This one took more than one session to cover. Considering this entire chapter is filler to justify a single dramatic image, it’s disproportionately long.
Chapter Fifteen: The Forbidden Forest
Today’s art is a slightly camp centaur striking a weird pose. I swear
one day I’ll go back and insert the images into these posts. One day.
When we last left our hero, he and Hermione had stupidly forgotten the magic bedsheet after the unnecessary and physics-defying bit of dragon-smuggling, and were being dragged off by Filch. The first line of this chapter is Harry informing us that ‘things couldn’t have been worse‘; yes, they could. Norbert could have escaped, set you on fire and trotted off to eat someone. But no, Harry’s remembered (or been reminded by that offscreen director) that he’s meant to be afraid of punishments and authority figures, and he’s panicking about expulsion again.
Filch dumps them in McGonagall’s office and leaves them to sweat; this must mean he saw her with Draco earlier and knows she’s awake, because it’s an unspecified time between midnight and 1am at this point. Presumably McGonagall has just dragged Draco off to confront Snape – brave woman; I can’t imagine he’d be too pleased at being disturbed at such a stupid time – because when she appears it’s clear she hasn’t gone to bed like a sane person. She has Neville with her, though mercifully not being literally dragged along by his ear.
Neville instantly tells Harry that he was trying to find them to warn them, because he overheard Draco say he was going to get them into trouble, he said they had a dragon. Neville, you are a wonderful human being and you deserve so much better than being stuck in this universe. Though you have to wonder just why he was so worried about them, since he doesn’t know the dragon is real and has no reason to expect that their being out of bed is going to be a big deal. (Then again, given the general incompetence of everyone involved, I expect the whole school knows about the dragon by this point.)
McGonagall continues to display a very harsh attitude towards these pre-teen children in her care; ‘she looked more likely to breathe fire than Norbert as she towered over the three of them‘ and demands an explanation. Her behaviour for this whole scene is, frankly, inexplicably bizarre. We were forced to conclude that somehow this incident has interrupted something, because she is disproportionately furious about them being out of bed. Far more so than she was over the troll thing.
It’s especially odd that she’s so put out by their being out of bed at one in the morning, particularly since they were near the Astronomy Tower and astronomy classes meet regularly at midnight. We’re not told whether any sections meet Saturday nights, but regardless it shouldn’t be this unusual for students to be out of bed at a time when some of them will be going to and from class. If they’d been thinking (and/or Rowling wanted to make them look clever) they should have told McGonagall they were going to meet a friend and walk them back from their astronomy class, or something like that.
On a related note, why exactly are Astronomy classes held at the top of a tower anyway? The Great Hall has a magic ceiling that shows the sky, it’s basically a planetarium.
Instead of this perfectly reasonable answer, Harry says nothing, and also judges Hermione for saying nothing. Given what happened to her last time McGonagall got angry with her for the terrible crime of being attacked, I’m not at all surprised.
McGonagall doesn’t give them much opportunity to say anything, and rather quickly provides her own explanation, declaring that obviously they told Draco some lies about a dragon to get him into trouble and they probably think it’s funny Neville fell for it as well.
Now, there are two possibilities here. One is that she actually believes this, in which case she’s punishing Draco for falling for a trick, which is admittedly completely consistent with her usual victim-blaming attitude. Alternatively, she knows this is nonsense, knows all about the dragon, and is punishing Draco for telling the truth (and feeding the others a cover story) in order to cover for Hagrid breaking the law, which could at least explain her ridiculous overreaction. Either way, this whole plotline is terrible and makes her an awful person. (I’m feeling a lot better now about the way I wrote her in PTL…) She’s also training the children to never go to her for anything, which is an absolutely stellar attitude for a head of house to take.
Harry tries to psychically tell Neville this isn’t true, though I don’t know why he cares because he’s treated Neville horribly all book and will continue to do so. ‘Poor, blundering Neville‘ wants you to take your patronising attitude and cram it where the sun doesn’t shine, Snowflake.
Continuing with the hyperbole, McGonagall declares that she’s absolutely disgusted with them all, before dropping this clanger: ‘Four students out of bed in one night! I’ve never heard of such a thing before!‘ Presumably she’s spent the entirety of her teaching career to date heavily sedated, but even so, the Marauders were clearly already part of Rowling’s dubious headcanon by this point; the woman is just talking nonsense. I think we have to subscribe to the ‘trying to cover up Hagrid’s illegal dragon’ theory here because there’s just no rational reason why being out of bed is such a serious crime that justifies the very harsh punishment.
Speaking of punishment, she gives all three of them detention and takes fifty points from Gryffindor. She only took twenty from Slytherin for Draco, and that was by far the highest penalty we’d seen from anyone up until that point. Harry understandably protests, so McGonagall promptly makes it fifty points each.
To be fair, I would almost like this if it weren’t such an overreaction to a very minor infraction and if she hadn’t been so awful previously; escalating punishments in response to whining is a thing teachers often do, and for good reason. One of my chemistry teachers once increased my predicted grade for quite an important exam because I was the only one in the class who didn’t try to argue with her about it.
I have to wonder if originally this chapter was meant to involve a worse crime. Perhaps in the first draft she did find out about the dragon (or at least wasn’t able to deny knowing about it), Hagrid was fired/arrested and the children were being punished for aiding and abetting his lawbreaking. That would actually justify taking one hundred and fifty points (in context, 150 is quite a lot when the final scores at the end of the book range from 312 to 472), detention, and lectures about how disgusted she is and how awful they are. As it is, there’s no way to rationalise McGonagall’s attitude – particularly since not too many chapters ago she was perfectly happy to break rules herself in order to get Harry onto the Quidditch team, because the stupid cup meant more to her than the rules did. The sudden 180 over breaking curfew is too hard to swallow.
McGonagall finishes the scene by talking over their protests and telling them, ‘I’ve never been more ashamed of Gryffindor students‘. I would like to remind everyone that ‘Gryffindor students’ include the Weasley twins, and have included their older dragon-smuggling brother, the Marauders (and she is well aware that one of them is a Death Eater who betrayed his friends and got them murdered, even if she’s mistaken about which one), and Hagrid the monster-breeder who was expelled after a student was killed. But no, she’s deeply ashamed and disgusted that a couple of children dared to leave their bedrooms without permission, and that’s the worst infraction she’s ever seen. In isolation you can dismiss this as exaggeration just to make them feel bad, but again, she’s acted like this before and you’d better believe she will do so again.
She then hypocritically sends them off to wander the castle unaccompanied on their way back to bed, because what is consistency.
I’d just like to point out here that what we’ve seen of McGonagall throughout this book has been much, much worse than anything Snape has said or done, despite the narrative insisting that he’s scum and she’s awesome. Not that I need to point that out, since it’s pretty blatantly obvious.
We did come up with a couple of other theories that could explain her terrible behaviour here. One possibility is that she hasn’t forgotten about the Marauders at all, and in fact this whole affair is her attempt to scare Harry into behaving so that he won’t end up like his father. I’d happily accept this in a different story, but seriously, she’s just a bad person and I won’t give her this much credit.
Our other possible explanation is that this is all part of some sort of inter-staff feud and McGonagall is attempting to oppose Dumbledore. This would require her knowing that he gave Harry the magic bedsheet and is encouraging him to get into trouble a lot, but it seems pretty clear by the end of the book that Dumbles has planned most of it all, so it’s not out of the question that McGonagall could know and be trying to thwart him. Except that we’ve all seen her blindly obeying him before, when it comes to leaving infants on doorsteps in November and other such things, and she never objects to anything else throughout the series.
We’re not seriously advancing these theories as true, of course; there’s too much evidence against them. But they could have been interesting possibilities in another book.
And it gets worse. Understandably the school are a little confused the next day to see how many points Gryffindor have lost – they’re tracked by magic giant hourglasses full of jewels on display in the Great Hall, which is pretty if somewhat pointless – but by the power of authorial fiat everyone very quickly finds out what happened. We’ll see many times throughout the rest of the series that Rowling doesn’t understand how rumours actually work, but here I think we have to conclude that McGonagall has deliberately leaked at least part of the story to add social shaming to the children’s punishments. Which is just plain sadistic – they’re only eleven and twelve years old. It also shouldn’t work, but when has realism and a knowledge of how humans work ever stopped Rowling?
There could have been plenty of better ways to write the rumours getting started, if we had to keep this plotline. All she would’ve had to do is put Harry in the scene a bit earlier. As an example, let’s say everyone goes to breakfast and notices the points missing, but nobody has any idea what’s going on. People start asking each other if they know anything, but nobody does, until someone asks Harry and he reacts with embarrassment (let’s say goes red in the face and stares at his shoes, or something), giving away that he had something to do with it. That would be enough for rumours to start, especially since he’d have to be evasive to avoid incriminating Hagrid.
In any case, while I’ve covered plenty of Watsonian reasons for all this, the Doylist reason is to slather on some more over the top Angst For Harry.
‘From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated. Even Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs turned on him, because everyone had been longing to see Slytherin lose the House Cup. Everywhere Harry went, people pointed and didn’t trouble to lower their voices as they insulted him.’
The Slytherins, by contrast, are pretty pleased and keep thanking Harry for doing them a favour.
I really can’t accept that absolutely every student with no exceptions is this fanatical about the bloody House Cup. Slytherin have won for the last seven years in a row, as we’ve been repeatedly told; them being in the lead again now is not a huge deal. We’ve also seen absolutely no justification for ‘everyone’ hating Slytherin except that some of them used to be Death Eaters a decade ago. I’m also not sure Rowling’s realised that she’s making most of her precious Gryffindors look pretty horrible right now for picking on a small boy.
‘Only Ron stood by him.‘ Because Hermione and Neville don’t count as people. Though admittedly by this point I can understand why they’d both hate him…
Harry’s so miserable that he resolves to never meddle in anything ever again. This resolution will last, oh, about a page or so. Just long enough to be contrived and irritating in the next scene, in fact. I don’t know why Harry’s miserable, though; we’ve been told several times that this is exactly what his last school was like, because everyone was inexplicably in awe of Dudley and thus hated Harry on principle. Yes, being ostracised is horrible, but if it’s all you’ve ever experienced you wouldn’t really know it was horrible and would be so used to it that you probably wouldn’t care – particularly since being insulted is a step up from being physically (or magically) attacked.
Alternatively, given this history of Harry’s, this ought to be the final nail in the coffin that means he will never trust anyone again because it turns out that the magic world is just as awful as the Muggle one. From this point on he ought to hate all his teachers, especially McGonagall for doing this to him but also including his precious Dumbledore who isn’t stopping it, and also ought to deliberately isolate himself and never make friends with anyone again – including his existing friends – because he can’t trust them not to arbitrarily turn on him. (There’s a reason dark!Harry fics are quite popular.)
Of course, this is the wonderful world of Harry Potter. So what actually happens is that he wallows in angst for a few more pages and then forgets this ever happened and is completely unaffected. At least until the next time this exact scenario happens.
During his angst phase, he decides to resign from the Quidditch team. Why he expects this to help is beyond me; we’re never told how Quidditch and House points tally up, or why Quidditch contributes to House points at all for that matter, but it was apparently only due to his awesome seeker powers that Gryffindor were in the lead in the first place. Wood points this out and refuses to let him resign, ‘but even Quidditch had lost its fun. The rest of the team wouldn’t speak to Harry during practice, and if they had to speak about him, they called him ‘the Seeker’.‘
The rest of the team includes Fred and George, remember, who have not only certainly lost far more points than this over their school career but who also think rulebreaking is funny. They also seem to like Harry and have interacted with him quite a lot. Even without that, the team are well aware that it’s thanks to their pet snowflake that they were doing well and that he’s their best hope of getting their lead back. Not to mention that Harry’s Quidditch strategy is to soar a long way above the actual game; why would he need to speak to any of the team anyway?
Rowling, please write out one hundred times, “People do not work this way”. Preferably with a blood quill.
We’re told that Hermione and Neville are suffering too, but not as badly because they’re not super-famous special snowflakes. I fail to see how they’re suffering at all, really; nobody spoke to either of them anyway except to be nasty, so this is business as usual. If anything, this incident ought to have made Harry and Ron more tolerant of both of them and they should have formed a proper little group of four friends, though obviously it doesn’t. And we know it doesn’t because Harry then tells us that the Trio keep to themselves and get on with revising. Apparently Neville is even being ostracised by the kids who got him into trouble in the first place. I’m glad we’ve established that he and Hermione are secretly friends offscreen, because seriously, poor Neville. He needs hugs and puppies.
I do find it interesting that we don’t see any onscreen reactions at all, except Ron saying it’s not so bad and Wood saying that resigning from the sports team won’t help. We’re just told everyone else hates Harry now. We don’t see reactions from the other boys in Harry’s dormitory, or Ron’s brothers – not just the twins; Percy is the Gryffindor prefect, remember? – or anyone else on the Quidditch team. The really obvious, glaring lack, though? Draco. He ought to be gloating – a detention and twenty points is a very small price to pay for successfully costing Gryffindor 150 points and their lead, even if they got away with the whole dragon thing. He’s not even mentioned, though, let alone appearing onscreen to rub Harry’s nose in it. That’s just plain lazy writing, and given the amount of filler in this chapter there’s really no excuse for it.
Then we have a slightly random interlude reminding us that there’s a plot trying to happen somewhere. Harry is walking back from the library by himself and hears voices coming from a classroom – egad! Voices in a classroom? Anyone would think this was a school, or something! To be fair, the voice is whimpering, which probably is cause for concern even in Hogwarts.
He gets closer and hears Quirrell sobbing and saying things like, ‘No – no – not again, please –‘ before finally ending with ‘All right – all right‘. Despite hearing all this perfectly clearly, Harry is somehow unable to hear the other side of the conversation, and yet doesn’t seem at all puzzled by it. I don’t know what he thinks is happening here; I don’t think you can threaten someone silently. (Also, a public classroom is a pretty poor choice of venue for torturing a minion.)
Quirrell leaves the room, pale and trying not to cry and fiddling with his turban, and somehow utterly fails to notice Harry who promptly runs past him to look into the classroom. Implausibly, this classroom just happens to have exits at both ends, and there’s nobody else there. Some rooms in some schools do end up that way, since when you adapt buildings the space doesn’t always line up and sometimes limited money means turning awkward places into classrooms instead of building extensions, but none of those reasons apply to Hogwarts even if people couldn’t use magic.
Continuing to stretch all credibility, Harry starts walking towards the second door and then reminds himself he’s not going to meddle any more because he’s emo now and trots off back to the library instead. For the record, this is the only time he’ll stop himself pursuing something, and of course it’s on the only occasion where he might have learned something that could have put a hole in his pet ‘it’s Snape’ theory. Instead he goes back to Ron and Hermione and tells them that Snape’s obviously got what he needed from Quirrell now, oh noes.
‘‘Snape’s done it, then!’ said Ron. ‘If Quirrell’s told him how to break his Anti-Dark Force spell –’ ‘
…what spell would that be? These Are Not The Droids You’re Looking For-ius? Honestly, Ron, are you sure you’re pureblood?
The Trio discuss it a bit and conclude sensibly that it’s quite possible someone could find out how to get past Fluffy from one of the thousands of books in the library, so maybe now Snape can waltz in and grab the shiny plot coupon whenever he likes. It doesn’t occur to them that since he’s not an idiot he’d be doing so literally right this moment, because really why would you wait.
Ron’s all for charging in, of course. Hermione says they should go tell Dumbledore and let him deal with it – while this is sensible, given her treatment by the staff in recent chapters I can’t think this is really her reaction. For some reason they give Harry power of authority here despite that having been a really bad idea every single time, and his opinion is that they should… do absolutely nothing. They shouldn’t go to Dumbles because they’ve got no proof of anything (okay, maybe we should give him a little credit for acknowledging that… except that he just uses it as more angst fodder, so never mind), and they shouldn’t investigate on their own because emo emo emo everyone hates us.
Best protagonist ever. Apart from anything else, if everyone already hates you, what’s the worst that can happen now?
Of course, Rowling knows they’re going to get involved anyway, so from her point of view it doesn’t matter what they say here, but this is stupid. If the children were right and Snape was the villain, and if he’s just got the last piece of information he needs to get the Stone, then the risk is that he’d do so immediately; doing nothing is not a viable option. The real question is why the actual villain hasn’t acted all year and will continue not to act for the next few weeks. Not knowing how to peacefully sedate Fluffy doesn’t mean you can’t just kill him or turn him into some sort of furniture.
And I think it’s worth mentioning here that Quirrell is really suffering. He is not a willing participant in this plot – whatever his initial motivations (which are never explained in canon; you need to go to bloody Pottermore for any sort of backstory) he’s being coerced throughout the book, and this is not the only occasion where we’re told he is literally being tortured. (However that works.) He’s not in control, this wasn’t his idea and he has no choice. Yet there will never be any sympathy for him, from anyone. Nor will his fate ever be mentioned again. More on this when we reach the finale.
Several weeks have passed by this point, but McGonagall finally gets around to actually assigning the four detentions. There is no explanation given for what took so long, and honestly we can’t really think of one, except the general lack of organisation at Hogwarts. She doesn’t even tell the children directly, instead sending them notes by owl at breakfast one morning telling them to meet Filch in the entrance hall at eleven that night.
Yes, eleven at night. Honestly, the biggest delay in my getting this post up was our doomed attempt to try and explain why anyone, even McGonagall, would assign an overnight detention (literally all night, later Filch says he’ll come back to fetch them at dawn) to a group of eleven and twelve year old children at all, dangerous or otherwise. This chapter should be called ‘Rowling wants Harry to see something in the forest at night and come Hell or high water she is going to get him there no matter what really stupid writing she has to churn out to do so’. (The rest of the delay was mostly ranting about unicorns. I’m sure nobody is surprised.)
This problem could have been easily solved by giving them a normal detention involving writing an essay or lines or something and later having Harry follow someone he thinks is Snape out into the forest, see the big dramatic thing and meet the character who helpfully explains it to him. Really nothing else about this entire chapter is important and nothing justifies this stupid setup.
Harry ‘half expected Hermione to complain that this was a whole night of revision lost, but she didn’t say a word. Like Harry, she felt they deserved what they’d got.‘
One, it’s not a whole night lost, the detention doesn’t start until nearly midnight. Two, I’m not going to take his word for it concerning what anyone else is feeling – Hermione’s barely said a word for most of the book anyway. Three, why does Harry suddenly think they deserve it? His complaining about the injustice of it got the punishment increased in the first place. Also, literally the preceding sentence tells us he’d forgotten they still had to serve detention anyway. Though I suppose it’s nicely ironic that Harry thinks he deserves an unjust punishment, given how often throughout the series he’ll pout over ones he actually does deserve.
Filch, with Draco in tow, meets Harry, Neville and Hermione in the entrance hall that night. There’s no real reason for Draco to be serving his detention with them, either. I would love to have seen the arguments among the staff – Snape wouldn’t take this crap lying down.
The caretaker is gloating as he leads them outside, saying that they’ll think twice before breaking rules in future (you poor deluded fool) and complaining that ‘It’s just a pity they let the old punishments die out … hang you by your wrists from the ceiling for a few days, I’ve got the chains still in my office, keep ’em well oiled in case they’re ever needed …‘ I’m reasonably sure he’s just trolling the kids, but I believe someone mentions in a later book that his predecessor literally whipped rulebreakers; I think Molly Weasley says Arthur still has scars (because they forgot they could heal using magic, I guess). Which honestly isn’t all that surprising given what we’ve seen of Hogwarts.
Long story short, the four of them are being sent into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. At night, in the dark, accompanied by one of the only people in the school who can’t use magic. Hunting monsters. All night. Age eleven.
This is one of the biggest plotholes in the book, in my opinion. On what planet would even somewhere as sadistic as Hogwarts do this? There’s no salvaging this one, except to assume Dumbles mindraped everyone involved (except Snape, who he’d have needed to threaten quite heavily instead).
I don’t think it really works, but playing devil’s advocate I suppose there could be a bit of really twisted reasoning going on, in the sense of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – perhaps someone (McGonagall?) thinks they should be punished for being out at night by being forced to be out at night and seeing the dangers thereof firsthand. It’s not a good reason, it’s just the best I can come up with; and even that doesn’t really work because it’s a very different sort of ‘being out at night’ anyway… and that’s not even getting into the fact that if we’re meant to believe this investigation of Hagrid’s is a serious matter, he shouldn’t be saddled with students to blunder around and get in his way.
Understandably, Draco protests, concerned about the possibility of being eaten by something. He’s heard there are werewolves in the forest (and we know there are invisible carnivorous winged horses, giant man-eating spiders, temperamental hippogryphs and Merlin knows what else). Neville starts to panic as well, having been trying not to cry all the way to the forest. Harry seems to be stoic, aka utterly mindless, and has no opinion. Nor does he tell us what Hermione’s reaction is, since this is yet again another scene where she’s present but mostly not allowed to speak.
Filch tells them to suck it up and that he’ll be back at dawn to collect the survivors (actually, he says ‘I’ll be back for what’s left of them’, which could also refer to their remains… again, we assume he’s trolling them, possibly in response to Hagrid’s having just undermined his authority and heavily implied he doesn’t take the detention seriously as punishment), reminds Hagrid that they’re meant to be being punished, and stomps off.
Draco tries to refuse to do it, finding a bit of bravado and saying that this is something for servants:
‘ ‘If my father knew I was doing this, he’d –’
‘– tell yer that’s how it is at Hogwarts,’ Hagrid growled. ‘
Hagrid tells him he’ll do it or he’ll be expelled. We never find out how Lucius does react, but somehow I highly doubt he’d be so blasé about it. I’m pretty sure most of his shenanigans in the next book, including – lol spoiler alert – getting Hagrid arrested, are at least partly revenge for this. It’s not a good idea to force the son of one of the school governors to serve a life-endangering detention. Also, is Hagrid playing on Draco’s ignorance here? We’ll never see another detention like this, so this isn’t ‘how it is at Hogwarts’ at all…
Draco gives in, as if he had any choice anyway, and Hagrid takes them into the trees and shows them some shiny silver liquid on the ground. It’s unicorn blood – something’s been hurting unicorns, he found a dead one last week, and he wants to find this injured one and put it down. He seems completely unconcerned with finding out what did it, he just wants to follow the blood trail to the unicorn to see if it needs to be euthanised. He says repeatedly throughout this whole chapter that there’s nothing dangerous around, which is a bold claim considering he admits he has no idea what’s suddenly murdering unicorns – not to mention that a wounded large animal can be pretty dangerous anyway, even a herbivore – yet he also behaves very nervously and is pretty trigger-happy with the crossbow he inexplicably has. Where do you find giant-sized crossbows in a society that doesn’t use physical weapons?
This has been happening for at least a week, so why wait until now to try to do something about it? The detention was arranged early this morning, so he presumably found the blood trail earlier than that. So he’s left an injured animal stumbling around wounded for at least a day, in order to try tracking it at night when it’s almost impossible to see its trail and he’s much less likely to find it. He’s also insistent that they not leave any of the paths in the forest, regardless of whether the blood trail follows them or not.
Never mind the bloody dragon, the RSPCA should confiscate your dog and you should be banned from ever keeping animals again.
Speaking of Fang, he’s present too, for whatever that’s worth. Great Danes were never tracking dogs, they were heavy hunters; he’ll be no use finding the unicorn but he might end up attacking it.
Now we’ve established yet again that Hagrid is sadistic and stupid, he continues proving that he shouldn’t be allowed near children either by ordering everyone to split into two groups. Draco says he wants to go with Fang – very sensible in my opinion, I’d pick the dog over the maniac any day – and Hagrid shrugs and says okay, fine, but he’s a coward. (This is unlikely. Traumatised by his master ill-treating him, perhaps.) Hagrid sends Neville with them – Neville who’s been cursed by Draco at least once and beaten up by Draco’s goons at least once. Two children who hate each other, alone in the forest full of monsters, attempting to track a wounded animal with only a dog for protection. And no mention of a second lamp for their group, either; Hagrid seems to have the only one.
I hate this chapter, for the record. Everything in it is painfully stupid. Why couldn’t they at least have another adult with them? The answer is that Rowling knows they won’t actually be hurt so it doesn’t matter, and she’s forgotten that other characters shouldn’t know that.
In a better book, Draco and Neville could decide ‘hey, screw this, nobody’s watching us now’ and go back to Hagrid’s hut to make a cup of tea and play with Fang and wait for the others to come back. An unsupervised detention is a colossal waste of time. Honestly, Draco’s smart enough to have worked that out and chosen the dog for that reason, and even if he doesn’t like Neville he’s certainly bright enough to swallow that and suggest they work together in the noble cause of not being eaten.
Hagrid tells them to send up red sparks if they’re in trouble and green sparks if they find the unicorn – I assume the children somehow already know how to do this, since it’s not like Hagrid can teach them. I don’t think this is going to help much anyway since everyone is going to be watching the ground; not only because of the blood trail but also because have you ever walked through the woods at night? It is ridiculously dark and even with a light source you will fall flat on your face unless you watch your feet. Besides, the forest seems to have quite a thick high canopy, it’s unlikely sparks would reach open sky. Which makes the tracking thing even trickier, since the book implies that the blood spots are shining in handy beams of moonlight that somehow reach them, rather than reflecting the lamp. It’s hard to tell whether the blood itself somehow glows or not. Anyway, they split up.
Harry asks if it really could be a werewolf killing unicorns, and Hagrid says no, they’re not fast enough. He says unicorns are powerful magic creatures (we will never see a unicorn doing anything remotely magical and they’re basically just horses) and he’s never known one to be injured before. All the more reason for you to have done something about this a week ago, and to be taking it a bit more seriously now and recruiting some magizoologists or even just hunters to help you instead of a bunch of children.
Also, is he really saying there’s a herd of large herbivores in the forest with no natural predators? That doesn’t happen naturally, and when it happens artificially it causes a lot of problems. Scotland is currently being overrun with deer because we killed off all the natural predators and a lot of the land is privately owned by people who don’t allow hunting on their property. As a result they have to arrange culls regularly to try to keep the numbers down, and it’s really starting to screw up the ecosystem. It’s not doing the deer much good either, predation helps keep the population healthy by picking off the weaker ones.
Anyway, moving on. Despite constant assurances that everything is fine, Hagrid panics on hearing a noise (how he heard anything over the sounds of three people stumbling near-blind through a pitch-dark forest is beyond me) and capslock-screams for Harry and Hermione to ‘GET BEHIND THAT TREE!‘ while fumbling to load his crossbow.
‘The three of them listened. Something was slithering over dead leaves nearby: it sounded like a cloak trailing along the ground.’
Why are there so many dead leaves at this time of the year? It’s May by this point. And how does Harry know what a cloak trailing over natural ground (as opposed to a floor indoors) sounds like anyway? This seems like a very quiet sound to be audible over the usual noise of a slight breeze moving through branches. I suppose Rowling wanted to avoid the cliché of a snapping twig, but really, not much else sounds like something moving through woods instead of just ambient noise.
The sound dies away and they carry on, until they see movement in a clearing up ahead and Hagrid calls out a challenge, adding that he’s armed. I don’t know why he thought this movement was something capable of understanding human speech but that the earlier noise couldn’t be, but it’s not as if anything else here makes sense either.
‘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.’
Yes, there are centaurs in the forest. No, we’re never going to get an explanation of why there’s an entire race of ancient Greek monsters in Scotland (it’s not as if Scottish legends are short on humanoid monsters capable of talking to wizards, though they’re not as pretty as centaurs). We’re also never going to see a female centaur, which raises a few unfortunate implications to those familiar with the myths – we’ll be talking about this properly once we reach that one scene in Order of the Phoenix, though I’ll state right now that actually all the centaurs we do see are completely unthreatening, generally relatively friendly and pretty much just useless window dressing, so either the females are hidden in the woods or this is a random asexual (or possibly homosexual) commune.
More to the point, how can they see what colour the centaur is? Human eyes can’t see colour in the dark and moonlight isn’t bright enough. I could nerd on for ages explaining to you just why this is, but if you’re particularly interested you can read up on it for yourself – start with looking up the Purkinje effect and the tapetum lucidum.
Hagrid knows the centaur, whose name is Ronan. Ronan also seems to know Hagrid pretty well, since after wishing them good evening he immediately asks if Hagrid was going to shoot him. Honestly, probably yes. Hagrid goes on to perform introductions:
‘ ‘An’ this is Ronan, you two. He’s a centaur.’
‘We’d noticed,’ said Hermione faintly.’
A thought occurs to me as I write this: Hagrid and Hermione were never actually introduced. Hermione wasn’t friends with the boys when Ron first went to meet him. The first time she and Hagrid are in the same scene (aside from the boat ride to the castle at the start of the year, in which they don’t interact) is at the first Quidditch match, where they just act as if they already know each other and are already friends. Oops, Rowling.
Anyway, Hagrid asks if Ronan knows anything about any dead unicorns, and we find out that ‘centaur’ is essentially a synonym for ‘charlatan horoscope writer’. Ronan repeats that Mars is bright tonight several times and waffles vaguely about the innocents always being victims and the forest is full of secrets. Another centaur – Bane – shows up and agrees that Mars is bright tonight, and they both wander off. Yes, every time we see these guys, they will be spouting this sort of pseudo-astrological nonsense, or else saying that humans suck.
We still haven’t figured out why, despite both appearing equally ineffective in-story, Rowling and/or her narrator seem to think that the centaurs’ version of astrology deserves to be treated with respect but Trelawney’s is moronic piffle. Sexism!
Hagrid grouses that there’s no point trying to get anything out of a centaur, in which case I wonder why he bothered asking in the first place. Harry asks if maybe it was a centaur they heard earlier and Hagrid answers surprisingly sensibly, ‘Did that sound like hooves to you?‘ before ruining it by saying he thinks the mystery noise was whatever killed the unicorn and that he’s never heard anything like it before. Okay, one, you have absolutely no reason to assume the noise at a random spot in the woods nowhere near either the dead or the wounded unicorn has any connection to them. Two, has he really never heard anything rustling some dead leaves before? If it was some sort of growling noise or maybe some odd breathing I could buy this, maybe.
I’d like to point out here that Hagrid should have a fair idea of what killed the previous unicorn, since he found its corpse. Did it have wounds on it? Presumably yes, since as we’ll find out shortly they’re being killed for blood (more on this in a bit). You don’t need to be much of a forensic scientist to tell whether the wounds were made by an animal or a tool or weapon of some kind. The possibility of magic makes it more complicated, but I doubt any spell replicates tooth or claw marks. Hagrid should know enough basic woodcraft to be able to tell the difference between animal or human injuries. At this point he should probably think they’re looking for human poachers.
Hermione manages to spot red sparks in the sky a while later. Presumably she then walks into a tree or falls over, but never mind that. Hagrid’s response is to charge off into the trees, taking with him the group’s only weapon and only light source (the flashlight spell doesn’t exist yet) and leaving the two children alone to panic horribly.
‘ ‘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.’
Harry, you’re a sociopath. Apart from anything else you should be aware that if Draco does get hurt it’s your pal who’s going to get into trouble for it. And no, it’s actually not your fault Neville’s here, it’s McGonagall. Though, notably, none of the Gryffindors repeatedly screwed over by the woman will ever blame her or even slightly dislike her for it.
Hagrid eventually comes back with the others in tow. It turns out that Draco sneaked up behind Neville and scared him, and Neville sent up the sparks. This is one of those things that’s portrayed as horrible here because Draco did it, but if one of our heroes had done it to one of their friends it would have been written as a hilarious joke. I don’t find it believable Draco’s calmed down enough to be playing tricks, either, because he was genuinely frightened earlier and being in a strange forest at night is scary enough without monsters. More importantly, though:
Current spell count: Hermione, 8. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.
Welcome to the list of people more effective than the protagonist, Neville.
Hagrid isn’t pleased:
‘ ‘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.’ ‘
Oh, I see. The staff are playing matchmaker and this whole detention thing was an elaborate plot to get Harry and Draco alone in the dark. (The frightening part is that this theory makes more sense than any of the others we came up with.) More seriously, this is another dig at Neville supposedly being a coward, and screw you book because Neville is awesome. It’s also stupid because hey, remember how Draco hates Harry more than Neville? Hagrid, keep Draco with you so you can stop him being an arsehole.
Harry and Draco wander off into the woods, and there’s a timeskip of half an hour or so. Try not to wonder what they were up to during that time. Then they find the unicorn, dead.
‘Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad.’
The unicorn never gets a description here except that it’s white and has long legs. There was a chance to make them pretty interesting – for a start they live in deep forests, which means they ought to be more like deer than anything else if they resemble any mortal animal. But they show up in later books and are just your standard shiny horse with a horn on its head, which is somewhat disappointing. It’s also rather stupid here, because horses aren’t adapted to dense forest; they’re plains animals and they need wide open spaces where they can see a long way and run in relatively straight lines to build up enough speed to outrun hunters. Admittedly since these ones apparently don’t have predators that’s not much of an issue, but food will be; horses are grazers like cattle, not browsers like deer, and you don’t get much grass growing in woods.
The boys start to approach the unicorn, which was very considerate and followed the path carefully the entire time and then chose to die in the centre of a clearing.
Let’s stop and run some numbers – with the explicit timeskip after the groups changed over I would guess everyone’s been out in the woods for at least an hour, perhaps more, and they’ve been walking for most of that time along apparently fairly clear paths. The lack of visibility would slow them down, but I’d say they’ve probably still managed to follow a blood trail for a couple of miles. If this was an ordinary forest at night, children wouldn’t get anywhere near this far, of course, but nobody’s described as stumbling, tripping etc. – not even Neville who we’ve been told repeatedly is clumsy – and the paths seem to be clear and even, and Harry doesn’t say it’s difficult to see or move. Of course, the real question is why there are paths in here at all – Hagrid can’t keep them clear by himself and animal trails don’t resemble human footpaths. I suppose we have to assume the centaurs maintain paths to compensate for the fact that horses aren’t forest animals and need more space to walk or run without breaking their legs.
Since the blood trail can’t have started at the edge of the woods where they picked it up – they walked to a fork in the path, then split up to follow the trail down both forks…
This is its own problem, incidentally. If Hagrid can’t tell which direction has fresher blood he has no business trying to track an animal. He should also have a dog capable of picking the fresher trail to follow. And there ought to be vague hoofprints since the path seems to be earth; everything’s pretty dry at this time of year but dust takes prints almost as well as mud and they only need one semi-clear print to figure out which way the unicorn was walking. Let’s assume that if they’d been smart enough to do this in daylight they could have found tracks.
Anyway, as I was saying, the trail didn’t start there, and both paths of the trail must be fairly close to one another for Hermione to have seen the sparks and for Hagrid to have found Draco and Neville. So it’s running in some form of a U shape, meaning that we’ve probably got a trail of at least four miles. And Hagrid must have found the trail at least a day ago, so it’s likely to be a lot longer than that and one arm of the U must be much longer than we see.
TheHorse.com tells us this:
“So just how much blood does a horse have anyway? It varies some from breed to breed, but an average value is 80 ml (cc) per kilogram of body weight (100 ml/kg for “hot bloods” such as the Thoroughbred and 65 ml/kg for “cold bloods” such as a Pecheron). So, the average 1,200-pound horse (545.5 kilograms at 2.2 kilograms per pound) has about 54.5 liters of blood, which is approximately 12.3 gallons of blood.
Now that we know that the average horse has about 12 gallons of blood, how much can be lost before the danger of shock becomes significant? The general rule of thumb is that an animal will start to show signs of shock from blood loss when 10% of its blood volume has been lost. Based on the averages, the adult 1,200-pound horse can lose up to two gallons of blood before serious concern. “
Okay, we don’t know at this point that Potterverse unicorns are horses, but according to later books they are. We don’t know how heavily the unicorn was bleeding, but at no point does either party of utterly inept trackers lose the trail, meaning there are large drops falling consistently every few steps or so. It would have been running after the initial injury, assuming the trail was wide enough to let it do so, meaning an increased heart rate and thus faster bleeding, but would have slowed down fairly quickly if it wasn’t being chased assuming it behaves like a normal horse. Presumably it was blood loss that killed the unicorn, and as we’ll see shortly the blood hasn’t congealed yet so it’s only just bled out even though Hagrid has to have found the blood trail about eighteen hours ago.
It would be starting to go into shock after losing 10%, and further research suggests that 16% loss starts lowering blood pressure to potentially dangerous levels and that the 10% limit can be reached within about an hour and a half at a ‘steady drip‘ (it’s referring to nosebleeds, not wounds, so that needs to be adjusted a little for this situation). I can’t find anything that tells me what percentage of blood loss would be fatal to a horse, but it’s about 40% in humans.
Basically this unicorn should have died hours ago and wouldn’t have been able to travel as far as it has, and the blood should by now be clotted and therefore the big dramatic scene we’re about to see isn’t possible. Imagine my surprise.
We also have to ask just how the unicorn was wounded; all we’re told is that it was in the flank. Now, if we’re speaking of horses, the flank is a very specific small area where the hind legs and the barrel meet, right behind the rib cage and in front of the stifle joint. A wound there wouldn’t hit anything major except the cecum (part of the digestive tract, like our appendix only useful) and while it would be fatal eventually if it was deep enough you wouldn’t get much of a blood trail. All the bleeding would be internal, and as with most gut wounds it would be blood poisoning from the ruptured organs that would be the main risk rather than blood loss from the injury itself.
Given that Rowling seems to know nothing about any animals at all, she presumably meant ‘flank’ in the more general sense of ‘somewhere between rib and hip’, which is less useful but the same rules probably apply. A wound severe enough to produce this much blood loss would do so far more quickly than we see here – anything bleeding that slowly would clot relatively soon. I can’t think of a wound that would keep bleeding at this steady rate for a full day before being fatal.
Finally, I also have to ask why the unicorn was wounded in the first place. Our villain is apparently so inept he can’t kill it even with an instadeath spell; instead he cut its side, then let it run away and failed to catch it, then came after the same unicorn again the next night instead of going after a fresh one that hasn’t leaked away most of its precious blood staggering around the forest for hours.
If you are serious about killing unicorns for blood for whatever reason, here’s how you do it. You find a unicorn. You stun it or render it unconscious or paralysed in some way. You levitate it over some form of very large container. You cut open an artery between the heart and the container (the best way is to hang it head down and cut its throat). You drain the full 12 gallons or so of blood, and decant it into small containers to keep with you. Then you use magic to get rid of the corpse so nobody realises you’ve done it. We’re never told how much you actually need to drink, but our villain here gets an undefined amount of blood from the first unicorn and a few mouthfuls from the second, which is pretty wasteful as well as being stupid and obvious. There’s no point in asking why he’s only just started drinking unicorns, either. It will never be explained.
Of course, it would be a lot more sensible to catch and stun the unicorn, then make a small cut and take enough blood for a couple of drinks, Heal the wound and let it go. Nobody, throughout the entire series, ever stops to point out that blood does not equal death. (It’s Rand al’Thor syndrome, for any Wheel of Time readers in the audience. I never for a moment thought that ‘his blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul’ meant he would die, even before he got a handy wound that kept bleeding at random intervals all the time and never healed.) Nothing indicates that the unicorn has to die for the properties of the blood to activate, and if the unicorn does die then the blood also curses you.
It would be interesting to handwave this as Quirrell wanting to be caught; it’s pretty clear by now that he regrets what’s going on and has been forced into it. But if that was what he wanted, there are much easier ways to go about it that don’t involve killing sparkleponies.
Back with the plot, let’s see the big dramatic scene that was the basis for this entire nonsense chapter, the climactic image that Rowling evidently loved so much she insisted on a convoluted implausible setup to get Harry to witness.
‘Harry had taken one step towards 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, it lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.’
Yes, yes, very spooky. But also this is a more or less sane adult human we’re talking about – why on earth is he crawling across the ground licking wounds, instead of walking over and using magic or a knife to get the blood? Apart from anything else, that would make it a lot easier for Harry to realise that’s what he’s doing. There’s no mention of, say, sucking noises, or anything else that would indicate drinking blood.
Draco, understandably, screams and runs away, followed by Fang. Incidentally, we won’t see Draco again until the end of term feast in a couple of chapters. Nobody bothers to find him after this detention. I assume Fang led him home, or else Snape went to find him the next morning and was very angry that Hagrid lost him.
We’ll also never find out what Draco thinks of all this. He doesn’t know about any mysterious packages or three headed dogs or evil teachers. He’s had a normal, annoying, unfair school year full of secret crushes on boys. Now he’s suddenly seen a random guy in a cloak licking a dead unicorn, and nobody’s going to explain it to him. I wonder if he even tried to tell anyone once he finds his way back to the castle – maybe he convinces himself it was a hallucination or a trick the others were playing on him, and never mentions it again.
Harry doesn’t have as much common sense as Draco, so he just stands there vacantly as the cloaked figure looks up and starts walking towards him. He can see ‘unicorn blood was dribbling down its front‘ but somehow conveniently can’t see the face the blood is dribbling from; there’s no mention of a mask or even some contrived shadows. He just doesn’t mention it. I assume because he can see very clearly that this isn’t Snape and is keeping silent so the denial circuits in his brain can tell him that it is.
At this point, for no real reason, his scar starts hurting extremely badly, causing a level of agony we haven’t seen before and that Harry tells us he’s never felt. I can’t explain this – the only time we’ve seen Harry’s scar hurting before was a quick twinge back at the start-of-year feast when he was looking at Snape and Quirrell talking. It was implied then that it’s because he made eye contact with Snape, and we learn later that it’s because he made eye contact with Quirrell’s turban. The turban is facing away from him now, though – unless Quirrell is walking backwards, which even Harry would notice. And why has the scar not been hurting all year? It should be triggering in every single Defence lesson whenever Quirrell turns around to write on the board or something. Obviously this would spoil the big ‘plot twist’, since it would be happening in Defence and not in Potions, but in that case it shouldn’t have been included in the first place. The scar will never hurt consistently and works at the author’s whim like so many other things.
At this point another centaur conveniently gallops into the clearing, jumps over Harry’s head (not a problem for a horse on open level ground, but I don’t think it could get enough speed in a small space full of tree roots) and charges at the cloaked figure. For some reason, said evil figure doesn’t kill the unarmed centaur, but instead runs away.
This centaur is younger and prettier than the previous two, because reasons, being a shiny palomino. He’s also the only non-evil blond character we’re going to see for, oh, four books or so, and one of only two that I can think of in the entire series (the other is Luna). Rowling has issues.
His name is Firenze. This is the Italian name for the city of Florence. Centaurs don’t seem to have any sort of uniform naming convention, admittedly, but still… a Greek monster living in Scotland with an Italian name? He’s also not a true palomino, since he has blue eyes; blue-eyed horses with palomino-type colouring do exist, but they’re more properly cremello or perlino. That’s a little too nerdy and obscure for me to protest about it, though.
It’s been a while since we were reminded that Harry’s super-famous, so Firenze – despite being a half-horse living in a forest in the middle of nowhere – recognises his special scar of specialness and greets him by name. Oh, come on. Even if Firenze actually had somehow known about the scar and what it meant, why the hell would he care who Harry is? Voldy never got anywhere near Hogwarts, and while he might have killed any centaurs he happened to encounter he really wouldn’t have cared enough to hunt them down as long as they stayed in their forest. There’s no reason why the centaurs would even particularly know who he was, let alone care. Centaurs mostly think humans suck anyway, I can’t see them caring that one of them sucked more than the others. We can’t even blame Dumbles for this one, we know he’s friendly with the merpeople but there’s no mention anywhere of him ever speaking to the centaurs until book five.
Harry’s reaching new levels of stupidity even for him, since he feels the need to ask what it was he’s just seen. It was a human or at least a humanoid in a cloak, Harry. You could see that much. Firenze ignores this and tells him the forest isn’t safe and he should get back to Hagrid; I would argue that he should avoid Hagrid and get back to the castle, or back to the Muggle world if he really wants to be safe, but sure, whatever. He adds that it’ll be quicker if Harry rides, and kneels down to let him climb on. I don’t think this will be quicker, I doubt Harry’s ever even seen a horse in real life, let alone ridden one. Hope Firenze doesn’t mind being strangled by a boy trying not to fall off.
Ronan and Bane reappear for no real reason at this point, except to say ‘ew, human cooties, you’re gross Firenze’.
‘Do you realise who this is?’ said Firenze. ‘This is the Potter boy. The quicker he leaves this Forest, the better.’
Excellent point, Firenze. Everyone should want Harry a long way away from them. Carry on.
The centaurs all shout at each other for a while. Bane implies that the planets have told the centaurs exactly what’s going to happen, and that they can’t interfere. Firenze insists that the planets have also told him personally who the villain is, and that he’s going to fight against it with the humans (no, he isn’t. He does nothing to help for the entire series and we won’t even see him again for another four books, though I believe he does show up with the other centaurs to ineffectually shoot a few arrows during the final battle). This is a little like a kangaroo wanting to fight a South American drug cartel – the war involves a different species and will never touch the place where Firenze lives. There’s no reason for him to care whatsoever. There’s not much of a reason for him to even understand the problem.
Firenze declares that he’s won the fight and runs away with Harry before the other two can continue it. Harry asks again what’s going on, but the centaur doesn’t answer for a while and they walk through the woods for what seems to be a very long time. During this time Harry does not signal to Hagrid, either that he’s found the unicorn or that something bad has happened. We can’t have our wizard protagonist actually using magic, after all. Nor does he wonder if Draco’s okay, or if Hagrid’s going to be angry that he lost his dog. In fact, he doesn’t wonder about anything at all, including what he’s just seen. His inner monologue vanishes, because he’s an extremely boring narrator.
Finally Firenze stops at a random place in the trees and starts expositioning. He asks if Harry knows what unicorn blood is used for; no, says Harry, we only use the horn and tail hair in Potions.
This must mean that unicorns shed their horns like deer antlers, because they seem to be pretty ubiquitous but killing unicorns is super-bad and curses you.
Firenze tells us that killing unicorns is super-bad and curses you, and that unicorn blood will keep you alive no matter what but the whole curse thing rather spoils it. Once again, you don’t have to kill something to make it bleed. Has Rowling never had a cut or a nosebleed? And also, once again, Firenze is a random horse dude living in a forest. He’s not a wizard. His species tries to avoid contact with humans, except occasional grudging conversations with Hagrid. How the hell does he know what the properties of unicorn blood are?
Seriously, this would have been so much better if Harry had sneaked into the forest following ‘Snape’, seen the dead unicorn, and met Dumbles stalking him afterwards to have this explained to him. Or asked Hermione when he got back to the castle to help him look up unicorns and figure out why someone would want to drink one.
Harry’s continuing to be stupid, but in his defence it’s long after midnight by now, he’s spent most of the last few hours being scared, and he must be pretty tired. He can’t understand why anyone would want to be alive and cursed instead of dead.
We’re never told what ‘living a half life’ actually means, either. Does it make you semi-undead, or cut your life span in half, or what? There are plenty of other questions as well – why blood, specifically? Does it apply to other body fluids, or eating the meat, as well? Would you be cursed if you took the horn or tail hair from a dead unicorn? Can the curse tell the difference between blood from a unicorn you killed yourself and blood from a unicorn someone else killed or that died from natural causes? Would Hagrid have been cursed if he’d found the unicorn alive and had to kill it? Why doesn’t the curse activate when you kill the unicorn, rather than only when you specifically drink blood from it? Firenze specifically says you’re cursed ‘from the moment the blood touches your lips‘, so do you have to drink it at all? Does touching it with your fingers count, and if not, why not?
Of course none of these questions will ever be answered. This is Harry Potter. The HP wiki used to have an unintentionally hilarious entry about unicorn blood that mostly consisted of a long list of bullet points all beginning with ‘it is unknown’, but they seem to have taken it down now.
Firenze gently explains that yes, it’s bad, but not if you only need to buy time until you can get hold of something better – like, say, the Elixir of Life, and by the way did you forget that the thing that makes that is in the castle right now?
Yet again, how does Firenze know this? And how is he so sure that the elixir can neutralise whatever the blood does? You know what, I don’t care any more. Maybe the planets told him. I hear Mars is pretty bright. (I’m so sorry.) [Loten, the bad puns are my job, you’re leaving me nothing to do here! 😉 ] You’ve been a bad influence, clearly.
Harry still doesn’t understand. Who would possibly want immortality??? Apart from, you know, most people? I suppose I ought to be grateful that he’s not immediately defaulting to Snape is the root of all evil again, but given that he’s been doing that for the whole book the absence now is pretty stupid. We were introduced to the concept of there being a villain in this story somewhere around chapter 8 or 9 and Harry’s spent most of the year thinking about it.
Presumably trying not to facepalm very hard, Firenze reminds him that there’s this bad guy literally everyone knows about and is still too scared to name that multiple people have hinted probably isn’t dead.
Harry is utterly stunned by this revelation, of course. At this point Hermione and Hagrid show up, and Firenze takes the opportunity to get away from this idiot boy and scamper back to his forest.
Yes, Neville has vanished. No, he’s not going to reappear until next chapter. No, nobody’s going to acknowledge this. He hasn’t even got Fang with him, and all evidence suggests nobody’s going to care enough to go and look for him. I suppose he spent the rest of the night crying in the woods, since he doesn’t have special protagonist powers to summon friendly monsters, and once the sun came up he managed to climb a tree to see where Hogwarts was and had to make his own way out. We all know he’s much brighter and more resourceful than our hero. Capable of more magic, too, evidently.
Harry did tell Hagrid where the dead unicorn was, but he didn’t tell him what happened to it or what he saw. Instead he and Hermione go back to the castle, wake Ron up and tell him, because that’s much more useful. This does mean they walked away before their detention was finished, since it was meant to last until dawn, but if nobody noticed them losing two students I doubt they noticed the other two not finishing it.
Our hero spends the rest of the chapter ranting that Snape doesn’t want immortality and infinite money after all, he wants to help Voldemort get it instead, as soon as he gets the Stone Voldy will come back and kill Harry and the centaurs will be happy. Harry, I know you’re sleep deprived and not thinking straight, but you’re sounding a little crazy now. Particularly since you already think Snape knows how to get the Stone, so why would he be wasting time drinking cursed unicorns?
Ron’s only contribution is to repeatedly bleat that Harry shouldn’t be saying Voldemort’s name. That is literally the only thing he says. Good job, sidekick.
Hermione, perhaps recognising that we are not at home to Mister Logic right now, seizes on the only thing that might shut Harry up and reminds him that Dumbles is awesome and Voldy is scared of him so Hogwarts is safe and also the centaurs sounded a bit mad. Of course, this instantly makes Harry feel all better, and they all go to bed.
Where Harry finds that someone has sneaked into his bedroom and put his magic bedsheet in his bed. Appropriate place for it, I suppose, though that doesn’t change the fact that this is gross and creepy. It’s accompanied by a note saying, ‘Just in case‘.
So, yes, Dumbledore has planned at least most of the plot from start to finish. Nobody is surprised by this point.
The chapter ends here, so we have no idea what Harry thinks about this. I’m going to guess ‘nothing’.
So, the main fail of this chapter is the questionable detention that exists purely to force Harry to see something creepy in the woods, which he could have seen in far more plausible circumstances. The second big fail is unicorns and the incoherent mess of lore about their blood, which is an even larger fail when you finish the book and realise it never went anywhere and turns out never to matter. The narrative tries to imply here that it’s a big plot point, but if Quirrell had been even vaguely competent he could have got to the Stone a long time ago, and as we’ll see at the end of the book the unicorn blood doesn’t save him or Voldy in the end.
I think Rowling was just going for the evilulz here – we should be grateful it wasn’t kittens. Bad guys kill unicorns okay don’t question it. But as she so frequently does, she went too far; her protagonist is eleven and not too bright, so he doesn’t need to be told anything beyond ‘unicorn blood has important magical properties that make you stronger and harder to hurt, but it’s dangerous and cruel’. The readers know very little about the Potterverse at this point and they don’t need more details either. There’s no need to invent the weird never-developed immortality-with-a-price thing, particularly when we already have a source of immortality in the Philosopher’s Stone anyway (that will also never be relevant again).
Next time, after another long timeskip where our villain fails to do anything at all, he finally does something and we start limping through the grand finale.
Remember how in a recent post Mitchell told you that he’d had some poems published in a book of humanist poetry called Filling The Void? The physical paperback is now available, if anyone’s interested and didn’t want a digital version.