Author's Notes: It isn't required that Sweet Anger, Too Much is Never Enough, and Better Together be read before this story. (Although if anyone reads them afterwards, I'd be thrilled. :D) They're just the how-Snape-and-Tonks-got-together one shots that led to this one. Special thanks go to MollyCoddles for being a fabulous beta. I used a couple of direct quotes from chapter thirty-three of DH as well as details from that and other books in the series to create a story I felt had to be written, even though it made me cry.


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Beauty for Ashes

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The body was far easier to control than the mind. It took no great effort for Severus to make his stare fixed and empty, to halt his breath and allow his hand to thud to the floor. He lay still and unmoving while Voldemort's voice echoed in the shack. Inwardly, he cursed the Dark Lord's expedient generosity in allowing enemies one hour's respite from battle to dispose of their dead. What if Granger, out of girlish pity, insisted they bring his body to the castle? He was in no condition to perform extensive Memory Charms.

Voldemort's subsequent threat against those who had tried to conceal Potter turned the trio's attention from the dead to the living. They rushed toward the tunnel entrance, leaving his "corpse" behind.

It was almost too late when Severus retrieved the vial of Phoenix Tears concealed in his robes. He could feel his life force ebbing away. For an instant, he was tempted to die. What did his life matter to any on this side of the veil? Beyond, he would find Lily, and forgiveness.

In answer, he heard another woman's voice. Whenever I start to worry about you, I remember that stubborn determination of yours, and take comfort that you're too proud to die easily.

He found the necessary willpower to uncork the vial and pour the pearly liquid onto the wounds at his neck. Fawkes' tears were the true reason he could not complain of his treatment at Dumbledore's hands. If Severus had been used, he had also been trusted. Not only to follow orders, but to always have a plan.

Vision that had started to blur focused. Strength returned. His body healed as if Nagini's fangs had never pierced his skin.

Severus rose to his feet. He stared down at the drying pool of blood on the floor and thought with grim satisfaction, I am not so easy to kill. His eyes flickered to the opening of the tunnel. If he had not done so already, Harry Potter would soon be pouring the contents of the flask into Dumbledore's Pensieve. He would learn about Severus' love for Lily, and the lengths he had gone to protect her son.

What Potter would not discover among the carefully selected memories was that Lily Potter was not Severus Snape's only love. There had been another woman Severus had loved, pushed away, and ultimately lost to another man: Nymphadora Tonks.

He refused to think of her as Tonks Lupin. That ridiculous name suited her almost as ill as the Muggle-sounding Dora others used in endearment. Nymphadora was the Metamorphmagus who had sought to punish an unfair teacher and ended up learning a lesson about attraction. Nymphadora was the young woman who left Hogwarts to return in hopes of starting a relationship. Nymphadora was the woman who became his lover; vulnerable, yet strong, and boldly passionate. A Hufflepuff with Slytherin tendencies, she had understood why the relationship between an Auror in training and a former Death Eater had to be kept secret. Later, despite bitterness and tears, she even understood why it had to end.

Severus used spells to clean his blood-encrusted robes, remembering the night of the Yule Ball. There was a gap in his memory due to the loss of what he had given Potter, but what took place afterward remained vivid.

He entered his private quarters to find Nymphadora asleep on the bed. Pale green hair draped her body and spilled onto Slytherin-green velvet. He stood watching her for long moments before giving into desire.

She smiled against his lips. "Mmm, you smell like roses and blasting spells. Merry Christmas to me."

Nymphadora tasted like chocolate and peppermint. Severus explored her mouth thoroughly before smoothing her hair aside to kiss the hollow of her throat. "Spells carry no scent. You were watching. Using a Disillusionment Charm?"

"I couldn't help it. You're so sexy when you give detentions." Her fingers worked at the fastenings of his robes.

Severus told himself that if he had a noble bone in his body, he would pull away. "You were to spend Christmas with your parents," he said, "and visit tomorrow. Why are you here?"

She pushed his robes off his shoulders. "I spent all day with my family. I got loads of chocolate and a gorgeous leather coat, but what I wanted most was to be with you, so here I am." Although her smile was bright, he read the uncertainty in her eyes when she asked, "Aren't you glad I'm here?"

It was the perfect cue to draw back, to tell her about Igor's intention to flee, and his to stay. To reveal that with the Dark Lord's imminent return, romantic involvement was a distraction he could no longer afford. Voldemort used Legilimency continuously, obsessively. He would sense the most infinitesimal preoccupation and root out its source. If Severus managed to conceal his emotions, one slip to a friend or colleague on Nymphadora's part would imperil her life along with his own.

Severus would not allow another woman he loved to be destroyed by a madman.

Nymphadora must have seen the resolve in his eyes. Hers shone with tears. "Say yes," she whispered, wrapping her arms around him, kissing him with a passion that fired his blood.

He wasn't noble. He refused to deny himself one last night in her arms. "Yes," he said fiercely, covering her body with his.

Severus could not afford to become lost in his thoughts. He removed a pouch from his robes. After dumping clippings of hair and fingernails onto the pool of blood, he hurled an Incendio spell at the floor. Whoever examined the scene later would affirm that the ash was all that remained of Severus Snape.

Long strides brought him to the stairs. In a way, the findings would be true. He planned to leave Britain and never return.

In the attic, he removed a cloak and a thick packet hidden in the false bottom of a trunk. Severus had made plans on the chance that he would live to enact them, and in the secret hope that he would not be leaving alone. His preparations had begun before Nymphadora met Lupin.

His mouth twisted at the irony of life. Each time he tried to do the right thing—apologise to Lily, protect Nymphadora—everything turned out wrong. Both women he loved had turned to men he despised. If he had loathed Potter for his arrogance, Severus detested Lupin for claiming to be "too old, too poor, and too dangerous" while tying Nymphadora to himself with as many emotional bonds as possible.

In the beginning, when Nymphadora joined the Order, he had noted Lupin's interest. What Severus had not realised was that after he left the meetings, she remained, and late-night chats eventually led to something more.

He was first faced with the exact nature of her relationship with Lupin during the meeting after Christmas holiday. Before Dumbledore arrived, Black teased that the Knight Bus must provide even worse service than he remembered if it took an entire weekend for Lupin to return from escorting the children to Hogwarts. Severus' eyes had flown to Nymphadora. It stunned him to see her blush.

She had avoided eye contact during the meeting, but afterwards, she followed him outside.

"Severus, wait."

"Why? So you can attempt explain the inexplicable?" Severus whirled around. "Did you take Lupin as your lover to spite me?"

"No."

He sneered. "I find that hard to believe."

"It's the truth." She worried her lower lip between her teeth. He found the gesture maddeningly alluring. She said, "In a way, though, Remus and I are together because of you." She took a step toward him. "After you broke things off, I tried to date guys my own age." She shrugged. "It never worked out. They were too immature. They hadn't seen enough, done enough, experienced enough. No man could compare to you."

"So you found a werewolf."

"We found each other. Who knows? Maybe it was fate. Maybe I wouldn't be able to love Remus if I didn't love you."

"Didn't or hadn't?" Severus edged closer until their cloaks brushed together. "Present tense or past?" He bent his head.

"Don't kiss me," she said, her gaze fixed on his mouth. If he could look into her eyes, Severus knew he would see the memory of the last time they made love. Her lips turned down. "I love Remus too much—I respect him too much—to cheat on him."

"Even in your thoughts?"

Nymphadora didn't answer. She spun around and ran back to the house that magically appeared between its neighbours.

The memory hardened Severus' resolve. He tucked the packet into an inner pocket of his robes and Apparated. Magically transported from the highlands of Scotland to a field in the English countryside, he stood beside a tree and gazed at the house protected by charms. Lupin—noble fool that he was—would be fighting at the castle alongside the others. Still Severus hesitated to approach. The feeling was not due to fear that somehow he had been followed. Few wizards were capable of such long-distance Apparation. His hesitation came from uncertainty.

If he sent his Patronus, Andromeda might see it and ask questions. Would Nymphadora be willing to use a Memory Charm? More importantly, would she leave her mother and son to come to him? What would he say? That he had counterfeited his death in order to live a new life? A life he wanted to share with her? Why would she believe him?

His thoughts returned to the time after Black's death, when Lupin went on mission for Dumbledore and Nymphadora had lost her Metamorphosing abilities. The knowledge that she mourned the loss of both men had burned inside Severus. He reacted badly. Swiftly dissatisfied with ignoring her daily presence at the castle, he took an opportunity to belittle her changed Patronus in front of Harry Potter. That night, he returned from the start-of-term feast to find her waiting in his quarters.

He would never forget the look on her face.

Her eyes were dull with pain, even as she tried to smile. "If you didn't want me to come in, you should've changed the wards."

Severus strode over to the drinks cabinet. "I have elf wine if you still dislike Firewhisky."

"I don't want a drink. I want you to never mention my Patronus again."

He couldn't resist a verbal jab. "Why? Are you ashamed of its weakness?"

"It isn't weak to change for love." She ran a hand over mousey-coloured strands of hair. "Although it can make you look and feel like crap."

Severus poured Firewhisky into a glass. "I am not a gossip."

"I know." Nymphadora straightened from leaning against a bookshelf. "That wasn't the real reason I came here."

The liquor burned a path down his throat.

She said, "At the gates, it wasn't your comment that shocked me. The shock was how much it hurt." Her lips twisted. "I came to Hogsmeade thinking the past wouldn't matter."

His hand tightened around the glass.

"I was wrong." Nymphadora's voice trembled, but her gaze was steady. "I loved you. Part of me always will." Her smile was lopsided. "That's the part of me that will never stop caring what you think, or stop thinking of you. I'll always remember what we had and hope, wherever you are, that you're okay." Her eyes were wet with unshed tears. "I just wanted you to know."

He watched her leave, immobilised by his emotions.

Months later a similar combination of anger and yearning prevented Severus from answering the Patronus Nymphadora sent to assure him she believed Dumbledore's trust had not been in vain. He had waited until Voldemort took control of the Ministry to owl a short message: Communication is unwise. Keep me in your thoughts.

Pride had kept him from writing "You are in mine." That same pride prevented him from sending his Patronus through the protective barrier surrounding the home of Andromeda Tonks. Even if she came out to see him, Nymphadora would not leave her husband and child to flee with Severus into the night.

But what if Lupin was dead? There were casualties in battle. Lupin might well have been one of them. Severus need not expose himself to rejection. He could tell Nymphadora his plan, make her his Secret Keeper, and make it clear that he would welcome her anytime she chose to visit.

He would even tolerate the boy. Theodore Lupin was not Harry Potter, a living reminder of his mother's death. Severus held no grudge against the infant. If the boy tagged along, he would be treated with civility. Severus would not resent sharing Nymphadora's attention, although he would refuse to allow the child to sleep in the same room with them. He would not make love to the mother if there was any chance he would look up to see her son staring wide-eyed through the bars of his cot.

If Nymphadora decided to remain with him, Severus would do his best to mentor the child. While he had never desired to be a father, he was an exemplary teacher. Young Theodore would begin his first year at school knowing more about Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts than most seventh years.

A baby's cry rent the stillness of the night. It carried across the field through open windows, rising in pitch and volume. Abruptly, the wailing halted. Whatever needs little Theodore felt so sharply had been met.

Reverie gave way to reality. Severus' fantasy of their life in exile was like the snowflakes Nymphadora used to catch on her tongue, beautiful and insubstantial, unless... Unless he carried out his plan, waited for news, sent word—and she came to him.

In an upstairs room, the dim light was blocked by a dark shape. Severus' pulse leapt. Who stood looking out? Not willing to risk being seen by Andromeda, he Apparated.

-

Six months later...

"Dobroye utrogospodin anteka! Good morning, mister apothecary!" The witch who ran the village shop and Owl Post Office spoke to him in Russian, although he was fluent in Belarusian. It was understandable. There was a sizable minority of Russians in the eastern European country, once a republic of the Soviet Union. The wizard who taught him the languages through Memory Charms, Lysenko, apparently gave him his accent as well.

"Dobray ranitsy," he replied in Belarusian.

She lifted a packet wrapped in brown paper. "Mail for you, from a Spadar Bandazheuski in Minsk." Her black-button eyes sparkled with curiosity. "He is family, perhaps?"

"A friend of the family." If Igor Karkaroff can be considered family, as a brother Death Eater, Severus thought with black humour

During one of his drunken ramblings about his summer travels, Igor had mentioned Braslavskiye Ozera national park in Belarus. Scenic and remote, the place had bored Igor, but he remembered the pretty guide raving that among the lakes and hills were over eight hundred varieties of rare plants. He suggested Severus flee there when the Dark Lord returned. "Think of the potions you could brew!" he had said laughingly.

How shocked Igor would have been to know his careless words had borne such fruit.

"Do svidania! Goodbye!" the postmistress called after him.

"Goodbye. Da pabachen'nya," he said absently, his attention focused on the packet in his hands.

He nodded to the villagers who greeted him, but did not slow his strides. His hands were shaking with impatience to tear the wrapping off the packet. The Mundungus-like Bandazheuski claimed it was difficult to obtain the specific edition of the Daily Prophet Severus requested, but had finally come through.

It was a few minutes' walk to his home. Most villagers preferred to build off the main street. His single storey cottage was situated well beyond the others, in a copse of trees. The lack of picket fence, flower garden, and free range livestock further distinguished his house. Severus had been drawn to the location. He preferred to be set apart from others. Once inside his home, he hung his cloak on a peg and conjured blue flames to light the wood on the hearth. Severus sat in a chair before the fire and methodically opened the packet.

He cared nothing for the headlines proclaiming Voldemort's defeat. He turned the pages until he found what he was looking for; the names of those killed in battle. Severus ran a fingertip down the list until he read Remus John Lupin. Surprisingly, the satisfaction he had expected to feel was absent. He could no longer hate the man for loving Nymphadora. Idle curiosity caused him to resume skimming the list. He moved his finger down and stared in disbelief at the name revealed.

Tonks Lupin

No. It could not be true. Nymphadora had been home with her son.

Denial didn't change the fact that her name was listed among the dead.

Severus sat frozen in place, grappling with the realisation that while he had walked away from battle, Nymphadora had run toward it.

Numbly, he turned his head to look at the wall where he had begun to envision a small cot. The space was close to the bedroom door without being so close as to infringe on privacy. Last week, he had paused to watch the village carpenter at work. Now, he would no longer plan to enquire if the cost of design was included in the commission of furniture.

Unable to breathe through his nose, Severus inhaled through his mouth. Exhaling raggedly, he escaped the pain crushing his throat and weighing down his body by staring into the flames until he felt his muscles relax. As he had on so many lonely days and nights, Severus opened his mind to memory.

He was lying in the grass, watching the girl who looked up at the sky to see shapes in the clouds.

"What do you see?" she asked.

"You."

Lily giggled. "I'm not up there in the sky." She looked at him with green eyes that saw everything except what Severus most wanted her to see. "I'm right here," she said, "and I always will be." Lily scooted over to kiss his cheek. "You're my best friend. Always."

The scene blurred and shifted.

He was lying in the arms of his lover.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"You."

Nymphadora giggled. "I can't believe I laughed." She looked down at him with starry eyes. "It was just so incredible and amazing and beautiful, I wanted to laugh and scream at the same time." Nymphadora leaned down to kiss his lips. "I love you so much."

"I love you."

Her dreamy smile became sultry. "Fancy another go at making me scream?"

Severus' hands glided down her back. "Always."

-

When Severus came to himself, night had fallen, and all that remained of the fire was ashes. He found himself whispering the words Nymphadora once told him.

"I'll always remember what we had and hope, wherever you are, that you're okay."

His eyes were wet with unshed tears.