Filch takes Harry, Hermione, and Ron to Professor McGonagall’s office to be punished. She accuses them of concocting the whole dragon story to lure Malfoy out of bed and get him into trouble. As punishment, McGonagall deducts fifty points from Gryffindor for each of the three wrongdoers. Harry is horrified that his house will lose 150 points. When the bad news is circulated the next morning, Harry quickly falls from his pedestal as Quidditch star. He considers resigning from the Quidditch team, but Wood convinces him that doing so would be useless.
Harry resolves not to get involved in any more suspicious activities, but a week later he overhears a conversation in which Quirrell appears to give in to someone, presumably Snape, as if Snape is pressing him to do something. Harry and his friends try to figure out what to do, but they cannot come up with a plan of action. Harry, Hermione, and Neville are told to report to Hagrid that night for their detention. When they show up, they are surprised to find that detention will be held in the surrounding Forbidden Forest. Malfoy, who has also been given detention, objects to being forced outside like a servant.
Hagrid points to some traces of unicorn blood on the ground and explains that they will be going into the forest to find out what has been harming the animals. They split up into two groups: Harry and Hermione with Hagrid, Neville and Malfoy with Hagrid’s dog, Fang. They penetrate deep into the forest. Harry sees signs that the other group is in trouble, but Hagrid discovers that Malfoy has merely been playing tricks on Neville. Hagrid sends Harry off with Malfoy, taking Neville along with himself. Harry and Malfoy come across a mysterious cloaked figure drinking the blood of a recently killed unicorn. Malfoy and Fang run away, leaving Harry alone. A centaur named Firenze rescues Harry and carries him back to Hagrid. On his way back, Harry learns that the cloaked figure was Voldemort and that he was drinking unicorn blood to sustain himself until he could obtain the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Death makes a sudden and violent appearance in these chapters. The spectacle of the dying unicorn that Harry glimpses in the forest is shocking not only because it is the first instance of death that we actually witness, but also because the unicorn is a symbol of innocence and purity. The murder of a unicorn, a harmless and delicate creature, displays death not as a natural process in the cycle of life, but as something wrongful and horrid. The death appears to be even more evil when we find out that the unicorn has died so that an evil being may live and that the wicked Voldemort drinks the unicorn’s blood to sustain his own life while searching for immortality. Voldemort has flown in to steal something that does not belong to him, as his name reminds us: Vol de mort means either “flight of death” or “theft of death” in French. Both names suit the unjust death he brings.
The spectacle of Voldemort’s exchange of death for life in the forest is important for Harry personally because he is the only one who witnesses it. We are reminded of another, much earlier moment of life and death in Harry’s experience, also spent in the presence of Voldemort: the moment when Harry’s life was saved in infancy while Voldemort killed Harry’s parents. In medieval Europe, the unicorn was often a symbol of pure and selfless womanhood. Like Harry’s mother, the unicorn dies protecting her baby son, perhaps even giving up her life so that her baby can live. Harry’s investigation of the Hogwarts mystery is bringing him closer to his parents, unwittingly bringing their killer, Voldemort, to some sort of justice.