Disclaimer: Fincastle and Rossi are mine. Snape, Malfoy, and most of the other Death Eaters are JK Rowling's. No infringement whatsoever is intended. As usual, it's just for fun.

A/N: This story is a small prequel of sorts to Witch, Wolf, and Serpent. It can be read alone, but will probably make a bit more sense if you're reading the other fic. If you are currently reading WW&S (up to ch. 8 posted so far) this will explain a little of things to come. I have taken some artistic license and added a few more Death Eaters. (Can you ever have too many?)

Decisions

Lightening flashed along the heavens in a great jagged fork It had been raining heavily for a while now, and thunder rolled in almost constant waves across the late night sky.

Even in the depths of the chambers below the great old house, the rumble and crash could distantly be heard by the handful of people gathered there.

It was two days after Halloween and a dozen or so men stood together arguing and speaking to one another in a highly animated and agitated fashion. They were clearly upset and argued freely as the storm raged on outside. Anarchy reigned in the cellars of Malfoy mansion now that Voldemort was gone.

Word had reached the remaining Death Eaters of the Dark Lord's defeat, and one by one they had found their way here, to a place where they had met so many times before.

No one had foreseen this. No one had even conceived of the thought that Voldemort could be defeated. And by a child, no less - a mere infant. Without the dark lord to direct them, his servants were divided as to the best course of action.

Their number had dwindled as of late. Some were confirmed dead, some were in Azkaban, and as of yesterday Pettigrew had gone missing. (He was presumed to be dead by the rumors that were now circulating.)

Among the men involved in the discussion was one who did not speak, but instead listened carefully to those around him. He was a young man; tall and raven haired, with quick, dark eyes. The men around him were agitated, angry and worried. He found that he was anything but worried. He was relieved.

Severus Snape could not have been more relieved as a matter of fact. Now he would no longer have to be the servant, called upon to do someone else's bidding. He would no longer be the unwilling perpetrator of horrible crimes. He would no longer have his vast knowledge and considerable skill used for dark purposes. And soon he would no longer be a spy.

He looked at the men around him. He'd been a spy for a time now, and it sickened him to return to their midst time and time again. He was repulsed by the sight of them, nauseated by the mere thought of what they had done. He was anguished by the thought of what he had done, wittingly and unwittingly, and it was the only reason he ever returned. He needed to atone for what had happened. Somehow, even if it was in small measure, he needed to try to redeem himself.

The guilt inside him was overwhelming. It had overridden all fear, all concern for his own safety, and it had also led him to Albus Dumbledore.

At first he did not know where to turn, but it became clear after a time that Dumbledore was the correct choice.

His former headmaster had always been understanding in the past, always patient, kind, and tolerant. Few of the professors at Hogwarts had understood him as a youth, and fewer spared him the compassion the headmaster did.

Yet he was afraid the night he had come back to his old school. Afraid in a way that he had never been whenever he had returned to the dark lord, but he no longer cared about the possible consequences. All he cared about was making it stop; making the madness end. Dumbledore had given him the way, and a second chance that he didn't deserve.

At first he was dumbfounded that someone would trust him, and that someone would set before him such an important task. He then became angry that the old man should ask him to go back, when all he wanted to do was escape.

It was the wisdom of the old mage that proved to be truth. He might leave and escape for the present, but by running away he would be haunted always and have no peace. By becoming a spy he would be able to earn a small degree of redemption, and ultimately be able to live with himself.

And so, for a short time he had been a spy, and was responsible in part for the smaller numbers of Death Eaters. It was dangerous, nerve- wracking work, but in his mind Snape had nothing to lose.

Then it happened. The Betrayal. Voldemort sensed another step toward ultimate victory and went in search of the Potters. It didn't take him long to find them, and in his overconfidence for him to make his biggest mistake. He should have left the boy alone.

Snape looked up from his thoughts. More people were arriving, one or two straggling in at a time. Kemp, Bolduc, Rossi. His eyes went to the last, watching her join the group. She looked dazed, and uncertain. She was not the only one. He nodded to her as she looked around the room and moved away from the argument to speak with her.

"Ursa." He addressed her quietly in a corner.

"Severus, what's happening? What are we going to do?" the witch asked quietly.

"I believe that has yet to be decided." He indicated the group in the middle of the room.

Two factions were siding heatedly against one another.

One the one side was a group that included Lucius Malfoy, and the other was a group that contained Ian Fincastle. Each side had its own ideas about how the Death Eaters should react, now that Voldemort had been defeated.

Snape spoke again quietly "It would be feasible for each side to proceed as it desired...if they thought they could trust each other." Ursa was close to being the only Death Eater that Snape even remotely trusted.

"The difficulty of the situation is that Malfoy wants to save his own hide. His group figures that they could go back to their lives before the Master came to power, and that no one would be the wiser." Snape watched the action in the large room as he continued to speak to Ursa in a low voice.

"Fincastle's side wants to continue on. He thinks we need to seek revenge on the Aurors, and to teach the Ministry a lesson. Of course you realize that the moment anything happens against the Ministry, Malfoy's group could point the finger."

Rossi added her own insight. "And of course, what's to stop Fincastle from taking revenge on Malfoy's group as a bunch of traitors?"

"Precisely."

"What do you think, Severus?" she asked.

Snape trusted her, but not that much. "I have mixed feelings" he lied. "I'm tired, I admit, but I also bear no love for the Ministry."

She looked at him for a very long moment. "I'm just tired," she said. "I want it to be over, Severus, but I'm afraid."

"Of Fincastle?"

"Yes. What's to stop him from tracking me down if I leave the group?" she asked worriedly.

Snape looked around the room. " Walk with me." He indicated a door.

Snape and Rossi walked down the hall to the room that was the Malfoy's wine cellar. He hadn't wanted to take a chance of being overheard, even with all the commotion.

"I understand your concerns," he continued.

"It's so difficult." Rossi looked distraught.

"No, my dear, it's simple. If you stay because you're afraid, and continue on with the violence and the killing, can you live with yourself?" Snape asked.

Ursa hesitated and then answered softly. "No."

Snape continued his questioning. "And tell me, Ursa, if you leave it all behind, can you live with what you've done? Could you live with yourself then?"

"Yes," she answered more quickly.

It was a major difference between them. In effect, Snape had already left it all behind him, but as far as being able to live with himself? He was a long way from that.

"Then you should leave," he said quietly.

"I might be dead," she said.

"You could be dead either way." Snape leaned closer. "Better to die knowing you made a decision you could have lived with." He spoke as much for his benefit as for hers.

"I'm afraid, Severus." Her eyes dropped to the floor.

Snape paused for a long moment, and then spoke again . "I might be able to help you," he said quietly.

Her eyes went wide.

"I want you to give this some careful consideration. How much would you be willing to risk? How much would you be willing to do, in order to be free? No. Don't answer now. Meet me at your place tomorrow night with your answer, and we'll decide what to do from there," he finished, glancing around to make sure that no one was near.

"What time will you come?" she asked quietly.

"Midnight."

She nodded as he turned and went back to the other room, leaving her alone with her inner turmoil. How much did she trust him?

The night ended badly. Turmoil still reigned as the two factions each decided to go their separate ways. Each side knew they had not heard the last word from the other. Snape remained with Malfoy when things had finally quieted. He had remained non-committal.

"So, tell me, old friend," Lucius began. "Who's side are you on?"

"My own," Snape said simply.

Malfoy's smile was disarmingly charming. "Severus. How long have we known each other?"

'Long enough to know that I wouldn't last two seconds if you thought I'd cross you,' thought Snape. He sighed audibly. "A very long time, Lucius."

"Tell me you really want revenge on the ministry." Malfoy sounded doubtful.

"Who doesn't?" Snape asked, answering Malfoy's query with a question of his own.

"True, but enough to stick your neck out now that...the Master...is gone?"

"I don't know," Snape said noncommittally.

"Always covering your ass, aren't you Snape?" Malfoy asked in an amused manner.

"It's the only one I have," Snape replied dryly.

Malfoy laughed. "You know, Severus," he began, in a manner that became more dangerous as he spoke. "I don't really give a damn what you do, as long as I don't have to be concerned with watching my ass."

Snape shrugged. "Do whatever you want. I pose no threat to you."

'At least not in the way you're worried about,' thought Snape.

"You speak the truth? I should trust you?" Malfoy's eyes narrowed.

Snape smiled a little. "As much as you ever could."

Malfoy continued to stare at Snape, but slowly he began to smile. He slapped Severus on the back.

"Good enough. Which is not saying much." He was only half joking.

When Snape left the Malfoy manor the rain had stopped. He walked through the front door out onto the grounds, and was about to disapparate when someone called to him.

"Snape."

Severus turned to see the owner of the voice. Ian Fincastle. Snape's eyes narrowed and he felt the adrenaline rush in his veins. The wand up his sleeve was ready.

"Do you have a moment?" the oily smooth voice asked politely.

"Of course," said Snape.

Severus walked along beside the other Death Eater. The man was about his height, and perhaps ten years older. He had chestnut hair that he wore to his shoulders.

"So. I assume that Lucius has tried to talk you into turning tail and running like the rest of them?" Fincastle's manner was somewhat arrogant.

Snape did not answer his question and gazed at the man steadily. His voice was icy when he spoke. "You didn't stop me to discuss Lucius. Get to your point, Ian," Snape replied evenly.

Fincastle's answer was simple. "I want you to stay with our side, Snape."

"And why should I do that?"

Fincastle laughed a little, but Snape did not let down his guard down. He knew the man to be a powerful wizard and dangerous. He had spent a good deal of time in the company of the older wizard, and he knew the man was unarmed, that he carried no wand, but that didn't mean he wasn't a threat. No, in fact he knew that the Nemorosi mage could be deadly if he chose to be.

"We could use you," Fincastle continued. "We could use your talent, your strength."

"And I could probably figure on living longer if I stay with you?" Snape asked with a bit of indignation. It wasn't really a question.

The older wizard laughed again, but without mirth. "You said it Severus, not I. You need to choose. I'd like an answer in 24 hours."

Snape considered the ultimatum just issued to him by the Nemorosi wizard. "Forty-eight," he replied finally.

Fincastle raised his eyebrows a moment and then smiled. "Very well. Make the right decision, Severus."

The man strode away and disappeared, leaving Snape alone with much to think about.

Twenty four hours later he apparated outside the house that Ursa Rossi lived in. He had been here many times before, and strode up the dark walkway unerringly.

They were friends, as much as two Death Eaters could be friends, and he wanted to help her if he could. He knew that her life could be in danger and he hated the thought of losing her after all the time they had spent together. He was not in love with her, but that didn't mean he didn't care.

She opened the door as soon as he knocked and let him in.

"Hello, Severus," she said. Her voice sounded a little shaky.

"Ursa," Snape acknowledged her.

"I'm glad you're here," she said, not looking directly at him.

"What have you decided, Ursa?" Snape asked quietly.

She looked up and gazed long and hard into his eyes, and then committed herself to her answer. "I want your help. I want out."

He nodded. It was what he expected. "Very well. You realize there might still be considerable risk?"

"Anything, Severus. I just want it to be over." She sounded tired and desperate.

Snape nodded. "I understand better than you know. Tomorrow I'll take you to someone that I think can help you."

"Who, Severus?" she asked curiously.

"Tomorrow," he repeated softly.

She nodded with understanding. She knew he didn't trust her completely. "Thank you." She moved closer. "Severus. You'll stay?" She had placed a hand on each of his arms.

"You wish me to?" he asked.

"Yes," she said moving her hands to rest on his chest.

"Then I will." He drew her close and kissed her forehead, and then her lips, and then he followed her to the next room as he had done so many times in the past.

Snape was preparing to leave with Ursa in the morning when they came. There were three Death Eaters besides Fincastle, and they were expecting to find the woman alone.

She was one of many that they intended to go to, to offer the same ultimatum that they had already presented to Snape . Join them or be branded traitor. They also intended to use her as an example, if need be.

"So you see, Rossi, it's a very simple decision." Fincastle had eloquently explained her choice. She had listened with anger in her eyes while Snape stood by.

Snape expected the threats, but he never expected them to follow through so soon.

Rossi answered. " I want nothing to do with you. I'm finished."

"Pity, that," answered Fincastle. "I believe you'll regret your decision."

"Your threats don't scare me," she said defiantly.

"Ah, but they should, my dear." Fincastle's voice was low and dangerous.

Snape stepped forward. "I think you should leave," he growled.

Fincastle turned his attention to Snape. "Severus. I believe you were going to give me an answer today as well?" he said coldly.

Snape gave the Death Eater an icy stare. " Forty-eight hours, Ian. I will give you my decision tonight."

"I see." Fincastle turned to the other three men with him. "Wait, outside." He indicated the door and then continued speaking. "I'm trying to be patient, Severus, but I believe you need a little convincing that my way is the correct choice."

"Are you threatening me?" Snape asked the Nemorosi wizard.

"Not at all," Fincastle said simply.

Snape never had time to react, for in the space of time another wizard would have taken to draw his wand, Fincastle had merely held up his hand and spoke two words. Ursa dropped to the floor as Snape was blinded by the flash of green light. And then the Death Eater was gone.

The dark robed wizard knelt beside the dead woman. He had known she was dead before she hit the floor, and he had known there was nothing he could do. Nothing. The man's actions were swift, decisive and permanent. He hadn't been prepared for Fincastle to act so quickly, and now Ursa had suffered as a consequence.

Snape felt numb when he looked at the body of his dead companion of these past few years lying still on the floor. He knew then that it was time for him to leave, and as soon as he saw her taken care of he would do just that. Damn giving an answer to Fincastle! He'd have more than an answer for him if they ever crossed paths again.

Hatred of the man who had done this kindled within the raven haired wizard that night, and would smolder inside him for many years.

Many of the Death Eaters that had initially sided with Ian Fincastle decided that they were better off not keeping his company. After a while they saw little or no point to harassing the ministry if they weren't going to be assured ultimate victory, and that seemed unlikely without Voldemort. The number of his supporters dwindled to a handful as the Death Eaters decided that saving their own skin was their highest priority.

Ian Fincastle himself was seldom heard from, but like the other Death Eaters decided that he would wait until the opportunity might arise that he could once again feed his corrupt ambitions.

Years past, and over time all of the Death Eaters began to hear rumors that perhaps the dark lord was not dead, but merely biding his time until he had the strength to return. They spent a long time waiting in secret. Waiting, until such a point that the rumors...

...were found to be true.