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Carpe Corde

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There are many things around this school, and this country for that matter, that confuse Zero. He’s from a Muggle family, or at least, that’s what the Headmaster told him on his eleventh birthday. Zero’s not sure. The old man might have been bullshitting him. Zero has no idea what his mother’s name is, much less his father’s. His mother dropped him and his sister off on the steps of an old, Catholic church, telling Zero that he has to look after his sister, that she’ll be right back. It’s been 12 years, and she is still to reappear around the corner her dark brown hair disappeared behind. Being an orphan is something he’s made peace with. It was difficult, living with Leo and Carla, and he often took beatings for the other children, ushering them away before his nine year old body was beaten black and blue.

Those first few days in the orphanage scared him shitless, as did the first few days with Leo and Carla. The feeling slowly devolved into a confused helplessness that would spread over him until his arms would feel as heavy as the lead weighing down his soul. He often woke up from nightmares, either in a cold sweat, or from Laura’s nails digging into his arm as she tried to wake him up. There were many times where she was unsuccessful, where the sting of a slap or a bucket of ice water was dumped on him by either Leo or Carla. He got so much shit for waking them up, that many days are still a blank space in his memory as Leo’d beaten him black and blue.

Zero remembers the morning, quite vividly, when the Headmaster knocked on the rundown wooden house’s door. If he closes his eyes, he can still smell the mold from the bathroom, and the alcohol on Leo’s breath, along with the slurred swearing when Leo opened the front door. He remembers the calmness that washed over the house, how quiet it became. Zero remembers how helpless he felt when his sister was taken from their foster home, and how helpless he felt when the Headmaster told him about his magic, how he’d gotten it from his father. Zero didn’t even know who his father was, much less anything about magic. The thought strikes him at the oddest of times, when he feels like he’s about to drown under everything he doesn’t know about himself.

He’s been here for six years already, but that feeling of confused helplessness never seems to go away, no matter how hard he tries. Where he used to worry about his little sister, or how they would be able to keep the other children away from Leo’s drunken wrath, he now worries about magic and spells and cauldrons and just surviving this year with his head and heart intact.

He’s having difficulty with Transfiguration this year, the workload having tripled since fifth year. Between classes and Quidditch, Zero doesn’t exactly have the time to sit down and get into the basics of this year’s work. Humiliatingly enough, this is how Zero finds himself stuck in the library, on a Wednesday evening, with Jude Kinkade.

Jude, with the dark eyes, and the pouting lips. Jude, who Zero has been admiring (see: lusting after) for nearly as long as he’s been the captain of Slytherin’s Quidditch team. Jude, who’s from a Pureblood family, but only talks about his mother. Jude, whose father is Oscar Kinkade, the owner of the Devils Quidditch team. Jude, who’s a Hufflepuff prefect, and the top student in their year.

Zero’s not ashamed to admit that Jude makes him nervous. Jude has only ever been kind to him, always helping Zero whenever their paths crossed. This, however, is the first time they’re alone together, and it makes Zero sweat. He knows Jude was instructed to help Zero, but still.

Jude snaps his fingers in front of Zero’s face, and frowns. “Are you daydreaming again, or something?” he asks, completely unaware of Zero’s frustration with Jude’s face; how his robes deliciously hug his body, showing the outline of his broad shoulders; how he frowns when he concentrates, and how he chews on his lip when he’s thinking.

“No, I’m just tired. It’s been a long day,” Zero replies, leaning back in his chair. He stretches his hands above his head as he arches his back, and it makes a satisfying pop. Zero groans deeply, closing his eyes briefly to enjoy the stretch to the fullest. When he opens his eyes, and leans back over the table, where the old library tomes, rolls of parchment, inkpots and spare quills are stretched out, Jude’s bright yellow scarf, that belies his house, is resting on the table by his elbow. Jude’s frowning, his lip caught between his teeth and hands tightly clinging to one another, as if they need the other for moral support.

“Hey man, are you okay?” Zero asks. Jude clears his throat once, twice more, before he finally looks up at Zero.

“Fine. Let’s just get through this chapter, okay? Professor McGonagall will kick our asses if you’re not able to perform this spell in the morning.” Jude might have a point. Zero decides not to push. He hunkers down and tries to block all dirty thoughts as he watches Jude’s hands. He’s mostly successful.

Except that he casts a silencing charm around his bed as soon as his back hits the mattress that night, and his hand is down his pants. He comes in record time, biting his lips to stop himself from uttering Jude’s name, because that would make the butterflies mean something.

:::

The assigned tuition continues for weeks. Jude compliments Zero on his progress. Zero points out that Jude’s missing an ingredient during Potions class, even though he doesn’t remember them sharing a table before. Jude brings Zero dinner when practice runs late. Zero listens as Jude complains about Professor Vector assigning 30 pages worth of reading and a 10 page essay on how numerology can be an effective tool when dueling for his Advanced Arithmancy class. Zero doesn’t mention that the advanced elective is one of the most difficult subjects at school, and how everyone knows that Professor Vector chooses only the top ten most intelligent students for her class. He rubs Jude’s shoulder and tells his heart to shut up when Jude leans into the touch.

:::

It’s during the next week, when they get to work, and Zero almost forgets how Jude smiles at him when he finally understands a concept and they manage to finish the chapter in record time. Zero helps Jude stack the library books they used into a neat pile. Jude points his wand at them, and they float like obedient children over to the cart labeled Returns. “I will never get tired of seeing you do that,” Zero says around a smile. Jude ducks his head as a blush stains his cheeks, and Zero’s hands itch to run his fingertips over the apples of Jude’s cheeks to see if they’re warm under his blush.

Jude clears his throat, awkwardly shifting his bag from one shoulder to the other. “We should, uh, get going. It’s almost 9. I have rounds in an hour.” Zero nods and they make their way through the library and out the large double doors. They walk in amiable silence, hands brushing together every few paces. It makes Zero want, but he keeps his traitorous fingers to himself. He tells himself that Jude’s only helping him, because McGonagall assigned him the tuition.

They walk past the Potions classroom, past the kitchen where Jude stops in front of a large pile of barrels, which he taps in a pattern. A doorway opens, and Zero sees stairs curving upward. Jude turns back to him, a small smile on his lips.

“Goodnight Zero,” he says softly, as if they’re sharing a secret. Jude turns to leave, but pauses. He’s standing in the doorway, and the soft light of the torches bathe him in a soft golden glow. “What’s your real name?”

There’s a sudden lump in Zero’s throat and his palms are damp with sweat. He ducks his head, but provides no answer, even though Jude waits patiently.

“Night,” Zero replies in a whisper, not wanting to break whatever moment they seem to be sharing right now. Jude nods slightly and starts the ascent toward the Hufflepuff common room. He looks back briefly, right at Zero, before vanishing up the stairs.

The door closes. The corridor is quiet. Zero stumbles back toward his own house, his heart aching painfully.

Jelena is still awake when he enters the common room. She arches a perfectly shaped eyebrow at his deep sigh as he sits down next to her. He shakes his head and she shrugs. She shoves her cold toes under his thigh and flips the page of the book he didn’t even notice she was reading. Jelena is beautiful, and even though their relationship was based on a lie, and they crashed and burned spectacularly, she quickly became one of his closest friends. He knows he can trust her, he knows that he can tell her about this strange feeling in his stomach and how his heart swoops when Jude laughs or smiles at him. He can trust her with that information.

He’s just not sure if he can trust himself with it.

:::

Professor Uagadou assigns an absolutely ridiculous amount of homework for Alchemy, and Zero is slightly pissed off by the time he gets to Quidditch practice. Terrence is off his game and keeps screwing up even basic practice plays. Terrence, Zero, and a fifth year, Kyle, all nearly crash into each other when Zero called the Woolongong Shimmy (Zero laughed out loud when he heard the name of the particular play for the first time), where the three of them had to fly in a zig-zag motion, trying to work out their timing, when Terrence nearly caused Kyle to fall off of her broom. She swore up a streak, while dangling upside down, her blonde ponytail pointing straight down toward the Quidditch pitch.

Zero makes the team fly drills for an hour before dismissing them, with practice already scheduled for the next day. They have a match on Saturday, and he sure as shit plans on being smug as fuck when they beat Gryffindor.

Zero’s very carefully checking that the bludgers and quaffles are all strapped down, securing a loose bat, before shutting the lid of the equipment trunk. He can feel a pair of eyes on him, but he refuses to turn around. He can feel Kyle’s nervous energy, and in an effort to sooth the ache behind his eyes, ignores her for a few extra seconds. Once the lid is securely closed, she appears next to him, as if summoned by magic, startling him slightly.

“Shit, Kyle, don’t do that.” She grins at him, grabbing the handle of the trunk and motioning to him to grab the other side.

“You know,” she drawls, her southern accent making him miss the States for a hot second. “Jude knows a nifty charm that can make the trunk fly to the equipment shed, all by itself.” Zero just knows that she has a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“I’m aware.” Zero intones dully. He is as bored with the conversation as he is anxious over what Kyle seems to be implying.

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with him,” she states, not waiting for confirmation. “You should ask him out.”

Zero splutters, nearly dropping the trunk as he stops in his tracks to stare at Kyle. She has an eyebrow raised in challenge. “I don’t-“ he starts, but she cuts him off.

“Oh please, you do,” she says, squaring his shoulders. “He’s my friend, and I don’t want to see him get hurt. If you’re not going to make a move on him, then make that clear to him. Don’t leave him pining after you, if you don’t plan on fucking his brains out st some point. ”

Zero gapes at her, staring at her back after she drops the trunk and makes her way to the tunnel leading to the change rooms. Zero feels momentarily stunned. He drags the trunk all the way back to the shed, his mind racing a mile a minute.

He has a migraine brewing behind his eyelids by the time he makes it to the library. He’s only a few minutes late as he hurries down the aisles toward the table at the back, near the restricted section where he and Jude always work. Zero stops in his tracks though, as he sees Lucas, a seventh-year Slytherin, leaning against their table. He’s leering at Jude, who seems mildly uncomfortable. Zero storms over, his bag knocking into Lucas’ hip as he drops it on the table. The movement jostles Lucas, and Jude looks up, smiling warmly at Zero. “Practice run late?” he asks, and Zero grunts an affirmation.

“Well,” Lucas says after glancing between Jude and Zero, slapping his hands against his legs, “I best be going. See you around Jude. Zero.” Lucas nods at Zero, but winks at Jude and slithers off, his robes swishing behind him. Zero and Jude watch him leave, and Zero wants to punch him in the face. It’s irrational, yes, but Jude is his dammit. Even if it causes traitorous butterflies to erupt in his stomach at the mere thought.

Jude shuffles his parchments around, opening a large tome on Trans-Species Transfiguration, one of their electives, and then opens another dusty book on Human Transfiguration. “So, let’s go over some of the basics again before we look at the assigned inter-species reading.” Zero nods, feeling like his brain is being squeezed, but he grits his teeth and bears it. Wednesday is his favourite day of the week, because he gets to spend two hours alone with Jude. He relishes in their quiet jokes, and how Jude only ever looks at him with kind eyes whenever Zero asks him to explain something again.

Zero’s anxious, glancing at Jude every few minutes as the other man practices his non-verbal spells on an apple he must have snagged after dinner, on his way to the library. Zero isn’t even sure if he read anything of the chapter, or if he was just turning the pages as a habit. Before he knows it, it’s 9pm and they’ve packed up all of their books and are headed back to their common rooms.

“What’s your real name?” Jude asks quietly, but to Zero his whispered question might as well have been a howler in the middle of breakfast.

Zero thinks of ignoring the question like he did a week before, but sighs before he finally answers. “My foster parents gave us numbers, instead of bothering to learn our names.” Zero replies.

“That’s awful.” Jude says, and Zero doesn’t spare a stray thought to feeling bad for himself about his life, when Jude kisses him.

His lips are soft and supple and Zero wants to lick and bite his way into Jude’s mouth. He feels his hands stroke up Jude’s chest to secure themselves to his shoulders before pushing Jude away from him. Their lips make an audible pop as they detach from each other.

“Whoa, Jude! You’re barking up the wrong tree here, but you’re clearly barking.” Zero says, knowing that he’s doing the right thing, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Jude’s face falls and Zero’s heart aches when Jude steps back, mortification colouring his cheeks.

“Right,” Jude mumbles. “My apologies. I clearly read our interactions of the last month, wrong. Goodnight.” Jude bites out, and Zero can almost see Jude’s mortification carrying a blush over his cheeks. He wants to stop, he wants to reach out for Jude’s hand, he wants to kiss him back. He wants to, so badly, but he’s scared. Jude disappears down the passageway, his name dying on Zero’s tongue before he can call out to him.

Zero stands quietly, hating himself for not running after Jude, for not explaining. He shoves his hands deep into the pockets of his robes and follows the path Jude took, back to his own common room. He feels exhausted, like his bones are made of lead. He gets into bed, but he doesn’t sleep. Just another thing he’s going to hate himself for in the morning.

:::

He’s awake at four on Saturday morning. He’s tying his boots quietly in the common room when Jelena rounds the corner that leads to the girls’ dormitory. He’s always admired her dancer’s gait, and the way she can quietly move from one side of the room to the other without being noticed.

She sits on the sofa, back pressed against the worn material, pulling her legs underneath herself. The fact that she doesn’t say anything, grates on Zero’s nerves more than her presence does. Once his laces are double tied, Zero hangs his head. His hands dangle between his spread thighs. The pale white of his hands contrast starkly with the emerald green Quidditch robes he’s required to wear for today’s match against Gryffindor.

“You know,” Jelena starts, “Lucas asked your boy out. As far as I know, he said yes.”

Zero stomach sinks past his feet and he feels sick. He wants to jump up and start shouting that it isn’t fair that Lucas gets to ask Jude out. It isn’t fair that he gets to be with Jude when Zero doesn’t.

“You’re an idiot,” she says.

That’s something they can agree on.

:::

The entire match is a mess. His team is all over the place, and it just feels like they’re getting their asses handed to them. Their seeker catches the snitch, and they win with two points to spare, but Zero doesn’t feel like celebrating. He spots Lucas sitting next to Jude on the pavilion, and he watches as they leave together. Zero feels like throwing up.

:::

Jelena’s sitting next to Zero in the Great Hall during breakfast, when Lucas drops down on Zero’s left with his back toward the table. His legs are splayed open in front of him like he’s airing his balls, or something. Zero hates him.

“I’m really glad I followed you to the library,” he says. Zero feels himself frowning in Lucas’ direction. “Jude Kinkade has a brilliant mouth on him,” he’s smiling as he says it. Zero turns to follow Lucas’ leering stare, only to make eye-contact with Jude at his own house’s table. Jude ducks his head and Zero’s chest aches.

“He’s agreed to go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend. Gonna see what else his mouth is good for.”

Zero’s hand tightens around his fork and he’s ready to snarl at Lucas. He feels Jelena’s cool fingers on his wrist, turning his head toward her in time to hear her tell Lucas off. “Why don’t you slither off Lucas. No one’s interested in hearing about your love-life,” she says coldly.

Lucas laughs loudly, no doubt attracting all eyes in the Great Hall. Zero still feels like stabbing him. Not a lot, just enough to make him bleed a little bit. Lucas leaves, leering at a group of fifth year girls on his way out.

They sit in silence, Zero having completely lost his appetite. His mouth tastes like ash.

“That was your own fault,” Jelena says. She gets ready to leave, no doubt she’s going to keep herself occupied with whatever it is she does over a weekend.

“Fix it,” she commands.

Zero only wishes he knew how.

:::

He starts off by trying to talk to Jude, but even as tall as Jude is, he blends in with the students around him. Whenever Zero spots him, calling his name, Jude looks around like a frightened animal and finds a way to disappear from view. Zero’s pretty sure Jude managed to hide between first years, before escaping down an unseen corridor.

Zero only curses himself out three times, before redoubling his efforts. He’s bound to be successful.

It’s been three days since Lucas’ slimy comments, when Zero finally manages to corner Jude. He finds Jude in the library, at their table, and Zero blocks his escape by stepping in front of him until Jude sighs and folds his arms over his chest.

“Can we talk?” Zero asks. He suddenly feels timid. Jude won’t look at him.

“There’s nothing to say, Zero,” Jude mumbles. “I’m sorry that I made you feel uncomfortable.”

“Jude, you didn’t- I’m just-“ Zero tries, but Jude cuts him off.

“I know, okay. I’m trying to avoid you, so that we don’t have to have this conversation.”

“You don’t know anything. Just let me-“ Zero tries again, but Jude takes a step back and Zero knows that he’s made this so much worse. “Wait, no, that came out wrong.”

“I have to go,” Jude mumbles, hurriedly collecting books, parchment and quills into his arms.

“Jude, please.” Zero calls after him. He feels his heart sink even lower, which Zero wasn’t sure was possible.

“Gideon!” he finally shouts. Jude stops, but doesn’t turn. “My name’s Gideon.” Zero says, just loud enough for his voice to reach Jude. Jude doesn’t say anything, just starts walking back toward the front of the library.

Zero runs a hand over his face and resolutely tells himself not to cry out in frustration. Or to cry at all.

:::

Jelena drags him out of bed at eight on Saturday morning. It’s a Hogsmeade weekend, and she needs someone to carry her bags of shopping around. He almost asks her why she can’t get Terrence to go with her instead, but he bites his tongue. He’s an asshole, yes, but he would never intentionally hurt a friend. Zero’s in a foul mood though, knowing that Jude and Lucas will be out and about as well. He grumbles his way through a shower and getting dressed, through breakfast and the bitterly cold walk from the castle to the little town a few miles from the ornate black gates of Hogwarts.

She drags him to Dogweed and Deathcaps to collect a plant for a Herbology experiment. They wander through the music shop across the way, flipping through records while music plays softly through the store.

Jelena drags him into the hairdresser’s salon to collect something foul smelling that Jelena says she needs. He doesn’t ask why. He just figures it’s better to keep his mouth shut and clutch another paper bag.

Jelena’s paying for her foul-smelling goo, when something catches his eye. Jude’s walking out of the Three Broomsticks and Lucas is plastered to his side. He keeps trying to kiss Jude, who keeps turning his face away. Jude looks incredibly uncomfortable, squirming away as much as possible, but Lucas has octopus limbs. Zero looks away. This is his own fault. Jude practically threw himself at Zero, and Zero shot him down in the worst possible way.

He clenches his fists around the handles of Jelena’s shopping bags. He wishes that the soft paper handles would dig into his palms. He’s done this to himself, and he shouldn’t be jealous when someone else is taking what could have been his.

He looks up again. He’s clearly a glutton for punishment. Lucas smears a kiss on the corner of Jude’s mouth, slightly pulling on his bottom lip with his teeth.

Zero vaguely registers the sound of bags hitting the tiled floor of the salon, and the jingle of the little bell above the door, before he feels the texture of Lucas’ coat under his fingers. He yanks on the collar, pulling Lucas away and pulling his arm back. Pain blooms across his knuckles as they slam into Lucas’ nose.

He feels hands on his shoulders, pulling him away. There’s shouting, and it might be him, Lucas or Jude. Maybe it’s all three of them. He’s being turned, his feet moving of their own accord. It feels like an eternity before his brain registers that Jude’s holding his hand and is tugging him back to school. Zero’s vaguely aware that he shouted at Lucas, telling him that he’s not allowed to slobber over Jude.

They stumble into an empty classroom, the door swinging shut behind them. Jude takes a deep breath and Zero fears he might start talking at any minute; talking himself (and Zero) out of giving this, them, a chance.

“Gideon, I-“ Jude starts, but Zero cuts him off by kissing him. His name on Jude's lips gives him goosebumps, and Zero wants Jude so much in a split second, that his heart aches from two simple syllables.

“I’m sorry. God, I’m so fucking sorry. I’m an asshole. There’s no excuse for what I did and how I treated you. I just-“ Zero mumbles against Jude’s mouth. “Jude, please, please just give me a chance to show you that I’m not. Fuck.”

“Gideon.” Jude whispers, his fingers clutch at Zero’s sweater. Zero feels warm at the sound of his name being said in such a soft manner. “Lucas and I-“

“I don’t care what you did with Lucas,” he says, kissing Jude again. “No, that’s a lie. I care, and it pisses me off that he got to touch you, taste you, fuck- just, you shouldn’t go out with him.“ he cuts himself off, diving in for another kiss, Jude’s Why not? being mumbled against Zero’s mouth.

Jude’s fingers drag through his hair, tugging lightly, as he returns the kiss. Zero pulls Jude’s bottom lip between his, and drags his tongue over it. He leans back, their lips mere centimetres apart, and Zero ducks back in, pressing one, two, three kisses to Jude’s parted mouth. Zero feels Jude’s fingers digging into his shoulders, before he pushes him away. Their lips audibly pop as they separate. “Go out with me instead.” Zero whispers.

“We didn’t do anything,” Jude says instead, “Lucas and I. He kissed me, and I pushed him away.” Jude finishes, eyes trained on the dusty classroom floor beneath their feet.

Zero feels his heart stutter. They didn’t sleep together? Zero feels his mouth curve into a smile, grinning broader and broader, until he can’t not kiss Jude. He slides their lips together and presses Jude back until he’s sitting on a table.

“Thank fuck,” he murmurs between wet kisses. He slides between Jude’s parted legs and presses right up against him. He can feel every inch of Jude’s body pressed against his, and it is glorious. He steps back after a moment. He’s not going to fuck Jude in a dusty classroom, and says as much. Jude’s cheeks are rosy, and Zero palms his face, relishing in the sweet warmth under his fingertips.

Zero presses their foreheads together and breathes in the scent of dust and a faint cinnamon smell still clinging to Jude from a cinnamon bun he must have eaten in Hogsmeade. Zero’s certain that he’d taste caramel icing on Jude’s fingers, if he were to suck the digits into his mouth.

Jude’s nails scratch through Zero’s hair as he cradles the back of Zero’s head like he’s made of glass. Zero can’t not say it. He feels the words bubble from between his lips, like water slipping from his mouth after Quidditch practise.

“I’m in love with you.”

“I know,” Jude whispers into his mouth. Zero feels himself grin again. He’s not even going to mention that Jude just Han Solo’d him. He just tells Jude again. And again. And again.

:::