I know, I know, for a person who claimed to be out of plot ideas, I sure am posting a lot! This is the prequel to my story "Just to Be" that I promised to write way back when; if you haven't read JTB, this probably won't make much sense to you, and will completely spoil it, so I highly recommend reading JTB first if you haven't done so already. I started this prequel several months ago, but Severus and I had a couple (many) disagreements about the direction it would take, and I wound up throwing in the towel. Once he agreed to be reasonable, I picked it up again.

Like my other stories, this is complete. It is a multi-chaptered story but much shorter than JTB. It's primarily a Severus story, but has a few cameos from our other main characters. He is going to be doing a lot of brooding in this story. You have been warned. Rated T for language. Chapter titles are from Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening."

This story picks up one year after the events of DH (minus the Epilogue, of course) and five years before the events of JTB. As in canon, Severus has been attacked by Nagini and left for dead. He's been lying in a coma in St. Mungo's for a year. He's been conscious and able to hear everything everyone has said in his presence, but has otherwise been dead to the world.

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the Rosier kids, and even that is probably questionable.


You found me
And I was hiding
'Til you came along and showed me where I belong

Kelly Clarkson, "You Found Me"


As he opened his eyes, all Severus could feel was excruciating, agonizing, never-ending pain.

"Fuck!"

Still, it was better than listening to one more moment of droning by the near-constant stream of visitors to his bedside. From those who wished him dead, to those who wished him well, they came. And they came. And they came.

And they spoke.

What he wouldn't have given to be able to tell even one of them to just shut the hell up.

He couldn't decide who had been worse: Albus's portrait offering meaningless platitudes, Potter crying, or Longbottom speaking at all. He hadn't been able to hex any of them. It had been torture.

Now he lay in bed, awake, wiggling his toes for the first time in a year, black eyes blinking in the dim light that was too bright for him. He opened and shut his mouth, moved his jaw from side-to-side, rotated his neck, just because he could. It all took far more effort than he would have expected.

His fingers positively itched for his wand.

He wondered if he could sneak out without anyone noticing. Then he saw the Auror posted at the door. His reflexes would likely be rusty. Probably couldn't get away with it.

That's when he noticed the figure sitting in a chair by his bed, looking at Severus as if he had been expecting him to wake up that day.

"You're awake," rumbled the deep voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt. "Took your time, didn't you?"

Severus blinked. "Kingsley?" he rasped, his voice scratchy from the snakebite, venom, and months of disuse.

Kingsley nodded. "You may also call me Minister."

"My congratulations," Severus said in a tone that indicated that he was not, indeed, interested in congratulating his fellow Order member on his new position. "How kind of you to drop by. Your timing is impeccable."

"Isn't it just?"

Severus sighed and turned his head to the ceiling, moving slowly because it was so difficult. "What do you want?"

"Well, officially I am here to inform you that the Wizengamot indicted you on charges of pre-meditated murder on the third of May, 1998. The charges are sealed and not known to the public at large."

"What day is it now?"

"Second of May, 1999."

"Only a year? You lot are quicker than I ever gave you credit for. Here I thought bureaucracy was inefficient."

"The law, unfortunately, prohibits me from serving the accused with their charges if they are not conscious."

"Oh, we have those again?"

"Indeed we do."

"Joke's on you, then. I could hear everyone the entire time."

"Alas, the Healers told me otherwise."

"I taught them. Dunderheads, all."

"That sounds like a slur on your teaching ability, Severus."

"One cannot squeeze blood from a turnip," Severus said. It felt good to banter people again, regardless of the subject matter. He and Kingsley had never been close, but the relationship had been cordial enough. "If you waited a year to cart me off to Azkaban, I will merely ask you to hand me my wand so that I can just finish myself off and save us both a lot of time and bother."

Kingsley scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous."

"I'm not, I'm being efficient. Ridiculous would be agreeing to this farce, appearing before your little show trial, and then being sent to the Dementors to be Kissed and placed in another coma, one from which I have no hope of awakening. I assure you, my way is better, as it is with all things."

"Regardless," Kingsley said. "I am also unofficially here to inform you that I have a proposition for you that would eliminate all charges against you."

"Just give me my wand."

"I'm afraid that I cannot give an accused his wand. He might escape."

"I'll throw myself out the window."

"You plan to cross the room and climb out the window on leg muscles that have atrophied after a year of disuse? That I'd like to see."

Severus glared and then lay still for a few moments, considering. The bedclothes were thin enough that he could rip them and hang himself from the headboard, but even the smallest motions were taxing, and he couldn't lift his head or his hands. Resigned, he abided by one of the oldest codes of Slytherin House: know when you are beaten. "I'm listening."

"I need to ask a favour of you. If you complete it, I will ensure that the charges are dropped, you will receive the compensation paid to all Order members for their trouble in the war, your very own Order of Merlin, First Class, all due respect and privileges given to the heroes of the war, and—best of all—you will never have to see me again."

"The task?"

"I need you to dispose of Voldemort's body."

Severus turned his head so fast he could feel the bones in his neck cracking. "I hope I misheard you."

"You did not."

"Absolutely not."

"Don't dismiss my offer right away, Severus."

"I will. Death would be preferable to that. Don't you have Aurors or Unspeakables for this sort of thing?"

"They all refused."

"They refused? They don't get to refuse. You're the bloody Minister—order them to do it. It's their damn job."

"I appreciate that. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to lose all my Aurors or Unspeakables, so when they unanimously refused, I was left with no choice but to acquiesce."

"Vanish the damn thing yourself."

"I can't just Vanish it."

"Why not?"

"I tried. It doesn't work. Too much Dark Magic, something about the Horcruxes."

Academically, that intrigued Severus and he wanted to hear more, but remembered himself and the situation. He would have to hold his curiosity at bay. "Transfigure him into something. Burn him. Aim a Reducto at him. There is no shortage of methods at your disposal. Do it yourself, Minister," he sneered. "Consider it a perk of your position."

"No. I want it to be you. It has to be you."

"Why?"

"I tried it, all of it, I couldn't hit the body with anything. Not with my hands, not with my wand, nothing. Harry Potter's curse worked because Voldemort's wand was sworn to obey him and because of the link they had shared. Beyond that, I have not been able to touch him, get near him, do anything to him. I think the Dark Mark might allow you to destroy him. I think you need some sort of dark link with him to be able to do it."

"So get one of the Death Eaters who are no doubt rotting in Azkaban as we speak."

"There are none to ask."

Severus's eyes widened and then narrowed in understanding. "I see," he said flatly.

"The Malfoys are the only ones not in Azkaban—"

"What?" Severus was apoplectic. He tried to sit up but couldn't, and settled for merely glaring at the ceiling. "You let them weasel out of trouble again? Kingsley! You're supposed to be smarter than this."

"Do you think I didn't try? Malfoy packed the Wizengamot between wars. They voted in favour of clearing them of all charges. If I start overturning acquittals and violate double jeopardy prohibitions, I lose all credibility."

"What a great loss that would be," Severus said sarcastically. "So get them to do it if they owe you their freedom so badly."

"We can't find the Malfoys."

"What do you mean, you can't find them? How do you lose the Malfoys?"

"The Ministry seized their Gringotts vault, home, and possessions to pay for war reparations. They disappeared shortly thereafter."

"So you clear them of all charges, despite them being willing, eager, and very guilty Death Eaters, and then allow them to slip through the cracks? I guess nothing really changes in our world."

"Change takes time, Severus, you know that."

A long time passed without either man speaking. Finally Severus broke the silence.

"If," he began, emphasizing the word, "If I agree to do this, I have your word that I will be left alone?"

Kingsley nodded.

"And I can be assured that there will be no Aurors or Unspeakables or any of your people ever coming after me?"

Kingsley nodded.

"And if I were to do this, where might I find the body?"

"Azkaban."

Severus paled. "No. No deal."

"Severus—"

"No. Never again."

"I can guarantee that you will be given wide berth by everyone and everything," he emphasized the last syllable, "whilst you do what must be done."

"You can't promise to control Dementors. No one can."

"I can."

"I don't believe you."

"I wouldn't lie to you, Severus. I'm not in the business of manipulating or lying to fellow Order members."

Severus closed his eyes and shook his head. "Everybody lies."

"Perhaps, but not to you. You always know when somebody is lying."

Severus shook his head. "Occlumency and Legilimency skills are like swords—they must be sharpened regularly if they are to be of any use. For a year now I have been unable to practice either, and I'm not even taking into account the effect the venom or the coma might have had on my mental faculties. They are likely broken beyond repair."

"I am not Dumbledore, Severus," Kingsley said. "I am not here to break you or manipulate you or use you. I have a genuine problem, one I suspect only you can solve, and I am prepared to pay handsomely for it. I have no ulterior motive."

Severus said nothing for a long time, considering and weighing all of his options. "May I have twenty-four hours to consider?"

Kingsley nodded. "Of course. I will be back tomorrow. Do try to avoid trying to kill yourself. I'll have to hold a press conference to say nice things about you, and I do hate those." He got up to leave. "I truly am glad to see that you are back among us, Severus. You have been missed."

"Even without my Legilimency skills, Kingsley, I could tell that was a lie."

Kingsley merely shook his head and walked out the door. Severus lay still, absorbing the silence around him.

He didn't need twenty-four hours. He knew what his answer would be.


Even after weeks of Magical physical therapy, Severus still felt weak and uneven on his feet. Especially in this horrible place.

Kingsley had been true to his word about keeping the Dementors away, but it did little to assuage the dark, bubbling dread in the pit of Severus's stomach.

The most disturbing thing about the screaming was that he couldn't be sure if it was real or echoing in his own head from his last stay here.

He was told that the body could be found in the very last cell in the block that had come to be known as Death Row—the row of cells housing Death Eaters. According to Kingsley, all of them had already been Kissed, most within days of the Dark Lord's defeat.

It was better than what most of them deserved.

He kept his face fixed forward, resolutely refusing to look at the near-lifeless bodies in the cells.

The moaning stopped him in his tracks. Involuntarily, he looked toward the source of the noise. It was a man. He was slumped against the iron bars, his head lolling back and forth, as if his neck wasn't strong enough to support the weight. Severus, not knowing what made him do it, knelt at the man's side, and the only indication he gave in recognition was a sharp intake of breath.

Evan Rosier.

He had been Kissed, Severus was certain of it. Yet, he was still somewhat… alert. Somewhat… present.

He knew, in theory, people could be incompletely Kissed. It was thought to be impossible; a Dementor's thirst for happy memories was never sated. It consumed them, drove them to multiply in hopes of assuaging the terrible, terrible hunger. The idea of a Dementor failing to extract every last drop of a person's soul was inconceivable.

Rosier lolled once again and he looked Severus square in the eye.

Severus had never much liked Evan Rosier. Thought being Kissed was too good for him. Death was too good for him. Everything was too good for him.

And yet he could not move as the man, the man who should have no soul left in his body and no ability see or communicate or recognize others, stared into his eyes beseechingly.

Evan Rosier was in custody because of Severus. On his way to meet Voldemort in the boathouse, he had stunned him, bound him in ropes, and left him hanging from a tree in the Forbidden Forest for the Aurors or the Order to find.

His final gift to them before he was to die.

Suddenly he felt a cold, bony hand grasp him tightly on the wrist. He jerked violently, certain it was a Dementor, but relented when he realized it was Rosier gripping him so tightly it was sure to leave a mark. He pulled Severus close to him, his dark, blood-shot eyes staring into Severus's. He felt something small and cold being pressed into his palm.

"Take… it…" Rosier rasped. "Take… it."

Severus shuddered at the words and shook his head vigorously, trying to pull away. Too soon to think about all of that.

Cold fingers closed Severus's hand around the object, whatever it was. He tried to open his hand—contraband of any sort would likely land him in here regardless of his deal with Kingsley—but to no avail. The skeletal hand of Evan Rosier held it shut.

"Take… it… to… them."

Them? Severus's brow furrowed before he remembered vaguely that Rosier was a father. Had a whole family—wife, children, probably even a dog. He hadn't considered it at the time; such thoughts had no place on a battlefield. His wife had not been a Death Eater. The bottom dropped out of Severus's stomach as he saw Rosier's wife Vivienne slumped against the stone wall, eyes closed, not moving or reacting to anything around her. He could see her pale, unmarked forearms facing up.

So being married to a Death Eater was now a crime, too.

And yet the Malfoys are free!

And yet you are free, sneered a familiar voice inside his head.

Ah, Severus thought at the sound of the Voice, the embodiment of all his self-loathing and self-doubt. The one he could never help but listen to. I remember you.

Rosier, having decided he had made his point, fell back against the bars and shut his eyes. The effort had cost him his last bit of energy. Severus backed away slowly, still gripping tightly the object in his palm.

He pocketed it without looking at it, hoping he wouldn't be searched on the way out.

With a shudder, he approached the small, windowless room harbouring… it. Him. The sound of the heavy steel door it clanging echoed long after it had slammed shut. In the absence of his Occlumency shields, Severus controlled his breathing as best he could. It would not do to panic now. Even though the last time he had been this close to the Dark Lord, he was dying, dying for nothing, he would not break down. He would do what he had been asked to do.

And then he would finally, finally, be free.

He would have loved to just vanish the damn thing, but he chose not to. He wanted to see this body destroyed. Didn't want to think of it existing in some other plane or dimension. He wanted to break it, to burn it, to crush it, to shred it, to utterly eliminate it. Ruin it beyond recognition so that no one seeking it out—and there would be those who would seek it out—would be able to identify it, or use it, or steal any piece of him.

The Dark Lord lay limp, stretched out across a flat stone slab. He lay as if in state, waiting for mourners to walk past him and pay their respects.

That would never happen once Severus was through with him.

He concentrated for a moment. Better do it quickly, before he lost his nerve. Before the hell of Azkaban descended fully upon him and reduced him to a cowering mess. He no longer had his Occlumency shields to protect him; it was a miracle he'd lasted this long without some sort of breakdown.

He wondered for a moment if he was too damaged to even have the capacity to break down. How could you break something that wasn't even whole in the first place? You couldn't break something already broken.

And Severus Snape was nothing if not broken.

He calmed himself with deep, controlled breaths and screwed his eyes tightly shut in concentration. Opening them, he allowed himself one last look at the Dark Lord—the man he thought would be his saviour, his ticket out of helplessness and hopelessness. The figure to whom he had sworn fealty and eternal service. The figure he'd betrayed, whom he'd actively sought to destroy for the better part of two decades.

Now, Severus was granted the chance to be the one to finally destroy him.

He felt his lip twitch into a twisted grin. He might as well enjoy himself.

"Reducto!"

When all that was left of the Dark Lord was ashes, he piled them on the stone slab with his wand. After the briefest hesitation, he gathered a handful of the remains in his hand, letting it slip through his fingers and let it slip back down, a silent snowfall of ash.

Ashes to ashes…

Taking a step back, he twirled his wand in a complicated pattern. Each pass of the wand through the pattern split each piece of ash in two, making the particles smaller and smaller with every pass. Soon the Dark Lord was nothing more than a pile of fine dust. The pile grew smaller and smaller as the air grew thicker and thicker with his remains, floating about in small, fine pieces lighter than air. Once Severus could no longer physically see the particles—though he could feel and sense and smell and almost taste them in the back of his throat—he whipped his wand swiftly in a circle, gathering all of it into a ball of material so fine it could hardly be seen. With one last flick, the ball of dust burst into flames and disappeared, leaving behind naught but a puff of smoke.

...Dust to dust.

The Dark Lord was gone.


Next chapter will be up next week.