Chapter 1 -- An Unwelcome Visitor
Hogwarts Castle, Great Britain
Albus Dumbledore stared in horror at the small leaden box that had been put on his desk. Heglanced up at the Ministry wizards."Are you sure about this?" he asked quietly. Soberly, the wizards nodded."Quite sure, Professor Dumbledore. The four---
are they called? The four hobbitsappeared quite suddenly, in Knockturn Alley, unconscious. Several wizards Apparated in tograb them, but we had undercover Aurors there on duty, and they managed to drive off theothers and bring the hobbits to safety.""Only to find that they're hopelessly catatonic, and unlikely to recover in any reasonabletime," murmured Dumbledore. He had visited St. Mungo's Hospital before, and although themental wards there were quite comfortable, he still had unpleasant memories of the place. Thesadness seemed to have sunk into the very stones of the walls, very much like Azkaban. Thethought of four such harmless, friendly people immured there, locked in the prisons of theirown minds, was horrible."Have you penetrated the barrier to find where it came from yet, sir?" asked one of theyounger Aurors, a coldly beautiful woman with a Welsh lilt to her voice. "We know it'shighly magical, and literally emenates Dark energies of a sort not seen here before. The MoMis all agog over the chance to study it.""I know where it came from," Dumbledore murmured. Opening the box, he chucked thecontents 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 minutesand you'll see what this is all about." Muttering rebelliously, the wizards subsided, staring intothe flames intently.After about five minutes, Dumbledore pointed his wand into the fire, murmuring "
," 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 againstits background, it did not seem to give off any heat, despite having been in the hottest part of afire 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 meltmost jewelry. The letters you see are not in any script used in our world, but I know what theysay. They are proof that what we have here is easily the most dangerous magical artifact evermade---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 rangedon our side against him."3