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Rosemary and Blue Heliotrope

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To: Femmequixotic

 

From: Your Secret Santa

 

 

Title: Rosemary and Blue Heliotrope

 

Author: djinnj

 

Pairing: Snape/Tonks

 

Summary: Snape has a one night stand with Tonks. It lasts more than one night.

 

Rating: R/explicit sex and some violence

 

Warnings: AU, lack of plot, and excess sentimentality.

 

Author notes: Part IX contains dialogue taken directly from chapter 32 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. With thanks to my fantastic beta. 22,200wds

 

Feedback: Leave feedback here.

I. JULY 1997

 

Severus Snape looked about the neat room and nodded. As he expected of a dedicated brewing room on the Malfoy estate, the space was well laid out, impeccably clean, and stocked to the rafters with the finest of everything from armadillo bile to zeeba gall. He could brew well-nigh anything here, and this would bring the benefit and rare relief of time entirely alone. Unfortunately, he could not yet enjoy that solitude.

Narcissa Malfoy stood watching in the doorway, nervously spinning her wedding ring around and around her finger. The family resemblance between Draco and his mother and even his aunt was often overlooked. The features he shared with his father were obvious; however, for eyes that could see, Draco, Narcissa, and Bellatrix most clearly came from the same stock despite accidents of colouring and noses. They all had the same wide brow and pointed chin, the same sweep of the jawline, lately frequently clenched. In this moment the resemblance between mother and son was sharp as she allowed on her own face the same look of weary horror Draco had worn for weeks.

"This will suffice," he told her.

She nodded and turned to leave, then hesitated as he placed a #10 silver cauldron onto a stand. The charmed flame sprang to life as he poured a pint of seawater and a pinch of grave dust into the cauldron.

"Stay or leave; do not hover in the door," he said. He did not look up as he shook out a quantity of dried belladonna into a mortar and took up the pestle.

She hesitated again and then entered fully, shutting the door behind her. He noticed that she did not cast a privacy charm.

"Yaxley seemed very sure," she said.

"Yaxley is a self-important moron," he replied as he tipped the fine green powder into the cauldron and watched it fizz as he retrieved a plump pickled dragon's gizzard from a jar and carved off an ounce. This was swiftly sliced into paper-thin slivers, each added to the simmering cauldron as it fell from the blade.

"Yes," she said. "You are the Dark Lord's right hand," she continued as he sorted salamander eyes with a small bone spoon.

"I believe I have earned that position."

Thirteen perfect salamander eyes entered the cauldron as one.

"No one questions that."

They could go on like this all night, and he was most certainly not in the mood.

"What is it you want, Narcissa?" He glanced at her from the tuft of fwooper down in his hands before dropping a single feather into the brew.

"Our home has become a theatre in this war, and...."

"Assuredly on a very small scale," he said as he stirred the potion with a yew-wood spoon and examined its consistency. He tapped the ring of the cauldron stand with his wand to lower the flame and turned his full attention to her.

"Severus, I asked you before to protect Draco. For the long friendship you have had with our family." A thread of pleading had joined the anxiety in her voice.

"And I have discharged that trust satisfactorily, I presume?"

"More than. You have been the one strong, sane voice in all this madness."

"Beware what you say, Narcissa."

"The Dark Lord may do with me as he wills," she said impatiently. "I fear for Draco, still. Not from the Dark Lord; Draco will do his bidding as he ought but He ignores him more than not. But the others, you saw their delight in our shame. They fear nothing now that we have fallen so low. Lucius and I, we are able to protect ourselves from direct attack, but Draco is just a boy! And too, what if they should spread tales of him? Lies to turn Him against Draco further, to encourage Him to mete out punishment again even if it is not truly warranted."

She stood straight as a wand, hands clenched together.

"Please, Severus, help us in this. I have spoken to Bella, but she doesn't understand how it is. She sees only the Dark Lord's glory and when it's hers, his approval. She cares nothing for what the others do. And I, I can think of nothing else!" Her voice took on a despairing note as she continued. "I think she has forgot what it means to be family."

"I do not know what it is you think I can do, Narcissa. My influence is only as strong as my information," he said.

"He trusts you. More than any of us, more even than Bella, he trusts you. And you are always right, or nearly always. This pleases him. You have a great deal of influence, and you will be at Hogwarts. I know he will give you Hogwarts. Please, Severus. Please help Draco."

"Enough. I have a potion to brew, unless you wish to explain to the Dark Lord why this task remains undone." He turned back to his cauldron before he added quietly, "I will do what I am able, Narcissa. Be warned that it may not be much. The Dark Lord will not be guided by others."

"Thank you, Severus. From a mother's heart, I thank you."

He took up a dropper of Streeler venom in one hand and a flask of Erumpent fluid in the other as she again paused by the door.

"Bella agreed so quickly to the Dark Lord's orders regarding Andromeda's girl," she said, watching as he unblinkingly poured a thin stream of the volatile fluid into the cauldron, adding a drop of venom for every dram. "I had not thought anyone in my family, not even such an estranged part, capable of stooping to wed a beast. But for my sister to so eagerly agree to kill her for it? Surely there must be some other solution? Bella sees only an obstacle to His Lordship's affections, but I see my lost sister's daughter gone terribly astray with none to properly guide her steps."

"The Dark Lord has given his commands," he reminded her blandly. "He will have them obeyed. If you have some reluctance over the matter, I suggest you do not mention it to him. I doubt he will be receptive."

"You know the girl, do you think there is any chance? However corrupted, she is still blood. And, forgive me, but we have the proof have we not that even impure blood may be shown the proper way?" There was a thread of sincerity, even sympathy through her words that he did not trust.

"Your niece is nothing to me, Narcissa. An acquaintance, she was of use at the time, just as the late Madame Burbage had her uses. You have asked my assistance for your son; I suggest you be satisfied with that or take up the redemption of your niece on your own. Was there anything else?"

"No, no, you are right, of course," she said.

"Then, if you please, this potion is both delicate and time consuming." He turned back to the cauldron.

"Yes, indeed. My apologies; I shall leave you to your work. I'll send up a House Elf with some tea directly."

"That will not be necessary." He let some of the thin purple fluid flow from the spoon and frowned.

"Very well. And thank you, Severus."

She shut the door behind her and he continued to stir the potion for many minutes, the frown deepening until it was set and cold upon his face. When he was reasonably certain he would be left alone he banished the rarely brewed Mauritanian doxy poison from the cauldron. Spelling the door to notify him should anyone near, he withdrew from his pocket the flask of venom he had collected with permission from Nagini and set to work. He slid a #10 lead lined cauldron onto the worktop for the potion for the Dark Lord, and after a brief hesitation he added a tiny solid gold #22 cauldron for a more personal concoction.

II. DECEMBER 1995

 

Severus was grateful to find the kitchen at Number 12 Grimmauld Place empty when he Flooed from Hogwarts. After a day of the Ministry cow following him everywhere, even a blazing row with Black would be preferable to another moment at the school, and the idiot's absence was better yet. Severus summoned the kettle and tapped a ring on the hob alight. If Black was not lurking in wait for the meeting like an over-large puppy, then it was likely Lupin was here already and they were in the library reliving their puerile glory days. He could enjoy a cup of tea in peace.

This hope was short-lived. Severus was just taking his first fragrant sip when he was interrupted. An individual heavily bundled against the damp December chill was attempting to stealthily enter the room. He raised his eyebrow as he or she slipped through the door and closed it with considerable dexterity only to immediately trip over a chair. The person swore as she righted herself. Ah, he thought. Miss Tonks. That would explain the stealth; the pictorial Mrs Black was particularly vituperative when it came to her half-blood great-niece. It explained the stumbling, too, he smirked to himself.

"Wotcher, Professor," Tonks said through what appeared to be four different mufflers wrapped round her face like a colourful onion, obscuring everything under her hat. He nodded and returned his attention to his cup as she began shedding layers. She draped them, one by one, upon the same chair over which she had tripped.

He was well into his cuppa before he realized that the pile of clothing was considerably larger than what would fit upon her person, even as well wrapped as she had been upon entry. And she could still stand to lose a few more layers considering the the drab over-robe peeping out from beneath a lumpy blue jumper.

"Busy day shopping, Miss Tonks?" He inquired, unable to resist.

"Costumes, Professor." She replied cheerfully. "I can transfigure them, but those can fail or be countered at the worst times. Much better to just wear the right things and carry the spares. "

He pursed his lips as she removed seven hats in quick succession, each appearing below the previous like strange mushrooms until she revealed her colourful coiffure. It was Christmas green today.

"And your shrinking spells were inadequate?"

"Never been very good at household charms. I can shrink a few pieces for a quick change, but this many pieces and something always turns out pink when I un-shrink it. And not a good pink. I never seem to have trouble with this charm, though."

He surreptitiously watched her remove a pair of trousers and was disconcerted to discover her wearing a frock underneath. And to realise that she was still shod.

Eventually down to a perfectly modest blouse and trousers which seemed nonetheless awkwardly revealing after the previous contortions, Tonks banished the pile of clothing to the room designated to her and threw herself into a chair with a sigh. She missed, picked herself up from the floor and relocated unselfconsciously to the chair.

"I could murder a cuppa. Is there any more in that pot?" She asked him hopefully.

Severus waved it over to her and she managed to pour herself a cup and add milk without incident.

"Ta. Oh, this is good. Not what we usually have here."

"I prefer this." He replied non-committally; she had always had a good palate and nose. They and her meticulous measuring had compensated for her tendency to overturn cauldrons as a student.

"It's a little different. Assam?"

"Kolkhida, from Georgia."

"Oh, I don't know much about tea. PG tips growing up."

He watched as she cradled her cup, sipping with satisfaction, and found himself replying. "Ah. The monkeys."

She snorted into her cup and set it down before she spilled it. "The monkeys! Dad loves the monkeys. Made me watch the adverts whenever they came on. Scarred my childhood, he did." Her eyes were crinkled with laughter. "What makes Georgian tea different? Other than no monkeys?"

"It's a black tea by process, such as the so-called India teas drunk by the taste-paralysed in this house, but the plant has adapted to the unique soil and climate of Georgia." He stopped and re-filled his own cup, unsure why he was nattering on about tea of all things.

"You bring your own tea?"

"For the rare occasion when I have the opportunity for a quiet cup, yes."

She peered at the clock creeping closer to nine. "Not much more time for it now, sadly. Dare say we won't be getting out before midnight again. Shame, I was hoping to get a leg over tonight."

Severus quite nearly aspirated some of his excellent Georgian black tea. He set down his cup to eye her properly but she had stood and was now poking through the cupboards for a snack.

His frown unnoticed as she found a box of fig rolls, she continued. "I suppose I could look about in the Order, if all's said and done. Not Kingsley, of course, that'd be a conflict of interest." Sitting down again and offering him the open box she asked as if it were the most natural thing in the world, "Would you be interested?"

Surely he had misunderstood. "I'm not hungry, thank you."

"Oh, not fig rolls." She laid down the box and leaned forward. "Would you care to have a go together? After the meeting?"

His eyes narrowed. "Is this some sort of joke, Miss Tonks?"

She fluttered her hands in a quick, dismissing gesture and looked at him with perfect sincerity. He knew just how perfect as he had lightly brushed her mind to check.

"Oh, no, Professor. I'm serious. Just think, no worries about security, and a bit of fun with a willing partner. I think it would be brilliant! Unless...," she paused and actually looked disappointed. "You're not interested?"

"What?!" He said, still fixated on her offer, "No!"

"Oh, that's settled, then!" She brightened and he hastily reviewed what they had said and realized her mistake. Before he could correct her, however, the fire belched green and disgorged a number of red-heads and the door to the corridor opened and Black and Lupin entered, followed shortly by Shacklebolt and the disreputable Fletcher.

The following hours had the usual allotment of mind-boggling idiocy. They debated the same issues in increasingly pointless rounds. The meeting had its bright spots however, such as when Black's request for Polyjuice and what amounted to a suicide mission for jaffa cakes was squashed. Severus had spoken to Dumbledore alone earlier in the evening and had ample time after giving his own cut down report to ponder Miss Tonks' offer. What of it if she was not choosy? She had essentially stated she would run down the list of eligible Order members until she found someone to scratch her itch. This would not be a grand love affair, there would be no eternal devotion in the offing, and while her available choices were limited and at times frankly nauseating, she had nonetheless approached him first. In the very deepest recesses of his most privately shielded mind, he could admit his life was in dire want of a bit of fun. Being asked before both the escaped convict and his crony might also have brought a modicum of satisfaction.

Tonks was comely, healthy, and intelligent. She had been a student of his, which was slightly odd but entirely to his advantage. Severus knew from experience that she was the quintessential Hufflepuff; friendly, open, and disinclined to subterranean plotting, she had a strong sense of loyalty and deep faith in the value of 'getting along'. Whatever she had learned from three years in training and another in the Auror Corps, she was still unlikely to consider using an assignation against him even assuming she could do so without tarnishing her own reputation in the process. Assuming his own reputation could be tarnished any further than it was, he acknowledged to himself. And he certainly had no worry that she would desire anything more serious; his own cantankerous personality would insure against that possibility.

Thus, when left in the empty kitchen with Tonks and Shacklebolt discussing whom not to approach at the Ministry, he waited for Shacklebolt to depart. When he was finally alone with Tonks, he did not inform her that this was all a foolish enterprise for which he had no time. Instead, he nodded and followed her to her room without further comment.

The modest bedroom on the third floor was adequately lit by a branch of five candles which sprang to light when they entered. The room was slightly dusty but otherwise clean, and smelled fresh, unlike the rest of the house. The doxy-eaten curtains were drawn and the enormous pile of clothing from earlier obscured most of the bed. It was quiet, private, and an unlikely place for anyone to seek him out. The luxury of that alone caused a muscle he had been unaware of to unclench in his neck.

"Erm, sorry about that." Tonks blushed and with a few whipping wand movements had the clothes stuffed willy-nilly into the wardrobe and chest of drawers. "Like I said, not very good with household charms."

Severus watched as she prodded at the corner of a robe sticking out of a drawer like a broad, purple tongue, attempting to stuff it into a space already too full to accommodate it. Closing the door and stepping in close, he slid a hand down her back and around the curve of her waist, and lifted her chin with the other for a kiss.

"Oh," she sighed, and then she leaned in and he reflected that this was really a very good idea and perhaps he would give points to Hufflepuff in the morning.

Pulling back slightly, he murmured, "They will wrinkle."

Stuffing her hands into the pockets of his robe and pulling him closer, she whispered "Who cares?" before leaning into another kiss. The first kiss had been sweet and somewhat tentative, but Tonks was by no means shy with her soft lips and quick tongue. Sooner than expected this second kiss sparked electricity through his veins. It had been too long, he thought dimly as he focussed on the hot mouth open beneath his, her tongue tangling with his as their bodies pressed together, hands roaming.

Breathing fast, Tonks leaned back in the circle of his arm and grinned at him. Stepping back, she began skinning out of her clothes in an unconscious re-enactment of her earlier innocent striptease. All eagerness and no artifice, she was down to Christmas green bra and knickers before he had done more than shed his robe and shoes, and made a start on his cuffs. He had more layers of course, but he was also distracted She dropped the seasonally appropriate undergarments behind her and he was distracted again. He had not realised she liked to change all of her hair.

Before Severus could gather his thoughts and ask her preference, Tonks performed a prophylaxis charm on herself. Then her eager hands were tugging at his shirt tail and his buttons flew open under dual assault. She nudged him back until he bumped into the bed and sat down, shirt long gone. Her hands were warm as they slid under his vest and skimmed along his stomach, around his too-prominent ribs and over his shoulder blades. At her urging, he raised his arms. She slid the vest over his head and flung it behind her to join his shirt somewhere on the clothing-strewn floor. He leaned back on his hands then, watching as she tugged open his belt and then the placket of his trousers, brushing teasingly at the growing hardness there. He lifted his hips towards her and her breasts swayed and jostled intriguingly as she worked his trousers and pants down and off as one, careful not to catch his rising erection.

"Slide up a bit," she said, but Severus paused.

"Wait," he said and pushed her back a little to stand. Briskly, he pulled back the duvet and then sat down onto the soft, worn sheets, sliding backwards until his knees touched the edge of the bed.

"Oh, yes," she said. "That is better." Then she was crawling over of him, pushing him down as she leaned in for another deep kiss. Her back was arched as she knelt low over him, breasts soft against his lean chest as she pressed closer, her knees spread wide around his hips as her arse rose high and exposed. Her mouth and the heat of her, hovering just over him with so much soft skin against his stole a fugitive hum of pleasure from him as their kiss became hungrier and the warm flesh of her arse tensed and shifted in his hands.

Tonks sat up to rest on his knees, leaning back. "Whoopsie!" she cried as she slipped backwards in a flail of arms and legs. With a startled heave of his legs and a slight wrench to his shoulder, Severus managed to shift and catch her to him. Snickering and snorting she lay giggling against his chest while his hand traced abstract patterns on the small of her back. Laughter in bed was not something Severus had experienced before with any pleasure, but there was something appealing about Tonks' utter abandonment to the moment, her delight without thought of shame, even with him.

Calming, Tonks dropped a quick peck to his bemused face and sat up more carefully. She ran her hands down his chest exploring his musculature, tweaking his nipples and tickling down the sparse line of hair to where it thickened. She was flushed; eyes dilated and lips scarlet and moist, and she looked like a cat in the cream as she closed an appreciative hand around his erection. He felt sweat break out in prickles all over him as she pulled firmly once, twice before shifting to cup his balls and gently knead and roll them.

"Slow or fast?" she asked with a speculative gleam.

"Slow," he grunted; he wanted something worthwhile to remember when he returned to the uninspiring company of Madam Palm. Her smile grew impossibly brighter as she crawled forward again for another kiss, this time sliding her body along the thin sheen of sweat between them. Wriggling against him, she kissed along his jawline and nibbled along his ear before sucking and licking his neck. He let the sensations wash through him, drinking in the feel of her body resting on his and quivering beneath his hands, as welcome as spring rain on winter-parched ground. His erection lay caught between them, ignored for the moment but brushing against her in unplanned jolts of pleasure.

Tonks slipped lower to pluck and tease at his nipples, biting gently at the wiry muscles of his chest before lapping and suckling each in turn. He gasped at the unexpected sting of teeth followed by wet suction so she did it again, and again until his nipples were swollen and tender and he could not hold back a moan of pained pleasure. She gave a last sloppy slurp before shifting to slide further down when he pulled her up against his sensitised chest and flipped them over, edging them more securely from the side of the bed and its drop. She smiled into his kiss and then mmm-ed in approval as he pressed her into the bed and mouthed firmly over her breasts.

Suckling and flicking with mouth and hands, he left flushed pink marks as he nipped and pinched across her fair skin. He teased her in return until she was panting and straining up into his mouth and hands, the sweat pooling between her breasts sweet on his tongue. Sliding down between her legs, he continued to fondle her as he licked at her navel. There was the unselfconscious laughter again, startlingly pleasant and certainly doing marvellous things to her body as she quivered. Slipping further down, he smoothed his hands over her trembling sweat-slick stomach and then down to her thighs to lift them over his shoulders. She rubbed her feet down his back as he nuzzled her damp curls. In the dim light, the wet holiday green looked black against her pale skin. Severus pressed his generous nose against her mound and inhaled her warm, tangy scent as she shivered and gasped and murmured Oh, oh yes, please.

Perhaps Tonks had lit within him a tiny spark of early holiday cheer. He could not rule it out despite the improbability. His ingrained disdain and curmudgeonly ways were strongly against the sort of drawn out celebration which determined that all things should be mince pies and "happy Christmas" in the two weeks before the overrated holiday in question. Still, he had underestimated the persuasive charms of a pretty woman in holiday pants. For whatever reason, Severus felt generous as he swirled wet licking kisses along the inside of her trembling thighs. He felt positively expansive as he progressed to a leisurely exploration of her folds while she stuttered and moaned. It had been a very long time since he had done this, and he resolved to make it count. Her thighs tensed as he kissed her open and slipped his tongue inside. He wriggled and thrust as his nose bumped and massaged against her engorged clit until she kicked out with a foot and spasmed. He lapped her orgasm from her with considerable satisfaction and no small smugness as she choked out a high, broken cry.

Tonks lay boneless and gasping as he lowered her thighs from his shoulders and shifted back. Severus gently slipped two long fingers into her, maintaining a slow twisting motion as she continued to jerk with aftershocks. He wiped his face on a corner of the duvet and worked his jaw a little as he watched her face. She opened her eyes and smiled.

"Come here," she murmured and pulled at his shoulders. He shifted up to lie atop her, slipping his fingers out as she tugged him further up. She hummed her satisfaction as she sucked on his lower lip. She brought her legs up to clasp around him, rolled them over and without further preamble slid down onto his cock. They gasped into each other's mouths as she rolled her hips and rode him slowly, pulling back until he almost slipped from her clenching heat and then sinking forward with a twist at the end that had him seeing bursts of light.

He was too close to last. Sooner than he would have liked to admit, he was meeting Tonks' thrusts with desperation, his fingers gripping her hips hard enough to bruise. He grunted as their pace grew frenzied and she threw her head back, hair black with sweat as she slammed down on his cock. Restraining himself with a single tightly held thread of willpower, he slipped a hand down to brush a thumb over her clit. She sobbed as she convulsed suddenly and came. As she fluttered and trembled around him, he felt the thread of willpower snap and he was there with her thrusting and groaning and jerking as he pulsed deep within her.

They lay panting as they had fallen, their limbs still tangled together as her breath rushed hotly over his throat. Tonks gulped and sighed, "See? That was brilliant."

Slightly stunned yet, Severus replied, "Indeed."

Tonks rolled off of him. Her loss brought a shiver of chill from his cooling sweat that as quickly warmed again when she snuggled against his side, pulled the duvet up and draped an arm around his waist. This was always the awkward part, he thought.

"Why your own tea?"

Severus paused. Of all the possible post-coital questions to be asked, this was surely the most unexpected. There was no real reason to hesitate, but this fragment of information felt far more intimate than any of their recent sweaty antics.

"My grandmother was born in Russia."

"Was it her favourite, then?"

"No, she left at fourteen." he answered more reluctantly. "And they couldn't have afforded it here, even had it been available after the Revolution. She always said that English tea was never right."

"PG tips?"

"Yorkshire."

"Mm," she mumbled sleepily into his shoulder. "That's sweet."

"It is no such thing," he scoffed.

"Mm, 'tis," she breathed out, eyes closed. Severus peered down at her tousled head and sighed. There would be no winning this argument. Tonks was practically talking in her sleep. Craning his neck awkwardly in the direction of the clock, he decided he could stay for a bit longer. Sleep here or in his quarters it was all the same, and the bed was deep and soft and Tonks was warm and heavy against his side. He shifted a little to get comfortable and it was purely incidental that his motion drew her more firmly against him. As his breathing deepened and slowed, the candles dimmed and put themselves out.

III. SEPTEMBER 1997

 

Severus worked impassively as Alecto Carrow practically capered in glee over the corpses making a charnel house of the Malfoy Manor dovecote. Their wandlight left the high ceiling in darkness, and they could hear rather than see the hundreds of birds shifting curiously at the white light and giving the occasional puzzled coo.

"Look at this pretty filth, Snape! Do you recognise her?" She lifted a head by the guano-speckled hair and he glanced up from examining the rifled personal effects.

"Perhaps," he said non-committally. Of course he recognised her. He had not taught at Britain's premier and only Wizarding school for over fifteen years to not recognise a student who had sat in his classes for five long years. Seraphina Plimpton, Hufflepuff, '89. Always heavy-handed when stirring, with an unfortunate tendency to splash her partner. Half-blood, rumoured married to a Muggle with one child, if Sprout's gossip was anything to go by, which would go far to explain what she was doing here. No doubt her husband was somewhere in the ranks of the dead as well. Of the child, well, better not to speculate.

"I had not thought we had thieves in our midst," he stated conversationally as he minutely scrutinized a stoppered phial before opening it and examining the cork. Mild pain relieving potion, suitable for headaches. He placed it in a carton to one side.

"What?" Carrow asked disinterestedly as she trod carelessly on an arm to peer into another bloodless face.

"A number of items are clearly missing. Look here," he said and he crossed to the row of bodies. Crouching, he took up a hand and turned it to the light. "This hand wore a ring until recently, most likely a wedding ring as this is the left hand. There is an indent and a line of paler skin where it used to sit. This scrape indicates that the ring was removed after death, as it was roughly torn from the hand but there's no blood. And yet," he stood and dusted his hands," there is no ring which matches that hand in the effects. Someone has enriched his or her own pockets. Several times over, in fact."

"You noticed all that from over there?"

"I'm observant. It has served me well in the past."

"What does it matter, anyhow? They're all carrion now," she said carelessly.

"Everything is for the war effort and the Dark Lord's use. Even something as insignificant as a wedding ring is His to dispose of, not any of us," he replied repressively.

"Ha, always the good soldier, Snape!" She prodded a body with a toe. "I suppose that's why you got this job."

"I took on this task because I was astonished at the meeting to find no one else had done so already." He tapped a wooden box with his finger. "Two booby-trapped pieces, four cursed items, and three volatile compounds which are useful in relieving the incautious of a hand at the least and more precious body parts if given the opportunity. I assure you, I've no desire to commune with the dead."

"Eh, they're lively enough in their own way," she levitated one limp arm and waved it at him grotesquely, creating a puff of dust and feathers.

"Quite."

She came over and looked at the small pile of shoddy Diagon Alley amulets, all of which were of less use than the average chocolate galleon. At least a chocolate galleon could be eaten. "Are you almost done? I don't like leaving Amycus alone up at the school for so long. Who knows what those little monsters are up to behind our backs."

"Soon. If you were so anxious regarding your brother, you could have left when the meeting ended. I'm certainly not holding you here."

He laid a clipping from the Daily Prophet in the pile of discards. Why anyone would keep a photograph from Dumbledore's funeral was a mystery. Perhaps it was for the image of the Potter boy, looking woebegone amid his friends and not at all heroic. Certainly no one would notice the pink haired Auror holding the hand of the cut-off image of a known werewolf sitting several rows behind him.

She grimaced and shrugged. "Better half an hour kicking my heels here than having to walk up to the castle from the Apparition point. If you hadn't locked up the school's Floo network tighter than a frog's bunghole I'd've left already. I don't fancy being caught in your Floo damper; you could have keyed it to me."

"Security, Carrow, is critical. The school is both a training ground and a source of hostages."

"So you've said. I'd have lined up all those whinging little snots with their back-talking and booby traps and cast the Cruciatus at the lot of 'em. And their friends too, and their enemies. And maybe even the other professors. That would teach them."

"Believe me when I say that there are more effective ways of disciplining the students. Ones that will not leave the Dark Lord without an army in ten years. Half the students drooling out their lives in St. Mungo's is hardly desirable."

She huffed unconvinced but subsided as he labelled each box and tapped his wand to the inventory for a copy. Tucking the copy away, he took the original in hand and gestured politely for her to precede him.

The gravel crunched as they walked quickly through the damp autumn night, Carrow hurrying to keep up with his longer stride. A cloaked figure waited for them, still as stone at the library entrance. The moon just on the wane rode low in the sky over their shoulders, bright amongst the dark cumulae and illuminating their path like a lamp.

Severus handed the masked Death Eater the list.

"For the Dark Lord," he instructed and the fellow nodded silently. Wilkins, he thought observing the man's stance and build. Carrow had already brushed past him into the library and was standing before the hearth impatiently. Cocking an eyebrow at her, he cast a pinch of Floo powder and intoned "Hogwarts, Headmaster's office" and with a whoosh was gone.

IV. JULY 1996

 

Severus was conflicted, and that always made him fractious. Not that anyone since his grandmother could discern this from his usual ill-temper. Dumbledore had confirmed that morning that Horace Slughorn would be returning to Hogwarts. And Severus was eager for this, eager for action that would bring Him down in any way he could. It was not the thought of his classrooms once again under the rule of that arse-kissing politician that bothered him. It was that the curse on the DADA position no longer mattered. The coming year would see both him and Dumbledore gone whatever he did. He clenched his jaw against that thought as he Apparated onto the front step of Number 12 for the first time in weeks.

Slipping silently into the entryway and passing the curtained form of Mrs Black, he stalked down the stairs and through the kitchen, towards the pantry. It served as a makeshift potions laboratory for brews too sensitive for his house. The brew which forced the curse in Dumbledore's hand to remain in his hand was one such.

A quick glance around the kitchen did not improve his mood. A number of the Order had already congregated for dinner before the night's meeting, the first in the re-opened headquarters. Lupin was giving him an uncharacteristic glare that was almost a pleasant contrast to his recent insipid gloom. Tonks, however, was not in evidence.

His liaison with Tonks had not ended with one interlude as he had expected. He had not been able to argue with her assertion that they were sexually compatible and that it was convenient for both. The past months had been considerably improved with stolen hours of excellent sex before or after the near-weekly meeting. Time did not always allow, and they were not always both in attendance, but they had come together here at Grimmauld Place more often than not. Then the debacle at the Ministry had happened and there was the long drought as the house was evacuated and Tonks recovered from a serious curse injury. She was only just returned to full active duty after three weeks on leave; three weeks in which he had had no opportunity to see her. For Tonks to miss a dinner meant she was unlikely to be present tonight at all. He ruthlessly tamped down a niggling worry, and mentally catalogued his stock of medicinal potions as a distraction.

Several candles were already lit in the reconfigured pantry. This gave Severus pause as he went through the motions of closing the door while leaving it carefully ajar, and hanging up his cloak. His eyes darted surreptitiously about until they noted and then passed over a cloaked and hooded figure sitting on a stool in the shadowed corner next to the volatile ingredient cupboard. He did not expect attack in this place, but he was not so sanguine about the possibility of some elaborate and unpleasant prank. His wand dropped into his hand as he turned and fired off a rope spell before the other had a chance to do more than gasp.

"Severus!" Tonks' voice choked from within the deep hood and Severus loosened the bonds a little.

"Prove you're Tonks. Why are you hiding in my laboratory?" He growled, wand unwavering as he aimed at the intruder's heart.

"Severus, it's me. I... Remember I wanted you to do that dance? The American one I said you should know being a ch-...."

"A child of the Seventies," he sighed and released her. "You are ridiculous. What are you hiding in here for? It would serve you right if I'd hexed you with boils" He peered at her curiously as she was almost entirely hidden by the voluminous cloak and hood. He could barely see her hands.

"Unless you're already covered in boils and require a remedy?"

"I.... No, no boils. Just, I.... I'm sorry." His stomach unaccountably twisted and he thought almost absently, ah, this is when it ends, then. She stood and he noted she seemed shorter than usual, and she was wringing her hands.

"I was indiscreet, and Remus.... Remus knows. About you and me."

Ah, that explained the glare. "I hardly think Lupin would broadcast this information. He likes you too much."

"No, no I don't think he would. Only, he said...." With a trembling hand, Tonks pulled back her hood and cloak and dropped them onto the stool. Dressed incongruously in her Weird Sisters shirt and jeans, she was otherwise the very picture of Lily Evens, aged nineteen. He even knew which picture. Oh, there were small things wrong; an angle here and a freckle there. The colour of the hair and eyes were not quite right, and she held herself very differently. And the voice, of course, could not be reproduced from a photograph, even a moving one. Still, the effect was heart-stopping.

"He said you loved her, that you only loved her, and I thought...."

Severus's vision went red. Rigid in rage he stalked towards her and she stumbled back until she was pressed against the wall, held there by his presence alone. He locked eyes with her and hissed into her borrowed face.

"Never do this again."

Tonks nodded jerkily, eyes wide and frightened. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean...."

"Turn back!"

Tonks nodded again and concentrated, features shifting into the face he remembered from an unexpected night exactly seven months before. Her body lengthened and her proportions shifted into familiar lines. Severus leaned against her now, grating in her ear.

"Turn all the way back to yourself."

Her eyes widened even further and she gulped. Catching and holding her gaze again, he waited and she slowly changed. Her hair rippled into thick shoulder length chestnut waves, like her mother's. Her eyes turned deep brown, and her heart shaped face developed a spray of freckles dusting her nose. Her eyebrows had a kink in the left one where there was a faint dragonpox scar and one of her dimples faded away. A tiny bit shorter, shoulders slightly more angular, breasts slightly less full and a bit uneven. It was subtle, as all truly excellent masks were.

"When I fuck you," Severus continued harshly, and ground his hips against hers as she gasped. He was not hard but that would change. "I fuck you, and no one else." He pulled back, caught her stunned eyes and growled Legilimens.

He threw image after image into her mind: flashes of Tonks' eyes fluttering shut as he kissed her; Tonks sitting over him rocking and moaning, the line of her body arching like a spring; Tonks laughing while curled up naked against his chest; Tonks wearing nothing but a dressing gown, dancing some ridiculous American disco and trying to coax him from his vantage point on the bed; Tonks spread out below him as he pounded into her, eyes rolling back in ecstasy as she came; Tonks sleeping next to him, glowing in faint revelatory wandlight as he traced her true features with a delicate finger. He was holding her against the wall now, her knees collapsing as she clung to him.

"I am a cruel and selfish man, Nymphadora Tonks, but I am not a fool. And some things are beyond even me," Severus growled, as he quickly freed his cock from his clothes, pushing his trousers and pants down barely enough. He was only half hard and he took her hand and wrapped hers and his around his cock and stroked. He dropped his hand then and leaned against her, his forehead pressed to the rough wall as she continued to stroke. She whispered I'm sorry, I'm sorry into his ear until he stopped her mouth with his in kiss full of teeth and tongue.

Hard and aching, Severus brushed her hand aside and cast the prophylaxis charm on himself. His hands were rough at her waist as he unbuttoned her flies and thrust the heavy denim and her knickers onto her thighs, her bare arse jerking away from the cold brick wall. He twisted them both around while shoving at the cloth bunched on her legs. Tonks kicked her jeans and pants down enough to free one foot and wrap her legs around him as he lifted her onto the edge of his worktop. And then he was pushing into her rough and fast.

"They are out there, your friends," Severus grunted into Tonks' ear as he surged against her. She scrabbled at his shoulders, moaning. "No wards, no locks, no Imperturbables. A draft could push the door open. Lupin. Shacklebolt. Moody. Who would they see me fucking if they turned around and saw? Who would they hear if they stopped to listen? Who, Nymphadora?"

"Me, they'd see you with me, hear you with me! Ah!" Tonks clutched at him, pulling and twisting at his robes, at his hair as he ground deeply into her.

"You," Severus breathed into her ear and she gasped and choked, coming helplessly. Gripping her thigh high against his hip as she shook around him, he thrust into her frantically. Jars tipped over and rolled as the worktop vibrated and his rhythm grew erratic. His vision went grey briefly as his orgasm ripped through him.

He rested on top of her watching the pulse beat in her throat as their breathing slowed, her hands tucked like combs through his lank hair, stroking gently. Faintly through the sliver of open door, he could hear conversation and cries of welcome as someone arrived for the meeting.

"I will say this once and it will go no further." Severus's voice was gravelly and quiet, and very tired. "She was my friend, my best and only friend for many years and I failed her and I betrayed her." Tonks' hands paused briefly and began stroking again.

"She was sister, confidante, partner in crime before the crimes were real. I loved her. She is gone."

"I'm sorry."

Severus framed her face with his hands and rubbed his thumb along her cheekbone. "It was none of your doing. We will not speak of this again." She nodded and he shifted back to disentangle them. She winced, and he felt the familiar burn of shame.

"Did I hurt you?"

She looked up in surprise from untwisting her jeans. "What?"

"You looked like you were in pain just now. Did I hurt you? I... wasn't careful, and you're still recovering." Her eyes went soft and he suddenly felt wrong-footed and nervous.

"I'm fine. My jeans just pinched when I sat up. And don't worry," she turned and hitched up her shirt to expose the line of her side and back. "It's all healed."

He ran a hand lightly down the faint curse scar which spread to overlap her lumbar vertebrae. It looked like a snowflake. Such an incongruous scar for a curse that had nearly crippled her.

"See?" She said, sounding breathless. "All better." She tugged him close and he stumbled forward into the table and her kiss. Long, deep and wet, they were soon both breathless. The sudden clatter of something falling startled them, and Tonks began to snort and laugh. While they were occupied a jar of angelica root had very slowly rolled the entire long length of the worktop and finally dropped off the end.

The moment broken, they righted themselves quickly. Severus located Tonks' shoe in the bottom of a #8 cauldron, and a few charms left them reasonably presentable. Lupin would no doubt divine what they had been doing but Severus could not be arsed to care. Although, that did bring to mind the right and proper revenge for that meddling beast.

"Severus?" Tonks was looking at him in worry now, her hand raised towards him.

"Lupin." He grated. She stepped close and laid her hand softly against his cheek, turning him to meet her eyes.

"I'll take care of him. He won't say anything." His lips tightened and she pulled him into a hug. "Don't worry, I'm as angry as you are. He'll be lucky if I don't hex his bollocks into a block of ice." She sounded quite fierce, and his mouth quirked briefly into a small smile.

"This...," he paused. "Whatever it is that we do, Nymphadora, and for however long it lasts, it's ours alone."

"Yes, and I'll tell him to keep his nose out if he doesn't want to lose it." Tonks sighed and looked up at him. "I really am sorry, I shouldn't have...."

Severus put a hand over her mouth. "No more of that. I have work to do. You should go out and have some dinner, if they've left anything edible that is. I have my doubts, if Moody cooked." She kissed his palm as he pulled it away.

"I'm not hungry. I'd rather watch you work, if I may?" He gave a put upon sigh and stepped back.

"If you must. You will keep away from the cauldrons. And don't expect to be entertained."

She grinned at him and hopped back onto her stool in the dim corner as he lit the rest of the candles. Summoning the jar of angelica root and noting that the charm on the glass had held, he turned and handed it to her. He levitated over a stack of small bowls and the measuring spoons.

"Here, if you must stay, make yourself useful." With a wave of his wand, the list of ingredients appeared on the wall.

"Yes, Severus," Tonks said demurely.

Severus paused for a moment watching her work. The unsteady column of bowls gave no sign of imminent collapse. Retrieving a knife and the cutting board, he placed them before her.

"Oh, no Severus, I shouldn't. I'll cut something I shouldn't, like as not myself."

"I don't think so," he said and laid a fat pickled toad before her. "Skinned and boned," he directed and turned to his own work.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her deftly skin the toad and then credibly remove the bones as one connected skeleton. Laying another before her, he nodded for her to continue. She looked surprised.

"I've never managed that before without puncturing myself and mangling the toad. How did you know?"

"It was a reasonable conclusion. I hazard that your body remembers what it should be and responds as if it were still that size and shape. Another reason to prefer you as yourself."

He bent over to scrub a clean #10 cauldron with a brush made of ivy vine, avoiding the look on her face. It was dangerously close to something it should not be. He was a prize fool. This could not last; he could not allow this to last. But surely, surely it was not entirely wrong to enjoy this, just for a little while longer.

V. DECEMBER 1997

 

The door closed behind Horace Slughorn's ample backside and Severus turned to Amycus Carrow with a frown and an incipient twitch. Carrow was grinning that particularly obnoxious grin which always set Severus's teeth on edge.

"The man trembles like a jelly when fussed," Carrow said as he threw his long body into a chair and sprawled comfortably.

The watching portraits shifted in silent disapproval while Dumbledore's slumbered on, oblivious. Severus remained standing.

"Need I remind you, Carrow, that tampering with the students is forbidden?"

"Oh, not you, too. It was just a little Christmas diddle. And she wasn't entirely against the idea, I'll have you know. I didn't even really need to Imperius her." He made a crude gesture and then continued discontentedly. "It's boring as fuck here at Christmas. I only got to feel her up anyway, that suet pudding interrupted before it could get interesting."

"Indeed," Severus said sceptically and returned to his desk but still did not sit down.

Carrow eyed him resentfully. "What's all this, I thought you took my part? You certainly told off that old windbag fast enough."

"I took your part as you are a fellow Death Eater and we must show a united front. This does not mean you did not break a rule that I would see strictly enforced. Go to London to sate your appetites, do not do so here."

"Oh, fuck off Snape. If you ever bagged a bird you'd be a lot more tolerable. These girls are all clean and quality. And there's no harm, after all."

"You are singularly lacking in breadth of vision, Carrow."

Carrow spluttered "Hey, now!" and sat up, but Severus continued without pause.

"Which is why I am Headmaster and you are not. I shall not debate this with you. I answer to the Dark Lord and no one else. If you wish to question a rule I've upheld here at the school, then take it up with our Master. Need I remind you that his Lordship is disinclined to approve of sexual promiscuity of any kind?"

"What, you're never going to grass on me! You must be joking, for some scrawny little Ravenclaw girl?" Furious, Carrow stood and attempted to loom at him. "This is like that stupid shite about Wilkins stealing from the dead Muggle-lovers."

Unimpressed, Severus said pleasantly, "Don't be ridiculous. I won't need to tell the Dark Lord. You will."

"What?"

"After I punish you, you will go to the Dark Lord to complain. And he will uphold my judgement and no doubt subject you to the Cruciatus for daring to bother him." Severus's voice was matter of fact, even slightly bored as the other man swelled like a bullfrog with anger.

"And what is your appropriate punishment, O wise and all-seeing Headmaster?" Carrow's voice dripped with contempt.

"For tampering with the girl, fifteen seconds." Carrow frowned as he continued. "For insolence, fifteen seconds. And for general idiocy over the considered plans I drew up with regards to the management of this school, thirty seconds. Crucio!"

Carrow fell screaming as the curse slammed into him. He crashed into his discarded chair before tumbling onto the rug, back curved in a tense arc as his feet drummed helplessly against the side of the desk. The portraits one by one turned their backs, several tucking their hands into their belled sleeves and bowing their heads.

Carrow's screams took on a thready quality as if he could not catch enough breath but still needed to shriek out his agony. For a long count of seconds Severus held the curse, until he finally broke it with a sharp downward jerk of his wand. Carrow lay twitching on the rug, a trickle of blood oozing from a deep split on his lip. Severus's voice was as cold and hard as ice when he spoke again.

"Now get out. And be glad you are a Death Eater or I would have done this in the Great Hall for all to see."

The portraits watched impassively as Carrow rolled to hands and knees and then staggered upright. He threw a glare full of hatred at Severus and then he was gone.

Severus stood for a long moment after the door had closed, and then finally sat stiffly in his chair. Leaning forward to rest his head on his hands he simply breathed as he came down from the rage necessary for casting what had been a very effective Cruciatus curse.

"That was unfortunate but you handled it well, Severus." Dumbledore's voice came gently over his shoulder. Severus rolled his eyes, and then did it again when it seemed to lessen the pressure in his head.

"I was wondering when you would say something."

"It is nonetheless true. I would caution you, however. I believe you have made an enemy this night."

Severus sat back and ignored the second half of this as inconsequential. Discipline via Cruciatus was something every Death Eater understood and his curse was a love pat compared to the Dark Lord's. No, Carrow already hated him, considered him a jumped up half-blood trading on the Dark Lord's favour. Now, however, he would respect him more. And be more cautious when he finally attempted to stab him in the back.

"The portraits were fulfilling their responsibilities," Snape said. "It is fortunate Slughorn was as close as he was."

"And who knew to request them to keep watch for this?"

Severus ignored him again, a luxury he had not had during Dumbledore's life, and truth be told had little of even now that the old man was dead. He danced to others' piping, as always. Better than at the end of a wand, he supposed. It was becoming intolerable, however. There were predators in the school, a child taken from the train, and people disappearing daily and he could do no more than mitigate the damage in the smallest of ways and wait.

"Damnit, where is that boy!" Severus finally burst out in frustration.

"I take it you do not mean the stalwart Neville Longbottom?"

He did not take kindly to this gentle levity. Thrusting back the heavy chair he stood and began to pace before Dumbledore's portrait.

"Blast it, you know who I mean. I want this over. I want this done, and it cannot be until I deliver your confounded 'package'. Forgive me if I am a little impatient. Realising that the only way to save this preposterous school and its load of obdurate, mentally deficient children is to deliberately fail in the last promise of any worth I have ever given makes me a trifle peevish. And waiting for a green boy to do some mysterious task while I am kept in the dark and as people are taken, as people die does not help!" He flung out his hands as he stopped before the portrait, scowling up into those kind, painted eyes.

"Severus, you are doing very well. And, from what we can gather from Phineas, so are Harry and his friends."

"He has lasted longer than I would have thought," Severus conceded grudgingly. "He had enough brains to take along the Granger girl, at least."

"They are surely proceeding as quickly as they can. Harry understands the urgency; he has no reason to delay."

"No, beyond having the attention span of a gnat like all boys his age, he has no reason at all. He, after all, does not know he must die. Of course, he might do so by accident, seeing as he is a boy still!"

Dumbledore's portrait apparently found this unworthy of comment and was silent as Severus made two full circuits in his pacing.

"Severus, it is quite late and you're tired," the portrait finally said. "Why not take a glass of wine and rest? Phineas or I can wake you if there is news. It's Christmas, after all."

Severus looked at the painting incredulously.

"And Christmas means what exactly in this hell on earth?" He barrelled on, drowning out the admonition in the soft Oh, Severus. "I thank you, no. I may sleep when I am dead. If that infuriating but necessary boy turns up you may find me in my lab." With no further words he swept from the office, shutting the door on a painted sigh.

VI. MARCH 1997

 

The knocking on his door was not loud, but it could not be ignored in its insistence. Severus rolled an eye at the clock and huffed in annoyance. Early afternoon, still Sunday. Clearly his plan to drug himself into insensibility for the day had failed. Dumbledore did not approve, but then Dumbledore did not have regular meetings enlivened by the addition of the Cruciatus curse. No, he merely had poison trying to kill him lying not entirely dormant in his hand. Severus gave up all pretence of sleep and sat up, gingerly scrubbing his face with his hands. The sofa was not comfortable enough for this anyway, he thought crankily as his neck protested particularly loudly. He hoped there was a student at his door. A young one, he thought viciously as he pulled on his robes and assumed his most forbidding demeanour.

"If this is not regarding imminent death or dismemberment, it will when I've done with you." He growled as he threw open the door.

"Oh. It's you."

Tonks stood there looking wan and furious at the same time. He noticed that other than her hair being a most unattractive shade of brown which he could too easily identify, she was otherwise unmodified.

"Well, are you going to let me in?" When he raised an eyebrow, she tapped a foot and continued, "I am perfectly happy to do this in the corridor for all of Hogwarts to see."

Just how he wished to spend the next interminable hour, listening to the ranting of a woman scorned.

"No," he said and closed the door. At least he attempted to but a spell-toed boot was in the way.

"You will let me in. I came to report to Dumbledore and he isn't in. By protocol, my message to the Headmaster goes to Professor McGonagall and my message to the old crowd goes to you."

She pushed past him into his sitting room and glared as he shut and warded the door.

"Well?"

"Tell me why."

Severus could not pretend to misunderstand. "There is no report, is there?"

Tonks flung her hands about. "Of course there's a report. The report is that nothing significant has changed to the wards, despite everything there have been no unauthorised attempts at entering the grounds, and there has been an increase in centaur activity in the Forbidden Forest which necessitates this report. Tell me why, Severus!"

"You know why." He eyed her cautiously as she began to pace, waving her hands in the air.

"No, I don't believe it. You cannot tell me there was nothing there. You can't! You don't have to love me, Severus. Merlin's sake, I don't expect a honeymoon in Georgia! But you can't pretend there was nothing at all, that it was a long string of one night stands. I won't believe you!" She finally stilled and stared at him from the middle of his sitting room, feverish colour on her cheeks.

"I see you honour the mangy wolf with your attention, these days." He sneered, with a gesture to her hair.

"Do not try and push this off on me," she flared. "Remus is nothing to me but a friend and even if by some miracle he was interested, I wouldn't be! I told you I was going to ask him to pretend to be with me so I could continue seeing you because you said it was too dangerous!"

"Dear me, such heat. One would think it hasn't been eight months since we parted ways." Severus knew even as he said it that it was the wrong thing to say, but he was nauseated, his head was throbbing in counterpoint with his heartbeat, and his whole body ached. Tonks looked stricken and sat down limply on the sofa.

"It is almost eight months. I tried, Severus. You stopped coming to meetings, and I couldn't find an excuse to come to Hogwarts until term started and I could be posted here. And then you... when I brought Harry you were so angry; you shut the gate in my face. And you were gone for the holiday. It isn't easy finding an excuse to come to the castle during term!" She looked up at him with sad, tired eyes. "Why, Severus? Just tell me truthfully why. What did I do? You said we wouldn't speak of her again, that it was all right. But if it wasn't that, what was it?"

Oh, dear Merlin, please no tears, he thought.

"I told you why, Nymphadora. It was a pleasant arrangement but it was too dangerous to continue. It could be nothing more. There was nothing more. I thought with your wolf patronus that you had moved on, as you should." He rubbed his temples and tried to will away the glowing iron spike in his head that was feeding his churning stomach.

"But...."

"No. Damn it, Nymphadora, what am I?"

"What?"

"What am I?" She looked at him in confusion and his stomach twisted. "I am a Death Eater spy, Nymphadora. I spend my days waiting to be called by the Dark Lord so I may make obeisance before him and hope he trusts me enough to let me live another day. Nothing is more important than that trust. Nothing."

His stomach finally rebelled utterly and he hurried to the loo and retched into the sink. Spitting bile, he rinsed his mouth and the basin and then swallowed an anti-nausea potion and another for pain from the collection on the shelf. To hell with the maximum dosages. He looked at her standing in the doorway, one hand on the frame and concern in her eyes. The best lies were truth, creatively told. Little would she understand that the why of it did not matter. All that mattered were one's actions, and there he was already damned.

"I have a task to finish and I cannot be seen to care for a half-blood," Severus said hoarsely. "Not when I have asked for him to spare a half-blood before. Not when I am half-blood myself. Not when he does not trust me."

Tonks grabbed his arm as he brushed past her and he stared down at her in challenge. She placed a cool hand on his cheek and something unknotted within him.

"You look like shit," she said, looking at him searchingly.

"So do you," he sighed.

Her laugh sounded more like a sob, but it was there nonetheless as she pulled him over to sit on the sofa with her.

"Kreacher," she said. "They know, he knows about us." He did not have to answer, she would draw her own conclusions.

"What did he do to you? Because of me?" Her voice was small and tight, and he opened his eyes which had fallen closed so easily.

"Nothing. He has not spoken of it. I have not volunteered it. He may think it only my amusing myself whilst ingratiating myself with the Order. It is even possible that your aunt has not informed Him. It is not a risk we can afford." Truth.

Tonks sighed and slid down in the sofa, resting her head near his.

"But why then, Severus? And why didn't you tell me? Kreacher was sent here after Harry took the house."

Severus gave a weary growl. "I did tell you, Nymphadora. I told you it was too dangerous to continue. Information can never be fully controlled, however we may wish it. I was incautious and we must now reap the harvest of it." Again, truth.

She gave a laugh full of tears again and stared at the ceiling.

"And you needed the poor lovesick girl to act believably dumped. Fuck you, Severus. I would have understood. You didn't need to push me away like that."

"I could not rely on that. And it was easier if you hated me." He felt her sit up, and opened his eyes again to her incredulous look.

"Easier? For whom!"

This was a mistake. He knew it was a mistake.

"For me."

The chasm of eight long months was lost in a moment as her face softened. She settled back down next to him and he felt himself slip sideways as the cushion dipped. His head came to rest against her shoulder.

"You berk."

"Indeed."

"We can't go back."

"No."

Tonks threaded a hand through his hair and began rubbing his scalp in soothing circles. His eyes drifted closed again.

"What did he do to you? Last night, I mean."

He sighed. "Nothing particular."

"Severus."

"It is not easy presenting a mind free of suspicious thoughts against such a skilled Legilimens. Nymphadora...." Her arm tightened around him.

"Yes?"

"It would be better if you continued to hate me." Arguing with one's eyes closed was not very effective, but Severus's eyelids refused to obey him.

"For you? No, I can't do it."

"For you as well. I cannot.... It will be easier for you if you do not care for me."

"Too late."

"Nymphadora...."

"No, it's too late. You can't dictate my heart, Severus. I'll act the scorned lover, but you can't tell me this and expect me to run away. I know we're at war. That just makes this, you, more important to me."

"And so it's my fault again," he murmured.

"What?"

"You should go, they'll wonder."

"Severus, you will just have to trust me. You aren't to blame for my broken heart, if it comes to that. Not if you're honest with me about how you feel. I would rather have this whatever it is we have for as long as we can. I know you can't..., I know you have to do things. We're at war. But I have faith in Dumbledore, and I have faith in you."

Severus would have laughed if he could have summoned the energy. All their plans rested on a dying old man he would have to kill and a reckless boy being sacrificed for the "cause". And Nymphadora trusted him to tell her the truth when his life was a morass of lies. He could have wept, too, but he was so tired. The potions, he thought muzzily.

"Better to not," he finally managed.

"Too late, you stubborn man."

Severus privately agreed.

Gentle hands pulled him over and his head was drawn down onto a warm, yielding surface. His legs were levitated to the sofa and he realised in dim relief that he was lying down properly. The sofa seemed much more comfortable than it had been before.

"Your post?" he muttered as her hand tenderly massaged his nape before slipping into his hair again.

"Shh, I can stay a few minutes longer."

He was asleep before he exhaled on his breath.

VII. APRIL 1998

 

Severus paused in the shadow of the entrance to the Malfoy library, considering. Lucius Malfoy sat frowning in a deep chair. A fire on the hearth dissipated the spring chill and provided most of the light. The dimness was no doubt intentional, the better to minimise the signs of the Dark Lord's displeasure on Malfoy's person. There were few candles lit, their flames small in the large room. They seemed to intensify rather than lighten the darkness as they glimmered faintly back from the occasional book spine picked out in gold leaf on the shelves lining the walls.

"Well, come in Severus. Or are you afraid to be seen with the pariah?"

Contrary to the suggestion in the glass of wine in his hand, the words were clear and sharp. Severus shut the door behind him, sat down opposite his old friend, and waited. When Malfoy nodded him to the decanter, he merely shook his head and settled more comfortably into the heavy leather chair.

"You are quite the favourite these days. 'Severus Snape is to be relied upon in every circumstance.' You have become His foremost lieutenant even immured as you so often must be at Hogwarts."

There was, in these congratulatory words, a ghost of the old gracious affability that had been such a balm to the prickly temper of a lonely and ambitious boy. Severus inclined his head but said nothing. He knew there was no need. In a house full of the Dark Lord's sycophants Malfoy would find very few conversational partners. There was only politics, and family. And in some cases both: to whit, Bellatrix Lestrange.

"How did it come to this, Severus? You must not think I begrudge you your successes, nor resent the Dark Lord's just punishment. I merely wonder how it came to pass that my name, my family, should be brought so low. And how am I to redeem my name and return to Draco the status that is his birthright if I am not given leave to fight? I hoped to have our own resurrection this Easter holiday. Instead we are fallen even further from grace."

Even wearing his hair unbound to cover the livid bruises on his neck and jaw, Lucius Malfoy did not know how to hide. Every gesture spoke of pride of person, and the marks stood out the more clearly for the contrast.

"He is angry. He will not always be so," Severus replied quietly.

"How He raged at us. I doubt I have ever seen Him so wroth, not even when He first returned. At Bella for having summoned Him, but at all of us for the failure."

"I believe He has had a disappointment, separate from this, which gives extra fuel to His anger." Severus offered carefully.

Malfoy's face grew haggard as he spoke, as if he were once again locked away in Azkaban.

"When He saw what had happened, and when He learned who we had lost, I feared in that moment that He would strike out at them, at Narcissa and at Draco, for having participated even in such a small way. No, not even participating, for simply being present in this defeat. And I knew I could not stop Him. If that troglodyte Greyback had not diverted Him with some folly, I do not believe the three of us would be alive now. I could almost see His wand rising, and with my own hands empty I knew in that moment I was utterly without power to stop what would come. And too, I knew I would do anything nonetheless."

Malfoy covered his eyes briefly, then took a measured sip of wine.

"Never become a father, Severus," he said, attempting lightness in his tone and failing. "The helplessness is terrifying."

"I believe the likelihood is sufficiently remote," Severus replied mildly.

"Ah, never say die, Severus. Perhaps the Dark Lord will find you a bride when the time comes. Or will He decide that your way is best? You have no ties, there are no distractions from your service, no priorities in your loyalty."

"I have no desire for children, nor any intention of getting any."

"Yet where will our future be if our ablest Wizards do not sire heirs? Does that not assist the Muggle-lovers? Muggles breed like rabbits, after all, and Muggle-lovers and blood traitors are no better. Consider the Weasleys and their excessive brood. And now that unfortunate girl of Andromeda's, not married a year and already she's dropped a sickly unripe whelp. Scandalous."

"I don't consider the Weasleys at all if I can help it," Severus replied drily. "And surely your 'beloved' sister's daughter didn't send you a birth announcement?"

"Merlin, at this moment I could wish it. I know far more gossip about that tiresome girl and her family than anyone would wish. Bella has been tracking them for months, and froths ever more violently as each trail goes cold. Forbidding her from leaving the house eliminates those charming reports of hers at the least. Did you know a Metamorphmagus cannot transform while enceinte?"

Severus raised a dubious eyebrow and Malfoy continued. "No, nor did I. And I had no desire to know. It is merely one of the many morsels of information with which Bella has seen fit to bless me. Still, it explains why the 'fine Auror' went to ground. Therein lies a lesson. Never place all your utility in one gift of nature or circumstance," and he gestured broadly with his wine glass, as if encompassing his home and his wealth in the sweep of his arm.

"Bella has it fixed in her mind that killing the girl and now the child will revive the Dark Lord's pleasure. I, however, am not so sanguine."

Severus weighed his words carefully. "I believe you are correct. The challenge was meant to punish, but he has larger concerns now regarding the war. It cannot hurt you, but it will not redeem your place."

Malfoy nodded gloomily and set his glass down.

"Even the half-bloods and werewolves increase, Severus. The Dark Lord is a hair's breadth from victory and they have their homes and children about them whilst I must beg for the lives of my wife and son and my home is turned into a thoroughfare. There are werewolves even here, polluting our noble cause as they have polluted Narcissa's noble bloodline. Where is the justice in this? Where is the reward? Have I been unfaithful to honour family above all else? And yet, is this not what purity of blood demands of us?"

A soft knock on the door saved Severus from answering, as Malfoy impatiently waved the door ajar.

"Father?"

At the sight of his son, Malfoy's face relaxed slightly, and he smiled.

"Ah, Draco, come in. I was just speaking to Professor Snape. We have not enough friends as he these days."

The boy, young man really, closed the door behind him and glanced quickly at his father's visible injuries and then away. He avoided Severus's eyes as well.

"No, sir."

"Draco," Severus said. When the boy looked up, Severus continued. "Your mother has asked that you be given permission to floo to Hogwarts at the end of the Easter holiday should you choose to, rather than take the Express with the other students. I have granted her request."

An unexpected flicker of worry crossed Draco's face before he nodded and said, "Thank you, sir."

"What is it you wanted, then?" His father asked.

"Yaxley has asked if you have the Compendium Periculosus."

"What possible reason have I to give it to him?"

Draco looked uncomfortable as he replied, "He indicated he will be doing some research for the Dark Lord."

Severus snorted and rolled his eyes, capturing their attention.

"Yaxley couldn't research his way out of an open field. And he has insufficient Latin. He is lying."

Malfoy nodded and stood. "I believe I will speak to Yaxley myself. I will bid you goodnight, Severus, for I know you must return to Hogwarts. Indeed, I've kept you too long from your duty already."

Severus took his extended hand and clasped it firmly. "Nonsense, Lucius. We are friends."

Draco murmured Goodnight, Professor and followed his father from the room. With a pinch of Floo powder, Severus whirled away.

VIII. MAY 1997

 

Severus strode through the deserted corridors pettishly wishing for terrified students to scatter like pilchards before a barracuda. Unfortunately for his temper, his meetings with the Headmaster, McGonagall, Pomfrey, the students of his House, the Headmaster again, and in the midst of these, most unpleasantly Narcissa Malfoy, had kept him occupied well past curfew. She had rushed to Draco's side, examined her son minutely and peppered himself and Pomfrey with questions as the boy lay in his potion-induced slumber. Once she had directed her House Elf to erect a privacy screen and personally replaced Draco's sheets, pillows, and pyjamas with ones from home, she had cast a localised Imperturbable and rounded on him.

Narcissa was extremely voluble and not above dredging up every bit of devoutedly to be wished forgot history in aid of tearing her object a new arsehole. Since she could not remove Draco from Hogwarts because of the boy's task and there was no chance that Harry Potter would be expelled, her anger and fear struck out at everyone in the vicinity. Pomfrey had excused herself as soon as the sheets came off despite her protests so this was, unluckily, just him. Only his soft-voiced warning regarding certain outside considerations had kept her from seeking out the Headmaster in an incautious and inevitably futile tirade and calmed her. Although perhaps calm was not the best term for it. Chilled her into studied decorum would be more accurate. Severus had left to meet with his House, leaving her frozen in a serene aspect and watching her son with haunted eyes.

Before she had arrived and taken over the bedside, Severus had sat for a time with Draco in the infirmary. Curiously, half an hour alone with the unconscious boy had been far more difficult than the meeting with Narcissa, and he had welcomed her shrill advent with relief. It was preferable to sitting looking at the pale face of the sleeping boy, seeing the dark circles like bruises under eyes frowning even in a drugged stupor and the pained rise and fall of thick bandages. Here was proof again of how profoundly he had failed.

He had ceased to hope for children almost from the time he ceased to be one himself and a decade of meaningless and often brief liaisons had not changed his mind; a decade of indifferent teaching had, if anything, reinforced this idea. Severus had been long set in his ways before Tonks had pulled him into her bed, and as the possibility of a family had grown ever more remote he had reflected with sour satisfaction that he at least would never inflict his burdens and crimes upon an inheritor. Yet here was the potential he had sown in his own misspent youth, enacted on the flesh of a boy he was meant to protect, and by another boy he was meant to protect. Rather, protect until he was ready to be sent to the slaughter. Even here he could not fulfil his best intentions. He had passed on his cursed history without the tie of blood. The sins of a failed mentor rather than father, manifesting in a new generation. His thoughtlessness and pride had reaped another victim without his knowledge or desire.

He needed a drink.

Reaching the door to his chambers, he paused. Dumbledore disapproved of warding against entry as such could cause delays in notifying a staff member of an emergency. A trip ward, however, was entirely acceptable, and Severus had several in subtle layers around his door. All but one of them were intact as if undisturbed since his departure that morning. The last, however, responded to his touch on the latch. A thin line of grey wrote "You're late" in a familiar scrawl across the dark wood and then faded away.

Parting his wards and leaving them activated, he entered silently and stood in the dark lee of the door, observing. The room was mostly dim and full of shadows. A fire had been lit against the dungeons' chill at some point and had since sunk to a pile of ruddy coals which gave off pleasant heat but very little light. There was a singular contained pool of bright lamplight; it was localised over her sitting curled into one corner of the sofa. She was reading, tucked up in the throw McGonagall had given him several years before for Christmas. Tonks turned a page and pretended not to see him as he stared at her, unsure. He had not seen her since she had left him sleeping on that sofa two months before.

Her hair was chestnut, unbound, a few errant strands drifting down low against her cheekbones.

"Stooping to home invasion now?" He rumbled. Tonks smiled and did not look up from the page as he hung up his robes.

"Of course. It's the Auror in me; I don't like to lose my man." She looked up then and held out a hand to him. Grudgingly giving in to the inevitable, Severus walked to the sofa and sat down neither on the extreme far corner nor against her as she clearly wished. He was perfectly, annoyingly, equivocal in his seating arrangement as she laced her fingers with his own.

"At least I left most of your wards intact." She grinned at him, and shifted forward looking incongruously like a child on Christmas morning.

"Mmm, thank you for that. It saves me a full three minutes work in the morning." She stuck her tongue out at him as he slouched low, resting his head against the sofa. "Why are you here? Shouldn't you be out guarding the 'fortress'?"

She settled in companionably next to him and declared, "I am a free woman until tomorrow morning." She waved a hand about in an expansive gesture. "I have half a day's official leave with finally no 'unofficial' duties, and I choose to spend it with you. You should be honoured." She cocked a rueful eyebrow at him. "Of course, you were missing for four hours of it."

"Don't remind me. I was most unpleasantly occupied with the idiocies and consequences of youth."

Tonks looked on as he summoned a bottle and two glasses, and shook her head when he looked questioningly at her. He poured out a generous tot into one glass and sent the bottle and extra glass back to the cupboard. Slouching even lower, he took a sip. The solvent fumes of mid-range firewhisky singed his nose hairs and the liquor hit his stomach like a coal.

"Severus?" He toasted her with his glass and took a larger mouthful. It was vile.

"Severus, you don't drink."

"I do now."

A gentle hand clasped his wrist preventing him from raising the glass, and she peered at him thoughtfully.

"'A spy cannot afford to be off his tits.' Remember?"

"This spy has changed his mind." He pulled his hand away and let another mouthful burn its way down his throat. Really, this stuff got easier to drink as one's tongue and throat became numb.

"Severus."

"I don't wish to talk about it." He closed his eyes and held the glass against his chin, the flames faintly tickling at his lower lip. He heard her sigh, and felt the sofa lurch as she threw off the blanket and stood. Good, she was leaving him in peace, then. That was to be expected, even desired.

Severus felt a tug at his hips and his eyes flew open in surprise. Tonks was kneeling between his knees, calmly unbuttoning his trousers and working down his pants. Before he could articulate a protest, she bent down and sucked his cock into her mouth.

His head fell back and he groaned. Dropping the half-full glass somewhere, he buried his hands in her hair as she tongued and mumbled and drooled around his cock until he was achingly hard. She pulled off and mouthed at his balls before returning to lick his slit and work her tongue delicately under his foreskin. Then she took him in deeply and quite deliberately swallowed. He shouted as he came helplessly down her throat.

She soothed him through his orgasm, and then tucked him neatly back into his pants and refastened his trousers. He sat gasping as she slid back onto the sofa and wrapped her arms around him.

"I thought," he murmured, "we had agreed to stop all that?"

She kissed him lightly, and he caught just a faint hint of his bitterness on her smiling lips.

"No, you agreed, I never did. And you looked like you needed it. It's much better for you than firewhisky." She leaned comfortably against him as he tried to calm his breathing.

"I see. Thank you. It was very... effective." She chuckled, and rested her head on his chest. She lay there watching the coals in the fireplace flicker as he played with the ends of her hair. Her soft breathing was undemanding, soothing even.

"What is your father like?" He asked suddenly. "Aside from a fixation with monkeys."

"My father?" She shifted a little, and he could hear the fondness in her voice. "He's a dear. Sensible about most things but fun where it matters, and dead reliable. Right slob though, drives Mum spare leaving his shoes and robes everywhere. It's got so bad she's made up a charm for him. He drops something on the floor where it shouldn't be, it tidies itself off into the cupboard in his shed. Once he opened it and every last one of his jumpers, most of his robes, and half his socks fell out. He had to dig himself out with an old bludger bat. Why do you ask?"

"No reason." The coals really were fascinating, how they would glow and subside to invisible currents of air. Like a heartbeat.

"What's wrong? " she shifted again to look at his face. He kept his eyes on the coals. "It wasn't just the day, was it?"

"Nothing of consequence. I merely had an unwelcome reminder of my own fallibility. It's all for the best, I am sure." Severus bent his lips into a wry curve. "Overconfidence will be the death of me."

He jostled a little as Tonks sat up abruptly and stared at him, frowning. His side was cold where she had pulled away.

"My father," he elaborated, "was not a 'dear', and I find myself pondering that legacy. It and this distinctive proboscis were all he gave me. Well, and a Muggle house to go with his Muggle blood, but a number of my acquaintances rather object to any mention of that last titbit."

"I like your nose, it's distinguished. And those acquaintances aren't a patch on you and your Muggle blood. I have some myself and I think it very nice." She was flippant, but he could see the strain around her eyes.

"Ah, but we have already established that your Muggle blood comes from someone who could be considered 'very nice'. Mine comes from a bitter and violent drunkard." He waved a hand at the patch of spilled firewhisky, fitfully burning as it evaporated from the sofa cushion. "If not for your intervention, I would have been well on my way to a full complement of characteristics proving once again that 'blood will out.' Although," he paused to evaluate his reflexes momentarily, "considering my current maudlin state, I believe I am far from sober."

Tonks snorted and settled back down against him, warming him quickly.

"You're a dreadful lightweight for a drunkard."

"Occupational hazard," he replied. "Teaching whilst pissed is frowned upon, and teaching whilst hung over is murder." She snickered.

Severus levitated more wood onto the coals and they watched as it flared and leapt into bright crackling flames.

"You're not violent, either. Nor bitter. Not really." Tonks sounded rather small, but firm.

"Oh, but I most certainly am. Shall I tell you stories? You have only seen my 'civil' side, and even that is not so very civil after all."

"You don't need to. I thought about this after Remus said those terrible things about you and," he snorted. "And I've come to my conclusions based upon the evidence of my own observations. And I declare in my capacity as your lover and through my expertise as a fully ranked Auror that you are neither violent nor bitter to any unusual degree."

"Ah, there's the equivocation. What is an 'unusual degree', then, if murder and two decades of resentment do not qualify?"

Tonks sat up and laid her hand on his cheek, turning him to meet her eyes and well-nigh inviting him enter her mind. Severus refrained.

"You have done many things you bitterly regret and you harbour grudges far longer than is healthy, but you are still generous and sweet beneath your prickly manners." He pulled his face away but she followed. "You're like a chestnut, or a hedgehog. All spines on the outside because you're tender on the inside."

"You're delusional," he said.

"No, I'm not."

She shifted until she was sitting astride his lap. He still would not meet her eyes, so she pressed close in a warm hug instead. As if of their own volition, his arms wrapped around her.

"You do hard things sometimes, but it's never for the fun of it, not really. You have a temper but you try and keep it controlled, it just sometimes snaps. And you have regrets, a lot of them. But you still let me in. You still let me love you."

Severus rolled his eyes at her and scoffed. "And is that not just the selfish, carnal lust of a man who uses others? You gain nothing from this, Nymphadora!"

Tonks smiled up at him tenderly and the look on her face took his breath away.

"Did you think I didn't know? You don't have to say it, love."

His mouth went dry. "Your data is incomplete!"

"I know. There are things you can't tell me and things I don't much want to hear. It doesn't matter. I know you without them. There is nothing you could do or say that I would find unforgivable, Severus. Regrettable, certainly, but never unforgivable."

He gaped at her in disbelief, and then anger. Pushing her off, he stood and glowered at her lying against the cushions blinking up at him.

"You know nothing of me. Nothing! You think you love some trite caricature of me which fits your ideals, something on which to pin your loyalty, with no need for messy reality. I could tell you stories that would turn your heart to stone as they have mine."

"Oh Severus," she sat up and took one of his hands in her own, smoothing open his clenched fist. "If I didn't care for the messy reality, I wouldn't still be here, I would have buggered off when you told me to. I'll listen to the stories if you want to tell them to me. Your heart is no more stone than mine is."

He snatched his hand back and stared at her disbelieving, thrumming with something he preferred to call anger.

"I don't expect you to believe me. This sort of thing takes proof, and we can't exactly go off and shout if from the rooftops. Or elope to Scotland. Oh, wait, we're in Scotland."

The gentle levity did not defuse his anxiety. If anything, it increased his sense of impending doom. He fumbled with his cuff and tore the seam a little in his haste to bare his left forearm. The Mark festered black against his pallid skin.

"This, this is what I am, what I have to be, Nymphadora. I cannot be what you want!"

"I've seen it before. I know, Severus. All I'm asking is that you hope, just a little, and let me love you. This?" She laid her hand gently over the Mark, obscuring it from view, "doesn't have to be everything."

He groaned and slumped beside her again. She curled up against him and rested her chin on his shoulder.

"This is dreadful," he sighed.

"It's not for me."

"It will be."

Tonks twined her fingers with his again. "I expect you're right."

"Optimist. This," he waved his bared arm, "this must be everything."

"For now, not for always."

Severus groaned again and thumped his head against the sofa cushion. What could he tell her that would convince her? There was nothing he was free to reveal. It was bad enough that she was here at all.

"I've always known, you know." Her voice was sad.

Without outward sign, he tensed. Just what had he revealed in his folly?

"You don't think you have a future beyond the war. You think you're going to die before the end."

He relaxed. "Spies don't typically live long lives when madmen are involved," he replied flippantly.

"Spies don't live long at all if they have no will to live," she was dead serious.

"I am not suicidal, Nymphadora. I am simply realistic." This was actually true. Severus had no desire to die. Merely, he could not see his way beyond a messy end. If he was lucky he would see the Dark Lord dead first.

Tonks cradled his arm and trailed a finger lightly around the Mark. It tickled but he resisted the urge to twitch.

"Do you know what I hate most about this?" She asked. He shook his head, and she laughed self-consciously. "It's a little mad considering everything. But I hate that he gets to have a piece of you, that he's there for anyone with eyes to see. And he doesn't love you at all, not even as a 'master', not even as a friend. You're a thing to him, but he's on your skin, he's with you always."

"Nymphadora...."

She shook her head. "I know it's stupid."

"What would you inscribe on me if you could? A heart? Perhaps Property of Nymphadora Tonks?" He kept his words light and she shoved him, playfully but hard.

"No, you wanker. A butterfly, I think. Or perhaps a star."

"A butterfly?!" he asked incredulously.

"Yes, a butterfly. They mean you're trustworthy, and good at getting out of tight spots. Which you certainly are."

"Who on earth told you that nonsense?"

She fussed with the edge of the blanket before admitting, "I've been reading up a bit. On Russian prison tattoos. They all mean something."

"Oh."

"I was looking for information on tea, but in my line of work this was easier to find and I got distracted."

"What do stars mean?"

Tonks looked up at him, surprised, and then smiled. It staggered him a little how much pleasure he took in surprising her and delighting her. This tiny circle of light with Tonks beside him had become everything for the moment and he finally let go of his last, hard fought twinge of conscience. He was already damned, let him be damned for this as well. It would not last after all, probably not even until morning, but perhaps it would be enough to see him through.

"Length of prison term by the points. And if they're on the knees they mean you bow to no one."

"I see. Well, considering everything, it had better be butterflies then." She gaped at him and he realised in that precise moment that despite everything he was happy.

"Well? Will you do the honours?" Severus debated quickly, and stripped off his shoes and socks. Sliding sideways he lay on his stomach avoiding the residual patch of firewhisky and presented her with the sole of his right foot. "Anywhere more public invites risk," he apologised, twisted up on his elbow to look at her.

"I... this is fine. It's fitting, I think." She soothed along his instep where the texture of his sock had left its imprint. She squeezed his foot in both hands and then ran one firmly down his sole, from heel to toes, rubbing gently into his high arch with the pad of a thumb. "I've never done this to anyone before," Tonks confessed.

"You know the spell, however?"

She nodded and took up her wand. "Oh yes, it's popular in the Auror Corps."

Severus pillowed his head on one arm and stared at the fire. He heard her murmur Pingous Pixi and then there was the light press of her wand to the arch of his foot and the slow, burning sensation of the transfigured ink as it flowed under his skin. The pain was just enough. Like a bright thread, it anchored him to the moment, to the feel of the ink and her hands and her wand, to the springy cushion and the rough upholstery beneath his chin, to the eager crackle of the fire and the sweet pungency of wood smoke and cheap firewhisky. This was nothing like his Marking and if not for his desire to drink in every second, to have the experience sink into his pores to be remembered beyond the limits of mind and reason, the peace of this moment was almost enough to send him to sleep.

He felt Tonks lift her wand and then there was the murmur a charm. He sat up, flexing his foot as the soreness faded to a hint, no more than a faint, welcome reminder of this new mark's existence. She watched anxiously as he examined the broad curving lines sketched out upon the thin skin of his arch. The highly stylised image in dark green ink was abstract enough to avoid significant comment should it be seen.

"Is it meant to look like a pair of curly brackets?" Severus asked solemnly. She broke into a wide grin and gave him a shove.

"You can tell anyone who asks that you have a mad passion for punctuation," Tonks snickered.

"Or that I am parenthetical," he suggested. "Since they are both open."

She laughed and then subsided, looking unexpectedly diffident.

"You do like it, don't you? I think you do, and you wouldn't be polite about something like this...."

He caught her lips in a kiss and a long, wet moment later, she pulled back with a sigh and said "I'll take that as a 'yes'."

"Do," he agreed. "I am never polite."

"Would you do me as well?" She asked, nervously.

"A butterfly?"

"No. That's yours." She threaded her fingers with his again. "A ring."

"Nymphadora...."

"No, I know it's daft and you can't think beyond the end of the war let alone some distant possibility you might not even want. But in my heart I'm yours and I'd like to have the proof of it in ink. I'm sure I can mask it if I need to."

Severus looked at her bright, open face and the hope there, and wordlessly took up his wand. Her chin on his shoulder again, Tonks laid her hand in his.

He cast the incantation and laid the tip of his wand against her left ring finger. She was rapt as the ink burgeoned from the point of contact. It flowed in delicate wisps under her skin, twisting like a living vine to encircle her finger in a slender endless knot.

"Oh," she breathed, pleased. "You chose the same green."

Severus cast the cooling and healing charm before he replied.

"Properly, I should have chosen black as it would cause less comment." he looked away. "I could not bring myself to do so."

"No, this is best." She admired the tattoo from several angles, before shifting astride his lap again and twining her arms around his neck. "I love it."

Their kiss was a slow, delicious exploration of lips and tongue and skin. Tonks wound her hands in his lank hair and pressed him deeply into the cushions as he slipped his hands under her shirt. Unhooking her bra, he dragged his hands in slow sweeps down her warm curves, dipping his fingers into the peaked gap at the waistband of her trousers before sliding up again to rub the small of her back, between her shoulder blades, the angle of shoulder and neck.

Sitting up, face flushed and lips shining plump and red, Tonks asked breathlessly, "Are you tired?"

Severus shook his head.

"Hungry? Thirsty? Need the loo?" He smiled at her absurdity and shook his head again. She leaned in close and murmured into his ear.

"Take me to bed, Severus."

He brushed a thumb along her cheek and asked, "You said you have all night."

"Yes," she breathed.

"Then we shall do this properly," he asserted. She leaned back and rose with a bounce, tugging her bra straight as he stood. Taking her hand he led her to his bedroom.

A quick flick of his wand lit the oil lamp on his bedside table. The room was chill and he quickly lit a fire on the small hearth and cast a general warming charm as she trailed a curious finger over the books beside his bed.

"Come," he said, retrieving a clean flannel. Severus drew her along back into the sitting room and across to the loo.

"I thought you didn't need to use the loo." Tonks said, laughter bubbling in her voice.

"Properly, I said. Like civilised persons who have nowhere to be until morning." He rummaged about and finally transfigured a toothbrush from an empty potions phial. He handed it and the flannel to her with a fresh tablet of soap. As she shook her head in amusement and then gamely began her nightly ablutions, he debated his razor. It was an indulgence but yes, he decided, and ran the water hot as he rinsed the brush and frothed his soap into fragrant lather.

It was curiously relaxed performing this with a companion. There was no dearth of banked passion, but there was also no hurry, just a pleasant thrill of anticipation and satisfaction mixed. They had a brief dance about the tap and the space was somewhat cramped, but Tonks soon finished and sat upon the toilet cover watching him shave with an appreciative gleam.

"You use a Muggle straight razor," she remarked as he rinsed the blade between passes.

"I have learnt that the proper tool leads to the best results," he replied, before re-applying the blade. "A depilatory charm is convenient, but the results are mediocre and can lead to ingrown hairs," he continued as he rinsed the blade again.

"That's a Muggle mirror, too," she suddenly said as he wiped the last of the soap from his face.

"Proper tools. Talking mirrors may delight some, but I would rather mine did not attempt chatter when I have a naked blade against my jugular. This does what is required of it without any flourishes, just as the razor does." Quickly, Severus brushed his teeth and then splashed his face with cool water. As he was drying his face, warm hands covered his as he lowered the flannel and Tonks pressed her cheek against his.

"Mm, smooth. Lotion?" Severus selected a bottle from the array and she spread some onto her palms and then smoothed it carefully over his face and neck before taking a bit for herself. Then she wrapped him in her arms and tucked her face into his neck, inhaling deeply.

"I wondered what that scent was. Shea butter and mint from your lotion. And eucalyptus from your soap. You smell good enough to eat." Tonks followed this comment up with a lick and nibble.

"I'm astonished you even noticed. After a day of lessons I rarely smell of anything beyond children's stewed disasters."

"Mm, you always smell scrummy."

"You, my dear, have peculiar tastes." She pulled back from molesting his Adam's apple and grinned at him. Then she was pulling him through the door towards the bedroom.

"So you've said, now hurry up so we can properly shag like rabbits. It's been a right age since the last time and I have a lot of frustration to work off." She bounced as if already mimicking the mentioned lagomorphs.

Severus pulled her to a stop before she could throw herself onto the bed, and laid a finger on her lips to silence her chatter.

"Oh, no. We shall not be enacting rodent sex in any way, shape or form tonight. It shall be long," and he punctuated his words with deep, sucking kisses. "Slow, and thorough."

Tonks blinked dreamily at him after the last kiss extended rather longer than he had planned, and he took that for an assent.

The room had warmed but a draft played about their feet. A wave of his wand built up the fire a bit more and another closed the heavy bed curtains except for those facing the hearth, creating a nook of reflected light and heat. A third flick extinguished the lamp. His intentions for a long, slow night of lovemaking did not mean he dallied in stripping off, although Tonks as always was undressed well before he was. He admired the line of her spine and the full curve of her arse as she pulled the blankets back. Severus sent his pants to the laundry chute and then his arms were full of naked, willing woman. He pulled back briefly to cast the prophylaxis charm on himself, hard enough that he felt a twinge in his balls, and he finally let her draw him to the bed.

He tasted every part of her, reacquainted himself with every inch of skin and every gasp and whimper. Traced with eyes, hands, lips and tongue every curve and bend as they danced and quivered in the firelight. Her laughter was a catalogue of delight, low and full throated to high and breathless. And when he finally sank into her eager body, he groaned Nymphadora deep in his chest at the perfection of it all. They rolled and writhed across the bed kissing, sucking and licking whatever they could reach, hands everywhere to grapple and caress and tease.

He pinned her hips and ground into her deliberately as she tried to speed their thrusts, sweat rolling in great drops, catching the firelight as they clung to his nose and chin and trickled down his back. He kept the rhythm hard and slow until she was incoherent with urgency. Impatient, she slipped from his sweaty grip, wrapped her strong thighs around his hips and flipped them over. Then she was riding him fast and rough, her breasts bouncing and moist against his chest as she panted and lapped at his neck, his shoulder, his mouth. And then she was moaning and crying Severus, Severus against him, jerking and shuddering tight around his cock.

He pulled her closer and rolled them over. They were askew across the bed and he caught her head in the crook of his elbow to cushion it from the edge. And then he was grunting and thrusting into her pliant body, legs tangled together and her hands in his sweat-soaked hair as she caught her breath and moaned, gasping as the receding tremors began to build again.

His orgasm crashed through him unexpectedly and he crushed her to him as he spasmed and came, breath sobbing from him like weeping. Then, before the last shudder had rolled through him, he slid down and pressed his face between her slick thighs. She choked and then threw her head back and wailed as he licked and sucked his semen from her. She was sweet and he was bitter on his tongue as she keened and writhed under his mouth, her fingers still tangled in his hair.

Tonks was limp and heavy-limbed when he slid up beside her again and pulled her close, drawing the disarrayed blankets into some order over them before their sweat could chill.

"Thorough is good," she mumbled as she curled closer, throwing one leg over his and resting her head and hand on his chest.

"I thought you would agree, given the proper empiric evidence," Severus murmured in return. "Although fast has its merits," he admitted, brushing back errant tendrils clinging to her shining face.

She chuckled drowsily and squeezed him, and then she was asleep. Listening to her steady breathing, he soon followed.

Hours later, the fire had fallen into ruddy coal and Severus woke as a cold draft slipped through a gap in the blankets to finger his arse in an unwelcome display of attention. Reaching over carefully to avoid disturbing Tonks spooned in his arms, he gingerly retrieved his wand and built up the fire, and then closed the last bed curtains. Then tucking his wand away, he pulled the blankets more firmly over them. He was just dropping back to sleep when he felt a warm hand caress his chilled hip.

"I thought you were asleep," he murmured.

"I am," she sighed, sleepily pressing her arse back against him. "This is a lovely dream."

His cock, nestled between her arse cheeks, chose that moment to awake. Holding her close against his chest, he shifted a thigh between hers, and slid a hand down her stomach as she changed angles a bit and then he was slipping easily into her welcoming heat.

On the edge of sleep, they rocked against each other in the darkness, pleasure unfolding in languorous waves through sleep-heavy bodies. She murmured love as she came and he felt his own orgasm diffuse through him like warm honey. Then they were asleep again.

When next he awoke he was alone. There was a note in familiar handwriting on the bedside table.


I had to return to my post. I'm sorry I couldn't stay until you woke. You looked so peaceful I couldn't bear to wake you.

I love you.


He tucked the parchment away and prepared for his day. Severus doubted they would see each other again, and this memory, this night, was worthy of a last meeting. And if Tonks hated him one day as she should, he would be unlikely to be alive to suffer from it. It was enough, he decided, perhaps too much for the likes of him, but it was his and he would selfishly lock it away for as long as he could. As he closed the door to his rooms, he closed that door in his mind and strode off to meet the day.

IX. MAY 1998

 

No. No, not this, not yet. Severus stared at Nagini coiling in her glittering protective sphere and knew without a shadow of a doubt that his death was not only in this room, but imminent. How ironic to die here in the Shrieking Shack after all, as if his life was one long futile run through that tunnel. And here he had failed again. His task undone, Potter uninformed, there would be no forgiveness for this as there could been none for the last. No one who could give that absolution would be left.

The Dark Lord was speaking of power and wands, and Severus gripped his own tightly, knowing it was likely futile. Let me go to the boy, he thought as if he could influence the Dark Lord through will alone. Now, before it's too late, let me go to the boy!

"All this long night, when I am on the brink of victory, I have sat here wondering, wondering, why the Elder Wand refuses to be what it ought to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner... and I think I have the answer. Perhaps you already know it? You are a clever man, after all, Severus."

Not yet, Severus thought. Not yet! Cold sweat prickled down his back. Perhaps the boy would think to speak with Dumbledore's portrait. But the portrait would not speak unless it knew he was dead, and how would anyone know? Perhaps the boy would do what was necessary through that blind luck which seemed to follow him about.

"You have been a good and faithful servant, and I regret what must happen."

"My Lord...."

Severus's thoughts discarded increasingly absurd possibilities as frustration overwhelmed him. Dumbledore's fail-safe in case of discovery had lain in the wand now held negligently in Voldemort's hand; a slim margin of escape in need. But that plan was broken a year, there would be no reprieve. Severus would not win this duel. Although, perhaps if he lost it properly, there was still a chance.

"The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot be truly mine."

"My Lord!" Severus raised his wand prepared to shield. He must convince the Dark Lord that the Elder Wand did not obey Severus Snape, of all people. Perhaps, just perhaps, this could still be done.

"It cannot be any other way. I must master the wand, Severus. Master the wand, and I master Potter at last."

Severus watched the wand cut the air, but no curse came and for a moment he wondered if he had misunderstood and indeed controlled the Elder Wand. But then he saw the massive bubble containing Nagini speed toward him, and he realised his error. In that strange slowing of time that stretches a moment of horror interminably he watched his gaping reflection swell and warp as the sphere closed upon him. And then he was caught, head and shoulders transfixed in the net of magic, the massive snake hissing over him and the wards sparking and crackling along his skin. He could barely hear the Dark Lord order his death as venom dripped onto his upturned face, burning his skin.

Faster than thought, the snake struck. Severus could not hold back his screams as he fell to his knees.

The cold, fanged head pulsed as Nagini seated her fangs more firmly into the angle of his neck and shoulder, pumping searing fire into his body. Faintly through the roaring in his ears and the sizzling of the wards, he heard Voldemort's cool I regret it and the creaking of his departing footsteps. Then the great serpent was ripped away and he was left alone.

Falling to the dirty floor clutching futilely at his welling neck, Severus clenched his teeth and felt his molar crumble. Chill followed the heat spreading from the punctures, and he could feel the venom seeping through his body with every stuttering heartbeat. Scrabbling and choking on the bitter potion seeping from the broken tooth, he writhed in the dust. Stupid. Stupid to think that....

An unexpected noise penetrated his agony. A footstep and then the faint swish of cloth against the dusty floor, and then he was there. No, this was a hallucination brought on by the venom, surely. But the boy knelt down and Severus clutched a bloody hand to his shirt. Solid, he felt solid, and he smelled warm and dirty, a typical teenager. Gagging with the effort, Severus pushed out memory after memory, letting them spill onto the filthy floor, more and more, desperate for the boy to understand, to realise what they were.

"Take... it...," he managed. "Take... it...!" Damn the boy, this was all he had left, if the brat would just do as he was told!

Someone, the Granger girl likely, gave the boy a flask and when the boy had gathered them all up, Severus finally allowed his grip to slacken.

"Look... at... me...," Severus asked. And there. There were her eyes in that grimy, bewildered face. He wanted to ask her for forgiveness finally, for not being able to save this boy, her boy, after all these years of trying. But he could no longer muster the strength to move. He had been too clever by half; no antivenin was of use against blood loss. Ah well, he had never expected to live.

His senses swirled away and everything went dim and blurred, lacking in comprehension. There was whispering and shadows and a high triumphant voice. If he had been capable of moving, he would have shuddered even without understanding what it said, but he was numb and cold and still, unable even to close his eyes. There was no pain at least, just so very cold. And then there was whispering again, and more shadows, and light and then darkness.

X. July 1998

 

Severus Apparated to the old cemetery Slughorn had suggested and stood for a moment to catch his breath. He was still convalescing from weeks in the infirmary, three of which he'd spent unconscious. This was the farthest he had travelled under his own power in some time. He fingered the slip of paper in his pocket as he leant against an old stone wall.

Waking up had been unexpected. Waking up in the Hogwarts infirmary had been even less so. Had he considered the matter, he would have thought Azkaban the likeliest place. Instead, he had had Madame Pomfrey bustling in with cries of Finally!, and doses of foul smelling potions.

He had been discovered by Slytherins, she told him, conflicted sixth years who had chosen to stay on rather than leave with the others. They had seen movement at the Whomping Willow and when they saw the Gryffindor trio leave, had gone to investigate. It had been a close thing, she assured him. The antivenin had slowed and then stopped his blood from thinning and later allowed the wound to actually close and heal. Still, the initial damage had been severe and the blood loss had been almost too much. As he digested his medical prognosis (excellent, now that he was awake) and toast and beef tea (all he was allowed after nothing but potions for weeks), he finally looked about him.

He was the only patient in the infirmary, which was a small mercy. The school had ended term early, and all the other serious injuries had been moved to St. Mungo's. McGonagall, however, had refused to send him away. That was another shock. As had been the table beside his bed. It was covered in a mountain of offerings, so many that another table had to be pulled up to accommodate them all. There were cards, flowers, sweets, fruit cakes, and one unmarked flask which caused his heart to skip.

Every memory from that night but four was in the flask. He had pondered the mystery of those four until an hour later when Harry Potter arrived. The boy was nervous, embarrassed, and very much alive.

Severus had assumed the boy had died as had been required, and that the memories had got about, perhaps through the Granger busybody. He had gaped at the boy in astonishment and then growing annoyance as the idiot tried to thank him for getting him killed (if only temporarily). Only Minerva's entrance was sufficient to interrupt that first refreshing and satisfying rant. And that only because she had informed him that he was still Headmaster and it was not seemly to ream the person who had kept him out of prison a new arsehole.

The effect of this pronouncement had brought Pomfrey running with a calming potion, and she had thrown everyone out while he stared at the ceiling certain that the world had run mad while he had been unconscious.

A visit from Kingsley Shacklebolt had confirmed the details, however. Potter had shared only those four memories with the Ministry, and except for some formality of paperwork which could be done now that he was awake, he had been exonerated while he slept. His memories would be returned as soon as the paperwork was signed. Meanwhile, despite the fact that his appointment as Headmaster had come about during the overthrow of the legitimate government, it had nonetheless followed proper protocols and still stood. There was, after all, incontrovertible proof that he had been approved for the position by the previous Headmaster.

The sheer irrationality of this did not seem to appear to anyone but himself. He lost no time at all in disabusing them all and making clear his utter lack of interest in continuing on as Headmaster. If not for the fact that he needed to continue to eat, he said, he would gratefully have shaken the dust of Hogwarts from his feet forever. Kingsley had nodded knowingly and patted him on his shoulder before asking him to just consider it. McGonagall had wiped a fond tear from her eye. He could have screamed with frustration but Pomfrey had come with another calming potion and thrown them all out again.

That had been almost a month ago. Two weeks later, he had finally pestered Pomfrey sufficiently for her to permit his return to his own rooms. He had squirrelled himself away with gallons of good tea and six weeks worth of the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler, attempting to catch up despite frequent interruption. He was able to learn the outward flourishes of events and the roster of the dead. Too many dead, but two at least were still alive.

Tonks and her husband lived. It had come out during Narcissa Malfoy's trial that she had deflected her sister's curses and struck Tonks with a limited Sleeping Beauty hex, to save her. Family had proved most important to her in the end, which had gone over well with the Wizengamot. And the Lupins would be able to raise their son; Teddy, for her father who had not lived. That would have to be enough, he thought.

A great many people visited that Severus did not wish to see. No one he did wish to see was amongst them. He had not expected her to be. He read, and slept, and walked about the deserted lake in an effort to rebuild his stamina and fend off Pomfrey's fussing. He continued to take both papers as they were preferable to seeking out people for news.

Wednesday there had been a small announcement in the Quibbler announcing the separation of Remus and Nymphadora Lupin.

On Thursday he sent Lupin a note which read; You didn't deserve her.

On Friday he received in return a note which read; Did you? and an address and Apparition coordinates.

Now the sun shone warmly on Severus's shoulders as he walked past the crumbling gravestones to the road and slowly made his way to the village High Street. The slip of paper in his pocket had suggested a nearer Apparition point, but he had inquired for a slightly more distant and discreet spot. He could use the time to think.

As he skirted clumps of chattering Muggles going about their week-end business he thought better of the idea. He was breathing heavily by the time he reached the little stone cottage, identical to all the other little stone cottages lining the street save for an Aeolian chime decorated with a Golden Snitch hanging from the lamp beside the door and a trip ward around the gate.

He ignored the ward and lifted the latch, walking the few short steps to stand before the green door uncertain. She had not written. She had not visited. She like as not had no desire to speak with him at all, and yet.... And yet.

He raised his hand to knock when the door opened. Tonks stood before him, rings under her eyes, chestnut hair tied back in a kerchief and a damp stain on the shoulder of her t-shirt, wearing rubber gloves and still holding a plunger in her left hand.

"Severus?" She gasped and he shrivelled a little at the dismay that flashed across her face.

"Lupin gave me your direction. I...," this had been a bad idea. "I am sorry, I do not mean to intrude. I should not have presumed...."

"No!" And she dropped the plunger and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him into the house and shutting the door quickly as if he were about to escape.

The living room was small but comfortable, and there were signs of a young family everywhere from the pile of tiny clothes and nappies half folded upon the sofa to the nappy bag on the floor next to the table, to the colourful blanket spread out upon the rug with a small knitted bear lying in the middle.

"Oh dear, don't mind the mess. I've just, oh everything is everywhere and the kitchen sink just stopped up and I look a sight, and oh Merlin, Severus!" And then his arms were full of Tonks and he felt her trembling as she hugged him so tight he thought his bones would creak.

He carefully wrapped his arms around her and held her. This was what had been missing. She felt perfect, so very perfect and warm and alive. Even though she no longer was his, he could love her like this, he thought. This could be enough.

"I'm sorry," he murmured again, and she looked up at him. "For your father."

Her eyes went sad, and she drew him to the sofa to sit with her.

"Thank you. I miss him so much. I still can't believe he's gone, and it just.... He never got to see Teddy."

She wiped her tears on a clean nappy and sniffed and gulped before looking at him and trying to smile. She looked so tired and woebegone; he wanted to murder Lupin for leaving her like this.

"I am sorry for Lupin, as well," he managed. "I will beat him for you if you like."

The smile became genuine. "You don't have to do that."

"He's left you. And the child." He could not say why that offended him so given that his own life would undoubtedly have been easier if his father had simply left one day. It rankled nonetheless.

"Severus...," the sudden impatient cry of an infant interrupted Tonks and she looked towards the kitchen. "Don't go anywhere," she ordered him, and disappeared into the next room.

Severus had done no more than consider the ridiculously tiny garments piled next to him and note with surprise a half-empty mug of familiar tea on the table, when she re-entered carrying the child. Tonks looked hesitantly at him, and then sat down, the infant cradled in the crook of her arm and now contentedly sucking his fists.

Teddy was a plump and forward babe, and not at all sickly in appearance. Severus was startled when the child screwed up his face and turned all his dark hair blue.

"He looks well, but is that normal?" he said, looking at Tonks and wondering why she was gazing at him that way.

"He's brilliant, and it is for him," she chuckled. "He gets that from me. He gets other things from his father. Severus...."

Tonks was nervous again.

"Severus, Remus and I had a hand-fasting, for a year and a day. He never promised me anything else, and I didn't want anything else."

Severus looked at the child in her arms, and his thoughts went grim.

"No, it's not like that. I wanted Teddy, I didn't plan him, but when I knew, I knew I wanted him with all my heart. Remus, Remus just helped me. And he was still grieving and I knew, and he was the only one who knew about me, and.... Oh, please, don't look like that!"

He looked away. "I'm sorry, I have no right."

This child would always be loved, he was sure.

"Oh Severus, you have every right." She took his hand then, and he stared at hers. The curl of ink on her skin was as clear and bright as the night he had made it, as sharp as the ink hidden on his own skin. "Severus, Teddy is yours."

He looked up in shock and she laughed nervously.

"February 25th. He was two weeks late and I was going spare."

"I used a prophylaxis charm, and, I thought a Metamorphmagus couldn't...?"

"Those don't always last as long when they're cast on men and we did make love more than once that night. And the bit about not transforming when pregnant was a rumour we spread just like his false birth date and saying he came too early." She looked at him anxiously. "I'm glad it actually worked. I..., we had to distance you from him. I'm sorry."

He dismissed this with a shake of his head. "No, you shouldn't be. I was a danger to you both, and you had no way of knowing what my task was."

"And for you! I knew it would put you at risk if anyone found out." Her hand tightened on his. "It was hard, it was so hard to keep faith, I couldn't reconcile the man I knew with the man who could kill Dumbledore, but I always hoped. Always, Severus, I hoped."

He watched as Teddy switched to sucking on his feet, burbling in satisfaction.

"You didn't come see me," he said quietly.

"There was Remus. Even though it was just for appearances, I owed it to him to see out the year." She paused. "And I was afraid of what you'd say."

He looked up quickly at that, startled.

"What I would say? I'd repeatedly betrayed you, led you on, placed you in danger for my own selfish desires!"

"And I tricked you into bed and forced you to put up with me when you didn't want me and then had your baby without your knowledge!" She turned red and fell silent, playing with Teddy's feet.

"Tricked me?" He wondered. But she was always so transparent.

Tonks was practically glowing with her blush.

"You recall the first time we slept together?"

"Yes," of course he did.

"That was a ploy."

"For what?"

"I'd been plotting to get you into bed for weeks."

He blinked at her, nonplussed.

"I'm a decent actress when I want to be, you know. And I knew you would be hard to crack, so I planned it all out. Even the costume striptease."

She surely could get no redder and he for once was absolutely gobsmacked.

"I've never not wanted you," he finally offered in return. She looked at him so full of yearning it took his breath away. She was more than he deserved, but perhaps it was time for him to risk good fortune.

"If you'll still have me?" He looked at the child in her arms. Teddy was staring fascinated at the bright silver button on his cuff. "Both of you? I'm sure to be a terrible father, but I will try."

"You've never not had us. Let us love you, Severus. That's all I ask."

Tonks gently pulled his arm out a bit and then set Teddy into the curve of his arm and side, resting on his lap. Severus stiffened with nerves and instinctively firmed his grip cradling the infant a little closer as Teddy crowed and attempted to eat his sleeve. Tonks leaned against him wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on his shoulder. He slowly relaxed. This was utterly new and yet utterly familiar.

"All right," he said.