The punishment of Fletchley and Neville had now lasted for two weeks.

During the first two weeks of the new semester, Matthew frequently witnessed the two of them under the supervision of Mr. Pringle, carrying heavy objects and chains and performing various chores in the corridors.

Mr. Donald was always watching them closely to prevent any slacking.

Hogwarts had a reputation for administering severe punishments to students who seriously violated school rules, and this confinement served as a reminder of that fact.

Mr. Pringle said, “This helps students think twice before violating school rules… Work and hardship are often the best teachers.”

Mr. Pringle also expressed regret that the old-fashioned punishment method, which involved hanging rule-breaking students from the ceiling by their wrists for several days, had been abolished fifty years ago.

According to him, most students became obedient after a few days of such punishment.

Reflecting on the situation, Matthew felt grateful that Professor Rosier’s planned “confinement” punishment for him around Halloween had been canceled due to Professor Trocar’s intervention.

He now understood why the new Hogwarts regime was far better than he remembered.

Even the Weasley twins, known for their penchant for breaking the rules, seemed to have transformed into law-abiding students—at least on the surface.

On a Friday at the end of January, the first-year Slytherin dormitory received instructions for their first practical class of the new semester.

Tomorrow, on Saturday, they were scheduled for a practical session with Professor Slughorn, the Head of Slytherin House.

At 8:30 on Saturday morning, the five boys gathered at the entrance of the potions classroom after finishing their breakfast.

There were no unexpected incidents this time, such as Professor Slughorn falling ill.

The potions teacher greeted them with a smile as he opened the door and waited for them inside.

“Good morning, boys!” he exclaimed cheerfully, although his gaze focused primarily on Matthew and Draco, seemingly ignoring the other three boys.

The group of five replied in unison, “Good morning, Professor Slughorn.”

Professor Slughorn announced that they would practice handling medicinal materials that morning.

He divided them into two groups: Matthew and Draco would be in the first group with him, while the remaining three boys: Vincent, Gregory, and Theodore formed the second group.

With a slow, deliberate stride, Professor Slughorn made his way to a large cabinet in the potions classroom.

“Students from the second group,” Professor Slughorn began as he retrieved a handful of dried nettles, a large bottle of Flobberworm mucus, a bag of bat spleens, and a whole piece of dried dragon liver from the cupboard, “Your task is to…”

He explained the specific instructions for each item: neatly packaging the dried nettles, filtering the Flobberworm mucus to remove impurities, grinding the bat spleens into powder, and cutting the dragon liver into small pieces to be stored in a crystal bottle.

He concluded by telling them to seek help if they didn’t understand anything.

Vincent, Gregory, and Theodore displayed disgust at the sight of the dirty potion ingredients.

Nevertheless, they couldn’t disobey the teacher’s orders and began rolling up their sleeves to commence the work.

Before Crabbe could grab the Dragon’s liver, Professor Slughorn called out to him, expressing concern. “Wait, little fellow! Don’t forget to wear dragon leather gloves. That dragon liver is worth at least 30 galleons, and it would be a shame if it got contaminated!”

Observing the three boys from the “Second Group” donning the dragon leather gloves and beginning their tasks, Professor Slughorn appeared satisfied.

He then turned his attention back to Matthew and Draco.

“Matthew and Draco, you two come with me,” he instructed, pointing towards a hut inside the classroom.

Contrary to the haphazard arrangement of the medicinal materials in the outer cabinet, the inner room housed tall potion racks, neatly displaying a variety of peculiar ingredients.

“Perhaps you’d be interested in seeing my prized collection!” Slughorn proclaimed triumphantly to Matthew and Malfoy. “I dare say that even the most renowned European apothecaries would envy my assortment. They have warehouses with herbs, but mine is far more complete!”

Matthew gazed at the potion racks, unable to recognize many ingredients.

“If you ever need anything, feel free to ask me. Borrowing some wouldn’t be a problem!” Professor Slughorn offered as he approached the shelf closest to them.

He pointed to a small bottle on the left side and said, “This is Japanese pufferfish eyes. Extremely toxic! A bottle like this would cost at least two hundred galleons on the market…”

Professor Slughorn’s eyes scanned the rows of crystal bottles before continuing, “And then there’s Dragon blood… 22 different types of fire Dragon blood. I’ve collected them all, except for the Ukrainian Ironbelly!”

Opening another box, he added, “Of course, there’s Boomslang skin, a highly prized ingredient. A whole piece would cost at least 100 gallons on the market, and I have an ample supply.”

As Professor Slughorn spoke, he suddenly paused, his expression turning perplexed. “Wow!” he exclaimed in surprise. “I distinctly remember having seven intact Boomslang skins. Why are there only six left?”

Matthew’s mind raced as he recalled the significance of African tree snake skin.

“Could it be that a thief broke in here?” Draco whispered, his voice low. “Professor, would you like us to check which missing ingredients?”

“Yes, that’s a good idea. I’ll search again,” Professor Slughorn replied, his nerves evident. He abandoned his introduction of the collection and began rummaging through the cabinets.

Ten minutes later…

Professor Slughorn sat on the floor of the potions classroom, a look of desolation on his face. “The Bicorn’s horn is also missing… Damn! These two ingredients alone cost me at least 400 galleons…”

“The Boomslang skin and the Bicorn horns… could it be?” Matthew thought to himself.

“Professor Slughorn,” Matthew murmured, realization dawning. “If someone stole those two ingredients from you. Could it be that they intend to…”

“Yes,” Slughorn interrupted with a solemn expression. “They are preparing a Polyjuice Potion.”

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Published On: August 12, 2023

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