Chapter 6 : CHAPTER SIX
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If only, Noah found himself thinking, the room had just been painted. Because even watching paint dry was better than this – watching already dry paint just…sit there, or whatever the hell it was paint did. He had been silent for the past five minutes, his gaze remaining stonily on the blank wall. Evie was getting antsy. In fact, from the way she had acted all afternoon, Noah had doubted she’d been this quiet and still in her entire life.
At first, she seemed to take the passive-aggressive route: she sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest and staring straight at him. After a little bit, she shifted her position. Then she uncrossed her arms and recrossed them again. Then she placed her hands flat on the table, dropping her gaze and muttering something under her breath. Now, she had began to rummage through the pages of her tiny notebook, the sound of rustling paper seeming deafening in the thick silence. Noah couldn’t help it – his gaze shifted slightly from the wall to Evie, though he remained a statue. Her hair was coming out of the ponytail she had pulled it back into, and she was talking her herself again.
“Bloody hell,” she cursed quietly, the corner of one of the pages tearing as she flipped feverishly through the book. “Ellington’s going to kill me.”
“Who’s Ellington?” Noah asked. Immediately, his face hardened, cursing what he had just said. The question had just slipped out. He was supposed to maintain his stony silence until she got so upset she just left, but for some reason, he couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut. He didn’t even understand why – it was like his mouth was acting completely separately from his brain, and the former had a strange curiosity about the brunette reporter across from him.
“My boss,” she replied, after a beat, looking at him warily. She stopped shuffled papers, closing the notebook in front of her with a snap. Noah glanced down at the table. The name had sounded familiar for a reason – Wood had mentioned him earlier in practice. “Are you talking to me again?” She asked, not unkindly, as she raised her eyebrows. The way she phrased the question reminded Noah of being in school, when the girls in his year would get into the stupidest fights over nothing at all and then refuse to speak to each other for days on end.
“I suppose so,” he replied with a small shrug, “if you don’t keep asking stupid questions.” Evie sighed, throwing up her hands in the air.
“How the hell am I supposed to know what questions you do or don’t feel like answering?” She cried. “I tried to give you an easy one. How was I supposed to know family was a sore spot?”
“My family’s not a sore spot,” he replied immediately. Evie rolled her eyes.
“Of course, Bradley. That’s why you clammed up and refused to even look at me.” Her Quick-Quotes Quill was scribbling across the page once more. Evie rested her chin in one hand as she surveyed him across the table. She had freckles, Noah noticed. Not a lot, but a smattering across her nose.
“What House were you in at Hogwarts?” He asked, leaning back in his chair once more. Again, he found himself curious. She didn’t look at that much younger than him; they probably went to school together. He wondered why he didn’t remember her.
“I was a Hufflepuff,” she told him with a smile. “A year behind you. I remember seeing you play Quidditch.” He nodded. “Now can we go back to interviewing you?” She asked with a grin.
“I suppose,” he replied. “As long as you – “
“Yeah, yeah,” Evie replied, rolling her eyes. “As long as I don’t ask you any question about yourself that involves a touchy subject. Which basically means I can’t ask you anything at all. I get it.” Noah couldn’t help it; he smiled.
“Exactly,” he replied with a grin.
“Alright then,” Evie said, leaning across the table. “How about this one. Noah Bradley, what’s your favorite color?” He laughed, a dry, raspy chuckle that made the corners of his eyes scrunch up. Evie Pierce was a real piece of work.
“Blue, I suppose,” he shrugged.
“Because of the Arrows?” She asked with a grin.
“No,” he replied, rolling his own eyes. “Do I look like the sort of bloke to be chuffed about wearing light blue?”
“Well….” Evie replied, cocking her head to the side as she looked at him.
“Sod off,” Noah told her, with a good-natured grin. Ah, bugger! She did it again! He was back to laughing and smiling and forgetting that she was a damned reporter! Noah reached up, rubbing a hand over his face. He kept forgetting that he was being interviewed. Talking with Evie was just like talking to Amelia or one of the blokes on the team. She made him laugh. She snorted at him. She called him on his bullshit.
“How about another question?” She asked him, raising her eyebrows. “You think you can handle it?”
“Bring it on,” Noah replied.
“What do you think of your teammates on the National Team?” Alright, that one wasn’t too bad.
“I like them a lot,” he replied, shrugging. “I mean, you spend so much time together you really can’t help but get along. We always have each other’s backs, on and off the pitch. And I mean, you’ve see around here, we just hang out with each other.” He shrugged again. He didn’t really need to tell her that he sometimes found Sutton annoying and wished the boy would stop following him around and that he and Declan didn’t always see eye to eye. Not that it really mattered that much; compared to other people, he and his English teammates got along quite well.
“Unlike Tony Maddox,” Evie answered with a grin. “Am I allowed to ask about him?”
“No, but I have a feeling that won’t stop you,” Noah told her gruffly. He didn’t really want to talk about the Keeper but it was a far cry better than some other questions Evie could be asking.
“Rumour has it that he was going to be selected as Keeper over Brand, but since Merlin knows you two couldn’t play on the same team together to save your life, Wood chose you over Maddox. Care to comment?” Noah scowled at her, but Evie just laughed.
“Is this where I have to say something vague and politically correct?” Noah asked.
“If by vague and politically correct you mean not calling Maddox an arrogant obnoxious bastard, then yes,” she grinned.
“See? I’m not the only one who thinks so.” He flashed her a grin, and Evie just shook his head. “Fine. I’ll give you something you can actually use. I don’t know what goes on behind Wood’s door, so I can’t really comment on that particular rumour. All I know is that Brand was picked and Maddox wasn’t. Whether it was purely on skill or based on potential team dynamic, you’ll have to take up with Wood. All I know is that Amelia’s a brilliant Keeper and I wouldn’t want anyone else guarding England’s rings.” He paused for a moment, looking up at Evie. “How was that?”
“Very calm and neutral,” she replied with a laugh. “You sound so…out of character.”
“You mean I don’t usually come across as calm and neutral?” Noah asked, raising her eyebrows. “Whatever would make you say that?”
“You know,” Evie started, leaning back in her chair. “You make my brain hurt.” Noah chuckled again at her comment.
“Because one moment you look like you could throttle me and then next you’re laughing with me and poking fun at yourself,” she sighed exasperatedly. “You, Noah, Bradley, are completely bipolar.”
“If I’m as insane as you think,” he told her, propping his feet up on the table again. “Do you really think that’s the best thing to say to me?”
“Just being honest,” she shrugged, glancing down at the table. He had been joking, but for once she wasn’t laughing along with him. Again, those niggling thoughts of guilt pushed and prodded the edges of his brain.
“It’s nothing personal, you know that, right?” She was still staring at her notebook, watching the quill dance across the page gracefully, its feather tip bobbing and swaying. “ There’s a reason I don’t like interviewers, and it’s not because I automatically hate everyone who’s a reporter.”
“Except you do,” she told him in a carefully neutral voice, looking up at him once more. “You’ve said so on more than one occasion.” He sighed.
“It’s not like I don’t like them personally,” he insisted. “It’s that they always ask bloody nosy questions.”
“Yeah,” she told him, a small smile appearing on her face once more. “I’ve gathered that.” She paused for a minute. “I just don’t get it. You work so hard to distance yourself from everyone, but I feel like it takes more out of you to avoid the questions than it would if you just talked about it.” His eyes narrowed. She was far too perceptive for her own good.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he told her stiffly.
“See? You’re doing it again!” She cried, throwing her arms up.
“Being bipolar,” she told him. “Shutting down.”
“I’m so sorry I don’t want to be psychoanalyzed,” he snapped back. She pressed her lips together. She didn’t speak for a moment. Noah stared at the wall again, cursing the day that stupid Ellington decided to send Evie Pierce here to interview him.
“Are we back to this again, then?” She asked him, sounded quite annoyed. “You ignoring me like a pre-pubescent girl?” Inside, Noah growled, but he maintained his silence.
“Lovely,” she continued, her eyes narrowed. “I’m glad to know you’re so mature.” More silence. Noah could see out of the corner of his eye how Evie grew more and more frustrated with his silence. He knew from personal experience that nothing got under a reporter’s skin more than someone who refused to say anything at all. Suddenly, she pushed back her chair and stood up.
“Well, if that’s it then,” she said, picking up her quill and snapping her notebook closed. She was trying to keep a straight face, but Noah could see that she was angry. “It was quite lovely to meet you. Thank you so much for all the information you’ve given me. I’m sure it’ll be an…interesting article.” Noah could hear the bite in her voice and the guilt that had been trying to find a way through the wall of his mental defenses suddenly flooded through. Evie wasn’t supposed to sound so bitter and angry. She was happy. She blushed and laughed and wore her heart on her sleeve and walked into people in the showers.
“Don’t go.” The words slipped out quickly, and before he knew what was fully going on, Noah had risen from his chair. All vestiges of his angry silence crumbled around his feet as the guilt washed over him. “Listen, Evie, I – I’m sorry.” The words felt heavy as they left his mouth. She stopped, letting her hand rest on the back of her chair. She was still holding all of her stuff, and she still looked quite pissed off at him, but she wasn’t leaving. That was one thing.
“I’ve been a bit of an arse to you all afternoon, I know,” Noah began a bit uncertainly. He didn’t say he was sorry very often, and the apology felt strange on his tongue. Evie snorted. “Alright, so I’ve been a lot of an arse. And I’m sorry for that, because you don’t deserve it. You’re just trying to do your job.” He sighed, running a hand through his short dark hair. Why couldn’t she just smile again so he wouldn’t feel so damn guilty? “I don’t apologize to people very often, you know,” he added. “So you should be feeling rather pleased right now.”
“Is that what this is?” Evie replied, her mouth still in a straight line. “Pleased?”
“Please, just…just sit down?” Noah asked her. For a moment, she didn’t move, but finally, she pulled out the chair and sat back down, setting her notebook and quill on the table.
“You know, you’re a really good reporter,” he told her, sitting down across from her and clasping his hands together on the table in front of him. Evie raised her eyebrows.
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Bradley,” she told him, but he thought he could see her green eyes softening the tiniest bit.
“It’s true. You’ve probably gotten more out of me today than any reporter has gotten me to say in my entire life.” One corner of his mouth hooked upwards.
“I daresay they didn’t try very hard then,” she mumbled, looking at the table.
“They tried pretty hard. I’ve been yelled at and cursed at. Someone tried to hex me once. Someone tried to slip Veritaserum in my drink.” Evie looked up, meeting his gaze.
“So why did you talk to me, then?”
“To be honest?” Evie rolled her eyes. “I didn’t even mean to. You would just be rambling on and then before I knew it I was talking back.” He shrugged. “You don’t feel like a reporter. You feel like….almost like a friend, I guess.”
“Sounds like I’m doing my job, then,” she replied, giving him a small smile.
“I am really sorry, though. And I don’t usually apologize to reporters for pissing them off, you know,” he told her seriously.
“I know,” she replied with a laugh.
“I also want to thank you,” he continued.
“For what?” She asked, still laughing.
“For not asking me who my current girlfriend is.” Noah gave her a crooked grin. He was glad she was laughing again. For some reason, any other expression just looked wrong on her face. It was the first time he had felt so guilty for being rude to a reporter. Maybe it was because she was a girl. Or maybe it was because he felt like he knew her so well. Despite the fact that he was supposed to be the one getting interviewed he knew all sorts of things about her. He knew about her family and that she had been a Hufflepuff and was a year younger than him and how much she loved Quidditch.
“How do you know I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet?” She asked with a smirk.
“I daresay you’re too smart to ask.”
“I’d like to think so,” she told him with another warm smile. “Plus, I don’t write for Witch Weekly. Our readers don’t want to hear about which heiress you’re dating. They want to hear about your thoughts on the World Cup.”
“You know,” he told her, leaning back in his chair again, “I feel like I wouldn’t mind reporters so much if that’s all they really did want to know. I don’t mind talking about Quidditch. I mind talking about my love life.”
“Well, you have your parents to thank for that,” Evie told him cheekily.
“What?” Noah frowned. What did his parents have anything to do with this?
“Well, no offense, if you were horrendously ugly I doubt anyone would care one jot about your love life.” She grinned at him.
“So you think I’m good-looking, then?” Noah with a casual grin, propping his hands behind his head once again. He knew he was good-looking, of course. Girls screamed it to him outside of stadiums, for Merlin’s sake. But he’d rather like to hear what Evie thought of him. Just for curiosity’s sake, of course.
“I said you’re not horrendously ugly,” she corrected him with a grin.
“Such a compliment!” He rolled his eyes. “You do know I was voted Quidditch’s Sexiest Players three years in a row, yeah?”
“Is that something you’re proud of?” Evie teased.
“Not one bit! I’ll have to take it up with this Ellington bloke of yours,” he grumbled. “Next year you should put someone else at the top of the list.”
“Not in our hands, love,” she told him cheekily. “It’s a survey.”
“Lovely,” he replied dryly. “And here I thought people liked me because of my Quidditch abilities.”
“Well, that too, I suppose. After all, you’re at the top of that list as well.” It was true – Noah had been voted Quidditch Players of the Year the past two years in a row. It was something that meant much more to him than being the Sexiest.
“I just can’t help it,” he sighed, giving Evie a wink.
“You lucky tosser, natural talent oozing out of your ears,” she muttered, shaking her head.
“Not necessarily,” he told her. He felt the need to correct her. “I started off like everyone else. Caught on a bit quicker in flying lessons first year, maybe,” he shrugged. “Could catch a ball. That’s about it. I practiced my arse off to get where I am today.”
“I bet,” Evie replied. “I got tired today just watch you lot fly around. You must really love the sport to put in that much effort.” She propped her elbow on the table again, letting her chin rest in her hand as she leaned forward, listening to Noah.
“Yeah,” Noah replied, a bit distractedly. The memory of flying through the air just that morning, the cold wind making his eyes sting, flashing through his mind. “I mean, when I’m playing Quidditch I feel like it’s the only time I truly have to just be, you know? Every other time I’m worried about this or that or have a whole list of things to do, but when I’m out of the pitch, I’m not thinking about anything except what the play is or who I should pass it to. It’s all about the game. None of that other shit matters.”
“It’s an escape,” Evie replied softly. She was a good listener, Noah realized. She seemed to be genuinely interested in what he had to say – and not just because she wanted to get a good article out of the conversation.
“Definitely,” Noah nodded. “I mean, to be honest, that’s probably the reason I’m as good as I am. I mean, sure,” he shrugged, “I was pretty decent when I was younger but after the war I started practicing almost constantly just not to think about my dad and - “ He broke off suddenly, realizing what he had just said. Fuck. Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck. Noah had just let something slip about his dad to a reporter or all people! Not a teammate, not a girlfriend, a fucking reporter.
He stared, horrified, at Evie, whose green eyes had widened considerably. Her mouth was hanging open slightly, and she seemed frozen in place, her chin still resting in her hand. Slowly, she closed her mouth, her brow creasing slightly as she watched him. She seemed to be waiting for him to say something, to somehow react, but Noah was frozen. He couldn’t believe how careless he had been! He had known Evie Pierce was going to be trouble from the very beginning. He should have let her walk out the door when he had a chance.
“What – what happened?” Evie’s voice was small, tiny almost. There was no laughter or teasing or even the professional tone she adopted when she was trying to ask him a serious question. There was only concern. He could see it written all over her face. Concern for him.
Noah took a deep breath, letting his head sink into his hands for a moment. He breathed in and out, letting Evie’s question hang unanswered in the small room. Finally, he lifted his head, his eyes on his hands as he folded them on the table.
“He was a Healer,” Noah said simply. It felt strange saying it aloud. He didn’t have to say anything at all, he knew. He could leave right now and walk away and never talk to Evie Pierce again. But something in the way he looked at him, something in the way she asked – not like she wanted to know for her sake, but for his – had him loosening his lips before he knew what he was truly doing. “He - he died in the Battle of Hogwarts, trying to help people.” Noah stumbled over the word he had tried to avoid using ever since the war. The word that made his throat close in on itself and his eyes sting. The word that still haunted his nightmares. Dead.
Suddenly, a small, warm hand was covering his own. Briefly, he was reminded of Kate in The Crossed Wands, her hand on his with her pink fingernail polish. Was that really only last night? It seemed like a different world now. Everything seemed like a different world now, actually. That this little room with him and Evie didn’t even truly exist. He wasn’t even really here, spilling his guts to the little brunette that sat across from him. He was somewhere else, somewhere deep inside his own head, his trembling fingers turning the key in the lock of the trunk in the back of his mind, the trunk he had kept shut for so long, hiding the memories and the feelings that were just too painful to bear.
“I’m really sorry,” Evie whispered. Her words, which sounded so far away, never reached him. They fell, lifeless, on the table in front of them, their letters scattering across the wooden surface. Noah had heard them too many times for them to hold much meaning anymore. Her hand, however, her hand on top of his, helped ease the cold that had settled deep inside him. That’s how he knew that this was real, and he hadn’t just fallen asleep in an armchair after practice and was having the most horrendous dream of his life. If this wasn’t real, her hand wouldn’t be so warm or soft or feel so good against his rough skin. Noah took a breath.
“He was the one who got me into Quidditch,” he admitted, his voice sounding raspy. Noah cleared his throat, wiling himself to go on. Evie had told him that it might have been easier for him to just talk about himself rather that work so hard to hide, but she was wrong. Anything would be easier than this. “He had played when he was at school and loved the sport. I grew up going to matches with him, cheering teams on over the wireless…..” He trailed off for a moment, pictures flitting through his head of him and his dad sitting on the couch, jumping to their feet whenever the Snitch was caught, dancing around the living room in celebration. “I worshiped him, you know. I thought he was so strong and brave and fierce and when I grew up I wanted to be him.” Noah chest tightened painfully.
“It killed me when he died. I – I didn’t know what to do.” He cleared his throat again. “So I threw myself into Quidditch. It was our thing, you know?” The ghost of a smile played on his lips. “It made me feel closer to him. But at the same time, it was like I said. It was just me and the game. When I was playing, I didn’t think about him. I didn’t feel the pain or the sadness. People didn’t give me pitying looks. I felt whole again. So I just kept playing.” He shrugged.
“And you never stopped,” Evie added softly.
“It’s everything to me now,” Noah said. “I love the game just like the other guys do, for the rush and the thrill and the excitement. But for me, it’s like….it’s like my lifeline. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
“You’d die,” Evie replied quietly, remembering what he’d said earlier. Noah raised his head for the first time since he’d started speaking, meeting Evie’s gaze. She gave him a small smile, but he could see the sadness in her eyes.
“Yeah,” he breathed. Suddenly, he sat back in his chair, both hand flying up to rub his temples. Evie’s hand slipped off to the table, and she quickly pulled it back. “I can’t believe I just told you that.” He gave a bitter laugh. “Well, I guess that’s it then, isn’t it? My reputation’s gone.” He was done for. Abso-fucking-lutely done for. He’d never be able to show his face in public again, much less play Quidditch. He’d have to move. America, maybe. Or Australia. Maybe he could play there; maybe his entire life’s story might not make it all the way down under.
“What?” Evie looked confused.
“What do you mean, what?” Noah snapped. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid. Ruining his entire life, just because some girl made him laugh. Just because some fucking reporter was easy to talk to. Just because he’d felt more comfortable than he had in bloody years! “Now no one’s going to see me as a Quidditch player. They’re going to see me as some sob story, some charity case. It’ll be all over the papers.” He sighed, rubbing his hands over his face.
“You think I’d tell?” Evie’s voice was quiet, but the shock was evident.
“Why wouldn’t you?” Noah asked bitterly, not even deigning to look at her. “It’ll be the story of the year.”
“Well, I don’t know about this fancy Quidditch star life you live,” Evie replied, her voice gaining a bit of strength, “but where I come from, loyalty’s a hell of a lot more important that making a bit of extra money.”
“What are you talking about?” Noah asked suspiciously, lifting his head slightly. She was…glaring at him? Well, that wasn’t really what he expected. He sat up a bit straighter.
“I’m talking about I’m not going to tell,” Evie replied, putting it simply. “And to be frank, I’m a little offended that you think I would.”
“But you’re a reporter.” He didn’t understand. Wasn’t this was she wanted? Wasn’t this what everyone wanted? The story on what made Noah Bradley such a jerk?
“Not right now, I’m not,” she replied, gesturing down at her close notebook, the Quick-Quote Quill lying unused to the side. “Listen Bradley.” She laid her palms flat on the table as she looked at him. “I know we’ve just met and I know you have a tendency to act like a total wanker, but from talking to you, I can that you’re not a bad guy. I’m not going to go and air out all of your dirty laundry for the whole world to see.” She gave him a small smile.
“I don’t understand,” Noah told her. She wasn’t going to tell. She wasn’t going to tell. Noah was having a hard time understanding much of anything, much less something completely contradictory. The only thing running through his mind was Evie’s words. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“Despite what you may think,” she told him with a grin. “Not all reporters are blood-thirsty pricks only looking out for number one. I care about other people as well.”
“You care about me?” Noah had never been more surprised in his life.
“Like I said,” she shrugged. “You’re a good guy. You’ve been through a lot, and if you don’t want to share your personal life with the world, then I’ll respect your choice. So don’t worry,” she smiled. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
Noah realized she was telling the truth. He could see it plainly on her face. She wouldn’t tell. Huh. He stayed silent for a moment, just watching her look at him from across the table. Here was this girl who he had just met this afternoon who was telling him he could trust his biggest secret with her. And the stranger thing was, he believed her. He believe her implicitly, and he had a nagging thought that it was that more than anything that scared the shit out of him. He shook his head, a small smile appearing on his face.
“You really are something, Evie Pierce.”
AN: Hey hey, look at this - updates all around! Sorry for the long wait, especially in the middle of a two-part chapter!! Hope y'all enjoyed learning Noah's secret. What do you think - is Evie going to report it? Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!
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