The train door swung open as lightning streaked across the sky, accompanied by rolling thunder.
Hermione shielded Crookshanks with her cloak while Matthew and Neville reluctantly pulled their cloaks over their heads as they trudged through the torrential rain.
Rain fell in sheets, drenching them entirely and creating a dismal atmosphere.
Out of the corner of his eye, Matthew spotted Professor Kettleburn, the Professor for Care for Magical Creatures, welcoming the incoming first-year students.
Traditionally, the first years had to cross the lake to reach Hogwarts Castle.
At that moment, Matthew couldn’t help but feel grateful.
On September 1st last year, the sky was sunny.
Imagining crossing the lake in today’s weather was almost unbearable.
Navigating with the crowd, the trio made their way slowly, eventually departing from the dimly lit platform.
Beyond the platform exit, a series of carriages awaited.
Though not pulled by horses but rather by Thestrals, though this detail wasn’t visible to Matthew, Neville, and Hermione, they offered a welcome refuge from the rain.
They hurriedly boarded one of the carriages, feeling a sense of relief.
Joining them was second-year Hufflepuff student Justin Finch-Fletchley, and as the door closed, the carriage set off.
The procession of carriages moved along the path toward Hogwarts, each wheel creating splashes of water along the way.
After about fifteen minutes, the carriage arrived at Hogwarts’ gates.
Matthew’s gaze caught the massive winged boar sculptures flanking the entrance on stone pillars—
These boar sculptures had been instrumental during Professor Grindelwald’s duel with Morgana the Black Witch a few months prior.
Pigs held a particular significance to Hogwarts.
The very name “Hogwarts” is derived from the word “warthog.”
Thus, a widely-circulated wizarding tale recounted that Hogwarts’ location and name were chosen by Rowena Ravenclaw.
According to the tale, she dreamt of a warthog leading her to a lake, the very cliff that would become the site of Hogwarts.
A few more minutes and the carriage halted at the castle gate.
Quickly disembarking, the trio ascended the grand marble staircase one after the other.
The drenched students finally entered the Hogwarts auditorium.
Due to a mid-journey inspection and the inclement weather upon arrival, the banquet commenced at least an hour later than usual.
Despite the delay, the auditorium remained as magnificent as ever, adorned even more lavishly for the welcoming feast.
Hundreds of suspended candles cast a golden glow over plates and goblets.
Wet students sat along the four long house tables, eagerly greeting one another.
A fifth table at the front accommodated the faculty members, each facing their respective students.
Matthew’s gaze was drawn to the guest seating, where Professor Grindelwald sat.
As was customary, Professor Grindelwald would only appear once the banquet began.
However, due to the day’s unusual circumstances, with students arriving more than an hour late, he had “arrived early” this time.
He appeared deep in thought with a grave expression, his head bowed.
Seated beside Professor Grindelwald was Professor Rosier, the Headmistress.
Her youthful visage held a smile as she engaged in conversation with another teacher.
A teacher whose face was unfamiliar to Matthew.
Indeed, it was the same face he’d encountered on the train—
The “stranger” now occupied the main guest seat, engaged in a cautious conversation with the Vice President.
It seemed Matthew’s hunch was correct. The examination had been a mere mishap for Mr. Longbottom, while the “stranger” was genuinely a new teacher at Hogwarts.
Such an audacious move, taking the Hogwarts Express and introducing oneself as a teacher, would’ve been beyond the realm of possibility for an Azkaban escapee.
Matthew speculated whether prolonged confinement had taken a toll on their sanity.
However, he couldn’t share his discovery with Hermione, who had already joined the Ravenclaw table.
Matthew hurriedly found his place at the Slytherin table.
Above them, the ceiling displayed a dazzling sun instead of the usual stars and moon.
The simulated “sunlight” warmed his body and dried his damp clothes as he sat down, dispelling the chill.
“Wickfield!” Agnes Lestrange’s voice reached him, and she walked over from the opposite side of the table, addressing him by name.
“It’s been a while,” Matthew greeted the elegant girl with a smile.
“Over the summer break…” Miss Lestrange hesitated momentarily before continuing hushedly, “Did I see you at Flourish & Blotts Bookstore?”
“Yes, I was temporarily employed there,” Matthew responded, though he couldn’t recall meeting Lestrange.
“Flourish & Blotts Bookstore encountered some issues and closed down,” she continued.
“I wasn’t affected by it,” Matthew replied candidly, though he knew he had played a role in those issues privately.
“Unless you have no invitations for next summer break, you’re welcome to visit me…” Agnes Lestrange offered briskly before departing, her long hair trailing behind her.
Matthew remained, puzzled by her comment. “Am I really that unpopular? Why do they think no one would invite me…”
Draco, Theodore, Vincent, and Gregory soon arrived in the auditorium, taking their seats beside Matthew.
The Slytherin boys were reunited after the summer break, and their eager conversation filled the air.
“You seem a bit down, Draco,” Theodore observed, surprised.
“Draco’s family faced some troubles over the summer,” Vincent explained.
Gregory added, “Someone betrayed Draco’s father, implicating him in some ‘smuggling’ incident. It nearly consumed his entire summer.”
“What a jerk!” Matthew chimed in casually.
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