A sudden intrusion into the compartment revealed a tall, slender young wizard.

His visage held an air of gauntness, a slightly elongated nose, and a hint of paleness.

Surveying the occupants with a stern nod, the stranger claimed the last available seat without ado.

“Hmm…” Hermione cleared her throat, cautiously inquiring, “May we ask, sir…”

Before she could conclude her query, the stranger swiftly interjected, his tone frigid and dismissive, “I am the new instructor at Hogwarts!”

His utterance carried a chill that seemed to distance any further engagement.

Hermione, Matthew, and Neville exchanged glances, swiftly sensing the challenges that lay ahead with this enigmatic presence.

Evidently uninterested in further communication, the stranger retrieved earplugs from his pocket, firmly lodging them in his ears.

He then retrieved an eye mask…

Ultimately, he settled against the window, stilled as if plunged into a deep slumber.

Matthew, Hermione, and Neville instinctively distanced themselves from the enigmatic stranger.

“A new professor?” Neville questioned, a furrow etched onto his brow.

He gazed upon the seemingly lifeless figure, inquiring softly, “Do we know which subject he teaches?”

“I’m uncertain,” Hermione whispered, “Transfiguration, perhaps. But let’s not jump to conclusions; there could be other possibilities.”

Neville’s remark stirred Hermione’s sense of his deliberate provocations.

Though she refrained from verbalizing her thoughts, a subtle pout revealed her sentiments.

Warily regarding the dozing stranger, the trio upheld an unspoken pact to maintain a “safe distance” from him.

Recollections of the prior year surfaced—a popular metamorphosis instructor, later exposed as a Vampire, suspected of involvement in a series of campus attacks…

“Well, we can only hope,” Neville murmured skeptically, “Even though he doesn’t strike me as dependable.”

Neville’s second thought remained a hushed confession directed only at Matthew and Hermione.

Dismissing the notion, Hermione cleared her throat and offered her perspective, “Remember Professor Trocar from the last term? Utterly reliable, yet harboring dark secrets! Our lesson in not judging books by their covers.”

Matthew’s expression tightened subtly, his silent acknowledgment leaving Hermione’s argument unchallenged.

Suddenly, the somnolent stranger stirred.

Anxious glances converged upon him, wary of disturbing his rest or triggering a response.

His head merely shifted, mouth parting slightly, before surrendering to renewed slumber.

Mouths sealed, the trio ceased conversing, vigilant to avoid disturbance.

The Hogwarts Express rumbled onward, traveling northward.

Vistas of lush farmland and verdant pasture gradually waned, yielding to a desolate landscape.

The sky grew overcast, dark clouds hastening the advance of the twilight.

The stranger’s presence infused the journey with unexpected tedium.

With an “outsider” now sharing their compartment, casual banter ceased.

Hesitation eclipsed hearty laughter, even when broaching topics as incendiary as the “Azkaban prison escape.”

Noon approached, and a dimpled smile adorned the waitress who entered their midst.

“Care for some refreshments, dears?”

A collective hunger roused assent.

“Should we wake him?” Hermione eyed the reclined professor, seemingly deep in slumber.

“Nah,” Neville shrugged.

Recalling the stranger’s aloofness upon entering, Neville reasoned, “The food trolley should be stationed up front. When he wakes, he can help himself. Let’s not impose.”

United in agreement, the trio partook in a feast of pumpkin pie and chocolate cake.

Contentment waned, and awkward silence returned.

Matthew and Hermione delved into textbooks, absorbed in their studies.

Neville, meanwhile, redirected his attention to teasing Hermione’s feline companion, Crookshanks.

Afternoon approached as a gray shroud enveloped the sky.

The train maintained its northerly course.

A gentle drizzle commenced, obscuring the panorama of endless mountains beyond the windows.

“When do we anticipate arriving at Hogwarts?” Neville inquired, his fatigue evident.

Relinquishing efforts to amuse Crookshanks, Neville found the creature’s apathy increasingly discouraging.

“At least four more hours,” Matthew assessed, glancing at his watch.

Neville sighed in defeat.

Matthew shuttered Miranda Goshawk’s “The Standard Book of Spells Grade Two.”

“Oh, yes,” Neville’s voice piped up suddenly, bearing an epiphany, “There’s something else…”

“Hush!” Hermione admonished, a finger raised to her lips, her gaze reproachful.

She gestured subtly toward the slumbering professor.

Matthew’s inclination mirrored Hermione’s, his reading rhythm interrupted by Neville’s interruption, evoking a modicum of displeasure.

“Apologies,” Neville’s smile carried a sheepish air, voice hushed, “I just wanted to mention that my father might be visiting this semester.”

Curiosity danced in Matthew’s eyes, prompting Neville to elaborate.

“He’s overseeing Hogwarts defense next year,” Neville explained.

“But isn’t the Ministry deploying Dementors for that role?” Hermione questioned, her brow furrowed. “I recall your father’s an Auror…”

“Just sharing a tidbit with you both; it’s a bit hush-hush…” Neville lowered his tone further, “Some senior Auror officials believe Dementors lack efficacy against the fugitives. Hence, they’re sending Aurors to bolster Hogwarts’ defense…”

“Intriguing, but how does that relate to the Azkaban fugitives?” Matthew pondered aloud, his demeanor thoughtful, “The two seem disjointed…”

Neville faltered, a perplexed expression shadowing his features.

Hermione’s visage mirrored his bewilderment.

Matthew’s inquiry lingered, yet before a response could materialize, the cabin’s lights illuminated the aisle and luggage rack.

Simultaneously, the train decelerated, its velocity ebbing away.

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Published On: September 25, 2023

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