A/N Okay, I expected people to be a bit surprised over how the last chapter ended but things got a bit heated there! I was bothered that so many of you were bothered by what happened so let's just find out exactly what happened next.
(I blasted through this chapter (on my bank holiday, thank you very much) so if there's more mistakes than normal, I'm sorry).
Prince Joffrey woke with a start. He peered around his room to discover what had disturbed him, but it was impossible to see anything in the darkness.
Flames suddenly flared in his fireplace and he cried out in surprise. A hooded figure stood with their back to him, observing the flames. Joffrey attempted to distance himself from the person but his limbs stayed locked in place. Again he tried to make his body move, but there wasn't the slightest reaction. He gazed fearfully at the figure, knowing that it was them who was responsible.
"Wh-who are you?" he called in a tremulous voice. "What have you done to me? Somebody help me!"
"No one will hear you." The figure's voice was surprisingly soft. "I have seen to that."
Joffrey tried to swallow his panic. "What do you want?"
The figure turned to face him but their face was concealed by the hood's shadow. He could tell that it was a woman though. "I have heard of the intended marriage between yourself and Sansa Stark. I want to make sure that you will treat her with respect and kindness because if you don't, the ghosts of Winterfell will make sure you will live to regret it."
"I am the heir to the Iron Throne," Joffrey said, finding a small trace of courage. "You cannot talk to me in this way!"
"Oh, can't I?" asked the woman gently. Joffrey watched in horror as the woman's form shifted into that of a huge wolf. The wolf snarled at him and jumped onto his bed, its jaws an inch from his throat.
"No!" Joffrey shrieked, tears forming in his eyes. "I'm sorry! Please, no! I'll do as you ask."
The wolf leapt gracefully back to the floor and changed in to the hooded figure again. "I'm glad you have seen reason. But be warned; if you renege on your vow to respect House Stark, the ghosts of Winterfell will exact revenge. The day you see death appear to you in the form of a flying horse, you will know your days are numbered. Before I go, I will leave you this reminder of your promise to us. We wouldn't want you to forget, would we? Don't worry, it will fade in time if you please us."
She said a word that Joffrey didn't understand then a burst of light struck him. Pain erupted in an area that he couldn't quite place in his restricted state. "I'll kill you, you bitch!" he cried, forgetting his fear in light of the discomfort.
"You can't kill someone who's already dead, my prince," she responded softly. "Now it's time to sleep…" Joffrey's world went black.
"Go away," Robb mumbled, sleepily pushing Grey Wind's muzzle away from his head. The direwolf whined and licked Robb's cheek. "Eugh, what's wrong with you; it's the middle of the night!"
Grey Wind gripped the bed furs in his mouth and wrenched them off. Robb sat up with a yelp but Grey Wind had already leapt off the bed and was pawing frantically at the door, whining again.
Robb frowned at him. The direwolf was usually quite docile at night even though that should be his natural hunting time. Something must be wrong. "Alright, alright," he muttered, getting out of bed. He haphazardly threw some clothes on and after a moment of consideration, reached for his sword. It was a fine weapon, a gift from his father on his coming-of-age. He tied it to his waist and grabbed his cloak.
Grey Wind bounded out of the door when Robb opened it, before turning back to check that he was coming. He followed Grey Wind's pattering footsteps until they stopped outside Hermione's door. Grey Wind looked up at him with a sorrowful expression making Robb's blood run cold.
"Hermione?" he called softly, knocking on her door. There was no answer. Fearing that she might be in danger he opened the door. Moonlight streamed onto her bed. It was empty.
Well, that wasn't quite true. A series of folded pieces of parchment sat atop the furs, each one labelled with a different name: Arya, Bran, Lord Eddard, Jon, Sansa, Maester Luwin, Theon, Rickon, Lady Catelyn and Robb.
Robb snatched his up, finding it heavier than he thought it would be and walked closer to the window to see it better. As he unfolded it, a piece of metal slid out, about half the size of his palm, but he ignored it for the moment in order to read the letter.
Robb, I'm sorry that I haven't said goodbye properly but I didn't have much choice. I'm going to the Citadel on my own. Harry doesn't see the value in going and I must respect his decision but I won't give up so easily. Please look after him for me and don't let him come after me. I'm doing what I want, and now he's free to do so too.
Your friendship has meant the world to me and you'll always have a special place in my heart. I know that you'll preside over Winterfell and the North just as wisely and fairly as your father. I hope that you will have every happiness in life.
(I hope you like your new pin. They should keep you all safe to a certain extent.)
Robb looked down at the metal in his hand. The pin was fashioned in the shape of a snarling direwolf. The craftsmanship was quite exquisite but he couldn't care less at that moment.
Moving quickly but quietly he left her room, Grey Wind at his heels. There was still time, there was still hope. He kept to the shadows as he hurried to the stables. His horse skittered slightly at the sight of the direwolf but Robb soothed him.
He was sure that a guard would appear with every clink and creak he made as he saddled the horse but he remained undiscovered. Leaving through the gate would be another matter. He walked his horse forward, wincing as the sound of the hooves echoed with each step.
Grey Wind padded ahead, leading the way. Robb trusted that the wolf knew which way Hermione had gone. As they approached the south gate Robb tensed, worried that someone would raise the alarm at any moment. He drew level with the guard post but there was still no challenge.
Hermione must have done something, Robb realised, for there was no way his father's guards would be this lax, especially with the king present.
Once through the gate, he picked up Grey Wind and mounted his horse.
"Let me know if we start going the wrong way," he said to his direwolf, before spurring his horse on.
They couldn't move as quickly as he'd like in the dark even though it was a moonlit night, but this was strangely comforting. As slowly as he was going, he knew Hermione would be even slower given her lack of prowess on horseback.
Robb knew that Hermione and Harry had planned to journey to the great port at White Harbour first, before getting a berth on a ship that would take them to Oldtown. He could only assume that this was the passage that Hermione still intended to take and Grey Wind seemed content for them to travel south on the Kingsroad. He barely thought as he rode; just urged his horse to move faster.
It felt like he had been riding for at least a couple of hours (but in truth he had no way of knowing) when Grey Wind's ears pricked and he howled. The wolf was looking straight ahead so Robb continued their course. Grey Wind howled again and then Robb could see it; a figure on horseback, not too far ahead. He knew it must be her, partly because of Grey Wind and also it was unlikely anyone else was riding their horse in the dead of night.
He was moving faster than her. He would catch her. "Hermione!" he yelled, hoping that she could hear him over the hoof beats. "Hermione, stop!"
The figure reined in their horse and looked back over their shoulder. As Robb got closer he could see the despair on her face, but it soon turned to anger.
"Robb, what the hell are you doing?" she asked, eyes blazing.
"I could ask you the same thing!" he retorted. "How could you think that you could travel to the Citadel on your own?"
Hermione bristled. "I can look after myself."
"Alright. Let's say you get to Oldtown unmolested, what happens then?" Robb asked. "You won't gain entry to the Citadel."
"I have Harry's acceptance letter," Hermione began but Robb scoffed.
"And you'll disguise yourself as a boy? Seven hells, Hermione, they're Maesters! They can tell the difference between men and women."
Hermione glared. "Then I'll write to the Archmaester in charge of magic every day until he agrees to see me. Or perhaps I'll break in at night, I don't know but I do know that I've had enough of waiting."
"Look, just come back to Winterfell with me, talk to Harry, get some sleep – "
"And everything will look better in the morning?" Hermione suggested with disbelief on her face. "I've made up my mind, Robb. This is the path I must take."
They watched each other for a while as Robb considered what to do. He shook his head. "I can't let you complete this journey on your own, it's too dangerous."
"I've told you, I've made up – "
"So I'll have to come with you."
Hermione's mouth gaped open. "You will do no such thing!" she declared.
"It's too late," he replied calmly. "I've made up my mind too. I cannot in all decency allow you to undertake such a perilous journey alone. It's the right thing to do."
"This is ridiculous," Hermione maintained. "You have your duties! You're going to be the Stark in Winterfell when your father goes to King's Landing – you can't just abandon your family; they're relying on you."
"Father will understand," Robb said with a certainty that he hoped was justified. "It won't be forever. We can meet this Archmaester of magic, see what he has to say and then come home."
"Robb, you're not coming with me," Hermione stressed. "You'll resent me for keeping you from where you belong. You don't want to come. Harry didn't either, that's why I've gone on my own. This isn't a journey to take lightly."
"You can't tell me what to do," Robb stated calmly.
Hermione pointed her wand at him. "Really?"
Robb didn't even flinch. "Go ahead. That's the only way to stop me following you. But when I wake up I'll get back on my horse and come after you again."
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "What if I take your horse?"
"Then I'll walk."
He reached over to her and pushed her wand down but kept his eyes on hers. "I'm not leaving you, Hermione."
She sagged in her saddle and shook her head slightly. "This wasn't supposed to happen," she whispered.
"But it has," he said gently.
"How did you even know that I was gone?" she asked, her eyes glistening slightly.
"Grey Wind woke me," Robb explained, looking down at the happy pup in his arms. "He brought me to you."
She gaped at them both for a second before shaking her head again. She sat up properly with a pained expression. "Come on, we should be at the lesser branch of the White Knife soon, which is good because I can't stand being on this horse for much longer." She flicked the reins of her horse and it ambled forwards, Robb's following behind.
"You realise your mother will kill me if she ever sees me again," Hermione said over her shoulder.
Robb laughed, "Probably."
Dawn hadn't quite broken by the time they reached the river but Robb could tell that it wasn't far away. Hermione dismounted with a groan and began to use her hands to ease the aches by rubbing her thighs, hips and back in a way that Robb found entirely too appealing.
"That's enough horse riding for now," she declared, turning her attention to the river.
Robb frowned. "And how do you plan on sailing down the river without a boat?"
He watched as she rooted through one of her saddlebags. "But I do have a boat," she claimed, withdrawing something that she held out to him. It was a boat, a rowing boat, but it was only a few inches long. "I had one of the carpenters in Wintertown make it for me a while ago," she said.
"I'm assuming that some magic is going to be involved," Robb stated with a raised eyebrow, "Otherwise I'm beginning to suspect your sanity."
She smiled in response and placed the boat on the bank of the river. Wand raised, she cried, "Engorgio!" Robb watched the boat grow in size until it could easily sit them both.
He nodded. "Alright, I'm impressed. But what are you going to do about the horses?"
Hermione approached the horses carefully and spoke soothingly to them for a few minutes. When they were quite relaxed, she raised her wand to first one horse's head and then the other, whispering words that Robb couldn't hear. Both horses became sleepy and quickly settled on the ground. Robb couldn't see how this was a solution to their problem but he knew better than to interrupt Hermione when she was concentrating. She took a couple of deep breaths and pointed her wand at her own horse. "Reducio," she said with an intense look on her face. The horse began to get smaller until it looked no bigger than a new-born foal. Hermione ran her hands over the horse and laid her head against its chest to listen for a heartbeat. Apparently satisfied, she turned to the other horse and repeated her actions until it too was much reduced in size.
Hermione let out a sigh of relief. "That could very easily have gone wrong," she muttered. "I've only practised on mice and rats."
Robb helped her lift the horses into the boat. Grey Wind leapt in too, looking like he was having a very merry time, and they pushed the boat into the river. Robb sat, taking the oars in hand, but Hermione laughed. "You don't have to do that."
She tapped the side of the boat with her wand and the boat started rowing itself quite speedily down the river. Robb stared wistfully at the oars. "I wish I could do magic."
"It has its advantages," Hermione agreed. Grey Wind stood at the front of the boat and howled up at the moon. "But we'll have to take turns pretending to row when it's light."
Robb nodded and settled down in the boat to get more comfortable. It was only now that it began to sink in what he had done. He'd left Winterfell and all of his family behind to go the other end of the Seven Kingdoms! He couldn't tell if he was excited or terrified.
He'd been born at his mother's ancestral home of Riverrun, before being brought to Winterfell while still a babe. Ever since then he hadn't strayed more than a couple of days' ride away. He hadn't even been in a boat before now and this was just the beginning!
He had loved growing up at Winterfell, he really and truly had, but a small part of him had always wondered what it would be like to be fostered with another great family like his father had done at the Eyrie. His journey to Oldtown wouldn't be quite the same but it was something, a little glimpse of the wider world before he returned to look after Winterfell.
Robb glanced over at Hermione. The predawn light gave her an ethereal beauty as she gazed solemnly ahead. Robb liked to think that if it had been Harry that had attempted to make this journey on his own, he would still have offered to accompany him, though he probably wouldn't have been quite so insistent. Robb had dreaded the idea of them leaving Winterfell and as good a friend as Harry was to him, Robb knew that it was the loss of Hermione that had truly galled him. He loved her; there was no other way to say it.
Of course he hadn't told her that, for she had made it perfectly clear that she was determined to return to her own land. Although he was now going to be spending his immediate future with her, her intention was still the same. He knew she liked him, but she also liked Harry, Jon and Theon too. The question was, did she love him? The possible answers to that scared him more than they excited him, so he decided to leave it alone and just enjoy continuing to be in her company.
"I take it that Harry doesn't know what you've done?" he asked, to break the silence.
Hermione bit her lip. "I knew he'd try to stop me or do what you've done and force your company on me." Her lips twitched slightly so Robb didn't take her words too harshly. "I used magic to stun him then placed a sleeping enchantment on him."
"What's to stop him from looking for you when he wakes?" Robb pointed out. "I've seen how fast he can fly when he's a thestral. It won't take him long to catch us."
"I'm relying on everyone back at Winterfell to stop him," Hermione admitted with a shrug. "He's not going to be impressed that I've made this decision without him but it was the only way that I could see us both getting what we want. Besides, the sleeping enchantment I used means that he won't wake for another three days. By that time I fully intend for us to be far out to sea." She gave the lightening sky a calculated look. "Jon will be knocking on my door at any moment and then I imagine that all hell is going to break loose."
Lord Stark was dressing himself for the day ahead, having returned from spending the night in his wife's chambers, when there was an urgent knock at his door. "Enter!" he called.
Jon came in looking flustered, a piece of parchment in his hand. "Hermione's gone. She's left for the Citadel on her own."
Ned's eyes widened in surprise. The girl left on her own? He knew that she was capable of great things thanks to her abilities, but it was still a risky journey to make by oneself. "When did she leave?" he asked, tying a cloak around his neck.
"In the night, I suppose," Jon reasoned. "She's left us all little notes and has begged me to make sure Harry doesn't follow after her."
"She must have used magic to get past the guards otherwise we would have heard something by now," Ned muttered.
"What do we do?" Jon asked. "Should we go after her to try and convince her to come back? She's not safe out there on her own."
"There is no doubt that she has acted rashly but she is of age, Jon," Ned said with a frown. "Hermione is free to make her own decisions and she is more capable than most young women. Though I cannot think what she intends to do if she ever arrives at Oldtown; the Citadel will want nothing to do with her."
Jon looked pained. "It's all my fault. Yesterday, in a moment of anger, I told her that Harry didn't want to go."
Ned surveyed him carefully. "But he didn't want to go. He was prepared to put Hermione's wishes before his own, even though he believed their task to be futile. I fully believe that they would have gone to the Citadel together if you hadn't been honest with her, despite advice that I gave to Harry myself. Did you want Harry to live a life he didn't want to lead?"
"Of course not!" Jon protested.
"Both Harry and Hermione are very stubborn in their way," Ned pointed out. "Despite his gut telling him that it was hopeless, Harry refused to admit to Hermione how he felt so that he could support her. Hermione, on the other hand, won't give up her dream of getting home. I'm not saying that what you told her has necessarily made them both happy, but it's stopped either of them from becoming miserable by loyally doing what the other wants."
Jon didn't look convinced but he nodded. "Now we just need to stop Harry going after her because he's not going to like what she's done."
"Come, we will tell him together."
They stopped in on Hermione's room on their way so that Ned could see for himself. The various pieces of parchment still lay on her bed but as he looked down on them he sensed that something was amiss.
"Where was your letter?" he asked Jon.
"Here," he replied, pointing to a gap in the notes.
"Then whose was here?" Ned wondered, indicating another vacant place. His eyes ran over the various names: Sansa, Theon, Bran…
"Robb," Jon said, interrupting Ned's thoughts. "There's nothing here for Robb."
They exchanged a look then made their way quickly to Robb's room, a feeling of dread pooling in Ned's stomach. He didn't even bother to knock on his son's door but walked straight in, finding the room empty.
"Seven hells," Jon muttered. "He's gone after her, hasn't he?"
"Get to the stables, see if his horse is missing," Ned instructed and Jon left at once. Ned stared around the room blankly. If Robb had gone then what should he do? The boy owed a responsibility to his family and his duty was to Winterfell. Robb had been instructed to guard the North while Ned went to King's Landing and he couldn't very well do that while he was chasing after his heart. Hermione's decision had been rash but Robb's was even more so. Their only hope was that Robb wouldn't manage to reach Hermione and he would have no choice but to return to Winterfell, because if he had caught up with her, then Ned knew that Robb wouldn't desert her.
Panting, Jon burst back into the room. "His horse is gone."
Ned nodded grimly. "We will follow their tracks to make sure no harm has come to them. I believe it was Harry and Hermione's intention to sail from White Harbour?"
"Yes," Jon confirmed, then hesitated. "What if we find them before they sail?"
"Hermione is free to make her journey but Robb will come back to Winterfell."
"Even if he doesn't want to?"
"He's my son; he will do as he's told," Ned said flatly.
"Of course, Father," Jon acquiesced. "But it might be worth asking Harry to go after Robb in his thestral form. He's much faster than we'd be on horseback. He could stop Robb before it's too late."
Ned considered this. There was a chance that Harry would come across both Hermione and Robb together but Ned's loyalty was with his son, not Hermione's wishes. "Alright. We'll send Harry on his way now so there's less chance of him being spotted and then we'll take the guard with us. I'm afraid the king's hunt will have to wait for another day."
They left Robb's room and started to make their way to Harry. "Yes, Father. And, er, what will you tell Lady Catelyn?"
Ned closed his eyes in dreaded anticipation. "I don't want to think about that right now."
His mood was not improved upon entering Harry's room. The boy was there, which made a nice change to what had happened so far that morning, but he wouldn't wake. On Ned's instructions, Jon fetched Maester Luwin and informed him of what had happened.
"He appears to be in a deep slumber, my lord," Maester Luwin surmised after examining him. "It is not something that I have come across before so I strongly suspect that it is Hermione's doing."
"She wouldn't hurt him," Jon insisted. "She's probably just buying herself some time so she can get further away from him."
"And would she do the same to Robb if he caught up to her?" Ned asked. "Would she use magic to stop him?"
"I don't think so," Jon replied uncertainly, "but there is a possibility."
"Alert Jory and Hullen," Ned ordered. "I want to be away within the hour."
Winterfell was soon a hive of activity. Ned had delivered Hermione's letters to all but one of the recipients for he wasn't looking forward to this conversation. He knocked on the door to his wife's chambers and entered when she called.
"You leave for your hunt very early today, my love," Catelyn commented when she saw him. "I didn't expect the king to be up this soon. Gods," she cringed as a howl could be heard through the window. "What is wrong with those pups? They've been at it all morning."
Ned held out the piece of parchment with her name on it. She peered at it curiously. "Hermione left it for you," he explained, but this only seemed to confuse her further.
"Left it for me?" Catelyn muttered, taking the parchment from him and opening it. He watched her eyes take in the words and then she picked out a familiar direwolf pin of her own. Catelyn shook her head. "Foolish girl. What does she mean by leaving on her own? I told you her headstrong nature would get her into trouble one day. Gods know what future awaits her now. I just hope the king and queen don't take offence at her sudden departure."
"We cannot find Robb, Catelyn. I believe he discovered that Hermione left on her own and followed her," he said calmly, steeling himself for his wife's reaction.
She stared at him as she took in his words, before backing shakily to the bed. "No, no," she stammered. "He's here, you just haven't found him yet."
"His horse is gone," Ned told her. "You and I both know how deeply he cared for Hermione."
"That girl!" Catelyn screeched, balling up Hermione's letter in her fistand launching it into the fire with the pin. The flames flared purple for a moment before returning to their natural colour but Catelyn didn't notice as she turned to Ned with a furious expression. "I told you! I told you that girl was trouble!"
"It is not Hermione's fault," Ned stated as Catelyn continued to glare at him. "She did not give any indication in her letters that she expected or wanted Robb to accompany her. He made this choice of his own free will."
She deflated slightly and wrapped her arms around herself with a mournful expression. "You must bring him back, Ned, please," Catelyn begged.
Ned embraced her. "The hunt has been cancelled. I intend to follow their tracks and intercept Robb if I can, but you have to accept the possibility that it's too late."
She pulled back from him. "Too late?"
"If they board a ship from White Harbour there is nothing we can do," Ned explained.
"I will write to Wyman Manderly and tell him that he must stop them," Catelyn said, moving around the room to gather the necessary writing implements.
"I'm sure that he will be happy to accept if he receives the raven in time," Ned agreed, "but I know that Hermione will be in a hurry." A dark look flitted across Catelyn's face at the mention of Hermione's name. "I am sorry that you will have to entertain the king and queen without me while I search for Robb."
"Just bring him home," Catelyn instructed, gripping his hands tightly and bringing them to her lips to kiss them. "Bring my boy home."
Ned left her chambers and headed to where the royal family were staying. His path to the king's room was suddenly blocked as Jaime Lannister, the Queen's brother and member of the king's guard, stepped in front of him.
"I hear you've lost a son, Stark," the Kingslayer commented lightly, looking amused. "That's very careless of you."
"Is the king up yet?" Ned asked gruffly, not in the mood for any Lannister nonsense.
"What do you think?" Jaime scoffed. "The sun has barely risen."
"Well, when he does, give him my apologies for my absence and cancelling the hunt." Ned instructed, though he doubted that Jaime would actually pass them on. "I should be back within a couple of days."
"I can't wait," Jaime replied, with a bright, though clearly fake, smile.
Ned made his way back to the court yard to prepare himself for the ride. He could feel the eyes of his men on him. He wondered what they thought about Robb's sudden chase after Hermione. Young men often acted stupidly when they were in love, but it wasn't often that a party of guards would ride across the kingdom after them when they did.
He spotted Jon talking to Bran and Arya while they watched events unfold. His children had been sad that Hermione had left and mostly confused about Robb's part in all this, but they were both now sporting their new direwolf pins with pride. Ned walked over to them. "Jon, you'll ride with Bran," he instructed.
"I'm coming?" Bran asked in surprise.
Ned nodded. "You're next in line to Winterfell. I need you to understand the seriousness of that responsibility."
Bran nodded eagerly and started running towards his horse. "I do, Father, I do."
"What about me?" Arya asked. "Can't I come?"
"Your mother needs you here, Arya," Ned replied.
"What for?" she moaned. Ned ruffled her hair but he moved away. "I'm going to be like Hermione when I'm older and do what I want!" she yelled after him, before running inside.
"Are you still happy that the Gods sent Harry and Hermione to you?" Jon asked him lowly, with a quizzical smile.
"I have to trust that they have come here for a good reason," Ned replied after a moment's consideration. "Who knows how different things would be if they weren't here." He turned around and cast his gaze over Winterfell. As his eyes raked over the Broken Tower, an inexplicable tingle ran down his spine.
A/N Do I have to explain the significance of the hunt being cancelled, Bran going with Ned and his look to the broken tower? No, okay then.
I hope some of you are less angry with me/Harry/Hermione now. Harry would have gone to the Citadel with Hermione, but she caught him by surprise by already knowing that he didn't want to go. I can relate to both of them wanting/not wanting to go and these weren't easy decisions to make – this is their whole future we're talking about after all. And there was a fair amount of disagreement in reviews too so there isn't necessarily a 'right' answer.
It has pretty much always been my intention to split Harry and Hermione apart because they can cause more mayhem that way and we get to see more of what is going on around Westeros. They'll each have their own storylines now (though obviously they'll be connected in the whole GoT way that everything's connected). So, if you want to carry on reading, great! If you don't, that's fine (but honestly, you don't have to tell me.)
There are absolutely NO prizes for guessing who the 'ghost of Winterfell' is. Was she a bit too mean to Joffrey? Yes, probably, but she sees it as a preventative measure. Hermione can be very harsh at times, like when she refuses to remove Marietta's 'SNEAK' even though the girl was terrified for her mother's job.
Anyway, I'm a bit 'A Secret of Spells'ed out now. So maybe a month or so for an update? Sorry!
Lil Drop of Magic
PS The big question is, what will Harry do now?