"Watch out!" Luna yelled.
Harry slammed on the brakes just in time. That was the tenth precipice the snowmobile had almost toppled off of since they'd started their day. He pulled into reverse, and then, after coming to a stop, switched seats with Luna. He sighed, longing for the early days of their journey—before the blizzard.
They'd originally made pretty good time towards the co-ordinates where they believed Merlin's Ring to be hidden. However, as the days passed, and the closer they'd found themselves to their destination, the worse the weather had become. After the first three days of progressively increasingly foul weather, Luna had attributed the phenomenon to the weather magic of Native American shamans. Harry, though he knew next to nothing about Native American shamans, had been inclined to agree.
By the seventh day, he definitely agreed. The weather outside had deteriorated to the point of a whiteout, the falling and blowing snow appearing to merge with the wholly white landscape until the horizon had disappeared completely. It was impossible to make out surface irregularities in the snow, or see where they were going, so they'd made the decision to lay up for a few days. Unfortunately, after several days without any change, it had become clear that the weather would not be improving any time soon, and they'd been forced to persevere—despite the dangers—for fear that they would run out of supplies before they reached their destination.
That had been a week ago. The pair had been travelling through unbroken, colourless landscape, over mountainous terrain, for days now, and the weather still showed no signs of clearing up. Harry had lost track of the number of times they'd narrowly avoided critical accidents with the vehicle, through a mixture of magic and luck. They'd had to keep their use of spells to a minimum, for fear of damaging the sensitive Muggle electronics that they were counting on for their survival—particularly the portable GPS which insured that they continued to progress in the right direction. But, they'd be long dead—or at least trapped in an ice fissure somewhere, which would amount to the same thing—if they'd had to do without their wands completely.
Unfortunately, neither could do anything about the fact that, approximately five miles out from their destination, their snowmobile abruptly stopped running and their portable GPS stopped working, most likely as a result of the Muggle-repelling wards protecting the Ring. Although they had anticipated the break-down, it would take time to put their contingency plan into place. So, they'd set up camp for the night—despite it being mid-morning—to give themselves time to regroup.
After setting up their stolen pyramid tent, Harry and Luna crawled in, grateful for the brief reprieve from the weather. Harry began the process of sorting through their supplies, discarding any and all Muggle equipment that had stopped working, in order to lighten their load. Luna unpacked their Siberian husky soft toys, and set about the task of transfiguring them into life-sized sleigh-dogs.
Unsurprisingly, the weather hadn't improved any when the pair set off the next morning and, although the transfigured dogs had the advantage of not requiring food or water as normal dogs would have, they did require near constant coaxing in order to move forward.
Harry's initial attempts to spur them into action were decidedly unsuccessful, so Luna took over the job of convincing the dogs to pull the loaded, though magically lightened, sleigh, "Now, Rusty! Now, Frankie! Now, Handsome and Beauty! On, Thumper! On Sherby! On, James and Lily! Now, Sirius! Now, Remus! Now, Ron and Hermione!"
Her methods were far more successful, but Harry found himself laughing inside at her choice of wording. By the third repetition, he couldn't help the laughter leaking out, as well as the comment, "Too bad we seem to have forgotten Rudolph."
Luna pulled the sleigh to a halt and regarded him, quizzically.
"The red-nosed reindeer," Harry clarified.
This time she raised an eyebrow, "I've never heard of red-nosed reindeer."
Harry laughed again. It was hard to believe that he might have stumbled on the one fictional creature that Luna wasn't familiar with. "Sorry, Muggle children's story; Rudolph's nose glowed bright red, and Father Christmas used the light he gave off to guide his sleigh on a foggy Christmas Eve. Dudley used to watch the movie on the telly every Christmas," he explained, "It's just that the way you were urging the dogs on, it reminded me of Father Christmas directing his flying reindeer in the 'Night Before Christmas'—another Christmas story."
"That's a great idea, Harry!" Luna exclaimed, "We can give all the dogs glowing noses! Here, you hold the reins; I know just the spell." She handed the reins to him and jumped off the sleigh, before he could object.
Sure enough, when she hopped back on, each of the twelve dogs had brightly shining red noses. Granted, the red-nosed sleigh dogs didn't make much of a difference with regards to visibility—aside from changing the colour of the snow—but the smile on Luna's face, as she took the reins once more, made the change worthwhile in Harry's eyes.
Progress continued to be slow. Frequent use of the Four-Point Spell assured the pair that they were still heading in the direction they had been before their equipment failure, but they had no way of gauging their progress. They could only hope that poor visibility didn't cause them to overshoot their target.
They needn't have worried, however. About a mile from their target, the weather cleared abruptly—like stepping into the eye of a storm—and Harry caught sight of a tiny golden glow in the distance.
The Headmaster had been right. Although they approached cautiously, they encountered no defences; nothing impeded their progress. Finally, Luna pulled the sleigh to a stop at the foot of a stone pedestal, on which stood a fifteen-foot golden ring. Close-up, Merlin's Ring—for that's what it must be—was even more impressive than it had appeared in the distance.
As Harry stepped out of the sleigh and onto the stone pedestal, he found himself caught within a field of golden tinted light being emitted by the Ring, staring, mesmerized and unable to turn away. Time lost all meaning.
"I think she likes us." Luna's statement snapped him out of his state of rapture, and Harry was left with the feeling that he'd just been studied, judged and found worthy, all his doubts about their quest simply fading away.
Seeing Luna's dreamy smile pleased Harry, too. He could not help but notice how low in spirit she had been in recent days. Now that her good humour was back in full force, he realised the sensation of his having been approved by the Ring's enchantment had not been imagination: it had clearly affected her too. He grinned at her affectionately. He loved that she had her own way of saying what he, himself, was feeling. It was clear that the experience had been unique and personalized.
Finding Merlin's Ring had been the goal that had kept him going these past months, particularly the last few weeks as they had battled terrible weather. Now that they had found it, Harry couldn't quite bring himself to step through it—not just yet. So, rather than jumping straight into the ritual detailed in Merlin's journals, Harry found himself erring on the side of caution, setting up a final camp a few hundred yards from the base of the Ring.
He spent most of the evening going over his plans one more time, but was unable to convince Luna to do the same. She insisted on using the time to attempt to decipher the ancient runes which covered the Ring, instead, though given the size of the Ring and the number of runes, she could never finish in such little time.
The next morning, after a night of fitful sleep, Harry finally gathered the courage to begin the Ritual of Merlin's Choice. Standing before the Ring, he donned his Invisibility Cloak, and, holding the Elder Wand and Resurrection Stone in his right hand, bid Luna take his left. After a deep breath he uttered the words that he had memorised, "O sanctus et sacra orbis ignis, præcipio tibi da mihi locum olim, ut partum a novus orbis in meditatione mea et nobilis, nobile, et secundum voluntatem tuam, ut de novo incipere a principio novum historia," As he did so, he pictured clearly in his mind his desired destination in time and space, with the desire that his companion and Death's gifts— the Deathly Hallows —might follow him through to his destination.
The moment he completed the chant, flames shot out from the Ring, engulfing them both where they stood, yet burning harmlessly around them. Finally, the flames cleared, and Harry found himself staring at what looked like a vertical puddle of fire, burning within the Ring.
By unspoken agreement, the two travellers advanced together towards the fiery pool, before stepping through the Ring itself…