A/N: So we're finally at the end. Thank you to everyone who has read this far, has favourited or followed the story, reviewed and just generally enjoyed it. Thank you too to my beta Mamacita. She's a real star.
Snape lay in his classroom trying to get his body to move. If he could at least get to his office he would have access to his potions. He had been hit by, and was still recovering from, several attacks of the Cruciatus Curse that had come in quite close succession. Even now he wasn't sure how many times he had been hit; the pain had shut down his mind to protect him during the excruciating blows. The Dark Lord had been in a particularly bad mood; he was upset about many things and had shown his displeasure with everyone, not just Snape. However, thanks to a few choice words from Lucius Snape had become a particular target for Voldemort's attention. Snape's marriage to Sarah, whilst not hugely important to the tyrant's plans, had been a big enough source of annoyance to merit the extra attention.
What Lucius' actions at the meeting and the subsequent punishment had taught Snape was that the way he had acted against Lucius, stifling his dreams of power, had definitely not been forgiven or forgotten, whatever the man had said when they had met up for drinks back in January. But at least Snape had survived. One of the others had not been so lucky. Snape had no idea what the man had or more likely hadn't done, but even with the pain he was in he had to feel fortunate to still be one of Voldemort's favoured ones, to be needed. It didn't stop him from silently cursing Lucius Malfoy though. He was glad the blond man, too, had felt the Dark Lord's wrath; even he hadn't escaped unscathed. Snape groaned as his body twitched in pain. He didn't know how long he had been lying here but fervently wished his Portkey had been set to take him to the Hospital Wing rather than to this cold and private classroom deep in the dungeons of the school.
At some point he heard a noise. Snape had been drifting in and out of consciousness for some time so he had no idea whether it was minutes or hours after his return. The pain continued just as strongly as it ever had. Although he knew the noise was unlikely to be a foe as he was safely in Hogwarts—which was, at least for the time being, still impenetrable to the Dark Lord and his followers—he wasn't keen to be discovered in such a weak position. Just because he was on safe ground didn't mean he didn't have any enemies. He lay as still as he could manage and tried not to make a sound, which took a considerable amount of concentration as the after-effects of the Unforgivable Curses continued to rage through his body.
As he waited, listening, a door opened somewhere in the room and a figure crept silently and almost furtively across the floor towards his desk, then stopped. For a moment Snape held his breath, wondering if they had discovered him lying on the floor and waiting to see whether they would help or attack. Instead, after a few seconds there was a gentle noise he didn't recognise, perhaps the sound of someone pushing something gently across the desk, and the intruder began to move away. Snape's concentration faltered and before he knew it he was moaning softly, his body contracting involuntarily from the curse that still ravaged his system. The soft footsteps, which had already ceased before the moan that would have alerted the person to his plight, had resumed, now sounding much more purposeful as the intruder came back towards the desk and rounded it. Then someone was grabbing at Snape and pulling him up off the floor.
"Severus!" Sarah cried, tears forming in her eyes when she saw her husband lying there shaking. "What's happened to you? I've been so worried about where you'd got to and why you didn't come back."
She was crying now as she witnessed the agony her husband was so clearly in. She held him gently, plastering kisses on his face. After a moment she laid him slowly back onto the floor and ran to his office, searching desperately for a potion that would help to ease his pain. Panic that he would succumb to his injuries made her fearful and clumsy-fingered as she rifled through the dozens of bottles. After what seemed like an eternity, but was in fact less than two minutes, she found one and returned to his side. She roused him from the stupor he had once again fallen into and pulled him into a sitting position, her firm grip keeping him upright. Slowly she helped him to drink the mixture.
Snape felt his body ease somewhat as the torturous pain that had been so much a part of him for what seemed like forever finally began to subside. Still holding him close, Sarah rocked him and crooned words intended to soothe and heal, massaging his shoulders as she attempted to stop his pained muscles from cramping. With the pain relief provided by the potion spreading throughout his body and Sarah's soft hands easing his muscles it wasn't long before Snape began to feel a little better. In truth, his body was so used to the curses after so many years in the Dark Lord's service that he was actually able to throw them off relatively quickly once he had access to the potion to block out the pain.
"What were you doing in here?" he asked his wife once he was recovered enough to talk.
He had no idea why Sarah was in his classroom at this time of the morning but he was awfully glad she was, otherwise the pain would have lasted considerably longer. He had been too injured to get to the potion himself and might have ended up lying there, undiscovered, until breakfast. Perhaps she had heard the noise of his return and come to investigate, but that didn't seem quite right. It was unlikely that if Sarah had been in bed she would have heard his return, even if he had made a huge amount of noise; it was far too removed from the classroom. And now as he looked at her she blushed, her face crimson as if she had been caught out in some wrongdoing. Without responding to his question she helped him to stand, pulling the chair out from under his desk in case he needed it. As he sat down, Snape looked at the desk and saw placed upon it a perfect blood-red rose and an envelope. He looked questioningly at his wife.
"Was this you?" he asked gently, pulling the card towards him.
Sarah looked at him with tears in her eyes. "Yes," she replied quietly. "It was always me."
As Snape gazed at Sarah once more he felt a wave of desire stronger than any he had ever felt course through his entire being. His beautiful wife was his secret admirer!
He finally understood why she had been so happy to agree to their marriage and why she had been so sure she wanted to consummate it immediately rather than wait. And no wonder she had been so upset when he had tried to keep her at arm's length. It must have been a huge frustration for her. Thank Merlin he had changed his mind about that—and it was definitely one of the better decisions he had made in his life, if not the best. Pulling her down onto his lap, he wrapped his arms around her tense body and held on to her tightly, their lips meeting in a passionate kiss that lasted for some minutes. He was pleased to feel her begin to relax in his arms, her worry draining away as the kissing continued. Suddenly the door opened and Dumbledore walked into the room, smiling broadly.
"Are you all right, Severus?" he asked, the smile dropping a little as he looked at his friend in concern.
"I'm fine, Albus," Snape replied, "just recovering from a few bouts of the Cruciatus Curse. Fortunately Sarah found me and gave me a pain-relieving potion." He smiled lovingly at his wife.
Dumbledore smiled again. "It was fortunate that she just happened to be passing."
Snape snorted loudly. "You know exactly why she was here, old man," he said affectionately.
Dumbledore looked at the desk and laughed. "Ah, yes, Severus. I see that St Valentine has once again favoured you with a visit." He positively beamed this time.
"You did know it was Sarah, didn't you?" Snape asked.
Sarah looked from one man to the other in confusion. Had the Headmaster known she was leaving Severus the roses every year?
"Not for sure," Dumbledore admitted, shaking his head. "I was telling the truth when I told you I didn't know, although I have to admit that I did have my suspicions. For starters, I noticed that Sarah was late to breakfast every Valentine's Day, and she spent a lot of time trying to be wherever you were. Couple that with her love of Potions and it was a good basis for a guess. Of course, as soon as you were married it was obvious."
"I can cover your classes for today," he continued, looking at the still cuddling couple. "Go to your rooms and rest. We can discuss the meeting tonight, Severus, once you've recovered fully."
Standing, Snape picked up the rose and card, and with his arm still around Sarah he made his way slowly through the office and back into their private quarters. Sarah helped him onto the bed and undressed him, then summoned a house-elf to get them some breakfast and tea and joined him on the bed. He laid the rose carefully on the coverlet and lifted the flap of the envelope, pulling out the plain hammered cream card that he had known would be within. It was identical to all the other cards he had received except that this one had a slightly stronger version of the scent he had been able to detect last year. Of course now he realised exactly what it was—it was his wife's fragrance, but so subtle as to be hardly noticeable. He pulled Sarah close and kissed her once again.
The house-elf delivered a feast: bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, toast and marmalade, and a large pot of boiling hot tea. Sarah piled Severus's plate with food and poured him a cup of tea, then returned to the bed and presented them to him. She then followed suit for herself. Once they had finished eating and drinking she piled the crockery on the dresser, expecting her husband to go to sleep since she knew he must be completely shattered after the long night and the terrible pain he had suffered, although she was pleased to see that he appeared to be recovering well enough. Instead, Snape got up and walked towards her carrying the rose and card.
"I need to show you something," he whispered. Brushing her arm and taking hold of her hand, he led her into to his laboratory and over to a small cabinet that was hidden away in a corner of the room. He whispered a few words and the cabinet doors opened. There, in a crystal vase, were the six other roses Sarah had given him. Each one was preserved and still as perfect as the day it was given. Beside the vase was a small, ornately carved wooden box, and Severus opened it to reveal Sarah's cards from years past, wrapped in a green silk ribbon.
Sarah gasped in amazement and felt her eyes glisten with tears. Snape placed the rose in the vase with the others and gently undid the ribbon to add the card to the pile, which he then carefully re-wrapped. When the cabinet was resealed and hidden once more, he pulled his wife to him and kissed her tenderly.
"I always hoped they weren't a joke," he said gruffly.
Then, slowly, he led his beautiful wife back to the bedroom, back to the comfort of their bed.