“Yes, those blasted Centaurs,” Professor Kettleburn exclaimed loudly, his frustration palpable.
“For nearly two months now,” he continued, “they’ve been recklessly venturing beyond the territory assigned to them by Professor Grindelwald, repeatedly violating the Forbidden Forest boundaries of Hogwarts. This is a criminal offense!”
Draco interjected abruptly, “My father always believed those Centaurs should have been hanged. They sided with the dark wizard during the war fifty years ago.”
Professor Kettleburn vigorously agreed, nodding his head. “Absolutely! If it weren’t for Professor Grindelwald’s leniency, they’d have conveniently forgotten their dark past. Unforgivable!”
The conversation between Professor Kettleburn and Draco delved further into the Centaurs’s actions.
As they entered the Forbidden Forest, the narrow trail was completely obscured by heavy snow.
Fortunately, the frozen ground beneath provided a relatively stable path as long as one avoided the bushes.
Professor Kettleburn’s earlier observation was proven true—the snow in the Forbidden Forest was thinner than outside, making it easier to walk.
Theodore, however, seemed anxious and cast wary glances around, clearly unnerved by the Forbidden Forest.
“No need to worry,” Professor Kettleburn reassured. “Let’s first find a guide; follow me.”
Matthew recalled an encounter from a year ago when he set foot in the Forbidden Forest with Professor Kettleburn.
They had met a clever creature called “Tom,” which seemed to serve as a guide.
He wondered if this was the kind of guide Professor Kettleburn was referring to.
The heavy snow weighed down the branches, causing snow clumps to occasionally fall.
Vincent had an unfortunate incident when a large pile landed on his head, nearly knocking him senseless.
Professor Kettleburn had to stop and administer a healing spell.
After a brief delay, they resumed their journey.
Due to the harsh winter, they didn’t encounter any animals, magical or otherwise, along the way.
Most of them seemed to have entered hibernation.
“The Forbidden Forest in winter is actually quite safe,” Professor Kettleburn explained. “Most ‘dangerous’ animals won’t emerge at this time.”
Then, Professor Kettleburn began to whistle in a frivolous tone, creating a rather unpleasant sound that forced everyone to cover their ears.
About ten minutes later, Professor Kettleburn suddenly stopped, looking around suspiciously.
“What’s wrong, Professor?” Matthew asked with a furrowed brow.
“It’s nothing,” Professor Kettleburn replied. “The cold weather may have caused my guide to laze off. Let’s continue.”
Matthew sighed, his breath forming a mist as he quietly drew his wand from his waist.
Meanwhile, Gregory abruptly halted, squatting down to observe something for a moment before excitedly pointing it out.
“What’s the matter, kid?” Professor Kettleburn leaned in curiously.
“Look at this… does it look like a horseshoe?” Gregory asked eagerly, pointing at a large rock with a horseshoe-shaped imprint in the snow. The imprint was vague, indicating its age, but it was preserved due to the rock’s location beneath a tall English oak.
“Yes, this is evidence!” Professor Kettleburn exclaimed with excitement.
He quickly retrieved a glass frame from his backpack and, using his prosthetic limb and one good hand, transferred the horseshoe print onto the glass frame, preserving it much like a Muggle would a specimen.
He did so with skill, maintaining the integrity of the “specimen,” and cast a spell to prevent the ice and snow inside from melting.
“This is evidence!” he declared triumphantly. “I’ll show this to Professor Grindelwald and Professor Rosier before Christmas Day. I’m sure they’ll be incensed by the recent misconduct of the Centaurs.”
Gregory beamed with pride.
“Good job, boy!” Professor Kettleburn patted him on the shoulder. “Let’s continue looking. There must be more evidence.”
Vincent suggested, “Should we split up and search separately?”
Professor Kettleburn approved, “Good idea! Take out your wands and practice. If anyone finds a useful trace or gets into trouble, send up a red spark, and we’ll come to you.”
“Alright, but be careful not to venture too far,” he cautioned. “Let’s go!”
Vincent and Gregory eagerly separated from the group. However, Matthew, Draco, and Theodore decided to stick together.
Matthew felt uneasy, sensing hidden dangers in the apparently peaceful Forbidden Forest.
Draco and Theodore seemed to share his apprehension, with Theodore clearly fearing the forest.
As the sun rose, casting a dazzling glow on the pristine white snow, the Forbidden Forest remained eerily silent, except for the sounds made by the intruding students.
Matthew scanned the ground but found no signs of horseman activity.
He realized that after the heavy snowfall a few days prior, it had become challenging to find any traces of their presence.
Gregory’s discovery appeared to be more of a fortunate coincidence.
Nott, not far from Matthew, kept nervously glancing around, seemingly sensing an unseen presence.
“Matthew, look! Red sparks!” Theodore suddenly shouted, nearly startling Matthew.
Matthew quickly spotted the red sparks and nodded. “Let’s go check it out.”
They maneuvered through the snow-covered bushes, and it wasn’t long before they found Draco.
Draco had been drawn to the red sparks as well, and the three of them continued together.
Five minutes later, they reached a frozen stream and found Vincent there, the source of the red light.
“What’s happening?” Draco asked loudly.
Vincent, looking frightened, was sitting on the ground, his voice trembling.
“Look… just look at this,” Vincent stammered.
Following his gaze, they witnessed a grim scene above the frozen stream—a withered branch jutted out, a rope tied to it, with dark objects hanging from the rope.
“Is that… a cat?” Draco asked, his voice trembling.
In reality, it wasn’t a cat. It had a larger body than an ordinary cat, oversized ears, and sharper teeth.
It dangled from the rope, frozen and wide-eyed.
Matthew remained still for several moments, then said solemnly, “It seems… it’s not a cat, but a raccoon.”
“What’s going on here?” Gregory, the last to arrive, asked breathlessly.
Professor Kettleburn soon rushed over, asking excitedly, “Children, what have you found? I saw your sparks.”
However, as he approached and laid eyes on the scene, his voice trailed off.
He soon wore a pained expression.
Professor Kettleburn quickly went to the cat raccoon hanging from the tree, but it was too late.
The creature was stiff as a board, having been dead for a long time.
The Slytherin students exchanged uncertain glances.
“What’s happening here?” Gregory asked nervously.
“This is a warning!” Professor Kettleburn suddenly declared.
“A warning?” Several students were bewildered.
Professor Kettleburn continued, his voice growing more serious, “These Centaurs… killing my guide so ruthlessly, this is not an ordinary disturbance, it’s a rebellion!”
Silence fell upon the group, and fear gripped the students, rendering them speechless.
Matthew glanced around, his ears filled only with the winter wind rustling through dead leaves.
“Yes… it’s a rebellion… we need to get out of here!” Professor Kettleburn shook his head. “No, you all need to get out of here!”
“Hurry! Follow your footsteps and return to Hogwarts,” he commanded, his voice filled with authority. “Inform Professor Rosier of what transpired here. I’ll stay behind!”
Vincent and Gregory were slow to grasp the gravity of the situation.
However, Matthew wasted no time and began retracing their steps.
He had suspected the Centaurs’s actions based on Professor Kettleburn’s earlier warnings, but he hadn’t anticipated their rebellion would escalate so suddenly.
Draco, just slightly slower than Matthew, quickly followed.
Theodore trailed behind, and Vincent and Gregory, the two plump students, were the last.
Their footsteps left a somewhat haphazard trail in the snow.
The students had inadvertently disrupted their own tracks while searching for the Centaurs’s marks.
Matthew relied on his memory to guide them back along their original path, but something was moving among the surrounding bushes—large and numerous.
In every thicket, the faint sound of horseshoes crunching through snow was audible, as if they were encircled by Centaurs.
Draco’s trembling hand reached for his wand, but Matthew shouted, startling him, and causing the wand to fall to the ground.
“Don’t event think about it, Draco!”
Judging by the current situation, they seemed to be surrounded by the Centaurs.
Matthew knew well that these two-legged creatures couldn’t outrun the four-legged Centaurs.
Their limited magical abilities as second-year students wouldn’t make them a match for the hundreds of Centaurs either.
It was unwise to provoke them with ineffective spells, as the Centaurs abhorred magic.
Any resistance could lead to being trampled by their powerful hooves.
Draco and the others weren’t privy to Matthew’s thoughts, but after spending time together, there was an inherent respect for him.
Thus, Vincent, Gregory, and Theodore refrained from drawing their wands.
Suddenly, a massive creature burst from the nearby bushes—a centaur, a half-human, half-horse being.
Its upper half resembled a human with black hair and beard, while its lower half was a powerful horse.
Another followed, then another.
More and more Centaurs surrounded them, at least twenty in sight, all approaching at once.
Escape was impossible…
But then, an enraged shout echoed from behind, Professor Kettleburn’s voice.
A massive oak tree, about ten meters high, was felled by some unknown force, precisely where Matthew and his friends had passed.
Several Centaurs were crushed beneath the fallen oak, groaning in pain.
The path of the Centaurs was temporarily obstructed.
Professor Kettleburn furiously waved his wand.
His two prosthetic legs enabled him to move through the snow at an astonishing speed.
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