A/N: Sorry it took so long to update, I've been really busy with college and such. Also: this is not the last chapter. Though I think the next one will be.
I'd just like to say that people sending me rather rude emails about me not updating and how unjust I'm being is unnecessary. If anything, emails like that only discourage me more to update because it makes writing seem less fun and more of a chore. If I haven't updated a story for a long time it doesn't mean I'm doing it on purpose, it's simply because I haven't got the time at the moment. If it's impossible for you to be patient then I suggest you just look elsewhere for fic.
That being said, I do love all you readers, though probably just the nicer ones who understand that fanfic authors don't devote all their time to writing - we're human beings and have lives too! I apologize if I sound in any way presumptuous here – it wasn't intended. I hope you have a nice day!
"I'm the Half Blood Prince."
Echoes were made as the stranger's shoes clicked against the floor. They stepped forward towards James and Lily, so far forward the stranger seemed no stranger anymore…
"Why am I not surprised you would say that?" James replied, as the person shone the tip of their wand in their faces and light illuminated their features. "Derrick," he added disdainfully.
"Sorry." The blond faked the apology with an amused sneer. "Was it that obvious?"
Lily hadn't taken in the exchange and the heated glares between the boys at all; her mind was too busy racing with denial at what Derrick had just so easily slipped out.
"Wait just a damn second here," she butted in, and James eyed her rapidly, confused. "You," she started, pointing at Derrick and only receiving an even more entertained sneer. She was so frustratingly perplexed she had to stop and get her head around what on Earth was happening. She started again, staring at Derrick intensely, "You told me you weren't the Half Blood Prince."
A scornful laugh came from his lips, which only turned Lily more puzzled and James with more of an urge to rip him to shreds.
"Ever heard of lying? Surely you're familiar with that."
She shook her head at him; she didn't know why she was refusing to believe him when he was fearlessly admitting to being the Prince, but something just didn't add up. "No… something isn't right here. You're not the Prince."
"I think I know who I am."
"You're not him."
Completely mystified by her negation of Derrick's confession, James took her arm and said quietly in her ear, "If he says he's the Half Blood Prince then he is the Half Blood Prince-"
"He's not him!" she bellowed, and James was reminded that being on the receiving end of shouting wasn't at all pleasant. He felt a little embarrassed that Lily was acting this way, especially in front of Derrick. They weren't supposed to be this couple that shouted at each other and looked as though they'd hit rock bottom lately, they were supposed to be this couple that looked blissfully in love, as though Derrick could do nothing to interfere.
"Why are you so disappointed that I'm the Prince, Lily?" Derrick asked out of curiosity, cocking his head to one side. "Is there a specific somebody you were hoping the Prince would be instead?"
"Of course there isn't," James answered for her. "She didn't ask you to stalk her, you complete and utter-"
"Oh, Lily can't speak for herself now, can she?"
She had to tug James back by the elbow before he had a chance to march forward and sock him in the face. "I refuse to believe you are the Half Blood Prince without any evidence," she said persistently.
The couple's eyes grew wide in terror as Derrick took out a gleaming knife from his pocket. Protectively, James moved Lily behind him. "Have you lost your mind?" he yelled at the boy. "What the hell are you doing?"
His eyes stayed on Lily's all the while as he grasped the knife firmly in both hands, positioning it to the flesh of his neck, close enough that if he moved his hand just an inch nearer his throat would be sliced with the blade. 'My knife, your throat', he mouthed, with a tremendous grin afterwards. "Ring any bells, Lily?"
"You're sick," James spat at him, holding tight onto Lily in case Derrick tried anything. "You're sick in the head. You should be sent to Azkaban where you'll rot alone and…"
But Lily didn't listen to the rest of James' continuous threats - the image of Derrick mouthing those four dangerous words kept repeating in her head. He had to be the Half Blood Prince, didn't he? There was simply no other way Derrick could have known about that note if he wasn't him. Then why did Lily feel a small amount of suspicion that Derrick might be covering for someone?
She kept quiet.
"You just couldn't handle the fact that she chose the better man," James smirked, "could you?"
Derrick put the knife away again, much to James and Lily's relief. "If I recall," he started snootily, "you and Lily went out on a date, then the very next day she decided to be my girlfriend."
James side-glanced at Lily - she looked away, embarrassed at the memory. He was embarrassed too. "She was…" He hated it when he stumbled when he spoke – Potters didn't stumble. "She was just confused about her feelings for me. It was a stupid mistake. You manipulated her."
"Excuse after excuse after excuse," Derrick complained in a bored fashion. He crossed his arms and asked James, in too much of a casual manner for him to stand, "So, how did you find out about me? Did she tell you?" He looked at Lily out of the corner of his eye and smiled; she continued to keep quiet and stare at the ground. "Or… did you find out by yourself?" Judging by how uncomfortable they looked, Derrick figured it was the latter. "That's it, isn't it? She didn't tell you, and you found out. Tut tut, Lily, shouldn't be keeping things from the boyfriend now—"
"Shut up. Shut the fuck up."
"Am I getting on your nerves, James?"
He was so close their foreheads were practically touching. "Since day one," he growled out. It seemed as though it was taking him a lot of restraint to keep his arms pinned to his sides, so much they were shaking, and all Lily could do was touch his back and hope his anger wouldn't get the better of him.
"What are you going to do to me this time?" Derrick questioned. "Hit me? Hex me? Both? I can tell you: I'm better prepared this year. Been brushing up on my Dark Arts." That had done it – James had grabbed him by the collar. "Of course," he went on, "that's expected when you're following the path of the Dark Lord-"
"Don't you even say that name in front of me."
"Oh don't be so virtuous." Derrick scowled at James, looking as though he was about to heave at the sight of him. He was getting slightly impatient that James hadn't done anything yet, just held him by the neck of his shirt and glared fiercely. "Do it," he egged James on.
He could feel Lily's fingers touch his back; he roughly thrust Derrick away at once. The blond struggled to keep his balance, and then returned to his usual self-righteous stance. "Don't tell me being Head Boy has made you into a better person?" he laughed, sounding even a little disappointed.
James side-glanced at Lily again. "You could say that."
"You've become very boring," Derrick stated. "I sent your girlfriendlove letters and you're just going to stand there and do nothing?"
James looked hesitant for a moment - was he being a fool to let Derrick get away unharmed after all this? He'd wanted to kill the Prince when he found who it was, but being present in front of the Prince now, staring at the scum that was Derrick, punishing someone so insignificant didn't seem worth his time.
"I'm not going to do anything to you," he told Derrick, who looked upon him open-mouthed. "I don't know why –maybe you're a sick masochist- but you want me to hurt you. You want me to kick off and make a fuss, and you want Lily scared, and it's not worth it." He laughed all of a sudden. "You're not worth it. You're not worth my time, you're not worth Lily's time, and you're not worth anybody's."
Derrick tried not to look at all affected by his unpleasant words, but his jaw had significantly tightened.
"Now listen closely," James went on, voice low but heated. "I could tell Dumbledore all about all this-" he squeezed Lily's hand tightly, ignoring the limp sensation it had "-but I'm not going to, because I'm not a snitch. But if you send her one more letter, or even make her just the smallest amount of uncomfortable, I'm going straight to Dumbledore, and you'll be kicked out of this castle faster than I can say 'Quidditch'. And trust me, I will personally forget all my newfound morals and hurt you so bad that it will surpass pains of a mother giving birth to sextuplets."
James kept a tight hold of his wand in his pocket, preparing himself for Derrick to argue, throw a ruckus and start a fight - but the boy looked strangely defeated, though still haughty as ever. James had won, and it felt good.
"Message clear?" he made sure.
Derrick sent him a condescending leer. "Crystal."
"Good." James' arm went around Lily's shoulders - they felt taut. "We'll be leaving, then."
"So soon?" Derrick feigned regret.
"I'm afraid so," James kept the happy charade going. He began to steer Lily down the corridor; she was still deathly quiet as ever. "Count your lucky stars I'm no longer the person the person I was last year, who would kick your face in without a trace of regret," he threw over his shoulder.
"Believe me," Derrick muttered resentfully. "I will."
The second the couple disappeared down the corridor, he punched the wall, earning a furious shriek from one of the portraits. He gave it the middle finger in return.
He nursed his aching hand by shaking it out, as though the pain would ease that way. After a while of glowering in the darkness, he said, "You can come out now."
Two figures stepped out of the shadows, one belonging to Georgina, the other to Severus Snape…
James and Lily were wordless on the journey back to the Head Tower. His arm was still slung round her shoulders as they walked, but she wasn't leaning into him like she usually did. He figured she was either still in shock from the frightful moment when Derrick had gotten a knife out, or maybe the shocking revelation that the Half Blood Prince was Derrick of all people (though James hadn't been surprised). Whatever it was, it made him very nervous.
"You're quiet," he stated the obvious, breaking the silence. His pupils searched hers but they were glued determinedly ahead.
"It's just been a long day."
She looked glum, even miserable, something she shouldn't have been considering what had happened. "Why aren't you happy?" he asked her faintly. He stopped walking and his arm left her shoulders. Her head turned suddenly to look at him.
"I'm happy, James."
"Then look it."
She let out a tired sigh, but her lips were quirking upwards. She rose on her tiptoes slightly to kiss him. "I'm happy," she said again with more feeling. That seemed to ease him as he enfolded her.
"It's over, all this Half Blood Prince stuff." He sighed contentedly through his nose and breathed her in again. "You don't have to worry; he won't send you another letter after what I said. And I didn't even have to hex his bollocks off," he ended on a wide grin and Lily laughed.
"Thank you for not doing that - hurting him," she said softly. "I know he deserves it, but…"
"If I had hexed him, I'd be just as bad as he is."
Lily smiled. "I've taught you well, haven't I?"
"Being with you has just knocked some very-much needed sense into me."
Lily wondered if what James had said was really true, or sense had been there all along and he had just been too stubborn to follow it.
Why couldn't someone knock some sense into her so she could figure out who the Half Blood Prince was? Because it wasn't Derrick. She knew it couldn't be. There was no point telling James that. He wouldn't believe her, and everything was finally fine again. She didn't want to spoil their happy state of normality now, whatever the definition of normality was.
She'd chanced a glimpse back at Derrick as they had walked away. A finger had been placed over his lips and his face had said it all: I'm lying. And he knew she wasn't going to tell James that she believed he was lying either. She knew it, too.
There was no doubt about it: Derrick was covering for someone. The question was…
Georgina found it almost disconcerting, lingering in the middle of a corridor past midnight with almost strangers, one a fellow Ravenclaw and someone she could barely stand but was with for a favour, another a Slytherin she—to be brutally honest—forgot existed some days (Snape didn't particularly strike out to her, only as too unsettlingly kept to himself). Years ago she'd never have pictured herself in the company of these two out of everyone in the castle. She figured they must have looked like the most bizarre trio to the portraits—at least, the ones that had been awakened and pretended to be asleep after nosiness got the better of them.
She hadn't known Derrick and Snape even conversed, but Snape had eyed Derrick gratefully so it seemed apparent they were familiar with one another, though that didn't make anything clearer. At lunch Derrick had told her to meet her late tonight, and then Severus Snape had turned up - unexpectedly to her, but planned to Derrick.
Derrick didn't seem to have a set out destination in mind as he lead the way down the corridors of the castle. He'd dragged Georgina roughly by the arm while Snape followed, head down, not uttering a word.
The arrival of James and Lily turned her more mystified. Before they'd seen them Derrick had ordered her to hide, and when she was about to demand what was going on or argue hiding was something small children did—and she was certainly no child—Snape had covered her mouth with the palm of his hand and pulled her back into the shadows. Though she had been viciously pushed against the wall and behind one of the castle's shining knights of armour, the Slytherin seemed a lot more interesting in this light (or more correctly: this darkness).
She'd listened closely, picking up something about Derrick being the 'Half Blood Prince'. She quickly became bored and wanted to go back to Ravenclaw tower; she hated being present in anything she didn't understand. What was the point?
Taking her attention elsewhere, she'd watched stare at James with expected hate—their animosity towards one another was legendary within the school—then, at Lily with-
Georgina had once looked at James the way Snape did at Lily. Surely Snape couldn't be in-
"He's not him!"
She watched Snape's lips twitch into a small smile; he didn't even look like Snape at that moment, not that surly boy who sat under trees by himself, and all Lily had done was speak. When it seemed like she wasn't going to talk again with Derrick and James immersed in conversation, Snape quickly met Georgina's probing eyes, and she detected a twinge of embarrassment.
"You can come out now."
James and Lily had left. Snape stepped out from behind the knight and Georgina followed, immediately speaking after being commanded to keep silent and unseen for a fairly long time had been rather difficult.
"I don't see why I had to be here for… well, whatever the hell that was," she said, and Snape seemed to concur as he gave a small nod in agreement.
"I'm getting you involved," Derrick replied fiercely. "Don't complain."
She wanted to—she really wanted to—but she took a leaf out of Lily's book and kept her mouth shut, quietly observing the boys instead.
"Thank you," Snape spoke eventually, voice hoarse. Georgina was going to ask what in Merlin's name for but realized he was talking to Derrick. She looked at the Ravenclaw for a response.
"Don't make it sound as though what I just did was out of friendship, Severus. We made an Unbreakable Vow."
"You made an Unbreakable Vow?" Georgina cut in, horrified. Derrick looked irritated by her interruption. "Are you crazy? If you don't follow it you'll-"
"Die? Yes, I know." Derrick looked rather breezy considering the topic. "But, you see, I always follow through with what I say. So don't worry your pretty little head." He turned to Snape again. "You do remember the vow we made, don't you?"
"Of course I do," he snapped a little.
"What was the vow?" Georgina couldn't help but ask. So much for keeping quiet. She didn't have high hopes in Derrick telling her, but it appeared as though he was eager to expose it, much against Snape's wishes.
"I-" he put much emphasis on the word "-was to lie and say I was the Half Blood Prince when James and Lily interrogated me, to keep Severus' identity hidden. And in return he would owe me any favour I asked from him."
Georgina took a moment to soak everything in. "So you're this Prince who's been sending her love letters?" She turned to Snape, open-mouthed. She felt compelled to laugh, but Snape's cold stare told her to do otherwise. "I knew it," she murmured all of a sudden, studying the Slytherin's face of discomfiture. "The way you looked at her earlier, I knew it. You're in lo-"
"Shut up." Snape's wand was out and pointing straight at her. She raised her hands in the air. "Just shut up."
"Calm down, Severus," Derrick said flatly, bored beyond belief. He smacked Snape's wand arm down, but he just as quickly lifted it again and pointed straight at him, the tip of his wand nearly touching Derrick's nose.
"You have a lot of guts to be pointing your wand at me like that after what I've just done for you," he spat.
Reluctantly, Snape realized Derrick was right, slowly pocketing his wand back into his robes.
The more Georgina thought about this Half Blood Prince business, the more infuriated she became.
"What is it about Lily Evans that's got everyone so besotted?" she said with disgust.
Derrick made a point to differentiate himself. "I only wanted her because James Potter did, and if I did get her it would be one up on him." Just talking about James twisted his mood to resentment. "He walks around this castle like he owns it. I should have been Head Boy. Me, not him."
"Actually, I thought Remus Lupin would have been Head Boy." The second the name slipped out of Georgina's mouth she felt guilty. She'd avoided Remus like the plague the instant she found out he was a werewolf, and now she was starting to wonder if she'd overreacted…
"Who's Remus Lupin?" Derrick replied confusedly.
"You know, that light-haired boy that hangs around with-"
"Oh." He remembered all of a sudden, scowling. "The bookworm."
Georgina turned defensive. "There's a lot more to him than books-"
"Well, why don't you go out with him? Oh, wait, you can't, because you're going out with me because Precious Potter told you to." Georgina's eyes were wide, lips parted. "Oh don't look so surprised, it was pretty obvious he sent you to distract me from his beloved girlfriend. Well, I can tell you now: Lily Evans is old news to me. I've found a much bigger project to satisfy my time. And it involves Lord Voldemort making this world a much cleaner place.
"We're done," he informed her brusquely. "Now scurry off to bed."
Georgina didn't need telling twice. She turned on her heel and left.
Snape was shaking his head after her. "You better make sure she'll keep that gob of hers shut."
"She won't tell a soul," Derrick reassured him. "Though, what a disaster it would be if she did," he said humorously. "I'd love to be there the moment Lily Evans finds out the boy that's been pathetically pining over her in repulsive poetry is Severus Snape."
He tried not to take note of Derrick's choice of words. "She won't find out."
"Of course she won't," he agreed, "because she'd probably be either completely dismayed or even laugh in your face." The second image amused him the most. He was faintly surprised Snape looked so offended by his words. "Come on Severus, you know I'm right. Even if you were more of Lily's 'type', she's utterly smitten with James Potter and there's nothing you can do about it."
"Maybe I'll tell her," Snape spoke up impatiently. "I know she liked those letters. Maybe I'll tell her and-"
"She'll fall into your embrace," Derrick finished his sentence patronizingly. "You'll kiss passionately and ride off into the sunset on the back of a unicorn, the perfect fairytale ending." He snorted. "Merlin, when did you become so delusional?"
"I never said I wanted that," Snape hissed out angrily.
"I can see it in your eyes, Severus," Derrick spat back. "I don't blame you though, for falling in-"
"Don't say it." That had come out as a growl and Snape was pointedly staring off down the corridor.
Derrick paused, and then went on. "I don't blame you for feeling that way for Lily Evans. I believe I did at some point or other amidst the competition to win her over, to rub it in James's face. This year I even put on this act that I was feeble with no self-confidence anymore, a complete shamble of a human being, to try and manipulate her, to make her feel sympathy for me and forget her precious Potter." He seemed embarrassed for confessing this, rubbing his forehead tiredly with his fingers. "Though I admit my behaviour then was quite a mess - following Lord Voldemort was proving to be more difficult than I imagined…"
He realized he was going off tangent; he got back onto the subject of Lily. "I should have realized she only goes for arrogant bastards," he snarled. "But… she is quite beautiful, an intelligent witch." It seemed painful for him to admit. "Even if she is a filthy little Mudblood," he added cruelly.
Snape flinched at that.
"Oh, sorry," Derrick faked remorse, "I shouldn't have called her that in front of you, though I do specifically remember you calling her that very name once-"
"I was forced to say it to keep up appearances."
Derrick considered his excuse. "Very well," he accepted. "Though, I can't imagine Lily was pleased, even if you hadn't meant it."
Snape said nothing in reply to that, but his shoulders had dropped a fraction. "What did you say to them with that knife in your hand?" he demanded from Derrick.
"What are you talking about?"
"You mouthed something I didn't see. What did you say?"
"Nothing that concerns you," Derrick said in a way that Snape knew not to press further on it.
"This favour that I owe you," Snape brought up. "What is it?"
"I haven't decided yet." Derrick smiled crookedly. "I'll let you know when I think one up, probably when you least expect it. Aren't surprises exciting?"
Exciting wasn't the word Snape would have chosen.
"We should call it a night," Derrick decided, and Snape nodded in agreement. He rapidly turned confused when Derrick's hand settled on his shoulder in what at first could have come across as a warm gesture, until he was gripping his skin so hard it throbbed and Snape released an unwilling grunt of pain.
"This whole boring and disgusting business with Lily Evans nearly cost you everything that you've built up to becoming a Death Eater. The Dark Lord does not believe in love, Severus, he believes in hate. You better get over this crushyou have on her, or I will make you get over it, Prince."
He released Snape's shoulder with a thrust and bent over in a mocking bow. "Goodnight, your royal highness."
For a moment, Snape shut his eyes in regret; when he opened them again Derrick was gone.
"So Derrick was the Half Blood Prince all along?" Peter said in between mouthfuls of food.
James had loyally given a detailed account of last night's events to his friends over dinner in the Great Hall. He nodded in response to Peter.
"That was obvious," Sirius commented with a snort. "I could have told you that."
"Why didn't you, then?" James asked with a pang of annoyance.
"Lessons are learned better when you learn them yourself," Sirius replied astutely.
James ignored him on the grounds of not entirely understanding what he'd just said. "It was pretty easy to figure out anyway," he went on. "He's a sap who's been pining over Lily for years. It's pathetic."
"Sorry, I'm a little befuddled here. Were you talking about Derrick then or yourself?"
"Har har." James swatted a grinning Sirius in the arm. "Anyway, I better head off. Meeting Lily for Head patrolling."
"Yeah, you guys have some nice mangoes now. See you later," Sirius teased, waving him off cheerfully.
"We're patrolling, Padfoot. Bugger you." James dashed off.
"I'm gonna head off too," Peter mentioned, getting up. "Got to go to the library to finish an essay."
"Yeah, you have a good time writing that essay now. See you later," Sirius waved him off just as cheerfully as he did with James.
Peter had stopped. "For once, can you think I might be off having… you know… sex, or something?"
Sirius blinked. "Okay. You have a good time having mangoes with the librarian, Wormtail. Bye bye."
"That's not what I…! Sod it." He sighed and left the hall.
"You shouldn't be so mean to him, you know," Remus said with folded arms.
"He loves it really," Sirius grinned. His smile lessened a touch when he noticed his friend's pensiveness. He let out a sigh and asked, "What are you thinking about now, Moony?" Because he clearly never stopped pondering something or other.
Remus was reluctant to voice his thoughts as he rubbed his chin. "I don't think the Prince is Derrick."
"Of course he is, you ponce." Sirius rolled his eyes. "He admitted to it, for Merlin's sake."
"That doesn't mean a thing," Remus argued. "A while ago Derrick cornered Lily outside Ancient Runes. I questioned him about the letters and he seemed completely oblivious."
"He was probably lying, the little shit," Sirius gave a reasonable explanation. "Look, even if he isn't the bloody Prince, everything is better with everyone thinking he is, isn't it?"
Sirius had a point. "I suppose you're right," Remus agreed hesitantly.
"You know I'm right," Sirius corrected him.
"Shut up," Remus pulled a face at him and kicked him under the table.
"Moony," Sirius started, rubbing his bruised kneecaps. "If some stalker ever sent you love letters, you'd tell me straight away, right?"
"Of course I would," Remus answered at once, though regretted it as Sirius' smugness was practically smothering him to death. "Come to think of it, I did get these notes in Transfiguration this morning…"
"Those notes were from me, you arse!"
"I know," Remus smirked. "You have got to stop stalking me by following me around everywhere-"
His face was promptly plunged into his bowl of custard.
A food fight ensued.
"I don't know what to do, Nicole."
Just like James had done with his friends, Lily had told her closest friend (going against popular belief, girls don't find it as easy to spill to more than one companion) about what had happened last night in the girls' dormitories.
"Well, um…" Nicole discovered she was really quite poor at giving advice. "How do you know Derrick was lying?"
"You didn't see his face." Lily's eyes closed for a moment, picturing it in her mind and shivering.
"Why didn't James see that particular face?"
"Because he wants this all over with, he'd have believed anything." Lily rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling despondently from her bed. "The Half Blood Prince could have been Dumbledore's auntie and he would have gone along with it."
"But does it really matter who the Prince is if he stops sending you letters?"
"Yes," Lily insisted. "You don't understand, Nic, I have to sit down with this guy and talk to him."
"Why?" Nicole demanded, horrified by the idea of Lily and the Prince, whoever the hell he was, being in the same room. "Lily, this guy is crazy, and you want to sit down and have a bloody tea party with him? He obviously knows you're going out with James, yet he has still been sending you love letters – not to mention he threatened to kill you."
"He's just confused," Lily said, confusing herself by defending him. "He's probably just feeling neglected. Maybe if I talk to him…"
"You can't help everyone." Nicole was looking at her with sad eyes. "No matter how much you want to."
"I know." That had come out harsher than necessary; she hated the fact that Nicole knew her too well. "But I can try."
Nicole just shook her head at her.
"Oh," Lily checked her watch and realized the time, "I have to meet James for patrolling. I'll talk to you later?"
"Yeah," Nicole answered in a subdued manner. She stopped Lily at the doorway, turning concerned. "Promise me you'll be careful finding out who the real Prince is?"
"Of course I will." Lily threw a reassuring smile and scoffed, "I'm not a Marauder."
"You're just in love with one."
Lily stuck her tongue out and Nicole hurled a pillow at her from across the room.
The instant James was done with Head patrolling, he politely asked Remus's assistance in the common room:
"Moony, help me, or I'll help you into a canyon of blunt knives."
"Blunt knives?" the werewolf repeated slowly.
"I'd want you injured, not dead." James grabbed the Daily Prophet he was reading and tossed it into the fireplace.
Remus exploded. "Did that look like firewood to you? What do you want? Oh please don't say you're so inebriated I have to help unzip your fly so you can pee, again."
"No, because if I was in that situation I'd be doing the Pee Dance and thrusting my crotch at you. No, Remus Lupin, I want you-" he poked him in the chest "-to help me write a love letter."
Remus narrowed his eyes. "Do you really need to record a letter of how much you love yourself? Surely you can just tell yourself verbally-"
"Oh, of course. Sorry," Remus apologized in embarrassment. "Wait, this is about the Half Blood Prince, isn't it?"
"Of course it is!" James shoved him out of his chair and stole his comfy seat by the fire. He got a single sheet of parchment out along with a quill and said, "I was thinking something along the lines of, 'My dear orange peel, mangoes with you makes me… squeal?'"
Remus' eyes seemed to be watering by how awful James' opening line was. "Please, please tell me that was a joke."
"If you're partial to it: yes. If you're not… non?" His eyes brightened with an idea after the use of French. "French sounds sexy, right? Do you think I should write her a love letter in French?"
"You can barely write one in English, you idiot!"
"Is James being called an idiot?" Sirius asked as he came down the stairs into the common room with Peter. "I must be present for this. Moony, please repeat what you said - it's like sweet music to my ears."
"I will not do anything for you because there is custard in my ears from earlier," Remus shot back.
Peter looked between Sirius and Remus with a squirm. "What dirty thing have you two been doing concerning custard?"
"There was a food fight," Remus clarified.
"Instead of dipping your ear into a shell to hear the ocean," Sirius said, "I was dipping his ear into a bowl of custard so he could hear the pudding."
James was busy chewing the end of his quill, staring so hard at the blank piece of parchment his head was beginning to hurt and he was on the verge of going permanently cross-eyed. "Wormtail, do you know any French?" he asked suddenly.
"Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?" he replied with a shrug.
"No thank you, Pete," Sirius said under his breath.
"Tell me you've never said that to anyone," Remus begged Peter.
"Why?" James asked, interested. "What does it mean?"
Peter shrugged again. "Something about having pretty eyes?"
"Oh Lord…" Remus massaged the bridge of his nose.
"Right." James dipped his quill into the ink. "I'll start off the love letter with that. How do you spell vou-lay voo cooshay avock mwah?"
"You are not writing that down," Remus said at once, snatching the quill from him.
"I'll write you a love letter," Sirius said, swiping the parchment from James and the quill from Remus.
"Padfoot, no! I spent at least half an hour searching for a clean piece of parchment and you are not ruining it by writing rubbish onto it!"
"Excuse me?" Sirius looked scandalized. "I would never do such a thing! I'll have you know that I know many a love poem. 'Every time I look at you my heart skips a beat! I wonder if you know, my love, that my heart is at your feet'!"
"Wow," James said impressively. Peter was so impressed he was standing very close to Sirius all of a sudden, until Sirius smacked him round the head and reminded him he was not a girl that wore knickers he could get into. "Write some of that rubbish down. Quickly," James ordered Sirius with a clap. "Before it leaves your head."
"Where've you been?" asked Lily when James entered the Head Tower ten minutes later. "You practically ran off after patrolling was over." Truthfully, she was a little sulky after having been abandoned.
"I jogged actually," he corrected her. He thought back to asking for Remus' help in the common room. "I've been nowhere."
"Liar," Lily saw through him straight away. "What's that?" She pointed to his trousers.
James looked down; the love letter written by Sirius was sticking out of his pocket. "Nothing," he said, because he hadn't looked at it yet – Sirius had stuffed it in his pocket on his way out with a clap on the back and a grin that had made him very edgy.
"You can't keep secrets from me," Lily said with defiant but smiling eyes. She tried to slip out the parchment from his trousers. Amused, James caught her wrists and kissed her.
"You can easily keep secrets from me though," the words slipped from James' mouth, initially intending to be witty, but out loud set the mood tense. Letting go of Lily's wrists, he looked away. "Sorry," he apologized for bringing up the Prince.
"Don't be," she murmured, a little sad.
Now that James was off guard and didn't really seem to care about the parchment in his pocket anymore, Lily slid it out and opened it up. An expression of revulsion crept across her face - had Sirius' poetry been that bad?
"What in Merlin's name is this, James?"
He looked over her shoulder and scanned the note; his face quickly matched Lily's. "My, it appears to be drawings of stick people."
"Labeled after us," Lily pointed to their names. "And what exactly are the stick people doing, James?"
He had a feeling she very well knew what the diagrams of the stick people were doing - she just wanted to embarrass him. And she was doing an exceptional job of it, turning him redder than ever.
"They're…" He cleared his throat. "They're having… sex, in various impossible positions." He met Lily's eyes and looked apologetic. "I swear I did not draw those-"
"Sirius," Lily presumed before he went on. "For someone who you've said has never even had sex, it's rather alarming that he knows so many ways to… apparently break your groin."
"Especially in that one," James tapped the parchment with a squirm. "We should leave this around to freak out some first years."
Lily stared at him. "And that is why Dumbledore chose you as Head Boy."
She kissed his cheek, and was about to make her way to her dorm when James revealed, "I tried writing you a love letter earlier," while messing up his hair bashfully.
She stopped in her tracks, a guilty sensation filling her insides. "You don't have to do stuff like that," she said gently.
"I know, but… I tried writing you one and it was so bloody difficult." He sighed, but then he took hold of her hands and stared at her resolutely. "Then I realized love letters are what stupid cowards write when they haven't got the guts to say it out loud. And I've got guts. Mountains of it."
"Yes," Lily agreed with a small smile. "Sometimes it takes over your brain and thinks for you."
James pulled a face at that, but went on seriously, "I don't need to waste my time blathering about with stupid imagery to let you know how much I love you, right?"
Lily's smile grew wider. "That is better than any love letter, James."
The second James entered the classroom for Potions next morning, he took a seat next to Sirius and smacked him upside the head at full pelt with his schoolbag. Sirius' face very much connected with his desk.
"Isn't it a bit early for that?" Remus said, though it was never too early for James.
"I think you should try this position," James slammed Sirius' love letter on the desk and pointed to a very explicit stick person diagram involving ice cream. "With your hag of a mother," he added with a smirk.
"Prongs can never take a joke," Sirius said to Remus under his breath, rubbing the sore patch on his head.
James had forgiven Sirius ten minutes later on account of Sirius using his expertise art skills, once again, to change the stick people from James and Lily to Snape and Professor Slughorn, Sirius and James collapsing into giggles every few seconds. They kept looking over at Snape and sniggering, something the Slytherin didn't appreciate in the slightest.
When the lesson was over and everyone was eager to leave, James hauled his schoolbag hard over his shoulder – but to his annoyance, his bag split open from the bottom, scattering his things across the floor. He had a feeling smacking Sirius' head with it had not done it any favours.
"Bugger," he grunted automatically.
"Smooth move, Prongs," Sirius congratulated him sarcastically with a pat on the back. "Do you want us to wait for you?" he asked nonetheless, good conscience making a rare appearance.
"Nah." Knelt on his knees and gathering up his books, James knew collecting his stuff and mending his bag would take quite a while. "I'll catch up with you."
Sirius shrugged and left the classroom with Peter, while Lily kissed James' cheek briefly before dashing off to Ancient Runes with Remus.
James scowled at the large hole that was now the bottom of his bag. He got out his wand and muttered a repairing spell; stitches that looked like wriggling worms weaved the split sides together.
James stood up after putting his last belonging back into his fixed bag. "Yes sir?" he answered the professor at the front of the empty classroom.
"It seems Severus has left his copy of Advanced Potion-Making behind." James spotted the textbook in Slughorn's hand that he'd seen Snape write feverishly during each lesson - his nose practically smudged the pages doing so, and smoke could have appeared from the speed of the quill. "Would you mind giving it back to him?"
The sheer idea of touching a possession of Snape made him refuse at once. "Actually, professor, I'd rather-"
He looked closely into Slughorn's eyes and realized it was not an offer - it was an order.
"Of course I wouldn't mind," James said, taking that proper voice of a Head Boy. Reluctantly, he took Snape's textbook from Slughorn's outstretched hand.
"There's a good lad," the professor patted him warmly on the shoulder, then ushered him out of the classroom.
Minutes later he was marching down the corridor, definitely late for his next class. He glanced down at the textbook clutched in his hand and gave an exaggerated shudder; he would definitely have to clean his hands thoroughly after touching such a greasy thing.
He was lucky (and almost relieved) to find Snape making his way down the same corridor as him. James figured he must have realized he'd forgotten his book and was heading back to Slughorn's classroom. He wasn't in the least bit amused when Snape didn't even acknowledge his presence, staring hard at the floor as he strode straight past him; he guessed Snape hadn't seen his precious book in his hand.
"Not even going to greet me with a hello, Snape?" James shouted after him, familiar resentment swelling up. "Oi, Snape!" he shouted louder and angrier when the Slytherin didn't stop. "I've got something of yours!"
Snape straightened and slowly spun round. His dark eyes were blacker than ever, and that was one of the reasons why James found him so unsettling – there was no colour there, no life. Even the dullest colours, like the grey in Sirius' eyes, would twinkle. Snape's eyes were like two pieces of grimy coal.
James waved the textbook in the air – a little too carelessly, he realized, as Snape's eyes twitched with the threat of his book being damaged. "You left your book back in Potions," he said, voice steadier, less acidic.
At once, Snape strode forwards to him, and James was uncomfortable by the almost panic in his wide eyes, his haste to grab the textbook back from James as quick as possible. When Snape's hands lunged out clumsily to seize the book, James dropped it by accident. It landed on the floor with a deafening slam, the back cover facing upwards.
"Shit." James ran a hand through his hair and bent on his knees, genuinely apologetic. "Sorry."
He made to pick the book up, but Snape was on his knees too, his shaking hands springing for the book again. Then, something scribbled along the bottom of the back cover caught James' eye, and just as Snape's fingers came into contact with the surface of the textbook, James' hands crashed down onto it as he pulled it forward to examine the words closely:
This Book is the Property of the Half Blood Prince.