Meanwhile, at the bar.
“The buttons are still here, Hermione!” Neville whispered cautiously. “I’m glad I didn’t lose them.”
He glanced around warily before discreetly extracting the button from the back of the bench and stashing it in his pocket.
“Let’s go!” Neville urged.
Hermione remained silent, her mind engrossed in thought as they both left the bar.
“Here.” Neville handed the buttons to Hermione as they stepped out of the bar. “Let’s head to Honeydukes. We can pick some candies for Matthew in advance…”
Before Neville could finish his sentence, Hermione shook her head with concern.
Furrowing her lips, she voiced her worry, “No, Neville… Something about Matthew’s tone and expression… it seemed off…”
“Off?” Neville was taken aback, his hand scratching his head in bewilderment. “Now that you mention it, thinking back, he did sound a bit odd… Matthew isn’t usually so brusque…”
“Yes,” Hermione affirmed with another nod. “It’s as if he was… intentionally pushing us away…”
“Pushing us away?” Neville’s confusion deepened.
“Yes… exactly…” Hermione repeated with emphasis. “He was deliberately trying to get us to leave… Maybe Matthew overheard some dangerous information using my bug. To prevent it from affecting us, he was driving us away…”
Her voice trembled slightly.
“Damn it!” Neville’s realization was swift. He spoke decisively, “We need to go back immediately… No matter how dangerous it is, we can’t leave Matthew to face it alone!”
After all, he had been about to head toward the Shrieking Shack.
“Wait, Neville!” Hermione intervened suddenly, her hand reaching out to stop him.
“What’s the hold-up, Hermione…” Neville’s anxiety was palpable. “The longer we wait, the less time we have…”
“No… wait… Neville…” Hermione’s demeanor suddenly shifted to one of calm analysis.
She articulated thoughtfully, “If Matthew pushed us away, it could be because he’s about to confront an adversary beyond our capabilities… Rushing back like this might only add to his burden… No, it’s absolutely not the right approach…”
She shook her head firmly.
“If we genuinely want to help Matthew… we need to find someone powerful…”
“Yes, perhaps that was his intention when he drove us away,” Hermione reasoned firmly. “Hurry, Neville. Let’s return to Hogwarts… We need to find Professor Rosier!”
Neville and Hermione sprinted along Hogsmeade Avenue, their pace at its swiftest.
“Will we make it in time?” Neville gasped while running, his anxiety evident. “Getting back to Hogwarts, finding a way to contact Professor Rosier… It could take time…”
Hermione’s brows knitted.
She shared his concern, though she didn’t voice it aloud.
Crossing Hogsmeade Avenue and entering the narrow path between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, the two were met by an adult man walking toward them.
They narrowly avoided a collision.
“Mr. Longbottom, Miss Granger, what’s the matter?” the man inquired in a gentle tone. “You both appear distressed.”
It was Professor Snape.
The two exchanged a glance before nodding in unison.
“Professor Snape, you have to help Matthew,” Neville urged urgently.
“Help… help Matthew?” Professor Snape seemed puzzled, not yet grasping the specifics.
Hermione, still maintaining her composure, spoke rapidly yet clearly.
She recounted Matthew’s odd behavior on the hillside and her inference that he was in danger.
“So, Mr. Wickfield is currently in a dangerous situation?” Professor Snape’s brow furrowed, his tone unruffled as he queried.
“It’s true, Professor!” Hermione’s anxiety was palpable, her eyes even welled with tears. “Please, we need you to hurry with us…”
Seeing the perplexed look on Professor Snape’s face, they feared he might dismiss their concern as childish exaggeration or a mere prank…
However, Professor Snape surprised them both by nodding solemnly.
“Lead the way.”
“Hurry, Professor… follow me!” Hermione took the lead, dashing forward.
Five minutes later, the trio reached the top of the hill where the Shrieking Shack stood.
The scene was unchanged—the rustling leaves and scarce human presence created a sense of solitude.
Matthew, however, was nowhere to be seen.
“Matthew!” Hermione and Neville called out urgently.
No reply came.
“Is this the spot where you last parted ways?” Professor Snape inquired calmly.
Neville and Hermione nodded quickly.
Professor Snape promptly crouched down, retrieved his wand, aimed it at the ground, and muttered an incantation under his breath.
In that moment, Neville and Hermione glimpsed an agitated figure sprinting toward the hillside.
“It’s Matthew!” Hermione exclaimed. “He’s running up the hill… Over there… it’s…”
“The Shrieking Shack,” Professor Snape supplied. “Your conjecture is correct. Mr. Wickfield is in some sort of trouble; otherwise, he wouldn’t be headed there… Lead the way, Miss Granger. We’ll follow.”
Setting off again, he followed the phantom’s previous path up the hillside.
Neville and Hermione trailed after him, their gazes fixed on the black-clad figure.
At intervals, Professor Snape paused, examining his surroundings.
“The fence was knocked down, and the grass remains undisturbed,” he remarked calmly. “As expected, Mr. Wickfield passed through here… Keep moving…”
“Professor…” Hermione’s voice quivered slightly, “We’re headed to the Shrieking Shack…”
The Shrieking Shack is renowned as the most haunted in British lore.
Hermione Granger, however, was just a thirteen-year-old girl.
“Then you should return to Hogsmeade,” Professor Snape advised.
“No, I want to go too…” Hermione’s resolve was evident as she nodded.
And so, she continued to follow.
The trio soon entered the Shrieking Shack.
But the scene that greeted them was bewildering.
The room appeared as if a ferocious battle had recently raged within—furniture lay in disarray, and the air was thick with swirling dust.
What was even more astonishing was the massive cavity that had opened up in the floor!
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