"I knew it, " he murmured. "There's 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.
"Who's there?" Hagrid called. "Show yerself — I'm armed!"
And into the clearing came — was it a man, or a horse? To the waist, a man, with
red hair and beard, but below that was a horse's gleaming chestnut body with a long,
reddish tail. Harry and Hermione's jaws dropped.
"Oh, it's you, Ronan," said Hagrid in relief. "How are yeh?"
He walked forward and shook the centaur's hand.
"Good evening to you, Hagrid," said Ronan. He had a deep, sorrowful voice. "Were
you going to shoot me?"
"Can't be too careful, Ronan," said Hagrid, patting his crossbow. "There's 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. He's a centaur.))
"We'd noticed," said Hermione faintly.
"Good evening," said Ronan. "Students, are you? And do you learn much, up at
"Erm - — "
"A bit," said Hermione timidly.
"A bit. Well, that's something." Ronan sighed. He flung back his head and stared
at the sky. "Mars is bright tonight."
"Yeah," said Hagrid, glancing up, too. "Listen, I'm glad we've run inter yeh,
Ronan, 'cause there's a unicorn bin hurt — you seen anythin'?"
Ronan didn't 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.
"Yeah, but I was meanin' anythin' unusual a bit nearer home, said Hagrid. "So
yeh haven't noticed anythin' strange?"
Yet again, Ronan took a while to answer. At last, he said, "The forest hides
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, I've jus' bin askin' Ronan, you seen anythin' odd in here
lately? There's a unicorn bin injured — would yeh know anythin' about it?"
Bane walked over to stand next to Ronan. He looked skyward. "Mars is bright tonight,"
he said simply.
"We've heard," said Hagrid grumpily. "Well, if either of you do see anythin',
let me know, won't yeh? We'll 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' closer'n the moon."
"Are there many of them in here?" asked Hermione.
"Oh, a fair few... Keep themselves to themselves mostly, but they're good enough
about turnin' up if ever I want a word. They're deep, mind, centaurs... they know
things... jus' don' let on much."
"D'you think that was a centaur we heard earlier?" said Harry.
"Did that sound like hooves to you? Nah, if yeh ask me, that was what's bin killin'
the unicorns — never 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 Hagrid's arm.
"Hagrid! Look! Red sparks, the others are in trouble!"
"You two wait here!" Hagrid shouted. "Stay on the path, I'll come back for yeh!"
They heard him crashing away through the undergrowth and stood looking at each
other, very scared, until they couldn't hear anything but the rustling of leaves
"You don't think they've been hurt, do you?" whispered Hermione.
"I don't care if Malfoy has, but if something's got Neville... it's our fault
he's here in the first place."
The minutes dragged by. Their ears seemed sharper than usual. Harry's 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 Hagrid's 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.
"We'll be lucky ter catch anythin' now, with the racket you two were makin'.
Right, we're changin' groups — Neville, you stay with me an' Hermione, Harry, you
go with Fang an' this idiot. I'm sorry," Hagrid added in a whisper to Harry, "but
he'll have a harder time frightenin' you, an' we've 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 animal's side, and began to drink its blood.
Malfoy let out a terrible scream and bolted — so did Fang. The hooded figure
raised its head and looked right at Harry — unicorn blood was dribbling down its
front. It got to its feet and came swiftly toward Harry — he couldn't move for fear.
Then a pain like he'd 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 Harry's 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
"Are you all right?" said the centaur, pulling Harry to his feet.
"Yes — thank you — what was that?"
The centaur didn't 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 Harry's forehead.
"You are the Potter boy," he said. "You had better get back to Hagrid. The forest
is not safe at this time — especially for you. Can you ride? It will be quicker
"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. "I'm 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
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 didn't have a clue what was going on.
"Why's 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 Harry's question. They made their way through the trees
in silence for so long that Harry thought Firenze didn't want to talk to him anymore.
They were passing through a particularly dense patch of trees, however, when Firenze
"Harry Potter, do you know what unicorn blood is used -for?"
"No," said Harry, startled by the odd question. "We've 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
Harry stared at the back of Firenze's head, which was dappled silver in the moonlight.
"But who'd be that desperate?" he wondered aloud. "If you're going to be cursed
forever, deaths better, isn't it?"
"It is," Firenze agreed, "unless all you need is to stay alive long enough to
drink something else — something that will bring you back to full strength and power
— something that will mean you can never die. Mr. Potter, do you know what is hidden
in the school at this very moment?"
"The Sorcerer's Stone! Of course — the Elixir of Life! But I don't 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 Harry's 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 Vol — "
"Harry! Harry, are you all right?"
Hermione was running toward them down the path, Hagrid puffing along behind her.
"I'm fine," said Harry, hardly knowing what he was saying. "The unicorn's dead,
Hagrid, it's 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
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 couldn't sit down. He paced up and down in front of the fire. He was still
"Snape wants the stone for Voldemort... and Voldemort's 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 wasn't listening.
"Firenze saved me, but he shouldn't have done so.... Bane was furious... he was
talking about interfering with what the planets say is going to happen.... They
must show that Voldemort's coming back.... Bane thinks Firenze should have let Voldemort
kill me.... I suppose that's written in the stars as well."
"Will you stop saying the name!" Ron hissed.
"So all I've 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
Bane'll be happy."