Professor Kettleburn had no intention of discussing the matter any further. Sensing this, Matthew refrained from asking more questions.
The two of them, accompanied by Tom the cat, continued their journey through the Forbidden Forest.
They walked for nearly half an hour, venturing deeper into the forest. The trees grew denser, and the trails became almost impassable. Suddenly, Tom’s hair stood on end, and it tensed up completely.
“It seems we’re getting close.” Professor Kettleburn whispered in a low voice. He retrieved his wand, this time using his left hand instead of his prosthetic leg.
“Meow~” Tom let out a cry, facing the depths of the woods ahead. The cry carried a sense of hostility, like a warning or demonstration.
Through the tangled branches of an old oak tree, they caught a glimpse of a clearing up ahead. “Is that where those creatures reside?” Professor Kettleburn mumbled to himself. Waving his wand, he caused the lush branches to disperse, creating a path.
“Wait!” Professor Kettleburn exclaimed, raising his arm to halt Matthew, who was about to pass. He muttered, “What’s that?”
A gleaming white object lay on the ground. Professor Kettleburn’s expression turned serious as he moved closer to examine it.
“Oh, Merlin’s beard!” he exclaimed.
Matthew noticed a slight trembling in Professor Kettleburn’s body. Despite facing over twenty Centaurs before, the Hogwarts gamekeeper had never appeared so alarmed. Curiosity getting the better of him, Matthew hurriedly approached and saw the white object.
There was no doubt about it—it was the lifeless body of a magical creature.
Matthew could never have imagined encountering such a juxtaposition of beauty and misery. The creature resembled a horse, but its fur was softer, whiter, and more radiant than that of an ordinary horse.
Its slender legs remained in the position they were in when it fell, unnaturally extended. Its mane spread out flat on the leaf-covered ground, white as the most precious pearl.
But it was dead. Undeniably dead.
A hint of silver-blue blood stained the area surrounding it.
Finally, Matthew realized that the traces he had seen on the fallen leaves were not a figment of his imagination.
“Unbelievable,” Professor Kettleburn knelt and took a deep breath. “This is a unicorn. It has been murdered.”
“A unicorn!” Matthew exclaimed, shocked by the sight before him.
From his previous reading in the textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” he knew the unicorn to be a docile creature, yet possessing strength far beyond its appearance. Adult unicorns could battle elephants and even fire-breathing dragons, and they were incredibly fast.
Ordinary wizards found it immensely challenging to capture them. Unicorns were considered one of the top magical creatures in the food chain.
But now, before his very eyes, lay the quiet corpse of a unicorn.
“The blood has been drained,” Professor Kettleburn examined the wound on the unicorn’s neck, his expression grim. “The perpetrator… they haven’t been gone for long… the body is still fresh…”
“Could it be… a vampire?” Matthew asked softly, feeling somewhat foolish even as the words left his mouth.
“No, it’s impossible for a vampire to successfully attack a unicorn. Their powers are not on the same level,” Professor Kettleburn responded without hesitation.
“In that case…” Matthew hesitated for a moment before asking again, “Where is the vampire?”
This time, Professor Kettleburn didn’t answer. He simply stared quietly at the unicorn’s lifeless form, his expression grave.
“Professor Kettleburn?” Matthew whispered once more.
Professor Kettleburn snapped out of his reverie as if waking from a dream. “It seems that what the horses were saying is true. There’s something in this forest that I’m unable to handle. I must inform Professor Rosier about this,” he murmured. “Who would have thought that an after-school practice would lead to such an unexpected turn of events.”
Matthew cast a wary glance at the woods behind them. He could sense an impending danger lurking within, ready to pounce on them at any moment. He tightened his grip on the teapot, feeling a heightened sense of alertness.
“Mr. Wickfield, our after-school practice is over,” Professor Kettleburn declared, shouldering the unicorn’s body with his prosthetic leg. “Shall we make our way back to the castle now?”
Matthew looked down the dark trail with unease. When they had ventured into the forest, he had known nothing, and it hadn’t bothered him much. But now, with the gloomy expanse of trees stretching before him, he couldn’t shake off the feeling of imminent danger.
“Don’t worry, I have a solution.” Professor Kettleburn reassured him with a smile. Raising his wand, he shot a red spark into the sky.
Matthew had no idea what Professor Kettleburn had summoned, but he expected a long wait. However, to his surprise, within a few minutes, a peculiar creature emerged from the branches and leaves above their heads.
It was a strange hybrid—a creature with the body, hind legs, and tail of a horse, but the front legs, wings, and head of an eagle. Its beak was cold and razor-sharp, and its eagle claws extended at least half a foot long, sending shivers down his spine.
The creature’s large, bright orange eyes glanced at Matthew briefly before shifting their gaze to Professor Kettleburn.
“Good boy,” Professor Kettleburn patted the creature on the shoulder and then gestured for Matthew to approach.
“Come on, Wickfield, this is a Gryffin! Climb onto its back.”
Matthew hesitated for a moment before stepping forward. As he neared the creature, it displayed a hint of displeasure. But with a gentle pat on its head from Professor Kettleburn, it quickly settled down.
Both Matthew and Professor Kettleburn climbed onto the creature’s back. Professor Kettleburn secured the unicorn’s corpse and bid farewell to Tom the Kneazle.
With a powerful surge, they ascended into the sky.
Matthew hugged the creature’s neck, closing his eyes as they maneuvered through the dense foliage. And then, a vast expanse of sky unfolded before him.
They soared through the blue heavens, breathing in the crisp air. The entire Forbidden Forest lay beneath them, visible in all its majesty.
They pierced through the sky with one destination, Hogwarts.
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