The final Sunday of September arrived with a clear, blue sky.
Wispy clouds adorned the heavens like clean blue paper, a rare occurrence following the rainy days Hogwarts had endured that month.
Students rejoiced in the splendid weather, for it marked the day of their trip to Hogsmeade.
This was Matthew’s second visit to Hogsmeade, the sole wizarding village in the UK.
The previous occasion had been during the Christmas holidays the year before.
Back then, he ventured alone and had an odd Witch tailing him.
Ultimately, he managed to escape back to Hogwarts via the secret passage in Honeydukes.
During the Easter break in April, first-year students also visited Hogsmeade, but with final exams looming, most had opted to stay within Hogwarts for revisions, including Matthew.
However, this time Matthew wouldn’t be alone.
After breakfast, Matthew, Neville, and Hermione set off from the castle together as if it were the natural order.
As usual, Mr. Pringle, the castle’s caretaker, stood by the oak gate, verifying students’ names permitted to visit Hogsmeade.
The process took longer than ever, as Mr. Pringle utilized his Detector to check each student multiple times.
Two cloaked figures cast long shadows on the other side of the oak gate.
Tall and robust, they remained obscured under their hoods, their hands emerging from under their cloaks a sickly gray and white, almost resembling water-soaked, rotting corpses covered in mucus and blemishes.
Once again, the icy chill Matthew had felt by the castle gate spread from his heart.
He felt a weight of unease that seemed to steal away his capacity for happiness.
It was Matthew’s first time being so close to them.
The sensation was undoubtedly intense, bordering on despair.
Matthew, Neville, and Hermione all turned pale, with Hermione particularly affected.
As she passed through the gate guarded by the Dementors, she staggered slightly, tears streaming down her face.
This persisted for nearly fifteen minutes until they were well outside Hogwarts.
Only then did Hermione release her firm grip on Matthew’s clothing.
Matthew lightly brushed the back of her hand as they walked, noticing its extreme coldness.
She wiped her tears and caught her breath, visibly relieved.
“It’s horrifying,” she croaked.
“My dad said Dementors are the most terrifying creatures in the world,” Neville added thoughtfully.
“I’ve heard that Azkaban is full of dementors,” Hermione shuddered. “The horror must be close to hell on Earth…”
“That’s likely,” Neville agreed.
“…And those three criminals who escaped from Azkaban…” Hermione continued, “How could they do it? No wonder Hogwarts takes such extreme precautions…”
The conversation revolved around Dementors and Azkaban as they continued to Hogsmeade Village.
Onlookers along the route included a sizeable group of students, as the first visit to Hogsmeade of the semester was an exciting prospect.
Since autumn had arrived, the leaves on the roadside trees had turned a golden yellow.
They littered the ground, imbuing the rough path with a yellow hue.
A soft rustling sound accompanied their progress as they stepped on the leaves.
Before long, they reached Hogsmeade Village.
At the entrance stood the Weasley Twins, pointing and laughing in front of the window of Zonko’s Joke Shop.
“Where should we go?” Matthew asked in a hushed voice.
“How about the Three Broomsticks for a glass of butterbeer?” Neville suggested. “I’m still feeling a bit chilly…”
Matthew had no objections, as the impact of the Dementors on him had been minimal.
They continued down the road, passing by the post office, where owls frequently emerged.
Matthew vaguely recalled a small road next to the post office that led to the Hog’s Head Inn.
He could just make out the rusty sign bracket with the image of a boar’s head painted on it.
A middle-aged man dressed as a bartender was leaning against the door, observing the surroundings.
The middle-aged man glanced up at Matthew and his companions.
Oddly, when Matthew spotted the Hog’s Head Inn sign again, he experienced a deep-seated discomfort he hadn’t felt the last time he had entered the establishment six months ago.
He hadn’t experienced this sensation during his previous visit.
Thankfully, they didn’t pause but continued on their way.
Crossing the road, they soon arrived at the cozy interior of the Three Broomsticks.
The bar was bustling with patrons; a beautiful middle-aged woman welcomed guests, while a bald, middle-aged wizard served five or six different-colored glasses of wine to various tables.
Matthew and Hermione waited for about ten minutes before finding an empty table.
They took their seats quickly, and Neville soon joined them, carrying three glasses of frothy, steaming butterbeer.
“Now I can finally relax for a bit!” Neville said, sitting down and raising his glass. “Cheers!”
Matthew took a sip and admitted that it was pretty good! Better than the mead he had last time at this bar.
Its warmth spread throughout his body after each gulp.
“This is so much more comfortable,” Hermione sighed.
At that moment, a cool breeze ruffled Matthew’s hair.
The doors to the Three Broomsticks swung open, and Matthew’s throat tightened upon looking over the rim of his cup.
“Isn’t that… Professor Slughorn?” Neville indicated the door with a hushed tone.
The bald-headed Mr. Rosmerta warmly greeted the newcomers, focusing his attention primarily on entertaining his wealthy patrons.
Professor Slughorn strolled into the bar, not alone but accompanied by a young first-year girl.
Under normal circumstances, first-year students could only visit Hogsmeade during Christmas and Easter breaks.
However, if accompanied by a teacher, different rules are applied.
Thus, Miss Shafik was able to join them on this occasion.
Hermione shot Matthew and Neville a sharp, lioness-like glare, a warning not to greet Professor Slughorn in any way.
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