Matthew was unaware of the crisis his two friends were facing at that very moment.
He couldn’t have imagined such a situation.
From his perspective, Hermione and Neville should have returned to their common rooms after lunch in the auditorium.
The afternoon class was Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Matthew and the rest of the Slytherin first-year students entered the classroom.
The Defense Against the Dark Arts class was held jointly with Ravenclaw, but Matthew couldn’t spot Hermione among the Ravenclaw students.
Was she running late? That was uncommon for her.
As he pondered this, Matthew opened his “The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection” and started flipping through it, feeling bored.
Time passed, and several minutes into the class, Professor Rosier, had yet to show up.
This was an infrequent occurrence. Matthew began to wonder if something had happened.
They couldn’t wait much longer, and after another five minutes had passed, Mr. Pringle, the Caretaker, burst into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.
He shouted, “Today’s class with Professor Rosier is canceled. Everyone stays in the classroom and does not wander around. Your respective deans will come to pick you up and return you to your common rooms!”
“What’s going on?” Draco stood up and asked aloud.
“That’s none of your concern,” Mr. Pringle snapped at Draco. “Anyone caught outside their designated areas in the castle will be held responsible for any consequences.”
“What consequences?” Padma Patil from Ravenclaw asked curiously.
Mr. Pringle gave her a cold smile and replied, “Missing, injured, or dead…”
He briskly exited the classroom with those words, followed by Mr. Donald.
As Mr. Pringle left, the entire classroom erupted in chaos.
“What’s happening?” Draco, Vincent, and Gregory approached Matthew, eagerly discussing the situation.
“Didn’t a Hufflepuff student get attacked this morning?” Theodore calmly analyzed, “Could it be related to that?”
“But they should have informed us in the morning!” Draco voiced his dissatisfaction.
“Matthew,” Gregory turned to him, “What do you think?”
“Perhaps…” Matthew hesitated momentarily and replied, “What has happened since the attack on the Hufflepuff student this morning?”
He glanced at the Ravenclaw again but still couldn’t spot Hermione. Suddenly, Matthew’s mind raced to a troubling possibility.
His words sent a wave of panic through the boys. If there were two attacks at Hogwarts in one day, they had to start considering their own safety.
“I’m such a fool! I made a terrible mistake!” Draco regretted, “My father wanted to send me to Durmstrang, but I heard that Hogwarts was the best magical school in the world, so I insisted on coming here…”
“If I hadn’t come to Hogwarts, I wouldn’t have been targeted by dark magic and spent months in the school hospital… If I hadn’t come to Hogwarts, none of this would have happened…” Draco panicked.
“Enough, Draco,” Matthew gestured for Draco to stop speaking.
The head of Ravenclaw and Slytherin, Professor Flitwick, and Professor Slughorn entered the room while Draco was still rambling.
“Children, follow me!” Slughorn, usually wearing a smile, now had a serious expression. “I will take you back to the Slytherin common room.”
Over a dozen first-year Slytherin students formed two lines and followed Professor Slughorn.
“Hogwarts has not been so peaceful these days!” Slughorn sighed. “Remember, you are strictly forbidden to leave the Slytherin common room today and the upcoming weekends.”
“Do we have to stay in the common room for two and a half days?” Vincent asked.
“What about meals, then?” Greengrass asked with a weary expression.
“Exactly, Mr. Crabbe.” Slughorn replied, glancing at Crabbe and then Greengrass. “Miss Greengrass, don’t worry about meals. The house-elf will deliver food to your dormitory.”
“What the hell is going on, Professor?” Draco asked, puzzled.
“Draco, I’m afraid I can’t disclose that to you,” Professor Slughorn said, spreading his hands.
He stopped answering their questions and led them toward the Slytherin common room.
He looked around vigilantly along the way, especially when they passed the eerie fork in the corridor.
Silence prevailed during the journey.
They finally reached the stone door of the Slytherin common room.
The first-year students entered one by one while Matthew lingered at the back of the line.
Until he and Professor Slughorn were the only ones left outside the door.
“Professor Slughorn,” Matthew spoke softly, “What happened? Can you tell me… I swear I won’t tell anyone else!”
“Well, Matthew… if I were to tell only one person…” Slughorn sighed and lowered his voice.
“The Hospital Wing was attacked, there’s a mess with blood everywhere… Madam Pomfrey was knocked unconscious. She hasn’t woken up yet… And besides…”
Slughorn hesitated for a moment.
“There are other victims?” Matthew asked with a serious tone.
“Yes, two first-year students… Neville Longbottom and Hermione Granger,” Slughorn sighed. “They are both missing… Professor Rosier is leading the entire school in a search for them.”
Matthew’s heart sank. It seemed his worst fears had come true.
He took a deep breath and continued, “By the way, Professor, you mentioned that we are forbidden to leave the Slytherin common room these days…”
“That’s correct, Matthew,” Slughorn smiled. “I know you wouldn’t want to be left in the dark. I changed the password to the entrance and made it so that attempts to leave the common room would trigger its effectiveness… None of you know the new password, so none of you can leave the common room.”
“But, Professor,” Matthew said earnestly, “did you forget that there was an incident in the common room before… If something goes wrong here these days, we won’t be able to leave… and there’s nothing worse than that!”
“You’re right, Matthew.” Slughorn contemplated, nodding in agreement.
“You should at least inform the prefects of the password,” Matthew suggested.
“You can pass them a message from me. I need to join the search for Longbottom and Granger,” Professor Slughorn agreed. “Remember, no one should know the password except the prefects.”
“Of course!” Matthew nodded without hesitation.
“The new password is…” Professor Slughorn lowered his voice.
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