Harry Potter and the One Ring of Power
Chapter One: An Unwelcome Visitor
Hogwarts Castle, Great Britain
Albus Dumbledore stared in horror at the small leaden box that had been put on his desk. He glanced up at the Ministry wizards.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked quietly. Soberly, the wizards nodded.
"Quite sure, Professor Dumbledore. The four---hobbits, are they called? The four hobbits appeared quite suddenly, in Knockturn Alley, unconscious. Several wizards Apparated in to grab them, but we had undercover Aurors there on duty, and they managed to drive off the others and bring the hobbits to safety."
"Only to find that they're hopelessly catatonic, and unlikely to recover in any reasonable time," murmured Dumbledore. He had visited St. Mungo's Hospital before, and although the mental wards there were quite comfortable, he still had unpleasant memories of the place. The sadness seemed to have sunk into the very stones of the walls, very much like Azkaban. The thought of four such harmless, friendly people immured there, locked in the prisons of their own minds, was horrible.
"Have you penetrated the barrier to find where it came from yet, sir?" asked one of the younger Aurors, a coldly beautiful woman with a Welsh lilt to her voice. "We know it's highly magical, and literally emenates Dark energies of a sort not seen here before. The MoM is all agog over the chance to study it."
"I know where it came from," Dumbledore murmured. Opening the box, he chucked the contents into the blazing fire in the hearth, heedless of the cries of the wizards. Several of them took out their wands, but Dumbledore stopped them with a gesture. "Wait a few minutes and you'll see what this is all about." Muttering rebelliously, the wizards subsided, staring into the flames intently.
After about five minutes, Dumbledore pointed his wand into the fire, murmuring "Accio Anulus," and something small and golden leaped toward him. Stepping nimbly forward, surprisingly adroit for someone of his years, he caught the glittering thing in the leaden box. He looked into the box, nodded to himself, and held it out for the Aurors to see inside.
Inside, resting on cushions marked with arcane symbols, lay a golden ring. Glistening against its background, it did not seem to give off any heat, despite having been in the hottest part of a fire for five minutes. Tiny glowing letters could be seen on the side.
"As you can see, it took no harm at all from my fire, although it's easily hot enough to melt most jewelry. The letters you see are not in any script used in our world, but I know what they say. They are proof that what we have here is easily the most dangerous magical artifact ever made---one that could make Voldemort powerful enough to seize power entirely on his own, even with all his Death Eaters, the dementors, the hags, the giants and his other allies ranged on our side against him."
The Aurors gasped, both at hearing the Dark Lord's name said aloud and at what Dumbledore had said. Since regaining his body, several months previously, the Dark Lord had been on a rampage, as though he had a quota of atrocities to fill and was over a decade behind. Attacks on wizards had become almost routine, and the Aurors were stretched to their limits trying just to keep up with the Death Eaters, succoring their victims and performing hasty Memory Charms to ensure that the existence of wizards did not become generally known. Even with the best the Ministry of Magic could do, the Muggle newspapers were in hysterics, and Questions in Parliament were being asked about what could be done about this apparent upsurge of terrorism.
"Where did it come from?" Several of the Aurors asked it, looking at the golden ring in its ensorcelled box as though it were a gun pointed at them. "How did it get here and why is it so powerful?"
"It comes from one of the other worlds---continua, time-lines, call them what you will---that go to make up our universe. You know, although the general wizarding community does not, that we here are in only one of many possible time-lines. In some continua, Tom Riddle died young, or never turned evil. In others, he may already be ruling the world openly, oppressing wizard and Muggle alike." Dumbledore paused for a moment, taking a sip of his tea. "The other world from which this came is called 'Arda,' and is more magical, in general, than ours is, although magic works differently there in some ways. Broomsticks don't fly there, just for starters, so Quidditch is right straight out."
"How do we know this?" asked the Welsh Auror. She brushed a lock of hair back out of her eyes as she stared at the ring. Dumbledore shrugged.
"Nicholas Flamel's researches in search of the Philosopher's Stone took him many places, and into many worlds. So far, although Voldemort can reach into other worlds and pull things to him---as, for example, this object---he cannot travel there himself." Dumbledore shook his head. "Which, I must say, is very fortunate. Some of these worlds contain---or are ruled by---people who would be delighted to help Voldemort take over this world, in return for his help on their own projects. Others would happily send him such help as he needed, only to turn on him and betray him for the chance to rule here as well as in their own home worlds."
"So, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named can reach into other worlds and bring things from them here. What has that to do with this? Is this ring somehow useful?" Mad-Eye Moody shuddered at this question, and turned both his magical and normal eyes on the questioner, one of the younger Aurors who had come to the Department after the Voldemort years.
"This ring, Auror Cornelius, is one of the most powerful magical artifacts in any world, and easily the most powerful single object in its native continuum. It contains a great deal of the innate power and magical energy of a being who, for sheer evil, makes He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Grindelwald and all the other Dark wizards you've ever heard of look like Squibs. Constant vigilance!" barked Moody, making young Cornelius jump. "This has to be the work of the Death Eaters, or their leader." Moody scowled deeply; his months of imprisonment in his own magical trunk had not improved his temper or his tolerance of anything to do with Dark wizards.
"While Auror Moody's words are not those I would have chosen, his facts are entirely correct," put in Dumbledore. "However, the ring also has properties that make sure that no sane wizard would dare use it. As its user wields its powers, so does the ring itself use its user, changing him until, no matter what, he is the slave of his power. This object is too much for any human---any wizard, even Voldemort or myself---to control, and it would inevitably control its user. Even if the user started out with the best and purest intentions, it would corrupt him." Dumbledore shook his head. "I've been in communication with the highest-ranking wizard of Arda---a chap named Gandalf; he succeeded to the post after his superior, Saruman, was corrupted and fell into evil---and what he tells me only confirms what my own researches have said: This object is evil and must, at all costs, be destroyed."
"That's nothing but the truth, and you're too weak to see it," snarled Moody. "The Dark Lord's been lashing out even at his closest Death Eaters ever since this thing came into our world. I had to Apparate to Malfoy Manor, of all places, to stop a Death Eater attack a few days ago. Apparently the Dark Lord blamed Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy for the fact that we Aurors intercepted this ring. He either doesn't know how dangerous it is, or doesn't really care."
"How can we destroy it? Melt it? Break it?" asked the Welsh Auror. Dumbledore shook his head.
"Not that easy, Auror. Even dragon fire wouldn't be hot enough to melt this ring, and breaking it is literally impossible. There's only one way to do that, and that is to take it to the place where it was created, throwing it into the fires in which it was first smelted, in Arda."
"So what's the problem with that?" asked an Auror. Dumbledore closed the little leaden box. For a second, he looked every bit of his century-and-a-half.
"Well, we have to have someone who can survive the process of travel between worlds without harm. Non-magical people, who could probably carry the thing and even use it in some ways, can't survive the process as far as we know, at least with their minds intact. The people who were carrying it had their minds torn apart by the experience of being pulled into our own world. We need a wizard, but almost any normal wizard's too powerful to be trusted with this thing."
"In other words," whispered the Welsh Auror, staring in horror at the ring, "a student."
"Not just a student, Auror Tyler, but four students. Four hobbits were drawn into our world by Voldemort's spell, so to keep the balance, four people from our world must go to Arda and destroy the Ring. I have been in touch with Gandalf, and he knows what to expect, although nobody else in Arda does at this time. We have to move fast, or the rightful owner of this ring might find ways to travel between universes, and ours would be the first one he went for."
"And you mentioned that he made He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named look like a Squib." muttered Mad-Eye Moody. "Didn't that crazy Seer you keep around here for comic relief say that the students you need are here, and would volunteer if asked?"
"Professor Trelawney, bless her, is not crazy," said Dumbledore severely, "although she is a trifle eccentric, I fear. Yes, she went into a mantic trance when she first sighted this ring---it was delivered to me when I was discussing her latest Divination classes with her---and prophesied that 'the dragon, the clayworker, the farmer and the musteline' would be the ones to do this deed. I must confess, though, that when questioned as to what this meant, dear Professor Trelawney fainted and is currently under heavy sedation in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey was quite short with me when I wanted to revive her to ask her a few more questions." Dumbledore shook his head. "In fact, she threatened me with a Beard-Be-Gone Curse if I didn't 'take myself and my endless patient-tormenting questions out of her infirmary.'"
"Well, it falls to us to interpret what she said, doesn't it?" said Moody. "The 'clayworker' is easy enough to figure out, but the others---that's a little more difficult."
"I've already figured it out," whispered Dumbledore. "The people she refers to are all students here at Hogwarts, in their fifth year. The reference to a 'clayworker' is obviously Harry Potter, which was what put me on to the idea of students in the first place. The 'farmer' is a reference to his classmate and close friend, Hermione Granger, and the 'musteline' is his other close friend, Ronald Weasley---a weasel, don't forget, is a 'musteline,' after all."
"So who is the dragon?" asked Auror Cornelius.
"Ah, that was the big surprise. Once I figured it out, it was blindingly obvious, but it took me quite a while to come to this conclusion. The 'dragon' in question is none other than Draco Malfoy, the son and heir of the Malfoy family." This announcement provoked general shock and dismay among the Aurors. Moody was the first to break the silence.
"You're mad! You can't be serious! Everybody knows that the Malfoys are up to their necks with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and you want to send a Malfoy on this sort of trip? Why not hand the ring over to the Dark Lord at once, and save a lot of trouble?" Dumbledore suddenly stood up to his full height, fixing Moody with a terrible glare.
"I am not mad, Alastor Moody. However, I am rapidly becoming angry. If you provoke me further, you may find out what that means, in a way you won't care for." White-faced and shaking, Moody shook his head, unable to articulate a sentence. "I have spoken with Mr. Malfoy, and he is eager to take this on. Apparently he loved his parents, even if nobody else did, and having Voldemort turn on them for no reason has embittered him against the Dark Lord. I trust you are not questioning my judgement and my decision to allow him to avenge his parents?"
"No---no, Professor Dumbledore. You know your students best. I was—was just surprised that the son of a Death Eater would behave that way." Dumbledore shook his head slowly and sadly.
"Many people don't know it, but I knew Voldemort's mother. She was in the first classes I ever taught at Hogwarts, many, many years ago. If anybody had told me that her son would become a greater menace to wizard society than Grindelwald, whom I had just defeated, I'd have thought them mad. Miss Marvolo was a wonderful student---biddable, quick to learn, a real joy to teach." Suddenly Dumbledore looked every one of his hundred-and-fifty years. "When I think of the waste---the waste of her life and talents, the waste of the incredible magical potential that her son had---I sometimes wonder why I go on…"
"Very well, Professor Dumbledore. You say that these four students can and will be the ones to destroy this ring. Have you talked with them about it yet?" Moody's voice was uncharacteristically gentle. Dumbledore nodded.
"I've spoken to all four of them, and all of them volunteered." He turned a guilt-wracked gaze toward the door of his office. "In fact, they're getting ready for the trip now."
* * * * * * *
"Make sure you've got good stout boots, Harry," said Hermione, looking up from the list she had been working on. "From what Professor Dumbledore told us, we're going to have to do a lot of walking in 'Arda,' and bad boots will be murder on your feet."
Harry Potter paused from packing spare clothes into a leather backpack, looking shrewdly at his friends. Hermione had been frightened by Professor Trelawney's prediction, just as they all had, but had volunteered nonetheless. When she heard that he had to go, she had, in fact, been quite insistent upon going along. At the moment, she was wearing her usual look of fierce concentration as she worked on the list of things they were going to be bringing along on this trip.
Ron was working with her, chewing absently on the tip of his tongue as he went over a list they had compiled of things they would need. Like Hermione, he had insisted on coming along, and had been rather nonplussed to find that this had been predicted as necessary by Professor Trelawney. "My gods, Harry," he had murmured once out of earshot of Professor Dumbledore, "if that silly old fraud's actually making real predictions, what else can happen next?"
"Here are the swords," said Draco Malfoy, coming into the room and dumping four sheathed Japanese shortswords onto a bed. "It's a pity that brooms don't work in Arda, or I'd suggest bringing ours along, but at least the Hogwarts armories are well-stocked." He brushed a lock of blond hair out of his eyes, and sneezed. "Gods, they're dusty, though! What is Filch thinking of, letting them be neglected so?" He still showed the shock of having lost his parents; he was even skinnier than he had been before, and when he wasn't busy, he could be found sometimes staring into space, tears running down his face. The others had learned not to disturb him when he was like that, since he had turned on them in fury when they had tried to comfort him the first time. Harry knew that people felt sorry for him for having lost his parents, but he had never really known them; it was his considered opinion that losing people you had known all your life was much worse.
"From what Professor Dumbledore says, I don't think Filch is allowed into the armories. At least they've got the place Peeves-proofed." Ron Weasley gave a shudder at the thought of the castle's resident poltergeist. "Peeves and the weapons stores---worse than giving a chimpanzee a wand!"
"How are we keeping Peeves off us here?" asked Hermione, suddenly looking worried. Peeves was quite capable of sabotaging the whole thing just out of motiveless malice. Every student at Hogwarts could testify to his bottomless appetite for mischief and his endless creativity at finding new ways to harass people.
Malfoy buffed his fingernails on his robe, looking intolerably smug. Harry felt an urge to slap him, before he condescended to explain. "Getting a Slytherin in on this project was inspired, if I do say so myself. Peevesie doesn't bother us much." At the raised eyebrows and looks of skepticism he received, he raised a hand. "Oh, Baron, would you come in here a minute?"
The Bloody Baron, a terrifying-looking spectre covered in silvery bloodstains, drifted through the closed door and into the room, startling Harry, Ron and Hermione. Draco grinned mischeviously, for all the world like Fred and George Weasley upon the success of a particularly spectacular prank. "You know the Baron's the only ghost that can keep Peeves in line, don't you?" At their nods, he went on: "Well, m'lord Baron here is the Slytherin house ghost, which is why Peeves leaves us Slytherins alone, usually. When I explained just what we were up to here, and why it's important, he was perfectly willing to keep Peeves and Filch alike from getting in the way." The Baron nodded, smiling at Hermione, who returned the smile rather nervously, and disappeared through the door to resume his guard.
Ron shook his head in wonder. "All those years of putting up with Peeves, and you Slytherins just got left alone?" He finished loading his backpack up and slung it across his back experimentally. "You lucky, lucky Slytherin bastards. You lucky, jammy bastards. You never told us about this."
Draco chuckled maliciously. "You never asked. Besides, I'm a Slytherin. Keeping my cards close to my chest is the Slytherin way." He pulled his trunk, which he had had some house-elves bring from the Slytherin dormitories, over and began rooting through it. "Let me see, I've got those good wool socks in here…"
Hermione leaned over the trunk, and something caught her eye. Quick as a striking snake, she reached out and grabbed, producing a magazine. Before Draco could stop her, she got across the room and sat down, looking at the magazine as color rose in her cheeks. "Oh, my gods and goddesses, Draco, you mean to tell me you read this stuff?" Ron and Harry looked up, to see her paging through a magazine titled Coven Cuties, with a cover featuring a very attractive witch who had apparently mislaid her robes, winking and blowing kisses at whoever was looking at the cover. Hermione began paging through, giggling: "Oh, this is ridiculous! 'Twenty Hexes To Help You Get Lucky?' 'I Was A Test Subject For The Potion of Inexhaustible Potency---And It Worked?' 'Coven Cutie of the Month'---dear me, did the poor thing lose all her robes somewhere?" By this time, Harry and Ron were fighting to look over her shoulder.
Draco's face was flushed with embarrassment, and he whipped out his wand. "Expelliarmus!" and the magazine soared out of Hermione's hands, to come to its owner at his command of "Accio Magazine!" Catching the magazine, he rolled it up in his hands as Ron, Harry and Hermione looked up at him, startled.
"If we're quite finished discussing my private life, can we get on with this project?" Draco asked icily, his old manner returning for a moment. "Or, perhaps, if the agenda's changed to discussing things that may embarrass us, may I remind you that this is a game all can play?" He pointed at Hermione. "Just for starters, we could discuss Gilderoy Lockhart…"
"You're right, let's get packing!" said Hermione quickly, in a changing-the-subject voice. She picked up a paper bag from the floor, and spilled its contents out onto the table. Harry, Ron and Draco stared. Harry finally broke the silence.
"Hermione---why did you buy ten rolls of duct tape?"
"Is that really duck tape?" asked Ron, his eyes lighting up. "My dad talks about it---how Muggles use it for all sorts of things, and it's made out of ducks."
Hermione looked smug. "It's just in case. If we bring it along, chances are that we may not need the stuff. Leave it behind, and sure as anything we'll be wanting it." The boys looked at each other, shrugged, and divided the duct tape between themselves, stowing it in their packs.
A rap on the door, and Dumbledore came in. "Ah, I see you're getting ready. We're getting ready to send you to Arda, and everything will be in place in a couple of hours."