“Professor Slughorn, you’re most welcome!” Mr. Rosmerta, the owner of the Three Broomsticks bar, greeted him with enthusiastic exaggeration.
“The usual two glasses of mead?” With a rotund belly resembling a chubby elephant, Professor Slughorn entered the bar.
Their familiarity was evident in their interactions. Professor Slughorn quickly led Miss Shafiq to a table, where they engaged in cordial conversation.
Hermione shot her two companions a fierce glare reminiscent of a lioness guarding her territory.
Neville quickly lowered his head, choosing not to speak.
Matthew didn’t rush over to greet Professor Slughorn and Miss Shafiq with the enthusiasm Hermione had anticipated.
Instead, he squinted and glanced at the duo before lowering his head, deep in thought.
Although all three were members of the Slug Club and theoretically proud pupils of Professor Slughorn, none approached the Potions Professor in their current state.
Matthew raised his index finger to his lips in a hushing gesture, motioning his friends not to speak.
Then, discreetly pulling out his wand, he whispered, “Mobiliarbus!”
A potted plant on a nearby table gently rose a few inches off the ground, drifted about a foot to the side, and settled down in front of their table.
More precisely, it positioned itself between Professor Slughorn and them, acting as a barrier to prevent Professor Slughorn from spotting them.
Matthew was eager to know the content of Professor Slughorn’s conversation with Shafiq.
However, their hushed tones combined with the distance between their tables rendered their conversation inaudible, even with their ears strained.
Neville and Hermione observed Matthew’s actions with surprise, though they remained silent.
“Do you want to eavesdrop, Matthew?” Hermione whispered softly.
Initially nodding, Matthew’s expression then shifted to one of regret.
His magical proficiency was still lacking, and he didn’t possess powerful magical items like Invisibility Cloaks that would allow him to eavesdrop on the level of wizards like Professor Slughorn without being discovered.
“I have an idea!” Hermione’s eyes suddenly lit up.
She produced a pair of small, fleshy ears and a worn-out button from her pocket. “I bought this pair of magical items from a vendor in India.”
“If I place this button near them secretly, the other ear will allow us to clearly hear everything they say.” Hermione continued.
Matthew was taken aback by Hermione’s resourcefulness.
The principles of magic often varied across different civilizations, and even an experienced individual like Professor Slughorn might fail to recognize magical items from foreign lands.
Hermione handed over the pair of gadgets to Matthew.
He picked up the small button and pondered how to discreetly position it near Professor Slughorn, taking care not to raise suspicion.
“I’ll handle it,” Neville volunteered unexpectedly.
“Neville?” Matthew regarded him with surprise.
“Trust me!” Neville’s tone was resolute.
“Very well!” Matthew nodded, passing the worn-out button to Neville.
Neville held the button and discreetly left Matthew and Hermione.
He casually strolled around the Three Broomsticks, then positioned himself near Professor Slughorn and Shafiq.
Through the leaves of a bonsai, Matthew could observe Professor Slughorn and Shafiq deeply engrossed in conversation, oblivious to Neville’s presence.
Suddenly, Neville lost his balance and fell to the ground, letting out an exclamation.
Professor Slughorn seemed momentarily startled but quickly recognized Neville, who had fallen before him.
Rushing to his aid, Professor Slughorn helped Neville to his feet. “Neville, my boy, are you alright?”
“Apologies, Professor,” Neville clung to Professor Slughorn’s assistance, struggling to stand with his support.
He appeared bruised and swollen.
“I was looking for someone and didn’t watch where I was going,” Neville explained. “Have you seen Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan? I came to Hogsmeade with them, but we got separated…”
“No, I haven’t seen them. They likely aren’t here,” Professor Slughorn shook his head. “Would you care to join me for a drink?”
“No, I’m off to Honeydukes to find them,” Neville politely declined the offer.
After bidding farewell to Professor Slughorn, he exited the Three Broomsticks without glancing back.
Professor Slughorn didn’t seem suspicious, instead sitting back down and resuming his conversation with Shafiq.
Behind the potted plant, Matthew and Hermione exchanged glances and nodded in agreement.
Silently, they left the bar.
Neville awaited their arrival at the entrance, his forehead still swollen from the fall.
Matthew and Hermione emerged, and Neville greeted them promptly.
“Did anyone notice?” Neville asked softly. “I slipped the button behind Professor Slughorn’s bench.”
“I don’t think so,” Hermione reassured him. “Let’s find a quiet spot; I know of a place with no people.”
Following Hermione, the three hurriedly left the Three Broomsticks bar, crossing the bustling Hogsmeade Avenue.
“We’re almost there,” Hermione pointed to a small hill on Hogsmeade’s south side. “There’s usually no one around on that hillside.”
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