Evangeline burst through the painting into the infirmary and collapsed on the floor. The five figures who were clustered around, all leaped forward to help, but the fiercest of them told the others to back off.
Poppy helped Evangeline to her feet and got her onto one of the beds. The others stood around and gaped in horror at her condition. "Minerva, get me a gown, Lupin get the bag of potions off my desk, Black get me a roll of treated bandages from the storeroom." Orders slipped easily from her lips as she quickly got down to the work of treating her injured patient.
The mediwitch drew the privacy drape around the bed, and when Minerva returned with the gown, the two women helped Evangeline undress. Poppy worked as quickly as she could to diagnose and treat Evangeline's injuries. She cleaned, healed, and bandaged everything she could, then, she and Minerva got Evangeline dressed in the hospital gown and into the bed. Evangeline took the healing potions for her internal injuries, but she refused to take anything that would put her to sleep.
"I can't go to sleep until Severus returns, and I know he's all right! Can't you understand that?" she pleaded with Poppy, who sighed and agreed to wait.
They pulled back the privacy drape when Poppy was through with her treatment, and everyone crowded around.
Dumbledore sat down on the bed and took her hand. "I'm sorry that we weren't able to protect you after all, Evangeline," he said quietly.
She shook her head. "It was my own fault for going out alone. I felt so safe here that I underestimated the danger."
"You won't be able to remain here any longer, you know." He looked at her kindly but sadly.
She nodded. "I know. None of you would be safe."
"I'll arrange for a safe place for you to go to. In the meantime, you need to rest and recover."
She smiled sadly. "I'll be okay as soon as I know that Severus has returned unharmed. I left him with Lucius Malfoy, and Malfoy won't be too pleased when he finds out he's been tricked. I hope he doesn't take it out on Severus."
Reassurance came from a surprising quarter, as Sirius Black said, "Don't worry, Angel. Snape can take care of himself. That weasel Malfoy isn't likely to be a match for him."
"Why thank you, Black. That's good to hear," came from the doorway behind them. They all turned to see Snape standing there, looking a bit disheveled and out of breath, as if he'd run all the way from the gates. Which, of course, he had.
The crowd parted silently as Snape came into the room. He moved straight over to the bed Evangeline was in, sat down next to her, and took her into his arms. She burst into tears, and the two of them simply sat there holding onto each other as everyone else slipped away and left them alone.
Evangeline remained in the infirmary for almost a week, as her injuries healed. Snape remained with her most of the time, even sleeping in one of the other beds next to her. Everyone came to visit with her as much as possible. Although no one was happy about it, they all knew that as soon as she was healed, she'd have to leave, before the students returned from Christmas holiday.
When that unhappy day finally arrived, Dumbledore came to see her alone and told her what arrangements he'd made for her. She thanked him for all his help and kindness.
Once she left the infirmary, she went to her rooms and packed a bag with her few belongings. Then she and Snape went down to his rooms in the dungeon to say goodbye alone.
As they stood in his bedroom, in front of the concert picture, Evangeline sighed sadly. "I don't want to go, Severus, but it's necessary. I'm sorry that Dumbledore felt you shouldn't know just where I'll be. It's for your protection, as well as mine. I'll come and visit you, I promise." She smiled wistfully. "Remember, locks and doors can't keep me out. Keep these paintings always, and I'll be able to come and go freely and often."
"It can't be often enough for me, Evangeline. Before you go, I have something for you. I never got to give you your Christmas present." He opened the drawer in his bedside table and withdrew a long black box. He handed it to her solemnly, and she opened it. Inside, nestled in white silk, was a heart shaped ruby almost as big as a gold galleon. It was suspended from a fine gold chain by a clasp made from a trio of diamonds.
Her mouth dropped open in awe. "Oh, Severus, it's magnificent! I've never seen anything lovelier."
He smiled sadly. "I have, Evangeline, every time I look at you."
She blushed and smiled up at him once more. "Watch out, Severus. That carefully cultivated nasty image of yours is slipping."
He laughed shortly. "Don't worry. I can put the mask back on at a moments notice. I just have no need of it with you."
She smiled tenderly and caressed his cheek. "I'm glad."
Carefully he took the necklace out of the box and clasped it around her neck. She touched it gently and gazed up at him with a lump in her throat. "Thank you, Severus. This means so much to me."
"It's been in my family for a long time, Evangeline. I couldn't think of a better place for it than around your neck. I do wish it hadn't turned out to be a farewell present, though."
"I won't be gone forever. I can come to visit next summer, once the students are gone. I can also pop in for shorter, more intimate visits as well. No one needs to know I'm here. Your door does have a lock, I presume." She smiled at him, and he smiled back. "I should go, Severus, before this gets any harder."
He nodded in reluctant agreement and took her gently into his arms for a lingering farewell kiss.
Then before she could change her mind and throw herself into his arms again, she grabbed her bag and touched the surface of the painting. Immediately, she was gone. Alone once more, he reached out a hand and rested it lightly on the surface of his beautiful painting. "Mozart," he murmured and bowed his head.
Author's Note: I wanted to take a moment to sincerely thank all of the people who have read and reviewed my story. You can't imagine how gratifying it has been for a novice writer like me to have actually written something that people seemed to enjoy reading! I have read and appreciated all of your comments, and I also appreciate that you've taken the time to write them down and send them in. Feedback is so important!
This chapter is the last one for this story. For those of you who aren't tired of Severus and Evangeline's story, and who wish to know more, I will be posting the first four chapters of a sequel at the same time as I post this chapter. Be warned that the sequel has a bit more sex and violence in it, although probably not enough to require a higher rating. We'll see. Once again, thank you so much for your support and encouragement. I hope you continue to enjoy my efforts. Let me know.