In years to come, Harry would never quite remember how he hadmanaged to get through his exams when he half expected Voldemort tocome bursting through the door at any moment. Yet the days crept by,and there could be no doubt that Fluffy was still alive and wellbehind the locked door. It was sweltering hot, especially in the large classroom wherethey did their written papers. They had been given special, newquills for the exams, which had been bewitched with an AntiCheatingspell. They had practical exams as well. Professor Flitwick called themone by one into his class to see if they could make a pineappletapdance across a desk. Professor McGonagall watched them turna mouse into a snuffbox -- points were given for how pretty thesnuffbox was, but taken away if it had whiskers. Snape made themall nervous, breathing down their necks while they tried to rememberhow to make a Forgetfulness potion. Harry did the best he could, trying to ignore the stabbingpains in his forehead, which had been bothering him ever since histrip into the forest. Neville thought Harry had a bad case of examnerves because Harry couldn't sleep, but the truth was that Harrykept being woken by his old nightmare, except that it was now worsethan ever because there was a hooded figure dripping blood in it. Maybe it was because they hadn't seen what Harry had seen inthe forest, or because they didn't have scars burning on theirforeheads, but Ron and Hermione didn't seem as worried about theStone as Harry. The idea of Voldemort certainly scared them, buthe didn't keep visiting them in dreams, and they were so busy withtheir studying they didn't have much time to fret about what Snapeor anyone else might be up to. Their very last exam was History of Magic. One hour of answeringquestions about batty old wizards who'd invented selfstirringcauldrons and they'd be free, free for a whole wonderful week untiltheir exam results came out. When the ghost of Professor Binnstold them to put down their quills and roll up their parchment,Harry couldn't help cheering with the rest. "That was far easier than I thought it would be," said Hermioneas they joined the crowds flocking out onto the sunny grounds. "Ineedn't have learned about the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct orthe uprising of Elfric the Eager." Hermione always liked to go through their exam papers afterward,but Ron said this made him feel ill, so they wandered down to thelake and flopped under a tree. The Weasley twins and Lee Jordanwere tickling the tentacles of a giant squid, which was baskingin the warm shallows. "No more studying," Ron sighed happily,stretching out on the grass. "You could look more cheerful, Harry,we've got a week before we find out how badly we've done, there'sno need to worry yet." Harry was rubbing his forehead. "I wish I knew what this means!" he burst out angrily. "My scarkeeps hurting -- it's happened before, but never as often as this." "Go to Madam Pomfrey," Hermione suggested. "I'm not ill," said Harry. "I think it's a warning... it meansdanger's coming...." Ron couldn't get worked up, it was too hot. "Harry, relax, Hermione's right, the Stone's safe as long asDumbledore's around. Anyway, we've never had any proof Snape foundout how to get past Fluffy. He nearly had his leg ripped off once,he's not going to try it again in a hurry. And Neville will playQuidditch for England before Hagrid lets Dumbledore down." Harry nodded, but he couldn't shake off a lurking feeling thatthere was something he'd forgotten to do, something important. Whenhe tried to explain this, Hermione said, "That's just the exams. Iwoke up last night and was halfway through my Transfiguration notesbefore I remembered we'd done that one." Harry was quite sure the unsettled feeling didn't have anythingto do with work, though. He watched an owl flutter toward the schoolacross the bright blue sky, a note clamped in its mouth. Hagridwas the only one who ever sent him letters. Hagrid would neverbetray Dumbledore. Hagrid would never tell anyone how to get pastFluffy... never... but -- Harry suddenly jumped to his feet. "Where're you going?" said Ron sleepily. "I've just thought of something," said Harry. He had turnedwhite. "We've got to go and see Hagrid, now." "Why?" panted Hermione, hurrying to keep up. "Don't you think it's a bit odd," said Harry, scrambling up thegrassy slope, "that what Hagrid wants more than anything else is adragon, and a stranger turns up who just happens to have an egg inhis pocket? How many people wander around with dragon eggs if it'sagainst wizard law? Lucky they found Hagrid, don't you think? Whydidn't I see it before?" "What are you talking about?" said Ron, but Harry, sprintingacross the grounds toward the forest, didn't answer. Hagrid was sitting in an armchair outside his house; histrousers and sleeves were rolled up, and he was shelling peas intoa large bowl. "Hullo," he said, smiling. "Finished yer exams? Got time fera drink?" "Yes, please," said Ron, but Harry cut him off. "No, we're in a hurry. Hagrid, I've got to ask you something. Youknow that night you won Norbert? What did the stranger you wereplaying cards with look like?" "Dunno," said Hagrid casually, "he wouldn' take his cloak off." He saw the three of them look stunned and raised his eyebrows. "It's not that unusual, yeh get a lot o' funny folk in the Hog'sHead -- that's the pub down in the village. Mighta bin a dragondealer, mightn' he? I never saw his face, he kept his hood up." Harry sank down next to the bowl of peas. "What did you talkto him about, Hagrid? Did you mention Hogwarts at all?" "Mighta come up," said Hagrid, frowning as he tried toremember. "Yeah... he asked what I did, an' I told him I wasgamekeeper here.... He asked a bit about the sorta creatures I tookafter... so I told him... an' I said what I'd always really wantedwas a dragon... an' then... I can' remember too well, 'cause hekept buyin' me drinks.... Let's see... yeah, then he said he hadthe dragon egg an' we could play cards fer it if I wanted... but hehad ter be sure I could handle it, he didn' want it ter go ter anyold home.... So I told him, after Fluffy, a dragon would be easy..." "And did he -- did he seem interested in Fluffy?" Harry asked,try ing to keep his voice calm. "Well -- yeah -- how many three-headed dogs d'yeh meet, evenaround Hogwarts? So I told him, Fluffy's a piece o' cake if yehknow how to calm him down, jus' play him a bit o' music an' he'llgo straight off ter sleep --" Hagrid suddenly looked horrified. "I shouldn'ta told yeh that!" he blurted out. "Forget I saidit! Hey -- where're yeh goin'?" Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn't speak to each other at alluntil they came to a halt in the entrance hall, which seemed verycold and gloomy after the grounds. "We've got to go to Dumbledore," said Harry. "Hagrid toldthat stranger how to get past Fluffy, and it was either Snape orVoldemort under that cloak -- it must've been easy, once he'd gotHagrid drunk. I just hope Dumbledore believes us. Firenze mightback us up if Bane doesn't stop him. Where's Dumbledore's office?" They looked around, as if hoping to see a sign pointing themin the right direction. They had never been told where Dumbledorelived, nor did they know anyone who had been sent to see him. "We'll just have to --" Harry began, but a voice suddenly rangacross the hall. "What are you three doing inside?" It was Professor McGonagall, carrying a large pile of books. "We want to see Professor Dumbledore," said Hermione, ratherbravely, Harry and Ron thought. "See Professor Dumbledore?" Professor McGonagall repeated,as though this was a very fishy thing to want to do. "Why?" Harry swallowed -- now what? "It's sort of secret," he said, but he wished at once he hadn't,because Professor McGonagall's nostrils flared. "Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago," she said coldly. "Hereceived an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off forLondon at once." "He's gone?" said Harry frantically. "Now?" "Professor Dumbledore is a very great wizard, Potter, he hasmany demands on his time -- "But this is important." "Something you have to say is more important than the Ministryof Magic, Potter. "Look," said Harry, throwing caution to the winds, "Professor --it's about the Sorcerer's tone --" Whatever Professor McGonagall had expected, it wasn't that. Thebooks she was carrying tumbled out of her arms, but she didn't pickthem up. "How do you know --?" she spluttered. "Professor, I think -- I know -- that Sn- that someone's going totry and steal the Stone. I've got to talk to Professor Dumbledore." She eyed him with a mixture of shock and suspicion. "Professor Dumbledore will be back tomorrow," she said finally. Idon't know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured,no one can possibly steal it, it's too well protected." "But Professor --" "Potter, I know what I'm talking about," she said shortly. Shebent down and gathered up the fallen books. I suggest you all goback outside and enjoy the sunshine." But they didn't. "It's tonight," said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonagallwas out of earshot. "Snape's going through the trapdoor tonight. He'sfound out everything he needs, and now he's got Dumbledore out ofthe way. He sent that note, I bet the Ministry of Magic will geta real shock when Dumbledore turns up." "But what can we --" Hermione gasped. Harry and Ron wheeled round. Snape was standing there. "Good afternoon," he said smoothly. They stared at him. "You shouldn't be inside on a day like this," he said, with anodd, twisted smile. "We were --" Harry began, without any idea what he was goingto say. "You want to be more careful," said Snape. "Hanging around like this, people will think you're up to something. AndGryffindor really can't afford to lose any more points, can it?" Harry flushed. They turned to go outside, but Snape calledthem back. "Be warned, Potter -- any more nighttime wanderings and I willpersonally make sure you are expelled. Good day to you." He strode off in the direction of the staffroom. Out on the stone steps, Harry turned to the others. "Right, here's what we've got to do," he whispered urgently. "Oneof us has got to keep an eye on Snape -- wait outside the staffroom and follow him if he leaves it. Hermione, you'd better do that." "Why me?" "It's obvious," said Ron. "You can pretend to be waitingfor Professor Flitwick, you know." He put on a high voice, "'OhProfessor Flitwick, I'm so worried, I think I got question fourteenb wrong....'" "Oh, shut up," said Hermione, but she agreed to go and watchout for Snape. "And we'd better stay outside the third-floor corridor," Harrytold Ron. "Come on." But that part of the plan didn't work. No sooner had they reachedthe door separating Fluffy from the rest of the school than ProfessorMcGonagall turned up again and this time, she lost her temper. "I suppose you think you're harder to get past than a pack ofenchantments!" she stormed. "Enough of this nonsense! If I hear you've come anywhere near here again, I'll take another fifty pointsfrom Gryffindor! Yes, Weasley, from my own house!" Harry and Ron wentback to the common room, Harry had just said, "At least Hermione'son Snape's tail," when the portrait of the Fat Lady swung open andHermione came in. "I'm sorry, Harry!" she wailed. "Snape came out and asked me whatI was doing, so I said I was waiting for Flitwick, and Snape went toget him, and I've only just got away, I don't know where Snape went." "Well, that's it then, isn't it?" Harry said. The other two stared at him. He was pale and his eyes wereglittering. "I'm going out of here tonight and I'm going to try and get tothe Stone first." "You're mad!" said Ron. "You can't!" said Hermione. "After what McGonagall and Snapehave said? You'll be expelled!" "SO WHAP" Harry shouted. "Don't you understand? If Snape getshold of the Stone, Voldemort's coming back! Haven't you heard whatit was like when he was trying to take over? There won't be anyHogwarts to get expelled from! He'll flatten it, or turn it intoa school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn't matter anymore,can't you see? D'you think he'll leave you and your families aloneif Gryffindor wins the house cup? If I get caught before I can getto the Stone, well, I'll have to go back to the Dursleys and waitfor Voldemort to find me there, it's only dying a bit later thanI would have, because I'm never going over to the Dark Side! I'mgoing through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say isgoing to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?" He glared at them. "You're right Harry," said Hermione in a small voice. "I'll use the invisibility cloak," said Harry. "It's just luckyI got it back." "But will it cover all three of us?" said Ron. "All -- all three of us?" "Oh, come off it, you don't think we'd let you go alone?" "Of course not," said Hermione briskly. "How do you think you'dget to the Stone without us? I'd better go and took through my books,there might be something useful..." "But if we get caught, you two will be expelled, too." "Not if I can help it," said Hermione grimly. "Flitwicktold me in secret that I got a hundred and twelve percent on hisexam. They're not throwing me out after that." After dinner the three of them sat nervously apart in thecommon room. Nobody bothered them; none of the Gryffindors hadanything to say to Harry any more, after all. This was the firstnight he hadn't been upset by it. Hermione was skimming throughall her notes, hoping to come across one of the enchantments theywere about to try to break. Harry and Ron didn't talk much. Bothof them were thinking about what they were about to do. Slowly, the room emptied as people drifted off to bed. "Better get the cloak," Ron muttered, as Lee Jordan finallyleft, stretching and yawning. Harry ran upstairs to their darkdormitory. He putted out the cloak and then his eyes fell on theflute Hagrid had given him for Christmas. He pocketed it to use onFluffy -- he didn't feel much like singing. He ran back down to the common room. "We'd better put the cloak on here, and make sure it coversall three of us -- if Filch spots one of our feet wandering alongon its own --" "What are you doing?" said a voice from the corner of theroom. Neville appeared from behind an armchair, clutching Trevor thetoad, who looked as though he'd been making another bid for freedom. "Nothing, Neville, nothing," said Harry, hurriedly putting thecloak behind his back. Neville stared at their guilty faces. "You're going out again," he said. "No, no, no," said Hermione. "No, we're not. Why don't you goto bed, Neville?" Harry looked at the grandfather clock by the door. They couldn'tafford to waste any more time, Snape might even now be playingFluffy to sleep. "You can't go out," said Neville, "you'll be caughtagain. Gryffindor will be in even more trouble." "You don't understand," said Harry, "this is important." But Neville was clearly steeling himself to do somethingdesperate. I won't let you do it," he said, hurrying to stand in front ofthe portrait hole. "I'll -- I'll fight you!" "Neville, "Ron exploded, "get away from that hole and don't bean idiot --" "Don't you call me an idiot!" said Neville. I don't think youshould be breaking any more rules! And you were the one who toldme to stand up to people!" "Yes, but not to us," said Ron in exasperation. "Neville,you don't know what you're doing." He took a step forward and Neville dropped Trevor the toad,who leapt out of sight. "Go on then, try and hit me!" said Neville, raising hisfists. "I'm ready!" Harry turned to Hermione. "Do something," he said desperately. Hermione stepped forward. "Neville," she said, "I'm really, really sorry about this." She raised her wand. "Petrificus Totalus!" she cried, pointing it at Neville. Neville's arms snapped to his sides. His legs sprangtogether. His whole body rigid, he swayed where he stood and thenfell flat on his face, stiff as a board. Hermione ran to turn him over. Neville's jaws were jammedtogether so he couldn't speak. Only his eyes were moving, lookingat them in horror. "What've you done to him?" Harry whispered. "It's the full Body-Bind," said Hermione miserably. "Oh, Neville,I'm so sorry." "We had to, Neville, no time to explain," said Harry. "You'll understand later, Neville," said Ron as they steppedover him and pulled on the invisibility cloak. But leaving Neville lying motionless on the floor didn't feellike a very good omen. In their nervous state, every statue's shadowlooked like Filch, every distant breath of wind sounded like Peevesswooping down on them. At the foot of the first set of stairs,they spotted Mrs. Norris skulking near the top. "Oh, let's kick her, just this once," Ron whispered in Harry'sear, but Harry shook his head. As they climbed carefully around her,Mrs. Norris turned her lamplike eyes on them, but didn't do anything. They didn't meet anyone else until they reached the staircaseup to the third floor. Peeves was bobbing halfway up, looseningthe carpet so that people would trip. "Who's there?" he said suddenly as they climbed toward him. Henarrowed his wicked black eyes. "Know you're there, even if I can'tsee you. Are you ghoulie or ghostie or wee student beastie?" He rose up in the air and floated there, squinting at them. "Should call Filch, I should, if something's a-creeping aroundunseen." Harry had a sudden idea. "Peeves," he said, in a hoarse whisper, "the Bloody Baron hashis own reasons for being invisible." Peeves almost fell out of the air in shock. He caught himselfin time and hovered about a foot off the stairs. "So sorry, your bloodiness, Mr. Baron, Sir," he saidgreasily. "My mistake, my mistake -- I didn't see you -- of courseI didn't, you're invisible -- forgive old Peevsie his little joke,sir." "I have business here, Peeves," croaked Harry. "Stay away fromthis place tonight." "I will, sir, I most certainly will," said Peeves, rising upin the air again. "Hope your business goes well, Baron, I'll notbother you." And he scooted off "Brilliant, Harry!" whispered Ron. A few seconds later, they were there, outside the third-floorcorridor -- and the door was already ajar. "Well, there you are," Harry said quietly, "Snape's alreadygot past Fluffy." Seeing the open door somehow seemed to impress upon all threeof them what was facing them. Underneath the cloak, Harry turnedto the other two. "If you want to go back, I won't blame you," he said. "You cantake the cloak, I won't need it now." "Don't be stupid," said Ron. "We're coming," said Hermione. Harry pushed the door open. As the door creaked, low, rumbling growls met their ears. Allthree of the dog's noses sniffed madly in their direction, eventhough it couldn't see them. "What's that at its feet?" Hermione whispered. "Looks like a harp," said Ron. "Snape must have left it there." "It must wake up the moment you stop playing," said Harry. "Well,here goes..." He put Hagrid's flute to his lips and blew. It wasn't really atune, but from the first note the beast's eyes began to droop. Harryhardly drew breath. Slowly, the dog's growls ceased -- it totteredon its paws and fell to its knees, then it slumped to the ground,fast asleep. "Keep playing," Ron warned Harry as they slipped out of thecloak and crept toward the trapdoor. They could feel the dog's hot,smelly breath as they approached the giant heads. "I think we'llbe able to pull the door open," said Ron, peering over the dog'sback. "Want to go first, Hermione?" "No, I don't!" "All right." Ron gritted his teeth and stepped carefully overthe dog's legs. He bent and pulled the ring of the trapdoor, whichswung up and open. "What can you see?" Hermione said anxiously. "Nothing -- just black -- there's no way of climbing down,we'll just have to drop." Harry, who was still playing the flute, waved at Ron to gethis attention and pointed at himself. "You want to go first? Are you sure?" said Ron. "I don't knowhow deep this thing goes. Give the flute to Hermione so she cankeep him asleep." Harry handed the flute over. In the few seconds' silence, thedog growled and twitched, but the moment Hermione began to play,it fell back into its deep sleep. Harry climbed over it and looked down through the trapdoor. Therewas no sign of the bottom. He lowered himself through the hole until he was hanging on byhis fingertips. Then he looked up at Ron and said, "If anythinghappens to me, don't follow. Go straight to the owlery and sendHedwig to Dumbledore, right?" "Right," said Ron. "See you in a minute, I hope... And Harry let go. Cold, damp air rushed past him as he felldown, down, down and -- FLUMP. With a funny, muffled sort of thumphe landed on something soft. He sat up and felt around, his eyesnot used to the gloom. It felt as though he was sitting on somesort of plant. "It's okay!" he called up to the light the size of a postagestamp, which was the open trapdoor, "it's a soft landing, youcan jump!" Ron followed right away. He landed, sprawled next to Harry. "What's this stuff?" were his first words. "Dunno, some sort of plant thing. I suppose it's here to breakthe fall. Come on, Hermione!" The distant music stopped. There was a loud bark from the dog,but Hermione had already jumped. She landed on Harry's other side. "We must be miles under the school , she said. "Lucky this plant thing's here, really," said Ron. "Lucky!" shrieked Hermione. "Look at you both!" She leapt up and struggled toward a damp wall. She had tostruggle because the moment she had landed, the plant had started totwist snakelike tendrils around her ankles. As for Harry and Ron,their legs had already been bound tightly in long creepers withouttheir noticing. Hermione had managed to free herself before the plant got afirm grip on her. Now she watched in horror as the two boys foughtto pull the plant off them, but the more they strained against it,the tighter and faster the plant wound around them. "Stop moving!" Hermione ordered them. "I know what this is --it's Devil's Snare!" "Oh, I'm so glad we know what it's called, that's a great help,"snarled Ron, leaning back, trying to stop the plant from curlingaround his neck. "Shut up, I'm trying to remember how to killit!" said Hermione. "Well, hurry up, I can't breathe!" Harry gasped, wrestling withit as it curled around his chest. "Devil's Snare, Devil's Snare... what did Professor Sproutsay? -- it likes the dark and the damp "So light a fire!" Harry choked. "Yes -- of course -- but there's no wood!" Hermione cried,wringing her hands. "HAVE YOU GONE MAD?" Ron bellowed. "ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?" "Oh, right!" said Hermione, and she whipped out her wand,waved it, muttered something, and sent a jet of the same bluebellflames she had used on Snape at the plant. In a matter of seconds,the two boys felt it loosening its grip as it cringed away from thelight and warmth. Wriggling and flailing, it unraveled itself fromtheir bodies, and they were able to pull free. "Lucky you pay attention in Herbology, Hermione," said Harryas he joined her by the wall, wiping sweat off his face. "Yeah," said Ron, "and lucky Harry doesn't lose his head in acrisis -- 'there's no wood,' honestly." "This way," said Harry, pointing down a stone passageway,which was the only way forward. All they could hear apart from their footsteps was the gentledrip of water trickling down the walls. The passageway slopeddownward, and Harry was reminded of Gringotts. With an unpleasantjolt of the heart, he remembered the dragons said to be guardingvaults in the wizards' bank. If they met a dragon, a fully-growndragon -- Norbert had been bad enough... "Can you hear something?" Ron whispered. Harry listened. A soft rustling and clinking seemed to be comingfrom up ahead. "Do you think it's a ghost?" "I don't know... sounds like wings to me." "There's light ahead -- I can see something moving." They reached the end of the passageway and saw before them abrilliantly lit chamber, its ceiling arching high above them. Itwas full of small, jewel-bright birds, fluttering and tumbling allaround the room. On the opposite side of the chamber was a heavywooden door. "Do you think they'll attack us if we cross the room?" said Ron. "Probably," said Harry. "They don't look very vicious, but Isuppose if they all swooped down at once... well, there's no otherchoice... I'll run." He took a deep breath, covered his face with his arms, andsprinted across the room. He expected to feel sharp beaks and clawstearing at him any second, but nothing happened. He reached thedoor untouched. He pulled the handle, but it was locked. The other two followed him. They tugged and heaved at the door,but it wouldn't budge, not even when Hermione tried her Alohomoracharm. "Now what?" said Ron. "These birds... they can't be here just for decoration,"said Hermione. They watched the birds soaring overhead, glittering --glittering? "They're not birds!" Harry said suddenly. "They're keys! Wingedkeys -- look carefully. So that must mean..." he looked aroundthe chamber while the other two squinted up at the flock ofkeys. "... yes -- look! Broomsticks! We've got to catch the key tothe door!" "But there are hundreds of them!" Ron examined the lock on the door. "We're looking for a big, old-fashioned one -- probably silver,like the handle." They each seized a broomstick and kicked off into the air,soaring into the midst of the cloud of keys. They grabbed andsnatched, but the bewitched keys darted and dived so quickly itwas almost impossible to catch one. Not for nothing, though, was Harry the youngest Seekerin a century. He had a knack for spotting things other peopledidn't. After a minute's weaving about through the whirl of rainbowfeathers, he noticed a large silver key that had a bent wing, asif it had already been caught and stuffed roughly into the keyhole. "That one!" he called to the others. "That big one -- there --no, there -- with bright blue wings -- the feathers are all crumpledon one side." Ron went speeding in the direction that Harry was pointing,crashed into the ceiling, and nearly fell off his broom. "We've got to close in on it!" Harry called, not taking hiseyes off the key with the damaged wing. "Ron, you come at it fromabove -- Hermione, stay below and stop it from going down and I'lltry and catch it. Right, NOW!" Ron dived, Hermione rocketed upward, the key dodged them both,and Harry streaked after it; it sped toward the wall, Harry leanedforward and with a nasty, crunching noise, pinned it against thestone with one hand. Ron and Hermione's cheers echoed around thehigh chamber. They landed quickly, and Harry ran to the door, the keystruggling in his hand. He rammed it into the lock and turned --it worked. The moment the lock had clicked open, the key took flightagain, looking very battered now that it had been caught twice. "Ready?" Harry asked the other two, his hand on the doorhandle. They nodded. He pulled the door open. The next chamber was so dark they couldn't see anything atall. But as they stepped into it, light suddenly flooded the roomto reveal an astonishing sight. They were standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind theblack chessmen, which were all taller than they were and carved fromwhat looked like black stone. Facing them, way across the chamber,were the white pieces. Harry, Ron and Hermione shivered slightly --the towering white chessmen had no faces. "Now what do we do?" Harry whispered. "It's obvious, isn't it?" said Ron. "We've got to play our wayacross the room." Behind the white pieces they could see another door. "How?" said Hermione nervously. "I think," said Ron, "we're going to have to be chessmen." He walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touchthe knight's horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horsepawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to lookdown at Ron. "Do we -- er -- have to join you to get across?" The blackknight nodded. Ron turned to the other two. "This needs thinking about he said. I suppose we've got totake the place of three of the black pieces...." Harry and Hermione stayed quiet, watching Ron think. Finallyhe said, "Now, don't be offended or anything, but neither of youare that good at chess --" "We're not offended," said Harry quickly. "Just tell us whatto do." "Well, Harry, you take the place of that bishop, and Hermione,YOU 90 next to him instead of that castle." "What about you?" "I'm going to be a knight," said Ron. The chessmen seemed to have been listening, because at thesewords a knight, a bishop, and a castle turned their backs on thewhite pieces and walked off the board, leaving three empty squaresthat Harry, Ron, and Hermione took. "White always plays first in chess," said Ron, peering acrossthe board. "Yes... look..." A white pawn had moved forward two squares. Ron started to direct the black pieces. They moved silentlywherever he sent them. Harry's knees were trembling. What ifthey lost? "Harry -- move diagonally four squares to the right." Their first real shock came when their other knight wastaken. The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged himoff the board, where he lay quite still, facedown. "Had to let that happen," said Ron, looking shaken. "Leavesyou free to take that bishop, Hermione, go on." Every time one of their men was lost, the white pieces showedno mercy. Soon there was a huddle of limp black players slumpedalong the wall. Twice, Ron only just noticed in time that Harryand Hermione were in danger. He himself darted around the board,taking almost as many white pieces as they had lost black ones. "We're nearly there," he muttered suddenly. "Let me think letme think..." The white queen turned her blank face toward him. "Yes..." said Ron softly, "It's the only way... I've got tobe taken." "NOF Harry and Hermione shouted. "That's chess!" snapped Ron. "You've got to make somesacrifices! I take one step forward and she'll take me -- thatleaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!" "But --" "Do you want to stop Snape or not?" "Ron --" "Look, if you don't hurry up, he'll already have the Stone!" There was no alternative. "Ready?" Ron called, his face pale but determined. "Here I go -now, don't hang around once you've won." He stepped forward, and the white queen pounced. She struckRon hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed tothe floor - Hermione screamed but stayed on her square - the whitequeen dragged Ron to one side. He looked as if he'd been knocked out. Shaking, Harry moved three spaces to the left. The white king took off his crown and threw it at Harry'sfeet. They had won. The chessmen parted and bowed, leaving the doorahead clear. With one last desperate look back at Ron, Harry andHermione charged through the door and up the next passageway. "What if he's --?" "He'll be all right," said Harry, trying to convincehimself. "What do you reckon's next?" "We've had Sprout's, that was the Devil's Snare; Flitwick must'veput charms on the keys; McGonagall transfigured the chessmen tomake them alive; that leaves Quirrell's spell, and Snape's." They had reached another door. "All right?" Harry whispered. "Go on." Harry pushed it open. A disgusting smell filled their nostrils, making both of thempull their robes up over their noses. Eyes watering, they saw,flat on the floor in front of them, a troll even larger than theone they had tackled, out cold with a bloody lump on its head. "I'm glad we didn't have to fight that one," Harry whisperedas they stepped carefully over one of its massive legs. "Come on,I can't breathe." He pulled open the next door, both of them hardly daring to lookat what came next - but there was nothing very frightening in here,just a table with seven differently shaped bottles standing on itin a line. "Snape's," said Harry. "What do we have to do?" They stepped over the threshold, and immediately a fire sprangup behind them in the doorway. It wasn't ordinary fire either;it was purple. At the same instant, black flames shot up in thedoorway leading onward. They were trapped. "Look!" Hermione seized a roll of paper lying next to thebottles. Harry looked over her shoulder to read it: Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind, Two of us will help you, which ever you would find, One among us seven will let you move ahead, Another will transport the drinker back instead, Two among our number hold only nettle wine, Three of us are killers, waiting bidden in line. Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore, To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four: First, however slyly the poison tries to hide You will always find some on nettle wine's left side; Second, different are those who stand at either end, But if you would move onward, neither is your friend; Third, as you see clearly, all are different size, Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides; Fourth, the second left and the second on the right Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight. Hermione let out a great sigh and Harry, amazed, saw that shewas smiling, the very last thing he felt like doing. "Brilliant," said Hermione. "This isn't magic -- it's logic --a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven't got an ounce oflogic, they'd be stuck in here forever." "But so will we, won't we?" "Of course not," saidHermione. "Everything we need is here on this paper. Seven bottles:three are poison; two are wine; one will get us safely through theblack fire, and one will get us back through the purple." "But how do we know which to drink?" "Give me a minute." Hermione read the paper several times. Then she walked up anddown the line of bottles, muttering to herself and pointing atthem. At last, she clapped her hands. "Got it," she said. "The smallest bottle will get us throughthe black fire -- toward the Stone." Harry looked at the tiny bottle. "There's only enough there for one of us," he said. "That'shardly one swallow." They looked at each other. "Which one will get you back through the purple flames?" Hermione pointed at a rounded bottle at the right end ofthe line. "You drink that," said Harry. "No, listen, get back and getRon. Grab brooms from the flying- key room, they'll get you out ofthe trapdoor and past Fluffy -- go straight to the owlery and sendHedwig to Dumbledore, we need him. I might be able to hold Snapeoff for a while, but I'm no match for him, really." "But Harry -- what if You-Know-Who's with him?" "Well -- I was lucky once, wasn't I?" said Harry, pointing athis scar. "I might get lucky again." Hermione's lip trembled, and she suddenly dashed at Harry andthrew her arms around him. "Hermione!" "Harry -- you're a great wizard, you know." "I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as shelet go of him. "Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are moreimportant things -- friendship and bravery and -- oh Harry --be careful!" "You drink first," said Harry. "You are sure which is which,aren't you?" "Positive," said Hermione. She took a long drink from the roundbottle at the end, and shuddered. "It's not poison?" said Harry anxiously. "No -- but it's like ice." "Quick, go, before it wears off." "Good luck -- take care." "GO!" Hermione turned and walked straight through the purple fire. Harry took a deep breath and picked up the smallest bottle. Heturned to face the black flames. "Here I come," he said, and he drained the little bottle inone gulp. It was indeed as though ice was flooding his body. He put thebottle down and walked forward; he braced himself, saw the blackflames licking his body, but couldn't feel them -- for a moment hecould see nothing but dark fire -- then he was on the other side,in the last chamber. There was already someone there -- but it wasn't Snape. Itwasn't even Voldemort.