Summary:

"What's got Karkaroff all worried?" Ron muttered.
"And since when have he and Snape been on first-name terms?" said Harry slowly.

- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling


Translated from Russian by Acid http://ac1d6urn.livejournal. com/ and Sinick http://sinick.livejournal. com/
Original Text: Ridiculous (Нелепый) http://milva.fanrus. com/angst/06.htm

Ridiculous

by Fly luciferry(at)yahoo. com

They told me that the road I took
would lead me to the Ocean of Death;
and from halfway along, I turned back.
And ever since, all the paths I have roamed
were entangled, and crooked, and forsaken.

- Definitely Maybe, A. & B. Strugatsky (Russian)
and Cowardice, Yosano Akiko (Japanese)

1978-1979

The word that first came to mind when I met Igor Karkaroff was ridiculous: ridiculous, extravagant robes no British wizard would be caught dead in, ridiculous goatee (grown to hide his weak chin but only drawing the eye to it), ridiculously soft voice for a grown man. This caricature of a foreigner – who mangled the language of Merlin and Shakespeare with an accent like chewing rocks – was the Dark Lord's foremost orator?

But I wasn't surprised for long: only until the first of his lectures. That was what he called his speeches: lectures. But I didn't learn that until much later. That evening I listened, wide-eyed, as he spoke about the imminent disaster that Muggle technological progress had created for our world, about the Ministry's loss of control over Muggle governments, about the Muggles' insane arms race, about the need to protect against nuclear fallout. About the foresight of the chosen few, called to save our world, our great Magical world, fragile as a snow globe in the face of the coming catastrophe.

He said that there should be no illegal ways to conduct this sacred fight for the right of our children to live according to the time-honoured laws of the magical world. For otherwise what fate awaited them? They would become pitiful outsiders thrown onto the scrapheap of history: Mudbloods unable to recall their proud heritage, begging their inferiors to absorb them into the Muggle anthill.

Even now I recall many of Igor's lectures. I even helped him write them later on, often mocking the flowery turns of speech in his drafts. On paper they seemed so full of unneeded pathos, so exaggerated, but they gained the magic of persuasion when spoken aloud: by him.

He never used magic, not even Sonorus. He simply raised his voice loud enough to be heard in any hall, which hardened his usual soft tone, revealing its unyielding skeleton of Russian accent. His rough way of talking sounded strange to our ears; his rattling 'r' made his speech a real battle march.

Later I heard a great deal about the exceptional charisma of the Dark Lord, how it ensured him support from so many wizards, despite his radical methods. These wizards were not radicals with nothing to lose but their wands, but members of old, respected, wealthy families. And yet, to ensure the Dark Lord came to power, they were ready to give large sums of money, and sometimes even their lives.

Yes, the Dark Lord had charisma, and its name was Igor Karkaroff. An eloquent orator, Karkaroff spoke of our Lord, the creator of grand plans and daring ideas, the provider and moral leader of the renewed magical world of the future. He spoke in ways that made people believe.

So they followed into battles and punishing raids, with shining eyes and unyielding belief in our cause, belief that our cause was always just. Even if the man who made them believe in the justice of our cause was so overcome with nerves after every scare tactic that he vomited blood and bile.

o

He had teeth yellowed by nicotine and a long-stemmed pipe he always smoked after dinner or over tea, raising whispers among women and surprised glances from men. It was the sort of pipe you'd usually only find in the hands of a village hag or an elderly grocer in Hogsmeade: the kind that seemed older than Hogwarts itself.

Igor seemed absentminded enough not to notice people's reactions to his strange habit. Or perhaps he pretended not to. The second is more likely; the more I learned about him the more I realized that he wasn't afraid to be laughed at.

At first I couldn't understand how that feature could coexist with his brilliant speeches and his ability to hold the attention of any audience, but then I decided that his bizarre image provided Karkaroff with more of that constant attention. And once he'd captured attention, he was very good at diverting it to any subject he wanted.

I liked that he was a smoker. He always smelled good: not expensive perfume teasing the senses, like most of the aristocrats wore; not congealed blood like Dolohov's men after the latest raid, not the acidic extracts and potion ingredients in my own scent, and not chocolate mints like Narcissa with her sweet tooth; but quality pipe tobacco. Such rich, velvety scent, trailing after him like a cape. I liked to watch him perform his rites, scooping up the scented mixture with the tip of his pipe, compressing it with his thumb, and then lighting up with his wand, releasing fluffy rings of smoke that smelt like laudanum.

Years afterwards, the books that he read in the Blacks' library still kept that scent. Lupin took offence and Black grew furious when after yet another Order gathering I'd stop by the shelves to thumb through the History of Lycantropy, breathing in the spicy scent of latakia tobacco rising along with the dust. The fourth time I tried that, the book was gone. Bastard.

o

In any social group, when there are only two men with homosexual tendencies, things between them are pre-decided.

As soon as they find a common topic of discussion, everyone else exchanges understanding glances and raise their eyebrows at the poor sods. Even a mature man used to being in the public eye would not enjoy being the focus of that type of attention; it was far less enjoyable for a youth who'd recently been bullied by his classmates.

In short, Igor's first flirting overtures – as archaic and ridiculous as Karkaroff himself – were met with my best teenage Tyke manners: all the insults and ridicule I could hurl.

But it was extremely difficult to insult Igor when he didn't want to be insulted: he didn't seem to understand my sarcasm, and didn't seem to hear my more obvious verbal abuse. Yet his hearing was good enough to let him comment on conversations from the far side of Malfoy Manor's dining hall during our gatherings. And those comments, I must say, had plenty of sarcasm in them as well which only confirmed my doubts about his sudden bouts of incomprehension and his deafness to my attempts to drive him off.

Of course I had other options: I could always have chosen not to speak to him at all, to ignore him altogether. But Igor fascinated me. He really did. I wasn't interested in him: not even as the next study (following the fanatic Lestranges and ideal survivor Malfoy) in my Collection of Humankind as I named it, with all my youthful idiocy and ambition. I was interested in his company.

Only the Dark Lord's company was more interesting, but it was rather more difficult to chat with the Dark Lord about history or literature than with Igor Karkaroff.

That was why I still spoke with Igor. His knowledge of magical history, of the cultural progress of various magical societies, was more vast than anyone else I knew, including my Hogwarts professors. His taste in literature and music strangely matched mine: except for those gaps in my education which he willingly filled, without showing any contempt at my ignorance. What's more, when we spoke, it seemed he was ashamed: not by my provincial lack of knowledge, but by his own academic intelligence.

He was a very strange man.

o

A couple of weeks after the beginning of our affair we were informed that others knew. Malfoy, all platinum-haired sheen and equally blinding aristocracy, condescendingly asked Karkaroff how it felt to lose face by slumming with a half-blood.

Igor, who could easily trace his lineage to the sorcerers of ancient Russia and the shamans of the Khazarian kaganate, smiled gently: "But Lucius, why should we pay attention to such details?" – he added, narrowing his wicked eyes – "You do realise that from the point of view of my lineage, the difference between Severus and you is so insignificant, it's not worth mentioning."

Lucius flushed, tossed his mane angrily and stormed out. And Igor giggled and stuck his tongue out after him, then grabbed me by the arm, and dragged me away to the library to show me some rare manuscripts.

o

At times I was terribly embarrassed to be seen in public with him. If he was distracted by a fascinating discussion, his table manners were as bad as an infant's. He sincerely didn't notice it, just as he didn't notice the acidic whispers of the Black sisters behind his back. What a pair of gossips.

I don't even remember what Rookwood talked about that evening; everyone listened except those two lovely ladies. Politics bored them and they decided to exercise their wits on a target that wouldn't strike back. Bitches.

When their glances shifted from Igor to myself and back to Igor, followed by brazen giggling, I couldn't stand it. Most of all I wanted to leave, and let that sodding dreamer play the bohemian alone. I always hated being laughed at.

But I waited until Augustus finished, waited through the bombardment of questions thrown at him by my (damn him!) lover, and only afterwards dragged him by the hand into the garden.

"Sevushka? What is it?"

"You look like a Boggart knocked out by Riddikulus!" I spat. Furious. I meant to offend, to hurt him and to finally break through his everlasting good spirit.

Igor blinked, curious, and then his blue eyes shone with slyness, and he answered ever-so-sweetly: "In that case, we make a good pair, my friend. Boggarts, pre-banishment and post-. You must agree it's symbolic: it reflects the inner harmony of our relationship, our deep unity, hidden by our outer discrepancies…"

"Igor!" I groaned.

"Yes, Sevushka?"

"Shut up."

"Why? Isn't it wonderful? Such a mirror of our inner selves. Are you offended? By what? I always thought classic beauty wasn't something you envied or emulated. Am I wrong? Don't you enjoy being… intimidating?"

"Just say it like it is. I'm hideous."

Igor tilted his head, looking at me attentively in the moonlight. It highlighted my sizeable nose better than any caricature.

"I like your looks. You know, I always enjoyed Picasso."

It's not right, kissing a bloke to shut him up. But what else was there left to try?

With the offended snort of Avery lingering in our ears, we Apparated straight to Igor's bedroom.

o

In all his everyday clumsiness, Igor was a surprisingly good lover: skilful, caring, selfless. He sincerely took pleasure in my pleasure, in giving it to me, that I began to feel jealous. Was he like this only with me or…? There had to be an 'or'. No instinct gives such a precise understanding of partner's needs, only experience. Vast experience.

But despite all his experience, Igor always remained a perfect gentleman: never said a word to me or – as far as I know – to any other about his previous 'matters of the heart', as he called them. That was typical of him; he used an endless amount of euphemisms just so he didn't have to call things by name. Sometimes it amused me, sometimes frustrated me, depending on my moods.

In either case I responded the same: using language so blatant it bordered on obscene.

I think it aroused him.

o

Always a gentleman, he could put bullies in his place without lowering himself to their level. Without losing his calm.

Even when Nott began a conversation on a sensitive topic during one feast and Walden guffawed like a Hippogriff: "What bloody phobia? I love poofs, just not the way they'd want me to, of course." I bristled from his smug stare, but snapping back at him while the Dark Lord was present was an extremely poor idea. So I kept silent, desperately pretending that it didn't concern me at all.

"The more of 'em around, the more women left for us!" Macnair finished his profound idea, again breaking into a guttural laugh.

Fortunately, not many joined him: the wit of the majority in the Inner Circle rose above Macnair's thuggish humour. But he did provide an opening for our second comedian.

"Honestly, Walden," Malfoy drawled from his place at the end of the table, to the left of the Dark Lord. "You've confused your cause and effect. Naturally they can't compete with us for the ladies' attention. Therefore they're forced to fall back on each other's company."

More of them considered this funny, and almost everyone turned to us, looking for a reaction. Even though Malfoy didn't name any names, there were no secrets possible in such a closed group as ours. Practically everyone knew about Igor and me, and now they stared at us like caged beasts at the zoo. Even the Dark Lord.

I couldn't bear it: I glared down at my plate, painfully wishing for a swift end, any end. Even the Dark Lord's Cruciatus would be better than public mockery.

Thus, Igor's reaction shocked me even more.

"Certainly, Lucius," he responded in his usual sweet tone, "We cannot possibly compete with you. Severus only inherited a small house in a Muggle area and I don't own any British land at all…"

Our Lord rarely laughed: his thin lips merely twisted into a smile, but those who knew him, knew that was more than enough.

Bella, tuned to him like a tuning fork, reacted first. Then again, she openly despised her sister's husband.

"Indeed," she drawled to Narcissa with obvious satisfaction, but loudly enough that everyone else could hear as well: "Some men are only famous for the thickness of their wallets."

That, even Macnair could understand.

And judging by the fevered blush on Lucius' cheeks, he enjoyed public mockery just as much as I did.

o

Only once I saw Karkaroff drunk. Thoroughly drunk. Rat-arsed, off his tree.

It was after Regulus' execution.

We also drank then – nearly the only time I drank with Malfoy, whose eyelid had a nervous twitch: it was his left one, I remembered that for some reason. After the third glass it stopped and I decided it was my cue to stop as well.

I went looking for Igor.

He sat on the floor of our bedroom with a half-empty bottle of cheap Firewhiskey in his hand. I stumbled over another one, empty.

"Why, Severus?" he kept whispering when I undressed him and put him to bed. "Why did it have to happen like this?"

This way... Macnair and Dolohov made an effort. They did their best.

"I know there is no place for traitors among us, no place for them among the living. But this? Why this? He was just a boy."

He mumbled something in Russian, restlessly tossing and turning in bed while I cleared away the bottles and thought that perhaps I should pour antacid down his throat before his ulcer burst again. It was just as well I'd stopped drinking early, or we would've been quite a pair.

And then Igor grew silent and I turned to check on him. He looked up at me with a completely sober gaze, sober and sickeningly miserable. "Could we have done something different? Why must it be this way?"

It was as if I was the one responsible for Dolohov's thugs.

This part of Igor always shocked me: the combination of his passionate belief in terror as a method of political triumph, and his physical inability to hurt anyone. He was sickened by the mere sight of our interrogators. He couldn't stand the sight of blood: he turned pale, broke out in a cold sweat, and nearly fainted.

In the Inner Circle of the Dark Lord they knew this weakness of his, and almost never involved Karkaroff in serious raids, only rowdy chases after Muggles. He cast an effective Morsmordre. Avery joked that it was because of his accent.

But everyone had been forced to watch this execution, and now Igor sat in our bed: pale, sweating, pathetic, with his tangled hair stuck to his forehead. He looked like a beaten dog. Milksop. The coward.

"What did you expect? A goblet of poison? One Avada to end it all? So the next person to betray us would know that the only consequence would be a swift death? When we all already risk death, and worse than death, in the Dark Lord's service?" I drank from the bottle I took from Igor and immediately coughed. How can he stand this swill? "No, dear. Traitors pay with pain. With their blood and their flesh and their gutted belly. Always."

"You are so cruel, Sevushka…"

"Go to sleep already. You and your good intentions."

In the morning, he seemed to have forgotten our conversation. I didn't think of it either, for a long while, more than fifteen years.

1980-1981

I hate spying. I've always hated it, intuitively. I hated it even before I'd seen for myself, that for each successful move in these undercover games, both sides pay the price: in the lives of their followers, in the lives of innocents.

The most appalling thing is, after a while one begins to find a twisted satisfaction: in the complexity of such machinations and in the uniqueness of one's own role in them. Secrets grant power to their keeper, intoxicating, godlike: the choice of which side to grant knowledge to, which side to bless with one's loyalty.

Both sides are sure they are the one true beneficiary, and in the end, even the spy himself cannot tell which side is mistaken.

Karkaroff turned out to be right. When I told him that the Dark Lord had chosen me to infiltrate of Dumbledore's group, Igor glanced up, twisting his lips in a funny way, and heaved a deep sigh: "It's amoral, Sevushka. We shouldn't be doing this."

I wanted to respond with, 'Stay out of this one, theorist,' but I held my tongue.

The time for ideological battles and raids was over, and the real war had begun. In war there was no room for kind-hearted theorists. They needed unthinking fighters like Macnair, or sly snakes skilful at covering up their tracks and slithering out of any situation unscathed, like Malfoy.

I understood that well, and with a condescending sense of my own superiority I listened to Igor's idealistic babble.

But somehow I wasn't prepared to see that my understanding was shared by others, who had already made logical conclusions – the conclusions which led to the arrest and imprisonment in Azkaban of the only person dear to me.

They took him during a mission which I reported to Dumbledore as soon as it was planned. I made that report with the Dark Lord's blessing, of course. Igor should not have been there: they never took him on serious raids. I didn't even have to ask the Lestranges, who planned it, why this unwritten rule was broken. I knew that I'd only hear excuses: the failure of the previous raid, the lack of resources.

Perhaps Karkaroff's idealism had rubbed off on me, but somehow I was certain that Dumbledore wouldn't have done that. Oh, he would have sent someone dear to me to die, if it was required for the cause, I didn't doubt that for a second. But he would have talked to me first, and made me understand and accept the necessity of such a sacrifice. I would have felt like a Judas, but at least I would have known.

They say I changed sides because of Lily Evans. Let them.

o

In the months that followed, I often recalled our last nights together. Three in a row: a rare luxury in wartime.

They were marked by a desperate, frantic tenderness. We made love as if for the last time, before an execution or a final farewell. It was as if we knew… But now that I think back, perhaps we did know something. I guessed something. It had nothing to do with any fickle gift of Divination, like Trelawney's. Time was sifting through our fingers, running away so visibly, like sand from a broken hourglass. This game was coming to an abrupt end, and in endgames more and more important chess pieces are sacrificed to win…

For some reason, my most vivid memory of those days is Igor, stretched out on our bed at my feet, slowly and lazily giving me head. It was the second time for me that night, and I balanced for impossibly long minutes on a fine edge of pre-orgasmic bliss.

Perhaps it was Igor who held me on that edge: first swallowing down almost to the root so I felt his throat shudder around the head of my cock, then pulling back unhurriedly, tracing the veins with his tongue, until the head was on the brink of falling from his wet, flushed lips… And down again, slow, so frustratingly slow it made me moan and toss my head against the pillow.

Ironic: I wanted so madly – faster! – to move my hips, setting my own rhythm, deep and rapid thrusts into that wonderful mouth… but I was too weak to try. And in any case, this way – leaving myself to the mercy of his hands and lips – was much, much sweeter.

Or perhaps I simply wanted to delay the inevitable: the night, sleep, and the morning that crept closer.

Afterwards he lay next to me, his hand underneath his jaw which bristled with black beard; Merlin, it grew so fast on him that I always woke up with my face itching from beard-burn after kissing him. His grin was a bit teasing, but I wasn't offended at all.

"Don't even start, you." I grumbled, "Just tell me, what do you think about Lestranges' idea for eliminating the Order of the Phoenix."

"Tsk-tsk. Tactics in bed. You ought to be ashamed." He laughed and kissed my collarbone, and all I wanted was to make the night last longer, so that the morning would never come.

Oh, Igor.

A week later, he was arrested and imprisoned; a year later, the Dark Lord had fallen and the war was over.

o

They acquitted me. I was never quite sure why.

Why did Dumbledore need to vouch for me and save me from prison?

The only reason I can think of is that after Slughorn left, the Headmaster needed a decent Potions Master right away to replace him. He also needed someone to sort out Slytherin House: a third of which had relatives with criminal charges against them.

If there's anything I hate more than spying, it's teaching.

Then again, the daily teaching routine helps. It leaves no time for brooding or soul-searching, no time for remembering.

o

I didn't see Igor after that. Albus didn't let me go to his trial. He showed it to me, however, in his pensieve. I think it was so he could finally convince me of the immorality of the losing side. At times they used ironically similar words and ideas, Karkaroff and Dumbledore. Ideologues, masters of words and minds, damn them.

"I'm so sorry, my boy," Albus said, as he opened the cupboard with the pensieve.

As if I didn't know what I'd see in it.

Then again, no, I didn't. I realized that Igor would name everyone: he was too weak to resist even ordinary questioning, not to mention Dementors. He was too cowardly not to sell everyone out to escape his nightmare. But what I couldn't imagine until I saw it with my own eyes was how much they managed to break him.

He was pathetic. Not ridiculous, as usual, but truly pathetic. Meek. Disgusting.

I raised my head from the pensieve and politely thanked Albus. As usual, he kept trying to get me to 'talk about it', eager to tell me all about my own reactions, my thoughts and feelings about what I saw. I ran back into my dungeons instead.

There was a simple truth I learned as a child. "Judge not, lest you be judged…"

1994-1995

Thirteen years is a long time, even for a wizard. Especially for a wizard who's betrayed every belief he held dear, and everyone who believed in him. I expected that Igor would have grown old, but still I'm not prepared to see the dark-haired man gone pale as a snowy owl, white as Dumbledore.

Dumbledore greets the sons of Durmstrang who have just arrived, and I hide in the shadows and try to rid myself of unexpected, unpleasant memories. It's difficult when both of them stand so near: tall, lean, blue-eyed… gone gray.

How old is Igor? He never said and I was always too embarrassed to ask.

It's not only his appearance that changed. He's gained a powerful presence, a composure that he used to lack – but a pained, tense-backed kind, filled with nervous glances to the side. Before Malfoy with his snooty, upturned nose used to look ironically laughable in comparison to Igor, who used to seem absolutely ordinary in his forgetful silliness.

But now I'm glad that Lucius, with his indifference and his arrogance cultivated-into-authenticity, hasn't shown his face here. I don't want to compare them.

Do I still care about it all? Even after all these years: half my conscious life.

Yes, Igor still bothers me, to the point that I'm grinding my teeth. I realise that vividly during the evening's Feast, when I see him hovering over that boy, the Bulgarian Seeker.

It's embarrassing to be jealous. Ridiculous. I know that there is nothing between them; Karkaroff would never lower himself to relations with a student, no matter what. But still I taste bitterness on my tongue.

"You've turned bitter, Severus," he'll tell me later. And he'll be right. Bile rises up to my throat, eats through my chest and causes the unbearable need to spit, when I see how he smiles softly and leans over the scrawny, dark, beak-nosed boy.

His tastes haven't changed a bit, I note. Yes, I'm bitter about it.

Then I pretend I don't know him.

I'm an idiot!

o

For the third night in a row, I cannot sleep.

It's nothing new. I certainly have enough reasons – Moody himself, wandering through the school, is enough for a dozen nightmares – but that excuse seems to be valid only in the light of day.

At night, when I twist and turn in my bed, I know for certain why I can't sleep. I'm waiting for something – someone.

Honestly, what am I supposed to do? Go looking for him on the boat?

I'm almost ready for such a drastic measure – to show up on that sodding Durmstrang sailboat, intimidate his students and sort out my relationship with their Headmaster…

Then Igor knocks on my door.

He has a bottle of vodka hidden under his robes and a self-conscious smile on his lips. Such a rare sight it is, to the point of ridiculous.

Merlin, how I've missed him.

o

We get sodden drunk.

No, not from that one bottle of course. I always keep good whisky in my drawer. During peaks in my self-loathing (which arrive as regularly as Dumbledore's lemon sherbet attacks) my whisky bottles empty themselves too fast to deny any accusations of alcoholism. But that one evening spent drinking in Igor Karkaroff's company is enough to assure me that such accusations might be baseless after all. I drink too slowly for an alcoholic; tonight it's too difficult for me to get drunk.

Igor gets drunk with frightening ease. He never used to be that way. Is it his age or…

I don't want to speculate. And I certainly don't want to imagine him quietly drunk in his fancy Headmaster's office at the most famous Dark Magic school in Europe. Or perhaps he doesn't get drunk in silence. Perhaps at Durmstrang they are accustomed to drinking in rowdy groups, as Dolohov once told me.

No, I don't even want to think of it. I won't. I'll drink instead.

As a result, Igor falls asleep in a chair near the fireplace, and I keel over at my table, dropping my head on a stack of scrolls, essays I haven't marked.

The next morning I have to arrange an unplanned test for the fifth years. Severus Snape, unprepared for his lecture. A disgrace.

I hide my eyes from Dumbledore and envy Karkaroff, peacefully asleep in his boat. Even under Cruciatus I won't admit that the cause of my terrible mood is not hangover – that was taken care of by a potion – but my former lover, who didn't even touch me.

I really am an idiot.

o

He's scared: so scared it hurts to watch.

He cringes when he sees Moody, as if he's scared of being hit. He starts alarmed conversations at random – even during the Yule Ball, imagine that! He suggests things but never names anything upfront, as usual. Once I considered it a harmless quirk, a peculiar way of dealing with the insults and cruelty of the outside world, but now I clearly see his weakness and his fear. An ordinary, clichéd fear for his own life.

A coward, that's all he is: a dreamer, whose beliefs fell like autumn leaves before the bitter storm of reality. I'm ashamed to be with him. Even though I'm not truly with him now, not like I was before.

Lying to oneself is useless. I would still be with him, if it was my choice to make.

Yes, I'm ashamed of him. He is weak and pathetic. I'm sick of seeing him this way, but I'm even more sick of the fact that I still want him, despite everything. I am ashamed of my own desire, and that's the most despicable thing of all.

And I'm angry, mostly because I cannot help anything. At all.

The only thing I can do is to look into his eyes full of primal fear and say: "Then flee. Flee – I will make your excuses."

o

I always knew that fear has form. All our fears manifest themselves, sooner or later. But I never thought it could be this way, that fear could mould itself into a living person, changing him until one can't recognize him at all.

He stopped smoking. His teeth remained yellow but that scent of Turkish tobacco, a mixture of latakia and berli, that was unique to him, his and only his, is gone. Gone are the nicotine stains from his fingertips. His hands have turned pale, polished… alien. And his hair has faded to white: a cliché symbol of the horrors he lived through.

But I don't care! Truly, I don't.

He looks at me, tilts his head toward my shoulder, his knuckles touch my wrist and… nothing else.

"You're so incredibly grown up, Sevushka..."

Merlin! I'm thirty five. I feel like a boy again.

o

Sex with an old lover is like rereading a manuscript one studied back in school. Even though you haven't opened it in years, and have forgotten ten times over what it said, still a brief glance is enough to remember where a page was folded, all the scribbles on the margins, and which paragraph you had to work most diligently on.

He tilts his head back and his goatee sticks up, in a funny and tender way. I glide from the dip between his collarbones, down skin pale as a snake's belly, between the edges of unbuttoned robe, down, fighting with unfamiliar fastenings – Merlin, who wears trousers with a codpiece nowadays? – down, where I know every bulging vein, his taste, his scent: here, he hasn't changed a bit.

Igor.

Then he rests, his hands behind his head; his white hair blends into my pillow. How odd. It's as if I share a bed with an old man. Even though I've felt so old all year, right up to a few hours ago… Right now, I feel so good. So improperly, blatantly good that it's hard to understand how I can feel this way when everything else is going to hell.

"It's natural," Igor responds and I realise I spoke aloud. "The expectation of imminent doom sharpens all emotions and drives, including the obvious. It's been addressed many times in literature, in tales of celebration during a plague."

"Igor."

"Yes."

"Shut up."

His coughing laughter echoes underneath the low ceiling of my rooms.

o

Several months pass, and it seems he hasn't changed a bit. Same tone, same smile, shy and sly at the same time. He even arches his brow the same way. That's my Igor, even gone white and without his pipe.

He's the same when we're alone, but in the company of others…

And to think I was ashamed of his clumsiness. Drops of gravy spilled over his robes during supper, crumbs stuck in his beard. Now he's disgustingly elegant, almost to the level of Malfoy. His manners are impeccable, his stance ideal, the furs he wraps around himself are always white.

I'm still ashamed to sit next to him at the table.

However, Igor isn't in a hurry to be seen with me when we meet at dinner in the Great Hall. He sits next to Dumbledore, starts secretive conversations in soft tones, trustingly leaning toward the Headmaster's shoulder. Albus hides a smile in his beard. Typical.

I don't understand. It used to be that nothing made Igor laugh as much as Malfoy's snobbery and Crabbe's awkward attempts to look respectable. What makes him stoop to their level now in displaying these weaknesses?

Surely it's not because he's afraid. It's not fear that makes him puff out his cheeks and chest in attempt to make himself seem more important, trying not to come short of Dumbledore or Madame Maxime. It's not fear that makes him jump into conversation with disrespect bordering on plain rudeness… Or is it fear after all?

Is he afraid to seem absurd. Why?

He never cared how he appeared to others, what others thought of him. His self-assurance – not fake but real, deeply-ingrained – never needed others' support.

That's my answer, then. I wish I knew where he lost that self-assurance: during his year of hell in Azkaban, or elsewhere.

o

I hate serious discussions in bed: they're the height of bad manners.

But I start them myself, as I lie with my cheek against his shoulder. There are things I want to know. And I can only lead soulful discussions while buttoned up to my neck, when my job in the Order demands it of me.

The Order doesn't care how Igor Karkaroff spent these thirteen years. Severus Snape does. So awkwardly, he still cares, after everything.

Igor replies with an awkward-sounding Russian phrase which he then translates: "They told me that the road I took would lead me to the Ocean of Death; and from halfway along, I turned back. Ever since, all the paths I have roamed were entangled, and crooked, and forsaken."

I raise my head and look up at his face. He smiles, but his eyes are cheerless.

"Where is it from?"

"Nowhere important," he shrugs, and my chin slides from his shoulder onto the sheets. "Muggle writings."

o

"We try to ease ze adaptation of Muggleborn pupils to the magical world. Not only in school, but outside of it too!" Madame Maxime's rumbling contralto echoes over the high table, impossible to ignore. "For years, we 'ave organized joint trips of Muggleborns and Purebloods during summer 'olidays, with ze supervision of teachers and Wizarding parents."

It sounds so wonderful in theory, but the suspicion of how things really are at Beauxbatons makes me twist my lips in distrustful smirk. Their champion's blood is more pure than purebloods' themselves and her snobbishness surpasses Draco Malfoy's.

I know better than to expect pessimism from Albus Dumbledore when it comes to education.

"What a splendid beginning, isn't it?" he enthuses. Even his glasses shine with excitement. "Severus, do you think we should use our colleague's experience?"

Minerva chuckles tensely at the acid expression that takes over my face. I know that it's all a farce, but I can't do anything about it. This teenage enthusiasm that takes over our Headmaster at any hint of improvements in pedagogical process is infuriating.

I get away with a mutter, and Dumbledore's attention shifts to my neighbour at the table: "What do you think about these efforts to integrate Muggleborns into magical society, Igor?" Albus speaks softly as usual but his words still spread over the high table like steam from the hot tea; getting as much, if not more, attention as the booming notes of the Beauxbatons Headmistress.

"We don't distinguish between purebloods and muggleborns," Igor answers with poorly hidden irritation. "Everyone has equal opportunity at Durmstrang."

I don't have a chance to be surprised – or understand that there is no reason to be surprised – as he adds quickly, smoothing over the impolite moment: "And of course we always encourage the informal interaction of students of different backgrounds. Their successful cooperation will ensure the future stability of the magical community."

I'm not surprised. I am in shock. I realise that a man can change his beliefs, but to twist them inside out like this? It wasn't even an interrogation, just a dinner conversation.

Oh, Igor.

o

My forearm burns worse and worse, there's less and less time left and I…

I avoid him again. I am so tired: of his endless fear, of his continual glances over his shoulder, of the way that his every conversation sooner or later turns to the Dark Lord's return. I can't talk about it: there will be too many lies and I don't want to lie.

Damn it, I'm scared too!

Igor appears at one of my lectures. "Don't you see?" His pale lips barely move, and there's a quiet panic in his eyes.

His Mark pulses like an ugly melanoma on skin untouched by the sun. His is more noticeable than mine. He's a thin-skinned aristocrat, in all sense of the word.

I finally realise I couldn't care less about all his sins, and all of mine, and how little time we have left…

Potter ambles about with the shards of a broken phial, hiding behind his cauldron. I wish for a Manticore to tear him to pieces.

Merlin protect the boy!

While I chase the spying brat outside, Karkaroff leaves, offended.

I lock the classroom and go back to my rooms, reaching for a full bottle of Glenlivet. I hide it under my robes and head for the Durmstrang ship.

The next night, Igor comes to me, and the next one too…

Albus frowns when he looks at us in the Great Hall, but I couldn't care less. This is one last breath of air, for us both. After this, it'll all be over. Even Albus doesn't dare say anything.

I'm twenty again, a young man every night as I anchor myself to Igor, clutching at his skinny shoulders like I did decades ago, and the beat of blood in my ears echoes his ridiculously gentle 'Sevushka'.

I hear it for the last time by the wall of the maze, during the third task of the tournament. "Be careful, Sevushka." And then the fear in his eyes washes away anything else they might've held once when he looked at me.

1996

When I see him next, it's summer, and I'm storming into his hideout in Northern Scotland, in the midst of a pack of Death Eaters.

His eyes hold no fear, just the miserable certainty of his doom, and an endless weariness. That's when I first hear that accursed "Severus, please."

I respond in exactly the same way as I do a year later in the Astronomy tower, and both times I'm looking down into pained blue eyes.

"Avada Kedavra."