a pot floated from a low cupboard up onto a stove. A cool box opened and a clear jug of something white floated out - milk? thought Robb - and the poured into the small pot. A flame burst into existence under the pot, and the milk began to boil. At the same time, another cupboard door opened and a smaller jar in bright purple floated down, the lid popping off with a small burst of brown powder.

Robb's eyes were wide as he watched the dance: a spoon joined, as did a mug, and then the powder was mixed into the mug just as the milk finished boiling and was poured into the mug - all without Lady Hermione touching it.

The mug then floated towards him, and he reached out with shaking hands to take it.

"Milord, perhaps I…?" began Torrhen quietly, as his food taster.

He shook his head. If Lady Hermione wanted to kill him, she wouldn't need to poison him with a drink of this 'hot chocolate.' He cut a glance towards his mother, who had a pinched look on her face.

He cautiously took a sip of the hot drink, the mug warming his hands even through the gloves he wore. The taste was sweet and strong, but pleasant and he hummed his appreciation.

Once he brought the mug down from his lips, Lady Hermione grinned and sat on the opposite side of the couch from his mother, relaxing into the cushions.

"So," she began, eyeing them all individually for a moment, "What did you want to talk about?"

"Lady Hermione," began Karstark, "Again, my thanks-"

"Not needed," the young witch broke in, shaking her head and dislodging a curl. Robb stared at it. "I saved your son because it was the right thing to do, Lord Karstark. Not because I expect or want payment."

That wrongfooted Karstark, who floundered for a moment. "Well. In, uh, that case, my Lady… I understand that you might not want or expect repayment, but my honour demands it."

Warily, Lady Hermione eyed him and kept silent.

The old Lord cleared his throat and a flash of something passed across her face before disappearing. "I notice that you are alone, Lady Hermione."

Robb interpreted the look on her face as so what? and, surprised, glanced around the space, looking for evidence of someone else. Other than the large tunic Lady Hermione was wearing, it appeared she was truly alone.

"With a debt owed you, perhaps you would consider a marriage alliance between yourself and one of my sons?"

What? Robb choked and sputtered a bit on his hot chocolate, a small trickle slipping down his chin as he caught it with a gloved hand, staring at Karstark and then at Hermione, who stared at the Lord. Grey Wind's eyes opened and his head lifted from his spot in front of the stove.

Her eyes slowly moved over to Eddard and Torrhen, both who were radiating such embarrassment that Robb could feel it, like a heat rolling off them.

There was something dismissive, but also apologetic in Hermione's glance towards Torrhen and Eddard, before she turned back to Karstark. "Lord Karstark, I am," her mouth pulled, "Honoured at the offer, but I am quite happy as I am and currently have no plans of marriage. Least of all from someone I don't know."

"So you'd be open and willing if you knew someone better?" asked Bolton, his thin and soft voice loud in the silence of the tent.

Robb held his breath, watching Hermione as she frowned and let the silence stretch between them as she considered her answer.

"I don't think the current circumstances I find myself in would be conductive for a marriage," she eventually said.

"What circumstance is that?" his mother asked, her voice tight.

Hermione turned to face her, an airy hand dismissing the conversation. "Nothing important."

Catelyn's face pinched further, and Robb winced.

"Well, then what can we offer?" asked a frustrated Karstark.

"Maps," replied Hermione promptly. "I was told information I might need could be found in Oldtown, but I don't know where that is."

"What information are you looking for?" asked Catelyn. "We have several Maesters who are some of the best in all of Westeros."

Hermione hummed low. "Westeros," she breathed, eyes lit up with more information. She slid off the couch to the floor, ignoring the bewildered looks she was getting. Robb leaned forward and watched as she rummaged through the scrolls and parchment, muttering under her breath until she found what she was looking for.

She reached for one of the quills in her hair, and a portion tumbled down, leaving her in a wildly disheveled look that was incredibly fetching. Robb felt a flush spread across the back of his neck and up his ears.

She began scribbling on the parchment, adding strange symbols and squiggles that might have been another language, ignoring everyone else in the room. Robb shared a glance with both Karstark and Bolton; Karstark looked frustrated, as though Hermione was not at all what he expected, but there was a strange, fascinated look on Bolton's face.

"Um, Lady Hermione?" prompted Robb, leaning forward again, almost over the low table in front of him. The witch ignored him - or, thought Robb, was so engrossed in what she was doing she didn't hear him at all - so he tried again. "Hermione?"

Startled, she looked up, eyes wide. "What?"

"You said 'maps,'" reminded Robb, biting back a smile. "Anything else?"

"Maps?" repeated Hermione, blinking. "Maps? Oh. OH! Yes."

She blushed and carefully set down the quill and sat back on the couch, demurely folding her hands in her lap. "History books would be helpful. Science, too, perhaps." She eyed them, and then turned to Bolton, sussing him out as potentially the most science-oriented. "What's the planetary orbit around your sun like?"

The fascination in Bolton's face turned into something else even as he replied to her with, "I beg your pardon?"

"Nevermind," she said, waving her hand. "Oldtown. How far is it?"

"Several hundred leagues and at least a month's journey," replied Karstark, badly hiding his ire. "And certainly not something you can manage on your own, Lady Hermione."

"Mmm," she said, and something in her eyes prompted Robb to offer, "Why don't you join us?"

Immediately, Robb felt six pairs of eyes settle on him, and he squared his shoulders back as much as he could, attempting to present a confident face.

"I'm sorry?" asked Hermione, turning her amber eyes on him. He felt his breath catch.

Robb leaned forward. "We're journeying westward, towards Lannisport. Oldtown is to the southwest. If you join us - at least, some of the way - you'll be protected and can speak with our Maesters. And then when you're ready, you can continue south, although I don't think it's very safe."

He held her gaze, holding firm against the strange colour and hoping his own conveyed his thoughts and wishes. Finally, after a very long, tense silence, Hermione slowly nodded.

And like that, the Northern campaign gained a witch.


After they left the tent, Roose Bolton waited until they had left the clearing and were within sight of the main host, a few paces behind his King, to speak. He came to a stop beside Robb Stark, both of them leading their horses and pausing at the same time to look at one another.

Robb couldn't quite make out the expression on Bolton's face - it was one he had never seen before; partial awe, confusion, and something unreservedly fierce.

When the man spoke, it was in his usual, quiet, reedy voice - but the words themselves could've been shouted for the effect they had on Robb, rocking him backwards in surprise.

"Marry the witch, your Highness, and we'll win the war within a week. She's the best thing that's ever happened to Westeros, and she's going to change everything."


TBC

Chapter Text

 

The Winter Witch III


Hermione decided to take her time packing up her tent. Not that there was much to pack, to begin with, but despite how blase she was when she agreed to join Robb Stark's army, she was beginning to have second thoughts.

Not necessarily regrets. Just… thoughts.

Thoughts like:

What were his goals?

What was his purpose?

What were their numbers like and how were their foot soldiers treated?

How far was this Lannisport?

What was wrong with that Bolton man?

Why did they not know their planet's orbit?

Of course, those were only among the few that were bothering her, but - safety in numbers (as safe as one could be in an army, anyway) - and she could bother people for information about Westeros. Surely there was someone out there who knew the planet's orbit? Knew the general location of Westeros in relation to the rest of the world? How old the planet was or what system it was in?

Surely?

So, there she was: standing the middle of her albeit small living room, the wood-burning fireplace doused and the plates and glasses that were in the kitchen sink gleaming and clean, back in their secured cabinets. Her hands were tightly gripping the cross-body strap of her beaded bag, knuckles white with tension. There was no reason to delay - she was ready to go.

But she hesitated.

It's a new world, out there, she thought, nervously fingering a loose thread to her jumper. Quite literally a new world.

There was a lot that could go wrong: her magic might not always be compatible. She might spark a new wave of witch hunts. Her new allies might turn on her when they realize what she's capable of - after all, she didn't endear herself to Karstark, or to Robb's mother.

Hermione sighed. Procrastination wasn't going to get her anywhere - literally - so with her wand in one hand and her confidence in the other, she stepped out of the tent and - blinked.

The very, very large and burly man that didn't join the others in her tent earlier was leaning against the wide trunk of a tree, his entire body width nearly covering the ancient trunk. His arms were crossed, and a rather large sword hung at his side. Hermione eyed it warily.

Opposite him, standing at attention and poorly hiding a scowl, was a lithe young woman around Hermione's age with dark brown hair pulled back in a thick braid. Her dark eyes fixed solidly on Hermione the moment she stepped out of the green tent.

"Erm," said Hermione, eyes darting back and forth between the two. "Hello."

"Afternoon," rumbled the large man. He too was eyeing her carefully - like one might a spooked horse.

Hermione bit back a sigh. Taking a few steps forward, forcefully, she considered sticking her hand out for a shake but then second-guessed herself; medieval world, daring swordfights… she retracted the hand and tilted her chin up instead in a painfully familiar pose. "Hermione Granger. How do you do?"

The large man stared down at her, and from behind his beard there was a small twitch and he then grinned. "Jon Umber."

Hermione nodded and turned to the woman in armour. Her scowl slipped into a frown and she muttered, in two very punctured words, "Dacey. Mormont."

Echoing another awkward introduction seven years previous, Hermione kept her nose from wrinkling as she replied, "Pleasure."

She turned her back on the two - because if she couldn't trust them to not attack her now, she'd never be able to trust or do anything later - and flicked her wand, nonverbally dismantling the tent. It crumbled in on itself, folding over and over again until it was small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, which it leapt from the ground into. She then opened the beaded bag and tucked it in.

When she turned around, both Jon Umber and Dacey Mormont looked flabbergasted.

"What?" she asked. It was enough to draw their attention back to her.

"Is that - um - everything of yours, milady?" Umber asked, with only a slight pause as his eyes trailed back over to where the tent used to be.

Hermione nodded.

"Good," he rumbled, drawing up and away from the tree to stand tall and holy Merlin, Morgana and Mordred, he's like seven feet tall and could give Hagrid a run for his Galleons. "We'll be going to Riverrun, then."

"Riverrun?" asked Hermione, and the three began to walk out of the small clearing, in the opposite direction Hermione took on her village scouting mission. Umber led the way, and Dacey followed behind, a prickle between Hermione's shoulders as the other woman kept her eyes on her.

Umber nodded. "Lord Stark wants to start pushing the army westward within the next few days but we need to prepare first." He glanced back over his shoulder at her briefly. "There will be a feast for successfully capturing the Kinslayer that was put off until now, and he wants you to feel comfortable, as well as show you the maps we have."

Behind Hermione, Dacey snorted.

Hermione kept her eyes resolutely forward. "I see. So what is Riverrun? A castle? Hold fast? Fort?"

"A castle, although that implies it's small," answered Umber. "It's the family seat of Tully - Lady Stark's family. Her father is Lord Paramount but is in ill health."

"Seems a bit in bad taste to throw a party when someone's grandfather is lying in their deathbed upstairs," commented Hermione, shifting her perception of Robb Stark.

Dacey pushed past Hermione, bumping her shoulder into the witch's as she strode by to stand next to Umber. "Lord Stark is a brilliant man and does not do anything in poor taste!"

She quickly took the lead, leaving Umber and Hermione by themselves, surrounded by tall trees and in the cool shade of their leaves. Hermione pursed her lips, eyes narrowed as she stared at the lithe woman's back.

"Is she normally like that?" she asked, glancing out of the corner of her eye at Umber, who just shook his head.

"That?" his nose twitched. "She's being positively cheerful."

Hermione's face eerily matched Dacey's earlier one, but despite knowing it, Umber kept the thought to himself.


Robb did his best not to fidget as he waited in the inner courtyard of his grandfather's ancestral seat, spreading his legs, firmly planting his feet on the flagstone. He crossed his arms across his chest in a powerful pose, and accompanied by a glowering, solemn air, kept an empty radius of five feet around him. Scouts had noticed Umber, Dacey and Hermione, and now Robb's entire entourage spread out behind him in a welcome. Rumours had swirled around the castle in the hours since his return and his order of preparing a room for Lady Hermione - which had the Frey allies among them poorly hiding their disdain.

As if he could forget that ridiculous marriage contract his mother forced on him!

He sighed.

In the privacy of his own mind he could admit he found Hermione to be interesting - even enticing, with her corkscrew curls and disheveled appearance, especially as she had little to no care towards anything from him.

Being in charge of the Northern army, not to mention the heir to Winterfell, meant he had to be wary of any and all single - and even some married - women in his acquaintance. Hermione, however…

I'm pretty sure all that is on her mind is to go home, he thought ruefully. Not like I know where that is. Beyond Ashaii, perhaps? South, so far south of the Summer Isles?

And then, his thoughts turned outward, because Umber and Dacey appeared on the back of their horses. Immediately, Robb frowned, looking for the third member that was supposed to be with them.

Where is she? his heart pounded, pausing at the next, horrible thought: She is no longer coming.

And then a wild riot of curls peeked around Umber's large frame, and her curious face and angled, pointed chin was turned upwards as she observed the flags of Winterfell, of the Northern lords, as well as the Tully and Frey banners, flying high above off the turrets and ramparts.

Daryn, one of his guard who had the fortune of not being hurt by the Kingslayer that evening they met Lady Hermione, stepped forward and helped her off the horse. She stood next to Umber's massive warhorse for a moment or two, an expression flashing across her face that Robb stifled a laugh for; he had seen it before on Sansa, who preferred carriages over horseback.

"Welcome to Riverrun, Lady Hermione," he said, drawing her attention from nearly kissing the dirty flagstone in appreciation, back to him. His heart began pounding furiously and quickly once her amber-like eyes turned to him.

"Hello," she greeted, glancing this way and that. She began walking toward him and his receiving line, all familiar faces. "Thank you for having me."

From the corner of his eye, he saw his mother's face pinch, and behind her, as she slid off her horse gracefully, Dacey didn't hide the roll of her eyes. God's teeth, this could be a problem… despite the amusing niceties her etiquette training suggests.

"Riverrun is pleased to have you, Lady Hermione," enthused Robb, wondering whether he could get away with putting a hand on her back, but under his mother's quelling glare, cocked out his elbow for her instead. "Shall I give you a tour before your retire to your room? To prepare for the feast tonight?"

She hummed her agreement, and gingerly slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, not his bicep as was proper, but lower, curling her fingers almost possessively.

He shivered.

Eddard, Daryn, and Torrhen followed while his mother made murmurs of checking on the feast, and Dacey and Umber left to groom their horses, and Robb felt he could breathe a bit easier. Entertaining foreign guests had never happened previously - other than the brief time he was in charge of his father's old friend's children, Meera and Jojen Reed, and even then, they were quick to attach themselves to Bran's side. Even the Freys, while at the Towers, or under their beady, suspicious eyes, he had never felt as nervous or bumbling as a young man visit the whore house for the first time.

He scrambled for something to say as they started up one of the large, sweeping stairs to the second floor, and blurted, "You don't seem to care much for the grandeur of Riverrun, milady?"

Stupid, stupid, stupid, he chastised mentally immediately, flushing heavily. Behind him, he heard an aborted snicker and a sigh and fought from spinning around and glaring at the Karstarks and Hornwood behind him, enjoying his fumbles with the witch.

"I spent my formative years in a castle," explained Hermione, seemingly ignoring the noises behind him as his attention was back on her.

"Oh?" he asked, hoping the tiny noise would prompt her further as they meandered down a wide and well-lit hall, framed with tapestries.

She nodded. "I attended school in a castle, and let's just say: Hogwarts was… magical." She finished her sentence with a twist to her lips and a sparkle in her eyes at the pun.

"You attended school?" he echoed, brows furrowed. "You were not educated at home, by a Maester?"

"We don't have maesters," she replied, "but teachers - or, professors. Mine were professors, specialists in their fields. Hogwarts offered seven years of schooling from eleven to seventeen before we were legally considered adults and let out on the world."

"You seem very proficient in your magic, Lady Hermione," complimented Robb, catching her eyes. "You must have had quite the seven years at the school."

A shuttered look fell across Hermione's face, and she glanced down at her left arm, the one curled around Robb's right. "Six years," she murmured, but then looked up and her face brightened. "A beloved professor of mine once called me the Brightest Witch of my Age." She smiled, a bit wickedly, and added, "Capitals implied for a full title, of course."

He grinned back, sure it looked as goofy as it felt.

"Of course," he agreed, and then steered her towards one large (and open) door. "Please," he said, gesturing, "This is Maester Vyman's rooms. As our Maester, he is the best person to aid you in what you need to know."

They stepped into the room, with only Eddard, as Torrhen and Daryn remained on either side of the open door facing out. Hermione's face turned to one of curiosity, taking in the large bookshelves filled with knick-knacks and bottles and jars of various shapes, of the long table in the middle of the room, filled with beakers and pestle and mortars, with rolled and unrolled scrolls and a large inkpot and quill.

The old Maester himself was hunched over a parchment, scribbling notes of some sort, and looked up only after a few moments.

"My Lord!" he gasped, eyes wide and standing immediately. Robb watched Hermione eye him curiously, but nodded a greeting back to his grandfather's man.

"Maester Vyman," he said, "This is Lady Hermione. She was instrumental in the Kingslayer's capture, and in repayment, has only asked for our help and knowledge to aid her in returning home."

The tall, skinny and white-haired man nodded, rheumy eyes turning from his liege to the woman beside him.

"Lady Hermione," he greeted, stiffly, if not polite but without the warmth that Robb greeted her with. "How may I assist?"

Hermione cleared her throat. "I need maps, detailed enough to know where we are position in Riverrun in comparison to other major landmarks. As well as any books you might have on the planet and geography, planets, and astronomy."

Vyman blinked. "I - ah - Lady Hermione - maps I can supply, of course, and perhaps I can show you some of the texts we have on geographical positioning, but… I do not understand why astronomy?"

Hermione stared at the Maester. "To… understand… the position of this planet in relation to the sun? And the other planets? And its moon? And where we are in the galaxy? You know - planetary sciences? Astronomical science?"

Vyman looked as mystified as Robb felt. "Planetary sciences, My Lady? I suppose I have some information on the Red Comet that hangs in the sky, but I confess I am not sure what else you mean."

Hermione stared at Vyman, who stared back.

Then, she sighed. "Well, I guess that is somewhere we can start."

Robb sent a glare at the Maester, who grimaced and laced his fingers and folded his wrinkled hands in front of him. "Well, there always is the library."

Hermione's head popped up and she asked, "You have a library?!"

Vyman walked around the table and, alongside Robb, directed her to the large Tully library on the opposite side of the castle, with Robb's guards silently following. He ignored the growing boredom in the description of the library - similar to Winterfell's -that Vyman espoused, going on about the scrolls from such-and-such Targaryen reign, or from the Nine-Penny War, or from before the Doom.

And then, once they stepped inside the library, Vyman's voice trailed off without an audience, as Hermione disappeared into the stacks, leaving five very confused men behind.


Now, this is more like it, thought Hermione with a happy little sigh, firmly planting her butt on a chair by a table, already with at least ten books in front of her and five scrolls put to the side. She plopped her beaded back on the empty chair beside her, and dug into it, her arm disappearing well up to her shoulder, forcing her to angle her chin away to reach into its depths. She finally grabbed a parchment and inkwell and quill, yanking them out and after dipping the nib into the inkwell and gently shaking the excess off, began to take notes.

A cramped hand and three hours later, her happiness had soured down to 'Harry and Ron levels of stupid about to get expelled for not listening to her' annoyance.

Dacey, the unfortunate one chosen to seek her out and remind her to prepare for the feast that evening, appeared at Hermione's elbow, the scowl on her face not detracting from her pretty looks.

"The feast will begin soon," the Mormont soldier began succinctly. "As Lord Stark's - guest - you are required to attend."

Hermione barely heard the woman and looked up at her plaintively. "Dacey," she began, eyes wide, "Why hasn't there been a study about the position of your continent relative to its place on this planet?"

Dacey, wrongfooted, stared at Hermione. "What?"

"Has no one done soil deposit studies to know how old your planet is?" continued Hermione, her voice rising with each passing sentence. "What about even naming your planet? What's it called? It can't be as bad as mine; ours is earth, which literally means dirt. We named our planet dirt - this one isn't anything embarrassing in comparison, I promise! And what about your moon? The comet? You've had asteroids land, I know that much - the text here, Auld Mythes and Legendes alludes that Valyrian steel comes from ore deposits from an asteroid, not like the author actually understands what he's writing - so why hasn't anyone done a more thorough study? And -"

"Please stop," groaned Dacey, and Hermione, realizing she was turning a breathless verbal vomit reminiscent of her earliest Hogwarts days into a rant, snapped her mouth shut.

"Sorry," she mumbled.

"Why do you need all this-" Dacey waved her hand, "Information?"

Hermione blinked. "To go home."

"Home?" repeated Dacey, skeptically, eyeing the texts and scrolls. She crossed her arms. "Can you not just book passage on a ship?"

Hermione snorted, ducking her head. "Um, no."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not from here."

Dacey rolled her eyes - a truly expressive roll - and looked down at Hermione with a sneer on her red lips. "So you've said, but what does that mean?" Her eyes narrowed. "If you are here to hurt Lord Stark, or sabotage the army, I swear on the Old Gods-!"

Hermione pushed back from the table quickly, standing and facing the irate woman whose hand had moved from being crossed to resting on the sword she carried at her hip.

"God, no!" implored Hermione, staring at Dacey. "I swear I'm not here to hurt anyone! Or sabotage anything! Honest!"

The two women stared at each other for a long, tense moment, but then Dacey nodded and slowly removed her hand from the hilt. "Then, explain it to me."

Hermione sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I'm from another world."

At Dacey's blank stare, Hermione's next sigh was even louder. "Okay, look - um…" she grabbed the parchment she had finished taking notes on and picked up her quill. She drew a circle on one side, and then another, making sure there was a tiny smudge of overlap: a Venn diagram without the middle connection. She wrote in one, Earth, and in the other, after a contemplative frown, wrote Westeros/Easteros/Summer Isles, etc.

She pointed at her circle. "This is where I am from: Earth, my planet. I was walking through the Forbidden Forest near my school - Hogwarts - because I was looking to treat with the Centaurs. Except I kept walking. And walking, and walking some more. Finally I pitched my tent and tried to figure out where I was, but during my walk, I somehow… slid between my world, and ended up in yours." She let her finger trail and smudge the line between Earth and Westeros.

"That is not possible," argued Dacey, baldly.

"Is so!" argued back Hermione, snapping her eyes up at the slightly taller woman. "It's called quantum physics! I slipped through a wormhole between two dimensions and ended up here! None of the constellations match, Dacey! None. You have Crone's Lantern and Sword in the Morning-" Hermione yanked forward one of the books and jabbed a finger at the drawn starmap, and then pointed at her old Asstronomy text from Hogwarts. "-and I have the Dipper, and Orion's Belt. They look nothing alike."

Dacey's gaze turned from haughty to thoughtful as she looked at the two books, comparing them; perhaps, in Hermione's eyes, not so much the content as she should, but rather the quality of the paper, the ink, the binding.

She then flipped to the cover, and her eyes darted up at the inside title page, along with the copyright and ISBN that modern texts were beginning to copy from their muggle counterparts, appealing to the increased number of Muggleborns in the magical world post-Blood War.

Finally, her eyes met Hermione's, and a swell of triumph - similar to when she cast her first Patronus and the otter galloped around her in the Room of Requirement - because, even before she spoke, she believed.

"What do you need?" asked Dacey.

"Land deposits," immediately replied Hermione, turning back to the parchment, and then shifting it to reveal another one underneath. There were several lines of bulleted points. "Preferably asteroid deposits, but I'm not picky. Information on the seven planets also in orbit with this sun. Detailed charts of moon orbit and season length going back at least three hundred years. Detailed maps."

Dacey frowned. "Much of that is impossible to find, let alone be lying around - even in a castle such as this. It could take years to collect this information."

Hermione's face fell. Years?

"Lord Stark promised his help," said Dacey, and her voice was the softest Hermione had ever heard it. It prompted her to look up at she noted that the woman's brown eyes had gone gooey, like melted chocolate instead of the hard, brittle look she normally wore in them when around Hermione. "He is a wonderful man who will keep his promise. But first-"

Dacey stepped back and reached forward to grab Hermione's wrist in her hand and pull her forward. "We have a feast to attend."

Hermione now groaned. "Must we?"


The feast was underway all of twenty minutes before Robb noticed Hermione - it wasn't like he was hyper aware of the time it took between when food was brought out to when she arrived, of course, no that would be silly - but because she looked so different.

Her hair was in a strange half-up, half-down mass, framing her long neck. Her dress was a pretty periwinkle blue, her arms bare and her collarbones on display with a square neck and dress that hugged her curves, gently wafting out in layered pleats. Her face even seemed different, glowing or shimmering around her eyes and her lips were as pink as a rose.

(And because Dacey was smirking beside the witch, when before she couldn't stand to be in her presence, so Robb wondered what had changed but he didn't wonder that much because God's abovewas that a slit in her gown?)

Hermione strode forward, ignoring - or attempting to, Robb could see the discomfort on her face - the stares as Dacey led her behind and to the Head Table, where he sat with his mother to his left, his uncle Edmure beside her, and then his Great-Uncle Brynden; to his right, where an empty chair sat for her as his guest of honour.

"My Lord Stark," announced Dacey, eyes bright with amusement, "May I present the Lady Hermione Granger?"

He inclined his head, minutely, and Hermione turned to thank Dacey with a quiet murmur. She then glanced at the empty seat, and he jumped to his feet, just as Torrhen, who stood behind him, moved forward to pull the chair back from the table.

Hermione stared at them both, eyes wide, but then accepted the chair and gingerly sat. Robb glanced at Torrhen, who, rebuked, lowered his eyes and the young Wolf pushed the chair in gently.

Robb swallowed thickly and motioned to the platters and bowls of food in front of them. "May I, Lady Hermione?"

She nodded, and silence fell between the two as he served her from the many dishes, and then, attempted to not look like a fool watching her eat.

"Was the - ah - was the library satisfactory, milady?" he asked, fumbling the beginning as they finished their food. He had completely ignored his mother and uncle, and felt conscious of the Blackfish's amused eyes on him.

Hermione hummed thoughtfully. "It was a good starting point, but I haven't gone through everything yet. I may have to change my plans - if that's okay?"

"Change your plans?" he echoed dumbly.

She nodded, and her curls bounced and he was entranced. "Yes; stay at Riverrun longer instead of joining your army towards Lannisport." She made a face. "Especially as I now know how far everything is."

"The library, the castle; all of Riverrun is at your disposal," blurted Robb, and from his other side, he heard his mother's sharp hiss.

Fuck, he thought, I all but declared her Lady of the Castle with that. His eyes darted around the Hall, looking for the nearest Frey. Shit - did a Frey overhear? Are they going to consider that a breach in our contract? Fuck!

"That's very kind of you," said Hermione, drawing his attention again. "But I honestly just need to borrow the library. You won't even notice me, I promise."

"I doubt anyone could forget you, Lady Hermione." And there goes my mouth again. God's teeth - what am I? Three and ten and around the first maiden to give me a compliment?

"My Lord?"

Robb happily and gratefully turned in his chair to look at Torrhen, who was struggling between keeping a straight face and smirking as his eyes very quickly moved to Lady Hermione and then back. "The Lords are gathering for the meeting, if you're ready to join them…?"

"Yes!" he nearly shouted, rising from his chair. "Yes - I'll be right here. Uncles, will you be joining?"

Edmure and Brynden both nodded, also standing, and Robb turned back to Hermione. "Lady Hermione, Torrhen here will escort you to your room, and-"

"Is Lady Hermione not joining us?" called Lord Karstark, over the din of the men in the Hall, drawing everyone's attention to the Head Table. Robb grit his teeth. "After all, she was the one who brought the Kingslayer to us."

Everyone's eyes turned to the witch beside Robb, and her own went wide and her face pale. "oh, no - really - honestly - I couldn't…"

"Please," added Lord Bolton, his reedy voice carrying across the now silent Hall, "Your different opinion and insight would be a breath of fresh air."

Robb, seeing he was being backed into this corner, graciously ceded the fight to his manipulative Lords. He sighed, holding out his elbow again. "Lady Hermione, this way…?"

Staring at his arm, Hermione paused, indecision on her face. He waited, patiently, but he dearly hoped she wouldn't reject him or cast some strange magic. Finally, slowly, she reached out and curled her fingers into his arm. Heat seared him, racing down his arm and straight into his stomach which tightened uncomfortably.

They led the way, past his mother and her very disapproving face; past a smirking Bolton and amused Karstark and Umber; past the Mallisters and Hornwoods and Mormonts and others, into the side room that Robb used for the Northern Lords and Lady to discuss their next move, but also to discuss what went wrong and what improvements they could make for the next battle.

He moved to his usual seat, at the head of the table, Hermione still on his arm. He gestured to the chair to his right, and, ignoring the symbolic nature, helped her into it with a swollen throat and a thick tongue, murmuring quietly to her as the others entered, "Welcome to the Northern Army, Lady Hermione."

He tried not to read too much into it -

Or the jolt of pleasure saying it had to him.


TBC

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch IV


It took Harry three days to realize Hermione was missing.

The first day - when McGonagall owled him saying that she sent Hermione to the Forbidden Forest to find the Centaur clan and treat with them and that she never came back in time for dinner - didn't worry Harry too much. Hermione probably met up with the Centaurs, and, like always, asked them some question and they went on and on and on about the stars and she couldn't politely get away.

(He ignored that she always hated Divination.)

On the second day, just after dinner, McGonagall owled again, saying Hermione still wasn't back. Harry felt a trickle of alarm, but nothing so dire; sometimes she disappeared for moments to herself - as she often had when they were students and ended up in the library for hours upon hours, or later in the library at Grimmauld Place - so that's where Harry was sure she was.

(McGonagall had the castle searched and even the House Elves, who didn't like Hermione much, couldn't find her. Anywhere. Even in the famous Chamber of Secrets.)

So, on the third day, just after dinner at eight o'clock in the evening, McGonagall Floo'ed Harry at the Weasley's, and said, in a very crisp voice, "Miss Granger has not been in the castle, Mr. Potter, nor can anyone find her. We will be conducting a search for her immediately."

Then, the panic set in.

The entire Weasley family roused from their lounging after Molly's delicious meal, and Harry and Ron, frantic, Apparated to the Hogwarts gates with embarrassingly loud cracks. Harry, barely able to hold onto his DA coin with numb fingers, had to hand it over to Ginny, who spelled it with the simple message: SOS HOGWARTS. HG MISSING. COME NOW.

Neville and Luna appeared almost immediately, Hannah Abbott on Neville's arm, matching blushes on their faces and their robe buttons just as unevenly paired up. Within the hour, George had managed to contact Lee and Angelina and Alicia; somehow, in that conversation, Seamus had been notified, as well as the Patil twins, and from there the rest of Dumbledore's Army began popping in and walking towards the gate from the public Floo at the Three Broomstick's.

Then, with their wands held high and aloft and lit with a lumos, they began searching the castle grounds while Harry went straight to the Forbidden Forest, Ron on his heels. Harry knew where he was going.

Ron looked around nervously and fingered his wand into a tighter grip, his knuckles turning white. He didn't have fond memories: between the flying Ford Anglia, the acronomantula, werewolves, and the final battle, he had enough of forests. However, he didn't know why they were in the forest and asked, "Is there a reason why we're going into the forest first, instead of searching the grounds with the others?"

Harry nodded, eyes firmly ahead. "I'm going to get the Resurrection Stone."

Ron halted immediately. "What?"

Harry glanced at him over his shoulder. "The Stone. I'm going to use it."

"T-to-" Ron gulped. "To see if Hermione answers?"

"No," denied Harry immediately. But then his shoulders slumped. "I dunno - maybe. Or at least ask for help from the dead."

"Hermione said that the Stone isn't a connection to the dead," said Ron quietly, walking again. "That it's like the Mirror of Erised."

Harry shrugged. "Could be. But I don't care."

"Should you be using a Hallow?" Ron asked again, after some moments of silence.

Harry shook his head. "No. But - but if it helps Hermione, then I'd happily become the Master of Death."

The two fell into companionable silence, their feet shuffling over fallen leaves and cracking on twigs until Harry felt they had reached where he prepared to meet Voldemort. Harry dropped into a low crouch, sweeping his holly wand back and forth across the dewy grass, and then - there was a glint of light further ahead, just to the right, and carefully, Harry picked up the stone.

Ron's intake of breath was the only sign he saw Harry had found the Hallow, and was staring at it in the flat palm of his hand. "Will it still work?" he finally asked.

Harry slowly nodded, and turned the stone three times, thinking, Hermione Granger.

No spectre appeared, and after a few tense seconds, both men exhaled loudly.

"Not dead then," said Ron with a shaky laugh, running a hand through his red hair, making it stick up. "Who will you call now?"

Harry's face twisted. "Dumbledore, I guess."

So he turned the stone again, and almost immediately, a ghostly, pale shadow appeared before Harry, taking in his surroundings.

"Harry," greeted Dumbledore, a genial smile on his face, and a twinkle in his eyes still present. "I am surprised - yet happy - to be called to you."

"It's good to see you, sir," replied Harry, and Ron, at his side but unable to see the ghostly form of the late Headmaster, glanced this way and that. "I need your help."

Dumbledore folded his hands in front of him and nodded. "What can I help you with, my boy?"

"Hermione's missing, sir," said Harry, "And she's not dead; I already tried with the stone. But no elves can find her, and she hasn't returned from the Forbidden Forest since three days ago when she entered. No spells can find her either. It's like she's not on the planet!"

"Then there's your answer, Harry," replied Dumbledore calmly.

"What?" he replied, his jaw clenching shut. Of course Dumbledore had to speak in riddles!

"Miss Granger cannot be found because she is not on this planet," the late Headmaster explained again.

Harry's sigh was just a shade beyond frustrated. "With all due respect, sir - while muggles have gone to the moon, none have gone further and however ambitious Hermione can be, I don't think visiting Mars was in her daily planner."

At his tone, Ron turned wide blue eyes on him and stared. "Another planet?"

"My boy," said Dumbledore, a tiny frown and furrow between his brows. "Has this world taught you nothing? With magic, anything is possible."

Biting back an angry retort as his stomach clenched, Harry let the magic of the Resurrection Stone go, and pocketed it into his front jean pocket, while Ron crossed his arms at his side.

Harry caught his eyes and shook his head. "He thinks she's not on Earth."

"He's bonkers."

"Absolutely," agreed Harry, and they turned, facing Hogwarts and ready to rejoin the rest of the search party. "But when is he not? And - well, he does have a point."

"A point?" echoed Ron incredulously.

"Well, if she's not dead; and not anywhere here-" Harry trailed off. "Then where is she?"

Ron stared at him a bit longer before aborting a snort of laughter. "Probably terrorizing someone into using the library."

A grin twisted on Harry's face. "Yeah."

"'Sides," continued Ron, significantly more cheerful, "This is Hermione, we're talking about! She's brilliant, but scary. And if she accidentally found herself on another planet, she'd find a way back."

They stopped at the edge of the forest, looking out at the twinkling lights of the castle they both grew up in, the distant shouts of people calling for their friend, and the bobbing lights of their wands.

"Another adventure?" asked Ron, mentally cataloguing who they could speak to and for what. "We could ask Luna for some help. Make things easier for Hermione on our end of things."

Harry nodded, a hum of agreement slipping past his lips. "It was getting a bit dull…"

Hidden in the shadow of the forest, they took a moment to grin at each other.

Ron's grin then stretched into a smile. "I guess it was her turn to end up in a weird situation. And it's not even Halloween, yet!"

Harry groaned, and they moved forward towards the Greenhouses, with Ron continuing their conversation, trailing off pensively, "To be fair though, I reckon we can wait on the death-defying adventures after this for a few years until it's my turn… or, at least until after Yule, don't you reckon? Mum always makes the best mince pies…"


The war room that Robb and his men used was a typical room from any castle; it reminded Hermione of a smaller version of the Great Hall from Hogwarts, long and rectangular but compact that it only held enough room for the main generals in his army and advisors. Torches flickered on the walls, and the dim room remained dim as the evening progressed. Some of the men had brought their goblets of mead and wine, and the smell of the alcohol as well as the heat from the roaring fire behind her, and the head of the table, nearly lulled Hermione into complacency.

As such, she missed quite a lot of the conversation around her.

From what been about the latest battle, going over mistakes made or maneuvers she had no interest in, Hermione was beginning to think that Karstark and Bolton hated her guts and this was a punishment. This was strategy; and while that was nothing bothersome in any regard, it was as interesting as listening to Ron talk Quidditch.

Then, Vyman brought in information about a Renly and Stannis Baratheon - Hermione perked up at the word, "stag," and fondly thought of Harry's patronus - and their idiotic claims for the same throne, despite one being the eldest surviving brother of the recently deceased King Robert.

Honestly, it's not difficult, just give the next brother the throne, she thought sourly. Especially if Robb had a point about the Queen's children - hell, even that blond Malfoy man - erm, the Kingslayer? - didn't deny the fact that he had children with his sister. It seems pretty straight-forward to me.

Eventually, Jon Umber - the one who met Hermione in the clearing and brought her to Riverrun, and whom she later had come to realize was the Greatjon as he idiotically named his son the same name as his and Junior wasn't a term anyone used - slammed his hand down on the table, rattling the goblets on it and silencing everyone.

"My lords. MY LORDS!" he shouted, catching their attention, Hermione included. "Here's what I say to these two kings!"

He hocked a large ball of spit in his mouth and then spat it to the ground at his side, making the men around him laugh and cheer. Hermione wrinkled her nose in disgust and glanced at her side, where Robb sat impassively, watching the men around him with an intelligent gleam.

"Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither. Why should they rule over me and mine from some flowery seat in the south? What do they know of the Wall or the Wolfswood? Even their gods are wrong. Why shouldn't we rule ourselves again?" each question the Greatjon bit out was met with nods or resounding agreement. The mood of the room had shifted. "It was the dragons we bowed to and now the dragons are dead."

He deliberately drew his sword from his scabbard and pointed it at Robb, at the head of the table. Hermione fingered her wand, carefully eyeing the large man. He's like, nearly Hagrid's size. Would a stunner even take him down if he decides to make a move?

But she glanced at Robb again and saw that he was sitting passively. Beside him, in between her and his master, his wolf, Grey Wind, was watching the Greatjon but made no move to intercept. The wolf did not think him a threat, and Hermione let her grip on her wand loosen.

"There sits the only King I mean to bend my knee to: the King in the North!"

Robb inhaled quietly, and his eyes flickered over at Hermione, who met them. She wasn't sure what she saw in those wide, blue eyes, and before she could read into them further, he quickly turned back to what was happening in front of him.

Karstark was nodding, stroking a part of his beard thoughtfully. His eyes moved from Robb, at the head of the table, to Hermione. She nearly shivered under the gaze, wondering if he was still thinking of betrothing her to one of his sons. There was something in his gaze, though, and when his eyes met hers, they crinkled up at the corner in friendliness.

Hermione was not put at ease.

"I'll have peace on those terms," he said loudly. "They can keep their red castle, and their iron chair too. We have something better: the Young Wolf." He then turned his eyes back at her. "And a Winter Witch."

Hermione blanched as Karstark drew his sword, and stepping back from the table and his seat, knelt, the sword in front of him with his hands on the hilt. Nearby, his sons fell to their knees, too. "The King in the North."

Oh, no, thought Hermione, eyes wide. I didn't sign up for this.

The Greatjon roared, "The King in the North!"

And then everyone else joined in, even his mother's Tully men, marginally connected to him by his mother's marriage into the North. They were all shouting, and drawing their swords. "The King in the North! The King in the North! THE KING IN THE NORTH!"

Eventually the shouting and cheer of declaring themselves independent wore down. Hermione, absolutely stunned, did herself to make herself as small as possible as her thoughts raced. Was there paperwork involved or could anyone just annex themselves without prejudice? Her eyes shrewdly took in the flushed faces and wondered if this were going to bite the Northern army in the arse later.

Beside her, Robb slowly stood, presenting a very different image to what she had normally seen him as: he stood tall and solemn, his blue eyes lingering on each of the men in the room to give them equal measure.

"My Lords," he said quietly, but his voice carried in the suddenly deathly silent room. "I thank you for the honour - and I thank you for the trust and belief you place in me as your leader and fellow Northman." He took a quick, deep breath, and said, in a clear and loud voice, "I accept; I will take on the responsibility as the King in the North."

And yet a wild, bitter part of Hermione's mind spoke up just then, casting a sour tinge on the rest of the evening: You're not in the North anymore, Your Highness. Here be monsters.


Immediately following his very quick coronation, plans were made to prepare to move to southwest, pushing the Lannister forces that were beginning to group under Tywin Lannister's orders back to their land.

Robb winced as a twinge of pain shot through his head at the multiple plans that were occurring at once; being in charge meant numerous engagements were happening amongst his men sworn to him, and as a King, now, he had to consider the most advantageous routes that would demonstrate success and that the Greatjon's belief in him was warranted.

Currently, Theon was north, at the Iron Islands of his home, hopefully convincing his father to join the Northern army. With Renly Baratheon backed entirely by Highgarden and the Tyrells, Robb had the thought of sending his mother south to ask Renly for an alliance; the youngest Baratheon son would occupy King's Landing and split the Lannister forces between defending their land and home, and protecting Tywin's grandchildren as well as daughter in the castle.

He then had the opportunity to push onward towards Casterly Rock and Lannisport, taking the Lannister seat from under their very noses - a feat that would rub salt in the wound of Tywin losing access to his abundant gold mines and source of income. It wouldn't replace the loss of his murdered father, but it was a start of taking everything from the Lannisters as they took everything from him.

But first - he had a prisoner to interrogate. And like his father always said: he who passes the sentence, swings the sword. He wasn't about to have someone else deal with Jaime Lannister when it was his duty.

Being dragged from the Whispering Woods, to Riverrun, and then left outside in a cage meant for Grey Wolf, surrounded by hostile enemies in the middle of their camp, had striped the proud Kingslayer to some degree. He was dirty, covered in muck and dried sweat, sitting on the muddy ground, all of which had caked onto his once resplendent golden armour. His blonde hair was mussed and grimy, almost greasy, from sweat and a lack of care.

However, his eyes remained defiant, and there was an obnoxious sneer on his face as Robb strode up to the cage, Grey Wind at his side.

"The King in the North," called out the Kingslayer, his voice barely holding back a tone of contempt. "I keep expecting you to leave me in one castle or another for safekeeping, but you drag me along from camp to camp. Have you grown fond of me, Stark? Is that it? Where's that strange witch? I want to thank her for her role in all this."

Robb clenched his hands into fists at his side, creaking the leather of his gloves as he did so. The words were direct and meant to infuriate him into making a mistake - and there was no way he'd want Hermione near the man. There was noise behind him, throughout the camp, but he put it to the back of his mind; there was always something going on in a war camp.

"If I left you with one of my bannermen, your father would know within a fortnight," said Robb evenly, bracing his legs and standing in the familiar pose he took when he met Hermione at Riverrun. "And my bannermen would receive a raven with a message: 'Release my son and you'll be rich beyond your dreams. Refuse, and your house'll be destroyed, root and stem.'"

There was a knowing look in Jaime's eyes. "You don't trust the loyalty of the men following you into battle?"

Robb bristled that the man thought he knew him. "Oh, I trust them with my life, just not with yours."

The gleam in the Kingslayer's eyes altered just slightly - Robb shivered as he realized it was increased wariness, or even respect, as the blond said, "Smart, boy."

Robb winced, and the other man saw it.

"What's wrong?" he jeered, "Don't like being called boy? Insulted?"

Annoyance flashed through Robb, roiling in his stomach and Grey Wolf began to pull back his lips, revealing pink gums and long, sharp white teeth. From there, the wolf edged around the cage, sniffing and huffing. The commotion became louder, but Robb was entirely focused on the man in front of him.

The Kingslayer's eyes widened, minutely, but enough that Robb could tell he was wary and frightened. It gave Robb courage, and an idea, so he stepped forward to the door of the cage and released the latch, swinging the door wide open.

He narrowed his eyes on his captive. "You insult yourself, Kingslayer. You've been defeated by a boy. You're held captive by a boy. Perhaps you'll be killed by a boy."

Grey Wind, having completed his circuit around the large cage, slipped silently through the open door and inched forward, spit and drool foaming his mouth and dripping. Robb knew the size of the direwolf - that of a small warhorse - was intimidating to anyone who had never seen such a creature before; but having a direwolf in front of you, growling, with its hot breath wafting across yours? It was psychological torture.

The commotion grew louder, until the one voice Robb didn't want to hear at this particular time spoke loudly.

"What in Merlin's name is this?"

His head swung around, but not quick enough to not see the satisfaction and malice that sparkled in the blue eyes of the Kingslayer.

Lady Hermione stood before him, with Dacey on one side and Torrhen on the other; both looked uncomfortable, their eyes darting between the witch and their newly-named King. She wore her usual clothes - some strange trouser and shirt combination and nothing anyone suggested otherwise would have her change - and looked utterly out of place, beyond that of a woman in the camp. She looked otherworldly.

"Ah - Lady Hermione," began Robb, glancing at Torrhen and Dacey, before turning his eyes back to her. "Um - would you care to maybe-?"

"Why's he in a cage?" she continued speaking, aghast. "And dirty?"

"Because he's a prisoner," said Dacey coolly, drawing the group's attention.

"And?" the witch asked, crossing her arms and tilting her chin up in a clear challenging move. "What? You don't have something similar to the Geneva Convention here? No rules of POWs is it? Fine - I get it. Different world, different rules."

Different world? thought Robb, blinking as the words sunk into his mind - but Hermione kept speaking and his attention was on her and her words left for later thought.

"But is it that hard to show some compassion to a prisoner?" she eyed the Lannister beadily. "And I'm guessing he's of some value, right? So by showing you're the better person and treating him well would only reflect better on you as people, and your army and cause, too."

The Kingslayer chuckled. "You heard the witch, boy. Send me to a castle and a nice featherbed. I'll take a cup of wine and wench, too."

Robb whirled around with a snarl. "Stannis Baratheon sent ravens to all the High Lords of Westeros. The King Joffrey Baratheon is neither a true King, nor a true Baratheon. He's your bastard son! You deserve nothing! You will receive nothing from me!"

"Well, if that's true, Stannis is the rightful King," the blond man said, curling his own lips in a parody of Grey Wolf's barred teeth. "How convenient for him."

Undaunted, Robb thrust his arm out in front of him, a finger pointing and shaking in rage at the Kingslayer. "My father learned the truth. That's why you had him executed!"

"I did not kill Eddard Stark," said Jaime Lannister lowly, his voice dark at his impugned honour.

But Robb was not listening - he continued shouting, wanting his thoughts off his chest; wanting Hermione to hear the ugly truth and not defend the man. "Your son killed him so the world wouldn't learn who fathered him and you... you pushed my brother from a window because he saw you with the Queen!"

He blond tilted his head back, leaning it against the spike wedged into the ground behind him that he was cuffed to. His eyebrows rose in challenge. "You have proof? Or, do you want to trade gossip like a couple of fishwives?"

A wordless cry burst from Robb's mouth and he turned his back on the man, his eyes meeting Hermione's. His anger was still high and he found himself shouting at her, his right arm outstretched and gesturing with sharp slashes and punctured with jabs as he spoke.

"This?! This is the man you defend? A man who tried to kill you - who does not deny what he did with his own sister! What he did to my father! What he took-!"

Hermione was watching him, her amber eyes bright but steady. She walked forward and gently, carefully, put her hand on his outstretched arm.

He stilled.

She looked up, met his eyes, and pressed very gently down on his arm.

"By his own admission, he's guilty of incest," said Hermione quietly, her voice carrying only far enough for him to hear. "And he's guilty of assault on your father, of some degree; and on your brother, if what you're saying is true. He's guilty of a lot of things, Robb."

He exhaled shakily, bringing his arm down and to his side.

"But you're not," she finished, her lips quirking into a tiny little smile. "Don't be guilty - of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Clean him up; put him in a room with guards. I'll add to it, drawing an age line and some containment fields so no one who isn't supposed go in, does; and so that he can't get out. But do better than him. Be better than him."

Robb took a deep breath, in and then exhaled, and then repeated it. Hermione kept her brightly lit amber eyes on his, and then slowly, he felt the rolling anger in his stomach settle and retreat, turning more into a calming balm. He nodded, acknowledging her help, and stepped back.

He turned to face the Kingslayer, who was watching him and Lady Hermione peculiarly. "I'm sending one of your cousins down to King's Landing with my peace terms."

"You think my father is going to negotiate with you?" he asked incredulously. He shook his head. "You don't know him very well."

"No, but he's starting to know me," said Robb quietly.

The Kingslayer frowned at him. "Three victories don't make you a conqueror."

The grin Robb sent him was decidedly wolf-like. "It's better than three defeats, don't you think?"


She took a gamble in challenging him, especially in front of two of his men - well, so to speak, Dacey wasn't a man - and in front of his enemy. That could've backfired spectacularly, and Hermione wasn't too keen on being intimately acquainted with a dungeon. But sometimes - sometimes - when she felt strongly about something, her mouth just ran ahead of her brain, which was going miles per second, and seeing the Kingslayer (honestly, what's his name?) on the dirty ground and being toyed with by Grey Wolf made her shudder.

It wasn't like S.P.E.W. again, no; it was about dignity, and being better that their enemies. The Order never tortured anyone, and she knew what it was like to be looked down as lesser. She didn't want Robb and his men to be thought of the same way, even if it was a different world with different rules.

So, there she was: silently trailing behind Robb with a frowning Torrhen and Dacey at either elbow, while a collection of guards were around the Kingslayer, eyes firmly fixed on the man as they led him through the corridors of Riverrun.

Hermione lingered outside of the room while Robb and Grey Wind stood in the doorway when the blond enemy was eventually thrown into a guest room, one with a bed that was stripped of its sheets. The guards around him began to declutter the room of anything that could be used as a weapon: vases, tapestries, rugs, statues. By the time they were done, it was barren: a bed frame with feather mattress and little else.

A huge tub was then brought and the man was given no dignity or privacy as women filled it with bucket after bucket of boiling water. When the guards all stepped forward to strip the man of his armour and clothes, into the eager hands of maids nearby to wash them, Hermione turned her back, although both Dacey and Torrhen faced forward to watch her and watch their King and his enemy.

Eventually, the blond hair gleamed again, and the dirt (and smell) dissipated from the Kingslayer and he was shoved back into the now clean shirt and trousers he had on under his armour. Manacles fastened around his wrists and a chain connected them to the ones around his ankles. The man would not be going anywhere.

At one point, Hermione watched as Robb opened his mouth, wanting to say something as he surveyed the man in front of him; but he stopped himself, shook his head and left the room. As he stepped through the door, he motioned for Hermione to follow, and she did, albeit, nervously.

Is this it? Will he tell me off for what I did and 'off with her head' me? she wondered, wringing her hands in front of her.

They entered a room she hadn't been in before (not like she knew every room at Riverrun, the place was huge and she spent the majority of her time in her assigned bedroom or the library; earlier today had been an attempt to tour the holdfast) while Dacey and Torrhen stood outside.

The room was small, but had three large windows with thick glass overlooking the moat and split point of the river that flowed around Riverrun. There was a large desk and several chairs and even a smaller table for meals near a fireplace. Maps hung from the walls, and there were scrolls and books and loose parchment in neat piles on the desk. It was missing a computer, and a potted plant, but Hermione recognized an office when she saw it.

Grey Wind circled around a few times in front of the fire, on the plush rug, and then promptly curled up.

Robb went to stand behind the desk, looking out the window and presented his back to Hermione.

They fell into silence.

Hermione fidgeted where she stood, tension tightening her frame. Her stomach quivered and she felt nauseous. The longer Robb was quiet, the worse her anxiety became.

I have lived and fought through battles, faced Death Eaters, and was tortured near to insanity but prevailed, she thought mulishly as the silence also began to increase her ire. I won't break with psychological mind games.

"You spoke of doing the wrong thing for the right reason," the new King said, not turning to face her, but his voice suddenly breaking the silence made her jump. "It sounded as though you had experience in this…?"

Hermione scowled. Now he wanted answers? She moved to one of the chairs in front of the desk and sat in it, bringing a hand up to chew at the corner of a nail. "My Headmaster, although I've changed some of what said. In my fourth year, there was a tournament and a boy died. He was murdered. And at one point, Professor Dumbledore said to a politician, 'we must all do what is right, instead of what is easy.' Because the politician was going to do what was easy - by ignoring that the boy was murdered."

Hermione sighed and Robb turned his body slightly to look at her, but kept his feet in front of the window. So, she continued, quietly, "It led to war. And Professor Dumbledore kept things - kept terrible things from us all that could've maybe helped us win the war earlier. Or not - I'm not sure. But what he did was the wrong thing, as it made my best friend walk to his death, willingly, knowingly. Harry had to do it, so it was the right thing to do because the situation helped us win the way, but it was for the wrong reasons."

"You think my treatment of the Kingslayer was wrong?" he asked, quietly.

Hermione shrugged, taking her hand away from her mouth. "Wasn't it?"

Their eyes met; Robb was looking at her strangely, and in a way, Hermione found she missed the bumbling teenager who wasn't quite sure what to say to her in that moment; this was a King.

"We're going to be moving out soon," said Robb instead, turning around to face her, gesturing to a nearby map as he spoke. "We're going to push for Lannisport and Casterly Rock. Jaime Lannister will remain here, under guard. Anything you can add to the room to keep him imprisoned, with your magic, would be appreciated."

Hermione bobbed a nod. He was letting her use the library, so… a few non-invasive spells was a fair trade.

Robb turned back to the map, and sighed. "I'll probably have to split my forces, leave some behind. There is talk of Tywin Lannister pulling his army out from King's Landing to come north, to aid his son. I'll need someone to remain to engage him in battle - but... I feel uncomfortable without managing the campaign myself."

Hermione grinned, standing and looking at the taller man, who flushed lightly under her eyes. "Like being in control, do you?"

His returning grin was sheepish. "Yes."

He turned back to the map and pointed at several trails and roads that led south and west. "I'm thinking of leaving my Uncle Edmure behind - he's capable, but this is his home. He'll be more likely to be fierce to defend it."

Hermione snorted, and a plan began to form.

What about -? Could I do that? Help them like that? she thought, frowning. In one sense, she had thrown her lot in with the Northern army and Robb Stark, when Jaime Lannister had tried to cut her down when she left their fight in the clearing of the Whispering Wood; and there she was now, in Robb's study, listening to him make plans to fight another.

"You know," she began conversationally, drawing the taller King's attention, "In our fifth year, we had this terrible Defense professor. Harry ended up creating this secret club that taught practical defense, but since we couldn't speak about it, we needed a way to convey our meeting times and locations."

"A necessary precaution," agreed Robb, confused, but listening.

Hermione nodded. "Yes, exactly. So I took a gold coin, charmed to look like real money, and spelled it so that anything that happened to the master coin reflected on all the other coins."

Robb blinked, understanding spreading across his face. His eyes darted quickly to hers, an urgent but hopeful look building as he reached forward and grasped her upper arms.

"You could do this…? For us? For me?" he asked breathlessly. "I could communicate with my Lords?"

"Instantaneously," replied Hermione, looking up to the young man who was taller than her by a few inches. "Across any distance." She frowned, her eyes turning inward as she began to mutter plans. "I don't think I'd use coins again, though, you could barely fit anything on them. Maybe parchment? I wonder if I could also manage to spell a quill so that it's self inking…?"

Robb then laughed, loudly, jarring her. There was something in his eyes when he looked at her. "You, Lady Hermione - are truly something else. Thank you."

She was missing something, here - he was speaking one thing but his body was saying something different and she wasn't sure what it was, or even if she wanted to know.

But one thing was for sure: she was committed to another war if she wanted to continue using the library to get home. And until she exhausted all options at Riverrun, she would remain, and in response, honour her host by helping him where she could.

Gryffindor my arse, she thought as Robb began to speak happily about how the parchment she could spell would help them perfect their battle plans. The longer I'm here, the more I turn into a Hufflepuff. Still…

She looked at the young man, all auburn hair and bright blue eyes, gesturing animatedly with flushed cheeks and an easy smile, even if she didn't take in his words.

There are worse places I could be.


 

TBC

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch V


Robb nervously stood in front of his Lords and Lady Mormont, having called them to a war meeting before he left to Oxcross in the morning. It was late, and many were eager to retire to bed - but he needed them to be here for Hermione's game-changing addition, and for them to practice using the parchments to be confident and comfortable whilst in battle.

"Well, we're all here now," grumbled Greatjon. "What's this about, Your Highness?"

Robb glanced at Hermione, who stood at his side. In her arms were several bundles of loose parchment, and a box full of what she called "self-inking quills." She was shorter than him, but her presence felt so much larger than often times, he felt so unsure around her. This was one of those times he was unsure of what he could say or do to convince his Lords, especially as magic was far from his understanding.

"Lady Hermione brought to my attention something that could aid us while we are out in battle," began Robb cautiously, looking around the rectangular table. There was some skepticism of course; with the exception of Roose Bolton, the Greatjon, and Karstark, and Robb's own personal guard of Daryn Hornwood, Eddard and Torrhen Karstark, or Dacey Mormont, the rest of the Northern lords only had conjecture and rumours of Hermione's powers.

"But first: does anyone here know what Lady Hermione and I are to speak to you about?" asked Robb, meeting the eyes of his Lords and Lady Maege Mormont. Once they all shook their heads, he continued, "Thank you. Lady Hermione will be distributing pieces of parchment to all of you to take with you into battle."

"If we're to send a raven, My Lord," began Wendel Manderly, a round, robust man with a head full of auburn hair and a neatly-trimmed beard but an impressive moustache atop his lips, "the Maesters with us will have parchment."

Robb nodded. "Yes - of course, but these… are different. Lady Hermione has used her magic on them."

"For what purpose?" asked Maege Mormont, a large older woman with thick brown hair, frowning.

In response, Robb turned to Hermione and let her step forward. She placed her armload down on the tabletop, spreading out the parchment and leaving the box of quills open. She took a deep breath, and then squared her shoulders, thrusting them back as she boldly met the eyes of his Lords around the table.

"This parchment is connected to all the others," she said, punctuating her words quickly and enunciating them sharply. "What is written on one will appear on all, instantaneously, anywhere you are in Westeros." She paused. "I think, anyway. I haven't had time to check the distance."

A few of the lords began to mutter, so Robb cleared his throat. "Would someone like to volunteer?"

"With what?" asked Karstark, his eyes moving from the parchment, to Hermione, to Robb, in a circular motion.

Robb smiled, but it was akin to baring his teeth at the man who had offered his sons to Hermione for marriage; even now, the thought didn't sit well with him and he happily indulged in his spiteful side. "Lord Karstark, wonderful! If you could take one of the pieces of parchment and leave the room?"

The man stiffened, the lines in his face deepening as he tried to figure out whether he was being singled out for insult, or honour. However, he strode forward, and with a nod to Lady Hermione, took one of the parchments and left the room.

She turned to him, her amber eyes wide and bright, reflecting the reds and oranges of the fire behind them. Robb did as they had arranged earlier, when she tested the parchment with him in his study. He reached into the box of her self-inking quills, and to the amazement of his northmen, immediately put the quill to paper without dipping it into an inkwell. Black ink spread across the parchment.

Does this satisfy your curiosity, Lord Karstark? he wrote in his scrawl, and then held it up for people to read. A few squinted, the ones in the back, but the closest ones began to murmur. Then, he wrote another line: You can return to the room.

Seconds later, Karstark stormed back into the war room, his eyes feverishly bright and shouted, "I WANT THREE OF THESE!"

Beside him, Hermione preened as the murmurs grew in noise.

Groups broke up then: a few meandered towards Hermione, who took the parchment Robb had and was demonstrating with a crowd, with Karstark's lying side-by-side near the far end of the table, each giddy with the implications.

Bolton and Karstark, however, stood near Robb along with Greatjon, Lord Mallister, Lord Halys Hornwood, and Lord Robett Glover.

"Quite the ingenious idea, Your Majesty," said Karstark, the white of his beard trembling under his jaw as it moved when he spoke.

Robb turned his head slightly towards the man, all the while keeping Hermione in his sight as she enthusiastically waved one of the self-inking quills around. "It was Lady Hermione's idea, my Lord."

Above his head, Bolton, Karstark, and the Greatjon shared a looked. Lord Mallister, a Riverlands Lord sworn to Robb's mother's family, as well as his Northern lords, Hornwood and Glover frowned.

"Are we sure it is wise to trust this witch?" asked Glover in a low voice.

"You think her parchments and quills will ensnare and bewitch us?" jeered Greatjon, eyeing the man that his family had a minor feud with, his lip curled back.

"She's a witch," protested the other Lord, spitting out the words. His eyes were dark in the flickering light of the fireplace and torches on the walls. "Who knows what they are capable of?"

Robb nearly recoiled at the venom in the man's voice, blinking in surprise. Lady Hermione has given us something that will aid us in battle - more secure than any raven, and something that we can use to our advantage over our enemies. How is this something bad? His eyes narrowed on the man, and Lord Glover, sensing the shifting mood of those around him, especially three who had seen the witch's abilities previously and liked her, cleared his throat.

"My apologies, Your Majesty," smoothly replied Glover, although still ill at ease and he shifted from foot to foot. "I meant no disrespect."

Robb's eyes remained on the man, and he finally, slowly, imperiously, nodded. "Granted."

The man disappeared from their small cluster, winding his way around the crowded war room until his form was enveloped by some other lords.

There was a low scoff from someone who remained by Robb's side. Then, he heard, in a low voice, Karstark caution, "He will make things difficult."

For you, Robb heard. For showing favour to Lady Hermione.

Robb frowned, and thought, I know.


Hermione was never left behind, before.

It was a rule - an unspoken one - in all her years at Hogwarts by Harry and Ron's sides, from the moment she invited herself along with them and Neville, and nearly dying due to their midnight romp to the Forbidden Floor and Fluffy - Hermione was never left behind.

So it was decidedly odd to stand next to Lady Stark, who stood stiffly as they, along with Maester Vyman and several Tully bannermen including Edmure remained behind, watching the long line of the royal procession ride one by one out of the gates.

Robb ought to have been one of the first through, but he lingered with Dacey, Eddard and Daryn at his side, along with his Great-Uncle, the Blackfish. His horse was prancing in its spot, eager to move along, and Grey Wind was sniffing the air, his tongue lolling out of the corner of his mouth in anticipation.

His eyes were on his uncle, solemnly appraising him and saying, in his kingly voice, "Hold Riverrun, Uncle."

Edmure, although he had the same hair and eyes as his nephew, had such a different expression on his face that Hermione nearly snorted out loud. His long face went shallow and pale, and his Adam's apple bobbed thickly in his throat as he nodded.

Weight on your shoulders, thought Hermione, eyeing him curiously, and a smidge of pity. he was like a first-year Neville. One day you'd be Lord Tully, of Riverrun, but for someone who is in his thirties, you're nowhere ready for this and what's to come.

Then, Robb's eyes were on the tall, broad-shouldered man at Hermione's side - just behind her. "You'll watch over her?" he asked, his voice friendlier, but still as fierce as when speaking to his uncle.

Hermione scowled, disliking the implied sexism. "I can take care of myself, thankyouverymuch."

Robb ignored her and kept staring at the man. Torrhen shifted, his eyes glancing between the irate witch and his King. "Erm. Yes. Your Majesty."

Robb's eyes narrowed some more but Hermione sighed loudly and crossed her arms across her sweater. "Honestly, Robb, don't you have somewhere to be?"

Beside her, Catelyn - Lady Stark - inhaled sharply and muttered, "Lady Hermione - this is your King - don't disrespect-!"

Hermione grit her teeth and resolved to speak to Robb's mother shortly to find out why the woman disliked her. "Not my King," she muttered in response, and then smiled brightly at the woman.

Robb, who had heard the exchange, stifled a grin. "Keep that spirit, Lady Hermione! It won't be long that we'll be gone, I think - Oxcross is not more than a week's ride, and Ashemark little more than a few days from it. The parchment you've charmed for us will ensure that the castle is well-defended."

"I have no worries about that," said Hermione, mentally thinking, I can always add protection wards and proximity alerts, as well as Muggle Repellant wards if I must.

Robb grinned at Hermione and Hermione smiled back. The sun glinted off his auburn hair - a much deeper and darker red than Ron's orange had ever been - and the corner of his blue eyes crinkled up.

Their eyes held for a moment, and then he wheeled his horse around and was galloping across the grey flagstone of Riverrun, his personal guard (now the Kingsguard) charging after him. There was a whoop and a laugh and then they passed through the main gate, and were gone.

Silence descended on those who remained.

Eventually, Catelyn Stark sighed and turned around, back into her childhood castle, with Maester Vyman on her heels, mumbling about ravens and letters. Edmure followed behind as well, a pensive frown on his face as he realized that Robb left him in charge of the castle and riverlands defense. Hermione stood a bit longer in the afternoon sun, tilting her head back and looking up at the fluffy clouds. The air was nippy, a winter chill already in the air. It wasn't as cool as autumns in Scotland at Hogwarts, but it was enough that Hermione's sweater barely kept her warm.

"My lady?" inquired Torrhen quietly. "Shall we go inside?"

Hermione turned on her sneaker, and followed the tall, broad-shouldered and brown-haired Karstark inside the hold. She had a library to read her way through.


For the next week, Hermione spent her time in Riverrun's library except for when she slept (which was in the assigned room she was given, but with her tent set up in the living area of the room, so she continued to sleep in there), and for when she ate (which was one meal a day, when Torrhen found her and dragged her out of the library to socialize at dinner in the Great Hall with those who remained at Riverrun).

The library at Riverrun was vast, full of knowledge and lore, some mundane and others, arcane. Hermione learned quite a bit about the Great Houses of Westeros, as they were called; about the Tullys of Riverrun, the Starks of Winterfell, the Lannisters of Casterly Rock, the Arryns of the Vale, the Martells of the Water Palace in Dorne, the Greyjoys of the Pike in the Iron Islands, and the Tyrells of Highgarden. There were the near extinct Baratheons of the Stormlands, the family that had the throne last and lost it - along with the accusations of incest and therefore, illegitimate claims to the throne without the King's bloodline on its seat - and then the minor Houses and Lords that served under the Great Houses.

She learned about the Targaryens and where they came from - a place called Valyria in Essos that suffered some cataclysmic event (Hermione was certain it was a mass eruption of several volcanoes in the area), that not only destroyed the prominent houses there, but also destroyed many of the dragons from the area, as well.

Dragons, she grimaced, thinking back to the TriWizard Tournament as well as her daring Gringott escape just a year previous. And these aren't the Norberta kind, either.

No, the books in the Tully library wrote about giant, fearsome beasts that were only controlled by their Targaryen masters, commands shouted in High Valyrian, a language Hermione was beginning to learn as she translated portions of scrolls and scraps. These dragons weren't cute little green-ridged Norwegian Ridgebacks or the deep, ruby red of the Chinese Fireball.

These dragons were dangerous.

And, apparently, one of the last Targayens - a young woman name Daenerys, the same age or just a bit younger than her and Robb - was rumoured to have three. Three dragons under her dubious command, Hermione learned, from gossip spread in the Great Hall one of the evenings.

("But what does that mean?" she asked Torrhen.

He shrugged. "It means that I pray to the Old Gods she doesn't come to Westeros anytime soon. People remember her father, and they remember Harrenhal.")

So she looked them up: Mad Aerys Targaryen, who brutally murdered and tortured his subjects, including Robb's uncle and grandfather barely two decades previous; whose father went to war with Robert Baratheon to avenge his aunt Lyanna Stark. A whole country thrown into chaos and a new regime installed after it was all over.

She looked up Aerys' obsession with dragonfire - green wildfire so similar to Fiendfyre that Hermione was certain that there were magic users of her kind somewhere on the planet, at some time - and shivered in disgust and fear.

And then she read about Harrenhal.

The great castle in the south, not too far from them in Riverrun. And during the Conquest, when the first Targaryens came to Westeros, it burned under dragonfire. From what the text said, Hermione gathered the great castle was never truly rebuilt to its former glory under the Targaryen rule, because melted and blackened stone were descriptors from the recent Tourney - the one where Aerys Targaryen's son and heir crowned Lyanna Stark his Queen of Love and Beauty, and began the whole mess.

Delving into the history of Westeros was enjoyable, and far more interesting than anything Binns could have presented on the Goblin Wars of this-and-this year. But there was a lot not said in the texts Hermione read: how far did Essos actually go? How south did the Sothoryos actually go? How many Islands were there? What was Ulthos - an Island or Continent? How much land was there beyond the Wall, and what kind of name was "the Land of Always Winter"? How could it be Always Winter?

The more she read, the more Hermione was convinced that the people of this planet were either not intellectually curious or terra incognita worked into the fantastical structure of maintaining the status quo for many of those in charge. Anyone who explored these uncharted territories disappeared; there was not much incentive to send more people out to discover the whys and hows of this world.

And without that information, Hermione was - potentially - stuck.

She needed coordinates, similar to longitude and latitude, to plug into her Arthimacy equation. But they had to be exact - she needed to know the size of the planet, its orbit around its sun, how many other celestial bodies there were around (asteroid belts, gas giants, and whatever else) to pinpoint the galaxy she was in, or near enough.

She needed to know and discover how magic worked in this strange, new world: they clearly had magic, with dragons and giants. There were spells and magical weapons, but it was so shrouded in mystery and hyperbole, Hermione wasn't sure what was real and what was made up.

Dacey had told her it would take years to gather the information she might need to go home, and Hermione was beginning to think the other woman was right.

So, despondently, Hermione decided against remaining in the library a week later after Robb and his men left for Oxcross, and wandered Riverrun, peeking in rooms and generally nosing about.

She passed one of the partially open doors when a rough, frustrated sigh caught her attention. There were two guards in Tully blue standing outside of it, but they were 1) ornamental, she was coming to realize; and 2) didn't stop her as she stepped up the door and knocked on the heavy wood.

The room was an office, similar to Robb's that they spoke in, but it had a different view and was far messier. There were torches on the walls, flickering, and others on flat surfaces around the room: the desk, the side tables, all to give more light in the fading afternoon sunlight.

By the desk, eyes bloodshot with dark bags under them, sat Edmure Tully, his hair as messy as Harry's. He was slouched, elbows on the table and his head in his hands as he looked at the desk - at some paper, but looked up at her knock.

"Lady Hermione," he said, struggling to rise. "How may I help you?"

Hermione stepped into the room with the implicit permission, and sat herself primly in the chair in front of his desk, curiously looking at the parchment and scrolls. As she sat, he did too.

"You look exhausted," she said instead, peering at him. "Are you okay?"

Edmure grimaced. "It's nothing."

She raised her eyebrows in response, and he sighed. There was a drawn look to his face, and underneath it all, she saw how pale he was.

He's ill prepared to be Lord Tully, she thought. Why hadn't he been trained or taught this role?

"May I ask you something?" she tentatively asked, leaning a bit forward.

Edmure nodded.

"I understand that in Westeros there are Great Houses - and Tully is one of them - which means you have a lot of responsibility," she began, wondering how to breach such a topic without offense, "What kind of training does someone who is an heir to a Great House receive? We have nothing like this where I am from."

Edmure leaned back in his seat, the leather underneath him creaking a bit. He looked a bit pleased at the distraction of speaking with her, and took her question seriously. "Well, each House does it differently. I had specific lessons with Maester Vyman, and my father, Lord Hoster Tully, taught me others years ago."

"So, you shadowed your father?" clarified Hermione.

"Shadowed?" echoed Edmure.

Hermione nodded. "Followed him around to meetings, was asked scenario questions on how to handle specific things, was given more and more responsibility as you got older…? That's how CEOs do it, I suppose."

"C.E.O.?" repeated Edmure, confusion lacing his voice as he said each letter individually with precision. He shook his head. "Ah, no - my father was very much still in command of the everyday in Riverrun. And when he fell ill, many of those duties fell to my Uncle, the Blackfish, as he has the experience."

Hermione made a face. "Then how are you supposed to gain the experience? Trial by fire?"

Edmure looked at her sharply. "I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, sorry!" Hermione hastily backpedalled after the poor turn of phrase. "It means being thrown into a situation and then having to learn on the go."

Edmure relaxed. "Ah, well. Then - yes." He waved a hand around the room with a grimace on his face. "This is my - 'trial by fire,' as you call it."

"Running Riverrun?" asked Hermione, sitting back in the chair and crossing one jean-clad leg over the other.

He nodded. "And an order from Robb."

Hermione perked up. "He's using the parchment?"

Edmure paused, looking at her, but then wordlessly handed her one of the many pieces on his desk, and Hermione, touched by his sharing of the military communique. On the linked parchment, in Robb's handwritten scrawl, were several orders. Each order began with the person's name, and then a list of duties. Edmure's read Hold Riverrun. Tywin Lannister is preparing to leave Harrenhal and make for you.

"What does this mean?"

Edmure tilted his head and nodded at the parchment as Hermione handed it back. "It means Riverrun will be going to war, shortly. Scouts spotted the Lannister forces over a week's ride away, and I've already given orders to prepare to leave tomorrow."

"Where are you going?" asked Hermione, frowning, "Didn't Robb say to hold Riverrun?"

"That would suggest a siege," replied Edmure, looking at a map hanging on the far wall, "And while Riverrun could easily hold it, the Fords is a better place for a battle as it stops the Lannister from coming further into the riverlands. It stops him from attacking villages along the way."

Hermione turned in the seat to look at the map as well. She stood and then crossed to it, her eyes finding Riverrun easily after spending so many time at it and staring at known maps of Westeros, Essos, and beyond. She traced the direction of Harrenhal north-west to Riverrun, finding the Ford Edmure was talking about nearby but more towards the halfway mark between the two castles. Oxcross, where Robb was currently, was beyond them, behind a mountain range.

"What did Robb write specifically?" she asked, without turning back to Edmure, her eyes narrowed.

"Ah," replied Edmure, and she heard shuffling papers. "He said, 'Hold Riverrun.'"

Hermione turned around. "That's awfully specific, don't you think?"

"Specific?" repeated Edmure, wrinkles appearing between his eyebrows.

Hermione nodded. "'Hold Riverrun.' Not, engage Tywin Lannister in battle. Not, prepare for battle at the FordsHold."

Edmure's wrinkles deepened as he looked down at his desk. "He… wants Tywin Lannister to engage with us."

"Yes," agreed Hermione, turning partially back to the map and pointing her finger closer to Riverrun. "But here - to draw him in."

"But why?"

Hermione shrugged. "My battles were fought as skirmishes, quick and dirty and often over within minutes. The longest battle I was in took place over a single day, and our enemy even gave us time to collect our wounded and dead, although that was more a psychological tactic to demoralize us."

"Demoralize," muttered Edmure, coming around the desk to stand by Hermione and look at the map. His eyes moved from Harrenhal to Riverrun, along the Red Fork, to Fairmarket to the north, and Acorn Hall to the south. "I can't have the Lannister forces reach Riverrun - we were just besieged by the Kingslayer. We could persevere until Robb returns, but…"

His eyes moved back to Harrenhal. "...but we don't want Tywin too close to Harrenhal either that he can retreat."

"What about a feint?"

"A feint?" repeated Edmure, and a flash of annoyance, of constantly repeating Hermione, crossed his face.

She shrugged. "Present a smaller force closer to Harrenhal, with the rest of the actual army further back. Pretend to be decimated in battle for a strategic retreat. Lure him in."

Edmure blinked in surprise. "And then?"

"Smash him," she said. "From everything I've heard of this man, he's smart. He's cunning. But he's also sure in his power and strength, so he has ego. He'll be rightfully cautious about Robb - he did manage to capture his heir - but you're an unknown."

Edmure looked pleased by Hermione's words, looking back at the map, clearly thinking. "Yes," he murmured, "Yes, I think that can work."

Hermione smiled brightly. "Great! When do we leave?"


Edmure said "no."

Torrhen refused her, as well.

Maester Vyman looked at her like she was crazy.

Hermione scoffed. It wasn't like there weren't women in Robb's army - the Mormont women were strong warriors! And she had a wand! Besides, she wasn't going to be leading the charge - that would've been too Light Brigade for her. She was happy to remain behind at a command tent, monitoring the parchment communications and then lending a hand with the wounded soldiers.

"The battlefield is not the place for you, Lady Hermione," argued Edmure feverently. They were standing in the same inner courtyard where Robb had said his goodbyes, Edmure's Tully force ready to exit through the main gate. "Robb would not be happy with me if I allowed you to come!"

Torrhen, nearby, nodded.

Hermione scowled back. "You know, I could follow you, right?"

Edmure looked at her skeptically. "How?"

Hermione looked around the courtyard. Catelyn Stark stood above them, on the second-floor balcony that protruded from a tower, watching her brother and his men. The distance wasn't far - no more than a flight of stairs up, but the entrance was inside the castle and therefore, currently inaccessible by those in the courtyard unless they had a ladder to scale.

Unless someone had magic.

Her pictured the balcony beside Catelyn, having explored it once before, and pictured it in her head. Then, she turned on her heel.

There was a loud pop and she reappeared beside the startled woman, who shrieked and stepped back, her scarred hands at her throat in surprise. Below, Edmure and Torrhen, as well as the few soldiers who lingered in the courtyard, let out shouts of surprise.

Hermione leaned over the balcony and waved.

They let her join them.


 

TBC

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch VI


It's the time between battles that is boring.

The battle itself is fast, frantic; there is the pounding of armoured boots, the stampede of hooves, and the shouts and cries of men, as well as the scent of freshly dug up earth, piss, and other bodily fluids. It's screams and calls for help, with the loud pounding of the heart in the ears and the furiously panting of breathes against the rough inner plate of the mouth guard in the helmet.

Everything else is boring, including inventory, thought Robb.

Two weeks on from Riverrun (and from Hermione, his brain supplied), Robb was in his tent, surrounded on all sides by his Kingsguard as well as several Northern Lords who would lead the foot soldiers.

Over a week ago, Grey Wind had found a lesser-known path through the mountains between the riverlands and the edge of the westerlands - where the outermost banner men for the Lannisters lived - and at the village of Oxcross, Robb and his army took Stafford Lannister and his men by surprise. The man had not placed sentries up to monitor the area, and Robb took advantage of that, using not only his fledgling warging abilities - peering through Grey Wind's eyes to see the area and camp - but also to use Grey Wind himself to scare the Lannister horses.

It wasn't much of a battle, though. It was over within hours, and the Northern army picked off stragglers as the sun rose over the crest of the mountains, the sunlight bleeding its ways across the treetops of the valley.

The success bolstered the men, and Robb sent an update on the parchment Hermione spelled for them listing each member of his army and House sworn to him, and their duties while apprising them of his situation. The Northern army commanders with him had congratulatory notes of their success and a few knighthoods to celebrate; Lord Glover and his men were ready to move south along the Trident, towards Harrenhal and route the Lannister forces along the way, predominantly engaging the Mountain - Gregor Clegane - and his men in battle to keep them busy and away from supporting Tywin's forces.

His mother, despite being wary of Lady Hermione and her magic, appreciated the secure line of communication she created, and announced her own journey south to treat with Renly Baratheon, just after Edmure left with his host.

Edmure. Robb's mouth turned down at the thought of his uncle. His last message was to hold Riverrun - which the man was doing, although there had been a worrisome note that accompanied Edmure's most recent update: Planning a feint to draw in T Lannister - it will keep him from being too close to Harrenhal for a strategic retreat. We have a plan that will draw him further into the riverlands.

But who is "we"? And what doesn't he understand about my orders to 'hold Riverrun'? I didn't say go forth and have a bloody battle, wondered Robb, the night before the northern army was to attack Ashemark. The castle was close to Casterly Rock, along with the Crag, and therefore were two of the more important seats that Robb needed to take. His advisors - predominantly his Great-Uncle, the Blackfish, and the Greatjon - had taken his suggestions and battle plans and refined them to the point that Robb was incredibly sure of their success.

But while his mind was on the morning - of that battle to happen - there was a part of him back at Riverrun.

He knew it.

And his men knew it, too.

"Shall we go over the battle plan for the morning, Your Majesty?" suggested the Blackfish in a loud voice, startling Robb enough that he pressed the communication parchment down with the flat of his palm on the tabletop.

His blue eyes flew up, and caught on his Great-Uncle and the man's knowing smirk. At the other side of the large man, stood Lord Bolton, who wordlessly tipped his head to the side.

Robb followed the direction and his eyes fell on his fifteen-year-old squire, the one he was forced to take on through Walder Frey's ridiculous terms that his mother agreed to; Olyvar, completely unaware of his King's eyes on him, stepped forward and filled Robb's cup with more ale.

Oh, he thought, and mentally winced. A reminder. And a caution.

Robb cleared his throat. "Thank you, Olyvar."

The teen, all gangly arms and legs, beamed up at him. "Your Grace." He then stepped back and Robb turned his attention to the map in front.

"Right," the young King began, his voice carrying across the tent, "This is the plan for attacking Ashemark in the morning…"


Originally, Edmure wanted to meet Tywin Lannister and his forces at the Red Fork, the southernmost run of the Trident River. It was barely a weeks' ride from Harrenhal, but strategically smart as the bank on one side of the river was higher than the other, and steeper. It would've been hell for any force trying to cross the cold water north towards Riverrun.

Hermione, as well as Torrhen, Lord Jason Mallister (an older man similar in age to Edmure's father, she was told), Lord Tytos Blackwood (another robust man in his early fifties sworn to the Tullys), his son Brynden, of age to Torrhen, Lord Karyl Vance, and Lord Jonos Bracken, talked him out of it.

"What's the point of a feint, drawing him in, if you're all that willing to meet him closer to Harrenhal?" she argued.

Edmure frowned. "It's a good location for a battle - we'd have the high ground."

"We can give up the high ground of the Trident for other locations along the way," rumbled Mallister in a low, gravelly voice. "The plan you have of creating strategic forts along both sides of the river is sound, but not so close."

"The point is to drive Tywin Lannister out of Harrenhal and far enough away that he can't retreat without heavy loss or being cut down from behind," replied Torrhen, crossing thick his arms across a very muscled chest. Not that Hermione was eyeing him, not at all.

They were together in a large canvas tent, standing around a heavy table that several squires and knights had brought in with them. A large map of the riverlands had been unrolled and stretched across the table, with Lord Vance and Lord Bracken's cups of ale holding two corners down flat. On the other corner were two small candelabras, dripping wax rolling down the handles and pooling onto the map over the Bloody Gate and the Crag. Hermione's eyes lingered on the name of the castle near the sea, knowing that Robb and his men would be marching toward it soon.

"But there are castles between Harrenhal and Riverrun that need defending, too," argued Bracken, the man's blue eyes flashing as he glared at Hermione.

"You're not the only one with a castle in the way," snorted Blackwood, rolling his eyes. "Or have you forgotten that Raventree Hall can draw Tywin's eyes just as easily as Stone Hedge?" The man's dark eyes narrowed and a small smirk appeared on his lips underneath his moustache. "Or is it that Stone Hedge can't defend itself as well as Raventree Hall?"

"Alright!" called Edmure loudly, physically holding his arms up on either side as to keep the two men, who were glaring at each other from over their liege lord's son's head, apart. "The trick will be drawing in the Lannister forces, thinking they have us on the run."

"Best begin here," said Mallister, pointing just northeast of Riverrun along the Red Fork. "We can place a large amount - or what Tywin will think is a large amount of soldiers - here. He'll come up through Acorn Hall and High Heart and meet us on the Fork."

"That will spare both Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge," agreed Vance, a tall, quiet man, nodding as his eyes took in the map.

"Is Lord Glover still fighting for Harrenhal?" asked Edmure, glancing at Hermione.

She sighed. Somehow, probably due to being the person who created the communications parchments, she had become their secretary. She shuffled through the many papers on her side of the table, and Torrhen, who stood nearly an entire foot above her, leaned down to look over her shoulder.

The tall, muscular bodyguard Robb had assigned to her nodded. "Lord Glover wrote that he's attempting another assault on the castle. He has around ten thousand to aid him."

Bracken scowled. "So does Tywin."

The men all shared looks. Eventually, Edmure cleared his throat nervously. "How many do we have?"

Mallister sent him a look, and Hermione inaudibly sighed. You should know how many men you command, Edmure…

"Around the same," the older man said.

Around her, the men began speaking of how many men they would put where, where they could retreat, and where they could advance. Hermione's eyes glanced all over the map, again, and she rolled her bottom lip into her mouth to begin chewing on it.

In order to hold Riverrun, and stop Tywin Lannister from progressing further north, they had to do two things: either crush him entirely, or decimate his numbers enough that he was forced to flee back to his vassals, or elsewhere. Ideally, keeping him from returning to any of his vassals was important; that meant less men for him to attack Robb with, especially as the northern army only had a fraction of the men that both Edmure and Lord Glover controlled. But attacking him so soundly would be to take away from Robb's desire to do so, given that man's family had singularly attacked his. Not that Hermione agreed with revenge…

"In the end, it won't matter," she finally spoke up, drawing their attention.

"What's she doing here, again?" asked Bracken, his voice annoyed.

Torrhen's hand immediately moved to the hilt of his sword, just as Edmure spoke up, "Here, now, Bracken - she's helping us!"

"Helping how?" the man continued. "What will she do? Cast a spell? Make a magic potion? The witches of Asshai use their blood magic to-"

Whatever the witches of Asshai did with their blood magic (and Hermione would rather love to know - but another day), no one ever found out. Hermione instead had her wand pointed at the man, who was now mouthing words soundlessly.

"Lord Bracken, I am here to help this army succeed as much as they can," she snapped, eyes flashing amber. "I understand that you don't like me, nor do you trust me - and the feeling is mutual. But I want to help, and that is what I will do. So don't get in my way."

She lifted the wordless silencio she had cast. The tent was tense and silent under her threat and the presence of magic.

Bracken scowled, but cleared his throat to test it, and then said, in a very gruff voice, "Fine."

Lord Vance shifted nervously, while Blackwood almost looked gleeful at the other man's dressing down. Edmure shook his head, and muttered, "We need to work together, Lady Hermione."

Hermione took at the admonishment with ease, letting it roll off her shoulders. "Look - keep in mind I don't need to be here. I can head back to Riverrun easily and leave completely. What I can do is make things easier, whether it is set up proximity wards, or cast an illusion. I can make ten men look like a hundred or set up wards that will herd the Lannister forces directly to you." She met the men's eyes as she spoke. "Are you really going to turn away help when it is offered freely?"

Blackwood let out a muffled laugh, and Mallister sighed. "Very well - Lady Hermione, what do you suggest?"

Hermione pointed her finger to where Mallister had suggested they ultimately meet the Lannister forces, north on the Red Fork but instead of northeast, southwest of Riverrun and across from Stone Mill. "Let's have the majority of the forces here, like Lord Mallister suggested. We'll set up a series of defenses along the way, starting from Acorn Hall. The Lannister forces will need to pass near it to make their way towards us."

"It's a small keep," said Vance quietly, knowing that it was under his protection. "An invading force would destroy it."

"We can make sure they pass it," soothed Hermione, looking directly at the man. "I can Apparate there in a series of small hops, or Torrhen and a few others can ride down ahead with me. I can set up Muggle Repellant wards, and those will make everyone who goes near it think of something else they have to do."

"That's possible?" asked a surprised Mallister.

Hermione nodded.

Torrhen's eyes narrowed. "Is it something similar to what you set up at Riverrun? What's holding the Kingslayer in the room?"

Hermione winced. "Kind of. I have Ser Jaime under a blood ward that used Robb's blood. Only Robb can enter or exit the room when he's in the castle, but I had to change it once he left so that Ser Jaime could still be fed. I ended up using some of Robb's blood in a few medallions that he gave to his mother and Maester Vyman, as well as the guards who bring him his food. Only those with the medallions can go in and out."

Hermione glanced around the room, and realized that, for the most part, the men around her were looking like they understood what she said, but in all truth, it was probably like she was speaking High Valyrian to them.

She sighed, casting her eyes on the Tully heir. He needed confidence and experience, so... "Edmure? What do you think about positioning the men near Stone Mill?"


The reason why Robb didn't continue further from Oxcross to Casterly Rock, despite it being ridiculously close, was because he wanted to scare Tywin Lannister. Wanted him to know that he could get that close to his precious home - could stroll right up and take what he wanted at any time. He was the Young Wolf - the King in the North - and he could conquer.

Except he didn't want to; conquer, that was.

So Robb moved the army north, towards Ashemark in the mountains, overtaking the castle easily and taking the quarry as well as the gold mines. Wars were won with gold, as Tywin Lannister had taught Westeros.

He turned his attention to the coast, the castles and keeps that were often at war with Theon's kin - the Greyjoys - as the Pike and Iron Islands just off the west coast. While he sent smaller forces to take Nunn's Deep, Pendric Hills and what was left of Castamere, the majority of his force would turn their eyes to the Crag, which in turn would be facing toward the sea for the next attack, never expecting one from the land.

He sat atop his horse, Grey Wind now almost on par with the large equine, at his right. Behind him on their own horses were his great-uncle, his kingsguard of Daryn, Eddard, Dacey, and several other Lords. They were as camouflaged as possible, in the surrounding woods of the ruinous Crag - a holdfast that was more broken rock and rotted wood than grandeur, but they held Gawen Westerling captive since the same time of Kingslayer - and behind the large boulders that had, hundreds of years ago, rolled down the mountainside.

They were hidden by the elongating shadows as the sun dipped into the far ocean, dusk falling quickly as the nights grew longer. They were not about to light any torches, either, so Robb took advantage of the failing light to finish his correspondence.

"News from Riverrun is that Lady Catelyn has returned safely," read Olyvar Frey to the quiet king and his men. "However Renly Baratheon is dead."

There was some shifting as Robb turned in his saddle, the leather creaking as he did so, to look at his squire. "How?"

Olyvar squinted in the dusk. "Lady Catelyn doesn't write how, Your Grace - other than she returned with a… Lady Brienne? Brienne of Tarth?"

Behind, Karstark snorted. Maege glared hotly at him. "Something to say, Karstark?"

"Nothing, Lady Mormont," the burly man replied, smothering the mirth on his face. "I don't think you would find anything untoward of women in armour. Perhaps Lady Brienne has kin within the she-bears of Bear Island?"

"Don't you wish," muttered Dacey under her breath. At her other side, in response, Eddard Karstark shifted his horse closer to Daryn Hornwood.

Robb stifled a sigh. "Anything else? With Renly dead, Stannis will surely make for King's Landing next, after consolidating his power and taking some of Renly's men."

"Most likely," agreed Bolton quietly, just as Olyvar continued, "Lord Umber and Lord Galbart are both ready to attack Castamere and Pendric Hill at dusk; and Lord Manderly and Lord Forrester are within a few hours' reach of Nunn's Deep."

"Good," said Robb, feeling a mix of pleasure and anticipation begin to thrum through his veins as he turned his eyes back towards the glittering sea, just visible and peeking through a mix of foliage and turrets of the Crag ahead of them.

"Oh!" said Olyvar, as new writing appeared on the parchment, just as the last remnants of the sun dipped into the ocean.

When the young squire failed to say anything else, Robb turned again to face him, as did Bolton, Maege, and Karstark. The Frey teen's face was pale, with a tint of green, although that was hard to make out in the dark.

"Olyvar?" asked Robb, his stomach fluttering. The anticipation and pleasure he felt was leeching out into something else.

The skinny squire's dark eyes were wide, enough so that Robb could see the whites as the sun began its descent into the ocean.

"Speak, boy!" ordered Karstark roughly.

"M-My Lord," stuttered Olyvar, his eyes moving to remain on the parchment, his tongue thick as he began to read, "M-Maester Vyman writes t-that ravens have c-come from the W-White Harbour, Barrowtown, and the D-Dreadfort. W-Winterfell has been s-seized by Theon G-Greyjoy and an Ironborn army."

Robb turned fully in his saddle, incredulity building as Olyvar spoke. His stomach roiled. "What?"

"S-Ser Roderick C-Cassell is d-dead…"

"This cannot be true," muttered Robb, his heart pounding furiously in his chest, a sudden sweat breaking out along his spine despite an increasing chill. "Why? Why would Theon…"

From just behind Olyvar, Karstark's face turned down into a deep scowl. "Because the Greyjoys are treasonous whores."

Robb turned back to Olyvar quickly, clenching tight on the reins until his knuckles turned white. At his side, Grey Wind began to shift. Robb's voice nearly cracked as he spoke, in desperation, "My brothers?"

Olyvar looked back at the parchment. "Nothing, Your Gace."

The Blackfish spat on the ground to the side of his horse. "Never trust a Greyjoy!"

"I must go north at once," whispered Robb, eyes unseeing of the Crag ahead, thinking only of Bran and Rickon. His body was shivering, and all the thoughts and plans he had for attacking the Crag meant nothing if he was without his family - without a home.

What else would be taken from me before this war is over? he thought darkly.

Bolton moved his horse forward and leaned towards his King, aborting a move to reach forwards and shake the man. "There's still a war to win, Your Grace!"

Robb turned his eyes on his banner man, face drawn. "How can I call myself 'King' if I can't hold my own castle? How can I ask men to follow me if…"

Bolton made a strange sound in his throat. For a man who never raised his weak and raspy voice, it sounded similar to a hiss. "You are a king! And that means you don't have to do everything yourself."

"Bolton's right," agreed the Blackfish in a quiet voice, moving his own horse closer to Robb, who turned his head to face his great-uncle. "Theon holds the castle with a skeleton crew. We can send word to many remaining men in the North; they can raise a few hundred men and retake Winterfell before the new moon."

Karstark nodded. "We have the Lannisters on the run; if you march all the way back north now, you lose what you gained." He paused, and then said: "We can return to Riverrun shortly after taking the Crag, Your Grace. The Lady Hermione is there, and perhaps she can do something…?"

At her name, Robb felt his body sag. Hermione, yes - he thought, with a tiny nod. Perhaps she will have an idea of what to do…

"Who is still in the north?" asked Robb, his voice low but gaining in confidence.

"Lady Barbrey Dustin remains," said Karstark, just as Bolton said, "And my son and his men at the Dreadfort."

Robb slowly nodded. "Tell your son and Lady Dustin that Bran and Rickon's safety is paramount. As for Theon...I want him brought to me alive. I want to look him in the eye and ask him why, and then I will take his head myself!"

He grit his teeth and turned back to the front, to the flickering torches that beckoned where the Crag lay surrounded by crofter's huts and outlying buildings. "As for the Crag - we will take it, as well as Nunn's Deep, Pendric Hill, and Castamere tonight! And we will let not only Tywin Lannister know what the North is capable of, but we will send a message to Balon Greyjoy as well: Winter is Coming! And it's coming for them!"

Grey Wind threw back his head and howled, long and loudly through the still night. It was the signal they were waiting for: Robb, never one to lead from the rear, charged forward with his Kingsguard at his side and his trusted Lords and Lady, their horse's hooves kicking up dirt and stones as they rushed down the forested incline until they reached level ground.

There was no warning from the castle; the men had thought with Robb's attack of Oxcross and Ashemark that he would turn his attention to Castamere or the Golden Tooth instead. As such, there were no sentries as they approached the small town outside the Crag's walls. While Mormont, Karstark, and Bolton men began a battering ram to open the doors to the Crag, Smalljon Umber and Walder Frey crept around the sides of the castle, closer to the north and south beaches, and began to scale the sides of the external walls.

And then they were in, the rotted wooden doors that led into the Crag breaking and splintering through the force of the ram.

For Robb, although it wasn't his first, nor would it be his last, battle, he felt like he experienced it in snippets.

His blood, already boiling from the thought of Theon's betrayal, meant his temper was barely in check. His heart pounded furiously in his chest, echoing loudly in his ears to the point he barely heard the screams and shouts of those around him.

At his side, Grey Wind leapt and attacked with a ferocity that Robb had never seen. His mouth salivated and there was a strange, phantom taste of iron - blood? - in his mouth but he hadn't bit his tongue, cheek or lip, nor had he been bashed in the face.

The taste distracted him, and when one second he was on the back of his horse, the next the wind was knocked out of him and he was on his knees, rolling to his feet in his armour on the dirt entrance to the Crag. Pushing past him were his soldiers, although he spotted Daryn - bare-headed as he usually went - slice past a Westerling guard in tan-beige with a white trim tunic who was aiming a bow and arrow at Robb.

He, in turn, raised his sword to his friend in salute, and threw himself forward. Meeting the first Westerling soldier, he hit him with harsh slash that cut through his neck. Robb didn't stop, anger at Theon manifesting itself in his attack. His mind was numb and his feet moved without guidance, just as his arm fell into a familiar pattern: slash, parry, thrust, parry, block, stab.

Around him fell bloodstained bodies, just as the iron-blood taste in his mouth grew as Grey Wind tasted more and more human flesh. A man in armour roared and raced towards Robb, who snarled in return and raised his broadsword with both arms, his fingers flexing on the hilt. He planted his foot and pushed forward, his sword ready to come down with a quick slash -

Pain erupted in Robb's shoulder and the force of something hitting him sent him skittering and landing heavily on his back, the air rushing out of him as his sword fell from his grip and clattered loudly in the dirt next to him.

Black spots danced in his vision and the roar in his ears - one he thought was the echo of his heart - grew louder.

Somewhere, distantly, Robb heard someone shout, "YOUR GRACE!"

He turned his head to his left side, eyes wide. Protruding from the small, unarmed place between his shoulder pad and chest plate, was an arrow.

Oh, he thought, and then his eyes fluttered shut.


 

TBC

Chapter Text

the Winter Witch VII


With plans made, Hermione Apparated back to Riverrun early the next morning, without alerting anyone in the Tully castle, and gathered a few items from her tent. The inside of the green tent, looking like a small two-bedroom country cottage, was a mess of epic Ron Weasley proportions. Hermione had been taking advantage of having double the space - she lived and slept on her much comfier bed in the tent than the one in the room Robb had given her in Riverrun, but it also meant that she had twice the space to cover with her scrolls, parchment, and books.

Her living room in the tent had overflowed with her research, and was currently taking up the seating area in front of the fireplace in her Riverrun quarters. Robb had showed some foresight and kindness, as the room she was in was similar to her description of the Gryffindor common room back at Hogwarts, except the abundance of red in Gryffindor was muted to a trim colour on gold with Tully blue. However, there was a large, unused poster bed, several couches and armchairs, and a table with four wooden chairs around it by the fireplace, as well as many throw rugs under the majority of the furniture.

But what she needed was in her tent, in the bedroom Harry and Ron had shared. Some of their clothes, including Harry's Quidditch jersey, was still left laying haphazardly across his cot. The room had the air of the Gryffindor boy's dorm room: musty, old socks, sweat, and something else Hermione didn't like to think about.

Quickly, she held her breath and made her way to the four-tier dresser, pulling open the top drawer to yank out a wooden box. She clutched it to her chest and then spun on her heel, the crack muted as she travelled from Riverrun to Stone Mill in an instant.

She took in a deep gulp of air as she appeared next to Torrhen just outside the low stone wall that surrounded the tall mill. The sun was just peeking over the edge of the horizon, bathing the riverlands and nearby farms in a soft, orange glow.

Torrhen jumped but did his best to appear unaffected by her immediate arrival, but Hermione spied the quick bob of his Adam's Apple and hid a grin.

"All right?" she asked casually, striding forward and letting him fall into place behind her and to the right. They began moving between canvas tents set up by the northern and riverlands soldiers who accompanied Edmure, skitting around open-flame fits and one portable smithy.

"Just fine," the tall twenty-something Karstark replied. "Did you get what you needed, Lady Hermione?"

Hermione turned slightly and gestured at the wooden box in her arms.

Torrhen sighed. "What's that going to do, then?"

"It'll help with warding larger properties," she answered, and then they were at the command tent.

Edmure, looking queasy but determined to keep a solid face on, looked up from the map on their table and nodded at the two. Mallister and Blackwood were with him. He turned to his squire and ordered, "Find Lord Bracken and Lord Vance and tell them to come to the command tent, immediately."

The teen raced out and Hermione placed the wooden box on top of the map.

Blackwood eyed it skeptically. "What's in it?"

"Some salt, some potions," said hermione evenly, with a limp hand movement. "Chalk, as well. I'm going to need to ward the entire property of Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge in order to ensure that you don't get any surprises."

Blackwood closed his eyes in gratitude, despite being unsure of her abilities. "My thanks, Lady Hermione. When will you go?"

"As soon as Lord Bracken is here," she answered. "It's best we ride out immediately to seeing distance to each location, and then I'll Apparate us over to complete the ward scheme."

"Apparate?" asked Lord Mallister.

Torrhen and Edmure both made faces, but Edmure answered, hesitantly, "She… pops from one place to another."

Both Blackwood and Mallister looked at Hermione, who smiled demurely back. The tent flap opened at that moment though, stopping them from asking any further questions, and Lord Vance and Lord Bracken entered, along with Edmure's squire.

"Excellent, let's begin," said Edmure, his voice barely shaking. "Lady Hermione will take Lord Blackwood and Lord Bracken on horseback towards Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge, in order to place these… protective ward schemes she has suggested."

"I'll be going too," interrupted Torrhen, squaring his shoulders back as everyone turned to him.

"You don't need to," argued Hermione kindly, "It'll be a quick in-and-out thing."

Torrhen shook his head, the candlelight in the tent catching on his light brown hair and turning it russett. "King Robb asked me to protect you, and while you are," he looked her up and down, "capable, Lady Hermione, I'd feel better at your side."

Edmure nodded slowly. "Very well; Lords Blackwood and Bracken, as well as Lady Hermione and Karstark here will travel on horseback towards the two, while Mallister and Vance here will organize our forces and begin making token defenses along the Red Fork, starting just south of here, across from Acorn Hall. We'll continue through past Riverrun, towards Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge, and finish by the Inn at the Crossroads."

"How much time will you need for these defenses?" asked Vance, turning to Hermione.

"Not much," she replied, "About an hour to ward everything, but I'll be tired afterwards for a few. Once I've visited a place, I can Apparate back, and take someone with me in a Side-Along."

"So within a day?" clarified Vance, frowning slightly.

Hermione nodded.

"Good," said Mallister instead, interrupting, "As scouts estimate that we only have a few days before the Lannister army is in sight. No more than five, and I am sure it will take you the better part of a day or two with a hard ride to reach Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge."

With that said, the groups broke off, leaving Edmure with Mallister and Vance in the command tent, and Hermione, Torrhen, and Lords Blackwood and Bracken with her towards the horses.

I'm going to have to get used to this, sighed Hermione, eyeing the large brown horse Torrhen easily swung up onto, as well as the large black warhorse Blackwood sat astride and the grey one Bracken used.

Torrhen held out a hand for Hermione to grasp, and with ill ease, she gripped his wrist. He tightened his grip around her wrist and hauled her up and onto the saddle in front of him. Hermione scrambled into an upright position, her hands white-knuckled as she gripped the pommel and her thighs squeezed the side of the horse. Being on Torrhen's horse was a different feeling altogether than being on Buckbeak, or the Gringotts dragon.

It whinnied and Torrhen smothered a laugh as he said, "Easy, Lady Hermione. I won't let you fall."

"It's not the fall that I'm worried about," she muttered, but the Karstark soldier laughed behind her and wrapped his arms forward, holding the reins lightly in one hand and chuckling his tongue to get his horse moving.

The ride was mind numbingly boring, for Hermione, who spent the better part of it with her eyes squeezed shut, her fear driving her to recite Gamp's Transfiguration Laws at least ten times until her heart rate calmed enough to realize that Torrhen was speaking behind her, over the sniping comments that Blackwood and Bracken were sharing with another.

"-and, if you can see it, Lady Hermione, that there in the distance is High Heart," he was saying, his voice a soothing, low murmur. "We're going to go to there because we'll be able to see all the way down to Harrenhal and the God's Eye Lake. I haven't seen it myself, but I've heard it is quite something…"

"Thanks," she muttered back, slowly opening her eyes and sucking in a breath as she realized how quickly they were cantering through farmland and through forested paths, all leading closer and closer to the hill in front of them, looming over the landscape.

"Of course, my Lady," he replied. "We'll be at High Heart soon."

"How soon?"

'Soon' was still two hours, but by the time they reached the crest of the hill, the three horses had slowed and Torrhen led them off the path and through the thick woods. They often had to duck under low-hanging moss and branches. Noise was muted within the foliage, and the air was significantly cool that Hermione shivered in the shadows.

From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something, and she turned partially in the shadow and Torrhen's arms to look at it.

"What was that?" she asked. Between the green of the trees, there was a flash of white, and then two, beady red orbs, but they disappeared quickly.

"Do you see something, Lady Hermione?" called Blackwood from just behind.

At the man's other side, Bracken tensed and shifted his gaze to the thick trunks and bushes around them. "Perhaps it is the Ghost of High Heart?"

"Ghost?" repeated Hermione.

Torrhen nodded, and Hermione felt the movement of his chest, the brush of his armour against her sweater as he spoke. "Aye, the Ghost of High Heart, who gives out prophecies to those who seek her out."

Alarmed, Hermione squeaked, "Prophecies?Merlin, I thought I escaped that when Harry killed Voldemort!

"Planning to seek advice on marriage, Lady Hermione?" teased Lord Blackwood with a short guaff of laughter.

Behind her, Torrhen turned partially and sent a glare at the man. "Don't give my father hope, Lord Blackwood!"

Yeah, thought Hermione, Yeah, that's not happening.

They emerged on the other side of the forested peak of the hill, overlooking the north. The landscape was a patchwork quilt was farmed fields, small clusters of trees, and thatched roofs. In the distance, Hermione could see the smoky blue haze around the mountain range near Riverrun, as well as a tiny, meandering blue streak that she knew to be the Trident's many forking rivers; that particular river was the Red Fork.

And, ahead, were two grey structures; one rose prominently in a rectangular shape whereas the other was blackened and smaller - Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge, respectively. A thin trail of smoke lazily danced in the air from Stone Hedge.

Beside Torrhen, on their hoses, Lord Blackwood and Lord Bracken came to a stop, surveying the land and smaller keeps that dotted the landscape of vassals under their leadership - minor houses - and Bracken sucked in a sharp breath that had the others turn to him.

"My home!" he cried lowly, a keening noise.

Hermione turned back and narrowed her eyes, glancing all over the smaller of the two keeps, until she spotted a bright red cloth waving in the soft breeze. It meant something to the other men, as Blackwood growled.

"Lannisters," Torrhen hissed.

Hermione turned back to the smaller, blackened keep. From her beaded bag, Hermione pulled out a pair of used Omnoculars - remnants of the Quidditch World Cup - and brought them to her eyes, using the features to zoom in on Stone Hedge. The red cloth she saw had a golden lion rearing back on it, very unlike the Gryffindor lion. There were several armoured men around the battlements of the keep, but the front gate was open and it looked like they were not expecting any resistance - from outside or within.

"We've been gone barely two moons," griped Blackwood. "When did the Lannisters sneak their way here?"

"There's been talk of the Mountain leading men through the riverlands," said Torrhen quietly, shifting his horse as it whinied nervously. "He could have done that."

"He wouldn't've stayed," responded Blackwood grimly. "Just burnt the keep after raping and pillaging his way through."

Hermione, mouth opened, turned to the men. "Rape and pillage? Just who is this man?"

"Gregor Clegane," replied Bracken, anger thrumming through his words. "Tywin Lannister's enforcer. The man is tall and built like a mountain, hence his name. He's vile and dangerous."

"They say he killed his own sister and father," continued Blackwood, "And that he burnt his younger brother's face just because he didn't like the boy."

"Merlin," whispered Hermione, turning back to the smoking keep. Her eyes hardened. "We need to do something about this."

"You said this wasn't your fight, Lady Hermione," said Torrhen quietly, "And we have Raventree Hall to protect, as well as the upcoming fight with the Lannister forces marching on Riverrun."

"It won't take long." Hermione's mouth was pressed into a long, thin line. "We can do Raventree Hall first, anyway." She shook her head. "If this - Mountain - Clegane - is at Stone Hedge, then he needs to be stopped."

"Better men and greater soldiers than little wood witches like you have tried, Lady Hermione," cautioned Blackwood, wrinkles deepening around his eyes as he faced the woman.

"Well," replied Hermione, her tone dark, "They weren't me, were they?"


As per their original plan, they decided to ward Raventree Hall first. However, by horseback it could've taken hours to reach the castle, so by wary agreement, Hermione was going to Side-Along the soldiers one at a time, starting with Lord Blackwood.

Hermione reached out and wrapped her arm around Blackwood's, in a parody of the gesture Robb had extended to her when she first arrived at Riverrun.

"This is probably going to be unpleasant," warned Hermione.

"How unplea-?"

Hermione spun on her heel and with a loud crack they displaced the air around them and reappeared near the gates, much to the surprise of several Blackwood guards, who raised their bows from the two towers by the gate. At her side, Blackwood was hunched over, retching their jerky lunch to the grass.

One of the guards recognized him, calling nervously, "Lord Blackwood? My lord? A-Are you well?"

Blackwood held up a hand and coughed, and then straightened. He levelled a glare on Hermione, one that was rendered moot by the green tint to his scraggly face. "'Unpleasant,' Lady Hermione, is an understatement."

Hermione shrugged. "I'm going to get the others. Can you explain to your men what I'm going to do so they don't pepper me with arrows?"

Blackwood nodded, and she disapparated again, appearing back on High Heart. Bracken cursed loudly at her arrival, as it sent his horse skittering back into a bush.

"Torrhen, you'd best come next," she suggested, and the tall Karstark guard merely nodded, his face grim. Instead of taking his arm, she took his hand, and appeared at the gate of Raventree Hall, which now had several other Blackwood soldiers outside, along with Blackwood himself who was explaining Hermione's plan.

By the time she completed the trip with Lord Bracken, who did not vomit on arrival, much to Blackwood's ire, the Blackwood men were staring at Hermione in shocked awe.

"How long will this take?" the Stone Hedge lord asked irritably as they stood within the inner courtyard.

"An hour or so," replied Hermione, already eyeing the far corners of the front of the hall. "I just need to get at the cornerstones, and once that is done, a map of the castle and grounds."

With Torrhen trailing her, as well as Lord Blackwood and several curious guards, Hermione crouched in front of one grey stone at the corner between the far right wall by the gate, and drew Uruz, the rune for strength; at the opposite corner, Algiz the rune for protection; at the other end of Raventree Hall, in the corners, she drew Ihwaz for longevity, and Berkano for hidden things. At each chalky rune, she finished the drawing by tapping it with her wand and infusing it with her magic.

Slightly dizzy, she took an offered cup of cider from Torrhen, gulping the amber liquid down quickly. Once done, Blackwood offered her a map of Raventree Hall, and with a drop of his blood, Hermione traced a ward line along the property, finishing the Muggle Repellant ward tied only to the man's bloodline.

By the time Hermione had finished her work, the sun was high above Raventree Hall, and she had the grimy feeling of dried sweat along her hairline and down her spine. Her head was no longer spinning, a side effect of charging the runes to cover a large parcel of land due to magical exhaustion. She knew she was no magical powerhouse like Harry was, her strength lying in books and spellcraft, but she was no slouch either.

It's just been awhile since I stretched my magic, she thought wryly; most of her time the past year since the Battle of Hogwarts had been spent on geminio and reparo, copying books from the library at Hogwarts or repairing sections of crumbling walls and stairs.

The group had migrated from the inner courtyard to Blackwood's solar, a light-infused office where prisms of colour danced through the many floor to ceiling windows against white-washed weirwood panels. Hermione was resting on a low chair near the fire with Torrhen standing beside her, while Lord Blackwood's heir Brynden (who remained at the castle while he was gone), as well as his other third and fourth sons Hoster and Edmund, Blackwood's castellan, a dour-looking brown-haired man named Aethl, and Lord Bracken, stood in a loose semi-circle facing Blackwood, who sat behind his desk.

Blackwood heaved a sigh. "What do we know about the Lannister force at Stone Hedge?"

His eldest son Brynden, a tall, broad-shouldered young man replied quickly. "A small group of them moved through the riverlands quickly; they bypassed us though and went straight for Lord Bracken's."

The man in question began a nervous pace. "What happened to my people?"

Brynden Blackwood shrugged. "We don't have communication with Stone Hedge, so anything we learned was after-the-fact. The keep itself was burned, and there were several dead."

Hermione frowned at the callus words, and Bracken snarled. "Are my people's lives a jest to you?"

The young man shrugged, and Hermione got the feeling that something else was going on between the two. She turned to Torrhen but he was focused on the conversation in front of him.

Scowls were passed between the Blackwoods and the Bracken, until Hoster Blackwood, a gangly teen taller than even his father at seven feet, spoke. He had bookish mannerisms from Hermione's perspective, and the cowlick at the back of his head endeared her to him. "Past a certain point, all the dates grow hazy and confused, and the clarity of history becomes the fog of legend."

His words cautioned his father and Lord Bracken, and significantly cooled the tempers.

"My apologies," said Brynden Blackwood stiffly, but sincerely. He struggled for a moment visibly, but then said, "The Mountain did come through but it was some time ago. I do not believe that he attacked Stone Hedge, and that those Lannisters who remain are a small contingent."

"What kind of numbers?" barked Lord Blackwood.

"Less than twenty," said Aethl, the castellan, "But more than ten. They have been burning through the Stone Hedge provisions quickly and made some hesitant inquiries towards us recently."

"We can't do a full-scale attack," sighed Brynden, "As they will see us coming."

"Then what can we do?" asked Bracken, angrily.

"Use the backdoor."

Everyone turned to Hermione. She met their eyes and continued, "We use the backdoor. And while I'm guessing you don't physically have a backdoor, I can make one. Into a storage larder? Or pantry? We can sneak in from behind. We'll leave a token resistance at the front, capturing their attention and come from the rear in a pincer movement."

Lord Blackwood and Lord Bracken were staring at her, as well Aethl; and Brynden had his mouth open. Hoster and Edmund both look befuddled, like it was strange to hear her speak, while Torrhen was smothering a grin.

"That..." sputtered Blackwood, "That works."

Bracken composed himself first. "Then… now?"

Hermione agreed; the sooner they left, they sooner they'd return to Edmure and that battle. Blackwood turned to his castellan and had him write Edmure a note saying that were delayed, and Brynden and Hoster gathered a handful or armed soldiers to join them as the front assault.

For Hermione, she swallowed heavily. It would be the first time since the Battle of Hogwarts that she would be involved in a fight. I just hope I don't let anyone down.


Brynden led the front, charging towards Stone Hedge in a sea of blood red and black ravens trimmed with white - for their sigil - while Bracken led Blackwood, Torrhen, Hermione, as well as two other Raventree Hall guards behind the keep. There was a small village of wooden huts and some in stone around the keep, all closely packed together. There was a heaviness in the air, one Hermione recognized from her time leading up to the Battle of Hogwarts; in Hogsmeade, the village was quiet and still, with the townsfolk barely peeking out of their windows - it was the same here.

"Behind here," whispered Bracken, pointing from their hidden spot between a blacksmith and a tanner at a portion of the Stone Hedge wall that led up to a large tower. "The base of this leads to the larder."

Hermione stepped forward, just partially out of the alleyway, and flicked her wrist to slide her wand into her grasp. She then pointed at the wall, imagined a porthole, and said, "Evanesco." A portion of the stone wall of the keep vanished, leaving a small hole large enough for them to crawl through.

Lord Bracken went first, with Hermione second and the rest following behind. One they were inside the larder, which was nearly bare, Hermione turned back to the wall and whispered, "reparifarge," returning the stone transfiguration to its base. She then wordlessly lit her wand with a lumos, as once the hole repaired they were cast into darkness.

"Lead the way," whispered Hermione, and together, they crept out of the larder into the kitchen. One sculley maid saw them, and almost shrieked, but upon seeing her lord, her eyes just went wide and then she pointed up, towards the Hall.

With Bracken and Blackwood on point, leading the group through the corridors, Hermione didn't have much to do, quickly extinguishing her wand's tip once they left the kitchen. Torrhen kept beside her.

The first Lannister guard they came across was humming as he exited a side room, and had no time to warn anyone before Bracken was upon him, his sword slicing across the man's throat easily. The Lannister bubbled a bit, but Bracken caught him and dragged him into the room he came from quietly.

The next four soldiers met the same fate; the few Bracken maids and soldiers they came across aided them quietly, slipping the heavy-armoured Lannister soldiers into the adjoining rooms, or in one memorable occasion, the privy.

The walls of the keep were scorched in places, and there was a sense of rot where Bracken soldiers had run around carrying buckets of water to douse flames, as many support beams and columns around them were blackened or a darker brown colour, with bits of mould already growing on them. There were remnants of decorative horses galloping up and along the wood.

Hermione and Torrhen eased around one such column, while opposite them Blackwood and Bracken did so to another, and the two other Blackwood guards with them picked another.

They were peering from the shadows into a dark great hall. At the head, on a dais, was a blond-haired Lannister, laughing raucously with at least ten Lannister soldiers while three well-dressed teenage girls with miserable, terrified faces served them from flagons. One had light brown hair, the eldest by the looks of it, wearing a pretty pink gown; the other two had similar traits but darker brown hair, in soft buttercup yellow gowns.

At the foot of the dais were two teen boys in shackles; one, fair-haired, but not Lannister blond, with a pleasant face and wearing a tunic in the reversed house colours of Bracken, and the other with dark hair and a similar chin, also in the Bracken colours.

One guard reached forward and grabbed at the pink gown girls' bum as she passed by, making her squeal in surprise and horror. The fair-haired teen leapt to his feet, shouting, "Leave Barbara alone, you lion scum!"

A guard closer to the teen reached out and heavily struck him across the face with his armoured glove, and the teen collapsed to the hall floor, a dazed expression on his face, his mouth bloody and cheek red.

Barbara, the brown-haired teen in the pink dress, sobbed as the guard reached forward and manhandled her into his lap. "Whatchya gonna do about it, bastard?"

From behind the large column, Hermione saw red. Although the girl didn't look like her much, the light brown hair that bordered on blonde and the pretty pink dress reminded Hermione of Lavender. And when the guard shifted from having Barbara in his lap to pushing her back on the table, all Hermione saw was the broken and bloodied body of her old Gryffindor dorm mate, her throat ripped out from Fenrir Greyback's claws, her eyes vacant and body pale.

Without realizing it, Hermione stepped forward from the column, her wand in hand making an aborted swirl. Fumos, she thought furiously and smoke erupted from her wand, quickly filling the great hall in grey and obscuring the few torches that lit the space.

"What the-?"

"Where's the smoke coming from?"

"Intruders!"

"Swords out!"

Behind her, Hermione could sense Torrhen creeping along; he tapped her on her shoulder, and she glanced back. "Where are they?" he mouthed, jutting his chin forward and squinting in the smoke.

Hermione paused, Torrhen hovering behind her, and pointed her wand forward. With her hand other, she reached back and placed her hand in his, skin-on-skin. Homenum Revelio, she thought, and instantly, the Lannister guards, the three girls, and the two shackled boys lit up in red outlines.

Torrhen inhaled sharply, able to see what she saw. He glanced back down at her and nodded, a grim look on his face as he shifted his grip on his sword.

They inched forward towards the nearest Lannister; the guard had a sword against the darker-haired teen, eyes wide and panicked as they darted around the obscured room. He was shifting back every few steps, dragging the teen with him.

Torrhen snuck up behind and Hermione moved to the front. As Torrhen covered the man's mouth with his hand and slit his throat, Hermione murmured, "Alohamora," and the shackles around the teen sprung free. His eyes were wide but Hermione held a finger to her lips and motioned him to the side, where he quickly disappeared into the smoke.

Meanwhile, noises from the other side of the table meant that Blackwood and Bracken had joined and were battling in the smoke with their guards; having now lost the element of surprise, directed a blast of wind from her wand to blow the smoke away.

Several Lannister guards were already dead, but so were the two Blackwood guards that came with them. They were still unevenly matched, especially with three unnamed girls and one still-shackled teen. Bracken rushed forward toward the table where the three girls were, a cry erupting from his mouth, while Blackwood cursed behind him, engaged in a sword fight with two Lannister guards.

Torrhen slashed at a nearby guard, engaging him but Hermione surveyed the room coolly and picked her target: the handsy Lannister. He stood with the girl plastered against his front, using her a human shield. The girl's sisters were under the table, crying loudly, but she was quiet, eyes wide and pale-faced, already at terms with her eventual death.

I don't think so, thought Hermione. She pointed her wand at the man, thought expulso, and as the girl was wretched from the Lannister's hands, both of them sailing in two different directions, Hermione immediately cast the cushioning charm on the floor where Barbara landed on her stomach with a soft whump. The Lannister guard, however, sailed through the air and hit one of the columns, snapping it in half. The heavy wooden beam then landed on top of him, and he lay unmoving.

Unfortunately, it brought attention to Hermione. Three other guards from the table turned to her direction, including one which seemed like the leader.

"Bitch!" he snarled, and together he and the two others hopped off the dais towards her.

Hermione narrowed her eyes and nonverbally cast depulso, and the very chairs they had sat on went flying towards them in a flurry of wood; one guard cried out as the chair broke against him and he fell to the floor. The other two managed to hack through the wooden chairs with their swords, but left piles of wooden bits behind.

Oppugno, Hermione thought, directing those pieces to the air and shot them towards the two men. The leader dove to the ground, eyes wide; the other was not as lucky and the wooden stakes found purchase between his armour, piercing the skin and jerking him back in tiny hits until he resembled a pin cushion.

"By the Gods," whispered the leader, but his words carried across the hall, "What are you?"

The man got to his knees and then feet, swinging his sword up at the same time and extending his reach to catch Hermione. She, however, cast a nonverbal protego, and the sword bounced off her invisible shield. With a slash towards the man, she cast expulso, and a bright blue light burst from her wand and slammed into the man's chest plate, dead center.

There was a ding as the spell impacted, visibly denting the steel in and making the man gasp out in pain. He was sent flying backwards, ass over head into the table and then over it as well. Hermione raced forward and looked over it, only to see the man dead, his neck at an odd angle.

"Lady Hermione! Behind you!" cried Torrhen, and Hermione turned to see one of the men Blackwood had been fighting had abandoned the Lord to engage her. His sword swung out but she dodged under it, only for the man to grab her right wrist from across his chest, her wand arm, and squeeze painfully.

Hermione cried out, her wand falling from her limp grip, and locked her knees to stop from falling to the floor. The bones of her wrist ground together and tears welled in her eyes.

Conjunctivitis, thought Hermione, gasping aloud as the soldier yanked her forward and off the dais, only to flail back as his eyes swelled up, blurry and pink. He let go of her and scrambled backwards, raising his hands to his face, crying, "I can't see! I can't see!"

Torrhen appeared behind the man and savagely stabbed and slashed him, and the Lannister guard fell to his knees, gurgling on his blood before falling face forward.

Silence descended on the hall, except for the faint sobs of the girls under the table. The other girl, Barbara, rose shakily from where she softly landed, eyes wide and mouth open as she took in the carnage in her home.

"Jeyne? Bess?" hoarsely called Bracken, dropping his sword with a loud clatter and inching towards the table. The two girls, hearing their names, burst out from underneath, racing towards the Lord who swept them into his arms. "My girls, my little girls…!"

"Are they dead?" asked the teen still in shackles. He was near Hermione, at the base of the dais, so she crept forward on her knees and summoned her wand to her hand. It flew through the air and she caught it, wincing at the soreness of her wrist.

"Aye, lad, they are," answered Blackwood, nudging the one he had been fighting with his toe.

Hermione tapped the shackles and with an alohamora, they fell open. He absently rubbed the marks left behind and turned to survey the great hall, which showed the outcome of their battle.

"There are still a few more men outside," said another voice, and Hermione turned to see the first teen she had helped inch out from behind an upright column.

"Nothing we can't handle," said a confident Blackwood, glancing at Torrhen, who had blood splattered across his chest armour, neck and face. "Lady Hermione, can you still fight? Lord Bracken should remain inside with his children and rally the servants."

Torrhen grasped Hermione's upper arm and hauled her to her feet, and she nodded. "I'm fine."

"Good," the other Lord said, and then strode towards the end of the hall, Torrhen and Hermione quickly on his heels. As they passed through the main hall doors to the inner courtyard of Stone Hedge, Hermione heard one of the girls ask, "Who was that? Is she a woods witch?" and Bracken reply, "Something like that, my dove."

There was no rest though; Blackwood burst into the courtyard with a loud roar, catching the attention of the four guards on the ground by the large wooden door that led out of the keep, also half-burnt and rotted; the two archers above the battlements, who had been engaged in speaking to Brynden and Hoster Blackwood outside the keep, whirled on their heels to stare down at the three.

Hermione, however, ran straight for the wooden gate, ignoring the two men on either side who raised their swords.

"BOMBARDA!" she shouted, and the gate, whose doors normally swung inward, burst out in shards around the lock and iron hinges, one creaking as it slammed against the wall on the other side and bounced back, catching the unaware guard and sending him flying forward into the dirt. Torrhen was on the man immediately, bringing his sword straight down and punching through steel and flesh.

With the gate open, Brynden, Hoster and the Blackwood men with them on their horses raced in, their words flashing and the guard at the gate was cut down. Blackwood himself was on top of the battlement, Brynden on his heels after hopping off his horse, and the two men at the top were easily defeated.

In moments, it was over.

Hermione flicked her aching wrist and the wand slid back into her holster, leaving her hands free. She breathed heavily through her nose, her heart coming down from its gallop. She surveyed the courtyard, at the six dead bodies, shards of wood and blood splattered across the stone, and thought: It's over. This is overWe did it.

"Lady Hermione," said Torrhen quietly, coming up beside her. Hermione glanced up at him curiously. He gestured at her hand. "Your wrist, milady. Are you badly hurt?"

Hermione looked down, spotting the bruises that were already forming a black ring around the delicate joint. "I - I'll be fine, Torrhen. Nothing a little Essence of Dittany can't cure."

The older man looked skeptically at her, but nodded. "If you say so, Lady Hermione…"

"Lady Hermione!" cried Blackwood, turning from where he stood with his sons. His face was bright and open, a grin stretching across his face - he looked beyond ecstatic for someone covered in blood and sweat. "Your magic is quite impressive!"

"I agree," added Lord Bracken as he stepped outside, the younger children all following him; the two youngest girls, in particular, kept close to his side. "Without you, my son and nephew would be dead, and my daughters as well. I owe you more than I could ever repay."

Hermione shook her head, making to reply, but Bracken cut her off as he stepped up to her, cupping her shoulders with his hands. "Please," he said, his voice low and pained, "Barbara was… badly hurt by the Mountain and my girls were terrified of the Lannister bastards that remained. It may not seem like much for you, having such amazing abilities, but it means much to us. You will always be welcomed in Stone Hedge, Lady Hermione."

"Aye, and Raventree Hall," boomed Blackwood, eyeing Bracken. Indecision warred on his face for a moment, dimming his smile to solemn. He extended a hand. "Bracken - Jonos - shall we - that is, shall we end this fight? Once and for all? We are not our ancestors."

Bracken eyed Blackwood warily, looking from the hand to the man a few times, but he then nodded slowly. "Aye. Aye - it is time. There are bigger fights than that of the Brackens and Blackwoods."

They shook hands, clasping each other's wrists tightly. Behind Blackwood, Hoster beamed, and one of the girls behind Bracken eyed the tall, gangly teen speculatively.

It was a historic moment - after hundreds of years, the Blackwoods and Brackens were putting aside their feud for a greater fight; but the day wasn't over yet, and Hermione needed to remind them of it. "I still need to ward Stone Hedge," she said, drawing their attention, "And then Edmure needs us."

Blackwood sighed. "Then let us complete this and head back - we've already spent more time here than we had planned."

Bracken agreed, sending his son - Harry Rivers - to find a map of Stone Hedge, and Hermione spent the time etching the same runes on the corners of the keep, with Torrhen trailing behind her. Blackwood, Bracken, and his nephew, Hendry, as well as Brynden and Hoster and the Blackwood men, began to clean the courtyard and move the dead Lannister bodies.

Within the hour, they were done and Hermione was exhausted, swaying slightly as the events of the day began to take their toll. It had been almost a year since she had used so much magic in such a short period of time, and like all muscles, she had to build her tolerance back up.

"Come, Lady Hermione," said Torrhen quietly, nudging her as she swayed into his shoulder, "Can you… ah, what is it? Ap-par-rate us back to High Heart?"

Hermione swallowed and straightened, running a hand through her tangled curls. "Ah - yes, I think so."

As Blackwood gave last orders to his son, and Hermione mentally prepared herself for three jumps. Barbara, the eldest Bracken girl, approached Hermione quietly, eyeing Torrhen who stood behind her. The Karstark moved back slightly, and Barbara eased forward, a cup in her hands.

"Thank you," the girl said quietly, and Hermione took the drink, sighing into the cup of mead. "They - the Mountain, he -" she shuddered and there was a haunted look in her eyes that Hermione didn't like. "Just - thank you, Lady Hermione."

"You'll be safe now," whispered Hermione, firmly. She reached out with her free hand and caught the sleeve of Barbara's gown. "You will. You'll be safe inside these walls, I promise."

The other girl smiled, and then looked down, taking the cup and backing up several steps until she was standing with her sisters, half-brother, and cousin.

Then Blackwood and Bracken were with Hermione, the Lord of Stone Hedge saying, "let's go," and Hermione decided to push her magic, reaching out and grabbing the two Lords on either side of her. Torrhen looped an arm around Hermione's waist and then, with a pop, they were gone.

They reappeared where they left the horses, the shadows in the forest around High heart lengthening and deepening as the sun sank in the west. One horse - Bracken's - nervously whinied, but calmed as the man soothed it.

Hermione, however, felt whatever energy she had left plummet. She had expanded too much, too quickly, unable to build herself up over time or surround herself with the ambient magic of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, or even the Burrow. She swayed, and then Torrhen was lifting her onto their horse.

"Here we go, Lady Hermione," he muttered, and she didn't even notice as the three men turned their horses as one, galloping down the side of the hill and around its curve, away from Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge, as her head bobbed back and then forward, and she slipped into unconsciousness.


TBC

Chapter Text

the Winter Witch VIII


 

Hermione's unexpected "nap" gave her time to rejuvenate - albeit, not much - for the first couple of hours of their journey. Although Edmure had men making token forts along the Red Fork north of them, he was sure that the majority of the fighting would be further south, nearer to Riverrun and the Stone Mill, as they were closer to the riverlands and westerlands border between the Tullys and the Lannisters. Tywin's force would have eased south from Harrenhal and then swung up and around towards Riverrun, the largest opposing force accessible, especially given that Robb's army was beyond their reach over a mountain range.

As such, Hermione swung into consciousness, only to find that she was lying on hard, unyielding ground. It was so reminiscent of her time on the run with Harry and Ron that the fog clogging her brain and the visceral fear those memories evoked, had her confused, especially as she stared into the warm and crackling fire in front of her.

A shape moved towards her, and Hermione pushed herself up on her hands, muttering, "Harry? Is it my turn for the watch? Give the locket here, then - it's my turn to wear the damn thing."

"Why, Lady Hermione," the figure teased, and she frowned as Harry never called her 'Lady Hermione', "Say that in front of my father and he'll definitely think you're sweet on me."

Father? thought Hermione, frowning heavily. Harry's father is dead…

Hermione almost jumped up, brandishing her wand to attack the man, but then the memories came: walking through the Forbidden Forest, ending up in Westeros; Robb, his coronation, and meeting the Northern army; Torrhen -

"Torrhen," said Hermione, softly. "I'm sorry - I thought you were someone else for a moment, there."

"Aye, this Harry," he continued to tease, his shape taking form from the dark as he crouched low in front of her and to the side of the fire, so she was able to make out his square jaw and hulking shoulders. "Is there competition for your heart, my lady?"

A loud snort from the other side of the fire had Hermione peering. Both Lord Bracken and Lord Blackwood were roasting some small mammals - likely squirrels or rabbit - on a makeshift spit. She had been unconscious longer than she thought.

"Karstark," began Blackwood, "If your father thinks he can broker a marriage deal for you or your brothers with Lady Hermione, he's delusional."

Quite right, too, thought Hermione happily, finally glad someone was on her side. Her hopes were quickly dashed when the man continued, "If Lady Hermione even gave the slightest inclination she was interested, I'd be joining the discussion and parading Brynden or Lucas in front of her in a moment's notice."

Hermione scowled deeply and Bracken laughed, while Torrhen crossed his arms and sat cross-legged on the ground just by Hermione's feet.

"Lady Hermione loves me best," the young man said petulantly.

"Only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays," quipped Hermione, rolling her eyes and sitting up properly. She gingerly took the hot slice of meat Bracken passed her with his dagger.

Torrhen muttering something under his breath, something Hermione couldn't make out, but was sure had mentioned Robb in it.

"Lady Hermione, what was this locket you mentioned?" asked Bracken, as he reached for one of the cooked meats in front of him, only to hiss and bring his fingers to his mouth as the juices spit. "And who is Harry?"

Hermione shifted, chewing thoughtfully before answering. "Harry's my best friend- practically my brother. We met when we were both starting at Hogwarts and were sorted into Gryffindor together."

"Gryffindor?" asked Blackwood, attempting the strange word carefully.

"Hogwarts has four houses that students are sorted into based on their personalities, or preference," she lectured, absently licking the juice from her own slice of meat off her thumb. "Hufflepuff for the loyal and hardworking; Ravenclaw for the bookish and logical; Slytherin for the cunning and ambitious; and my house, Gryffindor: for the brave and daring."

"Well, you certainly are brave and daring," complimented Bracken, handing her another sliver of meat.

"Thanks," replied Hermione, for both the words and dinner; "But the Hat originally wanted me for Ravenclaw."

"Hat?" echoed Torrhen.

Hermione nodded. "We were sorted by the magical hat that had the ability to look into someone's mind - and soul, I suppose - and best place you based on your current personality and your hopes and fears. It is meant to help you grow as a person, but there are limitations of course. Who you are at eleven is not who you are at seventeen, for example. And given that we fought a war, we had to adapt and change in order to survive."

"How did you become involved in such a war?" asked Blackwood, just as Bracken on his other side muttered something rudely about people not taking care of their women.

"I became Harry's friend," said Hermione with a shrug. "His parents were murdered when he was one by a dark wizard - Voldemort - and when he tried to kill Harry, it didn't work. That made Harry enemy number one, and by default, I became part of that. I was smart, and loyal, and I helped Harry in tricky situations and was at his side for all his adventures. It didn't help that our war was based on blood."

"Blood?" all three men made confused faces, but it was Bracken who voiced it.

Hermione glanced at Torrhen, who was frowning and staring intently at the fire. She cleared her throat. "In the magical world, there were those who were born to witches and wizards; if they could trace their family line back several generations, they were considered pureblood. Someone with a one magical parent was a halfblood, and then there was me: someone born to two people without magic. I'm a Muggleborn, or insultingly, a Mudblood."

Indecision warred within her for a moment, but she realized she wanted these men to know about her and her past; she wanted them to see she was capable and strong, and that she was more than magic and books but strong in her own right. She withstood torture at the hands of a madwoman, and their understanding of the world where women were ornaments, unless a Mormont, wasn't fair or accurate.

She rolled up the sleeve of her sweater on her left arm and held it out in such a way that the carved lines from Bellatrix's cursed dagger were visible in the firelight. The scarred word Mudblood was still raised and puckered, an angry red against the pale of her skin, as though it was just carved days ago instead of a year.

Blackwood was staring at her arm in horror, while Bracken had angrily spat out a curse Hermione didn't recognize; but it was Torrhen's furious face that stopped her from speaking, "oh, it's fine, it happened a year ago, it doesn't hurt anymore," in a flippant manner.

"Who? How?" the young man, whom Hermione was beginning to regard as a friend, growled out.

Hermione turned away from the men partially, curling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them in a loose hug as she stared into the flame. "We made a mistake. We were on the run, fugitives, and Harry tripped the taboo. We were hunted down and caught by Snatchers, and they took us to Malfoy Manor."

The words were soft, almost rote by the way she repeated it, as though she had said the story before and more than once or twice. Her eyes took on a glazed appearance, lost in the haze of memories.

"Ron and Harry were taken to the dungeons, and they kept me in the drawing room. Bellatrix thought I'd be easier to break because of my diluted and impure blood, that I'd be the loose link that would answer her questions. She tortured me, and when that didn't work, she used a cursed dagger to remind me of what I'd always be - a Mudblood."

But then Hermione turned to the men, a small smile on her face. "I didn't break, though. Lied under torture, and this scar? All it does is remind me every day just how strong I am, what I am capable of, and what I survived."

Her words rang strong with truth and conviction, and it was enough that the three men with her did not say anything. Instead, Blackwood and Bracken began discussing joint hunting and raiding parties their now-allied houses could conduct to keep Lannisters off their lands, speaking in very loud voices. Torrhen's jaw worked, and hermione reached out to touch his shoulder. He jerked, then looked at her.

"You okay?" she asked quietly.

The angry look on his face melted to a wry one. "I dislike the idea of you in danger, Lady Hermione, even more so that I was unable to prevent such danger to you."

"It happened a year ago," she pointed out.

He shook his head. "Still. I promised King Robb to protect you where I could, and I feel like I let you down, somehow." When she opened her mouth to refute that, he grinned. "I know - I know - but… it doesn't change how I feel." He then nudged his shoulder into hers, nearly sending her sprawling in the opposite direction. He laughed. "I guess you'll have to remain out of trouble from now on."

Hermione grumbled something uncomplimentary and he laughed again.

As the evening wore on, Blackwood suggested taking first watch, with Bracken after him, and then Torrhen. Hermione put up a token effort to be included, but was shot down with a forceful response that she was still recovering from her magical use. While not fully true, it was true enough to some degree that she didn't put up a sight, and quickly fell asleep.

They were all up at the crack of dawn the next morning, just as the sun's golden rays began to spread across the farmland. There was still a hard day's ride ahead of them, and Hermione was beginning to chafe on the idea of being on horseback for another day of travel.

As she was staring contemplatively at the three horses, Blackwood approached her. "Copper for your thoughts?"

"I was just wondering if I can stupefy the horses and we just Side-Along back to Stone Mill," sighed Hermione.

"What is this - stoo-puh-fi?" asked Blackwood curiously.

"It knocks someone unconscious," called Torrhen from where he was finishing packing up his bedroll. "Right, Lady Hermione? It's what you used on the Kingslayer when -" he stopped and unconsciously ran a hand across his neck, where there was a faint line from the wound she healed.

Hermione nodded. "That's it," she said, without calling attention to the near-miss her friend had.

"Will it harm the horses?" asked Bracken nervously; a fair point, given that the man's sigil was a horse.

"Not at all."

"And it'll save us time?" asked Blackwood, rubbing his rough beard close to the chin.

Again, Hermione nodded.

"Well, I see no harm in it," concluded Bracken, casting his vote. The other three men agreed, and Hermione brandished her wand, pointing it at the three horses who looked back passively. She quickly cast four spells in succession: a cushioning charm on the ground, so that when the horses fell they didn't break their legs; and then three stupefys to knock them out.

Once done, the four stared at the horses and Torrhen asked the obvious question: "Well. Now what?"

Feeling sheepish, because there was no way they would be able to Apparate with three fully-grown horses as well, Hermione did an animal-to-object transfiguration and turned the three horses into small, hand-sized toy horses instead, each mimicking the features of their real counterparts. She tucked them in her beaded bag and said, with a flourish, "Voila! Now we can go."

Bracken shook his head, but he and Blackwood took their places next to Hermione like they had the previous night, with Torrhen behind her.

"I'm never going to get used to this," muttered Blackwood.

"Oh, it's really not so bad," said Bracken in response with a grin, as he was the only one of the three to not get sick when Apparating.

Blackwood's retort was left in the air as they displaced space, arriving at the Stone Mill with a loud crack.

However, the noise of their arrival was masked by the shouts and screams of the men around them, as they had appeared in the middle of a battle.


Brynden Tully, also known as the Blackfish, was worried. oh, he tried to not let it show, of course; he wasn't biting his nails or wringing his hands like some milkmaid. But he was pacing a role in the rug in front of the fireplace of the room he was in, hands clasped behind his back when they weren't aggressively stroking his beard.

Things had been going so well, he thought darkly. Of course; of course here was when things went wrong.

Things weren't necessarily wrong, either - but they weren't looking good. Initially, after the siege of the Crag, once King Robb awoke after having the arrow pushed through the wound and a poutrice then slathered on top of it, the young Wolf commanded the army to station themselves in and around the ruins of the Westerling household.

There were holes in the ceiling to fix, wounds to be treated, and the dead to bury. And the King handled that admirably. He even handled the bitter Rolf Spicer, castellan of the Crag, and his sister, Lady Westerling, with deftness and grace. They were even able to hold a brief meeting of all the commanders at the Crag, and through the communications parchment that Lady Hermione made, with the others who took the other Lannister keeps. They were even requesting more information about Bran and Rickon from Riverrun; however, Edmure was surprisingly silent, which was a cause for concern.

And the Blackfish went to bed that night thinking everything was wonderful and they would soon return to Riverrun victorious, that they would return to Riverrun shortly and deal with his idiotic nephew.

Except Olyvar Frey, Robb's squire, couldn't wake him up the next day.

The Maester of the Crag, a wizened, crotchety old man, took one look at their feverish King and said that his arrow wound was infected. And as sweat gleaned on the Young Wolf's bare torso as his squire brought wet rag after wet rag to cool his liege lord down, Brynden only had one thought: this is not going to go well.

Two days later, Robb's fever hadn't broke, and his Kingsguard, as well as Lord Umber and Lord Bolton, were ensconced in the room they had commandeered for their King. It was a tight fit, but Olyvar and Eddard Karstark were running medical interference, while Daryn Hornwood and Dacey Mormont stood just inside the doors to the chamber; two other Kingsguards members, Lucas Blackwood and Peter Mallister, stood outside.

Umber, Bolton, and the Blackfish stood by the fireplace opposite the bed, braving the heat and sweat that trickled down their spines. Outside, the moon was high in the sky and a few stars blinked in and out of focus as clouds swept across them. They were nearing three days without change, and they were getting desperate.

On the bed, Robb moaned and writhed in pain, his face already a pale white. His Tully-lent hair, a deep auburn, stood out in stark contrast, and was plastered to his head in a sticky, sweaty mess.

"We need to do something," hissed the Greatjon, although his version of a whisper was speaking normally for everyone else.

"Like what?" countered Bolton, eyes firmly on his King while he had his arms folded as he leaned against back in his seat at a table. "We've tried what medicinal herbs we had on hand; even Lady Westerling's daughter has brought stuff."

Brynden shook his head. "I don't trust the very family we've essentially imprisoned by successfully taking their home."

"Hornwood's taste-testing everything," assured Bolton, glancing at the man who stood stiff and straight at the door. The tall brown-haired man with square jaw covered in day-old stubble was made of stone in the way he kept sentry.

From the bed, Robb groaned, "Bran. Rickon."

"We need more information for his Grace," countered Umber.

"I would like to know about my nephews, too," argued Brynden darkly, "But my King will need to actually be awake to hear the news to begin with! He needs to heal. He needs a better Maester!"

"There is no one," argued back Umber, eyes flashing. "That useless corpse here would rather see him die than help, and if we send for one, it'll take them days - if not a week or longer! - to get here from Riverrun."

"And news from Riverrun is quiet now," sighed Bolton, drumming his fingers on the tabletop. "They are probably engaged in battle as we speak."

A knock on the door had everyone turn to it in unison. It creaked open and Lucas Blackwood, the second son to Lord Blackwood, a tall but lean young man of black hair poked his head in. "Beginning your pardon, my Lords - Lady Jeyne is here with some more herbs and concoctions for his Grace."

There was some grumbling, but Hornwood opened the door and th small, timid girl slipped in, her eyes darting from one man to the next nervously. She was a mousy but pretty thing, noted Brynden, skinny to the point of boney but with thick brown hair that she kept tucked over one shoulder.

She eased to the seat next to the King's bed, while Olyvar Frey hovered like an anxious mother, eyeing each and every bottle she lifted from the tray she carried in.

"What's that?" the squire asked suspiciously, pointing to each one.

Hornwood strode forward and Lady Jeyne allowed drops of each to fall onto his tongue with a stopper she brought. After several minutes with no ill effects, the group in the room collectively relaxed - only a bit, though.

Lady Jeyne began first by probing the festering wound, causing pus to escape and Robb to groan on the bed. Brynden grit his teeth and flexed his hand around the handle of his blade. She removed the dressings and then bathed the wound first, before putting a poultice mixture on top of it, then redressing.

Bolton was watching her carefully, and his eyes slid from the young girl to his King when Robb seemed to settle a bit.

Lady Jeyne curtseyed to the men as she gathered her supplies, and left as silently as she entered. Bolton's eyes narrowed after her.

"What are you thinking?" rumbled Brynden, having been watching him.

"I think," said Bolton softly, which was at his normal volume, but this time it carried gravitas, "That we should send a message on the parchment to Lady Hermione."

"Oh?" asked Brynden with a scoff. "And what could Lady Hermione do that none of us can?"

Umber sighed noisily and Bolton turned to Brynden with a cool look in his eyes. "She's a witch, Blackfish. I'm certain that she's more than capable of healing our King given that she saved Torrhen Karstark from bleeding out when the Kingslayer slashed his throat open."

Brynden's mouth dropped open at the slight rebuke, his eyes darting to Daryn Hornwood, who had been in the clearing during that battle, who nodded.

The large Tully sighed, running his hands over his hair but nodded reluctantly. "Fine. Write her. And for the God's sake, I hope she's near that parchment and can come soon."


Chaos. It was pure chaos.

Torrhen shouted something in Hermione's face, and then he shoved her behind him, bringing his sword up and deflecting a stray arrow.

Blackwood and Bracken had already taken off - both in different directions - and were lost in the melee of bodies in various armour - some shiny in steel, and others, in the boiled leathers than the northern army preferred. The noise was loud, filled with shouts and screams and the clang of steel hitting steel.

Hermione crouched, hands over her ears as she squeezed her eyes shut. This was nothing like the Battle of Hogwarts - this was something altogether different. The Battle of Hogwarts had been loud and chaotic, yes, but it was with the shout of spellfire and flashes of light that one had to duck under or avoid. They were racing up and down castle stairwells and hallways, or ducking into classrooms for a breather while Death Eaters paced up and down the corridors.

Magical battles were often conducted standing still, side-faced and waving wands; Torrhen, in front of her, was moving back and forth, sideways, hacking and slashing at any opponents who chose to challenge him, sliding to face sideways one moment and then bracing his shoulders forward the next for a downward slash.

His sword was bright red minutes later, sweat already trickling down the side of his face and into the collar of his black leathers. He turned around and leaned down, hauling Hermione to her feet. He tucked her protectively close to his left side.

"We need to get you to safety!" he shouted, bringing his right arm up to block at a man in red bearing down at them.

Hermione, eyes wide, watched as he stabbed the man through, yanking his sword out quickly - so quickly that blood splattered forward onto his leathers and neck and some hit Hermione as well.

Time seemed to slow. Hermione was only aware of the furious pounding of her own heart as she stared around her, watching her friend defend her as they began to retreat towards the Stone Mill, which stood as a beacon above all the fighting, the sigil of the Tullys - a trout - flying proudly in a soft wind.

Torrhen cursed, and Hermione saw him scoop up someone's discarded shield and he rammed forward, into an oncoming opponent, shoving the man back a few feet. His eyes were on his enemy, leaving Hermione standing shell shocked on the muddy - and bloody - uneven field.

Someone was screaming, and Hermione turned to see a man coming towards her, eyes and mouth wide, his face already covered in blood and other matter. For a moment, she just stood there. And then -

"Reducto!"

The man went flying back, his armour taking the hit but not without severe injury: the steel had punctured in, leaving a large gaping wound that had shattered and pulverized his chest cavity inward.

Sound came rushing back to Hermione, and she spun, eyes seeking out Torrhen. He had abandoned the shield and was fighting sword-to-sword with a Lannister, but another two were moving towards him.

Hermione branished her wand, and focusing narrowing on the armour just above their chest plates, a spot she was familiar with due to Torrhen's own wound, she thought viciously, diffindo, jabbing her wand in one man's direction first, and then the next. A flash of pale light erupted from her wand, and slashed thinly across their throats cleanly.

They fell to the ground like puppets cut from their string.

Torrhen, having defeated his opponent, turned on his boots to face Hermione, eyes wide and horrified, trying to find her in the crowd.

"My Lady!" he dodged under a flying sword and then punched another as he ran to her side. "We need to go!"

Hermione shook her head. "We need to help!"

"How?"

Hermione turned, completely expecting her friend to watch her back in case any other soldiers came up to them. She surveyed the field, but her height wasn't conductive to seeing over towering knights and lords, especially once they were mixed with their enemies. Behind her, the Stone Mill towered over everything; at the top was a small ledge: barely two feet, but it ran along the top dome.

Hermione swallowed.

Torrhen, at her side, breathed heavily, almost panting in exertion, and followed her gaze. His small brown eyes went hard, and then narrowed into slits as he whipped his head back around to her. "No, Lady Hermione! I swear to the Old Gods if you-!"

But Hermione had no idea what he swore, as she disapparated with a pop, lost in the noise of the battle, and reappeared on that small ledge. Her weight overbalanced and she shot a sticking charm to her feet and then swung herself forward to hug the rough stones of the domed top of the Mill.

Once she was sure of herself, she undid the sticking charm and slowly twisted on the small ledge, looking over the landscape. Behind her, the wide and churning Red Fork rushed by; the mill itself stretched across the bank, using the kinetic motion of the water beneath to power the mill's blades.

The river wound straight south, and opposite, north, Hermione could see the faint outline of Riverrun on what she knew was the three-way break of the river: one to go south, where they were now; one west turning into the Tumblestones towards the mountains; and another east from Riverrun, leading to the main mouth of the Trident.

Facing south, the battle was spread over a large parcel of what was once farmland backed on gently rolling green hills, sparsely decorated with large fir and coniferous trees. Those tiny mini forests were bracketed in by half-walls of stone and wood, too densely packed for any other purpose that to serve as visual markers to break up the farming areas. Now, however, they were used to hide archers.

Ahead, coming up from the south, Hermione could see the swarm of crimson and gold, large banners flying a proud lion in the distance on a hill that overlooked the battle, opposite the river. On this side of the Red Fork, the land sloped down into plains whereas on the other side, the land rose to form a natural, steep bank. On that bank were several small wooden fortifications, tiny watch towers on stilts with Tully and Tully-allied archers.

It only took a moment to categorize it all, but Hermione could easily see that they were outnumbered. Severely outnumbered.

I need to do damage, she thought, but in the best place possible.

She peered ahead, towards that hill where several men sat on their horses, immoveable figures overlooking the carnage below and framed by the flying lions. Instinctively, she knew that one of those men was Tywin Lannister.

While she could Apparate over, Hermione was unsure if that was the best direction at the moment; she plan was still to return home, and announcing her abilities as a witch would put a target on her back. Even though many in Robb's army was aware of her status as a witch, few knew her capabilities or doubted what Eddard or Torrhen Karstark had accidentally blurted out. If she couldn't return home, her magical abilities were the only thing she had that gave her an advantage over others in this world.

Also - what would she do with Tywin Lannister if she even knew which man it was? Stun him and take him captive? And hold him at Riverrun? That would only encourage his bannermen to attack viciously and with Robb's portion of the army elsewhere, Hermione wasn't sure even her wards could hold against such a dedicated force.

No, she decided, eyes narrowed on a marching foot relief unit that was coming up along the river towards the main battle, which was beginning to thin out - with the crimson and gold winning. That won't do.

With a deep breath, as she still had not recovered fully from yesterday's warding of two keeps, the battle at Stone Hedge, nor the Side-Along she conducted, Hermione centered herself and pointed her wand at the bank of the river, eyes closed as she concentrated.

She visualized what she wanted her spell to do - as that was half the way magic worked, on intent - and murmured her spell. "Glacius."

From the tip of her wand, a blue light quickly burst in a flurry of snowflakes as the air around her from above instantly plummeted - after all, warm air rose, but cold air fell rapidly to the earth.

The strong breeze raced across the battlefield, and almost immediately Hermione saw the results as the men still fighting began to shiver and their breath misted in front of them. Those lying still on the ground soon were covered with frost. There was confusion on the ground as the southern Lords were unable to understand what happened - while the Northern army, and some Riverlands men - were able to shake off the cold far quicker and take advantage of their enemies' pause.

The gust of wind then hit the Red Fork, and instantly the water began to freeze over. Once it solidified to what Hermione needed, she then cut the spell.

"Bombarda Maxima!" she shouted, clutching the side of the mill as she jabbed at the frozen river in the distance, watching the ice crack and then break into a multiple of a hundred little sharp pieces. "Oppugno!"

The tiny shards of ice rose in the air and with a flick of Hermione's wand for direction, she sent them towards the Lannister relief soldiers. Still confused at the sudden drop in temperature, they had no time to notice the icicles, but they certainly heard the cries of pain as they punctured through flesh and in between the armour, riddling the men with the shards.

From her vantage point, Hermione watched, slightly sickened, at the destruction she caused with her spells as the entire unit fell to the ground, and those closest to the river turned it red with their blood.

However, without the relief, and in conjunction with the cold air, the battle turned in the favour of the Tullys and their men, and they quickly overwhelmed those who remained. As the line progressed closer and closer to the hill the Lannister leaders were, one man simply turned his horse and left.

That was the sign for the others, and they too, followed the first man on horseback, and then a horn was blown and call went out; immediately, those closest to the hill, at the rear of the Lannister force, began to straggle backwards, and then soon the entire force - whatever was left of it - began a retreat.

They moved quickly, and from her spot, Hermione saw them begin their march southeast, towards the hills. She let out a silent sigh of relief, and Apparated down to the field below, focusing on Torrhen.

usually she wasn't able to blind Apparate to a person, but she was familiar enough with Torrhen now that she could find him easily, and popped into existence next to him as he was walking the battlefield angrily, taking his emotions out on crimson and gold soldiers who remained behind, too injured to move or near death.

He swore loudly when she appeared, jumping and blinding sending his sword flying, making Hermione duck low.

"Torrhen! Merlin!"

The tall man grimaced, his forehead wrinkled. Then, horror settled on his face as he realized what he had nearly done. "Lady Hermione!" he yelped.

"Hi," she replied wryly.

He glared at her, and then ushered her back in the direction she came from, towards the Stone Mill and where Edmure's command tents were set up. "You, my lady, are going to Lord Edmure and staying in the tent and not moving!"

Hermione wisely did not argue, allowing the taller man to maneuver her around bloody bodies and churned ground, until they reached the command tent flying the Tully banner of a trout. Edmure was already inside, covered in dirt, grime, and blood, but had a beaming smile on his face as Lord Blackwood, Mallister, and Bracken all congratulated him on sending Tywin's forces back south.

"I saw that the Mountain was here," Lord Blackwood was saying as Hermione and Torrhen entered. "What became of him?"

"Peppered with arrows like a hedgehog," crowed Edmure happily. "We held the west bank of the river, and he lost more than two-thirds of his men attempting to cross the Mill, coming across our reserves hidden away with Lady Hermione's magic, and I faced him to a standstill until the retreat was sounded!"

"Well, I doubt it was a standstill," interjected Mallister with infinite kindness and patience, "But you did well enough against a man that normally would crush anyone else."

Hermione sidled up in the space that Bracken made for her at the table. Edmure nodded in her direction and continued, "Overall, our numbers stand at two-hundred and eighty lost. Our defense of the archers in the forts and trees on the west side of the river helped keep the majority of the Lannister forces from crossing."

"The same happened near Riverrun where Lord Vance had command," reported Bracken, reading from their communication parchment.

"Our reports are coming in, slowly, but by the sound of it, Ser Marchbrand was soundly routed several times where he attempted to breech our forts," continued Bracken, eyes on the parchment in front of him, absently moving his finger to point at the areas where these people were on the map on the table. "Ser Crakehall is now a captive of ours and currently being treated for his injuries, while we have confirmation that Lord Leo Lefford and Robert Brax are both dead."

"There was one point here where I was worried," admitted Edmure, running a hand over his auburn hair, glancing at Hermione, "But when that northern gust of wind came - well -"

"Aye," agreed Blackwood happily, also looking at Hermione. "It seems our Winter Witch is living up to her name!"

Hermione blanched, having not realized that her actions would reinforce the stupid name Karstark had given her at Robb's coronation. She swallowed and said, a bit snipily, "I saw the Lannister army moving southeast. Do we know what's that way?"

"Well, not our King," said Edmure, almost flippantly, "Which is the important thing. Tywin can't move back towards Casterly Rock for reinforcements."

Blackwood, however, frowned. "We should look into this, though. Lady Hermione makes a good point: the Old Lion was moving with purpose and reason, so he had a backup plan. We need to know what it was."

All fell silent as they contemplated how they were going to manage that.

"A problem for another day," finally said Edmure slowly. "We won these past two days of fighting, and the men deserve to enjoy themselves and our victory. We can get started on figuring out where Tywin Lannister disappeared to shortly."

There were some grumbles, but Edmure ordered Bracken inform Vance to make his way back to Riverrun to regroup, leaving only token forces behind in case of Lannister retaliation, and both Blackwood and Bracken offered their homes of Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge as home bases.

"Well, if that's all you need," began Hermione, brushing her palms on her jeans absently, "Then I have three horses to transfigure back and wake."

Torrhen laughed at Edmure's confused look, and Bracken and Blackwood shared a smile. Bracken turned back to the parchment, his stylus dipped in ink as he wrote the orders on Edmure's behalf.

However, as he wrote, other words formed on the parchment, swirling, and then Bracken's face, as he read, morphed into horror.

"What? What is it?" demanded Edmure, seeing it. "Is it Riverrun? FatherWhat?"

Blackwood reached out and grabbed the man's shoulder. "Jonos - speak!"

The Lord's eyes turned to Hermione, of all the people in the tent. "It's King Robb. He's taken an arrow and the wound is festering."

Horror spread through Hermione's veins as they turned to ice. She felt dizzy and Bracken's next words seemed to come from a far distance: "They - that is - the Blackfish - the Kingsguard - they're asking for Lady Hermione's help. Immediately."

The tent pin pricked to a tiny point in her vision. Hermione took a moment to glance at Torrhen, who looked at wretched as her, but he gave her the tiniest of nods. With the loudest crack yet, Hermione blind Apprated to Robb, in a place she had never been before, hoping she wouldn't splinch herself.

Hang on, Robb, she thought, I'm coming!


TBC

Chapter Text

the Winter Witch IX


For Robb, there was no indication that time passed. One minute, he was slipping into the bed Lady Spicer had shown him to, Olyvar following dutifully behind him, and then he was sucked into his dreams - strange dreams.

He was back at Winterfell, standing in the inner courtyard while next to his horse. Jon stood behind him, looking solemn as usual with his black curly hair and long pale face; always looking more like Eddard Stark than Robb did, but Robb never cared. He wore black boiled leathers and a black fur coat over top, a sword belt around his waist and thick boots tucked into his trousers, all signs of the coming winter and the temperature difference at the Wall.

"Next time I see you, you'll be all in black," he joked, although his heart ached at seeing his half-brother feel so unwelcome at Winterfell that he would run at the first chance he got to be somewhere else, to belong somewhere else.

"It always was my colour," quipped Jon back, a tiny smile breaking his serious visage and warming his eyes.

Robb grinned back and his arms extended around his brother, pulling him tight against his chest for a moment while he savoured the feeling of being with blood. He thumped him on the back goodnaturedly, and then stepped back.

No! No! Robb railed in his mind. Don't let go! You need him! You need Jon at your side! He's the brother that didn't abandon you! That didn't betray you!

The inner courtyard of Winterfell disappeared and then he was in the Godswood, at the base of the ancient Heart tree, staring up at its thin blood-red leaves that swayed in a gentle summer breeze, the rustling of those leaves blending into a calming song that paired with the bubbles from the pool next to the tree.

The face on the Heart tree stared into Robb and he shifted his eyes away to light on a figure who sat on a low boulder, its edges worn smooth after hundreds of years of other's behinds carving their mark into the granite. His face was hunched over his Valyrian blade, Ice, as he ran a bloodied cloth over and over the gleaming metal, cleaning it.

The man looked up and smiled. "Aren't you going to sit, Robb?"

Robb did so, gingerly. His father was dead.

"You have quite the task in front of you," he continued, turning back to his sword, spinning it by the handle to see the other side of the blade. "You've called the banners, rallied the North and Riverlands to your side and yet you are unfulfilled. Why?"

"You know why," mumbled Robb, looking at his hands in his lap. He curled them into fists. "I want to avenge you."

Ned nodded. His voice was calm when he asked, "And have you?"

"Not yet."

"How will you achieve this?"

"By continuing to raze the Lannister lands and take their castles and keeps," declared Robb hotly. "By making Tywin Lannister scurry from one battlefield to the next until he is too broken to continue."

"Will that bring me back?"

Pain lanced through Robb at the words. "Nothing will bring you back."

Ned turned to look at his son, straight in the eyes. "Exactly, Robb. Nothing will bring me back. You have a duty to your brothers and sisters, yes; to the North as well. But remember: Winter is Coming."

And then the Godswood was disappearing and Robb could only reach out and cry, "Father!" before he was in the Great Hall, sitting in his father's chair and Bran, in his chair with Hodor behind him, was at his side. He looked around the Hall in confusion, realizing that Luwin was staring at him.

"Lord Robb?" Luwin asked, and Robb blinked before realizing he was meant to be settling some dispute or another.

"I-" he broke off, shaking his head and wondering if it even mattered what he said; he was barely keeping his head above all his duties. Winning a battle was nothing compared to the delicate dance between small folk and their grievances and his Lords and their grievances and…

"I'll do it," offered Bran kindly, his young voice piping up from beside Robb.

Robb opened his mouth - Bran was too young, he couldn't rule Winterfell on his own - and then Rickon was racing through the Hall, wild and dirty and carefree with Shaggydog scrambling after him, his nails clicking against the stone and then Winterfell was burning - the fire was hot and bright and Robb squinted, wondering where his younger brothers went - why did he leave them alone in Winterfell to go south? WHY?

And then they too were gone in the flame and he cried out, loudly, "Bran! Rickon!" but no one answered.

"You're so stupid," a derisive feminine voice snorted, and Robb looked down to see Arya looking up at him, her long black hair pulled back into a braid and tucked into Bran's old tunic and trousers. She had a small, thin blade at her hip, held tightly in her left hand. They were somewhere grassy, the riverlands perhaps.

"Me? Stupid?" he replied, affronted. "Why?"

"You're a King, aren't you? You make the rules," said his youngest sister simply.

"I have to follow the rules more than anyone else," argued Robb, while another part of him wondered what rules they were arguing about.

Arya shook her head. "Rules are meant to be broken, especially if you want to break them."

"There are consequences, Arya!" snapped Robb.

She sighed. "Aren't there always?"

Then she turned and began walking away, leaving Robb gaping after her. "Wait - Arya, wait!" and he took a step forward to follow her but found himself in a large courtyard, a bubbling fountain of clear water in the middle with several blooming flowers that gave off a sweet scent.

A cool, thin feminine hand reached forward and slipped into the crook of his elbow. Robb startled and looked down, only to see two similar blue eyes look up at him. Wearing a pretty green dress with yellow trim, Sansa tilted her head to the side and let her long curly hair shift and gleam in the sunlight.

"Sansa," he sighed, eyes tracing over her delicate face for signs of harm. Although tired, she seemed fine.

"Your Grace," chirped Sansa, keeping to her teachings and politeness. "You're making enemies everywhere."

Robb sighed, and they began walking around the courtyard, down meandering paths that wormed under curling branches and leaves that created pockets for intimacy and past rose bushes. "I know."

"Do you?" his sister demurred, casting her eyes ahead of them and to the side. Robb followed her eyes and spotted a lithe shadowy figure behind a hedge. "The Lions grow desperate and angry, and a beast when cornered is not a beast you wish to face."

Robb hummed, and then Sansa nodded in a different direction towards a nearby tree. On several branches were different sigil ornaments of the various Great Houses in Westeros: a stag for the Baratheons, which was hanging precariously by a single thin thread; the Lion hung by a thick, red silk cord that was severely knotted in several places; the Wolf for his family was threadbare grey, one side of the cord badly frayed while the other seemed to have something white beginning to braid itself into the cord. Between them, and others, was a shimmering spider's web in the sunlight where a spider was weaving between multiple points, most predominantly the Targaryen dragon and the Martell sun of Dorne.

"Or perhaps you are aware of the story of the Spider and its web? Of shadow puppets and greed?"

Behind the tree, a thick ooze climbed like an aggressive fungus, its mould creeping along and into many of the branches where the sigils hung from; the Vale was entirely engulfed.

"Sansa," pleaded Robb. "What do I do? I can't let the Kingslayer go for you and Arya - I just can't, I'm sorry!"

Sansa shook her head and smiled gently at her older brother. "You'll figure it out."

And then the courtyard was empty, the fountain frozen over, frost thick on the ground turning the grass white and the leaves all gone from the branches in the trees around him. The house sigils froze over, crusting in blue and white until they became too heavy and snapped from the branches, landing on the frozen ground and cracking, splintering into tiny pieces.

Robb's breath misted and he shivered. Something was watching him.

He spun in tight circles, eyes peering past bare trees into the bushes and hedges, hearing only the hiss of the wind and a creaking noise; or was it something rattling?

Robb exhaled slowly, his breath forming a cloud in front of his face, and then when it was gone, he saw nothing but two, vivid blue eyes - he scrambled backwards with a yell on his lips and -

"My lord!"

Robb's chest burned and he could barely move his left shoulder, the agony sharp and hot as it pierced through his brain. He squeezed his eyes shut and breathed heavily in through his open mouth.

"My lord, please," a soft, feminine voice said, and cool hands stretched across his chest to urge him to lie back down, "Please rest - you'll tear your stitches."

"H'mione?" he slurred, allowing himself to be guided back to the bed, turning his head towards the voice. Lady Hermione doesn't call you "my Lord," he chided himself, she'd rather be a chew toy for Grey Wind!

The feminine voice shushed him, and brushed back his hair. Robb opened his eyes. Everything was blurry, dark. There was only the light from a low burning fire in a fireplace across from the bed he was in, and whatever moonlight spilled in through the drawn curtains.

The woman next to him had long curly hair - is this not Hermione? wondered Robb with a frown. He grit his teeth and tried to shift so he could look at her. As he did, pain burst from his shoulder and he stared down, looking at a bandage that wrapped around his upper arm and chest, holding gauze in place.

"Wh-what happened?" he demanded, although his voice was shaky, soft. Gods! he thought angrily, how hurt am I?

"You took an arrow, milord," the young woman whispered. Robb turned to face her fully, eyes narrowed in the dark. She had a round face, with round brown eyes and a pert nose, but more importantly, Robb didn't recognize her.

"Who are you? Where am I? What are you doing in my room?" he asked, gritting his teeth and sitting up. The girl hovered at his side, helping him with cool hands that had him jerking from her when they touched his bare skin. He glanced around the room and saw Olyvar snoring on a chair near the fireplace, and empty mugs on a nearby table.

"Please, milord," implored the young woman again, reaching into her dress and bringing out a glass vial. "You need these tonics to get better."

"What?" Robb looked at the vial in her hands and then his bedside, which had a tray littered with glass bottles and jars of various liquids.

"Just a sip," the woman offered, holding the vial out to him.

"What?" he repeated. He stared at her, his brain foggy and body shaking with exertion as he tried to hold himself up with his one good arm. No one was in the room but them and a useless Olyvar Frey; had he been taken captive? Had they lost the Crag? Where was his Kingsguard? Daryn? Dacey? His great-uncle, or hell, even Lord Bolton?

The girl pushed the vial at him again. Her cool hand slipped up his chest and curled around the back of his neck, urging his head down. "Just a few sips, please. Please - you'll get better, I promise. Everything will be better once you drink this."

"I - ah -"

Several things happened then that Robb catalogued in short order: there was a loud crack, one that burst through the air so that it blew out the glass window in the room and the vial the woman held in her hands.

As it shattered, she shrieked and fell off the side of the bed, landing hard on her rear on the cold floor, staring up in horror at the foot of the bed. Olyvar also woke up, throwing himself to his feet, but completely discombobulated and unable to help.

The door to his bedroom crashed open, and Daryn and Lucas Blackwood charged in, their swords out and ready to fight the new enemy; but as their roaming eyes found the intruder, they both lowered their swords and shared a grin. Behind them, the Greatfish, Bolton, and Umber filled the door, and their tension-filled faces quickly eased into relief.

And there, at the foot of the bed, stood Hermione, her eyes locked on his. Her jeans were muddy and torn, and her pink knitted sweater had pulled and loose threads hanging from it. But most worrying, however, was the large bloody mark across her chest and up over her neck and one side of her face, a long thin streak that looked like it came from flying blood.

Her eyes were a bright amber, almost yellow in the firelight, and narrowed exclusively on the scene in front of her. Her curly hair was beyond riotous. Robb even fancied that he could see sparks of lightning bouncing from one curl to the next.

Robb was relieved to see her.

He was horrified to see her bloody - what happened at Riverrun?

He was enthralled by her.

"Hermione!"

"Robb," said Hermione lowly, her eyes falling on the girl on the floor at his bedside. "Who's this?"

"I have no idea," he cheerfully said. Perhaps his pain was addling his brain?

"L-Lady J-Jeyne," the girl sputtered, slowly rising to her feet.

Hermione pursed her lips together. "Jeyne," she repeated, as though tasting something gross. "I see. And what are you doing here, at this time of night?"

"G-Giving h-his G-grace h-his m-m-medicine," the girl continued, eyes wide and horrified on Hermione.

Hermione's eyes disdainfully looked over the tray. She took a few steps forward, striding towards them and then picked up the nearest, sniffing it. Her face twisted.

"Lady Hermione," called Bolton, his voice carrying in the quiet room. He eased around Daryn and Dacey. "His Grace took an arrow to his shoulder and its festered."

It had? Robb looked down at his bandaged shoulder again and realized that was why he wasn't feel too well. Oh.

Hermione rolled her eyes at Bolton. "I can see that."

With a sigh, she sat on the edge of Robb's bed and leaned forward.

What-? Robb's eyes went wide as her eyes got impossibly large, and she was close enough for him to make out the dusting of freckles along the bridge of her nose. His breath hitched and he was suddenly holding it. He felt dizzy and was sure it wasn't from using his precious energy up just so he didn't look like a wet trout when he eventually would fall back onto the bed.

Hermione touched his forehead gently, and felt the heat emanating from it. She clucked her tongue and within seconds, potions were floating out of her beaded bag - ever present at her side - and lining themselves up by floating in front of him.

"This will flush the bad bacteria out of you," she started, pointing at a red bottle, which he obediently downed; it tasted of cinnamon and spices. Immediately he began to sweat profusely, and shivered as the heat travelled through his throat and stomach and then warmed him from the inside out.

She pointed at the next, "Fever Reducer," a cold blue potion that tasted of wet snow and mint, which he eagerly drank. He sighed in relief as it cooled his burning tongue and settled his stomach.

A final one, green, that she called "Wiggenweld Potion," had Robb looking at her strangely. She sighed and said, "It's a general cure-all, although it's strength is for restoring someone who took Draught of Living Death. It's a healing potion though, and I can make some more with my ingredients if I need. It'll heal you up right quick."

Within minutes, Robb was feeling better than he had when he woke, and the effects of his fever and the lingering pain from the festering wound were gone. When Hermione vanished the bandages over his chest and arm, there was nothing but a bit of pink, puckered flesh where the arrow went in, and behind, where it was pushed through.

Hermione cautiously ran her fingers over the scarred skin and Robb held himself so still not to shiver. However, when he looked up over Hermione's shoulder, he saw Daryn's smirk and quickly moved his eyes to where his great-uncle and Lord Bolton and Lord Umber stood by the table near the fire (he did his best to ignore how amused they looked as well).

Finally, Hermione declared him "all good," and stood. Robb scowled, perversely upset at her leaving and desirous of her to stand far, far away from him. He ran his hands through his hair and said, tersely, "What news? And how long have I been - unconscious?" he then frowned at Hermione. "And why do you look like that?"

She crossed her arms and said, flatly, "I beg your pardon?"

Robb backpedaled quickly. "Oh, no! Not like that! I mean -" he gestured at her clothes, "You're all… bloody."

"Well spotted, Robb," replied Hermione coolly. "Anything else escape your notice that you wish to share?"

Robb sputtered for a moment and then deliberately turned to the Lords in front of him at the table and ask, "Where do we stand with the Crag?"

"We hold it," replied Umber, badly suppressing a smirk. "Ah, Lady Hermione? As lovely as you are, perhaps you and Lady Dacey can go in search of some new clothes for you? Perhaps Lady Jeyne can offer you a dress, or a bath at the very least."

Hermione sniffed, tilting her chin up, but her voice was all sugar when she replied, "What a wonderful idea, Lord Umber."

And then she strode out of the room, never glancing back at Robb except for when she reached for the heavy door to the chamber. The look she gave him made him feel about two inches tall, like Arya when she was scolded by their mother for running around and ruining her dress.

Robb did his best not to hunch his shoulders, but his ears rang with the loud slam of the bedroom door long after Hermione had left.


Dacey hadn't particularly warmed up to Hermione in the two and a half weeks' since they last saw one another, but compared to Dacey and Lady Jeyne, she and Hermione were practically BFFs.

The timid girl led Hermione and Dacey to a spare bedroom, this one without any glass in the window except two shutters. It was cool and drafty, but Lady Jeyne directed a servant to stoke the fire in the fireplace and it quickly warmed the room.

"I'll have a tub and water brought up for you, my lady," the girl said, not even looking Hermione in the eyes before she scurried from the room.

Dacey snorted. "Dozy bint."

Hermione shot her a look. "Now, now, you think that of any female that hangs around. At least be creative."

Dacey rolled her dark eyes and sauntered to a chair in the corner of the small room, flopping down in it. "How goes things back at Riverrun?"

"If you mean with my research, slow," replied Hermione, pulling off her grimy sweater. Once her arms were out, she held it aloft in front of her and grimaced at the large puddle of hard, dried blood that came from when Torrhen had stabbed the one soldier. "I got a bit busy with a few things."

"Well, were you able to discover anything else?" prompted Dacey, reaching a hand out to the table to draw shapes on it lazily.

Hermione chucked the sweater onto the bed and then toed off her runners, standing only in her socks. She turned to face Dacey and shrugged. "Maybe. I definitely need to know more about magic here - and not just in Westeros, but everywhere else. Only recently did I hear Lord Blackwood, Bracken and Torrhen mention woods witches - but I haven't had a chance to look into that."

"They're just women who live in the wilds and sell potions to unsuspecting fools," scoffed Dacey. "Love potions, medicine, herbs - whatever they can."

"Does any of it work?" asked Hermione, just as there was a knock on the door and two maids entered carrying a large bucket of water between them, with two men behind carrying the tub, and once more bringing a tray of drinks and bread and smoked meat. Lady Jeyne slipped in behind, bundles in her arms.

"I think you are taller than me, Lady Hermione," she said quietly, peeking up at the witch only to look quickly back down. "But I brought some of my dresses, and a few of my mother's for you to try on."

"Oh, no, I really couldn't," protested Hermione, watching as hot water was beginning to fill the tub in front of the fireplace.

Dacey snickered. "Lady Hermione prefers trousers, Lady Jeyne. She barely wore the dress I got her in last time."

Thinking back to the victory dinner of the Whispering Woods, Hermione blushed and shot Dacey a look - it wasn't like Jeyne would understand the context behind the reason why Dacey was laughing.

"Oh," the other girl said, gently placing the dresses on the bed some distance away from the sweater. "Well, I'll leave them behind for you anyway. Shall I have the maids wash your-" she trailed off and looked at the bloody sweater on the bed, and then at Hermione and her grass-stained and muddy jeans, "clothes for you, instead, Lady Hermione?"

"No, it's fine, Jeyne, thanks," said Hermione, dismissing her by turning her back on the girl and moving towards the water. She didn't see the face the girl made, but Dacey did. The older Mormont woman smirked nastily at Jeyne and then shot Hermione a look that was made up of raised eyebrows and wide eyes.

Having only Ginny and Luna as girl friends growing up, Hermione was completely unprepared for the cattiness of Dacey which was more akin to Lavender and Parvati; instead, she shot the other woman a glare back and heard the door behind her close.

"Are you going to turn your back?" sniped Hermione, moving her hands to her jeans' button fly.

"We're all women here, aren't we?" replied Dacey, leaning back and reaching for a mug of ale, as well as the bread to rip off.

Hermione sighed, and steeled herself for the inevitable: Dacey would see her scars. While she was proud of them, like she told the men the other night - Merlin, was it only less than twenty four hours ago? - she didn't exactly like having her entire body on display. Still, she yanked her jeans off, and then her camisole and bra and panties last, presenting her back to Dacey the entire time before slipping into the steaming water.

"There's soap, too," called Dacey, and Hermione glanced over the rim of the rub to see her gesturing with a chunk of bread at a stool by the tub's side. Hermione leaned over and grabbed it, sniffing and identifying the cloying sweet scene as roses.

She began to vigorously scrub. "How did everything go here?"

"Not a problem," replied Dacey, swallowing thickly. "Except for when King Robb took the arrow." She paused. "Well… no…"

Hermione turned. "No what?"

Dacey looked down. "I shouldn't say. It's the King's business."

"Am I going to hear about it?" questioned Hermione.

Dacey looked indecisive for a moment, and then nodded. "He'll want to talk to you, I think."

Hermione glanced back. Dacey's voice had been different; and the older Mormont woman was looking at Hermione with a bit more focus than she had before. "What?"

"You've got some interesting scars, witch," the woman said instead.

Hermione turned away from Dacey, her right hand clenched around the slippery soap. She raised her left arm and began scrubbing it with the soap, over the scarred Mudblood. "It's a slur," Hermione found herself explaining. "It means dirty blood."

Dacey hummed from her spot by the table. "Did you kill them?"

"I didn't," replied Hermione evenly, "But they're dead now." And then, perversely, Hermione twisted so the side of her neck was bared to the dark-haired woman. She traced a silver line from below her ear for an inch. "She tried to slit my throat too. Maybe that's why I knew how to heal Eddard Karstark so quickly - because I wanted to learn so it wouldn't happen to anyone."

Dacey stared at Hermione for a moment, and then was standing up, hiking her tunic up and baring at stomach. There was a thick, jagged pink scar. "Lance. Against a squid raiding the coast and trying to snatch salt wives."

Oh, game on. Hermione knelt, ignoring her bared front, and pointed at the long scar that wove from over her left breast down her sternum and ended just to the right of her belly button. "Entail-erupting curse. I was fifteen!"

Dacey let her shirt drop and then shoved a sleeve up. "Arrow! Two of them! I was thirteen!"

Hermione pointed to her hip. "Falling mortar when Hogwarts was invaded by Death Eaters!" and then another, "Stray cutting curse! Sixteen!"

Dacey swept her hair back and pointed at a line at the base of her neck. "Sword! Siege of the Pyke! Greyjoy Rebellion! I should be headless! Fourteen!"

For a moment, they both stopped and stared at one another, and then, like a switch flipped, they burst into laughter. Hermione sank back down into the cooling water and Dacey fell back into her seat.

"Well, aren't we a pair?" she chuckled.

Hermione ruefully shook her head in agreement, and then wandlessly summoned her clothes to the side of the tub. A quick scourgify and her clothes were clean, scrubbed and dried. Hermione leapt from the tub and cast a drying charm on her and then a warming charm, quickly slipping into her underwear and jeans. She decided against the same camisole and sweater, stuffing them in her beaded bag and instead withdrawing a thick, white long-sleeved sweater she favoured and brown ankle boots.

Dacey was shaking her head when Hermione turned around. "I need a bag like that."

"I can charm you one," offered Hermione.

Surprise flashed across Dacey's face, but then she settled on a smile. "I'd like that." She then stood. "Shall we go back at see his Grace?"

"Yes, let's."

The walk back to the chamber Robb had been given was short. Outside the room, Daryn - whom she knew a little - and a tall gangly black-haired man that looked familiar, stood guard. Daryn nodded at Dacey and Hermione, while the other man looked at her curiously.

Daryn opened the door with a loud knock and announcement, "Your Grace? Lady Hermione is here."

"Send her in," called Robb, and Hermione smiled at the Hornwood heir. Dacey remained outside with them.

While Robb was still weak, he had managed to rise from the bed and seat himself at the table with the other man, looking over the communication parchment and maps of the area. Little wooden wolves' heads indicated which keeps and castles the Northern army had taken in the Riverlands. The amount was impressive.

Hermione peered at the map by leaning over Robb's shoulders. She pointed at Stone Hedge. "Lord Bracken's home was overrun with Lannisters. We liberated it the other day. It would be safe to assume though that there are smaller bands of Lannister soldiers roaming the riverlands for easy targets."

Robb frowned. He fingered one of the communication parchments and then peered up at her, but was clearly addressing the men, "Can you give me privacy please?"

Umber was the first to leave, but Bolton shot Robb an unreadable look, while the Blackfish heaved a heavy sigh and motioned for Robb's squire to leave the room, too, despite the young teen's protests.

Hermione slid into a vacant seat. "What's wrong? Dacey said something happened but didn't want to tell me what." She made a face. "Beyond your shoulder wound, of course."

Robb turned away, his face a mask of anguish.

"Robb?"

Hermione reached forward and placed her hand over one of his in his lap. Under her hand, his clenched his into a fist.

"My brothers-" Robb cleared his throat. "We received word that Winterfell was taken by my childhood friend, Theon Greyjoy. My brothers are dead." He squeezed his eyes shut. "Bran was twelve. And Rickon only six. Six."

He breathed heavily and Hermione leaned forward, closer to him and brought her other hand up to place over the one she already held. "Merlin, Robb, I am so sorry."

Robb swallowed thickly, biting back tears by gritting his teeth and squaring his jaw. He sniffed, and tilted his chin up, cutting his blue eyes towards Hermione. "Lord Umber and Lord Bolton have mentioned that it's possible that Theon was lying. That they may be alive… but… with my sisters in King's Landing and my brothers in Winterfell - or not -"

He turned to face Hermione, his hands unfurling and then clutching at hers. "How can I do this, Hermione? I am so far from home, away from my family. Everything I do, I think I'm doing the right thing, but how is it right when this happens?"

"I don't know," she said quietly, holding his gaze steadily.

"This - battle - it's so easy," admitted Robb, his voice just as low. "I can lead men into battle and pick up a sword and fight my way to victory. But keep my family together?" he laughed bitterly. "Maybe it's a Stark curse. And I'll be known as the King Who Lost the North."

"So, let's do what's right and not what's easy, Robb," replied Hermione.

"And what's that?" he asked, shaking his head. "I don't even know what I'm doing here anymore. I'll never get my father's bones back. Tywin Lannister will never trade my sisters for his son, even his favourite."

Hermione frowned and squeezed his hands. "So what do you want to do?"

"What I want, and what I need to do, are two very different things," retorted Robb, glancing away from her amber eyes. "But," he began quietly, "But if I had to choose, I'd go back home. Back to Winterfell."

"So go home," said Hermione, ducking down a bit to catch his eyes. "Let me help you. If anyone knows about wanting to go home, it's me."

Robb quirked his lips into a small smile, but it was bittersweet. "True enough."

"First," said Hermione, louder, standing up and pushing away from her chair. She kept her fingers entwined with Robb's, and pulled him to his feet, too. "I think I can help - a bit at least - about your siblings. If you want to know if Bran and Rickon are still alive, this will help."

"How?" asked Robb, curious, and allowing himself to be moved around by Hermione as she positioned them to the bottom of the map on the table.

"Do you trust me?" she asked, and he nodded.

"With my life," he replied solemnly.

"Okay," the witch replied, her curly hair bobbing. "Take your dagger - you have one, don't you? Excellent. You're going to make a shallow cut and let three drops fall onto the map. I'll cast a spell that will use the blood that ties you to your siblings and it'll split off for each one, telling us where they currently are."

"Really?" asked Robb, delight in his voice. "Even Jon?"

"Jon?" she repeated, flicking her wrist and settling her wand in her hand.

"My half-brother. My father's son," he explained, and Hermione nodded.

"Of course, you share blood," she answered, and that was enough for Robb: he took his dagger, one he carried in his boots, but had been discarded during his fever, and gently pricked himself on the inside of his palm, letting the blood pool until Hermione was ready.

He curled his hand into a fist and let precisely three drops fall onto the map. Just as the last drop fell, Hermione muttered something low, and swished her wand; a bright white light beamed from it and coalesced into a smokey whispered that covered the map. Once it soaked into the paper, the map flared white for a moment, and then...

The three large drops that grouped together began to slowly edge apart, sliding over the map like water and oil. One large blob went north, and the other south. The one south then broke into two: a smaller blob went and rested over King's Landing on the map, and the other on Harrenhal. The larger northern blob kept going, and Robb watched it nervously, until it split in two: one heading towards the wall and the other, northeast towards the island of Skagos.

He waited for the blob heading for the wall to break off again, and remain either at Castle Black, or move beyond the wall, but it didn't. He waited a bit more and glanced up at Hermione. "Is it done?"

She nodded, biting her lower lip and frowning. There was a crease between her eyebrows. "I thought you said you have five siblings?"

"I do," replied Robb, his own voice highlighting his confusion. "I mean - this is wonderful! Bran and Rickon are alive! Not in Winterfell, but alive! And Arya - it must be her, since I'm still getting ravens from Sansa in King's Landing - is near! But… where's Jon?"


TBC...

Chapter Text

the Winter Witch X


After the perplexing issue of Robb's missing half-brother, Jon, Hermione recast the spell after Robb bled some more. When it did the same thing, she recast it again, with Robb offering up even more blood, until he began to look a bit squeamish and then Hermione said it was enough.

The mystery of Jon Snow was to be shelved for another day as Robb called back his Lords and Kingsguard, attempting to look regal in the chair by the fire, his hair a complete unruly mess of auburn, a shadow of stubble beginning to grow into a red beard, and his shirt rumpled. That was the image he presented to his closest advisors and guard: a young man thrust into a position of power he never asked for, but admirably holding up. As his great-Uncle, Lord Umber and Lord Bolton took up positions around the table, and Lucas and Daryn positioned themselves on the inside of the door, Olyvar ran around serving drinks to the men and the lone woman in the room.

Hermione sat next to him, a large and thick book in her lap and her legs crossed on the chair as she read, muttering under her breath. She did not pay attention to the others, completely intent on her book, flipping quickly through the pages as she searched for something and her hair growing bushier as her agitation grew.

Robb looked over at her fondly, and no one failed to noticed that had Hermione been anyone else, she would've had to stand to show proper respect to Robb's position - or the fact that she sat at his side was his indication of seeing her as an equal.

"Bran and Rickon are alive," said Robb without preamble.

"I beg your pardon?" sputtered the Blackfish, while Umber goggled at his King. Bolton, however, flicked his eyes speculatively in Hermione's direction.

Robb caught the look the last man made and nodded. "Yes - Hermione cast a spell."

He gestured to the map on the table, and the men leaned over to see the four spots of blood in different locations, including the fact that the two northernmost dots - at the Wall and towards Skagos - were still moving, albeit slowly.

"By the Gods," breathed Umber, eyes wide. He held out a finger to poke at the moving bead of blood, but Hermione's wandtip rapping him smartly on the back of his hand, her eyes never looking up from her book, stopped him.

"No," she said, "Bad Umber. Don't touch the map. You don't want to displace the magic, do you?"

Contrite, the large man cringed and withdrew his hand, trying to surreptitiously rub the back with the other. "Erm, yes - sorry, Lady Hermione. Um - no, I do not."

She sighed and looked up from the book, her eyes slightly shadowed, and looking tired. Robb realized, painfully in that moment, that she had appeared in his room nt more than two hours ago, bloodied, and wondered when she last rested.

"These two dots represent Rickon and Bran," explained Robb, "Although I'm not sure which is which. Importantly, though, is that only one dot is in King's Landing."

"Princess Sansa," said Lord Umber, nodding knowledgeably.

"Which means Princess Arya is the one in Harrenhal," said Bolton thoughtfully. His eyes turned inward and Robb could tell he was already thinking of his troops left behind in that area.

"Exactly, Lord Bolton," said Robb. "I'd like you to return to your men and plan for an attack on Harrenhal."

Silence met with Robb's order.

"Harrenhal?" gapped his uncle, finally. "Do you have some dragons, your Grace? Perhaps the Lady Hermione can conjure some up? Harrenhal, for all that it is a ruin now, held for thousands of years without being taken until Aegon burned it."

Robb turned to Hermione, who sighed. "Well, I suppose I could transfigure something to make rocks appear like dragons. Or maybe use Fiendfyre - although that is the Dark Arts and I never used it - but… this is a rescue attempt, isn't it? We don't exactly want to destroy the place and accidentally kill Arya."

The Blackfish blanched at the idea of killing his niece, accidentally or not, and Hermione took that as confirmation that she was right. As usual.

Robb was nodding beside her. "Hermione will join with Bolton and together, they will figure a way into Harrenhal and liberate it, as well as find Arya."

"I will?" repeated Hermione, glancing at Bolton, whose face twitched; something between pleasure at the idea of having a witch on his side, to intense worry - potentially because he would be in charge of her safety.

"Yes," stressed Robb, narrowing his eyes at the curly-haired witch next to him. "And don't think that I know that you're here without Torrhen. We'll return to Riverrun first, regroup with Edmure's men - so, please, Lord Umber, would you mind sending that message on the parchment? - and we'll head out immediately."

There was a pause in the air, unspoken questions hanging with heavy weight. Eventually, Bolton was the one to speak up. "Leaving, your Grace?"

Robb's face twisted into something painful and he glanced away. Hermione wordlessly reached out and grasped the hand he had on his lap, partially hidden from the other's mens eyes as he turned his palm and laced their fingers together, gripping her hand tightly.

"I am the King in the North," said Robb, finally, turning back to his Lords. "I am not in the North. While I wish to protect the riverlands, the truth is that my home - the North, Winterfell - has fallen. My father would not continue pressing south, but would rather protect the North. And so must I."

"... but what about revenge on the south, the Lannisters, the crown, for what they did?" asked Umber, blinking in surprise.

"They'll have it still," said Robb darkly, "Don't think I have forgotten what they took from my family, Lord Umber." He took a deep breath. "But the lone wolf dies. The pack must be kept whole. And I will find my brothers and bring them back to Winterfell. I will have those I trust seek out Arya and Sansa and return them home. I will protect the North, our home. Your home from Ironborn raiders, from the Lannisters, from anything else that comes our way. But I can't do that from here."

Umber's mouth had dropped open, and it was gapping unattractively, while thunderclouds formed in his eyes.

Hermione, sensing the tension, cut in. "We can continue guerilla attacks on the Lannisters and others," she offered, bringing the attention to her and away from Robb's change in attack. "I can create Portkeys - objects that will deposit you anywhere and return you with passwords or at predetermined times - and we can send small groups out in flash attacks on keeps or armies. I can create wards to protect castles and property; I can build walls that cut off land or redirect rivers by making new trenches… we have options to continue to annoy the Lannisters or protect the riverlands."

"And what happens when you leave, Lady Hermione?" asked the Blackfish pointedly. "When we don't have your magic to help us?"

Hermione, startled, blinked at Brynden Tully for a long moment, unable to answer him. Robb squeezed Hermione's hand, still in his, and said, firmly, "Then we will continue on as we always do - but we will gratefully take Hermione's help in the meantime. Whatever she kindly offers us, uncle."

There was a rebuke in his tone, and the Blackfish heard it, nodding in apology at Hermione, who, having not realized she was holding her breath, let it out in one long exhale.

"In the meantime," continued Robb, his tone still dangerously even and firm, "We will begin to pack up and set plans to return to Riverrun within the week. From there, we will plan our removal from the riverlands while leaving behind protection from retaliation."

It was clear he was asking his men to think of some ideas.

"Once back at Riverrun, I'd like Hermione and Lord Bolton to meet with me to consider some ideas on taking Harrenhal," he said, looking at both of them. Bolton nodded, a low dip in his chin to indicate the King's orders, and Hermione shrugged. "From there, we will consider plans to return North and retake Winterfell and any other Northern home taken by the Ironborn."

"And then what?" asked Umber grouchily, crossing his arms. "We came because you called the banners, your Grace. Because you wanted to free your father and then avenge him. What do we do once we're home? When there is no more war to be fought?"

"No more war?" echoed Robb, a dangerous snarl on his lips as they pulled back in a very wolf-like way. Hermione eyed him nervously. "Are we not invaded by the Ironborn? Is Bear Island, Deepwood Motte, the Rills and the Stony Shore free of being raided? Are they able to say that their land, their people do not suffer under the constant fear of Greyjoy ships?"

Umber shifted where he stood.

"Will you explain that to Lord Ryswell, to Lady Dustin?" continued Robb, eyes fixed firmly on the large man. The air was crackling with something similar to magic, but decidedly not, and Hermione's hand twitched in Robb's grip. His eyes - normally a blue that reminded her of the depths of the ocean, were tinged with silver - a silver that was not entirely human.

Outside, Grey Wind howled.

Lord Umber shifted more where he stood, and Hermione saw that one hand - with a few missing fingers - twitched and moved towards the hilt of his sword hanging at his left. "And what of your cause, your Grace?"

Whoa, she thought, wondering what happened to Umber's hand, and then quickly realized the slightly sneering tone the man took. Robb tensed next to her and the tension was racking up to a point where someone was going to do something stupid.

"Julius Caesar!" she blurted out, shrilly, and immediately everyone turned to her.

"What?" asked Robb, confusion lacing his voice.

Hermione cleared her throat, and in her panic, her voice took on a slightly breathless quality as she began verbal textbook diarrhea. "Julius Caesar was a military leader in my world. He wanted to cross the Rhine river - a huge river that was a natural border between the Germanic tribes and Caesar's Roman legions - and to show them that he could step onto their side of the river at any time he wanted, he had his men build a bridge to cross the Rhine. They built a bridge in ten days, in which Julius Caesar crossed, raided a few villages and burned some others, and then retreated, taking the bridge down after them… just to show that he could."

Everyone in the room was looking at her in varying degrees of confusion, ire, or fond amusement.

Hermione, staring around at them, then continued, quickly, "Well, to be fair, the man was a bit of a tyrant - not to say that Robb is a tyrant, that would be quite mean - but crossing the Rubicon - which is another river, a different river than the Rhine, completely different geographical area - was an important military tactic for Caesar. After all, it was treasonous, and did begin a civil war… but under his command the world was entirely changed because the Roman army practically conquered everywhere they went."

She paused, eyes wide, her words tumbling over one another in her hast to speak. "Not that Robb is a conqueror. He's not trying to conquer anything. Not really. I mean, he didn't exactly stand in front of the westerlands and say, 'Alea iacta est,' which means 'the die is cast.' And honestly, it's common misconception that Caesar even said that in Latin, he spoke Greek!"

"Hermione," said Robb, gently.

"Yes?" she gasped.

"Breathe," he said.

She gulped in air and nodded. "Yes, right. Good idea. Air."

But she had diffused the situation, and Umber no longer looked royally pissed off, nor did Robb's blue eyes hold that sheen of silver she was itching to find a book on to explain it away. Maybe Riverrun had something…?

Bolton cleared his throat and looked out the window. "Shall we shelve some of these ideas until the sun is up? It's only a few hours away, but some sleep is better than none."

"Agreed," said Robb promptly. "We'll meet back here after breaking our fast to discuss the logistics of the move."

Umber grumbled some, but everyone, including Hermione, quickly filed out. She followed Dacey, who she was to share a room with. Looking back, she saw that Robb was staring down at the map, eyes hungrily moving from one blot to another, as though they would disappear if he stopped looking.


When Hermione finally woke, it was to the sound of scurrying feet and shouted orders; Robb had clearly wasted no time in organizing his return from the Crag and the westerlands back to Riverrun. The sun was shining through the open window in Dacey's room, and her side of the bed the two had shared - something Hermione was used to during her time at the Burrow with Ginny - was cold and the sheets thrown back.

Hermione slipped from the bed and reached for her discarded jeans on the floor, thrusting one leg into the denim and then the other, hopping in place as she yanked the skinny jeans up her thighs. Dacey entered just as Hermione was wriggling her hips; the older, black-haired woman stopped in the doorway and burst into laughter.

"Your world's fashion is quite bizarre," she commented, shaking her head. "Come, are you ready? His Grace has called a meeting ahead of our leaving."

"Your fashion is weird," muttered Hermione, buttoning up her fly and then yanking down her sweater. She tried combing her hands through her hair, but they got stuck on the first pass, strands knotted tightly around her fingers and she spent the walk from the bedchamber to Robb's trying to pull the strands apart while Dacey unsuccessfully hid her snickers at her side.

The door was swung open this time, with the tall black-haired young man that looked familiar to Hermione standing guard outside. Dacey was joining him, leaning up against the wall on the other side with a lazy slouch. "Lady Hermione, have you met Lord Lucas Blackwood?"

"Blackwood?" repeated Hermione, perking up and finally yanking at one determined coil of brown wrapped around a finger. She pulled a few times and then gave, looking bizarre with a single finger held aloft by her hair next to her head. "Any relation to Lord Blackwood? Of Raventree Hall?"

Lucas was staring at Hermione's hair, particularly the finger still stuck, but quickly darted his eyes to face forward and over her hair. He stammered, "Ah, aye, milday…" but his eyes crept down as a flush crept across his cheeks.

Hermione sighed, and used her other hand to detangle the single strand. "It's a mess, I know."

Inside, Robb stood with Lords Bolton, Umber, his uncle the Blackfish, and several other men. The other men Hermione didn't know had haggard appearances, dark bruises under their eyes and their wrinkles deepened, punctuated only by yawns that broke in the middle of their conversations. They had ridden all night to arrive at the Crag.

"Ah, Hermione!" greeted Robb enthusiastically, motioning to Olyvar to serve her some food from a sideboard. "Have you met Lord Manderly, Lord Glover, and Lord Forrester? They were leading a joint operation at Pendric Hill and Nunn's Deep, and only arrived here this morning to coordinate our return to Riverrun."

"I haven't had the pleasure," said Hermione, eyeing the three tall and large men. Lord Forrester was a tall man with short swept-back brown hair and a hawkish nose that framed a very square face. A neatly trimmed beard with only a few threads of grey indicated that he wasn't as old as the deep worry lines in his forehead suggested. He nodded at Hermione when he caught her eyes with his hooded ones.

Lord Manderly reminded Hermione of her childhood impressions of Santa Claus: he had long white hair that was pushed back off his large forehead, and a trimmed Van Dyke beard that matched the white of his hair. He had blue eyes that were reminiscent of Dumbledore's, and a rather round, jolly face.

He smiled at Hermione and reached forward to first shake her hand, saying enthusiastically, "Lady Hermione! What an honour it is to meet you! An honour, indeed!" and then attempted to bring her hand to his mouth for a kiss.

Hermione gently extracted it and her lips twitched into a smile. "It's nice to meet you as well, Lord Manderly, properly this time. I believe I've seen your… son around?"

The man beamed, his cheeks ruddy. "Wendyl! Yes!" He looked around the other man in the room, his chest puffed up, as though to say, see? The Winter Witch knows my son!

The last man, Lord Glover, was a man close to Hermione's own father's age: his hair was salt-and-pepper, curly, and although not long like many other men in Westeros, it wasn't shorn either, leaving Hermione to consider it a messy mop. His face was worn, and his brown eyes, although wide, were filled with suspicion as he regarded her.

"Excellent; now that we are all introduced," began Robb, coming around the table and placing a hand on Hermione's lower back to move her where he wanted her to sit, "We can get started."

"Yes," yawned Forrester, "P-Pardon, Your Grace. What's the plan then? Are we moving forward and on to Casterly Rock?"

Robb shook his head. "No. We're returning North."

The three men who knew of this from the previous night made no move or change in facial feature, but the three newcomers were equally shocked.

"Your Grace?" stuttered Manderly.

"Your Grace, we came here because of the wrongs against your father and family," began Glover, eyes steely and clearly working up to say something against his King, "And we have been - right wrongs, that is. Why stop when we've got the Lions running?"

Hermione eyed the large man shrewdly, but then turned to Robb. He needed to answer and convince the man if he wanted to convince the rest of the lords and their men to return North and continue following his lead.

Robb sighed. "How far will we chase them, Lord Glover?"

"Well, to Casterly Rock," the man answered.

"And then once we've taken it?"

Yeah, okay, reign in the arrogance Robb, thought Hermione, narrowing her eyes. He saw her from the corner of his, and waved a negligent hand.

"Well," sputtered Glover, "I suppose we'll head towards King's Landing."

"And say we take King's Landing?" asked Robb. "Would you then name me King of Westeros? In charge of not only the North, the riverlands, but elsewhere?"

Glover's mouth opened and closed.

"My brothers are alive," said Robb, his voice crisp. "I intend to return North and find them. I may be the Young Wolf, or the King in the North, but I can't be a King if I'm the King Who Lost the North. What do you suggest?"

He waited for his men to speak, but none did. To Hermione, the answer was obvious even before she spoke to Robb: going forward held nothing for him, especially with his family so spread out. He wouldn't find what he was looking for.

"I'll end up spreading my men too thin," he said, having thought of it more after everyone had left. "I have no intentions on reaching King's Landing and taking it - the Iron Throne is not for me. I attempted to broker an alliance with either Renly or Stannis, and both turned me away. If they have no need for the North, then the North has no need for them."

"Too right!" agreed Forrester hotly, just as Umber grunted his approval. Although he was clearly unhappy with how the discussion had ended hours earlier, he found other common ground with the young King.

Robb smiled grimly at the men at the table. "I can't avenge my father by continuing on to one castle or the next keep, razing it and… then what? No, Lord Glover - it is best that I put myself where I am needed the most: the North."

With that said, he instructed: "Last night, Lord Umber passed on my messages for my return to Riverrun. Although you rode here ahead of your men, we'll use the parchments to instruct them to retreat back as well. We'll make for Riverrun immediately and be there within a week."

"I could probably get you there faster," mused Hermione out loud, eyes turned up towards the ceiling as she thought. "Although I definitely need to think of a new plan for the horses…"

"What? How?" asked Lord Manderly, blinking in shock.

"Portkeys," said Hermione succinctly. "Apparition would take too much out of me. I mean, I would need to read up on it to make sure I've made them correctly, but Portkeys would work."

"What is a Portkey?" asked Lord Glover suspiciously, eyes narrowed.

Hermione turned to the man; those from the previous night had heard her mention them before, but not necessarily the scope of the magical objects. As such, Hermione gave a dictionary-rote answer, "A Portkey is an object imbued with magic in order to transport anyone touching the object from one location to the next in an almost instantaneous transition."

"As… long… as someone is touching this object?" repeated the Blackfish, curiously, already thinking.

Hermione nodded. "Like… a harness…"

"Or a rope," the man supplied, thinking of how to transport large numbers of people easily.

"Exactly," nodded Hermione with a grin.

"And any number can be transported?" asked Robb gleefully, his blue eyes lighting up.

Hermione frowned, "Well, I guess so. Let me check and get back to you on that."

The rest of the conversation was something Hermione did not need to be a part of; instead, she tuned it out, pulling a large tome from her beaded bag - surprisingly the men around her with the act - and then hastily began flipping through pages in order to find something that would help her with portkey creation. She knew the theory, but practice was another thing.

By the time she had finished reading and rereading the passage from a copied textbook from the Hogwarts Library's restricted section, and had spent some time mimicking the wand movement with her finger as her wand, Hermione realized that Robb had given out orders to everyone and had been patiently waiting for her to finish.

Lord Bolton sat with him, both sipping from cups.

"Erm. Sorry," she said sheepishly, realizing she had gotten caught up in researching rather than socializing.

"No matter, Lady Hermione," grinned Robb, dimples appearing in his cheeks. Hermione felt herself flush - out of embarrassment or something else, she wasn't sure. "Have you read what you needed?"

She nodded. "A few lengths of rope to enchant and it'll work. I'll just need a location to send to people. A timed Portkey with a count-down or one that is password-activated would work."

"Good," said Robb. "How about in the Whispering Woods where we met? Staggering the troops would mean that we are close to Riverrun but not on top of the castle when we arrive."

Hermione shrugged. "Sure."

"Then, we'll leave shortly," said Robb, placing his cup down and standing. Bolton shot to his feet as well. "Once we're in Riverrun, we'll meet and figure out a plan going forward to attack Harrenhal." He paused, and then asked, "The map will be fine if I roll it up, won't it?"

Hermione felt her face soften. "Of course. The blood won't smear. The magic is in the map, now."

Robb sighed in relief, and Bolton reached forward to roll the map up for him, then passed it off to the young King. He nodded at them both, and then strode from the room, presumably to oversee the men at the Crag for their Portkey transport.

It left Bolton and Hermione alone for the first time since they had met.

Both stared awkwardly at one another. For Hermione, she was remembering the man's strange fascination with her; for him, if she knew, he was thinking just what other feats she was capable of, and how that would help him and his standing with his new, young King.

Eventually, Hermione cleared her throat and stood. "Well… I'm… going to go make those Portkeys, Lord Bolton."

"Of course, Lady Hermione," he said, with a short bow. "Might I escort you to the courtyard?"

She grimaced, but nodded.

They left the room together in silence, passing soldiers who scurried from one end to the other ensuring they didn't forget anything. It was loud, and everything steel clanged sharply. By the time they reached the courtyard, Hermione had a headache, one which was going to get worse as she met Lady Spicer.

The woman stood with her daughter, Lady Jeyne, and another man. Although beautiful, in a sense, the brown-haired woman looked sour, her mouth tightly pinched and her eyes hard. Jeyne had inherited her mother's hair colour, as well as the lithe and tiny body, but where Jeyne was round in the face, her mother was long and narrow - sharp, Hermione's mind supplied.

"Ah, Lady Hermione," boomed Umber, drawing everyone's attention towards her. "We're ready when you are!"

Hermione glanced at the courtyard, filled with only Robb's royal guard and Stark men on horseback, and the rest of foot. Those on foot had it easier, holding onto a long coil of rope wound around each wrist; those on horseback were in an awkward line, pressed thigh to thigh.

"In a moment," she called, turning to Robb, who stood with Daryn and Eddard just behind him. He, along with the Blackfish, stood near Lady Spicer and her daughter.

"-thank you for nursing me back to health," he was saying to Lady Jeyne and Lady Spicer, glancing between the two.

Jeyne's eyes darted fearfully at her mother and then Lady Hermione, paling dramatically. Lady Spicer spoke coolly, "Of course, Your Grace. After all, you are an… honoured guest."

"What were you using for his wounds?" spoke up Hermione, planting herself at Robb's side and staring up at the taller woman.

Lady Spicer stared down at her from her nose, eerily reminiscent of Narcissa Malfoy at the Quidditch World Cup. The look on her face was one Hermione had seen before on Purebloods in her world whenever they were in her presence: the stench of dirty blood.

"I'm not sure you would know or understand," the woman began slowly.

"Try me," challenged Hermione, a hard look in her eyes.

At her side, Robb, sensing the tension, turned to look from Hermione slowly to Lady Spicer, his own eyes narrowing.

"An essence of murlap," began Lady Spicer, baldly, "A tea of lavender and rosehip; a creamy poultice made of milk, mint, and aloe."

Hermione hummed thoughtfully. "So… placebos."

"I beg your pardon?" said Lady Spicer, frowning.

"Where I come from, placebos are remedies that people think work, but actually don't because they have no medical properties," explained Hermione. "People think they work because they're told it's actually going to heal them - a mind over matter thing. I noticed that when I arrived and saw the items on the tray that your daughter had prepared next to Robb's table."

The lady of the Crag paled, and beside her, her daughter trembled.

"Lady Spicer," warned Robb lowly, "Is Lady Hermione correct about the medicines prepared?"

The woman pursed her lips tight, but cut her eyes to the man at her side, who quickly jumped into the conversation. "Your Grace! Clearly this is a mistake - the old Maester must have clearly either read the labels wrong in what he gave to Lady Jeyne to treat you with, or, if he had nefarious purposes in mind, it's because he is loyal to the Lannisters and Casterly Rock!"

Way to throw the man to the wolves, thought Hermione, literally.

Robb cut his eyes to the Blackfish and Glover, both who disappeared back into the ruinous keep. Within moments, they returned, the Maester between their arms. The old man was protesting and wriggling in their grasp, but he was old and frail and was quickly thrown to the ground between Robb and his Kingsguard, and Lady Spicer.

"This man says you were hoping I'd die by prescribing me with tonics that would not actually heal me," said Robb, using a cool voice that Hermione had not really heard before. "Is this true?"

The man spat, glaring hatefully up at the young man. By the gate, Grey Wind prowled, exuding nervous energy. "House Lannister has my loyalty! Not some wolf heathen."

Hermione winced, and Robb's face hardened further.

"Well." He turned his head and spotted a bucket left discarded in the courtyard. With a hand motion, he ordered, "Lord Tully, Lord Forrester, escort the men from the courtyard for Lady Hermione to prepare. Lord Glover, that bucket over there? Upturn it. Lord Bolton, Lord Umber - bring the man."

"Robb - what-?" Hermione took a single step forward, but Robb's cold blue eyes stopped her.

"Hermione," he said, biting her name out. "Go with Lord Forrester." The man came forward and gently wrapped a hand around her upper arm. "Now."

"C'mon, Lady Hermione," murmured the Blackfish on her other side.

Hermione, although dragging her feet, let the burly brown-haired man lead her out of the courtyard. She did, however, strain her neck by looking over her shoulder, tripping often over her feet as she watched Robb walk towards the man, who was being held down by Umber and Bolton, his chin resting on the bucket's bottom.

Forrester pulled her through the gate, passing Grey Wind who sat on his haunches, just as Robb unsheathed his sword from his hip.

Ice settled in her veins as she realized what she had witnessed the lead up to, and through numb lips, she asked, "Did he-? Did Robb just-?"

Forrester glanced down at her, with a tinge of pity in his eyes. "As his father, Eddard Stark used to say: he who passes the sentence, swings the sword."

Hermione reeled back, eyes wide, and her heart pounding furiously in her chest.

"My lady," urged Forrester, "Don't you have something to do?"

"I-"

Hermione glanced at the neat rows of men, only those who were with Robb and his men when they took the Crag; Lord Forrester, Umber, Manderly, and Glover's men would take the traditional route of horseback and foot to Riverrun.

Almost automatically, Hermione visualized the Whispering Woods clearing she had parked her tent over a month ago, and tapped the first length of rope she approached. "Ten seconds," she said, although she heard her voice come from her mouth as something small and far away. She was vaguely aware that Lord Forrester followed behind her discreetly.

By the time she finished half of those with the ropes, Robb, his kingsguard, and Bolton and Umber, as well as Glover, strode through the gate, Grey Wind on Robb's heels. Hermione kept her back to Robb as she finished her task, leaving him and his men as the last to Portkey out.

Robb had one firm grip in Grey Wind's fur, his other on the length of rope the smaller group shared, when he asked, "Are you not joining us, Lady Hermione?"

He glanced pointedly at her, standing apart from them and not holding the rope in her hand. He held up his part of the rope invitingly.

Hermione shook her head. With a hard voice, she said, "No thanks. I'll Apparate to Riverrun. I'm sure Torrhen and Edmure are already back. I'll catch up with you in a day or so."

She ignored Robb's fallen face, and tapped the rope. It glowed golden, and then they were gone, leaving Hermione alone with the ruins of the Crag behind her - and wondering if Robb had executed only the Maester, or Lady Spicer and her daughter, too, for what they tried to do to him.

She spun on her heel and appeared on the balcony at Riverrun, overlooking the courtyard, with a crack signalling her arrival. Below, a few chicken squawked in protest, and several soldiers on duty on the guardwall across from the balcony cried out in alarm, spinning; but once they saw her, they calmed and returned to their post.

Hermione strode through the second floor and down familiar corridors, intent on reaching the bedroom she was given. A long soak in the bath in her tent was calling her - after all, in twenty-four hours, she had warded two properties, Apparated countless times, engaged in a skirmish at Stone Hedge, and then blind Apparated to Robb, healed him, and now created a dozen or more Portkeys. She was beat!

"Lady Hermione!"

Hermione wanted to groan, but plastered a smile on her face and turned to Edmure, who was loping down the carpeted corridor, his eyes wide. His red hair flopped forward and messily across his forehead and Hermione felt her heart sink.

"What is it?" she asked as he came to a stop in front of her.

He breathed heavily and then gasped, "You must come - to the Kingslayer's - chambers - immediately!"

"What? Why?" demanded Hermione, keeping pace as Edmure turned and ushered her forward. "Has something happened with the wards?"

Edmure cringed. "You could say that."

Curious, and deeply worried, Hermione kept silent until they reached the sparse room that Jaime Lannister was occupying as his prison. There were two Tully guards outside the room, as well as Torrhen who was glaring at everything and nothing.

He sighed upon seeing her, and strode forward until his hands were on her shoulders. His brown eyes looked her over, from the top of her curly head to her boots; Hermione stood still and allowed the look. Satisfied that she didn't have any injuries since out of his sight, he stepped back, revealing an open door, and importantly, an empty room.

Hermione stepped inside, frowning as she looked at the made bed, the latched window, and empty privy.

"Where is he? Where's Jaime?" she asked, turning to face Edmure and Torrhen; while Edmure could enter the room, Torrhen could not, yet neither stepped forward through the keyed-in bloodline she erected with Robb's blood.

"Is your enchantment still working, Lady Hermione?" asked a very tense Edmure.

Hermione nodded slowly.

Then, dread settled over her, and she stilled. Her eyes went wide and said only uttered two very pointed words at Edmure. "What happened?"

The tall redhead gnashed his teeth together, and his eyes flashed angrily. "We arrived at Riverrun last night, only to discover that my sister released the Kingslayer upon learning of my nephew's deaths in Winterfell. With her sharing King Robb's blood, she had access to the man."

"We sent men after him," supplied Torrhen, "But they don't know where he went. And he's not alone - a woman, Brienne of Tarth - is with him. We suspect they're heading south."

Hermione stifled a groan. What could else possibly go wrong?


TBC

 

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch XI


Later, Hermione would never be able to explain or tell how she ended up in Robb's war room at Riverrun, standing just in front of Robb's chair but leaving it vacant, in respect for the absent King. One either side of her by the head of the table stood Blackwood and Bracken, and behind her, just to the right as her silent guard and friend, was Torrhen, although the space between Hermione and Bracken was meant for Torrhen if he wished to move forward.

Just further down the table was Edmure, although close enough that Hermione could whisper and he'd hear her; on his side, both Jason Mallister and Karyl Vance, speaking lowly to the young Lord. The stress lines on Edmure's face were deep, but the more Mallister and Vance spoke, the more the lines lessened and Edmure seemed to relax.

Despite that, they were all tense. Ranging up and down the table, were other Tully bannermen: young Lord Lyman Darry at only eight years old, Lord Mooton, Lord Marq Piper who stood near Edmure, one of his best friends, and Lord Ryger; their various sons, knights, and squires. They arranged themselves in small clumps, or remained aloof.

Further down the table, a tall, wiry man with longish, lank black hair with a scowl on his face commanded Hermione and Edmure's attention. The man, Black Walder Frey, had remained behind at Riverrun while his father, Ryman Frey, joined Robb's attack of the Crag. Black Walder was an excellent soldier, and he knew it too; however, Hermione had heard rumours of the man's temper, and she was beginning to witness it firsthand.

Dividing lines had been drawn, and Hermione, Edmure, and Black Walder were all separate entities.

"We cannot let the Kingslayer's escape become common knowledge," Edmure addressed the room at large. "It will demoralize the troops, and set up back in our attempts to free my nieces."

"I agree," said Hermione, her own voice carrying in the room. Unlike the last time when she had been in it, a passive spectator to Robb's elevation of Lord of Winterfell to King in the North and the Trident, Hermione was coolly assessing the situation and drawing together plans and logistics. "Catelyn's release of Jaime Lannister was poorly timed, for one, but also incredibly short sighted. Does anyone even know what her reasons were for the release?"

Mallister began to shake his head, his mouth already moving in the shape of a "no," when Black Walder rudely interrupted. "Right, excuse me," he began, sounding anything but, "But why are you here?"

Any soft-spoken conversations that were occurring in the room suddenly fell silent. Behind her, Hermione felt Torrhen stiffen and shift into a more defensible position. Bracken, at her side, scowled and snarled out, "What are you getting at, Frey?"

Black Walder rolled his eyes, crossing his arms. "I'm just saying - she may be a witch and has helped out with her nifty parchments, but she's not a soldier. She doesn't know battle. What good is she doing by being here as opposed to remaining with the other women? Or, better yet, confined to a room until we have need of her again?"

Hermione blinked in shock.

Blackwood, however, responded quickly and angrily. "How dare you! How dare you impugn Lady Hermione like that! She has engaged in battle and bloodied herself for King Robb and the Riverlands!"

The Frey scoffed. "So she's warming more than just the King's bed, is she? Is that why you and ol' Bracken there are so quick to attach yourself to the bitch? Has she spread her legs and favours for your families? Is that how she saved Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge?"

Hermione stared in shock at the wiry man, barely able to comprehend the vile accusations he was spitting out. It was one thing to be called a Mudblood and looked down at for being smarter than others; it wasn't even the first time she was accused of being a "scarlet woman" as Rita Skeeter and Molly Weasley once called her - but this was the first time it was ever done blatantly to her face.

Torrhen was vibrating with rage behind her, and had swiftly brought out his sword from its sheath, although the tip was still pointed at the ground. His brown eyes were steely and hard, locked on Black Walder. Bracken and Blackwood were both competing with each other, shouting on top of the other's words, trying to be heard.

Others in the room were talking among themselves, or staring at her, or looking back at Black Walder in thought.

This is getting us nowhere, thought Hermione, bringing a hand up to rub at her temples and a burgeoning headache. We need to discuss Jaime Lannister's escape. We need to prepare for Robb's return, which will be within the day. Division within the ranks is bad.

It had been a long two and a half days: Hermione barely had any sleep, or any food, and she was running purely on exhaustion and frustration. In a magical user, that was a bad combination on any day, but in Hermione, who had a temper buried deep and a low tolerance for people on a good day, it was deadly.

Her magic snapped.

Sparks danced between her curls, and her brown eyes glowed amber. The air in the room electrified, charged up and grew thick - not just with the tension in the room, but with magic. Hermione had experienced the physical presence of magic before, a thick, heavy invisible blanket that sucked the air from the room and made the hairs at the back of her neck stand on end and her breath quicken: at the Battle of Hogwarts, and at the Battle at the Department of Mysteries. There was the smell of ozone, of a warm day's humidity about to break before a thunderstorm crashed down upon them all. Magic could be smothering, and for those who had no exposure to it, it silenced the room quickly.

"Black Walder," began Hermione coolly, her eyes flashing dangerously as she caught his dark eyes and held them. "Let me remind you of a few things: I don't need to be here. I don't need to support or help any of you in your war."

At that, both Bracken and Blackwood appeared smug, knowing that their homes were defended previously; other Lords had a slightly panicked look on their faces. But Black Walder met Hermione's stare and held it with all the contempt of Severus Snape facing down another melted cauldron by Neville Longbottom.

"But here's the thing," continued Hermione, her voice even, not vibrating with the fury she felt, "I'm choosing to be here."

And I really am, she thought in wonder, Just like years ago I chose to stand by and lie to professors I admired for two eleven year olds who saved my life. It changed everything… and I think this will, too.

"So if you have a problem with that, Frey," finished Hermione, a slight sneer on her mouth, bringing up a hand and pointing, "Then the door is over there."

The man remained silent, his eyes tripping over each and every Lord in the room. While some appeared affronted by Hermione's tone, others met Black Walder's gaze solidly, no more than Bracken and Blackwood, who stood proudly next to the witch.

"I see," he said, quietly, something off in his tone. Sensing the way the wind was shifting, Black Walder nodded his head once at Edmure, and said, "So be it."

He then left the room, several other Freys joining him.

Hermione exhaled silently, and then, turned back to Edmure. "Do we know why your sister let Jaime go?"

Taking the quick change in subject, Edmure sighed. "No. As soon as I discovered the empty room, I had Tully guards place her under arrest."

Hermione stared. "Does she know why?"

There was an uncomfortable silence, broken only by Hermione loud hiss of exasperation. She turned to Blackwood, and said, "Can you go get her and bring her here?"

Instead of looking to his liege lord, Edmure, for permission, he nodded at Hermione and signalled a few of his guards to join him; they quickly left the room. Hermione, her mind already tripping ahead and wondering why Catelyn had done what she had, completely missed the shocked looks that split between looking at Edmure - who seemed vaguely uncomfortable with what happened - and the nonplussed reactions of Torrhen and Bracken near Hermione, by the many others who remained in the room.

Soon, Catelyn was escorted in the room her chin up and face haughty. Her hands were clasped at the front of her blue dress, and she imperiously cast her gaze around the war room, lingering on her brother who stood uncomfortably under her scrutiny. However, despite how regal she tried to appear, her blue eyes were red-rimmed, and her nose twitched as she held back sniffles.

"You wanted to see me?" she asked, her voice filling the silent room of milling Lords, all who stared hard at her.

"Cat," implored Edmure, "Please. Help us understand. Why did you let the Kingslayer go?"

"Why?" the redheaded Stark stared hard at her brother. "Why?" She gave a bitter, hollow laugh. "Because a mother protects her children. I did what I had to do to save my girls."

Hermione rolled her eyes. She'd seen mothers protect their children during her war: Molly Weasley killed Bellatrix for Ginny's life; Andromeda and Tonks both did what was necessary for their children, even if Tonks sacrificed her life in the process; Lily Potter gave her life for her son. Letting a man go instead of doing something herself was not protecting anyone.

"So what was the plan here?" asked Hermione, crossing her arms and leaning a hip against the table and she drew Catelyn's eyes to hers. "You let Jaime Lannister go, with Brienne of Tarth as… what? A sword and shield? And then what?"

"He'll return to King's Landing," said Catelyn confidently. "With Tywin's favourite son returned, they'll return Sansa to me."

Hermione, who knew that only Sansa was in King's Landing, was curious though about Catelyn's omission of her other daughter. An uneasy feeling crept up Hermione's spine. "And Arya?"

Catelyn shifted. "And Arya, too, of course."

"Because they're both in King's Landing," continued Hermione, eyes narrowed.

"Yes, that's right," said Catelyn, her voice slowly shifting from confident to confused.

"And two girls for the price of one man is fair, you think?"

Catelyn frowned. "They're little girls. Jaime Lannister is a soldier. It's a fair trade."

There were murmurs around the room, angry ones. Hermione cut it off quickly. "And say that Tywin would ever take you up on this offer - ignoring that he hasn't since when Jaime Lannister was our prisoner - how would Arya and Sansa get to Riverrun with only Brienne of Tarth as their escort? Isn't the road dangerous and long?"

Catelyn fidgeted. "I'm - um - I'm sure that my son would sent a proper escort to meet them on the King's Road."

"And then straight to the Twins for a wedding, I'd imagine," concluded Hermione. She drummed her fingers on the table.

"At least I'd know my children are safe," declared Catelyn angrily. "The ones I have left!"

The room's angry muttering grew louder, and Hermione heard some threats towards the Greyjoys and the Ironborn host holding Winterfell.

"Right, about that," sighed Hermione, drawing attention once more, "Bran and Rickon-"

"What about my sons?" demanded Catelyn, stepping forward. At her side, Blackwood reached out and clamped a hand on her shoulder, keeping her still. She glared at the man and then turned her eyes back on Hermione, who refused to flinch under the angry blue.

Hermione fought the urge to rub at her forehead. "Do you even read the parchment I spelled for everyone?" When Catelyn refused to answer, remaining to glare, Hermione knew that she only used it to connect with her son and then probably ignored it.

Hermione let a curse from her non-magical childhood slip past her lips in frustration. "Jesus Christ, Lady Stark - when I was with Robb the other night, we found out Bran and Rickon are still alive. You let Jaime Lannister go free for nothing!"

Catelyn's face blanched white and she swayed on her feet. Around them, the room erupted into chaos, Vance and Mallister both shouting something about reclaiming the Kingslayer at all costs; Bracken was hollering at Marq Piper and young Lyman Darry just stared wide-eyed around him.

Hermione scowled and slipped her wand from its holster and then pointed it in the air. A loud boom of displaced air - louder than anything these men had heard before - made them fall silent.

"Gods above," whispered Catelyn, horror in her voice, "What have I done?"

"Lady Stark," said Hermione, but the other woman continued, eyes fixated on some far point.

"Everything that's happened, all this horror that's come to my family…," she trailed off, voice shaky. "It's all because I couldn't love a motherless child."

"What?" Hermione frowned, and turned her head to look at Bracken, who shrugged.

"Cat," protested Edmure, stepping away from Vance and Mallister, to move around the table to go to his sister, "No, that's not true-"

"I couldn't keep my promise, I couldn't keep it," the other woman was muttering.

"Who is she talking about?" asked Bracken in a low voice by Hermione's side.

"Jon Snow, I think," supplied Torrhen, his own voice low, eyes on the woman.

Hermione's brow furrowed. "Robb's brother?"

"Half-brother," supplied Torrhen, "He was Lord Stark's bastard."

Hermione scowled at the term, carefully watching the King's mother break down in front of her and the rest of the riverlands Lords. Edmure had eased around the table and was standing in front of his sister, hands on her shoulders.

"I'm a bad mother," she was saying, "I couldn't keep my promise, Edmure. I couldn't! I prayed for Bran to survive. Years before that, one of the boys came down with the pox. Maester Luwin said if he made it through the night, he'd live. But it would be a very long night. So I sat with him all through the darkness, listened to his ragged little breaths, his coughing, his whimpering."

"Cat," warned Edmure, his voice stuck between sorrow and caution, "Don't do this - don't."

"But, I couldn't keep my promise! When my husband brought that baby home from the war, I couldn't bear to look at him, didn't want to see those brown stranger's eyes staring at me. So I prayed to the gods 'Take him away, make him die,'" her voice quivered and her chin trembled, her eyes unfocused. "He got the pox and I knew I was the worst woman who ever lived. A murderer. I'd condemned this poor, innocent child to a horrible death all because I was jealous of his mother, a woman he didn't even know!"

A sob tore from her throat, and she brought her hands to her face to cover, her shoulders trembling. Blackwood stepped away in shock, and Edmure closed his eyes, face upturned. But Catelyn Stark continued, "I prayed to all Seven Gods 'Let the boy live. Let him live and I'll love him. I'll be a mother to him. I'll beg my husband to give him a true name, to call him Stark and be done with it, to make him one of us.'"

Hermione sighed. Catelyn may have been a poor mother to a motherless child, and made some awful, awful decisions, but she was clearly beyond any form of rational thinking and had been for some time.

"Edmure?" asked Hermione softly. The redhead turned, his sister in his arms and a question in his eyes. "Take her to her room? With some wine and dinner?"

There was a kind of gratefulness in the man's similar blue eyes, and he left quickly with his sister, leaving Hermione wonder just what was wrong with the Tully family.

"What now?" asked Bracken.

Hermione rolled her shoulders back. "Now, let's brainstorm ideas about Jaime Lannister, so that when Robb gets here, we're not stuck looking like headless chickens."


It took them a better part of a day and a half, stopping only for a few hours, to reach Riverrun from the Whispering Woods. And Robb spent the majority of that time mulishly pondering over Hermione's behaviour.

Was she angry that he executed the Maester of the Westerling's? He had admitted to being a loyal Lannister man, and for not doing his best to help him when injured. Was she angry that he had done the execution over giving the opportunity to one of his men? He didn't like the idea that she was angry at him - but he didn't know why.

"Your Grace."

Robb pulled himself from his thoughts and turned to face Karstark, who rode beside him. The other man's face was turned forward, eyes on Riverrun in the distance. Around the fortress were hundreds of tents of varying size and shape, meant for the numerous soldiers under the Lord's command. Normally a hive of activity, the camp was quiet.

Robb narrowed his eyes, skipping from the gently flapping banners that hung from posts and the battlements of Riverrun, as well as a silent sentries that stood guard around the camp and his grandfather's castle. The castle itself was still under Tully control, but there was something missing from the men.

Robb led the procession and the army that Hermione had Portkeyed out of the Crag down the winding road until they reached the camp. The men they passed bowed to their King, but were otherwise silent. The air was tense, and something unpleasant hung around the men.

"By the Gods," muttered Greatjon from behind, "What happened here?"

The Lords around him ordered their men to areas around the camp, the soldiers grateful for the reprieve from the battles and long march back towards Riverrun, but for Robb and the liege Lords, they went straight to the castle with their squires.

In the courtyard, Edmure, and Maester Vyman, along with the Tully household alone greeted them. Robb was instantly concerned.

"Where's my mother?" he demanded, swinging from his horse. "Where's Hermione?"

Edmure grimaced and shared a glance with Vyman, who looked equally disturbed on his wrinkled face. Robb let his hand fall to his pommel, and behind him, he could hear the creak of leather as his guard prepared for a hostile welcome.

"It's best you come inside, Your Majesty," said Edmure eventually, barely flicking his eyes up to meet Robb's face. "To the war room, I think."

Robb's face hardened and with a sharp nod, he strode past Edmure, with Daryn, Lucas, Eddard, and Dacey following; the rest of the Lords, including Karstark, Umber, Bolton, and his Great-Uncle made their haste on his wake. He could hear his great-uncle hiss at Edmure, "What in the Stranger's name happened?"

Inside the war room, Robb came to a sudden halt. There were large maps pinned up on the wall opposite the windows, with strings leading from one point to another with pins. Around him, squires were rushing back and forth, taking parchment and orders from the room back towards the main camp outside the gates, and the Lords within the room were off in different groups: one far group led by Jason Mallister was pouring over books from the Riverrun library, barking orders and commands about - Robb frowned. Alternative battle strategies?

Near the fireplace, Karyl Vance, Marq Piper, and Lyman Darry were counting numbers and census figures, checking provisions.

And at the head of the table where Robb sat, stood Hermione, holding court of her own, with Blackwood, Bracken, Lord Mooton and Lord Ryger alongside, absently dodging flying books, scrolls, and parchment; Ryger was handing something that looked like a hair comb to Lady Hermione. Torrhen stood at Hermione's side, nodding at something she was saying.

"WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?"

Robb cringed as his voice carried angrily into the room, stopping all movement as everyone turned to him. Immediately, the Lords sitting rose to their feet and then sank to their knees; only Hermione remained standing, completely engrossed in reading off a book she had on the table, her wand tracing something in the air.

"Your Grace," began Lord Jason Mallister, stepping forward. "There is much that has happened since you left for the Crag."

Robb eyed the man. "I can see that." Frustration leaked through his voice. "Now will someone tell me what the hell is going on?"

Edmure nervously slinked up to his nephew's side, though his eyes were on Hermione. "Ah, Lady Hermione? Now that we're all here…?"

Robb frowned. Since when do the men defer to Lady Hermione?

Hermione snapped up from the book, eyes falling on Robb. They crinkled at the corners, slightly, and Robb felt an answering grin on his side; it quickly slid off his face as she realized she was smiling at him. He stifled a sigh, and moved towards his seat at the head of the table, ducking under a flying parchment.

"Lady Hermione?" he said, pointing at it.

Sheepishly, Hermione flicked her wand and the flying texts and scrolls zoomed towards her and then into her beaded bag, disappearing into its depths. "Sorry," she said, and then stepped aside for him to sit in his chair.

It was a cue for the rest of the Lords, and they all soon arranged themselves in their preferred seats; the right to Robb was left empty, and Hermione, after a long moment of looking around and seeing who would sit there, finally sighed when she realized it was for her. Robb hid a smirk behind his hand and then leaned forward slightly, addressing the room at large, "Now. Who is first?"

The Riverlands Lords and Hermione all shared looks, something Robb didn't miss with his keen eyes, and then Jason Mallister and Karyl Vance were explaining about Tywin's force moving into the riverlands the week previous while Robb had been at the Crag.

While both Vance and Mallister gave glowing reports of their prowess of their men, of Edmure's command, and the routing of the Lannister army, including sending Tywin in retreat, Robb found himself growing more and more annoyed. Did I not tell them to hold Riverrun? There was a reason for that - now Tywin is in retreat and I have no idea where he is!

Then, a worst thought occurred: this was why Hermione was covered in blood! She was in battle! at that, his eyes swung towards Torrhen just to the side of him. Torrhen felt Robb's eyes on him. Upon meeting Robb's eyes, Torrhen flushed and realized that his king knew. The man stiffened and squared his shoulders, standing behind Hermione's seat and looking resolutely forward.

With growing ire, Robb suddenly had visions of problems among the Riverlands lords. While the northern lords had Ironborn raiding their coasts, the Riverland lords would have avenging Lannisters knocking on their keeps once Robb left. If only Edmure hadn't let Tywin escape! He could've engaged him in battle now and taken the man completely out! And then the Kingslayer and the Lord of Casterly Rock would've been his to bargain with for Sansa's release.

Glancing around the room, Robb saw that his great-uncle had a thunderous look upon his face as he too realized what Edmure's blunder cost them; even Bolton and Karstark were looking disapprovingly at his uncle.

"My Lords," interrupted Robb, stopping Vance mid-description of the battle from the northern part of the Red Fork where he had command, "Can I have all but those with me from the Crag, Lord Edmure and Lady Hermione clear the room?"

The men were confused, but Lyman Darry was the first to get up from his seat; quickly, Lord Mooton and Ryger joined, with Vance and Mallister. Marq Piper, one of Edmure's closest friends, trudged slowly out of the room, and Blackwood and Bracken were deeply hesitant, constantly glancing back at Hermione, until she jerked her head to the side and they left.

What was that about? wondered Robb, frowning. Another thing to look into.

Then, he turned to his uncle, who sat alone without the bookends of Mallister and Vance. Robb stared at him for several long minutes, and as each passed, Edmure grew more and more agitated. Finally, he cleared his throat and began, "Ah, if I may, nephew, I encountered a situation with one of my lieutenants at the Stone Mill which may have some bearing-"

His Great-Uncle snorted loudly. "Why don't you shut your mouth about that damned mill? And don't call him 'nephew.' He is your king."

Edmure frowned, and looked from his uncle to his nephew, confusion warring on his face. "Robb knows I meant him no disr-"

Brynden slammed a hand on the table. "You're lucky I'm not your king. I wouldn't let you wave your blunders around like a victory flag!"

"Blunders?" sputtered Edmure. "My blunder sent Tywin's mad dog scurrying back into the westerlands with his tail between his legs. I think King Robb understands we're not gonna win this war if he's the only one winning any battles. No, there's glory enough to go around!"

Hermione winced at Robb's side, making the King glance at her, and then round back to the other redhead in the room. "It's not about glory. Your instructions were to wait for him to come to you."

The Blackfish added, "You were commanded to hold Riverrun, Edmure, no more."

Edmure shot to his feet in protest. "I held Riverrun, and I bloodied Lord Tywin's nose—"

"So you did. But a bloody nose won't win the war, will it?" said Robb knowingly, staring down the other man.

Hermione however, jumped into the conversation. "Hey now! That's not fair. Yes, your instructions said 'Hold Riverrun' but that was it! For how long? Why? What purpose? Was Edmure supposed to let Tywin Lannister siege Riverrun? What did you mean?"

"I-" began Robb, only for Hermione to run over him again, causing him to snap his mouth shut.

"Edmure and I decided together that your decision to 'hold Riverrun' meant that you wanted to lure Lord Lannister in and then hold him from doing a strategic retreat to where his forces were. We planned accordingly without sacrificing Riverrun or any other major holdfasts in the area."

Edmure nodded along. "I seized an opportunity."

Robb turned his head from Hermione to Edmure in disbelief. "What value was the mill?"

"The Mountain was garrisoned across the river from it," answered Edmure promptly, jutting his chin out a bit as he did so.

Robb frowned. "And is he there now?"

"Of course not. We took the fight to him. He could not withstand us," said Edmure, thinking back to his battle with the large man.

"Gods, Edmure!" swore Robb. "I wanted to draw the Mountain into the west, into our country where we could surround him and kill him. I wanted him to chase us, which he would have done because he is a mad dog without a strategic thought in his head. I could have that head on a spike by now!"

"Well, you didn't say that, did you?" snapped Hermione, standing up from her seat next to him. Robb turned to face her, blinking at the sight of her with her hands on her hips and her hair crackling. "What's the point of having a method of contacting each other instantaneously if no one bloody uses it?"

"That's not the point, Hermione," argued Robb hotly, also standing. "The point was that there were orders, and I expect my men to follow them! If they don't follow orders, how can I trust them to have my back in battle? To ensure a battle is successful?"

"We took hostages," said Edmure, glancing nervously between the two as he slowly sat down, "Willem Lannister. Martyn Lannister. Lyle Crakehall."

Robb swung his head to glare at his uncle. "Willem and Martyn Lannister are fourteen years old!"

Karstark cleared his throat. "Martyn is fifteen, I believe."

"Tywin Lannister has Sansa," said Robb loudly, glaring at both Edmure and then Hermione. "Have I sued for peace with his son?"

Edmure and Hermione shared a look, and then Edmure said, slowly, "No…"

"Do you think he'll sue for peace because we have his…" Robb frowned, thinking back to his lessons with Maester Luwin at Winterfell as they went over family trees. "His father's brother's great-grandsons?"

Edmure began to fidget, eyes darting back to Hermione with more frequency. "No…"

Robb's face hardened, and his anger boiled over. "Gods, what is wrong with you? Why are you looking back at Lady Hermione like a whelp to his wet nurse?"

"Hey!" protested Hermione, but Edmure stuttered, "Well, you see… your mother…"

"My mother what?" demanded Robb. Neither Edmure nor Hermione spoke; both in fact, look away from him. "What? What happened?"

Angrily, Hermione glanced at Robb. "Because someone doesn't use his communication parchment properly, a certain Lady of Riverrun didn't know her sons were still alive, so she let… um, Jaime… go free."

Robb gaped at Hermione. His eyes went to Edmure, who flushed red and avoided him, and then to Torrhen who, miserably, nodded his head. Then -

"WHAT?"

His roar shook the room, and he spotted Karstark cringe from the corner of his eye. The thought of his mother doing something so stupid - so treasonous - was mind boggling, but the way Edmure, Hermione and Torrhen all avoided looking at him spoke the truth.

"I'm guessing that in addition to not telling your mother that Bran and Rickon are alive, you conveniently forgot to mention that Arya isn't even in King's Landing," continued Hermione, scathingly. "Because she seemed to think that Jaime Lannister is worth two daughters."

Standing beside the witch, Robb's hands clenched into fists. "So you're telling me that not only were we unable to corral the Mountain, which I had planned for; but my mother let the Kingslayer go? And on top of that, my uncle seems to think he's a brilliant military commander, able to make decisions?" Robb turned back to Edmure, demanding snappishly, "How many men did you lose?"

Edmure stuttered, "Two hundred and eight. But for every man we lost, the Lannisters-"

"We need our men more than Tywin needs his!" shouted Robb, his patience finally gone.

"I - I'm sorry. I didn't know," muttered Edmure.

"You would have!" snapped Robb. "Right here today at this gathering if you had been patient!"

Bolton cleared his throat and said, quietly, "We seem to be running short of patience here. And there seem to be many more issues to rectify that we did not anticipate originally."

Robb scowled. "You know who isn't losing his patience? Tywin Lannister."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Robb, you don't know that. The man lost over half his force at the Battle of the Fords, as Edmure's been calling it. I myself took out an entire unit of his and the Mountain was sent scurrying, severely wounded. They didn't even head back towards the westerlands, but southeast - either towards Harrenhal or King's Landing. It's not nearly the blunder you're making it out to be."

"And what would you know of military matters?" snapped Robb, turning to face the witch, eyes narrow.

Hermione, hearing words that were echoed by Walder Frey so recently, narrowed her own eyes back. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me!" Robb was breathing heavily. "Just what have you contributed to this, Lady Hermione? In your world, are you a mighty warrior? Do witches go forth to battle?"

Instead of saying anything back, Hermione wordlessly snarled at Robb and then spun on her heel, striding towards the door to the war room angrily. Torrhen, caught between remaining by his King, and following the King's order of protecting Hermione, glanced nervously between the two.

Hermione then pushed open the door with her magic, making it slam against the stone. Outside, several of the riverlands Lords he had dismissed were milling around, and they all stared. Then, Hermione, her arm mimicking the motion, used her magic to make the door slam shut again.

Robb, furious that she turned her back on him, grit out to those in the room, "Pardon me, my Lords."

"Oh, thank the Gods," muttered Karstark, "Yes, please, go have a bloody row."

Robb barely heard him, angrily following in Hermione's steps. He yanked the door open and glared around; eventually, Vance felt the need to point in the direction Hermione took off in, silently, and Robb's glower deepened as he realized he had to chase her down in his own castle.

Robb raced up the stairs towards Hermione's bedchamber, two at a time, ignoring the shrieks of a few maids as they went about their daily tasks, and dodging around one steward who flattened himself to the wall as the King raced by. Eventually, Robb made it to Hermione's room, and he banged his closed fist on the door.

"Hermione!" he shouted. "Let me in! We're not done talking!"

Silence answered him.

He growled, and then forced the door open, the momentum making him stumble into the room. His eyes darted around, looking from one corner to the next but Hermione was not in. His eyes stopped on her green tent, and he sucked in a breath.

He warily approached, but then steeled his nerves and pushed the flap away, entering the strange, magical building. At once, strange musical notes assaulted him, creeping from down the hall beyond the living and kitchen area.

Robb followed, and stopped in front of an open doorway. Hermione was curled up on a small cot, knees towards her chest and on her side. In her hand was a strange flat piece of stiff parchment, off-white in colour. Opposite her cot was a desk, one that had several precariously stacked books, and a strange box, a crank on one side, and a golden horn that protruded from the box itself, standing up. The end of the horn opening wide like a flower blossoming. The music was coming from it.

There was a strange grainy quality to the music, with crackles and pops. The top of the box held a black disk that spun, and a golden arm with thin needle roved on top of the disk. A man's voice broke through the strange horn and harp-like music that was much deeper than anything Robb had heard.

"... No one to talk with / All by myself / No one to walk with / I'm happy on the shelf / Ain't misbehavin', / I'm savin' my love for you," the man sung in a gravelly, heavy voice.

Hermione's sniffle broke broke between the next words the man sang.

"Hermione?"

Hermione wiped at her eyes with the left sleeve of her shirt pulled down and tightly held in her closed fist. She ignored him, and Robb inched into the tiny bedroom. Once he was close enough, he realized that the parchment she held was not a letter, but a portrait of some sort.

Robb gingerly sat on the edge of the bed. "Hermione? What's this?"

"The Defense Association," said Hermione quietly. "Also known as Dumbledore's Army."

Army, thought Robb, glancing at her thoughtfully. However, he was still angry and refused to speak more.

"See her?" she continued, pointing to a tall, pretty, wavy blonde-haired girl standing near the back right. "That's Lavender Brown. She was seventeen when she died. She was mauled to death by a werewolf."

Robb swallowed thickly, his anger slowing.

"And this?" she pointed to a mousy brown-haired boy near the front. His face was still round with baby fat. "That's Colin Creevey. He snuck back into the castle when the battle began, along with his younger brother Dennis. Colin was fourteen; his brother Dennis lives with the scars of knowing he was thirteen when his brother was murdered just because he was a Muggleborn, like me."

"Hermione - I -"

"I don't stay out late / Don't care to go / Home about eight / Me and my radio / Misbehavin', savin' love for you…"

The music popped and crackled and skipped, and then was silent except a strange whirring noise as something looped over and over.

Hermione rolled onto her back and sat up. She pushed back the left sleeve of her shirt and Robb stared in silent horror at the carved word on her forearm. "Last year. I was tortured and I'll live with this forever. And then not even a week later, we were fighting for our lies at the Battle of Hogwarts, against men double or triple our ages because the adults we looked up to, those who were supposed to protect us, couldn't."

Robb looked up slowly from her arm to her face, and sucked in a breath at the intensity he found in Hermione's eyes. He held them, even as she said lowly, "Don't ever question me about battle, about what I have lost. You don't know."

Robb nervously swallowed, feeling much of his anger leave him a quick rush of emotion. He looked back down at her arm and nodded. By its own violation, his hand shakily stretched forward and then, tentatively, traced the letters of her scar. They were raised, bumpy and red.

M-U-D-B-L-O-O-D, he thought, reading each letter as he moved his finger. She shivered and he withdrew his hand.

"I didn't know," he said quietly.

"I didn't tell you," she replied just as quietly.

Robb sighed and let his hands fall to hang between his knees, hunching his shoulders. "Hermione - you can't - in front of my men, you can't just -"

He glanced at her and saw that she had cringed and was blushing furiously, a splash of pink across her nose and cheeks. "I'm sorry." She shuddered. "There's no excuse - I'm just so used to arguing and talking to Harry and Ron -"

"Harry and Ron?" Robb felt something unpleasant twist in his stomach.

Hermione extended her hand with the portrait, and pointed at the two men on either side of her. "We took this photo near the end of our fifth year. That's Harry," she pointed at the black-haired teen, "and that's Ron," she finished, pointing at the redhead.

"Who are they?" asked Robb, eyes skipping over the others: two twin redheads, their matching solemn faces reminding him of Torrhen and Eddard Karstark; a tall black teen, another tall teen with round cheeks and a serious face, though his eyes were driven with desperation to prove himself, and several girls with different hair colours and strange dresses.

"My best friends," said Hermione, tracing their features. The black-haired teen - Harry - then grinned and waved, and Robb goggled.

"My Lady-! That portrait moved!"

Hermione gave a tiny laugh. "That's magical photos for you."

She quieted and said, "Robb, I am sorry. I'm so used to yelling at Ron to talk sense into him; and Harry is so stubborn - I guess… I just fell back into that pattern with you. I've had more male friends my entire life than female, and I'm used to being the one everyone comes to for help. When you and your men did the same…"

Robb sighed. "You did the same as before."

Hermione nodded miserably. "I didn't mean to question your leadership or your skills, I swear! I guess I… got caught up in the moment."

Robb reached forward and wrapped his hand around Hermione's free one. She glanced at him. "No harm done."

She remained skeptical. "Are you sure? I'm certain everyone heard us yelling."

"And saw me chase after you," agreed Robb with a small grin.

Hermione groaned. "This will just make things worse with Walder Frey."

"Black Walder? Why? What happened?" asked Robb.

Hermione shook her head. "Nothing I can't handle. Don't worry about it."

Robb gave her a look, but didn't push. Instead, he sighed, and squeezed her hand. "What am I going to do about my mother?"

"Oh, Robb," said Hermione, her eyes filling with tears. "I don't think your mother is quite… right in the head. She was… so upset at the idea of losing her children that she did something terrible. But I can find Jaime Lannister, I know I can. That's what we were working on when you came in."

"I'll talk to my mother," agreed Robb, "And as for the Kingslayer, well - he'll have some distance to cover if he's planning on returning to King's Landing. You and Bolton still have Harrenhal to attack."

"You still… want me?" asked Hermione, hesitantly. She bit her lip and glanced away.

Robb leaned forward, catching Hermione's eyes as they sat side-by-side on her bed in a strange, magical tent, and Robb, being far more honest than he even knew, replied, "Hermione. I don't think there will ever be a time when I don't want you."

Hermione beamed at him, and for that moment, everything was fine in Robb's world.


TBC...

 

Chapter Text

the Winter Witch


Robb spent the next few days either in seclusion or in closed-door meetings with several of his Lords. Often, when that happened, the men would have their squires rushing back and forth, often with messages that were taken to Maester Vyman for his ravens to send elsewhere.

Hermione spent the first day after their -- not-fight, but fight -- in her room, going over what items she had with her and cataloguing them. Initially, she needed some time to herself. There were things she had to refocus on, which the fight emphasized.

Since her arrival, and upon meeting Robb, Hermione had felt like an interloper -- an outlander -- to Westeros. In ways, she still felt the same. She was a modern woman from the twentieth-century and many of the attitudes and social customs of Westeros and the Northern army was foreign and alien to her in ways that she assumed her own cultural habits were to them. She barely understood their social pecking order, and despite being born in a country that had a Queen, the British monarchy was a mere figurehead for the House of Lords and the House of Commons, despite the veto power the Queen had.

Robb’s coronation and absolute power was something hard to swallow at times, especially when she observed the chain of command surrounding him. His father, Eddard Stark, had been well liked and oftentimes spoken about fondly and with respect. Robb didn’t carry the same weight, and despite his successes in battle, he was not his father. Watching the way the men tiptoed around him, constantly testing the new King, made Hermione realize how precarious Robb’s position truly was -- something she noticed in retrospect, after their disagreement. Her questioning him in front of these men could just have easily spelled his death.

He was her friend, though. In the four months she had been in Westeros, Hermione had come to know and like Robb Stark. He was young, untested in some ways and utterly charming and sweet. But then there were times when his eyes went cold and hard, and she was reminded that this was a young man who had heard about his father’s execution and raised armies in his name -- a man who had executed others in the name of the North, as well as killed in battle.

That was a bitter pill to swallow, Hermione knew. To think that her friend would then question her about her abilities -- after all she had done so far for him and his men! -- on the heels of Black Walder Frey’s sneering accusations, had left her chilled. Did he truly think so lowly of her? Was she some token, cute ornament for the Northern army to trot out before the masses? “Oh, look, we have a witch!”?

Those thoughts built the foundation of her insecurity, and coalesced into her emotional outburst: she was a witch out of her environment, stuck in a world she didn’t understand fully nor wanted to. Hearing Robb degrade her talent and ability, -- something she was proud of and had always been proud of as a witch -- hurt.

It hurt a lot.

She raced to her tent and sought out the comfort of knowledge that she had fought in a war and succeeded; that she fought for her right to be considered a citizen, something important to the wizarding world despite the slur on her arm and despite the glaring accusation Purebloods sent her, wondering why someone like her could do so much with magic that they couldn’t. She needed a reminder of home -- of Harry, Ron, Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix -- people who knew her and what she could do and would say, “you’re scary Hermione -- brilliant, but scary,” with fondness and affection.

Would she ever get home? Hermione had wondered, looking around her tent and the numerous texts she had piled here and there, many filled with useless information. Was she doomed to remained in Westeros for years on end, cataloguing their magic until she had enough information to attempt a portal to her universe? Could she even create a portal? She would need to make a new equation for something no one had ever done before.

Until then -- she had two choices: work with Robb and his army, throwing her lot in with them; or go her own way, alone, and fuck them all.

The choice wasn’t hard -- not after she and Robb spoke.

Since, something had shifted between the two: there was a new kind of understanding, respect that hadn’t quite been there before. And maybe… maybe Robb learned something from the situation, just as she did. After all, she made her choice.

And once she did, Hermione always followed through.

Currently, that afternoon several days after her conversation with Robb, Hermione was wandering from her bedchambers at Riverrun, searching for Bolton.

You’d think the man was easy to find, given how most people hated him and kept an eye out for the man whose family sigil was a flayed man, thought Hermione darkly. Instead, everyone she stopped to ask, which ranged from a maid to Lord Ryger. None were able to tell her anything.

Grumpily huffing, Hermione turned the corner and found herself in a different part of the castle than where she normally would end up: she was on a balcony overlooking another inner courtyard, but this one was large and had several covered alcoves. In the middle, however, was a large practice ring. And in that practice ring, several of Robb’s Kingsguard were carefully sidestepping one another in a steel-and-dagger melee, a free-for-all, where the last man (or, woman in Dacey’s case) standing was the winner.

Hermione rested her elbows on the balustrade above them, leaning forward slightly and eyes fixed on the two she knew the best: Torrhen and Dacey.

Torrhen’s shirt was stuck to him, darkly streaked where sweat had bled through. He and his brother Eddard wove and ducked around and under one another in a beautiful display of two people working in symphony against their enemies. Their footwork and the swings of their blades were reminiscent of the first night that Hermione met them, when they fought Jaime Lannister in the Whispering Woods. The two had been taught together, clearly, and knew that where one brother’s weakness was, the other’s strength would compliment it.

Dacey, being the only female of the group, may have felt like she needed to prove herself, but she had done so time and time again at Robb’s side, and was now using two shorter Gladius-style swords: longer than a dagger and thicker, Dacey’s Roman-inspired gladius blades gave her the protection of length that a dagger didn't, but the heft and feel of a shorter, stunted sword. She was swinging them with wide arcs, and then quick jabs and chops, with wrist rolls similar to a 1950s greaser with a switchblade.

Lucas Blackwood and Daryn Hornwood had their personal blades, shorter than a Great Sword like the one Robb liked to tell her his father carried, Ice, but still impressive weapons. Dacey was fighting both men at once, while Torrhen and Eddard attacked all three from the outside, forming intricate layers of Dacey, then Lucas and Daryn, and then Torrhen and Eddard.

The courtyard was filled with the shouts and grunts of the Kingsguard below, and the clang and clear ring of steel hitting steel. Sparks flew as the metal clashed, and Hermione did her best to hide a wince here or there whenever someone got a good slash in. They were not using blunted blades -- this wasn’t just practice for fun, but practice for war.

A crowd had formed, mostly of squires and a few Lords, watching the young men and woman battle -- after all, these were the people who were protecting their King. Eventually, Dacey managed to get the tip of her blade under Daryn’s hilt, hooking it and then spinning it from his grasp; Daryn swore loudly and called, “Out!”

Immediately, the others drew rank around his empty spot as the man walked off from the center of the practice ring to the edge, leaning against the wooden fence that separated the ring from the courtyard walkways and spectators.

Torrhen and Eddard changed their attack, launching themselves at Lucas, who grimaced at the onslaught as Dacey joined them, the three forming a triangle around the black-haired young man. He parried but was on the defensive, his footwork sloppy and eventually, he found himself up against the fence. With four different blades at his neck, he called his own end. “Out!”

There was a moment of pause, as Dacey scurried to the far end of the ring and Torrhen and Eddard took drinks from waiting servants. Hermione grinned at the image: it was just like boxers retreating to their corners while their coaches fanned them or gave them pep talks.

Torrhen guzzled from his goblet, head tipped back and drank so deeply that liquid spilled over the rim of the cup and dribbled down his chin and onto his wet shirt. When he pulled away, he was facing and looking up to Hermione on the balcony. Their eyes met and he grinned, waving.

Hermione gave a tiny huff of a laugh and waved back.

“Lady Hermione!” he called, a large grin on his face and his voice carrying, “Would you not join us? I am eager to see your magical abilities against our swords!”

Immediately, heads swiveled to look up at Hermione.

Her smile slid off her face quickly.

Fuck. You, she thought pointedly at Torrhen, and some of her thought must have translated in the glare she sent, because his smile faltered.

Then, there was a clamouring of others, and Hermione sighed. Not only was it getting harder to hide her abilities -- not like she was trying too hard, mind -- but she didn’t want to go announcing to all of Westeros just what she was capable of, either.

Grudgingly, Hermione turned on her heel and Apparated down into the ring in front of Torrhen; Eddard and Dacey jumped in shock, and there were a few startled cries from spectators, but her bodyguard-cum-friend merely grinned.

“Does this mean you’ll be joining us, Lady Hermione?”

Goddamn him, thought Hermione, looking up at the tall Karstark. His eyes were twinkling enough with amusement that he would make Dumbledore weep with envy. Hermione sighed. “I suppose so.”

She rolled her shoulders and heard a few pops, and then began backing up her steps, until she was far enough from the Karstark brothers and Dacey to keep them all in her line of vision. She flicked her wrist, and her wand slipped from her ever-present wand holster into her waiting palm. A sudden hush overcame those watching.

Hermione slowly turned herself sideways, presenting left shoulder at the front with her wand at hip-height, hidden behind the bulk of her lithe form. Dacey spun both her gladius blades, her entire form square and large, presenting the largest target while Torrhen and Eddard began to weave between each other; one brother was at the front, and then the other stepped in front instead. Their movements were serpentine, their bodies constantly in motion as they sidestepped one another and began to flick their eyes between the two women.

“You won’t take it too hard when I beat you, will you, Lady Hermione?” asked Eddard pleasantly.

“I beg your pardon?” Hermione’s eyebrows shot skyward.

Unlike his brother Torrhen, Eddard had dark brown hair that was shaggy and longish -- Torrhen was the exact opposite with light brown hair that was cut close to his head. Both, however, shared the square face with a high forehead and small, narrow eyes over a heavy brow. Torrhen was far more built like an army man from Hermione’s world, whereas Eddard had the mass of a warrior with large shoulders and a barrel-chest -- making Hermione think that Torrhen took after his mother, given he was the smaller of the two (although not by much) but was the second eldest of the Karstark boys -- their elder brother Harrion, Hermione knew, had been taken prisoner earlier on the war before she arrived and was currently a captive of the Lannister’s.

The rakish grin on Eddard’s face, of course, could only come from being the one without the responsibilities that the heir would have.

“Edd,” cautioned Torrhen, pausing behind his younger brother, “Perhaps it’s best to not--”

“Best not to, what?” Eddard grinned.

Hermione pursed her lips and deliberately turned to Dacey, ignoring the brothers and Torrhen’s put-out expression. “Hey, Dace. What do you say - a girl team up?”

Dacey, despite the strange words, understood the message Hermione was trying to convey. She nodded. “Very well.”

Hermione moved to her friend’s side, and an anticipatory hush fell over the group. Then --

Eddard raced forward, Torrhen just steps behind him. Dacey met them head on, one gladius reaching up to block Eddard’s downward stroke and then the other flashing off to the side as she blocked Torrhen’s side swing. Hermione stepped forward and brandished her wand, turning the hard, packed earth under Eddard’s feet into quicksand.

The young man stumbled, gapping down at his leather boot as the muddy earth suddenly sucked him down, and he wobbled forward.

Dacey laughed, loudly and derisively, and Eddard scrambled to bring his sword up to block her gladius. However, the long sword had barely enough room to clear the churned earth, which Hermione grimly turned back solid.

“Fuck!” shouted Eddard, struggling yank his foot up while performing some impressive backbends to avoid Dacey’s double blades.

Torrhen shook his head, and braced himself in front of his brother, rapidly parrying against Dacey’s rhythmic blows, wheeling forward in on/off timed arcs and sweeping glances. Hermione, for the most part, was able to stand by the side, unchallenged.

Eventually, she stunned Eddard and he keeled over, face-forward onto the ground.

“Edd!” Torrhen groaned, quickly backpedaling and out of Dacey’s reach, and leaving his unconscious brother completely undefended.

The other woman grinned and followed, chasing the older Karstark. Hermione followed in the opposite direction, and soon the two women were circling Torrhen, who kept his sword in front of him with both hands on the hilt, his eyes following them when he could.

Dacey moved, quickly, and Torrhen swung the sword up and over his shoulder to block the swipe she was making towards his back; Hermione took the opportunity to slide in front, where Torrhen’s entire front was open, and point her want at him. “Stup--”

Torrhen’s eyes widened and he hit the floor, sweeping a leg out behind and knocking Dacey, behind him, to the ground with a loud ‘oof’. He rolled away and Hermione scuttled back, out of his leg’s reach. Dacey moaned and rolled from her side to her back and then to her feet, but by then, Torrhen had moved well out of physical reach.

“Do you trust me?” muttered Hermione to Dacey, while the crowd around them catcalled and hollered.

“Suppose so,” the woman muttered back, eyes firmly fixed on Torrhen who was eyeing both women cautiously.

“You take high, and I’ll get him when he’s focused on you,” said Hermione, “But we need to make it showy. Can you jump at him?”

“Jump at him?” Dacey’s incredulous voice was matched by her wide eyes as she stared at Hermione in surprise. Then, she stopped. “Jump at him. Oh. Oh.”

She swung her head back around and Torrhen grit his teeth in response. Dacey nodded and muttered, “When you’re ready, Lady Hermione.”

“Ready,” muttered back Hermione, and then Dacey was racing forward, her gladius at her side and one extended in front. Torrhen braced himself, sword up like a baseball bat, but Dacey changed direction from going directly towards Torrhen in a straight line to the side, only to push off the far fence, launching herself into the air with impressive Parkour skills.

Wingardium Leviosa!” cried Hermione, directing her wand and Dacey. The spell caught the woman, and she gained a higher lift than physically possible. With Hermione pointing her wand forward, she launched Dacey towards Torrhen quickly like a projectile.

Torrhen swore loudly while the crowd roared their approval, and his sword hit Dacey’s gladius as it swung down. But with his focus on the woman high above him, he left his front and what was closer to the ground open as Hermione pointed her wand at him, ending her spell on Dacey. She watched impassively as a bright blue light hit Torrhen and he crumpled to the ground, stunned.

Dacey landed hard, and then rolled over her shoulder and braced back up on her knees and then stood in a smooth motion, her swords out and extended behind her. She tossed her hair and glanced over her shoulder.

“Did we win?” she called back to Hermione and the rowdy crowd of squires, servants, and Lords, all cheered and whistled.

“I think so!” grinned Hermione, letting her wand slip back into her holster. She dusted her hands off on her thighs and then walked calmly over to Torrhen, closer to her than Eddard. She placed a finger on his forehead, murmured, “Eneverate,” and the man blinked, taking in a raspy, gasping breath.

“What was that?!” he gapped, turning to Hermione who smirked at him. “No, really, Lady Hermione -- what was that? That was amazing!”

Hermione shrugged and moved to Eddard, doing the same to him. He gasped awake. He braced his elbows on his upturned knees and hung his head between.

“How did that happen?” the younger Karstark moaned.

Torrhen, wobbly, moved to his brother and clapped him on the shoulder. “I told you not to underestimate Lady Hermione! And Dacey has become quite skilled with her blades.”

The elder of the two Karstarks turned to Hermione and narrowed his eyes on her. “But don’t think I won’t be asking for a demonstration of that move again, Lady Hermione.”

“Of course,” she demurred, nodding. After all, Robb had placed Torrhen as her guard, and if they were going to fight together, it made sense that they both knew what the other was capable of.

“Lady Hermione,” called a voice, and Hermione turned to see the Greatjon leaning against the fence, a wide grin on his face. “My apologies for interrupting that exciting match, but His Majesty is asking for you and Lord Bolton in the war room.”

She sighed. “Duty calls.”

“Later then, Lady Hermione,” said Torrhen with an easy smile on his sweat-tinged face. “We’re going to practice that together.” He frowned as he looked down at Eddard, still stuck in the muddied earth Hermione made, calling loudly, “Does anyone have a spade?”

Hermione waved and followed the Greatjon, meandering through the crowd a many murmured their praise, in awe of her skills and saying things such as, “That was extraordinary!” and “Amazing!”. A few young squires blushed a furious red when she walked by and gave them tiny smiles, making the Greatjon chortle beside her.

Eventually, they entered Riverrun proper, and the Greatjon joined her in the war room. Inside, a merry fire cracked in the large heath. At the head, Robb sat, speaking quietly with Lord Bolton to his left. The Greatjon pulled up a chair and sat himself in his usual spot; around the table were several other Lords and Lady Maege Mormont. The seat next to Robb was vacant, and Hermione took that to mean it was hers.

Once she sat, Robb nodded at her, his blue eyes as bright and clear as a warm summer day. “Now that we’re here, let’s begin: the first thing on the agenda is Harrenhal.”

There was a tense air in the room, and several people shifted in their seats.

“Lady Hermione and Lord Bolton will commence a joint operation together,” continued Robb, his voice stern and making no room for arguments. “They will leave within the next day, heading to where Lord Bolton’s men are currently camped. From there, they will begin their assault on Harrenhal and, as it is primarily a rescue mission, bring my sister Arya back.”

“What’s our time frame on this?” asked Hermione, frowning, drumming her fingers on the table.

“As quickly, but safely, as you can,” replied Robb, his mouth turning down as he turned back to her. “I know that things will likely go wrong, but I’m hoping you can… Apparate or… use one of those - erm, Portkeys? - to travel the distance between Riverrun and the camp to cut down on travel time.”

Hermione nodded absently, wandlessly and wordlessly summoning a map of the Riverlands from a table off to the far side of the room, where numerous other maps were rolled up -- most had been the ones she was using previously to figure out Jaime Lannister’s path.

Once it zoomed towards the table, nearly clipping the Greatjon’s head, she unrolled it and stood, leaning over the table to look at key points. “Lord Bolton, where is the camp now?”

“Ten leagues north of Harrenhal,” replied the soft-spoken man confidently. “Where I have a host of nearly ten thousand.”

“I don’t think we’ll need that many,” replied Hermione.

“Why ever not?” protested Lord Glover, eyes narrowed. “Harrenhal is a fortress; it was only won by the Targaryens because they had dragons. What will you do?”

Hermione glanced up at the man, looking at him from under her brows. It hooded her eyes and her glare looked rather menacing as she said, arrogantly, “I’ll think of something.” She then shot a look at Bolton, who nodded minutely, understanding immediately she didn’t want to say anything.

The look Lord Glover sent her was rather dry and conveyed what he thought of her arrogance. Hermione didn’t bother replying to him or responding to his look.

The meeting went on for another hour or so, until there was a natural break. Eventually, groups splintered off and Lords went their own way. Hermione slowly stood, stretching her back and popping it. At her side, Robb glanced at her, pausing, and she hid a smile by turning her head -- he wanted to speak but wasn’t sure where to begin.

“Shall we walk?” offered Hermione, making sure Robb couldn’t see her smile. “I should head to my room and begin preparations.”

“Yes, of course,” agreed Robb, and he offered her his elbow.

Hermione took it and they wandered the hallways of Riverrun slowly, a gentle pace to their steps.

“If I can ask,” began Hermione tentatively, “What’s happening with your mother?”

Robb heaved a deep sigh. “She has been confined to her room, under guard,” he said quietly. “When she’s not in her room, she remains by my grandfather’s side as his health declines.”

Hermione immediately deduced the problem. “You haven’t decided what to do.”

“No,” agreed Robb. “There is -- too much inconsistency, to be honest. I know I need to harden my heart to what she did but… she’s my mother. Even still, her actions are not of someone’s sound mind or logic. I’ve had the unpleasant duty along with many of the Northern Lords and Lady Mormont who knew my parents better than I to go over my mother’s previous actions.”

He grimaced. “The results are… not good.”

“Oh?”

“She jumps to conclusions far too quickly and then stubbornly keeps to them, beyond all other information that provides alternative perspectives,” clarified Robb. “Even her brokering of my marriage with the Freys was short-sighted and heavily one-sided.”

Hermione wrinkled her nose.

“Enough of this,” said Robb, turning his head down a bit to look at her, “I wanted to ask you something.”

He steered them away from an upcoming staircase through an arch, and then they were in a small courtyard overlooking the Trident, framed by the mountains. There were a few trees in pots and a couple rose bushes growing up vines, and a low, stone seat.

They sat.

“Your Portkeys,” began Robb, “Must you be around to activate them?”

Hermione shook her head. “No. They can be premade with a password or keyword activation sequence.” She paused, narrowing her eyes on him. “Why?”

Robb shifted on the seat. “Well… if I have some of our blacksmiths create house sigil pins… could you turn them into Portkeys? Password activated ones?”

“... in case something goes wrong somewhere?” asked Hermione, her voice low and gentle.

Robb nodded silently.

Hermione tilted her head back and looked up at the sky, there the light blue of the early afternoon was beginning to bleed into a darker hue of purple as twilight began. “I think I can do it, but I wouldn’t want to do too many at once. Magic isn’t the same here as it is back home for me, Robb. And created those wards for Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge really threw me a loop.”

She turned back to him, and saw Robb mouthing, “threw me a loop,” amusement all over his face. He saw her and chuckled. “I apologize; I’m not laughing at you, Lady Hermione.”

“Uh huh.”

He grinned. “I was thinking, there are a few locations that I think would be suitable for the Portkey to take us,” he continued, a smile still on his face. “Perhaps when the Harrenhal siege is done, we can scout a few of these?”

Alone, Your Majesty? thought Hermione, eyebrows raised. “Sure.”

They stood and began to walk again, this time towards Hermione’s room. At the door, Robb lingered, his upper body swaying towards her -- just a bit -- but nothing but his quiet sigh fluttered across her lip.

Instead, he reached forward, took her hand in his and pressed a soft kiss to the back of it. “Until later, Lady Hermione.”

“Until later, Robb,” she replied quietly, watching the tall, redheaded King as he disappeared down the hallway, a strange flutter in her stomach.


The next day, Hermione stood with Bolton in a courtyard that she was beginning to become too familiar with. Instead of dressing in just her jeans and her jumper, the air that morning was chilly; she wore her jeans tucked into half-calf height winter boots, and wore two layers of a cardigan and form-fitting black jacket with a scarf for her top. Her curly brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, but several strands were escaping and curling around her forehead and nape of her neck.

Beside her, Torrhen was checking his sword sheath, as well as other odds and ends he had tucked away in pockets and pouches. Bolton stood immovable on her other side, a veritable rock in the tide that was the early morning bustle of Riverrun.

“Have you everything you need?” called Robb, striding towards her from the interior of Riverrun.

Hermione felt her lips twitch. What a reversal from before! Then, I was the one left behind. “I think we’re good. It wouldn’t be difficult for me to pop back, anyway.”

He nodded, eyes darting over to Bolton, who nodded deeply to his King, and then to Torrhen, who bowed. “Be safe,” he finally said, his exhaled air puffing in the cold, a small cloud that rose from his lips.

Hermione grinned. “What’s the fun in that?”

Robb’s mouth dropped open, a startled laugh erupting from him, and Hermione reached forward at the same time to touched both Bolton and Torrhen, spinning on her heel and disappearing with a smart crack.

They reappeared in the east, hidden by a tree line that Bolton had known of previously and had passed on to her through Legilimency. Below them, on a desolate, flat piece of earth surrounded by boulders and trampled grass, was the Bolton camp. Several banners of the Flayed Man were spread throughout, the black background and an upside-down flayed man on a cross as eye catching and memorable as the Jolly Roger in Hermione’s own world.

Their arrival was noticed, and a small contingent of men on horseback quickly approached them, weaving back and forth as their horses picked their way up the craggily ground, the hooves carefully finding purchase on loose rubble and stones.

The scenery was beautiful, Hermione noted, with the area closer to the east looking more like northern Scotland: either lush, green rolling hills, or jagged, brownish hills with grey rocks jutting up to impede people. The sky was grey, and there was the hint of a cold rain with dark clouds rolling in from further east.

And, in the near distance, was Harrenhal: a large, black ruin of a once-majestic castle. Several towers remained, but many of them were open to the elements, and even from where she stood, Hermione could see moss growing up and into several open nooks and crannies, as well as the gaping holes in the battlements and walls, where greenery was trying to reclaim the property. Exposed, half-rotted, or fallen wooden beams crisscrossed throughout whatever rooms were left bare, and even with a few Lannister lions flying from serviceable posts, the castle was a sorry sight.

Eventually, the group of horses, led by a tall, hulking mass of a man on a warhorse, stopped in front of them.

“Vargos,” said Bolton quietly, nodding at his man.

“My Lord Bolton,” the man greeted with a deep and accented voice. “We stand ready at your command.”

“Excellent,” replied Bolton, turning to Hermione and Torrhen. “Shall we?”

Hermione found herself behind Torrhen on a spare horse, while Bolton led the procession back towards the camp. There was an uneasy feeling in the air, and Hermione found herself huddling closer to Torrhen, tightening her arms around his stomach as she looked over the soldiers and men that Bolton had under his command.

Many wore the black, red, and white colours of their house, but others wore simple leathers or chainmail. Despite whatever they wore, they all had the same hungry, cruel look to their eyes. Hermione shivered and Torrhen, with his free arm, patted the one she had wrapped around him before sliding to the hilt of his sword, if it was necessary.

He doesn’t trust these men either, thought Hermione, feeling the subtle shift of his muscles under her cheek as he sat stiff. Good.

Eventually they reached the command tent. Bolton dismounted from his horse easily, and turned to help Hermione, who took his offered hand with some reluctance. The moment her feet were on solid ground, Bolton turned and was ushering her in to the tent, Torrhen quickly on her heels. The moment Bolton’s soldiers pulled back the tent flap, the man began barking out orders -- as much as the quiet man could bark, anyway. There was still a steely ring of command in his voice when he spoke.

“What are our numbers?”

“Ten thousand or so, strong, milord,” replied back one of the men in the tent, standing respectively by a table. There were three others with him -- all dressed in boiled leathers and fur.

“What numbers does Harrenhal hold?” Bolton moved to the head of his table, and Hermione slid herself in quietly to a spot between two of the burly looking men, both who scowled down at her. Bolton noticed and snapped, “Lady Hermione is a close friend and confident of our King; furthermore, she has my full and complete trust. You will treat her with respect.”

The men went contrite, even if they looked at her oddly; but they bowed their heads.

“Harrenhal’s numbers change almost daily,” one of the men spoke up. “They’re constantly coming and going.”

“From where and to where?” asked Hermione, glancing around.

Vorgas, Bolton’s man when he wasn’t on the field, shrugged. “Mainly they scour the countryside for folks hiding out in the villages -- the ones not burnt, anyway. They then bring them back into Harrenhal.”

“It’s a big place,” added the first one who spoke about the numbers, “And I’d imagine they’re using them as slave labour. To keep everything running, that is.”

And other things went unsaid. Hermione’s lips thinned.

“But we estimated somewhere in the hundreds,” continued Vorgas, seeing Hermione’s face. “Not more than five or so. It’s an outpost, but they don’t have access to food and steel to keep a full garrison, nor do they have access to run back somewhere else for a garrison to help them retake Harrenhal.”

“Not since the Young Wolf destroyed the old Lion’s armies in the Westerlands, anyway,” chortled gratingly the last man of the group.

“Until we have better numbers, this isn’t helpful,” sighed Hermione. “Robb wants us to destroy Harrenhal completely -- but only after we rescue Arya. Does anyone know what she looks like?”

There were blank faces around the table. Fuck, thought Hermione moodily, her mouth pulling down into a frown.

“If there is to be a rescue mission first,” began Bolton quietly, firmly, “Then we must rescue any prisoners before attempting to destroy the castle.”

“It won’t be an attempt,” replied Hermione, “I already have quite a few ideas on what I can use to blow the place up. Or… well, at least make it useless to hold anyone other than maybe a few people going forward.” She glanced around. “I think our first plan should be getting inside Harrenhal.”

“Agreed,” sad Vorgas, crossing his arms. “But they will see us if we try sneaking in. And we cannot scale the walls. It was an impenetrable fortress once.”

“Could you do what we did at Stone Hedge?” asked Torrhen, speaking up for the first time from just off to Hermione’s side.

She turned to look at him and shook her head. “From what I can see, that place is a monster. There are too many nooks and crannies for us to get lost in -- no,” she sighed, realizing what her next step would be and already knowing that Torrhen was going to protest, “We’re going to have to get in the same way everyone else is.”

There was a silence, and then, as she predicted, Torrhen grit out, “What?”

“You’re speaking of being taken prisoner,” said Vorgas, something strange in his voice as he eyed her. Bolton had a thunderous expression on his face.

Hermione nodded. “Yes -- it’ll be the only way. You’ve mentioned they have a high turnover for prisoners… it’s the easiest way to get in. Make them think we’re -- because I know I won’t be going by myself -- are defenceless villagers. I can cast a glamour on us so they overlook our weapons.”

“And my face?” asked Bolton, throwing in his lot of being one of those with her.

“Easily done,” answered Hermione. “I won’t be holding it for long, anyway -- just long enough for us to get in, do a quick headcount and have an idea of how many guards are there at once and where the prisoners are. Once we’re in, it’ll be easy to sow discord with some spells, and we can open the gates for the rest of the soldiers to come in and take over.”

Torrhen muttered something under his breath, and Hermione, despite not hearing what he said, could guess at the feeling. She reached back and swatted him. He swatted gently back at her hand and she resisted the urge to end up returning the favour.

“The whole of the army is unnecessary,” decided Bolton, after thinking for a few minutes. “Vorgas,” he said, turning to the man.

“My lord?” the man straightened.

“Choose several units to be part of the infiltration once Lady Hermione and I open the gates. They must be told and aware that there is not to be a bloodbath of any kind -- all prisoners and servants at Harrenhal are to be left alone. The men will only attack the Lannister guards.”

Vorgas looked slightly put out at the order, but nodded. “At once, my Lord.”

He then left the tent quickly, the slap of his boots hitting the hard, packed earth beneath them. Bolton turned back to the other three men. “Alvar, Rogar, Harlys -- maintain position around Harrenhal in case there are those who try to escape. Contain them.”

“My lord,” the men said, all murmuring their agreement.

Bolton turned to Hermione and Torrhen. “How many men would you need?”

“The less is better,” said Hermione quietly. “They’re not going to take in more than three villagers running from bandits. More would seem odd.”

Bolton eyed her. “You realize that these men might attempt to rape you? That they could possibly succeed and neither Karstark nor I could intervene.”

Hermione swallowed thickly. “I am aware, but if I need to, I’ll figure some way to stop that from happening first.”

“And if you lose your wand?”

That was something Hermione didn’t want to consider just yet, but she knew that she would have to account for that possibility. “I’ll figure something out.”

Torrhen groaned behind her, but realized it was futile to argue. “We’re going to do some combat training when this is all over, Lady Hermione.”

Bolton’s sour face meant that he too, agreed with Torrhen and Hermione sighed noisily. “Well, are we doing this or what?”

When there were no disagreements, Hermione called her wand from its holster and pointed it first at Torrhen. “This is going to feel weird, like something slimy trickling down your back.”

“What--?”

Then he shuddered, and Bolton watched with fascination as Torrhen’s face subtly changed, becoming dirty and smudged with soot and dirt. His boiled leathers, including the buckle straps of the Stark direwolf and sunburst of Karstark were blurred, then disappeared. it looked like he had shrunk several inches, and his clothing was soon mismatched rags, all dirty and greasy.

“What?” repeated Torrhen, looking at Hermione and Bolton. “How do I look?”

“Like a beggar,” answered Bolton, absently, as he continued to stare. He turned his pale blue eyes to Hermione. “And this is just an illusion?”

Hermione nodded, eyes still on Torrhen. “Reach for your sword,” she instructed him.

He did so, and Bolton saw a shimmer -- Torrhen was reaching for something that didn’t exist to his eyes, but then, if he squinted, he could see the brown of the scabbard, although his mind was trying to tell him he was imagining things. “How interesting,” he breathed.

“Your turn,” said Hermione, and the spell was repeated with Bolton shivering.

She finished by turning the wand on herself, and the three stood for a moment staring at one another. Finally, Torrhen cleared his throat. “Ready?”

“As ready as we can be,” replied a grim Hermione.


Hermione couldn’t lie. It was something she had accepted years ago, after her disastrous attempted at Borgin and Burkes before their sixth year, wondering what Draco Malfoy had been doing in the store in Knockturn Alley. Her lying skills did not improve with age, but she was damn good at blagging her way through things if she had to, especially when her life was on the line -- Dolores Umbridge had shown her that, and Bellatrix had cemented it during torture.

Playing a hysterical housewife as a bunch of Lannister soldiers in goldcloaks manhandled them towards Harrenhal wasn’t difficult, especially as two took to beating the shit out of Torrhen first, being the youngest in appearance.

“Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing him!” she was shouting shrilly, while Bolton had a tight hold on her arm to kept her from rushing forward.

The Lannister guards laughed and jeered at her, one coming forward and trailing his fingers down her cheek and her neck, ending near her jacket’s collar, even if it looked like a cloak for them. “What’ll you do for me t’call ‘em off?”

Disgusted, Hermione reared back, reminded back to the Snatchers and Scabior, who enjoyed playing with her pink scarf. “I--”

“What’s this?”

Hermione turned to see a large, square man on horseback along with several other Lannister guards ride up to them, just a mere league from the doors to Harrenhal.

“Ser Lorch,” the man who was nearest to Hermione turned to address the knight, “We found these peasants on t’road, begging for scraps. Thought t’bring t’em in.”

The man, with his long, scraggly face scars pulling down lines from his cheeks, frowned as he looked them over. Finally, he turned to those restraining Torrhen, ordering, “Let him go -- he can’t work if he’s too damaged. Bring the rest in. Lord Lannister will decide what to do with them, since he took over the prisoners.”

“Took ‘em over how?” another soldier asked snottily.

Lorch growled. “From the Mountain. Apparently he was wasting manpower.”

Hermione shuddered. She sidled up to Torrhen on one side and Bolton the other. Quietly, they supported him as they were marched over the solid, hard grass and mud that led to the gates of Harrenhal. They opened at their approach, a few guards calling down or from behind to determine their identities.

And then they were in.

Inside, the bleakness of the weather seemed to be a living presence, as everywhere Hermione looked, people were downtrodden or painfully thin. Everyone avoided looking up as they passed two men slopping horse manure, and even the burly young blacksmith pounding away at his sword merely sent them a wary glance before turning his back deliberately.

Ser Lorch led the three new prisoners towards an outdoor pen. The smell of urine and feces wafted over to Hermione and she gagged at the smell. Had they been keeping people there?

“Stay here,” ordered Lorch, leaving them with the same lot that initially found them. The men were clearly put out with babysitting duty, but Hermione didn’t care; already, she was looking around, breathing through her mouth as she took in the tall, looming ruined towers, and slick, dampened grey stones, and the crumbled wood and stone piles around the base of these towers.

The soldiers who remained inside were less than two hundred - if even that. Many dark corners of the castle were abandoned, left as tricky, hidden traps for unaware people getting lost in the dark and the labyrinth of what remained of Harrenhal. It wouldn’t be hard for them to disappear as well.

After what felt like a significant amount of time for the soldiers around them to lose interest in them, and therefore, not watching them closely, Hermione nudged Torrhen.

He turned to her, hiding his wince. She bought at hand up and murmured a soft episky under her breath, healing the bruise on his cheek and straightening his nose.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

“There are less than I thought,” breathed Bolton quietly from the other side, speaking for the first time in hours.

Hermione nodded. “It won’t be hard to make them look the other way and we can disappear. Maybe through that passage?” she jerked her head in the direction of the darkened passage she saw earlier.

Bolton’s nod was miniscule.

“How long have we been waiting?” muttered Torrhen, wheezing slightly.

“A few hours I think,” answered Hermione. “I can probably make them forget we are here--”

Somewhere, a horse whinnied nervously and immediately the people still hovering around the courtyard froze before scattering. Fear and terror were physically present and Hermione neared fell to her knees as her magic screamed warnings at her.

Hermione turned to see what had caught their fear when she saw the giant scowling man striding towards them. His hair was closely shorn to his scalp, and he had a neatly trimmed beard. But there was something about him -- his large size that would put the Greatjon on par or even smaller than him, as he was closer to Hagrid’s height and size -- that had Hermione’s skin crawl.

At her side, Torrhen hissed and Bolton stood straight.

“Ser Clegane?” one of the Lannister guards asked in confusion.

The man -- known also as the Mountain -- turned and scowled deeply. “You! Gather your men. We ride out immediately.”

Wait - no -  thought Hermione, thinking back to Barbara Bracken. This man hurt her. She couldn’t let him get away!

She made to step forward, but Torrhen stepped on her foot heavily and she yelped.

Clegane turned to her at the noise. His eyes raked her tiny form, and dismissed her easily. “Lorch is dead - wolfsbane. Lord Lannister believes that there is a Brotherhood without Banners man inside the castle. We are to flush him out.”

“Yes, Ser Clegane!” the soldier replied, quickly leaving along with the three others who were guarding them. The Mountain stood for a moment, surveying the scurrying soldiers, and then turned back to them.

“Bitch,” he snapped, pointing at Hermione, making her jump at the tone but bristle at the name. “I doubt you’ll be useful for anything, but go to the kitchens. Help the wenches there. You two?” He nodded his head at a tall, round man with protruding belly, chin-length dirty blond hair, and nasty gleam in his eyes. “Rorge, have them clearing out the rubble.”

The round man nodded. His eyes lingered more on Hermione’s body as Clegane strode away. In her belly, embers of anger began to stir.

“Kitchen’s that’away,” he sneered, pointing.

Hermione cast a glance back at Torrhen and Bolton; Bolton nodded at her, and she eased around the large man, eyes on him until she passed, dropping them quickly, and scurrying in the direction he pointed.

The kitchen was busy, if not quiet. There was one robust woman, although she was pale with bags under her eyes, leading those with her through several stations of prep. “Oi, who’re you?” she snapped, turning to Hermione as she eased into the warm, low-ceiling room.

“Penelope Clearwater, ma’am,” she stuttered, falling back on the old girlfriend of Percy’s for her cover.

The woman looked her up and down. “You new, girl?”

“Yes,” said Hermione cautiously.

“Fine. Take a spot next to Hot Pie there,” the woman said, pointing to a tubby teen, who was sprinkling flour on a wooden table top with a small smile on his face, “But wash them hands first! And then start kneading the dough!”

Hermione did as she was told, moving to a bucket in the far corner. She did her best to make sure no one was looking, and then charmed the dirt from her hands instead of washing. Afterwards, she moved to Hot Pie’s side.

“What are you making?” she asked quietly, looking at the nervous teen as he glanced up at her and his cheeks turned red.

She smiled and he nervously smiled back.

“Lord Lannister wants fresh bread with his meals,” the teen said, glancing at her from under his curly dark hair, his cheeks still stained a deep red. “An’ my friend Arry said they’re serving up stew tonight.”

Arry? Hermione’s head turned sharply at the name. Was that a diminutive of “Arya”?

“Arry?” asked Hermione carefully, reaching forward to the dough Hot Pie pushed in her direction. She sprinkled flour down on the table as well, thinking back to her mother and Mrs. Weasley doing similar things in their kitchens, and plopped the sticky dough ball on to it. She allowed some of her aggression to bleed through as she pinched and rolled and kneaded the dough.

“Yeah,” Hot Pie said, happily, if not quietly in the kitchen. “She’s always asking for more food. Greedy thing, she is.” He looked up. “She’s serving as Lord Tywin’s cupbearer.”

Hermione frowned. “Is she now…?”

Hot Pie nodded, eyes darting to the entrance way Hermione came from -- door less and open to the courtyard. She could no longer see Torrhen and Bolton, but she had a good line of sight towards the smithy. “She usually visits our other friend in the smithy. Gendry.” He paused, and then said, “See?”

Hermione glanced out and saw a tiny, thin figure sticking to the shadows slip across a stone wall and into the smithy, her features barely lightened by the fire raging inside. But it was enough for Hermione to see she was wearing men’s trousers and a tunic, and had short dark hair.

Hot Pie sighed, a little despondent. “She’ll be a while now.”

“What do you mean?”

He continued, “She likes Gendry better I think. I wasn’t too nice when we first met. But she’ll come and try to weasel food from me later…”

“Oh,” chuckled Hermione, thinking of Ron when she was back at Hogwarts and he wanted to see her homework. “Well, she likes you well enough if she’s asking you for favours.”

Hot Pie nodded, and they shared a grin.

They fell silent and once Hot Pie determined Hermione had done enough to the dough she was working on, traded it for another that needed attention before going to a bowl to rise. They worked in a companionable silence for several hours. Conversation was sparse, but Hermione learned a few things about Hot Pie, whenever it got loud and noisy in the kitchen: he had stolen a loaf of bread (hence his name) in King’s Landing and was chosen by Yoren, a Night’s Watch man, to take the Black. The man, Yoren, had been killed by goldcloaks several months ago, and he, along with his friends Gendry and Weasel, were taken prisoner by them and left in Harrenhal to work for the Lannisters.

Hermione’s arms growing tired quickly with the hard, repetitive movements. She sighed in relief once dinner was served. The serving maids with pale faces taking platters of food up to wherever Tywin Lannister was in the castle, probably planning against Robb at that very moment. Slowly, Hot Pie and Hermione began cleaning up their station.

Dusk had fallen outside, and there were several loud drunken laughs from Lannister guards placed around the courtyard. Hermione heaved silently, her shoulders falling. What should my next move be? Slip away with a Disillusionment before anyone notices me? Find Torrhen and Bolton?

The decision was taken from her as the drunken laughs turned into screams, and steel rang against steel.

Hermione raced towards the door, even though Hot Pie grabbed her arm. She twisted to look at him, eyes wide, and lips trembling. “NO! Don’t! It’s not safe!”

Hermione shrugged him off. “Nothing’s safe here,” she snapped back.

“No, you don’t understand!” he protested. “It’s Arry! It’s her plan! You won’t be safe!”

“What?” but Hermione shook her head, and pushed past him. She darted out the empty door frame, eyes adjusting to the dark of night and the flickering of torches lining some of the walls and the firepits scattered around the courtyard.

She stepped into chaos.


TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch XIII


There were men running around, their swords flashing and glinting in the firelight of the torches and pits around the courtyard. Hermione paused just for a moment on the cusp of the door frame, eyes darting back and forth as she took in as much information as she could in that moment:

Far in front of her, there was a large group of men, their swords, and daggers flashing, near the front entrance. The Lannister guards were trying to contain whatever men were fighting them, and doing well enough given that there were more of them than there were of whomever they were fighting.

She recognized the fighting style of one of the men, and knew that was Torrhen, taking on three of the Lannister guards for every one that someone else was fighting.

Elsewhere, a few of the servants (slaves, her mind whispered), were making their own mark on those who brutalized them, but those shapes were vague and shadowed, with victims half-drawn into the recesses that surrounded the burnt core of the courtyard.

But wherever she looked - there were more Lannisters than there were their men, and Hermione needed to change that balance.

She lurched forward, away from the door of the kitchens, and flung herself behind a tilted wagon of hay for horses. There, kneeling, she peeked around the edge of the wooden cart, eyes moving this way and that as she decided her next move. Then, the cart lurched a bit and she whipped her head around. Hot Pie, from the kitchens, had followed her. His eyes were blown wide and he was trembling, staring up at her.

"We should hide," he muttered, pale faced. "Oh, Gods above, we should hide."

"The kitchens would be a better place for that," pointed out Hermione dryly, turning away and back towards the mess in front of her. She squinted in the dark. These were the times when she missed electricity the most - floodlights would have helped her figure out who was who, after all.

"I'm going to die," the teen was muttering, repeating himself. "Gods, I'm going to die."

Hermione sighed. Useless.

She flicked her wand out into her grasp and smartly tapped her head, letting the glamour bleed off her. Without doing the same to Torrhen and Bolton, their glamours would have to naturally fade - and would do so shortly. In the meantime, she had the basics of plan forming - and she needed those doors open to bring in Vorgas's unit of men that Bolton had stationed ready.

Hot Pie stopped muttering and stared at her, open-mouthed. "What - wait - how?"

"Magic," she muttered absently, and then turned her wand on the hay in the cart.

"Argent Lupifors," she muttered, a bright silver light bursting from her wand. The light settled on the hay, which began to writhe. Both Hermione and Hot Pie, crouched next to the cart, watched silently as the hay began to tremble and separate into clumps, quickly, and then the golden colour lightened to silver and then began to reform into several shapeless blobs.

"Holy Mother, Stranger, and Warrior," breathed Hot Pie as the shapes turned into silver direwolves, their fur strangely stiff and similar in appearance to the hay.

With a snarl, the wolves burst from the cart, smaller than a normal direwolf but large enough to be mistaken as a regular wolf, and stalked forward towards the large group of men fighting.

"Stay here," ordered Hermione.

She raced after the small pack of transfigured hay, her own wand ready. The first Lannister guard they came across froze at the sight of several snarling and saliva-dripping wolves. Hermione smiled grimly and cast diffindo at his neck. The wolves trampled over his fallen body, continuing forward.

They fell into the large crowd at the front of the gates with all the force of a rumbling train; even though transfigured, the wolves had weight and presence, and one leapt, flattening a Lannister soldier onto his back and began gnawing at the man's flailing arms as he tried to fend the creature off.

With the wolves as a distraction, Hermione was able to come to Torrhen's side. He had shot up several inches from his glamour, and the spell was slowly bleeding away as his hair colour darkened and the conjured dirt on his skin flaked off, leaving behind streaks of sweat.

"Alright?" he called over the din of screams and shouts, his eyes ahead. They only briefly darted towards Hermione.

She nodded, her own eyes forward. "I need to get to the gate. Do like what we did a Stone Hedge."

"Right," replied Torrhen. Between them and the gate was a mess of people, some dead on the ground from her wolves, and others who were stabbed. The numbers were thinning though, evening out between the influx of Lannister soldiers and those fighting with them.

"Who are all those people?" Hermione asked, incredulously.

Torrhen shrugged. "No idea. I think some are Freys and Boltons, though," he replied. "Anyway - can you do what you did with Dacey? Get me on the other side of this mess?"

"In between the door?" asked Hermione in confirmation. Torrhen made a noise of agreement. "You got it. Take a run and brace yourself."

The taller Karstark began a mad dash forward, and Hermione followed him. He dodged a flying fist and ran at a nervous, young looking teen trying frantically to nock his arrow, bowling over him. Then he pushed forward and up, and Hermione cast wingardium leviosa non-verbally, catching her friend. She propelled him over the large mass - even though many were spread out having their own battles - and let go of the spell once he was over their heads and cleared.

He tumbled elegantly to the ground, and brought his sword out to the two guards nervously maintaining the mechanics of the door. Hermione now had to get through the others.

Something was burning, somewhere - someone had knocked over one of the giant fire pits and the rotted wood of a far tower had caught the cinders. The flame was building, higher and higher, and Hermione could suddenly see much more than before in the dark, even if there were lazy spirals of smoke wafting up and the subtle heat was burning at her.

Hermione used the smoke, directing it with her wand, and using oppungo, hardened the wispy tendrils into smooth glass daggers. She directed them forward with the force of a dart. The daggers blew through the air, puncturing the two nearest Lannister guards in front of Hermione. Their bodies collapsed and she strode forward.

Someone screamed, racing towards her.

With a frown, Hermione slashed her wand downward sharply, a jagged red spell flying from her and impacting the man, who cried out as he was sent flying backwards from her reducto, his chest collapsed inward from the spell's impact.

Someone was watching her.

Hermione's back stiffened, and she stopped. Standing there, in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by only a few of her wolves left animated and corpses, Hermione took the time to look around.

Smoke obscured some parts of Harrenhal, and several people were trying to organize a water brigade line, but most didn't care. A few young men were attempting to wrangle horses, but the creatures were loudly crying in panic and rearing back, their hooves attacking anything in front of them. Elsewhere, the sound of clanging swords continued.

Who…? wondered Hermione, eyes narrowed.

Then the smoke parted, and her magic recoiled.

He was tall and lean, with a bright red streak in his long, brown hair. His face was unremarkable - neither attractive nor ugly - but his eyes were firmly fixed on Hermione, just as she was stuck looking at him. His face wasn't his own - Hermione knew that immediately. She could sense the magic on him, cloying and sticky, almost Dark. He was wearing a type of glamour, nothing like her magic, but something different and familiar are the same. It was the first real sense of magic she had in Westeros, and she felt sick at the icky waves of Dark that wafted from it.

It reeked of Death.

Despite the chaos around them, the burning tower, the scent of sticky, rich blood flowing from the nearby bodies around them, neither moved. Instead, they were sizing one another up, wondering who would make the first move -

Several horses, free of any riders, thundered past Hermione, shrieking, heading towards the front gates. The horses, panicked and desperate, slammed into the wood and burst through, crying all the while, as men threw themselves out of the way from the stampede.

Hermione blinked and stepped back. The gates were thrown wide open, the there was a roar from beyond from the Bolton men realized they had access. Their steps thundered as several dozen raced forward towards Harrenhal. Realizing she was no longer needed there, Hermione turned her head back to where the man had stood, but he was gone.

Panicked, she spun in a circle, looking for the distinct hair, but there were too many people and none looked like him. She turned on her heel once more, intending to move forward and help Torrhen, when a hulking mass loomed over her.

"You stupid cunt!"

Preservation and years honed from following Harry into danger had Hermione leaping sideways. Where she previously stood, a huge, thick blood-soaked blade slammed into the earth, shaking the ground and sending Hermione tumbling to her rear. She looked up in shock.

The man known as the Mountain - Gregor Clegane - snarled down at her. He yanked his sword from the ground, bringing chunks of dirt up with him. They landed on Hermione and she scrambled back.

Wand, she thought desperately, realizing it dropped out of her hand when she fell. Where's my wand?

He roared something at her again, a single-minded madness lurking in his eyes. His muscles rippled across his chest and arms, and he swung the blade down again towards her. Hermione rolled in the dirt, and then barrelled forward, watching as the man twisted in the last second to keep her in his line of sight.

Her wand was feet away. With growing panic, she summoned it to her even as she crawled forward on her hands and knees, and it slammed hard into her open palm just as she turned to face the man.

She shouted the first spell that came to her. "Lumos solem!"

The man howled and stepped back as the blinding light erupted from the pinpoint of her wand. Even prepared for the sight herself, Hermione felt her eyes water. A nox later, she rose to her feet and then, quickly, began sending spell after spell at him: the fiery orange of confringo, the light green of diffindo. Each spell slammed into the huge man, and each time he took another step back, but never down.

For Barbara, thought Hermione viciously, as the cutting curse landed and slashed a long, thin line across his chest. The man howled. For those you hurt at the Stone Mill, she thought and watched as the blasting curse made him stumble and gasp, clutching at his stomach.

But she was reminded by what Edmure said; this man had taken several arrows and kept going, and even though her magic was strong, she was tired, held her glamour, and her transfigured wolves had her reaching her limit. Desperate, and filled on anger, she reached deep within and nonverbally conjured her trademark bluebell fire. The fire coiled from her wand tip, hanging low and sparking like a whip, and she lashed out with a sharp flick on her wrist.

Clegane's eyes were wide as he stared, dodging under the ice-blue flame as it hit the ground. It left behind a small, circular frost-burned patch.

He turned back to Hermione, who smugly said, "Fire isn't the only thing that burns."

Despite the lacerations she had left on him and the bruises from her spells, the man was incredibly strong and tenacious: he hefted his sword up and caught her bluebell fire flame on the blade. Hermione grit her teeth and wrapped both hands around the shaft of her wand, just as he yanked on his sword, leaving them both caught in a game of tug-of-war, but with far deadlier consequences if she lost.

Then someone shouted and a blade wrenched down through her bluebell fire. Just as Harry once described his ending of Priori Incantatum for her, a long time ago, Hermione found herself flung back as the magic dissipated violently. She gasp, attempting to draw in air from her battered lungs, and then sat up.

Torrhen stood between her and the Mountain, but the man - the coward - had been flung away too. On his feet, he glanced through the haze of smoke and flickering firelight, and then turned, running away and towards the open gates.

"NO!" she screamed, voice hoarse. She scrambled to her feet and made to chase after the man, but Torrhen caught her around the middle and hugged her tight to his chest, even as she clawed at him. "Let go, Torrhen! Let me go!"

"Don't, Lady Hermione!" the man was shouting back at her, struggling to hold onto his sword with one hand and her wriggling form with his other. "Stop it! Damn it!"

Around them, the outnumbered Lannisters were laying down their swords and surrendering or fighting to their very last as the now overwhelming Bolton forces swept into the courtyard. A no-longer-glamoured Roose Bolton was moving forward and greeting his men, his pale face slightly flushed from his exertion, and his blade red, even though he was absently cleaning it with a torn piece of cloth.

But Hermione only had eyes on the space where she saw the monstrous man, now long gone in the darkness beyond Harrenhal. She screamed her rage out, breathing heavily against the thick arm pinned against her stomach. She was leaning forward, her hands clutching at Torrhen's arm, nails deeply biting into his sleeve.

Torrhen was saying something above her, but she wasn't listening. His arm loosened and he placed her back on the ground, easing away from her slightly as she swayed where she stood.

With her eyes stuck on the gates, she was the only one who saw the figure slinking away behind the Bolton forces, face covered by a drawn-up hood. The figure glanced back, towards the crowd of Bolton men and some Freys, and Hermione froze.

She recognized that nose - that brow - those blue eyes.

Without conscious thought, her wand snapped up and she shouted diffindo clear across the courtyard. The spell raced past, a clear line to her target, until it hit. The cutting spell sent the man's head rocking back with the force, but he turned, sensing the danger. Instead it swept up his cheek, across his one eye, throwing his hood back and off his face in the process.

In the confusion of Torrhen shouting, demanding answers, and the awed and shocked cries of those who had never seen her or heard of the Winter Witch before, the man was able to slip through the gates.

But he and Hermione had enough time to hatefully glare at each other long enough to memorize their enemies' features. He looked enough like his son, although more haggard and sharp - like a hungry predator - but Hermione knew that Tywin Lannister managed to escape her that evening, just like the Mountain.

She wouldn't forgive herself for either, in the coming months; thinking if only she had been faster, quicker; realized who he was sooner.

For now, though, Hermione sagged against Torrhen, and closed her eyes. Harrenhal was theirs.


Clean up was never fun. She was exhausted and dirty, and her muscles ached, and her brain was sluggish, her magic near unresponsive. Torrhen stuck by her side, glancing worriedly at her every so often, but Hermione insisted on meeting any prisoners Vorgas and his men managed to uncover from their hidden nooks and crannies.

Seeing a woman among many of the soldiers seemed to ease some fears, especially with the near reverence and feared awe the men were sending her. Hermione herself was too exhausted to deal with it, and knowing that rumours of her abilities were soon going to grow out of her control, she realized she didn't care anymore.

Brightest Witch of her Age - the Winter Witch - what did it matter in the end? They were just titles.

She heaved a sigh and wiped a hand across her sweaty forehead. She had been conjuring water for several men to collect in buckets as they doused things around the burning tower, hoping to stop the flames from jumping elsewhere. Harrenhal was already a wreck - they didn't need to make it more yet until Hermione could gather her strength and destroy the place.

Besides, they hadn't found Arya yet.

"Um… milady? Um… Penelope?"

Hermione started and turned, Torrhen moving with her. There, covered in soot and bashfully shuffling his toe in the dirt was Hot Pie, the teen from the kitchens who followed her into battle and the one she promptly forgot about afterwards. He stood with a tall, young man with huge shoulders and arms and a sour expression on his face, and a small, thin girl with messy short hair, covered in blood and grime. While she wore a scowl that rivalled a fifth-year Harry Potter, there was something in her eyes that belayed her interest in Hermione. She kept looking at her hand - her wand hand.

"Hot Pie!" she yelped, running her eyes over him. "Are you injured?"

He shook his head, and Hermione eased a careful sigh of relief. Although she wouldn't have had anything to do with it, she would've felt guilty for him injuring himself just to follow her because he warned her away from battle.

She then eyed the two others. "Are these your friends you were telling me about? Gendry and Arry?"

Hermione let her eyes linger on Arry - not only for apparently having a plan of her own, but for the potential of her being Robb's younger sister. She glanced at Torrhen, who was eyeing the three as well, but kept a respectful distance away, and his hands off his sword.

Hot Pie nodded enthusiastically. "This is Gendry, and this is Arry. I'm glad you're safe, Penelope! That you weren't caught in Arry's plan!"

He yelped when Arry viciously dug a bony elbow into his chubby side.

"Shut it!" she hissed. The young girl with her mercurial eyes then turned to Hermione. She glanced at Torrhen, who turned his head and pretended to be looking at the burning tower, and then turned her eyes back to Hermione. She looked at her from the top of her curly hair to her dirty boots. The look wasn't quite dismissive, but it was definitely calculating. Grudgingly, she muttered, "You fought well."

Hermione blinked. "Thank you."

Encouraged, Arry seemed to open up a bit more, now eyeing Hermione with speculation. "That was magic, wasn't it?" she demanded.

Hermione nodded.

The girl continued, "I knew it! And you've got a magic wand, too, right? That's what you were fighting with." She paused, and then spoke enthusiastically. "I saw you, you know, at the end? When you were fighting the Mountain, that bastard. You kept hitting him with that orange and then green and orange spell and he kept getting knocked back!"

At her side, the tall, muscled youth named Gendry sighed and rolled his eyes upwards.

"I tired," admitted Hermione, her lips twitching as she looked at the girl. "But he unfortunately got away. I wanted to capture him."

"Bloody prick! Bloody coward!" Arry spat on the ground. "But why did you want him captured? He's better off dead!"

Torrhen stifled a chuckle, and then schooled his features to look like he wasn't listening in when Arry shot him a dirty glance.

"Edmure almost had him captured at the Stone Mill," said Hermione, her tone light even as her eyes narrowed on the young girl as she spoke familiar names. Hermione was one hundred percent sure this little spitfire Gryffindor was Arya Stark. "But he escaped. And Robb wanted him captured, as well, to be made an example of - so I took a chance, too."

The girl sucked in a breath quickly and sharply - the noise was loud in their small circle. Her eyes widened and some of the hard edge melted off her face. "R-Robb?" she stuttered. "Robb Stark?"

Hermione smiled gently at the girl and knelt down, uncaring of getting her jeans dirtier than they were. Behind, she sensed Torrhen moving a bit closer, now focusing on the group. "Yes, Arya - your brother, Robb. We met a few months ago, and I've been helping him since. He sent me to Harrenhal with Lord Bolton to find you, specifically. Torrhen Karstark, Bolton, and I snuck in here to find you tonight."

Arry - Arya's - eyes went even wider. "He knew I was here?"

Hermione nodded. "We did a spell a few weeks ago. Sansa's still in King's Landing, but you were here. And Bran and Rickon are elsewhere in the North."

"They're dead," retorted Arya harshly, colour appearing on her cheeks. She spat the words out, suddenly leaning back from Hermione. "You're lying! You're lying! You're a Lannister supporter!"

"I'm not lying," replied Hermione calmly, catching the young girl's grey eyes. "Did you not see my wolves attack the Lannister soldiers? Please, Arya, please."

Hermione turned her head, but maintained eye contact. "Torrhen, don't you have your communication parchment on you?"

"Yes, I do, Lady Hermione," her friend replied, and there was some rustling as he dug through his many pouches and pockets, until he passed the parchment and a quill over her shoulder and into her line of sight. Hermione took it, glancing at it, and the unrolling it. Robb's untidy scrawl greeted her, with the words, update me when you can - when you find Arya. And then, underneath, like an afterthought, be safe.

Hermione passed the parchment to Arya, who snatched it and skipped backwards from Hermione, closer to Gendry, who glanced at it but made no attempt to read. Hermione was unsure if he ever could read, to be honest.

She watched Arya quickly read the parchment, unrolling it further, and seeing earlier notes in her brother's hand and those of the other Lords as they exchanged notes on how things were going for their military advances, or scouting sessions. Most remained in Riverrun, now, but there were those like Hermione and Bolton out on missions.

Arya's eyes went back down to the line two lines, rereading the words repeatedly. A shaky hand traced the words. Eventually, she looked up, and Hermione didn't see a fierce little Gryffindor - but a broken girl who had been left alone with no one to care for her.

Her eyes watered and then she was in Hermione's arms, clutching tightly to her and shaking. Hermione, despite having no experience in soothing children, even though she had once been a Prefect, froze for a moment and then cuddled the girl close. Behind her, she felt Torrhen gently take the parchment back from the young Stark's boneless hands.

"It'll be okay, Arya," whispered Hermione into the girl's messy dark hair. "You're safe now. You're safe, I promise."


Being a King was no easy feat. Robb was constantly fielding questions for resources, demands for updates on plans, or sorting through grievances among his Lords. Even recently, he had to figure out a plan going forward on dealing with his own mother and her treasonous actions. His own mother! He rarely had a moment to himself - except now.

It had been several days since Roose Bolton, Torrhen Karstark, and Hermione had left for their Harrenhal mission. The first day or so was spent fretting, as all other battles Hermione had fought in were after-the-fact knowledge for him. This was the first time he was specifically sending her out to fight, and while he knew she was capable - she had told him enough times (and he had subtly questioned those under Edmure's command in the days that followed their fight, learning that two Riverlands Lords, Bracken and Blackwood, were completely enamoured with her and her abilities) - he worried.

So, taking a moment of free time for himself, he ordered his servants to draw a bath, and he retreated to his bedchamber. Daryn and Eddard remained outside his door, loyal kingsguard as they were. Dacey had wandered up at some point - and even from where he was near his fireplace, where a large tub had been dropped in front of for his use - he could hear Dacey loudly goading them in her and Hermione resounding victory during a training melee earlier that week.

Robb smiled. He hadn't been there to see it, but he had heard about it afterward. The entire castle was talking about Hermione's abilities, and it seemed that she was slowly warming even her deniers to her abilities and talents.

Disrobing, Robb left his clothes beside the tub on the floor and eased into the warm water of his bath. The water came up to his collarbone, and he sighed, sinking into the heat and letting it relax his tense muscles. He tipped his head back and let it rest on the lip of the tub, and his eyes slowly closed.

Without realizing or meaning to, his mind drifted.

He was enjoying the heat of his bath - the tendrils of steam rising from the warm water curling his hair more so than normal, especially those at the nape of his neck into tight swirls of auburn. He let his hands drape over the edge of the tub on either side, water dripping from his wet fingertips as the cool air of the room chilled his arms.

The chilled air was familiar - a comfort - a reminder of his childhood bedroom in Winterfell. That's where he was - surrounded by the scent of cool winter air coming in from a partially opened window, overlooking the Wolfs Wood beyond the stone wall that surrounded the ancestral Stark seat.

It was gently snowing outside, the afternoon sun sinking behind grey clouds and glinting off large, soft flakes. It was quiet beyond the window, the air still and calm. Winter was always relaxing for Robb.

" Aren't you cold?" a feminine voice asked. A cool breeze accompanied her as she stole into the room using the main door, which she shut firmly behind her.

Robb kept his eyes closed, but a small smile stretched across his lips. "Maybe I am. Maybe you'll care to warm me up?"

The woman snorted. "Does that line work?"

" I don't know," he replied, his voice teasing and light. "Why don't you tell me?"

There was silence, but he heard the fabric of her clothes whisper and rustle as she moved close to him, walking gently across the stone floor and rugs until she was beside him. He felt the air displace as she knelt, and then her cool fingertips ran down from his left shoulder to his hand, catching and spreading droplets of water over the light hair on his forearm.

He turned his left hand over and hers closed over his. She laced her fingers tightly with his, their arms pressed together. He felt her rest her chin on his shoulder, and he tipped his head towards her until their foreheads touched, even though he kept his eyes closed.

" You keep me grounded," he murmured in the quiet of the bedroom.

" You remind me what we're fighting for," she replied, just as quietly.

He sighed. "I'm glad you're here."

She paused, and then said, even quieter than before, "I'm glad I didn't leave."

He opened his eyes, looking into her amber ones, and closed the minute distance between their lips to taste her -

A loud knock on his bedroom door had Robb startle and slip in the tub, sliding down until the bottom half of his face was submerged. He choked and spluttered, flailing a moment or two before righting himself.

"Your Grace?" a cautious voice called from the door. Daryn, Robb's mind supplied. He sound vaguely worried. "Your Grace, there is news from Harrenhal."

Robb scrambled for the side of the tub, slipping wetly until he managed to pull himself over the edge and wrap himself in a towel left behind by a maid. He didn't both dressing, just yanked open the door with his wet hair standing on end, one hand clutching the towel closed.

"What?" his eyes were wide and frenzied. "What news? Is it Hermione? Has she found Arya?"

Daryn struggled not to let his amusement show, but his eyes did dip once or twice before he looked back up and over Robb's shoulder. "Ah, yes, Your Grace. Lady Hermione wrote that Lord Bolton and his men managed to take Harrenhal with little casualties. And they found Princess Arya, alive and safe."

Robb wanted to sag in relief, and for a moment, he leaned against the door he held open. Then, he straightened and was back to being a King. "Excellent. When will they be returning to Riverrun?"

"Erm, that's the thing, Your Grace," said Daryn, trying his hardest to press his lips in a thin line. "Lady Hermione Apparated herself and Princess Arya here. They're just down the hall and on their way."

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then -

"What?" Robb glanced down the hall, spotted a smug looking Eddard and sighing Dacey on opposite walls, just as a small figure pushed past them and raced forward. Following behind her as she turned the corner was Hermione, covered in soot, grime, and blood, but she had a smile on her face.

The little figure didn't give him a moment, barrelling into him. Robb let go of the door, his other hand tightening on his towel in horror. Tiny arms squeezed his sides, and the dirty pixie face sniffled.

"Arya?" asked Robb incredulously, staring down the short and messy hair.

The girl sniffled again and burrowed deeper into his bare chest, squeezing tighter and Robb sucked in air sharply. He looked up and stuck his gaze on Hermione, who had finally come to a stop a few feet from him. Daryn slipped away, just down the hall, in a semblance of privacy.

"Hermione, what happened?" he whispered, glancing down at his sister who refused to let go of him, and then up at the witch.

Hermione crossed her arms and leaned against the wall by the open door, looking down at Arya fondly. "She was hiding in plain sight, as Tywin Lannister's cupbearer. I managed to befriend - accidentally - one of her friends that she made after escaping King's Landing. We met after we took Harrenhal. I figured it was best to bring her straight here instead of cleaning things up at Harrenhal."

"I - of course -" stuttered Robb, nodding.

Hermione smirked. "Did we interrupt something?"

"Interrupt? What?" then Robb looked down, realizing that Arya was clinging to his still wet and half-naked self, and found himself blushing furiously. His head shot back up and he began to gently, if not frantically, disentangle Arya from his waist. "Um-"

"Looks like we interrupted your brother's bath, Arya," said Hermione with glee in her voice. Robb's ears burned.

Arya drew back, and although her eyes were red and blotchy, they were clear and light. Gods, she's no longer the eleven year old girl I said goodbye to those years ago. She's nearly thirteen!

"Sorry," she mumbled, but then she was glancing between the smirking Hermione and blushing Robb, a devious look growing on her face.

Oh, no. Attempting to nip whatever plan was brewing in her mind, Robb drew himself up and, resolutely ignoring everyone in the hall, pointedly said, "Arya - you look a right mess. Come on, little sister - I've just finished with my bath. I think the water is calling your name."

Horror stole over Arya's face. "What?!"

"Bath time. Now," ordered Robb, opening his bedroom door further and pointing with his free hand at the still-warm tub in front of his fireplace. "You don't want to greet Mother looking like that, do you?"

Indecision warred over Arya's face, but she sighed, deeply and loudly, in the perfectly frustrated way teenagers can do, and she trudged forward into the room. Robb and Hermione watched her for a moment, and then he turned back to the young woman.

"Are you staying?" he asked, his heart pounding furiously in his chest. He was sure she could hear it, it was so loud.

Hermione shook her head. "You wanted Harrenhal all but destroyed, so I'm going to head back and help with demolition. Quite a few spells are useful for large explosions. It'll be fun to channel some of my frustration, anyway."

"Frustration?" repeated Robb, perking up. Perhaps…?

"I fought Clegane - the Mountain - for a bit, but then he ran away," scowled Hermione, dropping her arms to clench her fists at her side.

Robb's heart stopped. "What?"

Hermione nodded, completely unaware of his growing horror, her eyes glowing with an inner fire that lit her amber eyes with an internal light. "I thought we had Tywin Lannister too, but the man snuck out. Merlin! We just missed him. But I got him, Robb, I swear I did - I hit him in the face with a diffindo. He'll wear my scar forever."

Robb struggled to breathe. This, he thought as he tried to calm his furiously racing heart, this is why I don't like hearing you went into battle.

As he struggled to find his words, Hermione mistook his silence, a stricken look overtaking the fierce look. "I'm so sorry, Robb," she said, quietly, glancing down at her hands. "I failed you. You were so upset and Edmure and I blotching your plan earlier, I thought I could fix it. And I didn't. I'm sorry."

"Hermione - I -"

But Hermione glanced back up, a tight smile on her lips. "It's okay. I'll fix it, I promise. I'm going to head back now," she rolled her eyes, "because Merlin knows I can't leave Torrhen alone for too long. he gets into trouble without me there to reign him in. And I still have a job to do!"

"Wait - Hermione -"

"I'll be back soon, Robb. Promise," she grinned, and then turned on her heel and disappeared. He was left standing in the cold, drafty hallway, staring at where she stood. He could feel the sympathetic glances Daryn was sending him, but it was nothing compared to the disappointment he felt.

Then, his dirty little sister poked her head around the partially open door. "Did Hermione already leave?"

Robb only nodded, turning to go back into his room.

It seemed like she was always leaving, in some way, he thought despondently. He thought back to his bathtub daydream and the warm amber eyes that looked back at him with - dare he think it? - love, and the words his fantasy woman said: "I'm glad I didn't leave," and wondered what it would take to actually hear those words come from Hermione's lips.


 TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch XIV


 

Roose Bolton, the Lord of the Dreadfort, was participating in something as mundane as manual labour. Normally, he wouldn’t even deign to lift a single finger in sifting through rubble and collapsed, rotted wood beams, but his men were following the orders Lady Hermione had left before she Apparated back to Riverrun with Arya Stark.

Torrhen Karstark cheerfully followed the Lady’s commands, and that meant that those who had seen her fight -- and the man at her side fighting -- would rather follow the command than argue. No one wanted to be hit with the cool blue light that nearly killed Tywin Lannister.

Besides, Roose was pragmatic: he knew which side he’d rather be on.

Tywin Lannister might be a fellow practical bastard, rational and coolly collected and calm in the face of storms, but… he didn’t have a witch at his side.

To be fair, Roose wasn’t sure what to make of Hermione when he first met her. Initially, it was all talk; the young Stark and his men had returned, victorious, from their battle at the Whispering Woods, with an unconscious Jaime Lannister. They were silent, completely and utterly solemn as they worked through their own thoughts of what they saw. At least, until Eddard Karstark’s mouth began spilling his thoughts under the influence of milk of the poppy.

Rumours swirled around Riverrun in the days that followed -- that there was a woods witch that had helped them take down Jaime Lannister; that she lived in a tent in the forest; that she had unspeakable powers, strong enough to save a dying man.

Roose had scoffed -- scoffed -- because no woods witch had that kind of power! No woods witch was worth more than the few coppers spent on homemade remedies and draughts for upset stomachs, and even then, it was the small folk who would attend to a woods witch, as proper lords and ladies had their well-trained Maesters.

So he hid his disdain, hid his annoyance at having to travel back to the Whispering Woods with the young Stark leader and the annoying Karstarks, as well as that overgrown bloodthirsty twat, Umber -- if only to see the woods witch.

Only to have her shout, “I’m not buying whatever it is you’re selling!”

He hid his surprise well. The others, not so much (although, he noted with a beady look, that the young Stark was grinning widely).

The surprises kept coming: the moment he saw the young witch -- all curly brown hair and odd clothing but keen, sharp and shrewd eyes; the moment he entered the tent, only to be shocked at the difference in not only exterior but interior design; the moment she used her magic to float something as mundane and simple as drinks from her kitchen to the Stark!

He knew then he didn’t hide his surprise or admiration well -- because, well, his mind was working ahead.

Oh, he was no fool. Eddard Stark -- Ned, as he preferred -- was only a few years younger than he was, and he was well acquainted with the Stark family. The Boltons were once the Kings of Winter, the men who ruled the North with fear and blood, but that time had long passed but Roose kept his eye on the Starks for the opportune moment.

He thought he found it: Ned Stark had been powerful, strong, silent but utterly merciless as he demonstrated during Robert’s Rebellion with his clever and devious battle plans and then, later, his cutting down of the entirety of Rhaegar Targaryan’s kingsguard while attempting to rescue his sister, held captive in the Tower of Joy.

Robb Stark, on the other hand, while fairly devious and merciless as a military leader on the battlefield, was rather… simple when it came to the same charisma and leadership abilities. He was unable to broker alliances or maintain the same awe and strength his father employed to keep his men under his control. Roose remembered shaking his head at the foolish deal Catelyn Tully -- for she was a Southern woman who married into the North but still didn’t quite understand their ways fully -- had brokered with that odious Walder Frey.

But Lady Hermione -- well, Hermione Granger as it were; she was no highborn girl -- she was something else. Different. Special.

Roose could see all the plans, all the ways she could improve the Northern army, the ways she could strengthen his position in the North. The Boltons might never reach the same heights as they had before (and he felt like he had pinned all his hopes on his dear Domeric, the Stranger take those who killed his son) but she breathed the same life back into him.

And the looks Robb Stark kept sending her? Well. Perhaps his worded advice was a bit premature, but with her at the young man’s side -- there was nothing that they wouldn’t be able to do.

Although --

Roose turned at the crack her Apparation made, and saw the young witch gently sway where she stood in the middle of the inner courtyard. He strode across to her, ignoring the veiled looks his men, as well as the few Frey men they had freed from the dungeons, sent her.

Hermione turned tired eyes on him, light bruising underneath that was magnified by the pale pallor of her skin, and -- the father part of him he had long ago buried when he buried his son -- sighed in worry.

“When did you last sleep?” he asked, pointedly.

Hermione -- she could no longer be Lady Hermione in his mind -- paused. “Umm…”

Bolton sighed, loudly. “There are bedchambers untouched from the fire in the far tower. I’ll have Karstark escort you and stand guard outside the room.”

“I don’t need a guard,” the young witch protested, crossing her arms and scowling. “I can set up my own protections.”

“Lady Hermione,” he began, as courtesies had to be followed, “You look like you’re about to collapse.”

“Thanks. A lot,” muttered the witch, taking a step forward in a very uneven line.

Bolton frowned. “You can’t even walk straight. Were you like this in front of the King?” Please say no, please say no. Because if you say “yes,” I’ll have to wonder what in the God’s name Stark was thinking letting you go.

“S’course not!” she retorted hotly, beginning to slur her words, uncrossing her arms to point a finger at him. It wavered back and forth a bit and he looked at it impassively. Hermione caught his look and tilted her chin up so her nose was pointed to the sky. “’M purfectly ’ine -- fine. Perfectly. Fine.”

“You are not,” replied Bolton, his voice low and hard. “Why?”

Hermione gave a careless shrug. “J’sabit tired, s’pose.” She frowned, focusing on the center of his chest. Bolton felt his worry increase. “Used t’much.”

Magic?” Bolton was horrified. He had no idea she had a limited resource, but then again -- he had only seen her to little things over time. Looking back on it, in the past day, she had Apparated him and Karstark to his men, and placed glamours, holding the magic; then, she engaged in a fight with several men, did some other spellwork -- he mentally grimaced as he realized she hadn’t truly rested in some time.

Hermione began to move towards the tower, her wand out, but Bolton reached forward and caught her wrist, the one with the wand in her grip. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Karstark startle and move a few steps forward.

“No,” he said firmly, looking down at the curly-haired woman. “No magic for at least a day.” At her mutinous look, Bolton’s voice lowered, and he said, emphatically, “Please.”

They stared at each other for a few, brief moment, before Hermione’s face seemed to crumple in on her, and her shoulders hunched. Bolton took that as a victory, and turned, his eyes seeking out Karstark, watching the two of them warily.

At Bolton’s silent wave, the Karstark jogged over, concerned eyes racking over Hermione’s form. He then placed a hand on her back and began leading the young witch from the courtyard, head bent as he said something in her ear. Bolton watched carefully, eyes taking in the numerous others who were watching them -- ranging from Vorgas, his own man, a few other soldiers, the Frey men, as well as Princess Arya’s companions, Gendry and Hot Pie.

Once Karstark entered the base of the tower -- one of the few untouched by the recent fire -- Bolton turned back to the courtyard, and snapped, “Well? Back to work!”

The men jumped and continued their work, although curiosity burned in their eyes. Bolton sighed. It was going to be a long night.


 

There was something skeezy about waking up in a bed that Tywin Lannister also slept in, thought Hermione the next morning.

A soft, early morning light poured into the room through the open shutters. There were noises slowly filtering in from outside the tower -- repairs, minute ones at least -- and the shouts of some of the men as they began a watch rotation. It was chilly and breezy in the tower, despite being the most fortified and restored; without a burning fire, the room was nearly icy. However, Hermione, still under the covers, was toasty and warm.

Stretching, she sat up in the bed, brushing her wild curls off her face. She then made a face at the very red sheets around her. She wasn’t sure how well she’d take the bastardization of her beloved Gryffindor House colours with the knowledge it was also the colours of House Lannister. She fingered the silky material and admitted that the man had good taste, at least; but that probably had something to do with the amount of gold he had.

With a yawn, Hermione cut her eyes to the far side of the room, where the man’s desk rested, filled still with loose paper and notes, a hurried mess that showed that he wasn’t expecting the attack the other night.

Hermione slipped from the bed, her bare toes touching the cold stone beneath her. She yelped, and scrambled for her wand (under the pillow), and quickly cast a nonverbal warming charm, not on the stone, but her feet. There was a soft tingling, and then she was able to touch the chilly floor with nothing but a gentle sigh.

She padded across to the desk, curiosity overtaking her as she began pushing through the stacks on top.

Receipt, grain report… receipt… complaint from a vassal house… complaint, complaint, complaint, she sighed. If this was a portion of what Robb had to go through on a daily basis, Hermione swore to herself she was going to introduce the idea of a Personal Assistant to Westeros, and find the equivalent to Percy Weasley and hire them.

Hey, now, what’s this? She shifted from the top letters to those buried underneath, eyes caught on words like Stark, Baratheon, missing and ships.

She pulled on the letter and began to read, quickly skimming it, and then rereading it a second time, slower. The letter detailed the disappearance of Stannis Baratheon, the last living male of the Baratheon line except a bastard of Robert’s somewhere; something about him ordering his fleet, numerous upon numerous ships, leaving Storm’s End. The letter was from a spy in the area, and had mentioned the possibility of Stannis and Robb forming an alliance.

Hippogriff dung, thought Hermione, knowing exactly what Robb’s plans were and it certainly wasn’t to curry favour with any Baratheons.

There was no reply -- as Tywin must have either sent it off before they arrived, or never got around to it -- but there were a few odd notes in the margin of the letter in a very spiky font: WF - Disgruntled? and Who is M?

Hermione scowled. Great questions. Who is WF and why are they disgruntled -- or not? And who is M? I like that. Mysterious. She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. I wish Arya was here. She was his cupbearer and might have a better insight into things. I’ll mention it to Robb to question her.

Hermione then spent the better part of the morning in her underwear and a tank top, perched in Tywin Lannister’s desk chair, and began the odious task of organizing his letters. She transfigured an inkwell into the hard front and back of a binder, and then turned three quill pens into rings. She then began sorting through the parchment into categories.

“Lady Hermione--” Torrhen barged into the room, his eyes swinging around from the messy, unmade bed, to Hermione sitting at the desk. He strode forward, leaving the door open. “Are you hungry? What are you doing? Are those things Lannister left? What are you maki--GODS ABOVE!”

Hermione, rolling her eyes at his questions, stood from the chair and came around the desk to speak to her guard, completely forgetting her lack of attire.

The tall man turned on his heel, face beet red and staring out at the hallway. “My apologies, my Lady. I didn’t realize you weren’t properly ready!”

Hermione, blinking, looked down and then squawked. Being surrounded by men the majority of her time in Westeros reminded her far too much of her year on the run with Harry and Ron -- and living in a small tent meant that there were a few…. uncomfortable… moments over the months they were Horcrux hunting.

Hastily summoning her beaded bag and digging through for her jeans and socks, Hermione began jumping in place as she yanked one leg up first and then the other, nearly crashing into the desk and bracing herself against it.

Torrhen’s shoulder tensed at the sound of the crash and he visibly steeled himself from turning around.

“Sorry! Sorry! Cultural habit!” sputtered out Hermione, running her hands over her messy hair self-consciously and then down the front of the jumper she pulled out of her bag and then on top of her tank top. “I’m fine now, Torrhen.”

“You’re… decent?” he asked, hesitantly.

“Yes.”

He turned, eyes quickly darting to her and then away several times until he finally realized she was telling the truth and actually dressed. He sighed deeply, bowing low, bent almost half at the waist. “My apologies, again, my Lady,” he said, his voice partially muffled by the fact that his face was parallel with the floor.

Hermione stared. “Oh, get up, Torrhen. I highly doubt that I have anything you haven’t seen before.”

He blushed a furious red, and looked away. “Erm… Lady Hermione… shall we attempt the kitchens for a meal? And then Lord Bolton wishes to speak with you.”

Hermione nodded, feeling her own cheeks heat, and followed behind Torrhen as they left the tower. Once beside, Hermione’s nose was assaulted with the stench of burning flesh and hair, and it made her gag. She brought the sleeve of her jumper to her mouth and nose and asked, “Torrhen! Good Merlin, what is that?”

Torrhen’s own face with twisted in disgust. “It’s that Vargo Hoat and his -- Brave -- Companions, my Lady. They’re burning the dead.”

Hermione frowned behind the sleeve. “How many did we lose?”

“Not many,” replied the guard, glancing back at her over his shoulder and then waiting to have her drawn even with him. He seemed to quickly get over his embarrassment at catching her nearly naked. “Those they are burning are Lannisters.”

In the courtyard, Hermione saw many familiar Bolton men, making hasty, patchwork repairs in the barracks, and some Freys; but a great many of the men in the courtyard and around were dressed similar to Vorgas, in boiled leathers and with scraggly hair and lean, hungry looks to their eyes. She inched closer to her friend in response, especially when quite a few looked directly at her as they walked towards the kitchen.

Inside, Hot Pie was nervously puttering about, as were the other women with him. Hermione immediately felt worry creep into her chest.

“Penelope!” greeted Hot Pie enthusiastically. Then, he blushed and bowed shallowly, lowering his eyes and toning his enthusiastic call to a much more subdued tone. “Excuse me, milady.”

“Hi, Hot Pie,” greeted Hermione, ignoring the formalities. “D’you think Torrhen and I can grab something to snack on? I’m starved.”

Hot Pie had some meat pastries for them, and they ate while they walked. Torrhen directed Hermione to Bolton, who was standing with his arms crossed, two men at his side, discussing something in low tones as he oversaw the burning of bodies. One of the men Hermione knew -- Vorgas -- and the other she did not.

Hermione surreptitiously cast a bubblehead charm around her to keep the smell out, and then, with a glance at Torrhen’s rather pale face, did the same. His head jerked back in surprise at first, no doubt wondering what the barrier was around his face but when the stench disappeared, he glanced down at her and grinned.

Bolton saw their approach and turned partially towards her. “Ah, Lady Hermione. Karstark. Have you met Vargo Hoat? He and his men, the Brave Companions, had their own plan to attack Harrenhal from the inside. Vorgas was just explaining it to me.”

“I haven’t had the pleasure,” said Hermione, eyeing the lean man that stood next to Bolton. His black hair was long and slicked back from his forehead, hanging lankily at his shoulders. He had a long and narrow face, and a black goatee that hung down his chin -- nothing as prodigious as the breads Hermione saw in the wizarding world, but it was long enough that it looked odd compared to the bushy or neat trims the northern men wore.

His eyes, though -- the man’s dark eyes made Hermione shiver.

“My Lady,” the man said, his voice low and gravelly. His head gave a tiny, respectful dip, but he kept his eyes on her.

Torrhen’s jaw worked as he stared hard at the man. “Brave Companions? You mean sellswords. Mercenaries.”

Hoat shrugged, his s’s slipping into a slur. “A job s’a job, and money s’money.”

Hermione did her best not to let her thoughts show on her face, turning back to the large fire in the pit in front of her. Left were ashes and charred bones, having been raging for some time, but the smell lingered. Luckily, she couldn’t tell, and turned with half an ear to Bolton as he explained Hoat’s plan.

“He met with Vorgas and a few others, and helped smuggle in the Frey and Bolton men in the dungeons, similar to how we got in, as prisoners,” the Lord of the Dreadfort explained quietly. “It seems that Lorch was more than just a useless Castellan of Harrenhal -- he was unable to tell when he was being played.”

“Good thing Arya’s plan worked then,” commented Hermione idly. “She had inside help, and it seems like the two plans collided.”

“Indeed,” agreed Bolton, his thin lips quirking into a tiny smile. “The timing, along with ours, for quite fortuitous.”

“S’hos’ wolves of yours,” began Hoat, eyeing Hermione, “S’hey were helpful. Were s’hey real?”

Hermione shook her head. “No. I transfigured them. I used magic.”

Hoat’s perusal of Hermione took on more intensity. “Oh? And where d’you come from, Lady Hermione? Asshai? Qarth? Pers’aps further?”

Hermione coolly returned the gaze and replied, stiffly, “Something like that.”

Bolton glared at Hoat. “Where Lady Hermione hails from is hardly important, Hoat. You and Vorgas can finish the cleanup of the bodies and begin a perimeter. We have orders from the King that Lady Hermione and I need to prepare for.”

Vorgas nodded, and Hoat mulishly ran his hand down his goatee with a frown. However, both wandered away, leaving Bolton, Hermione, and Torrhen behind by the mass grave. Bolton glanced at the grave in disgust, and then turned and led Torrhen and Hermione away. “Have you had thoughts on destroying Harrenhal?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, but I’ll probably need some time to prepare -- rest and the like. It’ll take a lot out of me.”

“We have time,” said Torrhen, and then they were back in the original tower Tywin was using, their steps solid and echoing in the silent tower as they followed the curling stairs up to the different floors.

“Mmm,” agreed Bolton, following behind Torrhen and Hermione, who was leasing them. “And what did you get up to, this morning, Lady Hermione?”

Hermione launched into a detailed explanation of the letters and receipts she found on Tywin Lannister’s desk and her methodology of organizing them, all the while ignoring Torrhen’s red face, or Bolton’s slightly disapproving one as he glared at the guard.

However, upon seeing the binder she had made and her own added notes to each letter, Bolton was impressed, and forgot about whatever breach in decorum there might have been. He flipped through some of them, skipping past the first entries which were receipts and notaries from Lannister on who was providing them with what money from nearby villages -- blood tax, essentially -- and went straight to the correspondence.

“WF,” he mused thoughtfully. His finger traced the letters. “And this M -- King Robb should know of this, immediately.”

“I agree,” replied Hermione. “I can pop over and deliver it--”

“No,” said Bolton sharply.

Hermione frowned, resisting the urge to cross her arms or tap her foot in irritation. “Why not?”

“You should be recovering,” said Bolton firmly, glancing up at her from the book. “Does Apparation not take more energy from you than creating a Portkey? We shall send someone else to Riverrun with the book, as well as inform the King with the communication parchment.”

“I’m not that tired,” muttered Hermione.

“Lady Hermione, our orders were to destroy Harrenhal, and you said you’d need rest before that happens,” said Bolton sternly, while Torrhen quietly watched, his head moving back between the two as they spoke. “You are to limit your magic until then. Rest. Karstark will guard you and, if necessary, I can assign others if you feel uncomfortable without your magic.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s not like a switch, Lord Bolton. I can’t just turn on or off my magic -- it’s instinctive.” She sighed heavily. “But I’ll try to avoid it where possible.”

Bolton nodded, glancing at Torrhen. “Good. Now: who shall we send this with?”


 

A week later, Hermione was done with her Bolton-mandated, Torrhen-approved imposed week of vacation. She had significantly cut down on using her magic, and had spent the majority of her time either sleeping, eating, taking long baths in front of the fireplace to ward off the autumn chill that was settling deep in Westeros. When she wasn’t resting, she was spending time with Hot Pie in the kitchens, Gendry in the smithy (both on Arya’s request sent through her brother’s parchment), and Torrhen in the training square.

At first, Torrhen had suggested, that due to her size and skill with her wand, she should take up the non-magical defense of daggers.

A solid glare, including a pointed look at her left forearm, had him blanch and realize his mistake. He went away, thoughtful and chastised, and returned with a few other non-magical weapons that she could try her hand at: a bow and arrows, a short gladius-inspired sword like Dacey’s, a long, thin staff, and several swords of varying length and width. Hermione immediately discarded the morning star, hammer, and mace.

Although Hermione dislike them all, she dutifully spent a few hours every afternoon with Torrhen, learning the basic skills of each. He was waiting to see which she preferred or was proficient with; Hermione didn’t have the heart to tell him that she wasn’t fond of any of them and did her best to hide her distaste for their training.

With Bolton, Aenys Frey, Vorgas, and Hoat, Hermione often spent time discussing the plan for destroying Harrenhal totally, so that it couldn’t be used in the future by anyone.

Vorgas and Hoat were rarely at Harrenhal or in these meetings, often riding to various villages and houses, routing out Lannister supporters and returning with those to execute and coin purses filled with silver stags. Hermione never remained for the executions, just like the one she near-witnessed at the Crag.

Frey and Bolton, on the other hand, often brought up various points and suggestions until the three of them felt comfortable with the plan to move forward, once they heard back from Robb, who would give permission to proceed. Ultimately, it was decided that Vorgas and Hoat would remain nearby, continuing to find Lannister supporters and maintain a Northern presence in the area to deter Lannister forces from moving north -- the plan was to keep them south for as long as they could.

Bolton, some of his men, Aenys Frey, Hermione, and Torrhen would take a Portkey back to Riverrun once the destruction of Harrenhal was complete. Hermione had already created the Portkey, password-set to Torrhen only, as she knew she would be unable to activate it once she poured her strength into destroying Harrenhal.

Bolton and Frey had used Hermione’s knowledge of her world, and the well-stocked cellars and manure in the stables to create rudimentary explosives; the stinky and distasteful job meant that most were unhappy, either soaking rags or stuffing manure into empty canisters, and then strategically placing them around the large fortress.

Everyone was nervy, knowing that one small fire could destroy the entire place in a way different compared to dragonfire and time.

The day before Hermione’s combined Neville-and-Seamus-styled operation of blowing things up would commence, Hoat and Vorgas returned to Harrenhal, and threw a wrench into the plans.

“THOU THAID THAT I WOULD BE LORD OF THARRENTHAL!” Hoat screamed into Bolton’s face, his lisp increased from his swollen tongue in his anger, and surrounded by his Brave Companions.

Bolton didn’t flinch at the accusation, standing firm and watching with a wary eye on the incensed man in front of him. Many of his own men were carefully watching him, and Aenys Frey stood off to the side with his arms crossed. All had their hands near their swords if it came to it. Hermione and Torrhen were slightly off to the side, near the smithy, as Hermione had been asking Gendry for help on the canister designs and going over the final pieces before they cleared out in the morning.

“I promised no such thing,” said Bolton, turning his head partially to Vorgas, who shifted under the man’s icy gaze. “Was that the price of your help to liberate Harrenhal? I thought you dislike Amory Lorch, regardless.”

Hoat sputtered something incomprehensible, his rage still purpling his face. In the end, he took his Brave Companions and left Harrenhal that evening.

Hermione sidled up to Bolton as he stood watching them leave through the gate, a tiny frown on his face.

“They might be a problem.”

“I’ll put up temporary wards for tonight, Lord Bolton,” said Hermione quietly. At his glance, she hurriedly added, “It won’t take much. We’ll still be fine for tomorrow.”

Bolton’s frown deepened. “Very well.”

However, neither were fully convinced that that was the last they had seen of Hoat.


 

At dawn, Bolton, Hermione, and Torrhen were the last to leave Harrenhal. Everyone had packed and moved what they could over the course of the week to the distant Bolton campsite further north, where Bolton, Hermione, and Torrhen had arrived. It overlooked Harrenhal, and from their current vantage point, the jutting towers of Harrenhal and its dark wash grey stone blended in with the dark pre-dawn sky.

Those who had been -- employed -- by Harrenhal were given the choice to remain in the Bolton camp, take the risk to return to their villages, or move on. Many remained in the camp for safety, but a few decided to try their luck elsewhere, including Hot Pie.

The teen nervously shifted on his feet, carrying a small bag Hermione had transfigured for him earlier that morning without Bolton’s notice, and had stuffed it with a few pastries and kitchen utensils that they had cleared out earlier.

Eventually, Hot Pie turned to Hermione and said, “It’s not that I don’t want to continue with Lord Bolton an’ his men, milady.” They were outside Harrenhal, far enough away that Hermione thought they would be protected but not too far, that her spells wouldn’t hit. “But I’m not meant for war, I think.”

He glanced at Gendry, stood just off to the side of her as well, trying his hardest not to draw any attention. Originally, Hot Pie had been sure that the burly teen would join him – as he was meant to go north to the Wall – but apparently, the lure of Arya Stark, and wariness of her ire, was enough to change his mind.

Hermione smiled -- she knew. Not everyone was a fighter; they had to find their own way. “Be safe,” she said instead. Hot Pie nodded, and he, along with the few who were moving beyond Harrenhal, turned and began the long trek northwest, towards the Inn at the Crossroads, deep in riverlands territory, and somewhere hopefully now safe from Lannister attacks.

“Ready?” Torrhen asked Hermione. In a fur-lined cloak, to ward off the early morning chill, covered him. Torrhen had a gloved hand resting on his hilt, but there was a relaxed half-smile on his face to indicate that he didn’t anticipate any trouble. Bolton stood off to his side, a row of archers from his men and Frey’s present. Neither would have anything more strenuous than watching Hermione, Harrenhal, and the archers for the next few hours.

Hermione turned to join them, facing the ruinous structure. The five towers jutted high into the grey dawn, and Hermione felt her lips flatten. This is going to take some work. Best start at the walls, and then break things down from there.

“Ready,” she said, drawing her wand with a flick. It rested comfortably and loosely in the palm of her hand. She rolled the handle back and forth as she took a deep breath.

Vorgas turned to face the archers and shouted, “ARCHERS. READY? STRING. NOCK. DRAW. HOLD.”

Hermione pointed her wand ahead and visualized she wanted: the destruction of Harrenhal. She knew that the entire structure would not be destroyed in a single blow, and she didn’t have any land restructuring spells handy in her beaded bag. All she had to do was ensure that there was no way an army could hold the location and use it strategically.

Visualizing the towers collapsing, the walls blown apart, Hermione, shouted, “bombarda maxima!”

The spell burst from her wand, an electric zigzag of displaced air. It flew across the dewy grass, like the warmth of a hazy summer day until hit the gate and outer wall. The resulting explosion was deafening, even to those who were quite far away. Bits of stone and masonry went everywhere, high into the sky and sideways and a large dust cloud kicked up in the wake of the burst wall. Rocks landed heavily in the earth around them with heavy, dangerous thuds, creating dents in the hard earth around the fortress.

Bombarda maxima!” she shouted again, and this time the spell soared through the opening made by the outer gate, into the courtyard beyond and past her vision. There was another explosive, this time one with a burst of fire as her spell hit one of the canisters. White smoke mixed with the dark grey of the burst stone and rock, and a thin layer of chalky white began to float down and coat the green grass around Harrenhal.

Then Hermione shouted, again, and again, and again: “bombarda maxima!”

At some point, Vorgas had been given the order from Bolton, and flaming arrows soared above them and into the various parts of the fortress, all chosen ahead of time from where there were large concentrations of their homemade explosives. Even as Hermione’s magic and spells blew the heaviest pieces apart, the resulting explosion when the flaming arrows hit their targets rocked the earth. A blast of hot air blew past and Hermione swayed where she stood, utterly exhausted. Her eyes drooped and she jerked her head up to focus on Harrenhal, to watch it burn. The towers collapsed under a large, swirling orange flame, and smaller explosions continued to erupt in tiny booms every so often. Smoke billowed in the sky and coated the light blue of the morning with the dark smudge, wafting gently away from where they stood.

They stood for several hours, watching, silently, as the old castle continue to burn, with Hermione shooting spells it at every so often. Eventually, she aimed for the foundation with the same spell, her voice hoarse and scratchy. That, beyond anything, finally helped the large, old building to topple inwards, loudly, creating air pockets and further explosions as the fires continued to burn and feed into one another.

By the time the sun was high in the sky, and the dark smudge of smoke had thinned, Harrenhal was no more.

Quietly, Bolton spoke for the first time in hours. “It’s over. It’s time to go.”

Exhausted, Hermione could only nod. She couldn’t speak, and just swallowing felt like she swallowed glass. There was a white pallor to her skin, from exhausting herself magically, and her hands trembled as she slid her wand back into its holster.

Torrhen propped her up at her side, an arm around her and hugging her to his side securely. Hermione gave an inaudible sigh and closed her eyes as she leaned against his hard body, dizzily reaching out to touch their Portkey back to Riverrun. The Portkey was a long, rectangular Bolton banner of the Flayed Man, and everyone reached out to touch it, either by fisting a part of the fabric or gingerly pinching it between two fingers.

Torrhen glanced around to ensure everyone had a part of the fabric. There weren’t too many people with them: about ten archers with sore arms, Bolton, Gendry, Torrhen and Hermione.

With a nod from Bolton, Torrhen clearly said, “Tully blue.” What felt like a hook behind their navels grabbed hold of them and yanked them off their feet in a swirl of colour. They were gone.


TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch XV


For the first time in eight months, since Hermione had appeared in Westeros, things were quiet. The destruction of Harrenhal - well, as much as they could destroy it, thought Hermione ruefully - was the last major campaign that Robb had planned. There was downtime, but importantly, training for soldiers under his banner.

Robb was catching up on paperwork and planning his next moves with input from his Lords and council, but everyone was watching what Stannis Baratheon would be doing. The man and his fleet had disappeared from Storm's End, and the information Hermione brought back in her binder helped support that from their spy network. The question was where was he going: North, or South?

In the meantime, the servants of Riverrun were kept busy as Robb's twentieth birthday - Nameday in Westeros - was approaching. A three-day banquet was being prepared for the King's honour, and while Catelyn would have once-upon-a-time been helping, Robb had forbidden her from doing so. The resulting argument had been heard two floors down and one floor up from where she was confined to her bedchambers or her father's, where he was on his deathbed.

Hermione, who had been in her bedchamber, on the same floor as the Stark family, perked up at the sound of angry shouting. She stood from her desk where she was browsing several of her Hogwarts-pilfered texts; she had an idea for Robb and his men to return north, but wanted to ensure all her notes were fully compiled before presenting them.

"-would not allow it, and you did it anyway!"

Robb's voice grew louder and angrier.

She shared a glance with Torrhen, who sat in one of the chairs near the fireplace, constantly with her as her guard. He frowned and stood from the chair, not going for his sword that rested against the wooden structure, but for his present dagger. Just because they were in a supposedly safe environment didn't mean that he shouldn't be on his guard.

"I did it for the girls! I have five children, and only two of them are free!" Catelyn's voice was pleading.

Robb let out a humourless laugh. "And why is that, Mother? I was free due to circumstance, and Arya is only here because of Lady Hermione!"

The voices were not growing louder, but they were clear.

Another voice interjected, and Hermione realized with a start it was Lord Karstark, speaking disdainfully to his King's mother. "I lost one son fighting by your son's side - Harrion is a prisoner of the Lannisters, and the Stranger knows whether he is alive or not! You committed treason, because your children are prisoners? I would carve out my heart and offer it to the Father, if he would let my Harrion free and walk through the main gate of Riverrun tomorrow!"

There was silence, and then, Catelyn said, quietly, making Hermione strain to hear, "I grieve for your son, My Lord…"

She shook her head. Bad idea, Catelyn. Bad idea.

"We don't want your grief. We want vengeance!" it was another voice that spoke and Hermione frowned, trying to place it. It wasn't a Riverlands Lord - she was familiar with most of them through Blackwood and Bracken at this point; so it was perhaps a Northern lord?

"Killing Jaime Lannister - or any other Lannister we have as a prisoner - would not buy freedom to your Harrion, Lord Karstark," said Catelyn stiffly. "But returning him to King's Landing free of marks and mutilation may buy life for my Sansa." There was a pause, and then she added frostily, "You do remember that she is now Princess?"

Hermione sucked in air quickly through her teeth and shared another look with Torrhen, who looked torn between sharing her sentiments of Catelyn's chosen retort, and accidentally eavesdropping on his King.

"We've discussed this before, Mother," said Robb, his voice low and still thrumming with anger. "Jaime Lannister has played you for a fool. You have weakened our position; you brought discord into our camp; and you did all behind my back."

"I did this for you!" snapped Catelyn. "For the girls, for our family!"

Robb scoffed loudly. "Mother, this conversation goes around in circles; it hasn't changed. You believe in your point and I believe in mind. I have not changed my mind. You will remain under house arrest, in your chambers or in Grandfather's. You will remain guarded at all times."

"I cannot even join you at your council?"

There was a moment of incredulous silence.

"Why in the God's would you be allowed to sit on the council after your poor decisions?" asked Robb eventually. There was a rustle of clothing. "No. No, Mother, you are just lucky that no one has asked for your execution."

Catelyn gasped.

There was the sound of several boots and the rustle of skirts, and then a door, far down the hall, slammed shut. Hermione eased forward and poked her head out of the door to her room - something she left open, often now, as Arya came by when she could - and saw Robb standing with Rickard Karstark, Greatjon Umber, Brynden Tully, Maege Mormont, his kingsguard, and the unknown Lord Hermione was not familiar with - Robartt Glover.

"Do we have plans or any news regarding the Kingslayer?" asked Robb, his voice tired.

Umber paused. "Nothing yet."

"And how many men did we send on pursuit of him?" he asked, closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead with the curled edge of his fist.

"Forty, Your Grace," said Glover.

Robb sighed. "Send another forty, with our fastest horses."

"Yes, Your Grace."

He then turned, and saw Hermione watching quietly. With a low murmur, he excused himself from the group; Mormont, Karstark, and Umber turned to complete his orders - Karstark giving Hermione a smile and polite nod -, with Glover a step behind them but with an unreadable glance over his shoulder. Tully sighed, and turned towards Catelyn's chambers to speak with her.

"Lady Hermione," greeted Robb, reaching forward for her hand and giving her a bow over it.

"Robb," greeted Hermione in response, turning a bit. "Want to come in? I might have a plan for Jaime Lannister."

Curious, Robb stepped past her into her chambers, nodding at Torrhen who relaxed his hold on the dagger and then moved to stand by the door as Robb and Hermione went to her desk.

"Are these all your texts?" asked Robb curiously, flipping to the cover on one and reading the title, "Wards for the Wary Wizard?"

Hermione grinned. "Yes - the magical world has a thing for alliteration, but also protection. Especially since, we were through two wars in less than twenty years. Wards are… invisible domes of protection, I suppose. I can weave them into a property and they serve all manner of purposes."

"Like Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge," said Robb, eyes flicking to hers.

"Just so," she replied with a grin.

"And this will help with the Kingslayer?" asked Robb, turning back to the book.

Hermione rolled her lower lip into her mouth and began chewing it, shaking her head. "Erm, not quite. I was thinking of wards for the issue of the Riverlands not being protected when you go north - so, a side project, really. No, I think it's best that when we get Jaime Lannister back, I ward him into a singular room and only key it to me. This way we can eliminate any variables. But I meant about finding him." She pulled one book from a stack, and handed it to him. "Here."

Robb took the book, reading the title aloud and then opening it to the page Hermione had bookmarked. "Finding the Forgotten. Which passage?"

Hermione crowded next to him, leaning forward and pressing into his arm as she pointed out the relevant passage. At her side, Robb inhaled sharply, looking down at her and her curly hair pulled back and held together with her numerous quills - a throwback to when he saw her in her tent, so long ago. He felt himself blush and struggled to focus on the relevant passage.

"This one," she was saying. "See? It says that I can use something left over of his - blood, if we have it is best, or hair if not - and I can scry." She made a face. "I don't particularly like the idea of using Divination, especially to find his location. I'm pretty sure we don't have blood, so I can't make another map like I did for your siblings. With hair, I might be able to do a one-time scry, but I'll want to do an arithmetic equation first for success."

"I will ensure you can come and go from the room we had him imprisoned in freely," said Robb. "What will this… 'scry' do?"

Hermione shrugged, her shoulder rubbing against him. "I'll either have a vision of him and where he might be, or I'll see it in a dream." She frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe in a bowl of water?" She hummed under her breath and leaned forward over the desk, reaching for a book called Unfogging the Future, and muttering about Trelawney and useless bint.

It seemed like she had entirely forgotten that he was there, standing next to her. Robb smiled fondly down at her, with Hermione unable to see the softening of his face. She was really quite remarkable, his tiny little witch. She had helped him so much, and he knew that his thoughts and feelings toward her were not at all friendly, but something more.

However, his mother's deal with Walder Frey hung over him like an executioner's sword, a reminder that he promised to marry one of Frey's many daughters, or granddaughters, or great-granddaughters, and elevate her to a Queen in return for his help and the ability to cross the Trident. He could not forget that, and even if he wanted to tell Hermione how he felt, it would not dishonour her.

But still - he sought her company. He liked her. She wanted to please, be helpful, but she also had a hard edge to her that he did enjoy, as well.

His eyes drifted from the top of her curly brown hair, the woman completely lost in her research as she muttered to herself and reached for a quill and inkpot to scribble notes, to Torrhen, who was watching them with a knowing look in his eyes.

Robb immediately snapped to attention and stood straight.

He cleared his throat and stepped back, leaving the warmth and heat of Hermione's body. "How much time do you need for this scrying, Hermione?"

"What?" her head popped up. "Oh! Um. I don't know - maybe an hour or two? I can do the equation now. I just need his hair, I guess. The spell isn't hard."

"Very well," said Robb, giving her a small smile. "I shall leave you to continue your work."

Hermione took an unconscious step forward and in his direction. "Oh! No - I mean - you don't have to go-"

"I have a few other things to work on; correspondence and training," said Robb gently, pleased that she wanted to spend time with him. "Perhaps you'll be free this afternoon? Before evening meal? We could go for a stroll around the gardens and you can tell me your plan for these wards and how it'll help."

Hermione beamed. "Of course. Until later, then."

Robb itched to stretch forward and affectionately touch her cheek in response. Instead, he bowed his head and said, "Until then."

Torrhen waited until Robb left the room to speak. "Why don't you two just kiss, already?"

"Oh, shut up, Torrhen," snapped Hermione, blushing a furious pink across her cheeks and neck, turning back to her books.


A few hours later, Arya decided that following Hermione was far more interesting than the needlepoint lesson her mother had scheduled for her. Hermione, who had several sheets of notes for the attempted scry, decided that it was best to cast the spell while in Jaime Lannister's room-slash-cell, the place he spent the most time in while at Riverrun.

"What's this going to do?" asked Arya, keeping up with Hermione's long strides. Hermione had given her a conjured container for any collections of the Kingslayer's hair. The young teen was all legs and arms and barely reached Hermione's shoulder, but moved with the unconscious grace of a dancer - or, thought Hermione, a rather dangerous girl who has killed and seen battle.

"Hopefully find Jaime Lannister," replied Hermione.

"How?"

Hermione refrained from sighing as Arya peppered her with questions. Behind her, Torrhen stifled a snicker. "I'm going to use something from him - like a piece of hair - and cast the spell. The spell itself is a form of Divination-" she couldn't help but wrinkle her nose here "-and it will allow me to see from his eyes briefly. My plan is that, if I can see where he is, I can either Apparate to him, or create a Portkey and bring a few others with me to capture him."

"Capture?" Arya wrinkled up her nose and spat the word out. "Why not kill him?"

Hermione stopped and stared at the dark-haired girl at her side. "Well, why kill him?"

Arya stared at her, her steely grey eyes meeting Hermione's. The witch felt a frisson of something zing up her spine in response. There was something otherworldly about her eyes. After a few beats, Hermione turned and continued walking towards the room Jaime Lannister had been imprisoned in.

The room was still bare - just a lumpy mattress and a few chairs and side tables. However, the pillows and sheets were still on the bed, and Hermione counted that as a win. Torrhen stood by the door, watching.

Arya hovered in the doorway. "Now what?"

Hermione tossed her hair over her shoulder as she grinned at the young Stark girl. "Wanna see some magic?"

The answering grin on Arya's face had Hermione chuckle. Her wand slid smoothly into her waiting hand, and, posing dramatic like a conductor, Hermione held her wand aloft. Then, with a delicate flick, Hermione used nonverbal magic to pinpoint any remnants of Jaime Lannister's DNA. A few pieces here and there began to glow, predominantly on the bed - by the pillow - and a few on the floor near the fireplace.

With precision, Hermione floated a few pieces of glowing DNA towards her, and Arya, eager to be her helper, raced forward. She held the container under one of the glowing pieces, looking like a hovering glow-worm, and watched with wide eyes as Hermione used her wand to direct the piece into the container. They did this a few times until Hermione had collected what was left in the room.

"Excellent," she said, pleased, with a smile on her face. "Now, let's get the bowl and fill it with water."

Torrhen turned to the hallway, calling for a nearby servant to help, and then asking for water. Hermione found a nice spot in the middle of the room and sat cross-legged. Arya copied her on the other side, nearly vibrating in excitement.

As they waited, Hermione had Arya place the contained at the side, and Hermione eyed the pillow on the bed. With a deft flick of her wrist, the pillow zoomed through the air and she caught it, eliciting a gasp from Arya and wide, wide eyes. A tap on the pillow had it transfigure into a shallow, beige coloured bowl that went in front of Hermione on the floor, between the two females.

Soon, a maid hurried into the room, carrying a pail of water that sloshed as she walked. "Where would you like the water, milady?" she asked, turning to Hermione.

"Just here is fine, thank you, Aleson," said Hermione, smiling winningly at the maid who curtseyed and smiled back, pleased that Hermione remembered her name.

"Of course, milady," said Aleson, "And if there's anything else you need, milady?"

"No, I'm good," said Hermione, and the girl disappeared.

Across from her, Arya was snickering, trying hard to bury her face in her shoulder. "It's like you say 'jump' and they wonder 'how high'!"

Hermione sighed. "I know. And I've tried correcting them a hundred times to just call me 'Hermione,' but it's always 'Lady Hermione' this or 'milady' that."

Arya tilted her head. "Are you not Lady Hermione though?"

Hermione shook her head. "Where I come from, I'm just Hermione Granger. If you want to put any titles on me, I hold an Order of Merlin, First Class medal, and a professor once called me the Brightest Witch of my Age. But my parents are dentists - specialized tooth Maesters - and we're certainly not titled in any way."

"Who started calling you Lady Hermione then?" asked Arya, fascinated. "And don't you like it? All the girls, like Sansa, love being called 'milady' and wearing dresses and thinking about knights and songs! Yuck!"

Hermione grinned. "I will admit there's something about dressing up and looking and feeling great," she began, thinking back to the reactions she got at the Yule Ball on Viktor's arm, or the red dress she wore to Bill and Fleur's wedding, "But overall, I'm not a girly-girl. And as for who began calling me that… it was your brother."

Arya rolled her eyes. "Of course it was Robb."

"What does that mean?" asked Hermione, using her wand to balance the heavy pail and pour the water into the bowl.

"Nothing," replied Arya, eyes following the trail of water coming from the hovering pail.

Hermione huffed but didn't speak, concentrating on her magic doing the task she wanted. Once the bowl was filled, she nodded at the container, and Arya nudged it with her foot closer to Hermione.

From there, a single strand of blond hair rose and hovered above the bowl. Then, the glow began to turn golden, and it disintegrated, the particles floating down like large pieces of snow into the water. With her finger, and some wandless magic, Hermione gestured in tiny circles and the particles swirled together.

Then, she leaned over her crossed legs and peered into the clear water, peering intently. According to the book she read, she had to 'clear her mind' - so very Occlumency - and concentrate on the person she was searching for. The images might be clear, or not. Water scrying was tricky, fickle. She needed to be calm, centered, and at peace with herself.

Distantly, she heard Arya shift, or move, but Hermione focused on the bottom of the shallow bowl, her eyes nearly going cross-eyed as she did so. After a bit, she felt her breathing deepen, and her limbs relax. Her hands, on her knees, shifted to the side and her fingers slowly relaxed their tense grip.

The clear, white-blue of the water began to deepen, turning dense, cloudy and murky. The murky blue turned into green, and black began to bleed into the watery image.

Distantly, Hermione could hear voices.

"-it doesn't matter how loyal a servant you are, no one enjoys the company of a humorless mute. Trust me on this. People have been serving me since I was born. You think Lady Stark is going to want a giant towheaded plank following her around for the rest of her life? A week's journey with you and she'll order you to fall on your sword."

"If Lady Stark is unhappy with any aspect of my service, I'm sure she'll let me know. She's an honest woman."

Honest, but dumb, thought Hermione, eyes narrowing. The blue and black and green swirled together, and two spots of white-yellow began to appear from within. But the colours were flickering - like something was shadowed or illuminated briefly, on alternating times.

"For all the good it's done her. How did you come into Lady Stark's service? There's something we can talk about."

"Not your concern, Kingslayer."

Ah, thought Hermione. I've got you. her eyes narrowed further on the water, and she willed it to show her the truth, show her where Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth were.

The colours spread and twisted until they began to resemble things she recognized: the swaying of leaves on trees, the fire in a shallow pit between two large figures, and then, eventually, the gleaming gold of Jaime Lannister's armour.

"It had to be recently," the Kingslayer was saying. "You weren't with her at Winterfell."
"How would you know?" asked a suspicious Brienne.
Jaime Lannister scoffed. "Because I visited Winterfell. I would have noticed your dour head smacking into the archways." There was a pause. Then: "Were you pledged to Stannis?"

Brienne made a face. "Gods, no."

Understanding lit across the Kingslayer's. There was an expression that reminded Hermione of Malfoy knowing something that Harry didn't, and was ready to taunt him with. "Ah, Renly. Really? He wasn't fit to rule over anything more important than a 12-course meal."

Anger stole across Brienne's face. And something else. "Shut your mouth."

Their features began to sharpen; Hermione could make out the pallid colour on Brienne's face, with two splotches of distinct red - from anger, or embarrassment - on her cheekbones. Her pale eyes were narrowed on Jaime Lannister, who despite being in shackles, seemed completely at ease leaning against a shoulder-height boulder that jutted from the ground. He had one knee bent and pressed near his chest.

The man laughed, scornfully, disdainfully. "Why? I lived with him at court since he was a boy, don't forget. Could hardly escape the little tulip skipping down the corridors in his embroidered silks. I knew him far better than you."

Pride shone on Brienne's face. "I knew him as well as anyone. As a member of his Kingsguard, he trusted me with everything. He would have been a wonderful king."

Their faces and their surroundings began to fade, their voices growing distant again, as though Hermione was listening to them from under water.

"Sounds like you quite fancied him," the young Lannister was saying.

There was a sharp retort, cutting through the fog. "I did not fancy him."

"Oh, gods, you did. Did you ever tell him? No, of course not. You weren't Renly's type, I'm afraid. He preferred curly-haired little girls like Loras Tyrell. You're far too much man for him."

"I'm not interested in foul rumors-"

"Unless they're about me. It's all true-"

The colours bled out and then continued to swirl in the bowl until they began to bleed out, like a painter adding too much water to their paint and watching as the colour drained out, leaving a pale wash behind. Eventually, the water turned clear once more.

Hermione let out a giant sigh, feeling her limbs protest as she straightened her back. What had been a mid-day sun was now gone; the room she was in was barely lit, with the only light coming from the fireplace and a candelabra placed on the side table. In the darkened room, Hermione let her eyes adjust the new, low light, and spotted several shadowed figures, including one pacing.

"Hermione!"

She started, and turned, using a hand on the floor to brace herself.

Robb rushed forward and knelt on the hard floor in front of her, his blue eyes wide and concerned. His hair was disheveled, and Hermione could see how tense he was with the tightness around his eyes and the flattening of his lips in a straight line.

"Robb?" even Hermione's voice was weak.

At her other side, Arya crept forward, peering anxiously into Hermione's face. "Hermione, are you well? You were staring into that bowl for ages!"

"Ages?" repeated Hermione, glancing at Arya. "How long…?"

Robb ran a hand through his hair. "Hours, Hermione, hours." His hand rose and touched her cheek, softly, fluttering, and then quickly retreating to his side where he clenched it into a fist.

"I-" Hermione stopped and looked around. At the door, serving as guard, was Daryn Hornwood and Dacey, while Torrhen was the one pacing.

As her eyes fell on Torrhen, the tall Karstark stopped pacing and stepped forward, just as Arya gripped Hermione with her tiny hands and together they rose, even though Hermione was awfully shaky.

"What were you thinking?" her guard demanded, gripping both her shoulders in his hands and shaking her. Arya hastily stepped back, but her eyes remained on Torrhen's form, a small snarl on her lips. Torrhen did not notice, even though Robb stood nearby. The king had a strange look on his face, his eyes darting between the two, slightly narrowed. "You only had the Princess here with you-"

"Not a princess," the girl in question muttered, crossing her arms.

"-And whatever you were doing with your magic could have harmed you!" continued Torrhen, his voice rising sharply. "None of us have magic, my Lady! None of us can help you if something happens!"

"Torrhen, it wasn't anything dangerous-"

"You always say that!" there was something desperate on the edge of Torrhen's words. "You always push yourself ahead of everyone and everything else, Lady Hermione! You have literally collapsed in front of me from magical exhaustion! Twice!'

"What?" barked Robb, glancing between the two with shock on his face.

"It's fine-"

"The hell it is!" snapped Torrhen, stepping back and running an aggravated hand over and down his face. He turned and placed his back to her, as well as his King and Arya, a significant faux pas in royal etiquette.

Robb, in a slightly strangled voice, asked, "Hermione? Is this true? Are you… exhausting yourself with your magic as you help us?"

Hermione turned to Robb, eyes wide. "No!"

Torrhen scoffed.

"Not really," amended Hermione, throwing a hasty glance in his direction. "I'm not - I'm not used to using so much magic. At Hogwarts, it's ambient - just always there in the background for us to soak up and rest. This is the most I've used magic in quite some time - since the battle of Hogwarts, anyway. I just have to get used to it."

Robb's eyebrows drew together.

"Really, Robb," said Hermione, softening her voice deliberately, "I'm fine."

"You fell unconscious after warding both Raventree Hall and Stone Hedge, and when you Apparated back to Harrenhal, you nearly collapsed onto Lord Bolton," interrupted Torrhen angrily. He swung around to face her again, and Hermione's eyes drew back to her friend. "You can't tell me that is you not being used to using magic, my lady."

Hermione shifted uncomfortably as all eyes swung back around to her. "Um…" Her eyes were wide as she looked at everyone in the room: Dacey looked unforgiving, raising a single dark eyebrow in response to Hermione's eyes cutting to her first, a female ally. Then, Daryn, who looked unmoved, his eyes moving from hers to Torrhen and Robb. Her two closest male friends in Westeros were both looking thunderous, although a vein at Torrhen's temple was pulsing in his anger. Robb, however, while looking annoyed, was fidgeting nervously as he glanced between her and Torrhen. Arya, the last of those in the room with them, was watching the reactions of those around her carefully, as though filing everything for later use.

"Look, I promise to take better care of myself, okay?" said Hermione eventually, turning to Torrhen briefly, before looking back at Robb. Her eyes met his, and she marvelled for a moment at the deep, dark blue. Her breath caught and her heart started pounding in her chest.

"I really am sorry," she said quietly. "I'm usually the one planning things and staying on top of them, not really worrying about myself." She looked up at him earnestly. "I know my limits, Robb. I do."

His eyes were flicking between hers, reading her. At one point, he glanced over at a hovering, irate Torrhen, and his features slipped - into a tiny scowl - but when he looked back at her, they softened. Finally, he sighed. "You know better than us your limits with magic, Hermione."

"I do. I promise I'll stop pushing myself to the edge, though," she said. "It doesn't do anyone any good if I do that."

There was a stricken look on Robb's face. "Hermione - we don't - that is - don't -" He swallowed and looked away, his jaw tense. When he looked back, he said, firmly, "We don't keep you around just because you're good at magic, my Lady. We like you here. You have a place here, with us." With me seemed to go unsaid, but Hermione wasn't sure if she was reading too much into his unspoken words. "You don't need to prove anything."

"Well…" said Hermione, trailing off and grinning slightly, "That's good to know. Can I tell you I know where Jaime Lannister is now?"


In the end, Hermione created a Portkey using the image from her scrying. Torrhen was going with her, as was Dacey. Torrhen had argued for more to join them, but Hermione had argued that more would alert Brienne and the Kingslayer that they were onto them.

Eventually, Robb agreed, leaving the two to guard Hermione, represented Robb as King in the North and Protector of the Trident, and for Hermione to be the one to capture the Kingslayer with her magic.

Hermione didn't think it would be as easy as the first time, especially when they were known to the Kingslayer. Worse, she thought as they landed, her with her bent knees, Torrhen swaying on the spot and slightly used to Portkey travel, and Dacey kneeling on the ground, dazed - was how far south they were.

Although trees surrounded them, and there was a blackened fire pit at their feet, Hermione was familiar enough with the landscape around them: the jagged rolling green hills, the boulders, and the long, swaying grass.

"Are we where I think we are?" asked Torrhen, grimly.

Hermione nodded.

"Well, for those of us who don't know," said Dacey, eyeing them both, "Where are we?"

Hermione sighed. "Harrenhal."

"What?" gaped the other woman. Her dark eyebrows shot up and she shook her long brown hair. "Are you serious? How do you know?"

Torrhen pointed towards the clearing; where there were several muddy tracks and churned earth. "This was where the Bolton army was."

"Come on," said Hermione, looking down at where Harrenhal once stood. There were several large remnants of the original foundations, and several rocky outcrops that were once low lows and partial rooms, but it looked more like the crumbling remains of a building thousands of years old than the burned-out shell Harrenhal had been several weeks ago. The grass around the building was still tainted and tinged white and brown in places from chalky rock and fire. Without the jarring towers of Harrenhal to mar the landscape, it was obvious that the riverlands was fundamentally changed with the destruction.

"Why are we going there?" whined Dacey. "I thought you said the Kingslayer was here, near this clearing."

"Half the reason Robb wanted us to destroy Harrenhal was to ensure that people couldn't camp out and use Harrenhal as a defense. As a building, it was too large and too destroyed to keep functioning," explained Hermione as she began to walk towards the ruin, stepping carefully over loose stones. Torrhen reached forward and helped her over some tricky spots. "However, as you can see, it's still providing enough shelter."

"You think he's there?" asked a surprised Dacey, bringing up the rear.

Hermione shook her head. "I know. See that plume of smoke? Someone made camp in what's left."

"I thought the whole point of destroying Harrenhal was to avoid that from happening," accused Dacey, her eyes dark.

Hermione, looking at the other woman over her shoulder as Torrhen moved ahead to pick his way down several large boulders, sighed. "It would've taken a few extra days to pulverize what remained into tiny rocks, Dacey. We did what we could in the period we had. But what remains of Harrenhal is nothing substantial - and certainly nothing with a roof or solid walls. There might be one strong half-wall someone can rest against, but to protect them from the elements? No, this is a pit stop now."

"Pit stop?"

"A technical and slang term for a location where race car drivers - you know what?" Hermione caught herself. "Never mind. It's not important."

As the day grew darker, the three fell silent and walked in single file towards the ruins, where the plume of smoke had deepened. They kept walking until they could duck behind what was once the outer wall and gatehouse of Harrenhal, kneeling on the damp grass and peering over the edge of the grey stones to look within. Here, they were close enough to see the flickering flame of light around several further low remaining walls that made part of the interior courtyard - somewhere Hermione guessed was partially the kitchens, as it had been sunken.

Smartly tapping Torrhen on the head, Hermione cast a disillusionment charm on him and then Dacey, who muffled a shriek at the sensation of cracked egg running down the back of her neck. Hermione then silenced their feet with a silencio pointed at their boots and her trainers.

"This is brilliant!" enthused a nearly invisible Dacey, who was looking at her hand warp the landscape and colours of the ground around her, as though she blended right in.

"But it won't keep us quiet," cautioned Hermione, knowing that Torrhen was sending the other woman a bemused look, as he was now a deft hand at magical responses. "So we should keep our talking to a minimum."

"Very well," agreed Dacey.

"To interrupt," said Torrhen, his voice grim, "I just want to mention - the fact that we're still out of sight and can see a flame is worrisome. That's awfully large for just two people."

Hermione frowned. "I agree. Give me a moment."

"What are you going to do?" asked Torrhen quietly.

"I'm going to cast homino revealo," said Hermione, and she flicked her wand. The colourless spell washed across the ground, and tiny pinpricks of red and green and yellow - all representing different things - began to ping through her foggy vision.

Torrhen grinned. "Ah, I remember this! You used it at Stone Hedge, when the room was full of smoke to see where the Lannister soldiers were."

Hermione didn't answer. Her eyes darted back and forth, as she catalogued what was in front of her, just beyond the half wall by the kitchens, inner courtyard, and the pit where Vargos and Hoat had burned the Lannister bodies. She scowled.

"What is it?" whispered Dacey.

"You're not going to believe this," muttered Hermione, her voice dark. She cancelled the spell and turned to where Dacey and Torrhen were, the outline of their bodies shimmering in the dark. "There's at least twenty people there! One is in the pit, alive, but with an animal of some sort!"

"An animal?" repeated Torrhen, aghast. "In a pit? The same pit where…?"

"Well," said Dacey, strangely cheerful, "This does change things. Has the Kingslayer met up with other Lannister soldiers, you think?"

Loud laughter swept across the ground then, strong enough that it startled the three of them. Then, there were jeers and laughs - Hermione could ever swear she heard them singing some song about a bear and a maiden.

Hermione sighed. "Only one way to find out."

Then, she crept forward, around the outer wall. She felt the air behind her move as Torrhen followed, and then Dacey. The three kept to the shadows as much as they good, Torrhen and Dacey moving instinctively like they were not disillusioned under a spell.

Torrhen eased past Hermione, going first, with a slight touch to her shoulder. They crept over rubble and up a series of half-broken and collapsed stairs that were once part of the wall - probably something that led to the second floor. They used the high ground to gain an elevated view of what was beyond the wall. When they rounded the corner of the stairs at the highest wall that separated them from the courtyard, Hermione stifled a gasp at what she saw.

The pit that they had burned the Lannister bodies in had been cleared out of corpses, and no longer resembled a mass grave. Instead, what wooden beams were salvaged from the destruction spells and the fire had been used to create two walkways overtop the pit. The pit itself had been deepened, and was now being used as a sunken arena.

And in that arena, was Brienne of Tarth in a ripped and bloodied dress that was ill-suited for her large frame, a wooden sword in front of her as her only means of defence. Her neck was gashed by three long scratches from an animal's paw swipe, and the blood dripped down her collarbones and onto the deep burgundy dress. Across from her, muzzle bloody and snarling with saliva dripping, was a large black bear.

Around the pit, jeering, stood many men, with no discernible colours to show whose army they belonged to; in fact, when Torrhen swore next to her, Hermione realized that she knew these men.

Her eyes were drawn to the familiar lean and hungry looking man who was on a raised platform, able to look down into the pit without anything obstructing his view. He lounged on his makeshift throne, leaning forward over his knee and a hand hanging in a relaxed manner while the other held a dented goblet, sloshing with some liquid. He tipped his head back, laughing uproariously as the bear lunged forward and Brienne dodged, bringing his goblet to his mouth, and letting the liquid dribble down his long goatee.

"The Brave Companions," she whispered.

Dacey, on her other side, scoffed. "Nothing brave about this lot."

"It's that God's-Be-Damned Hoat," muttered Torrhen darkly. "Bloody sellswords."

"Where's the Kingslayer?" muttered Dacey, eyes trying to spot the gleaming man in gold. Hermione, realizing that he was missing, began to scan the faces of the men in the crowd.

The crowd began laughing, taking up their song again. Horrified, Hermione watched as Brienne swiped at the bear with her wooden sword, roaring in its face as it went up on its hind legs.

"A bear there was, a bear, a bear! / all black and brown, and covered with hair. / The bear! The bear! / Oh come they said, oh come to the fair! / The fair? Said he, but I'm a bear! All black and brown, and covered with hair!" the man sang, many off-key and out of tune with the others.

On his throne, Hoat heaved a great sigh, loudly calling, "Well, thith ith one thameful fucking performthance. Thop running and fight!"

"We need to do something!" begged Hermione.

"What do you propose?" asked Dacey, her voice tinged with annoyance. "Lady Hermione, there are at least twenty of them, and three of us!"

"We've faced worse," said Torrhen absently. He leaned forward and a tiny bit of loose stone from the top of the wall they were peering over scattered and fell down the side.

"Careful!" hissed Dacey.

"Look, we need to save Brienne," argued Hermione, mindful to keep her voice low even though the men singing wouldn't be likely to hear her anyway. "And if she's here, then so is Jaime Lannister. So, let's figure this out first."

"Like how to save Tarth?" sighed Dacey. "Fine. Can you… magic yourself down there?"

"Yes, of course-" Hermione cut herself off as a dirty man purposefully strode towards the crowd. She barely recognized him without the gleaming golden armour, as he was dressed in a dull brown leather jacket and riding trousers, both smeared with dirt and blood. His once shining blond hair was darkened with grime to a light brown, and there was a beard on his face.

He pushed his way through to the edge of the pit, and stared down. Hermione only saw the side of his face, but it was enough to realize he was angry. He turned back to Hoat, glaring up at him. "A wooden sword?"

Hoat stared down at him. "Thought you'd gone."

"So did I," muttered Dacey. Hermione nudged her shoulder into the other woman in reprimand.

The Kingslayer repeated himself, incredulously. "You gave her a wooden sword!"

Hoat shrugged. "I'the only got one bear."

Jaime spun back around, as Brienne's sword was snatched from her by a giant paw. She hollered and backpedalled, but the bear advanced with a roar.

"I'm going down," said Torrhen suddenly. "If Dacey and I start on the far end across from Hoat, can you Apparate into the pit, Lady Hermione?"

"Yes," she said, firmly.

"We'll need to make a mad dash out, though," said Dacey. She sighed. "Well, I suppose it's up to you then to save Brienne of Tarth and capture the Kingslayer, again."

"Not a problem," said Hermione, feeling vicious.

"I'll pay her bloody ransom. Or - my father will pay! A Lannister always pays their debts! Gold, sapphires, whatever you want!" the Kingslayer was shouting at Hoat, desperation tingeing his voice. "Just get her out of there!"

Hoat sneered down at the man, and Hermione felt Dacey and Torrhen make their way back down the stairs. She remained perched at the top of the crumbling wall, eyes glued to the scene in front of her. She could accio Brienne, but it was draw attention too quickly - what else could she do? Frowning, Hermione muttered a tripping hex on the bear and watched as it landed heavily on its feet, giving Brienne time to move to another part of the pit, among the jeers of those watching.

"Thou get in any trouble, all thou got to tho ith thay 'My father' and that's it," said Hoat, and Hermione was painfully reminded of Draco Malfoy, although her classmate had a much more pronounced panicked look on his face than Jaime Lannister did. "All thou Lords and Ladies. Thou thtill think that the only thing that matters ith gold. All your troubles are gone."

He waved his arm and two of his Brave Companions moved forward, seizing Jaime Lannister. The man shouted and threw one off, but another took the man's place. There was a grapple, with the blond Lannister throwing a punch and even kicking one man in the stomach, but eventually three more Brave Companions came forward.

One punched the Lannister hard in the stomach and he doubled over; another backhanded him and his head flew to the side. He moaned something, but turned his head back to face Hoat, who was staring at him.

"Have thou got thomething to thay?" the lean man asked, cruelty lining his face.

Come on, Torrhen, Dacey. Where are you? thought Hermione nervously, glancing back at the pit. The bear got back to its feet and roared at Brienne, and it lunged forward. A terrified scream cut through the air as a giant paw knocked into her side and sent her sprawling. At the same time, one of the Companions kicked Jaime in the back of the knee and he fell heavily to the ground, grimacing in pain.

"Thou don't want to thay the wrong thing. Thou're nothing without your daddy, and your daddy ithn't here. Never forget that!" Hoat stood from his stone, makeshift throne and loomed over him. He brought out his sword, slowly releasing it from his scabbard at his side, all the while walking down the steps that made his throne rise above the crowd.

Horror crept up Hermione's spine. Oh, no. Oh, no. Please - no -

One of the Companions forced Jaime Lannister to the ground, and drew his right hand over an uneven block of stone left behind from her bombardment.

"Here, this thould help you remember!" snarled Hoat, and with a sure swing, he brought down his sword. The swing was fast and sure; the blade cut through Jaime Lannister's flesh and bone. The Brave Companions holding him down leapt back once the sword finished its arc.

Blood immediately began pooling onto the stone, but it took Jaime Lannister a moment to process what happened. He stared at what was his right hand, tiny burst of blood spitting up and around the sleeve of his shirt. Then - his mouth opened and he yelled.

Over his shouts, Hoat laughed. "Thith makes me happier than all thour gold ever could. And that-" he finished off by punctuating in Brienne's direction, in the pit "-makes me happier than all her thapphires. tho go buy thourthelf a golden hand and fuck thourthelf with it!"

Hermione could wait no longer; she stood, cancelled the disillusionment charm on herself, and shouted, her wand pointed at the bar, "Diffindo!"

The red light soared over the suddenly confused and shocked Brave Companions, and slashed a jagged red line across the bear's flank, which spurted blood. The bear roared and twisted to see its new enemy.

Hoat's face went red and he turned on his heel to face the pit. "WHAT THE FUCK ITH GOING ON WITH MY BEAR?"

Hermione Apparated, landing directly in front of Brienne and shot off another cutting curse, this time catching the bear across the other side. It howled as blood poured down its fur, matting it. It began to hobble, listing to the side as it called out in pain. Hermione leapt back, hoping to avoid being covered; she was running out of blood-free clothes at this point.

"IT'TH THE WITH!" Hoat shouted, mispronouncing "witch" entirely. "KILL HER! KILL HER!"

Hermione swore under her breath and turned to face Brienne, who was on the ground behind her. Her face was pale and there were bruises under her eyes, and one cheek was already swelling. The blood from the cut on her neck was beginning to clot.

"Can you stand?" gasped Hermione, glancing up and casting a protego as a few Companions grabbed bows and began raining arrows on them. The metal-tipped projectiles bounced off her shield, but she grimaced as she felt each one hit.

Brienne gaped. "Yes. Yes, My Lady."

"Good, do so," commanded Hermione, glancing up towards the men leered over them. There was a shout and then cries - Torrhen and Dacey had joined, and the crowd was split into two; those fighting two angry Northern Kingsguards and those who wanted to follow Hoat's orders and kill her.

"Get behind me," said Hermione as Brienne stood and shakily made her way behind the smaller woman.

"Now what?" the taller woman gasped.

"Hold onto me." Brienne reached forward and did so gingerly. Once Hermione was sure she had a grasp, she dropped the spell on her shield and spun on her heel, Apparated them out of the pit.

They reappeared near Hoat's throne, even though the man had moved towards the pit when she revealed herself. Brienne turned green and fell to her knees, coughing up spittle.

The men nearest turned at the sound of her crack, their sword raised. Hermione snapped up her wand and shouted, panicked, "Stupefy!"

The men dropped to the ground and those around her paused, staring at him and then her. Some had seen what she could do during their retaking of Harrenhal, but most were unsure of her abilities.

Spurred on by her own anger, and horror at what she witnessed, Hermione slashed her wand, vanishing the swords right out the hands of the men nearest her. A few cried out in shock, but she wasn't done. She nonverbally cast ventus, flicking her wand in the whip-like motion the wind jinx called for. A strong gush a cold air blasted from her wand and sent those nearest her flying back, knocking into one another like dominoes. The furthest from the spell, those standing by the pit, fell in, screaming.

A roar from the bear told Hermione that it was attacking its newest friends in the pit, and she grinned. A large circle had appeared around Hermione now, with a significant portion of the Companions cut down by either Dacey or Torrhen, or by Hermione's spell.

Jaime Lannister was revealed, pale-faced, sweating, and clutching his stump with his good, left hand. Brienne, who was shakily making it to her feet, cried out at the sight of him and stumbled forward.

Hermione began making her way towards him, protecting Brienne, by banishing sharp stone remnants towards some Companions, watching as the stone cut their faces or knocked them to the ground, unconscious, if they were large enough. She transfigured a few larger pieces that made up the crumbled wall of the kitchens into the wolves she had used before at Harrenhal, and the men who recognized the spell broke formation and ran further into the ruins.

Hoat was screaming above them all, shouting to kill her, to stop her, but men were either being cut down by Torrhen and Dacey, or running away.

Eventually, the two made it to her side. Both were bloodied but in good spirits, despite Dacey having a long thin cut on her arm.

"Time to go!" she shouted.

"Grab onto me!" replied Hermione, leaning down to help Brienne haul Jaime to his feet. The man's pale face turned off-white and Hermione was afraid he was going to throw up. She felt Torrhen grab her around the middle and Dacey clutch at her sleeve. Using their Portkey - Torrhen's pouch - Hermione shouted, "Hufflepuff!"

They ripped through the air and travelled the distance of hundreds of miles in an instant, and crumpled together in a giant mess on the floor of the very room Jaime Lannister had been imprisoned in, while at Riverrun. The man himself was crying, tears running down his face, as he landed hard on his bloodied stump when they arrived.

Brienne was sick, curled on her side and clutching her ribs Torrhen and Dacey, on the other hand, had rolled to their feet. Shouts and the sound of running boots caught Hermione's attention and she crawled forward until she was abreast to the Kingslayer.

She had her wand out and began casting healing spells on the man's stump. She wasn't sure what to use - what could heal a severed limb? - but began with Snape's counter spell to Secrumseptra, the musical Latin spilling from her mouth as she traced her wand tip around the stump, "Vulnera Sanentur!"

The still-gushing wound began to clot, slowly, so he said it again, poking this time. "Vulnera Sanentur!"

Then, a hand grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked her back. She gasped, spinning to face Robb. "Hermione! What are you doing?"

"I'm healing his wound!" she snapped back, shrugging his hand off.

"But why?" pressed Dacey with a scowl. The dark-haired woman was standing book-ended with Torrhen, Brienne between them. Both had their hands clasped on the woman's arms, holding her in place as she struggled and stared hard at the man on the floor, blood still pooling around his stump and staining the ground.

"Why not?" snapped back Hermione. "We're all human here, aren't we? Why is his life worth any less of ours?" She turned to face Robb, who was staring down at her. "We've had this conversation before, remember? About being a good man, and doing the right thing? The easy thing would be letting Jaime Lannister die, Robb. Maybe then you'll get your vengeance, but you won't get your answers."

Robb swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing, but he then nodded, once, quickly. "Help him."

Hermione turned back to the man, moaning on the floor. The blood began to clot, and seal over, so she used tergeo to siphon off the blood and flicked it towards the fireplace. The blood hit the fire, making it spit and sizzle.

"Help me hold him down," ordered Hermione, and Robb, slowly, but then with speed, knelt beside Hermione and pushed Jaime Lannister onto his back, and then pressed down on his shoulders.

"Your Grace…" someone breathily cautioned from the room, but Hermione didn't look up.

Able to see the wound more clearly, now that the Kingslayer wasn't curled up around it, Hermione swallowed her bile at the sight of bone and ragged muscle and tendons.

"Reparo," she cast, knowing the mending charm wasn't necessarily for healing, but she needed the worst of the wound to be healed. She cast again, and once more, until she felt that it jump-started the natural healing process. She then pointed her wand in the air and summoned Essence of Dittany and her beaded bag in one go, nonverbally.

A few moments later, someone shrieked out in the hall. Her bag flew through the open door, and Hermione directed it to the ground beside her. Her free hand caught the bottle of potion, and she began to drip it onto the wound, where it sizzled and hissed, smoke wafting up from it. Jaime shouted, and Robb grit his teeth holding the man down as he began to spasm and fight against him.

Suddenly, Eddard Karstark was there next to his King, helping. The combined weight of the men worked, and then Jaime Lannister slipped into unconsciousness.

"Is it supposed to do that?" asked Robb, watching her carefully.

She nodded, leaning back on her heels and taking in a few deep breaths. "That's it. I've done what I can. You'll want Maester Vyman to look him over."

"Of course," agreed Robb, letting go of the Kingslayer's shoulders and sitting back. Eddard hefted the man into his arms and dragged him to the bed, depositing him on it none-too-gently.

Robb stood, and extended a hand to Hermione, almost absently as he stared at the man who his mother had freed. Hermione took his hand and he pulled her to her feet, causing his attention to shift.

"I take it none of you caused his wound?" he asked, still holding onto her hand as he glanced over at Torrhen, Dacey, and Brienne, finishing on her with narrowed eyes.

"No, Your Grace," replied Dacey, straightening her back. "We encountered Vargo Hoat at what remains of Harrenhal. He was with his Brave Companions and he cut the Kingslayer's hand off."

"Serves the bastard right," rumbled the Greatjon, stepping further into the room and glaring murderously at the unconscious man. "Couldn't have happened to a better man."

Robb frowned, but didn't say anything. Hermione, however, scowled. "He just lost an essential limb, Lord Umber. In an incredibly violent and humiliating manner."

"And he's helped kill friends and men of mine, my Lady," countered the large man. "Don't think I'll forget that. What good has he done for us? For me? To outweigh any past ill deeds?"

"He tried to save Brienne's life!" argued Hermione, gesturing towards the woman with the hand not in Robb's.

Umber raised his eyebrows. "Tried, being the key word there."

Hermione stomped a foot and went to cross her arms, only to realize that Robb still had one. She glanced at it, and then him and he hurriedly dropped her hand and stepped to the side, clearing his throat as he did so.

"We'll discuss this later," he said, looking at everyone pointedly. "After we've had some sleep. After all, it's late." He turned back to Hermione. "Can you ward the room?"

"I'll do it so I'm the only one who can get in here," she agreed, nodding.

"Good," replied Robb. "Later though; I can have several men stand guard until you've rested."

"We can't meet to discuss this in the morning," countered Umber, glancing from the Kingslayer to Robb. "Nor will lady Hermione have time to ward the room and rest."

Hermione frowned. "Why not?"

"It's His Grace's Nameday celebrations," explained Umber. "Surely you remember, Lady Hermione?"

Hermione's mouth dropped open, and she mentally counted back from when she was discussing it last with Torrhen. Merlin! She thought. That snuck up on me quickly.

With a frown, she looked at Robb, then the Greatjon, Jaime Lannister's still form, and then back at Robb.

"Well," she began, running a hand through her messy hair. She suddenly wanted to take a bath in her tent with her shampoo and body wash and not the soap the maids had provided her with. She was so very tired, all of a sudden - not physically tired, but mentally tired. "I'm going to bed, then. I'll find time soon to ward the room to relieve the guards. And to check on his wound."

She turned and began walking away.

"Wait - Lady Hermione -"

Hermione stopped and looked at Robb, waiting for him to speak. When nothing was said, she nodded and sighed. "Goodnight Robb. And…" she paused, glancing pointedly at Jaime Lannister. "Happy birthday. I hope it's what you want."

She nodded once more at the Greatjon, and walked away.


 

TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch XVI


The next morning, Hermione was well rested but still rather irritated. Her hair seemed to reflect this, bushing out a bit more than normal, fighting against her hands as she stared at her reflection in a mirror that hung above her drawers in her bedroom in the tent.

She yanked the strands back and combed them into a collection in one hand as she tried to loop a hair tie around the thick curls to make a sloppy bun.

“Oh, honey, that's just not going to work,” the mirror, in dulcet sympathetic tones, cooed at her. Hermione scowled.

She gave an aggravated grunt when she pulled too hard at one point, finally giving up and letting her hair wall in natural, tangled curls around and down her shoulders.

“It's going to be one of those days,” she muttered instead.

“Is it?” the mirror asked, clucking.

Hermione's scowl deepened. I really hate talking mirrors. Why do wizards like them again? Although… she looked contemplatively at the bland mirror hanging there on the wall. Not all wizarding mirrors were bad… particularly that very interesting set that James Potter and Sirius Black shared, the one half that Sirius gave Harry in their fifth year…

Maybe I can give Robb a bit more of his family back, before we figure out ways to get Sansa, Bran, and Rickon physically here, she thought, an idea taking root.

Her mood slightly buoyed, Hermione began rummaging through her drawers, pulling open the top drawer first and searching through whatever clothing she had left in it over the year they were on the run, shoving aside jumpers and t-shirts. When that drawer remained elusive, she went to the next, and the next. After tearing through those, she went into the boy's room, and searched their drawers.

“Aha!” She found what she was looking for in a small shaving mirror Ron had left behind, tucked neatly in with his socks. The mirror’s surface was a bit dirty, spotted with bits of dried shaving foam from his wand, but perfectly serviceable.

Hermione gathered the shaving mirror and tucked it securely in her beaded bag. She needed at least one more for her plan to work; and there was a cute little pocket makeup mirror that Ginny had given her around the time of the Yule Ball…

But the plans had to wait; she needed to ward the space around Jaime Lannister’s room.

The walk from her bedchambers in Riverrun -- near the family wing, so to speak -- across halls and wings, and down and then back up several staircases, ended when she was on the opposite side of the castle, facing towards the Riverlands and not the mountain view she had from her room.

There was a single guard posted outside the Lannister’s bedroom, which she thought strange. She recognized the young man though, as one of Robb’s Kingsguard, and one of Blackwood’s sons, Lucas.

Hermione eyed him as she slowed her approach, from striding to a gentle walk as she neared the door. Lucas was on the younger side; where Eddard and Torrhen Karstark were both in their early thirties, and Dacey Mormont and Daryn Hornwood in their late twenties, Lucas and Robb were closer in age and their youthful appearance emphasized that. Lucas was tall and skinny, with wiry muscle. He had a head full of curly dark brown hair and a square face with dark, round eyes set under a heavy brow.

His complexion was darker than some Northmen, a golden hue closer to that of Jaime Lannister and those who lived near the coasts. Unlike most Northmen, Lucas preferred a mild facial trim, with scruff on his cheek and under his chin, with some sideburns and the soft bristles of a moustache on his upper lip that oddly suited him well. Hermione had seen him trim anything longer to a more manageable length that would never become “bushy.”

“Lady Hermione,” he greeted, in a soft voice.

Hermione nodded back. “Lucas.” She glanced at the door. “Just you, today?”

He shook his head. “Daryn will be back soon, but the Kingslayer hasn’t woken.”

“Has Maester Vyman been by?” asked Hermione, drawing her wand. She began tracing runes of containment and repellent on the doorframe, Lucas watching her with his dark eyes.

“Earlier this morning,” confirmed Lucas.

“What did the man say about Jaime’s injury?” asked Hermione curiously. She’s pluck a strand of the man’s hair when she was in the room to ward the room on him directly.

Lucas shrugged, a very laconic move for the rather solemn man. “He’ll live.”

Obviously, thought Hermione darkly. It wasn’t like they exactly cared about the wellbeing of their prisoner. There was no Geneva Convention here to dictate terms of POWs. She sighed and entered the room, Lucas watching all the while.

Jaime Lannister remained on top of the covers of the bed he had been deposited on the previous night, in the same position. He was still unconscious, but his brows were furrowed and there were tense lines around his mouth and eyes that showed his pain and discomfort.

It prickled at Hermione, but -- first things first, she thought, and she reached out and yanked a single strand of golden hair from his head. The man made no move as she did so. With a few other whispered words of Latin, the strand dissolved into the same golden confetti that she used to scry his location, and the golden specks quickly spread and soon covered the entire interior of the room from floor to ceiling. The golden dust shimmered for a moment and then seeped into the stonewalls of the room, into the rough stone floors, and wooden beams of the ceiling.

The room was warded, and Jaime Lannister could not leave without Hermione’s dismantling the spell. She’d build a failsafe in for Robb alone later, a password protected “key” for him to come and go as well.

Hermione paused by Jaime’s bed, peering down at the older man. This was the man that Robb said had pushed his younger brother from a tower, resulting in him being crippled; this was the same man that practiced incest with his own sister that resulted in three children -- both were terrible crimes. By all rights, the man had admitted to them and was even proud of what he had done and would continue to do if free. So why was Hermione defending him?

I suppose it goes back to S.P.E.W., of a sort, she thought with a moue of distaste. While she certainly didn’t consider Jaime Lannister a house-elf (and didn’t she wish, just for a betrayed moment that they existed in Westeros so they could handle the day-to-day of dealing with Jaime Lannister in his warded cell!), she likened him more to a Death Eater of Lucius Malfoy or Severus Snape’s calibre. Both men, particularly Malfoy, had committed several crimes while she was a student at Hogwarts, not limited to trying to kill Ginny (although it was likely he had no idea what the diary actually was), kill Harry, set a basilisk on the students of Hogwarts which included his own son, and then participated in two major battles: the one in the Department of Mysteries and later at Hogwarts.

And yet -- this was a man who attempted to almost beg with Harry to hand over the prophecy. He even had said they would go free! Did she necessarily believe that? Had he been alone with maybe one or two of the other Death Eaters -- ones who had not been in Azkaban -- perhaps. But with Bellatrix, both Rodolphus and Rabastan and then Dolohov with him, there was no way they’d let the six of them leave.

When the battle resumed after Harry’s second resurrection, the man spent more time finding his son and then disappearing than participating, as that was all Lucius and Narcissa had wanted to do upon their arrival at Hogwarts: find Draco and leave. Could Hermione blame them? What would Molly or Arthur have done if they were losing and they had the opportunity to safe one or two of their children? They would’ve sent Ginny to safety, being their youngest and only daughter, despite her protests; could Hermione expect any less of the Malfoys?

In all honesty, she saw both side and while she didn’t like them, she would’ve been able to work side-by-side. Maybe that was why she could see beyond the obvious with the Kingslayer as well -- she was as alien to him as he was to her; and as an outsider, she didn’t have the same notions of the man as others did. Maybe it would change, and maybe it would not. Now, though, she would defer to Robb’s knowledge of the situation.

Jaime Lannister would remain a prisoner in Riverrun for quite a long time.


There was no wrapping paper in Westeros, Hermione discovered, after hunting down a few of the Riverrun servants she knew on a first-name basis (never ignore the staff, she knew their value better than most, as they were the backbone of any household).  Instead, she found a clean tissue in her tent and transfigured it into some sparkling silver wrapping paper with prowling wolves in dark grey -- it was like they were hunting their prey across a winter landscape.

Suitable, and something I think Robb will like, she thought happily, using a sticking charm to seal the edges of the paper together over the mirror. Then, she went in search of Robb.

There were many people in the hallways of Riverrun; despite being a fairly large castle-cum-fortress, the many passages and hallways that branched to different wings and halls, each and every one was filled with people either brushing and sweeping the floor, lighting candles from hanging chandeliers, or scrubbing. Riverrun had to be gleaming for Robb’s twentieth Nameday -- which was only two days away.

Hours-long feasts were planned, so the kitchen was a no-go zone; even the Great Hall, where most of the Lords gathered to share Intel and wind down after political discussions, was considered “off limits” as -- in a token of good faith -- Catelyn was allowed to organize the celebration under supervision. It kept her busy, and with Arya miserably trailing behind her, kept the Tully woman focused.

(Hermione still thought that was something psychologically wrong, and that Catelyn needed an impartial friend to sit down and discuss things with, but since therapists and therapy didn’t exist in Westeros, it was a problem Hermione shelved for another date. She was also acutely aware that she was sliding into her “fixer” tendencies -- at Hogwarts, Harry had a “saving people thing,” and she had a thing for sticking her nose in other people’s business when it wasn’t always warranted. That meant that she thought there was a problem and she wanted to fix them.)

However, since very few meetings were actually called that required Hermione’s presence, she figured the best place to find Robb was in one of three options: the lists, practicing with his squire, Olyvar, or his men; the tiny and very ‘Southern’ Godswood; or his office, going over paperwork and correspondence.

Taking a circuitous route, Hermione quickly eliminated the last two options and found herself on the same balcony catwalk overlooking the inner courtyard that was used for training with the training ring she and Dacey had decimated Hornwood and the Karstarks.

Robb himself was being circled by his guard, as well as the Greatjon and Lord Glover. The two older men were dressed in full chainmail and leathers, but the younger soldiers had shucked much of their heavy armour despite the chilled weather. Their breaths misted in front of their faces, but sweat glistened off their bodies and their faces were flushed red.

 And while the men -- and even Dacey -- had impressively toned and muscular bodies, Hermione was utterly transfixed by only one. Whenever she was with him, Robb was covered from neck to wrist and toe, in layered shirts and vests and trousers tucked into calf-high boots and even sometimes wrapped in a fur-lined cloak of some sort in Stark colours.

But now -- in the training ring -- he wore a sleeveless splint mail, cloth-lined black leather vest with various buckles and straps along both his sides, presumably for tightening the vest to fit him. There was a split skirt underneath the armour, like a reverse tuxedo tail for his front, most likely from the cloth undershirt he wore. His trousers were tucked into matching black knee-high boots. Long archer’s gloves in black buckled and strapped up his arm into forearm braces.

The palm of his hands were bare, leaving him able to keep a grip on his sword as he shifted his weight and swung it in an arc towards Daryn Hornwood and Torrhen. Hermione’s eyes traced his arm muscles as they flexed and shifted.

Sparks flew off the ringing steel as the blades caught in a three-way layer, and then Daryn twisted his wrist and disengaged his blade with theirs, stepping back, just as Torrhen aggressively moved forward, his blade locked with Robb’s. Hermione watched as Robb planted his feet in the ground and pushed back against Torrhen -- who was taller than him, but Robb was stockier -- and shove.

Robb swung down with his blade, but Torrhen parried, and then parried again as the swords swung back and forth, clashes that were rhythmic in the clang clang clang of each hit. Each hit increased Hermione’s anxiety and she quickly found her hands up at her cheeks, her nails digging in, quite like the TriWizard tournament when Harry went up against the dragon.

The Young Wolf spun away from Torrhen and then Lucas and Eddard were there, both attacking him at once, causing the young Wolf to raise his blade with both hands and block their downswing with his sword parallel to the ground. He quickly stepped back but then Torrhen and Daryn were there, with Dacey prowling around the edges, looking for a way in with her two gladius swords.

Robb kicked Daryn, sending him stumbling back, bringing his sword up to clash with Torrhen’s; behind, Eddard let out a cry and charged, bringing his sword down in a stroke that would slice at Robb’s back. But the young man broke from Torrhen’s blade, slashing sideways and making Hermione’s friend and guard weave away from the glinting metal; Robb continued the momentum and spun around to face Eddard, blocking the downward swing. He then rammed forward and pushed Eddard back, knocking him into Lucas, who fell to the floor.

Dacey let out a scream and moved with both blades forward. Robb, instead, wove backwards, each step making him move around the ring as Dacey slashed with both. Robb looked like a dancing snake, a cobra listening to some unheard snake charmer’s music as he ducked, bobbed, slid, and twisted around Dacey’s attack, only using his sword to knock away her blade when they got too close.

Eddard and Torrhen teamed up, their usual set, but it was soon predictable and Robb was easily keeping up to both men and their familiar attacks. Instead, he allowed them to nearly box him in at one corner of the ring -- and then he utilized Hermione’s own tactic against them: he climbed onto the partial barrier that surrounded that ring and used the height to bear down on both men.

With the high ground, he kicked at Torrhen, snapping the man’s head back with a blow to his chin. Torrhen crumpled to the ground like a puppet cut from his strings. Eddard, enraged, turned to renew the fight, but Robb had him pinned, his sword tip at the man’s throat.

“Yield,” he said, quietly.

Eddard dropped his sword, panting heavily with a glare in his eyes, but stepped away.

However, Robb had forgotten about Lord Glover and the Greatjon; Glover snuck up and swept Robb’s legs from the wall. Hermione winced at the loud crack his back made sliding down, and then the Greatjon was there, no sword in hand but a single punch sent Robb to the ground, a dazed look on his face.

The crowd around them moaned.

The Greatjon let out a booming laugh, and helped the woozy king to his feet. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief that Robb was still walking -- unsteadily -- and brought her hands down to rest on the balustrade.

“Ah, Your Grace,” laughed the Greatjon, “You were so focused on the enemy ahead, you didn’t see us at the side!”

“Something --” Robb trailed off, shaking his head. “Ah -- something I’ll strive to remember in the future, Umber.”

Glover gave Robb a thin-lipped smile of approval. “Not all enemies will come at you from in front, Your Grace.”

Robb nodded.

“Now, why don’t you go clean up, eh?” suggested the Greatjon, motioning for Olyvar Frey to race forward with a towel and goblet filled with something, handing them both to Robb. “You’ve got an audience.”

“An audience?” repeated Robb.

The Greatjon turned his head and looked pointedly at Hermione, high above them watching. Her face turned bright red at being called out for watching. Both Robb and Glover turned to face her as well; but while Glover’s tiny smile slipped off his face into neutrality, Robb’s face split into a beaming smile.

“My Lords,” the young King said, pushing past the gangly squire, shoving the towel and drink back at him as he loped across the grounds and over the barrier of the ring, and then up a set of side stairs to Hermione’s balcony overlooking the courtyard.

“How long were you watching?” he asked breathlessly, coming to a stop a few feet from her.

“Long enough,” replied Hermione, wrestling with her heated cheeks. To draw attention away from her embarrassment, she reached into her beaded bag and thrust the wrapped present towards him, despite it being a few days early.

“What’s this?” he asked, gingerly taking it, running his fingers over the shiny and strange fabric wrapping, eyes wide.

“Your birthday present.” Hermione closed her eyes. Cultural differences, Hermione! “Sorry, your Nameday present.”

Blue eyes lit up in childish wonder, Robb grinned up at Hermione from under his brow and the look sent a zing of something straight down her spine. He undid the wrapping carefully, and then his brows came together in confusion. “A mirror?”

“When it shakes, say my name. My full name, okay?” Hermione smirked at the look. She pulled another -- the Yule mirror from Ginny -- and began walking away. “Just stay there.”

She Apparated down into the courtyard, and held the mirror at eye level, certain that Robb was watching her from the balcony, although he couldn’t hear her. Holding his gaze, she whispered to the mirror, “Robb Stark.”

On the balcony, Robb jumped and fumbled with the mirror that -- although she couldn't hear or see it-- would begin vibrating in his hands. There were a few moments until he regained his hold, and then his lips moved --

Hermione?” shock covered his voice, and Hermione moved her eyes from the physical man standing above her to the face in the mirror.

“Hello, Robb,” she said, beginning to move and holding the mirror at eye level so he could see not only her face, but the surroundings. “Do you like your gift?”

“But--! This is a mirror!” he sputtered. “How are we talking like this? Is it like your parchment? It is, isn’t it?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes -- very similar. We just have to say each other’s name and then the mirror will let you know there is a call coming in. To end the call, you just say the person’s name, and finite.”

“This is much more secure than the parchments,” said Robb aloud, already thinking of ways to use the mirrors.

Hermione turned on her heel and Apparated back next to him, and to her surprise and pleasure, he didn’t jump at the sharp crack. “Very secure. You can use them anywhere, at any time. It’ll be an immediate response unless the other person doesn’t have their mirror.” She then pointedly looked at hers, and said, “Robb Stark, finite.”

“Do we just have one set, then?” asked Robb, examining the shaving mirror as it went foggy and dark for a moment, until the smoke cleared up and all he saw was his reflection in the polished surface, and not Hermione’s face.

“For now,” she admitted. “But I’m going to make one for Arya and then for Sansa. Getting it to her might be difficult. We need to find someone who can pass off as a servant to slip into the Red Keep and leave it for her. Then, it’ll be easier to plan a way for her to escape and get out -- even better, once I see her room, I can visualize it and Apparate to her, and Portkey back to Riverrun.”

Robb was speechless. There was a strange look on his face: equally parts surprise, happiness, and something else that reminded her of Fleur’s face when she declared herself to be beautiful enough for both her and Bill after being scarred by Greyback.

“Hermione,” he breathed, a different breathless quality to his voice compared to earlier. He stretched his hand forward and cupped her elbow, drawing her close to him, but not quite enough. There was still a sliver of space between their bodies. “I can’t even -- there is no way I can repay you for this.”

“There’s nothing to repay,” she said quietly, sensing the intimacy of the moment.

“You have bled for me, fought in my army and won the trust of my men,” the young king began, his voice low and his eyes dark, a blue-grey that reminded her of a summer’s storm over the sea. “You returned Arya to me, and now a way for Sansa to come home. You found the Kingslayer and restored peace among my men for my mother’s mistake.”

He shook his head. “What can’t you do?”

Flustered, Hermione blurted out, “Fly. I’m terrified of heights.”

There was a momentary silence, and then Robb was leaning back, laughing loudly. His entire body shook and Hermione’s twisted into a wry smile.

“Ha, ha,” she deadpanned.

Robb’s laughs died off into chuckles. “The witch who can do it all, is afraid of heights?” He shook his head. “You’d best not go to the Wall, then.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

There was a wide grin on Robb’s face, his cheeks flushed from his laughter. “Come, Lady Hermione -- I want to show you something.”

He slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, and it was the most natural thing in the world. They ignored any looks sent their way -- knowing looks from the Northern men; cautious looks from the Riverlands Lords; and hostile looks from the Freys in general -- as Robb led her towards the blacksmith.

“Remember that plan about the pins? The designs for all members of their houses under their family sigils?” began Robb.

Hermione nodded.

“I had Gendry begin work on them,” revealed Robb quietly, tilting his head close to Hermione’s as they walked. “Arya recommended him -- and, honestly, I indulge my little sister. But Gendry helped keep her safe when they left King’s Landing, so I owe him somewhat. He’s earned my trust.”

The blacksmith was incredibly warm, with the heat radiating from the building several feet away; Hermione could feel it as they walked up to the low stone building, separate from everything else in case of fire. Inside, there were several men in various states of dress -- some just wore leather aprons over their chests, while a few others wore tunics that stuck to their bodies with sweat.

Gendry, whom Hermione had met before, was working diligently on something, banging away with a hammer before switching to a chisel for more delicate work. On a workbench next to him, were finished and polished silver cloak pins. There was a variety of designs, and as they moved closer, Hermione spotted the familiar wolf’s head for Stark, the curved fish for Tully, and others.

There has to be at least one for each family that is here, she thought in surprise, glancing at Robb.

He caught her eyes and nudged his chin towards the buckets underneath the workbench, some halfway full with the pins. Hermione’s eyes grew wide. I knew Gendry was good -- Arya said so and wouldn’t exaggerate something like that -- but in Ron’s words: bloody hell!

“Gendry,” called Robb loudly.

The young man, only a few years younger than Hermione and Robb, startled and his chisel slipped. It didn’t damage the metal he was working with, but it was enough for the man to turn, a grumble on his lips that died quickly when he saw who stood near.

He swept into a low bow, eyes down as he mumbled, “Your Grace.”

“Genry. We’re going to borrow one of these, okay?” said Robb, picking the direwolf head from the workbench and then spiriting her out of the smithy as quickly as they arrived.

“What’s going on?” asked Hermione, as Robb tugged her forward, back into Riverrun.

“I want to show you something,” he said, eyes forward.

“You already said that. And you already did!” protested Hermione. “What’s next?”

‘Next’ was in the family wing of Riverrun, specifically, his mother’s childhood bedroom. The soft, muted colours of blue in varying shades spoke of a softer, different Catelyn who was supposed to marry Brandon Stark and not Eddard. There was a gauzy canopy around her bed, with pale silk pillows and a thin bed sheet and duvet compared to the thick covers Robb -- as well as Torrhen -- had told her about in the North.

There were comfortable chairs and benches lined with padding, half-finished and unfinished needlepoint and embroidery projects littered on side tables and on the walls. The room was light and airy, and it’s subtle femininity made Hermione wonder if the North hardened Catelyn, or if she hardened herself.

“Because this isn’t completely awkward, Robb,” began Hermione, deliberately standing in the middle of the room with her arms crossed over her stomach, trying not to touch anything, “Is there a reason why we’re here?”

Robb nodded, and pointed to a single, small landscape painting. “Remember how you told me you can’t Apparate to a location without seeing it first?”

Hermione slowly nodded.

“I need you to memorize this location,” explained Robb, motioning for Hermione to come closer. Reluctantly, she did so, eyes on the painting. Robb elaborated further on it without her prompting: “Uncle Brandon had it painted for mother, back when they were courting -- before, well… before the war. It was one of his favourite places to go with father, and then father showed Jon and I one day.”

Surrounded by unending forest, a single, partially slanted Rapunzel’s tower stood alone, a swath of grey in a sea of dark green against the backdrop of steely greys and white.

“There’s a tower in the Wolfswood,” said Robb quietly, reverence in his voice. “It’s not far from Winterfell, but it’s enough that you’d take a day or two to get there on horseback. Father showed it to Jon and I when we were old enough, and then, later, we’d go with Jory and the others. The tower doesn’t look like that anymore -- it’s a bit rougher, and it’s missing some roof slats -- but nothing really changes in the Wolfswood.”

“This is in the North?” asked Hermione, just as quietly. The painting was well done, and she could almost hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees, the low whisper of the wind.

Robb nodded.

“Robb -- I -- normally Apparation doesn’t work like that,” she said, thinking back to the three D’s. “We usually need reference points, an image that’s not a painting; like a memory. But…”

“You’ll do it?” asked Robb. “You can take me?”

Hermione rolled her lower lip in and began to nibble. “I think so. I’m going to go myself first. Then I’ll come back. I don’t want to risk a splinch.”

“Now?” asked Robb, incredulous.

“No time like the present!” smiled Hermione, and feeling a bit reckless like Harry, she turned on her heel and instantly Catelyn’s childhood bedroom in Riverrun was bitterly cold.

A harsh, hissing wind bit into Hermione’s thin sweater, and she stood in snow up to her ankles, shivering. Her hair caught and snarled around her; the wind and chill had tears come to her eyes, and Hermione could feel them freeze.

But before her, surrounded by a large clearing, was the tower in Catelyn’s painting, jutting out with one side completely covered with stuck-on wet packing snow from the wind. It leaned a bit more to the side than it did in the painting, and there were holes in the roof, but it was still recognizable.

Keen to escape the chill, Hermione Apparated back to Riverrun.

“Gods above, Hermione!”

Then Robb’s hands were on her shoulders, quickly rubbing up and down her arms as her teeth chattering. “I-I w-wasn’t expecting i-it t-to be t-that c-cold!”

“I’m sorry!” replied Robb, a frown pulling at his mouth. “I forgot -- you wouldn’t realize that it’s the beginning of winter there.”

Beginning of winter?” stammered Hermione, incredulously as she looked up at him. “That’s almost as much snow as I saw at Hogwarts in the dead of winter! How much worse is it going to get?”

The frown twisted deeper. “We had a long summer. It’ll probably be as long as.”

“A long summer?”

“About a decade or so?” replied Robb thoughtfully.

Hermione’s mouth dropped open. “A DECADE?”

“Is… is that unusual?” he asked.

Hermione did not reply. Clearing his throat, Robb moved back and ran a hand over his short auburn beard. “Let me grab my winter cloak, and we can go.”

He stalked off, and Hermione took the opportunity to fish out a thicker coat from her beaded bag, thankful that she was still living day-to-day with it and that she hadn’t unpacked. The sight of a floating cloak down the halls of Riverrun -- while humorous -- would probably scare people more than floating crockery or bottles. Clothing was always different, for some reason.

When Robb returned, Hermione smartly pointed her wand at him and then herself, nonverbally casting a warming charm. She sighed happily as the persistent chill that comes with winter eased from her bones -- she was as toasty as when she would sink into a warm bath.

Robb felt the same way, given the small smile on his lips. “That’s quite a nifty spell. Can you charm it on things, too?”

Hermione shook her head. “I’d rather not. Shall we?” she extended her hand and he took it in his, his larger palm sliding against hers and then trapping her fingers as he laced them together, tugging on her slightly.

“Ready.”

Robb had never experienced Apparation. He heard about it, in length, from both Torrhen and Dacey, and even Bracken and Blackwood once. He thought the sensation of being pushed through a small opening was an exaggeration by Torrhen, and that Dacey’s grumbling about a sick stomach were just her way of expressing her ire towards Hermione.

But Robb realized that they were not over exaggerating, and as for Apparation, he didn’t care for it. At all.

When they landed, Robb had to lock his knees to keep from sinking into the snow, and he wheezed heavily, breathing in through his nose and relishing in the sharp chill of winter in the North to settle his stomach.

“I’m sorry,” he heard Hermione say from above him. “But I’m told it gets better with time. Torrhen can manage to stay on his feet now, even if he looks a bit green.”

Hnnn,” replied Robb, struggling. Eventually, he rose to his full height and marvelled at being back at the tower in the Wolfswood, when seconds before, he was in the Riverlands.

He didn’t even feel the cold -- it was nippy, but like a cool summer’s day instead of the biting freeze he was expecting when Hermione came back, lips already tinged blue and her skin icy pale. Her warming charm was a wonder, and it gave him the opportunity to enjoy the sight of his childhood stomping ground.

And even better, the company, he thought, sending a quick ‘sorry’ to Jon, wherever his half-brother (or was he?) was. Standing just a arm’s length from him, Hermione had her head tilted back, eyes locked above her as large, goose-feather like snowflakes tumbled down from puffy grey clouds. The wind was beginning to ease off, so the flakes appeared less of a battery of swirling white to a gentle, steady fall.

Her brown hair was speckled with the white flakes, and a thin layer was already covering her shoulders. Then, Hermione stuck her tongue out, and tried to catch a snowflake.

She let out a laugh of pure, childish glee, and the next thing he knew, she had yanked on his hand and pulled him forward, their legs trudging as they pushed through the snow. Then, she let go and fell back, her body denting the snow pile with a soft whumph.

She began spreading her arms and legs, moving them back and forth.

“What are you doing?” laughed Robb.

“I’m making a snow angel!” she replied, rolling her eyes. “What? Don’t have those in Westeros?”

He shook his head at her antics. Hermione held her arms out when she decided she had suitably created the wings, and wriggled her fingers at him. “Pull me out without disturbing the angel!”

He rolled his eyes, but leaned forward and instead lifted her bodily from the indent she made, crushing her against his chest as he stepped back.

Their noses brushed against one another, tiny clouds of air escaping their mouths, mingling together as Hermione stared into Robb’s eyes. She could feel every line of his body, from her neck to her hips, where she was pressed tightly against him: there was the hard leather of his light armour, the metal buckles and clasps digging into her softer clothes, the firmness of his muscles, the heat that radiated from him, and not just because of the warming charm.

“I--” began Robb, eyes darting down from hers to her mouth.

Abort! a distant part of Hermione’s brain shrieked. He’s engaged to a Frey! You want to go home!  

But another, a quiet, insidious part of Hermione whispered: Go on. You know you want to - you’ve been thinking about it.

Instead, logic prevailed and Hermione cleared her throat, tearing her eyes from Robb, smoothing her hands over his shoulders instead. She patted them and said, “You can let me down now. I think my angel survived.”

“Oh. Right.”

Robb let Hermione slide down his body, and she failed to hide the shivered it elicited from her, deciding to keep her eyes firmly averted. She knew she was blushing, and given that she could still feel his body heat, she knew he was still close to her, looking down, watching.

“So,” she began, stepping a bit to the side and then forward, staring up at the tower before she spun around to face him with her hands tightly clenched behind her back, “Why did you want to come here?”

His eyes were fixed on her, the blue a deep, deep sapphire, and for a long moment, he was silent. Then, he said, “I’m thinking we can use this as a staging ground for the army to retake Winterfell. No one would expect us to come this way. We can use a token force as a distraction to stare down Winterfell through Torrhen’s Square, while the majority of the forces come from behind.”

“And you want to make the pins Portkeys,” said Hermione, understanding everything instantly. “That… will be a lot for me to spell, Robb.”

He nodded. “I know. I’m not saying tomorrow, or within a fortnight, or even three moons from now. But… eventually. Six moons, maybe?”

Determination welled up in Hermione. “I’ll do it in four.”

“I don’t want you being magical exhausted, again,” he said quietly, but in the still of the quiet Wolfswood, his words were loud.

“I won’t,” argued Hermione. “Haven’t you noticed? I’ve been doing more lately -- especially nonverbally. Magic is getting easier for me to use.”

“If you say so,” replied Robb dubiously. After a long moment, much of it spent surveying the tower and the forest, he turned back to her. “Ready to go to Riverrun?”

“In a moment,” she said, turning to take in the picture-perfect forest and its majestic silence, as well as the snow-covered trees around them. “This reminds me of last winter.”

“Oh?”

“Harry and I -- well, we were alone. Ron had left us, and we were stuck in the middle of the Forest of Dean, by ourselves, near Christmas,” she began. “There was snow on the ground, and it was cold, and we were running out of food. We were getting desperate for something to happen, a breakthrough to defeat Voldemort, but nothing was coming. The locket -- the Horcrux -- kept making things worse, too.”

She deliberately kept her back to Robb, knowing that he hadn’t heard this story from her before. She kept notoriously quiet about her past with him, but even so, Torrhen, who knew most, did not know this part.

“And then, just when we were at our lowest, we just…” she shook her head and gave a tiny laugh. “We just started dancing, Harry and I, in the middle of that tent. Starving, terrified, stupidly young us just looking for a moment of peace. With no music, just us shuffling our feet, taking comfort that our best friend was there when the world was going to hell.”

Harry. She blinked back tears, discreetly rubbing at her nose. Then Robb’s hand reached for hers, and he tugged her around to face him.

“How?” he asked.

“How what?” she replied.

He held the hand he was holding up. “How did you dance?”

Hermione blinked, but then smiled. “Oh. Like this.” She positioned one hand of his on her waist, and the other, he kept holding.

And then, with no music, in the North just days away from his childhood home while large, fat snowflakes fluttered down around them, they danced in silence and the chill of winter, enjoying the feelings of peace and happiness that rose between them.

Hermione had her head tilted up, looking past his scruffy chin, his smirking lips, his long nose, and then to his sparkling eyes, and saw the contentment she felt reflected back to her.

It was almost like dancing with Harry, except there was something so undeniably different, something that felt right that it scared her just the same. Yet, she didn’t speak, didn’t interrupt their moment; reality would intrude the moment they returned to Riverrun.


And it did, as the day after Robb’s twentieth, his grandfather Hoster Tully breathed his last.


 TBC...

Chapter Text

the Winter Witch

XVII


 

Hoster Tully’s funeral was very similar, and very different, to Albus Dumbledore’s. There was no phoenix singing a lament for the fallen man, nor did Rufus Scrimgeour show up to make a speech on behalf of the Ministry of Magic, and Hermione wasn’t sitting next to Ron, clutching his hand with the terrifying realization that, any day now, she, Ron, and Harry would begin their plan to disappear and hunt Voldemort’s Horcruxes.

But the man lay covered, a shroud in Tully-blue with an embroidered silver trout sigil obscuring the man’s wasted body from view with his sword weighing the shroud down. He lay on top of a large pyre that had been built upon a floating pontoon of some sort, which would be pushed out onto the Trident for a water-based, Viking-like “burial.”

Hermione stood behind the Tully family on the deck that extended partially into the Trident, Torrhen and Dacey just behind her but acting as her continued guard (much to Dacey’s disgust). Brynden and Catelyn stood just ahead of her and off to one side, while Edmure held a longbow; Robb stood stoically beside his mother while Arya fidgeted, her hands constantly grabbing at the dress she was forced into. Grey Wind, ever loyal to his master, was at Robb’s side.

Around them, Tully soldiers stood as silent and motionless sentinels, several acting as flag bearers. A gentle breeze made the Tully sigil flutter in a meager, chilly wind.

Behind them, along the shore, was a token amount of people ranging from the castellan of Riverrun, to Maester Vyman, and many others whom Hoster Tully interacted with on a daily basis. All were silent as Vyman led a prayer for the Stranger. The religion of the South, the Faith of the Seven, which Hermione learned was based on seven figures who represented aspects of life, was incredibly different to what Torrhen had described the North’s religion to be like -- fewer figures, more prayers, more communal. Hermione, who had grown up Church of England, found the Faith similar and different enough that it still felt familiar, even with the burning pyre on the water.

Once the prayer was done, Brynden and Robb walked off the pier and down a few steps that led into the cold waters of the Trident, to where two Tully soldiers were holding onto the pontoon to keep it from floating away. The Blackfish and Robb then took control of the pontoon from the two soldiers as Hoster’s family. They gently pushed and Hermione watched as the funeral boat slowly floated downstream.

At the same time, Edmure, as Hoster’s heir, stepped forward, drawing an arrow from his side quiver. A brazier nearby was lit by a soldier and Edmure waited a few tense minutes until the pontoon was further downstream and then dipped the arrow into the brazier. Once the fire caught on the tip, he nocked the arrow and drew back, glancing at the wind direction. He paused, judging the distance, and drew in a deep breath.

As he exhaled, he released the string to the bow, and the arrow went flying, cutting through the air quickly, and landing on the funeral boat, catching the dried twigs that surrounded the man. Almost instantly, the spark grew as the flames raced along the edges of the man’s body first, before slowly licking the shroud and engulfing the rest of the pyre.

Catelyn made a tiny noise as the flames began to grow. Hermione watched as Arya glanced up at her, alarm on her face. On the woman’s other side, Robb, too, glanced over, but it was Brynden who spoke.

“After thirty years of fighting, I... I think he'd forgotten what started' it!”

Catelyn, distracted, turned to face her uncle. “I beg your pardon?”

Brynden shook his head, his greying hair a tangle in the wind. “Hoster. My brother. He asked me to stop calling myself ‘Blackfish.’ Said it was an old joke, and it was never funny to begin with.”

There was silence, as Edmure returned from where he stood at the edge of the pier to join the family in the line. Grey Wind huffed.

No one knew what to say to Catelyn to ease her pain at losing her father.

Hermione, realizing what he was doing, took a tiny half-shuffle forward and nudged into Robb’s back. Startled, he glanced at her, but she jerked her head a few times in his mother’s direction.

His eyes were wide and he glanced from her to his mother, panic on his face.

In response, Hermione inaudibly sighed and rolled her hand in a loose “go on” motion, looking between his mother and Brynden, hoping he caught on before the silence became too awkward. Apparently, he did, because Robb’s eyes grew round and he nodded, clearing his throat and loudly asking his great-uncle, “What did Grandfather say to that, uncle?”

Brynden flashed Robb a grim smile, partially in thanks for continuing the conversation topic, and for drawing Catelyn’s attention back to the story of her father.

“Well, I told Hoster, ‘People have been calling me “Blackfish” for so long, I don't remember my real name!’” he chortled, although it was slightly forced.

But it worked; Catelyn had a small smile on her face, although it was bittersweet. “Every time he left for the Capitol, or to fight in a campaign, I'd see him off. ‘Wait for me, Little Cat,’ he'd say, ‘Wait for me and I'll come back to you.’ And I would sit at this window every day when the sun came up, waiting.” Her face crumpled. “I’ll be waiting for a long time, now. Both father and -- and -- and N-Ned…”

Brynden was at his niece’s side, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as Catelyn cried.

This was what we were waiting for, thought Hermione with a mental sigh. Catelyn probably didn’t have time to mourn her husband since the news that he had been executed in King’s Landing, moving from one campaign to another with leading Robb and making their way to Riverrun. Maybe now she can begin to heal -- especially knowing her children are all alive and well.

Brynden and Catelyn leaving were the beginning of the exodus of others on the shore, all quietly returning to the castle where Edmure was now Lord of Riverrun, and Lord Paramount of the Trident. The man in question made his way to his best friend, Marq Piper; as well as Bracken, Blackwood, Karyl Vance and Jason Mallister, all who were with him during the Battle of the Trident.

Robb stepped up to Hermione with Arya at his side, Grey Wind’s tail swishing as they began to move. Robb’s face was a bit pale -- the effects of a hangover from his Nameday celebrations that merged with grief for a man he didn’t really know; and the grief for what his mother was going through, as well as stress from the war.

“Thank you for that,” he murmured to her.

Hermione gave a tiny shrug. “I think it was long overdue.” She then looked at Robb from the corner of her eyes, and in a tiny voice, suggested, “Maybe Brienne of Tarth would be a good companion for your mother to speak to?”

Robb’s mouth turned down. “She is a prisoner for helping the Kingslayer escape under my mother’s orders. You think putting her and my mother together in a room is a good idea?”

Well, when you put it that way, thought Hermione with a sarcastic tinge to her mental voice.

“I like Brienne,” said Arya suddenly, causing both Robb and Hermione to look at the young girl, who had been surprisingly silent. She was next to Grey Wind, walking beside him with her hand running through his fur with an occasional scratch around his neck.

“How do you know of Brienne?” asked Robb incredulously.

Arya shrugged, looking down at her nails.

“Arya,” warned Robb.

Finally, the dark-haired girl looked up. “She goes for walks with her guards. And she often stops by the lists. When Mother doesn’t need me, I’m down there too. I want to fight! Father had a dancing master for me in King’s Landing!”

“I--” Robb’s mouth dropped open and then snapped shut. His eyes cast about, looking for help and finding it in Hermione, who had her face slightly turned away, stifling a laugh.

Arya was on a roll, still listening to the things she wanted to do but couldn’t: “And I want to see what the men are doing! Someone can teach me to fight, like you and Hermione! Like Dacey! That way I won’t have to help Mother with stupid stuff -- like embroidery and needlepoint! I don’t want to wear dresses and be like stupid Sansa.”

“Well, I’m sure Dacey would prefer your company over mine, Arya,” said Hermione eventually, fighting to keep a smile on her face. A soft snort from behind her, where Dacey and Torrhen walked as guards, confirmed this.

“And Sansa isn’t stupid,” said Robb, but at Arya’s disbelieving look, he amended, “She just likes and believes in different things. She’s still our sister.”

A disgruntled expression settled on Arya’s long face. “I s’pose.”

“Speaking of Sansa,” said Hermione, steering the conversation away from something personal, “You know mirror I gave you, Robb? I have one for her, as well. And you, Arya.”

The disgruntled expression slid into confused disgust. “What would I want with a mirror?”

“Brilliant!” crowed Robb, a bit too loudly as those ahead of them from the funeral glanced back, forcing him to lower his voice. “But how are we going to get it to her?”

“I still think the plan of sneaking someone into King’s Landing as staff is the best option,” said Hermione. “People rarely look at those working.”

“I’ll find someone,” said Robb, with a solid, firm nod.

“Why is this mirror so important?” cried an impatient Arya, whose head had been bouncing between the two.

Robb turned towards his youngest sister. “You’ve seen the communication parchment Hermione made, right?” When she nodded, he continued. “The mirror is the same, but you can actually see the person you’re speaking to, as though they are in front of you!”

Arya’s eyes grew wide and turned silently to Hermione, who pulled out a small, unadorned mirror in the shape of a small pocket watch from her universe. She had gone to Gendry to commission it earlier when she finished the Stark bucket of pins; she was now working her way through the Tully bucket, as those had been completed first by the talented blacksmith.

The mirror itself was simple, round and compact. There was little design on it, for a girl who cared little of frivolity, but there was the direwolf of the Starks on the inside top, and the outside had a long thin sword which Gendry mumbled about a “needle” as well as two horns, or antlers, which he said was a bit of a creator’s mark for him.

Arya took the small mirror with trembling hands, clicking it open and gapping at her reflection in the transfigured glass Hermione placed inside. She had cast the spells, nonverbally, as just the thought of what she wanted to do was enough for the spells to take hold. Her wordless casting was becoming stronger.

“Just say the full name of the person you want to speak to,” instructed Hermione. “If you wished to speak to Robb, just say ‘Robb Stark,’ and his mirror would let him know one of his siblings wanted to speak to him. When you’re done your conversation, say ‘finite.’”

“All of us will have one?” asked Arya, slightly breathlessly, her grey eyes round.

Hermione nodded. “Just you and Robb for now. And me, I suppose.”

Arya launched herself at Hermione, across from Robb and causing him to stumble back a bit on his heels. The girl’s tiny, bony arms wrapped around Hermione’s waist and she squeezed tightly. “Thank you,” she mumbled into Hermione’s jacket.

When she pulled back from Hermione, Robb glanced over and watched as Arya ran her fingers over the top of the mirror, over the thin sword and antlers. He frowned at the very not Stark-like face. “Who made this for Arya? Or did you use your magic?”

“No, I asked Gendry to make it,” replied Hermione. “He said the antlers were a mark of his?”

Arya nodded. “When we first met, he was told by his blacksmith master to join the Black because he had no use for him anymore. Gendry had a bull’s head helm that he had made an’ his master allowed him to take it with him. Some of the other boys wanted it, but Gendry’s bigger than them and they didn’t ask again. When we were attacked an’ Yoren died, I took the helm and put it with another boy who died -- Lem -- and said that was Gendry because the Gold Cloaks were after him.”

“You saved his life,” said Robb quietly, looking at his sister a bit differently. Then, he muttered to himself, “Why did they want Gendry?”

Arya, who hadn’t heard him, nodded enthusiastically. “He’s big an’ strong. And he isn’t stupid! But I call him stupid -- he misses the obvious.”

“The pins he’s making for everyone are very nice,” commented Hermione, who had seen many of them up close at this point. She still had several buckets to work her way through, and Gendry was working almost constantly to fill Robb’s order. But, with an army of twenty-two thousand and over eight Northern houses with individual sigils, plus another ten or so Riverlands houses and their sigils, it was a lot for the blacksmith to do on his own.

“How are they coming along?” asked Robb, and something in his voice had Hermione thinking he was switching from ‘Robb Stark’ to ‘King Robb.’ She answered accordingly.

“Slowly, but steadily. He started with the largest orders first, such as the Starks, Boltons, and Manderlys. He’s almost done with those and then will be working on the next.”

“Good; are we still on schedule then?”

Hermione frowned. “It depends when you want things done, I suppose. At this rate, he’ll be done in a few months -- sorry, moons -- but if he had some help, they’d be done sooner. I can only cast the Portkey charm on them so many times, anyway.”

Arya was watching them curiously. “What are you spelling them for? What’s a Portkey?”

“Nothing you will need to worry about,” said Robb with a grin on his face. “And since when do you notice when boys are big and strong, Arya? And for him to not be stupid -- what a compliment from you!”

Arya’s face went red and she punched Robb in the side, hard. He expelled a breath of air with a loud ‘oof!’ just as Arya mumbled, “Who’s being stupid now?”


Asking Brienne to guard -- and be friends with -- Catelyn worked out. Brienne was feeling useless, and suitably guilty for her role of releasing Jaime Lannister, but it was warred with her loyalty to Catelyn and what the woman had asked of her. Eventually, after Hoster Tully’s funeral, Robb made the time to sit down with Brienne and thoroughly question her with Bolton, Umber, Karstark, and Maege with him; this included telling her of his sibling’s current locations and the damage his mother had unintentionally caused.

Brienne ended up being considered harmless -- as much as a superior swordswoman could be considered ‘harmless’ -- and employed by Robb to be Catelyn’s guard, although the role consisted of also being, at its most basic a spy in case Catelyn did anything similar to letting the Kingslayer go again, to being a friendly ear when she needed it. Hermione had seen Brienne around the castle, a tall, silent shadow walking at Catelyn’s side or just behind her, her sharp eyes taking in much of the going-on of Riverrun, learning her new place in the northern army.

(“Do you know what she and Jaime did their few months on the run?” Hermione had asked Robb one evening via the enchanted mirror; she was in her tent, charming a bucket of pins -- now on the Karstarks -- while Robb was up late in his study, going over correspondence.

“Some of it, but the rest she said was personal in nature,” replied Robb, his voice coming from a small distance as he had the mirror propped against an unlit candle.

Hermione had hesitated. “I heard some when I was scrying. I think she loved Renly Baratheon.”

Robb shrugged, the darkness of the room casting shadows all over his face. His beard and the shadows made him appear older than he was. “It wouldn’t surprise me. Many people thought Renly handsome, but… well… there were rumours…”

“I heard. Jaime Lannister implied it, too.” They fell silent. Then: “I’m glad you let her stay. Your mother needs a friend that Edmure can’t be for her, and Brienne needed purpose again.”

Robb sighed, but gave Hermione a small, tired smile.)

At some point, a week later from when they brought him back, Jaime Lannister had woken from his fever, utterly horrified by the stump of his right hand and the loss of his sword hand. Hermione had only seen him once more -- the man’s guards on the room used their swords to push food on a tray through the wards, leaving the once-shining golden-haired man tarnished and battered.

The man had ignored Hermione’s presence the entire time, his head turned away and looking out his window as he sat up on the bed, his arm with the stump thrown as far from his body as he could do so.

Hermione left some potions to speed up his healing, as well as a warm meal. When she did eventually return to the room the next day, the potion bottles were empty, the meal was consumed, and the Kingslayer was asleep.

And, in a strange way, Hermione’s heart ached for the man.

She did not have time to dwell on it, though. Time slipped from her, as her days repeated: wake up, eat breakfast in the Great Hall with the others, and spend the morning in the library at Riverrun studying what mentions of magic they had or Vyman found for her. After taking diligent notes, she would have lunch delivered to her room, and then she would change and meet Torrhen and Dacey for physical training, with Dacey showing her hand-to-hand combat, and Torrhen would work with her to use her magic alongside his sword.

After two hours of that, she would return to her tent, shower, and then join Robb in his war room, with others he’d invite in specifically for whatever session he was hosting. They would discuss his plans for returning North, for finding Bran and Rickon, and for the next war on the Ironborn once they were back on their lands.

Then, it would be a very late dinner in the war room. Depending on who was with them that afternoon (usually Karstark, Bolton, Umber, and Bracken and Blackwood), the Lords would make their excuses and eat elsewhere, leaving Hermione and Robb alone. There, they would discuss anything and everything that came to mind.

But that afternoon, two months after Hoster Tully’s passing and Edmure’s transition to Lord Tully and Lord Paramount of the Trident, Robb had called a full meeting of all the northern and riverlands lords, as Hermione wanted to present her idea to keep the Lannisters from retaliating on the riverlands once the large northern army returned home.

“So what is this grand plan that Lady Hermione has for us?” asked Greatjon Umber, his arms crossed.

The war room was full: everyone representing their house was there, seated around the long rectangular table, looking towards Robb at its head, the fireplace lit behind him. Some had goblets of ale next to their hands, and a few others, such as the young Lyman Darry, had a plate of finger food.

“We’ll wait for her to begin,” said Robb firmly, standing at the head, before he turned partially to watch the flames. Grey Wolf lounged in front of the fire, but his ears were perked and his eyes were watchful as more people streamed into the room until there was a gentle lull of soft murmurs and voices, with the occasional burst of conversation.

 Olyvar approached Robb, offering him a cup of ale, which Robb indicated at the table, and then the door opened once more and Hermione slinked in, her hair bushier than normal, a feverish look in her eyes that was triumphant, and a heavy tome in her arms.

Robb felt his stomach tighten at the sight of her, and he quickly turned and sat in his chair, which prompted his lords to do the same, their personal conversations cutting off as they realized he was ready to begin.

Hermione eased into the seat at Robb’s right, placing the book on the table with a muffled thunk.

Umber’s eyes cut to his King and seemed to say, well, now that we’re here -- so Robb cleared his throat. “As you know, I have spent some time discussing how the Northern army will return to the North while leaving the riverlands protected and without fear of Lannister retribution.”

There were some shifts and low murmurs but no one spoke up.

“I asked Lady Hermione to look into this several moons ago, and recently, she came up with a solution that I think will work for us going forward,” he finished, turning to Hermione who then stood from her seat.

Immediately, close to forty eyes fell on her, and she fought the urge to squirm. Was this how Harry always felt? Eyes on him? she grimaced and busied herself with tapping her wand on the book so it opened to the right page. She summoned a map of the Riverlands and the surrounding area, laying in on the table, and then dug out some rocks from her pocket to scatter on the table. A nonverbal spell had them rearrange themselves into a miniature of Harrenhal where the castle once sat on the map.

“Right. So.” She cleared her throat nervously, glancing at Robb who smiled at her in warm approval. Heat filled her, and she felt herself relax, just a smidge. Looking back around the table, Hermione let her voice carry so everyone -- even those at the furthest end, like Black Walder, Galbert Glover, and Ronald Vance.

“As you all know, several, erm, moons ago, King Robb asked Lord Bolton and I to rescue his sister, Princess Arya, from Harrenhal,” said Hermione, hating the use of formal titles for people she was familiar with. There were nods around the table, though, so she continued, using her wand to mimic the destruction of Harrenhal. The miniature broke apart, pieces landing here or there silently on the table.

A few lords were leaning forward to watch.

“The pieces of Harrenhal are scattered. The destruction of the castle was meant as a deterrent from others using the strategic location and a staging ground for future attacks on the riverlands and further north,” explained Hermione. “But this does not stop Lannisters -- or Tyrells, or Martells, or anyone else -- from just walking up.”

“What are you suggesting then, Lady Hermione?” asked Lord Karstark, his tone polite but with a tinge of impatience.

Hermione waved her wand and the largest pieces of the Harrenhal miniature rose and then began to spread out, forming a line along the border of the riverlands and the Lannister westerlands, the Vale of Arryn, and the southerly crownlands under Lannister-Baratheon control. The line was impressive, stretching in a vague U-shape, scooped with an opening at the top where the Neck was.

“A warded line of defense,” said Hermione. “Each stone will be infused with the blood of your houses, and each stone will be transfigured into a watchtower, linked together with a barrier that will keep anyone from crossing over into the riverlands. The only entrance will be through each tower, constantly manned by representatives from that House.”

“And if the tower is stormed by our enemies or destroyed?” asked Glover, a tight frown on his face from the far end of the table.

“The wards I’ve selected for this will be charmed alongside spells such as the impervius, muggle repellant, and fire resistance,” said Hermione, turning to Glover directly. “They could launch a constant bombardment of flaming projectiles from a trebuchet and it would do nothing but shake the tower.”

There were murmurs of surprise along the table, running up and down at her announcement.

“Explain these wards some more,” ordered Umber loudly, eyes focused on Hermione. “Have you used them before?”

She flushed, fidgeting a bit. “Erm, well, not really.” She looked up at the ceiling. “They’re kind of… um… illegal in my world.”

Illegal?” echoed Marq Piper, Edmure’s closest friend. He was a similar age -- just slightly older than her and Robb -- with an easy, charming grin and strawberry blond hair and blue eyes over a lightly freckled face. “What does that mean?”

“Where I’m from, spells like this are considered illegal,” explained Hermione, in a detached, clinical way. “The government regulates who practices what kinds of spells to protect its people from potential backlash.”

At that, Bolton frowned. “What kind of backlash? How dangerous is this for you to cast?”

“Oh, it’s not really dangerous, per se,” replied Hermione, with a tiny shrug. “Because of the use of blood, to personalize the wards, it’s considered Dark Arts. But since I’m not using the magic to control anyone - this just allows your descendants access to the watchtowers as well. You control who can come through your specific tower freely. I’ll link the tower to a parchment like our communication ones, and you write the name of everyone who has access in and out of your tower. If you don’t want them to have access anymore, you cross their name out.”

“That’s… fairly simple,” said a stupefied Manderly, his jovial Santa-Claus features strangely solemn. He ran a hand down his white beard. “And this is connected through our blood?”

Hermione nodded. “Inside each tower, I can make the space as small or large as you want. As comfortable as you want: bedchambers, kitchen, a hall to eat in, an armoury. The inside can be whatever you want while the outside remains the same.”

Karstark started laughing. “Like your tent!”

“Houses Wode and Darry are on the Kingsroad,” explained Hermione, turning two of the stones into small towers. “They’d be in control of any trade coming further north, so they need larger amounts of people to vet who comes and goes through their gates. Mooton and Hawick are on the Trident, where the river runs out to the ocean. They need a bit more extravagant towers to cover the width of the river.”

“Like the Twins?” asked Black Walder darkly with a scowl. “We already have two towers that span the Trident; we don’t need more.”

“This just ensures that boats don’t sneak past the wards,” said Hermione evenly, not letting her distaste for the Frey show. “It’s like not like the Freys have the proprietary rights to a double-tower spanning a waterway.”

Infusing the stones on the table to turn into towers as she said their names, lighting up to highlight their position on the table, Hermione continued. “Heading westward, towards the westerlands, we have Wode at the Kingsroad, and then what was Whent’s seat -- Harrenhal -- Goodbrook, Smallwood, Lord Ronald Vance’s seat and then we finish with Lord Piper, by the westerlands. Then we swing north, along the mountains with Wayn, Ryger, and Grell.”

Everyone’s eyes watched as the rocks morphed into towers and they lit up, a flameless version of beacons being lit, outlining the border. They were all now looking at the western edge of the map, along the coast by Ironman’s Bay, near the Pyke.

“Lord Blackwood, Lord Mallister, and Lord Erenford make up the western coast defense,” continued Hermione. “Then, we’re in the Neck, which is all marsh, and into Northern territory. These defenses can be added to the North, as well, much later -- to help those at Flint’s Fingers and those by Blazewater Bay.

“Back along the Kingsroad, holding the eastern border would be Shawney, north of the Darry main tower,” across the map, one rock twisted and rose into a new tower. “Followed north with House Haigh and then with Vypren. The space in between each of the towers would be warded -- an invisible barrier that will stop any humans from crossing it. I won’ do the same for any animals, though -- you still want grazing and bird migration to happen.”

“This is… quite impressive, Lady Hermione,” began Edmure. “But what of those houses, like Tully -- and Bracken, Lychester, Roote, and Lord Karyl Vance, who are further inland from these borders?”

Hermione nodded, having thought of that. “You’ll strengthen the spaces between the towers. I’ll add smaller stones, especially between the larger distances of towers, for, um, power boosts, so to speak.”

She directed smaller stones with her magic to large gaps, between Mooton and Wode, Piper and Ryger, Blackwood and Mallister, and Haigh and Shawney. As she finished, with all the towers emitting a soft glow, a connected line appeared between them and flared upwards, toward the ceiling. A visible, sparking silver barrier linked all the houses together along the watchtowers, encasing the U-shaped border and securing the riverlands from anything south.

“But how long will this last?” asked a plaintive Goodbrooke, who would be on the highly defensible line of incoming Lannister forces.

“As long as you need it,” replied Hermione, pitching her voice so everyone heard. “Consider it like a blood sacrifice -- as long as the head of your house, or the next heir, constantly add their blood --  say once a year -- then the protections will last. If you fail to do so, that area of the border will eventually weaken and dissipate.”

There were grumblings now. “Blood sacrifice! That’s a heathen practice. Good southern men don’t worship the Old Ways.”

Robb stood. “You’ll have to if you want a free defense.” The room fell silent. “Lady Hermione does not have to do this. She can leave us to patrol a length border on three sides. Her spell and protections will do this for us, leaving only a small tower to be manned with however many men you prefer. The communication parchments between the towers will keep us all informed of what movement there is, or whether you are being attacked. There will be a choke point for any invading forces, which will be defensible from our end. Will you willingly throw this away because of a little blood?”

The men at the table began to mutter to themselves, and quickly, the room descended into loud discussions and shouted questions. Some immediately agreed -- like Bracken and Blackwood, as well as Lyman Darry who didn’t have the men to patrol a large area to begin with; others were more hesitant, unsure of her magic.

The discussion lasted long into the night, with Robb championing her spell, as well as Hermione’s friends and supporters among the riverlands Lords, and the northern lords sitting in on the discussion. Slowly, one by one, the other houses came onboard, agreeing until all that was left was Walder Frey.

An unexpected benefit of having the wards go up was that any Lannister men left within when the ward went up would no be able to leave the border unless they went North, into the Neck. And that included the Mountain and his men, whom everyone wanted dead. With that, Frey, the last holdout to the plan, finally agreed with a long-suffering sigh.

Blood was collected and labelled immediately by those who could provide and plans were made to begin the defense. Hermione would have to sacrifice her research mornings to Apparate to Harrenhal as a starting point for the towers, and she would have to work quickly so that any Lannister scouts didn’t report back what was happening in the riverlands.

“It’s late,” announced Robb eventually, casting a glance around the room. Lyman Darry had fallen asleep several hours earlier, slouched in his chair, and many, including him, were stifling yawns. “We’ll continue our agenda at a later time.”

Slowly, everyone began to file out of the room, until only him and Hermione, eyes tired and dry and her voice scratchy from constantly speaking.

“Thank you,” he said quietly as the fire, already low, crackled, and popped behind him. The dying fire cast dark shadows in the room, giving it an intimate, closed feeling.

Hermione looked up from the table, where she sliding the book forward to place in her beaded bag. “Hmm?”

“For your solution,” clarified Robb, facing her and stopping her movements with a hand on her arm. “This gives me a way to return to Winterfell without losing their support. I can remain King in the North and the Riverlands because of you.”

“You say that now, but talk to me when I actually get this complete,” she complained, but a smile belayed her words. “It will work, though. It’ll just take me two weeks or so, from start to finish.”

“Will you be safe?” asked Robb, peering intently at her.

Hermione frowned. “Safe how? From Lannisters? I can have Torrhen come with me, you know. And anyone else you assign.” She finished with an eye roll.

Robb shook his head. “No, I mean -- your magic. Will it be safe? You won’t hurt yourself?”

“Oh. You mean overextend my magic.” Hermione shook her head. “It’ll be fine. I’ll take proper breaks. If I’m only working in the mornings, it won’t harm me.”

Robb’s face remained skeptical.

I promise!” emphasized Hermione with a grin.

“Very well,” sighed Robb. He glanced at Grey Wind, whose jaw stretched wide as he yawned, but slowly lumbered to his feet. “May I escort you back to your room, Lady Hermione?”

Hermione felt a blush spread across her cheeks, but she tucked her hand into Robb’s elbow and grinned. “You may.”

They left the room. Outside, Riverrun was quiet, much of the castle sleeping. Some servants still scurried about, and a guard here or there nodded respectfully to their king, but otherwise, the only noise was Grey wind’s nails scratching the stone under his paws.

“Now, Lady Hermione,” said Robb, a gleam in his blue eyes, “Tell me about this idea of a peace summit…?”

Then Hermione’s laugh broke the silence, and a smile spread across Robb’s face.


Sansa wasn't sure why she had been summoned to the Small Council -- it wasn't like a traitor's daughter or a traitor's sister was worth much in King's Landing these days. But, she followed behind Ser Meryn, keeping her head down and her eyes forward as she focused on the heels of his armoured boots and the flapping edge of his white cloak as they walked the halls from her bedchambers to wherever he was taking her.

Eventually, he stopped before a door.

“You're to go in here,” he said gruffly, an unpleasant look on his face.

Sansa's own blue eyes darted up and then down quickly. She threw her shoulders back and tilted her chin up, for a moment, and stepped through the door. As soon as she did so, she quickly assessed the room: it was a small, intimate, but large enough for a table, chairs, and several seats of various heights and cushions.

Not the Small Council then, she thought, as there was a -- not so spirited, but enthusiastic -- conversation occurring that she walked right into, ranging between Joffrey, Tyrion, Cersei, all in various shades of Lannister gold or red. Their father Tywin, with a new black leather eye patch in the middle of a vivid red line that ran vertically up from his cheekbone to his forehead and Lord Varys in his bright yellow robes, hands tucked into the voluminous sleeves.

Joffrey, resplendent in a bright, shiny gold tunic over black trousers, was deeply scowling at Varys from his chair; in what he probably thought was an indolent sprawl. “--ster of Whisperers. You're supposed to know everything!”

The short, bald spy cleared his throat and said, solemnly, “No man can be in all rooms at all times. I have many little birds in the Riverlands, My Lord, but I don’t hear any songs from Riverrun.”

Joffrey slammed a hand down on the arm of his chair, making Sansa wince. “The Stark forces are distracted. Now is the time to strike!”

There was a loud scoff, and Sansa's eyes moved from Joffrey, whom she watched like a hawk at all times to gauge his moods, to see the Imp -- Tyrion Lannister -- play with his goblet full of wine, swirling it around. Behind him, his manservant, a scruffy sellsword named Bronn, rolled his eyes.

“To strike?” questioned Tyrion, his voice lilting and rolling with a sardonic cant. “My dear nephew, you do see the men preparing the walls for siege? You do understand Stannis Baratheon sails this way?”

Stannis? wondered Sansa, eyes growing wide. He is on his way to King's Landing? To besiege it?

“If my uncle Stannis lands on the shores of King's Landing, I'll ride out to greet him!” declared Joffrey, sounding petulant and arrogant at the same time.

Tyrion didn’t bother hiding his disdain at his nephew’s words. “A brave choice, Your Grace. I'm sure your men will line up behind you.”

“Like anyone would follow you,” broke in Cersei nastily, glaring at her brother.

Tyrion merely toasted her with his goblet.

Paying neither of them attention, Joffrey mused aloud, his voice soft in the room as he gazed dreamily in the distance, “They say Stannis never smiles. I'll give him a red smile, from ear to ear. We’ll see how he can burn our temples and my subjects then!”

“Oh, for the Seven’s sake,” muttered Tyrion, who Sansa stood nearest to and was, therefore, able to hear as he spoke to Bronn, “The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where is the god of tits and wine?”

Apparently, it wasn’t quiet enough, because Varys spoke up from where he was frowning at the others in the room. “In the Summer Isles, they worship a fertility goddess with sixteen teats.”

Shock overrode Tyrion’s face and then he widely grinned, placing his goblet down firmly on the tabletop. “We should sail there immediately!”

                “Enough!” snapped Tywin, speaking for the first time since Sansa entered the room. “We will not speak of this yet -- there are other things to focus on before Stannis’ fleet arrives. Tyrion, send your man away.”

Tyrion waved Bronn goodbye, and the man silently left, although Sansa was sure he was going to remain just outside the door, picking at the dirt under his nails with a trusty dagger he carried around, even in the Red Keep. Cersei’s mouth pulled down into a deep frown as she looked around those who remained in the room, her cool eyes lingering on Tyrion and Sansa.

“What's she doing here?” the woman said, her honeyed tones barely hiding her disdain for Sansa.

Tywin’s mouth pulled down in a manner identical to hers. Sansa fought her growing hysteria and desperately focused on not laughing at the eerily similar faces the two were making. “Our business concerns her as well.” He turned to Sansa, ordering, “Sit.”

Sansa moved to the free chair beside Tyrion, who gallantly rose from his seat and help pull hers back for her despite barely reaching halfway up the back of the chair. She gingerly sat on the edge, hands folded in her lap and her back rammord straight.

“Thank you, My Lord,” she murmured to the nicest of the Lannisters.

Tyrion nodded and resumed his seat, busying himself with his wine, just as Tywin began speaking.

“We have something important to discuss,” the man said, his voice commanding the attention of everyone in the room. “It seems, Tyrion, that your new friends the Tyrells are plotting to marry Lady Sansa to Sir Loras.”

Sansa’s heart stopped. How did they find out? How did they know?

Her entire being froze and she was certain that her head would soon grace the same pike that her father’s once rested on. At her side, Sansa saw Tyrion glance at her over the rim of his goblet and then say, carefully, “Oh?”

The frown on Tywin’s face deepened at the lack of anything else from his youngest son, so he turned his eyes on Sansa. She did her best not to squirm under the cold, icy glare.

“Do you have anything to add or say about this, Lady Sansa?”

Sansa’s folded hands trembled in her lap, so she clenched them tightly, glad that no one could see them under the table, except for Tyrion whose face went carefully blank, his eyes watchful.

She cleared her throat and chirped, hoping her voice didn’t tremble. “I -- I, no, My Lord. I had no idea --”

Joffrey laughed loudly. “She never does--”

“Silence!” snapped Tywin, his head snapping around to face his grandson. He then brought a hand up and traced the edge of his new eyepatch. Sansa had heard rumours of how it happened: at Harrenhal as he and the Mountain escaped from her brother’s forces under Roose Bolton’s command, something about magic and a witch -- but she didn’t believe that.

Instead, the head of the Lannister family began muttering to himself. “I bring them into the royal fold and this is how they repay me? By trying to steal the key to the North out from under me.”

Is he… is he going insane? wondered Sansa momentarily, shocked at the change in the man, and very, very frightened. She had already seen cruelty and madness in Joffrey and Cersei’s eyes -- it was clear it was a family trait beyond the rumours of Joffrey’s parentage.

Tyrion frowned, his eyes rooted on his father. Carefully, he said, “Lady Sansa is the key to the North? I seem to remember she has an older brother. And rumours of a witch that does his bidding.”

Tywin twitched.

“A witch! My Lord--” began Varys, only for Tywin to cut him off, ignoring the spymaster entirely.

“The Young Wolf’s days are numbered,” the old man said firmly, his remaining eye focusing on Tyrion alone. “There are -- plans -- in place to counter these ridiculous rumours. Besides, if the pup plans to return to Winterfell, which all accounts are saying, then he will lose half his army through the desertion of the River lords. Further, Theon Greyjoy murdered both his brothers; and the youngest female whelp cannot inherit. That makes Lady Sansa here the heir to Winterfell. As for the witch --”

Tyrion quickly interjected as well, shaking his head. “There’s no such thing. She’s some kind of woods witch if anything. Useless.”

“Magic exists, My Lord. Magic is dangerous and clever and strong and can take the shape of anything,” said Varys, sounding the most emotional Sansa had ever heard (although she wasn’t around the man that often, she did know that he maintained a certain facade that most of the time projected serenity). “It can warp the mind, dull our senses, and kill us all. I know this--”

“That is enough, Spider,” said Tywin, his voice frigid. “Your paranoia and hysteria will not help. Now, with Lady Sansa reassuring us of her thoughts on the Tyrells, we can issue a refusal as her guardians--”

“The Tyrell army is helping us to win this war!” said Tyrion, eyes narrowed, a vague panicked tone to his voice. “Do you really think it's wise to refuse them?”

“There's nothing to refuse. The Tyrells have no say over Lady Sansa; she was set to marry Joffrey before this -- unpleasantness -- with her father and brother began,” there was a downward turn of Tywin’s mouth, “and as such, we can see to her care and wellbeing. Instead of waiting until after Joffrey's wedding, we will act first.”

There was silence and then Tyrion asked, “And how do we do that?”

“We find Lady Sansa a different husband -- one that best fits her status and will care for her, will watch over her,” announced Tywin to a suddenly silent and chilly room.

Sansa felt her stomach roll and she did her best to keep nausea from appearing on her face at the thought of the Lannisters picking her future husband. There would be no knights, no gallant figures on horseback coming to save her if they had anything to say….

“Wonderful,” said Tyrion, mostly forced joviality in his voice, although there was something brittle to it, that made Sansa wonder if he too, could feel the foreboding chill of what was to come.

Cersei’s grin was sharklike. “Yes, it is.”

Sansa’s heart sank, and Tyrion, at her side, turned his head from Cersei to Tywin, his eyes growing wider as his mouth dropped open in realization. Tywin nodded at him, once.

“You can't mean it!” protested Tyrion, slamming his goblet down and then hopping off the chair to leave the room. Varys moved out of the way near the door so he was out of direct eyesight.

“Tyrion! Get back here!” snapped Tywin in response, making the dwarf turn on his heel, a bitter expression on his face. “I can and I do.”

Sansa was numb, watching the family spectacle in front of her. Across, lounging on his chair, Joffrey swung his legs around and sat up, laughing. It was almost a cackle. “Congratulations, My Lady!”

Survival instincts flooded her, and through bloodless lips, Sansa heard herself, from far away, say prettily, “Thank you, your Grace.”

Apparently, Tywin was fooled by her words, despite her suddenly pale face. He turned back to his youngest. “And you, Tyrion? What do you say?”

“What do I say?” repeated Tyrion, incredulously. “She’s a child!”

“You should be thanking the gods for this,” sneered Cersei, moving to a sideboard to pour herself some Arbour Gold wine. “This is more than you deserve.”

Joffrey still had a smile on his face, malicious glee in his eyes as he spoke directly to Sansa, who met the King’s face head-on. “You'll be married to a Lannister! Soon you will have a Lannister baby. It's a dream come true for you, isn't it? What a glorious day!”

Sansa swallowed thickly, her fingernails digging viciously into the fleshy part of her hand. “Yes, Your Grace.”

It was as if Joffrey didn’t hear her, however, as he continued speaking. “Although, I suppose it doesn’t really matter which Lannister puts the baby into you. Maybe I’ll pay you a visit after my uncle passes out. How’d you like that?”

Horror stole over Sansa, as her worst fears began to play in front of her eyes.

“You wouldn't?” asked Joffrey, lightly, but there was something dangerous in his words. “Well, that's all right. Ser Meryn and Ser Boris will hold you down--”

“That’s enough, Joff. Tyrion will do as he's bid,” said Tywin, glaring at first his grandson, who mulishly fell silent under the hard stare leveled on him, and then to Tyrion, who turned his back and stared out a nearby window. “As will you, Cersei.”

All heads swiveled in the Queen’s direction. Even Cersei, who had a smug smirk on her face, had the expression drop. Her arms, which were crossed, fell open at her sides. “What do you mean?”

Tywin gave her a tight-lipped smile. “You'll marry Ser Loras.”

No! thought Sansa, eyes growing wide at Margaery's sweet brother being forced to marry the shrewish and cruel Queen.

“I will not,” laughed Cersei.

Tywin’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, you will. You're still fertile. You need to marry again and breed.”

“Breed?” shrieked Cersei, her hands fisting at her side as her shoulders went up and she leaned forward towards her father. “I am Queen Regent, not some broodmare!”

“YOU’RE MY DAUGHTER!” the words thundered in the small room, rendering everyone momentarily senseless. No one had heard Tywin raise his voice that way before. “You will do as I command and you will marry Loras Tyrell.”

Cersei took an aborted step forward, the red of her dress catching the fading sunlight as it filtered in through the window, turning it bloody and dark. “Father, don't make me do it again, please.”

Tywin was unmoved. “Not another word. My children.” His gaze swept from Cersei to Tyrion, who was still ignoring him. There was a disgusted curl to his lip. “You've disgraced the Lannister name for far too long. Now, I shall go have Pycelle announce it, and Joff, you will give your blessing. With Sansa and Tyrion’s upcoming nuptials, you can continue to woo, and win, Lady Margaery.” When Joffrey went to protest, Tywin snarled, “That means now, Joffrey.”

The unhappy King rose to his feet and stomped through the room and out the door, snapping as he stepped out, “Hound! With me!”

Cersei, who twirled to watch her son leave the room, turned back to face her father, ire flashing in her face. “I won’t allow this!”

Tywin rolled his eyes. “Yes, you will.”

The two left the room, Cersei chasing after her father, squabbling about her upcoming marriage, about Joffrey’s. The silence that fell in the room was uncomfortable, and Sansa fought the urge to fidget. Her mother and Septa Mordane hated when she fidgeted -- that was something Arya did instead -- so she sat still, hoping not to draw anyone’s attention.

Finally, Tyrion swore under his breath and stalked over to the same sideboard Cersei had stood beside, pouring himself another drink. “What a shit show. And you -- Varys! Gods, man, you don’t truly believe this about a witch in Robb Stark’s camp?”

Varys’ eyes narrowed, and his head tilted slightly. “Before all that familial nastiness, I was going to tell you the story of why I dislike magic. Do you want to hear it?”

Tyrion started, his eyes cutting straight to Sansa as he looked at her over his shoulder from pouring his drink. Sansa was surprised to realize he remembered she was there.

“I don't know,” he finally said, slowly. “Do I? Will it upset Lady Sansa?”

There was a tiny shrug of voluminous yellow robes. “If such a creature is allied with her brother, she should know what a witch is capable of.”

When no one said anything else, Varys nodded and began.

“As a boy, in Myr, I traveled with a troupe of actors through the Free Cities. One day, a man approached my master with an offer too tempting to refuse. I feared the man meant to use me, as I'd heard some men use small boys, but what he wanted was far worse. He gave me a potion that made me powerless to move or speak, yet did nothing to dull my senses,” the man said, his voice light and airy as though he was reciting a piece of news to the Small Council.

Sansa swallowed, a part of her understanding what was coming next.

“With a hooked blade, he sliced me, root and stem, chanting all the while. He burned my parts on a brazier.”

Sansa turned her head and tried not to gag.

Varys sent her a sympathetic glance, but said, his voice stronger, “The flames burned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call. I still dream of that night. Not of the sorcerer, not of his blade...I dream of the voice. Was it a god? A demon? Some conjurer's trick? I don't know, but the sorcerer called and a voice answered. And ever since that day, I have hated magic, and all who practice it.”

Tyrion hummed a little under his breath and walked over to his vacant chair next to Sansa. “And you think that this witch will do the same to Robb Stark? Is capable of this?”

Sansa paled further. No! Not Robb! Not more of my family! I don’t want to be the only one left!

“We know very little about her,” admitted Varys slowly. “And what we do know is very different to any magic I have learned of over the years. It is not a magic of Westeros or Essos. It is unknown. The unknown is dangerous.”

The man then turned and glided out of the room, leaving Sansa with horrifying visions of Robb being torn apart by some shadowy madwoman whose laugh sounded like Cersei’s.

“Well, this is quite the mess we find ourselves in.”

Sansa started and turned her head back around to face the short man at her side at the table, where he was drumming his fingers thoughtfully.

“Um, my Lord?”

He sighed. “Tyrion, Sansa. My name is Tyrion.” He then gulped the rest of his wine noisily.

“Can we -- that is -- will we--” she closed her eyes and stilled her breath, then opened her eyes and tried again, her voice strong. “Will the wedding be soon?”

Tyrion shook his head, a strangled laugh emerging from him. “Not at all. It’ll be a long engagement. Astoundingly long…”

Sansa frowned. “What?”

“Neck!” the man grinned at her and Sansa was surprised to see such an open and friendly expression on a Lannister. “You have one. How old are you, exactly?”

Sansa paused. “Sixteen.”

“Well, talk won't make you any older,” sighed Tyrion. “My lord father has commanded us to marry, and while we’re here, it would be best to listen to the old man.”

Shakily, Sansa reached for his goblet, saw that there were a few gulps left, and quickly downed the rest of the bitter liquid.

Tyrion snatched the now-empty goblet from her hand. “Stop! Goodness, Sansa -- I’m not that bad, am I?”

“I -- ah -- No, My Lord…” she blushed heavily under his mismatched eyes and turned her chin away.

Tyrion sighed again, loudly, and long. “Despite my father decreeing that we marry, nothing else will happen, My Lady. If my father wants someone to get fucked, I know where he can start.” There was a momentary pause, and then Sansa felt a hand touch one of hers in her lap. She whipped her head around to stare at him. “I won't share your bed. Not until you want me to.”

She swallowed, looking down at his hand on hers. She whispered, “What if I never want you to?”

There was a bitter smile on Tyrion’s face when he spoke. “‘And so my Watch begins.’” He stood, slipping off the chair and holding his hand out to Sansa. “Come -- I’ll return you to your room. Not only must we prepare for our upcoming wedding, but we must prepare for Stannis when he arrives.”

Their walk back to her bedchambers was quiet, both lost in their own thoughts. Bronn trailed behind, discreetly, never speaking but a constant presence that Sansa was acutely aware of the entire time.

Tyrion left her by her door, and she slipped inside, carefully shutting it and bolting it from an errant Kingsguard or the King himself from wandering in. If I had to marry a Lannister, thought Sansa, at least it’s a kind one.

She sighed and trudged over to a chair by the fire, where she had left an unfinished needlepoint project. Yet, as she passed her bed, something on the cover caught the glint of the fading sunlight coming from her window and balcony.

She turned and frowned, inching forward, thinking someone left her a small dagger to end her misery. Instead, lying face up, was a plain, silver or pewter-framed mirror, polished to a high shine. Sansa picked it up and admired her face in the polished lens: a long face, much of the baby fat long gone from stress; slight bags under her eyes and pale. Vibrant blue Tully eyes framed by long, thin red hair in an elaborate hairdo favoured by the Southron women in King’s Landing.

I am no longer the girl who believed in knights in shining armour, thought Sansa, her eyes sad and desperate for escape. She moved to put the mirror back down where she found it, not wanting to be accused of stealing -- as Cersei would take joy in doing so -- when she realized that was something else on her bed.

 Tucked underneath the mirror had been a strange parchment, with flowing cursive in an unfamiliar hand: speak the name of your family and it shall be heard.

What in the Mother’s name is this? wondered Sansa, her fingers tracing the strange script and odd instructions. Speak the name of my family? Do they mean Stark? Or someone like -- Robb? This is all very strange.

“My Lady? Lady Sansa? Are you decent?” Shay’s voice broke into Sansa’s thoughts. “It’s nearly time to get ready for the evening meal, My Lady, and I have your dress. I’m here to do your hair, as well!”

Sansa hurriedly stuffed the note and mirror under the corner of her bed cover, smoothing the fabric down.

“One moment, Shay,” she called back.

She then scurried to the door, promptly forgetting all about the mirror and note. She had other things to worry about in King’s Landing.


TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch

XVIII


Despite her projections, Hermione took longer than two weeks to complete the defensive line and the blood wards that bordered the Riverlands.

She initially began at Harrenhal, collecting the various, and plentiful, chunks of stone that littered the landscape. Some pieces were small - no longer than the size of her fist - and others were larger than the dragon she, Harry, and Ron escaped on from Gringotts. With transfiguration being one of Hermione's favourite classes, the idea behind creating watchtowers from the remains of Harrenhal seemed practical and easy at first; then, upon seeing the massive remnants of the fortress, Hermione felt the daunting process begin to press down on her.

"So, what's first?" asked Torrhen, one of her guards for that morning. He, along with his brother Eddard, Daryn, Dacey, her mother Maege, and a ragtag group of various volunteers from the other Houses - predominantly being Bolton, Karstark, Umber, or Manderly - had fanned out, looking in various directions to ensure that Vargo Hoat's sellswords were no longer lingering in the area, especially after screaming about wanting Hermione dead.

"Well -" began Hermione, biting her lip. "Transfiguration laws states that it is easier to transfigure one thing into something else, as long as the state it was originally in had something in common to what it would be converted into."

"Which is what you're doing," broke in Eddard loudly, tossing the words over his shoulder. Despite being several feet away and facing south, he was clearly paying attention to the conversation.

Perhaps this is novel for him, thought Hermione with an eye roll. She was so used to Torrhen just going along with what she said - having seen her magic in action - that she was unused to others needing clarification.

"Yes, Eddard, that is what I am going to do," she answered with a sigh. "The watchtowers will be made out of the same stone that made Harrenhal. I'm just going to transfigure its shape - reworking it at its molecular level to reshape it without actually changing the properties. In essence, I'm rather charming the stone for aesthetic purposes. But by using transfiguration, the alterations will be permanent since I'm not actually deconstructing the base elements that make up the stone."

Eddard blinked slowly at her. "Umm…"

Hermione's sigh was much louder. "There's literally an equation I need to follow. It's maths. Don't worry about it."

"What's the first step?" asked Torrhen instead.

"Collecting the stones," answered Hermione primly. "Which means I'm just going to shrink everything down for the next few days, and then distribute them to the locations we plotted on the map back at Riverrun?" She looked around at the men and offered a grimace. "This is going to be a very long and boring time for you."

She wasn't wrong; it took her the better part of two weeks just to collect the largest of the stones and shrink them down to place in a separate bag with an undetectable expansion charm on it (as she certainly wasn't willing to clog up her beaded bag). Without Harrenhal to dominate or focus as a feature point for the God's Eye Lake, the gently rolling hills were far more picturesque and Hermione could actually see the hazy, mirage-like grey smudge that was Maidenpool to the southeast, and the Saltpans to the northeast.

The watchtower she would create in Harrenhal's place wouldn't be a towering monstrosity as the old Whent fortress had been; yet, any contemporary watchtower she could design in her mind instantly brought images of airport control towers or American prisons.

Inspiration hit, and with a grin, Hermione directed her wand aloft, parallel to the ground and in preparation for the hard flicks and jabs transfiguration required.

She closed her eyes. Focusing firmly on the image she wanted in her mind, from base to tower top, Hermione held the image and then began to push her magic outward, through her wand and towards the largest remaining rocks.

The grey stone shook, a slow rumble that had loose pieces break off and the men around her to stop what they were doing to watch wide-eyed. Then, the heaviest of the stones began slowly to rise in the air, its lumpy shape beginning to smooth and bubble into a new shape.

Sweat beaded on Hermione's brow, but she kept her eyes closed and her lips pressed tightly shut, her grip on her wand white-knuckled.

The stone reshaped itself, elongating, stretching, and firming into a square tower, which she placed with a jab towards the ground. The stone slammed into the earth with a heavy, dull thud that Hermione felt reverberate in her bones. She locked her knees to remain upright and opened her eyes.

In front of her was a tall, square tower. It was not nearly as large as the original Harrenhal towers, but a tall kind of sleek, with thin windows in spaced intervals. Its top was divided from the body, with two windows facing the witch and a lowered open gabled roof.

Eddard was looking at it dubiously. "We're using that as a tower?"

"Shut up," she muttered and pointed her wand at the next largest rock. She repeated the process three times in total after the first tower, creating them identical in height and design. Two were pressed closer to together in distance, while the other two mirrored them in a long and narrow rectangular.

Despite the sweat that beaded at her temples and dampened her hair at the nape of her neck, Hermione continued to work on the design she had in mind: four other rocks lengthened and smoothed to create curtain walls that connected the four towers to create an inner courtyard. Between the two towers in front of them, Hermione raised the height of the wall and then created an arched opening. The opening itself wasn't too large - just enough for two carts to pass side-by-side in a tight pinch - nor was it high. In fact, she left enough room between the top of the arch and the top of the wall between the towers to add more arrow slits.

While medieval enough in design that it could pass for something architecturally similar to other castles and keeps in Westeros, the gatehouse/watchtower's arched windows and portcullis, as well as the seamlessly integrated smooth grey stone, gave it a novelty. Two sets of the portcullis, similar to kissing gates (where those entering would have to wait for the first gate to be lowered before the second interior would raise; and, appropriately, the opposite on the other end to exit), framed the gatehouses on either end of the fort.

It was simplistic with its four towers, but the inner courtyard's narrow passage created a bottleneck point for any invading forces if they managed to enter the gate. The thickness of the curtain wall and gatehouses on either side of the fort had windows and balconies facing inward for soldiers to keep an eye on those passing below - or defend from above with their bows.

For all purposes, it was similar enough to a square keep castle, but without the interior keep; the wall here was meant to usher people through, not collect, and contain people in buildings. Hermione would later add stables, bedchambers, a kitchen, a mess hall, and offices within the walls of the fort and towers, but after she finished the other watchtowers.

Panting through her open mouth, Hermione let herself slump a bit as she dropped her wand arm. She was awake, and standing, which was an improvement over her previous spellcasting in the past, but she was shaky and had the beginning of a headache.

Eddard walked up the edge of the fort, running his hand down the stone. Unlike Riverrun or other stone-built castles in Westeros, the fort Hermione designed locked the stones together by fusing them with magic into one solid piece of stone - like a large quarry cut of granite. The Karstark tilted his head back and let out a long, low whistle of awe.

"Are they all going to look like this?"

Hermione nodded her head slowly. "I think so. I like this design - I saw pictures of the Germanic Limes made by the Romans and borrowed the idea. Since the Limes was a border defense of over nine hundred forts and auxiliary towers spanning a large distance - quite like what we're doing here - I thought it was appropriate."

Maege turned her sharp eyes toward Hermione. The woman's thick, wiry greying hair, ruddy cheeks, and round face gave Hermione the impression that Maege Mormont could be a family member of Pomona Sprout - the Head of Hufflepuff - who shared similar physical qualities but when she looked at Hermione like that…

Hermione shivered. The house of badgers was known for their loyalty and hard work; never did she feel so stripped when they looked at her as Maege Mormont was. She and her daughter had the piercing eyes perfected.

"So there is something similar in your world?"

Hermione nodded slowly. "Was."

"Was?" Maege's cool tone dropped a few degrees further.

"Time happens; civilizations come and go," replied Hermione, her answers glib, but truthfully. "Technology in my world advanced away from swords and shields. We have other ways to protect borders."

And most of them are invasive, she finished silently. But how could someone explain cameras on every street corner or privacy laws? The most Westeros had was someone reading their mail but a clever encryption could stop that.

Maege hummed in response, turning back to face the new structure. She, along with Eddard and Dacey and one or two of the other soldiers, decided to walk the interior, seeing if it was as sound from the inside as the exterior, leaving Hermione to recuperate.

She sat on a free boulder, tipping her head back to relax in the noon sun as it weakly filtered through thin, wispy clouds.

"You need to eat," chided Torrhen as he sat next to her, handing a small bowl filled with porridge of some kind. "I know the Portkey will take us back to Riverrun, but the King will have my head if he thinks you're neglecting your health."

"You're just a mother hen, Torrhen," grinned Hermione, but she took the bowl and began to hurriedly scoop the goop onto a spoon and then her mouth. Even after a few bites, she felt her shakes subside and her energy return.

By the time she was done the small meal, the others returned from inspecting the new fort. Maege spoke to her first. "It's well made, from something magically constructed."

"Thank you."

"The rest will be identical?" she confirmed again.

Hermione nodded.

"Then I see no problem with the plan," she said decisively, her tone authoritative. "The others asked me here to watch and report back, and I can do so now with confidence."

Hermione did her best not to roll her eyes. She could be Merlin reincarnated into Westeros for all that mattered, and there would be those who still questioned her abilities or motives. Instead, she stood from the boulder, wiping her hands on the front of her jeans and said, "Well, we're done here for today. No one decided whose blood would be used for this fort since the Whent line is all but gone. Let's return and we'll move on to Goodbrooke tomorrow, heading westerly, since that borders the Westerlands and the Lannisters."

There were noises of agreement, with Torrhen offering their Portkey back to Riverrun - a Karstark shield - for everyone to touch. They were then whisked away, back to their headquarters; Hermione would end up with Torrhen, practicing their combat, while Dacey met with Arya and then they would be in meetings with Robb and the other lords while Maege reported back on Hermione's success of the day.

Rinse and repeat for tomorrow; and it was such for a following three weeks, as Hermione and the same group moved slowly along the western border of the Riverlands. What initially took a solid five hours of spellcasting in the morning, Hermione managed to improve down to three by the time they reached the eighth fort - Mallister's - a few weeks later. They had one more to do north of them, Erenford, before returning to Harrenhal's original site and to being moving easterly.

The Mallister seat - Seaguard - was quite beautiful. The area wasn't necessarily rocky or mountainous, or peppered with gently rolling hills; instead, a massive castle branched out across several jutting islands, supported by large bridges. There was height to the castle, overlooking a bustling seatown nestled along Ironman's Bay. The castle was protected by the woodsy Cape of Eagles to the north, and after speaking to Lord Jason Mallister about it, what would be their fort further down. The entire Seaguard town would be bracketed by the two structures, and after further discussion, Hermione suggested adding an underground passage between the two (despite it adding several days onto their projected timeline).

The problem with the busy port was that there was no way to timely process the coming and going of people - especially foreigners - and documents them all with the current Westerosi standards. Placing the Mallister fort towards the south of the town encouraged anyone leaving on foot to travel through the fort, but Seaguard was still vulnerable to a sea attack. It was something she hadn't foreseen when initially planning the defense line, and it was leaving her scratching her head.

Eventually, with some discussion via her mirror, Jason Mallister agreed to return to Seaguard with her to be there in person, leaving his son Patrek behind to represent him at Robb's court. And Apparation jump back later, Jason Mallister was heaving his lunch in a manner more befitting a new sailor who hadn't gained his sea legs yet.

"It'll pass," said Hermione sympathetically.

He recovered moments later, despite a pale face, and stood to his full height as regally as he could - like none of the group had seen him vomiting a mere minute ago.

"It's highly unpleasant," he said in response, but then quickly took stock of the new fort Hermione erected south of Seaguard, his eyes spanning the port and then resting on his home. They had the element of some height by being further away, but several curious Mallister guards who came to investigate after small folk reported a structure being built, were also watching them.

"My Lord," one called in greeting, startled by the loud pop Hermione and Mallister's arrival made. His eyes were wide but he recovered and bowed to his liege. "What is - what is this?"

Mallister waved a hand. "Further protections for Seaguard, Brynn," said Mallister. "The Lady Hermione and I are discussing how to protect the port without destroying our trade."

Brynn, the soldier, cast a wary glance towards Hermione but nodded. "Yes, my Lord."

Hermione and Mallister then turned back towards the port, Hermione twirling a piece of hair around a finger thoughtfully, the other wrapped around her stomach. Beside her, Mallister was frowning. "I can really only see one option."

"Oh?"

"Build a seawall," he said with a sigh, "But that will limit what ships come in and what goes out when. It also busies up the docks and using the name collection to allow passage would take hours if not days."

"What if it was further out?" asked Hermione, eyes cast further out, to the mouth of the bay. "Spanning across - say - those two points?" She pointed at a protruding cliff face from the Cape of Eagles and then swept her arm southward to near them, where, in the distance, she could see another small inlet and grassy beach dunes.

"We can move the fort to that end instead, by the dunes. We'll build a seawall - or, tidal wall, I suppose - to span a portion of Ironman's Bay instead. It'll be more work, and I'd want to embed the stone deep into the seafloor, but we can make the gates large enough for ships to pass through - one gate in, one gate out. You won't use the names the same way here, but we can devise a different plan to close the gates with the ward."

Mallister nodded thoughtfully. "Yes - yes, that might work. The fort would be closer to the mountains and Lord Blackwood's fort. It would make it easier to connect the two." He turned to face her, looking down with curious eyes. "How long would it take?"

Hermione sighed. "Definitely more than today."

Maege reported back with the parchments their snag in planning, and then Hermione said a mental goodbye to a relaxed afternoon - as much as one could relax while sparring with Torrhen Karstark - and shucked her jacket despite the much colder weather further north.

Concentrating, she undid the transfiguration on the completed fort. Each tower at the four corners melted down back into the original boulder from Harrenhal until only they and a series of smaller stones that made up each of the walls of the fort remained. Eddard and Daryn helpfully went to collect the smaller stones to fetch for her, while Hermione shrank the boulders and accio'd them right into her "fort" bag.

"Incredible," breathed Mallister, eyes wide.

"You think that was something?" muttered Torrhen, cutting his eyes towards the man. "Watch her put the damn thing up."

Despite feeling the drain on her magic, Hermione did just so; the spot they had chosen to overlook Seaguard meant that she could see the dunes to the south just as easily, and sending the stones Eddard and Daryn were collecting there was easy to do. The boulders would take a bit more time (from unshrinking them and then placing them and then transfiguring them), but the wait was worth it.

Hermione broke her best time of three hours by shaving off thirty minutes in putting the fort back up; but she made changes, turning one of the towers into a lighthouse with an open brazier at the top. The actual tide wall and tunnel - which Mallister still wanted - would take longer.

Three days later and very behind schedule, Seaguard had a new tidal wall that spanned a portion of Ironman's Bay and only Mallister's chosen household staff knew of the tunnel that linked Seaguard with what they were calling the Eagle's Nest.

The tying of the blood to the ward was simple; a few drops of Mallister's blood - ensuring his bloodline was tied to the fort - and Hermione leading him through the Latin-based spell in the Black family library book she had - er, borrowed - before her return to Hogwarts. There was a sizzle as the blood heated on the ward stone located underground and inside the fort, and then, on a gemino copy of a master map of the Riverlands that Robb had in his war room, Eagle's Nest appeared.

Hermione had taken the idea of the Marauder's Map and fashioned her own version for the ward. It didn't monitor every single person within the border the way the Map did, but it did show the watchtowers as they "turned on." So far, the entire western border of the Riverlands and the bottom southern half on the western side was lit with a silver line connecting them, the ward already in place.

Wishing to regain some of their lost time, Hermione had everyone Portkey back to Harrenhal to begin their eastern leg of the defensive line that evening, after she pushed forward and finished Erenford just after the evening meal.

Back in the south, where the air was considerably warmer, Daryn and Eddard made camp while several others set a patrol. Dacey was going through a series of moves with her blades, keeping her skills, while a group of the Umber soldiers watched, calling out at her and trying to make her break her concentration - and of course, failing.

Hermione sat propped up against a remaining wall of Harrenhal's - similar to the one she, Torrhen and Dacey had crept along when they rescued Brienne and recaptured Jaime Lannister. Torrhen sat on the wall, using a whetstone to sharpen his blade calmly, and Maege sat across from her, the fire between them.

"Lady Mormont," said Hermione, drawing her attention, "If I can ask - you don't ever seem to question my magic. Why is that?"

"The peoples of Westeros have their own kind of magic, Lady Hermione," answered the older woman with a wry look on her face. "The First Men who came to Westeros thousands of year ago had a touch of magic - in their greenseers, wargs, and grumkins. Your kind of magic is just a different branch of the tree."

"If magic is that common in Westeros, why aren't more aware of what I can do?" asked Hermione, confusion in her tone. "Everyone acts like I'm a novelty."

Torrhen snorted from Hermione's side. "You are a novelty." Before she could open her mouth and ask how or why, Torrhen continued: "Magic the likes of which you do - with your wand - is unknown or unheard of by us in Westeros. Or, I'd imagine, elsewhere."

Maege was nodding. "Magic by blood, yes; magic by wand? No."

"What kind of magic by blood exists here then?" asked Hermione curiously, drawing her knees up to loop her arms around them comfortably as she rested her cheek on her bony knee.

"Bad kinds," said Maege darkly. "Human sacrifices. The absolute control of creatures. Slavery and death."

Hermione shivered. She licked her lips nervously and muttered, "I'm not like that."

"Of course you aren't," replied Torrhen, indignant on her behalf.

"Others think so," pointed out Maege, in a tone as if she was describing the night as dark - it was dry and pointed.

"Like who?" demanded Torrhen.

"Lady Stark," muttered Hermione lowly. "I know she doesn't like me. And Lord Glover. Black Walder and I dislike each other-"

Maege laughed, loudly. "Well, that's more to do with your-" she paused, thinking of the right word "-friendship with the King, Witch."

Her laughter drew the attention of others, and slowly the fire gained more attendants other than the patrol who kept their eyes on the darkness around them. The older woman sighed and poked at the fire with a stick, making it pop.

"As for Lady Stark…" the woman glanced away before speaking. "She has her reasons to mistrust anything odd, Lady Hermione. She's a southern woman, and southern folk don't know what it's like to grow up in the North."

"But she's lived in the North for years," countered Hermione in confusion, "She married into it and bore several children that she raised Northern. That should be long enough to absorb the culture and traditions."

Maege shrugged. "Can be. But Southron ways are rightly strange, with their worship and the lack of their belief of anything other than their Seven gods."

Hermione sighed. "Like magic."

"Like wargs," countered Maege, her eyes glittering from across the fire as they bore into Hermione's. "Like grumkins, wargs, and woods witches and things beyond the wall."

A chilly breeze pushed by them, and the fire flickered, drawing the attention of everyone sitting around the camp. Silence descended and someone, one of the Umbers, uttered a swear under their breath that was half-prayer.

Unconsciously, Hermione found herself inching towards the comfort of Torrhen's presence. When she was eleven, the idea of magic to a Muggleborn was amazing as everything and anything she had read in a fantasy novel, and Hogwarts delivered. However, as she got older, she saw much more of the darkness in the wizarding world - from necromancy to Horcruxes, and racial prejudice and slavery - but the magic in Westeros was something she was not familiar with, or prepared for.

"What are -" she stumbled over the unfamiliar name, a burning jealousy of not knowing something burning through her. "What are grumkins? And wargs?"

Eddard, who grinned at Hermione as he sat with a heavy thump on the hardened earth at Torrhen's feet, still carefully away from the blade. "Grumkins are mythical creatures that grant wishes!:

Daryn, who had been setting up camp with Eddard, sighed and shook his head, turning to face Hermione and explained in further detail, "They grant wishes by either crafting magical objects which make wishes come true, or by directly giving people a number of wishes. Legend states that the third wish is the last and must be used carefully."

Hermione's eyes went wide. "Like a genie!"

"Are your genies small and short in statue and steal children too?" grinned Eddard, bearing his teeth and enjoying the startled look on Hermione's face as he antagonized her.

"Er, no," responded a disturbed Hermione. Not quite like a genie then. Where do the similarities and differences between our worlds meet and end?

"And wargs?" she asked instead before the silence became too awkward.

"Skinchangers," said Maege. "Folk who can turn into animals."

"Oh! We have that too," she said, grateful that this one wasn't nearly as bad as the others. "We call them animagus - people who turn into their animal form."

Daryn shook his head, his hair flopping a bit as he did so. "No, Lady Hermione. Wargs can turn into any animal, so the legends say. But I think it's more that they bond with an animal and they share a mind."

"A shared consciousness…?" murmured Hermione, thinking back to when Robb became angry with his men and Grey Wind's terrifying howl that burst through the night; at the strange liquid-like sensation the King's eyes turned as his emotions grew in strength.

Small, low conversations broke through the group as people eased off into pairs or tasks, leaving Torrhen to finish his task and Hermione to herself. She found herself staring off into the distance, south, towards King's Landing as her thoughts turned.

Does Catelyn see me as a threat then? Because she doesn't know what I'm capable of and because I've defied her or Robb in the past? she wondered with a frown. Surely she knows I'd rather crucio myself than harm a Stark! They're my friends. My abilities are nothing compared to the rumours and stories of the North and the magic of the First Men - their abilities and strengths are so different to mine!

Her fingers itched to pull out her mirror and speak to her friend - to hear Robb's voice and discuss this revelation and see if he agreed or not; but instead, she was torn from her thoughts by something else.

The southern horizon was awash with a green tinge.

It was eerie and unnatural, and not even Hermione's wards of silver light would mimic the sickly colour that painted the night's sky. It was similar to the colour of the Killing Curse, and it was enough that Hermione stood, eyes wide.

"Hermione…?" Torrhen's voice trailed off as he watched his friend stand rigidly on the wall next to him, eyes focused on something in the distance. He, too, turned and saw the strange colour that tinged the sky.

Others, noticing their attention, began to trail off in their conversations to look towards the south, wondering what captured Hermione's attention.

"By the Gods," breathed a horrified older soldier of the Karstarks that had joined them. "Wildfire."

"That's wildfire?" asked Eddard, his voice carrying.

The same older soldier nodded.

"What's wildfire?" asked Hermione, her voice low in respect of the horror that rippled off those around her.

"Liquid that is so dangerous and volatile that a single mistake could destroy entire villages in seconds," answered a grim Maege. "Only the Pyromancers know how to create it, and when it burns, it does so uncontrollably and water cannot stop it."

Hermione shivered. It sounded like a terrible mix of fiendfyre and Greek Fire.

"That hangs over King's Landing," said a quiet Daryn, whose observation cut through the group. "King's Landing is burning."

And for the sake of Catelyn's mental state, and Robb and Arya, Hermione hoped that Sansa was safe.


The wildfire burned long into the night, even as the sun rose the following morning; Hermione and those with her had to continue in their plans to head east to complete the seven remaining forts - a solid week of work considering Lord Mooton's seat was on the Bay of Crabs and would want a fort similar to Lord Mallister's. There was no time to think or worry about what occurred south of them, especially if there was nothing they could immediately do.

Hermione was finishing Lord Haigh's fort at the base of the Mountains of the Moon, which loomed behind them, blue and imposing, six days later when they received news about King's Landing. Dacey and Eddard had great fun in telling Hermione all about the Mountain Clans and their ferocious attacks on people they thought trespassed on their land, making the young woman glance over her shoulder at the forested base of the mountain between casting her spells.

Her nerves were already wrought when Robb called her on the mirror, but she stepped away from the group while remaining in Torrhen's watchful sight. She cast a muffliato at the same time to ensure privacy.

"Stannis Baratheon launched an attack on King's Landing several days ago," were the first words from his mirror-self. He hadn't shaved or trimmed his beard, so he appeared rather scraggy and there were bags under his eyes. "We haven't heard much, but from what we do understand, the Lannisters in the capital were able to defeat him. Barely."

"What about your sister?" asked Hermione carefully. "Did you get ahold of her?"

Robb's face shuttered. "She's not answering. I have no idea if she even has the mirror."

Hermione's heath dropped to reside in her stomach. "I'm sorry, Robb."

He shook his head. "Nothing you did, Hermione. Besides - what reports we have is that the Old Lion's attacks on us previously in the Riverlands - the battle you engaged him in first outside Riverrun, and then when you and Lord Bolton retook Harrenhal - seems to have cut his numbers. The Mountain never came to King's Landing, so he must still be in the Riverlands somewhere. By not having much of call upon, as we had destroyed parts of his army, Tywin Lannister didn't have as much of a force as planned to engage with Stannis."

"We saw the wildfire on the horizon though," said Hermione quietly, "I'm sure that tipped the favour…"

Robb nodded grimly. "To the Lannister's, it did. Stannis' fleet was all but destroyed. He did escape, as did several other ships, but most were burned by the wildfire or ripped apart. His foot soldiers didn't quite penetrate the walls, either."

"It was bad?" confirmed Hermione.

Robb nodded. "It was bad."

The two were silent as they pondered what the attack on King's Landing would mean for Robb and his army. To Hermione, it meant that the Lannisters kept their hold on the capital and the largest population center, as well as in essence controlled a propaganda machine by virtue of being the resting place for the King of Westeros. Stannis Baratheon's defeat meant that his position as second to Robert Baratheon - as the next in line to the throne - failed, not just because of his personality (as she had heard), but because he lacked the military prowess to claim King's Landing as well.

Where will you go next, Stannis? she wondered.

"How many more forts do you have to complete?" asked Robb suddenly, cutting into Hermione's thoughts.

"One," she replied instantly. "As the Freys declined any help from my end. They've supplied their blood though, through Black Walder."

"So once you're done the next, the ward will be up?"

"It's already up," confirmed Hermione. "I'm just tying the remaining forts into it. The blood sacrifice is about intent with the blood ritual really as a means to reinforce the idea of what the ward stands for; since everyone wanted to the protection of the ward, their blood sacrifice was strong, and their intentions tied to the forts quickly."

"Excellent," replied Robb, some of the tension in his face bleeding away. "Return to Riverrun immediately. Don't linger in the Riverlands - I'd feel better knowing you are - er, and the others, that is - are back here safe."

Hermione raised her eyebrows at the King's near slip but nodded. "See you soon," she said, and then, "finite."

She stored the mirror away in her beaded bag and turned back to the final additions on the Haigh fort. If they were lucky and pressed, they could even finish the Vypren fort that evening and back in their featherbeds before midnight.

"Alright everyone!" called Hermione, catching their attention and she returned to the group, dropping the muffilato as well. "We have a change in plans - who wants to be back at Riverrun tonight?"


There was no time to rest when they returned; the ward was a visible, shimmering reminder on the map that hung in Riverrun's war room. It guaranteed that Robb's plan could continue forward with the protection of the Riverlands secured. There was no time to test the ward, so everyone was waiting on tenterhooks to see which fort would be used first and the inevitable complaints that would come via raven from others in Westeros.

In the meantime, Riverrun was a hive of activity as Robb continued to press them to return North, to liberate Winterfell. What food that could be spared was placed aside, and then Hermione would cast an enlarging charm on some loaves of bread, or on a pile of vegetables, as well as a gemino to ease the burden with winter approaching. She did this in between casting her portkey charms on the pins, a little over halfway complete.

To her, however, she felt guilt at being unable to dedicate more time to the food stores; but she had to prioritize her time and spells. There was only one of her in Riverrun and more for her to do than possible.

A month later, Robb had called a full meeting, and the Riverlands and Northern lords were once more around the table in his war room.

"The pace will be brutal and long," he announced after several others had finished their reports on their troops, the food, their weapons, and any information on their enemies. "Autumn may have much of Westeros in her grip, but we know that we are marching towards Winter. And Winter is Coming."

There was a roar of approval by the Northern lords and some Riverlands lords at Robb's words. His lips stretched into a tiny, pleased smile as he surveyed them all.

"We are looking at, at least a moon's length for the journey between here and the Twins, where Lord Frey has graciously allowed us to rest," continued Robb. "We will be there for several weeks, conducting what I've been told is a 'summit.' All Riverlands lords and Northern lords are encouraged to join us on the journey; those of you who are Riverlands lords, however, know that you have done your duty to your king and land, defending it from Lannisters and other unsavoury bastards who wish to do you and yours harm. With the ward now protecting the Riverlands, we only just have to smoke out the wily bastards of the Old Lion and end them."

It was time for the Riverlands lords to cheer loudly.

"I will not order you to march North with me, my friends," the young King's smile had dropped and now he was solemn as he stopped and rested his eyes on those who were in the room with him. "It will be your choice should you wish to come north. But I promise to those of you who do - you will find glory, and you will find Ironborn squids to stick your swords into! I have protected your home, now I ask you to join me North to protect mine."

There was not a single voice that did not loudly proclaim their desire to join their King. Their voices shook the wooden beams above and the fire in the large hearth behind Robb shifted and flickered as the air around it was displaced.

At his side, Hermione beamed up at him, in pride, and he glanced down at her, flushed with success. He had fought battles, and won them; he had her help in protecting the Riverlands, and kept the allegiance of his men. Little could go wrong for them.

Robb had to raise both his hands to quiet the room, but it took time. Once the cheers died down, he spoke loudly so that his voice carried, but ensured his tone was pleasant. "The summit at the Twins will be to discuss our battle plans for Winterfell and the liberation of the western coast where Ironborn are raiding. The eastern coast must remain vigilant for the remains of Stannis' fleet, but our focus will be the west and inwards, readying ourselves for winter.

"Furthermore," he raised his voice over some murmurs, "This summit will provide me with the opportunity to hand out long-overdue recognition for those in my service, for their part in a battle, their military strength, and their continued loyalty."

"And what of a wedding?" shouted Black Walder from the back of the room. "Will that occur as well, given that His Grace is engaged to one of my kin?"

There was some embarrassed tittering by those, many shifting uncomfortably in their seats. It was an open secret where Robb's affection lay, even if neither he nor Hermione had ever done anything to encourage it or spoke about it.

Robb flinched at the reminder but gamely spoke, even if his mouth trembled a bit as he did so: "I would hope that I could bring my new wife to Winterfell when it was free of any dangers. There's no point offering my bride a ruined home, or the uncertainty of travelling from battle to battle - or even the insult of doing so, like a common camp whore."

There was a stunned silence, but it settled some of Black Walder's grumbles, even if he was not appreciative of the response. "Very well. But, soon."

Robb nodded his head, slowly.

"Soon," he agreed, although the word tasted like ashes in his mouth. He kept his head forward and refused to glance to the side where he knew Hermione sat. He cleared his throat. "I ask that those Riverlands lords who will be joining us to the Twins and on to Winterfell inform Lord Umber, Lord Karstark, or Lady Mormont at your earliest convenience." When no one spoke, he finished the meeting with, "We leave in a weeks' time, at dawn."

Robb was instantly swarmed with people wishing to speak to him, leaving Hermione to just watch. However, she was not alone long, as Bracken slipped up from his seat - nearly ten down from where she sat at the head with Robb - to join her.

"I assume our quick retreat from Riverrun is partially your doing?" he asked, his mouth twitching into a smile.

Hermione nodded. "I've almost got all the pins Robb wanted to be done, complete. Within the next two days, I should have the rest if I'm working on them exclusively, and we both decided that wasting any more time is silly."

"Oh?"

Hermione's gaze turned back to the young King, who was listening with a serious expression on his face as a Norrey and Ironsmith were speaking to him. The clan and lesser house could only support Robb with a few soldiers, but their loyalty was absolute, and the Young Wolf knew it.

"He misses the North," she said quietly, turning back to Bracken. "He wants to go home. See who is left and what Theon did to Winterfell." And continue to track Bran and Rickon.

Bracken nodded. "I can see the importance in that." He sighed. "Well, I don't think I've ever seen the North in winter, so it'll be a first for me."

Hermione's eyes grew wide. "You'll be going North?"

The look Bracken gave her made her feel two feet tall. "Aye. My nephew Hendry and my son Harry will maintain Stone Hedge for me while I continue to serve King Robb and the royal family."

The returning look Hermione sent him was one of confusion mixed with suspicion. As far as she knew, Bracken had little to no interaction with Catelyn Stark - the Queen Regent with Robb's ascension to King in the North - or with Arya, who was by all rights now a Princess. So what member of the royal family was he talking about? Edmure?

"And," he continued, speaking over anything Hermione would ask for clarification, "I know that Tytos will be doing the same."

"Well, he makes a bit more sense," said Hermione slowly, trying to not offend, "Given that his eldest remains at Raventree Hall and Lucas is part of Robb's guard. He still has three other sons in his family seat."

"Two," the man himself announced as he strode up to her and Bracken, "As I've written for Hos to join us on the way." He turned to Hermione directly. "If you may remember, Lady Hermione, Hoster was the one who helped us lay our grievances to join as allies. Hos is a bit bookish, but I figure he might be able to help you in your pursuit of discovering texts on magic."

Hermione was taken aback by the suggestion. "Lord Blackwood-! That's very kind of you. Thank you. I'd welcome his help."

"Excellent," the tall, black-haired man grinned. It was sharp and predatory as he cut his eyes at Bracken, who was visibly annoyed. "Closer ties between House Blackwood and yourself are always a good idea."

Oh, so that's what this is about, thought Hermione with a roll of her eyes.

Bracken's response was nearly a snarl. "I'm sure that Lady Hermione would welcome some more company of the female persuasion. Perhaps I will write Barbara and ask her to join. I'm sure she and Lady Hermione would like to reacquaint themselves. Barbara spoke highly of her before we left."

Hermione let out a loud huff as the two men continued to size each other up, deciding to leave them to their posturing. Honestly. Men!

It appeared that despite burying the hatchet, so to speak, the two men were eager to continue feuds wherever possible.

At least it's with words to rile each other up and not swords, she thought with a final shrug.


Instead of taking the River Road east to the Inn at the Crossroads, and then taking the King's Road north, Robb decided to cut across the countryside to cut their travel time down considerably. They began their journey to Winterfell via the Twins a week later by heading directly north from Riverrun by crossing the Red Fork.

Robb rode on the back of his horse, Grey Wind at his side as they led the procession. The entire Northern army was joining them to retake their home, but several Riverlands lords had joined as well. Some soldiers were only token amounts, like Lyman Darry who was barely a tween and could spare little men. Others, like Bracken and Blackwood, left only token amounts at their keeps instead. However, the Northern lords well outnumbered the Riverlands lords regardless.

Arya was infuriated to hear she was staying behind at Riverrun with Edmure watching over her as her guardian while Catelyn joined Robb to the Twins. Brienne would remain behind as Arya's protector (and, under Robb's orders, to continue giving her swordplay lessons); even Jaime Lannister would remain behind, secure in his warded room by Hermione's magic.

Hermione rode behind Torrhen on a shared steed, surrounded by those she considered friends in Westeros: the Karstarks (both Rickard and his son Eddard), Bracken and Blackwood, and Lord Bolton. Just in front of her small group was Robb, with Catelyn at his side, surrounded by his guard (of Dacey, Lucas, Daryn, and Patrek), and Maege Mormont, the Greatjon and Smalljon Umber, and Black Walder Frey.

The rest of the Northern lords and Riverlands lords joining them were scattered up and down the line. Hermione had spent the morning spelling carts laden with food and supplies with featherlight charms for the horses and then said goodbye to Gendry for his help with the pins - the last of which she had finished the night before, except for some detachment of Mormont, Darry, and Forrester men.

("Why not?" she asked Robb, over dinner as they remained in his war room the night before they left, his eyes downcast and focused on making notations in a ledger.

"I want to send them around the Twins," he answered.

"Around?" gapped Hermione. "Are they not coming with us? Do you suspect something is wrong with the Twins?"

Robb shook his head, looking up. "No. It's a mere precaution. I'll send them around towards Graywater March, to meet with Lord Howland Reed instead. I'm thinking of splitting the army into two then, to meet up at Moat Cailin from two different sides to attack it."

Hermione pensively nodded. "You're not putting all your eggs in one basket."

The stupefied look on Robb's face made her laugh, loudly. "I - what? Hermione - what?")

The first leg of the journey was short and the weather was clear with sunny, if not chilled, skies. The mountainous terrain near Riverrun alongside the banked Red Fork River quickly turned to lush, fertile fields. The head of the procession passed farmers and small villages preparing for harvests, finally free of being tormented by several large warring armies. They'd cheer at recognizing the Stark banners proudly displayed alongside many familiar Riverlands ones as they rode by until they reached Fairmarket.

While there were clear and sunny skies for them, it seemed that Fairmarket had a recent downpour. The majority of the army remained far from the town, camped out on muddy fields that made everyone miserable. Robb gathered his mother, his guard, as well as several natural leaders he preferred to join him in the town, where at a local inn, they met with the innkeeper.

"I'm sorry, milord," the man apologized, "But the heavy rains we had the last few days swept the bridge right away!"

"How large was the bridge?" asked Umber.

The innkeeper shrugged. "No more than a cart's span, milord. And it was old - very old. I doubt it would've held your army's crossing."

Robb grit his teeth and turned to Hermione. "Hermione? Do you think you could…?"

"What? Fix it? Reinforce it?" she replied, a bit snappish. It was the longest she'd been on a horse in Westeros, and she was not appreciating the fact that she was off the ground for any longer than necessary. She would've preferred Apparating the distance in short bursts, but Robb worried about her safety and forbade it. (She still could've done it, but whether it was going to be worth the anger her friend carried, well - she didn't care much for that.)

"Any," replied Robb.

Hermione shrugged. "I'd have to see what there is to work with."

Nothing, as it turned out. When the innkeeper said it was swept away, he meant all of it. There were no supplies left for Hermione to use magic to rebuild the bridge unless some of Robb's army wanted to become lumberjacks for a few days.

When Hermione returned to the inn with the news, Robb's frown deepened. It was practically a scowl when the Blackfish swore and brought the latest news from King's Landing to those in the inn via their parchments.

Oh, what now? thought Hermione crossly.

"Edmure writes," the man began, his voice trembling with barely controlled rage. "Ravens have been sent to all of the great Houses in Westeros. It seems that there was a wedding in King's Landing after the Lannisters drove back Stannis!"

"The inbred twit married his Rose?" asked Karstark with a jeer.

The Blackfish shook his head. "A wolf to a lion!"

The room grew dangerously silent. At his side, Catelyn paled and swayed, her hands reaching behind to grab onto the back of a chair.

"What?" the word that escaped Robb's lip was a low rumble, half a growl.

"Tyrion Lannister wed Princess Sansa," confirmed the Blackfish, his hands holding the parchment shaking. "The ceremony was at least a week ago, now."

There was a sense of stunned disbelief through the group. Hermione, who didn't know Sansa well or at all - having only heard about her through Robb, Arya, and any Stark bannermen who came from Winterfell - did wonder about the reaction. Yes, it was bad; Sansa was essentially a teen girl surrounded by enemies. Marriage was meant as a tie to her new family - but in Westeros, things could easily change and her new husband could easily die in battle.

Hermione's bigger concern was that Tyrion Lannister was clearly Jaime Lannister's family, and she was worried that he had a similar personality, and would take it out on the teen.

"This may - umm," began Glover, finding his voice and making himself heard in the room, "This may be the best time for you to write your will and define the laws of succession, Your Grace."

"Ou think now is the best time?" snapped Catelyn, turning to the man. "You are not thinking clearly, my Lord. My girl is in the bosom of the enemy! We need to figure out a way to get her back!"

The number of disbelieving stares that were sent Catelyn's way echoed the very thoughts that Hermione shared about the situation. "Eddard, Dacey, please escort my mother out, would you?"

"Robb-!"

The two guards, with half-embarrassed, half-stoic expressions on their faces did as their King bid, leading a protesting Catelyn from the inn's downstairs to the room she was assigned upstairs. Once she was gone from view, Robb sighed heavily.

"I will not be trading the Kingslayer for my sister," said Robb quietly. "There are other plans in motion for her retrieval. The laws of succession are clear; Sansa, married to a Lannister, will never inherit Winterfell or the title of a Queen of Winter."

"Prince Bran would be the next," offered Karstark quietly.

"Both my brothers are missing," said Robb, glancing around the room."While we know they are alive, we do not have the time to find them and bring them back to Winterfell. Arya remains the only other Stark free and safe."

"Princess Arya, Your Grace, certainly has the viciousness to be Queen in the North," began Umber with a tentative smile that had several standing in the room chuckle, as they all knew of Arya's temperament, "But she is barely ten and four years and has no practical experience in leading."

"Then Jon," sighed Robb. "He's the same age as I and has had the same training. He'll leave the Night's Watch."

"Forsake his oaths?" Bolton's mouth turned down at the suggestion. "The Stark name is built on oaths and honour, Your Grace. Having Snow take up your mantle as King in the North while indisposed is certainly acceptable but not as an alternative."

Robb spun and snapped at his men, "Then what would you have me do, Bolton? If all my siblings fail to meet your expectations, what solution is there?"

"Marry," said Black Walder in a straightforward manner, as if he was announcing the sky was blue, winter was cold. "We are visiting my father's home within a fortnight. The terms of your alliance with the Freys are marriage. Pick one of my kin and marry the chit."

Rob's flushed cheeks drained of colour quickly, leaving him the colour of sour milk. He turned his back on his men in the room, staring towards the stairs, making it so that none saw his face. He took several deep breaths and Hermione's heart ached.

Eventually, he turned, his face expressionless. "My Lords, prepare parchment. I will write out my will and send several copies out to you in case of capture."

The terms were written out in Karstark's hand, as he had the nicest writing, and witnessed by those in the room: Maege Mormont, the Greatjon Umber, Roose Bolton, Black Walder, Galbert and his son Robett Glover, and Hermione. When Robb signed his name at the bottom of the last of the three documents, Grey Wind, who had been left outside, howled.

Several jumped at the unexpected noise, but Hermione was looking directly at the Young Wolf, and saw his blue eyes flash - a strange silver tinge to them - and then Grey Wind stopped howling and his eyes were normal.

"Lady Mormont," said Robb, his voice tight, and emotionless.

"Your Grace," replied the Lady of Bear Island.

Robb turned to look at her. "Take the two other Lords you've chosen with you and head North, like we previously discussed. Take one copy of the will with you, as well."

"Now, Your Grace?" the woman looked startled.

Robb nodded. "Now. You have your orders - depart immediately."

"Where's she going?" muttered Umber. Hermione leaned forward and shushed him gently, although it was too quiet for the man to hear.

"As for the rest of us," continued Robb in the same dead tone, "We will rest here tonight and in the morning, and head along the Green Fork until we find some trees to fell. Hermione," he called her name, and she turned to face him, "Will you be able to use your magic and create a bridge for us to cross on the east side of the Twins?"

"With enough lumber, yes," she confirmed, her voice low.

Robb nodded at her confirmation, and then swept from the room, up the stairs with Daryn and Lucas following him. The rest of the group milled around for a moment or two - some, like Black Walder, glaring at everyone - and then they broke away, either to tables for a meal, or, like Hermione, upstairs for sleep.

Although, she was sure that like many others, including Robb, she didn't sleep that evening, as her own thoughts of what awaited them at the Twins kept her up.


They ended up riding through four days straight of an icy downpour, and two more spent in freezing rain while the army cut down trees and Hermione used her magic to help build a bridge for them to cross on day seven. The rain and the cold conditions kept the soldiers from working a peak performance, and even Hermione was having difficulty and she had her magic to keep her warm or to repel rain from her jacket!

Hermione's warming charm on herself and Torrhen kept them comfortable when on horseback, but having to reapply it so many times meant that it was losing its potency and Hermione had lost feeling in her toes several hours ago on the eighth day. She was unsure how the others were handling the weather without a warming charm, dressed in thick furs that grew heavy when damp and leather boots that did nothing to keep the water out.

On the ninth day, they had sun for several hours until the late afternoon, just as the sun was going down. Then, a miserable drizzle began to spit down in a steady curtain, just as cold and biting as the downpour they rode through earlier. The ground was warm from the day's earlier sunlight, and the quick cold rain and cloud cover combined to create a thick, unmoving fog. The Twins appeared ahead of the army, two large arms stretching towards the sky from a thick fog that rose several stories high, shrouding much of the surrounding area.

From the head of the army procession, Robb called for them to make camp several leagues south of the Twins along the banks of the Green Fork, which was rushing by them, thick and white with icy stormwater. The banks of the river had burst their normal levies, and although the river was banked, it was wide and menacing with the strength it rushed by them with.

There was little talk as tents were pitched and wagons unhooked from horses and oxen. Lighting a fire was going to be near impossible unless Hermione helped out with an inflamarae as well as a water repelling charm on the flames to keep it going all night and in the rain. As such, she and Torrhen were walking through the camp, Hermione casting her spells at pre-made campfires like she had been doing so the entire trip. Both were near the end of the procession, ready to head back when Torrhen suddenly stiffened.

"What is it?" asked Hermione, shoving her heavy, wet curls off her forehead to peer into the same dark gloom and fog he was looking towards.

"Something…" he muttered, trailing off. "Something isn't right. It's too quiet."

"Quiet?" asked an incredulous Hermione, turning back to the fog. It was too thick for her to see anything, much less the head of the procession where Robb's tent was. Behind her, the fog presented ghostly figures that moved from one camp tent to another. Other than the low murmur of noise from the camp, the prevailing sound was the thunderous rush of water.

Turning back to face forward, Hermione concentrated ahead. Torrhen's still body beside her reminded Hermione of a hunting dog, ears perked forward and poised to burst into a dash after a rabbit or fox it had sniffed out. Despite her own misgivings that anyone would want to be out in the rain and fog, Hermione trusted Torrhen's instincts.

Homenum Revelio thought Hermione, her wand facing in front of her. The charm burst from her wand, casting no light, and pushed against the fog, which rippled for just a moment as the spell moved through the condensation. Then, ahead, a human body outlined in red appeared.

And then another.

And another, and another.

And then dozens until the entire fog ahead of her was lit with the red outline of humans in front of the rear of their army. Torrhen unsheathed his sword, the steel ringing as he did so. In response, an arrow burst through the fog and missed Hermione by inches, slamming into the ground behind her, between two Norrey soldiers who stared at it dumbfounded.

Hermione pointed her wand at her throat, thinking Sonorus, and then shouted, "ATTACK! We're under attack from the rear!"

That was the signal, as the men in the fog let out a mighty roar and the ground thundered as they raced forward. Behind her, the two Norrey soldiers leaped to their feet, their own swords in their hands and they readied themselves for battle. Up and down the line, deep in the fog, a clanging, warning bell was going off, there were shouts as the Northern, and Riverlands, army wondered where their enemy was coming from.

At the front of the attack, leading the large band of men in gold and red and chainmail, was an incredibly large man, his own sword raised high. Hermione was rooted to her spot as she realized who the man was.

The Mountain. Gregor Clegane. He's here!

Her eyes widened as she realized he was rushing straight towards her, with only Torrhen between them.


TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch

XIX


The alarm took its time to reach Robb. Initially, he was stuck at the front of the procession of the army, watching as some soldiers helped him pitching his tent. However, Grey Wind was pacing in an aggravated manner, his ears pushed back and low against his head, and long, deep growls erupted from his snout whenever he turned towards the dense fog that hid the rest of the camp.

Something seemed... off. Robb frowned as he looked around, turning this way and that. His skin was itching and Grey Wind's agitation was fueling his own.

"Your Grace?" asked someone, but Robb tuned them out, facing towards the rear of the camp. He narrowed his eyes, trying to peer through the gloom. It swirled around the men walking back and forth, carrying sacks or sitting down around blue flames that Hermione charmed.

The voice tried again. "You Grace? What is it?"

"Ssh," he muttered absently, straining his ears. Was that-? Is that a fight?

And then there was a clamor as bells began to ring, first far away and down from the rear of the army, and then up through the line as soldiers jumped to their feet, reaching for their swords. From far away, they heard Hermione's voice carry, "ATTACK! We're under attack from the rear!"

Instantly, Robb lurched forward, drawing his own sword as his guard – Daryn, Dacey, Eddard, Lucas – swarmed to form a square around him, their eyes facing outward in all directions.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, shouting. "We need to go!"

"Your Grace, please," said a very strained Dacey, "Our job is to protect you. We don't know who or where the enemy is in this fog."

Robb's temper swirled and grew from the pit of his stomach, a physical thing that ran up his spine and made the hairs at the nape of his neck rise. Grey Wind snarled, and saliva dripped from between his teeth and down his jaw; Eddard shuddered.

Robb grit his teeth, and turned, spotting Lord Ryger nearby. Eyes flashing, he snapped, "Ryger! Find my mother and escort her along with a dozen men straight to the Twins!"

The man startled but nodded hastily. "Yes, of course, Your Grace."

He immediately turned on his heel and strode off, barking his own orders to men he saw, grabbing one or two by the arm as they tried to rush by him. Robb turned away from the man, mollified that he would at least follow his orders, and then glared balefully around at his guard.

"Keep up, would you?" he snapped at them, and strode towards the rear of the camp, dodging between rushing soldiers and shouting Riverlords, all the while with his guard dogging his steps. Grey Wind kept pace, loping around and streaking past men and around tents until he suddenly paused, nose in the air.

Robb's blood turned to ice when Grey Wind threw his head back and howled.


In those brief seconds, before Clegane reached her, Hermione thought of only three things: the first being: Don't let this turn into a repeat of your first year at Hogwarts, Hermione – there's no Harry or Ron to save you from the mountain troll this time! The second was: Good God, this man is huge! And the third: MOVE YOUR ARSE, GRANGER!

Hermione launched herself sideways, towards Torrhen, and accidentally pushed her magic towards him to shove him out of the Mountain's path with a wandless and nonverbal expulso. While the spell was normally intended for more violent means, Hermione's natural desire to see her friend safe had him landing on the earth with an oof, bouncing slightly as it turned squishy.

Then she pivoted on her heel, facing the oncoming man, and whipped her right arm out, letting her wand slip from the holster into her waiting palm. She bent her knees slightly and then swung her right arm up and around, a bright, vivid red bursting from the wand as she screamed, "Diffindo!"

In a truly amazing display of athleticism, the Mountain twisted his body away from the bright light, tilting his head and letting the spell graze past him, slicing open his cheek as his head rolled along. The spell then hit one of his men behind him, and the man nearly tore in two with the force of Hermione's magic.

In return, when Clegane turned to face Hermione head-on, she saw his eyes narrow in anger, and he roared at her, lifting his sword high to come down on a slash.

Protego! She thought, her wand pointed up and head into the swing to block it. The shield slamming into place in front of her just as the sword swung down. There was a loud clang as it hit, and Hermione grit her teeth, the blow vibrating the invisible shield, making it ripple.

"Die you stupid magical cunt!" the man shouted in her face. His breath rose hotly from his mouth, visible puffs of the air forming clouds around his face as he bore his weight down onto the sword and the spell, sending Hermione down to one knee.

She blinked away the freezing rain that continued to pound down on her, icy prickles turning her cheeks cold. She brought her other hand up to hold onto the bottom of her right hand and glared at the man.

Around her, the Mountain's men crashed into the rear of the Northern-Riverlands army like a tidal wave sweeping an unsuspecting beach, the wave crashing into the wet and weary soldiers. Men shouted and cried, and the very ground beneath them, already slick with freezing rain, began to tint red.

Hermione's knee slid and skid and she fell backward onto her rear, losing connection to her spell as it popped. Without the pressure against his sword, the Mountain stumbled forward, and Hermione rolled to the side to avoid the tip.

She popped up with her back facing the large man and swung around with her wand. A long sliver of icy blue-white fire gushed from it, coiling and sparking with audible hisses as she twisted and whipped her wand towards the man, the thin flame snapping out and catching the Mountain's arm.

The man howled in pain, leaping backward from her. His silver armour was blackened and burnt. The metal was spitting and steam rose from it in the cool air, as the whip as gone straight through to the skin, blistering it red. He eyed her warily.

For her part, Hermione stood there in the midst of battle, watching the large man while her heart pounded furiously in her chest. She panted heavily, her own breath escaping in tiny bursts, hot against the cold air. The flame-whip at her side matched her signature bluebell fire, making it an extension of the waterproof flames and as it obeyed its castor, the fire-whip curled comfortably around her without burning.

The Mountain twisted his sword in his hand, spinning the blade, and began to ease around Hermione, keeping his eyes trained on her.

In response, she cracked out the whip again, letting it snap down just to his left; he jumped hastily to avoid it, and she then volleyed the spell there; he again, jumped to avoid it. Inwardly, she laughed, thinking he looked like a startled rabbit.

"Think you're funny, do you, bitch?" he muttered, sensing her humour in the situation.

She smirked.

Deciding to try his luck, he burst forward, slashing sideways and forcing Hermione to bend awkwardly to avoid the blade while she swung her hand out to coil her whip around. She landed a solid hit on his back, making him cry out and arch his back. The metal sizzled and there was the acrid smell of burnt flesh.

Hermione grimaced and skipped away. However, one of his men raced at her, dragging his sword behind and alongside his body to sweep up and slice her open. Then, Torrhen was there, blocking the man's sword with his own to the point that sparks flew where the steel collided.

"Alright, My Lady?" he hollered over his shoulder, eyes forward and brows narrowed at the dirty and haggard man in front of him.

"Never better!" She called back with a grin, and found herself then back-to-back with him, facing out at the Mountain who was recovering, stretching, and standing tall. "Glad you're here, Torrhen!"

The Karstark scoffed. "Where else would I be but watching your back, milady?"

She grinned, and snapped the fire-whip, churning up a line of blackened grass and mud as she did so. She did it again for effect and felt her confidence grow as the Mountain eyed the ground warily.

"You can't hold that forever," he called out nastily.

She glared at him and muttered, "Just watch me."

Behind her, Torrhen pushed the soldier he was fighting off, and Hermione took that to mean she had to engage too and ducked under a swing of the man's sword that was parallel to the ground, but he recovered from his one-handed swing to grab the hilt with both hands and changed direction, bringing the sword down towards her. Hermione dropped to her knees, and swung the whip, catching the man's ankle.

He roared and staggered, slamming his sword into the earth to hold himself up. Hermione pressed her advantage, backhanding the whip to come from the other direction and catching his right bicep, cutting through his armour and shirt underneath, biting into his skin and cauterizing the wound almost immediately as it dug in.

But the man recovered, yanking his sword and flinging it up and out. Hermione yelped, tripping backward on her boots, and the sword tip caught her hip. It was instantly on fire, pain radiating out from the thin line that cut through her jeans. Blood immediately began to well from the cut and down the fabric, mingling with the rain.

Shit, she thought, glancing down and letting her left-hand press flutteringly at her hip. Clegane charged towards her, intent to catch her other side and skewer her, his sword pointed straight at her to ram through. She turned sideways and the man rushed by her, his larger, heavier body knocking in her and sending her sprawling to the ground. Her wand fell from her hand and rolled away.

Triumph bloomed in his eyes as he twisted on his foot, planting it heavily behind him in a ready pose. He raised his arms in a two-handed grip of the hilt and swung down.

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut. Robb – I'm sorry!

A loud clang above her made her eyes pop open. She was ready to see Torrhen standing over her, using his body as protection, but it wasn't him. Instead, she looked up at a very tall, large man with tattered clothes, parts burnt and smelling like fire, and covered in dirt and muck and other stains. His black hair was long and scraggly in the rain, plastered to his neck and the side of his face, which was horribly puckered and burned.

"Out of the way, runt!" the Mountain snarled, pressing hard against the man's blade.

Unlike many others who would falter, this man met his force and pushed back, the ground beneath his boots slipping and caving in. "Fuck you!" he snarled back.

"I'll kill you!" the Mountain was enraged, his eyes wild as he stared at Hermione's saviour.

The man was unmoved, however, and snapped back, "Not if I kill you first, brother."

Hermione's eyes widened.

Then, the two were fighting, their swords a blur and only visible whenever they struck one another, sparks flying off. The clang of their ringing steel was lost in the cacophony of other steel hitting steel and the shouts of the men around them. The two brothers moved in a tight circle, one always pressing and then backing off, or dodging or leaning out of the way of the sword.

Taking the brief respite, Hermione eased to her feet, looking around for her wand. Spotting it a few feet from her, she thrust her palm out angrily and summoned it back to her nonverbally. It zoomed through the air and slammed into her hand, sensing her emotional state.

I'm not letting you go that easily, she thought nastily, launching herself forward and ducking under the Mountain's brother's arm as he completed an attack towards the Mountain's chest. For Barbara, you asshole.

Hermione slammed her hands to the freezing ground, her wand flat against it as she shouted, "Glacius!"

Around her, the air dropped quickly, and the man protecting her swore, dancing backward and behind her. Eyes closed, from her under her palms burst a silvery light, which instantly froze. It quickly spread, snaking out and doubling, then tripling in size like a growing puddle of ice.

"What the fuck is this?" snarled the Mountain, glaring down at it. It reached the man's boots and began to freeze them. He swore and began hacking at the ice as its fingers crawled up his boots and then his calves. Within seconds, he was unable to move, his feet encased in ice as its thickened and hardened.

The ice continued to grow until it hit his waist, trapping half his body. Despite his size and strength, the man was unable to continue to hack at the ice; his skin quickly paled, turning clammy, and his lips tinged blue.

"What – wha—"

Hermione's eyes opened.

"Fuck me!" muttered the other Clegane; Hermione's eyes were a vibrant, glowing amber, lit from within. The thick sheet of ice that spilled from her hands and towards the Mountain cracked and splintered, creating long, thick shards. The cracked shards trembled and slowly rose. Despite the continued freezing rain coating the ice, the weight didn't cause them to dip heavily; instead, the ice built up on the shards, making them larger.

"For Barbara," the young witch murmured. "For justice."

And then the shards were expelled forward, directly at the Mountain. Unable to move, unable to escape or twist away, the thick ice shards hit the man with the force of a bludger hitting a Quidditch player, jerking the man back as they perforated his armour to the point of sticking out behind him, bloodied.

The man gasped and gurgled, blood sputtering from his mouth before trickling down into his well-groomed dark beard. And then he stilled, slumping forward and bent at the waist.

Hermione closed her eyes again and took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly. Then, she pulled her hands from the ground, palms sticking to the ice and pulling at her skin, ripping some from her. She curled her hands into fists to hide the evidence, and rose, swaying a bit.

At her side, the other Clegane stared at her, his jaw clenching and his fingers twitching on the hilt of his sword – he was unsure if she was a threat to him.

As they eyed each other up, the battle around them was quietening into just the cries of the wounded. Somewhere, a part of her recognized that Torrhen was angrily stabbing felled soldiers, ensuring their deaths and inability to get back up for an attack on a turned back.

Gregor Clegane did not have many men – not more than three dozen or so – but they had created enough chaos that they had ransacked and ripped several tents down, as well as destroyed a few of her fire pits. The attack had come as a surprise, and several soldiers from the rear were badly wounded if not dead.

"Lady Hermione!" a voice called, and she turned to face it.

On horseback, galloping towards her through the fog, Lord Bolton appeared, his own sword in his right hand bloodied. He came to a rest near her, his eyes coolly assessing the tall, scarred man beside her. His sword began to rise.

"He protected me." The words were out of her mouth before she had time to think. "I would've died if it weren't for him."

Bolton presented the man with suspicious disbelief. "And what is Joffrey Lannister's dog doing so far North?"

The man scowled. "Tryin' to live my damn life. Kill my brother." He jerked his head towards Hermione. "Saw this one in trouble and thought to save her if only for a reward."

Bolton's eyes cooled further and he controlled his prancing, nervous horse. "Why would we reward you, Hound? A Lannister lapdog?"

Clegane's scowl deepened. "I'm no one's dog."

"Not even the pretender King's?"

"Fuck the King!" he spat.

Bolton wheeled his horse around, twisting his head and keeping the man in his sight. Eventually, he said, not looking at her, "Lady Hermione, His Grace is asking if you can send the wounded to the Twins? Or down the river at least to the head of the camp. We will be moving them to the castle immediately."

Hermione started. "Oh? I thought we were too far away and too early for Lord Frey."

"It seems that when the battle began, His Majesty sent his mother and a few men to the Twins for protection," explained Bolton quietly. "And Lord Frey saw that we are granted immediate access. He sent men out as well to help with the wounded."

With a sigh, Hermione nodded. Pointing her wand at the nearest injured soldier, she muttered with a flick at them, "Mobilicorpus." That soldier rose, floating gently in the rain, and she began walking until she reached two rather suspicious Frey bannermen, carrying a stretcher between them. She deposited the man onto the stretcher and then headed back for the next.

It took several hours, to the point where she was bone-deep chilled, but she helped with the recovery of injured soldiers and healed what she could with spells to give them a chance of survival. Bolton kept Clegane in his sight the whole time, monitoring the field from his horse as he directed others until all that remained was bloodied, churned up earth.

Bolton's eyes softened as they rested on her, and Hermione knew, as she balefully looked up at him, that she looked a bit like a drowned rat, her voluminous curly hair plastered flat and heavy on her shoulders.

"Take yourself and Sandor Clegane to the front of the camp, My Lady," the pale man instructed. "And get some rest."

Hermione, too tired to do anything else, wearily nodded and grabbed on to Clegane's arm. He started, beginning to say, "What the fuc—" but Hermione spun on her heel and Apparated them to where she had last seen Robb and his men begin pitching his tent. After the frantic fight on the Green Fork, Hermione was ready for some downtime, even if it was at the Twins.

They reappeared in the space where Robb's tent had been, torn down after the end of the battle. Looming before her were two towering structures on either side of the foamy, grey, churning river. Something about the sight of them made her stomach clench uneasily.

Both towers were identical in size and shape: two jutting rectangular, grey blocks of stone that rose from the banks of the riverside. The castles each had one outer and one inner wall, with two separate courtyards and internal buildings for stables, garrisons, and other miscellanies. However, the imposing structures also boasted two very imposing gates: one facing the land on either side of the Twins, and one facing the bridge, guarded by hard-eyed Frey bannermen.

The bridge was thick and long - it required three large foundation blocks to support the arch bridge - and with a dense fog rolling across the water from the north, much of the bridge was unseen; invisible to the naked eye through the fizzy rain.

Hermione stumbled and accidentally leaned close to the towering man with the partially burnt face next to her. At her side, Sandor Clegane was swearing up a storm, half on his knees and he groaned in pain and vomited up a mixture of regurgitated food and stomach bile.

"You fucking cunt!" he was saying, halfway between a sob and snarl. His scowl twisted the scarred side of his face, deepening it and his dark eyes cut towards her. His lank hair reminded her of Professor Snape's: long, limp, and plastered to his forehead and along his neck with the damp rain.

Hermione looked at him, torn between complete apathy that was lined with the tiniest embers of sympathy in her chest. "It'll pass."

"It fucking better!"

Those who straggled in with Hermione, the last of those carried by Freys and other Northern and Riverlands soldiers that were alive were exhausted from the mad battle, several with injuries of some kind. Around them on horses and foot were men in the colours of the Twins, rushing about to help the most injured and a few more on horseback pushing past them thinking to provide cover for an enemy that was no longer there.

"Lady Hermione," called Torrhen, striding towards her through the crowd with an angry look on his face. It made her stand up straight and look him in the eyes as he stopped a mere arm's length from her. "If you ever - and I mean ever - do something like that again-!"

Hermione glared at her friend although her body was exhausted and she was sure it came across more as weary than angry. "Hopefully it won't be that down to the wire, Torrhen, but if you plan on finishing that sentence, I'm going to turn you into a ferret. Trust me, I've seen it happen, and it wasn't pleasant."

Torrhen's face twisted, but he snapped his mouth shut. Instead, he bit out, "His Grace wants to see you." His eyes cut the tall man beside her, finally straightening from his Apparation-induced vomit trip, who used to be a Lannister man through-and-through, and his nose twitched in disgust. "I suppose I'll find somewhere for you, Hound."

"Anywhere with ale," moaned the man as he straightened. "Fuck. Fucking cunts. Fucking witches. What the fuck!"

Hermione rolled her eyes and took off to find the King. Robb was easy to spot in the crowd, the shining auburn of his hair amongst the silver and dull browns and greys of the Twins and soldiers around them, with Grey Wind pacing angrily at the side and snapping his jaws at Twins soldiers on horseback - many of which were, although unnerved by the large beast, unmoved.

He was gesturing angrily to those of his guard around him, one arm flailing back and forth. As she got closer, she could hear the anger thrumming in his voice.

"-weren't expecting to be attacked, Lord Frey! It was hardly our fault!"

"Be as that may," began a lean, hungry-looking man with a slight hunch next to Robb, "You did bring Lannister soldiers to me and mine. Of course, we are willing to help where we can…"

"I need a Maester for the most injured of course," interrupted Robb, donning his lofty "King" voice as Hermione called it, "If you'd permit, I'd leave those behind to convalesce in the Twins and set up camp here outside."

"Outside?" the man - Walder Frey - asked. His tone was incredulous, but his face barely moved. As Hermione approached to stand just behind Robb and to the side, she watched as his eyes swept over the incoming soldiers, some who required triage immediately, and others who were being helped to makeshift tents as they were popping up on the grounds around the bridge and gate, and then they rested on her.

Hermione shivered.

"Nonsense," the lord of the Twins mocked, eyes sliding back to Robb. Around him stood several unmoving men and women, all with the same weak chin, beaded eyes, or high forehead that Lord Frey had. "We are to be… family, are we not? You are to marry one of my girls. Now would be the time to pick one, heh? Like Arwaya, my daughter, my daughter Walda, my daughter Derwa, or my daughter Waldra."

His eyes roved over each of the women around him as he spoke, pointing them out with his gaze falling on the woman before moving on to the next. "What about my eldest granddaughters Janeya and Neyela? Serra and Sarra, granddaughters, are twins, heh!" He sighed when Robb remained unmoved. "Well, then, but first - guest rights."

At the man's side a servant - a steward or castellan, as Hermione had learned over the year in Westeros – stepped forward with a plate of bread and salt. He extended it to Robb, who took the bread, broke some off, and chewed.

Frey's eyes gleamed and he allowed his voice to carry over not just the royal party and kingsguard, but those of his men as well. "My honored guests, be welcome within my walls and at my table. I extend to you my hospitality and my protection in the light of the Seven."

After Robb finished his bread, he formally and loudly announced, "House Stark humbly accepts House Frey's hospitality and protection."

Then, he spoke softer. "Lord Frey, my thanks for your hospitality. I realize that we are… much earlier than you anticipated for our summit, but perhaps - you can provide us with refuge - and men - in case the Lannisters chasing us push onward. Can I count on you?"

The man, whom Hermione could see a vague resemblance to Black Walder Frey in the coolly assessing eyes and hawkish nose, nodded slowly. "Of course, of course. Please… let my women set up rooms for you and yours. We can begin those talks you wished to have later tonight," he offered, turning partially for Robb to draw alongside him. "Yes - a bit earlier than you anticipated, but still… we can make due. I will always make time for my liege."

Robb nodded, and walking with Walder Frey, entered the nearest of the gates. The heavy iron was black-tipped and Hermione, passing underneath it, felt a sense of foreboding that she wasn't quite sure how to respond to.

The outer courtyard within the outer walls was filled with horses, smithy's, and the Twins garrison on this side of the river. Frey was going on about the agenda for their peace talks, and plans for the Riverlands as Robb and the Northern army continued northwards to return to Winterfell and begin their preliminary scouts westward to fight the Greyjoys.

Hermione followed silently behind the two men, eyes on the back of Robb's head and the dewdrops that lingered in his auburn hair, darkened to a deep brown with the rain. She drew level with Catelyn, and absently reached out her other hand to Grey Wind and he snuffled against her side, eerie yellow eyes focused intently on the two men ahead of them, as well.

"My only request is that none of your men bring their weapons to my Hall," the older man was wheezing, as they made to enter the inner wall, "It's just a personal quirk, I'm sure you understand, My - ah - Your Grace?"

"Yes, of course," agreed Robb hastily, glancing around as the courtyard filled with injured northern men and Riverlands men, many who moaned with pain.

"And the witch, of course," the man continued. At the reference to her, Hermione jumped, her head snapping around to the man.

She narrowed her eyes at him just as Robb glanced back warily at her, and met her eyes. His mouth turned down in a frown as he spoke to the man at his side, despite never leading her face, "What do you mean?"

Walder Frey stopped walking, so Robb and those that followed did so, too. The man stared hard at Robb when he turned back to the man. "She carries some kind of weapon, does she not?"

"Oh, ummm…"

"No weapons," insisted Frey, a strange glint in his eyes. "This is a peaceful talk between two allies, is it not?"

Robb swallowed. "Yes, it is - but -"

The stare that Frey levelled against Robb made Hermione swallow back the instinctive desire to snap out a bat-bogey hex. The two continued to negotiate and speak back and forth, but eventually, with a miserable look on his face, Robb turned back and walked the few paces over to her and his mother.

"Hermione - I'm sorry - Lord Frey -"

Hermione narrowed her eyes. She waved a hand around them, and instantly a strange buzzing noise cut their conversation off from anyone eavesdropping as the muffliato kept them in a cone of silence. She dropped her own voice to a low murmur to say, "It seems really fishy that he doesn't want weapons in the Hall, Robb."

Robb, half-confused, glanced at her. "Fishy?"

"Odd, you know? Weird? Strange?" Hermione sighed. "Look - I understand guest rights, I really do. But asking me to leave my wand behind is like asking you to leave Grey Wind outside. Magic is a part of me, just like he's a part of you."

At Robb's wince, Hermione's mouth dropped open.

"You are kidding me!"

"He thinks Grey Wind is going to scare his servants!" protested Robb, but it sounded lame to them both. And he knew it. He sighed. "That he's not some sort of - sort of, I don't know - pet! That one brings in to a Hall."

Hermione was silent for a few moments; staring hard at the man she considered a friend, and maybe, something more. "That's bullshit."

Robb's wince was more pronounced. "I am. Aware, Hermione. What would you have me do?"

"Refuse."

Robb stared hard at Hermione, and she refused to budge down.

"Hermione—"

"Robb." Hermione's tone left no more for argument. "Are you the King here, or is Frey?"

"I am, Hermione, but..." he trailed off, glancing away. His voice dropped. "What would you have me do, Hermione? Insult him in his own home? Wage a war on him as well, with my diminished numbers? My mother brokered an alliance that has me marrying one of his daughters or granddaughters. I've been pushing that off for some time now, and if I do anything else..."

"You fear a reprisal," sighed Hermione, closing her eyes painfully. "I understand that, Robb, I do – but am I not enough—"

"Gods! You are! You are enough!" he rushed out to say, making her eyes pop open in surprise. "Hermione, please – don't think like that. If I—" his mouth slammed shut with an audible snap, and there was a panicked look in his eyes which caused him to stop speaking immediately.

He took a few moments to collect himself, breathing in heavily. He then took a step outside the spell's barrier, shattering the privacy the spell afforded and then said, "Hermione. I understand where you are coming from, I really do. But, as King in the North, I cannot afford to slight Lord Frey. Your points are valid and I respect them. But I am going to adhere to his wishes."

"While I think Lady Hermione makes a point," interjected Catelyn smoothly, glancing at them both, as she had been reading their lips while separated from the rest of the crowd. "I agree that we must observe the guest rights that Lord Frey is offering us, Robb. He is extending his honour and we are duty-bound to respond."

Fuck honour, thought Hermione darkly, watching as Robb and Catelyn began a low conversation about duty, honour, and the deal she brokered with Lord Frey, who was standing rather impatiently just underneath an overhang in the courtyard.

"What's going on?" asked Torrhen, quietly stepping up beside her.

"Frey wants me to leave my wand behind and Grey Wind to remain outside," she muttered back, eyes watching the three carefully.

Torrhen frowned. "That's not a good idea."

"You think something seems off here, too?"

Torrhen slowly nodded. "I'll be on my guard, as long as you are."

Hermione sighed. "Yes, but without my wand. My wandless abilities aren't exactly amazing, you know? And while it seems that I am getting better, now isn't the time I want to test myself under stress."

"Can you fake your wand?" asked Torrhen instead.

Hermione paused, and then a smile lit up her entire face. She exclaimed, loudly, drawing attention to her, "Oh, Torrhen! You're a genius!"

She brought her hands up and cupped his face, drawing him down and giving him a loud smacking kiss on both cheeks. Making a show of it, she slid her wand from her holster, along with her last hair tie from the ponytail she had her hair up in.

Let's see if I actually learned anything from the Weasley twins, she thought, and with a sleight of hand, nonverbally transfigured the hair tie into a passable copy of her wand, pressing it against Torrhen's chest in such a way that both lay flat; the fake wand was closest to Frey.

"Can you keep my magical wand safe for me, Torrhen? Perhaps you can give it to Daryn? We all know how strong and honourable he is, especially since he's staying out here with the injured men to help them during this trying time!" she loudly exclaimed, ensuring her voice carried.

Torrhen, desperately wanting to roll his eyes at her overly fake act, forced out instead, "Oh. Yes. Of course, Lady Hermione. I aim to serve!"

"Merlin, don't overdo it," hissed Hermione, turning her body slightly so her shoulder blocked her other hand sliding her wand into her jacket's sleeve.

"Overdo it? Have you heard yourself?" hissed back Torrhen, but he plastered a bright smile on his face and stepped back, and then made a courtly bow. Loudly, he said, "Oh, thank you, Lady Hermione! I will take care of your magic wand!"

He shot her a look, and then turned on his heel, back towards a cluster of northern men at the far courtyard wall, including one very bewildered Daryn Hornwood.

"Grey Wind," said Robb, eyes wide, flickering between her and the retreating figure of Torrhen with suspicion, "Go with Karstark."

The wolf whined, loudly.

Robb knelt in front of his wolf, wrapped his hands around his wolf's ears, and gave the thick fur along his neck a good scratch.

"I know," he murmured, "It's only for now. I promise. I'll come visit, soon."

Grey Wind whined again, but gave his human a lick on the face, causing Robb to sputter out a laugh, and then turned and headed towards Torrhen. Robb then turned to face Walder Frey, and asked, coolly, "Is this sufficient, My Lord?"

The older man nodded and gestured for Robb to join him. A Frey bannerman opened the inner wall gate, and the two disappeared into the inner castle, a conversation between them on the logistics of the peace talk and summit they were going to host with the rest of the Lords from the North and Riverlands.

The conversation continued, and Hermione began to trail behind a bit with Catelyn, who was also frowning at the men.

"Is it just me, or does that mean exude creep?" she muttered to the older woman. "Like, it's my wand. I can do magic without it, but really? Demanding things like that? To someone who is supposed to be his king?"

"Lord Frey is incredibly shrewd and dangerous," replied Catelyn darkly. "But as much as I dislike it, I must agree with you, Lady Hermione. It is strange behaviour."

"Oh, wonderful," replied Hermione, with an eye roll. "These talks are going to be a real blast, then, aren't they?"

"Be on your guard," instructed Catelyn, turning to face the woman just briefly as they entered the inner courtyard and walled defense. "And keep that wand hidden for as long as you can. We don't want to break guest rights."

"You saw that?" asked Hermione, only the tiniest bit guilty. Her safety, as well as Robb's and Torrhen's, meant she would have done anything to keep her wand with her.

"It was a smart precaution," said Catelyn instead.

"My ladies?" a female Frey asked, coming up to them and giving a shallow curtsey. She was rather plain looking with an overbite that made Hermione wince at in reminder of her own teeth before her fourth year. "Your rooms are this way."

They were led through a series of winding staircases that led up and up. There were only ten rooms per floor, and with the many members of the Frey family, as well as dignitaries and guests from the North and Riverlands, they were brimming and at full capacity - leaving Hermione and Catelyn to share the Stark-reserved floor at the highest level.

Their rooms were next to one another, and Hermione gave the older woman a nod goodbye as she entered her room. The view out of the singular window was spectacular, even though the landscape was despairingly grey, wet, and overcast. There were two single beds in the room, and Hermione picked the nearest to the fireplace. She still hadn't become used to the damp weather the further north they had travelled, and it was beginning to seep into her bones.

Eventually, Dacey joined her in the room, her eyes taking in all the nooks and crannies quickly with a practiced eye.

"Well, it's not Riverrun," she finally said, flopping down on the bed.

"How many did we lose?" asked Hermione, turning to her friend.

Dacey sighed and stretched, leaving her feet and legs dangling off the side. "A fair number, but your alarm brought attention to what was happening in the rear sooner than we'd have noticed. Surprised you brought the Hound along though."

"Why not? He helped protect me and tried to kill his brother," retorted Hermione, removing her beaded bag from her shoulder and placing it on the bed. "Doesn't he deserve a chance? What's he done against you?"

"All Cleganes are bad, Hermione," said Dacey quietly, anger thrumming in her voice.

Hermione shook her head. "I don't believe that."

"Like you believe that the Kingslayer can be saved?" there was a sneer in her voice.

"Merlin above, Dacey! The man lost his hand! No one is paying his ransom or taking the offer to exchange him for Sansa," snapped Hermione. "I think he's having a pretty damn difficult time of it, don't you? His entire world has been altered." Hermione let out a loud huff of air. "Why do we keep arguing about this?"

"It's fun to rile you up," replied the dark-haired Mormont, and she grinned, sitting up. "Anyway - I overheard a few of the other Lords on my way up. We've got a few days of rest before the summit begins."

"Doing what?" asked Hermione incredulously, looking around the small room.

Dacey shrugged. "But I did hear something interesting."

"Oh?"

"There's going to be a feast first before the talks begin!" the Mormont woman's grin turned devious. "I hope you brought a nice dress in that bag of yours, Hermione."

It was Hermione's turn to flop onto the bed, face first. The bedcover failed to hide her groan.


Despite their early arrival to the Twins, it appeared that Walder Frey had everything ready for them, and as such, the feast was planned for the following evening, giving everyone from the Northern and Riverlands army time to rest in their rooms and then freshen up. Hermione wasn't particularly enamoured with the idea of wearing a dress, but Dacey was insisting.

"You wore dresses before," the tall Mormont said, frowning and wondering why her friend was being stubborn about it. "Why are you adverse to it now?"

"Oh, I don't know," replied Hermione, rolling her eyes and turning her back on her friend, "Maybe it has something to do with drama, terror, and horror around every corner? And trousers are just easier to run and fight in?"

"Hear, hear," cheered Dacey darkly, saluting Hermione with a small cup of wine. They were in the assigned shared room and were missing the convenience of Hermione's tent.

The fire was burning in their fireplace, and the two, in true female form, had taken over the space with the beaded bag contents spilled out and over every imaginable surface in the room. Dacey had quickly chosen to wear her usual combat gear but allowed Hermione to make a few stylistic changes in the colour so it was more "festive" (in her words), and by adding the silk to her sleeves, attaching them to the leather cuffs she wore along her wrists. She was finishing up by pulling her hair into a braid, staring intently at her reflection with the pocket mirror Hermione carried, the one linked to Robb, Arya, and Sansa.

Meanwhile, Hermione refashioned her periwinkle blue Yule Ball dress. It didn't fit on her anymore, but mixing the fabric and overlaying it with a few other items in her beaded bag meant she had a working dress, even if it was a mess.

Dacey's pleasantly surprised and intrigued face said it all: a high Mandarin collar from a repurposed sleeveless vest in shiny black silk merged into a tight pair of black leggings tucked into ankle boots. Overtop her leggings, Hermione used the sheer periwinkle fabric, bleeding it from a black to silver ombre in the Stark colours, as a long, ankle-length skirt. There were layers, so the black leggings weren't fully visible, but it was obvious enough that the fabric wasn't solid. There was an ethereal quality to the sleeveless dress that hugged her curves, even if the silky fabric of the skirt was full. It certainly was different to anything anyone in Westeros wore!

Hermione affixed her wand holster on her right arm, the one that hid her wand. There was no way she was going to leave it behind - and even so, her magic would be called upon under extreme duress. She was always armed.

"Is wearing your holster like that a good idea?" asked Dacey quietly, eyeing the leather.

Hermione shrugged. "What else can I do? I don't feel comfortable walking around this place without it, but I don't have anywhere in this dress to hide it."

"What about under your skirt?"

"Like around the thigh?" asked Hermione for clarification, and together the two hoisted up the layered silk to bare her black leggings, Dacey kneeling in front of her. The other woman tapped the inside of Hermione's right thigh.

"Here," she said. "We can use ribbon."

"I can transfigure it instead," offered Hermione, removing her holster and transfiguring the ribbon Dacey held out into a belt-like strap. With Dacey's help, she wrapped it around his leg, high enough that the darker coloured fabric of the skirt covered it. Hermione then hooked the holster into the strap, and let the skirt fall.

"Feels weird," she said, feeling the holster rub against her other thigh.

"It'll do for tonight," said Dacey. "I've got some daggers; can you use some spell on them? I've seen some looks from the Frey men that I'm not interested in pursuing further."

Soon after, the two women left their room, Hermione taking the time to not only cast a disillusionment charm on Dacey's daggers but also her beaded bag, which she shrunk and then tucked into the holster. By the time they got to the second-bottom floor, several flights down, Hermione was fairly used to the odd sensation of her thigh holster.

The Hall was on the second floor of the inner castle, with a third floor overlooking it partially from a balcony and catwalk, which led to the main Lord's chambers. The Hall itself was full, with several long tables lining up on either side with a central aisle facing a raised dais just under the balcony. Lord Walder Frey had a throne-like chair there. In front was a large, free space for dancing.

Upon entering, the Freys and their bannermen choked on their drinks when she and Dacey appeared while the North and Riverlands men and Lords were used to Hermione's eccentrics (in their opinion, anyway), so much so that her strange dress made them not bat their eyes.

"Just grin," reminded Dacey through her teeth, and Hermione did just so. "It looks like His Grace left a space for you at the royal table."

Whatever bitterness Dacey might once have held for Hermione had long since disappeared, but there was something still quietly disheartening in her friend's voice that made Hermione turn to her in question. The other woman just flattened her lips and shook her head. Her eyes were sad though, despite her encouraging tone when she said, "Go. Just go! I'll speak to you later."

Hermione, frowning, set off towards the first table nearest the raised dais, on the right, where Robb spotted her. He stood, his deep blue eyes swept her from head to toe, and there was a grin on his face when she approached.

"You look beautiful," he said quietly, greeting her with a kiss on the back of her hand. He helped her into her seat and then took his on her right. On her other side was Catelyn, who had a sour look on her face, one that eased as she sighed. On Hermione's other side was Lord Bolton and then Umber, Karstark, and Glover; Bracken and Blackwood were two tables behind.

Walder Frey stood, and in his gravelly voice, gave speeches. He pushed a few flat jokes about Robb's upcoming marriage to one of his daughters (or granddaughters, or great-granddaughters) as a threat and reminder of the promise Catelyn made. It didn't endear him to anyone in the room, but those in the room quickly attention turned to their stomach as the food was brought out from a convenient side door, underneath and off to the side of the balcony.

Platter after platter of suckling pig, roasts, potatoes, reeds and vegetables, chicken and quail, any heavenly, creamy soups and broths were presented, their delicious scents wafting across the tables and making Hermione's stomach rumble loudly.

Arbor Gold wine from the Reach was poured, and then the musicians began playing. A conversation began among those at the tables, and soon, as more and more alcohol was poured, the laughter and conversation grew louder and louder. Freys were laughing and joking with the Greatjon, and Karstark seemed to be in the middle of a debate with Blackwood and Bracken. Black Walder Frey was at his father's side, whispering in his ear, while Catelyn and her uncle, the Blackfish, were watching as several more serving girls back a circuit of the room, always passing in front of Robb like they were being shown off.

Hermione tapped the toe of her boot to the beat as Dacey threw herself into the crowd, catching the first man she came across and moved him onto the floor with her as her partner. Others joined her, and soon the floor was crowded.

Torrhen was the first to encourage her to join him on the floor, and knowing that her friend was just as poorly suited to the task of dancing as she was, Hermione laughingly agreed. Together they spun around the floor in the exuberant reels that the North favoured. After the song, Lord Karstark took her as his partner, and then Bracken and Blackwood; Lucas Blackwood blushed a furious red when he asked her, but she agreed, and then she breathlessly decided to sit a few out to catch her breath, a grin splitting her cheeks.

Several songs later, a voice interrupted her conversation with Torrhen.

"My Lady?"

Hermione looked up, seeing Robb standing before her.

He extended his hand, and Hermione, glancing between it and his face, and blushed furiously and shook her head. "Oh, no! Honestly, Robb - I couldn't! You know I don't know the steps!"

"It didn't stop you earlier, Lady Hermione," he grinned, wiggling his fingers. "C'mon - give it a try. I promise I won't lead you anywhere you don't want to go."

There was something strange in his tone, thought Hermione, eyeing him; softness to his face that Hermione had been seeing more and more often.

"Oh, just go," muttered Torrhen from her side, an amused smile on his face. He shoved her ankle under the table with his foot.

Hermione glanced back at Robb. It was that softness that prompted her to stand - not Torrhen. Instead, her friend catcalled over the strings and the brass of the musicians on the balcony overlooking the Great Hall, and Hermione resolutely ignored it even if her cheeks blushed.

Robb's hand was warm in hers, and he gently pulled her close, placing her hand in the crook of his elbow as he led her between other dancing partners, somewhere in the middle of the crowd. Around her were men and women - Frey, Stark, Karstark, Umber, Mormont, Glover, Bolton, Ryger, Blackwood and more - bowing and curtseying. There was a moment of breathless anticipation, and then they were moving.

The strings on the strange mandolin-style instrument echoed in the room and the beat, while not quick, was fast enough that there was some immediate, intricate footwork. Hermione kept her eyes on Robb's feet, glancing at Dacey every few steps. She eased by Robb, following him with her chin over her shoulder as he mimicked her, his steps with a bit more flair and a twist for his wrist.

Dacey, who was nearby, had her head thrown back, barking out a loud laugh and wide smile on her face as her partner, Eddard Karstark, grinned. Hermione felt her heart swell with happiness.

It wasn't a waltz, a simple one-two-three-four, but there were crisscrossing steps and Hermione nearly stumbled - but then Robb moved forward and caught her arm and suddenly they were twirling, like an energetic reel, and Hermione was startled enough that she laughed out loud.

Her eyes caught Robb's and he grinned.

His cheeks were flushed and the grin on his face made him seem years younger - the weight of being a King was off his shoulders - and there, at that moment, he was just another young man dancing, spinning. Quicker and quicker, he led her through the other partners and weaving their arms under and then over the other couples as they moved through the archways that they made, until they were at the end of the line nearest to where Lord Frey sat, glowering over the entire Hall.

Then, he spun her sharply and they were the ones moving under the arm tunnel, and back to the side-steps, a dance within a dance as they were always off to the side of one another, never chest-to-chest, until -

Robb swept Hermione back into his arms, close enough that she felt his breath on her face. He was looking down at her, his eyes focused and tracing her features: the light dusting of freckles on her nose, her amber eyes and she was sure something was going to happen, right then and there in Frey's Great Hall, when his eyes dropped to look at her lips -

Then they were spinning again, around and around, and the room blurred past her but all Hermione could see was Robb, holding her steady and his blue eyes so focused on hers. The colours and sounds of the room faded away, and it was just them, moving around and around, eyes only on one another until the music came to a startling end, and they stopped, breathing heavily and just looking at each other.

The crowd laughed, loudly cheering, and Hermione sucked in a deep breath of air, carefully stepping back and away from Robb. As she did so, she dropped her eyes and watched as her arms slid from his grasp, until his fingers were left just clutching, dangling on her fingertips - a last connection, a last breathless moment of something that happened between them -

But she stepped back once more and laughed nervously, fanning herself. "I think I need a drink!"

And, as she moved between couples and others still on the dance floor, she felt the hard stare of his eyes on her back but didn't turn around. She couldn't - not only because of where they were, but because of who they were: he was a King, promised to marry one of Lord Frey's many children (or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren), and she - well, she was the witch from another world who just wanted to go home.

(Didn't she?)

She ended up next to Torrhen, who had been sitting at the guest of honour table set up for Robb and his chosen entourage of Lords, as well as Hermione and her guard. Sober, Torrhen quirked Hermione a small smile, pushed a goblet towards her across the table and silently topped it off with Arbor Gold.

He didn't need to say anything. He knew - he had seen a lot over those months, the past year, and Hermione took a deep gulp of the wine to hide her eyes.

Eventually, Robb returned to the table, as did Dacey, and a few others. Robb ended up in discussion with Lord Ryger and a kingsguard member, Lucas Blackwood, and Hermione felt the weight of his eyes as they constantly flicked over to her.

Off near the one end, Karstark, the Greatjon, and Bracken were in a discussion of something heated, their faces flushed with wine and ale, and the Greatjon slammed his fist on the table, making their nearby dishes rattle.

Catelyn, who was one free seat over with her uncle, the Blackfish, shot them a nasty glare. Hermione, nursing her third drink of that evening - the one Torrhen poured her -, glanced over as Catelyn heaved a sigh.

"Don't you drink, Lord Glover?" she asked, turning back to the man she was conversing with before the Greatjon's emphatic interruption.

Lord Glover's eyes gleamed in the dark and he smiled thinly. "Never do, my Lady. It dulls the senses."

The Blackfish looked at him incredulously. "That's the point! Anyway, my Lord - are ready you to return home? Once this silly summit of peace talks or whatever it is we're calling it - is over, His Majesty will have us moving back North to retake Winterfell and clear those sons of whores once and for all!"

"It would make me very happy," replied the man, dipping his head slightly. "I do look… forward to things."

Catelyn looked at him oddly, but the Blackfish belched beside her and she grimaced. "Pardon, my Lord, my Lady - but I need to find a tree to piss on."

Catelyn waved him away with a disgusted look on her face, and he stood, Lord Glover standing with him. "I'll make sure he finds his way," he told Catelyn wryly and disappeared with the large Tully.

Now sitting by herself, Hermione wondered if she should move over, talk to the woman on her first excursion out of Riverrun after Robb's imprisonment of her for her actions. With Jaime back in their grasp, everything she did was for nothing, even before the discovery of Arya's location and Bran and Rickon's survival. However, solitary confinement, her father's death, and Arya's return had helped straighten some of Catelyn's muddled thoughts; enough, anyway, for her to join them on the diplomatic summit at the Twins, given that she original brokered the deal.

The moment she made her mind up, rising from the long bench, Hermione heard the music change from the upbeat reels to something more somber. The string - something similar to a violin - began to play. The door at the far end of the hall, leading out towards the bridge, was shut by two Frey bannermen.

"Your Grace," called out Walder Frey, his reedy voice rising across the slow, haunting melody, quickly silencing the room while the music, a single verse of some sort, looped. Robb stood, and turned to face the man on his dais as Ryger and Lucas stepped back from him respectfully.

"I feel that I've been… remiss... in my duties. I've given you meats, wine, and music. But! I haven't shown you the hospitality you deserve." He finished with a thin chuckle.

Quickly, the voices died down at the slow draw of the string as it slowly built. Hermione glanced around, pausing. The heavy, tense air that suddenly appeared had her heart begin to beat quickly, and at her side, Torrhen had bolted to his feet, eyes wide. Catelyn, further down, was staring at Lord Glover, who had returned from showing the Blackfish out, but…

Why is he in chainmail? wondered Hermione, eyes narrowing. Something's not right here… we were supposed to leave all weapons at the door!

Robb stood apart, his kingsguard scattered around the room, some, like Daryn Hornwood, too drunk even to stand, as they tried to understand the change in the atmosphere. Dacey, the nearest, had a perplexed look on her face.

Torrhen shoved away from the table, pushing so hard that the goblets rattled and several fell over, as he roared, "YOUR GRACE! MOVE! LADY HERMIONE!"

Hermione turned and found herself face-to-face with Lord Glover, the thin man impassively staring down at her, a queer look in his eyes. Her eyes darted down, at the dagger in his hand.

Oh fuck, her mind supplied, and then everything sped up, in disjointed bursts of images and flickering torchlight, all overlaid with the same haunting melody.

Someone screamed, and Hermione lurched back, into the table as it dug into the small of her back, just as Glover lunged forward, his gloved hand grabbing her collar. He raised his arm over his head to swing the dagger down, but Hermione grabbed his gloved hand and with her left, and swung her right arm up to brace her forearm with her hand against the man's chest.

The impact jarred her. She shoved forward with her weight braced against the older, taller man, shouting in the racket, "EXPULSO!" and watched as he flew backward, slamming into the wall behind them and sliding down, unconscious.

However, in the time she was dealing with Glover, a battle had erupted inside the Hall. Torrhen was at her side, twisting her around to look her over quickly, and then placed himself between her and the rest of the room, unarmed. A Frey soldier ran at him, sword already bathed red in someone's blood. Torrhen reached back for one of the pewter plates and sent it flying at the man like a Frisbee.

Hermione used the man's distraction, ripping the front of her skirt to expose the black leggings underneath. She grabbed her wand from her holster, raising her arm.

She snapped out, "diffindo," watching as the vicious blue light sliced the man's throat. He dropped to the floor.

Torrhen raced forward and took the man's sword, and then joined the melee, Hermione at his side. Robb was somewhere in the mess, and she needed to find him. Dimly, she was aware that the music had stopped and another noise had overtaken the hall - that of screams, and roars of pain - but it wasn't just coming from inside the Great Hall.

Horror overtook her, and she glanced at the high, open windows that faced towards the inner courtyard. They're attacking us outside, too!

She went to move around Torrhen, but slid on some warm, fresh blood, and fell to her knees.

"Shit!" she screeched, scrambling in the warm liquid as she struggled to rise.

The face of a somewhat familiar Stark bannerman, eyes wide open, mouth slack, greeted her. Hermione swallowed back rising bile and looked up, determination in her every feature.

Someone roared - the Greatjon her mind supplied - and then, without realizing it, she was back at Hogwarts during the Final Battle. Spells flew from her wand, a repeated litany: diffindo, expulso, reducto, sectumsempra.

Blood splattered across her face, staining her ombré silks; blood on her knees and legs from where she had slipped and skidded in it previously caked and hardened to the point that her leggings were soaked and stiff. Torrhen was beside her, slashing his own way through the men, trying to get to Robb, to Dacey, to Daryn or Lucas or Eddard, or anyone else he could see struggling without weapons. The blood that coated him, coated her, and she wasn't sure if it was hers or his or someone else's anymore.

A Frey guard came up from Hermione's unguarded left, while her face was turned right. Torrhen lunged across her vision, physically throwing himself at the Frey, and both collapsed to the floor in a tangle of limbs, grappling for the fallen swords. In between, they punched and clawed, and Hermione couldn't get a clear line to the man to cast.

Just as she was about to summon Torrhen, to yank him off the man, Torrhen gasped and paused.

Hermione's heart stopped.

"Torrhen?" she whispered.

Then, he stood, shakily. The Frey was dead, his neck at an odd angle. Hermione breathed in relief, watching carefully as Torrhen listed a bit to the side.

"Torrhen?" she asked again. "Are you alright?"

The tall Karstark turned and nodded his head, his face almost painted red; only parts of his forehead and his chin were clear - the entire right side of his face was red, and his left had numerous splatter marks. He looked like an avenging god.

"Let's go."

Hermione nodded, and slashed her wand viciously as she neared a Frey - one of the Lord's many sons - and watched as the spell went through his leathers, through his skin, and deeply gouged a line as he was cut from hip to shoulder, a diagonal mimicry of Dolohov's own scar on her torso.

He fell, and then Robb was there - they had managed to cross the frenzied floor. But he was staggering to his feet, eyes wide and mouth pressed tight in a pained line. There was an arrow in his shoulder (the other one, her mind supplied, thinking back to the injury she healed at the Crag), high enough that it wasn't fatal, but it was dangerous enough that it pierced through his tunic and vest.

"The King in the North arises!" mocked Walder Frey, but Hermione had no time for him, slipping on the stone, and tripping over a body.

The twang and snap of another arrow being released caught her attention over the noise in the hall, and another arrow slammed into Robb, lower this time but still near his shoulder, and he stumbled back - they were aiming to keep him unstable and incapable of fighting.

She caught herself on the back of a chair, hunched over, and lurched closer to Robb.

He looked up from the second arrow, saw her, and groaned, quietly, "Hermione…" but she heard him all the same over all the other noise.

Somewhere, distantly, Hermione heard Catelyn shouting, "Lord Walder! Lord Walder, enough! Let it end! Please! He is my son, my first son!" and the man reply. But, just as she was within feet of Robb, a shadowy figure behind him caught her eye.

"Robb! Behind you!" she shouted, but her voice was lost.

His pained eyes frowned at her, but at her panic, he turned - and there was Glover, nursing a nasty looking head wound, but still moving forward, his dagger out - and then it flashed forward and Robb hunched over. She could hear the man clearly - as his voice had a sonorus specifically made for her ears.

"The Lannisters send their regards."

And Hermione screamed.

Someone else was screaming, too, but her eyes were on the redhead as he staggered back, away from Glover with wide eyes and his hands pressed at his stomach.

Then, Hermione was clutching at Robb, and turning him to face her as they both sunk to their knees in the middle of the chaos. His eyes were cloudy, and there was a line of blood around his lips, and his face was pale, but it was lined with anger and pain.

"Hermione," he gasped, shuddering, "Do it. Do it, please."

One shaking hand reached up from pressing against his wound, and he touched the silver direwolf, commissioned so long ago now, on his jackets' over flap.

Hermione nodded shakily, and Robb sank in on himself, struggling to breathe. They were no longer touching. Hermione had her wand in one bloody hand, pointed at her own direwolf pin on her collar.

Their eyes met, and, as they held, she whispered, "Gryffindor."

His eyes were the last thing she saw before there was a violent hook in her navel and a nauseating swirl of colours as the world blurred around them.


The Portkey deposited Hermione in a jumble of limbs in the snow. She landed hard on the cold, freezing ground, what the blades of grass that popped up through the snow were brushed white with frost.

The painful landing stole the breath from her, and she groaned. Her entire body was aching, and she was covered in cuts and bruises and splattered with blood - some of it her own -, her head dizzy from the jarring Portkey trip, her magic being pulled in too many directions as the password phrase word yanked at not only her Portkey, but everyone else's at the Twins - leaving only the dead behind.

The clearing she was in was the one Robb had chosen so long ago; the large space in the Wolfswood that Ned Stark showed him and Jon when they were younger. There were large trees dotting the area, however, and the few who had Portkeyed in had unfortunately fallen into the thick trunks, either groaning with pain or dead on impact. The leaning tower loomed over them.

A groan beside her had Hermione rolling onto her side and then kneeling, crawling towards Torrhen who lay sprawled on his back, his face pale and eyes closed. Around them, there were shouts of "Maester! Medic!" as well as the moans and cries of others who were unused to the Portkey travel. Hermione could hear someone weeping, another screaming out, as well as the Greatjon's loud, rumbling voice shouting, "Numbers! Numbers! Where are our men? Form up!"

"Torrhen?" whispered Hermione, coming to his side.

"Lady… Hermione!" he gasped, opening his eyes. They were glassy and bright, and he grimaced as he tried to move.

Hermione's eyes moved down her friend's face, beyond the blood splatter on his cheeks and forehead and the large amount on his leathers and chest plate, both stained a deep, rusty red. Her eyes stopped, however, at Torrhen's lower stomach, where his hands were clasped tightly, pressing down.

"Torrhen?" cried Hermione, shooing away his hands only to see blood bubble up and seep through a large wound that stretched under his plate armour at his waist. She gagged at the sight of squishy innards.

"A- a flesh… wound, milady," the Karstark gasped.

A sob that masked as a laugh burst from Hermione's mouth. "No, you're right, a flesh wound," she said, tears welling in her eyes. Hermione scrambled for her beaded bag from under her skirt, reaching in and wordlessly summoning Essence of Dittany. "Nothing a little potion can't fix, Torrhen."

"EDDARD? TORRHEN?"

Lord Karstark's voice boomed through the night, but Hermione paid no mind. She poured the potion directly onto Torrhen's wound, but it did little. Hissing where it touched hot blood, Torrhen grit his teeth but a mangled shout still burst from his lips, and Hermione watched in growing frustration and horror that only the internal bleeding around his intestines had stopped, but the wound did not seal.

"C'mon, please," whispered Hermione frantically, summoning a blood-replenishing potion from her beaded bag. She pointed her wand at Torrhen and tried Snape's counterspell to Sectumsempra, hoping it would work. "Vulnera SanenturPlease, Torrhen, Merlin - please!"

"Lady Hermione!" Across from her, a bloodied Eddard Karstark skidded to a halt, crashing to his knees. His wide eyes stared at his brother, and he reached forward, grasping his brother's hand. His head turned and he shouted, "FATHER! HERE!"

Rickard Karstark appeared shortly, watching Hermione as she tried spell after spell. "Lady Hermione - please. Please tell me-"

"I'm trying!" she cried, tears spilling over onto her cheeks. She angrily wiped them away with the back of a bloody hand, leaving a bloody streak, and tipped more Essence of Dittany into the wound. But the potion just pooled and then bubbled over across Torrhen's lower stomach onto the frozen ground beneath him. That ground was slowly staining red.

"Lady - Hermione," gasped Torrhen.

"Shh, shh, Torr - don't speak," muttered Karstark tearily.

Somewhere, behind them, Hermione could hear Greatjon shouting, "Where's the King?! Where's Lady Stark?"

Torrhen's eyes, growing hazy, lazily slid to his father and brother on his other side.

"Father. Edd." He gave them a watery smile. "It's..."

He coughed and his body shuddered. More blood poured from his wound and Hermione swore loudly and furiously. A grin tugged at Torrhen's lips as he heard it. "He'mione… s'ok."

"No!" burst Hermione, the word catching on a sob. She fell back on her heels, kneeling at his side and grabbing his other hand. "No, it's not okay, Torrhen!"

"I did... m'duty," he gasped, eyes back on her. His body shook with tremors. "For - King Robb. For you, Lady - 'Mione." He gave a tiny smile at the sobbing witch at his side. "I'd - do it - 'gain."

Hermione wordlessly shook her head, blinking rapidly to dislodge the tears that were making Torrhen's face blurry.

"So - glad," he gasped, his voice growing fainter, "To have - met - you…" His eyelids began to flutter. Then he exhaled, his body growing still.

Rickard Karstark's face paled to snow white, and he reached forward, gathering Torrhen's upper body to him to rest in his lap. He began to rock back and forth, crying, loudly, "My boy…! My boy!"

Hermione shuddered. A long time ago, another man cried the same thing, clutching his own dead son, on a quiet night just as the TriWizard Tournament ended; for Hermione, it was the beginning of four years of horror.

Next to his father, Eddard gave a shuddering gasp and curled in on himself. Hermione, however, just sat there, clutching Torrhen's limp hand and staring vacantly at her friend's slack face.

Then, she was lifted to her feet, two large hands clutching at her and shaking her. Her eyes jerked from Torrhen's body, just as Eddard leaped to his feet, sword at his side, staring at the man who had her dangling off the ground in front of him. He was shouting something in her face, and she tried to focus.

"-dy Hermione! Where's the King?" he must have shouted at her a few times.

Hermione blinked and her eyes refocused on the large man, the Greatjon's angry brown eyes burning into her.

Eddard was on his feet, shouting up at him, "Stop it, Umber! Stop it! Can't you see she's in shock?"

Hermione swallowed, and the Greatjon reluctantly let her down, asking again, this time less loud but just as frantic, "Where's Robb, Hermione?"

Hermione's mouth dropped open and she twisted her head as best she could in Greatjon's arms, and her eyes raked across the men, picking out several she knew, and other bannermen she didn't. There were the Karstarks, and Roose Bolton was dazedly walking towards them in an uneven line, his face paler than normal and a line of blood still weeping from his temple; Greatjon was in front of her, and Daryn was screaming himself hoarse, clutching his arm with one hand where there was a stump from above his elbow. Blackwood and Bracken were working together to help carry someone between them.

Where is he? Where is Robb? she thought, her heart beating frantically as she spun on her heel, looking for the familiar deep red of his hair, the grey of his tunic trimmed with white, his bright blue eyes.

Grey Wind, she found after a moment, limping badly from a long, bleeding cut on his back leg, and snarling at anyone who got too close, covered in blood and grime, arrows sticking out of his flank.

Robb was not near Grey Wind, nor was he anywhere else.

"Hermione," stressed Greatjon, his own eyes wide as she turned back to him. "Where's Robb?"

Her heart plummeted to the ground as she realized, she didn't know where was he was.

Robb Stark was not with them.


The Portkey was as nauseating as Robb knew it would be, but it was nothing compared to the agony of the stab wound Glover had inflicted on him, and Robb's hand pushed futilely at it. He tried to stem the bleeding, even as he tried to catch his breath. Yet, he only managed to gasp and wheeze.

So he lay there, staring up at the trees, wondering why they looked so strange - he was in the Wolfswood, was he not? Just as he and Hermione had planned with their emergency Portkeys? But something was - wrong. Something was very wrong.

His eyelids began to droop, and black spots crept across his vision as he cooled. So this is where I will die, he thought sluggishly.

Distantly, he could hear something, someone trampling through bushes and on twigs and branches. A light bobbed ahead and he turned his head to focus on it, squinting. Something came close, breaking a nearby branch on the ground but it was on Robb's other side and he no longer had the strength to turn his head. Then, there was a snort and a warm puff of air, and something wet brushed his cheek; there was a lick on his cheek with a rough tongue.

He smiled. Grey Wind.

But just as he slipped into unconsciousness, he heard a strangely accented voice say, "-'ere! Over 'ere, Professor! Back, Fang - back!" and then he knew no more.


END OF PART ONE

Chapter Text

Previously, in The Winter Witch:

By some strange, unexplained magic, Hermione found herself in a world called Westeros. After joining up with Robb Stark, the King in the North, she began helping the Northern lords and the Riverlands lords in their battles against the Lannisters and those who had wronged them. She offered her aid and magic in battle and defense, including finding Robb's younger sister Arya in Harrenhal and bringing her to her brother and mother in Riverrun.

Fighting her feelings for Robb, warring against her desire to return home - to Hogwarts, her universe - Hermione began crafting gifts of a communication mirror and doing what she could to make Robb's rule easier. However, people moved to plot against them: Tywin Lannister, whom she permanently disfigured, slowly going mad the same way his daughter and grandson were; the Freys, angry at her arrival and interference with the King in the North by tying him closer and closer to herself; Lord Varys, the spymaster Spider in King's Landing who has a personal grudge against all magic; and the mysterious M, an unknown figure with an unknown agenda.

At what was supposed to be a peaceful summit of the Northern and Riverlands lords on their journey north to retake the fallen Winterfell and plan the North's defense against the Ironborn raiders, Gregor Clegane and his men attacked them. Hermione, with the help of Sandor Clegane, beat the Mountain in a duel and killed him. Later, under guest rights, the Northern host was attacked again, in the Twins by Lord Walder Frey and his family - including being betrayed by Lord Glover and possibly others. In their escape, Torrhen Karstark died from wounds sustained during the battle, and Robb Stark was nowhere to be found...


The Winter Witch

Part Two

II:I


There was a gently falling light snow. It was a constant flutter of thick, fluffy flakes obscuring the path for several hundred yards, blanketing the four riders in a white fog. Several inches of snow covered the ground, and the trees that surrounded them - the thick forest - were bare of their leaves, revealing nothing but brown sticks protruding from a never-ending expanse of white. Several branches groaned heavily under the weight of the snow on them, and every so often, the branches would lose their load. The heavy thump of snow falling in chunks and hitting the ground reached the riders.

Otherwise, the silence of the forest was broken only by the noise of their horse's hooves crunching through the snow that mixed in with hard mud, the soft whumps of their breath and the creak of their riding leather as they shifted in their saddles.

The four riders - three men and one woman - were dressed for the weather. They wore fur-lined cloaks overtop of leather, chainmail, and thick woollen wear; their boots were splattered with mud and laced up to mid-calf with thick soles. Two of the men had beards, and there was a slight dusting of snow - or frost - caught in the dark whiskers. The woman's long, flyaway brown-and-silver hair also was laced with some frost.

There was no one on the path other than them; their target loomed closer and closer as they emerged from the forest, the snow-covered path they were on turned into a churned, harden mud. Around them was a snow-covered field of rolling hills, with some patches of long grass and bushes popping up through the snow sporadically. Many of those were tinged white or dotted with snow.

Ahead, Winterfell - the home of the Starks and Wardens of the North - drew their eyes. The castle itself sat on top of a hill, overlooking not only the small wood they emerged from but the large, dominating Wolfswood behind it to the north and west. The outer wall, a long grey border, was topped with snow like icing on a cake, and the many square and circular towers each presented a picturesque image of snow-capped mini-mountains.

It would still take the riders several hours to meander from the small wooded forest to the castle, their bones settling in with the chilly air, but they knew that they would not be receiving a warm welcome - there were no Stark colours or banners flying over the towers and ramparts.

Eventually, the four riders reached the massive gates, their slow ride up giving the men on the towers enough time to draw back their arrows and holler down, "Halt! Who goes?"

One of the men, with pale hair and no beard, tilted his head up. His eyes coolly surveyed the men, and without speaking, one gulped. "Beggin' your pardon, Lord Bolton. We didn't see you there."

Roose Bolton let his chin drop down in acknowledgment and the massive doors slowly opened, creaking in the cold. Once they were fully pulled back, Bolton nudged his horse forward. The three others behind him did the same, and together they silently entered the first courtyard off the gate tower.

The space opened up to a large courtyard, the hardened earth flattened by the many feet and grooved where carts and animals walked. Despite being busy, an uneasy silence permeated the crowd that met the four riders. In front of them, on the low steps in front of the castle's main building, stood two people.

A ragged, rowdy-looking young man with tousled black hair, dotted with slowly melting snow, stepped forward with a wide, manic grin. He was all in black, with a leather vest over a dark green woollen sweater. He spread his arms wide as he called a greeting to the riders. "Father! What brings you to Winterfell? Was it my raven? Did you hear the news?"

At his side was a tall, slender woman with thin eyebrows and curly dark brown hair streaked with some silver gathered in a widow's bun atop her head. She stood silently, her hands clasped in front of her long black gown and matching black-fur trimmed cloak.

Bolton gracefully climbed off his horse, his fellow companions copying him so that they stood side-by-side, watching carefully, and looking around the Winterfell courtyard. "When did you send the raven, Ramsay? And to where?"

"To the Twins of course," the man answered, surprise colouring his tone. "Did you not receive it?" He turned to the woman at his side, a challenge in his voice. "Lady Dustin, did they not receive it?"

The woman - Lady Barbrey Dustin - sniffed, cutting her eyes at the young man beside her in all black. There was a scowl on her face as she replied, "And how would I know, Snow?"

Rage overtook Ramsay's features for a moment. He struggled to contain the emotion, and it took several, long, moments of tense silence before he turned back to his father with a grin - although the bared teeth was more like a snarl. "Will you come in, Father?"

Bolton narrowed his eyes and strode forward, up the short steps and pushing ahead of his son as they entered the entrance hall that led into the Great Hall of Winterfell. Almost immediately, he stopped.

The Great Hall was dark, with only the barest of candelabras lit that hung from above, and the wall sconces were dimmed, like the candle had burned long into the night and was at its last wick. There were some Bolton men - fellow bannermen that Roose Bolton knew well - but many were of varying ages, with pockmarks or abrasions on their faces and mean looks in their eyes as they warily stood to greet their leaders' father.

Bolton cast his eyes around the Hall, not moving as his three other companions remained silent and formed a line behind him.

"Where is the Greyjoy?"

Ramsay, who had strode in confidently after his father, faltered only for a moment. Barbrey Dustin followed, a silent ghost with light steps as she took up a place off to the side of Ramsay, out of direct line of sight of the two men. Ramsay continued walking and stood in front of the head table in the Great Hall, where the Starks traditionally sat during meals.

"Oh, he's in the dungeons," said the young man, waving a hand airily.

"As your prisoner?" Bolton's voice remained even as he spoke. "The North has need for him as a political prisoner. It would be wise to give him a room, meal, and treatment considering he is Balon Greyjoy's heir and remaining son."

Ramsay's face twisted. "A room? That squid betrayed his Stark overlords. What good is it for me to give him something as a reward? He's far more entertaining this way."

Bolton's eyes narrowed, infinitesimally. "What did you do to him?"

Pride shone in Ramsay's face. "I trained him. He was a slow learner, but he learned."

"You flayed him," sighed Bolton, a small, tired sound.

Ramsay shrugged unconcernedly, turning from facing them to reach for a drink from a goblet left on the table. "Peeled a few bits. Removed a few others."

"Again," stressed Bolton, his even tone dipping into frosty. "This is Balon Greyjoy's son and heir."

Ramsay gave a startled, hysteria-tinged laugh, spilling a bit of the drink as he spun to face his father. "We've been flaying our enemies for a thousand years. The flayed man is on our banners. Don't tell me time in the South softened your sensibilities, father!" he sneered at the still silent men and woman behind the Lord of the Dreadfort. "Or have these Northern betrayers softened you?"

There was steel in Bolton's voice as he rejoined, "My banners, not yours. You're not a Bolton; you're a Snow." Rage rippled across Ramsay's face. "And these men and Lady, as you so carelessly say - are Lord Jon Umber, Lord Rickard Karstark, and Lady Maege Mormont."

"Stark supporters?" shock coloured Ramsay's voice, and his eyes narrowed suspiciously on them, just as his men stirred around and stood straight, or sat up from where they lounged. A few brave ones drew their swords from sheaths. Barbrey stiffened, her back going straight and her frowning mouth pressing tightly down into a very thin line. "What are they doing here?"

"Helping me," replied Bolton, gritting his teeth. "Greyjoy is a valuable hostage, not your plaything. I wanted to trade him for Moat Cailin - for safe passage into the North from the South."

Confusion filtered across Ramsay's face. "From the South…? Father, I already asked. Lord Greyjoy refused. Savages have-"

"You sent terms to Balon Greyjoy without my consent?" thundered Bolton, his thin, reedy voice rising for the first time in the conversation enough that it startled his illegitimate son.

"Y-You made me Acting Lord of the Dreadfort," he stuttered, taking a small step back in the face of his father's fury. "I acted."

There was the making of a small snarl on Bolton's face. "I did not. I asked a simple task for you, which was to clear the Northern lands of any Ironborn and to take revenge on the attack Theon Greyjoy made against Robb Stark! I needed Theon. I needed him whole."

Two bright splotches of red appeared on Ramsay's cheeks. "That Stark pup was our enemy! Theon was our enemy. But Reek? Reek will never betray us."

"You're calling him Reek?" Bolton reached up to pinch his nose, breathing deeply and heavily through an exhale. "I placed far too much trust in you."

"Trust?" echoed Ramsay, regaining his confidence to take a step forward, his hands shaking at his side. "You sent a raven with instructions to clear Winterfell of the Ironborn with Dustin and Ryswell. I did so! You wanted Theon Greyjoy as a prisoner. I made it happen!" His voice rose with each admission. "We received a raven with news that Tywin Lannister had something planned to kill Robb Stark - or at least, severely wound him if rumours are true - when he reached the Freys at the Twins. All we had to do was hold Winterfell and the Boltons would be Wardens of the North once more! The true Kings of Winter! And I did!"

Bolton shut his eyes at the ringing confession his son shouted out.

"Oh, Ramsay," he sighed. "You utter, complete, fool."

No sooner than Bolton's voice finished, did a cold breeze sweep the room and extinguish the too little flickering lights in the Great Hall.

"What-?" Ramsay stuttered out.

In the darkness, there was the sound of the men - Ramsay's - drawing their swords and standing in the uneasy silence for a few tense heartbeats. And then -

"What the-?!"

A shining whip of blue flame erupted in the dark. It highlighted the pale, horrified face of one of Ramsay's men, just as it caught him, cutting through him horizontally and splitting him in two; just as quickly, the flame disappeared.

There was a quick sequence of multiple pops, loud cracks followed by several screams, timed very suspiciously to bright red jets of light that appeared from different parts of the room.

A gurgle near Ramsay was accompanied by the wet rasp of blood clogging someone's throat as they tried to breathe.

And silence.

With the same cold breeze, light returned to the Great Hall - but this time, all the candles were lit; the Hall burst into bright, warm light that was antithetical to the scene before the four riders. The men who had drawn their swords lay scattered where they stood. A few were ripped in two, without a drop of blood as their wounds had cauterized from the bright flaming whip. Others had their throats slashed, but the cut was clean, cleaner than any blade, and the last man had a giant icicle pushing up through his chest, having burst from the floor. That man was hanging limply over the slowly melting ice, the water mixing with the dark red of his blood.

Lady Barbrey was trembling, eyes wide and her mouth open in a silent scream - the very voice was stolen from her - as she yanked and frantically pulled on the heavy, frozen fabrics of skirts where ice encased her up to her knees, holding her in her spot by the head table. She kept darting her eyes around the room, from the dead, bloodied bodies to Ramsay.

Ramsay, however, was entire frozen except for his head, ice hanging off him and thick. His eyes darted back and forth frantically as he took stock of his men in the room; those Bolton men who had not drawn their swords stood just as frozen, but that was by pure terror.

Standing in front of him was a young woman with bright amber eyes and thick, curly brown hair half-pulled back, and the rest cascading down her back. She wore a strange outfit: a black overcoat with long sleeves and an open v-neck that revealed a shiny and tight grey undershirt. The coat itself was unique that it split open at the front of the woman's waist, encircled by a wide belt. The coat was trimmed with grey fur - wolf fur. Underneath the coat, she had tight black trousers, like a man, and matching black boots that ended at her knees.

She had a wooden stick in the palm of one hand, and Ramsay knew instantly who she was. That, and her expression, sent chills down Ramsay's spine.

"W-Witch," he stuttered, from the cold (and not fear, his mind stubbornly whispered). His lips were beginning to tinge blue.

"Ramsay Snow," the woman began, her voice cool.

Familiar rage suffused the man, and it warmed his chilled blood - but only just. Irrational hate overrode any potential of common sense. "Tell me, witch - how fares Robb Stark? Where is the Wolf King now?"

Something flickered in her expression, and she raised her wand. A wordless spell burst from it, sailing through the air and hitting Ramsay's right arm, covered in ice. It shattered, splitting off into tiny specks of snow-dust. The temperature from the ice froze Ramsay's limb to the point that shattering also removed it, leaving the wound frozen shut, preventing blood loss.

Ramsay howled. "YOU CUT OFF MY ARM! YOU TORE IT OFF! YOU DID THIS!"

"You betrayed Robb."

He looked up, tears in his eyes as he tried to process the cool voice. Then, he snarled, "I would do it again, you bit-"

Another spell and his other arm encased in ice shattered. Ramsay began cursing, screaming, spittle flying from his mouth.

"I have two more limbs to go; it would be best if you answered my questions," said the witch.

Barbrey, also encased, had tears streaming down her pale cheeks; and although no one could hear her, she was hiccupping, gasping for air and on the verge of a panic attack as she watched the witch coolly dismember Ramsay Snow in Winterfell's Great Hall while the man's father stood by and watched.

"Lord Karstark, Lord Umber," directed Bolton quietly without turning his eyes from the spectacle in front of him, "Please bar the doors from anyone entering."

The two men silently did as told, turning on their boots and moving to the door, which had already been shut after Ramsay entered it to keep the cold out. However, they dropped a heavy wooden beam to secure the room. Its dull thud resonated and shook Ramsay - like it was the sound of his judge, jury, and executioner signalling their position and readying for his end.

"What? What do you want to know?" he snapped through his pain, pale eyes staring her down.

"Why did you take Tywin Lannister's offer?"

Ramsay snarled. "Why not? The Boltons used to be Kings! We could've been kings again!"

He directed the last part at his father. Behind the witch, Bolton stepped forward, until he was just an arm's length behind her, at her right. The curly-haired witch turned her head towards her shoulder, slightly, although her eyes never left the man encased in ice.

She spoke directly to the young black-haired bastard. "Who else was involved in the conspiracy? You - Lady Dustin-" Barbrey's already pale face went snow-white and she swayed in her spot. "Who else?"

When Ramsay just stared mulishly at her, she raised her wand again and cast the same spell, this time hitting his left leg. Ramsay's scream rang from the rafters, his entire body's weight balanced on his remaining limb and precariously teetering. He remained upright only due to the stiff, thick ice.

"Father!" cried Ramsay, tears on his face as well as snot. "Father - please!"

"Ramsay," said the man quietly. "Who else?"

"I don't know!"

"Ramsay."

"I don't know! I don't! By the Old Gods, I don't!"

The witch sighed. "I have one more leg, but I don't fancy the idea of shattering his chest to pieces once that fails."

At the threat, Ramsay's wet breaths shuddered.

She raised her wand once more.

And Ramsay blurted, "The Freys! Ryswell! Vypren! Glover! Dustin! We were all given orders, ravens from King's Landing. From the Old Lion!"

The young woman lowered her wand slowly until the tip pointed at the floor. Ramsay let out a heavy sigh of relief.

It's nearly over, he thought. I'm safe.

"Is that all?" asked his father, coolly.

Ramsay nodded, bobbing his head quickly. "Yes - Yes, that's all. I swear."

Bolton paused for a moment and then dipped his head. "Very well."

He turned from his son, removing his eyes from him for the first time since they entered the room. He faced the black-dressed witch, and said, quietly, "As you will it, my Lady."

"Father - what -" but Ramsay never learned why his father turned from him. Why he turned to look at the strange magical woman, who raised her wand one last time and said in a fury-tinged voice, "Reducto."


Hermione burnt the remains of the dead while Barbrey, nearly catatonic in shock, watched. The stench was growing familiar, but a blast of wind swept it away, out the now open doors. Although some acrid smell lingered, the Great Hall in Winterfell was free - liberated - once more from those who didn't want it preserved for the Starks.

She stood under one large candelabra, interlocking silver and pewter chains, looking around the large hall, slightly lost now that she disposed of Ramsay - one of the collaborators who orchestrated the attack at the Twins. Bolton moved to her side, watching her carefully.

Hermione sighed. "I'm sorry about your son."

"Domeric was my son. Ramsay killed him."

Hermione turned to face the older man. His face remained stoic, but in the tightness next to his eyes and the dull colour to them, she read his pain. "I'm still sorry."

He inclined his head, hands clasped behind his back. Maege and Karstark walked up to them, Umber barely a step behind. He was shaking snow from his shoulders and hair.

"I sealed the main gates," the large man announced. "Made those inside the courtyard skittish as a new foal, but I figure you can go out and deal with them later, eh, Bolton?"

The man nodded, shortly.

Greatjon sighed, a deep and loud sound that all felt deep in their bones. He cast his gaze around the Hall, looking at it with dismayed eyes. "He was supposed to be here for this."

The mood took a further plunge. Hermione turned her face away and rolled her bottom lip into her mouth, biting down hard on it to stop it from trembling. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused on taking a deep breath.

Robb is a strong King, she told herself. You can be strong in his place. For his people. Until he's back. Do what he would have wanted done.

Turning back to face the others, Hermione cleared her throat. "Right, well. Let's move on, shall we? Lord Bolton, if you and Lord Umber could gather those remaining and… I suppose see if they are more Ramsay's men than yours?"

The two men nodded and left.

"Lady Mormont, Lord Karstark," Hermione turned to the two others, the latter stood a bit straighter at being spoken to, "Let's gather the servants and see if we can get some guest rooms and a meal - something simple - prepared. Then, if all goes well, we'll start Portkeying people over and give the clear for the army to move to Winterfell."

Maege nodded. "Yes," she said, quirking her thin lips. "Winter is Coming, as the Starks like to say." She then took off in a direction, which Hermione assumed meant she knew where she was going.

"At once, Lady Hermione," said Karstark, his voice firm. He dipped his head as he left, and spun on his heel in another direction, leaving Hermione alone in the Great Hall.

Winter is Coming, my arse, thought Hermione moodily, meandering down the large center aisle that separated several long wooden tables.

The Great Hall was similar to Hogwarts' Hall layout: there were four long tables vertically parallel to one another, but two on each side of the room separated by the center aisle. The Starks used no dais like others, but rather a long Head table, like Hogwarts. However, the main difference was that at the end of the hall, there were four horizontal smaller rows of tables. Those tables were shrouded partially in darkness due to their somewhat removed location, far from the chandeliers and wall sconces.

While there was no enchanted ceiling above her, or floating candles that dripped wax, or owls delivering mail in the morning, the Winterfell Great Hall felt like home. Tension began to lift from Hermione's shoulders, and she let her hand trail down the smooth wood until she reached the Head table.

She gazed upon it, picking out the main two seats where Eddard and Catelyn Stark would sit; were you on your father's right, Robb? She wondered, her eyes lingering on the empty chair. There's so much I don't know about you right now. Things I wish I did. I wish you were here.

"Lady Hermione?"

Hermione turned at the call, plastering a pleasant, placid look on her face. "Lord Karstark?"

"We're ready to begin the process of moving the injured to Winterfell's courtyard. I believe a few of the other Lords wish to speak to you, about the coming winter and plans to secure the castle," he continued.

Hermione sighed, leaving one last longing look at the table. She then strode down the aisle towards the man. "Very well. I suppose we can safely say that winter is here."

"Indeed, my Lady."

"And where's Theon Greyjoy?" she asked, reaching Karstark's side.

A ripple of disgust spread across Karstark's face. "Dungeons. He's refusing to come out."

Hermione stopped and blinked up at him. "I beg your pardon?"

Karstark looked like he very much wanted to shift uncomfortably, but instead, his mouth turned down into a scowl. "We tried to have some of the Bolton guards pry him out, but he began to scream bloody murder. They dropped him and he retreated to the darkest corner of his cell."

Hermione's eyebrows pinched. "I… see." She shook her head slightly. "Who else is here?"

Thrown by her change in topic, Karstark fumbled for a moment and then sputtered out, "Mallister, and Cerwyn. And of course," he sighed, "Bracken and Blackwood. They wouldn't stay away."

"In the courtyard?"

Karstark nodded, and Hermione began walking back the way they came in, Karstark on her heels. "It's the largest area within Winterfell, even though they Portkeyed in and walked from outside the gates - calling loudly to be let in - they just decided not to wait."

Hermione tossed a small grin at Karstark. "Can you blame them? Or anyone else? We've been planning this for weeks now. And that broken tower could barely suffice to keep any of us warm and healthy as the snow came in."

Karstark sighed. "Yes - but -"

Out in the courtyard, the four men whom Karstark named stood in a row, although they were facing different directions. Bracken and Blackwood were looking towards Hermione when she exited the Great Hall, but Cerwyn was barking orders to the small collection of guards he brought along with him, as, having visited Winterfell before and being a nearby Lord, he knew the area; whereas Mallister stood calmly, with his hands clasped behind his back as he coolly surveyed the gently fluttering Bolton banners hanging off the ramparts.

Bracken spoke first, loudly, drawing their attention. "Lady Hermione!"

Hermione, pleased to see a friendly face, smiled. "Lord Bracken." She turned to the others. "Lord Blackwood, Lord Mallister, Lord Cerwyn. Welcome to Winterfell. As you can see, Lady Mormont and Lords Bolton, Umber, and Karstark were successful."

"Excellent news, my Lady," greeted Clay Cerwyn, his riotous black curls bobbing as he inclined his head to her in respect. "Should we send a message back to the others to arrive?"

Hermione turned to Karstark. "It's your decision, Lord Karstark. Is Winterfell habitable for what remains of our army?"

He nodded, slowly and thoughtfully, his gaze turned inward. "Yes... I believe so. There might be some changes we need to address as they occur, but we can start moving people into Winterfell."

Turning back to Cerwyn, Hermione said, "Can I borrow some of your men, Lord Cerwyn?"

The man's narrow face lengthened as he frowned. "Of course… but why…?"

"Theon Greyjoy is in the dungeons and the Bolton men can't get him out without him being scared of them," she replied shortly.

Understanding dawned on his face, and shortly thereafter, Karstark was leading Hermione to the dungeons with four Cerwyn men-at-arms behind her. The lower they went, the damper the air became, and the outside autumn chill that teased of a bitter winter began to make itself known far underground. The very breath from their lungs turned frosty with each step they took down long, winding stairs until they opened to the dungeons proper, jail cells on either side.

One cell had several slobbering, snarling dogs with matted fur, barking loudly at them as they strode past. Their eyes were wild and their muzzles bloody and Hermione's stomach turned at the thought of what Ramsay kept them for.

Other cells were occupied with shivering, huddled figures in torn and dirty clothes. The scent of unwashed bodies, urine, and others had Hermione wandlessly and nonverbally casting a Bubblehead charm, filtering out the smells for fresh air.

There seemed to be some spell - not a real one, but a presence - meant to keep people from talking, as the small group kept silent until they reached another cell, where a single Bolton guard was staring into its depths with a scowl on his hardened face.

"He still hasn't moved?" asked Karstark as they approached, his voice modulated to keep slightly hushed.

The Bolton guard shook his head. "He's stopped whimpering and crying now, milord, but if I take a step into the cell, it starts up again."

Hermione peered into the gloom, trying to spot Theon Greyjoy. What did he look like? Was he another Draco Malfoy, tall and arrogant, with a pointy chin and smirk on his lips as he watched his chaos? Was he at all bitter at what he did, how he betrayed Robb? Or - according to the guards - was he a shell of a man who was once that way?

In the meantime, Karstark had dismissed a very relieved Bolton guard, who quickly disappeared back up the dungeon steps. Curiosity overtook Hermione and she stepped up to the door of the cell, its metal gate swung open inwards. Scattered hay on the floor mixed with brown spots of mouse droppings and Hermione nudged at some of it with the toe of her boot.

"Lights, men?" she requested, and two Cerwyn guards grabbed nearby torches from the wall sconces and held them up and aloft.

The light spilled into the cell, and, then, eventually, Hermione spied the huddled figure in the far corner, curled protectively around itself. The light hit on scuffed brown boots; stained trousers and what was once a green shirt but was now torn and bloody, as well as loose on the man's frame.

Hermione stepped forward, one Cerwyn guard following just a step behind so that the torch lit on the man's face. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut, his golden-brown hair was greasy and lank, and there was a beard, a shade darker than his hair, covering his chin and cheeks. There was gauntness to his face, sickly pale, which Hermione did not like.

"Theon?" she asked.

The man whimpered and curled tighter.

Hermione inched forward, and when the guard attempted to, she waved him off without moving her eyes from the Greyjoy heir. "Theon, Ramsay is dead. You have nothing to fear from him anymore."

There was a shuffle behind her, and Hermione could picture in her mind Karstark's silent scoff and eye roll - the North would likely want retribution but Hermione wanted answers first.

At Ramsay's name, Theon shuddered violently. He began mumbling something under his breath.

"Theon?"

"No! No! You can't trick me!" he muttered, his voice high pitched and coming out quick. "I'm Reek! Reek!"

Hermione frowned. Reek? She mouthed in confusion.

"Trick you? Trick you, how?"

But Theon reached up and grabbed fistfuls of his hair, clutching at it and shaking his head back and forth. "No! Tell him! Tell him you couldn't trick me!"

"My Lady," began one of the guards, tentatively, "Is he even… all there in the head?"

"By the Gods," muttered another, "What did the Bolton bastard do?"

Hermione ran her eyes over what she could see of Theon's body, and while he was whole, despite what Ramsay implied, it was clear he had been scarred in others way. A cold wave washed over Hermione, and she was vividly reminded of her own torture at Bellatrix's wand. The woman scarred her eventually, but the phantom pain of the Cruciatus didn't leave physical marks and the young witch wondered if Ramsay had been clever enough to do something similar.

Theon was still muttering, rocking slightly when Hermione withdrew her wand and snapped out a soft stupefy. He blissfully fell silent, but his frame remained tense even when unconscious.

"Let's get him to a bedroom and keep him under constant watch," said Hermione, turning to the two guards not holding the torches. "It's entirely possible he could be suicidal, and I want him kept alive. The spell will last more than long enough for you to bring him upstairs safely."

The two Cerwyn guards nodded their understanding and shuffled into the cell, lifting Theon between them and then quickly disappeared, following her orders.

"You plan to keep him alive?" asked Karstark quietly, as the guards holding the torches returned them to their sconces.

Hermione nodded, that cold wave burning through her. "One, to learn what happened when he sacked Winterfell, and then to learn why he betrayed Robb."

Karstark nodded in satisfaction, although Hermione knew he was eager for more justice. She was the last out of the cell. Karstark faced forward, looking towards any perceived danger coming down their only route back up to the main levels of Winterfell. He was ready to fall into step alongside, or as he and the other Lords had been doing lately, just behind her as she emerged from the cell.

As they walked past the braying dogs, Hermione turned to Karstark and said calmly - although every bit furious and hiding it -, "We should also have someone come down here and deal with those, as well."

"Yes, my Lady."

Neither looked back, but if they had - they would have noticed the dogs' whimpers and them falling silent, and have seen the creeping frost and ice that built up in Theon's old cell. They would have seen the trail of glittering ice that followed them to the stairs, only to quickly turn to water, leaving nothing but wet spots on an already damp stone floor.


TBC...


 

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch

II:II


Three months earlier...

Robb's eyes fluttered as he came to, a slight moan escaping his lips. His body felt sore, but he wasn't dead - so that was a positive. His eyes opened and he took in the bright, light and airy space; his hand, lying at his side, smoothed over incredibly soft fabric.

He was on a small bed, with a strange metal frame. There were white curtains around him, but not from a poster bed; they were just fabric dividers between himself and, as he turned his head, to the empty bed next to him. There were four other beds to his right, reaching the end of the room. There, a large open window gave a tantalizing glimpse of beyond. The sun was shining, there was a mountain range in the distance, and he could see the gently shifting leaves of trees in full summer bloom. The air that wafted in from outside was warm and sweet, and there were calls of birds chirping and singing.

Outside the ward he was in, it was the throes of summer; but when he was at the Twins for the summit, reports of snowfall in the North had trickled in from the White Harbour. Had he lost that much time?

Robb turned his head to the left this time and nearly startled himself off the bed. A young, lean man with messy black hair was slumped in a chair at his table's side, his chin touching his chest as soft snores escaped him every so often. His arms were crossed, and his legs were straight in front of him, one ankle resting on the other.

His clothes were the oddest, Robb decided, eyeing him warily. He had blood red over robes, which were open and pooling on the floor, but underneath he wore a nicely pressed black tunic of some sort with buttons running up the middle tucked into his trousers, which were similar to Lady Hermione's "jeans."

"Poppy! Madame Pomfrey!" a voice across from Robb called loudly, and the man snorted and then was immediately out of his seat, emerald eyes wide behind strangle circular frames and a wand in his hand as he scanned for danger, "The man is awake! As is Auror Potter!"

The man - Auror Potter - turned to Robb, who remained on the bed, warily eyeing him back. There was something familiar about the man, something that had Robb thinking he had seen him before or heard his name before, but as far as he knew, there were no Potters in the North or the Riverlands.

Robb turned back to the male voice that called for the Maester, and Robb's eyes went wide as he realized the call came from a large portrait of a man in a lime green robe next to a cauldron. Auror Potter's eyes followed his, and he stifled a laugh.

"Yeah, the portraits move," he said with a soft sigh. He ran a hand through his messy hair, making it worse, just as a woman in white robes over a strangely scandalous white dress that ended at her knees appeared behind one of the cloth partitions. She was much older, with a shock of white, curly hair pulled neatly back from her face. She too was carrying a wand.

"Mr. Potter," she admonished, "You were to call me when our patient awoke."

"He was asleep!" helpfully called the man in the portrait, causing the woman to glare at the man.

Potter looked sheepish and dipped his head, grinning up at the woman - Madam Pomfrey - who sighed loudly.

"Trouble you are," she said, although fondly. She turned back to Robb, waving her wand over him. Having spent time with Hermione, he didn't move, but he did tense slightly. Potter noticed this.

"Been around magic, have you?" he questioned, eyes narrowing.

"You carry wands," said Robb unnecessarily. "Like Lady Hermione?"

The man tensed and Madame Pomfrey stopped waving her wand over his body. Robb swallowed.

"Lady Hermione?" repeated Potter, a steely note in his voice.

Robb nodded, slowly. "This…" he looked around, taking in the high ceilings but the moving portraits, the wands in Potter and Pomfrey's hands, the strange thrum in the air, and finished, "This is Hogwarts, is it not?"

Potter and Pomfrey shared a glance. Potter then said, "It is. How do you know that?"

"Lady Hermione told me about it," said Robb cautiously, the memories coming to him quickly now. Auror Potter was Harry Potter, one of Hermione's best friends.

"And where is Lady Hermione now?" snapped Potter, leaning forward over the bed to lean close to Robb's face. "What have you done with her? Where is she? If you've hurt her-!"

"Mr. Potter!" snapped Pomfrey, physically shoving him back from the bed. "If you wouldn't mind saving your inquisition of my patient until after I make sure he's healed from that rather horrid stab wound…!"

"Healed?" asked Robb, glancing down at his stomach.

The woman sniffed. "Yes - utterly barbaric Muggle weapons. Hagrid - our groundskeeper - found you and brought you to us right away. I was able to stop the bleeding and patch you up easily, although you might need a good day or so before your muscles don't seize. You'll be a bit sore, anyway."

Potter, at the side, had his arms crossed and scowled deeply. "Are you done, Madam Pomfrey?"

The woman whirled on him and scolded, "Don't you take that tone with me, Harry Potter! I've seen you in here more often than I liked over the years, and while I always healed you up, I won't hesitate to stick you in one of these beds, either!"

Cowed, the man mumbled a contrite sorry as Robb said, slowly, "Harry Potter? Hermione's best friend?"

As Pomfrey left, muttering under her breath, Potter turned to face Robb and nodded. His tone was still distrustful and there was anger, but he seemed to be controlling himself when he asked, "Yeah. Who're you?"

Robb shifted, not wanting to have this conversation flat on his back. There was a twinge of discomfort around his middle, but nothing that suggested he was bleeding out or nearly died. "Robb Stark," he said, debating to add 'King in the North,' but ultimately deciding against it.

"And how do you know Hermione?"

"She's-" Robb bit off the sentence.

What could he say? Hermione was - what? His friend? Certainly. His witch? Undoubtedly; she had done more for him and his cause than an entire army. But she was more than that, else he wouldn't have had Torrhen assigned as her personal guard - she was someone precious to him. He wanted more than friendship from her, without a doubt, and he was currently looking for a way out of the Frey alliance his mother had brokered - although, he thought darkly, with them breaking guest rights at the summit, I am definitely free of them for good.

"She's what?" asked an increasingly frustrated Harry Potter.

"She's just… her," he finished lamely. "My friend, I suppose."

Harry sighed and collapsed into the chair he was in previously, and Robb winced at the graceless move, at the slouch the man presented. Maester Luwin and his father would've had his hide for it.

Harry had his head in his hands, breathing heavily. Robb saw a faint tremor in the man's shoulders, as though he was struggling to control his emotions.

"Where is she?" asked Harry finally, quietly.

"Most likely with the rest of the army," answered Robb, just as quietly, causing Harry's head to snap up. "In the Wolfswood, if the Portkey worked properly." At Harry's look, he elaborated, "We all had the same Portkey. The fact that I am not… where I should be, makes me hesitant that she's where she should be."

"Where's this Wolfswood?" asked Harry. "Somewhere here in Britain?"

"Britain?" echoed Robb. "Um - no. Lady Hermione mentioned she was from a different universe…"

Harry swore under his breath and mumbled something uncomplimentary about a man named Dumbledore. He turned his emerald eyes on Robb and asked, sternly, "Then how did you get here?"

"I'm not sure," said Robb.

"How did Hermione get to your world?" pressed Harry, his voice hard.

Robb shook his head. "I'm not sure."

The man growled, standing and pacing the small space between Robb's bed and the curtain. "How long has she been in your world?"

"About a year," answered Robb warily, watching the man pace and the edge of his robe snap sharply at his turns.

"Is she safe? Is she okay?" bit out Harry. "You mentioned an army - yours, I take it? Has she been fighting? Was she hurt?"

"Lady Hermione is as safe as she can be," replied Robb, miffed at the idea of him not taking care of the woman he felt deeply for, "And while she has been in a few battles, her magic protects her and when it cannot, the guard I assigned her - my friend and loyal subject - does the rest. She's spent most of her time in the library at Riverrun searching for a way back here, or with me, counselling me and my men."

A stricken look spread over Harry's face as he stared at Robb. "Then how do we get her back?"

Robb turned his face from Harry, feeling a sharp pang in his chest as he softly said, "I don't know," just as he wondered, how do I get back?


Out of a collective Northern and Riverlands army that totalled 25,000 men, 8000 of those remained behind at Riverrun as a reserve. 5000 had been split from the original host further north through the Neck to bypass the Twins, and 6500 of those that remained of the original army number had perished at the Twins in the surprise attack between the Freys, the Glovers, the Dustins, the Vyprens, and the Mountain's men, all thanks to the careful planning of the Freys and Lannisters, and poor timing.

Barely 5500 men remained.

A quarter of those were injured and no one was sure if they'd be battle-ready ever again.

Of the 4000 that remained from that, most were mere handfuls under missing commanders, such as Wendel Manderly; or they were Lords with less than a handful of men, like Cley Cerwyn, who wandered around with a vacant look on his bloody face.

On top of it, both Catelyn Stark and Robb Stark were missing. Along with them, the Smalljon Umber, Wendel Manderly, Blackwood's son Lucas, and Patrek Mallister, all representatives of their houses, were missing as well. The other member of the Kingsguard, Dacey, was unaccounted for, and Olyvar Frey, Robb's squire, had been tied up and guarded day and night, by virtue of being a Frey.

And in the midst of it all, Hermione sat around her dining table in her tent, liberated from her precious beaded bag, staring vacantly at the map of Westeros she and Robb used to keep track of his family. Her eyes were on the remaining splotches: Arya was at Riverrun, luckily, under Edmure and Brienne's watchful eyes; Sansa was still in King's Landing, and Bran was north of the wall, moving westward for some strange reason. Rickon's dot remained at Skagos. The dot of blood that represented Robb Stark was unmoving at the Twins, a burned black mark - not dead, as the blood would have disappeared - unable to be found on a map of Westeros.

Eddard stood behind her, a silent sentry continuing his brother's work, while his father Lord Karstark shouted himself blue in the face at the Greatjon. She had luckily cast muffliato before the men began ripping into each other, talking over one another while Roose Bolton quietly tried to interject some words, but was ignored.

The remaining men who hovered outside around her green canvas tent didn't need to know just how desperate and broken their leaders were.

"-what are we going to do now, huh?" the Greatjon roared. "We need the King!"

"That's what I've been telling you!" roared back Karstark, "We can send out search parties for him!"

"Where? Back to the Freys, those murderous bastards?" spat Greatjon, turning and stabbing a pointed finger at Roose when he spoke next. "Or perhaps east, towards Winterfell which was taken by that one's bastard?"

"I did not tell him to do that," growled the pale man.

Greatjon rolled his eyes. "Oh, aye - he and Lady Barbrey Dustin thought it up themselves, did they? Let's take Winterfell, they thought - after all, it's no secret in the North that the Boltons have wanted Winterfell ever since they were cut down by the Stark kings of old!"

"You can accuse Lord Bolton all you want, Umber, but know that I too could just as easily fit that being a cadet branch of the Stark family," snarled Karstark, "And yet I have done nothing but show my loyalty to King Robb, as has Bolton!"

"Well, let's ask just what you were planning with the man then?" snarled Greatjon Umber, eyes flashing and his face red. "Did you continue to slip information to Glover with those extra parchments you wanted and were given?"

"How dare you," hissed Karstark, vibrating in his anger.

The flap to the tent opened and Lord Tytos Blackwood and Lord Jonos Bracken walked in, still in their bloodied armour three days later, both with weary looks upon their faces.

"Are they still at it?" asked Blackwood, reaching for the free chair next to Hermione and sitting heavily in it. Bracken took the seat next to him, which was also next to Bolton.

The pale man with thinning hair sighed. "Unfortunately. They won't listen to anything anyone says."

"- and what about Lady Hermione?" shouted Greatjon. "It was her magic that we relied on! It could just as easily be her fault!"

"Hey now-!" shouted Bracken, leaping to his feet, just as Eddard had his sword out and pointed at Umber before the man's words ended, his voice ringing in the silence in the tent.

Hermione, finally, looked up from the map to stare at the large giant of a man with deadened eyes.

"It's entirely possible," she said tonelessly, "That I messed something up in the spell. But it wouldn't make sense that only one was off from an entire bunch, especially as Robb and I took the trip several times to make sure the space was large enough for everyone."

With that, the bluster left Umber and he collapsed into the chair closest to him, Karstark still tense and preferring to stand.

"Then where is he?" muttered Umber.

"He's alive," said Hermione, eyes slipping back to the map, at Robb's dot. "We know that much. But according to this - he's not in Westeros."

"Could - Could he," started Bracken tentatively, "Could he be where you come from, Lady Hermione?"

Hermione frowned. "I - I suppose…"

"What good does knowing where King Robb is?" groused Blackwood, leaning back in his chair. "It doesn't help us now. Without him, the army is leaderless unless we send parties out to bring back Bran or Rickon. And even then, they're too young to lead."

"Robb's will dictated that if he were indisposed, Arya would be the next leader," said Hermione, turning to the man at her other side.

"Princess Arya?" asked Blackwood, disbelief in his voice, but at Hermione's glower, he hastily backtracked, "Well, I suppose she's vicious enough and quite proficient with a sword..."

Hermione sighed. "She's still quite young. Robb wanted several of us to help her fall into a leadership role."

But she's not Robb, she finished the thought mentally. The rest seemed to have heard the thought because many slouched or slumped in their seats. There was a heaviness in the air as those around the dining table began to realize just what they lost with Robb's disappearance.

Hermione shivered as the air around her significantly cooled and chilled.

"Can we even keep the Northern army together?" whispered Karstark through bloodless lips.

"Not without the King," rumbled Umber, bowing his head into his hands on the table.

Merlin, what are we going to do? she thought, bringing a hand up to bite her nail. Behind her, Karstark began pacing the length of the living and dining area. We moved back towards the Twins because Robb wanted to return to the North and retake Winterfell. He had made his point about the Lannisters but had other priorities. The North is a priority. We need to re-establish the chain of command.

Her eyes darted to the bundle of letters Robb had left in her tent, the communications between him and his half-brother Jon, the new Commander of the Night's Watch. And make sure that they get the help they need… if what Jon wrote is true…

"We have him," said Hermione suddenly, coming to a decision.

"I beg your pardon?" stuttered Karstark, turning to face her. "How?"

Hermione looked up. "A few options: Polyjuice potion, which, using a piece of hair from Robb from his comb - I know it's still at Riverrun - we can use it and someone can pretend to be Robb for an hour. Alternatively, I can cast a glamour on someone, but I'd have to be there to reapply it every so often. A glamour lasts longer than Polyjuice, though…"

She trailed off, a thoughtful look on her face, leaning back in her chair. "Or we can say he was badly wounded in the escape, and it will give us a few months' time to avoid showing his face in public. Then we can use Polyjuice or a glamour."

Glancing around the table and at their stupefied faces, Hermione said, testily, "It buys us time."

"Time for what?" asked Bolton, eyes dark as he stared at her.

"Until we can get Robb back," said Hermione firmly, looking at each of the men in the eye. "As long as we keep morale up, as long as we maintain his ideals, we can manage. We have Arya - yes, she's young and untrained - but we can help her. We can all take turns being around her and teaching her. She ought to know this anyway."

"And what of those who seek to harm us?" asked the Greatjon lowly. "Once they know that King Robb is missing-!"

"Well, he won't be then," retorted Hermione sharply, glaring up at him. "We'll use Polyjuice then, where he can lead men in battle. The rest of the time, we'll contain the information that he is missing."

"How?" asked Karstark, his lips trembling.

Hermione's brain raced as she pondered ideas. "A jinx on the men, or a taboo like what Voldemort had in place whenever someone said his name during the war - I can cast it. It'll stop anyone from speaking of Robb's disappearance, especially if it's keyed into that thought."

The despair around the room was lifting. It was not entirely gone - many of them were still feeling the loss of many of the Northern and Riverland army - but they weren't in as a dire situation than they were. The chill that had come over the room earlier was lifting as well, and the crackle of the flame in the fireplace seemed to grow louder, more comforting in response.

"This…" began Bolton, slowly, "Could work. It just might."

"But who will be in charge?" asked Bracken, glancing around. "Although His Grace's will was clear about who would help Princess Arya, every minor or hedge Lord, as well as Great Houses, will be vying for the position as King's regent - ah, in this case, a Princess's regent. We'd all have to watch our backs."

"No one person should be in charge," said Hermione firmly, looking around the room and meeting everyone's eyes. "That wouldn't be fair and someone could easily usurp Robb's position."

Karstark looked around. "Maybe… a Great Council?"

"A what?" asked Hermione.

While Hermione was confused by the name, the others in the room had various looks of disbelief (Bolton and Eddard), outright hostility (the Greatjon), or confusion (Bracken and Blackwood).

Karstark nervously cleared his throat, eyes darting around the room. "A Great Council. It the early days of the North, before even the Kings of Winter, there were numerous families that were monarchical. Those who formed alliances created a Great Council, each with a representative for a seat; a single High King was chosen as a final deciding vote. Once the Kings of Winter emerged and subjugated the families, they initially kept the Great Council, giving those loyal to them a voice. Those were the first Great Houses."

Hermione frowned. This sounds familiar...

The Greatjon scoffed, his arms crossed. His beard nearly vibrated with the intensity of his tense jaw underneath the hair as he grit out, "The Great Council is a sack of piss idea, Karstark. The original Great Council had barely six or seven men on it, along with the High King. We've over a hundred Lords. Are they all going to get a say?"

"Well - I don't know - No - I thought -" sputtered Karstark, looking at Umber and then around the table, particularly at Bolton whose look of shock had turned into quiet calculation, hoping the man would aid him.

"What's next?" grumbled the Greatjon, sarcasm in his voice. "Would we all sit at a round table and pledge ourselves to an empty throne? How would we decide what the Council would promote in laws, or rule?"

A round table, Hermione thought, latching onto the words as a hysterical laugh bubbled up her throat. She clamped her mouth shut in a long, thin line as she struggled to contain her mirth. But something slipped out, and as Bracken looked at her, eyes wide, Hermione could no longer keep quiet.

She laughed until her ribs aches, tears streaming down her face. She leaned back in her chair, imagining the Greatjon Umber in the white tunic of the Holy Grail knights and bucket head chainmail, and worse, someone like Bolton following him with a pair of coconuts.

"Has she lost her mind?" muttered someone at the table, as she struggled to remove images of Monty Python's Holy Grail film from her mind. Leaning over the table slightly, Hermione sucked in deep breaths and then used the palm of her hands to wipe at her tear-stained cheeks.

"I think-" she croaked out, before trying again, her voice only wobbling a little, "I think that's a great idea."

"You do?" asked Umber, blinking in shock.

Hermione nodded, and the more she thought about it, the more she warmed to the idea. "Yes - a Great Council of the Lords and Ladies of the North and the Riverlands. Joined, working together, for the betterment of their lands. The north has strict beliefs towards things, does it not?"

Bolton, Karstark, and Umber shared looks and then Karstark was slowly nodding. "Ah, yes - I suppose there are rules that we all intrinsically follow -"

"Those who follow the Faith of the Seven have knights and knighthoods," interrupted Blackwood curiously, "With vows of honour and pledges of allegiance to a Lord…"

Hermione's lips twitched. "Commit no treason; give mercy unto him who asks; do not take up battles in wrongful quarrels for love or worldly goods."

Blackwood eyed Hermione shrewdly. "Yes, quite."

"The North does that without such vows," interjected Karstark with a nasty look to Blackwood for his interruption. "But how do you know these, Lady Hermione?"

"We have stories of great knights and round tables, too," she said, lips twitching at the popular myth of her homeworld country, "Who followed and believed in a code of chivalry and honour."

"What happened to these knights?" asked Bracken curiously, leaning towards her, over the table.

Hermione turned her eyes to him, and said, quietly, "They were just stories. They never existed; not until I came here, anyway."

There was a compliment in her words, soft-spoken as they were, that made the men around her table straighten.

"A Great Council then," sighed Bolton. "The first in millennia."

"With a representative from each House," agreed Karstark, "The best from each one."

"Or all who are left," morosely added Bracken with a sigh. "Organizing this with who remains here at the tower in the Wolfswood is going to be a mess."

"It can wait, now that we know what we're doing," said Hermione, sitting straight in her seat as plans came together. "Instead, let's talk about needs to be done next: retaking Winterfell, like Robb had planned. A Great Council can convene when we're there and have the available space."

"We need more people to retake Winterfell," argued Umber, finally back to a conversation topic he could participate in and enjoy. "We have too many wounded. The tower is in desperate need of repairs, and it's likely that men will end up starved at this rate."

"Then we need more men," agreed Bracken. "Can we recall those who remained at Riverrun? And what of Lady Mormont and Lords Darry and Forrester? They avoided the Twins entirely and ended up at Greywater March with Lord Reed."

"They would bolster our numbers," agreed Karstark. "Do we have ravens? Did they have Portkeys? Surely news of the Twins is making its rounds."

"That's another thing we need to do," interjected Hermione, causing everyone to look at her. "We need to start controlling the flow of information. There absolutely cannot be any rumours that Robb is dead or that we suffered a devastating defeat."

"We can send someone back to Riverrun," suggested Blackwood slowly, "Or use the parchments to convey what's happened. Take a census of who survived or their status if no one has done it yet."

"I think I saw Lord Cerwyn trying," said Bolton. "If only to keep busy since most of his men were outside the Hall when the slaughter began. He's lost most of those who came with him South."

"Hos is around - he survived the massacre," replied Blackwood, a touch of proud parental gleam in his eyes, "And he's good with numbers. With spare rolls of parchment, he can aid Cerwyn. Between the two of them, they'll have a working census of who is injured or who is missing by the end of the week."

"Good," said Umber. "That'll give us accurate numbers and a starting place for where we stand in terms of lost command."

"And who is likely still at the Twins," interjected Karstark darkly.

The mood soured.

"Then before we try retaking Winterfell, we need to free our people," said Hermione, glancing at the map on the table, at the Twins and its location surrounded by the Trident. An idea began to form.

Bracken's mouth turned down grimly. "Not the easiest feat. There's a reason why there are two towers - it splits forces."

"They'll pick us off, one by one, if we try an assault," agreed Blackwood thoughtfully, stroking his beard. "And we hardly have the numbers for such an assault, too."

"Who said anything about a visible attack?" countered Hermione, a gleam in her brightly-lit amber eyes.

"Milady?" asked Karstark slowly.

"Let's just say, with magic, there are far more opportunities than there are without it," she began, looking at the men in her tent, one by one and holding their stares. "Such as an attack from the water. Late at night. In which we sneak in and take our revenge."

A bloodthirsty grin swept across Umber's face. He barked a short laugh and he slammed a closed fist down on the table, shaking it. "I'll agree to that! Kill the traitorous bastards as they sleep, one by one!"

Bolton, Bracken, and Blackwood all shared similar looks, one that spoke of bloodlust and vengeance. Hermione could see Eddard, just standing behind her, grip the pommel of his sword tightly, no doubt thinking of the Frey whose sword had caused Torrhen's fatal wound.

"... All of them?" asked Karstark, quietly, something unreadable in his face. "Even the women and children?"

The room paused, and some of the desire for revenge slipped away.

Hermione, however, thought back to the parade of women who served food at the royal table, each in equally low-cut dresses and the way that Black Walder continued to push the marriage on Robb. She thought of the women, some pale-faced and despondent, and others with shrewd looks in their eyes as they stared hungrily at the young king.

"If they knew, then yes," she said quietly. "Then they die, too."

"How would we even be able to know that?" cried Karstark. "The Gods know that I would love to get my hands on the Frey who k-killed T-Torrhen - but what about those children who are too young to have known? Everyone would lie to save their life!"

"Not if they ingest veritaserum," replied Hermione coolly. "We'll take the Twins and kill the guards and any other Frey soldiers we come across. Any women or children deemed as potentially unknowing of the betrayal will be sequestered elsewhere and taken into a room, one by one, where I will give them veritaserum, a truth potion that I can brew. Then we'll know - if they knew."

"And if they did?" asked Bolton, but there was a deceptively light tone to his voice, like he already knew Hermione's answer but wanted to hear her say it.

Hermione turned to him. There was something strange in her face, something otherworldly - in the sharpness to her cheeks, in the point of her chin, or the pale pallor to her skin - and for a brief moment, the men around the table realized that perhaps, just perhaps, being so connected to magic, she wasn't quite as human as them.

But then the moment passed, and while her eyes still were lit by an inner light and her cheeks were flushed, she said, starkly in the coldest voice the men had ever heard her use:

"Then we kill them all."


TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch

II:III


Plans to attack the Twins was tentatively scheduled for the next full moon -- which was just over a full month away, having passed recently during the attack. It gave Hermione just enough time to begin brewing veritaserum from her slowly depleting stores of potions ingredients, as well as her to cast the Taboo.

A part of Hermione was sick with the idea of using the Taboo -- something that had been used to actively hunt down fellow Muggleborns during the Second Blood War -- but another part of her realized that it was the best option she had for keeping Robb’s disappearance under wraps. A Fidelius could hide a person or location, but Robb wasn’t physically there; hiding an idea behind the Taboo, something similar if not an extreme version to an Unbreakable Vow, was her only option.

There was no special incantation for the Taboo. Like most advanced magics, it was based on intent (which made it rather woolly, in Hermione’s opinion). There would be no way to know if it worked unless someone tried; and in order for someone to try, there had to be some type of consequence in attempting to break the Taboo.

Hermione decided that the person losing their voice would be the first condition of trying to break it (as she certainly couldn’t Apparate to that person’s location if she were in the middle of something else to shut them up with a stupefy). The second condition would be a modified confundus, similar to a Muggle Repellant, which would cause that person to forget what they were trying to say about Robb’s disappearance. The final condition would be a ping on Hermione’s magic, in which she knew that someone was determined to break the Taboo. She would then remove the memory of Robb from that person, completely, most likely leaving them a drooling mess if they had several in-depth memories of their King. A determined person would probably find a way around the Taboo, but for the moment, it would do.

In between the numerous steps to brewing veritaserum (which included two sleepless nights of intense, timed stirring and ingredient additions), Hermione cast the Taboo, with Karstark, Bolton, and Umber watching. After all -- what proof did they have that her magic would work as described?

She stood just outside the broken tower, which served as the largest meeting space outside her tent. The walls were mouldy and snow had crept in at certain spots; it was drafty and hardly provided shelter from the elements, but they had a fire pit, and it was enough for a launching point as opposed to Riverrun.

Although there were curious gazes cast their way, Cerwyn and Hoster Blackwood kept those around them busy, working through their census of the remaining force; those unable to fight or in need of medical attention were made note of, and their Portkeys recalibrated by Hermione to send to Riverrun. The first batch had already gone earlier that week; the day after those in her tent decided their plans, along with Bracken who explained in person what occurred at the Twins to Edmure, Arya, and Brienne.

Intent-based, the Taboo was an invisible spell that flowed from her wand, pointed at the nearest person (who was Umber, twitching slightly with the point directed at him), and from there, would jump and spread until it covered those not only in the North, but south through the Riverlands as well, contained by their ward map. Anyone part of the Northern and Riverlands army would be affected by a ‘friend of a friend’ -- particularly anyone who spent time around Robb Stark or his campaign.

It was an odd spell, being intent based; trying to explain it to those closest to her in the know as difficult, but it boiled down to “well, no one in Dorne gives a hoot about Robb Stark beyond the outcome of the war, so why would they have knowledge of what happened at the Twins?”, leaving the intent-based Taboo to only apply to those ‘in the know’ of the breaking of guest rights and the missing King.

Hermione, as the magical being facilitating the spell, was able to see it and watch as the soft grey cloud lit up around Umber, who was still shifting uncomfortably (which was quite amusing given how large the man was). The spell glowed around the man briefly, like an inner aura coming to the forefront, and then sunk into him; then, tendrils reached out and encompassed Bolton and Karstark. The same happened to them, an invisible dove grey aura that pulsed once and then sunk into their bodies, only for more tendrils to reach out to those nearest: Blackwood, his son Hoster, and Cerwyn.

The spell continued, soft, almost insidious, as it travelled from one person to another, and then another, all unknown as they couldn’t see the spell work like Hermione could, the effects of the Taboo settling into their very soul. Eyeing a cluster of silver-glowing men some distance away, Hermione deliberately turned away and fought a shiver.

Within hours, the spell would have caught on everyone in the Wolfswood, and would begin to spread southward with anyone using the Portkey or the next batch of wounded sent to Riverrun. By the end of the day, perhaps the week, anyone who had knowledge of the Twins (including those who planned it, maybe), would be unable to speak, write, or even think of the idea of Robb Stark missing.

Those in the know absolutely would not be able to do so; and those who might have a vague idea of questioning where their King was, would not speak of their doubts; and those who merely speculated would not be able to speculate on a disappearance, but rather a recovery of a wound at the worst.

With a sigh, Hermione lowered her wand and let it slip back into her wrist holster.

“Is it done?” questioned Umber, his voice rumbling across the ground where he stood shock-still, eyes darting about for a physical clue.

Hermione nodded.

The tense man visibly relaxed and shook his shoulders like a bear sloughing snow from its fur.  “Good. Let’s continue with our plans, then, shall we?”

“Bring in Lord Cerwyn and Hoster, as well,” ordered Hermione, and Blackwood, who was hovering at the edge of the group within listening distance, nodded once, turning to holler for his son and the other man -- Lord Cerwyn -- to join them.

By unspoken agreement, the three men and Hermione entered her tent first, a secure location for them to discuss the upcoming attack on the Twins. Just behind her shuffled in Blackwood, holding back the flap for Cerwyn and Hoster. While Hoster had seen some of her magic in action back when she helped liberate Raventree Hall, the effect of an exterior-looking tent and a log cabin interior was a bit much for the teenager.

“Wh-what…?” he turned on his heel, taking in the odd kitchen and living area, the hallway and doors open to the two bedrooms further down.

Cerwyn’s mouth had dropped open first, but he quickly shut it with a snap, watching as the other men made straight to the rectangular dining table Hermione was using for their plans, falling into familiar seats that they preferred around the table.

Umber groaned as he sat, while Bolton leaned over to review the map that they had spread across the wood grain.

“Lord Cerwyn, why don’t you take a seat, please?” offered Hermione, and the man complied, silently with wide eyes. Once he did so, and everyone else was seated comfortably, she began. “What are our numbers at here? How many can fight?”

“If you’re looking at launching a full-scale attack on the Twins,” began Cerwyn carefully, his tones measured and cool, “then we do not have nearly enough.”

Hermione shared a glance with Umber, Bolton, Blackwood, and Karstark, which the man caught. He frowned and glanced at Blackwood’s son -- a Godssend with numbers and accountancy, as he was learning, potentially thinking of asking Blackwood for the teen to come back with him to Castle Cerwyn -- who looked as confused as he.

“I’m not looking at launching an assault,” said Hermione eventually, turning to face the man. “What I need are really a handful or so of soldiers capable of fighting.”

Karstark frowned and crossed his arms, while Umber snorted. “Two handfuls,” the large man grunted.

Hermione shot him a glare, and amended, “Fine. Two handfuls. Capable soldiers who could listen to me and follow my orders. Ideally, the stealthiest we have.”

Cerwyn glanced at Hoster who nodded thoughtfully. Bolstered, Cerwyn turned back to Hermione. “We can find them.”

“Excellent,” she said, smiling, but it was more like baring her teeth aggressively. “We’ll meet with them first thing tomorrow, so if you could pick out two dozen, I’d be grateful, Lord Cerwyn.”

The man glanced around the table, quickly taking stock of how the men around her deferred to her instruction, and nodded as well. “Of course, my Lady.”

“Shall we go over the plan?” suggested Bolton calmly.

Hermione nodded and stood, pushing her chair back as she leaned over the table. “Those chosen by Cerwyn will join us tomorrow for the next two weeks in training.”

Training?” echoed Hoster, loudly.

When everyone turned to look at him, he blushed scarlet. “Ah, my apologies, my Lady.”

Blackwood scowled at his son, but Hermione smiled softly and nodded. “Yes -- training. I’m going to using a bubblehead charm to help everyone with this plan, so everyone has to get a feel for the spell and breathing underwater.”

At Hoster’s continued and growing incredulous look, Umber quickly intervened, especially as a glance toward Hermione had her eyes beginning to narrow. One interruption was fine, it seemed, but not two.

“Aye, lad,” rumbled Umber. “Lady Hermione’s magic allows her to create a breathable spell around our heads. We will be swimming down the Trident towards the Twins, instead of launching an attack on the castle. They won’t expect something to come from the water, and especially not something from under the water.”

Hoster’s mouth dropped open. “Under the water, Lord Umber?”

“Oh, Hoster,” said Hermione, with a shark-like grin on her face, one that was mirrored by everyone else at the table except Cerwyn. “You’re about to learn how wonderful magic can be.”


Later that evening, as Hermione exited her tent, she spotted a lone figure at a large bonfire, sitting cross-legged on a log that soldiers had felled earlier to create seating. Several other bonfires were going, in a concentric ar around the perimeter of the camp as a barrier from any wild creatures.

Seeing the man only in profile, Hermione started as she recognized the slope of his nose, the scraggly, bushy, and untrimmed beard, and the slumped shoulders. He was playing with something in his hand -- a bit of string, twine, or just even a twig -- she couldn’t tell.

Hermione paused, hovering indecisively for a moment -- do I go or speak with Umber about the training for tomorrow morning? -- but then gave herself a tiny shake of the head and strode to the log. She promptly sat, startling the man, but kept her face forward, eyes on the flickering orange flames.

“My Lady,” the man greeted, quietly.

Hermione inclined her head. “Karstark.”

They fell silent.

Eventually, Karstark sighed and tossed what was a twig into the fire with a vicious movement.

“Is something bothering you?” she asked quietly, glancing at him and turning her head partially towards him as well.

“Forgive me, my Lady,” he muttered. “My concerns are not yours. You do not need to worry about me.”

Hermione felt her heart clench. She turned to face the man fully. “Lord Karstark--” she paused and took a deep breath. “Rickard.”

He turned to her in surprise at his given name.

“Torrhen was my closest friend here,” she began softly, glancing away toward the fire and then back at him. The pain of losing him -- so recently -- made her throat close and her chest ache. “I miss him every day and I only knew him for about a year. He was your son and you knew him better and longer than I ever could.”

She glanced up at the starry sky, some of the lights disappearing behind ominous clouds, and rolled her lower lip into her mouth, biting down on it hard. “I can’t even imagine how you’re feeling. Edd is still here, but Harrion is somewhere in the Westerlands as a Lannister prisoner -- and we’ll get him back, I promise -- and I -- I mean, I just --”

Her shoulders slumped, and soon she was mimicking the pose she first saw Karstark in. “I feel like I’ve let you down, somehow. Along the way.”

When the man didn’t respond, she glanced up at him and saw that he was watching her intently. His salt-and-pepper hair was darker in the encroaching darkness, but the flickering fire etched much deeper lines on his fatigued face; Hermione was surprised, having not considered him that old or troubled that he had deep grooves of worry lines -- but the death of his youngest son clearly impacted him far more than she initially realized.

“My Lady,” he finally said, his voice low and warm, “Hermione. You are by no means a disappointment. Nor have you let me -- or any of us here -- down. Without you, I fear things would have been much worse.”

The band around Hermione’s chest eased at his words.

He sighed, deeply. “Perhaps it is hard for me. I have three--” his face collapsed briefly in pain, and he cleared his throat. “Two grown sons whom I help to raise and rear into strong Northern men. Men who always did the right thing, were fearsome and true with their swords. Men who did the right thing, and were loyal without fault.”

Karstark looked at her, a small smile on his lips, partially hidden under a moustache in need of trimming. “My daughter, Alys, is a year or so younger than you. I haven’t seen her since we marched south, so long ago now. I can only hope and pray to the Old Gods that she is well.”

He paused, that smile on his face as he turned back to the fire. “But then I see you, and you remind me of her -- and I know she will be well. That she is well. Because you are strong, and resilient, and capable, Lady Hermione.”

Hermione felt a flush spread across her cheeks. She leaned forward to try to catch Karstark’s eyes, and when she did so, she said, emphatically, “Thank you, Lord Karstark.”

The man returned her smile, his eyes crinkling at the corner as they turned up. “Well, I suppose that is only natural that sometimes I see my daughter in you, then, Lady Hermione. And I naturally want to scold or advise depending on the situation.”

“Oh?” asked Hermione, leaning back slightly.

He hummed in agreement. “Yes. Particularly about the women and children at the Twins.”

Hermione fell silent. She knew that Karstark didn’t necessarily approve; while he wanted revenge for what happened to Torrhen, he wanted the Frey soldier who killed him in battle -- not the slaughter of women and children who didn’t directly hold the sword.

Although Hermione felt the familiar bubble of rage build her in chest, she schooled her features and asked, coolly, “What about them?”

“Your magic is quite wondrous,” began the man hesitantly, sending her an imploring look. “Is there nothing that would substitute for killing them?”

“Why should I do that?” she asked in response, hedging any answers. I can humour his opinions, she thought. There’s no need to alienate anyone.

“My Lady,” said Karstark gravely, his tone shifting quickly. “It is one thing to kill a man when you both have swords in your hands and your bloodlust is up. It is quite another to plan someone’s murder and follow through with it.”

He stood, brushing dirt off his hands and onto his trousers, looking down at Hermione. “And if there is one thing that I’ve learned about you, Lady Hermione, it is that you do what is right, and not what is easy.”

Karstark turned on his heel and walked away, leaving Hermione staring after him until the darkness swallowed his form.


A series of controlled Apparations had Hermione able to create four Portkeys to Greywater March, at the head of the Trident, a single fork in the Neck that would travel south and feed directly into a wider, wilder river at the Twins.

The water was murky, a mixture of grey and brown, with green floating algae. On either side of the bank, strange, large bushes with pointed, floppy leaves grew in patches and creeping vines scaled up large tree trunks where softly hissing reptiles -- some cross between a Komodo dragon and chameleon -- lazily reclined. The air was humid and smelt like rotted leaves; Hermione was inordinately pleased that they would be leaving the swampy lands of House Reed shortly.

Hermione stood on a shallow, sandy bank with Eddard at her side, and Karstark, Umber, Bolton, Blackwood, his son Hoster, and a few others clustered nearby. Earlier in the day, Hermione had told them no armour -- just boiled leathers --and then charmed everything black (Umber, in a jovial mood to gain some revenge on the Freys, had joked about “taking the Black,” but Hermione wasn’t quite sure she understood the reference fully -- something about a wall?).

“Remember, breathe normally,” she instructed, facing the baker’s dozen amount of men in front of her. “The bubblehead charm will not fail. I’ll also be casting a warming charm to keep us temperate in the water. Do not lose your sword or crossbow. Do not pull it out until we are at the Twins. Once you emerge from the water, the bubblehead charm will dissipate and you will breathe normally without it. Keep in formation, stay close, and eyes forward. Remember: our target is the left tower first and once it is secure, we’ll move to the right.”

There were nods of understanding around -- most had seen Hermione’s magic in action by now -- and they had trained specifically for the plan for several weeks.

“There will likely be a sentry on watch,” inputted Umber gruffly, eyeing everyone and holding their gazes. “I will lead first and take them out, and then you all will emerge second.”

“This is not a battle,” finished Hermione, his voice grim. “This is a stealth mission: we arrive silently, unknown. We get in, and we take out the Freys one by one, quickly and quietly. We round up any women and children into a single space -- the hall is our planned location -- and if need be, I can hit them with a silencio to keep us hidden. Time and precision is key.”

She stopped and looked around. “Any questions?”

Silence greeted her, and Hermione nodded once herself, moving directly to Eddard, as one of the two (Umber being the second) to lead the men into the water. She tapped Eddard smartly on the chest and then the head with her wand; the first was the warming charm and the second, the bubblehead. Eddard held his breath for several seconds, moving straight into the cold, murky water of the Trident until his mouth and nose were entirely submerged.

He raised a single hand and flicked two fingers in a jolly salute, and everyone breathed a heavy sigh of relief, which Hermione gamely ignored. It was one thing seeing her magic, but it was another experiencing it firsthand.

She moved down the line, and soon everyone was submerged except her; she holstered her wand and nonverbally and wandlessly cast the warming charm and bubblehead on herself, striding into the water confidently. Unlike the last time she was in murky waters, during the TriWizard Tournament, she would have full control.

She closed her eyes just as she dipped her head under the water, barely feeling the cold from the chilled swamp. Once fully submerged, she opened her eyes, darting around and spotting the indistinct and shadowy figures of the soldiers around her.

Umber was the easiest to spot as the largest, and he took control by point forward and then pushing off from the sandy waterbed, kicking up mud and a brown cloud. The others followed, Hermione somewhere in the middle.

Although it was some distance, they reached the Twins quickly, aided by magic and their desire for battle. They spotted the grime-covered stones buried deep in the foundation of the bedrock and quickly arranged themselves around Umber.

While they planned for this a month after the attack at the summit under guest rights, on the new moon, the moon itself was covered by dark, rolling clouds, providing them with extra cover. The water at the Twins was dark, almost black, and its quick flow meant that there was constant foam. Umber was able to hover just shy of breaking the surface, directing Hermione and the others in a long line around the foundation, two or three meters from the shoreline or a series of slick, algae-covered stone steps that led into the water.

Swords had been strapped to their backs and shortened crossbows to their non-dominant forearm, of which Umber, floating and pushing against the current, unstrapped. The bolt was preloaded, protected with Hermione’s magic against water damage, and carefully aimed up.

Umber hovered for a moment, and then --

The bolt pushed through the water quickly and a second later, Umber was moving out of the water and up, moving elegantly for a man his size as he disappeared.

Hermione followed immediately her wand in her right hand; the others did the same but drew their swords with soft schinks against their sheaths. She felt the magic of her bubblehead charm dissipate with a soft pop.

Umber had caught the sentry who had been posted by the steps of a broken and unused dock; the bolt had gone straight through the man’s chin and into his head, killing him instantly. The large man dragged the man back down into the water.

Hermione waded through the water until she reached the steps, her hair thick and heavy around her head as water sluiced off her in rivets the more she climbed. Their dark colours blended in with the middle of the night, and with few lamps or torches around the exterior of the first tower, Hermione was practically invisible.

Hoping that the left tower was identical to the right, Hermione turned and crouched, tracing her wand along the thick wall until she created an arch, tall enough for Umber to duck through. The moment her wandtip touched the opposite side of the wall, the line she drew flashed orange and the stone split down the middle, folding back to create a darkened entryway to the lower levels of the castle.

Umber moved first, Bolton and Blackwood following, along with five other soldiers in their group; Hermione went in the middle with Eddard at her back and Hoster behind him, and the rest of the selected soldiers followed to close the gap.

Their steps were silent and evenly measured as they inched forward down the darkened, narrow halls, slightly crouched and ready, hugging the walls, and using the elongated shadows between hall sconces to provide cover. There was a low hum of activity in more light from the nearby kitchens, not protected by guards. Instead, the group swarmed the two entrances -- one along the hall and the other, on the opposite side with a passage leading up to the hall -- and shut the doors quietly, with Hermione barricading them by melting the iron lock and hinges into molten sludge. She finished by tossing a silencio at the door, and then the other, just as the occupants inside noticed and began to shout.

“Keep going,” she murmured her instructions and turned to continue down the hall.

As it was the middle of the night, few were awake or roaming, but there were still some night guards standing by key rooms: the armoury on the ground floor, as well as the widened hall that led to the inner courtyard. Those men were snuck up to from behind, and their throats slit with their steel, leaving the castle entrance defenseless.

Hermione followed the Northerners and two Riverlanders, eyes alert and narrowed in concentration; she did not contribute to the task, as her slicing hexes, red and bright in the dark, would give away their position. Instead, she nonverbally cast silencing charms on the fallen bodies and muffled their steps as they walked, leaving a trail of bloodied bodies behind them, hallway by hallway.

The group split into two; half, including Blackwood and Umber, up a circular stairwell, continuing to the bedrooms while Hermione remained with Bolton, Eddard, and Karstark and their soldiers. Bolton led the group, and with a glance at Karstark, who was staring at her, Hermione followed second.

She kept her feet light as they slipped down the hall; their steps silenced by her but muffled further by a thick carpet runner as they eased down three steps and ended up on an alcove balcony that overlooked a hall below.

Hermione sucked in a breath. In the other tower, the alcove was where the soldiers disguised as musicians were. They were the ones who began firing their crossbow bolts and arrows down on Robb.

She slowly stepped up to the balustrade and peered down. There were more lights in the hall -- there was almost a cozy glow -- and several Freys were sitting around the tables. There was no dais, as Walder Frey rarely left his tower that he controlled, but his sons and grandsons schemed and plotted from the left tower.

There were groups of men, some with pale hair, others with dark or long lank hair, in various stages of armour dress, and then several women, but much less so than the men. The women in the hall were miserable looking, with frowns on their faces and threadbare dresses that reminded Hermione in a way of the Weasleys -- repurposing and reusing but instead of saving money, it was because there were too many Freys and no one wanted to spend money on them.

There was one man that Hermione knew particularly, and her eye was drawn to him. Tall, with broad shoulders and long brown hair, his face was cold and jaw square as he stood with his arms crossed at one table. They often clashed at war meetings in Riverrun, and Hermione was looking forward to learning the man’s secrets before she killed him.

“Black Walder,” she muttered, her voice tight.

“Soon,” replied Bolton in a hiss, his voice barely a breath on the wind.

Beside her, Eddard retrieved his crossbow and lined it up, picking his target; Bolton, on her other side, had already done so, and Karstark and the other soldiers spread out along the top and had their targets as well.

Hermione pointed her wand at Black Walder. A vicious smirk wanted to spread across her lips, but instead, she ruthlessly pushed the emotion down. Although it was poetic irony that they would attack the Freys in the same manner they had attacked Robb’s army, Hermione could not let her emotions get the best of her. Instead, she took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down and in her exhale, felt better.

Then --

Stupefy, she thought, the flash of blue from the spell racing down from the balcony and slamming into Black Walder’s back, knocking him forward and onto the table.

There was a moment of stunned silence, as the other Freys around the table stared at the large man, but then some jumped to their feet, only to have a crossbow bolt precisely target them, often through the throat or in the head, killing those men instantly.

Their stealth no longer needed, Eddard and two other soldiers vaulted over the edge of the balustrade, Hermione behind them. While they landed heavily on their booted feet, Hermione used a wandless cushioning charm to soften her fall.

Bolton and Karstark from above raced around the narrow hall towards the servant’s stairs leading down into the hall to come at the Freys from a different angle; two soldiers remained above to reload their crossbows.

Hermione ducked under the swing of a dagger by a thin, narrow-faced Frey in a silky grey jerkin with ornate scrollwork in his leather. His thin lips scowled deeply as he recognized her, cursing “witch,” under his breath.

Hermione spun on her heel and, using a move Torrhen had taught her, used the momentum to sweep her leg against his, knocking him down. The man was unbalanced and toppled backward, and Hermione continued the swing, her left hand flicking out. A flash of blue erupted and the man slumped over unconscious.

Hermione blinked. But… she looked down at her hands; in her right was her wand, and her left, empty. Did I just wandlessly cast stupefy out of my hand?

A loud cry caught her attention and she shook her head, quickly turning to the next threat. However, this Frey was sprawled on the floor in front of Bolton who had his sword pointed at the man’s throat. The Frey had a hand pressed tightly to his tight, around a bolt sticking out of the fleshy part of his upper leg. Blood gurgled around it, some spilling over into his hand.

“Please, mercy! Mercy!” he cried. “I am Walton! I didn’t know! I swear, I didn’t know! I wasn’t even there! Lord Walder called us all back to the Twins!”

Around them, the quick battle in the Hall was ending; several men lay bloodied and dead around the tables. At some point, Bolton and Karstark had rounded any survivors to one table, and someone else had bolted the Hall doors shut.

Hysteria began to creep up on Hermione, as the sight of blood in the familiar hall, the bolted doors the only way out, and the crossbow bolts were a painful echo and reminder of what happened just a month earlier.

Cries for mercy were new, though.

Hermione stepped forward, her eyes coolly sweeping the Frey -- Walton -- from the top of his brown hair, to his wide, panicked eyes, and down to the wound in his leg.

“Was mercy given to us when you attacked during guest rights?” she asked.

The man shuddered. “It wasn’t me, it wasn’t, oh Seven protect me…”

“Wasn’t you?” she repeated, eyebrows raised. “Well, there’s an easy way to find that out. But first --” she raised her wand consciously this way, making a mental note to refer back to earlier, and cast stupefy. The man slumped over, quiet and unconscious.

She rotated slowly on her heels until she was facing the table where several bloodied and bruised Freys were slumped, some wearing mulish expressions and others, utter terror.

She smiled. “Who’s next?”


Black Walder was forcibly brought to consciousness with a splash of freezing water hitting him directly in the face and soaking through his leathers. He gasped and jerked, but didn’t get very far as he was tightly bound to a single chair in a small, dark room. He tossed his head to get some of the dripping water out of his eyes, and he peered around.

“Who’s there?” he demanded. “Show yourself!”

“Gladly,” replied a feminine voice, and from the darkness, the curly-haired witch emerged. “Remember me, Walder?”

Witch,” he hissed.

She smiled, but it wasn’t a nice one. There was something in her hand, a bottle of some sort, and his eyes sweep back towards her.

“Are you going to poison me, witch?”

“Not at all!” she replied. “This?” she shook the bottle and the clear liquid inside sloshed a bit. “This isn’t poison, Walder. It’s veritaserum. There’s a saying in my world that I think you’re going to learn to appreciate. It’s the truth will set you free.” She paused. “But in your case, ‘free’ means ‘death,’ so… I suppose this could be a poison, if you want it to be called so.”

He stared at her. “I’m not drinking that.”

“You really have no choice,” she replied evenly.

Suddenly an armoured gauntlet smashed into the side of his face, swinging his head around. Walder tasted blood and he spat it out. Another hit turned his head to the opposite side, and pain explored by his eye.

He turned back to the witch and saw one of the Wolf King’s personal guards standing just behind her, with two shiny gauntlets covering his hands and forearms, already splattered with blood. He eyed the material, glancing between it and the man, and realized that his black boiled leathers meant he found the gauntlets somewhere else.

The witch followed his gaze. “Your own armoury. Nice touch, don’t you think?”

He grunted.

“Ready? It only takes three drops,” she continued, holding up the bottle.

His glare made her sigh and she turned back to the other man. “Edd, if you don’t mind…?”

The Northerner -- Eddard Karstark, he recognized him now -- stepped forward and Walder could do nothing as the tall man rained down blow after blow, each calculated to hit a spot he already hit, increasing the pain.

Yes, Walder remembered, his brother was good friends with the witch. But if he’s not there now…

Walder stuttered out a wet laugh. “Lost something, Karstark? Where’s your brother?” from behind a swollen eye and through split lips, he gave the two a bloody grin. “Did one of my kin kill him?”

The next hit went to his stomach, and Walder gasped.

“Edd.”

Scowling, the stocky Karstark stepped back, the witch stepping forward. Walder lazily lifted his head to see her crouched in front of him, shaking her head, but her eyes were hard and her jaw was clenched.

“You really don’t know when to stop or keep your mouth shut, do you?” she asked, pointing her wand at his leg.

"What--?”

Reducto.”

Walder screamed. His knee -- what was left of it -- was on fire.

With his mouth open, panting for air, he offered no resistance as someone else stepped up from behind his chair and pried his jaw open. Quickly, three drops of the liquid in the bottle the witch carried were dropped into his mouth with a stopper, and then a lazy, warm feeling overcame him as his pain receded.

The witch’s voice came from a long way off, like he was hearing her from under the water.

“Now, Walder,” she was saying, her voice pleasant if not steely, “Let’s begin, shall we? Tell me, who came up with the idea to attack us under guest rights?”

The warm haze and pleasant voice had him replying instantly. He wanted to share everything. “My grandfather and brother.”

"That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

"No.”

“Wonderful. Now, Walder,” the pleasant voice continued. However, due to the haze he couldn’t see her face, but if he had, he would’ve seen the vicious grin. “You’re going to tell me everything...”


Later, Hermione stood with Bolton, Eddard, and Karstark, staring down at a glassy-eyed Walder Frey, who had finished providing them with the list of names of those involved with the attack, as well as their reasons. Off to the side, a parchment with an enchanted quill recorded everything he said.

Hermione glanced at Bolton. “I’m sorry.”

Bolton’s jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed. “Ramsay will pay his dues.” He then glanced away. “Once, maybe I would have wanted to return to a position of a Warden of the North or a King. But now…”

“Shall we kill him?” interjected Eddard roughly. “He’s confessed.” His scowl deepened. “Thoroughly.”

Hermione nodded, almost absently. “Yes… and by now, Lord Umber and Lord Blackwood should have roused everyone in bed and brought them to the Hall.” She sighed. “We’re going to have to split up to get through this quickly if we’re going to take the other tower any time before dawn.”

"Is there enough veritaserum?” questioned Bolton.

"Yes,” replied Hermione, glancing at the bottle. “I have another two in my pouch with me, and it only takes three drops. No more.”

"Very well,” the pale man said.

Somehow, Bolton and Karstark had Hermione turned and heading towards the hall, as they were using a small storage room off it for questioning, when behind she heard a gurgle and Eddard muttering, “For Torrhen, you piece of shit.”

She faltered in her step, just once, but caught herself and threw over her shoulder, “Dump the body in the river, Edd.”

And in response: “Yes, my Lady.”

The three strode into the Hall, which was now much more crowded. There were women holding onto children was various ages, many of the girls weeping. Some were crying loudly, and others just had silent streaks down their cheeks. A few women, the older ones, wore scowls and Hermione eyed them thoughtfully; they probably knew about the attack.

The men and women were separated, held at different ends of the hall, and one by one, the soldiers with Hermione and the Lords with her took the men into various side rooms to interrogate. It took several hours, even with Hermione and Umber, Karstark, Bolton, and Blackwood working separately.

Hermione stood with her arms crossed, her wand tapping against her upper arm as she stared at the women and children, those who remained in the hall. A few stared back at her, boldly, but one timid looking woman, middle-aged and worn down, plaintively asked, “What happened to my husband?”

“Who’s your husband?” asked Hermione.

She bravely stood, despite the beautiful raven-haired woman beside her grasping onto her sleeve to pull her back down to the bench. On the woman’s other side, a dark-haired boy, no more than eleven or twelve, looked up in alarm.

“Walton Frey,” the woman said, her voice wobbling. “I am Deana Hardyng. We were -- we were visiting my nephew in the Vale. We only just returned, a fortnight before the s-summit, my Lady.”

When Hermione said nothing, Deana took a hesitant step forward, and then another. Clasping her hands to her front, her voice began to rise in terror. “Oh, please, my Lady! My Walton could not have known! We didn’t!”

She felt Karstark shift beside her and steeled herself not to look at him. Walton Frey knew nothing about the attack, she thought, frowning and pursing her lips. His wife is telling the truth, and so was he under veritaserum, as did his grown son. So what do I do? He’s a grown man with a son and daughter -- whom Black Walder knew… well, and another son. I can’t… just let them go.

“My Lady?” prompted Karstark, his voice low. There was a strain, as if he was wondering if she would just say to hell with it, and kill all the Freys -- but… but.

Hermione sighed and let her arms drop from their crossed position. “Edd? Bring him in.”

With a scowl, Eddard silently did so, exiting the Hall and shortly returning with Walton Frey, stumbling and limping with his bad leg. It had been dressed and treated -- roughly -- but he was alive. His wife cried out in relief and ran to him, and the two collapsed into each other’s arms, Deana running her hand over his face and hair.

Eventually, the woman turned to Hermione and gushed, “Thank you, my Lady, thank you.”

Their daughter and young son raced forward and helped their father to sit on a nearby bench, unconsciously choosing to sit at a table away from the others.

Hermione surveyed them and then impassively looked back at the women and children.

“I am not without mercy,” she began slowly, her voice carrying in the Hall. “Those who participated and knew something of the attack -- of breaking sacred guest rights -- have paid their dues, or will do so shortly. Some of you are included in that. We know your names. We know who collaborated with Walder Frey, Black Walder, and Edwyn.”

A few women stiffened their backs and Hermione knew she found those who helped. Some of their fellow soldiers moved through the crowd and separated those women from the group, some struggling and one even protesting loudly that they couldn’t treat her that way. Others looked horrified at the idea, staring at those being singled out and shoved out of the Hall for their interrogation under veritaserum.

"Yet, those of you who did not know of the attack,” she continued, drawing everyone’s attention back to her, “Your lives…”

She trailed off and a heavy, tense air settled in the room. She knew Bolton, Umber, and Edd wanted their deaths, to eradicate the Freys from Westeros for the dishonour of breaking guest rights, among other infractions. Her eyes drew towards Karstark, who met her gaze.

Right, or easy. She mentally sighed.

"... Your lives will be spared,” she finished, and a few burst into loud sobs of relief. “However,” she raised her voice to be heard, “That does not mean you are free to go.”

“My Lady…?” one asked.

Hermione’s cold glare softened and she felt a heavy weight on her shoulders as she said, “I can’t let any of you go free -- able to spread word of what we have done or how we got here. I’m sorry, but you will be confined to the Twins for the foreseeable future.”

There was some tense muttering and shifting.

“Look, you’ve been here awhile now, so how about I bring up some drinks and light food?” asked Hermione, appealing to the mothers. “Any of you with husbands or brothers or sons who were not involved in the attack will join you shortly.”

That seemed to bolster the spirits of the Frey women, and soon those who remained spread out around the Hall. The few soldiers who remained disappeared and returned with innocent Freys (which Hermione thought was a rather strange idea; how innocent could they be with a family like theirs under Walder Frey?). After, a few terrified and silent servants from the kitchens that they had earlier barricaded in entered with platters of cold meats and finger foods, as well as several pitchers of wine.

“Thank you, My Lady,” said a grateful and hoarse Deana as Hermione walked up and down the aisles between the seats, as the woman caught her hand. With her other, she took a generous sip of the wine to soothe her throat.

Hermione looked at her. “You really shouldn’t thank me just yet.”

Confused, the woman stared at Hermione. At the other end of the Hall, someone’s goblet clattered to the ground and the man stumbled, and then fell.

Someone screamed, but it was cut off as they dropped to the floor.

“My… Lady?” whispered Deana, fearful eyes on her as they fluttered shut and she dropped the drink, spilling the red liquid on her dress and floor as she slumped forward on the table.

Hermione detached herself and stepped back.

“You -- You poisoned them?” asked a horrified Karstark, staring open mouthed at the Hall as those remaining quickly fell to the floor or slumped somewhere.

Hermione shot him a nasty look. “Do you really think so low of me? If I am to kill someone, I’ll look them in the eye as I do it. I’m a Gryffindor, Karstark.”

She shook her head. “Merlin! You told me to do what was right instead of easy. Easy would be killing them all. Right was not; but I also couldn’t keep them here. We don’t have enough people to watch them and keep an eye out for another uprising or retaliation.”

“By the Gods!” uttered Umber as they returned to the Hall after their interrogations. “Are they dead?”

Hermione huffed and stamped her foot. “No! For the last time, I didn’t kill them!”

“They’re unconscious,” said Eddard, lifting one man’s arm and letting it drop heavily back onto the table with a thud. “How long will it last?”

“Until I give them the antidote,” sighed Hermione. Surprised, Karstark made a noise and Hermione turned to him with tired eyes. “Really? It’s Draught of Living Death, Karstark. They’re in an enchanted sleep, seemingly dead to the world until I wake them up. They can be like that for months, years. At least until Robb is back and winter is over, and we’ve won and are in a better position.”

Eddard gave a long, low whistle and Bolton eyed her with approval.

Hermione shook her head, her drying curls bushier than ever. “C’mon, we still have the other tower to do. At least we know who we are looking for, and can kill them right away. We’ll herd everyone else into the hall and do this again.”

“And Frey?” asked Bolton coolly. “Lord Walder, that is? Who will have the honour of killing him?”

“Leave him to me,” ordered Hermione.

The men around her shared looks, and then Umber sighed. “Well, best be back off to the water. I don’t fancy walking across the bridge and getting peppered with arrows.”

Hermione recast warming charms, and soon they were retracing their steps down the halls and towards the lower floor and hole in the wall Hermione had created. With experience now under them, the taking of the right tower of the Twins went smoothly, from start to finish. Hermione, however, joined Umber and Bolton to the bedrooms while Karstark, Eddard, and Blackwood went to the hall.

There was something terrifying as Hermione helped kicked open the bedroom doors and either stun the men or silence the women with her magic -- on her end and theirs. Everything was quick, almost disjointed as they repeated: kick the door, enter, stun any men or kill them and then silence and bind the women and children; exit and repeat.

Eventually they reached Walder Frey’s bedroom.

Umber pulled back his boot and slammed it heavily into the door, crashing it open and sending it flying in, hard enough it bounced off the wall on the other side.

“What?” the man on the bed asked stupidly, sitting up and fumbling for something on his side table.

Bolton and Umber both dashed forward, but Hermione saw the glint of metal and thought expelliarmus, her hand extended, and the knife went flying, embedding itself in a far dresser.

“Who?” demanded Frey, his legs tangled in his sheets.

“Lord Frey,” rumbled Umber.

In the predawn light of the room, Hermione could see the man’s eyes widen. They darted from Umber to Bolton, both who stood on either side of the large poster bed, to Hermione at the foot.

“You--” he started, struggling to find his voice and dignity amongst the silk sheets, “You won’t get away with this--!”

“Haven’t we already?” asked Hermione idly, her grip tightening on her wand. “We’re here to be your judge, jury, and executioner, Frey.”

Bolton glanced at Hermione, and then across to Umber, who met his eyes.

“My Lady,” began Umber, barely taking his eyes off Frey to address her. “It’s time for you to step outside.”

Hermione almost dropped her wand in shock. “What?”

“His Grace would not want you to murder in cold blood like this,” continued the man.

Frey cackled. “That’s right! The Wolf Pup! What has become of the so-called King? Where is he to take revenge for what I and my own had the strength to do?”

“You shut your mouth!” snapped Hermione, her wand pointed at the man. “Silencio!”

Despite being silenced, the man continued to shake with mirth, a cruel edge to his eyes as he surveyed the three in his room.

“My Lady,” tried Bolton, turning to face her. “This is not meant for you.”

Hermione looked back and forth between the two men, both who met her eyes. She turned back to Frey, who smirked.

But I -- He -- even her thoughts were disjointed as she tried to come to terms with what the two Northerners wanted her to do: leave and not witness Frey’s death. I’m not some fragile girl!

Something must have been on her face, because Umber sighed. “Please, Lady Hermione. Not -- Not this. Not like this.”

Anger churned in her gut, but she sharply dipped her head and strode out of the room, slamming the door behind her with her magic.

Moments later, Bolton opened the door. Umber had back to them, wiping his bloody blade on the once-pristine sheets of Frey’s bed. He glanced up and said, firmly, “It’s done.”

Grinding her teeth, Hermione snapped, “Fine.”

Together, they headed down to the Hall, where Karstark, Eddard, and Blackwood had already begun weeding out those named by other Freys during interrogation, taking them to side rooms to dispose of quietly. There were fewer women in this castle, but the ones who were there seemed rather composed, if not resigned to their eventual fate, sitting quietly at various tables throughout the Hall.

One, fairly pretty and familiar, kept moving from table to table to ensure that the youngest children were soothed and quiet. Hermione watched her curiously for several minutes; there were certain women that young girl ignored, clearly marking them out to Hermione and the men with her.

I wonder if she knows what’s going on, she thought, and once the girl looked up at her, Hermione waved her over.

The brown-haired woman frowned, but cast her eyes down and walked towards Hermione. “My Lady?”

“What’s your name?” asked Hermione.

“Roslin,” the girl replied, glancing up.

Hermione nodded and then pointed to the far table nearest to Frey’s dais. “Roslin, why are you ignoring those women?”

Roslin turned to look and made a face. “My Lady, you are looking for--” she swallowed thickly and her eyes dropped again. “--for those who aided the attack on the King?”

“Yes,” said Hermione, narrowing her eyes.

“Those women knew of it and helped,” said Roslin. “If not in action or deed, through ensuring that his Grace’s eyes were on the girls and not on the men.”

Hermione scowled as she suddenly realized why Roslin seemed familiar. She was in a different colour dress, but she was one of the many girls paraded in front of Robb during the summit dinner; clearly, Frey had hoped his prettier daughters and granddaughters might have caught the King’s eyes.

“And what about you?” she asked, voice cool. If she had time to examine her sudden jealousy, she might have likened it to Ron’s first star struck meeting of Fleur.

Roslin’s face went pale. “My Lady, I did not know--”

“You might not have known what was going to happen,” interjected Hermione coolly, “But you must have known what your family was trying to do with having you and the others serve the meal.”

The Frey girl flushed, her shoulders tensing.

“Would you,” she whispered, daring to look up at Hermione as she found courage, “Would you not do anything and everything to escape this place?”

Merlin, I wish I knew Occlumency and Legilimency right now, she thought moodily, staring at the other girl who was of a similar height to her. If only to know how truthful she is. But…

Hermione glanced around the dour Hall, at the scowling faces of the older women -- one even the late Frey’s wife -- and remembered the pinched look of Edwyn Frey in the other tower, and Black Walder’s cruel remarks. She tried to imagine what it would be like growing up in such a place.

She sighed, and then eyed the girl. “You need to prove it -- take a sip of a truth potion. Would you do that?”

Roslin nodded emphatically. “Yes. Anything.”

“Fine,” grumbled Hermione, scooping out a severely diminished bottle of veritaserum. “Stick out your tongue.”

The other girl did so easily, and Hermione dropped three drops of the liquid on her tongue, waited a moment, and snippily asked, “What is your name?”

“Roslin Frey,” came the even reply.

“Did you have any knowledge, or suspect, of the breaking of guest rights during the summit between Lord Walder Frey and Robb Stark?”

"No.”

“What did you think was going to happen during the summit?”

“That perhaps his Grace would take notice of me and take me away from here.”

Hermione made a face. “Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen,” she muttered under her breath. “How do you feel about the attack and breaking of guest rights?”

“Terrible,” was the monotone reply. “It was poorly done of my father and kin. It was wrong. It will anger the Gods.”

"It bloody angered me,” muttered Hermione, who then sighed. “What did you do following the attack?”

"I was confined to my bedchambers on my brother’s orders. I wanted to escape, to find Olyvar.”

"Olyvar?”

"My brother. He is His Grace’s squire.”

Hermione’s eyes went wide and she thought of the young man under guard back at the broken tower in the Wolfswood. They had not yet decided what to do with him.

"If you could go back in time,” began Hermione, carefully, “To the moments before the attack -- what do you think you would do?”

Roslin was silent, not answering immediately, but then, slowly, she answered under the haze of the potion, “I would have tried to get word to His Grace, or perhaps the others in the Northern camp. It was wrong. I would have tried to tell the witch, or ensure Olyvar knew to set the wolf free.”

"You would’ve tried to stop it?” Hermione asked, knowing that veritaserum could be tricky with ‘what ifs’ and ‘could have beens.’

"Yes,” breathed Roslin, and Hermione quickly gave her the antidote.

Once the haze was gone from Roslin’s eyes, Hermione said, shortly, “I don’t like you -- I won’t lie about that. Your brother is alive and back at our camp.”

Relief spread across the woman’s face. However, it quickly drained when she saw Hermione’s unmoved one. “But?”

“But, I can’t let you leave the Twins,” said Hermione quietly.

“You won’t kill us?” Roslin confirmed, her voice wobbling a bit.

Hermione shook her head. “No. But you’ll be under an enchanted sleep -- safe, but unable to wake until I allow it with an antidote.”

“Will we… will there be pain? Hunger?” asked Roslin after a few moments of silence.

“No.”

Roslin looked around the Hall, her gaze settling on the youngest children, some barely more than toddlers. “Will they suffer?”

“You’d be as safe as anything,” replied Hermione quietly, following the girl’s brown eyes. “I’ll ward the doors myself, so that no one could come in and kill or rape. You’d be untouched, and safe. I just -- we don’t have the people to watch over in case anyone gets the idea for revenge. It would continue the cycle.”

“I understand.” The woman then straightened her back and turned to Hermione, determination in her eyes. “What do you need from me?”


An hour later, as the light from a new day broke across the quiet forests surrounding the Twins, Hermione finished the wards that contained those peacefully sleeping under the Draught of Living Death in the Hall of the Twins. The wards included Repellant charms and Notice-Me-Nots, effectively hiding the Twins in plain sight. Determined people would attempt to break the spells, but sealing the doors to the Hall and effectively turning it into a tomb was another safety measure. The air was breathable and refreshed through vents, and things might get dusty, but the people would be safe.

The final task was to venture to the dungeons, and free those who were imprisoned during the attack.

Hermione followed the men, Karstark and Blackwood electing to remain in the courtyard in case there were any Frey stragglers. The further down they went, the more humid and wet the dungeons became, the grey stone along the walls constantly wet with dripping water from the river above them.

“I feel like I’m in the Slytherin common room,” muttered Hermione.

“What?” asked Eddard, staring at her.

“Nothing,” she replied, sighing, and holding her wand up higher to light the way with her lumos. “Are we there yet?”

“Nearly,” replied Umber from the head of the group.

Then --

"Father? Is that you?”

They turned a corner and there were cries of relief. Umber rushed to one cell, where his son, the Smalljon, rose shakily to his feet, reaching for his father through the grating.

Around them, Hermione could see several highborn prisoners, some she recognized and knew well.

"Lady Hermione!” called one, and she turned to see Patrek Mallister grinning at her from beneath a very bushy dark brown beard. His hair was longer than she remembered it, hanging straight down to his shoulders but he had it pushed off his forehead.

"Stand back,” she said, tapping smartly on the lock and releasing it with a nonverbal alohamora. The lock clicked and the cell door swung open on loud, rusty hinges. Behind him, Lucas blinked at her act and glanced around.

“Is my father here?” he asked hopefully, stepping forward.

Hermione pointed her wand at the ceiling. “Upstairs in the courtyard, keeping watch.”

Patrek frowned, the motion pulling at his beard. “What about the Freys?”

Hermione stared at him for a long moment, and then said, “Not a problem.”

Lucas and Patrek shared a glance, but said nothing.

“Are either of you hurt?” asked Hermione instead, looking them up and down for obvious injuries. They both shook their heads. “Good, then let’s go. We’re getting out of here.”

She led them up the stairs, with several others, including a jovial Wendyl Manderly, who spoke about the meal he would eat once they were free. It wasn’t until they were all standing in the courtyard, Hermione looking around them that she realized something very important.

Those they led out of the cells were all male.

“Where’s Lady Stark?” she called loudly, and the conversations around her dropped. “Where’s Dacey?”

A long-faced, tanned man with hollow cheeks stepped forward. “Ah, is -- are they not with you, My Lady?”

Hermione slowly shook her head, turning to stare at those who came with her. Horror reflected on their faces the same emotion she felt, and with a sinking feeling, she asked, “Then where is Catelyn Stark and Dacey Mormont?”


TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch

II - IV


Sansa had no desire to unpack her trunks once she was moved to Tyrion's chambers after their marriage. Instead, she left most of her things alone, instructing Shae to not touch them - the few things she was allowed to keep from her Stark heritage were in her trunks… a few forgotten hair baubles, or the doll her father bought her before his imprisonment or a swath of Stark grey fabric she ripped from a dress.

However, things weren't too… bad with Tyrion. They didn't share a bed, he didn't demand kisses or attention from her, and for the most part, they dined together at night to avoid Cersei and Joffrey's malicious eyes and the loud whispers of ridicule from the court when they were forced to attend.

It was like having a friend - no, Sansa shook her head. It's like having an ally, and that is it.

A month into their "marriage" - or whatever it was passing as - Sansa and Tyrion had fallen into the habit of breaking their fast in their chambers and then going their separate ways. Tyrion often to the library, or some duty with Bronn as he attempted to make sense of things as Master of the Coin and Sansa to hide in their chambers with her embroidery, or with Margaery Tyrell and the Tyrell contingent who had come to King's Landing.

This morning was different, however. A Lannister guard stood outside their chambers, eyeing Bronn with ill-concealed dislike.

"What is it?" asked Tyrion, as he had opened the door, ready to leave that morning for his tasks. He was looking back and forth between the two.

"His Grace King Joffrey the First requires your presence," announced the Lannister guard with a distinct sniff to his tone. "Along with your wife."

Tyrion stared at the guard for a little longer before dipping his head in a slow nod. "I see." He turned his head and called, back into his chambers, "Sansa? It appears that my dear nephew is requesting us."

Sansa's hands shook, but she pulled the sleeves of her dress down and fussed with them for a moment to hide her nerves.

"Of course, My Lord," she demurred, lowering her eyes and falling into step beside Tyrion, with Bronn at their heels.

The guard brought them to the Small Council. Tyrion scowled as he realized that he - as the Master of Coins - was the last to the room, filled already with not only Joffrey and Cersei, but also Varys, Pycelle, Littlefinger, and his father. Tywin was reading over notes, his remaining eye moving quickly across the parchment, a small smile on his thin lips. On his other side, Joffrey was nearly preening and Cersei's expression was full of amused malice, peering at them from behind her wine.

Sansa eased into the room, trying to remain as small as possible, and Tyrion did not blame her in the least for doing so. Instead, he swallowed and quipped loudly, drawing attention to him, "Killed a few puppies today, nephew? Puppies would be a step up from those kittens, and you're looking rather pleased with yourself."

Even the insult couldn't wipe the smile from Joffrey's face, and Tyrion's heart started to beat against his ribs as his nephew gleefully instructed, "Go on, Grandfather! Show him!"

Tyrion turned with dread towards his father, who glanced up and silently handed Tyrion the parchment he was reading from. Tyrion looked at the small paper, frowning as he read it aloud. "'We have reached the summit of our plans. Although some left early, the Freys are prepared for winter with a wolf pelt due to generous gold donations,' signed Walder Frey." Tyrion looked up. "Is this supposed to mean something?"

The glee in Joffrey's voice when he replied had Tyrion glance at Sansa in concern. "Robb Stark has been defeated! And his bitch mother!"

Sansa paled.

Tyrion carefully folded the small parchment and placed it on the table in front of him. "Defeated? How so?"

But Joffrey had continued: "Write back to Lord Frey. Thank him for his service and command him to send Robb Stark's head to me. I'm going to serve it to Sansa at my wedding feast!"

Tyrion moved quickly to Sansa's side as she swayed, but as soon as his hand touched hers, she stood straight and stared ahead, her blue eyes focused on the far wall.

"Your Grace," interjected Varys, shocked, "Lady Sansa is your aunt by marriage."

Cersei's smile was a slippery thing as she tried to soothe the faux pas. "A joke. Joff did not mean it."

Joffrey scowled at his mother, the two golden-haired Lannisters with matching green eyes glaring at one another. "Yes, I did. I'm going to have it served to Sansa at my wedding feast."

Tyrion found himself quickly losing what little patience he had for his family. "No."

Joffrey, Cersei, and even Tywin turned to look at Tyrion.

"No?" echoed Cersei, flabbergasted. "Did you just tell your King, 'no'?"

Tyrion stared at his family, and then turned back to the rest of the Small Council, dismissing his sister. "Again: how was the Stark army defeated? Defeated, by the way nephew, is not the same as dead."

Joffrey scowled and purpled in rage, but Varys was quick to interject and hopefully diffuse the situation. "Ah, yes, excellent point, Lord Tyrion. My little birds tell me that Lord Frey was not quite as successful as he claims."

Joffrey's ire swung to the spymaster. "Oh?" he ground out petulantly. "But the letter-"

"-can lie, Your Grace," finished Varys smoothly. "From what I've been told, Robb Stark, along with a significant portion of his army managed to escape."

Silence fell in the room, and Tyrion glanced quickly at Sansa to see her wipe the tiny upturn of her lips from her face.

"What did you say?" Joffrey's voice had gone low, trembling with his rage. He turned to his grandfather. "What overinflated sense of ego did Frey think he was presenting, sending that note to us when it barely tells the truth? How did he muck up your plan so thoroughly that he could not even bring me Robb Stark's head?"

Tywin's own matching glower set Tyrion's senses on alert. "I shall find out shortly." He turned to Varys. "What do you know for certain?"

Varys pursed his lips and then folded his hands into the voluminous sleeves of his yellow robes. "Robb Stark escaped through the use of…" his mouth turned down, "magic, aided by the witch in his camp. Several others, of high rank, escaped with them as well as those who survived the attack inside and outside the Twins. However, there were also highborn captives, many of Stark's personal guard. And, of course, Lady Stark herself."

Joffrey leaned back, somewhat mollified. "Ah, yes. The wolf pelt." His eyes cut to Sansa. "Her head will do just as well."

Littlefinger bowed his head, bringing his hands up to steeple in front of his face as he eyed the King and Cersei, but said nothing.

Tyrion had enough. "Sansa is no longer yours to torment." He paused. "Your Grace."

Sansa turned to Tyrion in surprise, but the shorter man was staring at his nephew, something burning in his eyes that Joffrey could not see or recognize. "Everyone is mine to torment. You'd do well to remember that, you little monster."

Tyrion rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm the monster? Perhaps you should speak to me more softly, then. Monsters are dangerous."

Cersei shot to her feet, her goblet of wine sloshing over. "Are you threatening the King?"

The weaselly man finally spoke, his voice honeyed. "Perhaps Lord Tyrion could apologize? He is clearly worried about the wellbeing of his gentle wife, who did just learn that her mother - and might I add, a dear friend of mine growing up at Riverrun - died?"

"Life I would accept such an apology from a bitter dwarf," scoffed Joffrey, tossing his head back. "I am the King! I decide who lives and dies! And no one - not even you, uncle - can speak to me the way you do."

Sansa watched as Tywin mentally sighed - there was a slight tilt to his head and a brief flutter of his remaining eyelid - and then the tall, imposing man (very much so now with his eye patch) stood to his full height and snapped, "Any man who must say, 'I am the king' is no true king."

"I am the King by right of birth!" retorted Joffrey.

Varys, Pycelle, and Littlefinger all found reasons to look away as the conversation descended into family squabbling.

"A crown is inherited," said Tywin firmly, "But a kingdom is earned. And I have seen little of you earning anything, boy."

Joffrey's impossible rage turned to his grandfather, and Sansa felt herself relax a minute amount; enough that Tyrion felt her hand unclench from under his.

"My father won the real war! He killed Prince Rhaegar. He took the crown, while you hid under Casterly Rock!"

She hid a wince from behind her placid expression. That won't go over well, she thought with a sigh.

Tywin turned to his daughter, who met his gaze with slightly fearful eyes. "The king is tired. See him to his chambers."

"What?"

Cersei nodded and turned to her son. "Come along."

At the door, Joffrey's two kingsguard - Trant and Moore - stood straight while Joffrey stared incredulously at those in the room. "I'm not tired."

Cersei tried again, cajoling Joffrey to stand. "We have so much to celebrate, my love. A wedding to plan, as well! You must rest."

"No! I am the King! You can't put me to bed like I am Tommen!"

Tywin reached up to run a finger along the underside of his eye patch. "Grand Maester, perhaps some essence of nightshade to help him sleep?"

Pycelle nodded and stiffly got to his feet, shuffling out the Small Council while Cersei looped her arm through Joffrey's and held him in place as she began moving him towards the door as well.

"But I'm not tired!" the king nearly wailed.

Tyrion remained staring at his father, who busied himself looking over several letters on the table in front of him, while Littlefinger kept his eyes on Sansa, who did her best to ignore him. Varys sat serenely, his eyes looking out a far window in the Small Council room. Only once Joffrey's voice trailed away did Tyrion turn to look at Sansa.

"My Lady," he said, courteously, causing her to look at him. "Perhaps Bronn can escort you back to our chambers?" He then glanced at his father. "If that was all, of course."

Tywin nodded.

Sansa dipped into a curtsey and Bronn, who had been hovering (although he certainly didn't look like he was) by the door nodded once at Tyrion and then fell into step on Sansa's right, leading her from the Small Council.

As she left, the door remained open for a few moments and she could hear the conversation start up again, but only in snatches:

"-sonous statement! Joffrey is-"

"-crown … power?"

"No - armies - Robb Stark -"

"Do you disapprove?"

" - this is war. To slaughter … peace…"

"My Lady?"

Sansa mentally cursed herself for focusing so hard on the conversation between Tyrion and Tywin that she lost herself, following Bronn down the hall as her feet automatically took her to safety in her bedchambers.

"My apologies, Ser Bronn," she murmured.

He sighed. "It's fine."

They walked to her chambers in silence, and once they were at the door, Bronn opened it and swept inside to check for any dangers - as Tyrion had previously instructed him to do. Finding none, he stepped aside for Sansa to enter. She did so, and then… stopped.

My mother is dead, she thought, and now that she was safe in her room, with only Bronn to see her, she allowed some of the shaking to emerge from the numbness of the knowledge that her brother and mother were attacked under guest rights.

"There is no hope left," she muttered.

"What?"

Twirling, she plastered a fake smile on her lips and laced her fingers together in front of her dress. "Ser Bronn! Nothing at all. I was just remembering something that I need to ask Shae about later. I will be fine now, Ser. You have seen me safely back to my bedchambers, as my Lord husband asked."

Bronn eyed her suspiciously, but then he shrugged, and left, firmly shutting the door behind him.

As he did so, Sansa felt her legs shake and she barely made it the next few steps over to collapse on a chair near the fireplace.

"Mother…" she let her face fall into her hands as her shoulders shook. "Robb…"

Sansa at in the chair by the fireplace for some time, crying and letting her own fears and worries about remaining in King's Landing - the terror and fear she constantly felt even when Cersei and Joffrey's eyes were no longer on her - mingle with her despair that Robb was not riding south for her, that her mother was dead.

What happened to Arya? Why am I the only one left? Her eyes, red and puffy, glanced up at the ceiling. Are the Gods punishing me for being a silly and stupid little girl?

Eventually, the sun that lit the chambers began to sink, and shadows lengthened and spread from the open window across the room, leaving one of the few sunspots by the foot of the bed, where her childhood tokens remained, unpacked.

"I am never going to leave this place alive," she whispered fearfully, staring at it. "We should never have gone south. Starks going south means death."

She rose shakily to her feet and then fell to the floor in front of the trunk, her shaking hands reaching out at the clasps, but hesitating before she flipped them up.

But you're no longer a Stark. You're a Lannister now, a small voice piped up in her head, and with that, she flipped the locks and shoved the trunk's lid up, staring down at the shallow shelf that held the tiny doll her father gave her, its dress stained and smelling musty. She gently shifted it aside and found the ripped wool of a grey Stark dress.

Something caught the last of the sunlight and Sansa squinted as the beam reflected and hit her full in the face. She moved her head to the side, her long red hair spilling out over her shoulder from the intricate braids Shae had done earlier, and leaned forward, shifting a bit of the fabric away.

That strange mirror from before the Battle of Blackwater twinkled back at her, the strange message on folded parchment tucked into the corner of the frame. Sansa pulled the paper free and reread the message she knew by heart, for its strangeness burned itself in her memory.

"Speak the name of your family and it shall be heard," she muttered aloud. Her lips then twisted into a small, bitter smile. "What family? My parents are dead. Robb is… who knows. Bran and Rickon are dead."

She sighed and scooped the mirror up, holding it with one hand and the note with the other as she stood and began to walk back towards the fireplace.

"Why did I even keep this?" she asked aloud, shaking her head. "At first you were a sign that someone was coming for me, and I held out on hope. But no one is coming from me now. I am a wolf without my pack - and the lone wolf dies."

She tossed the note into the fire, watching as it curled along the edges, turning black and quickly disappeared, turning into ash. She looked back down at the mirror.

"I wish I could be brave," she muttered. "Maybe then I wouldn't be so scared of everyone." After a moment, she let out a tiny laugh under her breath. "If you were in my place, I doubt you'd be scared, Arya."

She put the mirror down on the side table beside the chair, and moved away, ready to summon Shae to change into her nightdress. Her trusted friend appeared with some finger-food for Sansa's bird-like appetite, and after she had removed the braids from her hair, and helped Sansa out of the complicated dresses the women in King's Landing favoured, Sansa found herself alone once more and staring at her reflection in the glass.

The girl who looked back was tall and willowy, pale - paler than she had ever been in the North - with long, gleaming red hair. However, her long face was solemn and her cheeks were becoming hollow, not from a lack of sleep or appetite, but from her shedding her baby fat as her curves slowly widened and her waist tapered in.

More eyes would be on her the longer she remained in King's Landing and grew into a woman's body, and soon, Tyrion would not be able to protect her. She had no one she could count on, but herself.

"Be brave," she whispered to the sad-eyed young woman in the glass, "Be brave like Arya Stark. You can survive here. Keep your head down, your mouth shut, and never, ever forget what they did."

She met the blue eyes of her reflection and whispered fiercely, "The North Remembers."

"Damn right it does!" piped Arya's voice.

Sansa whirled and her eyes darted around the empty bedchambers, looking into the shadows at the corners. She eased forward, away from the glass and then sunk to her knees, looking under the bed; it was empty except dust balls.

"Arya?" whispered Sansa, a desperate feeling like hope bubbling up in her.

"No, it's Nymeria," her sister's voice sighed, and Sansa could picture her rolling her grey eyes and scoff as she said next, "Of course it's me, stupid!"

Arya! thought Sansa, excitement growing. "Where are you?"

"The mirror."

Sansa paused and then crept forward to the forgotten mirror at the side table. "What?"

She then peered down, and nearly leapt back in surprise at not seeing the reflection she was just shortly looking at, but rather her sister's long face, pale grey eyes, and a head full of thick, untamed dark brown hair.

Sansa picked up the mirror and stared. "Is this - am I dead?"

Arya-in-the-mirror huffed again and rolled her eyes. "Gods above, Sansa! You're not dead. Yet, anyway - keep pissing me off and I might kill you myself."

"Arya!" shocked coloured Sansa's tone, but it was like being back in Winterfell, complaining to her mother about Arya's latest stunt and knowing that she was not behaving ladylike at all.

"Good to see you're still you," her youngest sister grinned, showing off all her teeth.

"Where are you?" asked Sansa, sitting down in the chair.

Arya frowned, and then there was something strange going on with her reflection - it rotated and then Sansa was looking at a lot of blue: a blue bed, blue curtains, pillows in cream and beige, and a setting sun framed by large mountains.

Then Arya's face was back in the mirror's frame. "I'm at Riverrun. I've been here for a few months now."

Sansa let a loud exhale escape her. "You escaped!"

Arya's frown smoothed. "After father's…"

Sansa nodded.

Arya turned her face away, but her jaw was tense. "I was there when it happened. I heard you scream."

Horror suffused Sansa. She still had nightmares of her father's death, could still hear the phantom swing of Payne swinging Ice and the sound of it hitting the chopping block; of the coppery scent of thick, warm blood as her father's head was severed, and the cheers of the crowd watching.

To know that Arya had been there too… but then she remembered when her father was brought out, shouting something at someone in the crowd suddenly, his eyes constantly darting and then locking on something by the statue after he gave her one last, warm look…

The two sisters sat in silence, separated by miles and a thin plate of glass.

"How is… how does this work?" Sansa finally asked, breaking the silence.

"Magic," shrugged Arya. "Hermione didn't have time to explain it - she an' Robb had a lot to do after grandfather's funeral - but she had this made for me. And one for Bran and Rickon, too. Yours was delivered 'specially."

"B-Bran and R-Rickon?" stuttered Sansa.

Arya nodded and smiled. "Yeah, Rickon's out somewhere by Skagos, at last check. An' Hermione said Bran was making his way north of the Wall. So he's probably with Jon."

When Sansa didn't reply, Arya stared. "Didn't you know?"

"Know?" repeated Sansa. "How? I'm a prisoner here, Arya! I only learned today that mother is dead! And that Robb is missing!"

Arya's mouth dropped open. "Robb's not missing! Well… not really. Kind of. Anyway, he's alive and fine. Just misplaced by the army. And Mother's…" Arya turned away. "Lord Bracken came to Riverrun about two weeks ago now; he said that Robb's somewhere safe, but we can't see him. And that Mother was left behind at the Twins. I don't think she's dead." A troubled look overcame Arya's face. "I'd know. I'd feel it if she were dead."

"Arya…" Sansa let her voice trail off. "This… this witch-"

"Hermione," interrupted Arya, a flash of something in her eyes.

"-Ah, yes, Hermione," continued Sansa, tripping over the strange name, "Can you trust her? Are you sure she hasn't put a spell on you? She's probably dangerous - Lord Varys was telling me about magic from Asshai-"

Disgust came over Arya's face and Sansa stopped speaking, watching her sister warily as the familiar look of disappointment settled on the face that looked so much like their father.

"Hermione's not from Asshai!" snapped Arya. "She saved me when I was in Harrenhal! She saved Gendry and made sure that he'd stay with me! And Robb trusts her! She saved his life - or, that's what Uncle Edmure told me - and she's helped the army at the Battle of the Stone Mill, and she went with everyone to the Twins for the summit."

Arya shook her head. "Gods, you really are a Lannister, aren't you? I don't know why I'm even talking to you-"

"No!" Sansa clutched at the mirror and brought it closer to her face. "No! Don't go! Please! Arya, please! I don't know anything! They don't tell me anything - they summon me and tell me that Bran and Rickon are d-dead! Or that Mother is dead! Joffrey used to have me stripped in front of the court and beaten by his Kingsguard! Please!"

A sob tore from her throat and she squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn't lose Arya - not when she just learned that her siblings were all still alive.

"You married the Imp," said Arya finally, her voice carefully even.

"I had no choice," whispered Sansa, hiccupping half-way through.

"The mirror is meant for communication. Once you used it, Hermione was going to come and get you, to bring you back to Riverrun," admitted Arya slowly, watching her sister.

Sansa's breath hitched. The look Arya was giving her was far more than she expected her thirteen-year-old sister to level her with; there was something cautious in it. "Come get me?"

Arya slowly nodded. "Hermione just needs to see a place, and then she can Apparate there."

Although she didn't know what Apparate meant, Sansa caught the meaning - she could return to her family!

Her fingers around the mirror turned white as she clenched it tighter. "How?" she demanded. "How? What do I need to do?"

Arya frowned, turning away from the mirror. Clearly, someone else was in the room. There was a momentary jostle to her sister's frame, and then a strange face was looking out at her: there was a familiar enough feature of an oblong face, and auburn hair, but the face was masculine and slightly tired.

"Niece?"

"Uncle?" replied Sansa, with a hint of confusion.

"That's Edmure!" she heard Arya call helpfully from some distance.

Edmure, the new Lord Paramount, nodded. "Sansa - I'll get a hold of Lady Hermione shortly and she can come to get you tonight. She's just finishing up some plans to attack the Twins-"

Sansa gasped.

"-But she'll come get you as soon as she knows," finished Edmure patiently. "I know she will."

"Why - why is she going after Lord Frey?" asked Sansa quietly.

Edmure's face hardened. "For breaking guest rights. For attacking the Northern and Riverlands host that travelled with the King. Revenge, I suppose."

Good for her, the thought popped into Sansa's head before she had time to censor it or realize what she thought. Varys might have had a bad experience with magic, and attempted to taint or worry her about the witch in her brother's camp - but everything she had heard so far was that of a woman helping and using her magic for good.

Perhaps I can be of some help, that same voice offered again, and Sansa found herself speaking the thought, watching her uncle frown.

"How so?"

Sansa took a deep breath. "Well… Joffrey is getting married to Margaery Tyrell soon. And I often am brought to the Council, where they often parade their successes or plans in front of me. To demoralize me, I suppose."

Edmure's frown shifted into shock. "Sansa?! Are you - are you offering to spy?" He shook his head. "No - you are my niece, my kin. Cat would have my head. Robb would have my head! You are a Princess of the North!"

Sansa dug her figurative heels in. "Not for too long. But you have me here, and you should use me. No one suspects me - the daughter of a traitor and the wife of Tyrion Lannister. I can be… useful."

Please, she thought, desperately. Let me redeem myself for what I did. For how I used to be. Let me do something for my family, for Robb. For the North.

When Edmure opened his mouth again, Sansa cut him off.

"Let me be clear, uncle," she said firmly, sitting straight in her chair, fire returning to her and her blue eyes staring at him. "I'm not asking - I'm telling. A few more weeks, two moons at the most until the wedding. I can be useful here, and if there is anything I can do to help my family, I will do it."

Peace settled on Sansa, and for the first time, in a very, very long time, she felt… safe.


It was odd looking out at midsummer beyond the open window of Hogwarts' infirmary when he last knew the biting chill of autumn. Old Nan used to call him and his siblings "summer children," those who knew only the positives of harvests and sunlight; the brief winter he had experienced as a young boy was no sample of the one that was shaping up in Westeros when he disappeared.

How will my men handle it? Do they have enough food? Shelter? What became of them after the Twins? He wondered, hands clasped behind his back as he stared unseeingly out across the Hogwarts grounds. Each thought more distressing than the last, and he was so lost in his thoughts that he failed to hear the footsteps echo across the stone floor, coming to a stop just a few feet behind him.

"Stark?"

Startled, Robb turned on his heel, hand reaching for his sword at his side, but he hands grasped air and he overbalanced, barely catching himself in the spin to face a vaguely bemused Harry Potter.

Kindly, the black-haired man ignored the response and asked, "How are you feeling? Has Madam Pomfrey given you the okay to leave?"

Robb frowned at the strange word - okay - but he had heard it enough in Lady Hermione's company to know what it meant and what Potter meant by the question. He nodded once, taking a step forward, the strangeness of the - what had the female Maester called it? Oh, yes - rubber of the sole giving Robb a bit more bounce to his steps than normal.

His old clothes - his tunic, trousers, jerkin, as well as his small clothes - had all been removed from his body upon entering the Hogwarts infirmary and yet to be returned. Although, he had had been reassured that the "elves would mend everything just fine, including getting that ghastly blood stain out" (He didn't know what was meant by elves, so he merely nodded.). Instead, he was dressed in odd fashion, very similar to what Lady Hermione and now Potter wore: loose-fit trousers in a strange, rough blue fabric, and a shorter tunic that he was used to, with buttons running up the front to close the fabric.

Potter wore a knitted shirt overtop his tunic, with the sleeves pushed up to reveal his wand holster strapped to his right forearm; it also revealed a series of silver and light brown scars of various shapes and lengths that ran up and down his arms. Robb eyed those and wondered if he received them the same time Lady Hermione gained her Mudblood scar.

Potter gestured to his bed. "Not going to wear the robe?"

Robb eyed the large, flowing fabric with distaste. It reminded him too much of an ill-fitting cloak. "No, thank you."

Potter grinned. "Don't blame you. It took me years to feel comfortable in wizard's robes. C'mon then, we're going to the Headmistress's office. Professor McGonagall wants to talk to you, but we'll take the long way 'round. Give you some time to sightsee Hogwarts."

"Ah," began Robb, blinking, "Well, thank you."

"Yeah, no problem," replied Harry, turning on his heel, presenting his back. Robb tried not to bristle. "This way, then."

Unfamiliar with following someone, Robb matched his pace with Potter until they drew side-by-side. The other man - Hermione's friend - didn't seem to notice or care, leading Robb out the infirmary and down various carpeted hallways. Each was equally as large and wide as the last, with tall vaulted ceilings and dark wooden beams crisscrossing above them. Portraits and landscapes paintings lined the walls overtop of tapestries, each as different as the one that came before it, providing a colourful and warm backdrop to those within the silver, pewter, and gold frames.

In Winterfell, as well as Riverrun, there were few precious portraits. Most Lords preferred tapestries or statues as finding a master painter was hard enough and many preferred the Free Cities over Westeros. To see so many in one place was staggering and Robb soon found himself far behind Potter, lingering over one landscape or another, each reminding him of the portrait he showed Hermione of the tower in the Wolfswood - the only one he had.

"I say!" remarked one jovial male portrait in a pointed purple cap, causing Robb to stumble backward in surprise with a yelp. "It's Harry Potter!"

Across, a beautiful woman with golden skin and black hair held back by a circlet called out in an accented voice, "What brings you to Hogwarts, Harry Potter?"

Even as other portraits began to move, the people within the frames speaking up and over one another, Robb stared in fascination and horror as Potter strolled over to the portrait of the exotic woman and greeted her like a friend, jerking a thumb back over his shoulder at Robb, who shuffled towards his guide. "Hey, Circe. I'm just showing Robb Stark Hogwarts - he's not from around here."

The woman in the portrait eyed him up and down, and there was something - a knowing glint - in her eyes when she spoke next. "No. He is from quite far away, is he not?"

Robb swallowed thickly and mumbled, "My Lady."

"Anyway, we're going to go through, okay?" said Potter just as cheerfully. "Piggywiggly."

Robb shot Potter a sharp glance at the strange words - is he casting magic? - but Circe just nodded, her portrait swinging open on invisible hinges to reveal a dark passage beyond and stone stairs leading up.

"A secret passageway?" gapped Robb. "Hidden behind a portrait?"

"Oh, there are loads," replied Potter with a grin. "Coming?" He then shouted, "See you later, Circe!"

"Until the next, Harry Potter!" the woman in the portrait shouted back. "And you, Robb Stark. I look forward to our next meeting!"

Robb shivered and followed Potter as the man stepped into the portrait. He conjured a glowing ball of light with his wand and then threw it up in the air, where it hovered and then floated serenely ahead of them, lighting the way.

They exited on a completely different floor, in a different part of the castle, where large windows overlooked the lake. Robb turned, unable to orient himself.

Potter saw him, and shrugged. "Magical castle. One day, the Headmistress's office is on the second floor. Today, it's the fourth. When Professor Dumbledore was alive, it was usually the seventh."

"How - What -" Robb struggled to find his words. "Magic does that?"

"Hogwarts does," clarified Potter. "There's no law or reason with magic. You just can't explain it away or figure it out. You just go with the flow."

I don't think I will "go with the flow," Potter, thought Robb darkly, distastefully eyeing the back of the man as they walked towards the ugliest stone gargoyle he had ever seen - including those rumoured at Dragonstone - only for Potter to stop and speak to it.

"Muezza."

"Does everyone speak to portraits and statues in this realm?" Robb asked sarcastically.

The gargoyle and Potter both turned to look at him, and then the gargoyle leapt out of the way, revealing circular stone stairs. Potter stepped on the lowest, and then Robb bit back another cry of shock as the stairs began to rotate up, taking Potter higher and higher.

"C'mon on, Stark!" the man called, something humorous in his voice.

His mouth twisted down into a scowl, but Robb tentatively stepped on to the lower step, and then immediately struggled to reach out at the walls, even if he was moving up, to retain his balance. It took a moment or so, but then he spread his legs and planted his feet, and crossed his arms.

At the top, the large wooden door was already open and Potter stood just inside it, waiting for him as the stair Robb was on levelled to the floor and stopped its rotations.

Glancing around the large office, with several arches to a single, supporting dome in the middle, Robb allowed awe to overtake his features. There were soft couches, covered with square-print blankets, floor to ceiling shelves filled with books, and along the walls, many, many portraits; some were awake and staring at him, and others dozing or snoring.

Underneath the giant dome was a large desk, filled with various scrolls and parchments, and single quill with a fluffy feather at the end twitching as it wrote, an invisible hand guiding its words on the parchment. Behind the desk, an elderly woman rose. She wore resplendent green velvet robes styled into a dress, with a wide black belt and matching black hat tilted just so on her greying hair. She had gold spectacles - the things on her face that Potter also had, which he said was for seeing - that framed her face and the many wrinkles and lines that pronounced just how many things she had seen in her life.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," she greeted with an almost-Northern accent that had Robb immediately relax in her presence. "I am glad to see you out of the infirmary, Mr. Stark. I am Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

In front of her desk were two chairs and Potter artlessly flopped into the one on the left, leaving the right for Robb. As he did so, McGonagall used her wand to direct a large tin towards the young man, whose face lit up. He reached in and withdrew a biscuit that he eagerly began snacking on.

He sat stiffly, his back straight. "My thanks for you and your Maester, Headmistress McGonagall. From what she said, the wound was severe."

"Madam Pomfrey is one of the best Healers in Britain," agreed McGonagall. "But a wound like yours is easy enough to heal if caught early enough. We've had… experience dealing with Muggle weapons, particularly medieval weapons like swords - although we have not had to deal with those wounds for some time."

"Do people not use swords here? Lady Hermione never really expanded on that," asked Robb curiously.

McGonagall and Potter shared a look that Robb did not like.

"What?"

McGonagall cleared her throat. "Mr. Stark -"

Robb couldn't stop the words as they exited his mouth. "Lord Stark, if we want to be informal, Headmistress. Or, if you wish to use my proper title, it's King - King Robb, the first of my name; King in the North."

Potter was eyeing him from behind spectacles with wide, green eyes, a biscuit halfway to his mouth. McGonagall was frowning but nodded slowly.

"My apologies," she said slowly, carefully as she looked him over. Robb did his best not to bristle. "Lord Stark - what do you know of Hogwarts?"

Thrown by the change in subject, Robb looked back and forth between the two. "Only what Lady Hermione told me: that there was a battle recently, that she was something called a 'Muggleborn' and discriminated against here. That she didn't know of magic before eleven, and a few spells that I've seen her use in front of me and my men."

"What about Miss Granger's parents?" asked McGonagall, something in her tone strange. "Or about her time growing up before attending Hogwarts?"

Robb shook his head. "Uh, nothing."

Potter groaned, lowering the biscuit completely.

"Oh," answered McGonagall, frowning. "Oh, dear."

"What? What is it?" asked Robb, confusion making his voice rise.

"Our world… well," stumbled Potter, glancing not only at the Headmistress for help, but also the sleeping portrait of an old man with a long white beard and half-moon spectacles, "It's just that… well…"

"What Mr. Potter is trying to say, poorly," finished McGonagall waspishly with a glare at the now sheepish young man, "Is that Muggles no longer fight with swords or weapons like yours, Lord Stark. They haven't for at least a century. Most Muggles fought with spears or bows."

"And now," added Potter, recovering from the look, "They fight with guns and tanks and missiles."

"I-" Robb looked back and forth between the grim visages of Potter and McGonagall.

What would I do without my sword? He wondered; it was as much as part of him as Grey Wind - he had been raised on the weapon and was expected to fight with one, as well.

A more frightening thought came to Robb then: Who am I without my sword - with my title as Lord or King in the North; when I am here, they call me 'Mister Stark' but… this world…

Robb took a deep breath. "Headmistress McGonagall, Auror Potter," he began formally, as he had been trained to do. He let his hands fall open, palms up as he entreated at them, "I find myself very lost in an unfamiliar land and in need of assistance. Will you help me?"

McGonagall's eyes softened, and while Potter still looked dubious (no doubt wanting to know more about Lady Hermione), a glance at the Head of Hogwarts had him nod once, and sigh.

"Well," he began, a small smiling appearing on his face, "You're going to need somewhere to stay, and I happen to have a home with far too many spare and empty bedrooms."

"As well as a rather well-stocked library," added McGonagall, a knowing glint in her eyes, "As I seem to recall Ms. Granger overhauled it after the War." She turned to Robb. "And Hogwarts library will be at your disposal, to aid you in figuring out a way home."

Overwhelmed, Robb bowed his head. "My thanks, Headmistress, Potter."

"Are you a good student?" asked Potter, studying Robb with narrowed eyes. "Because unless he absorbs books the way Hermione does, he can't do this by himself!"

"An astute point, Mr. Potter." McGonagall was soon eyeing him as well, making Robb squirm a bit under the double gaze. "I believe, regarding the situation of Ms. Granger being in another universe and having Lord Stark here, we should call in the reinforcements."

"Reinforcements?" echoed Robb.

McGonagall drew her wand and a silvery wisp emerged from its tip, coalescing into a small tabby cat that sat on its haunches and stared at the headmistress. "To Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Weasleys, Andromeda Tonks, Arabella Figg, and Aberforth Dumbledore: A development in Ms. Granger's case has emerged, and I ask that all who can to attend a meeting of the Order at the Old Headquarters, at 8 o'clock, prompt."

The cat nodded once, and soared out the window, right through the glass. In the meantime, Potter was digging through his various pockets, sliding a bit down in his chair as his hand went into the tight pocket of his jeans. He fished out a golden coin.

McGonagall's smile widened and there was something of approval in her eyes. "You kept it?"

"I know Luna and Neville still have theirs," said Potter, answering something without really answering the question. "And now we can see how many others will come." He too pulled out his wand and tapped the surface of the coin, right in the middle of a strange creature's face. At the bottom, letters swirled and rearranged themselves and Robb read: Info on HG. Need help. My house, 8 pm.

"What - what was that?" asked Robb, finally finding his voice.

"A Patronus," answered McGonagall, her tone similar to Maester Luwin when he was imparting new knowledge. "A physical manifestation of a happy memory to ward off Dark creatures, and as you can see, send messages. We often used them during the War to send secure information as other forms of communication could fall into enemy hands."

"And the coin was something Hermione cooked up back in fifth year," added Potter with a grin. "To send messages and let members of the DA know when a meeting was taking place."

Robb nodded slowly. "Yes - a… a Protean charm? I think that is what she called it. We used it on our parchments to send instantaneous messages amongst my men."

An approving look was on McGonagall's face, just as Potter laughed. "That sounds like Hermione, alright." A curious look appeared on the young man's face. "Just what has she been getting up to?"

Robb took the time to think back of the various instances of magic he had seen Lady Hermione exhibit, as well as her skill in Apparation, right to his bedside when he was delirious with fever at the Crag; or her angry face and her turned back in front of his men in his war council; or the soft smile and laugh she gave him in the middle of their dance, right before everything went sour…

The answering grin Robb gave Potter was nothing short of devious. "Oh, you have no idea…"

"I look forward to hearing about it though," he replied, a more genuine smile on his face. "Clearly, Hermione trusts you. And I'd like to think she's a good judge of character - most of the time, anyway. So…"

He held out his hand and Robb stared at it. Potter chuckled. "We shake hands when we meet someone - no weapon in our dominant hand."

A small genuine smile appeared on Robb's face, and he glanced from the hand to Potter's eyes. "We clasp forearms upon greeting with allies."

"And with friends?" he didn't seem to mind his hand hanging between them.

Robb didn't reply, instead reaching out with his own right hand and shaking Potter's. "Well met, Potter."

"Nice to meet you," he replied, withdrawing his hand, "And - by the way? For friends? It's Harry."

"Harry," repeated Robb. And like that, he had an ally in the strange world he found himself in, and hopefully, a friend to get him home; back to his army, back to his war, and importantly, back to Hermione.


Hermione felt the unfamiliar sensation of things spiralling out of her control. Her stomach took a sharp swoop downward, toward the dirt beneath her boots, and she turned to stare in silent horror back at the closed and sealed doors to the Twins, where she just left Roslin Frey and several of her kin in an enchanted sleep.

Sure, she could wake them up again, with a "so sorry, it hasn't been four years or anything, but just out of curiosity, do you know what happened to Catelyn Stark?" but that option was ludicrous and on top of it, it would be a waste of her potions.

The other option - of asking those Freys who had been an actual part of and helped planned the attack during the summit - was long past, as those men with her had killed all of them, on her orders.

She stifled the moan of despair that rose in her throat by clamping her mouth shut tight, her lips thinning.

How did it get to this? She thought, mentally chastising herself. Stupid, stupid, Hermione! You may be a Gryffindor, but you've never been as stupid as Harry to rush into danger or a plan without thinking things out first! When did this change?

Actually, she paused, tilting her head to the side. When did it change? Hermione was always known to be logical, in control of her plans, methodological and cool. She was the girl who came up with back up plans for the backup; not the one to go charging wand blazing!

"My Lady?"

She shook her head. Something to think about later. She frowned. And wonder about my emotions… I should have a book on Occlumency somewhere I can use…

"Lady Hermione?"

Hermione turned and looked at the man who called her name. It was the same one who told her that Catelyn and Dacey were not with them in the dungeons; he was tall and tanned, despite his stay in the dungeons, with ears that stuck out just the tiniest amount. Hermione could tell because unlike many of the other Northern men, he wore his hair short. This accentuated his forehead and framed his long, narrow face that tapered off to a vaguely pointed, masculine chin.

"Sorry." She focused her attention on him, and his tattered purple-and-white clothes.

He eyed her for a moment and then said, "Donnel Locke, my Lady. What is our next move?"

Hermione cleared her throat. "Umber?"

The gruff man stepped forward and let his booming voice carry as he spoke: "We'll take a Portkey to our base, and from there you will be looked at by a Maester. Those deemed in serious need of rest will be sent to Riverrun, while the others will remain at the base as we go over plans to retake Winterfell."

"Let's get out of this courtyard and into the open space outside of the gate," suggested Hermione, "Where I can create a Portkey for us."

Some of the prisoners released needed some help, so a few of the men Hermione had brought with her became crutches on either side, but others, like Patrek, Lucas, and Daryn, shrugged off their injuries (if they had any - as they weren't telling her) to fall into place with Eddard. They formed an odd triangle behind Hermione, which had her glancing back at them in confusion several times.

Umber and Bolton led the way, and as they passed under the inner gate, Hermione wrinkled her nose at a stench, casting a nonverbal and wandless bubblehead charm as she did so. "Ugh. What's that smell?"

Blackwood, who was just a few paces ahead of Hermione, turned and pointed up. "Rotting heads from when the Mountain and his men attacked. Frey had them placed there before the summit meeting."

Hermione's eyes went wide, and as they passed through the gate to the other side, she jogged ahead a bit to turn and stare up at the sight. The Mountain's head was obvious, as she vividly remembered fighting him: his hair was long, waving a bit in the early morning breeze, but his eyes were pecked out from the birds, and his tongue was swollen, poking out from his lips. The flesh was greying and bloated.

She gagged, spinning around quickly and bringing her hands up to her mouth to avoid puking everywhere.

"My lady?" a few of the men were asking, prominently Eddard hovering at her side while chasing off anyone else who got too close. She waved them all off.

"Fine," she muttered, breathing in the fresh air her bubblehead provided, despite her memory providing her with the lingering stench, "I just wasn't expecting it."

"Well, at least Frey did something right," she heard Umber mutter.

"How so?" she asked, taking a deep breath.

Umber turned to her and pointed back up at the rotting head. "The Martells of Dorne will be damned pleased to know that the man responsible for raping and killing their sister is dead." He barked out a laugh. "But the Viper ain't going to be too happy at having lost the chance to kill the bastard himself!"

"Dorne?" asked Hermione, casting her mind back and trying to remember if Robb had ever said anything about them. "Who're they?"

"Prince Doran Martell of Dorne is their liege lord," explained Blackwood, watching Hermione carefully for signs that she was going to be sick. "His brother, Oberyn, is known as the Red Viper. Their younger sister married Rhaegar Targaryen, and was killed during the Lannister sack of the city at the end of the war."

"Oh," said Hermione. Oh indeed, she thought. really need to start learning about the Houses here and how they're all connected to whatever happened during that war. Whatever it is, these people hold grudges that make the Weasleys and Malfoys look like a minor dispute.

Thoughtfully, Hermione turned back to the head. "I wonder…"

Then, she pointed her wand and cast four charms in succession: a severing charm that cut the base of the spike holding the Mountain's head, causing it to topple; a summoning charm to bring it towards her; and then a very quick levitating charm to hold it in place. She finished with a preservation charm.

"I never took you as one for spoils of war," commented Bolton idly, watching as she manipulated the head to hold it in place.

"I'm not," replied Hermione, glancing up. "But the Martells might be." She looked around the man watching her. "I need something that someone can spare."

"Like a handkerchief?" suggested Patrek with a cheeky grin, waving a square cloth he had tucked away.

"I really hope that wasn't some lady's favour," commented Hermione, eyeing it as she plucked it from his hand. "Because she's gonna be really mad."

There were some chuckles around them, but Hermione ignored it as she kept her levitating charm working at the same time as transfiguring the cloth into a square container, large enough to hold the Mountain's decapitated head.

Once completed, she dropped the head in and sealed it shut. The design on the outside of the box was simple: it was plain, boring wood, but along the top edge were intricate running wolves and the lid had the direwolf Stark sigil. The bottom edge had the sigils of the Riverlands and Northern houses that supported Robb's army, minus those who betrayed them.

Done, she looked up and said, "Let's get back."

A dizzying Portkey trip later, Lord Cerwyn, who was awaiting their return, greeted them. He gave a bit of a bow to Hermione and turned to address her first. "No problems reported by our patrol, my lady. Were you successful?"

"Moderately," she replied with a sigh. She turned to the large group that Portkeyed in with them. "Anyone injured - get to the tower. You'll be looked over by any Maesters who will either clear you to remain here, or to be sent to Riverrun. Those of you, who were with me last night on the assault team, get some rest."

"What about that, Lady Hermione?" asked Karstark, pointing at the box she had tucked on her hip.

"I have a plan," she replied. "It won't take long if you'd like to come along." She glanced at Patrek Mallister. "You'd best come too, Patrek."

He nodded, and along with Bolton and Karstark, they followed Hermione and Cerwyn to her tent. Hermione placed the box on the table and turned to Cerwyn. "Can you bring Olyvar Frey here, please?"

He nodded and left, leaving Karstark to frown at her. "The Frey? What for?"

"Roslin said her brother didn't know anything about the attack," answered Hermione, busying herself as she walked around the tent's living space, particularly the comfortable armchair she had near the fire. "She said that under veritaserum, and I believe her. Olyvar served Robb faithfully."

Bolton scowled. "You are still going to test him, though?"

"Yes," she nodded. "But then if it turns out Roslin was right, Olyvar is going to have a task to complete and then we'll be done of the Freys." She looked at the men in the tent. "You'd best get comfortable."

Bolton and Karstark opted to sit in their seats at the table, near the head, while Patrek chose to stand by Hermione's side when Cerwyn returned with a visibly pale and shaking Olyvar Frey. His eyes darted from one person to the next, and his steps were hesitant and unsure as he moved further into the strange tent.

"M-My L-Lady," he stuttered, his eyes finding Hermione. Immediately, he dropped to his knees. The sudden move had Bolton and Karstark both reaching for their swords at their sides, and Patrek moved to stand in front of Hermione as a human shield. Olyvar kept his eyes on the floor as he spoke. "P-Please! You m-must believe m-me, m-my L-lady. I didn't know about the a-attack, a-at a-all. I would never betray His Grace!"

Hermione gently pushed Patrek out of the way. The young man grumbled as he moved, crossing his arms. "Your sister Roslin said that you were loyal."

Olyvar's head snapped up. "Ros? You - You spoke to Roslin?"

Hermione nodded. "She's well. Was asking after you."

"She was?" Olyvar closed his eyes in swallowed audibly in the quiet tent. "You - you will tell her that I served loyally and that I am ashamed of my family? You'll make my execution quick?"

"Execution?" Hermione frowned. "I'm not going to kill you, Olyvar. I'm going to ask you a few questions, and then you're going to do a job for me."

Olyvar's eyes popped open. "What?"

Hermione tilted her head at Karstark, who stood with a bottle in his hand. He knelt in front of Olyvar, cursing a bit about his old bones, but the young man obediently opened his mouth and swallowed the three drops.

The questions and answered that followed held true to Roslin's and Olyvar's words that he had no idea about the plan and had been willing to die for Robb. With that confirmed, Hermione gave the young man the antidote to the potion, and knelt in front of him, as the potion cleared his system and he focused on her.

"I'm going to be honest, Olyvar," began Hermione in a light tone, "No one here wants a Frey hanging around."

The young man blushed furiously, knowing exactly why. "I understand, my Lady."

"For the safety of everyone here, and you, I'm going to give you a task." She tilted her head at the table and Olyvar followed her line of sight, looking at the box. "You see that box? You're going to go deliver it to the Martells in Dorne."

"Sunspear," interjected Cerwyn, glancing at Hermione in apology. "My Lady."

Mentally shrugging, Hermione continued. "You're going to deliver that box to Prince Doran in Sunspear."

"I understand," said Olyvar, a firm tone to his voice.

"You must know, though, that once you leave the North and Riverlands, you're going to blocked from returning," continued Hermione, "What with the wards over the Riverlands, and the fact that no one in the North will trust a Frey anymore."

Olyvar nodded, not speaking.

Hermione surveyed him a few moments longer, then nodded and stood. "Alright. Patrek here is going to go with you, dropping you off at his family seat in Seaguard, where you will get on a boat and travel to Dorne. Once the task is complete, you're free to go, Olyvar. You just can't come back." There was a brief look of pity in her eyes. "Only forward."

Olyvar slowly got to his feet. "W-Will there be anything else, my Lady?"

"No Olyvar," said Hermione, shaking her head slowly. "But, for the record, I am sorry about this."

"About what-?"

Hermione had her wand out, and cast stupefy before the young man could finish his sentence. He crumpled to the floor, unconscious.

"Well, now what?" asked Patrek, sarcastically, glancing back and forth between the prone body and the witch. "Because I'm not carrying him."

Hermione shot him a dirty look. "You're not going to carry him, Mallister. I'm going to erase his memory of this camp and anything that's happened since we arrived here a month ago. A month of lost memories is better than his entire life. I'll leave the order and his agreement to it, so he knows what he's supposed to do, but even if he attempted to find us, he wouldn't know where to look."

Mollified, the royal guard nodded.

"How long will he be unconscious?" asked Cerwyn curiously, having not really seen her spells in action before.

"Long enough for him to get on a boat and wake up once they're already in transit," replied Hermione, leaning down and closing her eyes in concentration. She hated using Obliviate, given her history with what she did to her parents, but there was no other way to protect not only the army and their plans, but also Olyvar per her deal with Roslin.

Mentally, Hermione cast the spell and then felt the sensation of dual thoughts; even at rest, Olyvar's brain was functioning and he was aware that something was off. Hermione traced thoughts of Robb and herself back through the synapses and found the memories she needed. Once she felt secure that she scrubbed them, she withdrew, exhaling deeply.

"It's done." She moved to the armchair, collapsing in it. "Got any more handkerchiefs to spare?"

Karstark snorted and instead passed over a scrap of parchment without any writing on it - something left over from their planning on the attack. Hermione wandlessly summoned it, caught it in the air, and then infused it was the Portkey spell, making the parchment flash white briefly.

"Activation will be in three minutes, Patrek," she said, handing it to him and watching as he gingerly took the parchment, pinching it between his thumb and pointer.

There was a look of distaste, but he picked up Olyvar's body in a fireman's lift and held the box in his other arm. He surveyed those in the tent. "First boat I can put him on?"

Hermione nodded. "The first one heading to Dorne."

He sighed. "Well, it'll be nice to see father again. My thanks, Lady Hermio-"

And then he was gone, mid-sentence.

With a sigh, Hermione turned to those who remained in her tent. "Well, gentlemen, I don't know about you, but I'm going to take a hot shower and then sleep for a few hours. We will convene tomorrow to discuss the next step in retaking Winterfell." She frowned. "And finding Lady Stark and Dacey."

The men murmured their goodbyes; as the tent flap was pushed back behind Karstark, the last to exit, Hermione spotted Eddard and Daryn standing outside, their backs to her as they guarded the tent.

Silly boys, she thought with an eye roll as she stood, stretching, and popping her back. Didn't they know that my tent is warded anyway? Only people I trust can enter.

With a yawn, Hermione stumbled down the short hallway to the back of the tent, where the bathroom and bedrooms were. Although her initial plan was to wash the lingering feeling of the Trident from her skin, her drooping eyelids forced her to make her way to her small bedroom.

"Oy," she protested, half-heartedly, seeing that her bed was already occupied. "You've got two cots in the other room!"

The giant direwolf looked up and his long tail began wagging, thumping loudly whenever it hit against the side dresser table, his tongue lolling out.

With a sigh, Hermione eyed Grey Wind, stripping out of her trousers and top to remain in her bra and panties and then shoved at the grey wolf until he huffed and made room, curling instead up at the end of the cot, his back legs hanging half-off.

She pulled back the covers, snuggled in, and was lured into a dreamless sleep by the lingering warmth of Robb's direwolf, knowing that something was his was nearby.


TBC...

Chapter Text

The Winter Witch

II - V


Grimmauld Place was exactly how the name described it as: a grim, old place. Robb had been in some dour castles - the Crag coming to mind immediately - but nothing had prepared him for Hermione's realm or Grimmauld Place.

Side-Along Apparition once outside of Hogwarts' main gates was nauseating but manageable after all the times he had gone somewhere with Hermione, but the arrival on a narrow ledge in front of an imposing wooden door, of a house that looked exactly like all the others, had Robb frowning.

"How do you tell your home apart?" he asked, looking back and forth between number eleven and thirteen, seeing the identical fronts. At least with castles, forts, and holdfasts, they all had unique and different designs, thanks to the number of towers, or their location, or construction materials. This was probably like tracking down someone in Torrhen's Square.

"House numbers?" offered Harry, turning and opening the door himself. "Also, Grimmauld Place is hidden by magic from the Muggles - so only magicals can see it."

"But I'm not magical," protested Robb, eyeing the dark interior. And no one to open the doors? No guards? What a strange world.

"No, but you're with someone magical," answered Harry, stepping in and pulling Robb with him. "And the stoop is the only place someone can appear when visiting if I haven't keyed them into the Floo address."

The what now? thought Robb, eyes looking around the inside of Harry's home critically and sussing out the best strategic places for him to stand or fight off an attack. Without his kingsguard behind him or those he trusted, he wasn't going to turn his back on anyone in this realm, however helpful they appeared.

The hallway was long and dark, with dark wood paneling halfway up the walls from the floor, with dark green for the rest to a wood-paneled ceiling, closing the room off. There were numerous doors along one side, all shut, and a slightly protruding, fraying curtains on the inside, hanging at eye level along the wall on the opposite side.

"Oh, try not to disturb her," said Harry idly, pointing at the curtains.

"Her?"

He nodded. "My godfather's mother. Her portrait's behind the curtains - we haven't found a way to remove her yet, so if the curtains open, she screams bloody murder and hurls insults at everyone. The only thing we've managed is to encase her with glass but we have to reinforce the silencing spells and constantly apply strengthening charms because after awhile she breaks through."

Robb gapped and wondered if he had actually died instead.

They walked past the last door on their left; on their right was a grand, winding wooden staircase that led upstairs, while on the left was a few short steps into a lowered kitchen. It was much brighter than the hallway, with several windows looking out at ground height to a weedy garden.

It was very unlike Winterfell or Riverrun's kitchens, which was triple or quadruple in size to accommodate the many feasts the cooks had to prepare, as well as for the barracks and men at arms; but there was something nice about the Grimmauld kitchen.

The walls were whitewashed plaster, and any cupboards were a natural light wood grain. There was a stove, although smaller than what Robb knew and had a washbasin in a countertop. The majority of the kitchen was taken over by a large centerpiece with chairs around it. The back of the room opened up into a large dining room - although laughably small compared to the Halls he was used to, or even his family's private dining rooms at Winterfell - with a single table and several chairs around it, including a sideboard of some sort. That room was also whitewashed and well lit by the kitchen's natural light, although there was a hanging chandelier over the table.

"The Order of the Phoenix used to meet here," explained Harry, motioning for Robb to take one of the seats. He did so, his back to the wall and not the stairs or windows. Harry turned his back on him and opened a large cupboard door - inside Robb was shocked to see provisions, cans, and jars of food. "Hungry? I'm going to whip up something."

"Aye," said Robb, staring.

As the other man began pulling this and that from various cupboards, he began speaking to Robb, just to fill the silence. "Meetings would take place in the kitchen, but from what I was told by those who survived, it was always cramped when everyone would show up. So, once I officially inherited the house and the war was over, I moved in here as a primary residence and began doing some construction."

He glanced over at Robb with a grin. "You probably noticed the difference between these rooms and the hall, right?"

Robb nodded.

"Other than these rooms and a few bedrooms and toilets upstairs, I haven't changed much else," continued Harry brightly, moving to the stove. "Other than it taking time - and Hermione was helping me with the library and study - I'm also employed full time, so that reduces me to working on weekends."

Weekends? What is a weekend? frowned Robb. "What is it that you do, Harry?"

"I'm an Auror trainee," he explained, cracking eggs into a pan, making some sort of egg dish with meats and vegetables by moving his wand and directing the pieces to float into the pan. He looked over his shoulder and saw Robb's face. "Annnnd that means nothing to you. Right; I enforce the law, hunt down those who break it and arrest them."

Ah, thought Robb. "You are the King's justice. Or a knight."

"Erm," Harry's face was a bit startled and his eyes wide behind his glasses, a spatula moving on its own in the pan. "I… guess? We don't have a King - we have a Minister for Magic, and that's Kingsley, you'll meet him later - but I'm pretty low in the Quidditch team, you know? I'm just a trainee. There's then a full-fledged Auror, and then the Head Auror, and then the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

"I… see," said Robb, although not quite; he was sure he was missing some of the finer points between the two cultures, but in the meantime, Harry slid the egg dish onto a plate which floated across the room to him; a fork came next. Tentatively, Robb reached out and grabbed it as it hung suspended in the air and then motioned with his free hand towards the plate and fork, now both on the tabletop, "Is this normal?"

"Mm?"

Harry was at a seat across from Robb, already digging into his food.

"Using magic this way?"

The other man swallowed and nodded. "Yeah. You can use magic for just about everything, I suppose. It's harder for Hermione and me though."

"Oh?" Robb took a tentative bite.

"Well, both Hermione and I grew up in the Muggle world - I'll take you out later so you can see what London's like - but we never knew magic existed before we were told about it at eleven. Others, like Ron," at Robb's glance, Harry grinned. "So Hermione has mentioned us."

"Aye - she showed me a picture of the - Defense Association? Dumbledore's Army?" Robb confirmed. "The two were interchangeable."

"That's right. Officially we were the Defense Association, but to stick it to Umbridge, we called it Dumbledore's Army," Harry leaned back with a pleased sigh. "Ahh, those good ol' days when Hermione would jinx our recruitment sheets to permanently disfigure someone who betrayed our trust or when she sent a racist bigot out into the Forbidden Forest to piss off the centaurs." There was a fond look on Harry's face that had Robb frowning. "She always was a vicious thing when you pissed her off. I think Ron still has the scars from her canaries, too."

"Hermione?" asked Robb.

Harry nodded. He broke out into laughter at Robb's skeptical look. "Don't let her fool you - Hermione can be sweet and accommodating when she wants to be, but she has a lot of bad traits, too. She's stubborn, bossy, even arrogant in her belief that she's right no matter what, and condescending. She prefers logic to emotion, but she can burst into tears when the people she cares about are being stupid. She cares almost too much once she deems you worth her time. But that can also mean she'll slap you if you annoy her enough, too."

Thinking back to Hermione's emotional outbursts in his war room, as well as her frantic and then cold attitude at the Crag, Robb found that to be a good reflection of the woman. "You care for her a lot."

Harry nodded, cleaning off his plate and motioning to Robb's empty one, which he pushed away. A wave of the man's wand had them floating back to the sink, where a scrubber and soap began washing the dishes and cutlery clean. "I owe her my life, many times over. I love her."

Robb's stomach clenched. "Oh?"

"Did she ever tell you about our first year? How we met and became friends and then how we stopped Voldemort?"

Robb shook his head.

"Oh, you're in for some stories," grinned Harry, and it looked a bit wicked. "She's gonna kill me when she finds out I've told all this…"

For the next several hours, Harry spent the time telling Robb about his adventures at Hogwarts, and the exploits they experienced. At one point, Harry broke out a bottle of Odgen's Firewhiskey, which Robb was quite impressed by, burping out smoke rings to Harry's delight and admiration.

The two were finishing a story, laughing uproariously, when others meandered into the kitchen.

"- kept going 'levi-o-saaaaaah' until Hermione had enough and tried to correct him. But of course he went, 'if you're so clever, you do it then' and she does," laughed Harry, making Robb snort into his shot glass, right before he was about to take a sip, "And then there's Hermione, all smug and whatever, perfect grip and glancing with this smirk on her mouth."

"Really? We're telling that story?"

Robb turned to see a tall redhead step into the kitchen, a scowl on his mouth as he surveyed the two. Behind him came a few others as the noise level increased from the quiet of Robb and Harry to a gaggle of others. There was a redhead girl, clearly family to the first redhead, who came up and kissed Harry on the cheek; a tall, broad-shouldered man with brown hair who greeted the redhead and Harry with back slaps and "Harry! Good to see you, mate," and "Ron! How's it been?" closely followed by a dreamy-looking blonde, who strode right up to him and said, "You have very few wrackspurts. That's a good sign."

"Er, thanks?" replied Robb, taken aback.

"Harry, dear!" a matronly redhead with streaks of grey bustled into the kitchen, and immediately with a flick of her wand pots and pans went soaring overhead and the stove turned on and the faucet ran water. "You're too skinny, dear. Have you had dinner yet? No? I'm going to do a roast - no, no, you just sit there. I'll take care of it all."

And then there was McGonagall, walking in and talking to a black man in a purple robe trimmed with gold; a stately woman with curly hair like Hermione's, only it was jet-black and she had a straining toddler on her hip whom she immediately passed over to Harry, who took the babe with a wide smile; and many more Robb couldn't stop to discern from his seat.

The noise washed over him and his eyes went wide as the cacophony had him pushing his chair back until he was well away from the table and able to make a dash for escape if needed. Not everyone went to the kitchen, many others pulled out seats at the dining table, and others clustered into groups where they caught up with others.

Even as King in the North, in a crowded Hall during a feast, never had Robb felt as claustrophobic as he did at that moment, watching as magic was used thoughtlessly to make a meal - dishes, cutlery, knives, ingredients flying above all their heads and mixing together - or creating a cloud of pink smoke with a loud bang, making those around the devilishly grinning redhead laugh - or around the babe in Potter's lap, who turned his hair blue, making the women around him coo - or -

"It can be overwhelming, can't it?"

Robb grimaced and turned to the man who stood next to him, leaning against the kitchen wall as he watched the crowd, even as more people turned up from the front door, calling out hello's and how do you do's?

"Aye," said Robb simply, eyeing the black man as he stuck his hand out. Recognizing it from earlier, he reached out and shook the hand tentatively.

"Kingsley Shacklebolt," the man introduced himself.

"Robb Stark," he replied, deciding against King in the North. "Harry mentioned you earlier. You're their leader?"

Shacklebolt chuckled, a deep, low sound. "Ah - well, in a manner of speaking. I'm the Minister for Magic, so I'm the leader of magical Britain, but in terms of the Order of the Phoenix, I'd say McGonagall leads us with input from myself and Arthur." He pointed at an older man with thinning red hair and a receding hairline.

"And all these people are here for… for Hermione?" he asked, stumbling a bit at the end, eyes taking in the colourful robes and mixed clothing.

The man nodded. "We all love her. Getting her back is a priority." He then eyed the man next to him. "And sending you home, too, of course."

Robb gave him a tight smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Of course."

Then someone was shouting and people were scrambling for seats in the dining area, others hovering in the kitchen near where finger foods were being floated out. One was a tall, burly redhead, and as he reached for a meat snack, the matronly redhead smacked the back of his hand with her wand. "Charlie, no!"

Robb found himself at the dining table, in an uncomfortable seat with his back to the closed dining door (which must have led back to the hallway, he surmised), next to McGonagall on one side and Harry on his other.

"Settle down, settle down," the woman's gravelly voice called, and everyone began to settle.

"She's probably taught everyone in this room," whispered Harry to him with a grin. "We've all been at the end of her 'professor' voice."

"Indeed, Mr. Potter."

Harry blushed and some people laughed.

"Now, while I realize that the war is over, and the Order of the Phoenix is not needed," the woman began, carefully looking at everyone, "let us call this an informal meeting regarding the disappearance of Ms. Granger and begin to brainstorm ways to get her home in light of new information."

"New information?" called a voice - it was the man who tried to take some food, Charlie. "What information is that, Professor?"

Both she and Harry turned to Robb, who patiently eyed them back. Harry cleared his throat. "Erm - well - that is - it turns out Dumbledore-"

"Professor Dumbledore," interrupted an arrogant looking redhead.

Harry sighed. "Right, sorry, Percy - Professor Dumbledore - may have been right about where Hermione is." At the blank looks around the room, and a grumble from the lanky redhead next to Harry's seat as he crossed his arms, Harry expanded: "He thought that because we couldn't find her, and no spell could either, that she was in another world."

There was some silence, and then: "I beg your pardon, my boy?" stuttered a rather large, round man in robes who came with McGonagall.

"Everyone, this is Robb Stark," introduced Harry, and Robb rose to his feet to look at everyone like he was surveying his Lords in his war room, "King in the North. He's from… from another universe, one where Hermione is right now. He said she's been with him and his army for the past year - the same length of time she's been gone from ours."

Almost immediately, people began shouting, talking over one another. Robb was a bit shocked and wide-eyed at the disorganization the group descended into - there were no rules or respect given to their leaders. He would never allow his men to go on like this!

A loud bang erupted in the room and silenced everyone. Shacklebolt stood with his wand raised, its tip smoking slightly. "Now then," he began, his eyes coolly sweeping the room, "Let's be reasonable and intelligent about this. Yes, Longbottom?"

The brown-haired, broad-shouldered young man who greeted Harry earlier had his hand partially raised, indicating he wanted to speak Robb supposed and cleared his throat once eyes were on him, shifting uncomfortably. "Ah - thank you Minister - could you - that is, could you expand on what you mean by 'another universe'?"

Harry nodded at Robb, who, reluctantly, began to speak. "I am from a place called Westeros. Magic does not exist in the way that you seem to have control of it. In fact, much of the magic in our world is gone for many centuries. There is no divide between magical realms and non-magical ones."

The dreamy blonde who spoke to him of wrackspurts looked thoughtful from her place next to Longbottom. On her other side was another redhead with longish hair and a fang earring, and scars across his face. He frowned and leaned back in his seat, just as the gorgeous blonde on his other side whispered something into his ear.

"So how'd you get here then?"

The question came from the belligerent redhead next to Harry - Hermione's other best friend, Ron. He had his arms crossed on the table and was looking around Harry to stare at him with an unreadable expression on his face.

"I don't know," replied Robb shortly, in clipped tones. "We were attacked a peace summit at the Twins-"

"The where?"

Robb sighed. "It's a castle held by the Freys, men sworn to my uncle. However, they betrayed us and attacked my men and I. Hermione and I had planned for emergency Portkeys in case anything was necessary going forward, and when those Portkeys were activated, I ended up -"

He turned to McGonagall, who answered, "In the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid found him." She nodded at the back of the large group, where a very large man - Robb was sure he had giant's blood in him - nodded as well in agreement.

Robb continued, "I was badly injured, and kindly healed at Hogwarts."

There was silence around the dining room as those in the Order of the Phoenix and the Defense Association all took in the news of Robb's travelling to a different dimension - with one exception.

"HA!" cried out Luna loudly, her face flushed rose as she pumped her fist in the air and stood in one movement, causing everyone to turn and look at her. Her dreamy expression was one of triumph, of utter conviction, and she looked far more coherent than she had when Robb first met her.

Warily, Harry asked, "Luna...?"

The blonde beamed at the table, unconcerned at how some shifted away or the open-mouth looks they gave her. "Dimensional rifts, Harry!"

"Loony," muttered Ron, falling back into his seat with a heaving sigh and looking up at the ceiling.

"If you mean Robb's from a different dimension, we knew that already Luna," gently chided Harry, looking at her with worry.

Luna shook her blonde hair out. "No, no, Harry - you're not seeing! Forests! Trees! They are the key!"

"I'm lost," someone in the crowd said.

Luna's brilliant look began to shift into dismay as she looked around the room - except -

The redhead with the fang earring was nodding, slowly, a thoughtful look on his face. "Professor, where did Hermione disappear from?"

McGonagall blinked behind her glasses. "The Forbidden Forest. I had sent her in there to look for the centaurs. They had scattered after the battle, what with Grawp tearing things up during the battle -"

Robb sat up straight as he realized what Luna was trying to say. "And we were supposed to end up in the Wolfswood - a forest," he explained for the confused looks. "Hermione came out in my dimension in a forest! The Whispering Woods!"

Luna grinned at him and he grinned back.

"Trees!" she repeated.

"I don't get it," someone said.

But now Longbottom was nodding slowly, something spreading across his face. "The Forbidden Forest is old magic - it was there long before Hogwarts was. And trees are sacred."

Ron groaned under his breath. "Of course Neville would turn this into herbology…"

Harry shushed him. "What do you mean, Neville?"

But there were disjointed, broken sentences emerging from not only Neville and Luna, but the redhead with the fang, and then others, including Robb, all chiming in as they began to figure it out:

"-we're talking about a nemeton-"

"-no, not a nemeton, but definitely a sacred space-"

"-we have that, it's called a godswood, with a weirwood heart tree-"

"-a world tree? Yggdrasil?-"

"-branched off, there are different worlds and planes of existence-"

"-suggesting that this is one of them?-"

"-there are faces in the wood-"

"-watchers?-"

"-more like keepers, maybe? Spiritual guides?-"

There was a loud bang and the excited chatter of those who were talking over one another with their ideas stopped abruptly and turned to the Minister, who again had to gain the attention of those in the room.

However, his eyes were bright, and his teeth white against his dark skin as he grinned widely at them. "And I think we now have a direction to move in. Luna, Neville, Bill, Fleur, Professor Flitwick - why don't you join with Robb and form a research group regarding nemetons and godswoods? Percy, you, Arthur, and I will check with the archives in the Ministry and see if there is any documentation about sacred groves and forests and dimensional shifts. Headmistress, perhaps you and Professor Slughorn can do the same at Hogwarts?"

Harry narrowed his eyes. "And what about me, Kingsley? That's my best friend stranded in another universe."

"Us, you mean," said Ron, standing to join with Harry as they stared down the Minister.

Shacklebolt smiled. "Well, you do have access to Grimmauld Place, Harry - with a library that has some of the darkest and ah - let's say unique - magic on hand? Perhaps you and several others can make this our base of operations and search the library here?"

It was like had broken the spell on those in the room - people began rising from their seats, moving to and fro, breaking into groups and then smaller ones as leaders naturally emerged, beginning to discuss and dish out tasks.

Robb felt excitement race up and down his spine as he realized that while his world was significantly different to Hermione's, that magic was able to bridge some of those cultural gaps and give them their first, and best, lead in how to return him home.


"Well," said Hermione, sitting back on her heels, as she stared into Grey Wind's yellow eyes, "I think you're about as healed as you're going to be without Robb around, Grey Wind."

The large direwolf chuffed deeply, his tongue lolling out from where he lounged on her cot, having spent his time in her room of the tent recovering from the crossbow bolts and arrows that had incapacitated him during the attack at the Twins.

As Hermione had ensured that Daryn had both her fake wand and Grey Wind, the man had left the Hornwood men at arms in charge of Grey Wind while he took his spot inside as the King's guard. Luckily, Daryn's men had not touched a lick of alcohol during the summit and were able to defend the wolf.

"Come on, up you get," she ordered, standing up. Grey Wind turned his yellow eyes on her and whined a bit. "Stop it - you need to get stronger and having a bit of a walk will do you good."

Grey Wind lowered his head and looked up at Hermione.

She stared back with her hands on her hips.

"I am used to stubborn animals, Grey Wind," said Hermione slowly, narrowing her eyes. "Let me tell you about Crookshanks, hmm?"

"My lady?" called a voice from the front of the tent.

Hermione scowled at the direwolf, who now rolled onto his side, completely taking up the cot from pillow to base, his tail swishing back and forth. "Next time," she hissed, turning and exiting the room.

Standing just inside the flap were Karstark, Bolton, Cerwyn, and Umber, with Eddard Karstark just on the inside, eyeing them all.

"My apologies, my lady," her new guard and Torrhen's brother said, eyeing the older men, including his father, with some distrust. "But they said they have a meeting with you?"

"That's right," said Hermione brightly, even as her eyes darted from one man to the next. "They can come in. Thanks for reminding me, Edd. Speaking of, who's out there with you? Have you slept yet?"

Eddard looked a bit bewildered, blinking at Hermione and shaking his head back and forth slowly. His blonde-ish hair had come out from where it was tied back, most likely from him running his hand through it overnight, and his square face was pale. "It's Lord Daryn, my lady. And um - no. No, we haven't broken fast yet. Lord Lucas will be taking over the watch, along with the Smalljon."

Hermione hummed and looked at the others, who were making their way to their seats at the table, including Cley Cerwyn who seemed to be fitting in well. Karstark shook his head. "We haven't eaten yet, either, my lady."

"In that case…"

Hermione moved to her kitchen, motioning for Eddard to bring Daryn in, and then all but pushed them into the two armchairs that framed the fireplace in the living area of the tent (Hermione was even more worried and compassionate towards Daryn, who had lost the majority of his left arm in the attack at the Twins and had needed two Maesters' help, along with her potions, to sedate him and heal the wound. Even now, he was unbalanced and unable to handle anything more than a dagger, but was up on his feet and reporting to his duties against the healer's advice.). The two guards, half-stricken by her manhandling, and half-bemused, did as she bade, and then all the men watched in complete befuddlement as Hermione - by default, who had become a leader amongst them - began to cook and serve them breakfast.

She decided on a simple fry-up, using her magic freely with some charms that Molly Weasley taught her and others she picked up watching the Weasley matron in Grimmauld Place years ago. While she directed her wand for some non-battle magic, she opened their morning discussion, floating two mugs of strong tea to Daryn and Eddard; milk and sugar followed, trailing after the mugs like ducklings.

"With the Freys no longer being a problem, we can concentrate on Winterfell," she said, directing plates to fly and land in front of the men. Karstark immediately snatched his hands off the table where they were folded to put them on his lap just as his plate landed. "What do we know of Winterfell so far?"

Umber gave Bolton some stink eye. "It's being held by his son."

Bolton's cold look would've frozen Umber but instead, the man smirked back. "And likely those that follow him."

"How many numbers?" asked Cerwyn, eyes narrowed in thought.

"Fifty or so," replied Bolton tersely. "But they are likely vicious creatures, no doubt barely leashed animals."

"Fitting," rumbled Umber.

Hermione eyed the sneering large man and the cool stare from Bolton and intervened. "Enough! Lord Umber - clearly Lord Bolton had no idea what his son was going to do. Lord Bolton, ignore Umber being uncouth and insulting; frankly, it's beneath him and childish."

Both men glared at each other a moment longer and then looked away, Umber mumbling an apology.

"Engaging even fifty men in a full-scale attack could be dangerous," said Cerwyn, breaking the short tension that fell over the group. "Winterfell is a strong castle - and fifty men could hold the inner towers easily, even if our men broke through the lines."

Hermione served the food, the frying pan skittering off the stovetop and launching itself towards the table where Karstark flinched violently as it appeared at his side, slipping sideways as a spatula dished out eggs, sausages, and bacon, while two pieces of cut toast framed the plate. He stared at the food and gingerly poked at it with a fork.

"The Ironborn took it," argued Daryn, noisily slurping his tea from the armchair.

"With grappling hooks and the cover of darkness as they slipped in," argued Umber. "That's hardly honourable."

Karstark made a face, but carefully spooned a bit of food in his mouth. Bolton and Cerwyn were watching him, and when he made a pleasant expression, they too joined in on their breakfast.

"If only we could get inside Winterfell without anyone knowing," sighed Karstark around his meal. "If no one knew what our plan was, then neither would Ramsay. He wouldn't expect it."

"We could lessen any casualties that way," agreed Cerwyn, leaning back. "Winter is Coming."

Hermione nodded, slipping into her own seat with her plate of food. "You want a Trojan horse."

"A what?" echoed Umber.

Hermione began cutting her meats methodologically and focused on that as she spoke. "The Trojan War - Helen of Troy was kidnapped - or ran away, stories vary depending to which side you listen to - and her Sparta husband went to war with Troy. The war took place over ten years, and finally, the Greeks - Sparta - constructed a large wooden horse, which was also their sigil, I guess the closest would be, and snuck their men inside it and left it as a gift for Troy as a victory trophy. At night when Troy was asleep, the Greeks snuck out of the horse, opened the gates for the rest of their army, and destroyed Troy, ending the war."

There was an uncomfortable look on the Northmen's faces. "That's hardly honourable - not meeting the enemy in the face during battle," said Umber slowly.

Hermione looked up at Umber and said, coolly, "All war is deception."

Bolton, a glint in his eyes and an empty plate in front of him asked, "Are those your words, my Lady?"

"No," said Hermione, shaking her head. "They're Sun Tzu's." Realizing none at the table knew who that was, or really cared, she made no explanations. Instead, Hermione mentally shelved their plan for infiltrating Winterfell - via Trojan horse - to asked, "Is there anything else we should know or be aware of?"

Cerwyn nodded. "Lord Hoster and I were able to finish our census but Lord Bracken was able to give ravens from Riverrun to Lord Blackwood to pass on. There has been news from the Wall."

The Northern men at the table all sat up straight. "What of it?" asked Karstark.

"There was a Great Ranging," explained Cerwyn, and Hermione could hear the capitals in his words.

Frowns appeared on all the men's faces, and Hermione looked around the room in confusion. "What's a Grea