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Chapter 3 : House Points
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Greg managed a thin smile. ‘It’s my world as well now. I want to know what happened,’ he whispered.
‘Alright,’ Matthew nodded, shutting his eyes as he remembered his own first day at Hogwarts. ‘The first thing you need to know is about the Houses,’ he began. ‘It’s not like a normal school, where they’re all supposed to be the same size, and equal to each other. At Hogwarts, you get sorted based on who you are,’ he sighed.
‘If you’re brave, then you’re supposed to end up in Gryffindor. If you’re clever, then you go to Ravenclaw, hard workers get Hufflepuff, and then there’s Slytherin...’ he hesitated. ‘Slytherins are supposed to be cunning and ambitious,’ he looked up at the ceiling of his bedroom, ‘but ask anyone in any of the other Houses, and they’d tell you we’re selfish, bigoted Dark wizard scum.’ Matthew sighed, looking back at his friend as the colour slipped from the younger boy’s face.
‘I suppose I should tell you why,’ Matthew continued. ‘Seven years ago, the wizarding world was at war. A dark wizard called Voldemort, real scum,’ he spat the name, ‘tried to take down the whole world – the newspapers, the government, the school... everything. He nearly damn well managed it as well, but Hogwarts stood up to him, and they fought him. The final battle was in the school: the corridors, the classrooms, the hall, the grounds – everywhere.’ He shook his head. ‘Students died defending their school... defending it from an old gang of Slytherins who thought all that mattered was how pure your blood was.’
‘Were they all Slytherins?’ Greg asked.
Matthew answered with a forlorn nod. ‘Pretty much,’ he winced. ‘Now none of the new first-years want to be in Slytherin if they can help it, so it just ends up being the real tossers... and new kids who just don’t know any better.’
‘Like you?’ Greg ventured, and Matthew didn’t argue with his friend’s conclusion. ‘How does all of that make a difference to what House you’re in, though?’ The eleven-year-old continued.
‘The Sorting Hat.’ Matthew sighed. ‘It’s a really ancient piece of magic: you put it on, and it looks inside your mind,’ he recalled his first year. ‘It told me I was hungry to prove myself as a leader, and Slytherin would give me the opportunity to do just that.’ He shook his head. ‘So, like an idiot, I was dead keen to be sorted there. I didn’t know a thing about the War.’
‘It was right about being a leader, though, wasn’t it?’ Greg deduced. ‘How many other Houses had a third-year captain?’
‘How many other Houses got beat 660-10?’ Matthew answered back sharply, before apologising as he heard his own retort. ‘I wonder who’ll be captain this year...’ He wondered aloud. ‘They’ll find out today in their letter, I guess. I hope they do a better job than me.’
‘How do you know it won’t be you?’ Greg challenged his friend.
‘After that match?’ Matthew blinked. ‘Are you out of your mind? Would a football manager keep his job if his team got a hammering like that from their biggest rivals?’ He asked. ‘Imagine if City lost 10-0 to Plymouth.’
‘Have you looked at your letter yet?’
‘Fine.’ Matthew shook his head, pushing himself up from the bed to retrieve his own parchment from beside the front door. ‘All it’ll tell me is my book list for next year,’ he shrugged as he headed down the stairs, returning moments later with the envelope. ‘There you are,’ he shook out its contents onto his bed. ‘Letter, book list, nothing else. If I was captain, I would have got a badge.’
‘You’ve already got the badge.’
Matthew rolled his eyes, before lifting one of the sheets of paper up from his bedsheets. ‘Dear Mr Sawyer,’ he began to read. ‘Welcome back... Kings Cross... Hogsmeade... O.W.L. subjects...’ he skimmed. ‘Quidditch...’ Matthew swore, letting go of the parchment, which floated down slowly towards the bedroom floor. ‘You were right.’ He gazed into his friend’s eyes. ‘Wow.’
‘Well done, mate,’ Greg smiled.
‘You won’t say that when you’re in another House and you’re screaming at me from the stands to fall off my broom.’ Matthew shook his head.
‘What if I’m not in another House?’
‘You’ll be in another House,’ Matthew picked up his letter again, re-reading the book list. ‘You’re a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff. Not a Slytherin. You won’t want to talk to me... no one would let you talk to me, anyway.’
Greg stared back at his friend. ‘You said Hogwarts was brilliant,’ he spoke into the middle of the bedroom, rather than talking to the older boy.
‘It is,’ Matthew answered, slowly, ‘but it’s not just as simple as that. Yeah, some people are idiots and you don’t always get your own way, but it’s like that everywhere, isn’t it?’ He turned away. ‘Even if we stop being friends, you’ll still have a great time.’
‘I’m not going to stop being your friend,’ Greg insisted, ‘even if I am in a different House, so what?’
‘You don’t understand,’ Matthew smiled, wryly, ‘but thanks, anyway. I guess we can still be friends until September, at least.’ He shook himself, pushing up onto his feet. ‘Come on, we’ve got to send our replies back... and I need to write to Oscar. You can use my owl.’
Oscar Symons smiled as his keen eyes picked out he long, slow wingbeat of a familiar bird sloping towards him through the late evening sky. ‘Here, Charon,’ he called softly. ‘Here, girl.’ He held out his right arm and watched the owl swoop downwards, delivering the paper in its talons down into the boy’s hand.
I guess you’ve got your letter today? Have you seen the book list? I don’t like the look of that Arithmancy book.
You’ll never believe it, but one of the other kids in Chudleigh got a letter too. He’s starting his first year in September so we’re going to go to Diagon Alley on the 31st of August and stay over at the Leaky Cauldron before getting the train.
They also made me captain of Quidditch again. I guess they think we can’t do any worse than last year!!!
See you soon,
The fourteen-year-old grinned, sitting down on the warm metal of the of a wrought iron bench, squatting in the last rays of sunlight that crossed the paving slabs that tiled his family’s patio.
‘I told him he’d still be captain,’ Oscar spoke quietly to the tawny owl beside him as the bird pecked absently at the scraps of grass between the tiled floor. ‘I knew they’d never expect us to win anything with that team.’ He reached into the pockets of his corduroy shorts for the cold green metal of the badge he’d been carrying around since opening his own letter that morning. ‘School Prefect,’ Oscar read to himself. ‘Wait until Matt hears about this.’ He ran his other hand over the brushed fringe of his dull blond hair. ‘Wait until Kevin hears about this,’ he spat the second name. ‘Don’t go anywhere Charon, I’ll be back in a moment.’
He ducked back through the open glass door that led from the patio into the Symons family’s conservatory and onwards into the sprawl of their detached house, before emerging moments later with a spiral-bound notebook and biro.
Thanks for writing to me. I told you you’d be Quidditch captain again – who else were they going to pick? Kevin?!
I’ve got something else that will make that idiot even more jealous, though – a Prefect’s badge! I wonder what he’ll do when he finds out?
I’ll try and get my parents to take me to London on the 31st and stay at the Leaky Cauldron with you.
He pulled an almost-empty packet of cooked ham from his other trouser pocket, and tossed the remnants of the meat to Charon. Watching the owl devour the food hungrily, he slipped the letter into an envelope that had been concealed within the notepad, before tying his message onto the bird’s legs as it finished its meal.
‘Thanks, Charon,’ Oscar nodded as the bird squawked amiably before setting off on its return trip from the leaves of Berkshire to the Devon foothills. ‘One more week to go.’
Greg closed the hard-bound cover of his copy of the Standard Book of Spells: Grade 1 and stretched out across the soft mattress which lay on top of his wooden bunk. He propped himself up against one of the pillows, turning his attention to the two other boys who shared the top floor room at the Leaky Cauldron inn.
‘Snap!’ Matthew called out, quickly turning his head away from the card game in front of him, before looking back to see his best friend’s face and chest covered in dirty soot.
Oscar shut his eyes, running his hands over his face and brushing himself partially clean. ‘Merlin...’ He shook his head. ‘Why do I keep playing this stupid game with you?’
Matthew laughed. ‘Why don’t you play Greg instead, maybe you’d beat him?’
‘No chance!’ Greg retorted, quickly. ‘I don’t want to end up looking like that!’
Oscar stood up, hurrying across to the sink that was bolted onto the wall of the en-suite shower room. ‘Good call, mate,’ he muttered, before the rest of his words drowned under the rush of a cold tap.
‘Not even just one game?’ Matthew grinned.
‘No!’ Greg laughed as he emphasised his answer. ‘I’m not stupid, Matt.’
‘Maybe he might end up Slytherin,’ Oscar brushed his hand across the fringe of his short blond hair as he returned to the boys’ shared bedroom. ‘You know what they say about always looking after yourself?’
‘Or being selfish pricks?’ Matthew remembered one of the other Houses’ interpretations of the Slytherin trait of self-preservation.
‘Discretion’s the better part of valour, right?’ Oscar sat down on the bed beside Greg’s feet. ‘No point in doing something when you’re just going to get a hiding, is there?’
‘No,’ Greg shrugged. ‘I guess not.’
‘So what House do you reckon you’re gonna end up in, then?’ Oscar asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Greg stared down at the rash of freckles that lay scattered over his ribcage. ‘I don’t think it will be Ravenclaw...’ He avoided the other boy’s eyes as he answered. ‘Gryffindor sounds like it’s a bit, well, mad – and Matthew keeps trying to put me off Slytherin. I guess it’s probably going to be the other one.’
‘You mean Hufflepuff?’ Oscar laughed, good-naturedly. ‘So memorable you didn’t even know what it was called?’ He pushed up from the bed again, trotting over to his own bunk for the night. ‘What’s Matt putting him off Slytherin for, then?’ He kicked out gently at his friend’s tanned shoulder, ruffling the mass of straight brown hair that hid the other boy’s neck.
‘Three guesses, Ossie.’ Matthew stared, witheringly, back at the other fourth-year. ‘Seven years of shit...’
‘You’re such a little ray of sunshine, aren’t you?’ Oscar rolled his eyes, nudging his friend even more firmly with the base of his foot. ‘So how’s it ever supposed to change if we never get any of the first-years who we should get? You know who we’ll get left with – Kevin’s little brother. That’ll really help the image, won’t it?’
‘Who’s Kevin?’ Greg didn’t give his neighbour a chance to answer back.
Matthew looked up at his friend before answering the younger boy. ‘Kevin Brand... the other fourth-year Slytherin. The reason people think we’re all spoilt brats.’ He sighed. ‘Imagine the kid at primary school who always had the best of everything, always had the newest games console when it came out, the latest football boots.’
‘Then make him twice as annoying, and make sure he thinks that everyone else is dirt cause they haven’t got the same amount of cash,’ Oscar joined in with the abuse. ‘Don’t forget that he’s got servants and butlers at home to do all his work for him, so he expects everyone else to wait on him every minute of the day.’
‘Fat chance,’ Matthew snorted.
‘Merlin, I can’t wait until he sees my Prefect’s badge,’ Oscar allowed himself a smile at the idea. ‘Mr I’ve-got-everything... haven’t got this, have you?’
Matthew joined in with his friend’s laughter. ‘I still can’t believe you’re gonna be a prefect in the fourth year. I always thought it was just fifth, sixth and seventh years.’
‘Says the third-year Quidditch captain,’ Oscar shot back. ‘Well...’ he paused for a moment. ‘I always guessed it was because there weren’t any Slytherin boys in the fifth year.’
‘I suppose,’ the other fourth-year cocked his head, ‘it makes sense if you put it like that.’
‘I look forward to taking points off Kevin...’ Oscar allowed his mind to wander again. ‘He’ll love that, won’t he?’
‘But...’ Greg interrupted, ‘won’t that stop you winning the House Cup?’
‘Oh, self-interest again,’ Oscar grinned, before answering seriously. ‘Nah, it won’t make the slightest difference, mate.’ He shook his head. ‘We’ve got about as much chance of winning that as the Cannons have of winning the league next season.’
Greg stared blankly back at the older boy.
‘Oh, Matt, you haven’t told him the Cannons are any good, have you? Well... think of it like Wales and the football World Cup – no chance.’
This time Greg laughed at the simile. ‘You never told me you supported a crap team, Matt.’
‘Says you, Exeter City boy.’ Matthew grunted. ‘What division are they in, again?’
‘Oh, drop it, Matt,’ Oscar interrupted. ‘When your Cannons finish somewhere that isn’t bottom of the league, then you can have a go at someone else’s team. Anyway,’ he continued, ‘isn’t he just like you – supporting his local team?’
‘Ah, I guess...’ Matthew finished cleaning up the remains of the game of Exploding Snap from the wooden floorboards, before hoisting himself onto the sofa that would double as his bed that night.
‘Well, I’d have you in Slytherin,’ Oscar changed the subject, ‘but it’s not down to me, is it? We’ll all find out tomorrow.’ He lifted his wand from the side of his bed, and pointed it towards the lamp alongside. ‘Nox.’ The room fell dark, leaving Greg’s eyes open as he stared upwards, thinking about the day that lay ahead.
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