The forest was black and silent. A little way into it they reached a fork in the earth path, and Harry, Hermione, and Hagrid took the left path while Malfoy, Neville, and Fang took the right.

They walked in silence, their eyes on the ground. Every now and then a ray of moonlight through the branches above lit a spot of silver blue blood on the fallen leaves.

Harry saw that Hagrid looked very worried.



a werewolf be killing the unicorns? Harry asked.


Not fast enough, said Hagrid. Its not easy ter catch a unicorn, theyre powerful magic creatures. I never knew one ter be hurt before.

They walked past a mossy tree stump. Harry could hear running water; there must be a stream somewhere close by. There were still spots of unicorn blood here and there along the winding path.

You all right, Hermione? Hagrid whispered. Don worry, it cantve gone far if its this badly hurt, an then well be able terGET BEHIND THAT TREE!

Hagrid seized Harry and Hermione and hoisted them off the path behind a towering oak. He pulled out an arrow and fitted it into his crossbow, raising it, ready to fire. The three of them listened. Something was slithering over dead leaves nearby: it sounded like a cloak trailing along the ground. Hagrid was squinting up the dark path, but after a few seconds, the sound faded away.

I knew it, he murmured. Theres summat in here that shouldn be.

A werewolf? Harry suggested.

That wasn no werewolf an it wasn no unicorn, neither, said Hagrid grimly. Right, follow me, but careful, now.

They walked more slowly, ears straining for the faintest sound. Suddenly, in a clearing ahead, something definitely moved.

Whos there? Hagrid called. Show yerselfIm armed!

And into the clearing camewas it a man, or a horse? To the waist, a man, with red hair and beard, but below that was a horses gleaming chestnut body with a long, reddish tail. Harry and Hermiones jaws dropped.

Oh, its you, Ronan, said Hagrid in relief. How are yeh?

He walked forward and shook the centaurs hand.

Good evening to you, Hagrid, said Ronan. He had a deep, sorrowful voice. Were you going to shoot me?

Cant be too careful, Ronan, said Hagrid, patting his crossbow. Theres summat bad loose in this forest. This is Harry Potter an Hermione Granger, by the way. Students up at the school. An this is Ronan, you two. Hes a centaur.

Wed noticed, said Hermione faintly.

Good evening, said Ronan. Students, are you? And do you learn much, up at the school?


A bit, said Hermione timidly.

A bit. Well, thats something. Ronan sighed. He flung back his head and stared at the sky. Mars is bright tonight.

Yeah, said Hagrid, glancing up, too. Listen, Im glad weve run inter yeh, Ronan, cause theres a unicorn bin hurtyou seen anythin?

Ronan didnt answer immediately. He stared unblinkingly upward, then sighed again.

Always the innocent are the first victims, he said. So it has been for ages past, so it is now.

Yeah, said Hagrid, but have yeh seen anythin, Ronan? Anythin unusual?

Mars is bright tonight, Ronan repeated, while Hagrid watched him impatiently. Unusually bright.

Yeah, but I was meanin anythin unusual a bit nearer home, said Hagrid. So yeh havent noticed anythin strange?

Yet again, Ronan took a while to answer. At last, he said, The forest hides many secrets.

A movement in the trees behind Ronan made Hagrid raise his bow again, but it was only a second centaur, black haired and bodied and wilder looking than Ronan.

Hullo, Bane, said Hagrid. All right?

Good evening, Hagrid, I hope you are well?

Well enough. Look, Ive jus bin askin Ronan, you seen anythin odd in here lately? Theres a unicorn bin injuredwould yeh know anythin about it?

Bane walked over to stand next to Ronan. He looked skyward. Mars is bright tonight, he said simply.

Weve heard, said Hagrid grumpily. Well, if either of you do see anythin, let me know, wont yeh? Well be off, then.

Harry and Hermione followed him out of the clearing, staring over their shoulders at Ronan and Bane until the trees blocked their view.

Never, said Hagrid irritably, try an get a straight answer out of a centaur. Ruddy stargazers. Not interested in anythin closern the moon.


Are there many of


in here? asked Hermione.


Oh, a fair few Keep themselves to themselves mostly, but theyre good enough about turnin up if ever I want a word. Theyre deep mind, centaurs they know things jus don let on much.

Dyou think that was a centaur we heard earlier? said Harry.

Did that sound like hooves to you? Nah, if yeh ask me, that was whats bin killin the unicornsnever heard anythin like it before.

They walked on through the dense, dark trees. Harry kept looking nervously over his shoulder. He had the nasty feeling they were being watched. He was very glad they had Hagrid and his crossbow with them. They had just passed a bend in the path when Hermione grabbed Hagrids arm.

Hagrid! Look! Red sparks, the others are in trouble!

You two wait here! Hagrid shouted. Stay on the path, Ill come back for yeh!

They heard him crashing away through the undergrowth and stood looking at each other, very scared, until they couldnt hear anything but the rustling of leaves around them.

You dont think theyve been hurt, do you? whispered Hermione.

I dont care if Malfoy has, but if somethings got Neville its our fault hes here in the first place.

The minutes dragged by. Their ears seemed sharper than usual. Harrys seemed to be picking up every sigh of the wind, every cracking twig. What was going on? Where were the others?

At last, a great crunching noise announced Hagrids return. Malfoy, Neville, and Fang were with him. Hagrid was fuming. Malfoy, it seemed, had sneaked up behind Neville and grabbed him as a joke. Neville had panicked and sent up the sparks.

Well be lucky ter catch anythin now, with the racket you two were makin. Right, were changin groupsNeville, you stay with me an Hermione, Harry, you go with Fang an this idiot. Im sorry, Hagrid added in a whisper to Harry, but hell have a harder time frightenin you, an weve gotta get this done.

So Harry set off into the heart of the forest with Malfoy and Fang. They walked for nearly half an hour, deeper and deeper into the forest, until the path became almost impossible to follow because the trees were so thick. Harry thought the blood seemed to be getting thicker. There were splashes on the roots of a tree, as though the poor creature had been thrashing around in pain close by. Harry could see a clearing ahead, through the tangled branches of an ancient oak.

Look he murmured, holding out his arm to stop Malfoy.

Something bright white was gleaming on the ground. They inched closer.

It was the unicorn all right, and it was dead. Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad. Its long, slender legs were stuck out at odd angles where it had fallen and its mane was spread pearly white on the dark leaves.

Harry had taken one step toward it when a slithering sound made him freeze where he stood. A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy, and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animals side, and began to drink its blood.


Malfoy let out a terrible scream and boltedso did Fang. The hooded figure raised its head and looked right at Harryunicorn blood was dribbling down its front. It got to its feet and came swiftly toward Harryhe couldnt move for fear.

Then a pain like hed never felt before pierced his head; it was as though his scar were on fire. Half blinded, he staggered backward. He heard hooves behind him, galloping, and something jumped clean over Harry, charging at the figure.

The pain in Harrys head was so bad he fell to his knees. It took a minute or two to pass. When he looked up, the figure had gone. A centaur was standing over him, not Ronan or Bane; this one looked younger; he had white blond hair and a palomino body.

Are you all right? said the centaur, pulling Harry to his feet.


Yesthank youwhat




The centaur didnt answer. He had astonishingly blue eyes, like pale sapphires. He looked carefully at Harry, his eyes lingering on the scar that stood out, livid, on Harrys forehead.

You are the Potter boy, he said. You had better get back to Hagrid. The forest is not safe at this timeespecially for you. Can you ride? It will be quicker this way.

My name is Firenze, he added, as he lowered himself on to his front legs so that Harry could clamber onto his back.

There was suddenly a sound of more galloping from the other side of the clearing. Ronan and Bane came bursting through the trees, their flanks heaving and sweaty.

Firenze! Bane thundered. What are you doing? You have a human on your back! Have you no shame? Are you a common mule?

Do you realize who this is? said Firenze. This is the Potter boy. The quicker he leaves this forest, the better.

What have you been telling him? growled Bane. Remember, Firenze, we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?

Ronan pawed the ground nervously. Im sure Firenze thought he was acting for the best, he said in his gloomy voice.

Bane kicked his back legs in anger.

For the best! What is that to do with us? Centaurs are concerned with what has been foretold! It is not our business to run around like donkeys after stray humans in our forest!

Firenze suddenly reared on to his hind legs in anger, so that Harry had to grab his shoulders to stay on.

Do you not see that unicorn? Firenze bellowed at Bane. Do you not understand why it was killed? Or have the planets not let you in on that secret? I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.

And Firenze whisked around; with Harry clutching on as best he could, they plunged off into the trees, leaving Ronan and Bane behind them.

Harry didnt have a clue what was going on.

Whys Bane so angry? he asked. What was that thing you saved me from, anyway?

Firenze slowed to a walk, warned Harry to keep his head bowed in case of low hanging branches, but did not answer Harrys question. They made their way through the trees in silence for so long that Harry thought Firenze didnt want to talk to him anymore. They were passing through a particularly dense patch of trees, however, when Firenze suddenly stopped.

Harry Potter, do you know what unicorn blood is used for?

No, said Harry, startled by the odd question. Weve only used the horn and tail hair in Potions.

That is because it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn, said Firenze. Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.

Harry stared at the back of Firenzes head, which was dappled silver in the moonlight.

But whod be that desperate? he wondered aloud. If youre going to be cursed forever, deaths better, isnt it?

It is, Firenze agreed, unless all you need is to stay alive long enough to drink something elsesomething that will bring you back to full strength and powersomething that will mean you can never die. Mr. Potter, do you know what is hidden in the school at this very moment?

The Sorcerers Stone! Of coursethe Elixir of Life! But I dont understand who

Can you think of nobody who has waited many years to return to power, who has clung to life, awaiting their chance?

It was as though an iron fist had clenched suddenly around Harrys heart. Over the rustling of the trees, he seemed to hear once more what Hagrid had told him on the night they had met: Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die.


Do you mean, Harry croaked, that was



Harry! Harry, are you all right?

Hermione was running toward them down the path, Hagrid puffing along behind her.

Im fine, said Harry, hardly knowing what he was saying. The unicorns dead, Hagrid, its in that clearing back there.

This is where I leave you, Firenze murmured as Hagrid hurried off to examine the unicorn. You are safe now.

Harry slid off his back.

Good luck, Harry Potter, said Firenze. The planets have been read wrongly before now, even by centaurs. I hope this is one of those times.

He turned and cantered back into the depths of the forest, leaving Harry shivering behind him.

Ron had fallen asleep in the dark common room, waiting for them to return. He shouted something about Quidditch fouls when Harry roughly shook him awake. In a matter of seconds, though, he was wide eyed as Harry began to tell him and Hermione what had happened in the forest.

Harry couldnt sit down. He paced up and down in front of the fire. He was still shaking.

Snape wants the stone for Voldemort and Voldemorts waiting in the forest and all this time we thought Snape just wanted to get rich

Stop saying the name! said Ron in a terrified whisper, as if he thought Voldemort could hear them.

Harry wasnt listening.

Firenze saved me, but he shouldnt have done so Bane was furious he was talking about interfering with what the planets say is going to happen They must show that Voldemorts coming back Bane thinks Firenze should have let Voldemort kill me I suppose thats written in the stars as well.


Will you stop saying the name!

Ron hissed.


So all Ive got to wait for now is Snape to steal the Stone, Harry went on feverishly, then Voldemort will be able to come and finish me off Well, I suppose Banell be happy.

Hermione looked very frightened, but she had a word of comfort.

Harry, everyone says Dumbledores the only one You-Know-Who was ever afraid of with Dumbledore around, You-Know-Who wont touch you. Anyway, who says the centaurs are right? It sounds like fortune telling to me, and Professor McGonagall says thats a very imprecise branch of magic.

The sky had turned light before they stopped talking. They went to bed exhausted, their throats sore. But the nights surprises werent over.

When Harry pulled back his sheets, he found his Invisibility Cloak folded neatly underneath them. There was a note pinned to it:



Just in case.




In years to come, Harry would never quite remember how he had managed to get through his exams when he half expected Voldemort to come bursting through the door at any moment. Yet the days crept by, and there could be no doubt that Fluffy was still alive and well behind the locked door.

It was sweltering hot, especially in the large classroom where they did their written papers. They had been given special, new quills for the exams, which had been bewitched with an AntiCheating spell.

They had practical exams as well. Professor Flitwick called them one by one into his class to see if they could make a pineapple tapdance across a desk. Professor McGonagall watched them turn a mouse into a snuffboxpoints were given for how pretty the snuffbox was, but taken away if it had whiskers. Snape made them all nervous, breathing down their necks while they tried to remember how to make a Forgetfulness potion.

Harry did the best he could, trying to ignore the stabbing pains in his forehead, which had been bothering him ever since his trip into the forest. Neville thought Harry had a bad case of exam nerves because Harry couldnt sleep, but the truth was that Harry kept being woken by his old nightmare, except that it was now worse than ever because there was a hooded figure dripping blood in it.

Maybe it was because they hadnt seen what Harry had seen in the forest, or because they didnt have scars burning on their foreheads, but Ron and Hermione didnt seem as worried about the Stone as Harry. The idea of Voldemort certainly scared them, but he didnt keep visiting them in dreams, and they were so busy with their studying they didnt have much time to fret about what Snape or anyone else might be up to.

Their very last exam was History of Magic. One hour of answering questions about batty old wizards whod invented selfstirring cauldrons and theyd be free, free for a whole wonderful week until their exam results came out. When the ghost of Professor Binns told them to put down their quills and roll up their parchment, Harry couldnt help cheering with the rest.

That was far easier than I thought it would be, said Hermione as they joined the crowds flocking out onto the sunny grounds. I neednt have learned about the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct or the uprising of Elfric the Eager.

Hermione always liked to go through their exam papers afterward, but Ron said this made him feel ill, so they wandered down to the lake and flopped under a tree. The Weasley twins and Lee Jordan were tickling the tentacles of a giant squid, which was basking in the warm shallows. No more studying, Ron sighed happily, stretching out on the grass. You could look more cheerful, Harry, weve got a week before we find out how badly weve done, theres no need to worry yet.

Harry was rubbing his forehead.


I wish I knew what this


he burst out angrily. My scar keeps hurtingits happened before, but never as often as this.


Go to Madam Pomfrey, Hermione suggested.

Im not ill, said Harry. I think its a warning it means dangers coming

Ron couldnt get worked up, it was too hot.

Harry, relax, Hermiones right, the Stones safe as long as Dumbledores around. Anyway, weve never had any proof Snape found out how to get past Fluffy. He nearly had his leg ripped off once, hes not going to try it again in a hurry. And Neville will play Quidditch for England before Hagrid lets Dumbledore down.

Harry nodded, but he couldnt shake off a lurking feeling that there was something hed forgotten to do, something important. When he tried to explain this, Hermione said, Thats just the exams. I woke up last night and was halfway through my Transfiguration notes before I remembered wed done that one.

Harry was quite sure the unsettled feeling didnt have anything to do with work, though. He watched an owl flutter toward the school across the bright blue sky, a note clamped in its mouth. Hagrid was the only one who ever sent him letters. Hagrid would never betray Dumbledore. Hagrid would never tell anyone how to get past Fluffy never but

Harry suddenly jumped to his feet.

Wherere you going? said Ron sleepily.

Ive just thought of something, said Harry. He had turned white. Weve got to go and see Hagrid, now.

Why? panted Hermione, hurrying to keep up.

Dont you think its a bit odd, said Harry, scrambling up the grassy slope, that what Hagrid wants more than anything else is a dragon, and a stranger turns up who just happens to have an egg in his pocket? How many people wander around with dragon eggs if its against wizard law? Lucky they found Hagrid, dont you think? Why didnt I see it before?

What are you talking about? said Ron, but Harry, sprinting across the grounds toward the forest, didnt answer.

Hagrid was sitting in an armchair outside his house; his trousers and sleeves were rolled up, and he was shelling peas into a large bowl.

Hullo, he said, smiling. Finished yer exams? Got time fer a drink?

Yes, please, said Ron, but Harry cut him off.

No, were in a hurry. Hagrid, Ive got to ask you something. You know that night you won Norbert? What did the stranger you were playing cards with look like?

Dunno, said Hagrid casually, he wouldn take his cloak off.

He saw the three of them look stunned and raised his eyebrows.

Its not that unusual, yeh get a lot o funny folk in the Hogs Headthats the pub down in the village. Mighta bin a dragon dealer, mightn he? I never saw his face, he kept his hood up.

Harry sank down next to the bowl of peas. What did you talk to him about, Hagrid? Did you mention Hogwarts at all?

Mighta come up, said Hagrid, frowning as he tried to remember. Yeah he asked what I did, an I told him I was gamekeeper here He asked a bit about the sorta creatures I took after so I told him an I said what Id always really wanted was a dragon an then I can remember too well, cause he kept buyin me drinks Lets see yeah, then he said he had the dragon egg an we could play cards fer it if I wanted but he had ter be sure I could handle it, he didn want it ter go ter any old home So I told him, after Fluffy, a dragon would be easy

And did hedid he seem interested in Fluffy? Harry asked, try ing to keep his voice calm.

Wellyeahhow many three headed dogs dyeh meet, even around Hogwarts? So I told him, Fluffys a piece o cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus play him a bit o music an hell go straight off ter sleep

Hagrid suddenly looked horrified.

I shouldnta told yeh that! he blurted out. Forget I said it! Heywherere yeh goin?

Harry, Ron, and Hermione didnt speak to each other at all until they came to a halt in the entrance hall, which seemed very cold and gloomy after the grounds.

Weve got to go to Dumbledore, said Harry. Hagrid told that stranger how to get past Fluffy, and it was either Snape or Voldemort under that cloakit mustve been easy, once hed got Hagrid drunk. I just hope Dumbledore believes us. Firenze might back us up if Bane doesnt stop him. Wheres Dumbledores office?

They looked around, as if hoping to see a sign pointing them in the right direction. They had never been told where Dumbledore lived, nor did they know anyone who had been sent to see him.

Well just have to Harry began, but a voice suddenly rang across the hall.

What are you three doing inside?

It was Professor McGonagall, carrying a large pile of books.

We want to see Professor Dumbledore, said Hermione, rather bravely, Harry and Ron thought.

See Professor Dumbledore? Professor McGonagall repeated, as though this was a very fishy thing to want to do. Why?

Harry swallowednow what?

Its sort of secret, he said, but he wished at once he hadnt, because Professor McGonagalls nostrils flared.

Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago, she said coldly. He received an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off for London at once.




said Harry frantically.



Professor Dumbledore is a very great wizard, Potter, he has many demands on his time

But this is important.

Something you have to say is more important than the Ministry of Magic, Potter?

Look, said Harry, throwing caution to the winds, Professorits about the Sorcerers stone

Whatever Professor McGonagall had expected, it wasnt that. The books she was carrying tumbled out of her arms, but she didnt pick them up. How do you know ? she spluttered.


Professor, I thinkI


that Snthat someones going to try and steal the Stone. Ive got to talk to Professor Dumbledore.


She eyed him with a mixture of shock and suspicion.

Professor Dumbledore will be back tomorrow, she said finally. I dont know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it, its too well protected.

But Professor

Potter, I know what Im talking about, she said shortly. She bent down and gathered up the fallen books. I suggest you all go back outside and enjoy the sunshine.

But they didnt.

Its tonight, said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonagall was out of earshot. Snapes going through the trapdoor tonight. Hes found out everything he needs, and now hes got Dumbledore out of the way. He sent that note, I bet the Ministry of Magic will get a real shock when Dumbledore turns up.

But what can we

Hermione gasped. Harry and Ron wheeled round.

Snape was standing there.

Good afternoon, he said smoothly.

They stared at him.

You shouldnt be inside on a day like this, he said, with an odd, twisted smile.

We were Harry began, without any idea what he was going to say.

You want to be more careful, said Snape. Hanging around like this, people will think youre up to something. And Gryffindor really cant afford to lose any more points, can it?

Harry flushed. They turned to go outside, but Snape called them back.

Be warned, Potterany more nighttime wanderings and I will personally make sure you are expelled. Good day to you.

He strode off in the direction of the staffroom.

Out on the stone steps, Harry turned to the others.

Right, heres what weve got to do, he whispered urgently. One of us has got to keep an eye on Snapewait outside the staff room and follow him if he leaves it. Hermione, youd better do that.

Why me?


Its obvious, said Ron. You can pretend to be waiting for Professor Flitwick, you know. He put on a high voice, Oh Professor Flitwick, Im so worried, I think I got question fourteen




Oh, shut up, said Hermione, but she agreed to go and watch out for Snape.

And wed better stay outside the third floor corridor, Harry told Ron. Come on.

But that part of the plan didnt work. No sooner had they reached the door separating Fluffy from the rest of the school than Professor McGonagall turned up again and this time, she lost her temper.

I suppose you think youre harder to get past than a pack of enchantments! she stormed. Enough of this nonsense! If I hear youve come anywhere near here again, Ill take another fifty points from Gryffindor! Yes, Weasley, from my own house!

Harry and Ron went back to the common room, Harry had just said, At least Hermiones on Snapes tail, when the portrait of the Fat Lady swung open and Hermione came in.

Im sorry, Harry! she wailed. Snape came out and asked me what I was doing, so I said I was waiting for Flitwick, and Snape went to get him, and Ive only just got away, I dont know where Snape went.

Well, thats it then, isnt it? Harry said.

The other two stared at him. He was pale and his eyes were glittering.

Im going out of here tonight and Im going to try and get to the Stone first.

Youre mad! said Ron.

You cant! said Hermione. After what McGonagall and Snape have said? Youll be expelled!

SO WHAT? Harry shouted. Dont you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemorts coming back! Havent you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There wont be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! Hell flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesnt matter anymore, cant you see? Dyou think hell leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the house cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, Ill have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there, its only dying a bit later than I would have, because Im never going over to the Dark Side! Im going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?

He glared at them.

Youre right, Harry, said Hermione in a small voice.

Ill use the Invisibility Cloak, said Harry. Its just lucky I got it back.

But will it cover all three of us? said Ron.

Allall three of us?

Oh, come off it, you dont think wed let you go alone?

Of course not, said Hermione briskly. How do you think youd get to the Stone without us? Id better go and took through my books, there might be something useful

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