Hermione looked very frightened, but she had a word of comfort.
"Harry, everyone says Dumbledore's the only one You-Know-Who was ever afraid
of With Dumbledore around, You-Know-Who won't touch you. Anyway, who says the centaurs
are right? It sounds like fortune-telling to me, and Professor McGonagall says that's
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 night's surprises weren't 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.
THROUGH THE TRAPDOOR
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 snuffbox -- points 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
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 couldn't 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 hadn't seen what Harry had seen in the forest, or because
they didn't have scars burning on their foreheads, but Ron and Hermione didn't seem
as worried about the Stone as Harry. The idea of Voldemort certainly scared them,
but he didn't keep visiting them in dreams, and they were so busy with their studying
they didn't 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 who'd invented selfstirring cauldrons and they'd 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 couldn't 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 needn't 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, we've got a week before
we find out how badly we've done, there's no need to worry yet."
Harry was rubbing his forehead.
"I wish I knew what this means!" he burst out angrily. "My scar keeps hurting
— it's happened before, but never as often as this."
"Go to Madam Pomfrey," Hermione suggested.
"I'm not ill," said Harry. "I think it's a warning... it means danger's coming...."
Ron couldn't get worked up, it was too hot.
"Harry, relax, Hermione's right, the Stone's safe as long as Dumbledore's around.
Anyway, we've never had any proof Snape found out how to get past Fluffy. He nearly
had his leg ripped off once, he's 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 couldn't shake off a lurking feeling that there was something
he'd forgotten to do, something important. When he tried to explain this, Hermione
said, "That's just the exams. I woke up last night and was halfway through my Transfiguration
notes before I remembered we'd done that one."
Harry was quite sure the unsettled feeling didn't 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.
"Where're you going?" said Ron sleepily.
"I've just thought of something," said Harry. He had turned white. "We've got
to go and see Hagrid, now."
"Why?" panted Hermione, hurrying to keep up.
"Don't you think it's 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 it's against wizard law? Lucky they found Hagrid, don't you
think? Why didn't I see it before?"
"What are you talking about?" said Ron, but Harry, sprinting across the grounds
toward the forest, didn't 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, we're in a hurry. Hagrid, I've 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.
"It's not that unusual, yeh get a lot o' funny folk in the Hog's Head -- that's
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 I'd always
really wanted was a dragon... an' then... I can' remember too well, 'cause he kept
buyin' me drinks.... Let's 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 he — did he seem interested in Fluffy?" Harry asked, try ing to keep
his voice calm.
"Well — yeah — how many three-headed dogs d'yeh meet, even around Hogwarts? So
I told him, Fluffy's a piece o' cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus' play
him a bit o' music an' he'll go straight off ter sleep - — "
Hagrid suddenly looked horrified.
"I shouldn'ta told yeh that!" he blurted out. "Forget I said it! Hey -- where're
Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn't 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.
"We've 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 cloak — it must've
been easy, once he'd got Hagrid drunk. I just hope Dumbledore believes us. Firenze
might back us up if Bane doesn't stop him. Where's Dumbledore's 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.
"We'll 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
"See Professor Dumbledore?" Professor McGonagall repeated, as though this was
a very fishy thing to want to do. "Why?"
Harry swallowed — now what?
"It's sort of secret," he said, but he wished at once he hadn't, because Professor
McGonagall's 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."
"He's gone?" said Harry frantically. "Now?"
"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, "Professor — it's about the
Sorcerer's tone - — "
Whatever Professor McGonagall had expected, it wasn't that. The books she was
carrying tumbled out of her arms, but she didn't pick them up. "How do you know
--?" she spluttered.
"Professor, I think — I know — that Sn-that someone's going to try and steal
the Stone. I've 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 don't know
how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it,
it's too well protected."
"But Professor - — "
"Potter, I know what I'm 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 didn't.
"It's tonight," said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonagall was out of
earshot. "Snape's going through the trapdoor tonight. He's found out everything
he needs, and now he's 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 shouldn't 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 you're up to something. And Gryffindor really can't
afford to lose any more points, can it?"
Harry flushed. They turned to go outside, but Snape called them back.
"Be warned, Potter — any 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, here's what we've got to do," he whispered urgently. "One of us has got
to keep an eye on Snape — wait outside the staff room and follow him if he leaves
it. Hermione, you'd better do that."
"It's obvious," said Ron. "You can pretend to be waiting for Professor Flitwick,
you know." He put on a high voice, "'Oh Professor Flitwick, I'm so worried, I think
I got question fourteen b wrong....'"
"Oh, shut up," said Hermione, but she agreed to go and watch out for Snape.
"And we'd better stay outside the third-floor corridor," Harry told Ron. "Come
But that part of the plan didn't 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 you're harder to get past than a pack of enchantments!"
she stormed. "Enough of this nonsense! If I hear you 've come anywhere near here
again, I'll 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
Hermione's on Snape's tail," when the portrait of the Fat Lady swung open and Hermione
"I'm 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 I've only just
got away, I don't know where Snape went."
"Well, that's it then, isn't it?" Harry said.
The other two stared at him. He was pale and his eyes were glittering.
"I'm going out of here tonight and I'm going to try and get to the Stone first."
"You're mad!" said Ron.
"You can't!" said Hermione. "After what McGonagall and Snape have said? You'll
"SO WHAP" Harry shouted. "Don't you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone,
Voldemort's coming back! Haven't you heard what it was like when he was trying to
take over? There won't be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He'll flatten it, or
turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn't matter anymore, can't
you see? D'you think he'll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins
the house cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I'll have to
go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there, it's only dying
a bit later than I would have, because I'm never going over to the Dark Side! I'm
going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me!
Voldemort killed my parents, remember?"