Quirrell, however, must have been braver than they'd thought. Inthe 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 Fluffywas still growling inside. Snape was sweeping about in his usual badtemper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe. WheneverHarry passed Quirrell these days he gave him an encouraging sortof smile, and Ron had started telling people off for laughing atQuirrell's stutter. Hermione, however, had more on her mind than the Sorcerer'sStone. She had started drawing up study schedules and colorcodingall her notes. Harry and Ron wouldn't have minded, but she keptnagging them to do the same. "Hermione, the exams are ages away." "Ten weeks," Hermione snapped. "That's not ages, that's likea 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 A." "What am I studying for? Are you crazy? You realize we need topass 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'sgotten into me...." Unfortunately, the teachers seemed to be thinking along thesame lines as Hermione. They piled so much homework on them that theEaster holidays weren't nearly as much fun as the Christmas ones. Itwas hard to relax with Hermione next to you reciting the twelve usesof 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, throwingdown his quill and looking longingly out of the library window. Itwas the first really fine day they'd had in months. The sky was aclear, forget-me-not blue, and there was a feeling in the air ofsummer coming. Harry, who was looking up "Dittany" in One Thousand MagicalHerbs and Fungi, didn't look up until he heard Ron say, "Hagrid! Whatare you doing in the library?" Hagrid shuffled into view, hiding something behind his back. Helooked very out of place in his moleskin overcoat. "Jus' lookin'," he said, in a shifty voice that got theirinterest at once. "An' what're you lot up ter?" He looked suddenlysuspicious. "Yer not still lookin' fer Nicolas Flamel, are yeh?" "Oh,we found out who he is ages ago," said Ron impressively. "And weknow what that dog's guarding, it's a Sorcerer's St --" "Shhhh!" Hagrid looked around quickly to see if anyone waslistening. "Don' go shoutin' about it, what's the matter with yeh?" "There are a few things we wanted to ask you, as a matter offact," said Harry, "about what's guarding the Stone apart fromFluffy --" "SHHHH!" said Hagrid again. "Listen - come an' see me later, I'mnot promisin' I'll tell yeh anythin', mind, but don' go rabbitin'about it in here, students aren' s'pposed ter know. They'll thinkI'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 hadenough of working. He came back a minute later with a pile of booksin his arms and slammed them down on the table. "Dragons!" he whispered. "Hagrid was looking up stuff aboutdragons! 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 timeI ever met him, " said Harry. "But it's against our laws," said Ron. "Dragon breeding wasoutlawed by the Warlocks' Convention of 1709, everyone knowsthat. It's hard to stop Muggles from noticing us if we're keepingdragons in the back garden - anyway, you can't tame dragons, it'sdangerous. You should see the burns Charlie's got off wild onesin Romania." "But there aren't wild dragons in Britain?" said Harry. "Of course there are," said Ron. "Common Welsh Green andHebridean Blacks. The Ministry of Magic has a job hushing them up,I can tell you. Our kind have to keep putting spells on Muggleswho've spotted them, to make them forget." "So what on earths Hagrid up to?" said Hermione. When they knocked on the door of the gamekeeper's hut anhour later, they were surprised to see that all the curtains wereclosed. Hagrid called "Who is it?" before he let them in, and thenshut 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 andoffered them stoat sandwiches, which they refused. "So -- yeh wanted to ask me somethin'?" "Yes," said Harry. There was no point beating around thebush. "We were wondering if you could tell us what's guarding theSorcerer's Stone apart from Fluffy." Hagrid frowned at him. "0' course I cant, he said. "Number one, I don' knowmeself. Number two, yeh know too much already, so I wouldn' tellyeh if I could. That Stone's here fer a good reason. It Was almoststolen 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 doknow, you know everything that goes on round here," said Hermionein a warm, flattering voice. Hagrid's beard twitched and they couldtell he was smiling. "We only wondered who had done the guarding,really." Hermione went on. "We wondered who Dumbledore had trustedenough to help him, apart from you." Hagrid's chest swelled at these last words. Harry and Ron beamedat Hermione. "Well, I don' s'pose it could hurt ter tell yeh that... let'ssee... he borrowed Fluffy from me... then some o' the teachersdid 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." "Snape?" "Yeah -- yer not still on abou' that, are yeh? Look, Snapehelped protect the Stone, he's not about ter steal it." Harry knew Ron and Hermione were thinking the same as he was. IfSnape had been in on protecting the Stone, it must have been easyto find out how the other teachers had guarded it. He probably kneweverything -- except, it seemed, Quirrell's spell and how to getpast Fluffy. "You're the only one who knows how to get past Fluffy. aren'tyou, 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 glanceat 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'ser..." "Where did you get it, Hagrid?" said Ron, crouching over the fireto get a closer look at the egg. "It must've cost you a fortune." "Won it," said Hagrid. "Las' night. I was down in thevillage havin' a few drinks an' got into a game o' cards with astranger. 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?" saidHermione. "Well, I've bin doin' some readin' , said Hagrid, pulling alarge 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, 'causetheir mothers breathe on I em, see, an' when it hatches, feed iton a bucket o' brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour. An'see here -- how ter recognize diff'rent eggs -- what I got there'sa 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 stokedthe fire. So now they had something else to worry about: what might happento Hagrid if anyone found out he was hiding an illegal dragon in hishut. "Wonder what it's like to have a peaceful life," Ron sighed, asevening after evening they struggled through all the extra homeworkthey were getting. Hermione had now started making study schedulesfor Harry and Ron, too. It was driving them nuts. Then, one breakfast time, Hedwig brought Harry another notefrom Hagrid. He had written only two words: It's hatching. Ron wanted to skip Herbology and go straight down to thehut. Hermione wouldn't hear of it. "Hermione, how many times in our lives are we going to see adragon hatching?" "We've got lessons, we'll get into trouble, and that's nothingto what Hagrid's going to be in when someone finds out what he'sdoing --" "Shut up!" Harry whispered. Malfoy was only a few feet away and he had stopped deadto listen. How much had he heard? Harry didn't like the look onMalfoy'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 duringmorning break. When the bell sounded from the castle at the endof their lesson, the three of them dropped their trowels at onceand hurried through the grounds to the edge of the forest. Hagridgreeted them, looking flushed and excited. "It's nearly out." He ushered them inside. The egg was lying on the table. There were deep cracks init. Something was moving inside; a funny clicking noise was comingfrom it. They all drew their chairs up to the table and watched withbated breath. All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg splitopen. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn't exactlypretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Itsspiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had along 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 handto stroke the dragon's head. It snapped at his fingers, showingpointed fangs. "Bless him, look, he knows his mommy!" said Hagrid. "Hagrid," said Hermione, "how fast do Norwegian Ridgebacksgrow, exactly?" Hagrid was about to answer when the color suddenly drained fromhis 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'sa kid -- he's runnin' back up ter the school." Harry bolted to the door and looked out. Even at a distancethere was no mistaking him. Malfoy had seen the dragon. Something about the smile lurking on Malfoy's face during thenext week made Harry, Ron, and Hermione very nervous. They spentmost of their free time in Hagrid's darkened hut, trying to reasonwith 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 injust a week. Smoke kept furling out of its nostrils. Hagrid hadn'tbeen doing his gamekeeping duties because the dragon was keepinghim so busy. There were empty brandy bottles and chicken feathersall over the floor. "I've decided to call him Norbert," said Hagrid, lookingat 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'sgoing to be as long as your house. Malfoy could go to Dumbledoreat 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. Studyingdragons. We could send Norbert to him. Charlie can take care ofhim 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 toCharlie to ask him. The following week dragged by. Wednesday night found Hermioneand Harry sitting alone in the common room, long after everyoneelse had gone to bed. The clock on the wall had just chimed midnight when the portrait hole burst open. Ron appearedout of nowhere as he pulled off Harry's invisibility cloak. He hadbeen down at Hagrid's hut, helping him feed Norbert, who was noweating dead rats by the crate. "It bit me!" he said, showing them his hand, which was wrappedin a bloody handkerchief. "I'm not going to be able to hold a quillfor a week. I tell you, that dragon's the most horrible animal I'veever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you'd think it wasa fluffy little bunny rabbit. When it bit me he told me off forfrightening 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 haveCharlie's answer!" The three of them put their heads together to read the note. Dear Ron, How are you? Thanks for the letter -- I'd be glad to take theNorwegian Ridgeback, but it won't be easy getting him here. I thinkthe best thing will be to send him over with some friends of minewho are coming to visit me next week. Trouble is, they mustn't beseen carrying an illegal dragon. Could you get the Ridgeback up the tallest tower at midnighton Saturday? They can meet you there and take him away while it'sstill dark. Send me an answer as soon as possible. Love, Charlie They looked at one another. "We've got the invisibility cloak," said Harry. "It shouldn'tbe too difficult -- I think the cloaks big enough to cover two ofus and Norbert." It was a mark of how bad the last week had been that the othertwo agreed with him. Anything to get rid of Norbert -- and Malfoy. There was a hitch. By the next morning, Ron's bitten hand hadswollen to twice its usual size. He didn't know whether it was safeto go to Madam Pomfrey -- would she recognize a dragon bite? Bythe afternoon, though, he had no choice. The cut had turned a nastyshade of green. It looked as if Norbert's fangs were poisonous. Harry and Hermione rushed up to the hospital wing at the endof the day to find Ron in a terrible state in bed. "It's not just my hand," he whispered, "although that feelslike it's about to fall off. Malfoy told Madam Pomfrey he wantedto borrow one of my books so he could come and have a good laugh atme. He kept threatening to tell her what really bit me -- I've toldher it was a dog, but I don't think she believes me -I shouldn'thave 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 boltupright and broke into a sweat. "Midnight on Saturday!" he said in a hoarse voice. "Oh no ohno -- I've just remembered -- Charlie's letter was in that bookMalfoy took, he's going to know we're getting rid of Norbert." Harry and Hermione didn't get a chance to answer. Madam Pomfreycame over at that moment and made them leave, saying Ron neededsleep. "It's too late to change the plan now," Harry told Hermione. "Wehaven't got time to send Charlie another owl, and this could beour only chance to get rid of Norbert. We'll have to risk it. Andwe have got the invisibility cloak, Malfoy doesn't know about that." They found Fang, the boarhound, sitting outside with a bandagedtail when they went to tell Hagrid, who opened a window to talkto 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 withtears, although that might have been because Norbert had just bittenhim 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 windowsrattle. Harry and Hermione walked back to the castle feeling Saturdaycouldn't come quickly enough. They would have felt sorry for Hagrid when the time came forhim to say good-bye to Norbert if they hadn't been so worriedabout what they had to do. It was a very dark, cloudy night, andthey were a bit late arriving at Hagrid's hut because they'd hadto wait for Peeves to get out of their way in the entrance hall,where he'd been playing tennis against the wall. Hagrid had Norbertpacked and ready in a large crate. "He's got lots o' rats an' some brandy fer the journey," saidHagrid in a muffled voice. "An' I've packed his teddy bear in casehe gets lonely." From inside the crate came ripping noises that sounded to Harryas though the teddy was having his head torn off. "Bye-bye, Norbert!" Hagrid sobbed, as Harry and Hermione coveredthe crate with the invisibility cloak and stepped underneath itthemselves. "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 Norbertup the marble staircase in the entrance hall and along the darkcorridors. UP another staircase, then another -- even one of Harry'sshortcuts didn't make the work much easier. "Nearly there!" Harry panted as they reached the corridorbeneath the tallest tower. Then a sudden movement ahead of them made them almost drop thecrate. Forgetting that they were already invisible, they shrank intothe shadows, staring at the dark outlines of two people grapplingwith 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 fromSlytherin! Wandering around in the middle of the night, how dareyou --" "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 seemedthe easiest thing in the world after that. Not until they'd steppedout into the cold night air did they throw off the cloak, glad tobe 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 inhis crate. About ten minutes later, four broomsticks came swoopingdown out of the darkness. Charlie's friends were a cheery lot. They showed Harry andHermione the harness they'd rigged up, so they could suspend Norbertbetween them. They all helped buckle Norbert safely into it andthen Harry and Hermione shook hands with the others and thankedthem very much. At last, Norbert was going... going... gone. They slipped back down the spiral staircase, their hearts aslight 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. Asthey stepped into the corridor, Filch's face loomed suddenly outof the darkness. "Well, well, well," he whispered, "we are in trouble." They'd left the invisibility cloak on top of the tower.