Author's Note: This story is part of the Good People and Death Eaters universe, which also includes "Blurring." Despite the fact that this is a prequel, I strongly advise you read it first. Both are dystopian AU, however, they're gen or gennish het.
The Snape kid wouldn't settle down if Tippy put him to bed, so James leaned into the cot and lifted him out. The boy fussed, his cheeks and nose red with frustrated tears, squirming to get out of the man's grasp. Looping an arm around the kid, James hushed him, humming tunelessly. Furrowing his brow, Harry slipped under his arm and waddled over to the trunk under his crib and pulled out a clean diaper. He turned it around in his clumsy chubby hands before throwing it away from himself. One of the sticky tabs caught on his hand and he shook it speculatively.
James snatched him up. "No, icky," he scolded, and the boy's face scrunched up. The room filled with furious wailing and James grimaced, glancing up at the ceiling in despair. Propping the boy up on his shoulder, he rubbed the kid's back as soothingly as he could. Harry's breath came into his mouth in great gulping sobs. "Shh, shh, shh," James whispered, "It's okay."
When the boy quieted, James lowered the boy back onto his cot. Eyes opening, Harry hooked his fingers around James' glasses. As soon as he had them, the kid thrust the wire wrapped lens into his mouth. James tickled his feet and under his arms while he slipped the glasses away and wiped them on the edge of his shirt. Harry giggled softly, but he was already falling asleep.
James sprawled into the rocking chair in the middle of the room, the room lights dimming on their own. His eyes drifted closed, and he didn't so much doze as just sit there, listening to Snape's kid snuffling in his sleep and ignoring Bellatrix Lestrange's shrieking laughter from the parlor below.
He couldn't hear the words from the all the way up in the nursery, but the earring spat them right in his ear. Levering himself back upright, he felt the tug just behind his navel and braced himself for the impact. With a careless wave of his hand, Snape tried to smirk at him, but didn't quite succeed. "Fetch the brandy."
James bowed so low, his nose brushed the side table. The sneer was still on his face when he straightened up.
His teeth ground against themselves as he opened the sideboard and laid out his grandfather's tumblers and decanter on his mother's silver tray. The brandy poured into the decanter, the hand holding his bottle feeling like it wasn't even part of his arm. He refused to look at any of them, staring at the wall above their heads. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Peter gazing at him almost sheepishly, but James couldn't bring himself to acknowledge him as he carried the tray to where Voldemort waited, enthroned in front of the fireplace, back to the room. His hands clenched around the the tray, the metal digging into his palms and forcing the blood out of them. Nagini slithered between his feet, her tongue flicking his ankles before she withdrew to drape herself around her master's chair.
As he presented him the tray, he caught Voldemort's red eyes and held them, the look behind his glasses poisonous. Voldemort took a tumbler with a small smile.
Bellatrix summoned him to her with a crook of her finger and a mad smile. "Hi there Jamesy," she cooed, "It's so nice to have one of Sirius' friends to play with." She sipped the brandy she took, reclining elegantly against the couch cushions. "So sad it's a full moon so your dear filthy friend, what's his name, can't join us."
"At least Remus only slobbers and howls once a month," he snarled, "pity you can't say the same."
"Crucio!" Everything dissolved around him, his nerves on fire all of a sudden with pain. It was everywhere, all around, seeping into every nook and cranny of his body. His hands locked around the silver tray as he collapsed to the floor, the brandy glasses and decanter knocked airborn. They tumbled through the air, hitting the floor around him, sending crystal shards into his face, but he didn't notice. He already felt like needles were jabbing into him; how was he supposed to distinguish? The decanter lid landed squarely against the bridge of his nose, snapping the nose wire of his glasses and sending dozens of cracks running over the lenses. He screamed and screamed, the sounds ripping themselves from his throat. The agony spilled away suddenly, and he couldn't hear the sounds rushing around him; they blurred together too badly. Someone was screaming, but it wasn't him anymore.
"Reparo," Snape jabbed his wand at the mess. Shards of crystal flew out of James' cheek and eyebrow, shaking him out of his reverie. He shivered. Blood poured from his nose when he finally heaved himself to his feet. His glasses fell off his face to dangle from his ears. He wiped the blood away, and the ache suddenly reared up into a sharp burst. The blood flowed down the back of his throat and into his mouth.
Bellatrix laughed over the baby's cries, eyes wide and dilated. "Do you want to play some more, Jamesy?"
He spat blood at her, but it landed on the ground halfway between them. "I'm just surprised you have the courage to speak Sirius' name," he gurgled, burying his face in his sleeve to stem the flow, "since he actually, you know, escaped."
She raised her wand again, but Snape's wand pointed right at her ribs and she lowered her hand, eyes narrowed, lips drawn tight with fury. Snape jabbed his finger at James. "Put him back to sleep," he ordered coldly.
The wails from above rose higher and higher. James stared at the ceiling and darted out, thankful for the excuse to escape. As he left the room, he saw Peter's face, pale and ill looking, and he wondered if his former friend were about to be sick where he sat. He spat blood into that face, and this time it landed.
"Really, dear," he heard Rodolphus Lestrange remark behind him, "couldn't you have waited until we all had brandy?"
Severus kept his wand trained on Bellatrix as his son's cries quieted. "You do not damage my property!" he roared.
"Don't be like that, Snape," Bellatrix twittered obscenely. "One Reparo, and the crystal's as good as new."
His knuckles grew white around his wand. "That was not what I was referring to and you know it!"
She chuckled, "I'll pay you for the brandy, Severus."
"That brandy was worth more than everything you have on," he hissed.
"Do you want me to take it all off, then?" she smiled.
"No!" he leapt away from her.
"Really you should get used to having money," she said warmly. "Celebrate. We won; enjoy it."
His mind went to the burn marks on the floor and walls at his house on Spinner's End. The Dark Lord had been generous enough to leave him Lily's head to bury. "You know what I'm talking about!" It didn't feel much like he had won.
"Don't tell me you've decided you like him," she howled with mirth. "Really, that's just... Sevy!"
His eyes narrowed and the blood poured out of his face, leaving it even more sallow than usual. "I don't want to spend the next few days taking care of an invalid," he snarled.
Bellatrix waved her hand dismissively. "Leave him be then. He only got a touch of the curse anyway."
Severus curled his lip, trying and failing to articulate his thoughts. Gazing back at him levelly, Bellatrix cocked her head.
"Sit down, Severus," the Dark Lord commanded.
"My apologies, my Lord." Severus let his arm fall and slumped into an armchair as far from Bellatrix as he could manage. Shifting away from him, Peter Pettigrew watched him warily, and Severus grimaced at him, letting his head sink into his hands.
The Dark Lord leaned against the back of the armchair, a benevolent smile spreading his lips slightly. "Now Severus, I'm appointing you Headmaster of Hogwarts."
"My Lord, I'm honored," he said reflexively, taken aback. He listed forward clumsily, desperate to leap to his feet, but the Dark Lord had ordered him to sit, "but I can't-"
"Nonsense," the Dark Lord toyed with his wand. Severus swallowed. "I'm sure you'll perform admirably." His smile widened, and Severus heard the threat perfectly well. "I understand you were always a very dedicated little academic."
Severus flinched, his head bowing in acceptance. "My Lord."
The Dark Lord held out a hand and Severus leapt to his feet to take it, falling to his knees over it and bowing low. Trembling, his other hand gripped the hem of the Dark Lord's robe, lifting it to his lips. He unclasped his hand, but for just a few seconds longer, the Dark Lord held fast to his palm.
When the Dark Lord released him, Severus scrambled back to his seat, his breath loud in his ears. "When do I begin?"
A glint in the back of the Dark Lord's eye surfaced and then disappeared. "Next September. Eleven months, I trust, is enough time for you to hire new staff and ready the castle for students?"
"Yes, my Lord," he said, his voice harsh with resignation.
The Dark Lord's wand rested in his hand against the folds of his robe. "It's so sad that the students have had to miss out on school this year, the Headmaster dying so... unexpectedly."
The assembled Death Eaters twittered obligingly as Severus colored blotchily with fear. Finally, the Dark Lord turned to the other Death Eaters, passing political appointments around like dog biscuits.
Quivering with excitement, Pettigrew shambled back to his seat next to Severus. If he could have held them in his hands, the man would have been tossing his Wizengamot seat and Ministry job from hand to hand and holding them to the light like shiny baubles. "So how have you been?" he asked Severus cheerily.
"The funeral was last week," he muttered, sitting up rigidly straight.
"My condolences," Pettigrew mumbled, eyes darting everywhere around the room except Severus' face.
James covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve, the blood flowing back into his throat, gagging him. Tippy stood on a stool in front of the sink, washing dishes and ignoring the baby cries when James burst in. The blood poured out of his mouth in a thick, brackish, metallic flow as he leaned over the sink. It flowed into the soap suds and leftover food, turning the water a rusty pink. A dry, half-eaten dinner roll disintegrated when the liquid hit it.
The occasional sniffling sob interrupted the wails from upstairs. "You is needing to take care of the baby!" Tippy squeaked.
"I don't need to hear this," he groaned, spitting out a few more dribbles of blood.
"You can't be telling Tippy to be staying quiet any more," the House Elf shot back, hands on his hips.
James shot a glare at him around his hand as he pinched his nose shut and tipped his head back. His shoes squeaked on the stairway and the door to the nursery swung open without a sound. The lights switched on and he hefted the red-faced, screaming child out of the cot and rocked him against his hip.
"Mummymummymummy!" the boy whimpered, struggling against the man holding him. James' breath caught in his throat, and his whole chest hurt when Harry turned his eyes to his, the water rimming over them, magnifying them and sending even more green at James. It was all he could do not to break down and add his wails to those of the boy.
James shifted him up onto his shoulder, rubbing slow circles onto the kid's back. For a few minutes, Harry's cries slowed, and his breath hitched as he started to breathe without crying. James' own breaths came in sharp gasps, tears springing to his own eyes as he fought to still them. She wasn't supposed to be his to mourn anyway, but he couldn't seem to stop.
"I miss your mum too," James said kindly, stroking the boy's hair, the static building up and sending the strands sticking straight up and away from each other. "You know... you were almost mine." He had been missing her for two years.
Spots of blood from James' fingers soaked into Harry's pajamas. Fascinated, the boy dipped his chubby fingers into the flow and smeared it over the man's cheek.
"No," James said desperately, grabbing a dry wash cloth from the diaper bag and wiping Harry's hands. Smears of blood stayed on his fingers, and with a sleepy giggle, he slapped his hands against James' chest.
His arms shook around the kid and James collapsed into the rocking chair like his strings had been cut, resting Harry on his knees, because if he didn't, he knew his arms were going to give way. He wiggled in James' arms, swinging his chubby arms determinedly. With a sharp tug, he wrenched his hand free and latched onto the man's nose. James yelled, the broken bones inside grinding against each other.
Harry shrieked with laughter, twisting as James prized loose his fingers. Tiny baby half-moon nail marks bit into his swollen flesh and he bit the inside of his cheek to keep from crying out again. Instead, his breath came out ragged. "Nobe!" the boy said, trying to slam his other palm into the black and purple lump.
"That's right," James gritted his teeth, catching his wrist and tucking his hands against his sides, "that's my nose."
"No, goggy," he insisted, slipping his hand out, but James snatched it back before he could grab his nose again.
"My nose isn't a doggy," he said as sweetly as he could, blood flowing over his teeth with every word.
He rested his head back against the back of the chair, holding the kid tight against his chest and rubbing his back to soothe him back to sleep. The blood ran back into his sinuses and down his throat, and his breath came out in dull rattles. Harry finally started to burble and settle down, cuddling against his chest and arms and slipping off to sleep. The cot looked so far away from the chair, and his legs felt like rubber, if rubber could ache and shoot pain up his legs with every step. He lifted his head for only a second or two before he let it fall back down and succumbed to sleep too.
A loud wail split the silence and James' head snapped up, the blood clots knocking loose. His broken glasses scratched his jaw, leaving red, raised tracks that stung when the tears he cried earlier, falling as he finally raised his head, hit them. Disoriented, he flinched back from the light that he hadn't bothered to switch off earlier. In the night, he had managed to pin Harry's hand beneath his face, and the jagged broken tip of his glasses dug into the back of the boy's hand, leaving a deep, bruised pit sunk into the puppy fat between the bones and tendons.
Harry sobbed and shouted as James lifted him up against his shoulder. "Shh, shh," he mumbled, his voice soft and breathy with exhaustion, but the kid didn't shut up. His screams got louder and louder as James tried to move his trembling body in the right way to calm him down.
"What's going on here?" a sharp bark came from behind them.
James twisted weakly in the rocking chair. "He woke up," he said lamely. Harry quieted immediately at the sight of a familiar person, his daddy, not this interloper.
"Yes, well I can see that," Snape snapped, snatching his son back and tipping James out of the chair. James toppled to the ground in a quivering heap. Scrambling away as Snape took his place, he slumped against the wall, the blood flowing sluggishly from his face as his chin sank against his chest.
Snape found the boy's injured hand and rubbed the wound with the pad of his thumb. He sniffled and sobbed, but Snape just kissed the bruise and stroked his hair. When all that was left of the sobs were faint whimpers and gasps as his body tried to put its breathing right, Snape swung the boy around and sat him on his knees. The knees jiggled up and down, and Harry looked back at him, wide-eyed.
"Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes."
Snape recited the rhyme in a ridiculous high-pitched sing song voice, and Harry started to laugh until he was burbling and howling with baby cheer. James watched as Snape chuckled and kissed his son's cheek, rocking him in his lap until he went back to sleep and lowering him onto the cot.
At the door, Snape paused, eyes narrowed at the man still leaning inside the room, his fingertips brushing his wand and tensing. "Out," he ordered, his voice deadly soft, and James wondered if he would have yelled if Harry wasn't asleep. James stumbled lamely through the doorway as Snape flicked his wand to extinguish the light, turn on the night light, and close the door with a faint click.
"Are you completely incompetent?" Snape hissed, "or did you willfully injure my son?"
James stared through the glare of the hallway and his own myopic haze, trying to reconcile the man in front of him with the one who bounced his son on his knees and sang nursery rhymes. Reaching up, he pulled the pieces of his broken glasses off his ears and folded them in his hands. "I bloody well fell asleep!"
Snape's wand was in his hand in an instant. James tried unconsciously to lift his feet and flee backwards, but his head spun and the hallway tilted instead. His hand flew to his earring, the metal prongs and tiny glass mirror warm from his skin. With one fluid movement, Snape yanked James' arm down and slammed him back against the wall, wand digging into the hollow of his throat. The walls rattled with the force, and for a moment, James waited blankly for Harry to wake up and start crying again, but no sound came from within the nursery. Without speaking, Snape flicked the tip of his wand and James found himself blasted through the air and onto the floor. He clenched his teeth to keep from crying out as Snape flicked his wand again. His whole body lurched forward and upright, and then fell heavily back to the floor, his cheek resting heavily against the baseboards. Until that moment, he had never been more aware of the railing and the edge so close by.
A shadow hovered above him, and he could see the darkness behind his eyelids. James rolled painfully onto his back and opened his eyes. Snape's hand lowered to the floor next to his slave's. Chest heaving, James grabbed that hand and let himself be pulled to his feet. Their faces came close and James squinted his eyes to focus them, seeing Snape's mouth spread in a sick sort of grimace. The hand around his own tensed, and for a moment, he thought Snape was going to drop him, but Snape just steadied him and pushed him away gently. "Go," Snape choked out, "just go."
Potter's head rested on his knees, the yellow light radiating off the tiled walls. The post Cruciatus tremors shook his body over and over again so hard Severus feared he would slide off the closed toilet lid and crack his head on the floor. "What do you want now?" he rasped, the clots in his nose blocking and hollowing his words.
Severus slipped his hand under the man's chin and lifted it off the towel bunched on his lap. He peered into that face, his wand in his other hand. "Episky," he murmured, and the broken bones mended under the swollen skin, the blood pooling under Potter's eyes dispersing back into his capillaries. With another swipe of his wand, the cuts and scratches on his face and hands sealed up. Severus turned the sink tap and the water ran into the basin and onto the towel he moved into it. Gently, he dabbed away the dried blood streaking Potter's cheeks and chin. Potter let him, eyes glazed and fluttering. "Why?"
"Would you rather I Scourgify everything and leave you?" he fired back, dropping the man's chin. Suddenly the image of Potter, bubbles pouring from his mouth and nose, flecks of dried blood staining them dark pinkish brown welled up in his mind.
Potter squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "No, this way's better."
Plucking the bits of metal and glass from Potter's limp fingers, he set them on the edge of the bathtub. Potter didn't even open his eyes, his skin clammy, pulse fast and so hard that Severus could feel it through the man's fingertips. He jabbed his wand at the shattered glasses and the wire nosepiece fused back together, the lens cracks disappearing. Deftly, he lifted them up and unfolded them, looping the earpieces around Potter's ears and settling them on his nose carefully like something heavy.
Hands shaking, Potter touched his face gingerly, feeling where the bruises had been. "Thanks," he spat, oozing fury.
Severus bristled, his self-disgust vanishing in an instant as the illusion fell back in place. "I really think you should be grateful-"
"Grateful!" Potter stared at the ceiling, fatigue overwhelming him. "For what? For patching me up halfway after you and your friends did this to me in the first place?"
"And what would you do in my place?" Severus asked darkly, "I stepped in to protect you."
"Go to hell!"
"Do you think I want you here?" Severus shot back, nails digging into his hand around his wand handle. "I would be absolutely ecstatic if you were back in Azkaban, rotting in a cell until your execution date! Tell me, Potter, why didn't you escape with Black when you could? Did he leave you there, or were you just too much of a coward?"
"You said it yourself," he spat, "I was going to be executed."
"Oh," Severus paused for effect, "so Black did leave you."
Potter glared back mutinously, "You could bugger off any time now."
Severus's lips twisted up in a ghastly smile, "I could."
Potter leaned back against the toilet tank, closing his eyes and smiling. When he opened them, they stayed half-lidded, empty, and furious. "So why didn't you let me stay in that stupid cell anyway? My death not enough, or can you just not bear to be without me?"
"I didn't have anything to do with it!" Severus yelped, jumping back.
Potter slid off the edge of the toilet lid, landing on the floor, furrowing his brow, as if bemused at the sudden change in elevation. "I guess your lord gave me to you." He tucked his knees up to his chest and pulled himself into a ball. His arms looped around his legs and head, shielding his eyes from the light.
"That's right," he drawled.
"And you don't get to say no to him," Potter croaked, voice muffled in his knees.
"No," he muttered, closing his eyes, seeing those blood spatters on the wall at Spinner's End and Lily, alive, laughing like a madwoman while he slipped along the riverbank.
"Well, at least you're suffering too," Potter said wryly, uncurling and looking everywhere but Severus' face.
Severus folded his arms, letting his wand dangle between his fingers. "How does it feel to know you are now the slave of a slave?" he asked bitterly.
Potter finally met his eyes behind his glasses, "Bloody awful."
Sinking to the tiled floor, Severus leaned back against the wall. "Why did you never take apart the nursery?"
Potter shrugged helplessly and curled back up.