Quirrell, however, must have been braver than they'd thought. In the weeks that followed he did seem to be getting paler and thinner, but it didn't look as though he'd cracked yet.
Every time they passed the third-floor corridor, Harry, Ron, and Hermione would press their ears to the door to check that Fluffy was still growling inside. Snape was sweeping about in his usual bad temper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe. Whenever Harry passed Quirrell these days he gave him an encouraging sort of smile, and Ron had started telling people off for laughing at Quirrell's stutter.
Hermione, however, had more on her mind than the Sorcerer's Stone. She had started drawing up study schedules and color coding all her notes. Harry and Ron wouldn't have minded, but she kept nagging them to do the same.
"Hermione, the exams are ages away."
"Ten weeks," Hermione snapped."That's not ages, that's like a second to Nicolas Flamel."
"But we're not six hundred years old," Ron reminded her."Anyway, what are you studying for, you already know it's an A."
"What am I studying for? Are you crazy? You realize we need to pass these exams to get into the second year? They're very important, I should have started studying a month ago, I don't know what's gotten into me. . ."
Unfortunately, the teachers seemed to be thinking along the same lines as Hermione. They piled so much homework on them that the Easter holidays weren't nearly as much fun as the Christmas ones. It was hard to relax with Hermione next to you reciting the twelve uses of dragon's blood or practicing wand movements. Moaning and yawning, Harry and Ron spent most of their free time in the library with her, trying to get through all their extra work.
"I'll never remember this," Ron burst out one afternoon, throwing down his quill and looking longingly out of the library window. It was the first really fine day they'd had in months. The sky was a clear, forget-me-not blue, and there was a feeling in the air of summer coming.
Harry, who was looking up "Dittany" in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, didn't look up until he heard Ron say, "Hagrid! What are you doing in the library?"
Hagrid shuffled into view, hiding something behind his back. He looked very out of place in his moleskin overcoat.
"Jus' lookin'," he said, in a shifty voice that got their interest at once."An' what're you lot up ter?" He looked suddenly suspicious."Yer not still lookin' fer Nicolas Flamel, are yeh?"
"Oh, we found out who he is ages ago," said Ron impressively."And we know what that dog's guarding, it's a Sorcerer's St-"
"Shhhh!" Hagrid looked around quickly to see if anyone was listening."Don' go shoutin' about it, what's the matter with yeh?"
"There are a few things we wanted to ask you, as a matter of fact," said Harry, "about what's guarding the Stone apart from Fluffy-"
"SHHHH!" said Hagrid again."Listen - come an' see me later, I'm not promisin' I'll tell yeh anythin', mind, but don' go rabbitin' about it in here, students aren' s'pposed ter know. They'll think I've told yeh-"
"See you later, then," said Harry.
Hagrid shuffled off.
"What was he hiding behind his back?" said Hermione thoughtfully.
"Do you think it had anything to do with the Stone?"
"I'm going to see what section he was in," said Ron, who'd had enough of working. He came back a minute later with a pile of books in his arms and slammed them down on the table.
"Dragons!" he whispered."Hagrid was looking up stuff about dragons! Look at these: Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland; From Egg to Inferno, A Dragon Keeper's Guide."
"Hagrid's always wanted a dragon, he told me so the first time I ever met him, " said Harry.
"But it's against our laws," said Ron."Dragon breeding was outlawed by the Warlocks' Convention of 1709, everyone knows that. It's hard to stop Muggles from noticing us if we're keeping dragons in the back garden - anyway, you can't tame dragons, it's dangerous. You should see the burns Charlie's got off wild ones in Romania."
"But there aren't wild dragons in Britain ?" said Harry.
"Of course there are," said Ron."Common Welsh Green and Hebridean Blacks. The Ministry of Magic has a job hushing them up, I can tell you. Our kind have to keep putting spells on Muggles who've spotted them, to make them forget."
"So what on earth's Hagrid up to?" said Hermione.
When they knocked on the door of the gamekeeper's hut an hour later, they were surprised to see that all the curtains were closed. Hagrid called "Who is it?" before he let them in, and then shut the door quickly behind them.
It was stifling hot inside. Even though it was such a warm day, there was a blazing fire in the grate. Hagrid made them tea and offered them stoat sandwiches, which they refused.
"So - yeh wanted to ask me somethin'?"
"Yes," said Harry. There was no point beating around the bush."We were wondering if you could tell us what's guarding the Sorcerer's Stone apart from Fluffy."
Hagrid frowned at him.
"O' course I can't," he said."Number one, I don' know meself. Number two, yeh know too much already, so I wouldn' tell yeh if I could. That Stone's here fer a good reason. It was almost stolen outta Gringotts - I s'ppose yeh've worked that out an' all? Beats me how yeh even know abou' Fluffy."
"Oh, come on, Hagrid, you might not want to tell us, but you do know, you know everything that goes on round here," said Hermione in a warm, flattering voice. Hagrid's beard twitched and they could tell he was smiling."We only wondered who had done the guarding, really." Hermione went on."We wondered who Dumbledore had trusted enough to help him, apart from you."
Hagrid's chest swelled at these last words. Harry and Ron beamed at Hermione.
"Well, I don' s'pose it could hurt ter tell yeh that. . . let's see. . . he borrowed Fluffy from me. . . then some o' the teachers did enchantments. . . Professor Sprout - Professor Flitwick - Professor McGonagall - " he ticked them off on his fingers, "Professor Quirrell - an' Dumbledore himself did somethin', o' course. Hang on, I've forgotten someone. Oh yeah, Professor Snape."
"Yeah - yer not still on abou' that, are yeh? Look, Snape helped protect the Stone, he's not about ter steal it."
Harry knew Ron and Hermione were thinking the same as he was. If Snape had been in on protecting the Stone, it must have been easy to find out how the other teachers had guarded it. He probably knew everything - except, it seemed, Quirrell's spell and how to get past Fluffy.
"You're the only one who knows how to get past Fluffy. aren't you, Hagrid?" said Harry anxiously."And you wouldn't tell anyone, would you? Not even one of the teachers?"
"Not a soul knows except me an' Dumbledore," said Hagrid proudly.
"Well, that's something," Harry muttered to the others."Hagrid, can we have a window open? I'm boiling."
"Can't, Harry, sorry," said Hagrid. Harry noticed him glance at the fire. Harry looked at it, too.
"Hagrid - what's that ?"
But he already knew what it was. In the very heart of the fire, underneath the kettle, was a huge, black egg.
"Ah," said Hagrid, fiddling nervously with his beard, "That's - er. . ."
"Where did you get it, Hagrid?" said Ron, crouching over the fire to get a closer look at the egg."It must've cost you a fortune."
"Won it," said Hagrid."Las' night. I was down in the village havin' a few drinks an' got into a game o' cards with a stranger. Think he was quite glad ter get rid of it, ter be honest."
"But what are you going to do with it when it's hatched?" said Hermione.
"Well, I've bin doin' some readin'," said Hagrid, pulling a large book from under his pillow."Got this outta the library - Dragon Breeding for Pleasure and Profit - it's a bit outta date, o' course, but it's all in here. Keep the egg in the fire, 'cause their mothers breathe on I em, see, an' when it hatches, feed it on a bucket o' brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour. An' see here - how ter recognize diff'rent eggs - what I got there's a Norwegian Ridgeback. They're rare, them."
He looked very pleased with himself, but Hermione didn't.
"Hagrid, you live in a wooden house," she said.
But Hagrid wasn't listening. He was humming merrily as he stoked the fire.
So now they had something else to worry about: what might happen to Hagrid if anyone found out he was hiding an illegal dragon in his hut.
"Wonder what it's like to have a peaceful life," Ron sighed, as evening after evening they struggled through all the extra homework they were getting. Hermione had now started making study schedules for Harry and Ron, too. It was driving them nuts.
Then, one breakfast time, Hedwig brought Harry another note from Hagrid. He had written only two words: It's hatching.
Ron wanted to skip Herbology and go straight down to the hut. Hermione wouldn't hear of it.
"Hermione, how many times in our lives are we going to see a dragon hatching?"
"We've got lessons, we'll get into trouble, and that's nothing to what Hagrid's going to be in when someone finds out what he's doing-"
"Shut up!" Harry whispered.
Malfoy was only a few feet away and he had stopped dead to listen. How much had he heard? Harry didn't like the look on Malfoy's face at all.
Ron and Hermione argued all the way to Herbology and in the end, Hermione agreed to run down to Hagrid's with the other two during morning break. When the bell sounded from the castle at the end of their lesson, the three of them dropped their trowels at once and hurried through the grounds to the edge of the forest. Hagrid greeted them, looking flushed and excited.
"It's nearly out." He ushered them inside.
The egg was lying on the table. There were deep cracks in it. Something was moving inside; a funny clicking noise was coming from it.
They all drew their chairs up to the table and watched with bated breath.
All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn't exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had a long snout with wide nostrils, the stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.
It sneezed. A couple of sparks flew out of its snout.
"Isn't he beautiful ?" Hagrid murmured. He reached out a hand to stroke the dragon's head. It snapped at his fingers, showing pointed fangs.
"Bless him, look, he knows his mommy!" said Hagrid.
"Hagrid," said Hermione, "how fast do Norwegian Ridgebacks grow, exactly?"
Hagrid was about to answer when the color suddenly drained from his face - he leapt to his feet and ran to the window.
"What's the matter?"
"Someone was lookin' through the gap in the curtains - it's a kid - he's runnin' back up ter the school."
Harry bolted to the door and looked out. Even at a distance there was no mistaking him.
Malfoy had seen the dragon.
Something about the smile lurking on Malfoy's face during the next week made Harry, Ron, and Hermione very nervous. They spent most of their free time in Hagrid's darkened hut, trying to reason with him.
"Just let him go," Harry urged."Set him free."
"I can't," said Hagrid."He's too little. He'd die."
They looked at the dragon. It had grown three times in length in just a week. Smoke kept furling out of its nostrils. Hagrid hadn't been doing his gamekeeping duties because the dragon was keeping him so busy. There were empty brandy bottles and chicken feathers all over the floor.
"I've decided to call him Norbert," said Hagrid, looking at the dragon with misty eyes."He really knows me now, watch. Norbert! Norbert! Where's Mommy?"
"He's lost his marbles," Ron muttered in Harry's ear.
"Hagrid," said Harry loudly, "give it two weeks and Norbert's going to be as long as your house. Malfoy could go to Dumbledore at any moment."
Hagrid bit his lip.
"I - I know I can't keep him forever, but I can't jus' dump him, I can't."
Harry suddenly turned to Ron."Charlie." he said.
"You're losing it, too," said Ron."I'm Ron, remember?"
"No - Charlie - your brother, Charlie. In Romania. Studying dragons. We could send Norbert to him. Charlie can take care of him and then put him back in the wild!"
"Brilliant!" said Ron."How about it, Hagrid?"
And in the end, Hagrid agreed that they could send an owl to Charlie to ask him.
The following week dragged by. Wednesday night found Hermione and Harry sitting alone in the common room, long after everyone else had gone to bed. The clock on the wall had just chimed midnight when the portrait hole burst open. Ron appeared out of nowhere as he pulled off Harry's invisibility cloak. He had been down at Hagrid's hut, helping him feed Norbert, who was now eating dead rats by the crate.
"It bit me!" he said, showing them his hand, which was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief."I'm not going to be able to hold a quill for a week. I tell you, that dragon's the most horrible animal I've ever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you'd think it was a fluffy little bunny rabbit. When it bit me he told me off for frightening it. And when I left, he was singing it a lullaby."
There was a tap on the dark window.
"It's Hedwig!" said Harry, hurrying to let her in."She'll have Charlie's answer!"
The three of them put their heads together to read the note.
How are you? Thanks for the letter - I'd be glad to take the Norwegian Ridgeback, but it won't be easy getting him here. I think the best thing will be to send him over with some friends of mine who are coming to visit me next week. Trouble is, they mustn't be seen carrying an illegal dragon.
Could you get the Ridgeback up the tallest tower at midnight on Saturday? They can meet you there and take him away while it's still dark.
Send me an answer as soon as possible.
They looked at one another.
"We've got the invisibility cloak," said Harry."It shouldn't be too difficult - I think the cloaks big enough to cover two of us and Norbert."
It was a mark of how bad the last week had been that the other two agreed with him. Anything to get rid of Norbert - and Malfoy.
There was a hitch. By the next morning, Ron's bitten hand had swollen to twice its usual size. He didn't know whether it was safe to go to Madam Pomfrey - would she recognize a dragon bite? By the afternoon, though, he had no choice. The cut had turned a nasty shade of green. It looked as if Norbert's fangs were poisonous.
Harry and Hermione rushed up to the hospital wing at the end of the day to find Ron in a terrible state in bed.
"It's not just my hand," he whispered, "although that feels like it's about to fall off. Malfoy told Madam Pomfrey he wanted to borrow one of my books so he could come and have a good laugh at me. He kept threatening to tell her what really bit me - I've told her it was a dog, but I don't think she believes me - I shouldn't have hit him at the Quidditch match, that's why he's doing this."
Harry and Hermione tried to calm Ron down.
"It'll all be over at midnight on Saturday," said Hermione, but this didn't soothe Ron at all. On the contrary, he sat bolt upright and broke into a sweat.
"Midnight on Saturday!" he said in a hoarse voice."Oh no oh no - I've just remembered - Charlie's letter was in that book Malfoy took, he's going to know we're getting rid of Norbert."
Harry and Hermione didn't get a chance to answer. Madam Pomfrey came over at that moment and made them leave, saying Ron needed sleep.
"It's too late to change the plan now," Harry told Hermione."We haven't got time to send Charlie another owl, and this could be our only chance to get rid of Norbert. We'll have to risk it. And we have got the invisibility cloak, Malfoy doesn't know about that."
They found Fang, the boarhound, sitting outside with a bandaged tail when they went to tell Hagrid, who opened a window to talk to them.
"I won't let you in," he puffed."Norbert's at a tricky stage - nothin' I can't handle."
When they told him about Charlie's letter, his eyes filled with tears, although that might have been because Norbert had just bitten him on the leg.
"Aargh! It's all right, he only got my boot - jus' playin' - he's only a baby, after all."
The baby banged its tail on the wall, making the windows rattle. Harry and Hermione walked back to the castle feeling Saturday couldn't come quickly enough.
They would have felt sorry for Hagrid when the time came for him to say good-bye to Norbert if they hadn't been so worried about what they had to do. It was a very dark, cloudy night, and they were a bit late arriving at Hagrid's hut because they'd had to wait for Peeves to get out of their way in the entrance hall, where he'd been playing tennis against the wall. Hagrid had Norbert packed and ready in a large crate.
"He's got lots o' rats an' some brandy fer the journey," said Hagrid in a muffled voice."An' I've packed his teddy bear in case he gets lonely."
From inside the crate came ripping noises that sounded to Harry as though the teddy was having his head torn off.
"Bye-bye, Norbert!" Hagrid sobbed, as Harry and Hermione covered the crate with the invisibility cloak and stepped underneath it themselves."Mommy will never forget you!"
How they managed to get the crate back up to the castle, they never knew. Midnight ticked nearer as they heaved Norbert up the marble staircase in the entrance hall and along the dark corridors. Up another staircase, then another - even one of Harry's shortcuts didn't make the work much easier.
"Nearly there!" Harry panted as they reached the corridor beneath the tallest tower.
Then a sudden movement ahead of them made them almost drop the crate. Forgetting that they were already invisible, they shrank into the shadows, staring at the dark outlines of two people grappling with each other ten feet away. A lamp flared.
Professor McGonagall, in a tartan bathrobe and a hair net, had Malfoy by the ear.
"Detention!" she shouted."And twenty points from Slytherin! Wandering around in the middle of the night, how dare you-"
"You don't understand, Professor. Harry Potter's coming - he's got a dragon!"
"What utter rubbish! How dare you tell such lies! Come on - I shall see Professor Snape about you, Malfoy!"
The steep spiral staircase up to the top of the tower seemed the easiest thing in the world after that. Not until they'd stepped out into the cold night air did they throw off the cloak, glad to be able to breathe properly again. Hermione did a sort of jig.
"Malfoy's got detention! I could sing!"
"Don't," Harry advised her.
Chuckling about Malfoy, they waited, Norbert thrashing about in his crate. About ten minutes later, four broomsticks came swooping down out of the darkness.
Charlie's friends were a cheery lot. They showed Harry and Hermione the harness they'd rigged up, so they could suspend Norbert between them. They all helped buckle Norbert safely into it and then Harry and Hermione shook hands with the others and thanked them very much.
At last, Norbert was going. . . going. . . gone.
They slipped back down the spiral staircase, their hearts as light as their hands, now that Norbert was off them. No more dragon - Malfoy in detention - what could spoil their happiness?
The answer to that was waiting at the foot of the stairs. As they stepped into the corridor, Filch's face loomed suddenly out of the darkness.
"Well, well, well," he whispered, "we are in trouble."
They'd left the invisibility cloak on top of the tower.