Disclaimer: All characters belong to JKR. Just playing. Really.
A/N: Thanks to all who reviewed. As always, a deep bow to Ariadne.
Darkness ahead ... as if that would be a surprise...
Lucius appeared both calm and calculated as he stared with utter hatred at Severus. The only sounds in the room were the rats scuffling down the row of cells and dripping water as it hit the stone floor. Lucius' lips pressed into a faint line, then pushed into a scowl as he processed the offer that Severus had just made him.
In short, share what he knew or be driven insane by one of the most accomplished Legilimens in the wizarding world, apart from Voldemort himself.
Observing Lucius contemplate his situation, Severus crossed his arms over his chest. He began to pace, grinding the sole of his shoe into the grit on the floor with each turn.
"Come now, Lucius," he said impatiently. "I am a busy man these days. A war simply won't run itself, and I have an appointment to keep in about forty minutes. Although completely ravaging your mind shouldn't take more than two minutes - three, if you turn out to be a fast runner."
Lucius lowered his head and looked almost feral as he growled, "You are bluffing."
An expression of amusement spread on Severus' face. "You believe so?"
"Yes, I have said it before-" Lucius spat, but faltered as Severus angrily unlocked and swung open the cell door with enough force that it slammed violently into the bars. The sound of metal hitting metal echoed as Severus approached and drove his wand roughly under Lucius' jaw.
Lucius' face grew white at Severus' approach. He struggled against total panic, his eyes darting from Severus to the open door and then back. Shoving his legs straight, he weakly pushed the chair backwards, the legs scraping on the stone floor.
A low chuckle, the wand lodged next to his throat vibrating with it.
"There is no escape, Lucius," Severus said softly, with what sounded like regret. "I shall miss you."
Frozen, taking shallow gasps for air, with his eyes tightly shut, Lucius snarled, "You love that Mudblood! I saw it in your eyes! You - "
Lucius didn't get a chance to complete his sentence as Severus immediately snatched him by the throat. He positioned his fingers carefully either side of Lucius' neck, just under the jaw-line. Severus paused, alternating between a twisted smile and the unearthly urge to simply squeeze and never let go. He traced his wand down Lucius' face, mimicking the trail of a single tear.
"Have no fear, dear friend, as I have no intention of strangling you - yet," Severus said in a chillingly calm voice. The tone bespoke someone who knew exactly what he was doing and wished to share the details.
Lucius still held his eyes tightly shut and his head thrown back as Severus pressed harder.
Baring his teeth a fraction more with each breath, Severus watched the play of emotions pass over Lucius' face. He waited - counting the heartbeats. Enjoying the silent spaces between - lengthening...
"The mind is a fragile thing, Lucius. You see - it requires adequate blood flow to function correctly. Something that you are not able to provide at the present moment."
A faint sound, Severus could feel it, Lucius was grinding his teeth.
"Feeling weak?" Severus asked with mock concern as he twisted his hand.
Lucius' breath came in rough gasps as he struggled against the magical bindings holding his arms back to the chair. A low groan escaped him as he tried to pull away from Severus' grip.
A soft laugh as Severus kept his murderous grip on Lucius' throat - following any movement he made. Soon, Lucius fell silent, leaning forward, the bindings holding him to the chair the only thing keeping him upright.
Severus tilted his head with interest. He shifted his hand - slightly - allowing some blood to pass. He didn't want him to black out just yet.
Severus sneered, "Still think you are above the rest of humanity, Lucius? That somehow nature's most basic rules do not apply to you? You must know that you are nothing but a sick creature, bereft of any redeeming value. You may dress yourself impeccably and surround yourself with wealth, but strip you of all that and you are less than a man. Nothing but a wicked wretch who is, at this very moment, slipping into the sweet darkness of unconsciousness."
Lucius' bared his teeth as he tried to once more pull away, stark terror spreading over his face.
Repositioning his hand, Severus kept Lucius on the edge.
When Lucius quieted again, his forced breath coming in wheezing fits, Severus said in a removed, academic voice, "I can feel your heart beating wildly, Lucius - although - it is not working as well anymore. Pity. Just consider for a moment - we are all just minutes from death. Even you."
Moving to speak directly into Lucius' ear, Severus said in a leisurely manner, "I suppose I should divulge my plans for you, dear friend. You are at this moment unable to see even if you did open your eyes. It is, you see, the beginning of brain death. Lack of blood flow. In the moment before consciousness is lost, you will no longer be able to close your eyes, as your body relaxes into the state the brain induces in a vain attempt to preserve itself. I shall then unceremoniously tear down the door to your deranged mind - and pillage at will."
With glittering eyes, Severus grinned as he tapped his wand on Lucius' forehead, taunting him - waiting.
Lucius suddenly growled loudly, thrust his head down and began to thrash.
Severus lunged forward, twisting a large section of Lucius' hair around his fist, tangling his wand. He jerked Lucius' head backwards, repeating the word “No” in a mockingly soothing voice.
Lucius attempted to swallow, but failed, left instead to allow his mouth to drop open to breathe. His jaw worked as he bared his teeth.
"Have something to say, Malfoy?" Severus asked politely. He could feel Lucius' pulse slowing under his grip. "Look me in the eyes."
Lucius' face held a mix of revulsion and creeping terror. His head was wrenched so far backwards it was growing difficult to breathe, let alone close his mouth enough to speak clearly.
"Very well then," Severus said calmly. Almost an apology. "Goodbye, old friend. I shall tell the Dark Lord you died crying for mercy."
Severus clamped down on Lucius' throat, effectively cutting all blood flow and most of his airway. Lucius surged into a raging struggle, throwing his weight from side to side.
Growling in frustration, Severus rocked the chair backwards to slam onto the stone floor. In his rage and pain, Lucius forgot himself, and made the fatal mistake of looking up at Severus.
With a triumphant grin, Severus pointed his wand at Lucius and said, "Legilimens!"
Severus tore into Lucius' mind and found himself surrounded by a bleak desperation and little resistance. Off in the distance, he heard a muttering sound which didn't seem to be forming words, only rambling on as if reading from a script. The droning continued without variation before being overrun by a blinding green light. Severus was horrified to be faced with Lucius' memory of Narcissa's murder. Before he could push it aside, he was faced with the vision of her struck with the Killing Curse and falling gracelessly to the ground. He viciously tore at the memory, destroying it, leaving fragmented pieces of sounds, but no vision.
Moving on with determination, Severus filtered past other memories of hiding Dark objects from the Ministry, miserable days and nights in Azkaban, and even his days at Hogwarts. Severus twitched a grin at the sight of the ruined Malfoy manor, the charred remnants standing against the blue sky. The satisfying result of his and Bella's final duel.
In the background, the droning grew louder, rising in urgency and becoming fanatical in nature. It sounded unlike any normal reading or speaking voice - more like someone holding a conversation with themselves, playing both parts.
Severus moved forward, paying closer attention to the Death Eater meetings over the years. He watched himself writhing in pain on more than one occasion while under the Cruciatus, most likely for not delivering Potter to the Dark Lord.
He could see the look of satisfaction on Lucius' face as Bella whispered to him, "I have been encouraging the Dark Lord. Severus is failing and needs to be taught a lesson."
Thinking back, it was at that point that almost every single meeting he was subjected to more and more abuse, whereas prior to it he had been able to placate the Dark Lord with bits of information. He watched another meeting where Lucius responded to Bella's snide comment by saying, "Screaming becomes him, doesn't it?" - at which they both secretly laughed.
The voice was becoming more feverish in its ranting, and was much closer. An image of a hallway entered Severus' view. Torches lined each side, their warm flames flickering, giving an impression of a well lived-in home. Ahead he caught sight of someone walking, head down and wringing their hands as if in thought or prayer. When the figure raised their head and saw him, they turned and bolted in the other direction. Severus followed suit, turning blindly around corner after corner. The stately, well-kept hallways degraded into dilapidated, stark, abandoned passages. Turning a corner, he was met with the wild eyes of an extremely terrified Lucius Malfoy, backed into a dead-end hallway. A huge tapestry adorned the wall and Severus could see Lucius clutching it with his hands behind him.
"Tell me willingly and I might leave you a slight chance to live. After all - I will find it anyway," Severus growled as he took another step forward. "I do not appreciate being kept waiting."
Lucius' chest heaved as he continued to fist the tapestry in his hands. The ranting voice was now joined by others. Their words intertwining with instructions, reminders and a long diatribe on blood and traitorous activities. He heard one reciting various reasons as to why both Narcissa and Draco should have died together and how Lucius was a failure for not making it so.
Severus paused for a moment. Listening to the pure chaos surrounding him he realized something. There was no need to drive Lucius insane - he was already there.
Ignoring the raging voices, Severus grabbed hold of Lucius and shook him. The stone on floor in the cell became the stone wall behind him. A murky memory came to the surface of what appeared to be a statue of a lion. It then wavered, fading in color, changing into something else. Lucius was clearly attempting a combined effort at Occlumency and lying.
Severus shoved Lucius against the wall and snarled, "Where?"
Lucius only rocked his head back against the tapestry, staring up to the ceiling.
When Lucius didn't respond, Severus lowered his voice and threatened, "If you do not cooperate..."
Suddenly, the hallway where they stood began to shake. Raging voices and the tearing sounds of a multitude of memories being rendered useless could be heard. The increasingly panicked voices permeated the air as they were ripped from their rants.
"I've never done this," Severus said calmly, his eyes drifting up to watch the tapestry behind Lucius tear from its bindings and hang limply by one corner. "I'm not quite certain if the heart stops from fright before the brain simply descends into the type of darkness from which there is no return."
Severus spoke directly into Lucius' wide gray eyes as he offered an almost cordial invitation. "Shall we find out together?"
Suddenly, he saw a hallway where a statue of a griffin stood. It looked slightly out of place, possessing a trace of darkness, refusing to reflect any light. Studying the surrounding area, Severus could tell it was the corridor near the bathroom where the mountain troll had been found. To the normal, everyday eye, the statue had been there for hundreds of years, never suspected of being anything more. The thought occurred to Severus that Quirrell could have brought the statue in somehow while under Voldemort's influence - the perfect example of hiding something in plain sight.
Severus returned to himself as he crouched next to Lucius in the cell, his hand still around his throat.
He tilted his head and stared into Lucius' bleary eyes as the light in them threatened to leave.
"I'll have you know I have not defected, Lucius. I am just as vicious and deadly as ever - and I do not appreciate being laughed at in the least. For that alone I should kill you. Still choose to doubt me?"
Lucius weakly moved his head a fraction indicating, no, he did not.
Severus abruptly removed his hand, roughly took hold of Lucius' robes, and hauled him and the chair back upright.
"I've never killed a man with my bare hands before," Severus said thoughtfully, examining his hand, curling it slowly into a tightly bound fist. "Seems so primal, rough - uncivilized. See, I would think I would prefer the distance the Killing Curse provides, but, at times, I wonder - if given the opportunity..."
He shifted his eyes to Lucius and lowered his hand. "Would I do it?"
Lucius' stared in disbelief as Severus contemplated murder. In a raspy voice, he gasped, "You wouldn't..."
Severus narrowed his eyes and said with a nod towards the door, "There is no one who cares for you. That - you see - is of your own doing. There would be no tears, no consequences for my actions."
Severus raised his arms and posed in mock battle. He dramatically clutched his chest and said in a voice filled with the memory of a valiant fight. "He fought me as I extracted the information needed for the Order. My wand was lost and I just had to do it. He deserved to die, you see - as retribution. In the end - while both sides may have their own reasons for killing - I have my own. I just had to exact the justice we all cry out for in the face of an atrocity, but haven't the tainted soul to perform. 'Send him back to Azkaban when it is raised again,' they'd say, when it is brutally clear that you deserve more than that. Much more. Only death is appropriate - and not any ordinary passing either. No one else would do it..."
Dropping his arms to his sides, Severus said coldly, "But I might - for the absolute thrill of it. Do you doubt me?"
"I- I don't doubt you," Lucius stuttered, his dull, stringy hair swaying as he shook his head.
Severus snarled. "Liar!"
"No! I believe you," Lucius said quickly. He was visibly trembling and shook some of his ruined hair out of his eyes. A streak of blood worked its way down his forehead, tingeing a strand of hair orange as it traveled.
Severus stood straight and observed Lucius for a long stretch of time, keeping the appearance of being on the edge. He could feel the utter terror rolling off of Lucius, and only wished that his value as a messenger back to Voldemort wasn't so high. A small part of him wondered if he was capable of cold-blooded murder, and he decided that he would do well to turn away from that path now. After all, Bella's death, in the end, was hardly self-defense, and that is a decline best approached with caution. He preferred not to think about Dumbledore's death at all.
He grinned almost casually, patted Lucius' shoulder and declared brightly, "Excellent."
Lucius eyed him nervously at the shift, the arrogance he had displayed so proudly only minutes ago now replaced with true desperation and fear.
After a moment of silence, Severus said, "The wards."
Lucius only stared at him blankly.
Severus rolled his eyes. "The wards, you imbecile. The weakness I spoke about earlier, if you recall? That would have been before I started to murder you in the slowest way possible?"
Understanding appeared in Lucius' eyes and he winced as he nodded slowly.
"The castle's defenses have been unstable since the old fool died a most unfortunate death. I have devised a plan to destroy the wards at the main gates. The old witch recasts them at regular intervals. I shall interfere with that action five days from now at noon and take them down. The Dark Lord must strike then. I won't be able to hold it long," Severus said.
Lucius' face came alive, and hope gleamed in his eyes. "I must go."
Severus nodded. "Ah, that you must; however, my plans, for glaringly obvious reasons, must not be revealed to the others. I will return tonight and perform guard duty. I will then take you out of the castle to the gates and set you free to inform the Dark Lord of the plans. I will simply explain that my wand slipped and I dumped your body in the forest. My carefully built reputation as a violent murderer won't be challenged - and I believe we've already reviewed the fact that you won't be missed - or mourned."
They regarded each other for a moment. Severus noticed the distinct evidence of where his fingers had been on Lucius' neck. Surely severe bruising would be there by nightfall. He turned and closed the cell door behind him, allowing the metal to bang loudly.
As he strode towards the door, he heard Lucius hesitantly call, "I apologize for doubting you, Severus."
Without turning, Severus responded with a dismissive wave of his hand, "I accept," and left the room.
Severus exited the Room of Requirement to find Moody, as expected, posted outside.
"Prisoner still alive?" Moody asked, and looked slightly disappointed when Severus nodded.
"Yes; however, I believe he would do well to spend some time in quiet contemplation..." Severus said thoughtfully, "... in the dark."
Moody flinched a wary grin, nodded slightly, and entered the room.
AN: Only Severus could come within a hair of murdering someone and have them apologize to him in the end. ;-)