The atmosphere was undeniably far from festive, making it clear that this was not going to be a joyful Christmas.
Matthew’s second Christmas Eve found him confined to the cold, sterile ward of St. Mungo’s Magical Injuries and Injuries Hospital.
His only companions were fellow patients, as the blond therapist made the rare exception to be present.
Compared to the extravagant holiday feasts at Hogwarts, the Halloween dinner here was meager at best, lacking the warmth and abundance of a true Christmas celebration.
The joyous Christmas spirit was conspicuously absent.
After the underwhelming dinner, Matthew drifted into an uneasy slumber, yearning to escape this somber place.
The following morning, he awoke to discover an unexpected pile of gifts by his bedside.
A realization struck him like a lightning bolt.
Since the commencement of the Christmas holidays, he had been confined within the dreary confines of St. Mungo’s, robbed of both the time and opportunity to prepare gifts for his friends.
It was clear that he would need to make amends for these missed gifts when the new semester began.
With this thought in mind, Matthew eagerly began to unwrap the various packages that awaited him.
One package, bearing Neville’s distinctive handwriting, revealed a compact wallet with a surprising capacity.
Its interior seemed enchanted to accommodate items many times its size, a testament to its clever design.
In another bag, Hermione’s name adorned a large box of horseshoe-shaped chocolates, a delectable treat.
There was also a substantial box of creamy fudge, a delightful addition to the gifts.
Among these tokens of friendship, an unsigned rehabilitation card hinted at a mystery.
And then, Matthew’s curiosity was piqued by a peculiar, unsigned gift bag.
Its contents revealed a wizard chess set unlike any other he had seen.
The black and white chess pieces had transformed into intricate characters, leaving him in awe.
The black king bore a striking resemblance to Gellert Grindelwald, and the black queen resembled Vinda Rosier.
The bishops had transformed into vampires with fearsome fangs, the knight into a fearsome werewolf, and the castle into two towering giants.
Matthew marveled at the creativity of this unique set.
However, it was the white chess pieces that truly caught his attention. The white king resembled an old wizard with white hair, reminiscent of Albus Dumbledore, and the queen was a witch with square glasses and a high bun of curly hair.
The bishop appeared as a cunning goblin, the knight as a sturdy horseman, and the castle had become two Muggle tanks.
Matthew couldn’t help but be taken aback by this enigmatic Christmas gift.
The symbolism behind these chess pieces intrigued him, and he pondered over the sender’s intentions.
As he searched the gift box for clues, he was interrupted by the arrival of the blond therapist responsible for his recuperation.
She noticed the wizard chess set in Matthew’s hand, expressing her own affinity for the game but not prying further.
With a curious look, she informed Matthew that his condition had stabilized, granting him the chance to complete the necessary paperwork and leave the hospital.
The prospect of leaving the hospital filled Matthew with excitement.
His time at St. Mungo’s had been monotonous and confining, and the environment left much to be desired.
However, a lingering question remained in his mind.
He inquired about his next destination, whether it should be Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, or Hogwarts, which had been mentioned by both his professor and the therapist.
The therapist assured him that he could return directly to Hogwarts, which took Matthew by surprise. He mentioned the ongoing presence of “Centaurs” at the school, but the therapist dismissed their significance, asserting that they couldn’t truly threaten the safety of Hogwarts.
Curiosity gnawed at Matthew, and he pressed for more information about what had transpired.
It turned out he had missed a significant event reported in the Daily Prophet “Headmaster Gellert Grindelwald had returned to Hogwarts, confronting Dark Wizards and thwarting a conspiracy by the Centaurs.”
Despite the Christmas season, Grindelwald had to forsake personal peace to attend to these pressing matters.
Eager to leave the hospital, Matthew decided on immediate discharge.
After the expedited paperwork process, he found himself at the entrance of St. Mungo’s Magical Injury Hospital with his heavy luggage.
Before him stood an old-fashioned red-brick department store that appeared abandoned.
A few broken mannequins wearing outdated clothing filled its dusty windows, and signs declared it “Closed for renovation.”
Occasionally, Muggles passed by, completely oblivious to the establishment’s existence.
Matthew contemplated whether to seize this rare opportunity to breach the Ministry of Magic’s strict regulations and interact with the Muggle world.
Suddenly, a deafening siren pierced the air, followed by the appearance of a massive triple-decker bus right before Matthew’s eyes.
It bore the words “Knight Bus” in golden letters on its windshield.
The conductor, an 18-year-old wizard named Stan Sunpark, welcomed him aboard, explaining that the Knight Bus served witches and wizards in distress.
Matthew, with a sense of wonderment, boarded the bus after paying the fare.
Inside, there were no seats but rather six beds with brass pillars separated by curtains.
Candles provided dim illumination.
Stan directed Matthew to a bed, and with a loud command, the bus roared to life, propelling him backward onto the bed due to its incredible speed.
As he gazed out the window, he marveled at the Muggles on the streets, blissfully ignorant of the extraordinary bus they had just encountered.
Stan, with a hint of superiority, discussed the Muggle world and the supposed inferiority of Muggles compared to wizards.
He expressed radical views about controlling and even enslaving them.
Matthew couldn’t help but feel repulsed by Stan’s words but chose to remain in his seat.
The conversation shifted to Hogwarts and the recent events there.
Stan hinted at significant changes in the Ministry’s approach to magical creatures, citing a recent uprising at Hogwarts as a catalyst.
He spoke of a newfound desire to control magical creatures more strictly, with a focus on eliminating those deemed threats.
Matthew listened closely, pondering the potential implications of these developments.
Abruptly, the bus screeched to a halt, and Stan announced their arrival at Hogsmeade Station, where Mr. Pringle, the Hogwarts administrator, awaited the returning students.
A line of horse-drawn carriages, discreetly pulled by invisible creatures, was parked nearby.
Mr. Pringle instructed Matthew to remain in the common room due to ongoing cleaning efforts and assured him that meals would be delivered.
Matthew boarded a carriage drawn by the Night Skating and followed the familiar route onto the Hogwarts campus.
While the castle had experienced some damage and signs of a recent battle, most portraits and sculptures remained intact.
Yet, traces of the recent conflict were evident in the form of burnt manes, shattered horseshoes, and crimson stains, serving as a grim reminder of the violence that had taken place.
With relief, Matthew reached the Slytherin common room, which appeared unchanged. However, he was the first student from Slytherin to return, and the common room was deserted.
As he entered his bedroom and lay down on the bed with its green silk curtains, an ominous feeling settled over him.
“I can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is approaching,” Matthew Wickfield muttered to himself, an uneasy premonition clouding his thoughts.
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