Insert standard legal disclaimer and boilerplate notes here. All things HarryPotter-ish or LordoftheRings-y are under the control of their respective copyright owners and I shall earn no coin from their use.

Warning: This is intended as a dark tale featuring violence and character death. Actually, there will be a great deal of character death particularly among important characters... the ones we as readers usually want to see alive at the end of the last page of the epilogue. Why? In this story I abandon my previous rule of 'Ignore the Camping Trip from Hell' to instead take that bull by the horns. And shoot it.

Author's Notes: In a most unusual turn of events, someone has actually pre-reviewed this story by posting a review on one of my other stories with the express purpose of commenting on this one. My response is at the bottom of the prologue since I can't email or PM Wes. Hi, Wes! (You might want to read that note first, Wes.)

This story begins during the Winter Holiday of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The second scene in particular cuts into Chapter 19: The Silver Doe. A few lines near the bottom are taken verbatim, but don't expect to see that often.

One Ring

-o-0-o-

Prologue

The cold seemed especially biting to Headmaster Severus Snape as he prowled the corridors of Hogwarts Castle on the eve of the winter solstice. Icy drafts wound their ways past his heavy cloak and brought with them the oppressive weight of these dark times. The Moon waned and with it the dour wizard's mood fell in equal measure. Snape grunted his displeasure and made his way to his private quarters, away from the daily distractions of staff and student and away from the noise of the night's evening meal.

Hogwarts was nearly empty what with the winter holiday sending most of the school population out to visit with friends and family. That was assuming one had friends and family alive to visit and assuming that one did not have to enter a ministry run internment camp to find them. At least the castle was quiet enough to give Headmaster Snape some measure of peace.

Or it did until an inebriated fool stumbled into the man before tumbling over the flagstone floor in a shower of shawls and sherry bottles.

Snape sneered down at the witch who nearly took him with her. "Put yourself together woman! I barely tolerate you as a professor and I most certainly will not tolerate you as a drunkard and wastrel."

"I..." Professor Trelawney halted her unsteady voice and focused for a moment on rising from the floor. She had to spend the next few seconds standing upright. Having achieved that lofty goal, she focused again on defending herself verbally. "The inner eye can cloud over from even the slightest interference... such as yours... and often needs assistance to reopen fully."

Sibyll looked at the small pile of sherry bottles at her feet, some of them cracked and shattered, and shrugged in a manner that was more honest than she intended it to be. Perhaps the sherry was affecting her. "Sometimes the simplest methods are the best."

A small and decidedly unfeminine burp followed her statement. Severus glared at her self-righteously and banished her bottles with a negligent wave of his wand.

"You shall not display such behavior in front of the students when they return to the castle next term." Snape ground out. "Is that in any way unclear?"

Trelawney had the good sense to look down in shame. "No, Headmaster."

After a suitably long period of glaring at the penitent witch, Severus spun on one heal and took his leave of her. He was two steps away when she began to move away under her own power. Two more steps away and he heard the woman stumble yet again. From the sound of it she had stumbled into a wall.

He didn't so much a pause. He expected it of her.

"...ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg..."

Snape had to pause at that. It was one thing to hear the pickled witch mutter about her faulty inner eye or spew her baseless foretellings but it was an entirely different thing to hear her uttering nonsense in some Goblin tongue.

He would be entirely unprepared to hear what came after.

"Abandoned and betrayed the chosen one will buckle under a weight he cannot bear alone!"

Snape's head swiveled around so quickly he nearly broke his own neck. Behind him, the recently unsteady witch stood rigid against the corridor wall, her eyes rolled so far back into their sockets that he could barely see any color to them at all.

She continued in a slightly less spirited moan, "The Eye searches and the One Ring will be found...the ringbearer will know suffering and the Dark Lord shall gaze upon the face of his god... whispers call the ringbearer to undying lands... abandoned and betrayed, the cho-"

Sibyll broke off her sentence mid-word and her whole body arched; every muscle in her frame became hyper-extended.

"The Eye… The Eye lays bare my soul and it burns… it burns! Look away!" Her desperate calls became tortured wails. "I beg of you look away!"

Sibyll shuddered violently and fell to the floor in a quivering screaming heap. Severus, despite being deeply disturbed by the witch's torment, kept his nerve long enough to draw his wand and cast spell after spell. He cast medical charms meant to ease her pain and other charms meant to identify the dark magic that was clearly coursing through her system. Nothing. There was no dark magic present. Perhaps a mental or astral connection of some sort?

She continued to scream.

At a loss for how to treat her pain -and greatly annoyed by the length and volume of her noise- Severus threw a strong stunner into the witch. Red light flowed over Sibyll robbing her of what consciousness she had and bringing her torment to an end. The marked headmaster then cast a levitation charm and guided his Divination professor towards Madam Pomfrey's domain.

Thank Merlin the healer had not abandoned Hogwarts in protest of the current administration.

It was only after a minute of silent contemplation while guiding the unconscious professor to the hospital wing that Severus was able to take in the full meaning of what had just transpired. Trelawney gave a prophesy. A real one; Sibyll did not have the skills needed to fake that encounter no matter how often she's tried.

As soon as Snape managed to return to his private quarters he pulled out a bottle of the good stuff and took two desperate drinks in quick succession. He flinched as the alcohol burned its way down his throat but that didn't stop him from doing it again. He then collapsed into a chair and punched the nearest table hard enough to break the skin on his knuckles.

Another damn prophecy. And Potter was at the center of it all once again. And this time the gods openly admitted the boy was not good enough to see things through to the end. Finally, someone agreed with him about the spoiled brat.

For the first time in many long years Severus Snape seriously considered either abandoning Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom to disappear... or to save himself the life of a hunted animal and just end his own life on his own terms. It would be quick and it would be painless. Hope seemed to him a bottle of quick acting poison when there was no chance for the future through Potter.

Merlin help them all... should Potter break before his destiny was achieved then there really would be no hope for anyone else.

Severus poured himself another drink and brought the glass to his lips. He paused before actually taking the drink. He needed to think. He hadn't lived the life he's lived and suffered the way he's suffered for a worthless spoilt brat to undo it all. Not now. And the prophecy he just heard didn't replace the first prophecy either. Potter still had this supposed power capable of destroying the Dark Lord. Even if he was a pathetic, unremarkable student. Even if he was as spoiled as they come. Even if he was a disgrace unworthy of the woman who bore him into this world. Potter was too weak to succeed alone. Potter would fail were he to be completely abandoned... not that Snape thought the know-it-all and the ginger dunderhead were wise enough to rid themselves of Potter as any sensible wizard would.

So Potter needed support if he was to have any hope of beating the odds and defeating the Dark Lord. As horrible as the idea sounded, Snape would have to prop up Potter's efforts just as he had been doing for years now. Dumbledore, bastard that he was, was right. Guiding Potter along the right path was the only way to defeat the Dark Lord. To change course now was to invite disaster.

Snape knocked back his drink quickly. He didn't want to think on prophecies anymore tonight. He didn't want to worry over ringbearers and dark gods. He didn't want to think of anything at all.

Soon the drink in his glass would blur the world and he wouldn't.

-o-0-o-

Harry Potter was cold and wet. He was bruised and exhausted from nearly drowning in a small pond in the snow covered Forest of Dean. And yet… and yet he had more hope in his frostbitten body right then than he had felt for quite some time. The locket horcrux was gone, destroyed. Ron was back. Harry now had in the Sword of Gryffindor a way to destroy Voldemort's other horcruxes as soon as he, Hermione and Ron could find them. On the whole, Harry was feeling pretty good. Excited even. He even hugged Ron despite the late hour and the freezing air.

"And now," said Harry as they broke apart, "all we've got to do is find that tent again."

But Harry's return to the tent would get interrupted rather quickly. The two boys hadn't made it more than a few yards before Ron stopped again.

"Harry," Ron called, "Harry, wait."

Harry stopped and turned and looked on curiously as Ron stared once more into the depths of the icy pond.

"What is it, Ron?" Harry asked with concern. "Did you drop something in there when you pulled me out?"

Snow crunched underfoot as Ron took a step closer to the water's edge.

"No…" Ron called in a distracted tone. "I think… I think I see something else down there…"

Harry paused for a moment before following his best mate back to the pond and holding his still lit wand over the water's edge.

There. Beneath the blocks of broken ice and past the cloud of silt that both boys recently kicked up. There was a golden glint of something at the bottom of the pool.

"Do you see that?" Ron asked.

Harry squinted and tried to identify the object he hadn't noticed when he was busy drowning. "Did you drop a watch or something?"

"No." Ron returned. "I think I'll go get it. Could sell it or something… keep it if it's nice enough."

Harry, who's hair and skin were still wet and near frozen under his many sweaters, didn't think that was such a good idea.

Ron stepped into the water.

"What are you doing?!" Harry cried. "You're already in danger of hypothermia what with all your clothes being wet-"

But Harry stopped lecturing when he saw Ron turn and roll his eyes.

"Are you a wizard or not, Harry?" Ron huffed. "Warming charms. Use one."

Harry did feel a little silly at that. Maybe if he had cast a warming charm before diving in for the sword then he could have dealt with the locket better and gotten out of the pond on his own. Maybe the locket influenced Harry into going after the sword in the most dangerous way possible? Or was it just his Gryffindor nature?

Harry's thoughts were interrupted by Ron diving fully into the water and swimming over to the spot where their new treasure sat glinting and shining in the wandlight. Unlike Harry's dip a few minutes back, this one went off flawlessly and Ron was soon back above water. The redhead shook his head and cleared the water from his eyes and walked over to Harry to show off what he'd found.

It was a ring.

The ring didn't seem to be anything special at first glance… it was a smooth, embellishment free band of heavy gold that looked like a wedding ring more than anything else. Only… it was a pretty ring. Quite nice, really. And it even looked warm to Harry – a good thing in the biting cold of winter.

The ring gleamed in the cool light of Harry's Lumos spell. It looked warm and inviting. Harmless.

"Let's have a look then." Harry reached out for the ring only to have Ron pull it back at the last moment.

Ron narrowed his eyes. Where he was almost happy enough to smile before, all of the goodwill the two teens had build up after destroying the locket horcrux disappeared in an instant.

"Hold on," Ron warned. "I just saved your arse back there and I think I'm entitled to a reward."

Ron looked down to the ring in his hand possessively before closing his fingers tight around the golden band.

"I'm keeping this for all the trouble I been put through."

"The… the trouble you've been put through?" Harry challenged, "We've already been over this, haven't we? You left us and we suffered for it. If you hadn't run off to mummy then maybe getting the bloody sword out of the pond wouldn't have been quite so dangerous in the first place. I'd have had your help from the beginning. You fucking left us! You're lucky I'm willing to let you back into camp at all!"

All thoughts of reconciling with Ron and helping the ginger prat get back into Hermione's good graces fled Harry's mind. Harry's been laboring under the oppressive weight of the locket horcrux longer than he'd care to remember. He's been struggling under the weight of Prophecy since the night Sirius was murdered – longer than that, really. And his thrice cursed scar… the pains, the dreams, the dark bastard waiting on the other side of a mind link Harry would do anything to sever…

It was all too much. Harry was through giving Ron space and giving Ron time and giving Ron whatever it was that Ron wanted in order to not run off on Harry again. Like he'd run off before. Like he would again if only Harry gave him the slightest reason.

"I might need that ring anyway. What if it got in the pond the same way the sword did? Put in by the same person? Maybe it's enchanted. Maybe it can help us find the other horcruxes or something."

Sod it all, Harry wanted to have a look at that ring and he was going to have his look, ginger prat or no. "Let me see that ring, Ron."

Ron's frown deepened. His left hand tightened further around the ring while his right hand squeezed the handle of the Sword of Gryffindor. He didn't say anything.

There was no pleasant warmth between the boys now. Two young wizards glared at each other as the heat of anger flared within.

Hermione's wand began to shift in Harry's hand. The light it cast shifted back and forth across the pond and surrounding forest.

Ron noticed.

He acted.

The air hissed as goblin forged steel arced up from its position at Ron's side. Harry dodged and fell away from the sword's razor edge before it could take his hand off at the wrist.

"Don't raise your wand at me!" Ron barked. He took a step forward and brought the sword up in an effort to cow Harry into submission.

"Expelliarmus!" Harry shouted from the forest floor, a jet of red light passing between him and his best mate.

The charm struck Ron dead center, not that he had enough warning to get out of the way of a spell cast from such a short distance, and without a wand in his hand he had no way of blocking either. Ron tumbled backwards as the sword leapt out of his grasp and spun through the air to land behind Harry.

"Bloody bastard!" Ron shot up from his spot on the ground and leapt for Harry before another offensive charm could be cast.

Harry brought his knees up to block Ron's wild charge- and not a moment too soon as the larger boy came down on top of him in a rage. Harry felt pain bloom around his right eye as Ron drove a punch right through Harry's glasses. Acting purely on instinct, Harry kicked out with both legs as hard as he could. Ron lost his balance and was pushed over Harry to land on the ground behind him.

"Aaauuugh!" Ron shouted in pain. He'd landed on something.

Harry rolled upright and steadied himself for a follow-up attack that never came. Ron was too busy twisting his waist and trying to reach a spot on his back. A dark patch formed on the back of his sliced open jacket. It spread quickly. He was bleeding quite freely. Ron hissed as he continued to reach a hand to the wound on his back.

And then Harry noticed what Ron had cut himself on. There on the ground sat the gleaming blood soaked blade of the Sword of Gryffindor.

"Ron?" Harry slowly crept forward.

Ron didn't acknowledge Harry. He was curling in on himself, moaning in pain and grabbing for a wound he just couldn't reach.

"Ron!" The seriousness of the situation slammed into Harry like a hippogriff. For a moment he even forgot about the ring they were arguing over.

Harry frantically picked Hermione's wand up and scrambled over to Ron's side. Once there he tried to get a look at Ron's back. "Roll onto your chest, Ron. Maybe I can fix it."

Ron didn't follow Harry's order, not that Harry thought he was any good at healing charms anyway. They really needed Hermione right then but she was too far away and blissfully unaware of the struggle her boys were having.

"H- arry?" Ron mumbled finally acknowledging the other boy's existence again. "Wh- why's the forest spinning? Can we g- go to the tent now? 'm so ti- red…"

"Ron?"

Harry was truly panicking now. His darkest thoughts told him what was happening to his best mate. It was what had happened to Harry himself back when he was twelve... but there was no phoenix here tonight to cry healing tears on Ron's back.

"Fawkes?" Harry asked the black sky above. "Fawkes!?"

No help came.

"…harry…" Ron whispered. In the still winter air Harry heard him clearly. "…tell Herm… io…"

But Harry didn't hear what Ron wanted Hermione to know. Ron would never get to finish his request.

Ron Weasley died in the middle of the Forest of Dean in the middle of Winter in the middle of the night. He died from the poisoned bite of a goblin forged sword he fell on fighting his best mate. He died over who got to keep a ring they found at the bottom of an icy pond. He died not two miles from the witch he wanted to marry and have children with and grow old next to. That would never happen now.

Harry stayed there knees on the ground he knew not how long before he was finally able to move again. It was still night, that much he could tell. It was still dark as pitch outside of the light his borrowed wand cast. The cold was getting to him. He never did cast a warming charm.

Harry stood up much to his abused frame's displeasure. A glint in the light caught his attention. Silver. The Sword of Gryffindor. He fought through shakes that were threatening to overwhelm him and picked the blood stained sword out of the snow.

Harry almost lost himself staring at the body of his best mate once again but there was another glint in the wandlight. A golden glint. Harry turned to identify it.

The ring.

Of course. That was why they fought, wasn't it? The ring? Harry wanted to be angry at the golden band but he couldn't could he? It was just a ring, right? No sense blaming all this on a bit of gold. It was all just an accident. A horrible, horrible accident.

Harry picked up the ring. Even in the cold, even in the dark of night, even after watching Ron die, Harry still had to smile just a little upon feeling the warmth of the ring. Of course it was warm. He knew it would be. It was a wonderful ring.

It was precious.

Harry slipped the ring into his pocket, the very same pocket that housed a recently destroyed locket horcrux, and he turned back to camp. If he stayed out any longer there would be two dead wizards in the Forest of Dean instead of one.

He had to get back to the tent. He had to get warm and maybe get some food into him. He had to tell Hermione that the locket was destroyed. He absolutely could not tell her Ron was dead.

The journey back seemed far too short for Harry, as before he knew it he was already pulling the tent flap open.

"Hermione!"

She stirred, then sat up quickly, pushing her hair out of her face.

"What's wrong? Harry? Are you all right?"

"It's okay, everything's fine. More than fine, I'm great." Harry paused nervously, only looking her in the eye for a moment before looking around the tent. "We should leave, though. I think there's someone searching for us out there."

Hermione opened her mouth to ask why but Harry was already grabbing at their meager supplies. She looked at Harry. He was still wet, still shivering. She looked at the Sword of Gryffindor that he set down near the tent flap. She noticed the blood stained blade.

"Fine, but you better start talking."

End Prologue

Note to Wes: I bow to your superior knowledge on the history of Tol Eressa but I cannot agree to change the Potter plot so much that Harry leaves the UK to do what must be done. The whole idea is that this story begins on the horcrux hunt as described in book seven. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to AU LOTR's back story for this to work. Sorry Wes. If you are also a Monty Python fan, then let's agree that a Swallow (African or European I couldn't tell you) grabbed the ring one day whilst searching for a nice sized coconut to carry off. That's how the One Ring made it into the Forest of Dean. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.