The sudden and significant loss didn’t seem to affect Professor Slughorn, who continued to enthusiastically introduce his precious collection to the students.

During their “practice after class” sessions, Matthew and Draco wore Dragon leather gloves in the Potions classroom storage room.

They meticulously cleaned Japanese pufferfish with Murtlap Essence and carefully extracted their eyeballs, a delicate task but not a heavy workload.

As they completed their tasks, the three students from the “second group” in the potions classroom still had about half of their work remaining.

The difference in Professor Slughorn’s treatment was evident.

At lunchtime, Matthew went to the auditorium and was surprised that everything was calm and normal.

It didn’t seem like the aftermath of another attack. Perhaps the incident hadn’t been publicized yet, so most students were unaware.

Matthew speculated on who the fourth victim might be, but his attempts to scan the auditorium proved futile.

It was nearly impossible to spot a missing person among so many students.

After a simple meal, Matthew planned to visit the library and borrow some books to return to the Slytherin common room.

He didn’t need to go to the potions classroom to sort out herbs since today’s “after-school practice” with Professor Slughorn and Draco was already completed.

Just as Matthew was leaving the auditorium, two familiar faces, Hermione and Neville, suddenly appeared before him, blocking his way.

“Hermione and Neville?” Matthew looked at them with surprise. “What’s the matter?”

Hermione and Neville had serious expressions, which you wouldn’t expect from a child their age.

“We need to talk to you, Matthew,” Neville’s voice sounded hoarse. “Are you free now?”

“Of course,” Matthew hesitantly nodded.

He observed Neville, who looked tall and handsome but now appeared disheveled with dark circles under his eyes as if he hadn’t rested well.

“What happened, Neville?” Matthew asked with concern. “You seem to be in bad shape. By the way, is your punishment over?”

“It’s over for a special reason,” Neville said hoarsely. “Come with us, Matthew!”

The three of them went to the nearest History of Magic classroom, which was empty and dark since it was Saturday and no one was present.

Neville closed the curtains, and Hermione quietly closed the door.

They were cautious and seemed somewhat secretive. Finally, the three gathered around a torch, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of secret agents from MI6.

“What’s the matter?” Matthew asked softly.

“Matthew, do you know…” Neville’s voice carried a heavy tone. “Just yesterday, there was another attack. Someone went missing, and the hidden attacker in the school likely took them!”

This aligned with what Minister Millicent Bagnold had mentioned earlier.

“Who went missing?” Matthew furrowed his brow and asked seriously.

“Justin… Justin Finch-Fletchley, a first-year Hufflepuff,” Hermione whispered from the side.

Due to the closed curtains and doors, the surroundings were dark, making it impossible to see each other’s faces.

They would have been surprised if Hermione and Neville had seen Matthew’s face. Relief washed over Matthew as he heard the news.

“When did it happen?” Matthew continued to inquire.

“Just yesterday afternoon,” Neville lowered his voice. “I experienced it personally.”

“Justin and I were still in confinement. We were tasked with carrying bags of feed for Professor Kettleburn to the Forbidden Forest. But when we entered the forest, it was just the two of us. When we left, I was the only one remaining…” Neville said while his voice getting lower and trembled…

“I didn’t realize when Justin disappeared. In fact, I didn’t notice it at all!” He mustered the courage to continue. “It was Professor Kettleburn who alerted me, and that’s when I realized I was the only one left… Professor Kettleburn gathered his friends and searched the entire Forbidden Forest, but we couldn’t find Justin’s whereabouts, not even his body…”

Neville couldn’t hold back his tears as he spoke.

“I’m responsible… poor Justin. If I had noticed his absence earlier, I could have informed the teachers and maybe brought him back…” Neville said while sobbing.

“It’s not your fault, Neville… it’s not your fault…” Matthew whispered.

“I’ve been trying to convince Neville,” Hermione interjected. “Justin’s disappearance has nothing to do with him. He shouldn’t blame himself.”

Neville wiped away his tears, trying to gather himself.

“Justin’s disappearance ended my confinement early,” he chuckled self-deprecatingly. “Of course, I’m forbidden from publicizing this matter, or I’ll face even harsher punishment… but I wanted to share this news with you secretly.”

“You’re right, Neville,” Matthew said while trying to calm Neville.

He looked at Neville’s wrists, where obvious marks from iron chains remained. They were the remnants of his punishment.

“Do you mean this?” Neville noticed Matthew’s gaze and raised his hands.

His voice brimmed with determination. “I’m not afraid. These minor injuries mean nothing… Matthew, I believe I haven’t done anything wrong! Even if Hogwarts is closed for the rest of the semester, I don’t care about my punishment.”

“Neville…” Matthew observed his friend intently.

There was a glimmer of courage in Neville’s eyes where the tears once were; his blurry eyes ironically seemed beautiful.

It would be strange for us to find courage in desperation just as Neville’s eyes shined through the dark room.

Matthew witnessed Neville’s stare, unaware something had been lit in his heart.

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Published On: August 15, 2023

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