Notes: Recognizable dialogue from 1x10, "Fire and Blood." Also, the GoT rewatch is on season 2 now… but it is very slow going. The Great Hall in Winterfell is inspired by the King's Hall in Turku Castle; I ended up spending way too much time Googling "Scandanavian medieval castles" and then abandoned photography.
Hermione's eyes managed to search out Teddy, who was standing upright and hanging off from the leg of the statue, his golden eyes wide. Now? he seemed to be saying.
And Hermione managed one jerky nod in agreement.
While Teddy had never experienced the sheer, raw terror and adrenalin that came to those who experienced the first two wars in wizarding Britain, Teddy had been a dedicated student and capable dueller in Flitwick's club at Hogwarts - this gave him the slightest edge over others, especially with his lupine traits. He was clever enough to think on his feet and brash enough to be bold and try something new with his magic when duelling; watching his aunt almost executed, however, was something different than facing an opponent with a wand in a controlled environment.
Teddy shot off bombarda in the opposite direction of the Sept, slipping his wand back into his sleeve, near a rather isolated spot of unloaded barrels and an empty wagon. The spell hit with resounding force, wood splinters flying everywhere into the crowd and above them, raining hard pieces on the unsuspecting people.
They began screaming and crying, a few badly hurt, which caused the young Hufflepuff to wince. I didn't mean to do that-!
Hermione took advantage of Teddy's spell; the executioner, Ilyn, had paused, turning partially to look at the explosion. A wave of Hermione's hand wandlessly and wordlessly unlocked their cuffs, sending the bracers loudly clattering to the ground. She caught them as they fell, holding tight and then wrenched the chains locking her and Ned together to swing them in the man's direction and hauling Ned to his feet in the process.
Ned yelped in surprise, staggering a bit.
Ilyn wasn't expecting the heavy steel chains at all, and the long, rusty metal, aided with magic, not only slammed into him but also wrapped around his neck several times, choking the mute man. The soldier's hands uselessly rose and scrambled at the chains, trying to tug them from where they wrapped tightly around his neck as his face turned red and then drained of all colour.
During this time, Hermione was not idle; she reached for Ned and pulled him close.
Hermione? sent Ned in confusion.
Trust me, she replied, glancing at Teddy.
The young wizard caught her eyes through the panicking crowd and drew his wand once more, shouting "VENTUS!" and casting a very strong wind charm. The gale that swept from his wand sent people tumbling head over heels and crashing into others or falling into heaps, but it also sent up a dust cloud, picking loose bits of fabrics and other pieces until the swirling storm was a cloud of impenetrable debris. That cloud swept up to the Sept of Baelor, encasing those who stood upon the dais for the execution.
Using the dust as cover, Hermione gave Ned a bubble-head charm to protect him. In the midst of the gale, as it swirled 'round and 'round the Sept, Teddy popped in, close enough that Ned cried out in surprise.
"You need to get Sansa and Bran!" shouted Hermione over the noise of the wind.
Teddy, squinting, nodded. He shouted back, "What about you two?"
Hermione jerked her head a bit. "We're going to the Inn. Meet us there!"
Teddy nodded once more, tapping himself on his head to disillusion himself and blend in with the swirling gale. Amidst the noise, he heard Hermione's pop of Disapparation and pushed himself through the wind with an arm braced in front of him to where he last saw Sansa and Bran.
As he stepped closer, Teddy began to make out figures in the dust. He recognized the bright gold of Cersei Lannister's dress where she huddled in a protective ball near her son, with the snapping flaps of the white-edged cloaks from the Kingsguard on either side of her, protecting her from the worst of the wind. Two others were doing the same to Joffrey while trying to peer through the dust and dirt for a way out and into the protection of the Sept.
The Small Council had been just above and off to the side of Cersei and Joffrey during the proclamation, Teddy remembered; but all three were gone as he edged closer to the side where he remembered Sansa and Bran to be standing by the large, hulking figure of Sandor Clegane.
Each step Teddy took was labourous; he pushed against the storm, his spell only now slowly starting to taper off as the winds died down and the howl from the swirl began to lower in volume. In the sandy gleam of the dust, he spotted Sansa's gleaming red hair and lurched forward, falling to his knees just at her side.
Clegane was hunched over, protecting Sansa from the worst of the gale with his large bulk while the eldest female Stark clutched Bran to her, his head tucked into her neck.
Good, they're touching and together, he thought, reaching forward and touching Sansa's arm.
Surprise and shock made the teen jerk her head up, her eyes red-rimmed from the blowing dust as she squinted. She could make a faint outline or shimming in the dust when it hit something in front of her, but couldn't see anything else. She closed her irritated eyes, and when she opened them, Teddy was crouched in front of her.
"Te-" she began, but he brought his free hand not wrapped around her arm to his mouth and placed a single finger to his lips in a universal "shh" message.
Confused, she nodded; her grip on Bran tightening just as she also reached out and wrapped a fist tight into Teddy's shirt.
Teddy shuffled closer, easing himself so that he could touch both of the Starks - Bran looked up from Sansa's neck in confusion and then relief upon seeing Teddy - until he was close enough to say, "Hold tight - this is going to feel strange."
Bran opened his mouth to speak, but Teddy pulled them from Clegane's hulk - the man reared back in surprise, his eyes locking on Teddy in anger - but then Teddy was twisting in his spot, concentrating hard on the inn he and Hermione had briefly stayed in when they first arrived in this universe, and with a pop, they were gone, just as Teddy's spell expended itself and the dust and debris collapsed, littering the square and the Sept.
The crack of her Apparation into the inn had Arya, Jeyne, and Syrio leap from the bed and a chair near the door to their feet, respectively, facing a new danger. When Arya saw it was Hermione and her father, she raced across the wooden floor and into his arms.
"Father!" she cried, clutching him tightly as he bent slightly at the waist to do the same.
"Arya," he sighed into her hair.
Less than a minute later, another loud crack broke through the room and Teddy appeared, one arm around Sansa and the other around Bran. Bran doubled over and was sick on the floor, while Sansa stood shocked, tightly clutching her 'half-brother's' tunic in a white-knuckled grip.
"Bran! Sansa!" called Ned, looking up from Arya.
"Sansa!" cried Jeyne, hands at her mouth.
Immediately, Sansa detached from Teddy and launched herself at her father while Bran made a woozy zigzag walk to him. In response, Teddy stepped back until he was near Hermione, and withdrew his wand to vanish Bran's sick on the floor. He then summoned her beaded bag and sent it directly into Hermione's waiting arms as she clutched it before looping the strap up and over until it settled across her chest.
And the entire time, Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos, stared at them, something keen and clever in his dark eyes.
After a few moments cuddling his children, running his hand down their hair and shoulders, Ned stood straight and turned his head to find Hermione and Teddy standing slightly apart, both watching with soft, matching smiles.
How are they not related? he found himself thinking, but shook his head and said, his voice carrying through the room, "We're leaving - going back to Winterfell. Now."
Sansa looked up, her face tear-streaked as she gasped, "How?"
"Hermione?" asked Ned instead, ignoring his daughter.
Hermione stepped forward, withdrawing a few quills from her expanded beaded bag. After tapping the quills with her index finger, the quill glowed blue.
"What is that?" muttered Bran, eyes wide.
"Magic," replied Teddy, winking at him.
Bran's mouth dropped open.
"Alright everyone," began Hermione, passing one to Syrio and Arya, another to Ned and Sansa, and then one more to Bran and Teddy, "Hold on tight to your Portkey. We're going straight to Winterfell."
"The courtyard -?" asked Ned, glancing from the quill spinning thoughtfully between two fingers as his arms drew Sansa closer to his side.
Hermione ignored the slight flush that came to her mind. "It was that or the tower, so…"
Ned cleared his throat and shifted a bit awkwardly, too. "Ah, aye - that's - that's a good idea-"
Completely baffled at Syrio's side, Arya asked, "What happened in the tower?"
"A girl should know when to speak and when not to," gently chided Syrio, fighting back an amused grin from his face as he reprimanded the youngest Stark girl. He tapped her on her nose. "And this is a time for a girl not to ask."
"Right," muttered Hermione, looking anywhere but at Ned and his children, or Teddy who was smirking at her side. "Everyone has a grip on their quill?" At the confused nods, Hermione smiled, reaching over to take gentle hold of Jeyne. The other girl stared up at her in confusion, wariness in her eyes, but Hermione gently smiled down at her and said, "See you shortly - Buckbeak."
"Wha-" whatever Bran was going to ask was abruptly cut off as the Portkey yanked each pair holding onto the quills through space, depositing them smartly on the inner courtyard landing in Winterfell, just outside the great hall.
Hermione and Jeyne were already there, Jeyne green in the face but breathing in the crisp scent of Winterfell and home, using the fresh air to calm her racing heart and sinuses. Teddy and Bran remained upright, due to Teddy's exposure to Portkeys; Ned's soldier reflexes kept him up, but Sansa turned green and crumpled to her knees upon feeling solid ground; Arya paused for a moment at a very nonplussed Syrio's side, before taking a single, wobbly step forward and then throwing up projectile vomit that landed a few feet away in an ugly brown pile. Some dribbled down her chin that she messily wiped away with the back of her hand.
Hermione, near Ned, glanced around curiously at any changes from when she was fifteen. Then, her eyes landed on three male figures standing off to the side of the courtyard, by a small pen barricaded by wooden posts and fenced on three sides. Two were shirtless, the redhead and the tawny brunet, while the curly, black-haired teen's mouth dropped open, along with his dropped sword, which clanged loudly.
"What the fuck?!"
The three voices, all spoken on top of one another, caused a ruckus, as a few servants came rushing out from the great hall, including one in a grey robe who exclaimed loudly at the sight of his Lord. "My Lord Stark! Thank the Seven-!"
Despite the sick on her chin, Arya turned wide, shining eyes on Teddy and Hermione and shouted, "CAN WE DO THAT AGAIN?"
Bran, staring up at Teddy, began rapidly asking questions, without pause: "Was that magic? Please tell me that was magic! Can I learn that? What was that? How did we get here from King's Landing? Can anyone do that? Can I do that? Is there a book about it? How did you learn it? Where did you learn it? Can Lady Granger do that too?"
"Uh-" Teddy stared at Bran, going rigid in panic.
"Father!" shouted Robb, racing forward as he dropped his own practice sword, with Theon following behind him at a leisurely pace. As soon as Robb reached his father, he stopped, unsure of what to do but Ned reached forward and cupped the back of his head before pulling him into a hug.
"Son," he rumbled, just as Robb tightly clutched at his father. Robb then backed away a few steps, his eyes and nose tip suspiciously red as he sniffled.
"Father," replied Robb, turning to Sansa, and helping her to her feet as he hugged her tightly, too. "Sansa! What's happened? How did you get here?" He turned back to his father. "Father - did you see? I called the banners-"
"I know, son-"
Hermione stood aside as she watched the family reunion; Teddy sidled up to her as Bran broke away from his questions and he and Arya were brought into a discussion with Ned, Sansa, Robb, and Theon about what happened. Jeyne was ushered away by some servants, leaving everyone else in the courtyard. Syrio stood just off to the side of them, watching carefully but always keeping Hermione and Teddy in his line of sight.
"We revealed our magic," muttered Teddy in undertones to Hermione through the corner of his mouth.
Hermione sighed. "Ned always knew but his family didn't."
"We could get into trouble," fretted Teddy, unconsciously wringing his hands together in front of him.
Hermione shot him a look. "From who? There's no Ministry here, Ted. Who's going to fine us or try convicting us or send us to Azkaban?"
Teddy's mouth pulled down into a frown and he scuffed the tip of his toe against the flagstone. "I don't like it, Aunt Hermione - we have our laws for a reason-"
"None of which apply here, Ted," said Hermione, turning to face him. Her voice was low and she caught and held her friend's godson's eyes. "We're in a completely different world - you know this. The rules don't apply anymore. Not if we want to survive and find a way back home."
Teddy sighed heavily and rubbed the back of his neck. "I su'pose…" He glanced down and then looked up bashfully, only to pause and drop his hand. "Who's that?"
Hermione turned, following Teddy's gaze until they rested on the only other young man from the three, the one wearing his tunic. Parts of it were slick with sweat, sticking to his skin from the workout he and the other two were involved in, with his curly hair stuck to one side of his forehead. His grey eyes were wide and he was staring at them, looking back and forth between herself and Teddy, cataloging and detailing them.
"Oh," breathed Hermione, eyes wide.
Teddy turned curiously to her, but his attention was quickly turned to the redhead teen when he asked, "Where's Mother?"
Ned frowned. "Is she not here?"
Robb shook his head. "She went to King's Landing to see you."
Bewildered, Ned looked over his son, Theon, who nodded in confirmation, and then Luwin who verbally agreed with Robb, before turning in confusion to Hermione, and then back to his eldest son. "Whatever for?"
"Something about a raven from Aunt Lysa and a plot to assassinate the King!"
Hermione's eyes narrowed and Ned glanced at her again, sharing a look. It seems that we were partially right, he sent her.
"Now we're getting somewhere," the witch muttered in reply, thinking back to their list with Cersei about who would want them fighting.
Ned sighed. "I was afraid of that…"
Robb, his face pulled long with a frown, demanded, "What's going on? Where's Mother?"
Ned shook his head. "I don't know, Robb. I never saw her when in King's Landing…"
From nearby, Bran and Sansa shared a look, with Sansa tentatively speaking up first. "She sent us a note," began Sansa, just as Bran interrupted, "She was in a brothel."
Silence descended on the group with that remark while Ned reeled back, bewildered by the hostility in his youngest child's voice and the glare Sansa sent him.
"And now it all makes sense," sighed Hermione, her voice quiet but travelling so that it was heard.
"A brothel? Why would she be -" Ned's voice broke off and a strange look took over his face. "... Baelish."
Sansa's red eyebrows drew together. "He said he was Mother's friend."
Teddy snorted. When all eyes moved toward him, he flushed red in embarrassment and muttered a low, "Sorry."
"Hardly necessary, Ted," said Ned, but his voice was low and thunderous as he turned to his children, Sansa, Arya, and Bran looking the most shocked at their father's low, boiling anger. "He is not our friend, Sansa; the man is an eel, and is not to be trusted!"
Robb, who had been glancing at Teddy every few seconds upon realizing who he was at his father's proclamation, turned contemplative when he asked, "Shall we call for the lords, Father? Have a war council?"
Ned shook his head.
"Why not?" demanded Robb, Theon nodding alongside him.
"I must go tell Robert of this… he should be informed." Ignoring the shocked looks of those who had remained in Winterfell, Ned turned to Teddy and asked, "Will you come with me?"
Just as Teddy nodded, Robb burst out, "You mean the King? But he's dead!"
"He's certainly not - just displaced," scoffed Ned, shaking his head. His lips twitched and he continued in amusement, "Robert's enjoying a vacation from ruling the Seven Kingdoms, and probably annoying everyone around him."
Taking in the shocked look on his children's faces, Ned basked in their surprise - he was usually so straightforward that having the ability to reveal such a secret was rare, and he found that he enjoyed it.
Hours later, after a bath and a change of clothes for not only himself but also assigning rooms and baths for Hermione and Teddy, Ned was able to meet with the Lords and Ladies Robb had called when he heard of his father's imprisonment. While they would've met on the road south, somehow Robb had listened to the words of caution from Luwin and kept everyone in one place in Winterfell before attempting a march south to the Neck.
Ned met everyone in the spacious Great Hall, a large, cavernous space that was once the throne room of the Starks of old.
The space was long and rectangular, with smooth, unadorned stone columns spaced every few meters on either side of the room. The columns rose tall, arching and curving to create a curved point in the ceiling, the triangular V running down the center of the hall with thick, dark wooden beams running from column to column as support. From each beam hung a large, circular iron chandelier, flickering with warm light.
There was a slightly raised dais opposite two large, heavy wooden doors that opened into the rectangular hall, all the way at the other end. The dais held a rectangular table with a few chairs, meant for the Lord and his lady and heirs to proceed over those who came to call on them instead of a throne. On either side of the dais were two stone hearths with warm fires already lit; and above the table was a stained glass window with the Stark sigil, gently filtering light from outside into the room.
There were benches and a few tables for people to sit at, and the very front of the hall, closest to the hearth, were filled with men and a few women in thick-furred cloaks or layered tunics and chainmail.
Ned took to the dais along with Robb, who stood at his right side and slightly behind; Sansa, Arya, and Bran hovered to the side with Maester Luwin, while the household Stark men, like Theon and Jon, remained near the front of the crowd. On the other hand, Hermione and Teddy lingered at the back and to the side, kept not quite hidden but definitely out of sight with Syrio Forel with them. The three had cleaned themselves up from the dust and grime (and blood) from their earlier escape, both Hermione and Teddy grateful for Ned's foresight in sending bath water to them.
"My Lords and Ladies," began Ned, his voice low and echoing through the large chamber, carrying so that even the furthest person would be able to hear him. His bannermen rose respectfully. "Welcome. Please be seated so that we may begin."
There were scratches and thuds as people moved their benches or seats skidded across the smooth stone floor, and then some shuffling as people got comfortable but soon everyone settled.
"I wish to firstly thank you all for coming when my son called the banners," Ned said, glancing around the partially filled hall. "The last time such an event occurred it was due to the Iron Islands uprising - and before that, the imprisonment of my brother and the kidnapping of my sister."
There were some murmurs of acknowledgment from the crowd.
"It warms my heart to know that my bannermen and women - those closest to me - would honour me in wishing to see me freed from King's Landing," he finished, reaching for a nearby goblet and raising it in a toast to his men.
There was a resounding cheer from those in the hall, and Hermione could hear one loud voice above the rest shouting, "Whenever you need us, Ned!"
After his toast, Ned placed the goblet back on the table in front of him. He seemed to deliberately pause, and in the wake of that silence from their liege lord, a few clamoured for answers.
"How did you escape?"
"Why were you imprisoned?"
"What lies is the Queen Regent and new King spreading about your being a traitor?!"
For a brief moment, Ned appeared overwhelmed as he cast his eyes around the room, voices quickly overtaking one another until there was just a cacophony of noise, echoing in the hall.
Breathe, reminded Hermione, as she sent the thought to Ned. She mentally stroked their connected, soothing the frayed string and projecting calm. I'm here. Take your time to answer them and only tell them what you want them to know.
Ned's eyes darted toward her, finding her and Teddy in the shadow of a large column. A few keen-eyed lords followed his gaze and sent their own curious and suspicious gazes at the three strangers in Winterfell's hall.
However, Ned relaxed under Hermione's words and took a deep breath, beginning, "While I have sworn an oath and unable to explain why the Queen Regent placed me in the dungeon, initially, upon further discussion we have come to the agreement that there are… others who wish to see the North suffer and through it, are manipulating the dislike between the Starks and Lannisters to achieve this."
There was a moment of stunned silence from those in the room.
"While I yet do not know who is - behind such machinations," Ned stumbled a bit in his phrasing, indicating his unease, "I know that we must be vigilant against those who wish not just House Stark harm, but the North as a whole."
"My Lord, what happened?" breathed one of the Lords; he was young and slightly foppish looking, with only wisps of facial hair growing on his cheeks and chin. His voice carried his incredulous and wavering tone of fear.
Ned sighed and turned partially away, looking downcast as he reached up to rub his hand over his mouth in unease. "I was captured for suspected treason against the crown and thrown in the dungeon - which you all know."
Murmurs of agreement rent through the air.
"Yet what you do not know was that I was never in the dungeons - not long, anyways," he continued. "The deception was done to keep our enemies - and previously, the Queen Regent - blind to our movements. It was thanks to Lady Hermione Granger and her son, Edward -"
Ned gestured to where Hermione and Teddy were in the shadows, causing a ripple of captive Lords and Ladies to turn in their direction. Teddy waved weakly, shuffling nervously while Hermione inclined her head.
"-who managed to deceive everyone by escaping from the dungeons and furthermore, saving my children and half the household from being slaughtered or taken captive."
"And who is this Lady Hermione and her son?" demanded a loud voice.
"Lord Karstark, may I introduce Lady Granger, a close friend of mine from childhood?" began Ned, an uncomfortable look on his face as, at his side, Robb shot him a strange glance that he ended up sharing with Theon in the front row.
Karstark - the elderly man with a grey beard and longish salt-and-pepper hair - squinted at Hermione. His cool greyish eyes glanced between Hermione, Teddy, and Ned, before turning back to his liege lord and asking, quite clearly, "And just how well do you know Lady Granger, my Lord Stark? After all, there are rumours-"
A few other mutters took up root in the room as more people began turning to Hermione and Teddy, their eyes assessing rather than curious.
I think I'll have to publicly announce it, Hermione, thought Ned, sending the grim message along his bond with his soul mate, his displeasure ringing loudly.
Mentally, he received the emotion of a shrug - slight apathy with resignation - from Hermione who merely glanced at him from her place in the room. Their mental conversation reinforced his own unhappiness at more people learning a partial truth to Hermione's origins, despite the protection it offered her. Teddy, however, was about to be thrown from the pot into the fire.
"I don't pander to rumours," stated Ned loudly and clearly to the room. It silenced those who were still murmuring, but it also seemed to give others the confirmation they sought, their eyes quickly glancing between the three figures.
The Lords and Ladies of the North were drawing their own conclusions, and Ned was certain that Sansa, Arya, and Bran's own tales of their time alongside Teddy in King's Landing - and even his own stupid, silly raven he sent to Winterfell months ago to stymie Catelyn's ire - would come back to haunt him as soon as Robb or Theon (mostly Theon) opened their mouths; even Jon's behaviour would be confirmation.
Ned sighed. What a cock-up.
Concerned by how his men would take the knowledge that the most honourable Ned Stark had a mistress - and another bastard son! - He quickly glanced around the hall. Karstark and Barbrey Rhyswell seemed the most put out at the knowledge, although Barbrey had a maliciously amused glint to her face; his closest friends and advisors, the Umbers and Mormonts, seemed to take the knowledge in stride; Cerwyn, Glover, Flint, and Manderly wore supportive and calculating looks on their faces, but there was one that made him pause nervously in his perusal of the hall.
Roose Bolton was of a similar age - if not five years older than Ned - and the two had known each other well growing up. Ned always considered Roose cold, if not very militant and tactical in his abilities that made him an excellent commander but a poor leader of men. That said, Ned could count on Bolton - uneasily count on him, if at that - in battle. But in his hall, revealing such knowledge?
Bolton's light blue eyes weren't wide, nor his pale face shocked. To most, it would appear that Bolton was unmoved by Ned's reveal; however, Ned saw the amusement on Bolton's face behind his mask, in the way there was a slight upturn on his thin lips or the way his eyes narrowed just so - but it wasn't malicious like Barbrey, or confused support like the Greatjon - it was, surprisingly, understanding writ on Bolton's face.
Oh, wonderful, he thought with sarcasm. The day when Roose Bolton of all people would empathize with Ned Stark was one for the history books.
During his lapse, Karstark and Umber engaged in a heated discussion regarding their next steps; after all, Robb had summoned them to Winterfell to march on King's Landing for Ned's return - and well, Ned had returned, unharmed. Surely that meant they could return to their holdfasts?
"-if he is not King Robert's, then why should we listen to him?"
"What about Lady Stark? Is she not missing?"
"My Lord Stark - what is this oath made to the Queen Regent? Can we trust her to keep on her end as a Lannister?"
"Where is the King?!"
"Will there be war?"
The questions were lobbed at Ned quickly, from many different directions, and his head swam for the briefest of moments as he was overwhelmed. It was like being back before these men and women when he first called the banners and learned of Brandon and his father's deaths - murders, his mind helpfully supplied in a dark hiss - and he was left, ill-prepared to be Lord Paramount of the North and the Stark of Winterfell.
But he took a deep breath, held it in a long, long moment, and expelled it at the same time of slamming his fist on the table. It shook under the weight, the goblet sloshing and tipping over, just as the loud noise reverberated through the now silent hall. The action and noise shocked those who knew Ned Stark - the Quiet Wolf.
"Enough!" Ned's voice rose, but not significantly. He was still heard throughout. "Enough. We are ill-prepared for full-out war, and as we Starks know, Winter is Coming. There are several concerns and issues we must handle before others."
Ned took a moment to survey the room. "The first is my wife."
There were a few murmurs, and Hermione saw several heads turn, looking for Catelyn Stark's distinctive red hair and failing to find it in the hall outside of Sansa's near-identical colour.
"From my understanding, upon receiving a letter indicating that the King was in danger of an assassination attempt, Lady Stark took it upon herself to travel with my Castellan to King's Landing to speak to me of this." Ned's face froze into a carefully stoic facade. "She never came to see me. I have no idea where Lady Stark is-"
Hermione could see a few of the people in the crowd roll their eyes - one was a brown-haired woman, near her age, that reminded her a bit of Pansy with her high-end fabric and carefully coiled hair. As it was, Hermione could almost hear the woman's thoughts: how could you misplace your wife, Lord Stark?
"-And, as much as it grieves me to say, we might not be able to trust Lady Stark to benefit the North," finished Ned uncomfortably, not wanting to air his dirty laundry.
One very large man blinked in surprise and blurted, "What?"
Ned rubbed his face, deliberately not looking at his children; Sansa, Arya, and Robb all appeared shocked to some degree, but Bran's face seemed resigned like he had already figured something out.
"Is this about the letter?" wondered Teddy under his breath as he leaned partially to Hermione.
She nodded. "We figured as much when in the dungeons," she replied, aware that Forel had his eyes on her, despite not moving his head from facing the front of the Great Hall. "When Cersei explained that Petyr Baelish had provided a very similar suggestion in - erm, removing Robert from power, she also revealed that Catelyn detests Ned and had something going on with Baelish when she was younger. There was an incident between Baelish and Ned's brother that left some bad blood - and Catelyn's sister, Lysa, was married to Jon Arryn."
Teddy blinked. "The previous Hand? The one who died under mysterious circumstances?"
"Mmhmm," replied Hermione, glancing at Teddy as her lips quirked up. "And doesn't that get your Spidey-senses going?"
Teddy nodded back. "Hell yeah, it does. But I thought things were good between the Starks and Tullys and Arryns?"
"Maybe for Ned it is," confirmed Hermione, mildly uncomfortable as she shifted a bit, "Because he knew Lord Arryn as a second father, and Lord Tully is his father-in-law. But one is dead, and from what I understand, the other has one foot in the grave."
Despite the language, Hermione grinned. "Shit, indeed."
"-furthermore," Ned was saying, drawing their attention back to him, and the increasingly incredulous crowd of Northern Lords and Ladies, "the, er, King - that is, Joffrey, has shown signs of aggression toward the North. While the Queen Regent and I are in accord, I will not stand for a deliberate insult to our land."
A rousing cheer went up for that.
"I would prefer to not bear arms unless it is a last resort," he concluded, staring hard across the hall. "Especially not while Robert lives."
Shouts bled over one another, about the King, and his health, and whereabouts, but Ned quickly shut them down with another loud bang on the table. The goblet rolled off this time, clattering loudly onto the stone floor and coming to a rest before Theon and Jon, the former who reached for it and scooped it up before thrusting it at Jon to hold.
"While I am aware of where Robert is, I do not know how he fares," announced Ned, causing even those who were still muttering to effectively fall mute. "When I last saw him, he was gravely injured and might still be so. Or, he could be healing. Until I send someone I trust to speak with him, I cannot make any decisions further, other than for us to protect ourselves, our homes, and our lands."
"Will Stannis lead the Stormlands?" someone shouted from the back.
Ned shrugged - an action that had a few mouths drop open. "I do not know. I don't know who he would ally himself with, as we have received no raven," finished Ned, glancing at Luwin who nodded in agreement. "Nor do we know if he is aware of Robert's health and location."
"Depending on where the King is," someone added - Hermione thought that was the same large man as before -, "It could take months to just hear how his health is, and by then, more months, if he dies or, recovers!"
Ned's mouth twitched. "Perhaps."
The same man narrowed his eyes. "You've got a plan, Ned. Well, out with it!"
Ned turned and extended a hand towards Teddy, Hermione, and Forel. "Teddy? Will you come here?"
Teddy froze next to Hermione as he became the object of fascination. "Erm-"
"Oh, go," whispered Hermione, nudging him forward.
Teddy stumbled, flushed red, and chuckling nervously while wringing his hands, he began toward Ned and the dais, keenly aware of the eyes on him.
Once he was at the foot of the dais, looking up at Ned, the older Stark reached forward and helped haul Teddy up next to him, at his side. Teddy forgot to breathe.
"I will be sending Teddy to Robert's location. Teddy has some… skill, let's say… in finding ways to travel quickly," announced Ned, causing Teddy to whip his head around and stare at him in shock.
"Wait - what-"
"Furthermore, his friendship with Prince Renly and Ser Loras provides us with a direct ear and line of communication to the throne and who I do believe will remain allied with Robert," concluded Ned, clapping Teddy on the shoulder.
Shit, no. No- Teddy's eyes were wide as they darted frantically around the Hall, catching some calculating and shrewd looks from those further below; one tawny-haired young man who had been in the sparring yard with Robb and Jon was staring at Teddy in ill-disguised jealousy, while Jon's mouth dropped open. Off to the side, Teddy could see Sansa and Arya beaming proudly while Robb looked mildly discomforted.
Ned turned to Teddy and asked, his voice low so no one else heard it except them, "Could you Apparate to Highgarden?"
"I've never been," replied Teddy, anxiously while his stomach churned. "To Apparate, you need to visualize the location."
"If I provide you with a map, could you get back to King's Landing and then make your way toward Highgarden that way? In smaller jumps?" continued Ned, his grip tightening on Teddy's shoulder.
Teddy found himself nodding quickly. "Yeah, sure, Ned, it's possible, but really, isn't there someone else - anyone else - who could do this? I mean-" Teddy let off a high, nervous chuckle that was shy of hysterical. "I'm just a seventeen-year-old wizard from London, I'm not a seasoned knight or-"
"You're Renly's friend, Ted," replied Ned, barely dipping his head to catch the teen's amber-coloured eyes with his grey ones. "That is far more than I can say about anyone else here. And more, I can trust you."
Skeptically, Teddy pulled back a bit, his eyes flicking towards Robb, then Jon and Theon, and then around the room. "You can't trust your own men or sons?"
"Robb is more than capable of leading these men," answered Ned, "But both he and Jon think they need to win high-stakes battles to prove their worth. They'd overcompensate with either arrogance or be too timid, holding back because they'd be unsure of their lack of experience. They need more time, and they are still young. I'd prefer to keep them that way a bit longer, still."
Teddy's mouth turned down. "But I'm an acceptable replacement?"
"You're a wizard, Teddy," replied Ned, amusement in his voice, "You're not a replacement, you're a fine-tuned weapon. If you're capable of even a quarter of the things that I've seen Hermione do - and that spell to save us was something amazing - then I don't need to worry about you being out of your depth. You are more than ready for this."
With a muffled groan, Teddy folded his arms, and muttered a disgruntled, "Fine. I'll do it."
Ned grinned, clapped Teddy's shoulder once more, and released him, stepping back. In a slightly louder voice, he said, "We'll meet shortly in my solar, once this conclave breaks."
"Yeah, fine," grumbled Teddy, sulking a bit, as he turned and retreated back to Hermione, ignoring the rather shocked looks the Lords and Ladies sent him - even Robb's mouth had fallen further down, eyes wide, at the move. What Teddy saw as a retreat, others saw as a snub.
Ned turned back to the crowd, speaking some more, but it was lost to Teddy, shoulders curled in and a pout on his face as he approached Hermione and Syrio Forel, who quickly excused himself from the pair.
"Guess who's going on their trip now?" he muttered when he was close enough to Hermione. Behind them, the conclave broke up, people going here or there and Ned remaining at the dais to speak to his family and Luwin, a few others crowding around him.
"Oh dear," she said, fighting to keep a smile off her face. "Where are you off to, then?"
"Highgarden," he replied, looking at her. "Ever been?"
She shook her head. "Can't say I have. Are you going alone?"
"Probably," Teddy shrugged, "Ned didn't say. I'm to meet him once this is done."
Hermione sighed, reaching forward and up to brush some of Teddy's hair off his forehead.
He squirmed out from under her hand, face red with embarrassment. "Hermione!"
The witch chuckled fondly in response, her eyes flicking over Teddy's shoulder.
"Ned wants you to join him now."
"How did you-?" Teddy stopped and sighed. "Right. Your bond." He peered down at her. "You know, it's just weird how you do that."
"Do what?" replied Hermione innocently, blinking up at him.
Teddy stared back, a tiny scowl on his thin lips.
Both Hermione and Teddy started at the unfamiliar voice and unfamiliar title, Teddy turning around to face the one who spoke.
Jon Snow stood nearby, his eyes a bit wider than normal as he glanced between the two. Closer now than they had been before, Hermione could see the resemblance to Ned, but the differences as well: Jon's cheeks were much higher, sharper than the Northern look, and the set of his mouth - full lips, a long, tense line - might have been Ned's signature stare, but the shape and pull of it was all wrong.
Ned, thought Hermione quickly, stretching out along their bond. Jon's here. What do I say to him?
Across the room, Hermione caught Ned's eyes, despite him being surrounded by Luwin, Robb, and some Lords. He held her stare as he replied, the mental bond between them resonating in use.
I've already - ah, confirmed - that Teddy is ours, explained Ned, his mouth pulling. Everyone will think you were my mistress when we were younger - or a dalliance.
A muscle twitched by Hermione's eye. Lovely.
Ned looked vaguely helpless for a moment, but then passed along the mental equivalent of a shrug - clearly, in response to what Hermione had done earlier to him.
You bore a son of the North, he responded, and as such have the protections of the Northern lords and ladies due to your association with me. The bastard son of the Lord Paramount of the North and Lord of Winterfell carries weight, despite whatever Jon has felt over the years.
And about Jon, Ned? Is he ours, too? You spun the tale years ago to protect him, never telling him he's Lyanna's and the Prince's. Hermione's mental voice was a bit sharper and clearer than her speaking voice, and even from the far distance, Hermione saw Ned wince.
There was a tiny shake of his head. Until Jon can protect himself, or Robert is truly dead or can swear on Lyanna's grave that he won't go after the remaining Targaryens, I will not tell him that.
Hermione gave an inaudible sigh. So… he's ours, too?
Hermione levelled a dead-eyed stare at Ned from across the room and then turned her head to face Jon. The conversation with Ned lasted on seconds - thirty at most - enough that her silence seemed more like contemplation than awkward.
"Jon," she said instead, brow furrowing as she looked the teenager over from head to toe. His curly black hair matched her own, but was the same colour as Teddy and Ned's; his eyes were round, like Teddy's, but both she and Ned had narrower ones; he had the tall, lanky height of a Northerner, like Teddy and Ned, so that was going for their story.
Anyone with half a brain could probably tell that they shared nothing genetically except the superficial, but Hermione was beginning to think people in Westeros only saw what they wanted.
"Mother, I-" Jon tried speaking again, but his voice cracked and he looked equally embarrassed and frustrated.
Teddy took some pity on the teenager, a year younger than him, and stepped forward. "Hey, mate - I'm Teddy. Edward."
For a moment, it looked like Teddy was going to extend his hand for a shake, and then brought it quickly back to his side. He began to fidget, tugging at the end of his shirt, nervously.
Jon stared at him, perplexed. "Hey…?"
"Yeah, it's - um, nice to finally meet you," continued Teddy, swallowing thickly. "I've heard a lot about you."
Startled, Jon asked, "You have?"
"Well, yeah-" but Teddy broke off, glancing at Hermione.
She cleared her throat and jerked her chin at Ned. "Don't you have somewhere you need to be, hmm?"
"Oh, right. Right!" Teddy bobbed his head a bit. "Right, gotta go. Ned wants to speak -" he glanced back at Jon. "I'll be seeing you around, yeah?"
"Ah, yes," replied Jon, a bit taken aback at Teddy's quick speech and whiplash-like switches in conversation. "That would be nice."
Teddy nodded at Jon; he leaned back to give Hermione a kiss on the cheek and a wave goodbye as he quickly turned on his heel and strode back toward Ned, with a face set like someone who was on their way to the gallows.
Hermione found herself rolling her eyes at Teddy's antics, but turned back to Jon with a small smile on her face. "Should we go for a walk, Jon? Unless you have somewhere you need to be?"
"No!" the word burst from Jon's mouth and Hermione blinked, startled. "I mean, yes, I'd like to go on a walk with you. No, I have nowhere to be."
He looked a bit sour, admitting that.
Hermione made a noise, humming thoughtfully. "Well then…"
The two began walking, away from the Great Hall. Hermione, who did not know her way around Winterfell, had Jon lead. However, he seemed equally unsure of where they were going, as they wandered up and down the halls, across covered, exterior walkways, and through courtyards. The silence between them was loaded, but not tense; Hermione instead took a patience route, waiting for Jon to speak first.
The teen fidgeted a bit at her side, his grey eyes constantly darting at her, and his mouth opening like he wanted to speak, but they shut it again. Finally, he tentatively asked, "Why did you leave me?"
They passed through a wrought-iron gate in a thick stone wall, Hermione taking the time to think of an appropriate answer that was truth and lie, all at once. They left a dirt path and stepped on grass, surrounded by nature.
"Where are we?" she asked instead.
"The Godswood," replied Jon, bashfully as he turned away. "I feel comfortable here, and I suppose my feet took me where I would feel best for this conversation."
"A fair point," replied Hermione with a smile. "As for why I left you…" She sighed, bringing a hand up to run through her hair. "How much do you know of me? Or, of my relationship with Ned?"
Jon frowned. "Very little. At first, it was mostly rumours - only recently has Father told me anything. He refused to speak of you, at all."
Hermione's mouth pulled down. "What was said?"
"There were rumours that my mother was from Dorne, as my wet nurse was from there. That it was Ashara Dayne," revealed Jon, his voice low and eyes to the side as they kept walking, leaves crunching underneath their feet. "Then, it was that my mother was dead - which I thought was the truth, until-"
Hermione sighed. "That was true."
Jon's startled eyes met hers, and he froze. "What?"
Hermione turned to face Jon. "When I was eighteen, I was fighting in the war-"
"But you're a woman!" blurted Jon.
Hermione stared at him, a hard look in her eyes. "Do you think war cares for your gender? It touches you regardless of age or sex."
"I-" Jon lowered his eyes, chastised. "I'm sorry."
Hermione waited a few moments before speaking again, sure that Jon wouldn't interrupt. "My best friend was being targeted, and we had been on the run for several months. We were starving, our tempers were frayed, and then Harry made a mistake. We got caught."
Biting back her anger, the feeling of impotence that teenaged Hermione felt when the Snatchers caught them, Hermione resumed walking. Jon followed, a few steps behind, avidly listening as Hermione resumed her tale, her voice slightly flat in recital.
"Harry and Ron were separated from me, taken to the dungeons," she continued, eyes ahead. "I wasn't. I was… given to the woman in charge at the manor. The man she had with her, well…"
Hermione's shiver, remembering Greyback, wasn't faked. She could feel Jon's confusion as it morphed into comprehension and then revulsion and horror; she could feel the weight of his eyes on her.
Clearing her throat, Hermione let her voice take on a bit more of an airy tone as she finished, "Anyway; I wasn't in the right frame of mind after that. Around then, after my -" she bit off the word torture from her lips "-that was the last time I saw Ned. It took me… months, years, to feel comfortable again."
She spared a glance at Jon, silent at her side. He was looking at the ground, his hands clenched at his side into fists, and there was a fierce look on his face that was equal parts ferocious and lost.
He looked up, his face pale. "I- I'm sorry you experienced that. I understand that… that taking care of me then would've been difficult."
Oh, thought Hermione, realizing that Jon had put one and one together and came up with four. Well, this works, too. They say the best lies are ones rooted in truth.
He licked his lips nervously when he asked, "But… after? Did you just… associate me with… with what they did to you?"
Hermione shook her head. "No… by the time I was ready to reach out to Ned again - years had passed. I just… I knew that he would've been married, and I didn't want to intrude on that life. I suppose… I suppose I thought he was happy. Happier off without me."
Jon's long face pulled down as he scowled, deeply. "He wasn't."
"I know that now," replied Hermione, calmly, as she glanced at Jon carefully. There were deep lines in the grooves around his mouth and at the corner of his eyes. "I didn't until I spoke with Ned in King's Landing."
"It was horrible!" burst Jon, as they stopped walking again, this time near a pool of water and a large, thick tree of pale bark and blood-red leaves. A face, carved into the bark, was weeping red sap.
"Horrible?" echoed Hermione, frowning.
"Lady Stark - she - I never felt like I belonged - was wanted - she - they -" the words struggled to emerge from Jon's mouth as his entire body shook with repressed hurt.
Pain pierced Hermione's heart at the visual, physical reaction Jon was having as years of pent up hurt, anger, embarrassment, humiliation, manifested itself. And here Hermione was - and Ned, too -, adding to those emotions without Jon realizing it.
At that moment, she hated herself for what she was going to add to the young man's burden, but then instinct took over, and she reached out, drawing Jon close and tucked him against her, despite their height differences.
He was frozen at first, inhaling sharply in surprise as he stood stiffly in the circle of her arms. But Hermione persevered, rubbing her hands up and down his back and making tiny "shush" noises, murmurs against the side of his curly head, and rocking them back and forth a bit.
Then, Jon gave a long, wet exhale and began shuddering in her arms; hot tears soaked her neck and collarbone through the collar of her dress. He was a silent crier, probably born from experience, trembling in her arms and the comfort she offered.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he gasped into her neck.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," soothed Hermione instead, her voice low. Her heart clenched and she squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you."
"No, I understand," he replied wetly, not moving from his spot.
"You shouldn't have to," she replied with a sigh. "A parents' job is to protect their children, to be there for them. Who was here for you, Jon?"
"Father - Father did his best-" Jon replied loyally, finally drawing back enough that Hermione could see his red-rimmed eyes and blotchy nose and cheeks. He sniffed loudly.
Hermione wiped at the wet cheeks and shook her head. "He had four other children, his wife, and an entire castle to run. I'm so sorry to you got lost in that, Jon."
Jon's eyes turned away.
"Hey." Hermione reached forward and gently turned his chin to face her again. "No more, okay? No more hiding, no more feeling left behind. I'm here now, and so is Teddy. We're here for you."
Jon searched Hermione's face for some hidden lie, but her earnest and open expression, holding his gaze with her own, seemed more than enough to convince him. He slowly nodded.
"Surely it wasn't all bad?" she continued. "You're of an age with Robb. And Arya wouldn't stop speaking of you in King's Landing, Teddy told me."
Jon's mouth slowly ticked upward. "Robb's my brother," he confirmed quietly, "And we'd do many things together - until Lady Stark intervened. But Arya," Jon's entire face brightened at the young girl's name, "She's a little hellion! She's my favourite. She was always up for some sword fighting lessons, or a mud fight, or playing in the dirt."
Hermione beamed, taking a few steps back to give Jon some room to recover.
He breathed deeply, calmer now. With a curious tilt to his head, he asked, tentatively, "Did Teddy play in the dirt?"
Hermione snorted. "Play? He lived in it. Although, sometimes it wasn't entirely for fun-"
Jon blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, don't let Teddy fool you," laughed Hermione, linking her arm with Jon's as they began walking again, away from the pool, "He's a clumsy thing. The majority of the time when he'd come in, covered in dirt, was because he tripped and fell into a mud puddle."
Jon gave a tiny laugh. "If he's so clumsy, how did he do so well in the mêlée?"
"Teddy has insane luck," revealed Hermione, leaning forward, her eyes bright.
Jon mimicked her, leaning close.
"But honestly? I think he just makes things up to make himself sound cooler. Let me tell you about the time when he was caught sneaking out to meet a girl - of course, he'll tell you he was sneaking out to break up a dragon-smuggling ring because that sounds much better than being chased halfway across the country by the girls' angry father…"
And as Hermione spoke, sharing details about Teddy and Hermione to Jon, Jon felt something tight around his heart ease, just a bit. Only half of him was paying attention to the stories; the rest was watching the bright amber-tone to Hermione's eyes, the way she tossed her head back as she laughed, the way she turned to him and held his gaze, always including him in the conversation…
It was everything he wanted, dreamed of, and Jon found himself responding in kind, laughing more than he had in years, eagerly, breathlessly awaiting the next story, and the next. He always wanted to know about his mother, and here she was; and better still, with a brother.
For the first time, in a very long time, Jon felt like he was right where he was supposed to be: at his mother's side, with his family.