The Last Hunt of Godric Gryffindor
It is said that in the old days, when Hogwarts was but a builder's camp nestled amongst the cold mountains of Scotland, Godric Gryffindor loved to spend his leisure time hunting in the Great Forest. It was not yet called Forbidden in those times, when our world was young and traditions still held fast. Gryffindor did not use a wand like most of us are wont to do now, but went with horse and bow and arrow, and unfortunately for the forest denizens, he was poor in none of them. Gryffindor hunted them all—deer, bears, pheasants, clabberts, diricawsl, knarls, hippogriffs, even the occasional wyvern that poked its head out from its hilly den. Sometimes he brought back a real trophy—an acromantula's tooth, a manticore's tail, a bicorn's horns.
His fellow Founders differed on their opinions about Gryffindor's pastime. Salazar Slytherin, pale and distant as glass, merely smiled and said, "A man must have his pleasures." Rowena Ravenclaw arched an eyebrow, and would retire to her chambers and her books when the workers gathered round to admire his latest kill. Only Helga Hufflepuff raised an outcry, saying that slaying animals for sport was barbaric and should be stopped. "How do you think it feels for those creatures to be hunted, day by day?" she would say. "Life is harsh enough in the wilds. Leave them be, Godric, please."
And Gryffindor would grin and pat her arm, saying she'd a good heart, and that his next trip into the forest would be to get her honey or perhaps a bunch of wildflowers. Then he'd wink at the smiling workers. A man, after all, must have his pleasures.
One fragrant autumn morning, as Hogwarts neared completion, Gryffindor took to the Forest once more. He rode silent beneath the cool shadows of trees, searching eagerly for signs of game. Yet though he passed many a clabbert and diricawl, he was not satisfied. His instincts longed for something different, something of a challenge. And he was not a man to be satisfied with less. He pressed on, wandering off of familiar paths, even as the forest deepened and darkened around him.
As the afternoon settled, Gryffindor's horse halted in a little clearing. It took a step forward before stopping again, snorting and pawing the ground. Though he coaxed his mount, it only jerked and whinnied as if pleading.
Gryffindor's patience finally snapped. There was hunting to be done, and here was his own horse getting in the way. He kicked its ribs, and in a trice he was thrown onto his back on the cold hard ground. Even as he sat up, aching head in hands, the sound of hooves clattered off into the distance.
The voice said, "Well met, hunter."
Gryffindor was on his feet in an instant, bow at the ready and an arrow on the string. The voice was not human. It was deep and dusky, and the word 'hunter' ended in a low growl.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "Show yourself!"
The thing chuckled. The sound came from all around him, in the bushes, over the trees, rumbling beneath the grass. "This is how you share greeting with a fellow hunter?"
"You're no hunter."
"I am, and this is my territory. I've left signs on the trees and the grass—ah, but you cannot smell them. You've no business here, manling. What's in my domain is mine."
Gryffindor kept his arrow notched, looking all around for a sign of the speaker. Now he knew what frightened his poor horse. There was a strange animal scent in the air, a dark musky smell unlike anything he had ever known.
"If you truly are master here," he cried, "then come out! Surely you have nothing to fear?"
"I will if you wish, manling, though I think you'll soon wish otherwise. Share respect and put you weapon away."
Gryffindor did not stir, and for a while neither did anything else. Not the wind, not the leaves, not the breath in his lungs.
Then something burst from the bushes on his left. A huge claw shattered the bow in his hands, another tore the wand from his belt. He fell screaming, one hand clutching his wounded stomach.
The werewolf towered over him, grinning its cannibal grin. Those were the days of the Ancestor Werewolves, creatures not beholden to the moon, and who walked on two legs instead of four. This one stood six feet tall, covered with muscles and bristling ebony fur. Its eyes, the color of spilt blood, glared at Gryffindor over its long, tapering jaws.
"I would call it a mistake to come here," it said, "but it's too late for regrets. I've been waiting here for prey, and my prey has come at last."
It went down on all fours, and now it looked like a true wolf, jaws open, baring dagger teeth. Then it charged again. Gryffindor rolled to the side as the creature blew past him. He drew his knife and buried it into the beast's flank. It yipped, not with pain but laughter, and Gryffindor fell back with wide eyes. The flesh began to push out his dagger as if it were a tiny thorn.
For the first time, Gryffindor's heart knew true terror. He'd thought of death before, in a duel, in a quest, in pursuit of a cause, but never like this. Not for food. Not for meat.
Panic filled his mind with a blinding white glare, and he turned and ran into the forest. He threw himself into thickets, shoved past small trees. Branches clawed at his face and tore his clothes, but he did not stop. The werewolf's breath was loud and close behind him. Some part of him knew he had no escape, that the fiend was only playing with him, prolonging the hunt. He would find his death here, and never see his school rise over the dreaming Scottish mountains. But he had no choice in this game. He had to run.
An exposed root snagged his foot and he plunged headlong through a brush. He pushed himself onto his elbows and crawled blindly on his belly. Then he froze. Before him was a pair of silver hooves. He heard a whinnying noise above him, and he lifted his eyes.
A unicorn mare stared down at him, looking like a dream of ivory and pearl. She wore a coat of untouched snow and stood tall on deer legs and little cloven feet. Beneath the fading light her horn shone like a fallen star. Despite his terror, Gryffindor gaped at her, helpless with awe. No fear lived in those large, cerulean eyes.
A crash came from behind him and Gryffindor turned to see the werewolf emerging into the glade. It halted when it saw the unicorn, then raised its hackles and snarled. Gryffindor leaped to his feet with his fists raised. Seeing the unicorn had dispelled some of his fear. If he was meant to die here, he would die by the manner of his choosing—in battle.
But to his utter surprise, the unicorn glided forward and put herself between them, head down, horn pointed at the werewolf's heart.
"He's mine!" roared the wolf. "Fair is fair, right is right!" But he unicorn did not listen. She pawed the ground, and watched for its move.
Seeing this, the werewolf changed its tone. "Come now, sister," it cajoled, tongue lolling as it yawned. "Would you deny me my prey? This is a manling, a hunter at that. Surely you will not stand with him against your forest brethren. I death-share only when I must. He would kill with you and your younglings for sport, without a second thought. Why protect him?"
Gryffindor thought his heart would stop as he watched the unicorn. She ceased pawing the ground, but did not move away.
The werewolf bared its teeth and crouched. "Stand with him, die with him!" he snarled. But he did not charge, and neither did she. And as they regarded each other, Gryffindor waited at their mercy.
Then everything happened very fast.
The werewolf roared and leapt. The unicorn gave a defiant cry and reared up, hooves flashing like knives. Blows found home and the air burned red and silver. The werewolf clawed at the unicorn's flank. The unicorn's horn pierced the werewolf's side. Gryffindor watched the battle rage for many moments before at last coming to his senses. He threw himself into the bushes, backtracking to the clearing where he had dropped his wand.
He searched for seemingly an eternity, as all around him the forest rang with growls and shrieks. His face stung where the branches scratched, and the wound on his stomach bled freely, but he noticed none of these things. He had but one desire—for the unicorn to survive. And as he thought this, he spied his wand half-hidden in the grass. He grabbed it and sprinted back with all the strength his legs could muster.
But the battle was already over.
When he stumbled into the glade, he found the werewolf on its side, twitching on a red river. Patches of its hair and pieces of its teeth lay strewn on the grass around it. It gave one last unbelieving snarl before choking to death on its own blood.
The unicorn knelt not far away. She gasped for breath, whinnying softly as long wounds oozed silver on her sides. More of her silver blood dripped from her nose. Her once perfect horn was now chipped and pocked, and twin paths of tears glistened down her cheeks.
She turned her head at his approach. Gryffindor felt himself crumbling beneath the weight of those eyes.
"Why?" he asked.
But her cerulean gaze held only silence. They kept their silence as her head lolled onto the grass, her horn going out like a fallen candle.
In a daze, Gryffindor turned and limped his way across the meadow. He could not believe what had just happened, could barely believe he was still alive. All he wanted then was to go home and be safe behind stone walls.
A noise caught his attention. He turned back to see a foal, its horn just a little bud on its golden forehead, nosing the unicorn's silver mane. For many moments it stood there bleating, trying to wake the mare. When it became clear that its mother would never answer again, it raised its head and gave a long piercing wail. Even in that portrait of death, they looked beautiful, eternal. Unto his old age, Gryffindor would dream of that final, rending cry, and would wake with tears in his eyes.
It is said that since Hogwarts finally rose amongst the cold mountains of Scotland, Godric Gryffindor never entered the Forest with bow in hand ever again. He named it the Forbidden Forest, and now you know why it is so.
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