Yes, everything that happened before felt like a dream—
Starting from the beginning, overhearing the conversation between Professor Slughorn and Shafiq…
Discovering the existence of the persona “Tom Gaunt”, preparing to flee through the secret passage from the Shrieking Shack…
Returning to the secret path, getting caught by Tom Riddle, and then losing consciousness…
And finally, waking up at the Pig’s Head Bar entrance, rescued by Mr. Percival.
To be honest, this sequence of events sounded quite unbelievable.
Something was amiss!
Matthew was certain there had to be a missing piece in the puzzle.
How had he managed to escape from the clutches of “Tom Riddle”?
How had he ended up at the entrance of the Pig’s Head Bar?
Where had “Tom Riddle” vanished to?
None of these questions had clear answers at the moment.
Could it have been because of the book? Did something in the book save his life while he was unconscious?
Or was it related to Mr. Percival’s intervention? Did he play a role in rescuing Matthew?
Or perhaps it was a combination of factors…
Without a doubt, something significant must have transpired while he was in that unconscious state!
On another note, there was another possibility: “Tom Riddle” might have attached himself to Matthew, intending to use him as a means to infiltrate Hogwarts.
The notion left Matthew so alarmed that he instinctively reached back to the back of his head, relieved to feel his own familiar features and not a foreign presence.
A sigh of relief escaped him.
Thankfully, the worst-case scenario seemed to have been avoided.
Matthew’s mind remained in a fog of confusion, and he no longer had the desire to linger in Hogsmeade.
Dragging his weary body along Hogsmeade Avenue, he reached the entrance of Honeydukes.
He found himself caught amidst a throng of Hogwarts students emerging from the store; he was barely able to extricate himself from the crowd.
Just as he was contemplating the path back to Hogwarts—
Two clear voices reached his ears from a short distance away.
Neville and Hermione spotted him and hastened over.
“You…” A slight smile formed on Matthew’s lips, his demeanor easing.
However, his smile quickly faded.
Behind Neville and Hermione stood their Transfiguration professor, Professor Snape.
“What’s happening?” Matthew looked at them calmly, inquiring, “You all seem rather agitated…”
“Are you okay?” Neville gripped Matthew’s hand and scrutinized him from head to toe as if he feared that a chunk of him was missing.
“Matthew, I thought…” Hermione’s voice trembled, her eyes brimming with near tears.
“What’s wrong with you?” Matthew’s brow furrowed, his expression one of perplexity.
“Are you truly alright?” Hermione asked with disbelief.
“How could something happen?” Matthew responded with composure.
Hermione and Neville exchanged glances, their eyes reflecting their mutual embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, Matthew. I overreacted… I read too much into things…” Hermione’s head drooped in shame. “I misunderstood what you meant and thought you were in danger. That’s why we sought out Professor Snape and returned to the Shrieking Shack to find you…”
“That’s quite a joke, Hermione,” Matthew chuckled. “This is Hogsmeade, after all. How could there be any danger? I felt a bit tired up on the hillside, so I rested briefly before descending. I even came to Honeydukes to find you but couldn’t locate you…”
“Hmm,” Neville responded curiously, “When we climbed the hill, why didn’t we cross paths with you…”
“It’s possible our timings were off…” Matthew explained.
Just then, he happened to notice Professor “Snape,” who had joined them on the walk.
He addressed him loudly, “Professor Snape, I apologize if I’ve caused you any trouble…”
“It’s of no consequence, Mr. Wickfield,” Professor “Snape” replied in the same composed, mild tone as before. “It appears no harm befell you… So, Miss Granger’s and Mr. Longbottom’s suspicions about me were mere misunderstandings, correct?”
He glanced at Hermione and Neville, then turned his gaze to Matthew, his eyes holding a depth of meaning.
“Yes, it was all just a misunderstanding…” Matthew quickly affirmed.
“That settles it,” Professor “Snape” responded thoughtfully.
Undoubtedly, it wasn’t a misunderstanding at all.
Hermione hadn’t merely “misunderstood.”
When Matthew had been atop the hillside, he intentionally sent Hermione and Neville away… he had already sensed something amiss and wanted them out of danger.
It was both a safeguard and a signal to them to be ready to rescue him.
While Neville might not have caught on quickly, Hermione’s keen intellect allowed her to piece things together.
Indeed, Hermione had acted commendably.
However, following those incidents, things took an unexpected turn…
Matthew had been saved without his conscious knowledge for reasons he couldn’t explain.
As a result, he couldn’t reveal these previous events publicly…
Especially not to the “unknown” Professor “Snape”!
Fortunately, Professor “Snape” didn’t appear to harbor any suspicion.
He accepted Matthew’s somewhat “rough” explanation without question.
Though, perhaps, it was merely a façade.
Given the string of peculiar occurrences, Matthew no longer harbored any interest in staying in Hogsmeade.
He informed his companions that he was feeling a bit tired and intended to return to Hogwarts to rest.
Still reeling from the shock of recent events, Hermione and Neville chose to accompany Matthew back.
The trio retraced their steps along the path between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.
“Did nothing really happen?” Hermione whispered, skepticism evident in her tone.
“Absolutely not,” Matthew responded calmly. “Don’t worry about it, Hermione.”
They passed through the oak gates of the Hogwarts campus once more.
The two towering dementors still stood guard… their chilling presence seemed to pierce to the core.
Back on campus, they hadn’t gone far when—
Hermione’s attention was drawn to something. She hastened to a nearby bush, withdrawing an item from within.
“Crookshanks, what are you doing here?” she exclaimed in surprise.
“I did mention earlier that your pets tend to roam the school,” Matthew remarked casually.
“Well, I’ll take care of it,” Hermione mumbled, cradling the large ginger cat in her arms.
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