“Hello?” She called out tentatively, letting the door shut with a click behind her. So far, the locker room wasn’t much – all of the two meters of it Evie could see, that is. She was inside a tiny little hallway, lit only by a single round light above her head. It was the exact same as the hallway she had just left – cement floors and white walls. Evie took a few steps forward. She could see the light from the main room spilling through the open doorway about a meter in front of her, where the hallway stopped abruptly and left you only one way to go: right.
“Hello?” She called out again, her fingers gripping the strap of her bag tightly.
“Oi!” A voice called out as she rounded the corner. “No birds allowed!” The voice in question belonged to Jimmy Peakes, who was currently sprawled out on an old red couch, eating a bowl of cereal and listening intently to the match being broadcast from the wireless radio perched on a wooden shelf above his head. On one of the lumpy-looking chairs next to him, his fellow beater Ritchie Coote was reading that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet, his eyes just barely visible above the overlarge sheets of newsprint. Evie bit back a smile; it was pretty much a perfect snapshot of what her two older brothers would be doing any given morning.
“What is this, some sort of boys-only clubhouse?” She asked with a grin, forgetting, for a moment where she was. After all, the main area of the English National team’s locker room looked more like a crummy cellar games room than the world-class facilities of a national sports team. There were a few touches of home here and there – a red and white striped rug laid out to make the cement floor a bit warmer, the wooden shelf someone had nailed to the wall, where, along with the radio, sat a few books and what looked like a snow globe. The red couch, Ritchie’s current seat and a few other mismatched chairs were gathered around a wooden table that looked like it had been through a few battles of its own. There was one of the team’s promotion posters stuck on the wall above Ritchie’s head, and someone had stuck a snapshot of the team at practice in the corner. Pretty intimidating.
At the sound of Evie’s voice, Jimmy had looked up from his bowl of cereal, his light brown hair still wet from the shower. Even Ritchie had lowered his paper a bit, and Evie could feel his eyes on her from over the morning’s headlines.
“Yeah, it is,” Jimmy replied staunchly, swallowing his bite of cereal.
“Well, except for Amelia,” Ritchie added in a softer voice.
“Except for Amelia,” Jimmy admitted. “Either way, you can’t be in here.” Evie raised her eyebrows as Jimmy flashed her a grin. “We’re waiting for some reporter to come and interview us so he can write some fabulous article on how awesome I am.”
“Well in that case,” Evie replied with a grin of her own, taking another few steps into the room. “You might want to consider being a bit more welcoming to the reporter. I doubt she’ll write a very flattering article if you don’t even let her into the locker room.” Jimmy dropped his spoon, the metal clattering against the bottom of the bowl loudly. Ritchie had lowered his paper completely.
“You’re the reporter?” Jimmy gaped. Whoever was playing on the wireless – it sounded like Italy’s national team, but Evie couldn’t be sure through the static – scored a goal, and the celebration sounded tinny in the background.
“Evie Pierce, reporter for Quidditch Pro, at your service,” she grinned, sticking her hand out. Jimmy shook it, though his expression was still a bit dazed. Ritchie, on the other hand, folded his paper in half and stood up, shaking Evie’s hand firmly.
“Ritchie Coote,” he told her with a smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“You as well, Mr. Coote.”
“Please, call me Ritchie,” he laughed.
“Ritchie it is, then,” Evie replied with a grin. “Now, unless you two have any pressing matters, I can interview you first. Does that work? You can do it together if you’d like – especially considering you’re attached at the hip anyway.” Her eyes sparkled slightly. The two Beaters were known for being close – they had played together at Gryffindor, and then they both signed to the Cannons. Despite the fact that they seemed to be almost polar opposites, they were practically brothers.
“Works for me,” Jimmy shrugged, fishing out his spoon from the milk pooled in his bowl. “Can we do it here, or do we need to go to some extra-special interview place?”
“Here is fine,” Evie replied, peeling off her navy coat and setting it on the back of one of the chairs. It was a wingback one, covered in a red floral pattern, and looked like it had been pulled from someone’s great-aunt’s attic. It looked clean, however, and Evie lowered herself into easily. Immediately, she pulled her long brown hair back in a ponytail. For some reason, she could never do an interview with it hanging around her face.
“So you said your name was Evie, yeah?” Jimmy asked, taking another bite of cereal. He had straightened up a bit from his previous sprawling position, but he had propped his legs up on the table in front of him, crossing them at the ankle as he ate. “Short for something?”
“Evelyn,” Evie replied as she fished her notebook and quill out from the bottom of her bag. “After my grandmum. Do you two mind if I use a Quick-Quotes Quill?” She looked up for a moment, her fingers wrapping around the nib, to meet the two Beaters’ gazes. “It makes it a bit easier to have a normal conversation.”
“Is it a normal one?” Ritchie asked, his feet propped up on the table much like Jimmy’s.
“Yeah, or is it one of those fishy ones that auto-corrects?” Jimmy chimed in.
“Or adds in all these wonky adjectives that don’t even apply?”
“None of the above, I’m afraid,” Evie laughed, showing them the eagle feather quill in her hand. “It just writes down exactly what you and I say, word for word.”
“Well, I suppose that’s fine then,” Ritchie conceded.
“As long as it doesn’t make me look like an idiot,” Jimmy tacked on through another bite of cereal.
“As long as you don’t sound like one naturally, then you’ll be fine,” Evie reassured him, her green eyes sparkling. Jimmy inhaled sharply, coughing as he accidentally swallowed some cereal flakes down the wrong pipe. Ritchie, on the hand, laughed loudly.
“Then you’ll be absolutely golden, yeah, Jim?” He teased his friend.
“Alright then,” Evie continued, a small smile still gracing her face. Coach Wood had been absolutely right – these blokes were just like her brothers, only exceptionally more athletic. “Testing, testing, my name is Evie Pierce.” She spoke to the quill, which was now flying across the page of her notebook on the table in front of her, perilously close to Jimmy’s feet. The ink was still shining under the fluorescent lights, but Evie could see that it was repeating her words exactly. “I’m here with English National team Beaters Jimmy Peakes and Ritchie Coote. Jimmy, Ritchie, this the first World Cup for both of you. How do you think it’ll be different from other tournaments you’ve played so far?”
Evie’s sensible black flats slapped against the cement floor as she made her way down yet another unremarkable corridor in the labyrinth that was the English team’s locker room. Aside from the main room, she had discovered there were bathrooms for boys and girls (though the latter was hardly used), showers, changing rooms, an area where the players had their lockers, and a meeting room.
Jimmy and Ritchie had been one of the easiest interviews she’d ever done, actually. The boys talked openly, and from a reporter’s point of view it was fascinating to see the chemistry between them and the off-pitch relationship that made them such a formidable pair during the game. She had talked to Amelia Brand next, since the witch had entered the main room on the tail end of her first interview. Evie had practically peed her pants with excitement, but she had managed to contain her enthusiasm – well, mostly. She did tell Amelia that she had a poster of the Keeper hanging on the wall at her flat, but that was her one moment of weakness. Amelia had been brilliant, and the interview only made Evie admire the player more – if that was even possible.
Sutton MacFarlan had been polishing his broomstick by the lockers, and was more than willing to let Evie sit down at talk to him. Sutton was the youngest of the MacFarlan brothers. His father, Hamish, had been the captain of the Magpies and then later the Head of the Department of Magical Sports and Games. Sutton’s two older brothers played Quidditch as well, but he, just two years out of Hogwarts, was clearly the star of the family. Compared to Harry Potter and Charlie Weasley before him, MacFarlan was probably going to have the most pressure on him in the upcoming match.
Not that you could guess this from talking to the bloke. Sutton talked a mile a minute, about everything from what type of socks he liked to wear while playing to how great it was to be headed off to France to play in the World Cup to how much he looked up to his fellow players. Evie’s poor Quick-Quotes Quill looked like it was about to explode from trying to keep up with the boys’ words.
Caleb Fisher had meandered from the showers back to the main room, and Evie found him in Jimmy’s old spot on the red couch, eating a bag of Bertie Botts and listening to the next World Cup qualifying match on the wireless. He’d been a nice bloke as well, and had kindly told her that Clarke was still in the meeting room once they finished up the interview.
Evie had been putting off talking to Declan Clarke simply because the man always seemed so serious, and Evie was anything but. There had been a couple times during the interview where Evie had tried to crack a joke only to get a stony face in response, but overall it went well. One good thing about a more serious player was that she got some more serious, thought-out answers – especially good considering Clarke was the captain.
He, on the other hand, had told her that he had just finished talking to Bradley before Evie had arrived, and the man was probably just getting around to taking a shower. Which is why Evie was walking back down the main corridor, passing the lockers and the changing rooms to find the showers. She had been saving Noah Bradley for last simply because the man, to be frank, scared her shitless. He was, she supposed, the most like Clarke, hardly ever showing emotion and being generally surly. Unlike Clarke, however, Bradley didn’t brush by reporters without a word. Evie had heard many a story of how he insulted them, replied sarcastically, and was just generally a rude, stuck-up Quidditch player who didn’t give a damn about anything other than himself.
He was, basically, any reporter’s worst nightmare. And Evie wasn’t just waiting outside The Crossed Wands with a photographer and a mini-recorder, trying to get a clip about his latest girlfriend or how he missed last practice. She was going to have to do an entire interview with him. With each step she took, another drop of the confidence she had gained over the course of the afternoon drained away. By the time she got to the showers, she had to pause outside the door and take a deep breath.
“Hello?” She called out as she rounded the corner into the tiled room, praying to Merlin her voice sounded stronger than she felt. “Anyone in here?” Her eyes swept over the small room. There was a bench in front of her, and a handful of red and white towels hanging from a rack of hook s on the walls. Beyond that was a bank of showers, each red curtain pulled tightly shut.
At the sound of her voice, the sound of running water – which Evie had assumed was the pipes, or something – stopped abruptly. Oh bugger, Evie thought to herself. He was here. With the sound of metal rings skittering across a metal bar, one of the red curtains was yanked open. Standing in the doorway, one hand still gripping the slick curtain, was Noah Bradley with only a thin red towel around his waist.
“Who the hell are you?” He asked bluntly, running his hands through his short, dark hair to get rid of some of the water. Bradley made his way towards her, wiping his hands on his towel. He was still staring at her, his dark brown eyes slightly narrowed. Evie stood still. Oh fuck, fuck, fuck. What had she gotten herself into? She was going to kill Ellington, absolutely kill him.
“I’m Evie.” Thank Merlin for her vocal cords, which seemed to function independently of her brain cells. “Evie Pierce. I’m the reporter from Quidditch Pro.” She took a deep breath, her hands closing a little tighter around her notebook and quill. She had left her bag and jacket back by the couch – Fisher had promised he’d keep an eye on them for her. Now, however, she found herself wishing for the safety of another layer, and the strap of her old bag to wrapped her fingers around tightly.
“Evie Pierce,” Bradley repeated. Evie couldn’t tell if he was mocking her or simply repeating her name. She couldn’t tell if he was angry with her for busting in on him in the shower. She couldn’t really tell anything about him, actually, and it kind of pissed her off. Evie was a people-person. She was always the one to tell if one of her roommates had broken up with her boyfriend, and she usually knew what to say. She was the one who could figure out when her brothers were in a bad mood and knew to stay away from them or when they were just stroppy and could easily be made to smile with a well-timed joke or a piece of pie. Noah Bradley, however, was completely unreadable and it made Evie nervous. She had absolutely no idea where she stood.
“So I guess you’ll want to do this interview thing then, yeah?” Evie couldn’t help it – she snorted. It was not an attractive thing to do by far, and not a professional thing to do either. It had been, however, a completely knee-jerk reaction to his stupid question.
“I guess then, yeah.” She repeated, the corners of her lips quirking upwards. “Do you care where we do it? The meeting room’s open.”
“Works for me,” he replied with a shrug. He was only standing a few feet in front of her, still clad only in a towel. It was extremely distracting, Evie decided. Even though Noah Bradley was a rude stuck-up Quidditch player who asked stupid questions and was completely unreadable, he had been named Quidditch Pro’s Sexiest Quidditch Player three years in a row for a damn good reason. “I’ll meet you there in five? I have to throw some clothes on first.” For the first time since Evie had met the man, Noah Bradley smiled. Well, it was close. It was more like a half-smile smirk sort of thing, but his lips had moved and his eyes didn’t seem like two holes in the middle of his face – there was actually some life in them.
“Yeah, you probably should,” Evie replied a bit distractedly. She was still coming to terms with the fact that Bradley actually felt some human emotion other than lust and annoyance. Well, that and his abs looked every bit as chiseled in person as they did in the magazines. He cleared his throat, and Evie realized that she was still standing in the middle of the showers, clutching her quill and notebook like her life depending on it, and was staring at him quite oddly. “Well, I’ll just head over to the meeting room, then,” she spoke quickly, walking backwards. “And you’ll just put some clothes on and meet me there. In the meeting room.” She was almost at the door. “Alright, bye!” She flashed him a bright smile and then turned quickly, practically running down the corridor towards the meeting room.
Let’s review, shall we? So far, Evie had managed to interrupt Noah Bradley’s shower, stare at his abs, have absolutely no idea what he was thinking, not think before she spoke, make him half-smile, stare at him some more, and then unleash a torrent of pointless word vomit all over him as she backed out of the door. All while he was still in a towel. The way she saw it, it had been an absolute lovely introduction, and she couldn’t fucking wait for the interview to occur.
Noah Bradley! Stayed tuned for the next chapter to find out what goes down in the interview, and thanks for reading!