A/N So this isn't Christmas, is it? Sorry! But I do have a good excuse for once! My laptop was stolen in November and though I did get it back, the hard drive had been wiped. There wasn't too much of this story on there except for a couple of thousand words of the next chapter and something I'll tell you about later. I still haven't got a word processor programme on my laptop yet and have been mooching off of my family instead. When I tried to rewrite this chapter it just felt all wrong so I had to rethink what was going to happen. I'm not overly happy with it but I needed to get this story updated so I can move on! Thank you so much for your patience with me.

Chapter Eight

A year.

An entire year had passed since he'd broken Hermione's timeturner and brought them to Westeros. And they were no closer to finding a way back home than when they'd first arrived at Winterfell. It was a very depressing thought.

Harry knew it was exactly a year to the day because Hermione had made him bring a version of her calendar with him on his journey around the North. With the date of Robb's sixteenth nameday approaching, Lord Stark had sent out invitations to all of his great Lords to come to Winterfell for a great celebration of his son's coming-of-age. Harry had been sceptical at first when Lord Stark had suggested that he, Harry, help deliver some of the messages. Winterfell was an impressive location (not that it could hold a candle to Hogwarts) but it was refreshing to have a change of scenery after months of the same routines.

Jon, Robb and Theon had been quite jealous when Harry told them that he was to travel with Jory Cassel and a young guardsman named Wyl to Karhold, Hornwood and the Dreadfort. He knew that Hermione wasn't particularly pleased about his expedition but she had tried her best to hide it. The problem was that she was part of the reason why he had agreed to go.

The revelation that he and Hermione were capable of magic went down surprisingly well with Lord Stark, Maester Luwin, Robb and Jon. They were shocked, of course, particularly when Harry tried to explain about time (and world) travel, but they didn't make the slightest motion to burn them both at the stake, which was a great relief. However, Lord Stark did recommend that they keep their abilities a secret from everyone else as it was unlikely that they would all be quite as understanding.

Harry hadn't viewed this as much of an issue, particularly as his wand no longer seemed to be able to process magic. He swallowed down the bitterness that rose within him whenever he thought about his wand, focusing instead on the track ahead of him and the horse he was riding.

No, the real concern was that he and Hermione hadn't the faintest idea how to get back home and nor did they know where to go to find the answers. That was when Robb had suggested the Citadel.

Surprisingly enough neither he nor Hermione had considered that someone could learn about magic at the headquarters of the Maesters. Their own education in wizardry had been such a secretive one that it was odd that it could be studied there as easily as history or smithing.

From that moment they had at least been given a glimmer of hope; a starting point to their journey.

Maester Luwin should receive confirmation from the Maesters whether or not Harry had been accepted to study at the Citadel any day now but Harry would have to wait until he arrived back at Winterfell to find out for himself.

They had been forced to wait a few months before enquiring about the possibility so that Harry could get his improve his literacy of the Common Tongue as Maester Luwin had pointed out that training as a Maester required a lot of study. Harry had absolutely no desire to actually become a Maester, but it was a perfect cover for him to find out if the Citadel had any knowledge that would be useful to himself and Hermione.

Harry could tell from the outset that Maester Luwin considered their journey to Oldtown to be little more than a waste of time. As far as the maester was concerned the sorcery required to travel between worlds was far beyond any knowledge the Citadel possessed. But it was probably the best place for them to start before they attempted to cross the Narrow Sea and explored the legends of sorcery in the east.

They'd also had to postpone their journey to Oldtown for Hermione's sake. When she had initially become injured a small part of him had believed that she'd be able to cure herself with magic – she always seemed to know a spell to solve the problem. But at his suggestion that she try and spell her fractured bones back together she'd burst into terrified sobs that had only seemed to cause her more pain.

"I've never attempted that sort of magic before," she cried, tears leaking down her face.

"But you know the incantation?" he asked.

"Yes, but you know better than I do what can happen if I do something wrong," Hermione pointed out.

Harry frowned, then realised what she was talking about. "Oh, yeah, Lockhart. But he was a complete idiot, Hermione. You're not going to make your bones disappear."

"I might!" Hermione replied tearfully. "And there's no Madam Pomfrey or magic potions here to help me if I make a mistake."

Harry didn't have the first clue about medial magic so he couldn't offer much insight. If Hermione did try to fix her ankle or back, she could very well end up making them much worse and he supposed that it really wasn't worth the risk when Maester Luwin had assured them that she would eventually heal naturally. Though he had a feeling that Hermione had been very tempted on more than one occasion for her recovery had been a very long and painful one. It was two months before she was able to totter around the first keep and even now, seven months after she had fallen, she was only able to ride a horse for about twenty minutes before her back and hips caused her too much pain.

He knew that Hermione was very keen to get to Oldtown although she had been extremely unimpressed to learn that women were not permitted to study at the Citadel. Jon and Robb had burst into laughter at the very suggestion that she might be accepted, which had earned them both a hearty glare from her.

Harry had offered that she stay safely at Winterfell instead of coming with him. He didn't like the idea of going on his own but he knew how bored she'd be while he was studying at the Citadel. However she'd shot that idea down straight away and vowed to stay with him no matter what.

He was glad that he had Hermione to support him, he truly was, but sometimes he found her presence overbearing.

He was only too aware that Hermione would make an infinitely better candidate to study at the Citadel than him. Unfortunately her gender meant that the success of their infiltration of the maesters relied heavily on him. Harry could feel her frustration every time he asked her how to spell a particular word in the Common Tongue or when he would take a day off from reading a boring history book to go horse riding with Theon and Robb. She barely ever voiced her opinions and he knew she didn't mean to get on his nerves; it was just in Hermione's nature to expect everyone to be as diligent as she was. The pressure of knowing that their future was almost entirely in his hands filled him with a sick sense of dread as he feared that he was going to let her down in some way.

But on his journey eastwards over the last couple of weeks he had been able to forget about the future for a while and just be.

Jory Cassel slowed his horse down and turned back to Harry and Wyl. "We'll ride for a further hour, then make camp before the sun sets," he commanded. Harry and Wyl nodded their understanding before the three of them increased the pace of their steeds again.

Although he had spent over a dozen days with his companions, Harry had talked to Jory and Wyl very little. It wasn't that they were being unkind to him (they didn't speak to each other much either) there just wasn't a lot to be said when you were travelling quickly on horseback. If there was enough light at the end of the day Jory would practice sword fighting with them and then, once it was dark, they would take it in turns to keep watch. It wasn't the most interesting way to pass your days but it was something different from Maester Luwin's lessons on grammar.

According to Jory they were only a couple of days' riding away from their second destination, Karhold, the home of House Karstark. They had already stopped over at the seat of House Bolton, the Dreadfort and within a few minutes of being in the gloomy fortress Harry was counting his luck that the timeturner hadn't delivered them there. Theon had delighted in telling Harry stories about the torture chambers and flaying that still occurred in the depths of the fortress. Eyeing the skeletal human hands that jutted from the walls, grasping torches in the great hall, Harry could readily believe Theon's tales.

The atmosphere wasn't helped much by the very recent death of Lord Bolton's only true born son, Domeric. Lord and Lady Bolton both looked very drawn and understandably they showed little emotion to Jory's news of the tourney and feast for Robb's nameday. But Lord Roose stated in an unsettlingly soft voice that he'd be delighted to attend.

Harry followed Jory's lead in to thick woodland. The pace of the horses dropped as they adjusted to the diminished light and more uneven ground.

Eventually, Jory gave the order to dismount and make camp. They'd done this so many times in the past few days that Harry didn't even have to think as he helped to rub down the horses, collect firewood and prepare shelter. Summer in the North felt pretty similar to summer in Scotland and the nights in particular became rather chilly.

After a standard supper of broth and dried meat, Harry and Wyl took out their wooden practice swords. They had been given real swords for their journey too (though neither Lord Stark nor Jory expected there to be any reason why they'd have to use them) but Ser Rodrik had made it quite clear before they left that they were not to use them for practice bouts. As Wyl's sword edge bit into the boiled leather armour on his shoulder, Harry was very pleased that Ser Rodrik had made that decision.

"You mustn't allow such a gap between your sword-arm and you shield, Harry," Jory advised. Harry nodded, wiping some sweat from his brow as he readied himself to fight again.

A disturbance off to their left made them all pause. Jory held out a hand to them both. "Wait here," he instructed quietly, drawing his sword and heading off between the trees.

Wyl dropped his practice sword and rummaged near the fire for his metal one, Harry quickly following suit. They were probably overreacting; there were any number of things that could have made that noise but Harry felt happier knowing that he was prepared just in case.

As he bent down to pick up his sword he felt something pass over his head, followed a split second later by a swift splitting noise. He whirled around to see an arrow lodged into the tree trunk behind him. There was a whoop of delight and then two savage young men wearing furs burst out of the trees at Harry and Wyl, armed with long bronze tipped spears.

Harry was just able to bring his shield up in time to deflect the spear away from his belly, stumbling backwards at the impact. Just managing to stay on his feet he tried not to panic at the sudden attack.

Harry made a desperate swipe at his opponent but they easily stepped backwards to avoid it. The spearman darted at his head this time but Harry blocked the blow and managed to cut a small part of the spear shaft away.

Harry ran forwards, hoping to catch his foe off-guard. The spear grazed across his thigh, drawing blood but Harry ignored it, cutting down hard with his sword so that it bit deeply into the wooden shaft of the spear. He fought down a moment of horror as his sword became wedged in the wood and wrenched at it with all of his might. The wood of the shaft snapped and Harry stumbled backwards again, this time falling to the ground.

Just in time he managed to cover himself with his shield as the spearman launched himself at Harry. He was a spearman no longer though for he had disposed of his long weapon and drawn a lethal looking short blade. Harry rolled away as the blade stabbed deep into the ground, where his head had just been, then lashed out at his opponent with his shield, delivering a hard blow to the side of the head. The man fell flat on the ground as Harry rolled onto his knees and held the tip of his sword to the side of the man's neck.

Harry froze.

If this was the practice yard at Winterfell the bout would be over. Ser Rodrik would declare Harry the winner and then they'd get back to their feet to have another go. But this wasn't a practice; this was life and death. The problem was that Harry didn't want to kill this man. Stuck in his dilemma he lifted his sword a fraction but that was all the opportunity his opponent needed as he sensed Harry's hesitation.

He rolled away from Harry's sword, snatched up his blade as he got to his feet and ran for the trees. Harry followed after him, annoyed that he'd let the man escape.

There was a cry of triumph from Wyl as he cut down the other intruder. Wyl looked up and, seeing that Harry's opponent was trying to get away, moved into his path.

With a snarl and a whip of his wrist, the man threw his blade in Wyl's direction.

Horrified, Harry watched the firelight glint off of the metal as it soared towards Wyl, burying itself in his gut.

"No!" Harry cried, forcing himself to run faster despite the pain from his wounded thigh. He threw himself at the man, his momentum causing them both to fall to the ground hard. The sword in Harry's hand seemed to shudder as a pained cry came from his foe.

Jory Cassel was suddenly at his side, panting as he pulled Harry off of the man, who let out another cry as Harry tried to bring his blade with him. Jory turned the intruder over. As he'd fallen he'd landed on the edge of Harry's sword, the blade biting a deep line across his abdomen.

Harry watched appalled as the man whimpered, trying to stem the flow of blood and guts that were pouring from his wound. The man shuddered, then became still. He was dead.

Harry looked down at his bloodied blade in shock before remembering about Wyl. He tore himself away from the gruesome sight and raced back over to the guardsman but he was already dead.

Harry stared at Wyl's body in despair. It had all happened so quickly. He doubted that even a minute had gone by since that arrow had been fired.

Jory walked over to crouch down next to Wyl's lifeless body. There was a sickening sucking noise as the captain of the guards withdrew the blade. He glanced up at Harry and he knew instantly that Jory was aware of exactly what had happened to cost Wyl his life.

Harry struggled as a tide of emotions battled within him. He'd been responsible for an ally's death and managed to accidentally take someone's life all in a matter of seconds. He hadn't wanted to kill that man but if he had done so at the first opportunity then surely Wyl would still be alive. He couldn't convince himself that failing to kill an unarmed man was wrong but he wasn't convinced that he'd done the right thing either.

He wished that Jory would say something. The silent disapproval was almost deafening.

"Are you hurt?" Jory asked.

Harry glanced down at his leg. "Spear cut. I don't think it's bad."

"We'll get you cleaned up then we can start on the graves," Jory said, moving over to their supplies. Harry followed him mutely.

The wound was reasonably shallow but they made sure to clean and dress it properly.

"They were wildlings," Jory explained, noticing Harry staring at the man Wyl had killed. "Gods know what they're doing down here though. I've never known them stray so far from the Wall."

"Why did they attack?" Harry asked, standing to test his leg. It stung quite badly now that the adrenaline had worn off but given what had happened to Wyl he didn't feel like he had any grounds to complain.

"They must have hoped that with me out of the way you and Wyl would be easy pickings," Jory suggested. "Our horses and supplies would seem a fortune to them."

Harry nodded, though to him none of that seemed worth losing your life over.

Digging the graves was hard work given how solid the soil was in the cold but Harry got stuck in, unleashing his frustration on the ground. His hands and back were soon aching but he didn't stop. With each savage thrust at the ground he tried to rid himself of the guilt that tore away at his insides.

"Calm yourself," Jory called, looking at Harry with concern.

"It's my fault Wyl's dead," Harry muttered, unable to keep his torment inside any longer.

Jory gazed at him steadily. "You have learnt a difficult lesson," he replied eventually.

Harry scowled and felt his anger rise. "To kill without a second thought? No. I have not learned that lesson."

"You would rather risk for your opponent to regain the advantage?" Jory questioned calmly in the face of Harry's ire. "You know now what the consequences of that could be – luckily for you it was Wyl who paid that price today. Next time it might be yourself or someone you love."

"He was unarmed," Harry pointed out defensively.

"Yet he was then able to kill Wyl," Jory replied. Harry breathed in heavily and looked down. Jory walked forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. "This can be a very cruel world. If you want to survive in it you have to make some tough decisions. You need to decide what sort of man you want to be; someone who will take the hard choice to make things right, or take the easy choice and let people down. Our lives can be very short but the decisions we make can be felt for centuries."

Harry swallowed and nodded. "Thank you," he muttered. He didn't want this world to change who he was. He had prided himself on always trying to do the right thing. The only problem was that he wasn't sure what the right thing had been in that situation. If he could relive that minute again he couldn't be sure that he'd change his actions and kill the wildling. He'd never purposefully killed anyone before and he didn't ever want to. He tried to save people and yet his actions had cost Wyl his life.

Harry turned back to the hole that he was attempting to make into a grave and worked less ferociously.

It was close to midnight before the graves were big enough. Harry helped Jory carry the wildlings to a shared grave, followed by Wyl to a solitary one. Jory placed the metal sword into Wyl's hands before they covered the bodies with the loose soil.

"Come on, I'll show you how to clean the blood off of that sword," Jory offered. "We don't want it to rust."

Harry stared at the mounds of earth that hid the bodies, two of which he was responsible for putting there. Then he followed Jory to clean his sword.

Harry turned over with a sigh as sleep continued to elude him. It was his first night back at Winterfell after his journey with Jory and he was physically and emotionally exhausted. Yet sleep would not come.

Unfortunately that had been a common occurrence since Wyl's death. No matter how many times Harry tried to convince himself that he had accepted what had happened, he would still spend his nights doubting himself.

During their meeting with Lord Stark explaining what had transpired on their journey, Harry had barely been able to meet the older man's eye. Eddard had made little comment on the matter except to tell them that he would inform Wyl's family before Harry was dismissed.

Hermione had been overjoyed to see him, nearly crushing him with her hug, but it had only taken her a few seconds to notice that something was wrong. When Harry explained the tragic consequences of the wildlings' attack she hugged him again and insisted that none of it was his fault. He didn't agree with her but didn't see the point in arguing his case.

Robb had offered his sympathy but Harry could instantly tell that he thought he should have killed the wildling when he had the chance.

"What if you and Hermione get attacked on your journey to Oldtown?" Jon had questioned quietly during dinner. "Are you going to risk Hermione or you getting hurt?"

"We would have magic," Harry pointed out, ignoring the clench in his stomach at the mention of his acceptance into the Citadel. "It would be much easier to defeat without killing."

"Maybe," Jon shrugged. "But then someone might discover your secret. Look, I know it goes against what you stand for but sometimes it is the lesser of two evils. Nobody would think any less of you for defending yourself and others."

Harry knew that it wouldn't be long before the whispers of 'craven' followed him. In Westerosi society being labelled a coward was one of the worst insults you could throw at a man. Harry didn't consider himself to be an arrogant person but he knew he was anything but a coward; during his entire time at Hogwarts he had been throwing himself into dangerous situations without a second thought. He knew he wasn't craven and that was all that mattered.

He decided to try to create his animagus bubble in an effort to shut down his brain. He hadn't practiced for a while without Hermione there to watch over him. She wasn't here now either but he wasn't actually trying to transform, just to sleep.

It was much easier to shut out his senses in the quiet of the night and he soon found his thoughts and heartbeat slowing down…

He was flying, flying faster than he'd ever flown before, even than when he'd ridden the Firebolt. He sped past mountains and rivers, forests and valleys. He'd never felt this free.

Facing the brilliant white moon he climbed, his wings beating powerfully at his sides before he turned and dived towards the ground. At the last moment he unfurled his wings again so that he could right himself and soar inches off of the grass. He opened his mouth in delight and let out a high pitched cry.

Harry woke abruptly and tumbled out of his bed. His limbs struggled to free themselves from the furs that covered him. He tried to grasp them but he realised that he couldn't feel his fingers. In fact, his whole body didn't seem to be responding to him like it normally would.

Heart in his mouth, he tried to right himself. One of his feet touched the floor with a clomping sound, swiftly followed by another foot and then another. Confused as to why he seemed to have more than two feet, Harry finally managed to get himself upright onto his four legs and promptly hit his head on the ceiling. He cried out in surprise, recognising the high pitched noise from his dream.

Harry didn't need any light to know that he'd transformed but the question now was what animal was he? Four legs with hooves tended to suggest a horse but in his dream there was something else about this animal, something he dared not believe yet.

Experimenting with the new muscles on his back he felt something shift. Yes! He couldn't believe he had wings! Before he could unfurl them properly there was a crash as they collided with the furniture in his room. Whatever he was, he was too big to be in this room. He eyed his window but knew that it was far too small to exit through. The only way he was going to get out of this room was to return to his human form. He closed his eyes and concentrated on what Hermione's notes had said about reversing the transformation.

Searching inside of himself, the strength of the connection with his animagus form took him by surprise. It flowed throughout every part of his body but now he needed to contain it. He imagined pulling that connection in from the top of his head right down to the tip of his newly discovered tail. It took a few attempts but eventually Harry felt his body morphing. He used his hands to check himself, amazed to find that everything was back to normal.

Heart beating with excitement Harry put on his glasses, grabbed a cloak and ran to the door, eager to attempt the transformation again. He considered waking Hermione up to tell her of his success, but for now he wanted to have this moment to himself. He had followed in his father's footsteps; he was an animagus.

A/N A request to study at the Citadel might not be necessary but the idea that you can just turn up seems a bit odd to me. Not the happiest of chapters, I grant you, but considering that all you've would've gotten before my laptop was stolen is further discussion between everyone about Harry and Hermione's magic, I think this is a bit better.

One of the other things that got wiped from my hard drive were a series of little drabbles set during Hermione's recuperation in bed. I was going to post them separately as a tie-in with this story because they have absolutely no relevance to the plot of this fic but they were moments that I enjoyed writing and even re-writing. I'll probably post them sometime soon so if you're at all interested please read, but you won't miss out on anything significant if you don't.

While I was brooding over my deleted writings at Christmas, I started writing a new HP crossover story with the BBC series of Sherlock. The first fic in the series I have planned has been completed for a while now and I will be posting that story in its entirety but that doesn't mean I have given up on that story.

Thank you for all your support. It's amazing that so many of you like this story.

Until next time!

Lil Drop of Magic