After returning from Hogsmeade Village, the three of them freshened up and changed into their clothes, heading to the Great Hall to attend the Halloween dinner together.

The hall was adorned with hundreds of pumpkin lanterns, fluttering bats, and numerous flame-spitting orange streamers lazily drifting beneath the ceiling like brilliant water snakes.

The banquet served exquisite food, and a sense of happiness filled the air.

The dinner concluded with an entertaining display provided by the resident ghosts.

Specters emerged from the walls and tables, creating a parade, and Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost, humorously reenacted his near-beheading situation.

Everyone thought it had been a delightful evening.

However, the cheerful atmosphere took a dramatic turn less than ten minutes after dinner.

An aura of panic enveloped the castle once more.

Upon finishing dinner, Skyler returned to the Slytherin common room with fellow housemates. Still, Harry and his friends discovered a commotion in front of the Gryffindor common room by the portrait of the Fat Lady.

Nearly Headless Nick was gleefully dancing on top of the crowd.

Before they could make their way through the hall, Professor Dumbledore hurried to the scene.

Gryffindor students made way for him, and Harry and his companions moved closer to see what the commotion was about.

Before them, the portrait of the Fat Lady had been severely vandalized.

Fragments of the portrait and small canvas pieces were strewn about, and the larger canvas had been ripped from its frame.

“Professor McGonagall, please inform Filch immediately to search for the Fat Lady in every painting in the castle,” Dumbledore requested urgently.

“Good luck!” giggled a voice from above.

It was Peeves the Poltergeist who loved causing mischief.

He was hopping about on top of everyone’s heads, seemingly delighted by the misfortune.

“What did you say, Peeves?” Dumbledore inquired calmly, and Peeves’ grin faded as he realized he shouldn’t laugh in front of the Headmaster.

He adopted a more obsequious tone, though it wasn’t much better than his previous giggles.

Peeves stammered, “I’m sorry, Mr. Headmaster! She didn’t want to be seen, so she caused a ruckus. I saw her running past the landscape painting on the fifth floor, sir, hiding among the trees, sobbing and saying something dreadful.”

“Did she mention who did this?” Dumbledore inquired quietly.

“Oh, well, let’s see, Headmaster!” Peeves replied with exasperation, holding a large bomb in his arms. “She wouldn’t let him in, and he was rather cross, you know. He’s got a terrible temper, this Sirius Black!”

Hearing Peeves’ words, there was a collective gasp of surprise. Sirius Black had broken into the castle and even attempted to enter the Gryffindor common room.

It was a frightening revelation!

Luckily, it was Halloween, and no one was in the tower. Dumbledore instructed all students to return to the Great Hall immediately.

To ensure their safety, the faculty would conduct a thorough search of the castle.

The story now returns to Skyler.

After the dinner, the young Slytherin witches and wizards gathered in the common room, buzzing with excitement.

Skyler and their fellow third-year classmates took a corner and shared their experiences from their day in Hogsmeade.

For example, Nott and Blaise eagerly described Ms. Rosmerta’s beauty to Skyler, Pansy, and her friends showed off their shopping finds…

At that moment, Prefect Gemma burst into the common room. “Attention, everyone! Head to the Great Hall!” Her tone conveyed a sense of urgency, indicating something extraordinary had occurred.

“What’s going on, Gemma?” Skyler stood up and asked.

He and Gemma had been in communication during the summer vacation, and their relationship was close enough for a familiar address.

“I don’t know. This was ordered by Professor Dumbledore. Something must have happened,” Gemma replied with a note of anxiety. “Students from other houses have also been called over. We can’t be late!”

The Slytherin students once again filed out of the common room and hurried to the Great Hall.

Whether it was a psychological factor or not, the torches’ shadows projected on the walls, which usually appeared dignified, thick, and reliable, now created a sense of an eerie stage for a crowd of demons dancing.

“Something has occurred. The faculty and I will conduct a thorough search of the castle,” Professor Dumbledore informed the students.

His tone was far less cheerful than usual, carrying a mixture of dignity and concern.

At this point, the four house heads together sealed all the doors of the Great Hall.

“For your safety, I believe it’s best for you to stay here for the night. I ask the prefects to stand guard at the entrance, and the Head Boy and girl will remain in the Great Hall to oversee the proceedings. Report any findings to me immediately,” Dumbledore instructed Percy and Penelope, with Percy appearing quite proud of his newfound responsibility. “Just find a ghost and pass along the message.”

As the professors left, the Great Hall buzzed with conversations, with Gryffindor students sharing their experiences with students from other houses.

“Lie down and rest now! We’ll extinguish the lights in ten minutes!” Percy declared with unabashed enthusiasm and pride.

Skyler pulled up four sleeping bags, arranging Daphne to his left and Meredith to his right.

Astoria, somewhat reluctantly, ended up on his left, separated from her sister. She expressed her concerns, “Do you think Black is still in the castle?”

Skyler replied indifferently, “I doubt he’s still here. Dumbledore is still in the castle. If Black hadn’t left, there would be no opportunity for him. Tonight, the professors’ search is destined to be futile.”

Meredith pondered for a moment and then posed a question, “How do you think Black got into Hogwarts?”

A shrewd look passed through Skyler’s eyes as he responded, “Apparition is impossible within Hogwarts. The Floo Network and Portkeys are also monitored. All significant passages, including the skies above, are guarded by Dementors, making Stealth magic useless. Transfiguration or complex concoctions might enable someone to infiltrate Hogwarts, but Black, a wanted fugitive, would be unlikely to do so without support, as both forms require specific information and ingredients. Given these impossibilities, the only plausible explanation is that Black has uncovered a secret passage known to no one else!”

The three girls observed Skyler’s rapid and systematic line of reasoning with admiration.

Skyler then took on a shrewd look and posed a new question, “Rather than speculating on this, it might be more useful to discuss what Black’s objective could be.”

Meredith pondered for a moment, “Isn’t it to kill Harry?”

Skyler’s lips curved slightly as he replied, “If the objective was to kill Harry, why choose this particular time today? Doesn’t he know that all the students are in the auditorium? Even if we assume he miscalculated upon realizing he couldn’t access the dormitory, why tear up the portrait?”

Meredith swiftly caught on, adding, “Indeed, there’s no point in tearing up the portrait unless it was meant to divert attention.”

Daphne hesitated before suggesting, “Could it be that his escape from Azkaban has affected his sanity?”

Skyler slowly shook his head and countered, “Do you think a mentally unstable person could escape from Azkaban, traverse miles from the North Sea, and infiltrate Hogwarts? His wanted status is known in both the wizarding and Muggle worlds, yet he has eluded capture. This shows his sanity is intact. It’s highly unlikely he’d undertake an action that brings no apparent benefit.”

He explained further, “Tearing the portrait served a purpose. If we hadn’t found it torn, we might never have known about Black’s intrusion. The fat lady’s revelation, her attacker, and Black’s ignorance of the painting wouldn’t be exposed. It suggests that the painting was ripped to silence her.”

Meredith felt a bit perplexed, struggling to keep up with Skyler’s thoughts. “So, you mean…”

Daphne responded, “You mean Black’s intent isn’t to harm Harry. Tearing the portrait was a distraction. In reality, he’s searching for something within Gryffindor Tower.”

Daphne quickly grasped the concept, even though she wasn’t as skilled in logic and reasoning as Skyler.

“That’s correct,” Skyler said, leaning over to kiss Daphne on the cheek, causing her to blush.

Meredith displayed a mixture of envy and sourness. “If we seek a motive for Black’s actions, he selected a time when the common room was vacant. He’s clearly searching for something. As for tearing the portrait, it’s merely a ruse to create a false assassination plot involving Harry! I’m certain he’ll return. When the professors are busy guarding Harry and concentrating on him, it will be his opportunity to strike again.”

Daphne and Meredith had grown used to Skyler’s intellect, but Astoria, seeing her idol in action for the first time, was left awestruck. Skyler had pieced the entire situation together from a few minor details, even outsmarting the professors.

Her eyes gleamed with admiration and reverence, and Daphne and Meredith, who had the privilege of being close to Skyler, couldn’t help but feel a touch of envy.

The four lapsed into silence, and as the quiet settled in, exhaustion caught up with them, lulling them into a peaceful slumber.

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Published On: December 16, 2023

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