Chapter 20

Hermione was sickeningly afraid. Her fear sat deep in her stomach and while the calmly logical part of her mind told her that giving into her fear and allowing it to take hold would only serve to make things much worse, she couldn't compose herself into even a semi-normal mental state.

The small part of her mind that was still functioning at a normal level told herself that the full impact of the situation hadn't hit her yet. There was an overwhelming, almost unbelievably surreal quality to the situation.

Hermione's nerves were numb and there was an unshakable cold band of dread within her chest.

As the day wore on, there were times she had to remind herself to breathe.

She'd been sitting on the sofa in the Gryffindor Common room after leaving Harry to his classes. He hadn't wanted to leave her alone, but she'd insisted. She wasn't about to have him take lower marks in his classes on her account. Besides, if he went out of his way to stay with her, . . . just look at how well that had turned out the first time.

Hermione curled herself into a ball. At least, Lucius now had classes to teach. And even if he didn't, she doubted he would suddenly burst into the Gryffindor Common Room. Not that it would really matter any more if he did. Before the end of the day, she was going to pay Lucius a visit.

At this point she really had no choice. Her stomach tightened convulsively as she thought about him. Lucius's curse urged her body to sharp arousal and Hermione held her breath until the disgustingly powerful feeling passed. It had lasted for perhaps ten seconds, but had felt like much longer.

You'll find a way to make him pay. Severus has a plan, Hermione thought to herself. No matter what, you'll find a way.

She forced herself not to think about what would occur when she faced Lucius. It was all so horribly unfair. When would it be over? And when it finally was over, what would she have left?

Would she still have Severus? And what of her self-respect?

Severus stared at the staff master schedule. It was bitterly ironic that he and Lucius both had a free period at the beginning of the day. He made his decision to seal his fate with the man without hesitation. After all, it wouldn't be any easier if he put it off and in fact waiting would only make Lucius more suspicious.

Severus made his way to Lucius's rooms. As he walked he made sure he had his strongest mental barriers in place. Never before had he so carefully concealed his emotions without actually being in Voldemort's presence. Before today, he'd never truly had a reason to. Yet now . . .

Damn it, but he was afraid. The last thing he'd do would be to let Lucius see his fear. The bastard would only get off on it and take the greatest pleasure in using it against him.

And while Lucius would surely know he was afraid, what Lucius privately knew and what he physically saw were two very different matters. If Severus kept his fear under his strongest mental lock and key, he'd be depriving Lucius the satisfaction of being able to witness it. And any time that Severus could deprive Lucius of anything he considered pleasurable, Severus counted as a private victory.

Severus didn't knock before entering Lucius's private chambers. He did however, magically lock the door behind him. Lucius was nowhere to be seen. Severus almost wondered whether Lucius was in his rooms. He moved further into the room and crossed into the adjoining chamber that held contained a set of double windows, eight feet high that looked out onto the trees of the Forbidden Forest. Lucius was standing stock still, staring out the left window.

"So," said Lucius without turning around. "You're finally here to reveal your true colours. No false pretenses, no carefully guarded secrets."

Severus didn't immediately answer. Every instinct he possessed screamed at him to carry on as usual and try his damnedest to make Lucius think he was a true-blue Death Eater. Yet even as the thought crossed his mind, he knew it would be an exercise in futility. Lucius knew the truth. Severus didn't know what had tipped him off so completely and he doubted Lucius would tell him.

Lucius turned to face Severus. The calm look of pure self-satisfaction in Lucius's cold eyes made Severus's stomach tighten in revulsion. Lucius's lips twitched into an utterly soulless smile.

"You truly do care for her," he said softly, his voice nearly a purr.

"Yes," said Severus, knowing that once the word was spoken, he could never take it back. It was such an innocuous sounding little syllable, yet it's utterance condemned him to become beholden to Lucius's will. Lucius approached him slowly, and Severus noticed a cocky triumph in the man's steps. Lucius tsked softly. The sound made Severus's blood run cold.

"Tell me," Lucius intoned, "knowing that your life rests in the palm of my hand, what do you propose to do now? You're quite like an insect really, at any given moment I might decide to crush you."

"I made a transfer potion and took her curse upon myself," Severus told Lucius.

There was a period of several seconds' silence before Lucius spoke. Before Lucius uttered even one syllable, Severus knew with certainty that the man saw through his lie.

"Lie to me again, and it will be her life I take." Lucius eyed Severus with a steely glint in his gaze. "There is but one way for your darling Mudblood whore to free herself. On her back."

Inwardly, Severus flinched harshly at Lucius's words. Outwardly, he forced himself not to display any signs of submission.

"Did you know before you cursed her that her soul was a match to mine?" he asked, without emotion.

"Of course."

"So it was all an elaborate plan to get me back into your bed?"

"Got it in one, Severus. I thought of everything I could try and this was the only way I could be sure to get you." Lucius stepped directly behind Severus. Severus's stomach twisted uncomfortably as he anticipated Lucius's next move. To his credit, he checked his urge to shudder in open revulsion when Lucius's hand came around his left hip and then slid further forward none too gently. Lucius's fingers played over Severus's body, surprisingly feather soft at first and then slowly increasing pressure. Though it had been quite some time, Lucius knew Severus's body and knew exactly what it would take to force him to arousal.

In the face of the situation, Severus could do nothing but allow it to happen. And though the sudden flood of self-loathing was thick and cloying, Severus knew there would be time enough for that later.

Once Severus became half hard, Lucius stilled his hand and brought his lips to Severus's ear.

"You know, for a man who claims to hate me beyond all measure, you put on a very convincing show that tells quite a different story."

Severus chose to ignore Lucius's comment. There was only one thing on his mind and it had nothing to do with the man behind him.

"Let her go, Lucius," said Severus, his voice oddly hollow. The blonde Death Eater let out a disparaging little snort.

"Whyever should I? Especially when its so much fun to watch her suffer."

Severus turned his head to meet Lucius's gaze.

"You have what you want. You have me."

Lucius's lips twitched into a ghost of a smile. He appeared to consider Severus thoughtfully.

"Perhaps, if you work very hard to please me and don't waste your time concocting foolish illegal potions, I just might think about considering the possibility of letting your precious little Gryffindor go."

Severus went visibly still at Lucius's words. "What's the matter, Severus? You look so surprised."

"You heard my last conversation with her."

Lucius's eyes glittered with triumph.

"I created that curse myself. Surely you don't think me stupid enough not to take steps to ensure the efficacy of my plan?"

"I've thought you to be many things, stupid has never been one of them."

"You can experiment with potions all you want. You aren't going to magically discover a way to hurt me. Though if it makes you feel better, I encourage you to try."

He was the utter picture of self-confidence. There was absolutely no trace of uncertainty in his voice or his bearing.

"Dark magic requires dark energy. I don't suppose you'd tell me the source of the curse's power."

Lucius snorted indelicately. "Not that the information would be of any use to you, but no, I don't suppose I will." Lucius turned his attention once more to Severus's body. For a few seconds, he resumed the gentle play over the dark silk of Severus's clothing. Then suddenly without any warning, he clenched his hand into a tight fist. "Fancy a little wager Severus?"

"A wager?" Severus asked, trying for sarcasm but unable to pull off his usual potency due to the uncharacteristic note of uneasiness in his voice.

"Twenty galleons says I can make you come in less than ten minutes. I'll even go double or nothing that I can make you say my name while you do." Lucius let out a soft laugh. "What do you say, Severus, are you game?"

"Why do you insist on pretending as if I have a choice in the matter?"

"Only to make things interesting until you are fully prepared to give yourself to me entirely."

Severus swallowed down the sudden growl of anger that burned to escape his throat. It wouldn't do anything to improve the situation if he provoked Lucius's displeasure.

"Why don't you make it triple or nothing Lucius."

Lucius's grinned soullessly. "Indeed I shall."

Hermione hated sitting alone. After a few hours, she found she wished she'd asked Harry to stay with her. Being alone magnified her fear. Her chest hurt and it wasn't easy for her to breathe deeply.

She should have asked Severus for something to take away the brutal anxiety. Considering how she felt now, she couldn't believe she'd allowed herself to believe that things would be better for her. She really should have known better.

She was oddly empty of any confidence. That alone scared her as much as anything else she was dealing with. The fact that Lucius had such power over her, that he could control her so effortlessly was as agonizing as any of the physical pain she experienced.

She just wanted it all to end.

She couldn't bring herself to hope that if she gave herself to him, Lucius would lose all interest in her. Yet surely, he couldn't intend to torture her forever.

Hermione shuddered against a particularly long burst of pain.

If only I could find a way to turn the curse back on him, she thought miserably. The fucking bastard deserves a taste of his own medicine.

There was nothing more to be done. She had to give in to Lucius. If she didn't, there really would come a point in time where she'd lose her sanity from the pain. A traitorous voice in her head told her she might lose her sanity anyway.

She felt as if she were walking along the edge of a towering precipice. Just one misstep would send her plummeting. There was a creeping fear working its way inwards from the edges of her consciousness. It was deeper than anything she'd ever felt.

Despite whatever Harry might say, or even Severus's selfless desire to save her, she was well and truly alone in her fight against Lucius. Hermione swallowed down a wave of nausea. If she slipped there was no one who could save her from falling.

She was teetering on the edge and she was going to do everything in her power to make sure her feet remained on solid ground.

She hoped to whatever god might be listening that she wouldn't lose her balance.