Author: hikaru / _regarde
Archive: Please ask permission.
Feedback: If you so desire.
Warnings: Dubious consent
Pairings: Severus Snape/Igor Karkaroff
Disclaimer: They're all J. K. Rowling's, and I've got the feeling that she'd have my head for this.
Summary: Doubters have no place in the Dark Lord's court.
Notes: Written for the lovely littlecup, who I love more than anything, for the Snape Rareslash Ficathon. Sorry it's a teensy bit late. For the prompt of "pre-Death Eater, second thoughts." I intended to keep things light, but the story ended up getting progressively darker as I wrote it. I hope you enjoy it! Thanks very much to lauramcewan for lending her talented eye to the story. I can never resist tinkering, though, so any oddities you see are all my doing, not hers. The title is from the song "Measuring Cups," by Andrew Bird.
Severus wasn't even a Death Eater yet, and he still knew that one did not disobey the Dark Lord. That was something that had, quite literally, been beaten into him, even before he had made the conscious decision to go into Voldemort's service.
He had been doing fairly well in proving himself worthy to the Dark Lord and the other Death Eaters. The potions he supplied for Voldemort were innovative and untraceable; the hexes that he invented were deadly and terrifying. Everyone seemed pleased with his progress.
Everyone except for Severus himself, that is.
He had seen his spells be used by the Death Eaters. He had seen his potions in application. And he was frightened.
Not because of the death and gore, no. Of course not. He was frightened because the idiots weren't using them with caution. They were just flinging hexes with careless abandon, wasting potions on people undeserving of such exquisite deaths.
A particularly careless exhibition of death carried out by the infernally incompetent Avery proved to be the last straw. He used the curses with reckless abandon, he dosed the unworthy with Severus' carefully crafted potions, and he left specific evidence. That was the worst part of all. Severus' creations were unable to be traced back to him, but if Avery was going to insist on scrawling his own initials in blood at the scene of every Muggle massacre, well, Severus was going to take issue with that. The first Auror that found Avery would likely pull a confession and long list of names out of the man within minutes.
With his list of grievances clearly outlined in the part of his brain that contained lists and complaints about everything and everyone who had ever irritated him in his short life so far, Severus did something that no one -- especially not someone who hadn't even taken the Mark yet -- ever did.
He requested a meeting alone with the Dark Lord.
"You've no faith in me, then, Severus?"
The teenager sighed. "Of course I've faith in you, my Lord." He shifted awkwardly in his seat, trying to avoid sinking into the plush armchair. "Who I do not have faith in are some of those who say they are loyal to you."
"As I've heard." The Dark Lord leaned forward, steepling his fingers at his lips. "I have faith in them. Is that not enough?"
Severus pursed his lips, considering his answer. "Your faith in them does not make up for their lack of abilities or intelligence. Sir." He held his breath, waiting for the punishment for speaking his mind.
Instead, he was met with a low peal of laughter from the older man. "So you intend to run this operation with your eighteen years of life experience, Severus?"
Severus paled, eyes wide. "N- no, my Lord, I meant nothing of the sort. I'm only concerned that--"
"You have no experience to back up your concern, young Mister Snape," the Dark Lord interjected sharply. "You only have your fancy idealistic thoughts and high noble opinions." Severus didn't respond, merely gazed in horror at Voldemort, waiting for the inevitable Crucio to come.
Voldemort sighed and slowly rose from his chair to pace about the room. "You are right, however." He paused at a bookshelf, fingers brushing lovingly over the spines of the books. "So many of my faithful are uncouth, uneducated. They want our campaign to be known wide and far; none of us can fault that, can we, Severus?"
"No, sir," he replied, voice hoarse and thin.
"No, we can't. But we can educate them, refine them. Make them the machines of justice and destiny that my Death Eaters should be, rather than the oafish brutes they appear as now." He turned back to face Severus. "There is a reason I am courting you, my Severus," he said abruptly. "Lucius' recommendation was strong, but I would see a worthy man in you even without that, Severus. I know you will never fail me."
"Of course not, my Lord." He shook his head slowly. "But -- and forgive me for saying this, sir -- I do not know if I can serve when I do not trust those I serve with."
"But, you see, you understand it already, Severus! You cannot trust them, ever. You cannot trust me, even. Only yourself." The corners of Voldemort's lips curled up in a devious little smile, and he seemingly glided over to stand before Severus. A hand darted out from within the many folds of the Dark Lord's robes, and two deathly cold fingers pressed at Severus' chin, tilting the young man's head up. "I do not want you in my service if you would trust them with your life."
"I don't understand, sir," he whispered, struggling to control the expression on his face.
"I don't expect you to," Voldemort replied, slipping his fingers from beneath Severus' chin to pat him on a pale, bony cheek. The Dark Lord turned and stalked away, sliding back into his armchair. "I wish for you to take a trip to speak with one of my faithful."
He waved his hand, producing a scrap of parchment and a quill from thin air, glanging up at the young man seated before him as he began to write notes on the page. "I wish for you to go to this man tonight at eight -- he will be expecting you -- and share your concerns with him. When you return, you will either be ready to be Marked, or you will not." He slid the parchment across the desk to Severus, then folded his hands tightly atop the quill. "If you still have your doubts, I will not allow you to be Marked. I will not have doubters in my fold, you know this."
"Yes, sir." Severus picked up the parchment, fingers only trembling slightly as he drew the paper into his lap. The paper, of course, had nothing useful on it to the untrained eye -- a set of coded coordinates and the letter K -- but it contained everything that Severus needed to know.
He knew that his life depended on this paper. Unmarked men were not allowed in the Dark Lord's court; they also were not allowed to survive. One does not learn the inner workings of the Death Eaters and shun it expecting to live.
"You are dismissed, Severus," Voldemort said abruptly, waving his hand at the door, which opened on his command. "I expect to see you back shortly, more convinced of your place here with me."
Severus did not reply, but merely folded the paper meticulously and placed it in the pocket of his trousers. He rose from his chair, bowed slightly, and left the room. The Dark Lord would hear no more.
Severus took thirteen minutes to decipher the coordinates and put them in order. They were coordinates for an Apparition point somewhere in Russia. He didn't have a name for his contact, but he already knew the list of possible candidates that Voldemort was sending him to meet with.
He packed in twelve minutes, throwing a change of clothes and a potions text into his knapsack. Severus spent the next two hours pacing his small room, wondering why he was being sent to the wilds of Soviet Russia.
At precisely eight o'clock, Severus gathered up his bag, clutched the parchment in one hand and his wand in the other, and Apparated away.
There was that familiar feeling of jerking and swirling and nothingness, and then suddenly his feet were back on soil, unfamiliar as it was.
"Welcome to Peredelkino!" exclaimed a hearty voice from behind Severus.
The portion of Severus' brain that catalogued every person he had ever come into contact with immediately supplied the name of Igor Karkaroff, and the young man slowly turned to face his host. "Thank you, sir," he said slowly, bowing his head slightly at his superior.
"Come inside, come inside." He clapped a hearty hand between Severus' shoulders, guiding him down a long, grassy path to a small cottage up ahead.
The walk was silent, punctuated by the occasional thump on the back by Karkaroff, and neither spoke until they were situated at a wobbly wooden table in the kitchen of what apparently was Karkaroff's summer home.
"So," the elder man said, breaking the silence gruffly, "he has sent you here, yes?"
"Yes, sir," Severus replied, eyes down and focused on his clasped hands, the perfect picture of respect and grace. "He wished that I meet with you, though I did not know specifically that it was you with which I was scheduled to meet."
"That's well enough," Karkaroff replied, leaning back in his chair, fingers stroking over his short beard. "You know what he wishes you to learn?"
"Not precisely." Severus flicked his eyes up at the other man, then focused his gaze back onto his hands. "I was having--" Voldemort's admonition to never trust anyone floated through his mind, and he halted his speech. Karkaroff didn't need to know about his doubts. "I was concerned with the calibre of some of the Dark Lord's faithful, and he sent me here assumedly to meet with someone whom I could respect."
Karkaroff laughed, low and deep, and he slammed his hands onto the table in amusement. "You lie well, boy, but not well enough." He shook his head, shoving his chair back to rise and pace around the kitchen. Silence ensued as Karkaroff pulled two dusty glasses from a cabinet, soon followed by an equally grimy bottle of vodka. He sloshed some of the liquid in both glasses and then brought them to the table, setting one before Severus and clasping the other in a heavy hand as he settled back into his chair.
"Drink," he said, waving his hand at Severus. It was an instruction, not an invitation. "You don't think he told me why he wanted me to meet with you?"
Severus took a hesitant sip of the warm liquid; he knew that drinking with Karkaroff was going to be much different -- much more dangerous -- than covertly sharing a bottle of wine with Regulus. "I imagine he told you, sir. What he told you specifically, or whether it was the whole truth, I cannot know."
Again, Karkaroff laughed roughly. "I see why he likes you, boy," he said, punctuating his words with a thrust of his glass before bringing it to his lips.
"I'm eighteen," Severus countered, face screwed up in frustration. "I'm not a boy."
"Pah." Karkaroff slammed the empty glass onto the table, roughly rolling up his left sleeve, exposing the Dark Mark on his forearm. "You've not earned yours yet, boy. That's all you are."
"The Dark Lord would not bother with mere boys." Severus frowned, arms folded across his chest. "The Dark Lord does not consider me a child. I create what you lot use to kill; a boy cannot do that." He sneered at Karkaroff, pride wounded.
With a heavy sigh, the older man rose from his chair, snatching the bottle of vodka from the counter before returning to the table. "Drink," he instructed again, refilling his glass. Setting the bottle aside, he leaned across the table, looking seriously at Severus. "You can create pretty things all you like. But you are not a man until you learn to control pretty things."
Severus cocked an eyebrow, trying to work out Karkaroff's words. "The Dark Lord wishes me to learn control? From you?" He frowned, bringing the glass to his lips and taking another sip.
"The Dark Lord wishes you to learn many things." Fucking Death Eaters, always so cryptic. Severus didn't exactly think that Karkaroff was smart enough to bother with being cryptic, which frustrated him all the more.
"Are you going to tell me what he wishes me to learn?" He drummed his fingers impatiently against the side of the glass he clutched. "Or will you continue to be deliberately obtuse?"
"Cheeky boy," Karkaroff said with a chuckle. "I'm not obtuse, as you say. You just don't hear." He drained his glass abruptly, letting it drop back down onto the table with a clatter. "You drink up, yes?" He nudged Severus' glass with a blunt fingertip.
Severus nodded, raising the glass to his lips to take another small sip. The pair sat in silence as the teenager nursed his drink, desperately hoping that Karkaroff would let him stop after this glass. Of course, that wasn't precisely true; every time Severus had gotten near the bottom of the glass, Karkaroff snatched it away to refill it, then refilled his own glass.
Before long, the vodka bottle was empty and the world was starting to grow fuzzy around the edges; Severus felt that heavy feeling in his head that he associated with intoxication. His posture worsened and soon he slouched over the table, resting his head on folded arms.
"He sends them all to me, you know," Karkaroff said finally, breaking the silence. "All the ones with second thoughts, with doubts as to their path." Severus hadn't even noticed that the older man had gotten up from his place opposite him at the table; Karkaroff was now kneeling next to Severus, one hand on the young man's back. "Do you know why he sends them to me?"
"No, sir," Severus replied, voice shaky.
"He sends them so I can break them." A thick hand twined in Severus' hair, lifting the young man's head from the table.
Severus blinked as he felt the tug on his hair; he stared in confusion at Karkaroff, who had stood up next to Severus. "I don't understand."
"Your spirit is too strong, he says, and I have to agree." Karkaroff's grasp in Severus' hair was sharp, painful.
The young man's first instinct was to talk back, to insist that Karkaroff had understood incorrectly, but the look in the older man's eyes was harsh, dangerous. So he kept quiet, eyes wide as he waited to try to make sense of Karkaroff's actions.
"He told me everything, boy," the older man growled, "told me that you don't trust any of us, that you think you know better than any of the rest of us." He jerked hard on Severus' hair. "Boys like you need to be broken, and he sends them all to me." Karkaroff raised his hand up, forcing Severus up from the chair. "I break them, and then they understand what it means to wear his Mark." He released his hold on Severus' hair, and the teenager staggered to his knees, hands flying to his scalp.
"I understand what it means," Severus retorted, words slurring together. He frowned, hands slipping from his hair to rub at his temples. "What I don't understand is what you want from me."
"Yes you do, Severus." A smile slowly twisted across Karkaroff's lips, and he reached out, seizing Severus by the shoulders and hauling him back to his feet. With a physical grace Karkaroff rarely showed, he spun the young man around, pressing him up against the table. Twisting one arm behind Severus' back, Karkaroff pressed up against the young man. He leaned in close to whisper into Severus' ear, rough beard scratching the other's skin.
"Don't you see how I break them? How I'll break you?" Karkaroff's free hand ghosted up Severus' side, tracing an invisible line up the young man's body. He let his hand settle at Severus' cheek, twisting his head so that the two were nose to nose. "I've had dozens of them, but none with your spark."
"What do you want from me?" he repeated, trying in vain to hide the fear in his eyes, the tremble in his voice.
"Your submission," came the answer, a low rumble in Karkaroff's throat. His hand held fast at Severus' cheek, and he darted in to press his lips to the young man's, a harsh kiss that spoke of dominance and lessons and also quite a bit of vodka.
Severus wanted to protest, wanted to fight back. He knew one hundred and seventeen ways to kill Igor Karkaroff with just a flick of his wand, another two hundred and forty-nine ways to murder him with doses of potions that polite people didn't speak of. He was smarter than this old man, but he also knew that he didn't have a choice. Severus didn't know why Voldemort had truly sent him here, whether this was what he had intended Karkaroff to do, but he also didn't want to take the chance to resist and be wrong. If allowing Karkaroff this victory was the wrong choice, he could hide his humiliation, twisting the entire situation so that he eventually had the upper hand.
The elaborate lies began spinning themselves in his mind and Severus let his head droop as he slumped against the table. It didn't take much to block out Karkaroff's fumblings, it was clear that he wasn't the most interesting of partners. Severus made drunken lists in his mind of potions ingredients, of the seventeen essential steps to create a new hex, of all of the ways he'd ever evaded talking about his heritage with his peers.
Karkaroff shifted his position behind Severus, wrapping one thick arm around the young man's chest to hold him up. The other hand reached to his own trousers, and even drunk, Severus could imagine what Karkaroff was doing back there. The thud of boots being kicked off and the sound of robes being parted only reinforced Severus' notions.
The other man didn't speak as he ran a palm down Severus' chest, over the growing erection that Severus' traitorous hormonal body was encouraging. Karkaroff moaned lowly as he snaked his hand underneath Severus' robes, hiking up the long garment and pushing heavy trousers down over narrow hips. The young man breathed in sharply as Karkaroff pressed up against him, warm skin meeting cold.
"It will hurt, yes," he said, and without any preamble, began teasing at Severus' opening with one blunt finger. "But you probably know that already." He smiled, a wicked little turn of the lips, as Severus' cheeks flushed red.
Severus sucked his lower lip between his teeth, biting down sharply until he felt blood. The coppery taste filled his mouth and distracted him momentarily from Karkaroff's alleged ministrations. He was brought back to awareness though when the fingers were replaced with the blunt head of the older man's cock. The two hissed in tandem; Severus at the invasion of his very body and Karkaroff at the tight heat of Severus' body.
It was perhaps the least fulfilling intercourse that Severus had ever had, he thought in the midst of it all. Karkaroff didn't even pretend to care about Severus' own pleasure or release, merely pounded flesh against flesh in pursuit of his own. The young man held back something between a whimper and a sigh as Karkaroff reached around to roughly fist Severus' cock, calloused fingers slipsliding over smooth skin.
A few sharp tugs and his body was responding, even though he was waging an epic battle in his own head against it. Severus breathed in sharply, deciding that the quicker he was done -- the quicker that Karkaroff thought he had broken Severus' spirit, his wild streak -- the quicker the entire ordeal would be over.
He moaned a little bit as Karkaroff shifted inside of him -- partially an act, partially rooted in truth -- which seemed to please the other man. Karkaroff thrust into Severus with wild abandon, fisting his cock in time with his movements. He grunted, then buried his face between Severus' shoulders, muffling an unnatural whine as he found his release in the younger man.
Severus just sighed. He supposed he should finish up then. "Oh," he whispered, closing his eyes and seeing visions of messy black hair and sleek silver and that time under the Quidditch stands, seeing visions of people who very much were not Igor Karkaroff, and he let himself go, let his body sag as his come covered the older man's worn hand.
Severus showered for precisely twenty minutes and thirty five seconds after returning to his small chambers. Rosier banged on the door of the loo for five minutes, grousing about how there was always some ridiculous twat in there when he needed it. Severus hardly heard the yelling, though, and even if he had, it wouldn't have bothered him. Rosier was always complaining about something, anyway.
Physically clean but perhaps more emotionally damaged than ever before, Severus got dressed (meticulous, starched, every button in place) and simply sat and waited. The Dark Lord would call for him soon enough.
He would take the Mark, he was sure of it now. He determined that he was going to formalize his service to the Dark Lord because he had something to prove. He wanted to prove to the world that not all Death Eaters were incompetent like Avery, self-absorbed like Lucius, or foolish like Karkaroff.
Severus would bring about the new era of Death Eaters, he was sure of it. Igor Karkaroff did not break him; he had made Severus stronger.
He perched on the edge of his bed and stared at his clasped hands until there was a timid knock at his door by one of Voldemorts' oft-abused house elves.
"Mister Severus, Master is wanting to see you now!" the little creature squeaked from behind the closed door. Wordlessly, Severus rose and exited his room, following the toddling creature to Voldemort's chambers.
Severus didn't even need to tell Voldemort what had happened with Karkaroff. The Dark Lord, as always, knew all.
"He did not do as instructed," Voldemort said, tongue darting out to wet thin lips. "He never does. Pity."
Severus didn't answer; he merely kept his eyes glued on his clasped hands.
"Are you going to take my Mark, Severus?"
"Was Igor successful in assuaging your fears?" Voldemort peered curiously at his young protégé.
"Not particularly, my Lord. I came to my own conclusions." The young man flicked his eyes up to meet Voldemort's for a moment.
"Would you like to share your conclusions with an old man such as myself?" He quirked the remnants of an eyebrow at Severus.
"I have decided that I can be better than all of them." He licked his lips nervously. "I wish to join your service to prove that to you, sir."
Voldemort leaned back, setting against the plush back of his armchair. He stared intensely at Severus for minutes without ceasing, without even blinking, as if he were searching within the young man's thoughts for some sign of duplicity. "Very good," he said abruptly. "We will set your Marking for this week. We will see if you hold true to your word."
Severus was better than them all, in the end.
Avery's mistakes cost him favour, and eventually cost him his life. Regulus' foolhardiness got him killed. Lucius' self-absorption landed him in Azkaban, never to be the same.
Karkaroff's use of Severus, of countless up-and-coming Death Eaters, his manipulation, and, ultimately, his lack of faith got him killed -- by Severus' own wand, many years after their meeting in Russia.
Severus was the fallen angel, risen again to sit at the right hand of his Lord.
When the right time came, he was the one to bring the heavens crashing down around them all, as well.