Matthew steadied his nerves.
During crises like this, remaining as calm as possible was crucial.
He locked his gaze onto Tom Gaunt’s grotesque and twisted face.
The fact that the man knew his name was immaterial; there was no time to ponder how he knew.
One thing was evident, he was after the book… He was undoubtedly here for it.
With an imperceptible movement, Matthew’s left hand inched toward his waist.
Aware he couldn’t stand against Tom Gaunt, Matthew placed his hope in the book, wishing it would again take control of his body, as it did during the Dueling Club.
Only then could he hope to escape.
“Indeed, there are eight secret passages between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade,” Matthew responded calmly.
“Most were constructed during the goblin rebellion in 1612. Among them, one connects the third floor of Hogwarts Castle to the basement of Honeydukes Sweetshop.”
“Seems I made a mistake not breaking into that sweetshop with you one day,” Gaunt sneered. “Today, I won’t repeat that blunder.”
“What do you seek, sir?” Matthew’s left hand subtly shifted another half inch toward his waist. “Is it the book?”
“Yes… exactly…” Tom Gaunt’s face contorted into a sinister smile, intensifying his hideousness. “I’ve waited for this… for over a year now… No, for eleven years…”
“I can give it to you; it never belonged to me,” Matthew calmly stated, “However, there’s a note…”
Before he could finish, Matthew sensed Tom Gaunt’s bloodshot eyes turn even redder…
Simultaneously, a potent force emanated from the red light, overwhelming and penetrating his thoughts.
It was as though his mind was laid bare, leaving him speechless.
He lost sight of his surroundings, the images flashing through his mind like a movie reel, Matthew Wickfield receiving the Hogwarts letter in his home, Penello Clearwater introducing him to Hogwarts on Diagon Alley, donning the Sorting Hat, Agnes Lestrange offering rice pudding at the feast, Professor Trocar teaching him to observe and think in class…
“Get out!” A voice suddenly echoed in his mind.
It was Matthew’s voice, but the tone was starkly different, devoid of its usual warmth.
A scream erupted, coinciding with a noise in his ear—the sound of Tom Gaunt’s scream.
Suddenly, the familiar surroundings of the Shrieking Shack returned, and everything became real again.
Matthew noticed Tom Gaunt clutching his eyes as though he’d witnessed something he shouldn’t have.
His face contorted in pain, and traces of blood seeped between his fingers…
An opportunity, without a doubt!
Matthew swiftly withdrew his wand from his waist.
Aiming it at the somewhat dazed Gaunt, he spoke in a clear, composed voice, “Expelliarmus!”
A brilliant red light burst forth from his wand!
Though still in control of his body, Matthew sensed that this time, the Disarming Charm might not be as potent as it was in the dueling club…
A cloud of dust filled the air, obscuring his vision.
Uncertain whether the spell had struck its target or if it had any effect, Matthew couldn’t afford to waste time considering.
He hurled himself into the floor’s secret passage without hesitation.
The passage wasn’t too deep; he’d reach its end in a matter of seconds.
Glancing up at the entrance above, Matthew realized Tom Gaunt had reacted and was attempting to enter the passage.
Matthew wouldn’t grant him that chance!
“Expelliarmus! Expelliarmus! Expelliarmus!” As he retreated, he cast the most potent spell he could muster toward the passage’s entrance.
A succession of red lights flashed.
The surroundings trembled, the historic passage experiencing such profound vibrations for the first time that it seemed on the brink of collapse.
Soil clods tumbled from the walls…
Matthew paid no heed.
Being buried alive in the tunnel was a better fate than being captured by a menacing dark wizard.
After all, even if buried here, there was hope of rescue, not to mention the tunnel might lead somewhere significant.
Another burst of crimson light, followed by a resounding crash at the passage’s entrance.
It appeared the entrance had caved in.
Quickly turning around, Matthew bent low and hastened forward.
The tunnel stretched ahead, at times narrowing.
No sounds echoed behind him; Tom Gaunt didn’t seem to be in pursuit…
Matthew felt incredibly drained.
After Tom Gaunt’s Imperio and his subsequent frenzy, casting over twenty Expelliarmus, his body was shaking uncontrollably, his left hand clutching his wand.
With gritted teeth and labored breath, he pressed on, his body moving fluidly despite the fatigue…
About ten minutes later…
The tunnel began to incline slightly upward.
Hogwarts wasn’t far off.
Climbing this slope would bring him to Hogwarts’ vicinity, the protective magic affording him safety…
Matthew didn’t falter; his resolve only grew.
A slight curve loomed ahead, a glimmer of light visible on the other side.
The exit… he was nearing the exit…
Matthew pressed forward…
Then he abruptly halted.
Tom Gaunt reclined casually on the other side of the bend.
His dark-red eyes glowed eerily in the tunnel’s dimness.
The light he emitted emanated from the yew wand in his hand.
Lifting his head, he regarded Matthew with disdain. “The game of escape concludes.”
In the next moment, Tom Gaunt transformed into a black mist.
Caught off guard, the darkness enveloped Matthew, and his consciousness slipped away.
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