The Forbidden Forest

chapter fifteen of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Life gets tougher for Harry as McGonagall gives him and Hermione detentions, and he then overhears Quirrell giving in to a threat. Detention in the Forbidden Forest only makes things more interesting, as Harry finds a dead unicorn and is nearly attacked by the creature drinking its blood, but is saved by the centaur Firenze. Finally, back in his dorm, Harry unexpectedly finds his Invisibility Cloak again with a note: “Just in case.”

Neville Longbottom, by Michael Greenholt

Poor, blundering Neville – Harry knew what it must have cost him to try and find them in the dark, to warn them.


Troublesome Turban, by Tealin Raintree

Quirrell came hurrying out of the classroom straightening his turban…. [Harry]’d have gambled twelve Philosopher’s Stones that Snape had just left the room.


Hagrid's Hut, by RavenclawRadiance

The moon was bright, but clouds scudding across it kept throwing them into darkness. Ahead, Harry could see the lighted windows of Hagrid’s hut….


Mars is Bright Tonight, by MartinTenbones

“Mars is bright tonight.”


The Forbidden Forest, by Keith James

Half blinded, he staggered backward. He heard hooves behind him, galloping, and something jumped clean over Harry, charging at the figure.


The Forbidden Forest, by Miri

“The forest is not safe at this time – especially for you.”

(by Miri)


The Forbidden Forest, by NicoPony

“I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.”


about the chapter


This. chapter. is. BANANAS. What on earth are the adults playing at? Something in the forest is killing unicorns; regardless of whether the professors know what it is, it’s obviously going to be dangerous for a group of eleven-year-olds… protected only by a dopey dog… at MIDNIGHT. It just doesn’t make sense, and we’ll never see another detention like this one, either. So somebody made a conscious choice to send these kids into the forest. Why? And then, Harry gets his Invisibility Cloak back with a note that looks like it’s from Dumbledore (in the American versions of the books, Dumbledore’s handwriting has a unique font, which this note matches). What’s really going on?

There will be more clues in the coming chapters and books, and I’m realizing I’m going to have to write a full essay about Dumbledore’s position in this book after I finish my postings from it, just to work out my thoughts. But on the most basic level, I think it’s fairly certain the adults took some steps to ensure the students’ safety in the forest. Hagrid was with two of them, and brought his crossbow. And Firenze was almost certainly enlisted to follow the other group and protect them if they ran into trouble. As far as why they were sent in the first place? Let’s get through the next two chapters, and then I’ll post my thoughts.

Something You May Not Have Noticed

When McGonagall is chastising Harry, Hermione, and Neville for being out of bed, she mentions that it’s dangerous to walk around the castle at night – “especially these days.” What is it about these days that makes it dangerous? Not an external threat – we’ve already seen that security is minimal. It’s doubtful she’s talking about Fluffy, either, who is safely locked into a room. The only real possibility that remains, then, is the threat to the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry doesn’t notice this, because he’ll continue thinking the teachers don’t realize it’s being threatened. But this is a pretty solid clue that they have at least some idea that something’s going on.

The Wizarding World

The planet the centaurs are watching, Mars, is “the red planet,” named for the Roman god of war. This fits right in with Harry’s concern that Voldemort is the one drinking the unicorn blood, and trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, but what’s particularly interesting is their repeated phrase, “Mars is bright tonight.” What is it about tonight that would place particular emphasis on war?

Life at Hogwarts

The first time I read this book, it was at about this point that the points system really started driving me crazy. Talking back to a teacher? Minus one point. Knocking out a troll? Plus TEN points. Out of bed after hours? Minus One hundred and fifty points. Unless there’s some pretty serious inflation going on, it seems pretty random and arbitrary. It also seems that McGonagall and Snape might be the reason, far more than anything students have done, that Slytherin has won the house cup so many years running. They both favor Slytherin – Snape because he loathes Gryffindors, and McGonagall because she seems to take off the most points when she’s disappointed in her own students.

The Boy Who Lived

Again my expectations are a bit high for an eleven-year-old boy, but I wish Harry would have talked to Neville when they were both lying awake all night. It seems to me that Neville’s crying wasn’t just from losing fifty points, which is all that occurred to Harry. Instead I think McGonagall’s assumption that Harry fed Malfoy a fake story – and that he “think[s] it’s funny” that Neville believed it – probably pierced Neville deeper than either she or Harry knows. Neville isn’t the most popular kid, and Harry and Hermione are probably the closest things to friends he has; at that age, no matter how true it is, that kind of thing is hard to hear.

Something to Remember

Here’s a fun sentence from the chapter: “In one night, they’d ruined any chance Gryffindor had had for the House Cup…. How could they ever make up for this?”

32 Responses to “The Forbidden Forest”

  1. I’m totally with you on this chapter being mind-boggling, and I have always thought the teachers were out of their minds to send 11 year olds into the forrest to find a dead or dying unicorn that’s clearly been hurt by something more dangerous than any beast they could find in there, since Hagrid says he’s never known a unicorn to be hurt before.

    However, Hagrid has taken the crossbow into the forest before, in OotP when he was taking Hermione and Harry to see Grawp ;)

    There is a quote from Firenze that I also find interesting: “The planets have been read wrongly before now, even by Centaurs. I hope this is one of those times.” Another clue that the Centaurs have long predicted that the peace since Voldemort “disappeared” was just a passing thing, a period between two wars (which leads back to Mars being bright ^_^)

  2. Yeah, this chapter seems odd. To first time readers, it could be written off that things like this are just how Hogwarts goes, but after all 7 books, the worst Harry has to endure again is Umbridge and her “lines.” Mostly, he has to do actual lines, or like in book 7, when he almost KILLS Draco, he just has to refile cabinets. Although, personally, I’d take the forest over answering Lockhart’s fanmail anyday…

  3. I always thought that the “Mars is bright tonight” comment was for humor. (Which could be). Just to put some lightness into this frightening scene, although I always liked how even when we see the unicorn lying there dead or dying, it’s not gory.

  4. this chapter is indeed a bit weird, but like you mentioned in your notes, Dumbledore clearly knows more then he lets on. It’s almost as if he’s setting Harry up, or preparing him, like Ron suggested at the end of the book… I’m running ahead, sorry.. :P
    BTW, Hagrid also used his crossbow in the second book, when Harry, Hermione, Ron and later Dumbledore, Fudge and Lucius Malfoy enter his cabin to fire him….

  5. Lola & Kim: Good call on the crossbow. My memory is obviously flawed on this front. ;) I’ve edited the page to make it more accurate.

    Hayley: I think you’re right that Rowling injected “Mars is bright tonight” for humor, at least partially. But as all the planets are named for Roman gods (Mercury was the messenger god, Jupiter was the king, etc.) – and considering that Firenze will explain some of the centaurs’ methods in OP, and imply that they are indeed on the lookout for battles – I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to derive this meaning from it as well.


  6. As for the punishment – perhaps prior to this year these punishments were not uncommon. Considering that the wizarding world was largely considered safe before the books (in the peaceful period between wars), maybe sending them into the forest wasn’t seen as unsafe as it seems to us as we know what’s in the forest. After this point the world isn’t safe, the threats growing each year. Furthermore this dangerous detention might have caused them to rethink the extremeness of the punishment policy.

    And if you remember Filch says the punishments use to be much worse.

  7. I believe that Hagrid was feeling guilty because it’s his fault they are in detention. Thus, he offers this punishment which he probably thinks it’s safe and mildly enjoyable for the children.
    I find it odd that he actually punishes them, knowing they were helping him when they ere caught. He never even mentions that fact.

  8. I know this has chapter’s discussion has been dead for a long time but I just remembered that we see another similar punishment in DH. It’s what Luna, Neville and Ginny get for trying to steal the sword.

  9. I have a theory about this detention: the four students were caught wondering around out-of-bounds at night, so their punishment is to walk around an area that is usually out-of-bounds at night, to give them a scare so they won’t do it again. Didn’t really work though.

  10. I think Martin is right. We all know Hagrid does not understand danger as we or the magical world does. After all, he wanted to raise a dragon.

  11. I agree with Hazel, Martin, Phoebe, Chloe, and Paula.
    I never thought about the Mars is bright tonight comment, but that is a very interesting thought. I think it was a bit of humor and a bit of a foreshadowing.
    And the point system always confused me. It is very uneven. I don’t understand why the students care about the House Cup that much either. If there was some kind of prize, I’d care, but if there wasn’t and I was at Hogwarts, that wouldn’t bother too much. But of course that is the mind of a child. Getting a huge detention, Neville being caught, a dragon in the school, sneaking a dragon OUT of the school… and the House Cup is what matters in the end.

  12. Thanks for all the great discussion about this “crazy” chapter! So much happens in just a few pages.

    I always thought it was so ironic that McGonagall accuses Harry and Hermione of luring Malfoy out of bed to get him into trouble, when this is exactly what Malfoy had tried to do to Harry back in the chapter, The Midnight Duel. If McGonagall had taken a moment to think about it, the scenario she envisions doesn’t really make sense of why Harry & Hermione would be out of bed. For example, it isn’t necessary for Malfoy to make an appearance in the trophy room the night of the supposed duel because he just hopes that Harry & Ron will be caught after tipping Filch off. Malfoy also had Charlie’s letter to Ron concerning the plan to smuggle out Norbert, so it’s surprising that Malfoy apparently never shows the letter to McGonagall to validate the dragon story.

    Poor Neville. I enjoyed the discussion about him in The Boy Who Lived section above. Neville adores Harry… after Malfoy hit Neville with the leg-locker jinx a few chapters previously, it was Harry who told him that he is “worth twelve of Malfoy” and reminded him that the Sorting Hat found him worthy to be placed in Gryffindor. Neville now seems determined to live up to Harry’s praise. And so Neville bravely and loyally attempts to help Harry when he thinks Malfoy is about to get him and Hermione in trouble. No wonder Neville sobs half the night… he is hurt by Harry’s perceived actions and likely suspects that Harry thinks him pathetic and stupid. Plus, he lost 50 points for his house and has to endure detention (which turns out to be one of the scariest punishments ever!). For Harry’s part, he does deeply regret that Neville ever got mixed up in the whole thing. Harry doesn’t think things can get any worse after he and Hermione get caught out of bed until McGonagall shows up leading Neville. Harry knows what it cost Neville to try to warn him. It really is too bad that Harry doesn’t say anything when he hears Neville crying all night (I hope Harry did explain the whole situation to him at some point).

    It’s really interesting that Harry is so convinced of Snape’s guilt that he completely accepts that Snape must have been in the room when Harry hears Quirrell giving in and sobbing. The empty room and apparently skewed turban are much bigger hints as to what was really happening here. It also shows how unwilling a pawn Quirrell really was.

    Harry is also unwittingly right that there’s no proof of Snape’s involvement when he and his friends discuss going to Dumbledore with their concerns about the Stone. But this is not because (as Harry believes) they haven’t been able to find any concrete evidence, but because Snape is actually innocent.

    I love how Harry resolves not to do any more sneaking or meddling after this whole incident… and he seems to really mean it. No wonder Dumbledore had to get involved and devise an absurd detention to get Harry & friends into the forest and back on the trail.

    It was great to read everyone’s thoughts on the detention in this chapter (and the fantastic Dumbledore essay too). I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggled at first to understand how a trip into the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night to chase after a unicorn that was mortally wounded by an unknown dangerous creature was in any way a reasonable punishment for eleven-year-old children. The first time I read the book, I actually had to put it down for a minute after reading the passage where Hagrid splits the group into two search parties (and initially sends Draco and Neville off on their own with Fang)… it just seemed so ridiculous.

    Dumbledore’s involvement is the only reasonable explanation, however, for this crazy and unreasonable punishment. The night in the Forbidden Forest, more than anything else, drives home for Harry the very real and imminent danger posed by Voldemort and his plot to get the Stone. Dumbledore knows due to the prophecy that it must be Harry who ultimately confronts Voldemort… so why not give him a chance? Harry’s first encounter with Voldemort had already severely diminished the dark lord’s powers when he was only a baby… so who knows really what the boy might also be able to do? And Dumbledore realizes that his love and care for Harry are the only things that might hold Harry back from meeting his destiny.

  13. Mickey,
    I went to a K-12 school and at the end of each week during football season the teachers awarded a “Spirit Stick” to whichever class had the most school spirit — the most decorated classroom or homeroom (if you were older), screamed the loudest at the pep rally, etc. The only prize was a yellow stick that you could decorate if you won, but boy did we want that stick! Especially the elementary school and the juniors and seniors. At least at Hogwarts, you get a trophy and a decorated Leaving Feast!

  14. Wizards seem to care about glory, not just about prizes, and that’s what the house cup affords. Well, that and the chance to satisfy inter-house rivalries.

    Hagrid says to the students that nothing in the forest will hurt them if they’re with him or Fang. I think that belief is what made the adults think it was okay to send them in. Filch’s description of the dangers of the forest was probably exageration to try to frighten a group of rule-breakers. Only Dumbledore is likely to suspect the nature of the unicorn problem, but he couldn’t have known exactly what was going on or what Quirrell was or he would have sorted it himself. Plan or not there’s no reason to allow Voldemort to live in the castle among the students.

    Of course the other possibility is that it was simply creative license on Jo’s part. She needed Harry to go into the forest.

  15. I love this chapter actually. It’s the point at which the plot really thickens, not just the plot of the book but of the series. We’re getting our first small hints at what’s coming in the later books. Apart from Mars being bright, there’s Ronan’s slightly unsettling comment about the innocent being the first victims. I’m thinking Cedric Diggory.

    Jo’s also clever here, because she hasn’t mentioned Voldemort at all for several chapters at this point and I seem to remember that when I first read this book I’d almost forgotten about him when Harry realised it was him in the forest. I liked the kind of ‘omg’ realisation that that brought.

  16. Yes, this book was very tightly plotted. The idea of Voldemort in the forest eating unicorns was a little creepy of and in itself, but we still don’t even know the whole story yet…

  17. I still remember the first time I read this book—I was nine, and when I got to this chapter, I read the title and got so frightened I didn’t have the guts to pick the book up for a couple of weeks. Aww. It didn’t end up being as scary as I thought it would be.

    I agree that the detention was weird, though I wonder if it can be partially attributed to Hagrid’s tendency to underestimate dangerous creatures. I highly doubt that anyone would have guessed that it was anything as dangerous as Voldemort killing unicorns in the forest, either.

  18. I can’t even remember how old I was when I read this. But when you’re that little the trophy and title mean everything. But I remember when I reading it I swear I felt like I was right there with them cuz when McGonagall gave out the punishments the bottom fell out of my stomach and I broke out into a cold sweat. I felt so bad for them. I was like “oh my god how are they gonna explain it to the rest of the house ?” I felt so bad for Neville as well cuz I knew how he was feeling. I wanted Harry to go talk to him SO BADLY. I totally agree with Josie’s observation as well. It’s a lot worse to be in trouble and belong to McGonagall’s house cuz she will RIP YOU TO SHREDS. How dare you shame her and your own house! You have a reputation to uphold and a rivalry to win!

  19. Just discovered this site, its amazing!

    The unicorn blood thing in this chapter bothers me a little, Firenze makes such a big deal out of it yet it never seems to come up again, even Ron seems to know about it from growing up in a magical family if I remember rightly. (Firenze)’… You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself and you will have a half life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches you lips.’ I wonder if there isn’t a more significant meaning for this statement. Does Dumbledore suspect that if Qurriel survives, he may have some of Voldemort’s soul inside of him like Harry, hence Dumbledore ensures that Quirrel dies so that he doesn’t become a horcrux, so to speak? IDK, its just a thought.

  20. I did think the punishment was strange, but I actually think it fits. 1) The punishment should fit the crime. Students want to wander around at night? Make them wander around at night doing something useful. You can bet that morning lessons came a lot sooner after being in the forest all night. And 2) I wonder if Hagrid actually told McGonagall what he was going to have them do? Maybe he just said he had some cleaning to do, or was collecting flobberworms?

    But I have to disagree with you on one point- you said this punishment has never been seen again. In Deathly Hallows, Luna, Ginny and Neville are “severely punished” by Snape by being sent into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. This was my first inkling that maybe there was something going on with Snape.

  21. @Jane. You have a point about the punishment fitting the crime. It is appropriate from that point of view.

  22. I’ve just noticed a very good something you may not have noticed. In this chapter one of the centaurs is angry at Firenze for saving Harry from Voldemort as it goes against what is destined in the stars. Well in DH Harry again meets Voldemort in the forest and this time doesn’t want to be saved. The centaurs were right, they were just 6 years too early in their prediction.

  23. @Jane I knew Snape was good from Order of the Phoenix where he told the Order about Harry thinking Voldemort had Sirius at the MoM. If he really was bad he could have pretended that he really didn’t understand what Harry meant when he said “he has Padfoot at the place where it is hidden”. However, during DH I kept having doubts. It was the part that you mention (Ginny et al. getting detention in the forest) that reinforced my initial view.

  24. One thing that no one seems to touch on in these comments for this chapter, is something that was talked about a couple chapters ago. I remember reading someone say that the House Cup points are not at all attached to Quidditch Cup points. However, in this chapter, Harry goes on about how he lost all the points that they had won for beating Slytherin at Quidditch. Therefore, the points they get in the matches do translate somehow to the House Cup points. So, now the amount of points for Quidditch can actually make sense now, being multiples of 10. Hope that clears that argument up!

    As for the punishment in the Forest, I always thought that this was supposed to be like, less of a punishment. I know they’re going into the Forest at night, with some supposed Dark dangerous creature prowling the night, but they’re with HAGRID. I always thought that anything with Hagrid, no matter what it is, wouldn’t be so bad. Even Harry shows this when he gets excited at seeing Hagrid when Filch is walking them there. Filch just talks the whole thing up to scare them, cause he believes in severe punishments, but Hagrid then tells him off for it quite nicely, in my opinion. I also agree that this was Dumbledore’s way of pushing them back towards their destinies (though I think at this point he’s only thinking of Harry’s destiny, and has to put the others along for the ride cause they were there too). I think Dumbledore knows Harry can handle it, especially with Hagrid there (“Ah, Professor, I would trust Hagrid with my life”). As always, since we know the end of the books, we know Dumbledore has much more of a hand in what goes on at Hogwarts than we previously thought.

  25. I’m with you, Casey. I’m certain that Dumbledore was going to send Harry into the Forest no matter what. “Detention” was just an excuse; if Harry had managed not to chalk up a detention, Dumbledore would have found some other way to handle it.

    I found it really distressing that Harry never told the real story to Neville. Truth is, Harry isn’t very nice to Neville in the first three books, although he does improve later. It’s amazing that Neville retains his good opinion of Harry nonetheless.

  26. There are three thing I noticed while reading this chapter again.

    1. McGonagall’s quote “Four students out of bed in one night! I’ve never heard of such a thing before!” made me think of the Marauders.

    2. This passage.

    “Stop saying the name.” said Ron in a terrifired whisper, as if he thought Voldemort could hear them.

    For some reason it made me think of the Taboo from Book 7.

    3. From the same page as Ron’s quote, Harry says that the centaurs say that Voldemort is coming back (GoF Chapter 32) and Harry thinks that it is also written in the stars that Voldemort will kill Harry (DH Chapeter 34).

  27. I know the discussion of this chapter has become pretty inactive, but I think there are a number of great points made!

    First off, the repetitive use of “tonight” in the centaurs analysis of Mars would generally suggest, as you state, that there is something essential that is going to happen in relation to war. If you combine the two wizarding wars (before Voldemort’s first fall, and then after his return), there are very few groups/people who dedicate themselves completely to ridding the magical world of Voldemort’s evil. You can really only pose these three general dilemmas: Order of the Phoenix vs Death Eaters, Albus Dumbledore vs Lord Voldemort, or Harry Potter vs Lord Voldemort. So the fact that Mars was bright on that particular night could have been because two of the most important (if not the two most important) people involved in the war were destined to meet. Voldemort was making a beeline right at Harry and Harry was frozen with fear and dazed from the pain of his scar. It was inevitable that Voldemort would attack Harry… if Firenze hadn’t “set himself against the heavens,” as Bane put it. It is as Dumbledore always said of the prophecy between Harry and Voldemort: both of them could simply choose to forget it and walk away, but neither of them would, which is why it would come true. If Firenze had chosen to act as the rest of the centaurs and not protected Harry, Voldemort would have attacked Harry. Of course, Harry still had the protection from his mother, so he would have, in the long run, been fine.

  28. And it is in this chapter where, along with Josie, I’m completely thrown off by the unfairness of the House Point system. With no firm and solid rule basis for giving or docking off points (like how many points to take away depending on the gravity of the offense) and with biased teachers, it is a wonder why the adults ever take the House competition seriously. The kids… I can understand.

    It was also a huge mystery to me why the four kids’ detention must take place over a month after they committed the offense. If Dumbledore really orchestrated the whole detention-in-the-Forbidden-Forest thing, why wait a month after the kids were reprimanded? Unless Jo really just needs to drive the plot home and have the Voldy-Harry confrontation occur near the end of the school year.

    Then there’s Hagrid scolding Draco, telling him “Yeh’ve done wrong an’ now yeh’ve got ter pay fer it.” I actually found this ironic, seeing as how it was really Hagrid’s fault having the dragon why all four kids are out serving detention.

    I’ve got this nagging notion that Dumbledore is the one main character manipulating almost all of the plot in this book. I suppose it’s safe to assume that he is the one who returns the Invisibility Cloak to Harry with the note: “Just in case”. Was he really expecting Harry to go after the Stone here? What do you guys think?

  29. I find the “Mars is bright tonight” thing very interesting. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that Rowling used this comment as a bit of foreshadowing, even though it does seem like just a funny aside in an otherwise high-stakes chapter.

    Even though this obviously isn’t the BEGINNING of the war, it can be argued that this night is partially what sets everything in motion for the second war. This is the first time that Harry has met Voldemort since his fall ten years ago, and while they’re far from equals at this point, it’s the first time that Harry’s fully capable of comprehending what the horror of Voldemort really means. Until now, I think Harry’s seen him as a sort of scary-story, monster-under-the-bed that he knows is obviously a part of his past, but doesn’t much seem relevant to his present.

    He’s been so focused and sure that Snape is the bad guy in all this, but this is where things start to change for him. “Mars is bright tonight” could very well represent this changing of perspective for Harry, realizing (probably subconsciously at this point) that he is going to have to face Voldemort again at some point.

  30. Awesome point about the emphasis on Mars being bright “tonight.” I hadn’t really noticed it before, but this night, basically, is when Harry declares war on Voldemort.

  31. Okay, another fanwank: Minerva was most likely irritated to begin with (she surely has caught female and male students at the astronomy tower before, but at this age?), plus she suspects that the whole thing was a sneaky plan to set Draco up and perhaps she just had a bad day (she often becomes harsh rather than strict when she is frazzled). So perhaps she rued the number of points the very next day. Hagrid, who felt bad about Harry getting into trouble on his behalf, asked her to oversee the detention. She naturally thinks that Hagrid will give the students an easy time, but since she feels bad about loosing her temper, she agrees. She doesn’t know that Hagrid intents to take them into the forest (something Hagrid most likely see as a better detention than scrubbing or writing lines – after all, he is (wrongly) convinced that nothing will touch the children with his protection. Filch knows, and he most likely also knows that the other teacher would never agree with Hagrids plans, but he simply doesn’t care.

  32. I think the most telling thing about this chapter is the way that the centaurs are talking about intervening in Harry’s destiny in the Forbidden Forest, and what the stars have to say about it. After reading Deathly Hallows, it made a whole lot more sense – something very bad WILL happen to Harry in the Forbidden Forest, but not for another six years!

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