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5 Games Jess Played In

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1.

Jess’s dad is the one who first put her on a broom, so long ago she can barely remember it. She must have loved it then, she knows, because she’s loved it every time since. There’s nothing like the feel of the wind screaming in your ears when you’re up in the air, you and your broom slicing the sky like a dart, the chill slapping color into your cheeks. Nothing like it.

Jess likes the occasional solitary flight under the sunlight, but what she really loves is Quidditch; anyone who sees the walls of her room would know it in an instant, not the least from the giant Gwenog Jones poster that she’s spent hours talking to (ignoring the snide comments of her mirror all the while).

Tony’s her best friend in the neighborhood, and he’s the one who first tells her to come along to the ragtag games the other boys put together. Jess is only nine, Tony the same age, the others not much older, so none of the watchful aunties in the neighborhood have had cause to tut and chaperone, yet.

The boys eye her askance, at first. That was only to be expected.

Jess notes their looks, holds it to her as she clutches the broom between her legs and rises up, up, up; as she darts between two of them and intercepts the apple that’s been Transfigured into a mock-Quaffle, swerves around and heads in the opposite direction, too fast for them to catch as she dodges them and fakes out their Keeper and tosses the Quaffle through the posts Aman’s older brother set up for them that morning before he headed off to work at St. Mungo’s for the day. Their wide eyes fuel her joy as she laughs triumphantly into the sky.

No one says anything about her joining their games after that.

2.

Jess isn’t on the Gryffindor team at Hogwarts. She couldn’t have tried out as a first year, anyway, but she’s thirteen now and she still won’t go for it.

“They’d never let me, Jules,” she sighs. “My parents, I mean.”

She can practically hear the words in her mum’s voice, You should be focusing on your studies, Jesminder, that’s what we send you to school for, no? But that’s not really it—Jess is smart and focused and would have no trouble managing extracurriculars along with her schoolwork; and she has a few years still before they’ll want her to start being more ladylike and settle down, leave sports behind.

No, Jess knows what they’re worried about—the precedent it will set. If they let her play now, will Jess ever give it up?

She doesn’t see how she could.

Jules throws herself onto the foot of Jess’s bed and makes a face at her, tucking the short strands of her hair behind her ears.

“Do you have to tell them?” she says cajolingly. Tony is still Jess’s best friend, but he went to Hufflepuff and she to Gryffindor, so she doesn’t see him as much as she does Jules, though they fall together effortlessly when they go home again every summer; besides, Tony’s her best friend in a completely different way than Jules. She and Jules room together, of course, Gryffindors in the same year; but they didn’t become real friends until halfway through first year, when they realized that there was someone else who kept braving the chill to watch the Gryffindor team practices from start to finish.

Jess and Jules are near-inseparable, but sometimes Jess feels keenly how different they are—how much braver Jules seems, at times. She’s all bright spark and chatter, goes after what she wants with teeth and stubbornness, and Jess doesn’t know how to communicate the pressure of thirteen years of being dutiful, of being told to respect your parents above all else, even when you’re convinced they’re wrong. Could she even lie to them convincingly? She doesn’t know if she could.

Jules must see it on her face, because her shoulders slump, and she says, “No, I know.” She rolls over onto her stomach and puts her head down, so that her voice, when it emerges, is muffled by Jess’s sheets. “But would you—would you care if I—”

Oh. Jess ignores the slight twist in her chest, and knocks on Jules’s head with her knuckles, rolling her eyes when Jules lifts her head to meet her eyes. “Don’t be an idiot, Jules. Of course you should try out. They’d be stupid not to take you.”

Jules smiles at her, the broad smile that always looks like she has yet to grow into its width, and Jess can’t help but smile back and think about how amazing it would be to play Quidditch with Jules on a real team, to be the best Chasers the rest of them had ever seen.

Every Friday evening, a group of students book the Quidditch pitch, because it’s one of the few times when it isn’t already booked for team practices. They’re the students who aren’t on their House teams—whether because they couldn’t make it in, or the rigorous practice schedules didn’t fit in with the rest of their activities, or the more casual pace of these games is all they’re interested in—but they love Quidditch all the same. Jess, Tony and Jules have been playing in these games since first year, going each week without fail.

That Friday, Jess scores on Jillian DeVries twice, tosses the Quaffle and watches it land perfectly in Jules’s arms to result in a third goal, grins and accepts the hugs that come her way, and tries not to wish she could do this in a way that would feel more—real.

On Saturday, Jules goes to the Gryffindor Team tryouts, and makes it in.

3.

It takes two years of Jules’s persistent badgering, two years of Tony telling her that she’s meant for more than their weekly games, two years of Jess remembering Pinky getting away with things her whole life and wondering why she’s so hesitant to do the same.

“Half our team’s in seventh year and they’ll be gone next year,” Jules says under her breath, eyes flicking toward the front of the class to see if McGonagall’s paying attention. “They’re holding mass tryouts tomorrow, Jess, you’ve got to come.”

“Miss Paxton,” McGonagall says acerbically from her desk. “If I’m not interrupting your conversation, may I continue?” Jules subsides, letting Jess go for the moment.

In the end, it’s an owl from Pinky—out of the blue—that does it.

Just because they’re our parents doesn’t mean they’re always right, it reads. How would they know, anyway? It’s not like they keep up with school sports. Now tell your girlfriend to stop bothering me, I’ve had four owls from her this week already.

Jess flushes hot, crumples the letter hastily and shoves it into her pocket. Pinky’s been making comments like that ever since Jess took Jules home for a couple of weeks last summer to have her mum exclaim over Jules’s thin form and put extra food on her plate—comments that aren’t mean, just sisterly and snide in the way that they are with each other, in the way where Jess can’t tell if Pinky’s just joking, or if—

Or if she’s noticed something that even Jess hasn’t worked up the courage to examine too closely in herself.

Putting that aside for now, Jess throws Jules a look as Jules enters the Great Hall and walks over to sit by Jess at their table.

Honestly, Jess is surprised she’s managed to hold out for this long.

“All right, you mad girl,” Jess says, grinning as Jules exclaims in glee and throws an arm around Jess’s neck and tugs her close. “Just leave off bothering my sister, yeah?”

“It worked, didn’t it?” Jules says, and smugly helps herself to some of Jess’s toast.

Two weeks later, Jess looks around the locker room and takes in a breath, wondering at the fact that she isn’t more nervous—it’s almost all excitement fizzing in her veins, as well a slightly guilty thankfulness for the Transfiguration practice gone wrong that put McKinley temporarily out of commission and gave Jess this chance.

Joe claps her shoulder, and grins at her when she looks up. He’s in his last year at Hogwarts, captain of the team for the last two years, and he’s always grinned at Jess the same way when she came to every game to cheer until her voice went hoarse; he looked her up and down after her tryout and said, “And where the hell have you been, then?” shaking his head while Jess panted for breath and elbowed Jules so she’d stop smiling so smugly.

“All right, Bhamra?” he says now, looking at her like he’s searching for any hint of uncertainty in her face. “You ready for this?”

“’Course she is,” Jules says, walking up next to Joe and rapping her knuckles on Jess’s head in greeting.

Jess aims a swat in her direction. “Yeah,” she says, to the both of them, to herself. “I am.”

4.

Jess gets away with it for longer than she thought she would—until seventh year, in fact.

She doesn’t know how her dad finds out when he does; another parent, maybe, who might have said unwittingly, Mr. Bhamra! I was at the Gryffindor-Ravenclaw match last weekend, you know, your daughter seems to be doing well.

However it happened, the end result is a Floo call to the Gryffindor Common Room, while her dad says things like How could you lie like this, Jesminder? and Quidditch is no future, and Jess wrestles with her guilt and her anger and the crushing sense of her dreams shaking apart.

She’s listened to her parents her whole life, but it’s easier than she expects to argue back this time, because she knows—

She is so good at this.

There’s nothing else like it—Jess does well in school because it’s expected of her, and she has something of a knack for Arithmancy, but nothing else she’s ever done has made her think, Yes, this; this is what I want to do. This is what I’m meant for. Whatever her parents might think, Jess is a fairly honest judge of her own skills; modesty aside, she knows she can succeed at this. She knows this is for her.

This is what comes spilling out, after that disappointed Floo call, followed by an even more disappointed lack of correspondence from which it’s understood that her leaving the team is the only option.

Jess can’t accept that—has gained too much independence for it. Of everything she’s ever wanted to fight—her dad telling her she can’t go play with the boys when she comes home over the summer, now; her mum insisting that she leave her broom behind and spend her afternoon learning how to cook, instead; the both of them starting to make noise about looking for a match, and you and Tony are still good friends, aren’t you?—this is the moment where she needs to grit her teeth and make herself heard.

So she Floos her dad again, grateful to everyone else for clearing out to give her some privacy; she spills everything, doesn’t check the flow of her words, says exactly what’s on her mind for the first time and hopes—for once—to be heard.

Her dad is silent for what feels like an eternity, face unreadable.

“I don’t want you to be disappointed, Jessu,” he says at last. “When I was younger—it won’t be easy for you.”

“I know,” Jess says, heart in her throat. “I’m not afraid.”

In that instant, her dad looks almost—old, before he smiles a little, and the furrow in his brow smoothes out. “Tell me when your next game is. We will come see.”

It’s no promise for the future, Jess knows; but it means we’ll talk about it, and for now, that’s enough.

They do come—to her next game, and the one after that, and they’re there for the final game of the Quidditch Cup against Hufflepuff, when Jess plays her heart out and takes a Bludger to the shoulder that she doesn’t let put her out for more than five minutes. Gryffindor hasn’t won the Quidditch Cup in three years, and Jess will be damned if she lets it slip out of her fingers in her last chance to win it.

They’re there when Jess scores four goals, and sets up Jules and Mel for another eight; and they’re there when, the crowd roaring in rising excitement, Danny dives toward the ground like a bird in sight of its prey and comes up with a glint of gold clutched triumphantly in his fist.

Everything erupts.

There’s a sound like thunder ringing in Jess’s ears, the full-throated roar of their audience, and their team dives as one to touch down on the ground and throw themselves on Danny in jubilation. Someone’s hair is in Jess’s mouth, and someone else—it sounds like Mel—is yelling in Jess’s ear, and then there’s an arm hooking around Jess’s waist and squeezing, and she turns to see Jules beaming at her like her face is going to split open from her happiness.

“Aren’t you glad I made you join?” Jules yells through all the noise, grinning when Jess digs her knuckles into Jules’s side in retaliation.

“No one likes a know-it-all,” Jess replies, grinning back, and in the midst of all the chaos and celebration, with satisfaction sparking under her skin and Jules’s head tucked close by hers, it feels all too easy—all too natural—to turn her head and catch Jules’s mouth in a kiss.

It’s swift, barely there; but Jules’s mouth parts a little under hers before she pulls away, and she smiles at Jess like nothing’s different, like everything’s exactly as it should be.

It’s just like the first game Jess played when she joined the team—she should be nervous, but she doesn’t feel anything but excitement.

Later, in the Common Room, while the party’s cheerfully going on around them, Jules plops down on the couch by Jess’s side and says, “So, earlier—was that the heat of the moment, then?” She’s smiling, though, confident and a little impish, like she knows the answer already.

Jess eyes her and shakes her head, says, “This year’s going to be a series of heart attacks for my parents, it looks like,” and carefully cups Jules’s face in her hand to kiss her again—properly, this time.

Jules’s mouth is pliant, her lips a little chapped; she pushes Jess against the back of the couch and kisses her deeper, and Jess hears the laughter and cheers around them pick up, and in that moment, everything is perfect.

5.

Jess has had a number of difficult conversations with her parents in her life—the one where they found out she was on the Gryffindor team; the one where she told them firmly that the Holyhead Harpies thought she and Jules were good enough to sign and under no circumstances would she let that chance go; the one where she brought Jules home again and told them that they could stop looking for a ‘good match’ for her—and by all accounts, this one shouldn’t be any harder.

“You thinking of telling them?” Jules says quietly in the locker room, when she catches Jess staring at the ring on her finger for a long moment, before she strings it on the chain she wears it on during games. There’s no judgment on her face; no, she knows about uncomfortable parental reactions to their engagement. Jess minds, though; it’s been two months since Jules put that ring on her finger, and Jess told herself long ago that she was done hiding things from her parents, especially things this important to her.

“It’s not that I’m scared,” she says, needs Jules to understand; but Jules touches her cheek with two fingers and gives her a look, says, “I know that.”

“I just—” Jess starts, breaks off as she searches for the words. “They know about us, but I don’t think they’ve let themselves realize that it’s for good, and if they—if they look all disappointed again, I just—. I don’t want to spoil this.” She gestures toward the ring swinging on its chain.

Jules knocks her knee against Jess’s, says with a slanted smile, “They’re coming to watch the game, aren’t they? Your dad thanked me personally for the birthday gift we sent, and your mum said I was too thin at dinner last week. They might react better than you think.”

Jess feels some of Jules’s certainty seep into her, straighten her posture, lend her strength. She nods decisively, tucks the chain inside her shirt and tugs on the rest of her gear.

“Right,” she says, getting off the bench and giving Jules a hand up as well. “Besides, Pinky just told them she’s pregnant, so—if there’s ever a time to tell them, it’s with the mood they’re in now.”

Jules grins at her, and steals a quick kiss.

“Sneaky girl,” she says, and jerks her head toward the door as they start to head out. “Now come on—we’ve got a game to play.”