Chapter 2 : Cannons
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‘Alright, I guess you’re ready now’, the older of the two boys spoke to his younger friend, before reminding him, ‘so long as you keep your head…’
Greg Bennett eagerly followed Matthew Sawyer up the two flights of stairs that lead to the attic where Matthew’s wizarding collection lay, defended by a large, yellow and black laminated sign that proclaimed, ‘Danger – Fragile ceiling. Use crawling boards’.
‘So the roof’s not really dangerous?’ inquired Greg, a little apprehensively.
‘’Course it ain’t… mum and dad would never have left it so long, would they?’
Matthew stopped at the top of the second flight, in front of a well-worn, dark brown wooden door. He extracted his wand from his jeans pocket, carefully pressing it against the ornately carved brass lock on the right hand side of the door before gently easing it open to the sound of creaking and uncooperative hinges.
The attic was similar in décor to the door which protected it, with deep brown floorboards, wardrobes and bookcases contrasting against bare walls and the dim light offered through the dust-ridden moss green lampshade. Next to the bookcase, its shelves covered with a combination of battered leather-bound tomes, dishevelled piles of parchment and bottles, boxes and vials of various exotically-named potion ingredients, lay a well-polished broomstick that balanced against a majestic travelling trunk. One wall was dominated by a maroon and gold banner and what appeared to Greg to be a team photograph of some kind. His curiosity once again took hold. ‘Who’s that photo of?’
‘Why don’t you go and have look? The ceiling’s safe, honest!’
Greg edged across the attic towards the furthest wall. ‘Chudleigh Cannons,’ he read. ‘Who are they? Why are they moving?’
‘Wizards’ photos do that, mate,’ Matthew laughed, easing open the cord attached to the skylight and allowing the August sunshine into the attic. ‘They’re the best Quidditch team in the world.’
‘Quidditch?’ Greg looked back, blank again.
Matthew laughed. ‘I’d forgotten that you didn’t know anything about anything.’
‘Hey,’ Greg retorted, hurt. ‘That’s not true!’
‘Sorry, mate,’ Matthew jogged across the room and dropped his hand around his friend’s shoulders. ‘It’s not your fault, mate. I was the same.’
‘Well, can you tell me some of these things then, Matty?’ Greg pleaded, the colour slipping out of his face once more.
‘Yes, Greg, sorry.’ He pulled his friend closer and smiled. ‘Just winding you up, mate. I’m gonna go and get some more lemonade – it’s too hot in here. I’m never usually here for more than about two minutes.’
Matthew scampered down the staircase, returning moments later with the two glasses and the bottle of drink. ‘Here you are, mate.’ He sat down on a red beanbag, nestling under the warm golden arc cast by the skylight, and poured out drinks for himself and the other boy.
‘Was it this hot in Spain?’ Greg copied his friend in taking a seat in the sunshine.
‘Yeah,’ Matthew smiled, ‘every day. I don’t think I’ve ever had a tan this good.’ He lifted his t-shirt up and over his head.
‘Cool,’ Greg smiled, nervously. ‘I just get sunburned when I take my top off,’ he pulled his own shirt off. ‘See,’ he pointed to a pink-red haze beneath the scattered freckles over his chest and shoulders.
‘You’ve just got to get used to it. Look at your arms.’ He pointed to his friend’s forearms, where the pink background faded into a hazelnut brown underneath a tighter mesh of freckles.
‘I guess.’ He looked back to the wall, holding his arms tightly across his bare shoulders. ‘So, who are the Cannons?’
‘My favourite Quidditch team, Greg.’ He sensed the next question. ‘Quidditch is the most popular sport in the wizarding world... it’s like a cross between football, rugby, basketball, and hide and seek – and it’s awesome.’
Greg stared at his friend, willing him to continue.
‘There are seven players on a team. Three are the chasers, whose job is to score goals through the hoops at each end of the pitch, and there’s one keeper – I bet you can guess what he has to do. Then there’s two beaters, who are meant to smash bludgers, like really heavy balls, at the other players to put them off, and then the most important player on the pitch – the seeker. He has to catch the golden snitch, a tiny, rapid golden ball, and if he does this then he gets 150 points... and his team almost always wins.’
Greg nodded, slowly. ‘If it’s so fast, how do you ever catch it?’
‘Oh yeah,’ Matthew laughed, ‘I forgot to tell you that – it’s all on broomsticks... which also makes it bloody dangerous if you fall off.’
Greg shivered, his mouth dropping open, as a swear word escaped from his lips. ‘Sorry...’
Matthew grinned. ‘It doesn’t matter, mate. I’ve said that before – and worse...’
Greg’s face had turned redder than the day-old sunburn over his shoulders. ‘I’ve never said the f-word, never.’
Matthew shrugged, taking a long gulp from his glass of lemonade. ‘You will.’
‘How do you know?’ Greg’s voice rose, challenging his friend’s accusation. ‘What makes you think I’m gonna say it?’
‘Cause, Greg, everybody does,’ he ruffled his friend’s hair, kindly. ‘It’s normal, mate. My dad says swearing’s a way of coping with things. Sometimes you’ve just got to do it. Like then, mate.’
Greg nodded slowly, dropping back onto the beanbag beside the older boy. ‘I guess...’
‘Mum says there’s a time and a place for it, though,’ Matthew continued, ‘don’t go and say it to the Headmistress on your first day!’
‘I wasn’t going to,’ Greg pleaded.
‘I know you weren’t, mate,’ Matthew laughed. ‘You do know you take things way too seriously, don’t you, Greg?’
‘I don’t mean to,’ the eleven-year-old defended himself. ‘I just hate it when I don’t know what’s going to happen...’ He hesitated. ‘I won’t know anyone else in my year, will I? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I’m crap at all the lessons? I don’t even know what lessons are like...’
‘Come on, Greg,’ Matthew stretched an arm around his friend’s shoulders. ‘When have you ever been crap at anything? When have you ever had no friends? Everyone is going to be new, mate – everyone. Some kids won’t even have an awesomely talented, handsome neighbour to help them out...’
‘Oh, piss off,’ Greg smiled, aiming a half-hearted swat towards his friend’s face before brushing the top of his forearm over his own reddened eyes.
‘All I’m saying, mate,’ Matthew returned his friend’s grin, ‘is that, whatever happens, it ain’t going to be the end of the world. No matter how much stuff you explode in Potions.’
Greg’s mouth started to fall open with shock before his friend’s laughter told him that, once again, the older boy was joking. ‘I told you your jokes were rubbish, Matt.’ He kicked out at his friend, who rolled away, still grinning, before Greg sought to change the subject. ‘Do you play Quidditch, then?’
For a wordless second, Matthew stared back at his friend, before switching his gaze to a hard-bound book on the low table at his side.
‘Do you?’ Greg repeated himself.
Matthew sighed. ‘Read this.’ He threw the thick leather volume the short distance towards his friend. ‘Page 136.’
Greg gasped as the book snapped open, riffling through its own pages to fall into his lap, as the other boy had asked, with page 136 facing upwards. ‘H... House Quidditch?’
‘You still have houses on sports day at Chudleigh Primary, don’t you?’ Matthew asked, but his eyes still looked in the opposite direction to his words, so that Greg had to answer with more than a nod. ‘Well, this is kind of the same.’
‘Alright...’ Greg glanced back down to the pages in front of him. ‘Gryffindor House retained the Quidditch Cup in 2005, completing a grand slam season with a resounding victory over Ravenclaw in the final game of the season.’ He looked back at his older friend, but still couldn’t meet his gaze. ‘Are you in Gryffindor?’
‘Keep reading,’ Matthew shrugged.
‘In a season memorable for a major change in the sport’s rules – the controversial introduction of a three-hour time limit, divided into three one-hour periods – many had expected scoring records to broken. For the first time in hundreds of years, games could end without the capture of the snitch.
What they had not counted on, however, was that the record for the all-time highest score would also fall – and in the opening match of the season, at that. Defending champions Gryffindor were the side to write their names into the history books, as they racked up 660 points to Slytherin’s 10.
As the match drew deep into the third period, it had seemed as if the pursuit of the snitch had become unimportant to Gryffindor, as seeker Jason Newitt joined in with his side’s chasers in shredding Slytherin’s beleaguered defence. With only minutes remaining until the bell, however, Newitt ducked away from an attacking move to pluck the snitch and bring the match to a crushing conclusion.
The final score eclipsed Ravenclaw’s 540-80 victory over Hufflepuff in the 1988 competition, although Gryffindor’s famous 490-410 triumph over the same opposition fifteen years earlier remains the highest-scoring fixture in the history of the school.
As this reporter asked defeated Slytherin captain, Matthew Sawyer – scorer of his side’s only goal in the 650-point mauling – the third-year’s response came back entirely unprintable. “Yeah, that’s what we thought of you as well,” a nearby Ravenclaw boy added as he overheard...’ Greg dropped the book, allowing to magically shut itself, and gazed back to his friend, who still didn’t meet the younger boy’s stare. ‘Matt? Is that you?’
‘No, who do you think it is?’ Matthew snapped, jerking his neck around to glare back – in time to see Greg turning away to stare at the floor. ‘Sorry...’ he added, belatedly, pushing himself up to cross the attic floor. ‘It’s not your fault we got hammered.’ He sat down alongside Greg’s slumped figure. ‘I didn’t mean to shout at you,’ he shook his head, ‘I never thought about how I’d explain this...’
Matthew reached his arm out, covering his friend’s sunburned shoulders, and let his eyelids fall shut as the story of the last Quidditch season replayed itself inside his mind. ‘660-10,’ he repeated the miserable scoreline. ‘660-10.’
‘Matt...?’ Greg stirred, brushing his straggled blond fringe away from his eyes as he shuffled against the beanbag for a space from which he could look into the other boy’s eyes. ‘Is that team for people in all the year groups?’
The older boy nodded silently.
‘Then how come you’re captain?’
‘I was captain, last year,’ Matthew corrected his friend. ‘They’ll never make me captain again, not after that.’
‘Did... did you lose your other games, as well?’ Greg bit his bottom lip as he asked another question.
Matthew nodded again, as Greg realised that the older boy hadn’t yet answered his first query. ‘You still haven’t told me why you were captain.’
‘Why does it matter?’ Matthew avoided the issue once again.
‘It’s my school, too,’ Greg didn’t move his gaze from Matthew’s forehead, ‘and anyway, you told me Hogwarts was great. You said Quidditch was awesome. Why’d you lie to me?’
‘I didn’t lie to you,’ Matthew’s eyes fixed on an old copy of the Daily Prophet that lay on the floor a few feet away from his left hand.
‘What?’ Greg stood up, abruptly. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ Matthew sniped back. ‘It’ll be great for you. You won’t end up in the mess I got into. You won’t try doing more than...’ He tailed off. ‘Doesn’t matter.’
Greg swallowed, feeling his heartbeat pattering against his ribcage as he watched his friend’s breathing grow shallow and hurried. ‘You’re hiding something.’ He repeated himself. ‘What is it? What happened, what don’t you want to tell me? How can you be sure that I won’t do the same thing?’
Matthew looked back into Greg’s eyes for the first time, and shook his head, slowly.
‘Fine!’ Greg shouted back. ‘I don’t know why the hell anyone would make you captain of anything, anyway, if this is how you treat other people.’ He watched the fourteen-year-old roll over, slipping face down into the beanbag. ‘No wonder you lost 600-10.’
‘660,’ Matthew wrenched his head upwards, his eyes burning. ‘If you’re going to take the piss, at least get your bloody facts right.’ He blinked, screwing his eyes shut to force their moisture out into the red rims. ‘Have you got anything else you’d like to blame me for?’
Greg shook his head, stumbling backwards into the grasp of the other attic beanbag as he gaped, horrified, at the blotched despair on the older boy’s face. ‘Matt...’
‘No.’ He blinked back his own tears. ‘I haven’t.’
‘Well, thank Merlin for that,’ Matthew glared back, before biting down another retort as he watched Greg hiding beneath his fringe, shivering despite the August heat. ‘You must think I’m an absolute idiot.’ He continued without waiting for a reply. ‘Well, you’re right.’ He pushed himself up into a sitting position. ‘I am hiding something, and it’s something I should tell you,’ he paused, feeling his cheeks blushing red, ‘I just don’t know how I should start...’
Greg didn’t answer, instead keeping his nervous stare fixed on the other boy’s face.
‘How about with your first question?’ Matthew asked, rhetorically. ‘How come a third-year ended up as captain?’ He sighed, as the memories of the last twelve months flooded back into his mind. ‘I’ll tell you, mate, I’ll tell you everything, I promise,’ he glanced around the room, ‘but not here.’ He shivered, grabbing for his own t-shirt and pulling it back on, before watching Greg do the same thing. ‘Let’s go down to my room.’
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