In this manner, all the developments fell into a logical sequence.

Matthew wore a dejected expression and simultaneously shook his head.

After bidding farewell to Madam Rosmerta and her husband, he left the Three Broomsticks Bar in a despondent manner.

He then retraced his steps toward the Hog’s Head Bar.

The hour was late, and darkness had already descended upon Hogsmeade Avenue.

A chilling wind whistled through the streets, casting an eerie atmosphere on this midsummer night.

Matthew hastened his pace, passing by the post office on Central Avenue and veering onto a small side street—

As he drew closer to the small bar owned by Aberforth Dumbledore, an uneasy feeling washed over him.

“What’s happening?” he wondered silently. The atmosphere felt distinctly off.

Gazing at the severed Hog’s Head depicted on the sign, Matthew’s anxiety deepened.

His sixth sense had proven invaluable in many crisis moments before.

Summoning his courage, he moved forward and knocked on the door of the Hog’s Head Bar…

No response came, as if the room before him were empty, save for sporadic muffled sounds.

Matthew blinked, then rapped harder.

“Is Mr. Percival here?” he called out loudly.

After waiting for about a minute, the door of the bar creaked open.

Before him stood the peculiar old man once more—tall and gaunt, with long gray and white hair and beard.

However, his face bore the most striking feature: over a dozen scars crisscrossed it, rendering his visage grotesque.

To a timid person, it might have been frightening enough to induce fainting.

The old man glanced down at Matthew, a hint of bewilderment in his eyes.

“What do you want?” he inquired in a low voice.

“I’d like a butterbeer, sir…” Matthew cleared his throat and continued, “If possible, with extra honey.”

“Take a seat,” the old man nodded, “I’ll fetch it and we can talk.”

He turned towards the stove and began to prepare a butterbeer.

Matthew surreptitiously glanced at the enigmatic old man across from him.

Everything about the situation felt decidedly strange.

Though he hadn’t interacted much with Mr. Percival, perhaps only twice in total, he had some sense of the man’s character.

Aberforth was gruff in appearance but genuinely gentle. When dealing with others, he typically projected a fearsome and aggressive demeanor, adopting a rough and stern attitude.

Yet the old man before him, despite his identical appearance, wore an expression far removed from the fierce and impassive countenance Matthew remembered.

Although he appeared to be making an effort to maintain that facade, the disparity between his attire and reality was substantial.

Moreover, Aberforth should have been aware of his arrival.

As Professor Slughorn had mentioned, their presence and the book were crucial elements in their plan.

For the past few days, Matthew had rigorously maintained his nightly “exercise” routine.

Aside from cultivating a plausible habit, it also served as a signal to Aberforth.

It was his way of indicating that he had been frequenting Hogsmeade.

Aberforth should have been prepared for his visit.

However, upon entering the Hog’s Head Bar, the eccentric bartender had not greeted him warmly or cautiously, as Matthew had anticipated. Instead, he seemed to be maintaining a certain distance.

It was all highly peculiar, utterly incongruous with Aberforth’s usual demeanor.

Simultaneously, Matthew surveyed the surrounding environment.

Soon, he detected a significant anomaly.

The floor was cleaner than expected.

Everyone knew the floor of the Hog’s Head Bar to be utterly messy, often appearing as if compacted mud at first glance.

Only when you stepped on it did you realize it was laden with centuries of accumulated dirt, laid over a stone foundation.

Yet now, although it was still quite dirty, it wasn’t as squalid as he remembered.

At the very least, the floor and windows weren’t stained as dreadfully as he had recalled.

As though someone had magically cleaned it recently.

And so…

Something was amiss.

There had to be an issue.

Matthew’s initial impulse was to find a plausible excuse to depart from this problematic setting.

However, he promptly dismissed that idea.

Leaving at this moment would only imply a “guilty conscience” to the other party—it would be tantamount to self-incrimination.

He had to sit there calmly.

Until a steaming butterbeer was placed before him by Mr. Percival.

The taste was so repugnant that it was nearly vomit-inducing!

It was truly astonishing that an old man who had bartended for fifty or sixty years, as Aberforth had, could concoct something so utterly unpalatable.

This further confirmed Matthew’s earlier assessment. Something was awry.

Matthew didn’t hide his disgust.

He rinsed his mouth swiftly, and as he was contemplating leaving with this excuse—

Suddenly, there was a deafening crash.

The door of the Hog’s Head Bar was violently flung open.

Four groups of shadows stormed into the bar, their wands pointed directly at Matthew, who sat in a guest’s seat.

This included the imposter Mr. Percival, who also leveled his wand at Matthew.

Matthew was almost petrified.

He hastily clutched his head, cowering in his seat, and yelled frantically, “Who are you? What do you want?”

In truth, this question required no answer.

Judging by their attire, these individuals could only be one thing—

Followers of Grindelwald, the “Alliance.”

A look of extreme apprehension crossed Matthew’s face.

Deep down, he was profoundly frightened.

Furthermore, this development implied that the secret safehouse of the Order of the Phoenix may have been exposed.

And the real Aberforth Dumbledore might be either alive or dead…

His sole connection appeared to be severed just like that.

However, Matthew didn’t have the luxury of time to dwell on these thoughts.

Because the four (or five, if one counted the fake Mr. Percival) had advanced on him—

“What the hell are you doing?” one of them asked. “Why are you here?”

“I… I just… came for a… Butterbeer…” Matthew stammered in response.

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Published On: December 7, 2023

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