AUTHOR'S NOTE: When writing a scene that's taken place before, either in a book or, in this case, a tv show, I'm not a big fan of rewriting the dialogue as is. When I stumble upon fics that do this, I usually get very annoyed and skip it. However, since the first few chapters of this fic take place in the first few episodes of GoT before any of the storyline really changes, I had to keep most of the events from the beginning, and thus some of the scenes are written as is in the show, although since they are seen from Harry's point of view, I have of course added his observations and thoughts, and his presence causes changes in the dialogue. To change from the tv show a little bit more, I've also included some bits of dialogue from the scene as told in the book itself, which I thought were interesting to fit in. In this chapter, three scenes have dialogue taken directly from the tv show: the one where Bran practices archery, the one where Will is executed, and the one where they find the direwolves.
So, sorry again for the long wait. I've been terribly busy with school and procrastination. 3/4 of this has been written on a writing binge in the last two days. I hope you will like it. This chapter is frankly much better than the previous one. Don't hesitate to review or tell me what you think of it.
HEART OF WINTER
He loved to practice early in the morning, when a cold mist filled the air and dawn cast its dim light on the surroundings. He loved to practice when Winterfell was still and silent. Not that the usual noise and presence of the others disturbed him, but it was just another one of those things he preferred to do alone.
Harry stood in the cold air, hands bare and motionless, his breath coming out in little clouds of mist. Staring at the straw target across the yard, he made the rest of the world disappear from his mind. For now, nothing else existed. There was only him and the target. The bow was part of his arm, of his soul. He took a deep breath, raised the bow, and in a series of fast and precise repetitive movements, Harry grabbed arrows from the quiver strapped to his back and shot them at the target, one after the other, swiftly and silently, until his hand came up empty. Then, slowly, he let out the breath he had been holding and lowered the bow. A thick mass of arrows was sticking out of the very centre of the target.
Something like a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. "Good morning," he said out loud to the silhouette crouching on a low cornice to his left. "What are you doing out so early?"
"I sneaked out," Bran said, climbing down from the armoury roof.
"And why is that?" Harry asked, walking up to the target.
"I like watching you. It looks so easy for you," the ten-year-old said in admiration and envy.
"It doesn't mean it is," Harry said softly as he removed the arrows. Two of them had been split and he tossed them aside. "It's very difficult, in truth."
"I don't believe you," Bran replied gloomily, crossing his arms across his chest. "You only say that to make me feel better. Everyone is so good at this... you, Jon, Robb, especially Theon. I could never even compare." Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Bran cut him off, frowning deeply. "And don't say I need only to practice, because that's what I have been doing and it's just not working."
"Bran," Harry said, shaking his head as he walked up to the little boy he loved like a brother. "You're only ten. Give it time. I'm certain by the time you come of age, you'll be the best archer Winterfell has ever seen. You're so stubborn, you can do anything if you set your mind to it."
Around them, people were now getting ready to start the day, and Harry thought he could hear the fires roaring to life in the blacksmith's. His moment of tranquillity had passed. "Come," he told Bran. "Why don't I show you a few tricks?"
Bran shrugged, but Harry knew him well enough to know that this was exactly what he had been hoping for. "You would only be wasting your time. I can't even hit the target," he said, but he stepped forward nonetheless and smiled weakly when Harry handed him his bow. "Robb and Jon are always mocking me because of it," he mumbled.
Harry knew that. He had noticed. "Well, do you see Robb and Jon anywhere? There's just you and me, and I promise I won't be mocking you. Now, stand straight and put your weight on your front leg," he said, nudging Bran into position. "Good. Raise the bow. Relax your bow hand. If it's too tense, you'll miss."
He stared at Bran while he spoke. The boy had a good stance, which had already been rooted into his head by Ser Rodrik, but he was nervous, and it showed. Harry handed him an arrow and watched as he set it into position carefully. "Your chest moves when you breathe," he said. "It'll make the bow shift and you'll miss your shot, so while you're pulling back the arrow, take a deep breath and hold it in."
Bran obeyed, sucked in a shaky breath and waited. "You don't have to aim for very long," Harry urged him. "Trust your eyes. They know where they want the arrow to go."
Harry watched as he released the arrow. Bran shut his eyes tightly in the process, as if to avoid the shame of seeing it fly over the castle walls again. But it didn't. It struck the very edge of the straw target and almost flew past it, but it held on, dangling a little bit on the side.
"You can breathe out now, Bran," Harry said, clapping him on the back.
Bran let out a trembling huff of breath as he opened his eyes and stared at the target, a small smile forming on his lips. "It's the first time I've ever even grazed it," he said in quiet admiration.
"See? Things are never so bad as you make them out to be," Harry said kindly.
"Be careful with him, Harry," said Robb's voice gruffly as he came up behind them. "You don't want to lose an eye."
Harry frowned and was going to tell him off for discouraging Bran, but Robb barely looked at them and walked on straight inside the armoury. "What's gotten into him?" Harry wondered out loud.
"He had a fight with Theon," Bran said suddenly with a note of eagerness to his voice, as though he couldn't believe he had almost forgotten to tell Harry about it.
"What about?" Harry asked, surprised. He didn't think Robb and Theon had ever gotten into a fight before. They usually got along like peas in a pod.
"About you, of course."
"About me? What for?"
Bran looked in a much better mood now, eager to share what he had heard. "I wasn't there, but Arya told me everything about it. She heard them through the door. Robb told Theon he shouldn't be so mean to you all the time, that you two were raised as equals, like brothers, and that you should act like so, and that if you couldn't manage this, it certainly wasn't your fault. Then Theon said that you weren't his brother and never would be, and nothing Father said would make it otherwise. And Robb got really mad and said that after all Father has done for Theon, he should do what he says and be nice to you... And then... Oh, wait, there was something else before that, but I can't remember..."
"I don't care to know any more, Bran," Harry said, shaking his head. "It does not interest me what Theon and Robb talk about when no one is meant to hear them, and it shouldn't matter to you either. Don't worry about me. I don't suffer from Theon's lack of brotherly love. And tell Arya she shouldn't listen at the doors, would you?"
"She won't listen to me!" Bran said, laughing, handing Harry back his bow.
"True. Besides, you're not one to talk. Arya likes to eavesdrop, and you like to climb the castle walls. I don't know which of you is worse. Quite the little savages you both are," Harry said, unstrapping the quiver from his back and putting away the last of the arrows.
"You're losing your touch, Harry," Jon said as he joined them in the yard, laughing as he saw the lonely arrow dangling from the target. Rickon was trotting behind him. Jon grabbed him and propped him on top of a saddle that was lying across the fence next to them.
"That's my arrow!" Bran said proudly.
"Oh, good job, Bran!" Jon said, clapping him on the back. "You're getting there..."
"Yes, I suppose that's a start," said Robb, who had just come back out of the armoury. "Come on, Bran. Show us how it's done."
Bran's smile froze. "I... I don't know if..." he stuttered, looking to Harry for help.
"Why don't you two leave him alone? He's just as skilled as any boy his own age. You're making him nervous, that's why he can never hit the target," Harry told them with a frown. He loved Jon and Robb deeply, but they could be such arses sometimes.
"On the battlefield, there is no time to be nervous," Robb said somewhat haughtily.
"He's ten years old!" Harry replied, annoyed. "If gods be good, he'll never even see a battlefield. And don't pretend you've ever set foot on one either."
Jon laughed at the equally annoyed look on Robb's face. "Oh, come off, Harry. We're only trying to help him get better," he said earnestly before turning to Bran. "We don't mean to make you nervous, but Robb is right. In a fight, when your life depends on it, you can't worry about who is watching you."
Hesitantly, Bran went to fetch his own bow, which was more fit to his size than Harry's, pulled a quiver of arrows on his shoulder and a glove on his right hand, then got into position. For a moment, Harry almost believed that perhaps a miracle would occur and Bran would hit the target again, but not for very long. However well he had performed earlier, Bran kept missing the target, again and again. He pounded the ground in frustration after each shot. Robb and Jon kept silent at first, patient under Harry's watchful glare, but it quickly became obvious that they were trying their hardest not to laugh. It wasn't clear, however, whether they were restraining themselves as not to hurt their brother's feelings or as not to suffer Harry's wrath.
By then, the yard was filled with its usual noises and chatter, and Bran was gaining more spectators. Trying to encourage him, Jon patted his shoulders firmly and said, "Go on. Father's watching. And your mother."
Bran turned to look up at his parents, both standing on the bridge leading to the Great Keep, and he smiled uncomfortably. The sight didn't seem to give him any more courage, and he missed yet again. Harry winced as the others chuckled and groaned at each missed shot. There was only so much humiliation the boy could take. Birds were flying away in fright as Bran missed yet again, and this time, Jon let out a burst of laughter, followed by Robb and Rickon.
"And which one of you was a marksman at ten?" Lord Eddard said reproachfully, just when Harry was about to call Robb and Jon something very rude. They all fell silent and looked up at the man with shame. "Keep practising, Bran. Go on," he said with a kind smile and a nod.
"Don't think too much, Bran," Jon said more softly, aware of his father's reprimanding eyes on them.
"Relax your bow arm," Robb said, his arms crossed over his chest.
In his nervousness, Bran seemed to have forgotten everything Harry had told him earlier. He settled in position awkwardly, but this time, before he could let go of the arrow, another one flew in from behind him, right past his shoulder, and hit the very centre of the target. Startled, Bran turned around swiftly, and sure enough, there stood Arya, who had apparently escaped her needlework once again to join them in the yard. Bow in hand, she smiled and did a little curtsy before running away, Bran on her heels, furious. Robb and Jon erupted in laughter, urging him on.
"You shouldn't laugh at him," Harry told them reproachfully. "He was doing very well this morning before you two started sneering."
They had the decency to look ashamed, and Robb avoided Harry's eyes as he went to fetch the arrows, asking Rickon for help.
"We mean no harm," Jon told Harry. "You know I would never do anything to hurt Bran. Neither would Robb. He's just in a foul mood today, that's all."
Harry stole a quick look at Robb before turning back to Jon. "What's this I heard about Robb and Theon fighting about me?"
Jon shook his head. "Robb is not angry with you, if that's what you're thinking. This whole thing with you and Theon yesterday opened his eyes, I think. Robb likes to think that everything is always perfectly well in the world. He doesn't like conflict. None of this is your fault."
Rickon ran back to them with a handful of arrows and Jon put them away. He was going to say something more to Harry, but he fell silent and raised his head suddenly. Harry followed his gaze. Lady Catelyn now stood on her own on the bridge over the armoury. She was looking at Jon that way again, the only way Harry had ever seen her look at him, like he was dirty and unwanted. After a long moment, she left without a word, and Jon simply turned his attention back to the arrows, as if this was an everyday occurrence, because it was. Harry felt a lump form in his throat. Lady Catelyn was such a gentle woman to everyone, himself included, and it never failed to make him uncomfortable to witness her behaviour towards Jon. For this reason, he had never managed to get as close to her as he was to Lord Eddard. He put a hand on Jon's arm, hoping to comfort him in some way, but Jon smiled at him.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "It doesn't bother me anymore."
Theon had appeared in the yard and was approaching them, head held high, with an air of importance about him. "Saddle your horses!" he called out. "They've captured a deserter from the Night's Watch."
Harry groaned. He had been looking forward to a quiet day and was planning to head up to the Maester's Turret and have a long talk with Maester Luwin, but unfortunately, this would have to wait. Jon's shoulders sagged. He didn't seem too eager to witness another beheading either. "Gods, why do they keep running off?" he mumbled under his breath.
"Where's Bran?" Theon said, looking around. "Lord Stark said he's coming too."
"Rickon, go get Bran, would you?" Robb told his youngest brother. "Try to catch him before Arya can do too much damage." He looked at Theon darkly for second before turning away without a word.
"What are you two waiting for?" Theon hissed at Jon and Harry when he caught them looking at him. "Go fetch your horses! We don't have all day!" he said moodily before heading towards the stables.
They stared after him as he left and Jon chuckled, shaking his head. As guilty as Harry felt for having caused a fight between Robb and Theon, he couldn't help thinking that this was an interesting change of character.
"I don't know about you," he told Jon as they headed towards the stables together, "but I feel as if I've woken up in another world this morning."
"A better one?" Jon asked with a smile.
"One where Theon is unpleasant to everyone, not just me, but I'm not sure if this is better."
The stableboys were already leading horses out of their stalls. Lord Eddard's was waiting outside, and Robb's was being brushed. Hullen, the master of horses, walked straight up to Harry, looking gruff and annoyed.
"We've had this talk already, Hullen," Harry told him before he could say a word. "I'm taking Cloud."
Hullen looked at him darkly. "I've got a dozen horses that would fit you better. You are a young Lord. You should be riding a fine destrier, not that old..."
"You are wasting your time, Hullen," Harry said as he walked into the stables and headed directly for Cloud's stall. The horse raised his head to look at him, dark eyes shining, and he huffed quietly. "Hey, old boy," Harry said, caressing his muzzle.
Cloud was an old palfrey who had seen better days, but his black coat was still shiny and he walked with dignity despite his years. For months, Hullen had been trying to convince Harry to pick a younger horse, but Harry liked Cloud. He found his presence calming, and there was something like an air of wisdom about him, like he had a truly profound knowledge of human nature.
"Hodor," Hodor said as he approached Harry, carrying Cloud's saddle.
"Yes, thank you, Hodor." Harry stepped aside and watched the giant prepare Cloud for the journey. Hodor chuckled and caressed the horse's flank as the worked. Cloud stood there patiently, but Harry could already see the eagerness in him. He was looking forward to a long walk.
More than a dozen men stood around the grassy hills, dressed in black, with the Stark banners floating in the cool wind. There were a few guards from a nearby holdfast, those who had intercepted the runaway, and the rest had come from Winterfell. Apart from Harry, Jon, Robb, Theon, and Bran, Lord Eddard had brought with him Ser Rodrik and Jory. Bran still looked nervous, but this time archery was the last thing on his mind.
The man was brought forward, clothed like the Brothers of the Night's Watch. He was muttering under his breath, but from where he stood behind the others, Harry couldn't hear a word he said. He was young, but not the youngest Harry had ever seen executed, although it was hard to say because of the dirt on his skin, and the Wall tended to make people age more quickly. Harry remembered every one of them. His first execution had been an older man, a knight who had been disgraced and condemned to spend his remaining days on the Wall. He had lasted there merely a fortnight before fleeing and was furious at them for catching him. He had called Lord Eddard all sorts of names. But this one's eyes were wide and fearful, his face wounded with bites from the cold. He looked terrified, and Harry wondered what had possessed him to run, but he must have been brave to try and escape when he knew the fate that awaited him if he was caught.
The deserter looked up at Lord Eddard when he reached the large rock in the middle of the crowd, and there it was, surely enough, the bravery despite the fear. It was in his eyes and his words as he spoke. "I know I broke my oath," he said louder, so that even Harry heard him, "and I know I'm a deserter."
He was staring directly at Lord Eddard, who looked like he might be sick. The rest of them watched the scene in silence. "I should have gone back to the Wall and warned them, but I saw what I saw. I saw the White Walkers. People need to know."
Harry felt chills runs across his spine as he heard the words. He saw the others shift and knew they were listening even more intently now. It wasn't often that these two words were pronounced nowadays, even in the North.
"If you can get word to my family," the deserter was saying, "tell them I'm no coward. Tell them I'm sorry."
Lord Eddard nodded mutely, and Harry had no doubt that he would act on this promise as soon as they were back in Winterfell. Theon approached importantly, holding Lord Eddard's sword, and the man drew Ice from the scabbard, handling the heavy sword as if it were nothing but a butter knife. As he started to say the words that Harry had heard so many times before, the deserter started to pray.
"Don't look away," he heard Jon tell Bran. "Father will know if you do."
The horses neighed in fear when the head fell off. They must be so disgusted by the acts of men, Harry thought. It was truly a wonder horses even allowed men to ride them anymore. Harry patted Cloud's neck gently. The old horse was used to this by now. He had seen much bloodshed in his life.
"You did well," Jon told Bran before walking back to his horse, which was standing next to Harry's.
"He died bravely," said Robb as he reached them. "At least he had courage."
"It was not courage," Jon said softly. "He was afraid. You could see it in his eyes. You heard what he said?" he asked Harry. "About the White Walkers? Do you think he was mad? He must have been mad."
"He didn't seem mad to me," Harry said. "Just afraid."
"These are nothing but old tales," Robb said. "He must have seen a shadow or a beast, or a trick of the light perhaps, and fear made him believe it was something else. We hear all sorts of tales about what lies beyond the Wall. The knowledge alone would be enough to make a man imagine all sorts of things."
"Your uncle Benjen says rangers have been disappearing beyond the Wall," Harry said as he mounted Cloud. "I don't think a trick of the light can be held responsible for that."
"Can we not talk about something cheerier?" Robb asked as he mounted his own horse. "You two are so gloomy all the time. Come on, let's race to the bridge!"
Harry lost the race, unwilling to push Cloud more than necessary. Robb and Jon laughed as he caught up to them.
"Why are you so fond of that old nag?" Robb said, shaking his head. "Don't you grow tired of seeing nothing but other horses' behinds?"
Harry ignored him. "What is that smell?" he asked, sniffing the air. "It's coming from around here."
"Over there, look," Jon said, pointing to a mass slumped on the ground across the bridge.
They waited for the rest of the party to catch up and for Lord Eddard to dismount before they showed him the stag. It was lying dead, its tongue jutting out of its mouth, its entrails forming a thick, smelly pile of reddish mush between its legs. The closer they got, the more overpowering the smell of decay, and the worst the sight. The rest dismounted and approached curiously.
"What is it?" Jon asked, voicing the question on everyone's mind. What in the world could have done this?
"A mountain lion?" Theon suggested.
Lord Eddard shook his head. "There are no mountain lions in these woods," he said, looking at the ground before heading right and down towards the river.
They followed him in a straight line, careful not to trip on the bumpy, half-frozen ground. The beast responsible for the stag's grim fate was lying next to the water in a great heap of grey fur and blood. Harry had never an animal so large before in his life, and his breath caught in his throat as he recognized it for what it was. He had seen drawings of it in a dozen books.
Lord Eddard knelt next to the beast, and that's when they noticed the pups, whimpering as they lingered around their dead mother. Everyone fell silent as they looked on the peculiar sight.
"It's a freak," Theon said, breaking the silence. He sounded almost offended by the sight of it.
"It's a direwolf," Harry almost whispered, but they were all so quiet that everyone heard him.
Lord Eddard nodded, his eyes never leaving the animal. "Tough old beast," he added, yanking the broken antler jutting out from the wolf's throat. "I'm surprised she lived long enough to whelp."
"Maybe she didn't," said Jory Cassel. "I've heard tales... Maybe she was already dead when the pups came."
Born with the dead, Harry thought with a shiver, the worst of luck. But he said nothing.
"There are no direwolves south of the Wall," Robb said, staring unblinkingly at the animal. He was hoping to convince himself rather than the others, it seemed.
"Now there are five," Jon replied. "You want to hold it?" he asked Bran, standing and handing him one of the wolf pups. It whimpered softly as Bran took it.
"Where will they go?" Bran asked suddenly. "Their mother's dead."
"They don't belong down here," Ser Rodrik said from behind them all.
"Better a quick death," Lord Eddard agreed, standing up. "They won't last without their mother."
"Right, give it here," said Theon. He unsheathed his sword, stepped forward and reached out to take the pup from Bran's hands.
"No!" Bran cried, and the pup, as if sensing the danger, started whimpering loudly.
"Put away your blade!" Robb said with a hint of disgust Harry had never heard from him when addressing Theon.
"I take orders from your father, not you!" Theon said back in anger.
"Please, Father," Bran said, begging.
"I'm sorry, Bran..."
"Lord Stark," suddenly said Jon, who had been inspecting the pups intently. "There are five pups. One for each of the Stark children. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. They were meant to have them."
Well played, Harry thought. They all looked at Lord Eddard in silence as he stared at the dead beast thoughtfully. Harry knew he wasn't one for superstitions or omens, but even he couldn't deny this was an odd coincidence.
"You will feed them yourselves," he said finally, as Theon put away his blade begrudgingly. "And you will train them yourselves. Gods help you if you neglect them or brutalize them. These are not dogs to beg for treats and run off at a kick. A direwolf will rip a man's arm off his shoulder as easily as a dog will kill a rat. And know that they might die despite everything you do, and if they die, you'll bury them yourselves."
"They won't die," Robb said. "We won't let them."
Jon picked up the other pups and handed Robb and Harry two pups each.
"What about you?" Bran asked Jon softly.
"I'm not a Stark," Jon said, and Harry knew that these words were painful for him to say. "Get on," he told Bran.
Bran walked away, holding his pup. Harry looked at Jon quietly and was about to speak when he felt something brush against his leg. "Look," he said, turning to see a little bundle of white fur near his boot. "He must have crawled away from the others."
"Or been driven away," Jon said softly, crouching to take a closer look.
"What is it?" Robb asked, turning to see the both of them looking at the ground.
When Jon stood again, he was holding a sixth pup, its fur white as the undisturbed snow, its eyes two red orbs shining with life.
"Ah, the runt of the litter. That one's yours, Snow," Theon said with a smirk before heading back towards his horse.
Jon said nothing, but the look of disbelief on his face said it all.
By the time they passed the gates of Winterfell and came to a halt inside the yard, the rest of the Stark children were waiting for them excitedly. Jory and Ser Rodrik, who had been riding ahead, had already announced the news and quite a crowd had gathered there, eager to catch a glimpse of real, living direwolves. Harry had barely dismounted Cloud, which was somewhat difficult when trying not to disturb the two small pups now snuggled comfortably against his chest, that Arya was rushing up to him, her eyes wide and expectant, pushing aside the stableboys who were waiting to take the horse away.
"Is it true, Harry? Is it true that you found direwolves? And is it true we can have the pups? Jory said there were five of them!" she babbled, jumping with excitement.
"Six," Jon said as he dismounted his horse, holding his pup, the little white one, in the crook of one arm. This one, as opposed to the others, had so far stayed completely silent.
"Here you go," Harry said, carefully removing one of the pups from its safe place inside his leather jerkin. "It's a female," he added. She had grey fur and golden eyes.
Arya yelped with joy, holding the pup tightly against her, rubbing her cheek on the fur. "She is so soft!" she said, smiling at Harry.
Rickon laughed loudly as his own pup, which had just been handed over to him by Robb, licked his face with a warm tongue.
"Sansa?" Harry said taking the other wolf, the smallest of all, out of his jerkin. The little creature was half asleep by now.
Sansa had been waiting patiently aside as her siblings received their respective pups, and she walked towards him once her name was called. As always, she acted like a perfect little lady, but Harry could see the eagerness in her eyes. She smiled at him brightly when he handed her the little grey pup.
"She is beautiful," Sansa gasped when the direwolf opened her yellow eyes to stare at her. "Thank you, Harry."
"It's Jon you should be thanking," Harry told her. "He's the one who convinced your father to let them live."
"Thank you, Jon," she said politely, but with the reserve she always used when speaking to her half-brother.
"We should find them some warm milk," Robb said, walking away, surely towards the kitchen. "Come on, all of you, if you don't want them to starve."
"We'll have to think of names, too!" Arya exclaimed, running after him.
"Are you very sad that you didn't get one, Harry?" quietly asked Bran, who hadn't followed the others.
"Of course not," Harry said to comfort him. "The direwolf is the sigil of your House, not mine. It was not meant to be. However, if you ever find a phoenix, you shall let me know, won't you?" he finished with a smile.
"Do you think they really exist?" Bran asked as they headed towards the kitchen after the others.
"I don't know, but until today I had my doubts about direwolves, so the day might come when we find out," Harry replied. He turned to see Lord Eddard heading towards the godswood, as he always did after an execution, and out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something white in the sky over the maester's tower. "I have to go see Maester Luwin," he told Bran. "I think he has a letter for me."
He headed right towards the Bell Tower, and up the Maester's Turret. He found the old man looking thoughtfully out the window at the hills beyond Winterfell.
"Ah, you're back," the maester said with a smile when he noticed Harry's presence. "Hedwig has just returned."
"I saw her fly by," Harry said, quickly removing his cloak and setting it down on a chair cluttered by a pile of large books.
The snowy owl was perched quietly on the desk and Harry caressed her feathers softly. Last year, as he was walking in the godswood one day, Harry had heard a soft hooting noise from amongst bushes, and there she was, a tiny, delicate feathered creature with a broken wing. He had brought her to Maester Luwin, who had nursed her back to health and tried to set her free, but she kept coming back to Harry every time they sent her away, much to Maester Luwin's amusement. The maester had then wondered if it would be possible to train her to deliver messages like the ravens and decided to try. Hedwig was a clever owl. She learned quickly and Harry had been using her to deliver messages to Benjen Stark, to whom he wrote about once a month. Harry had named her after a legendary witch from the old tales.
"Has she brought anything back?"
"She brought back a long letter just for you," Maester Luwin said, taking a thick parchment out of his long sleeve and handing it to Harry.
Harry tried to hide his eagerness as he took it. A few weeks ago, he had sent Hedwig to Grimmauld Hall with a letter for Sirius Black, who had grown up with his father in Winterfell. Since Maester Luwin had confided in Harry that Sirius Black had offered to take him in after his parents' deaths, Harry had wanted to find out more about the man, and hoped that he might be able to tell him about his parents. He let himself fall into a wooden chair surprisingly free of clutter and opened the letter, breaking the green skull seal of House Black.
I hope this letter finds you well. I cannot express to you in words the joy your letter brought me. I pictured your face as I read it, or what I imagine your features would look like, with enough of your father in them to remind me of our childhood together. Some moments of it seem so long ago, but others feel to me as if they happened only yesterday. In my mind's eye, I can still see the walls of Winterfell, smell the scents of the godswood and feel the wind from the north upon my cheeks as I felt it then, when I rode with your father in our younger years. Although the loss of your family so early in your life is a tragedy, I am grateful to the gods that you had at least the chance to grow up within those walls, just like your father did before you.
As per your request for information about James, after having spent years apart during the war, I have seen him in King's Landing when the throne was only just won. He was struck with grief and left shortly thereafter, without farewells or explanations. I later learned that he was heading for Thornfort, where he wedded your mother before returning to Godric's Hollow. I am afraid I have only had the pleasure of seeing his face once after that day, when I visited Godric's Hollow shortly after your brother Alderic was born. You were only a babe still and would not remember meeting me. Since then, I only heard again from him when the news of his tragic end reached Grimmauld Hall.
As for me, as you might already know, after the war, I returned to Grimmauld Hall, the seat of my father, and shortly thereafter wed a lady from the Westerlands who has since given me two children - Rickard, who was named after Lord Eddard's father, to whom I have always looked up to growing up, and sweet Ethel, my youngest. Rickard is your age, and I can only hope that one day your paths happen to cross and that you will form a bond of friendship as strong as the one I had with your father all those years ago.
The arrival of your letter reminded me that your sixteenth nameday is coming shortly, and I have taken the liberty to send a rider to Winterfell with a present for you. I remain convinced that, had your father not passed so early, you and I would have been great friends, and offering you a present in honour of what might have been if the fates had been in our favour felt only natural to me. I strongly hope you will find it to your liking. Hopefully, if all goes well, it should arrive in due time.
Harry read the letter over again and folded it neatly. He was touched by the personal tone of the letter. Sirius Black wrote to him as he would an old friend, as he would his father, but he was disappointed, too. None of what he had been hoping to find out was in there and even if Sirius Black wrote earnestly and with a kind of affection Harry had not been expecting, he had a feeling that the man was hiding something. If Sirius Black and his father had been such good friends, why had they barely kept in touch after the war? Had they gotten into a fight? Or had something happened when Sirius Black visited Godric's Hollow that caused them to part on bad terms?
"You look disappointed," Maester Luwin said, sitting down on a bench next to the window.
Harry sighed. "Oh, I don't know what I was expecting. I don't think there is anything Sirius Black can tell me that I don't already know from what Lord Eddard and Benjen have told me."
"From what I have gathered, your father became a very private man in his later years."
"Yes, I know, but..." Harry shook his head, throwing the letter down on the table carelessly. "Don't you think there could be a reason for that? Why would he push his friends away?"
Maester Luwin smiled sadly. "His whole family was killed while he was sheltered here, powerless and too young to do anything about it. Then Lyanna was taken away, and Brandon and Lord Rickard were killed. Your father's family was killed yet again. The pain he felt then must have been twice as terrible. I think maybe he wanted to start a new life over without the bad memories of his previous one."
Harry sighed again. "Perhaps you're right. Perhaps I'm so eager to find a reason for what happened that I'm now imagining things that never were."
"Have you been having those dreams again?" Maester Luwin asked tentatively.
"Yes," Harry admitted. "I've searched a few books to find out more about them, but couldn't find anything to explain it. All I know is that in Old Valyria, the people thought dreams were prophetic and would always try to act upon them. Only, my dreams don't show me what to do or how to act. They do nothing for me but scare me half to death. There is only this... this man... this faceless thing that creeps in the corners of my mind, it seems, and just waits."
"Waits?" Maester Luwin said curiously. "For what?"
"I don't know. In truth, I'm not sure I want to know," Harry said. "I feel like there must be an explanation for all this hidden somewhere within my reach. I just don't know how to go about finding it." He paused, wondering if he should confide this into the old man. "Lately, I've been thinking about asking Lord Eddard permission to head north to Godric's Hollow. I want to see it with my own eyes. I want to see the place where it happened. Perhaps then I would remember something."
"And you have never talked to him about this before?"
"You know, Harry, some things are sometimes not meant to be remembered," the man said slowly.
Harry sighed. "I had a feeling that's what you might say," he said before crossing his arms over his chest and shutting his eyes for a moment, trying to clear his head. That was what Maester Luwin told him every tie he complained about not being able to remember anything about his past, and it annoyed him to no end. He decided to change the subject. "Sirius Black says he's sending a rider with a nameday present for me," he added, remembering the last part of the letter. "In honour of what might have been if the fates had been in our favour, he says. He seems very odd."
"This is not the first time such a thing has been said about a member of House Black," Maester Luwin said.
"So I've heard," Harry agreed. The sun had come out and extended its long, pale rays all over the clutter of books and papers piled up all around the turret.
"Now, what's this I heard about wolf pups?" Maester Luwin asked after a while.
Harry told him all about it and the maester stayed silent for some time after that, lost in deep thought. "A dead stag, and a dead direwolf with a broken antler sticking out of its throat, you said?" he asked then. "That's interesting."
"How so?" Harry asked lazily. He had woken up early and the tiredness caused by his missing hours of sleep was starting to take over.
"There was a raven from King's Landing while you were gone. The news has not been announced yet. Lady Catelyn wanted to inform Lord Eddard first, but the King is coming to Winterfell," Maester Luwin said, tugging at the heavy chain around his neck, like he always did when he was unsettled.
"What?" Harry asked, suddenly very awake. "What for?"
"Jon Arryn has died."
Harry blinked in disbelief. "You think the King wants to ask Lord Eddard to become the new Hand?" he asked.
"I am afraid so," Maester Luwin said, still tugging at his chain. "It would only make sense. Why else would the King travel all this way?"
Harry didn't like the thought of this. If Lord Eddard was named Hand of the King, the whole Stark family would be separated. Surely someone would remain in Winterfell, but the rest would head south. And what would become of him then? The last thing Harry wanted was to go south, but Winterfell wouldn't be the same either, not without Lord Eddard there. He felt a lump forming in his throat at the thought of what all this might entail.
"I should go..." Harry said, standing up. "I have to... I should write a reply to this letter and... and other things."
Maester Luwin watched him go with a sad smile.
Harry spent the rest of the day in his chambers, lying on his bed in a ray of sunshine, lost in his thoughts, and like always, staring at the banner on the wall. He could hear laughter from outside as Bran, Rickon, and Arya ran around with their wolf pups. The news of the king's arrival must be known to all by then, and he expected Jon would seek him out soon to inform him of this, but he had so far remained undisturbed.
Just as this thought crossed his mind, there was a knock at the door. Harry groaned lazily in response and turned his head towards it, expecting Jon to walk in, but it wasn't him.
"Harry?" Lord Eddard said. "Can I come in?"
Harry straightened up, taken by surprise. "Yes, of course."
Lord Eddard shut the door behind him and came to sit down at the end of Harry's bed.
"I'm sorry," Harry said softly. "Maester Luwin told me about Lord Arryn. I know you were very close to him. I'm very sorry that he died."
"Thank you, Harry," Lord Eddard said with a sad smile. "Maester Luwin must have told you about the King as well. He is bringing half his court and they are already on their way. The whole of Winterfell will be in complete chaos for the next few weeks until they arrive, so I wanted to take the time to give you this before I become too busy and risk forgetting your nameday."
For the first time, Harry noticed what Lord Eddard had carried into the room. It was a scabbard made from blackened leather, fit for a longsword, and he was handing it to Harry with a smile.
"For me?" Harry asked, almost hesitant to take it. He had been hoping to receive a sword for his nameday, but had forgotten all about it with everything that had happened with Theon, the wolf pups, and now the King's visit.
"As is tradition for highborns when they come of age," Lord Eddard said with a nod. "Surely your father would have gifted you with one if he was still alive, and I thought fit to offer you with one in his stead."
Harry took it. He had been hoping for this moment, but had refused to let himself expect it with too much certainty. Now that it was truly happening, now that he was receiving his very first sword, he couldn't find the right words to say.
"Go on," Lord Eddard said, chuckling. "Take a look."
Harry smiled as he slid the sword out of its scabbard. It was beautiful, and clearly Mikken's work, as he had suspected. The steel blade shone in the sunshine coming in through the window, its light reflecting on the walls all around. He didn't need to touch the edge to know how sharp it was, and it was the hilt that truly attracted attention.
"I wanted you to have something similar to your grandfather's sword," said Lord Eddard.
"Smoke," Harry said. The sword had travelled to King's Landing with Lord Harold Potter and either burned with him or was forged into Aerys Targaryen's throne with all the others.
"Yes. It was impossible to recreate, of course. One cannot make a Valyrian steel greatsword anymore. According to the old records, Smoke had a pommel of white ivory, but Mikken and I decided that this would suit you better."
"Obsidian," Harry said.
The hilt of the sword was elegantly carved and embedded with the shining black material commonly called dragonglass. The grip was black leather, and the crossguard extended and curved, shaped like two majestic wings. The pommel, also carved in shiny obsidian, was shaped like the head of a phoenix similar to the ivory one Smoke must have had. Long tendrils of feathers twisted down from the crossguard, blending the hilt and blade together in delicate carvings.
Harry was speechless. "Mikken did this?" he said dumbly.
Lord Eddard chuckled again. "Yes. This is his best work, without a doubt. But we both thought it was worth the effort. This is, after all, the new sword of House Potter. Someday, you will pass it on to your heir."
"I... I don't know what to say," Harry said finally, looking up at Lord Eddard. "You've done so much for me, and then... this."
"Just say thank you. That ought to be enough," Lord Eddard said, looking bemused.
He patted Harry's cheek gently before standing. "I should go see what's become of those wolf pups," he said before leaving. "And don't forget to give it a name."
Harry stared at the sword for a long time after Lord Eddard had left. A name, he thought. All the great swords had names. He had long hoped for his own sword but had never thought what he would name it when the moment came.
He felt old all of a sudden, and for the first time the realization hit him. Although he didn't feel like it despite how many people kept repeating it to him, he was a Lord. At not yet sixteen years of age, he was Lord of House Potter, or whatever was left of it. He had no castle or vassals, not for now, at least, but still the title came with a certain responsibility to honour the ancestors who had lived before him, and with a certain respect from other highborns. Maybe that was why Theon despised him so much, because even though he had nothing but smoking ruins, he still had the deference that came with the title...
In his empty, sunlit room, Harry smiled. Who would have thought that Theon Greyjoy, with all his hateful taunting, would be the one to inadvertently name his sword? Surely he would be furious when he found out.
"Ashes," Harry whispered in the silence, turning the sword over in his hands. As soon as the name was out, he knew he had picked the right one.
TO BE CONTINUED...