In the corridor outside the common room, a festive ribbon adorned with holly and mistletoe swayed gently, adding a touch of holiday spirit.

The armor and portraits lining the corridor gleamed, having been diligently polished and cleaned.

Inside the auditorium, Professor Flitwick meticulously decorated the Christmas tree with sparkling icicles and delicate candles…

Even though Christmas hadn’t arrived yet, the air was filled with anticipation and joy.

Three of the four long tables in the auditorium had been moved against the walls, leaving only the last one in the centre.

It seemed odd to use the entire dining space when most students had already departed for the holidays.

Matthew noticed a small group of nearly a dozen students sitting at the remaining long table, enjoying their breakfast.

Most of their faces were unfamiliar to him, likely Muggle-born students who, like himself, didn’t have a place to call home during the break.

As he pondered, Matthew realized that most of the people he had acquainted himself with at Hogwarts had also left the school, with a few exceptions like Hermione from Ravenclaw and Evans from Gryffindor.

They seemed to have chosen to remain at Hogwarts, though they were currently absent from the table.

Finding an empty spot at the long table, Matthew took a seat.

The breakfast during the Christmas holidays was more lavish than usual. Alongside the regular fare, there were gingerbread, Yule log cake, smoked salmon, smoked ham, and delectable turkey sandwiches…

The flavors were delightful, and Matthew quickly finished his breakfast.

As Evans entered the auditorium, he dropped his half-eaten turkey sandwich and promptly left the room.

Observing from the podium, Professor Rosier shot Matthew a stern look, expressing her disapproval of the wasteful behavior.

Leaving the castle behind, Matthew embarked on a path he hadn’t walked since his arrival over three months ago.

The grand school gate, crafted from steel, swung open before him, adorned with magnificent stone pillars. The largest of them featured a winged boar perched at its apex.

Mr. Pringle, seated lazily at the gate, held a registration form in his hand. “Name, house, and year?” he inquired coldly.

“I am Matthew Wickfield, a first-year student in Slytherin,” Matthew replied.

Mr. Pringle scribbled a few lines on the form before him, then waved his hand dismissively. “Remember to return before dark, or you shall be responsible for your safety!” he cautioned.

“Understood,” Matthew nodded, acknowledging the warning.

With that, he stepped through the gate, leaving behind the confines of Hogwarts.

The road to Hogsmeade Village was a rugged path covered in thick, white snow.

This route was familiar for older students, as they would traverse it every year, riding the carriages pulled by Thestrals from Hogsmeade Station to the Hogwarts campus.

As a first-year student, Matthew had not walked this path before, having arrived at the school by boat across the Black Lake.

He encountered a few other individuals along the way, which was unsurprising given that only Hogwarts students typically used this road, and most had already departed for the holidays.

Despite the discomfort, Matthew pressed on, trudging through the thick snow that chilled his exposed face, causing it to ache and eventually numb.

After approximately fifteen minutes of walking, Matthew reached a fork in the road.

One path led to Hogsmeade Station, where the Hogwarts Express would stop, while the other led to Hogsmeade itself.

Opting for the small road leading to Hogsmeade Village, Matthew continued for another five minutes until he arrived at his destination.

Contrary to the desolate atmosphere at Hogwarts, Hogsmeade Village buzzed with activity.

As the only all-wizard village in Britain, Hogsmeade remained vibrant even during the students’ holidays.

Shops lined the streets, and individuals from the magical community roamed about, unaware of the world outside their enchanting bubble.

The village consisted of charming thatched cottages, their rooftops blanketed in snow. In celebration of Christmas, the trees surrounding the village were adorned with magical candles.

Many of the small shops in Hogsmeade were renowned among Hogwarts students.

The Honeydukes Sweetshop, offering an array of chocolates and magical candies, bustled with customers.

The Zonko’s Joke Shop, selling a variety of prank materials and tricks, was a favorite among mischievous students.

Prominent establishments were two broomstick pubs serving butterbeer, hot mead, red wine, and cherry juice.

However, Matthew passed by these bustling shops, one after another.

Finally, he reached a small pub at the intersection of a side road.

Upon seeing the scene before him, Matthew was slightly taken aback.

It bore a striking resemblance to the book description—an old wooden sign, tattered and hanging from a rusty bracket on the door, portrayed a severed pig’s head stained with blood on a white cloth.

Scrawled on the sign, crookedly but legibly, were the words: “Hog’s Head.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Matthew took a step forward and gently knocked on the door.

There was no immediate response.

He raised his hand and knocked once more.

After waiting for approximately thirty seconds, the door creaked open.

An old, grotesque-looking man appeared, tall and thin with gray hair and beard.

Yet, these were not the most striking features. What truly caught one’s attention were the dozens of scars that marred the old man’s face, rendering him disfigured and possibly terrifying to a timid person.

To Matthew’s surprise, he didn’t catch a whiff of the anticipated scent of sheep from the man or the pub itself.

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Published On: August 2, 2023

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