Mal is handing out their patrol assignments with far too much glee.
"Arthur," she says, biting back a smile.
Arthur heaves a sigh and mentally braces himself.
"You're with Eames tonight. Sixth floor."
"Oh, delight," Eames immediately cries from the other side of the cluster of prefects. He gives Arthur a wide grin. "It's been too long! We're going to have fun."
Arthur gives him a look that says fuck off as eloquently as any words ever could. "Seriously?" he says to Mal. "Why can't I go with Yusuf? Or Ariadne?"
"Because McGonagall says," Mal says, flapping the assignment charts at Arthur. "Don’t worry, Ariadne gets a Slytherin, too; she's with Saito down in the dungeons. I do not make the assignments, Arthur, I am only the deliverer. And it's only for a couple of hours. Yes?"
But Saito is at least quiet, Arthur thinks plaintively.
"Think of it as an exercise in interhouse relations," Eames says, slinging an arm around Arthur's shoulder. "We could share secrets! And braid each other's hair! And do, I don't know, trust falls."
Arthur, setting his robes straight, wonders where Eames has been watching Muggle corporate teambuilding videos.
"Or you could just stick to patrolling the corridors," Dom cuts in. "All right, people. Move out."
Mal waggles her fingers at Arthur as the prefects disperse. Arthur shoots her and Dom a glare, and Dom, standing beside Mal like the useless Head Boy he is, shrugs helplessly. Ariadne gives Arthur a sympathetic pat on the arm before she heads off downstairs.
"Come along, dear," Eames says, striding on ahead. "We have curfew-breakers to kill! I mean, discipline."
Arthur, with some reluctance, follows.
Arthur and Eames do, actually, get along for the most part. Eames has been his Potions partner since first year, where an accident of numbers forced them together, and they haven't yet killed each other, which Arthur marks down as a win. He is gregarious and charming and if his snarkiness occasionally crosses the line into malice, he is for the most part harmless, far more bark than bite.
Except for that one time during that Quidditch match, second year. Arthur is fairly certain he still has the scars.
But it is true – for a Slytherin, Eames is almost tolerable, if a godawful nuisance to put up with. He at least has always been willing to talk to Arthur with words other than insults and insinuations, if only about whatever assignment they're working on at the time, and if he gives him no respect, well, he doesn't give anyone else any respect anyway. And, to his credit, he's never given Arthur any trouble about being a Muggle-raised half-blood, where he's had nothing but grief about it from just about every other Slytherin in their year. Considering this Arthur has wondered, once in awhile, whether the rumours of Eames's less-than-purely-pure origin are true, but would never be so impolitic as to bring it up.
Unless Eames really ticks him off.
"So, you've never said. How did a swot like you end up in Gryffindor and not Ravenclaw?" Eames asks, hands jammed casually in his pockets as he strolls alongside Arthur.
Arthur gives him a sidelong look and calculates whether or not Eames is looking for a serious response, and whether or not Arthur should give him one, or whether or not he should just reply snidely, So how did a mouthy prat like you end up as prefect?
This gives him a headache, so after a second Arthur just settles his robes more smoothly over his shoulders and decides to go with the truth. "The Hat talked me out of it," he says. "I thought I'd end up in Ravenclaw by default, but it said I would be limiting my opportunities if I 'settled for a lifetime of books and scrolls and dusty research over innovation and excitement'. I tried explaining that I liked books and scrolls and dusty research, really, but it evidently saw more in me."
Eames eyes him with interest. "You had that long of a conversation with it?"
Arthur shrugs defensively. "Doesn't everyone?"
"Well, I certainly didn't," Eames says. "No sooner was the Hat on my head than it started laughing at me and put me in Slytherin. Bit anticlimactic, really, I was hoping for something a touch more, I don't know, prolonged and dramatic."
"Yes," Arthur says. In his mind's eye he is eleven years old, wet and cold and intimidated and thrilled beyond words to be sitting at his House table, watching his peers being sorted under the flickering light of dozens of floating candles and the lightning streaking through the stormy night sky above. "I do remember that, actually."
Eames, a few steps ahead of Arthur now, spins round and says with demonic delight, walking backwards all the while, "You do? Why, darling, I'm touched. I never thought you'd noticed. Never thought you'd cared. Have you been holding a torch for me all this time?"
"Don't make a thing out of it," Arthur says darkly while Eames laughs, swinging back round the right way as he falls into step beside Arthur again. "You've never been the most inconspicuous person, you know, Eames, even back then. You were probably the most obnoxious first year the school's ever seen."
"I was, wasn't I," Eames says fondly. "But, hey. I can be inconspicuous."
"Stealth," Eames says. "Deception. I'm pretty good at it, you know."
"Ah, well, Slytherin," Arthur says.
"Oh, please," Eames says. "Prejudice. Like you Gryffindors aren't just as much a group of sneaky buggers as we are; you just happen to be guilty about it afterwards. Well," he amends, "the rest of them are. I'm not so sure about you."
"What," Arthur says, "I don't feel guilty, or I don't do the sneaking in the first place?"
His cheeks are going hot. Where is this coming from, exactly? All Arthur wanted was a nice mellow evening on patrol – maybe a half-hour in a corner with Hogwarts: A History if things were quiet –
What he is really wondering is, when was Eames looking at him so closely as to have opinions on him? And why did he never notice?
"The latter, my dear," Eames says. "I'll wager that you don't even know about the peephole behind the tapestry of the Green Knight outside the prefect's bathroom, you honourable little swot."
"What?" Arthur says, and then he repeats himself: "What?"
"Hmm?" Eames says.
Now, Arthur can feel himself flush up to his hairline. "You didn't," Arthur says with growing horror. "You haven't."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Eames says.
"That is," Arthur says. "I mean."
Eames is looking at him closely. "Never mind," he says with a laugh. "I was just joking, you know. You mustn't take everything so seriously."
"No, you definitely weren't," Arthur says.
Eames walks away. "Yeah, well," he says over his shoulder.
Arthur has to hurry to catch up with him. "Wait," he says. He reaches out to grab Eames's wrist but then thinks better of it, keeping his hands at his sides. "Say what you want to say."
Eames's face tenses up. "You probably don't want me to."
"Try me," Arthur says, crossing his arms.
Eames is staring at him. Arthur wonders, briefly, if he has something growing on his face, from the intensity of his eyes.
"Okay," Eames says finally. "See, the things is, I remember you, too."
"Yeah, I hope so, Eames," Arthur says, "we've been taking classes together for five years. I'd send you to Madam Pomfrey otherwise."
Eames isn't laughing. He shakes his head sharply. "No. From our Sorting, I mean."
"Okay," Arthur says slowly.
"Damn it," Eames says. He runs a hand through his neatly combed hair. "I'm doing this all wrong, aren't I?"
"I don’t even know what it is you're doing," Arthur says. A seed of suspicion, however, has rooted itself in Arthur's stomach, and he stares at Eames, unable to move, waiting for him to go on.
"Forget it," Eames says, shaking his head. He turns away. "No, never mind."
Arthur touches his arm and turns him back. "No, wait," he says. "Say it."
Eames looks at the floor. "At our Sorting," he says. "I didn't even know you. I'd just seen you on the train, and then later, on the boats – anyway. Just – when I heard the Hat put you in Gryffindor I thought, damn, that's a shame. I wish it hadn't."
He finishes in a rush and then bites his lip, staring at Arthur.
"Oh," Arthur says.
"Oh, my God," Eames says. "Forget I said anything. I'm going to walk the other way now."
"No – "
Arthur realises he still has his hand on Eames's arm. He shakes it a little now, thumb pressing hard into the soft crease of Eames's elbow.
"You?" he asks. "Me?"
"All this time," Eames says miserably. "I know. Fuck. I know. You never guessed?"
Arthur shakes his head, and Eames shrugs ruefully.
"Ah, well," he says. "I told you I was good at the whole deception lark."
Arthur takes his hand off Eames's arm. Eames makes a move as if he's about to leave, but Arthur lays a hand along the side of his face.
"You could have said," Arthur says, and then he kisses Eames.
Eames makes a startled noise under Arthur's mouth and then he closes his eyes, relaxing abruptly under Arthur's hands. Arthur walks him backward against the statue of Ragnvald the Rabid; Eames's lips are hungry and insistent and it's not until Arthur's hands slip down to Eames's side and Eames's head thunks against the marble that he pulls away with a gasp.
"Aughhh ha ha ow," Eames says. He twists away and pulls up his shirt to check on his side; a vicious dark yellowing bruise is spread across his ribs. Arthur tries not to stare at that expanse of bare skin. "Combat injury. Bludgers are mean. Tread carefully, my love."
"Not just now, sorry," Arthur says, and somehow they have ended up behind the statue, Arthur's back pressed against the cool stone wall; Eames is the one to invade his space this time, pushing him back even harder, hand sliding up under Arthur's shirt, his fingers drifting across Arthur's chest as his tongue slips past Arthur's lips.
"Mmph," Arthur says helplessly.
There is a rustling noise somewhere in the distance. Eames goes still, pulling away slightly from Arthur; Arthur, trying to catch his breath, is a little slower on the uptake.
"Fuck," Eames hisses into Arthur's ear. "Keep it down." Arthur holds his breath and together, they peer into the darkness. There is, Arthur can see now, a student attempting to sneak down the hall and into the boys' bathroom. Any second now, he's going to walk right past them; Arthur frantically grabs a fistful of Eames's shirt and shoves him from behind the statue into the light of the hall.
Eames gathers himself and glares hotly. What do you want me to do? he mouths, pulling his shirt straight.
Arthur flails one hand at him desperately. Go deal with it, he mouths back, and then Eames shakes his head and rolls his eyes and steps out from behind the statue to seize the interloper by the sleeve of his robe.
"Here now, what are you doing up here?"
Arthur peers around the statue, trying to stay in the shadows as much as possible. He recognises the student as a third-year from his own house and sighs internally. Gryffindor, through no fault of his own and certainly not due to any sort of scheme he and Dom and Ariadne cooked up in the Astronomy Tower last week, is at the bottom of the ranks for the House Cup, and can't afford to lose any points right now. He doesn't hold out much hope that Eames will have mercy.
"None of your business," the third-year replies rudely, and Arthur winces. "What were you doing lurking behind the statue?"
Eames crosses his arms and stares him down impressively. "Waiting to catch rule-breaking little shits like you, obviously," he says. "Fifty points from Gryffindor."
"You can't do that," the third-year says.
Arthur, huddled behind Ragnvald, agrees. He cannot audibly clear his throat at Eames, but he does so mentally, and, as if he hears, Eames sighs.
"Fine," he says. "Five points from Gryffindor, and if I catch you up here again you are going to make a very nice throw rug for the foot of my bed; it gets chilly down there in the dungeons, you know. Am I understood?"
"Yeah, all right," the third-year says, and as he leaves Eames gives him a little push between the shoulderblades.
"Snappier," he says. "Pick up your feet, son."
The third-year gives him an ugly glare but obeys, scurrying off down the stairs.
"Cheeky bastard," Eames says, watching him go. "We weren't that bratty when we were that age, were we?"
"You were," Arthur says, coming out from behind Ragnvald. He half-sits on the base of the statue. "I think we've established that."
"Yes, and you love me for it," Eames says. He fixes his tie and settles the collar of his shirt, or tries to, anyway; Arthur, whose soul itches at the sight, knocks his hands away and reaches up to do the job properly.
"Thank you," Eames says when Arthur's finished. There is something strange in the sound of his voice; Arthur pulls his hands away, uncertain, but Eames catches his hands and holds them, curling his fingers into Arthur's.
"No problem," Arthur says, voice pitched low. He stands; Eames, still holding his hands, pulls him in close.
"To think we could have been doing this all along," he says. "All that wasted time." Eames kisses him, lingering and slow; when he draws back, he nips at Arthur's lower lip, and before Arthur's brain can catch up with his fingers he finds that his hands are already in Eames's hair and at the back of his neck, pulling his head down for more.
Eames laughs and kisses him again.
"Oops," Arthur says, leaning his forehead against Eames's. "We're undoing all my good work."
Eames smiles. "Don't worry," he says. "From now on, I will let you fix my clothes up all you want so long as you're the one putting them awry. Is that a deal?"
"When you put it like that," Arthur says.
Eames dashes a hand through his hair, attempting to settle it. Arthur almost thinks he sees a tremble in Eames's fingers.
"Right," Eames says, "what's the time?"
Arthur digs his watch out from his pocket and makes a face. "Half-past. They'll be expecting us back soon."
"Must we?" Eames says morosely, and Arthur raises his eyebrows, tossing his watch in his hand.
Eames sighs and then waves a hand down the hall. "Fine, I declare this floor free of curfew breakers," he says. "C'mon. Let's go."
They are rounding the corner to the Great Hall when Eames, with a quick glance over his shoulder, suddenly steps away from Arthur's side.
"So," he says loudly, pushing back his already rolled-up sleeves. "I'll met you next week for your, um. Tutoring! Tutoring session."
Arthur turns, confused. Ariadne, back from her circuit of the first floor, is coming up on their heels, looking bored. "Not tutoring, Eames," he says equally loudly, trying to inject some annoyance into his voice, "keep up, please. Revising. Mutual revising. Of the notes. The Transfiguration notes. For our, um, OWLs."
"Yes!" Eames says. "So we'll meet in the, ah."
"The study room off the library," Arthur says, after casting a desperate look up at the ceiling. Ariadne, at his elbow now, gives his face a curious glance. "In the back. Off the Restricted Section."
"Yes, exactly," Eames says. "That way we won't disturb anyone with our – "
"Revising," Arthur says quickly.
Eames grins at the floor, scrubbing a hand over his chin, and when he looks back up at Arthur he drops him a wink. "Revising," he repeats. "Of course. Well, I'm off back to the bowels of hell with the rest of my demon brethren. You can do the – the whole reporting thing yourself, yeah? I'll see you in Potions tomorrow morning."
"Yes," Arthur says. "Potions. Yes, definitely."
Eames gives him a cocky salute as he turns to go. Arthur does not let himself watch Eames leave, but instead turns to Ariadne and says, voice falsely bright, "Back to the common room, then?"
Ariadne has fixed him with a calculating look. "What, we're not good enough for you? We're studying with the Slytherins now?"
"Sure," Arthur says. "You know how rubbish I am at Transfiguration, and he's top of the class. Might as well pick his brains while he's willing, right?'
"But, the Slytherins," Ariadne says. "That Slytherin."
Arthur tsks at her, feeling suddenly giddy and full. "What's that Dumbledore's always saying about fostering interhouse cooperation and respect?" he says. "And if he pulls anything I can always hex him into next week, no harm no foul, we're back at square one."
"I just hope you didn't promise him anything in return," Ariadne says.
"What, my broomstick, my Herbology notes, my soul on a platter?" Arthur says. "Come on. I'm being opportunistic here, not stupid."
"Well," Ariadne says skeptically, "I guess," but Arthur is already walking away, ducking his head so she can't see the grin that is already tugging his lips wide, unbidden.
He finds that he's never been quite so excited for double-Potions before.