Notes: Recognizable dialogue from 1x07, "You Win or You Die," 1x08, "The Pointy End," and 1x09, "Baelor." Also, I am nowhere near catching up to Season 8, so no spoilers in reviews, please.
Hermione allowed herself to be led by the burly City Watch guard, her eyes drifting ahead a few steps to the two that manhandled Ned through the near-empty hallways of the Tower of the Hand and then down, further into the Red Keep, into areas Hermione had never visited.
It was somewhere between the early morning hours and dawn, and parts of the castle were starting to wake for another day; the Stark household would be doing likewise, and Hermione knew that those - like Jory - who would first attend Ned, would find it strange that their liege lord had disappeared on them.
Unless, thought Hermione, narrowing her eyes, there would be others lying in wait.
With a nearly inaudible sigh, the witch began to formulate her escape plan, thoughts turning inward and skittering ahead so much so that she completely lost any track or idea of where she was; the guard found himself practically towing the woman along, without any complaint or resistance to her form as they moved down narrow passages or dark stairs.
Eventually, they reached the dungeons; they were dark and damp, and smelt vaguely of a mix of feces and rotten food. Hermione's nose wrinkled in protest and a nonverbal flick of her hand - like a spasm - caused a shimmer around her head, and then Ned's as well.
The man jerked for a moment but took a deep breath soon after with a happy sigh. The bubblehead charm recycled the air around them and it was one consideration Hermione could give her soul mate.
They arrived at a dark cellblock shortly, filled with quiet moans or pleas of innocence. The hallway passage was narrow, with slick, moist stone on one side and the cells on the other, with wall sconces placed every few feet. The light from the candles flickered and their shadows jumped and moved.
The cells were in pairs, with half-stone walls separating each set of two and then floor to ceiling bars between the two. The half walls were also separated by thick, mold and grime-ridden bars, leaving many of the interiors dirty and hidden in partial shadows. Some hay, discoloured and rigid, lay bunched in corners.
Ned was the first one thrown into the dungeon, his hands unshackled by the City Watch. He stumbled into the room, catching himself on the far wall, making Hermione realize how small the cells were.
Two guards followed him in, and for a moment, nothing happened. Then-
Ned doubled over as one guard swung his fist into the Stark's midsection. Ned gagged, exhaling loudly.
"Shut it, you bitch!" the one guard next to her shook her head and she glowered in response; just as Ned brought an arm up the block a swung at his head, but missed the second guard taking the opportunity to kick him at the back of his knee, sending Ned to the ground.
The first guard managed to land the blow to Ned's head, slamming into Ned's face hard enough that his lip split and Ned was sent crashing face-first to the dirty floor, barely catching himself. He spat out a glob of blood and spit.
Hermione wrinkled her nose and turned to her guard as the man roughly hauled her into her cell next to Ned's. She, however, did not stumble as she strode into the cell, looking at its four corners and eyeing up the cell door hinges with a curious tilt to her head before her eyes fell on the three guards just beyond her reach.
"That is enough," she said pointedly, and there was something off about her voice that had the guards turn as one toward her.
Ned coughed, glancing up with one hand pressed to his side as a bruise began to appear on his face, keeping his eye swollen shut.
"You will leave us now," continued Hermione, in the same voice.
"We will leave now," the guard nearest her echoed, his voice monotone.
Ned's mouth dropped open just as the door to his cell slammed shut. Both his guards left without a single word or any other blows to his body. A grim expression appeared on his long face as he realized that Hermione used magic on them.
The guards did not speak as they left, and it was only once they could no longer hear the heavy clank of their armour plates shifting against one another and the bobbing of the lantern they brought with them disappeared.
Only then, did Hermione turn to Ned through their shared floor-to-ceiling bars, arms crossed and sighed, "Well, what have you gotten us into, Ned?"
"I didn't mean to -" he faltered as Hermione raised her eyebrows and he turned his head away. I'm sorry, he sent across their bond.
Hermione uncrossed her arms. "I know. But this wouldn't have happened if you hadn't have tripped your hand regarding the Queen and her children-"
He flinched again. "I know."
The two fell into quiet, and then Ned continued: "I didn't mean for you to be in here with me." He paused. "But, I don't suppose…?"
"Oh, I can get us out of here easily enough," said Hermione with a small smile. "But it's what we're going to do next that is important."
Ned nodded. "My children-"
"Teddy," agreed Hermione, "and your household. I don't imagine that their treatment will be better than ours."
"No, not at all," replied Ned quietly. "I need to warn them-"
"Agreed. But how?"
Ned's mouth turned downward into a deep frown as he began to pace the tiny cell, bringing a hand up to his mouth to rub at it as he thought. He knew that Hermione had a plan and that she could leave at any time - but she was testing him, pushing him, to think things through a bit more clearer than he had previously done.
How can I save not only my children but my men? He wondered, as that was the rub of it. With magic, through Hermione, he had an option of limitless potential. It was a matter of what he could think of and what Hermione could do - and having known her and seen some of what she could do, he merely had to suggest and she would see it done.
"My children need to be protected," he said first, as they were his priority. "We need to get them away from the Red Keep."
"Done," said Hermione, flicking her wrist as her wand slid from her holster to her palm. She made a gesture and a silver otter appeared, swimming through the air around her. It was similar to the wolf that spoke with Teddy's voice.
Hermione waited until the otter was eye level to her, and she said, "Teddy. Ned and I have been captured and placed in the dungeons. We're fine; I can leave at any time. Get the kids out. Take them somewhere else; maybe where we first stayed? We'll meet you there."
The otter nodded once and then turned on its lean body, disappearing through the thick stone of the dungeon.
"My household - is there any way to warn them?" asked Ned.
"I imagine Teddy will attempt to do so in the process," said Hermione, with a slight shrug. "The challenge will be reaching everyone in time before the City Watch cotton on, even with my help."
The look Hermione sent Ned was one he associated with you've dribbled, dear. Instead, she spun on her heel and with a quiet pop appeared just inches from Ned in his cell, causing his breath to catch as he held it in. He leaned back minutely, staring down at Hermione's amber-like eyes as she peered up at him.
"I've set up a proximity alert. When someone comes near this part of the dungeons, we'll Apparate back so they don't know we can leave," she said, her voice low. "But we can leave at any time. Shall we?"
Ned's nod came slowly, but he stretched out a hand and Hermione grasped it tightly; then, he felt like he was being squeezed, his chest compressing, and as his ears popped, he realized he had closed his eyes. Opening them, he saw he was in a smallish room with two thin cots pressed against opposite walls. A woman in wool-spun clothing was staring at him, open-mouthed.
"Bother," muttered Hermione, her wand pointed at the woman, who had sucked in a large gulp of air, ready to scream.
Instead, the woman fell silent, her eyes wide with terror. Another flick of Hermione's wand and the woman dropped sideways on the cot, asleep. A few steps forward, and then Hermione was placing the tip of her wand against the woman's temple. A quiet murmur of, "Obliviate," removed any memories of her and Ned appearing from nowhere - as well as the fact she had rented the room at the inn, to begin with.
Ned glanced at Hermione, disapproval in his eyes. "You didn't have to do that."
"Do you think you can trust her enough to not blab about the Hand of the King - who was just arrested on treason charges - to the Watch?" Hermione's pointed look made Ned flush in embarrassment.
"I like to think people are better than that," he said finally, moving to sit on the free cot.
Hermione gave a low chuckle. "I used to think like that. And then I realized that people only care to look out for themselves."
Ned frowned. "Did you war really change you so much, Hermione? I thought -" he stopped and shook his head. "You were always so idealistic-"
"I still am," she replied, her wand hand still moving as she cast a compulsion to rent another room at a different inn. I'm going to have to confound the innkeeper again, she thought with a mental sigh, also nonverbally packing the woman's clothing and knickknacks into her travelling bag and placing it by the door.
"But maybe I'm also realistic when it comes to dangerous scenarios. I don't take risks without weighing the pros and cons." When she turned to look at Ned over her shoulder, she finished, "I learned that the hard way."
Ned winced, thinking back to the war, and the things he could have done differently with a bit more knowledge, a bit more planning - Lyanna, the Tower of Joy, and her Kingsguard protectors, specifically.
The woman in the wool-spun dress groaned, her eyes fluttering as she awoke. Her eyes were glazed, not even lingering on Hermione or Ned as she wobbled and stood. She made a zigzagged line toward the door, hastily gathering her bag in her hands. She then opened the door and stepped out of the room, closing it behind her without glancing back.
"Will she… will she remember us?" asked Ned with an awkward clearing of his throat.
Hermione shook her head. "Not at all."
Hermione grimaced, sitting on the opposite cot, her hands hanging between her legs and she let her wand slip back into her holster. Her eyes were tired, slight bags under them as she peered across the room at her soul mate. "We wait for Teddy and see what we can do to help."
The feeling of Robert's blood lingered on Teddy, days later, and he found that he was unable to sleep past the first rays of sunlight. The castle was already bustling, and with his enhanced hearing, Teddy was unable to shut it off and unwilling to cast a silencio on his room in the Tower of the Hand.
Instead, while his room was still dark, he dressed in his clothing - becoming something of a uniform of mismatched period pieces and theatrical overcoats that reminded him of wizard's robes - and stepped quietly into the hallway beyond his room.
Arya mentioned something about dancing this morning, thought Teddy, making his way to the stairs to head up to the interior living quarters of the Hand. Maybe she'll let me sit in again?
On his way, he spotted Jory and a few other guards doing a shift change. The castellan was bright-eyed and carried several scrolls and parchments in his hand for Lord Stark: early morning correspondences.
"Good morning, Teddy," he greeted, nodding at a yawning guard as the man, walking side-by-side with two others, nodded back tiredly. "How are you this morn?"
"Eh, okay I guess," replied Teddy, ignoring that 'okay' wasn't a word people used in Westeros. However, Jory was perceptive enough to garner the intention of the word, nodding slowly. "Are those for Ned?"
Jory glanced down. "Yes; there were quite a few ravens during the evening…"
Teddy grimaced. "Better Ned than me, I suppose." He then brightened, "Listen - do you mind if I join you? I'm going to ask if he needs any help with getting things ready for us to leave later today… I want to feel useful, you know?"
"Certainly," agreed Jory, a grin on his face, making him look younger than he was. "Although I am sure you'll be placed in Septa-duty, watching either Underfoot or Lady Sansa…"
Teddy reached up and rubbed at the back of his head. "I was thinking of watching Arya's dancing lesson later…"
The two continued their discussion as they ascended the stairs until they reached Ned's solar. Jory knocked once and waited for a reply. When nothing came, he knocked again, a frown on his face.
"What's wrong?" asked Teddy, when Jory's face began to slide into worry.
"I checked Lord Stark's rooms this morning, and he wasn't there," the man explained, moving to bring a hand at the knob, but hesitating before touching it. "I assumed he was already in his solar… but if he is not answering."
Concern flashed through Teddy. "He could be hurt! Or something is wrong! Let's go in!"
"It's not proper-"
But Teddy had already pushed the door open by nudging Jory out of the way, stepping into the room and loudly calling, "Ned? Ned? You here?"
The room was dark; the shutters over the window had not been opened nor had someone come by to light the small hearth. Instead, the room was dark and smelled vaguely musty, and despite the noise of King's Landing waking outside of the room, it was eerily quiet.
Teddy and Jory's breathing was loud in the dark.
"Something's not right," whispered Teddy, his eyesight making out the shapes and stillness of the room far better than Jory's human eyesight could do. The teen felt the man stiffen in reply, a hand slowly reaching for his ever-present sword.
"I agree," he replied, just as quietly.
Teddy's ear twitched and he spun on his heel, turning to face the door where the only light spilled into the room from a few candles placed sporadically along the stairwell and from a single open window in the hall leading to the solar.
"What is it?"
"Do you hear that?" muttered Teddy, his nose turning up a bit as he sniffed the air. Blood. I smell blood.
The Hufflepuff reached out and grabbed Jory tightly by the upper arm, hauling him with a strength that the man would deny Teddy could ever have, given his lean form. Without protesting though, other than a loud exhale of air as he was manhandled, Jory followed Teddy as the teen pushed him up behind the solar door, against the wall. Teddy kept an arm braced against Jory's chest, pressing him into the wall.
Unable to see now that they were out of the small, direct sunlight, Jory missed Teddy slipping his wand out - but he certainly felt the sharp tap on his head and the sensation of cold, slimy egg slipping down into the collar of his tunic. "Teddy - what -"
"Shush," the teen ordered, nonverbally casting a silencio around them just as both heard the thundering pounding of several feet.
Moments later, several City guards burst into the room, their swords - some already bloodied and wet - raised. One deeply scowled as he strode further into the room, throwing open a shutter as light burst into the study.
Jory flinched violently, but Teddy did not so much move. Jory's eyes instead darted toward the teen, and he felt his entire being freeze. The young, genial teen he had gotten used to, the one who rambled on about things that excited him, had a smile for everyone and even happily did menial tasks that no Lord's bastard would be happy to do, have a feral look to his eyes.
His mouth was pulled tight, into a thin line but it was his eyes - flashing amber in a way Jory had never seen before - that had the seasoned soldier holding his breath. At that moment, Jory was certain that Teddy was the most dangerous thing in the room.
"Fuck!" swore the guard, striding to another shutter and opening it violently. It banged against the outside wall. "The door was open but no one is here!"
What? thought Jory. He and Teddy were hardly hidden - but the guards' eyes swept over the two of them like they weren't even there as he turned around the room.
"C'mon," replied another guard in a thick accent, "Let's try the Septa's rooms. Maybe they heard us coming?"
The first guard growled low in his throat as he muttered, "There shouldn't've been any warning! The Queen's man told us everything was done quietly…"
The three men left the solar, leaving nothing but a strained silence behind. Finally, Teddy relaxed from where he pressed against Jory and then stepped away. Jory exhaled, blinking.
"What happened?" he asked quietly. "Why couldn't they see us?"
"Is that really what you want to know right now?" asked Teddy, cutting a sharp glance at him. His face was strangely angular, and Jory thought that, for one moment, his hair was curlier and shaggier than it had been previously. "From the sound of things, they're going after the Stark household."
"The guards!" Jory's eyes widened. "They must have run into the shift change-"
"They're dead," replied Teddy, biting his lower lip. His hard tone had shifted into worry. "They're going to Septa Mordane's next… would Sansa be there?"
"Maybe," replied Jory, thinking of the young Lord and Ladies schedule. They would have breakfast first, but only and Bran would be awake… Sansa would likely be sleeping… "Probably not."
"We need to get everyone out," said Teddy instead, looking around. "Or as many as we can-"
"Right, we don't know how many are already dead," finished Jory, standing straighter as Teddy began to take control. It was unconscious, but perhaps there was a part of Jory recognizing the logic of Teddy's words - or a part of him looking at the teen and thinking, this. This is Lord Stark's son.
Teddy looked Jory up and down. "You look like a Northerner."
There was no heat in his words - just fact - but Jory scowled anyway. "So?"
"You can't go around saving people looking like that." There was amusement on the teen's face. "Up for a bit of subterfuge?"
But Teddy was already looking down at Jory's chest, and the man followed only to watch his Northern-style tunic morph and shift in colour and design until it resembled something similar to the clothing worn by Lannister men.
Mouth open, Jory looked up at Teddy. "How did you…?"
"No time. I'll explain later."
"But - they'll look at me and know-"
"Only if you open your mouth. Blimey, I've never heard anyone with such a thick accent," muttered Teddy, shaking his head. "Just… roundup as many as you can, alright? No one looks at the help."
"But no one else will look like me!" protested Jory, pointing a finger at his newly red tunic.
Teddy grimaced. "True." He rolled his bottom lip into his mouth, chewed it a moment, and then his eyes lit up. He shoved his hands into his pockets, rummaging a bit until he pulled out the wolf pin Ned had given him. "Use this," he said, shoving it at Jory.
Jory grabbed it, looked at it, and then looked at Teddy. His expression read are you kidding me?, which caused Teddy to sigh.
"With everyone you save, have them wear this until their clothes change, okay?" he testily explained, running a hand through his hair. "It'll last long enough for you to either get them away from the Red Keep or on the road. Or a boat. Or something - I need to get to Arya."
"I'll go for Lord Bran and Lady Sansa," agreed Jory, but Teddy shook his head. "I'll get them; you get whomever you can out first. We need to split up."
Jory's frown deepened. He didn't like the idea of leaving the little Lord and Lady behind. "But-"
The man huffed but acquiesced. He wagged a finger in Teddy's face. "You better not do anything stupid, Teddy-"
"Me?" asked Teddy with a shaky grin. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
The resulting glare highly implied Jory didn't believe Teddy, but he left the solar quickly, leaving the Hufflepuff alone.
A silver streak burst into the room, startling Teddy as he turned to face it. The otter paused, looking around and then faced Teddy head-on, Hermione's terse voice emerging from it.
"Ted. Ned and I have been taken to the dungeons by the City watch. If you don't know by now, we're under arrest. We'll try to save as many as you can, but you get the kids out. I'll meet you at our old rooms at the inn." The otter paused, and then added, its voice soft: "Don't do anything stupid. Be safe."
Teddy's grin slipped off his face; both Aunt Hermione and Jory? It wasn't fair. He certainly wasn't the King of Stupid Ideas, but - to be fair - he did learn at the knee of his Uncle Harry...
The early morning light bled across the open floor and lit the columns that surrounded the rectangular room. A warm breeze wafted through the openings by the balcony, and the few palm trees that reached the height of the room Eddard Stark had set aside in the Tower of the Hand for Arya's dancing lessons swayed.
A tiny frown pinched Arya's brows as she stood, her hands at her side while Syrio Forel, took a ready stance, one leg extended long with his wooden training sword raised above his head.
"Is a girl not going to pick up her sword?" he mocked in his light Braavosi accent.
"Something feels strange," she replied, her voice tiny and quiet. "I don't want to practice today."
"No?" Forel frowned. "You are troubled."
Quick as lightning, Forel lashed out with the wooden sword and whacked Arya across her arm with it, and she flinched but didn't move.
"Good!" he said, eyes laughing but face serious. "Trouble is a perfect time to do training. Now - pick up your sword."
Forel whacked her again and Arya bit back the urge to growl at him.
"You're not here!" he chastised. "You're with your trouble. If you're with your trouble when fighting happens-"
He whacked her again, but this time Arya raised her left arm and blocked the strike. Forel grinned and went to parry again, but Arya blocked it once more. Then, he spun and extended the reach of his attack and thrust, causing her to stumble and fall on her back.
"-More trouble for you."
She stared up at him.
He tsked, "Just so," and began to walk away, pacing a bit as he got into a ready position again. "How can you be… quick as a snake?"
He launched a light attack of parries and thrusts at Arya, despite being on the ground. The grin on her face, however, showed that she was enjoying herself. She spun on her knees and got to her feet, and they continued with her lesson.
"Or as quiet as a shadow?"
But Forel quickly overwhelmed Arya, grabbing the hilt of her sword with a deft twist of his wrist and a full-body spin, bracing both at her neck when he completed his move, a smile on his lips.
"When you are somewhere else-"
Arya's eyes went wide, and Forel placed a hand on her shoulder, putting down both practice swords as he did so.
"Tell me, girl: do you pray to the Gods?"
"The Old and the New," replied Arya, swallowing thickly. Her eyes held on Forel's.
A silent "ah" passed Forel's mouth and he drew Arya in closer, leaning down slightly as he spoke. "There is only one God: and his name - is death. And there is only one thing we say to death," continued Forel, chucking Arya under the chin as he finished, "Not today."
He backed up, his toe catching the blade of the wooden sword. With a flick, it launched in the air and he caught it; he then tossed it to her and the training began again with a thrust of his sword. "Yah! Left high, left low. Right low, lunge right…"
The two moved around each other as Forel spoke his instructions. "This way! Left, right. Rah! – Now, you are dead."
Arya's mouth dropped open as her eyes followed her fallen sword. Indignant, she argued, "You said right, but you went left!"
With his sword still pointed at her, Forel smiled. "And now, you are a dead girl."
Arya's mouth turned down. "Only 'cause you lied."
"My tongue lied. My eyes shouted the truth," replied Forel, his tone knowing. "You were not seeing."
"I was so! I watched, but you-"
"Watching is not seeing, dead girl. The seeing, the true seeing, that is the heart of swordplay," the man continued, placing both hands behind his back as he loomed toward Arya. The young Stark girl pouted in response.
Just then, the door to the room opened and three guards strode in; one in a gold cloak of the City Watch, and two in Lannister red. Arya's eyes flitted back and forth between them as the first guard in gold spoke.
"Arya Stark, come with us. Your father wants to see you."
Arya took a step forward, but Forel shot his arm out to block her, his face severe enough she froze in her spot, staring up at him.
Forel's voice was frosty, despite the musical lilt to it as he spoke, his eyes lingering on the red cloaks of the Lannister guards. "And why is it that Lord Eddard is sending Lannister men in place of his own? I wonder."
The city guard's reply was just as frosty. "Mind your place, dancing master. This is no concern of yours."
Arya took several steps back, and then two to the side as she picked up her training sword. "My father wouldn't send you. And I don't have to go with you if I don't want."
The guards' eyes narrowed on her form, skipping over Forel. "Take her!" he instructed, and one Lannister guard stepped forward.
In response, Arya backed up and shrieked as she hit something. She spun, raising her sword, but stopped just as suddenly when she looked up and saw Teddy staring out at the four men in front of her. "Teddy!"
She reached out and hugged his middle.
"Arya," the teen replied, but Arya blinked, pulling back. There was something in his voice, in the way he held his body - as if it were trembling. Arya glanced at his hands, at his sides, and saw that one was clenched tightly into a fist, and the other was holding a stick tightly.
Forel glanced back, but ignored Teddy's arrival, having grown used to him over the weeks he had kept Arya company during her other lessons. He turned back to the guards. "Are you men or snakes, that you would threaten a child?"
The Lannister guard continued to advance. "Get out of my way, little man."
Forel's eyebrows raised. "I am Syrio Forel-"
"Foreign bastard," the guard cursed, drawing his sword and swinging for Forel's head.
"-and you will be speaking to me with more respect," the Braavosi finished, smacking the wooden sword hard against the man's helmet, sending him crashing to the side and into a column.
Immediately, the city guard and final Lannister guard leaped into action, withdrawing their swords and stepping forward threateningly. Forel, in an even tone, stepped away from the fallen Lannister guard and continued, "And you will speak to me with more respect."
He stopped directly in front of Arya, blocking her from the guards' view.
The city guard snarled. "Kill the Braavosi! Bring the girl!"
Forel's eyes moved back and forth between the two as they slowly advanced. "Arya child, we are done with dancing for the day." He did not look back. "Go with young Teddy."
Just as Arya stepped back, the Lannister guard darted forward, and Forel brought his sword up - but then held himself still as the guard froze. The man's eyes widened in panic and they darted this way and that as he stood unnaturally, one leg up and his arm extended in a downward swing that would never happen.
He wobbled, and then fell to the floor in the same pose.
The city guard gaped and looked from the fallen Lannister guard up - "What the fucking hell are you?" he demanded.
Arya and Forel turned to see Teddy, only the young man strode past them, completely ignoring the fallen guard as he passed him.
The city guard bared his teeth and hefted his sword up.
"You two should run," said Teddy, his words directed at Forel and Arya, despite not facing them.
Affronted, Forel replied, "The first sword of Braavos does not run!"
Although they couldn't see it, Teddy's mouth twitched into a grin. The city guard backed up, and Teddy matched each step.
With an aggravated shout, the guard launched forward, sword swinging through the air as Teddy leaned away, the blade missing him by centimeters.
"You know," he began conversationally; "I've been watching Master Forel teach Arya for some time now."
The guard said nothing, just thrust his sword, and hoarsely cried out as Teddy kicked at the man's leg, using the force to push himself away in a graceful spin that normally, he wouldn't have done until he was behind the guard.
The man spun, keeping Teddy in his sight.
"And something that I've learned from Syrio Forel is this," finished Teddy as he pivoted on his heel and twisted his body away from a violent swish of the guard's sword, bringing his wand up. "What do we say to the god of death?"
A red light burst from the wand and the man crumpled to the ground, stunned.
Silence stretched through the room, and then Forel was striding forward, with the training sword in his hand. He then thrust the wooden piece directly into the gap between the guards' chinstrap and chest plate, staking the man through the unprotected neck.
Blood spurted out and Teddy leaped backward to avoid the spray of warm blood.
"Not today," finished Forel, grimly. "Not today."
The man left the training sword sticking out of the man's neck as he backed away, glancing at Arya in concern as she stared, pale-faced at the dead guard. "Arya, child. Come. We must leave."
Nodding slowly, Arya moved a few steps in Forel's direction as he turned to the door, but Teddy shook his head. "Not that way - there are more guards going through the halls."
"Then how do we leave, young Teddy?" asked the frustrated dancing master.
Teddy swallowed. "Do you trust me?"
Arya opened her mouth immediately to agree, but Forel's sharp glance at her, and then equally sharp look at her newest half-sibling kept her quiet. Finally, after a few tense moments, Forel said, quietly, "Yes."
"Take my hands," instructed Teddy immediately, stretching them out. Arya was surprised to see they were empty.
"Where did your stick go?" she asked, but she still reached for Teddy's left hand and clasped it with her own.
Forel caught Teddy's forearm.
"Brace yourselves," he said instead, grimly, and then they were squeezed through a tube. Arya's ears popped and she fell to the floor, dry heaving, and gagging on her hands and knees.
Her head jerked up, and then she was gathered in the familiar scent of the forest, sweat, and something infinitely winter. Father.
Behind her, as she grabbed tight onto her father's tunic, burrowing into the space between his chin and shoulder, she heard snippets of conversation.
"How many got out?"
"-Not sure; Jory was on that-"
"I could use some help…"
When Arya looked up, Teddy and Hermione were both gone, leaving her alone in a smallish room with two cots, a wardrobe, and a washbasin with her father and Syrio Forel. "Where did Teddy and Lady Granger go?"
"To get your brother and sister," said Ned quietly, a hand cupping the back of Arya's dark hair. "And to see if anyone else got out with Jory."
"What's happening?" asked Arya, her own voice quiet. "Why did those guards want me to go with them? Why weren't you there?"
Ned sighed and rested his cheek against his daughter's head. "I'm so sorry, Arya. Do you remember me telling you we've come to a dangerous place?"
"Well, it's just become much more dangerous now - and I don't know what will happen next."
Hermione and Teddy split up once they Apparated back into the Red Keep, picking Teddy's bedroom in the Tower of the Hand as their entry point.
A few simple colour changing charms and some simple transfiguration made Teddy's clothing a Lannister uniform. It was easy for him to shift his features into a generic blond - although Hermione's double-look and comically wide eyes made Teddy wonder if he modelled his looks a bit too much on Al's friend of Scorpius - and a disillusionment charm paired with silenced boots faded Hermione into the background.
Teddy went right while Hermione went left at a junction in a hallway; Teddy moving towards Sansa's bedroom while his aunt went to check on the household staff. He had told her what Jory looked like in his new uniform, but Hermione's absent nod told Teddy that she was already beyond listening, and he left the conversation behind.
Sansa's room was empty when he arrived, with toppled chairs and a large bloodstain in the middle of the floor, accompanied by a blue headscarf, partially soaked. Teddy knelt carefully at its side, his heart clenching. He hadn't liked Septa Mordane much, but -
A sniffle caught his attention and his head jerked up from his kneeling position. He strained his ears. "Sansa?"
A tawny-haired girl poked her head out from her hiding place, from behind the partially opened back of the hearth. Her chin and cheeks were covered in soot, and her dress was severely rumpled. Her eyes were wide but when she spotted Teddy, she launched out and into his arms, toppling the teen to the ground.
"Ser Teddy!" she cried, hot tears soaking his shoulder.
"Erm," said Teddy, completely at a loss for the girl's name. He knew she was a friend of Sansa's, often at the girl's elbow when they were in the Tower, but for the life of him… "There, there," he said, awkwardly patting her.
"I'm so glad you're here!" the girl continued. "When Septa Mordane told us to run, Sansa wouldn't, but I hid-"
Teddy pulled back to gape at the girl. "What do you mean, Sansa didn't run?"
The girl shook her head. "I hid. They didn't want me - they didn't care for J-Jeyne Poole, did they? No, they wanted S-Sansa. They k-killed Septa Mordane and then - then they dragged S-Sansa out…"
"Lannisters?" asked Teddy darkly.
"Do you know where she was taken?" he asked.
Jeyne shook her head. "But Bran is with them - I know they got him. I heard them say that."
Teddy swore under his breath. "Listen - did anyone else get out?"
Jeyne bit her lip. "I-I'm not sure… I know that… the guards were confused. Confused because there weren't that many people in the tower…"
"Good," exhaled Teddy. "That means Jory got some out."
Jeyne perked up. "Do we have somewhere safe to go?"
"I think so," replied Teddy, glancing around the room and then helping Jeyne to her feet. "Hang on tight-"
He spun them and Apparated back to the inn, where Jeyne froze for a moment and then vomited over Teddy's front. Teddy froze, in an aborted motion to half-shove Jeyne from him.
Somewhere, Arya began laughing loudly.
"Ser Teddy, I am so sorry-!"
Teddy sighed and waved his hand, nonverbally and without his wand, casting scourgify and vanishing the sick from his chest, and the floor. Unfortunately, the smell lingered. He met Ned's eyes as the man looked down at Jeyne. There was fear and worry in them.
"I'm going back," he announced. "Jory got some out, but I'm not sure how many-"
A loud pop in the room signalled Hermione's arrival at Teddy's side. Jeyne let out a shrill scream of surprise, but it was Forel who came to her side and with a whispered conversation, calmed the young teen down and led her to a free cot.
"What's happening? What did you learn?" demanded Ned.
"Nothing good," scowled Hermione, looking around. She stopped at Teddy. "Did you find Bran or Sansa?"
He shook his head. "They were already collected."
"Bother - that's what I thought," she sighed, running a hand through her curls and messing the riotous mess up further, making her hair puff out. "From what I heard, half of the household is missing. The rest," she trailed off with an apologetic look at Ned, whose heart clenched.
"Do we know where…?" Ned trailed off, his voice tense and quiet.
"I told them to just get out as quickly as possible," replied Teddy, embarrassed as he fidgeted. "I couldn't think of a safe meeting place, so I told them to go north as soon as possible."
Ned sighed. "I suppose that's-"
Hermione stiffened, her face shifting into alarm.
"What? What is it?" Ned asked, dropping Arya to the cot he was sitting on as he strode across the room to grab tightly at Hermione's shoulder.
"The proximity alert," whispered Hermione, staring at Ned. Her face paled.
Ned inhaled sharply.
"What alert?" cried Teddy, turning to face them just as Hermione said, "We need to go. Now," then with Ned holding onto her, Apparated them both from the room at the inn and back into the dungeon.
She quickly popped into the empty cell next to his, leaving Ned reeling from the magical travel. He braced himself against the wall as he slid down onto his knees, shutting his eyes tightly as he swallowed back nausea, a sheen of sweat breaking out as his skin flushed.
"Ned? You okay?" whispered Hermione, raising her hand with her wand and casting a gentle glow from her lumos.
A distant clang caught Hermione's attention, and her head spun around in the tiny, dark cell toward it. She extinguished her lumos on her own, plunging them into darkness.
"Shh. Someone's coming."
Ned slowly stood, straining his own ears until he heard the quick, light shuffle of someone trying to move quickly and quietly. Then, from a corner, a round man with a hood up appeared, carrying a lantern that illuminated the two small cells side-by-side.
Hermione cocked a hip and crossed her arms, a deep frown pulling at her mouth. Ned looked from her to the man as he put down the lantern and pushed his hood back.
"Lord Stark, you're looking…" the man broke off as he took the time to look at the other man, his rehearsed speech thrown out the window.
Ned kept silent, as Varys looked the Lord of Winterfell up and down; a frown on his face as he realized that Ned was clean, looked well rested, and even well-fed, despite the bruise on the side of his face.
"... Remarkably well for a man thrown in the deepest prison below the Red Keep." He shook his head as if banishing whatever thoughts he had from his mind. Instead, he asked, "Thirsty?", revealing a wineskin attached to a belt underneath the cloak. He held it out toward Ned, through the bars.
Ned's eyes narrowed. "Varys." The Stark looked down at the drink and then back at the Master of Whispers. "No, thank you."
Varys' expression did not change. "I promise you, it isn't poisoned. Why is it no one ever trusts the eunuch?"
"Gee, I wonder," muttered Hermione from her side.
"Where are my children? Tell me about my family," commanded Ned, speaking over Hermione's muttered remark.
"And Teddy. Where's Teddy?" interrupted Hermione, stepping forward and closer to the bars.
Varys glanced between the two, folding his hands into his sleeves. He eventually turned to Ned. "The younger one seems to have escaped the castle. The consensus is that Lady Granger's son was the one to spirit her away. Even my little birds cannot find them now. Wherever they are, it's far from King's Landing."
Hermione closed her eyes, but Ned's jaw tensed. "And Sansa? Bran?"
"You eldest daughter will remain engaged to Joffrey. Cersei will keep her close," answered Varys quietly. "Your son is held under guard in his room; as far as I am aware, the two will only be allowed to see each other and speak once a day. Some of your house hold is missing; the rest though is dead, it grieves me to say. I do so hate the sight of blood."
Ned's eyes narrowed. "You watched my men being slaughtered and did nothing."
"And would again, my lord," replied Varys, his tone even.
"What kind of person would let others be slaughtered mindlessly?" asked Hermione, making Varys turn to her. "Ned and I were unarmed, unarmoured and surrounded by Lannister swords. Is that the kind of man you are, Spymaster?"
Varys seemed to consider the question but then turned back to Ned. "What madness led you to tell the queen you had learned the truth about Joffrey's birth?"
Ned sighed, leaning away from the bars and turning his back on Varys. "Oh, don't you start, too - I've heard enough of it from Hermione!"
Varys turned to Hermione, seeking an answer.
She shrugged. "I told him his concept of mercy and honour won't mean anything to someone who holds those two concepts at a different standard. Ned likes children; he thought she might save her children. That they would be enough instead of power."
Varys made a sympathetic face at Ned's back. "It's always the innocents who suffer."
"Too right," muttered Ned, clenching his hands at his side.
Hermione watched him carefully while Varys continued to speak.
"It wasn't the wine that killed Robert, nor the boar. The wine slowed him down and the boar ripped him open, but it was your mercy that killed the king. I trust you know you're a dead man, Lord Eddard?"
Ned snorted, turning around. There was mirth in his eyes. "The queen can't kill me. She won't kill me."
"Oh? Why do you say so?" asked Varys, a curious tilt to his bald head.
"I've met the Queen a few times," interjected Hermione, shifting to casually lean against the bars that separated her cell from Ned's. "And Cersei is no fool. She knows a tame wolf is more use to her than a dead one."
"Also, the realm would bleed. Another Stark killed in King's Landing?" Ned shook his head. "No one will believe that I of all people wanted to dethrone Robert. My word - my reputation - is too strong for that."
"Well," began Varys, glancing apologetically at Hermione, who stiffened. "It once was, my Lord. But not today. Not anymore."
Ned angrily strode forward at the slight against Hermione and gripped two bars tightly with his hands as he wrapped them around the cool metal. "What would you have me do, Varys?"
"l want you to serve the realm!" the other man leaned forward earnestly. "Tell the queen you will confess your vile treason, and proclaim Joffrey as the true heir!"
"He's not the true heir," scoffed Ned, shaking his head and backing away from the bars.
Varys eyes closed, and to Hermione, who had seen Snape when under the considerable strain of spying while managing a bunch of teenagers, recognized the move. "If you give the queen the peace she needs, and promise to carry her secret to your grave, l believe she will allow you to take the black and live out your days on the Wall with your brother."
"You think my life is some precious thing to me?" asked Ned, his voice low and challenging. "l grew up with soldiers. l learned how to die a long time ago."
"No, my Lord," said Varys, and his tone was truly exasperated. "But I think you consider the lives of your family precious. What of your daughter's life, my lord? Your youngest son's? Are they that a precious thing to you?" Varys' eyes darted toward the silent woman in the next cell. "And what of your marked half? Is she not precious?"
"I think I'm good, thanks," replied Hermione, completely unfazed by Varys' attempts to have Ned agree to take the Black through emotional manipulation. "Ned doesn't need to worry about me, and I think that his family will be fairly safe while Teddy's out there."
Ned nodded, agreeing with Hermione. "Tell me something, Varys. Who do you truly serve?"
Varys coolly looked at Ned's face, searching for something that he could use. "The realm, my lord. Someone must."
"That," said Hermione from her place, making Varys look at her, "Is something we can both agree on. Now, if that's all, Lord Varys - I think we're done here."
The man stared at the two, his beady eyes drifting from Ned to Hermione and back again a few times, as though time would crack them. When neither spoke, the man nodded and tucked his hands back into his robes.
"Very well," he said, his voice quiet. "I wish you both luck, my Lord Stark, Lady Granger. You will need it."
Ned scowled at the man as he disappeared, disappearing into the shadows. He turned to look at Hermione, who held up a single hand, urging him to be quiet. Her eyes focused on the shadows beyond the cell, watchful until several minutes had passed.
Her hand dropped.
"He's gone?" confirmed Ned.
"I will not allow my children to be used as bargaining chips!" the man finally exploded, his voice low and dark. "Can you not go to them directly?"
Hermione paused. "I could-"
"BUT?" the word left Ned's lips as a low hiss, and he moved to the bars separating their cells, gripping his hands around the steel tightly, so much so the skin turned white.
"Don't you find this all strange?" asked Hermione, turning away from him to stare down the hallway and direction Varys came from. "It's all very sudden; this doesn't seem like Cersei at all. She didn't particularly care about me, to begin with, and took pleasure in your ruined reputation."
"My reputation is not-"
The look Hermione sent Ned was dark. "Oh, come off it, Ned; you know what I mean. My arrival and Teddy's claimant as your son certainly hasn't helped you any."
Ned resisted the urge to grind his teeth.
"She might have thrown us in the dungeon as an 'out of sight, out of mind' thing, but this doesn't seem like her at all." Hermione frowned and crossed her arms, cocking her hip. "This seems like someone wants you out of the way, and as soon as possible by eliminating your support with your household guard and staff."
"You mean this is personal," stared Ned, slowly stiffening.
Hermione paused. "I really hope not, but… yes. It seems so."
Ned closed his eyes and gripped the bars tightly before letting go and taking a few steps back. His voice was hollow when he spoke. "Take us out of here and let us plan our next move. My enemies will learn just how much danger they are in when hunted by a wolf."
The guard tossed Sansa's younger brother into the room they had given her earlier that day, removing her from her bedroom in the Tower of the Hand. Bran let out a severe scowl, which made him look more like their mother, his gray-green eyes flashing at the guard in mulish response.
As soon as he could, he straightened his shirt and gave the guard one last dirty look with a delicate sniff.
"You have one hour," the guard threatened, and then slammed the door shut.
Sansa was immediately racing across the floor and gathered her younger brother into a firm, tight hug. He squirmed away after collapsing against her for a brief moment.
"What's going on? Where's Father? Where's Arya?" burst from Sansa's mouth. "No one will tell me anything!"
"Where were you when-?" Bran broke off, looking away. He reached up and hugged himself. "What happened to Septa Mordane?"
Surprise flickered over Sansa's face for a moment and then she paled. "She - She told me to run." Then, she was also looking away as she stepped back from her brother, her voice low. "I didn't. I didn't run when they came."
"What?" snapped Sansa, crossing her arms defensively. "Why should I have run? There was no reason for me to-"
"Quite right, my dear."
Bran and Sansa's heads whipped around to face the tall, skinny man who entered the sitting room, his finely tailored tunic swishing just so behind him as he strode forward. There was a smile on his face but it didn't reach his gray-green eyes.
Bran's eyes - also gray-green - narrowed in speculation as they flitted over the man and then back to his sister, who edged towards him.
"You - You're Lord Baelish," said Sansa, her voice demure. She curtseyed, bowing her head; pleasure flitted across the man's face and Bran's heart began pounding in his chest. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, my dear Sansa," the man said, reaching forward and using two fingers to gently push up Sansa's chin - and face - in the process. "It really is all my pleasure."
He then turned to Bran. "Ah, yes, young Bran! Look at you!" His voice went soft. "Look at you…"
"Where's Septa Mordane?" asked Bran instead. "And father? Or Jory? Or Arya? What about Teddy or the Lady Granger?"
"As far as I know, Lord Stark and Lady Granger are well," began Baelish, his form stilling. "I am unsure about the others."
Sansa stifled a gasp behind her hands.
Bullshite, thought Bran, using a word he heard Teddy spit once. While he didn't understand the meaning, the context and tone was enough for him to use it appropriately.
"Why are you here?" asked Bran instead.
"Bran!" hissed Sansa, glaring daggers at him. He ignored her. "Lord Baelish, please; can I offer you a seat?"
"Why, thank you, Sansa," said Baelish, following the young teen as she led him to the set of chairs around a table with a carafe of wine. Baelish sat and Bran followed, grumbling under his breath as she played hostess and began to serve the man the wine. She pointedly did not give anything to her brother and decided then to pour a small portion of the wine for herself. "You have the same bearing as your mother."
Sansa's head jerked up, the red strands of her hair slipping over her shoulder forward as she did so. "You know Mother?" she asked eagerly.
"We grew up together," began Baelish, relaxing back into his seat and lacing his fingers together as he hooked them over his knee. "At Riverrun. Have you been?"
Bran and Sansa both shook their heads.
"Ah, it's quite nice," reminisced Baelish, with a small smile on his face. "Cat and I - pardon me, your mother Lady Stark - well, I was her little confidant, her plaything. She could tell me anything, anything at all. She told me about all the horses that she liked, the castle that she wanted to live in and the man that she wanted to marry - a Northerner with a jaw like an anvil."
Bran squinted his eyes just as Sansa squealed, "Uncle Brandon?"
Baelish nodded. "Yes, that was him."
"What was he like?" the question slipped out of Bran's mouth before he realized he had asked it; but a part of him wanted to know about his namesake, the man he was named after.
"Well, let's see. He looked much like your father, but with even longer hair," began Baelish, a thoughtful purse to his mouth. "Brash, though. He was led by his emotions rather than logic. A very skilled fighter." Baelish trailed off. "Yes, a very skilled fighter, indeed…"
"But he died," protested Sansa. "He mustn't have been that good a knight."
"Oh, but he was, dear Sansa," grinned Baelish, leaning forward over his legs to peer at the redhead. "You see, I challenged him to a duel. I mean, why not? I'd read all the stories. The little hero always beats the big villain in all the stories. In the end, though, your mother wouldn't even let him kill me." He shook his head and pitched his voice higher to mimic the words he had embedded into his brain. "'He's just a boy,' she said. 'Please don't hurt him.' So he gave me a nice little scar to remember him by, and off they went."
Sansa loudly gasped.
Bran stared at Baelish's covered chest. "Uncle Brandon did that?" there was a heavy dose of skepticism in his voice.
"He did," Baelish's voice was hard in return. "You don't believe me?" When Bran didn't speak, shrewd cat-like eyes glanced at the young teen. "You could always ask your mother since she was there."
"How? She's back in Winterfell," said Bran.
"Is she?" asked Baelish, leaning back again. "Well, as an old and dear friend to the Tullys, you could always pass on a message and I'll find a way to get them to her, without any of Varys' little birds or the Queen learning about it. Think of it as a secure, direct line of communication."
"Oh, that would be lovely!" cried Sansa.
Bullshite again, thought Bran, eyes narrowed.
"Now, the whole thing with your father is, I'm sure, a complete misunderstanding," continued Baelish. "I will, of course, do my best to help him with my position on the Small Council and sway the Queen Regent to pardon Lord Stark."
Sansa beamed. "You'd do that for us? Oh, thank you, Lord Baelish!"
"Of course my dear," replied Baelish, this time reaching out and running his hand through one of the long locks of Sansa's hair that slipped loose from her Southron updo when she had been tossed into the room earlier. A pink flush appeared on her cheeks.
"You know you can trust me with anything." He glanced at Bran. "Both of you."
"But what will you do?" asked Bran, curious. "It was the Queen and her men who arrested Father and placed us in here!"
Baelish glanced at Bran. "What would you like me to do?"
"Do you know what I learned, losing that duel to your uncle?" the man asked, and both Stark children shook their heads. "I learned that I'll never win, not that way. That's their game, their rules. And I'm not going to fight them."
"Then what will you do?" asked Bran, again.
Baelish's smile did not reach his eyes. "I'll upend the board, Bran. That's what I know. That's what I am. And only by admitting what we are can we get what we want: you getting free of here, back with your family."
"Thank you, Lord Baelish!" exalted a breathless Sansa.
"Yes, thank you, Lord Baelish," echoed Bran, but it lacked the same awe that his sister held for the man. However, Baelish was taken in enough by Sansa that he ignored Bran's less-than-enthusiastic reply.
A bang on the closed door had him glancing over. "Ah, I do believe my time is up now, children." He looked back at them. "Keep safe and your heads down. I will see you again soon, with hopefully a message from your mother."
"Goodbye!" chirped Sansa, rising with him as Baelish got to his feet. The man's tunic swished around his calves and he reached forward for Sansa's hand, lightly kissing the back of it.
"As always," he replied gallantly, glancing at Sansa as she almost swooned. He then nodded at Bran and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
The moment he did so, Bran said baldly, "I don't trust him."
Sansa spun to face him. "What? Why not? He knows Mother-"
"And he admitted to fighting Uncle Brandon for her," interrupted Bran, his childish voice cracking in his stress. "That is not something a friend of the Starks would do."
Sansa's face morphed to worry. "Do you think - can we - that is, can we trust him?"
Bran shook his head slowly. "I don't think we can trust anyone, San. Not anymore. Not here, anyway."
Slowly, Sansa sat back down in her chair, her face pale with fear.
Bran continued, "I think we're all alone now."
"And the lone wolf dies," finished the redhead in a whisper.
"The lone wolf dies," echoed Bran, just as despondent. He then turned to look out of the window, and the two children sat in silence.
Ned and Hermione were expecting Varys again when the proximity alert went off, so it was a surprise to see Cersei sweep into the dungeons with three Lannister guards at her back, each carrying a torch in one hand and their swords in the other.
The golden-haired woman glanced behind at them, and commanded coolly, "Leave us." She watched with impassive eyes as the guards hung the torches in empty handlebars beside the paired cell, and then retreat until they were around the corner in a semblance of privacy.
Cersei's green eyes swept over the two, and her lip curled into a slight sneer. "Well. Don't you both look rather… clean."
"It's not the worst prison I've been in," admitted Hermione easily, drawing Cersei's attention to her. "But I've also been in better over the years."
"You're japing with me," said Cersei after a long moment, staring at the brunette.
The three remained silent for some time, with Cersei's eyes flickering between Ned and Hermione. Ned, for his part, remained seated on the dirty floor against the wall, head tilted back and his eyes closed. He was completely disinterested in the conversation and made it obvious.
Hermione, on the other hand, leaned against the solid stone wall at the side, watching Cersei with her knowing amber eyes locked on the Queen.
Cersei awkwardly cleared her throat, feeling like a gangly teenager - that girl who went to Moggy the Witch. She didn't like that feeling very much.
"Have you ever wondered," began Hermione, her voice loud in the very silent part of the dungeons, despite its softness, "Why it's so easy for the Starks and Lannisters to hate each other? For them to fight? It's almost… too easy."
"You think someone set this up?" Cersei's eyes narrowed into dangerous green slits. "Someone is manipulating me?"
Hermione shrugged. "You tell me. I'm not from here, remember?"
Cersei was silent for a long moment, staring hard at Hermione before turning her attention to Ned, who opened one eye, peeking out from underneath his unruly black hair, growing long in the dungeons.
"Who?" the queen demanded.
"Oh, I don't actually know," replied Hermione breezily. "But it's someone who has something to gain from both of us fighting. From turning attention to us over them? Someone who wants chaos or revenge? Who knows - you've both enough enemies."
Ned, whose eyes were following Hermione through the shared bars between them, said, "I can think of a few."
Cersei felt her thoughts spin. It's entirely possible, she thought, standing rigid as the foreigner's words washed over her. People see the Lannisters as a threat; we're the richest, the most powerful house in the Seven Kingdoms; we have our reach everywhere. Even Father's actions are considered to many cruel - people would take exception to that.
"I can think of some, as well," she finally admitted, losing some of her stiffness in her posture. She crossed her arms. "Stannis - he fled the city suddenly."
"That's because he learned the truth about your children," argued Ned. "I have no quarrel with him."
"What about Varys?" offered Hermione.
"The Spymaster has his own agenda, but he claims he's here for the realm," replied Ned.
Cersei sighed, "I agree. He served Aerys Targaryen before Robert. His loyalty is questionable, but he always tries to minimize damages wherever possible to keep the Seven Kingdoms functioning properly." She paused. "The Martells for both of us."
"Both?" asked a surprised Hermione, stepping away from her wall.
"My Father ordered Elia Martell's death, including that of her children to end the Targaryen line in the Keep," admitted Cersei, refusing to feel anything for the woman she had met a few times and disliked for stealing her position as Rhaegar's princess; although, in hindsight, it probably was for the best given how her story ended.
"And the Martells would dislike us Starks because it was Lyanna who Rhaegar took," finished Ned, frowning. "It's possible they'd want revenge."
"You can't have revenge on the dead," replied Hermione.
"No," rejoined Cersei, shaking her head, "But you can have revenge on those who are still alive who ordered things, or carried out the orders, or who may have known about the orders."
"Well." Hermione's thoughts turned inward and she began to reassess her knowledge; Ned knew the look well and watched fondly. "Then I suppose we have a leading contender."
"Oh, I can think of someone else who would want Ned Stark to fall spectacularly," gleefully said Cersei as she fixed her eyes on Ned.
With one knee bent up and the other stretched out, Ned looked indolent and lazy but he turned curious grey eyes on the golden-haired woman. "Oh?"
"Why, your wife, Lord Stark!" Cersei's tone was practically lyrical. "Lady Catelyn positively hates you; she wouldn't stop glaring at you every night at Winterfell. I can't imagine that things are well in Riverrun regarding that, either. And it's no secret that the Tullys and Lannisters are… uneasy allies at best and outright hostile at worst, given how my father spurned a betrothal between my brother and Lady Stark's sister."
Ned shrugged. "It's entirely possible. Although my goodfather, Hoster, has been ill and bedridden for some time. He's past his politicking days. It would be Edmure or Lysa whom Catelyn converses with."
"There is another," said Hermione, drawing attention back to herself.
"Who?" asked Cersei.
"Baelish," Hermione said his name quietly, so much so that Cersei had to strain to hear her in the silent dungeon.
Cersei found herself nodding before she consciously stopped. "Before the hunting trip, Baelish came to me with the idea of Robert drinking himself stupid on the trip so that it would be easier for him to make a mistake and get hurt. If he became hurt enough that it would lead to death, it would pave the way for Joffrey to become King and remove the Baratheons - and Starks - from any influence."
She carefully omitted that Baelish suggested that Granger's son also be killed, or that she herself decided the idea was a good one and used it for the hunting trip. But with the knowing look in the strange amber eyes watching her, as well as the upturned smirk, Cersei wasn't too sure she had fooled the woman.
Ned scowled. "I dislike that man."
"You and everyone else," sighed Hermione. "I've met him once and he creeps me out. Smug prick."
Cersei ruthlessly pushed the amusement felt at those words down. It wouldn't do to find a potential rival interesting. "You have heard the rumours, have you not, Stark?"
"Rumours?" grey eyes turned in Cersei's direction.
"That Baelish was the one to deflower your wife," the Queen practically purred, playing demure as she peered down at her fingernails. She glanced at the Warden of the North under long lashes. "He's spread that around the Red Keep and court for years."
Ned frowned. "Has he?" something thoughtful flickered across his face, and then just as quickly, disappeared. "Interesting."
Cersei frowned. She had expected something more from the man. With a mental sigh, she flicked her eyes at the Granger woman, pursing her lips. Hermione was watching Ned, a furrow between her brows as she did so, and not for the first time, Cersei wondered about their history.
Something to consider later, she thought instead. Aloud, she asked, "Do we think it Baelish then?"
Hermione nodded. "I do."
Ned mimicked her, but his nod was slowly, his voice introspective and vague, as though he was still mentally caught up with something else. "I agree."
"Then what is our next step?"
"If we all agree that Baelish is the most likely culprit behind this, then we need to tread carefully," began Hermione. "He's dangerous."
Cersei wanted to scoff, and Hermione must have seen that in her face, because she continued, her voice hard, "Don't underestimate people. He's our most likely suspect, but it's hardly likely that he's working alone. There are too many things going on for that to be true."
"I wouldn't put it past Baelish to be working with several members of the Great Houses," agreed Cersei, conversationally. Her green eyes darted between Hermione and Ned. "What should be our next move, then, Lady Granger? Since you seem so clever?"
Hermione attempted to keep her preening low key, but the warm look on Ned's face indicated she failed. "I suggest we let the game continue."
"What?" the warm look faded.
But Cersei was nodding, a cruel little smirk on her red lips. "Yes, I do like that. Let the game play out so we can upset the board later."
"Why must we?" groaned Ned, his jaw tight. "Why can we not just confront the man? Between the City guards, and the Lannisters here, there is enough manpower to ensure Baelish doesn't escape-"
"Because then we won't know how far his reach extends," bit Cersei, her eyes flashing in warning. "By allowing Baelish to continue his game, we can learn how many people are on his payroll."
"And potentially learn his plans," agreed Hermione, frowning at Ned. "I know you don't like the idea-"
"It's not that I don't like it," muttered Ned, lowly, "It's just that I hate politics-"
"But," continued Hermione, speaking over him loudly, "It gives us time to also maneuver Baelish into a place where we can take him, his associates, and others down in one fell swoop."
"I could almost come to like you," complimented Cersei, an assessing gaze on Hermione, as she looked the witch up and down.
"I'll take that as the compliment it sounds," replied Hermione with an answering grin.
Ned stared at the two women in horrified silence.
"We need to make it look like we are taking the Queen's deal," began Hermione a moment later, glancing at Ned to include him in the conversation, "For everything to seem real."
"I am to take the Black, and you are to be banished?" confirmed Ned, glancing at Cersei.
She nodded. "I've been loudly offering that - I know your position and any ill-treatment would not look good on us. The Starks are an old family."
"True," agreed Ned.
Cersei and Hermione continued, adding and building to the plan as they both spoke, their voices raising an excitement as they began to speak over one another.
"So you'll tell the Small Council that Ned's agreed-"
"-Seeking the King's pardon, generously given in a public speech, of course-"
"Naturally. And I'll make a big show of getting on a boat headed for - where? What do you think?"
"Yi Ti," chuckled Cersei, "The furthest we can send you-"
"Excellent. But I'll double back later to the North-"
"-Where you'll meet up with Stark-"
"-Who won't be taking the Black-"
"-of course not; but he will be laying low-"
"-can we even trust those Northerners to play along?" there was a wrinkle to Cersei's nose.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Of course-"
"-Very well, and in that time, I will have those under me investigate quietly-"
"-Until Baelish makes a mistake-"
"-And then-" Hermione's voice rose when she said, "BAM!" making Ned jump.
"We'll arrest him on corruption charges, conspiracy to murder, and anything else we can throw at him," finished Cersei.
Hermione added slyly, "And perhaps Robert's death as well, to exonerate Lord Eddard Stark?"
Cersei's eyes narrowed, but she nodded slowly. "I think that can be arranged, so long as we can come to a working arrangement."
Ned's head, which had been bouncing back and forth between the two women as they spoke, finally managed a word in edgewise: "What arrangement? Hermione? What are you agreeing to?"
Without taking her eyes off Cersei, Hermione spoke. "I've just ensured that any criminal records are expunged, Ned. I've cleared your name - so long as we work with the Lannisters."
"Lannisters and Starks don't get along." The flat line of Ned's mouth indicated his displeasure.
"They do now," replied Hermione, cutting her eyes at her soul mate. Her hard tone told Ned he shouldn't respond, and if he had something to say, he could do so in private later.
"Excellent," purred a pleased Cersei, looking at the two. "Now that that is all done, there's just one, small, outstanding issue to consider…"
"What?" bit out Ned.
"Well, my darling Joffrey becomes King," finished Cersei, bringing her fingertips to her mouth to play at the edges in a coy fashion.
Ned exhaled loudly, looking at Cersei from beneath a heavy brow as he grit between his teeth, grinding his molars, "I am already publicly admitting to this charade; once this is all done, so long as you don't bother the North, we won't bother you."
"You won't tell anyone what you know?" the words were delivered in a light, genial manner, but the hard stare Cersei levelled at Ned promised death.
"I won't tell another soul," replied Ned, emphasizing 'tell.' From the corner of his eye, he saw rather than heard, Hermione sigh. "I swear it."
There was a tense silence as the solemn vow hung in the air between the three until Cersei's tense frame loosened. A small smile appeared on her lips, and her face - usually framed by hard, bitter lines - softened.
"If anyone else said they swore it on their reputation, I wouldn't believe them. But I would believe Ned Stark," she said, her voice soft. "Very well. We have a deal."
Cersei gave one last, long look at both the prisoners, and then spun on her heel, meeting with the guards she had dismissed just beyond the hallway. As she left, the light faded until Hermione and Ned stood in darkness, holding their breaths.
"Splitting hairs," said Hermione finally. "Nicely done."
"Well, she didn't ask if I had already let people know, did she?" he replied idly. "Rather careless of her. And then to focus on speaking to someone else?" Hermione couldn't see him but heard the rustle of his shirt to indicate he shrugged. "She should've chosen her words more carefully."
"I never thought I'd see you do something like that," said Hermione slowly.
"Well," replied Ned, his voice grim, "Let's just say, I learned my lesson. I may not like it, Hermione, but that doesn't mean I don't know how to play the game." He paused. "And this time? I'm playing to win."
There were many parts to the plan, but Hermione was confident. Cersei felt that she had good control of the situation and that Varys and Pycelle could easily go along with her plan to have Ned take the Black and for Hermione to be exiled.
The three of them would, of course, know that neither of those things would happen - but it was a start to flush out those trying to push the Lannisters and Starks into full-out war (Cersei had already mentioned that Robb had called the banners and was planning on moving south toward King's Landing shortly to avenge his father's incarceration.).
Hermione was also completely sure in her abilities to use her magic and keep Ned safe - but even she had to admit to herself that when they stepped out from the dungeons and the quiet passages that led to the Sept of Baelor, the onslaught of insults and sheer hatred that the crowd exuded was terrifying.
The two were forced to stand side-by-side, their hands encased in rusty iron shackles that were also tied together to discourage any one person from escaping and leaving the other behind. They stood off to the side on the interlock patio that led into the Sept, while to their left stood the Small Council (what remained of them), the Queen, Joffrey - who had been crowned King a day earlier - and Sansa and Bran.
The two younger Starks were under guard by a hulking figure with a burned half to his face; both looked painfully thin and pale, although Sansa remained composed in front of the crowd. Bran, as the youngest, had less decorum and was struggling against the large man's meaty hand holding him in place by Bran's shoulder.
Someone in the crowd threw a piece of rotten vegetable, but Hermione saw and twitched a single finger, casting protego. It hit the invisible shield, but both she and Ned skillfully dodged and it looked like the person missed. The crowd hissed.
I don't want to do this, a grumpy voice sang across Hermione's bond. The witch glanced at her side, where Ned's downturned lips matched his mental voice.
Hermione expertly plucked at their connection - the bond stronger than ever now that they had spent time together and mentally reinforced it with their conversations - and reminded him, It's a show. We both know the truth, and right now - compromising on your honour saves not only your life but allows you to fight again later. You can't win the game if you're dead, Ned.
At her side, he gave a great sigh.
"-that Lord Stark will have something to say?" Pycelle finished speaking in his reedy voice.
Taking the cue, Ned cut a glance at the Small Council and at Cersei, who raised her eyebrows in response. With a sigh, Ned stepped forward slightly, the joined chains between their hands clanking loudly as he did so. The crowd went silent.
"I am Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King. I come before you to confess my treason in the sight of Gods and men," the man grimaced as he spoke, but an encouraging twang on the bond he shared with Hermione had him continue. "I betrayed the faith of my King and the trust of my friend Robert. I swore to protect and defend his children, but before his blood was cold I plotted to murder his son…" he looked at Sansa and Bran, who were staring at him with wide eyes, "and seize the Throne for myself."
While Ned spoke, Hermione found herself surveying the crowd at the steps of the Sept of Baelor. The majority were angry small folk - as they called their lower class citizens - but there were a few of the higher-born ladies and lords in attendance near the back with their personal guards. Several gold cloaks lined the perimeter, and at the base of the large statue of Baelor, Hermione caught a flash of blue that turned Gryffindor red before blue again.
She narrowed her eyes and focused on calling her magic to her; like answered to like as she cast it out over the crowd. Most, too emotional to notice, ignored the sweep. Others shivered as they felt something in the air change.
Her magic pinged back - Teddy replying with his own wash and a jaunty finger-flick against his temple as she found him half-up the statue base, staring directly at her. He tilted his head at Ned and raised an eyebrow.
Hermione subtly shook her head. She didn't need help - not yet, anyway.
Teddy settled back, eyes watchful.
"- has confessed his crimes in sight of Gods and men. The Gods are just but beloved Baelor taught us they can also be merciful," droned on Pycelle as Ned finished proclaiming Joffrey as rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms. The resignation on his face was clear for everyone to see.
Pycelle then turned to the young king, only a year younger or so than Teddy but crueler than Draco Malfoy had ever been to Hermione growing up. "What is to be done with this traitor, Your Grace?"
The young king stepped forward, a swagger that Hermione was sure he practiced in the privacy of his room. He held out a hand for the crowd to quiet from their jeers and calls and turned to face his mother as he began to speak. "My mother wishes me to let Lord Eddard join the Night's Watch. Stripped of all titles and powers, he would serve the realm in permanent exile."
His voice was honeyed but Hermione shivered when he turned to Sansa, who smiled vapidly at him. "And my Lady Sansa has begged mercy for her father.
"Furthermore, both have asked that his whore be sent into exile, far from Westeros and never to return. But my Mother and my Lady have the soft hearts of women. So long as I am your King, treason shall never go unpunished," the honeyed voice turned sour quickly and Hermione felt her heart stop beating for a wild moment as panic seized her. "Ser Ilyn, bring me their heads!"
Her eyes darted to Cersei, who looked equally shocked for a moment before she leaned down and began muttering to her son even as he waved her off. "My son, this is madness-"
Sansa and Bran began adding their voices to the clamour of the crowd, and Hermione stood frozen next to Ned as Ser Ilyn, a large, hulking man with cruel eyes began to walk towards them, dragging a heavy sword that Hermione recognized.
"No! Stop! Daddy!"
"Someone stop him!"
"Put him down!"
Ned's wide eyes met Hermione's for a wild moment before two gold cloaks strode forward and manhandled them toward a block of wood set aside from the main steps where they were standing.
Hermione-? Ned sent across their bond, his mental voice tinged with panic, and strangely, utter defeat.
Oh, no, she thought. This wasn't part of the plan.