The first month of the second term swiftly drew to a close.
The pathway between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade closed once more, and students trickled back into the castle.
Matthew began settling into a routine: dividing his time between the common room, the Great Hall, classrooms, and the library.
By October, a chill began to settle in the air. Alongside the usual fare, the Great Hall now featured steaming cups of black tea to ward off the cold.
Students layered woolen sweaters beneath their robes for added warmth.
In the midst of this, Matthew received an unexpected message—
It seemed that something unusual had occurred at the Hog’s Head Inn on the day Hogsmeade opened in September.
Apparently, the inn had hired a waiter named “Tom” six months ago, who, as it turned out, was a thief.
A commotion ensued that day, and the eccentric owner of the establishment discovered a significant loss, futilely attempting to apprehend the thief.
Seemingly mundane news, yet Matthew perceived a deeper implication—
The waiter named “Tom” could only be Tom Riddle himself.
Since reports confirmed his escape from Hogsmeade, it was almost certain he wasn’t still possessing a host or lurking within another body.
Matthew’s lingering doubts finally abated.
This information also pointed to the identity of his savior that day—Mr. Percival.
Considering the account provided in the news along with his own firsthand experience, it was Mr. Percival who had saved him from Tom Riddle.
This had spared Matthew from the dire fate of falling into the clutches of the Dark Lord in another world.
Of course, this raised a question—
Why had Mr. “Percival” saved him? Was it solely an act of kindness, or did it hint at a deeper purpose?
Regardless, the fact remained that Mr. “Percival” had very likely saved his life.
If he hadn’t, the consequences of falling into Tom Riddle’s hands would have been disastrous.
Recalling that grotesque, unassuming visage and that aloof yet gruff voice, Matthew couldn’t help but feel a warm gratitude.
This kindness, he would cherish.
Simultaneously, he felt fortunate he hadn’t disclosed the true events of that day to anyone.
After all, if his guess held true, the real identity of Mr. Percival might be Aberforth Dumbledore, Albus Dumbledore’s younger brother.
If he was living in seclusion at the Hog’s Head Inn with a hidden purpose, perhaps even linked to the three Azkaban escapees and their attempted infiltration of Hogwarts, then revealing these details could spell trouble.
Thus, he resolved to keep the genuine account of his Hogsmeade experience hidden in his heart, away from prying ears, particularly those with potential “ulterior motives.”
Drawing attention to the Hog’s Head Inn could potentially endanger Mr. Percival.
Concurrently, Matthew doubled down on his efforts.
He immersed himself in the library until late hours, only returning to the Slytherin common room when he felt ready for slumber.
He reviewed spell details and contents, mentally rehearsing them before drifting off to sleep, the sound of waves providing a soothing backdrop.
His eagerness for knowledge knew no bounds.
The circumstances had shifted.
The former Matthew had been uninvolved and disconnected from the wizarding world’s intricacies.
Now, the situation had transformed.
A formidable dark wizard named Riddle awaited him beyond the school walls, eager to seize something from him…
This ever-present sense of threat fueled Matthew’s determination to better himself.
For the next half-year, there might not be imminent danger.
For some reason, Tom seemed hesitant to breach the walls of Hogwarts.
Otherwise, after loitering in Hogsmeade for so long, he’d have surely made an attempt.
Furthermore, considering the stringent protective measures around the castle, infiltrating it, let alone apprehending the three Azkaban escapees, would prove quite the challenge.
This implied that until the next summer break, as long as he refrained from leaving Hogwarts of his own accord, Tom wouldn’t pose a direct threat.
As for the book, Matthew hadn’t opened it since that incident.
Though potent and the object of Tom Riddle desire…
While the book hadn’t directly harmed him before, given these considerations, Matthew adopted a more cautious approach.
One mid-October day, after finishing his breakfast and heading toward the library—
“Matthew!” An eager voice suddenly sounded from behind.
Matthew paused; it was the voice of Professor Slughorn, the Head of Slytherin.
“My dear boy,” Professor Slughorn beamed affectionately, “If memory serves me right, you’ve missed my last three gatherings…”
After Agnes Lestrange’s “warning,” Matthew had chosen to abstain from Slug Club parties.
However, his decision wasn’t solely due to her caution.
Considering that Tom Riddle knew his name and identity, it was likely he had an “inside source” at Hogwarts…
“Apologies, Professor. I wasn’t feeling well recently…” Matthew gently declined.
“You seem in fine fettle now,” Slughorn countered with a smile.
“The second-year curriculum has been quite demanding… My apologies, Professor, but I fear I don’t have much free time,” Matthew continued, indicating his heavy school bag.
Slughorn wasn’t perturbed. “Balancing work and leisure can sometimes yield better results than purely intensive study.”
Matthew hadn’t expected Slughorn’s persistence, even as he pondered another reason.
“This Sunday evening at 7:30, don’t miss it!” Slughorn asserted, sparing Matthew any chance to decline.
He gave Matthew’s shoulder a light pat before walking away.
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