The morning “farce” provided Matthew with some crucial information.
First and foremost, the book was not as all-powerful as he had previously believed. Perhaps Professor Slughorn’s initial assessment was correct—it was indeed a “feeble” and enigmatic dark magic item that had attacked the toad in the Leaky Cauldron Inn and Draco. After the encounters, it had lost its power.
Perhaps Matthew held a special “significance” to the book, causing it to refrain from attacking him.
In any case, Matthew no longer needed to worry about losing his life inadvertently.
During his “conversation” with the book, Matthew also discovered something else: he could learn about events happening around him through various means, but not from the book itself. It couldn’t even access its own memories.
In order to tempt him, the book presented three conditions.
However, Matthew didn’t need to know the source of all the attacks at Hogwarts, as he already had plenty of clues. The true face of Grindelwald didn’t interest him either as for learning powerful magic from a self-aware book.
Matthew believed that any wizard with a sound mind wouldn’t fall for such a claim.
If the book truly understood him, it wouldn’t have proposed these three unappealing conditions to Matthew.
With the book safely locked away in the drawer, Matthew felt a sense of relief. Finally, after enduring the “troublesome affliction” that had plagued him for four months, he could see a glimmer of hope.
As Matthew entered the Great Hall for dinner, he noticed significant changes.
Twelve sparkling Christmas trees surrounded the hall, ribbons danced in the air, and enchanted snow fell gently from the ceiling, warm and dry.
What caught his attention most was the rearrangement of the tables. The long table had been replaced with a large round table capable of seating thirty to forty people. Grindelwald, Rosier, Slughorn, Flitwick, Sinistra, Professor Sprout, and Mr. Pringle sat around the table.
The remaining seats were reserved for the students. The number of students from each grade who stayed at Hogwarts was almost exactly thirty.
As the students hesitantly gathered in the hall, they looked on in surprise at the spectacle before them.
“Merry Christmas, children!” Headmaster Grindelwald greeted them with a smile. “Vinda came up with this wonderful idea to make our Christmas more festive. Sit down, everyone!”
They proceeded to find their seats, chatting in small groups. Matthew sat far away from Professor Grindelwald.
Within ten minutes, everyone had arrived.
Professor Grindelwald announced to kick off the festivities, “First, some Christmas presents!”
He waved his hand, and colorful firecrackers rained down from above. One landed in front of Matthew, who gently pulled it. An explosion followed, engulfing Matthew and a few others in light green smoke.
Simultaneously, a heavy bearskin hat fell into Matthew’s hands, and he placed it on his head. Instantly, he felt warm and a sense of weight pressing down on him.
Mr. Pringle excitedly pulled out a colorful firecracker, which erupted into a shower of more than ten fleshy bones. Mr. Donald rushed over eagerly to collect them.
Meanwhile, Professor Grindelwald led a group of girls in singing his favorite Christmas carols.
Professor Slughorn downed a large glass of eggnog, causing him to hiccup, while Professor Rosier cast a disapproving glance at him.
The Christmas feast turned out to be even more extravagant than anticipated. Twenty plump roasted turkeys, piles of roasted meats and baked potatoes, lifelike tree trunk cakes, bowls of emerald green peas, and plates of prosciutto and small sausages adorned the tables.
For Matthew, it was his first experience of such a grand banquet. After the turkey, a red Christmas pudding was served.
As Hermione took a bite, she suddenly covered her teeth and spat out a silver sickle coin. “Oh my God,” she exclaimed, “I nearly broke my teeth.”
Professor Grindelwald led the applause, and the entire hall joined in, applauding Hermione’s unexpected find. In Muggle and Wizard traditions, silver coins like the sickle are placed in puddings at Christmas. Whoever discovers the coin in their slice is said to have wealth and good luck in the coming year.
Professor Slughorn raised a cup of eggnog, his face flushed, while Professor Rosier’s pointed black top hat sat crookedly on his head, displaying his lack of decorum. Professor Flitwick stood on a stool and sang loudly.
The entire hall felt like a big, joyous family at that moment.
The dinner lasted two hours until everyone’s stomachs filled with abundant food. Professor Grindelwald had left half an hour earlier, and some students began to scatter after his departure.
Justin Finch-Fletchley, Matthew’s neighbor at the Hufflepuff table, also started to leave, clutching various trinkets he had acquired from the colorful firecrackers.
Matthew picked up his heavy bearskin hat and followed suit. “Fletchley!” he called out.
“Hello, Wickfield… I can barely walk anymore,” Fletchley replied wearily.
During the banquet, the two had chatted casually, seeming to have become acquainted with each other.
“Me too,” Matthew nodded.
The Slytherin and Hufflepuff common rooms were in the basement, so they walked together briefly.
After about half a minute, Matthew casually asked, “I recall on the first day of your Christmas break, you were scolded by Professor Sprout and Professor Rosier. What happened?”
Justin Finley looked uncomfortable as he replied, “Yes, I was at the Three Broomsticks Inn that day and accidentally fell asleep. When I returned to the castle, I was late…”
“So…” Matthew inquired calmly, “Did you happen to see a witch wearing a thick black scarf in Hogsmeade that day?”
“The witch in the thick black scarf… The witch in the thick black scarf…” Justin Finley muttered, his eyes becoming somewhat unfocused.
Suddenly, he clutched his head in pain, dropping the trinkets from his hands onto the floor, “I’m sorry, Wickfield… I… I don’t remember anything.”
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