Harry was really quite impressed by the fire.
Oh, perhaps it shouldn't have been impressive, because it was just a little smouldering patch of undergrowth about two feet across. But the whole practice area had been hit with so many fire spells over the past week that there shouldn't really have been anything left to burn.
"Aguamenti," Sirius said, twirling his wand a little to make it a spray of water instead of a jet. That put out more or less the whole of the fire patch at once, and he wiped his brow.
"Good thing we stopped that one before it burned down the whole forest," he quipped, and Harry chuckled. "All right, should we try again?"
"I think I'll do some of the smaller fire spells first," Harry demurred, and Sirius stepped back as Harry raised his wand again.
"Incendio," he began, casting it to be a jet of flame, then cast it a second time as a wider spray.
The way you could make the same spell do slightly different things was really sort of interesting, and Harry did wonder whether there was a way of making one of the simple year-one or year-two spells do the sort of thing that the really complex year-five spells could do instead, if you were good enough at it.
"Hyacinthum Flammare," Harry went on, giving his wand a flick so the bluebell flames came out as a kind of blob – the same way Sirius had altered his water spell a minute before. They splashed on the ground and spread out a little, but of course there was no danger of that spell starting a big fire even if everything had still been unburned and dry. Then the dragon lowered his wand, and the next four fire spells came from his mouth instead – each one a different kind of fire breath, shaped or intense or just differently coloured.
(Harry wasn't quite sure why there was a spell specifically to make bright pink flames that were otherwise the same as normal fire, but there it was.)
Then he paused, rolling his neck a bit, and took a deep breath.
"Infernus," he declared, and exhaled sharply.
All the other fire spells Harry had learned to cast were fundamentally agreeable, if you could use that sort of word for them. You had to be a bit careful with some of them to make sure it did what you wanted instead of something slightly different, perhaps, and they weren't quite safe – they did involve making fire, after all – but if you didn't put enough effort into them they just collapsed and didn't really burn anything.
Fiendfyre was different. You didn't have to put effort into making sure Fiendfyre was hot, because it was always hot, but you did have to be very specific about what you wanted the spell to do and concentrate on that as much as possible. Because Fiendfyre was a hungry spell, fire that was intensified and refined until it was more like fire than fire itself.
Harry did his best to concentrate on making it a simple jet of flame, a stream like the sort of fire breath Smaug had, but every little eddy and curl of flame took on a life of its own and turned from a ripple in the stream of flame into a separate shape into a griffin spreading its wings and heading for freedom, and by the time Harry had concentrated on that one and brought it back into line there was another coil trying to escape.
Most of the force of the jet went crashing into the layer of pebbles they were using as a target, sending a few of them flying, but after about five seconds Sirius shook his head sharply.
"Stop!" he called, and Harry stopped straight away. The Fiendfyre tried to escape, a dozen separate tendrils of flame billowing outwards looking for something to burn, and Harry and Sirius smothered each one in bluebell flames before they could get very far.
Harry hadn't noticed one of the strands of his main jet making a bid for freedom, and Sirius cast another three spells on that particular bit of escaping Fiendfyre before finally declaring it neutralized.
"You're definitely getting better," Sirius assured him, gesturing towards the pebble bed. Harry stepped closer to have a look, bemused as always by how the Fiendfyre had actually set some of the stones on fire, and they watched as it slowly burned out and left a little patch of sullenly glowing glass.
Then Nora flew overhead with a whoosh.
"Hello!" she said brightly, turning around and coming down to land. "Are you doing fire practice?"
"Sort of," Harry replied. "It's magic fire, and it's dangerous. You should probably make sure you don't get too close."
Nora considered that, and nodded.
"Fire burns things on the ground," she said sagely. "People like their things not being on fire."
Harry chuckled, but that did make him wonder.
"How long does Fiendfyre take to burn out?" he asked, looking over at Sirius. "If it's got nothing to work on, I mean."
"Well, we've seen how even if it's got something to burn it can eventually burn out, as long as what it's burning is stone," Sirius mused. "I think we'd need to test it out."
Fortunately, it turned out that Harry could not in fact set the sky on fire.
"That looked like it didn't go as well?" Sirius called, as Harry flew towards him. "Your last few were almost controlled, but then that one didn't – there were all those coils that went everywhere."
"That was deliberate," Harry explained, flaring his wings and alighting on the sidecar.
Sirius' magic motorbike wasn't as fast as a really good modern broom, but it was better for giving a good rest place for a dragon. Which was nice.
"I thought maybe all the flames were because I was losing concentration," Harry went on, waving a wing for emphasis. "Then I realized that maybe I was getting slightly bored trying to do a fire breath blast that was as simple and uncomplicated as possible – but doing a more interesting one helped. I might try doing one of the flame sweeps they have in the Pern books, too."
"Well, if it works, it works," Sirius decided. "Let's give it a few more goes, and if it works we can tell Dumbledore and see what he says?"
Harry nodded. "Maybe I should do at least one time where I fly down and try and hit the pebble bed again, too?"
"Perhaps only after Dumbledore's involved," Sirius decided.
It was another day of practicing before Harry and Sirius decided that Harry was good enough to ask Dumbledore, and Harry had the feeling he'd never really be great with Fiendfyre, but he didn't really need to be for what they were going to do with it.
It had at least been kind of interesting to watch when they went down to the beach for a quick experiment at the end of the eleventh of August, and Harry had briefly managed to set the sea on fire. The jet of Fiendfyre had plunged into the water and sent up a plume of steam, but it had also separated into a hundred bubbles that floated to the surface and burst to look like a big burning oil slick as they joined up.
There'd been bright yellow flames the colour of street lamps dancing on top of the Fiendfyre slick before both burned out, and Harry suspected that the reason for the bright yellow was something to do with Chemistry.
Maybe it was sodium? Harry remembered that some metals burned or even exploded in water, but he didn't think Fiendfyre was just sodium.
Rather than send a Patronus, they wrote a letter. Sirius wanted it to be full of all sorts of spy-speak stuff like 'we think we have a solution to the jewellery problem' and 'the Riddle riddle may be solved' but Harry said that that was silly because they could just say that they thought Harry was good enough with Fiendfyre now without saying what it was for.
It wasn't as if anyone close enough to Hogwarts to intercept a letter on the way to Dumbledore's office could possibly have missed Harry flying around shooting out big blasts of flame, though in a way it was fortunate that Harry had an excuse for it. (The excuse for it was that he was a dragon, which wasn't an especially complicated excuse but had the great merit of being entirely true.)
The only slight snag had been Hedwig. When Harry had told her there was a job for her she was quite enthusiastic, but when Harry told her that the letter only had to go as far as Dumbledore's office she'd just peered out the window (where the towers of Hogwarts were visible within walking distance) then given Harry a look.
Hedwig was quite good at looks.
"I know, girl," Harry said, giving her a quick stroke. "But you're the one I can trust to get it there – and I've got a letter I want to send Dean as well to check on our plans for the World Cup, so I'll send you off with that tomorrow?"
After a moment Hedwig accepted that Harry wasn't just taking the mickey, and took flight with a near-silent whirr of wings.
Harry watched her go, then Sirius called him into the lounge. There was something on the radio he thought Harry might like to listen to.
What Sirius had found was a remarkably funny program made up entirely of comedy sketches. It was sometimes a bit baffling but reliably very funny, especially in the soap bit where one of the performers (whose name kept changing, unless that was the other one) confessed to the other that he'd been having an affair with the very same person he was confessing to.
Neither Sirius nor Harry could stop giggling at 'You've been sleeping with me behind my back?', even after the program ended, and they were most of the way through acting it over a mirror to Remus when there was a knock on the door.
Sirius glanced at a completely different mirror to the one they'd been speaking to Remus over, was apparently satisfied, and went to get the door.
"Sorry, Remus," Harry said. "I think we've spoiled the punchline."
"It doesn't matter, Harry, I'm sorry to have missed it," Remus told him, smiling. "Is there going to be another episode? I'll have to come over and listen to it with you."
Harry picked up the Radio Times, then remembered it only covered one week. "Um… it says part one of two, and usually that means there's another one next week at the same time."
"That's the eighteenth…" Remus said, frowning now. "I'm afraid it looks like we'll miss it, that's the day of the World Cup."
"I'll ask Dean if he knows a way to save it," Harry decided, then looked up as Dumbledore came in.
"Ah, Harry, how wonderful to see you here," Dumbledore said, taking in the whole of the room. His broad smile made Harry look around the room again, and sort of see it with new eyes – a cozy sort of place with two sofas and two armchairs, plenty of blankets and cushions, and settling into a sort of comfortable lived-in feeling.
Partly that was the dragon-shaped dent on the sofa, one which Harry was currently lying in.
"I do like it," Harry admitted. "It can be a bit distracting, though. I'm sort of glad I can spend a month at Privet Drive to do my homework and then a month here to not do my homework, though."
"A wise approach, Harry," Dumbledore complimented him, nodding to the mirror as well. "I trust all is well, Remus?"
"That's right, Headmaster," Remus agreed. "But I can go if you'd rather I didn't listen in."
"I leave the choice entirely up to you," Dumbledore invited him, then sat in one of the armchairs and placed a small bag on the table.
The first thing he withdrew was Riddle's diary, and then Slytherin's locket – both of them still looking just as they had done when Harry had handed them over.
"I am now certain I know the location of a third," Dumbledore added, as they all contemplated the two Horcruxes. "Since I believe Harry is available tomorrow, I would be delighted if he would accompany me – though I fear it will be quite a long journey, since of course we cannot simply Apparate. But that is for tomorrow – and not until after breakfast – and tonight we are concerned with these."
"We're not going to destroy them in here, are we?" Sirius asked. "I don't want to lose this house, there's not an unlimited number of them in Hogsmeade."
"You are of course correct, Sirius," Dumbledore agreed. "It would be terribly bad manners to incinerate your house, as I am sure Harry agrees."
Harry nodded emphatically. "I don't want to burn Sirius' things, and my things are in here as well."
"Commendably practical," the headmaster approved. "I suggest we should go and do our work somewhere rather less flammable, as such things are measured. However, first I believe I should mention what I intend we do."
One of his long fingers indicated the diary, stopping just short of tapping it. "This one, I think, we should use to perform the first test, which is whether Fiendfyre is in fact able to destroy a Horcrux."
"You're not sure?" Sirius said, a little surprised.
"Odd as it may seem, Sirius, most of the books about Horcruxes were written by dark wizards," Dumbledore chuckled. "And nobody who ever created a Horcrux of their own then tried to find out how they could then destroy it and thus be killed – or, if ever they did discover the truth of the matter, they were most unhelpfully reluctant to write it down."
Harry had to admit that that made sense. It made him wonder how Gandalf had been sure what you had to do to destroy the Ring of Power, but perhaps that was just what happened if you were a several-hundred-year-old wizard. Instead of just a one-hundred-year-old wizard like Dumbledore.
"The locket, meanwhile," Dumbledore continued. "Is what we should use to see how much destruction is required. It may be that we would prefer for some of Riddle's Horcruxes to not be completely destroyed, for reasons of historical value."
"I'm not sure I'm good enough at Fiendfyre to only destroy it a little bit," Harry admitted, then frowned. "Oh – Sirius, should we ask Kreacher to come along?"
Sirius frowned. "It's odd. Before we found the locket I'd have wanted as little to do with him as possible, but now… yes."
"A marvellous tale of friendship," Dumbledore told Sirius pleasantly.
He got up, putting both Horcruxes back in his bag. "I must confess I do not know where we are going, however. If you would direct me?"
They went back to the place Harry had been doing the Fiendfyre practice on the ground, because everything that could possibly be burned by anything less fire-y than Fiendfyre had already been burned, and Harry got to work.
Tom Riddle's Diary went first, and Harry was more than a little relieved when the gout of intense flame just washed over it and set it alight as if it were an ordinary book – except, that was, for the shriek of pain and the gouts of ink it sprayed out as it burned down to nothingness, which didn't seem normal.
Harry had never burned a normal book before. Maybe that was what happened, though he didn't think that was very likely.
Then Sirius called Kreacher, and the old elf watched as they did the experiments Dumbledore had been talking about.
His first idea was just to hit the chain with Fiendfyre, to see if that would count, but while it did destroy the chain the test Dumbledore did showed that it still counted as a Horcrux. Then Harry fired a second blast, this one much longer and controlled as tightly as he could manage, to slowly move it across to lightly scorch the top of the locket itself.
There was no luck that time either, and finally Harry just incinerated the locket and had done with it. As it turned out, a shriek and odd black liquid was what you had to expect when a Horcrux was destroyed, not a book, which set Harry's mind at rest somewhat.
Then Kreacher started hugging Harry and didn't stop for at least half an hour.
Dumbledore's plan for getting to the place where he thought another Horcrux was hidden involved the use of a Thestral – one of the strange looking bat-horses that you could only see if someone had died while you were watching. It seemed that they were one of the many ways Dumbledore had for travelling long distances, though (as he explained to Harry) they would need to place the Thestral in question under a Disillusionment Charm so that Muggles did not notice.
This would also mean Dumbledore would have to be under a Disillusionment charm, of course, because otherwise Muggles would notice him.
Harry asked why Dumbledore couldn't just borrow Sirius' motorbike and go that way, and the result was quite odd. Dumbledore had considered, and frowned, and then brightened and asked if Sirius could come with them as well – as they would now all be taking the Floo to the village of Appleby, and travelling from there to a place called Little Hangleton.
The trip was really quite fun. Sirius and Dumbledore simply drove the bike along the road – Sirius astride the motorbike itself and Dumbledore seated calmly in the side car with his long beard streaming out behind him like a scarf – and Harry flew overhead, secure in the knowledge that Muggles would overlook him and able to closely follow the two adults as they drove north.
It was quite a long way from Appleby to Little Hangleton, but the challenge of keeping up with Sirius and Dumbledore meant it wasn't as bad as it might have been, and when Harry thought about it he was fairly sure he was able to fly faster now than he'd been able to manage a few years ago.
He did relish the prospect of eventually being able to Apparate, though.
Finally, after going past an airfield on the right side of the road, they turned off the A1 and went through (or over) gradually smaller and smaller villages and past farm fields. The countryside looked familiar, a bit, and Harry puzzled over why until Dumbledore directed Sirius to park by the side of a country lane.
"A quite invigorating journey!" Harry heard Dumbledore announce, as he flew down to ground level and as Sirius turned off the ignition. "It was quite pleasant to be able to simply experience the wind in my hair without any of the tiresome necessity of steering. My thanks, Sirius."
Harry flared his wings, slowing almost to a halt relative to the ground, and dropped onto all four legs. As he folded his wings up and furled them, he raised a paw. "Um… Professor? This looks sort of like what the land around Neville's house looks like. Are we closer to Longbottom House than to Appleby?"
"I believe we might very well be, Harry," Dumbledore said, after a moment's thought. "Perhaps that means we will be able to take a different route back to Hogwarts."
Sirius sniggered as he got off his bike. "This is one of the problems with everything important being Unplottable. We're just not very good at reading maps."
Sirius moved his bike over next to the hedge so it was out of the way, picking the whole thing up with ease, then turned a little switch once it was firmly in place.
"That turns off the thing that makes it light," he explained. "Without that it weighs about two and a half tons, so good luck to whoever tries to carry it off."
With that out of the way, Dumbledore led them down a track. There was a large manor house visible in the distance, and Harry frowned at it.
"Is that where Riddle came from, Professor?" he asked.
"In a sense, though not in the sense you are thinking of," Dumbledore replied. "Tom's mother was a witch by the name of Merope who died about the time of his birth, and he grew up in an orphanage. That is the home of his father, a Muggle also called Tom Riddle – or perhaps it would be better to say it was the home of his father."
"Did this Muggle die as well, then?" Sirius said. "I can't imagine Moldy Voldy being raised by a Muggle, or not a decent one anyway."
"Alas, Tom's childhood was not a pleasant one," Dumbledore replied. "But his father did not die until the summer before Tom's sixth year, when he visited his father and paternal grandparents and killed them."
That sounded terrible, but it also raised a question for Harry.
"Was he an orphan only once he did that?" he asked. "I'm not sure how the word orphan works."
"To the best of my knowledge, an orphan is someone without living parents to care for them," Dumbledore replied, as they took a right turn. "We should be careful, however, for we are nearly at the home of the Gaunt family."
Sirius got his wand ready, and Dumbledore smiled a little. "Do not worry, Sirius, there is nobody home. Alas, the only surviving Gaunt was convicted for the murder of the Riddles and placed in Azkaban."
"Blimey, Azkaban's full of people who didn't do it," Sirius muttered darkly. "So he's a wizard, then?"
"He is indeed, Sirius," Dumbledore confirmed. "And I am doing my best to secure his release, but it is a complicated situation because Tom has Memory Charmed him quite thoroughly – he honestly believes he is guilty."
While they digested that, Dumbledore paused and looked at the surrounding terrain.
"I believe… yes, this way," he decided, turning abruptly to the left and leading them down a side passage.
The Gaunt family home was… not very impressive.
It was sort of a shack, more than anything, and there was a dead snake nailed to the door. It was also surrounded in grass more than three feet high, and Harry had to stick his neck up a bit to make sure he had a good view.
"We should be careful," Dumbledore announced, raising his wand. "Transpectus."
Harry's view of the shack went ever so slightly hazy.
"Dear me," Dumbledore added. "That would have been ever so unpleasant. One wonders why he felt the need to do it."
"I don't follow," Sirius admitted.
"A dreadfully nasty curse, one which would thin the blood of anyone who passed over the threshold," Dumbledore narrated, pushing his wand forwards tip-first and then yanking back as if he were pulling a trout. Then he brought it down in a diagonal sweep, raising a cloud of sparks from something invisible just at the door of the shack. "And I believe that one would cause the snake to animate and bite the victim, very unpleasant."
"I'm starting to think my brother got off lightly," Sirius said. "And he died."
"And what a loss it was," Dumbledore mused, making another gesture – this one a kind of winding-up motion, as if he were rewinding an old-fashioned clock. "Finite Incantatem."
The dispelling spell flashed out, and the haze vanished.
"There we go," Dumbledore said, sounding pleased.
"Are you sure we shouldn't just destroy the whole shack, Professor?" Harry asked, just in case.
"I fear that would probably be noticed," Dumbledore replied, after thinking about it. "And as I am sure you have noticed, the more that Fiendfyre burns the harder it is to cause it to stop. It would not be terribly polite to the fine people of the Hangleton area to set their whole parish alight."
That sounded sensible to Harry, and the three of them advanced on the Shack together.
Inside it was just as ratty and dilapidated as it had been on the outside, and filthy as well – the windows were completely opaque, and both Sirius and Harry quickly cast wand-lighting charms to give them a bit of visibility. The ceiling was choked with cobwebs, a collapsed table had spilled pots onto the floor long enough ago that a film of dust covered them, and there were bottles scattered across the floor.
Harry picked one up, sniffed it, and decided right there and then that there were some things even he would not eat.
"I wonder if this place has ever seen a Scourgify charm," Sirius said, boggling at the mess. "Grimmauld Place was better than this… I suppose this has been abandoned for much longer, though."
"Actually, the only difference from when Morfin Gaunt lived here more than fifty years ago is that the table has collapsed," Dumbledore observed lightly. "It might be a useful History of Magic project about how beyond a certain point it simply does not get more dirty, though I imagine many of our teenaged students are familiar with much the same thing."
Harry sniggered, though he had to admit he wasn't exactly very tidy himself. He always knew where everything was without needing to tidy it all away, and it was usually on the floor in a big pile he slept on.
That was dragons for you.
Or possibly teenagers? Dudley did the same sort of thing, except he slept on his bed.
Dumbledore told them all to stop, then cast the Transpectus spell again. This time the haze was more pronounced, more focused on an area of floor, and it took almost three minutes until Dumbledore decided he was done and used a wordless spell to raise one of the stone slabs that made up the floor.
Beneath was a small box, and Harry leaned a little closer as Sirius lifted it out of the hole and put it on the floor.
"So far as I have been able to determine, this will be Tom's second Horcrux," Dumbledore noted, and opened the box.
Inside was a ring, one with a gold band and a black stone, and Dumbledore picked it up to inspect closely.
"My word," he said, softly, and turned it around to put it on his finger.
Harry reacted automatically, one of his wings whipping out to knock the ring out of Dumbledore's hands.
There was no way putting on a ring that was also a Horcrux and was therefore basically The One Ring could ever be a good thing, and in case there was some kind of spell on it like there was on the One Ring Harry decided to destroy it immediately.
"Infernus!" he called out, exhaling sharply and focusing as much as he'd ever done in his life, and a thin jet of Fiendfyre roared out of his mouth and caught the falling ring just as it bounced off the ground.
There was a shriek, and a spray of black ichor, and what clattered to the floor for the second bounce was just the black stone connected to a quarter-circle gold band.
For a long moment, all three wizards just sort of stared. The remaining gold band of the ring was still burning, ignited by Harry's jet of fire, and those edges were softening and dripping a little.
"What was that for?" Sirius eventually asked.
"I thought-" Harry began, about to explain his idea about the One Ring, but Sirius interrupted him.
"Not you!" he said, then rounded on the Headmaster. "Dumbledore – what were you doing? We all agreed you're not supposed to use a Horcrux, and you use a ring by wearing it!"
"You are correct, Sirius," Dumbledore said, sitting down hard on the nearest old chair. It creaked alarmingly, and Dumbledore sighed.
"I was not sure," he admitted. "Morfin's memory was not clear. And when I saw it… Sirius, do you remember the Tale of-"
"Um, Professor? Sirius?" Harry said, wings flaring out in emphasis. "I don't want to interrupt, but the shack is sort of on fire."
Harry's Fiendfyre jet had gone under the bed, splashing across the stone, and while at first it had just burned stone and cobwebs that had let it gain strength and grow.
Now a shape of flame like a hydra roared out from under the bed, five heads reaching around to consume the detritus of the shack and feed off it, and Harry backed away a little while wondering what they could do.
"Frigus nivalis!" Dumbledore shouted hoarsely, and a torrent of white ice and snow erupted from the tip of his wand. It hit the fire hydra hard, sending up a mighty hiss of steam and smothering it in cold, and when the spell finally stopped there was a kind of white snowbank covering half the shack.
Harry let out a sigh of relief, then noticed that there was steam rising from beneath the snow – and a sullen red glow that was getting brighter and brighter.
"Get the stone, Harry," Dumbledore requested, and Harry picked it up now that the gold it was connected to had stopped burning. It still felt a little soft and warm, and Harry supposed that if he wasn't a dragon it would probably be quite painful, but that was probably why Dumbledore had told him to do it in the first place.
"What do we do now?" Sirius asked, eyeing the snowbank warily.
"As you may recall from when we discussed this spell previously, Fiendfyre may best be overcome by dilution," Dumbledore told him, rising to his feet once more. "There is quite a lot of it here, so there is a lot of dilution to do, but I can at least slow down how quickly it expands as well."
He flicked his wand in a silent version of what Harry thought was the Flame-Freezing Charm, but instead of finishing by pointing it at himself he held his wand straight up in the air.
Harry decided the best way he could help was by using as much Bluebell Flames as possible.
It took ten long minutes, with Dumbledore refreezing the room with a huge ice spell whenever it seemed necessary, but finally the Gaunt Shack was no longer on fire and all three of them had got out without injury.
"Nobody missing anything?" Dumbledore asked. "Harry, I hope your wings remain pleasantly un-scorched?"
Harry checked, finding they were fine, and nodded. "Yes, Professor."
"Then I would venture to say we all did well," Dumbledore decided.
"Mostly," Sirius said, still mulish, and Dumbledore held up a hand in a little gesture.
"Though I must own up to my mistake. Harry, if you could show us the stone?"
Harry did so, and noticed that almost all the remaining gold from the ring had hardened again in a shape that had moulded against his paw. It took some care to extract it, and once he had he held it up for Dumbledore and Sirius to see.
"If you recall the Tale of the Three Brothers, Sirius?" Dumbledore asked.
"...wait, what?" Sirius said, baffled. "How is that relevant?"
Harry had to admit he was quite baffled as well. Neville had mentioned the Tale of the Three Brothers once, but in about the same way that Harry would have talked about the Three Little Pigs, and all the other times Harry had run into it were more or less the same.
"It is my impression that this is the Resurrection Stone," Dumbledore clarified. "Though of course I do not think we can test it."
"Wait, hold on, the Three Brothers is a story about being careful what you ask for, isn't it?" Sirius said. "The Wand made it so everyone wanted the wand and so the first brother got murdered, the Stone made the second brother so depressed he hanged himself, and the Cloak made the third brother safe from death but only as long as he spent his whole life under it."
Harry started toying with the oddly shaped gold. "What are they, again? I've never read the story."
Dumbledore suggested that they should head back to the motorbike, and promised to explain on the way.
What Dumbledore said gave Harry a lot to think about.
Apparently the Wand was just the best wand in the world, enormously powerful, but also much more easy to win over than another wand. It simply would not work correctly for you if you were not the one who had somehow defeated the previous owner, so you could lose the ability to use it properly by something as simple as being tricked, but so long as you were the correct user it was as if it were always your best wand and then a bit better than that.
The Cloak was the best of invisibility cloaks, which never wore out, and when Dumbledore explained that it made Harry sort of wonder about his own inherited Invisibility Cloak. He'd hardly even used it, but if Sirius was right then maybe that was sort of symbolically the right choice.
And the Stone was completely different, because rather than just being a better version of something it was able to do a whole new magical effect – it was able to bring back a sort of ghostly version of someone who'd died.
It sounded a lot like the Mirror of Erised, though, and Harry didn't think that was a good thing for it to sound like. But it could probably still be used sort of safely?
Harry did understand why Dumbledore had been so shocked, though, and why he'd tried to put on the Ring – he'd simply forgotten the danger.
Once they were all back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore invited them up to his office.
"I have some encouraging words," he said, once they were sat down. "Encourage. Encouraging. Encouragement."
Harry tried not to react, but he knew he'd failed, and Sirius made a sort of strangled noise that was a bit like a giggle trying not to escape.
"In truth, however, we have done some very good work today," Dumbledore went on. "I do not know how many Horcrux that Tom made – that is the sort of decision he must have made himself and kept secret, and one doubts that he would consent to being asked the question – but surely the loss of three of them in one day must count as a significant victory."
He steepled his fingers together. "Alas, now we find ourselves without many very good leads to discern what other Horcruxes were made. I believe that he came into possession of the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff at the same time as the Locket of Salazar Slytherin, and it would be strange if he did not make a Horcrux out of that, but beyond that we have no real information."
"Well, we do know a pattern," Sirius pointed out. "I'm not sure how the Diary fits in, but all the others are objects belonging to the Hogwarts Founders, aren't they? What other objects have been lost?"
"Lost or not lost," Dumbledore corrected slightly. "There is the Lost Diadem, which I would say is certainly lost, and there is the Sword of Gryffindor, which has not been seen since sixteen thirty-seven, but Gryffindor's Hat is found and it is in this very office."
Rising from his seat, Dumbledore approached one of the bookcases – atop which, snoozing lightly, was the Sorting Hat.
Harry held his breath. He didn't like the idea of having to destroy the Hat – it had seemed quite pleasant, and it was important for Hogwarts. And surely if there was a bit of Tom Riddle in the hat then it would have had an effect over the last several years?
As Dumbledore was just about to cast a spell, Harry coughed uncertainly. "Um, Professor – if the Sorting Hat was one of Tom's Horcruxes, when would he have had a chance to make it? I don't think you ever gave it to him, did you?"
"Indeed I did not," Dumbledore agreed. "Nor was there a chance for him to have a hold of it."
He cast the detection spell anyway, the same one that had identified the Locket, and then gave the Sorting Hat an affectionate pat.
"It seems we shall still be hearing from our fine Hat for many years to come," he said pleasantly. "As for Gryffindor's Sword, I must admit I doubt whether Tom could even hold it; the sword is said to only appear in a time of great need and for a true Gryffindor, and Tom was certainly not the latter."
He turned back to Sirius. "Though I must confess I fear for Ravenclaw's Lost Diadem, if it still exists. And if Tom could find it in the first place."
"It'd be a shame to have to destroy so many of the Founders' artefacts," Sirius said. "Even if we could find them in the first place."
"Alas, though I would say that Tom is the one who has destroyed them," Dumbledore mused. "They were not meant to hold his soul, after all."
After contemplating that, and making his way back over to his desk, Dumbledore smiled. "But it would be terribly foolish to be worried about such things all the time. I make it a point to set aside an hour of every day for whatever worrying must be done, and then I can go through the whole rest of the day knowing that my worrying is properly scheduled."
Harry wasn't sure if Dumbledore actually meant that, but even if he didn't it was probably a good point anyway.
"Now," the Headmaster went on, with a mildly puzzled expression. "Tell me, do either of you know why it is that everyone has been talking about Quidditch all summer?"
It's been a bad week for Tom Riddle.
Not, of course, that he knows it.
(And to explain something that confused a few people in the previous chapter, the "Snitch" name was a suggestion that Ginny did not adopt.)