Note: Recognizable dialogue from 1x02, "The Kingsroad" in this chapter.

Hermione quickly realized that Renly and Loras were operating under several false assumptions; and yet, she did nothing to dissuade the two men from those assumptions. Teddy, of course in pure Remus Lupin fashion, seemed oblivious to the connections the two men were making - or, like in true Nymphadora Tonks fashion, was ignoring it and continuing on blithely.

As soon as Renly realized that Teddy was not in fact Robert's, he made the assumption that he was Ned Stark's - given that the age would place him a year ahead of Robb - Ned's eldest and heir - and from before his marriage with the Tully girl. Teddy's natural Black-family black hair would lend him some credence to the pretense; his lupine-like eyes from his father mimicked Hermione's own strange amber-toned brown eyes; and his curls matched hers and his height was all Remus's - as well as those of the Northerners.

Hermione also knew that Renly and Loras were aware of her connection to Ned due to her slip toward her soul mark - who knew the youngest Baratheon was such a romantic? It was rather sweet.

But Hermione was also taking advantage of Renly's sweetness; the man, who did honestly like Ned, had taken her and Teddy in as "close friends; you're practically family, my Lady!", and had spent oodles of gold dragons on them both to properly attire them in the height of King's Landing fashion. They were given the finest silks, guest rooms with the nicest views over Blackwater Bay, allowance coins, and Renly even offered them a rotation of six Baratheon guards.

Yet, the luster and shine of being in a different world quickly faded when Teddy realized that garderobes were filled with sweet smelling hay and grass to mask the scent of bodily fluids that were still disposed by chamber pot.

It was, understandably, a bit too much for him.

"At first it was like - ooh cool sword mate - but honestly, after hearing Loras go on and on about the different kinds of swords - did you know, Aunt Hermione? That there are many different kinds of swords? Broadsword, bastard sword, half-and-half, rapier, stiletto! - I got a bloody lecture on them and a demonstration!"

Hermione hid her smile behind the book she was reading.

Teddy continued his rant, stalking back and forth in front of the chair Hermione was sitting in. "Honestly, Aunt Hermione - if I were in Gryffindor, I could've pulled a joke that would've made Uncle George howl in laughter and Uncle Ron say 'good one, mate' because cor blimey!" he rolled his eyes. "These knights sure are compensating for something! No one could love swords that much!"

"It's part of their culture," replied Hermione evenly, although inwardly very amused as her eyes crinkled up at the corners.

"Their culture is bananas," grumped Teddy, flinging himself into the other chair with gusto and crossing his arms as he slid down so that his bum barely rested on the edge of the seat. "I'm not sure why Loras and Renly are so keen on me learning all this anyway. I doubt we'll be here that long."

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. "Well… that might not be quite true."

"What?" he said, baldly. He sat up and uncrossed his arms. "What do you mean?"

"I haven't quite found a reason as to why we were transported here," answered Hermione, a slight frown on her lips. She reached up and ran a hand through her brown hair, playing with the end of the lock. "And the resources Renly has kindly been providing me haven't been as forthcoming as I'd like. I'm going to have to speak with someone."

"Surely not that odious Maester Pycelle? I saw him once and that was enough for me!" Teddy shivered.

"No, not him," said Hermione. "Perhaps Varys."

"Not Baelish?"

Teddy's grin was all fang. Hermione rolled her eyes. "That man. He reminds me of Lucius Malfoy. Although with Tom Riddle's charms."

"And he grew up to become Voldemort," nodded Teddy knowingly. "Shall we begin to refer to him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Seems appropriate."

Hermione laughed.

Teddy warmed to the idea. "And Varys can be Professor Snape! Ooh! Ooh! And Pycelle as old Sluggy!"

"'Old Sluggy'? Goodness, Ted, where did you hear that one?" asked Hermione in amusement.

"Marauder's Map," he replied. "You know how they get."

Hermione made a face. Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs proudly present, my arse! she thought, recalling the hilarious story Harry once told her of the map telling 'Snivellus to keep his big nose out of their business.'

"Anyway," said Teddy, "I still see no reason to know so much about swords."

"Loras is a knight, and Renly is a Lord," replied Hermione. "What else are they going to talk to you about? You're only three years younger than them but you know nothing of this world. I'd imagine they want to share their interests with you out of friendship."

And they think that Ned is your father and I truly your mother, thought Hermione. It would be odd for the eldest son, even a bastard, to not know these things in Westeros.

"I suppose," mused Teddy. "It's not like I can talk Star Wars with them."

"I don't think they'd quite appreciate your admiration for Luke Skywalker," agreed Hermione. She put the book down.

Anything else was interrupted by a knock on their shared living quarters' door. Teddy was the one who rose from his seat, bounding over to the door with endless energy and yanking it open. On the other side, one of Renly's guards bowed his head.

"Lady Granger," the man said as his head came up in a very formal voice. "Lord Renly has requested the pleasure of you and Lord Teddy to dine with him tonight."

Teddy made a face at the name, one hand still clutching the doorframe as he stood just off to the side. However, Hermione rose from her seat, carefully placing the book aside, and glanced at the Metamorphmagus to see his thoughts on the invitation.

He shrugged.

Hermione turned back to the guard. "Please thank Lord Renly for us; we'd be delighted to attend. When would dinner be?"

"Lord Renly sups at sundown, in a few hours," the guard replied, his voice slipping into more genial tones now that they agreed. "Shall I return to escort you both?"

"We'd appreciate that," agreed Hermione, and then the guard nodded once more and turned on his heel noisily as his armour clankered.

Teddy waited until he was down the hall, watching him carefully, and then shut the door. Once he had done so, he turned to face his aunt-in-name-only. "What do you suppose that is about?"

"Probably just checking in on us," replied Hermione, turning back to her book. She sighed as she realized she wasn't going to get the answer she wanted from it and placed it back in the pile to return to Renly. "I'm really not learning much about the necklace that brought us here, Ted; nor am I learning about curse marks here that would explain how we travelled to this realm."

"What does that mean?" Teddy's voice trembled a bit.

Hermione's finger traced the edge of the book, absently, as she spoke. "That King's Landing might not have what I need."

"So where will?" asked Teddy, hesitance creeping into his voice.

Hermione shrugged. "I don't actually know enough of this place to give you an answer. I think I've visited here to count on my fingers and toes, and still have spares."

Teddy's face twisted. His voice was tentative and a bit shrill when he asked, "Does that mean we're stuck here?"

"No!" Hermione's eyes flew up to Teddy's, and she shook her head. "No. I refuse to believe that. Magic brought us here, and magic can bring us back. We just - we just have to go over a few speed bumps first."

"Like what?" Teddy crossed his arms.

Hermione's eyes drifted away and she sighed, "I don't know yet, Teddy. But we'll figure it out." When she brought her eyes back up to meet his, they blazed with determination, and her voice hardened. "I will figure it out."

According to the fantasy realm they were now in, both Teddy and Hermione dressed up for the occasion of dining in with Renly (and, presumably, Loras). Since Renly had been the one to commission their clothing, both were dressed in the highest of King's Landing fashion and with complementary colours to their skin tone and hair colour.

Teddy, unused to the layered jerkins and shirts and doublets and tight breeches and trousers used magic to alter many of the designs delivered to their quarters to mimic the street/Muggle fashion from their world, and as such, was strutting down the hallway confidently in a medieval version of khakis and a layered button-up and vest combination. Hermione, on the other hand, pouted in distaste as she plucked on the plunging neckline to the gauzy blue silk dress she wore.

Teddy snickered as he side-eyed her. "You look lovely - if you'd stop frowning."

Hermione scowled in return. "When you're bare from navel to chin, we'll talk about who should be smiling or not, Teddy."

They turned the corner of the wide hall they were ambling down and were stopped by two guards in the yellow and black colours of the House Baratheon. The two looked them over (Teddy grinning cheekily, and Hermione staring at them impassively), until Loras stuck his head out the door, his curls in disarray.

"What's going on out here?" he asked, eyeing the guards, only then spotting Hermione and Teddy. His face transformed from a stern frown to a jovial smile and his eyes brightened. "Teddy! Lady Granger! Please, come in."

At this, the abashed guards stepped aside and Hermione and Teddy entered a warm room, richly decorated with hanging tapestries depicting battles and histories unfamiliar to them; there was swaths of yellow and black and shades of purple thrown in rich velvet and gauzy silks, as hanging curtains for the thick, panelled, mullioned windows or as throws along chaise loungers. It was decadent but not overly so; it was tasteful and refined in a way that was very much Renly.

The man in question caught Hermione's wandering eye as she took in the receiving room. He sat at the head of a small, rectangular table, indolent in a way that likened Hermione to Teddy's own sprawling recline in chairs.

I wonder where he picked that bad habit up from, thought Hermione with a grin she stifled behind a polite smile.

"Lord Renly," she greeted, and he gracefully rose from the seat and to not only clasp her hands, but also bring them to his lips for a kiss.

"My Lady Granger," he greeted warmly, letting go of her hands and holding her eyes only to turn and greet Teddy with an equally warm (and enthusiastic), "and Teddy! Please! Come, sit."

Loras had migrated to the table, at Renly's right, leaving the other head and Renly's other side open for Teddy and Hermione. By unspoken decision, Hermione took the head and Teddy the last free seat.

Almost immediately, a few servants appeared, carrying platters of steaming roasted pheasant, potatoes, and slices of ham, figs, and dipping sauces while a female servant presented a long board of sliced bite-sized bread with two bowls of white and dark vinegar. Another servant poured ale for Renly and Loras, Hermione and Teddy opting for wine.

Renly watched the parade of food and drink keenly, and then once everything was set, he dismissed the servants with a negligent wave of his hand. To his guests, he said, "Please - eat."

As surreptitiously as she could, Hermione flicked her wrist under the table, only catching Teddy's eyes as she nonverbally cast muffliato; if there was something she learned in the magical world, it was that someone was always listening.

Conversation flowed between the four; Loras and Renly told laughing tales of Teddy's embarrassment in handling a sword for the first time; the tasks the two made him do as their 'squire'; and then some gossip of those at court and what intrigues they were getting up to without the eyes of the Queen on them.

"And how have you been occupying yourself while we teach young Teddy here the fine art of swordsmanship, Lady Granger?" asked Renly, lounging back as they cleared the last of their plates. His hand wrapped around his nearly empty mug of ale, and Loras gamely leaned over with a cask and poured some more of the amber liquid.

"Hermione, please," she began with a smile, "There's no need to stand on such ceremony when we're among friends and in such intimate quarters."

Renly and Loras grinned back.

"Hermione, then," agreed Loras, finishing Renly's drink. "But if only you call us by our names, as well." He turned to the carafe of wine, pointing toward it but Hermione shook her head.

"To answer your question, Renly," began Hermione, very aware of the social implications and importance of calling the two men by their first names, "I've been scrounging through the library here in the Red Keep for more information on what's happened since King Robert took the throne. And on a necklace that - let's say, unknowingly - came into my possession. I'm fairly certain now it's a Targaryen piece, but how we came across it so far from here is quite the mystery."

"A Targaryen piece?" echoed Renly, frowning. "Do you have it with you? It might be something that was stolen from the Keep in the months leading up to the Sack of King's Landing… and ended up trading hands until it reached the two of you."

Hermione reached into the billowing sleeve of her dress and used magic to summon it from her shrunk ever-present beaded bag, currently wrapped around her left wrist like a charm bracelet. She extracted the black onyx medallion deftly and extended it across the table for Renly and Loras to take and look at.

Renly handled it carefully, his frown pronounced as he hemmed and hawed over the design. Equally, Loras leaned forward to look, running his fingers over the three-headed raised dragon on the rectangular piece.

"It's fine workmanship," he finally said. "And it is delicate. I could almost imagine it being something my sister would appreciate and wear."

Renly nodded absently. "Yes, but look - here -" with his pinky finger, he ran the tip over the dragon. "This isn't the usual Targaryen standard. The dragon is much more curved and raised to fit in the shape of the piece rather than the usual curved, circular shape that the sigil is."

"Hmm," agreed Loras.

"So what does that mean?" asked Teddy curiously. "Is it not a Targaryen piece?"

"It has all the makings and design of it," finally admitted Renly, shrugging and handing it back. "It looks enough like what I've studied and seen of the Targaryen sigil to be the same, but there are enough differences that it might be a cadet branch, or even something from Valyria."

He shifted uncomfortably for a moment, taking a long gulp of his ale before saying, "You might want to take it to the Spider. He'd know more."

Hermione sighed, pocketing the necklace again. "I was afraid you'd say that."

Loras smirked into his drink. "Not a fan?"

She shook her head. "Where I'm from, I'm known for being blunt. As much as I can handle deception and intrigue, I still prefer straight talk over riddles."

Renly snorted. "I can see why you'd want to avoid speaking to our Master of Whispers, then, since all he does is deal in secrets and talk in half-truths and riddles."

"Well, no matter of it," finished Hermione with a shrug.

"Has that been all? Research?" asked Loras. "How dull."

"Well, where we are from, we don't have curse marks," piped up Teddy, feeling strangely indignant on Hermione's behalf for Loras' dismissive attitude to scholarly pursuits. He wasn't a Ravenclaw, but he did have a fairly good work ethic, and the man had prickled his Hufflepuff pride.

"I beg your pardon?" asked Loras, nearly dropping his mug. Renly set his down firmly.

Teddy blushed, glancing at Hermione and wondering if he spoke out of turn, but she sighed and motioned for him to continue with a tip of her chin. He turned back to the other two, very aware at their piercing gazes firmly fixed on him.

"Erm, where we're from," he began, slowly, "They're called soul marks. And not everyone has one."

"Soul marks? What is the difference then?" asked Renly.

"From my understanding and what Ned told me," interrupted Hermione, idly playing with the stem on her wine glass, "Here, you consider anyone who has the same matched mark getting together as disastrous. That bad things happen when they do."

Loras scowled and Renly sighed. "Unfortunately, our history is rather tipped in that direction.

Hermione nodded. "Ned had mentioned Jenny's story…?"

"Ah yes… Jenny of Oldstones," sighed Renly, playing up the sound by leaning back and steepling his fingers in front of his face. "Prince Duncan Targaryen loved Jenny - a common girl - so much that he broke he betrothal with a Baratheon to marry her, even against his father's wishes. He eventually gave up the throne for her."

"What's so tragic about that?" asked Teddy in confusion.

Loras rolled his eyes, hard, and sneered, "King Aegon tried to bring dragons back at Summerhall, their pleasure palace, and instead burned nearly everyone there alive. Only a few escaped, and Jenny and Duncan were not amongst those."

Teddy blanched, casting a look at his aunt. "B-Burned alive?"

Hermione sent a sympathetic glance and reached out to pat his arm. No doubt, he's thinking of the stories he's heard about Death Eaters burning the Burrow, or Diagon Alley, or Hogsmeade, or even the Battle of Hogwarts.

Teddy looked down at the table and muttered, "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"Nonsense," argued Renly, forcing levity into his voice, "How could you have known? But I must say that it is quite interesting that the marks don't have the same connotation where you are from."

There was something feverish in his eyes that Hermione felt her heart answer. I see where this is going, she thought, glancing between him and Loras, defiantly looking away as he clenched his jaw.

"But not everyone meets their match," sighed Hermione. "We have a higher population than Westeros. So perhaps statistics has something to do with it."

"Hermione's the leading expert in soul marks where we're from," announced Teddy proudly. "I heard her deliver a talk just before we arrived here."

Renly and Loras shared an amused look, changing the subject. "You call your mother by her name?" grinned Renly.

Teddy sighed. "Are we going to start this again?"

"Lady Hermione," began Loras, as Renly and Teddy took to bickering at each other in low voices, although it was clearly in good fun since both were trying not to smile, "While King's Landing might not have the information for you about the Targaryen piece or curse marks, perhaps Oldtown would?"

Hermione frowned. "Oldtown?"

Loras nodded. "My eldest brother is friends with Lord Hightower. His lands include the Citadel, the largest collection of information in all of Westeros. It is where our Maesters go to train and learn. Although they don't allow women in, I am more than happy to send a raven to Willas and ask for a letter of introduction to give you. You could travel there and present it to Lord Hightower… perhaps he'd be willing to help? He's always been an open-minded sort, from what I remember."

Hermione tapped the tabletop, drumming her fingers as she thought. "That's definitely a good starting place, although I'm not fond of this sexist attitude of not allowing women in."

Loras nodded. "My sister thinks the same. Although Margaery is too clever by half… letting her into the Citadel would be like giving a magician untold powers. She might go mad with knowledge, completely abusing it to her own end." The grin on his face belied the words to paint a picture of a mischievous girl.

Hermione bit back a laugh, but a small chuckle escaped. "The most dangerous kind of female out there: a smart one."

The two were silent a bit longer, before Hermione sighed. "I'm thinking I might need to go… farther than Oldtown for the information I need, though."

Loras's mouth turned down. "How much farther?"

Hermione's eyes skipped from Loras and beyond the joking Renly and Teddy (the latter who was explaining Quidditch to Renly, although he deftly did not mention "broomsticks," "magic," "in the air"), to the windows behind the Master of the Laws. Out there was the ocean, and beyond that, a different continent.

Loras followed her gaze and his mouth dropped open. "My Lady… surely not…?"

Guilty, Hermione turned back to Teddy, who felt her eyes on him and grinned at her. She offered a wobbly smile in return, but he didn't notice anything off from it, and turned back to Renly.

With a sigh, Hermione turned back to Loras and said, "I hope not. But when it comes to things like this, I am rarely rewarded."

It was the knock on his door that roused him from memories. Ned lifted his head, blinking in the darkness of his solar. How long had he been sitting there, lost in thoughts of promise me Neds and I'm here, I'm right here's?

"Father?" The door inched open and Jon's messy black curls poked through. His eyes took in the darkness and he awkwardly cleared his throat. "Is this a bad time?"

Ned shook his head, rising to his feet and pushing back a wince as he felt the joint protest. "No, Jon, it's fine. Come in. What can I do for you?"

As Jon entered, Ned turned and struck a flint, lighting the nearest candle on his desk. Once lit, he moved to a few others until the room was illuminated with a soft glow. By then, Jon had sat on one of the two chairs in front of his desk and was watching him quietly.

Ned crossed his arms.

"I - I wish to join the Night's Watch, father," said Jon, his mouth pressed tight.

Ned's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

Jon's eyes widened. "Why?" he echoed in confusion.

"Why do you wish to join the Night's watch, Jon?" repeated Ned, his voice low and quiet. "Is it because a Stark remembers his duty? Because the Night's Watch is a noble profession, one of protecting the realm from wildlings and other dangers?" He peered at his nephew, with a knowing look in his eyes. "Or are you running away from Winterfell because I - your shield - will be gone?"

Jon's face twisted before he managed to smooth it. He turned his head away and it was such a Lyanna move that Ned's heart clenched.

"Father, please," he muttered, looking down at his hands. "I don't belong here without you."

"Your place is here," he insisted instead, moving to sit in the chair next to Jon. "You will always have a place at Winterfell."

"Winterfell is for a Stark," replied Jon bitterly. "And I'm a Snow."

Ned's face pinched. "You are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood."

But he could see that was not enough for Jon. The teen turned an angry face towards him and asked, pointedly, "Is my mother alive? Does she know about me? Where l am, where l want to go? Does she care?"

Ned squirmed a bit in his seat, as he struggled to find the words to reply. Jon, coming in so soon after he was caught reliving his memories with Hermione, felt his throat tighten at the reminder of promises to his sister and their weight of guilt and bitter remembrance.

"I -" he cleared his throat but the tightness remained. "Stay in Winterfell, Jon. One more year. If you still wish to join the Night's Watch then, then I will allow you to leave. And -" he paused, trying to sweeten the deal. "And the next time we see each other, we'll talk about your mother."

Jon sent Ned a skeptical look.

Ned's lip twitched into a small, pained smile. "Hmm? l promise."

"Promise?" Jon repeated, his voice small and sounding much younger than sixteen.

Promise me you'll survive!

Promise me, Ned.

"I promise, Jon," he intoned, and Jon's smile lit up the solar far more than any of the candles he had lit.

The next morning, Ned was up early, supervising the servants who were to join him in protecting his family in King's Landing, and wondering which guards he'd set on which of his children to watch them for the duration of the month down to King's Landing.

He was in his solar when Catelyn entered, not knocking as she was prone to do. Instead, she swept in, hands tightening on her dress as she surveyed the notes covering his desk in his tidy, tight scrawl. Her brow furrowed and her blue eyes flashed as she said, coolly, "So that's it. You're going, then."

Ned sighed. "It was a King's command, Catelyn."

"You could have said no," she rebutted, standing at the end of his desk and staring down at him.

"I have no choice," said Ned back, sitting straight in his seat. He refused to be cowed in his own solar. "You know I must go. Not because he's my friend, but because he's the King. And it's good for the children to get out and experience -"

"If that were true, you'd have allowed Bran to be fostered with my brother Edmure in Riverrun," snapped Catelyn, "Like I've been asking you since Bran turned eight."

"Bran going to Riverrun would have just increased ties to family. If you suggested fostering him out elsewhere that wasn't in the riverlands, I would have agreed," argued back Ned. "Furthermore, Robert has asked to betroth Sansa to Joffrey. She should get to know him, and better still, I would like to get to know him before I commit."

"She'd be Queen one day!" gapped Catelyn, bringing her hands up to her mouth in surprise. Her eyes were alight with wonder. "Of course you say yes! My wonderful, precious, beautiful daughter!" She then narrowed them at Ned. "You must say yes."

"I will do what my conscience tells me," retorted Ned, narrowing his own eyes. "Should I see that Joffrey is deserving, then I will agree."

Catelyn scoffed. "That's what you Northern men call your honour - another word for you deciding what's best for others. That's what you tell your families, tell yourselves. Don't lie to me, Ned. I've known you seven and ten years now. You do have a choice - and you've made it."

Ned pursed his lips. "Perhaps."

Catelyn stared hard at him a bit longer, but then nodded once, sharply, and left the solar. Ned sighed; releasing a tension in his shoulders that he hadn't realized was there until his wife had left. Once, maybe, there had been a trickle of affection between them… but not for so many years now.

Not since he returned from the Iron Islands.

The feast tonight would be their leaving feast, decided Ned. A successful hunting party in the Wolfswood a few days earlier had yielded some excellent meats and Ned could tell that Robert - as well as the Queen - was itching to move on. Her veiled digs, and surprise at finding Catelyn a sympathetic ally in the north was making Ned uneasy.

He chuckled darkly under his breath, running a hand through his hair. Jon Arryn once told him, back when he was eighteen and an army was needed, that marrying the Tully girls to secure Hoster Tully's alliance would bring Ned joy - despite Catelyn being betrothed to his recently deceased elder brother.

"She'll grow to love you one day," Jon had said, "She'll bore you great soldiers for sons and beauties for daughters."

Well; Catelyn may have given Ned four lovely children, but she never grew to love him. And from what Ned gathered about Jon's own relationship with Lysa, there was no love there either; even Robert's match with Cersei was coated with malice and disgust.

What a fine group of men we are, thought Ned, his mouth turning down. Three men who went to war and ended up with women who hate them. Such is our lot in life, I suppose.

His fingers absently traced over his soul mark on his right wrist, rubbing the books and wands that represented Hermione. He plucked at their faded string - that mental connection tying them together. It thrummed, but the tug felt weak and distant. But it wasn't snapped, like it once had been.

Ned sat up in his seat in surprise.

He tugged on the string again, sending a thought along it. Hermione?

He waited, holding his breath, looking around the room and wondering if she would appear, slip right into his life, his home, like she belonged. His solar remained void of life, except for him.

Disappointment swallowed Ned and he shook his head.

"You damn old fool," he muttered. Hermione was never coming back, and it was a silly wish to think it so.

A week or so later, the King's party was on their way back to King's Landing, making quicker time than when they had travelled north. Currently, they were in the barrowlands, taking a rest for lunch while the women freshened themselves up in a nearby stream.

Robert sighed happily as he leaned back in his chair, half-sprawled as he surveyed the rolling green hills and shaded canopy of the leafy trees above them, relishing in the warmer weather of being south of the Neck.

"Gods, this is country! l've half a mind to leave them all behind and keep going," he grinned, throwing his oldest friend a conspiratorial smile.

Ned, sensing the nostalgia and noticing the distance the guards and Barristan Selmy were keeping, replied a bit more candidly than he normally would. "l've half a mind to go with you."

Robert grinned, widely, with his teeth on display. "What do you say? Just you and me on the Kingsroad, swords at our sides, a couple of tavern wenches to warm our beds tonight?"

"You should have asked me twenty years ago," chuckled Ned, leaning back in his chair.

Robert shook his head. "There were wars to fight, women to marry - we never had the chance to be young."

"l recall a few chances," scoffed Ned, sending Robert a knowing look.

Not even looking abashed, Robert reached for his ale and took a deep swing.

"There was that one - oh, what was her name?" he deflected, turning thoughtful. "That common girl of yours? Becca. With the great big tits you could bury your face in."

"Bessie?" said an incredulous Ned. "She was one of yours!"

Robert laughed. "Bessie! Thank the gods for Bessie. And her tits."

He gave a tiny laugh into his drink, fondly reminiscing. Then, he shook his head and said, "Yours was, er - Aleena? No. You told me once. Er - Hennie? Helena? Your bastard's mother?"

Ned froze and croaked out, quietly, "Hermione."

Robert snapped his finger. "That's it! She must have been a rare wench to make Lord Eddard Stark forget his honour." He leaned back in his seat and shook his head, a fond smile on his face. "Gods! I remember you going on about her when we were at the Eyrie. I could have sworn I heard her in your room a few times, too, you old wolf."

He stopped for a moment and then pointedly said, "You never told me what she looked like and I never saw her - you kept her well squirreled away from the rest of us."

Ned's face was stone. "Nor will l."

Robert's brow furrowed. "We were at war."

"I knew her before the war. She is - was - my marked half."

Robert's hand - which was bringing his drink to his mouth - abruptly stopped and his eyes darted to his best friend, wide with shock at the new information. "Was she? Fuck, Ned. Then - Jon's idea? To wed Catelyn Tully?"

There was a shuttered look to Ned now. "It wasn't a choice. It had to be done. We needed the men to win the war."

Angrily, Robert slammed his drink on the table in front of them. It wobbled and then toppled over, and Ned could see several guards, including Selmy, glance over in response, hands on their hilts.

"For the God's sake, Ned! None of us knew if we were gonna go back home again. You're too hard on yourself. You always have been," the large man shook his head and leaned forward in his seat, his voice low as he growled, "If I known - Ned, I swear - I would've helped any way I could. You know that? You must know that. I'd have hidden you both away at Storm's End-"


The frosty look Ned sent Robert had him shake his head. "l swear if l weren't your king, you'd have hit me already. The worst thing about your coronation-"

Wanting to change the subject, Ned interjected with a wry tone, "l'll never get to hit you again?"

Robert snorted, but it was self-depreciating. "Trust me, that's not the worst thing." He fished out a small roll of parchment from his tunic and handed it over to Ned, who took it warily. "There was a rider in the night. Daenerys Targaryen has wed some Dothraki horselord."

Ned sighed and rolled his shoulders back in his chair as he read the short missive. He then rolled it back up and tossed it onto the table. "What of it? Do we send her a wedding gift?"

Robert leaned further forward, staring intently at his oldest friend. "A knife perhaps? A good, sharp one... and a bold man to wield it."

Mouth open, Ned sputtered, "She's little more than a child. Fifteen - sixteen - at most."

"Soon enough that child will spread her legs and start breeding."

"Tell me we're not speaking of this," said Ned quietly, his voice low and trembling with anger.

"Oh, it's unspeakable to you?" Robert snarled, leaning back and away from his friend. "What her father did to your family - that was unspeakable. What Rhaegar Targaryen did to your sister - the woman l loved. l'll kill every Targaryen l get my hands on."

Feeling candid and letting his annoyance get the better of him, Ned snapped, "But you can't get your hands on this one, can you?"

"This Khal Drogo, it's said he has a hundred thousand men in his horde-"

Ned sighed. "Even a million Dothraki are no threat to the realm, as long as they remain on the other side of the Narrow Sea. They have no ships, Robert."

Robert's closed fist met the table. "There are still those in the Seven Kingdoms who call me usurper!"

"lf the Targaryen boy crosses with a Dothraki horde at his back-"

"-the scum will join him-"

"He will not cross. And if by chance he does, we'll throw him back into the sea!" finished Ned, conviction in his voice. He even tossed his head and chin in the general direction eastward to indicate where Viserys could return.

Robert stared hard at Ned for a long, solid moment. When he spoke, it was quietly, with barely a wobble to his tone as he said, "There's a war coming, Ned. l don't know when, l don't know who we'll be fighting, but it's coming."

A chill sent a shiver down Ned's neck and back. "I hope to the Gods that you're wrong, Robert. I'm tired of war."

A weary look stole over the King's face as he leaned back in his seat.

"Aren't we all," the man said tiredly. "Aren't we all. But I fear this is only the beginning."

By the time their caravan rode over the bridge just outside King's Landing, covered in ivy and moss, and then through the red-tinted sandstone gates, it was nearly suppertime, and Arya and Sansa had been complaining and at each other's throats for the past hour, with their Septa Mordane barely managing to contain them.

Ned was ready for a few hours' rest, alone in his study. However, the black-haired man waiting for him in the inner courtyard, sticking out in his fancy silks despite how plain they were, amidst the sand, gravel, and palm trees made Ned's heart settle somewhere near his stomach.

He slid from his horse nimbly, Jory doing the same behind him. Over his shoulder, he muttered, "Get the girls and Bran settled in. I'll be back in time for supper."

Jory bowed his head a tiny bit, his long hair slinking forward with the movement.

"And, Jory, you go with them."

"Yes, my lord."

Then, from behind the man, who had strode forward to greet him, another, more familiar face appeared in gold, green, and silk and cotton. The man was lean and had a neatly trimmed black beard, and for a moment, Ned thought he was seeing a ghost of his past.

The young man stepped past the now disgruntled other man, who shut his mouth so tightly and quickly Ned heard the clack of his teeth.

"Welcome, Lord Stark," the other man greeted, with a wide, toothy grin.

Ned found himself smiling back. "Renly! You're looking well."

The youngest Baratheon modestly slid a hand down his chest, smoothing the fabric. "Oh? You think so? How splendid! But you look tired from the road."

"It was quite the trip," replied Ned, diplomatically.

Renly sent him a knowing look, and Ned felt his mouth twitch as he suppressed his smile.

"My apologies, my Lord Stark, my Lord Baratheon," inserted the man with a slightly nasally tone. "But the council awaits."

"The council?" asked Ned, turning to look quizzically at Renly. "Now?"

Renly sighed. "I told them this meeting could wait another day but Grand Maester Pycelle has called a meeting of the Small Council." He made a face. "The honour of your presence is requested for our first meeting together with a Hand."

Ned also grimaced and ran a hand down over his mouth, feeling gritty and sticky with dried sweat. I don't want to meet the council looking and feeling like the savage they accuse me of. Can this not wait?

"Renly, perhaps I could have a few moments to freshen up? After all, it has been a long journey and a month on the road," requested Ned quietly, pitching his voice only to his friends' youngest brother.

Renly nodded. "Of course. I shall stall the council for a half hour or so. I know it is not much, but a quick dip or wash should be sufficient for now?"

Ned nodded.

The two men separated, Ned following a servant who directed him to the Tower of the Hand and his quarters. As he finished washing up, he mentally made a checklist of things he had to do - check on the girls and Bran; make sure the servants know where to go and what to do; make sure Jory knows he's the Captain of my guard while here; and then deal with the small council.

He sighed.

After checking in on the girls - who were in their own rooms but shared a sitting area, noticing they were both in separate corners from one another -, he moved on to Bran, who was sitting quietly in his room and reading. His youngest child and son looked up in curiosity as Ned looked in; Bran's gray eyes darted up to meet his.

"Is everything alright, Father?" he asked, tilting his head just so in curiosity. His eyes were as wide as they could be.

"Fine, Bran," replied Ned with a gentle smile. "I'll be back in a bit. Be good."

Bran rolled his eyes. "I'm always good."

Ned hummed his agreement and shut the door; then it was off to see Jory and ensure the household ran smoothly. It was a step up from his previous placement in Winterfell, where his uncle was the Master-of-Arms and someone else he leaned heavily on with Luwin, running the day-to-day operations.

Then, he was walking briskly towards the throne room for the small council chamber off to its side. Renly met him near the throne room, casually leaning against the wall with one ankle crossed over the other. It was an incredibly lazy and insolent position for the youngest Baratheon to display in King's Landing, one that made Ned's eyebrows shoot up. He had never seen him act such a way before - even Jaime Lannister in his most arrogant did not lounge against marble pillars just so!

"Since when did you start doing that?" was the first thing he asked when he was within earshot.

Renly's brow furrowed. "Hmm?"

Ned jerked his head at Renly's form, watching the young man place both feet down and then push off the wall.

"Oh? This?" Renly shrugged - another action that was unexpected. A tug at Ned's heart reminded him of someone else who shrugged when she didn't know something or didn't want to answer something fully.

"Yes, that," agreed Ned, falling into step with Renly.

"I have a friend who leans against everything," explained Renly with a smile.

Ned's tugging on his heart increased. A friend?

Renly glanced over, saw his expression, and something shrewd fell over his face. "Yes, he would sprawl or lean against whatever he can, as insolently as possible. Ted's a good sort, though - he doesn't mean any disrespect by it. He just prefers to be comfortable. It drives Ser Loras and Ser Cuy mad. It's brilliant."

It's brilliant.

That was a phrase Ned hadn't heard in such a long time - but surely Renly couldn't know Hermione? Didn't he mention his friend was a 'he'? Ned shook his head. Hermione had been in his thoughts lately, and conversation had a funny way of bringing her up or reminding him of her. It was just ghosts from his past, that's all.

They entered the small council chambers, with Ned resolutely ignoring not only the Iron throne, the garish thing that it was, but also the two spots in the room where he was told his brother and father were killed.

Three men were in the room when he and Renly entered; all stood, except the eldest who struggled to get to his feet.

The first man to walk forward and greet Ned had yellow robes with long sleeves and a bald head. "Lord Stark."

Ned inclined his head. "Lord Varys."

The man in question bowed his head and said, "I was grievously sorry to hear of your troubles on the Kingsroad. We are all praying for Prince Joffrey's full recovery."

Annoyance crept up Ned's spine and his mouth moved before his brain had time to realize what he was saying. "A shame you didn't say a prayer for the butcher's son."

Varys blinked in surprise, and then something settled over his face. However, it was gone a moment later, his pleasant mask merely smoothing sliding into solemnity.

"My Lords - we have a kingdom to look after," said another man, one of the younger ones in the room of an age similar to Ned. He had a head full of dark hair - the kind that bordered between dark brown and black - and had gray-green eyes that slanted up at the ends.

Ned frowned. I've seen those eyes before. Where?

The man continued, "I've hoped to meet you for some time, Lord Stark. No doubt Lady Catelyn has mentioned me."

Oh. Yes. You. Distaste filled Ned's mouth and he worked to keeping his expression chilly. "She has, Lord Baelish." He couldn't resist a tiny dig. "I understand you knew my brother Brandon as well."

A smile that didn't reach the man's eyes stretched across his thin lips. "All too well. I still carry a token of his esteem from navel to collarbone."

"Perhaps you chose the wrong man to duel with," suggested Ned lightly. He did have some experience in courtly politics.

Everyone else in the room was watching the interaction with wide, keen eyes.

"It wasn't the man that I chose, my lord. It was Catelyn Tully," finished Baelish with a tiny smirk, as though he knew something that Ned didn't. "A woman worth fighting for, I'm sure you'll agree."

And that's enough there, thought Ned, turning his back on the man and facing the last man, who had finally risen to his feet, but was doing so slowly and struggling as he leaned heavily against the table.

"I humbly beg your pardon, my Lord Stark."

Ned inclined his head. "Grand Maester. How many years has it been?"

A few more words were spoken, and Ned took not only his pin to indicate his status of Hand of the King, but his seat as well. Robert's was conspicuously empty, as was the position for the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard - as Ser Barristan was guarding the King.

"-to stage a tournament in honor of Lord Stark's appointment as Hand of the King," explained Renly, lounging back and ignoring the glare that Pycelle sent him as he did so. Varys was watching him carefully, but he was looking that way at everyone so Ned took it that the others were used to Renly's new behaviour.

"Mm, how much?" Varys asked.

"Forty thousand gold dragons to the champion," answered Renly.

"Can the treasury bear such expense?" asked Ned in shock.

Baelish looked at his notes, sighed a tiny bit, and then said, "I'll have to borrow it. The Lannisters will accommodate, I expect."

Varys pursed his lips. "We already owe Lord Tywin three million gold."

The answering smile Baelish gave the small council and glib response had Ned sit up straight. "What's another eighty thousand?"

"Are you telling me the Crown is three million in debt?" sputtered Ned.

Baelish frowned at him. "I'm telling you the Crown is six million in debt."

By the Old Gods, thought Ned. Things were worse in the capital than he thought. While the others squabble about the money and where to get it, find it, and spend it, Ned sank back in his seat and steepled his fingers in front of his face. A part of him was listening to the conversation, but another part was lost in his thoughts.

He knew Robert was no deep thinker; the man had been all movement and anger even when they had been young. But - that he never took responsibility for the throne after his coronation bothered Ned. Jon Arryn had taught them both - and from such a young age, too! - so how did Ned take on the mantle of his family and responsibilities of Warden of the North, despite never being trained for it, while Robert - who was to be the Lord of Storm's End - failed in all sense?

"I'll speak to him tomorrow," announced Ned, breaking into the conversation. "This tournament is an extravagance we cannot afford."

He saw Pycelle cough, look away, and the end of an eye-roll from Baelish. No doubt, both were thinking of the North and the fact that they didn't host tournaments to showcase their abilities and skills.

"As you will," said Baelish with a tiny sigh and smirk. "But still, we'd best make our plans." He held his quill aloft.

Ned's jaw tightened and his voice grew frosty. "There will be no plans until I speak to Robert."

At the looks everyone sent him, including Renly, Ned swallowed his annoyance and reined back on his snappish tone. "Forgive me, my lords. I'm - I had a long ride."

Varys answered for everyone. "You are the King's Hand, Lord Stark. We serve at your pleasure. Shall we meet tomorrow, midday?"

At everyone's agreement, people began to stand and Varys and Baelish swept out of the room quickly, Pycelle moving slowly behind them but with a destination in mind. Renly, however, lingered.

"Ah, Ned, if I may-"

"What is it, Renly?" Ned was tired. He could feel an oncoming headache and he was barely in King's Landing for two hours.

Renly blinked. "I don't remember you being this… blunt… before, Lord Stark." There was something evaluating in Renly's face - one that was alien on Robert's.

"My apologies," said Ned, although it was stiff. "I'm afraid courtly pleasantries are something I will need to work on."

"To survive here?" said Renly, both eyebrows going up. "Absolutely. Listen, Ned, I'm sorry to bother you with this, but perhaps we could take a walk? I wanted to ask you something a bit - delicate - and as you know in the Red Keep -"

Ned nodded. There were spies everywhere.

The two exchanged small talk as they wandered to a nearby courtyard off the throne room, and somehow, Renly segued the conversation into the past, a topic Ned generally avoided.

"-still remember when the Northern host crashed into the back of Mace Tyrell's army when they were besieging Storm's End," there was a slight tone of fond remembrance. "It was a glorious sight."

"You were barely four," commented Ned. "How could you remember that?"

"Some things you remember vividly," replied Renly, but there was something off in his voice. They fell silent for a moment.

"Besides," the man continued, his tone light, "We'd all been starving, and the provisions you and your men brought rejuvenated us all. The news - that the war was all but won - was even better. Rhaegar was dead, by my brother's hand, and you had marched on King's Landing and taken it. Robert was to be crowned King, and you were on your way south, looking for your sister."

Ned hummed.

"And then you returned," finished Renly quietly. "With you dead sister and a young babe no one was to see."

Uneasiness pricked at Ned.

"I think your sister would have hated being here," confessed Renly quietly. "As Robert's wife, I mean."

Ned looked at Renly in shock, his mouth dropping open a tiny bit.

Renly saw and sputtered out a laugh. "Oh, don't be so shocked, Lord Stark! I think we both know what my brother turned into." The smile on his face faded and Ned looked away.

"Anyway, what I was getting to, and wanted to ask," said Renly, turning back to Ned as they stopped walking in the middle of the path, with only a few gardeners around but not within earshot, "Was how old the babe is now? It was a boy, wasn't it?"

Ned nodded stiffly. "Jon. Jon Snow. He's six and teen now, just a bit younger than Robb, my eldest."

Something shrewd was on Renly's face again as he said, "Aye. Your eldest. Hmm. Both six and ten, then?"

"Yes." Ned frowned. "Why?"

"Call it a curiosity," replied Renly lightly, a smile on his face that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Takes after you, does he? Jon, that is?"

Ned nodded slowly. "More than my other children, except perhaps my youngest daughter." he then frowned and added, "Or Bran. Bran looks more Tully or Flint, like my mother, than Stark."

"How interesting," commented Renly.

From corner a gate, further down the path, the sun glinted off the shiny armour of a figure who stepped into the garden. The curly blond hair was distinctive enough, but the engraved flower design on the armour proclaimed far more who the man was.

"Ah, excuse me, Ned," said Renly, his eyes locked on Ser Loras. They began walking again, towards the Knight of Flowers. "I believe I have a prior engagement." He turned to the older man with a smile. "You know, Ser Loras often tells me that he thinks his sister, Lady Margaery, looks like your late sister."

Ned raised a single eyebrow in response. "Oh?"

Renly grinned. "Well, I never said I thought it was a good likeness, did I? After all, my brother didn't even take a second look at her, so I doubt it. But family looks are something funny, aren't they?"

"I suppose," answered Ned, completely confused by the conversation. When they reached the longhaired knight, Ned nodded. "Ser Loras."

"Lord Stark," the other man replied, his eyes raking over the Warden of the North. It wasn't anything sexual - Ned wasn't blind or deaf up in the North toward the rumours around Renly; he just didn't care - but calculating. Then, Loras turned to Renly. "Did you forget we promised Ted to teach him to spar?"

"Not at all," replied Renly, his voice gentle. "I imagine that if the tournament goes through, he might even enter!"

"Has your friend fought before?" asked Ned politely.

Renly and Loras shared another amused glance. Ned was becoming irritated.

"Not at all," replied Loras finally, amusement on his face. "But watching him try to hold a lance is quite funny."

"If you excuse us, Lord Stark," said Renly, "And thank you for indulging me."

Ned inclined his head, and turned on his heel to retreat the same way he and Renly had come to the garden, to retrace his steps. Behind him, the two men were talking in soft tones; then, another voice broke into the conversation.

"Oi, mates," the young male exclaimed, in a horribly familiar way. "Are we doing this or not? Because I could seriously be practicing with a sword instead. A real sword. Like my Uncle Harry. Did I tell you about the time when he-"

"Yes, alright, Ted," broke in Renly, sounding like an indulgent parent.

Oi, mate. Ned frowned. He was sure he had heard that phrase once before...

He shook his head. No matter - he needed to find Robert and hear his excuse for a tournament. Renly and Loras' friend - and his rather uncouth manner of speech - was of no consequence to him.

Yet the uneasiness he felt during his conversation with Renly lingered.

Teddy's arms and thighs were in agony when he returned to the chambers he shared with Hermione later that evening. Renly and Loras had run him through the paces in not only swordplay, but horseback riding as well. All he was dreaming about now was a pain reliever potion and a warm bath.

As he stepped into the room, nodding at the Baratheon guard that Renly had assigned to them, Teddy immediately stopped. His magic was nudging him, telling him something was up.

He cautiously stepped into the sitting room, looking left and right and for something out of place. Everything was as he left it that morning: thick, heavy tomes on soul magic stacked by the fireplace, half empty mugs of tea scattered on flat surfaces, and even a throw tossed carelessly over one of the armchairs.

Teddy's bedroom door was shut; but Hermione's was open. He strode toward it, and then froze in the entrance.

"What are you doing?" his voice was shrill.

Hermione looked up from the trunk in front of her, removing clothing that Renly and Loras had paid for them, packing and rearranging her clothes into her beaded bag. In return, things from her beaded bag were floating out and rearranging themselves in the room elsewhere. Despite being bottomless, Hermione did not like clutter.

"Teddy," exclaimed Hermione, looking up and a bit startled. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, while we're stuck in this world, I live here," he replied caustically. "Aunt Hermione, what are you doing? Why are you packing? Where are we going?"

Hermione shook her head. "We are not going anywhere, Teddy. I am going somewhere."

Teddy took a few panicked steps forward, arms outstretched as though to hold Hermione in place. "What? No! Aunt Hermione! You can't leave me behind here!"

"I'm not leaving you behind," replied Hermione, her voice even as she glanced up. "I'm going on a… research trip."

"A research trip?" echoed Teddy dubiously.

Hermione nodded. "Ted… Renly and Loras can't keep 'borrowing' books from Maester Pycelle. He'll get suspicious and there's barely any information on soul marks and curse marks for me to figure out how I'm connected to Ned - and if that made a difference with the necklace bringing us here. All we know about the necklace is that it belonged to the Targaryens, but they're all but gone from this world. What's left of them are two exiled royal members in the Free Cities and whatever secrets Valyria holds."

"I can go with you," said Teddy, eyes wide.

"I'll be gone for only a month, Teddy," answered Hermione. "And you've made friends here. We can always go and see the Free Cities again, after. But you should stay here. Aren't you enjoying yourself?"

Teddy frowned. Because she was right, he was enjoying himself. He walked over to her bed, sat on it, and crossed his arms.

Hermione shook her head and rolled her eyes. "I'm sure Renly and Loras will keep you entertained and busy."

Teddy picked at a thread on his waistcoat. "Renly did mention something about a touney…"

Hermione grinned as she stopped packing and looked at him. "A tournament? How exciting. And didn't you tell me that you even mentioned the TriWizard Tournament to Harry when you saw him that morning?"

Teddy groaned, falling back onto the bed. "Yes, but-"

"Teddy," said Hermione, and her voice was soft as she moved over and sat on the bed near his head, reaching over to run her hands through his hair. "Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise, remember?"

"I never thought I'd be doing that alone," he muttered.

"You're not alone," answered Hermione, just as quietly. "I'm just a Patronus messenger away. And Renly and Loras will be with you, as well as the Baratheon guards."

"Your Ned is here," said Teddy, quietly.

"Is he?"

The deceptively light tone Hermione took didn't fool Teddy as he sat up, turning a bit to face her. "I know you know. Why don't you want to stay and face him?"

"I want answers first, Ted. You know that I prefer knowing everything I can first before jumping into a situation," said Hermione. She folded her hands in her lap. "Besides - he didn't come alone. He came with three children."

Teddy frowned. "Are you upset? That he moved on and was married and had kids?"

Hermione smiled, but it was brittle. "Curse marks, Teddy," she reminded him. "Curse marks. I would never hold that against him."

Teddy nodded, watching as Hermione went back to packing, but there was something off about the entire trip that Teddy was sure wasn't just about learning about Targaryens, or Valyria, or soul marks. Hermione Granger was a Gryffindor, brave, daring, and true of heart… but sometimes…

Just sometimes

She ran from things, too.

Note: I am so sorry in the delay. On the positive, I am almost (fully) recovered from the delay and remediation from my university strike that ended up with me teaching last years' course as we began this year at the same time as my college courses. Everything's been such a mess, on top of learning how to manage a household (dishes. Dinner. Lauindry!) that time for myself, including fanfic, took a backseat.

On the positive, things seem to be turning around. However, at the end of October I have my final comp exam for my dissertation, so I need to pass that to become a doctoral candidate and begin work on my dissertation. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, let me know what you thought of this chapter. Did you spot or have any inklings of what's been changed in this version of Westeros?