Matthew and Professor Slughorn crossed the road and entered the small bar a few minutes later. The bar was warm and smoky, filled with a bustling crowd.
At the bar, a woman with a beautiful appearance and an elegant figure was busy greeting a group of noisy wizards. A bald-headed middle-aged wizard carried a tray with five or six wine glasses of different colors, serving them to various tables.
“Rosmerta!” Slughorn called out.
“Oh, Professor Slughorn!” an attractive woman wearing glittery open-toed high-heels abandoned the other guests and quickly approached Matthew and Professor Slughorn. “What a rare visit! How many of you are there? Would you like a table upstairs?”
“No, no, no… It’s just me and Matthew today!” Professor Slughorn replied with a smile.
“Alright, follow me, please!” Ms. Rosmerta led the two guests behind the bar.
Between the windowsill and a beautiful Christmas tree, he found them a good spot—an empty table by the fireplace. Matthew waited for Slughorn to take his seat before sitting down himself.
“Is there anything you need, Professor Slughorn?” Ms. Rosmerta asked eagerly.
“Two glasses of Mulled Mead!” Professor Slughorn looked at Matthew generously and smiled. “Merry Christmas, Matthew. It’s my treat today! Rosemerta’s mead has over ten years of history and is quite famous in Europe!”
“Alright, please wait!” Mr. Rosmerta acknowledged before hurrying off.
“Wait, didn’t Professor Slughorn mention butterbeer before?” Matthew wondered to himself.
“Merry Christmas to you too, Professor Slughorn!” Matthew quickly replied respectfully.
“No need to be so formal, Matthew.” Professor Slughorn shook his head with an indifferent expression. “It’s vacation time now; you don’t have to treat me like a Professor! You can even call me ‘Horace’ if you want…”
“Alright, Professor Slughorn,” Matthew agreed.
At that moment, Ms. Rosmerta arrived with two glasses of mead.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, due to severe water pollution caused by the industrial revolution in Britain, and the lack of reliable water purification methods, alcohol, especially beer, was considered a cleaner drink than water for most people.
This habit gradually spread to the wizarding world, so even children in their early teens drinking alcohol was considered normal, except for highly concentrated spirits.
While Professor Slughorn seemed to enjoy the mead, Matthew found its taste somewhat repulsive, like rotten apples.
Nevertheless, he had to drink it with a forced smile. Strangely, as he took a few sips, the chill he had felt earlier vanished, and his body warmed up.
“Why aren’t you going home, child?” Professor Slughorn asked, savoring his wine. “It’s Christmas now.”
“I’m a Muggle-born student, Professor,” Matthew answered honestly.
“Oh, I see…” Professor Slughorn paused and burst into laughter. “I almost forgot… Haha… A Slytherin Muggle-born child, how rare!”
From Professor Slughorn’s expression, it was clear that he didn’t care about blood or lineage.
“Yes, Professor,” Matthew replied with a sip of mead before asking innocently, “Why did Mr. Percival from the Hog’s Head Inn get extremely angry when I casually asked how long his bar has been open?”
“Percival…” Slughorn’s face turned serious. He didn’t answer directly, saying instead, “That strange old man is a troublemaker, Matthew. I suggest you stay away from him.”
“I understand, Professor,” Matthew nodded quickly.
“But speaking of the Hog’s Head Inn’s age… it’s been around for quite a few years, nearly 50 or 60, I can’t remember exactly,” Professor Slughorn pondered, tilting his head. “Why do you ask, Matthew?”
“I just noticed that the stain on the floor seems about fifty or sixty years old,” Matthew replied softly.
Professor Slughorn couldn’t help but laugh, and Matthew joined in. But underneath his smile, Matthew’s expression grew serious.
The fact that the Hog’s Head Inn hadn’t changed owners in 50 or 60 years meant it likely had connections to the Order of the Phoenix, and the bartender might be associated with Aberforth Dumbledore.
It was valuable information, even if it seemed meaningless to him at the moment. In the future, it could prove to be useful.
Matthew and Professor Slughorn continued their conversation by the fire, discussing ordinary topics. Professor Slughorn seemed to be in a good mood, and their chat was enjoyable.
As Professor Slughorn’s glass of mead gradually emptied, he said, “I’m planning to visit Madam Malkin’s later to buy a new robe. What are your plans, Matthew?”
“I’m going to Honeydukes Sweet Shop—” Professor Slughorn interrupted him Before Matthew could finish his sentence.
Professor Slughorn laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “Ah, Ambrosio Flume’s candies are truly irresistible to you youngsters. But I don’t have a taste for such sweets… So let’s skip that, Matthew!”
As he spoke, Professor Slughorn began rummaging through his pockets.
“I’ll take care of the bill, Professor!” Matthew hurriedly offered.
“There’s no need for students to pay,” Slughorn declined firmly, then proceeded to the bar to settle the bill with Mrs. Rosmerta.
This surprised Matthew a little. Was Professor Slughorn always this generous in the original book? Or was there something that made him particularly happy today?
However, Matthew quickly ran out of time to contemplate as something else caught his attention—a more important matter.
When he had left the Hog’s Head Inn earlier, he had noticed the witch with the thick black scarf trailing them discreetly.
He assumed she was tracking Professor Slughorn since she had no apparent connection or grudges in the wizarding world. So when Professor Slughorn left, Matthew stayed behind alone.
Now that Professor Slughorn was gone, the mysterious witch occasionally glanced in Matthew’s direction.
“Could it be that I am her target?” Matthew thought to himself.
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