Hagrid leads Harry, Hermione, Daphne, and Malfoy into the Dark Forest. What Harry finds will haunt him for years to come.
"The Dark Forest?" Malfoy cried, looking for once like a child instead of a short business tycoon. "But it's forbidden, and there are . . ." A wolf howled from somewhere in the shadowed trees. "Werewolves."
"Oh, there's more than werewolves in there," Filch responded, not looking particularly comfortable being so close to the forbidden part of the grounds himself. At the sound of heavy footsteps, he turned to his left. "Ah, Hagrid. Ready, I presume?"
The half-Giant emerged from the Forest with Fang beside him. In his left hand, he carried a large lantern, and his right held an enormous crossbow. His eyes lacked their usual cheer. "Ah'm ready," was his gruff reply.
Filch nodded. "Then they're your's." With that, he passed his own lantern to Harry and turned back to the castle but couldn't resist a parting remark to the children. "See you in the morning."
"Come on," Hagrid said. "Best be off." Before any of his friends (or Malfoy) could get a chance to speak with him, he turned and began walking back into the Forest. The youngsters hurried to catch up with him.
They walked in silence for about ten minutes, stepping over roots and rocks, a low fog on the ground. Harry looked around and, despite the cold and the darkness, wondered what the big deal was. The trees were spaced far enough apart that it seemed he could see in every direction, and he couldn't see anything at all. It was like the Dark Forest was just that, a dimly lit bunch of trees with nothing in them.
"Ahrooooo . . ."
Daphne and Hermione grabbed Harry's arms. The young wizard swallowed and swung his head around. The wolf's cry seemed to come from every direction, but he couldn't see anything. He gripped the lantern tighter and sped up a little, moving a little closer to the vigilant Hagrid.
At length, they came to a stop at a small rise. The ground before them dipped down a little, and there, in the middle of the black and haunted ground was a puddle of molten silver. As they moved to inspect it, Daphne saw that it wasn't silver; it looked greyish, but as the light shifted, thin little rainbows appeared. As Hagrid dipped his fingers in the goo to examine it, she cried a little as she experienced a strange sense of revulsion. It seemed that the presence of something so beautiful in such a frightening place was somehow a crime against nature.
Hagrid straightened up and showed his gooy fingers to the group. "See this," he asked. "That's Unicorn blood, that is." Wiping his fingers off on his coat, he continued, "I found one—dead—a few weeks ago, with its throat tore out. This one's injured," he said. "Probably still alive, so we need to 'elp, if we can."
"What could do this to a Unicorn?" Hermione asked, looking down at the puddle.
"Werewolves?" Malfoy asked, looking around.
"Nah," Hagrid answered. "Werewolves ain't fast enough ta catch a Unicorn . . ." he trailed off for a moment, before returning to the task at hand. "Right, we'll go in two team."
"I want Fang," Malfoy insisted.
"All right," Hagrid said. "Just so's you know; 'e's a bloody coward." The huge boarhound whimpered a little, but didn't look particularly fierce. If anything, it looked like it wanted to say "Sorry." "'Arry," Hagrid said, looking at the young wizard, "you and 'Ermione are with me. Daphne, you look af'er Fang and 'im," the half-Giant said. Nodding towards the blond ferret. "If you find the Unicorn, send up green sparks. If somethin' attacks you, send up red ones." None of the children responded to that comment. "All right," Hagrid declared. "Let's go."
Harry thought about arguing. He would rather have both Daphne and Hermione near him, but his fiancé squeezed his hand before taking his lantern and whispered, "don't worry." The two groups set off with the instructions to return to that spot by dawn.
Now that they were alone, he looked up and saw that Hagrid seemed a little distracted as they searched for the injured beast. "Hagrid," he asked, "What's the matter?"
". . . Norbert's gone," the half-Giant answered. "Dumbledore . . . 'e said the Ministry would find out soon'r 'r lat'r. So, 'e sent thah little guy off to Romania, to be wit' 'is own kind. Charlie Weasley came by to pick 'im. Nice seein' 'im again . . ." The enormous man sniffle-d a little.
"Oh, Hagrid," Hermione walked up and took the half-Giant's hand. "I'm certain professor Dumbledore knows what he's doing. Norbert will be all right, I'm sure of it."
"Sniff, thank's 'Ermione," Hagrid replied. "You're a good friend, you are."
"How'd Dumbledore find out about Norbert?" Harry asked.
"I imagine Profess'r McGonigal told 'im, after ole Malfoy told 'er," Hagrid replied, stopping to check some impressions on the ground that might or might not have been prints.
"She didn't mention Norbert when she was scolding us," Harry remarked, thinking back to the incident.
He didn't notice Hermione look away. Her face became hot, and she clentched her hands as she remembered what had happened after Filch had escorted Harry and Daphne back to the Slytherin rooms.
"Thank you, Miss Granger," the Headmaster said. "You've done quite well to tell me of this matter. I shall see to it immediately."
Hermione tried to tell herself she had done the right thing, but, seeing Hagrid like this now . . .
"HAGRID!" Harry yelled, pointing off to the right.
Hermione and Hagrid spun around and looked up where he was pointing; there were red sparks in the sky.
"STAY 'ERE!" Hagrid cried, raising his crossbow and charging off towards the sparks, where the sound of Fang's barks echoed.
Harry started to run after him, but Hermione grabbed his arm. "Harry, we have to stay here!"
"But, Daphne!" he cried.
"She's strong! Hagrid's going to her! If we run off, we'll only get in the way or get lost and create even more trouble."
Harry opened his mouth to object, when another howl echoed through the Forest. Hermione stiffened and almost let go of his hand. She re-clenched it, then let go, her eyes blinking wildly. For the first time since the incident with the Troll, Harry saw a look on Hermione's face most people believed was impossible: the look of someone who didn't know what to do.
She thinks I'm mad at her, he realized. Well, he was, but she was too concerned about her too much to care about being mad. The young wizard wrapped his arms around her, and Hermione instantly wrapped him in one of her most suffocating hugs. He didn't mind.
All too soon, however, they heard something rumble in the trees. Harry let go of her and drew his wand. Hermione was shivering a little, but drew her's as well. Harry was about to fire a stunner when Hagrid emerged from the shadows with the other group in tow.
"They're all right," Hagrid grumbled, looking uncharacteristically cross. Daphne, by contrast, was livid and glared at Malfoy, who was looking uncharacteristically dirty. Fang, despite his heavy jowls, actually looked amused.
"Malfoy, 'ere," Hagrid said, gesturing to the sulking wizard. "Thought 'e could sneak up on Daphne. She stunned 'im and sent up thah sparks before she got a good look at 'im."
"Serves him right for trying to scare a girl," the blond witch growled, her scowl intensifying.
Hagrid grunted but didn't respond to her comment. "Ah'm sorry, Harry, but I'll 'ave ta ask you ta look af'er this one fer me," he said, referring back to Malfoy. "'No offense to ya, girls, Ah just reckon 'e won't try it again wit' 'Arry, is all."
"All right," Harry said. He wasn't thrilled about it, but at least Daphne and Hermione would be safe with Hagrid.
"Be careful, Harry," she whispered.
"I will," Harry promised. Before going to join the prat, he stopped and hugged Daphne. "Nice job," he whispered.
"I wish Hagrid hadn't made me wake him up," she replied. Harry laughed, and she smiled a little. "I'll keep Hermione safe," she promised.
"Keep yourself safe, too, Daph," he whispered in her ear. Then, Harry let go and walked off into the woods with a cowardly dog on one side, and a blond ferret on the other . . .
"When my father hears about this, he'll have that old fool, Dumbledore fired. This is servants' work!" Malfoy whined as he, Harry, and Fang wandered through the Forest.
"If I didn't know better, Malfoy," Harry said, having put up with the other boy's complaints for the past ten minutes, "I'd say you were scared."
"'Scared,' Potter?" Malfoy spat. He was about to say more, but was cut off when they heard a—
"What . . . was that?" Harry asked. He'd heard the phrase "blood-curdling" before, but he'd never imagined that a single sound could invoke so much pain and terror. He felt . . . he felt as though his blood actually was cringing in revulsion. "Come on," the young wizard said, finding his nerve.
Malfoy didn't reply but followed after him, if for no other reason than to avoid being left alone. Together with Fang, they raced down the small hill. There, lying on the ground, was a beautiful, snowy body: a dead unicorn. And, hunched over it, was a dark figure, a perfect contrast to the dead creature. Harry knew that this black thing was what had slain the unicorn, although he had no idea what it was . . .
"ow," he whispered, too quiet for even Fang to hear it, as he reached up and touched his forehead. His scar felt like it was living coal burning into his skin.
Then, the thing that had slain the unicorn moved. Harry and Malfoy had made no sound, but, somehow it knew they were there. It raised its head, and the boys saw that the thing was a person, wearing a black cloak and hood. The shadows hid its eyes, the only part that was visible was its mouth.
The lips were stained with liquid silver.
"Yaaaaaaa-ya-arrrrrgh . . ." the creature growled at the boys.
Malfoy screamed. The ferret turned and ran away, crying as loudly as he could. Fang began barking, but back up as the dark figure slowly began to glide away from the dead unicorn . . . and advanced on Harry.
Harry himself fell back on the ground as he tried to retreat. He knew he should send up red sparks, but he couldn't think strait. A Vampire? Why is he attacking Unicorns? Liam said they couldn't drink Unicorn blood. And why is my scar burning? Soon, the dark figure was standing over him, and Harry didn't know if he would die because of it or his own raging scar.
Suddenly, another figure flew out of the tree and landed between Harry and his attacker. The cloaked figure was forced to retreat to avoid being crushed under the new creature's landing. Harry's first thought was that it was another Unicorn, but it's coat was grey, and it seemed too bulky for the lithe, horned beasts. Whatever it was, it reared up on its hind legs and began kicking at the shadowy slayer.
The man in the hood made no sound but fled, gliding off into the shadows deeper in the Forest.
Harry's breath heaved. This was worse than the Troll; he hadn't even been able to call for help, much less defend himself. If the second creature hadn't arrived when it did . . .
"Are you all right, Mister Potter?" the creature said, turning to him.
Harry saw now that a man's torso grew out of the horse's body where its neck should have been. It was a muscular torso with equally developed arms growing out of it, het the head attached to it, although a bit brutish, reminded Harry of pictures of famous Greek wizards and philosophers he'd seen in his and his friend's books. Short, grey hair (although he looked rather young) and a short beard were both neatly combed, a smooth forehead, and dark, inquisitive eyes.
"I'm fine, thanks to you," he replied, getting up.
"It was nothing," the Centaur responded. "Dangerous things stalk the Forest these nights, Mister Potter. It is not good to travel alone."
Harry flushed. "I was with my friends . . ." he started.
"I saw," the Centaur said. "He fled."
"He wasn't my friend," Harry quickly replied. "My friends are Daphne and Hermione; they're with Hagrid, the Groundskeeper. Do you know him?"
The Centaur nodded. "Do you know where they are?"
"Somewhere in that direction, I believe," Harry said, pointing back the way he'd come. "We went in opposite directions, you see."
"Very well," the Centaur said and knelt down. "I will take you to them."
"You're going to carry me?" Harry asked. From what he'd heard from his mother and the other adults he knew, Centaurs did not just let other people ride on their backs.
"I can travel faster than you, and speed is of the essence," the Centaur said. "Leave the lantern; I have no need of it," he said, referring to the hunk of metal Malfoy had dropped when he ran. It was just as well; the light had gone out and Harry didn't know a spell to rekindle it. First-Years weren't taught how to conjure fire, for obvious reasons.
Harry swallowed and climbed on the creature's horse-back. He wrapped his arms around the man's torso as the Centaur rose. He began a swift gallop through the Forest, with Fang trailing behind.
They traveled together in silence for a few moments before Harry dared to speak again. "What's your name, sir?"
" . . . Firenze," he replied.
"Firenze," sounds like "Friends," Harry thought. He decided it suited the Centaur. "Thank you for saving me Firenze, but what was that?"
"The most terrible monster I have ever encountered," Firenze replied, slowing as he descended another hill.
"But what kind of creature was it?" Harry asked. "It couldn't have been a Vampire; my mother's friend is one, and he says they can't drink Unicorn blood. He said if they did, it could make them really sick, possibly kill them."
"That is true," Firenze replied. "Healing magic has an adverse effect upon Vampires, and Unicorn's blood has amazing powers of healing. No Vampire could stand it."
"'Healing powers?'" Harry asked. "I've never heard about that. In Potions and wands, we only use hairs of bits of the horn."
"That is because these things can be taken without killing the animal," Firenze said, stopping for a moment. "It is a terrible crime to slay a Unicorn, Mister Potter. The magic in its blood will keep you alive even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. To slay a thing so pure, so noble . . . It would be a half-life: a cursed life. Your every moment would be agony."
"Who would want to live like that?" Harry whispered.
"Can you think of no one, Mister Potter," Firenze replied, twisting his man-body to look Harry in the eye.
"Voldemort?" Harry whispered. The man that had attacked him was . . . Voldemort?
Firenze nodded, then took off again.
They traveled for another five or ten minutes when they came upon a small clearing. Hagrid and the others were there . . . along with two other Centaurs.
"'Arry!" Hagrid called out, waving his arms. He and the girls ran to meet them . Once again, Malfoy tagged along to avoid being left alone, or (in this case) alone with two scowling Centaurs. "Thank God ye're all right! An' thank you, Firenze," the half-Giant said as the pair came to a stop. Harry slid off the Centaur's back and was immediately enveloped in a combined smother-hug from his friends.
"It was nothing, Hagrid," Firenze replied, seeming not to notice the reunion at his side.
"Donkey," one of the other Centaurs, a black-haired fellow, spat.
"We will take our leave, now," said the other. He wasn't scowling like the black-haired one was, but he didn't look happy either. The two galloped off into the Forest.
"What was that abou—?" Hermione started to ask, but it dropped off as she looked up at the remaining Centaur. He was staring intensely at the sky.
"Mars is red, tonight," he whispered.
"So we've 'eard," Hagrid grumbled.
Firenze shook his head. "Even Centaurs have misread the stars before. The future guards its secrets closely." Turning to Harry, he added. "There are terrible things moving in the world, Mister Potter. Soon, even Hogwarts itself may not be safe. Be very careful." With that, he turned and galloped after the others.
"Ruddy Centaurs," Hagrid grumbled. "Can't talk about anything closer than the Moon with 'em. Still, they're good friends to 'ave, say's Aye."
With that, he led the four children (and one dog) back out of the Forest. Harry told them about what he seen, and what he spoken of with Firenze. "Do you think it's possible, Hagrid?" he asked. "Could Voldemort really be here, in the Dark Forest?"
"Nah," Hagrid replied. "Even in the worst of the Bad Times, 'e'd ne'er get this close ta 'Ogwarts." Still, the half-Giant held his crossbow close, and hurried them along out of the Forest, where he escorted them back to the Castle . . .
Wow, long chapter! Can anyone guess who Liam's based off of? Honestly, if no one can, I'll be incredibly disappointed in you all. The part about Vampires being harmed by healing magic comes from DnD and it's ilk where healing spells used by clerics have a negative affect on the undead. I modified it for my own purposes. I won't say whether or not Crosses and such harm them, but this is in the same vein, I believe.
Funny story, when my Mom was reading me this chapter in Sorcerer's Stone (this was when I was young enough that my parents and I took turns reading books), I actually thought Firenze's name was "Friends." I thought it was good for a helpful character.
I'm sorry Malfoy didn't get to say or do anything at the end, but I couldn't think of anything. He can't support the Dark Lord publically, yet, especially not with three anti-Death Eaters around him in the Dark Forest. The ferret isn't the brightest candle on the chandelier, but he isn't that dim.
Were the sound effects good? And Hagrid's accursed accent (not looking forward to writing for the Delacours)? I have trouble figuring out how to use actual letters to describe what I hear in my mind.