Firenze suddenly reared on his hind legs in anger, so that Harry had to grab his shoulders to stay on.
“Do you not see that unicorn?” Firenze bellowed at Bane. “Do you not understand why it was killed? Or have the planets not let you in on that secret? I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.”
The confrontation between Firenze and the other centaurs takes place after the thing that’s lurking in the forest – the thing that’s drinking unicorn blood – stands up and comes straight at Harry Potter. It is, of course, Voldemort, or Quirrellmort (as some like to call him at this stage of his “comeback”). And this is the first encounter between Harry and Voldemort since Voldemort gave Harry his scar.
The sound that “Quirrellmort” makes, curiously enough, is a “slithering” sound, and it is definitely out of place. It doesn’t sound like anything Hagrid has heard before in the Forest. This out-of-place sound appears twice – first, while Harry is with Hagrid and then later when Harry is with Draco. The fact that the sound is “slithering” conjures images of snakes… and reminds us subconsciously (or perhaps not so subconsciously) of Slytherin. And in reminding us of Slytherin, it reinforces the “Slytherin = Evil” notion that Hagrid first introduced to Harry in Diagon Alley.
If we need any more reinforcing, the thing making the slithering sound – Voldemort – is a Slytherin… as is Draco. But Draco is not quite up to the horror of this encounter. In fact, here is how Draco handles this first encounter with his future Lord:
The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.
Malfoy let out a terrible scream and bolted – so did Fang.
I find Draco’s reaction worth noting. It is easy to assume that it’s simply cowardice… except that Harry (who is hardly a coward) will find his own feet bolted to the Forest floor in fear. In addition, about 6 years from now, Draco will endanger his own life to save Harry and his friends at Malfoy Manor, and will endanger his life to save Gregory Goyle when the Room of Requirement is engulfed in Fiendfyre. So I’m not as certain as I was when I first read this passage that Draco is simply a coward. Surely he’s scared. He’d be a fool not to be. Harry’s scared too. But his response indicates to me that he is more than merely frightened. He is horrified. After all, he watched the cloaked figure slither up to the unicorn. It was only when it began to drink the unicorn’s blood that he let out the cry.
I find this potentially significant because this is the boy who will ultimately find that he is unable to commit murder. And this is his first encounter with the person who will charge him to commit murder. And he is as horrified here as he will later be when Voldemort murders Charity Burbage over the dinner table at Malfoy Manor. In other words, I think that this could very well be our first hint that Draco is not as “bad” as he’d like to believe he is.
And as for Voldemort himself, I find it curious that he’s driven away by Firenze. True, he doesn’t have his full powers. He doesn’t even have his body, and he is reduced to drinking unicorn blood in order to preserve some semblance of life. But still… this is Voldemort himself! The Dark Lord! You Know Who! He Who Must Not Be Named! And he’s slinking – or slithering – around in the Forest and getting chased away by centaurs!
And in this encounter, Harry has his first experience of the blinding pain in his scar. Though he had a flitting pain during the Great Feast at the beginning of term, this is much worse:
The hooded figure raised its head and looked right at Harry – unicorn blood was dribbling down its front. It got to its feet and came swiftly toward Harry – he couldn’t move for fear.
Then a pain like he’d never felt before pierced his head; it was as though his scar were on fire. Half blinded, he staggered backward. He heard hooves behind him, galloping, and something jumped clean over Harry, charging the figure.
The pain in Harry’s head was so bad he fell to his knees. It took a minute or two to pass.
He has never felt anything like this before. And this pain – this connection between Harry and Voldemort – will only grow stronger during the course of the series.
Now, here’s my question about the Voldemort-Quirrell-Harry encounter:
We know (or will soon know) that Quirrell encountered Voldemort during a trip to Albania and allowed the Dark Lord to become his master. Since that trip, he has developed the “stuttering Quirrell” persona – so much so that Hagrid mentions it on their trip to Diagon Alley. This indicates to me that he has probably already taught at least one term since his return. If that’s the case, then did Voldemort time his attempt to steal the Philosopher’s Stone (and gain eternal life in bodily form) to coincide with Harry’s appearance at Hogwarts?
Yes, I know the whole thing is contingent upon encountering Quirrell in Albania. But I mean afterward. If Quirrell has already taught a term, then did Voldemort decide that the time would be right when Harry arrived? Or is this Quirrell’s first term back, and is this actually Voldemort’s first opportunity to resume bodily form, and is it merely coincidental that it all coincides with Harry’s first term at Hogwarts? But let’s not forget… Harry was the target of the attack that murdered his parents. And Voldemort is scared of this boy.
Whatever the case, in their discussion about the properties of unicorn blood, Firenze gives Harry the clues he needs in order to figure out who the hooded figure is and why Harry’s life is in danger – clues that ultimately enable Harry to score his first Hogwarts defeat of Voldemort… and escalate his misinterpretation of Snape’s motives.