AN: This story starts in the year 293 AL. A Game of Thrones begins in 298 AL. King Robert was crowned in 281 AL.

Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter nor A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.

The Kingswood enshrouded him in its shadowed depths, the tall trees rising around him like silent sentinels standing guard against the passage of time, unmoved by the plight of those they watched over. The thick canopy overhead served as a shield against the sun's rays, allowing only the merest wisps of its radiance to pierce through the brush to the ground below.

The ground that Harry Baratheon stalked, as the lion stalks the doe.

He stood with his shoulder against a tree, bow and arrow in hand. He swallowed a curse - a single mistake had almost ruined hours of tracking - and instead peered around the tree to look upon his prey, praying that it hadn't fled at the loud snap of the twig that had broken beneath his foot.

It hadn't.

The stag, with its haunches twitching agitatedly, stood absolutely still, head held high as it checked its surroundings. No doubt the beast was startled, but pride, he supposed, made it hold its ground. If he had been a better archer, he could have taken the shot from a farther away and the stag would've never even known he was there, but he was only eight - soon to be nine - and his aim was barely a touch above mediocre. He had only just begun practicing.

He was much better at sneaking - you had to be in the keep, lest you get caught doing something you weren't supposed to be doing. He had let his excitement get the best of him and hadn't been paying proper attention to his surroundings. He could imagine Ser Aron's reprimand if the man had been present to witness his folly - the Red Keep's master-at-arms preached focus and attentiveness as passionately as septons preached the virtues of the Seven.

'Now or never...'

He moved with purpose - just as he'd been taught - drawing the string as he spun from around the trunk. The stag lowered its head and seemed about to charge, but he loosed an arrow into its face as it took its first step. The broadhead cut a gash across its snout, and in mid-step the deer averted its path, dashing off into the dense wood across the meadow. 'Deep breath, aim, and...' He let another arrow fly before the stag could pick up speed, and gave chase when it again failed to go down.

It didn't run far. The second arrow seemed to have caught a lung, or nicked one at least, and the stag, once so proud and strong, could barely stand let alone bound away. Blood leaked from it's flank leaving a crimson trail through the undergrowth, the red swaths of color much bolder and brighter than the dull greens and browns of the forest flora. Harry watched the stag collapse to the ground with a pitiful grunt, saw it kick and writhe, trying and failing to fight off the inevitable. He counted the seconds as he drew nearer; by the time he reached thirteen, the stag was dead.

His brother, Joffrey, had tried and failed to bring down a stag only the week before, and had earned even more scorn from their father in the attempt. Harry hoped to earn his praise instead, even though he wasn't, under any circumstances, to venture into the Kingswood alone. Not without a guard and especially not when at the expense of his lessons. Maester Pycelle, the old toad, would be terribly disappointed. If his mother had any say he'd be locked up in the Red Keep all day just like little Myrcella, playing at court with the other sons and daughters of the lords who visited his father, or worse, with Joffrey and his cruel games.

No, better to hunt in the Kingswood, even if it meant a punishment. And since he had managed to bring down a stag, all the better.

It was truly magnificent, the stag, much larger up close than he'd first realized. 'Three hundred pounds, at the least.' Far too heavy for him to carry back to his horse; not with his arms, at any rate. He stared intently at the carcass, willing it to move - he was a wizard after all, in his past life and in this one, and he'd learned enough to manage a wandless charm or three.

The corpse floated up from the ground as if weightless, and when he began to walk back to the copse of trees where he'd left his horse, Flatfoot, it trailed along dutifully behind him, hanging from invisible threads.

As he often did in times of quiet, he thought of wands - namely, creating one. He had yet to find the right ingredients to craft a lasting wand. Some of the trees in the godswood were decent enough, but he couldn't find anything to serve as a stable core. His blood wouldn't do - it made for too volatile a conduit. A bad core and mediocre wood did not a good wand make. If he could get his hands on some sort of magical creature, perhaps, then he might have better luck. Last year a group of men from a menagerie in Pentos has visited. They'd had a unicorn, and a basilisk - nothing like the one from his dreams - but he hadn't been allowed to see them, and had only heard of the show from his uncle, Ser Jaime. Hopefully, if they came again, he would be allowed to go and speak to the men who handled the animals, and maybe solve his dilemma. One of them, in any case.

It was all very strange, his existence. He dreamed - had lived - a life to fantastical to believe. At night, when he lay his head to rest, he would see the things he'd done and the evil he'd vanquished, and in the dead of night, when he awoke from the memories come to life in his mind's eye, he would remember death. Two hundred years of life lurked behind his brilliant green eyes; memories of a strange place, where people used owls as messengers instead of ravens, fought with magic instead of swords and drank beer of butter instead of wine of grapes. He'd thought them just dreams for the longest while, very realistic dreams, but his gut, and time, had told him otherwise.

He'd known for certain the truth of his dreams when he'd done magic for the first time, and he hadn't looked back since. Oddly enough, despite all the years he could remember, and all the things he dreamed of, he still felt like a child. Like himself. He was smarter than his peers, more mature, less inclined to tantrums... but he still enjoyed a good game of tag, he loved to play and train at swords, and he hated sitting still for any length of time. He didn't feel like an old man - he wasn't so weary, so tired, but his memories and his dreams detailed a long and fulfilling life. Words couldn't quite explain the phenomena - it was and indefinable experience, understandable only to those who had experienced it.

And as far as he knew, only he had experienced it.

Flatfoot, his big, gray courser, was still tied where he left him, his shining black mane a match for Harry's own, in color if not length. As theft was rewarded with mutilation, Harry wasn't surprised his horse hadn't been bothered. Besides that, he was well-liked by the smallfolk of the Kingswood, the only people who frequented the forest, and he doubted they would bother his things.

"We're going back to the keep, boy." Flatfoot whinnied and turned his huge gray head to look back at Harry. Green flashed in his coal black eyes.

Harry decided to lash the stag to the horse's back, and pulled a rope from his pack. He cleared his mind, leaving only intent, and the rope twisted about the horse and stag all on its lonesome, tied by invisible hands. Flatfoot bore the stag's weight with little issue. His horse was big, too big for a boy his age to ride and control, but his magic made the beast malleable, and he had never once fallen from the saddle. It was easy to control Flatfoot, to mold his magic to the horse's mind and set him to purpose. It was even easier than moving things with magic, though not as easy as setting things on fire.

He climbed into the saddle, checked his packs and his sword - just as he had been taught - and kicked Flatfoot into a steady canter towards the city, visible even from this distance, deep in the Kingswood. The Red Keep stretched high above the city, its seven massive drum towers like stout fingers reaching up to grasp the sky.

The three beat gait of his horse's trot was a calming staccato rhythm, and it carried him up the Kingsroad, pass the hovels and gutter rats, across the ferry and the Blackwater Rush dotted with fishing and trading ships, through the huge river gate, and into the city proper.

From what he had learned of Westeros, King's Landing was rather unsightly in comparison to other great cities. It was too cramped, for one - the buildings too close, the streets too narrow. It was closed in by tall ramparts and massive parapets, and he could make out a few archers manning the crenels as he rode through the gate. For another, it was absolutely filthy, and in the midday heat the odor was quite noticeable. Horse shit, slop and worse things riddled the streets, the smell so sharp and pungent he wanted to gag. He didn't think he would ever grow accustomed to the many smells of the city, and how could he? Servants kept the Red Keep pristine in comparison, and scented oils and candles burned in every room and every hall. It was one thing to play in mud and dirt, but quite another to willingly traipse through puddles of shit.

Flatfoot didn't seem to mind the smell or the filth, however, and trotted gaily along the road, the stag still lashed firmly to his back. They went first thru Fishmonger's Square, where the smell of fish almost overcame the smell of shit, then along the Hook and its curving cobbled road, where he was hailed by children running the streets, women washing in the windows and even the men as they worked, pushing carts and selling wares, before finally arriving at the Red Keep. He imagined his Mother was waiting for him, with Maester Pycelle at her heels like the shiftless fool he was, frowning down at him from the castle steps.

He imagined his father as he always did - as the king always was - drunken, surrounded by whores, his mind absent of worries for wife or children. King Robert wouldn't care what Harry was doing, so long as he stayed out of his way.

Despite that, he couldn't wait to show his father his kill. He hadn't had a father in his past life, and this one was proving a disappointment... but he still longed for his approval, craved it even, almost as much as, if not more than his brother did. King Robert paid his sons little mind, and his daughter even less, and though he had more words for Harry than he did for Joffrey, it wasn't as many words as he had for the whores who warmed his bed.

It hadn't always been that way. When he was young - very young, his father had played with him, and Joffrey, and Myrcella too, when she was born... but as they grew older, so too did he grow more distant, till sometimes he seemed not even a father at all.

Joffrey was most affected by the King's dismissal, and found solace in their mother and her honeyed words of encouragement, whilst Harry turned his efforts to impress upon Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King and a true noble man, then to Ser Barristan and Ser Jaime of the Kingsguard, and even his grandfather, the one time he'd met him. Stern as he was, Lord Tywin had many stories to tell, and despite the macabre nature of war, and the cruelty Lord Tywin had spoken of so casually, Harry was thoroughly enraptured by the tales of battle.

He remembered battles. They were different, in his dreams, than what Lord Tywin and Jaime described. The Lannister men spoke of swords and blood, and death and glory - of reaving and raping and all things in between.

But wizards weren't made of the things the Westerosi were; very few wizards killed, in proportion to the people of Westeros, and even fewer deigned to commit rape. Harry would be surprised if there was a single ser in Westeros who hadn't killed at least one man. In his dreams, though, he could count on two hands the number of wizards he'd witnessed take a life, himself included. The Battle of Hogwarts didn't hold a candle to even the smallest of Westerosi wars.

"Prince Harry," a gruff voice announced, cutting his musings short.

Ser Brenden, one of the Gold Cloaks at the gate, stepped forward to aid his dismount, while the other, Ser Connell, moved to take the stag down from his horse. Ser Brenden was a young knight, just one and twenty he'd heard, and already he was the captain of the gate. He had become something of a familiar face over the years, and had been knighted in service to Lord Rosby after being assigned to guard his retinue; something to do with outlaws, on the road to Maidenpool. Harry had heard the story from Ser Brenden himself after he'd pestered the man about his knighting, but he had since forgotten the finer details. Ser Brenden wasn't much of an orator, and not one for boasting either; the tale had seemed rather dull with him telling it.

Harry's eyes were drawn to the small crowd standing beyond the gates at the castle steps, and he saw neither his mother nor the Grandmaester present amongst them. 'Thank the gods,' he thought.

Instead it was his uncle Tyrion's ugly misshapen face that greeted his eyes, and pretty little sister Myrcella with him, along with and Sers Aron and Arys and...'Bloody hell.' His Uncle Stannis stood with the group as well, the few feet between him and the cluster of bodies seeming as if a vast chasm for how rigidly he held himself. By Harry's estimation Stannis was the single most dour man in all the Seven Kingdoms - if not the most boring, and he carried his belligerence about him as a buffer. He never laughed nor smiled - Harry rather thought that he didn't know how.

'Why is he here?', he wondered, before shrugging away his dread at seeing his uncle. He preferred Tyrion to Stannis - he even preferred Pycelle to Stannis. Still, his hard-faced uncle was a good man - a just man, though he would never be accused of being likable.

Ser Connell staggered under the weight of the deer, and Ser Brenden rushed to help him. Ser Connell turned a confused face down to Harry. "How did you get this up here?" He seemed annoyed by the weight of it, as if he'd been done some grievance.

"The smallfolk of the Kingswood helped."

"You killed this yourself?" Ser Brenden asked.

Harry nodded in return, and the young knight let out a low whistle.

"Quite impressive. I was twice your age when I killed my first stag."

He called for servants from the Keep, and as Harry approached the castle steps, two servants, young men the both of them, scurried out to take hold of the carcass. He hadn't seen exactly where they had come from - behind the curtain walls the keep was a maze, dotted with courtyards and bridges and barracks and even dungeons, as if one wasn't enough.

"Wait for me in front of the Great Hall," he instructed them, and they hastened to do his bidding. They weren't as bad as house elves, but it was still strange to him for people to be so subservient.

"Ah, you've finally decided to grace us with your exalted presence," Tyrion quipped. "Let us all bow before the great lesson-skipping Prince -" and bow he did, so low his big head almost touched the ground, "and celebrate his arrival with wine and women. More of one than of the other, though I'm not quite sure which..."

Harry grinned, even as Stannis's face curled into a sneer.

"Really Harry, what possessed you to run off this time?" Tyrion continued. "Not that I blame you, this Keep is an awfully dreadful place... and the company! Why, some are no more engaging than brick walls, for all their ranks and titles -"

"Quiet, Imp." Stannis glared at Tyrion, barely sparing Harry a glance.

Most people couldn't stand to look him in his eyes; especially those with secrets. He could see them sometimes, their secrets, and they could feel the weight of his gaze, judging the things they would rather hide away in the shadows of their mind. Stannis, however, didn't seem the sorts for secrets. Harry surmised his avoidance of eye contact to be a different matter entirely.

"The King wishes to see you," said Stannis. "You've skipped out on your lessons. Again."

"I haven't missed my arms lesson, have I?" Harry asked Ser Aron, seemingly ignoring Stannis. The Dornishman wasn't his favorite knight, but he was Master-at-Arms for a reason. He nodded in greeting to Ser Arys standing dutifully in Myrcella's shadow, and winked at his sister.

"No, my prince," Ser Aron began, "but do you recall what the Queen said about missing your lessons?" He was a vain man, but so too was he honorable, and he would not disobey the Queen. Not in this. "No arms practice until -"

"After my book lessons." He pouted dramatically, coaxing a laugh out of Myrcella. She hid her giggles behind her hand, and her shoulders shook as she laughed.

"Don't pout, boy. You're a prince - act like it," said Stannis.

Harry's face curled into a frown. He wasn't pouting just to be pouting; he was entertaining his sister! Her laughter was a precious thing. Would that he could make music of it, men and women across the continent would flock to listen.

"Master-of-Ships and messenger; my lord, where do you find the time to manage it all?" Tyrion said.

The dwarf was a master of mockery, having spent his entire life the butt of jokes, and Harry silently thanked him for his quick wit. For all his dislike of Stannis, Harry didn't like to goad him too much. It didn't seem fair... that didn't stop him from enjoying his uncle's discomfort at the hands of others, however.

But Stannis wasn't a man who took insults lightly. Instead of replying, he settled on a glare so full of vitriol that Tyrion said nothing else, and instead bid his niece and nephew goodbye.

"I've a woman to see about a particular itch," was all he said, and then he was waddling through the gate, into the city and away from the keep.

Harry raised a questioning eye at Myrcella, wondering why she was present. He asked her as much.

"I was waiting for you... you promised to play with me, remember?" She sounded put out, and a frown marred her pretty face.

He didn't remember his promise. It had completely slipped his mind. Aside from lessons in history and law and language, he practiced with sword and lance and bow everyday, and most of the free time he could spare was spent pondering the mysteries of wand-making. Or exploring the mysteries of the keep, and sometimes, the mysteries of the people within. They were very intricate, those mysteries, and he was no closer to solving them, for all his efforts. All the wands he crafted snapped after a few spells, he had yet to find the hoard of dragon eggs the Mad King whispered of, and he still didn't know if Varys was a fat, manly woman, or a fat, womanly man, and the Spider never looked him in the eyes.

"I can't now, but later I'll come find you and then we can go on an adventure, alright?" Despite his many duties and responsibilities, however, he would always make time for Myrcella. Always.

She nodded happily, but didn't leave until coaxing another promise out of her brother. Afterwards, Ser Arys escorted her back to whatever stuffy room the Septa kept her holed up in.

"Well, Uncle Stannis, Ser Aron, shall we?" Even Stannis's dour personality wouldn't ruin his mood. Today, he had proved himself a hunter.

He walked past them into the Keep, through the massive doors of oak banded with black iron. Both men fell into step behind him. Stannis seemed less inclined to sneer now that Tyrion was gone, but he was no more amicable for the dwarf's absence.

Ghosts greeted Harry in the halls with disparaging oaths. Some of them tried to scare him, popping out of the black suits of armor that lined the halls. Others didn't bother him at all. He didn't react in the slightest - as only he could see them, it didn't seem wise.

"You brought down that stag yourself?" Ser Aron asked. There was a tinge of disbelief in his voice; he had only just recently begun training Harry in the art of the longbow.

"It wasn't that hard," said Harry. "You just have to be persistent... and quick. And lucky," he added after a moment.

"That you are," Ser Aron agreed. "Though I'd like you to rely less on luck in the future."

Harry nodded.

"Meet me at the training grounds after your lessons."

No doubt for some manner of grueling drill. "I will," said Harry. "I still need to work on my aim."

"You're only eight," Ser Aron said. "I'm a man grown, and I still work on my aim. A true warrior never stops his practice." And he too departed, turning down a hall amd leaving Harry and Stannis alone.

"I know the way, uncle, or did my father bid you to see me all the way to the throne room?" He would rather not have to walk with Stannis. Maybe he was being childish, but his uncle was ruining his mood. His overbearing and unyielding presence was stifling to Harry - he was like a mass of dark clouds blotting out the sun.

Stannis didn't reply at first, and his face never once softened from the slight sneer he had been sporting since Tyrion left. Harry wondered just what had happened to make Stannis such a man, absent of smiles or laughter, when Renly, Stannis's younger brother, was so lighthearted, and his father the King so often full of drink all he did was make fun.

"Why must you insist on these childish endeavors? Sneaking out of the city to hunt alone in the Kingswood was foolish."

Harry blinked. "Erm... I am a child," he replied, and something in his voice made Stannis' sneer deepen. Harry thought he looked rather like a snarling dog. "I'm allowed to do childish things. I don't see the problem. The small folk love me. Nothing would've happened."

"Robert felt the same," Stannis said, and he sounded annoyed at the fact. "But even in times of peace there are men who would strike at the king. Men who would have no qualms about taking his son hostage. At least take a guard if you insist on this foolishness."

Harry, however, had stopped listening. "What do you mean, 'felt'... how does he feel now?"

His punishments for skipping lessons had always been light. Usually he was forced to do extra reading on top of what he had missed, which wasn't altogether so bad - he rather liked the reading. It was Maester Pycelle who bored him. King Robert didn't care about his son skipping lessons, and no man in the keep would dare lay one hand on either of the princes without the king's permission, and he had never given it. Harry's wet nurse had given him a few smacks here and there when he was a babe, but they had been well deserved, and she'd apologized so profusely he hadn't said anything to anyone about it.

Joffrey had never been disciplined a day in his life. Pate, the whipping boy, took all his beatings for him.

"Go into the Great Hall and find out," Stannis said.

He had said all that he was going to say it seemed, for he took his leave and abandoned Harry to face his father alone. 'Good riddance,' the boy thought. Now the sun could shine.

The servants from earlier were waiting for him outside the Great Hall. They had managed to find a wooden tray large enough to hold the carcass of the deer. He passed them by as he walked into the throne room, the oak and bronze doors towering above on either side of him.=

The throne room was cavernous, with walls decorated with hunting tapestries and the banners of House Baratheon. Ornate candelabra lined the red carpet leading to the throne, and were blanketed on each side by massive pillars with vines winding up and down the smooth stone. The room was mostly empty save for a few dining Lords well into their cups - Thoros, his father's good friend, was surrounded by empty flasks - and a spattering of guards, his uncle, the golden-haired Ser Jaime among them. He was the only knight of the Kingsguard present.

His father stood at the foot of the twisted, hulking mass of swords that was the Iron Throne, his back to the door, a flask in hand, one foot propped up on the narrow steps. He was a massive man. He stood six and a half feet tall, with wide, broad shoulders and a monstrous belly. His hair was as black as night, and his beard was thick and bushy. His skin was flushed, no doubt from wine, but he didn't seem that far into his cups yet. He wasn't swaying, at least. Jon Arryn, the Hand, stood with him. He was much older than Harry's father, with a lined, craggy face and thinning gray hair. They appeared to be in conversation. Joffrey's whipping boy, Pate, stood off to the side of them, his arms folded behind his back, his whole demeanor dejected, and his mother sat on her stool beside the Iron Throne itself in the shadow of its swords. She sipped from a golden, ruby-encrusted chalice. She was as beautiful as she always was, and her golden hair shone especially bright, and her lips were red like fire. She looked deep in thought, far, far away, her eyes half closed as if dazed, but she perked up as he drew nearer.

"Your Grace," announced the guard at the door. "The Prince has arrived, and he bears tribute."

Robert waved him over, only briefly glancing at Harry before resuming his conversation with Jon. Pate, Harry saw as he approached, appeared to be preparing himself for some daunting task.

His mother finished her wine in one mighty gulp and rose to greet her son, descending from the throne with all the grace of a dancer from Lysene.

"Harry dear, come." She beckoned him closer. She mentioned nothing of the stag the servants carried behind him, and she didn't seem to be mad about his skipping his lesson. Relief shone in her face, but she wouldn't meet his eyes. She almost never did, in fact, and he wondered if it was because she had figured out what he could do, or if she just didn't like the look of them. How could she not, though - they were her own green eyes, set in a face like his father's, with dark hair to match.

"You skipped another lesson," she began without preamble.

He opened his mouth to protest but she shushed him with a finger.

"I warned you to not defy me, and you ignored my warning. Now you will have your father to answer to." She seemed remorseful, an odd emotion for his mother to show, and patted his head affectionately, blessing him with a soft kiss against his brow. "Visit me later, love, and tell me what sort of adventure could call you out of the city absent a guard. I assume it had something to do with the deer?"

He nodded, expression sheepish, and she smiled, a slight, crooked thing, truer still than the smiles he had seen her give to others.

"It's an impressive specimen." She kissed him on the cheek, and caressed his face, her fingers dancing along his jawline. "Such a willful child... even more so than your brother." She sighed. "What ever will I do with you..." Her voice softened. She seemed to be talking more to herself than to him.


What did she see in him that made her treat him so much differently from his brother and sister? Sometimes she wouldn't even acknowledge him, even went of her way to avoid him, and other times... other times she would hold him close and whisper sweet nothings in his ear as she played with his hair and trailed her long fingers along the contours of his face, her eyes alight with wonder. Sometimes she was scathing, as sharp and cutting as Valyrian steel, and other times she was soft and sweet and loving. It was maddening, true, but he craved her attention, her love, all the same.

"Anyway," she began, shaking herself from her reverie. "I have meetings to attend and ladies to entertain. Be good, love, and don't forget to visit." She patted his cheek and left the room, followed by a trail of hand maidens and ladies who'd apparently been waiting for her departure.

Harry turned his attention to his father, who had yet to acknowledge him. He waited in silence, and as the time went by, he began to fiddle nervously with the buttons of his jerkin. He had already been apprehensive about being summoned, and the prolonged silence didn't assuage his feelings. Just as he was about to speak up the King turned to face him with a bored expression, his fat face visibly brightening when he caught sight of the stag. His eyes lit up and his cheeks widened into a smile.

"You brought that down yourself? Without help?"

Harry nodded, his eyes shifting to Lord Jon to gauge his reaction. Jon appeared impressed.

"Look at that, Jon," the King said. "Eight years old, and already hunting deer. And a stag at that! You'll be coming with me on the next hunting trip."

Harry was pleased, and he smiled so wide his face hurt. "Thank you father."

"But," Robert continued, "you skipped your lessons, again, after your mother forbade you to do so. This is the fourth time in as little as two weeks, and since no other punishment has worked..." Pate stepped forward, and revealed that he had been holding a rod behind his back. He handed it over to the king. "We'll try a new one."

Harry gulped. A whipping? He wasn't afraid of pain, but it seemed rather extreme for skipping a lesson. Maester Pycelle was an old fool anyway, and despite his less than stellar attendance, he was even further along in his learning than Joffrey, who'd had a full year head start.

Stranger still was his father's participation in the first place.

"I noticed your displeasure last week, when those criminals were flogged in the city square," Jon Arryn said. "And so after much deliberation between your mother and I, we devised this punishment."

Harry was horrified. "My mother... and you?" He stared unblinkingly into Lord Jon's face. He couldn't decide on what felt worse. The disappointment, or the betrayal.

The old lord was the first to look away.

The King tossed the rod at his feet. "You'll beat him," and he nodded at Pate, "until I say stop, and then you'll attend all your lessons, or you'll be made to do it again, and again, and again."

Harry opened his mouth to argue, a rebuttal on the tip of his tongue, but Jon's hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"Even a Prince must be held responsible for his actions, and all the consequences that arise thereafter. You brought this on yourself Harry. Pate did nothing wrong, and he deserves no punishment, but more often than not, it is the innocent that pay for the crimes of the wicked. That is the way of the world."

"No," Harry said, aghast. "I refuse." He couldn't believe Jon, of all people, would betray him in such a way. Jon, who never failed to preach on the virtues of honor, who implored him to be fair and just in all that he did, who had more hand in raising him than his own father. "I skipped the lessons," he continued. "Not Pate." He spoke to Lord Jon, but his eyes were on the King.

He expected his father to be angry, to lash out at him as he lashed out at his mother, but instead, the king leveled him with a look he couldn't decipher. It was as if he was seeing someone else, or remembering something from long ago.

"You would deny your king?"

"I would," Harry said. "The innocent take the blame for the wicked in things beyond our control... but this isn't such a situation. I will not whip Pate." He stood as straight and tall as he could in the heavy silence that fell over the hall. He felt a multitude of eyes on him but ignored the sensation in lieu of focusing on his father.

"You've got some nerve, boy." Robert gestured to the rod. Pate retrieved it with shaking fingers, and presented it to his king. "More nerve than any man in all of the Seven Kingdoms. See here, boy, if you don't whip him, I will, and it'll be a lot worse coming from me."

Harry was beyond shocked. "You - you would do that? Just for skip - "

"This isn't about those bloody lessons!" Robert yelled, and his thunderous voice reached every ear within the hall, and some without. "You have a kind heart," he said with a sigh, his words weighted with weariness. "Too kind, some say, and I agree."

Harry had never seen this side of his father before. So full of regret. So tired. 'Is that why he drowns himself in his cups?'

"Better to be kind than cruel," Harry replied. "Would you rather I be like Joffrey?"

The King seemed to really be consider his question. "Gods, no," he said after a moment, shaking his head.

"But you are two sides of the same coin," Lord Jon cut in. "I would rather you learn to harden your heart and find a middle ground. A King can be both loved and feared," he said. "Loved for what he does, and feared for what he might do."

"A King? Me? Maybe you've forgotten in your old age -" and Robert laughed, a loud guffaw, startling Harry "- but I'm the second born son. Joffrey will be king." 'What the hell is going on with these two?'

"The Seven help us," Jon muttered quietly; so quietly Harry almost didn't hear him. "And yet you still must be prepared," he said louder. "You may never be King, but you will always be a prince. Your every action will reflect upon the throne. Mayhaps you would follow in my steps, and be Hand?" He paused, old bones creaking as he shifted to look Harry in the eye. "I've seen something in you, Harry. We all have. You are a very special boy, and it's good that you are kind, but this world has no place for kind men."

"Then I will make a place," Harry said.

"'I will make a place,' he says." Robert scoffed. "And how are to do that, boy? Hold hands a sing songs? Men respect steel. They respect death. They respect power."

They were pushing him awfully hard, Harry surmised. What was their purpose? What were they trying to get him to see? To become?

"What does that have to do with Pate?" he asked. "The punishment doesn't fit the crime. If a man is worthy of a beheading, then I'll have him beheaded. If a man rapes a lady, then I'll have him gelded, but I will not whip Pate for my transgressions." He took a breath. "I'll take the beating, but spare Pate." He could've heard the wind whisper to the moon, so silent was the hall.

"He's a whipping boy, he's for whipping," the King said, sounding almost amused. Robert turned to Jon. "Hard to believe he's barely seen nine namedays." He sounded proud.

"Not really," Jon returned. "He's just as stubborn and hardheaded as you were at his age."

"He's smarter than I was," Robert admitted. "And he hasn't got the weight of the kingdom resting on his shoulders!"

"You didn't either; not back then," said Jon. Harry was struck by how old Lord Arryn was. The lines on his face had never seem so long.

Robert looked down at his son, and his eyes went right through him. "Reminds me of Ned."

Lord Jon agreed wholeheartedly. "Another stubborn, honorable fool."

"That he is, the bloody runt." Robert chuckled. "How long's it been since I last saw him? Four years? Five" The king took a long pull from his cup. Wine dribbled down his bearded chin. "But you, boy... I can't decide if you're the worst of Cersei and I, or the best..."

And then he struck Harry across his chest with a blow so strong it knocked him from his feet. It was so swift, so sudden, even Jon was caught off guard.

"I've said my peace. Either you whip the boy, or I will." He leaned forward over Harry and held out the rod. "And that was just a practice swing."

Harry scowled at his father and picked himself up from the ground. Jaime, he noticed, had edged closer. "Just do it," his uncle mouthed silently.

Harry sighed. "Fine." He snatched the rod from the King's hands. He'd never dared to show such insolence, not to his father, but he'd never been in this situation before, and he found that his years of memories and experience paled in comparison to the emotion he felt, the hot anger coursing through his veins.

"Scowl at me all you want, boy. You'll thank me for this when you're older."

Harry almost laughed - he would have if he wasn't so furious. He was quite certain he was the oldest man in all the known world. Or a part of him was, at least.

The rod was light but solid and smooth, unlike the barbed whips and rods used for floggings. He looked to Pate and saw resignation on his face and knew it was mirrored in his own. This was an argument he couldn't win - he was surprised he'd managed to argue as much as he did. He had only seen one man openly disagree with the king, and Jon Arryn occupied a place and status none could match.

He thought suddenly of the story his mother had told him and the warning she had given him about the King's anger. "Don't test him," she'd warned. "The king is not a mild man, and his rage is rather horrible to behold." She spoke of how angry he'd been with something Joffrey had done, and how much it had taken for her to talk him out of beating Joffrey worse than he had.

"You wouldn't remember," she had said, "for you were barely more than a babe."

She had never told him why Joffrey had been hit, and had only mentioned 'some nonsense over a cat', but he'd later discovered the truth from his brother's own mouth. Joffrey had murdered a cat and her kittens, and thought to impress his father with their corpses. With one mighty blow, Robert had knocked two teeth from his mouth. He shuddered to think of how badly Joffrey would have been hurt if not for his mother.

Joffrey had murdered a cat, and Harry had argued with the king - in front of an audience, no less. Which was the greater transgression? Harry rather thought Joffrey's was. That cat and those kittens hadn't done anything to anyone, and kept mice out of the kitchen. His grievance against his father, however, was just in his eyes. And from the things he'd heard whispered of his father, things he refused to believe, Joffrey was just following in his footsteps.

Jon Arryn never sat with Joffrey, never spoke with him, never gave him lessons on ruling, or kingship, or leading men. Joffrey needed such lessons far more than he.

Surely they didn't mean to make him king?

"Get on with it boy!" Robert demanded, breaking him from his reverie.

"Yes, your Grace," he ground out, wholly unable to hide his anger. This wasn't fair, not by far, but he'd rather whip Pate himself than let his father do it. He'd find a way to make it up to Pate. 'I'm sorry.'

He never skipped another lesson.

Harry is 8. Your first nameday is the day your are born; in that vein, his ninth nameday is actually his eighth birthday.