A/N: Before we begin, I suppose I owe you something of an explanation, Dear Reader. Yes, this is the same Denial that I posted and completed in 2008. And yes, I did remove it from the archives in October 2010. Within months of beginning this story, I was overwhelmed by the readership, reviews and awards it attracted. I still am. Just as amazing has been the response to its removal from the internet.
For the past two years, I have received weekly, often daily requests for copies of this story. I've had countless e-mails asking where and why it has gone. And rather than explain the entire story here (which is very long), I'll be brief. One of the reasons I removed Denial was because I was unhappy with some aspects of the writing. And now, due to demand, I have decided to edit and rewrite. And repost. My fabulous betas, Robisonrocket and Ladyinthecloak, hardly let a single error slip through their expert nets when I wrote this story. It is not with their editing I have issue, but rather my own style, which I hope has improved over the past three years.
The story will not change; the characters will not change. Some of the language with which it is told may change, and I hope to trim the overall length a little.
I did not take the decision to remove this story lightly. I shed a tear when I took it down, in the knowledge that all my thousands of lovely, kind, encouraging reviews would be lost. I hope, during the course of this second draft, I may recover some of them. I will try to have at least two chapters corrected and reposted each week, so you won't have too long to wait.
If you are new to Denial, I hope you enjoy it. If you are reading again, I hope you enjoy this version more than you enjoyed the first.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
- T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Hermione Granger sipped at her coffee. The late afternoon sunshine streamed through the kitchen windows, illuminating the polished surface of the wooden table at which she sat. She nibbled at a slice of toast before placing it back on a willow-pattern plate. She'd lost her appetite.
A scroll of parchment lying to the right of her discarded breakfast drew her unwilling gaze, and she sighed as she looked at it. Her reverie had been interrupted some five minutes earlier by an insistent tapping at the kitchen window. With a sinking heart she had recognised the brown owl as one of those used by the Ministry of Magic. It had been less than forty-eight hours since her return to Britain; she had hoped to evade the inevitable for just a little longer.
It was Wednesday morning, and she had graduated from the Sorbonne only two days before. She had enjoyed every moment of her four years in Paris, studying at the Département de la Sorcellerie, the wizarding university hidden within the Sorbonne itself. Her parents had supported her decision to pursue a degree abroad and had proudly attended the graduation ceremony, where their daughter had received a double honours degree in Charms and Potions. Her final day in the French capital had been a happy one, although she'd been plagued by doubts about the wisdom of the decision to return to her native land, her resolve to re-enter British wizarding society weakened by the knowledge of all that her return would entail. She had known the Ministry would track her down; she just hadn't expected them to do it quite this quickly.
Eyeing the parchment on the table, she remembered her last year at Hogwarts. Her return to school after the war had been tinged by more than a little sadness. The initial euphoria at Harry's triumph over Lord Voldemort had faded, and many of the students had been left to grieve for the loved ones they had lost. Once Fred had been buried, she and Ron had travelled to Australia to find her parents and restore their memories, returning to Britain only days before resuming their NEWT-level studies.
While her parents had resumed their lives as dentists, she had happily resumed hers as a student, revelling in the renewed sense of security and the academic demands of her seven subjects. The first few weeks had passed by in a blur of memorial services, and she and Ron had been happy for a time, but that had been before the Ministry of Magic had changed everything. In retrospect, it was hard to believe she hadn't seen it coming. She had continued to read the Daily Prophet, and although she had found the articles on falling birth rates among pure-bloods interesting and the stories on the increased incidences of squib births alarming, she had never, in her wildest imaginings, foreseen the course of action that the Ministry would eventually take.
It had been on a cold February morning that she and Ginny had entered the Great Hall to find the teachers huddled together at the staff table, whispering and gesturing to the newspaper in front of them. There had been few students yet awake, but those who had already made it to breakfast were also absorbed by the news. Raising an eyebrow at Ginny, Hermione was in the process of pouring herself some pumpkin juice when an owl dropped her copy of the Daily Prophet in front of her. Her heart had hammered in anticipation as she'd unfolded the newspaper, where she'd been greeted by a photograph of Kingsley Shacklebolt holding aloft a lengthy scroll.
MINISTRY OFMAGIC MARRIAGE ACT
Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, last night unveiled the Ministry of Magic's plans for tackling the wizarding birth crisis. Birth rates have been in sharp decline among wizarding families for the past ten years, while numbers of squib births have risen to an all-time high. The crisis has been compounded by the huge loss of life sustained previous to the defeat of Lord Voldemort and the subsequent sentencing to Azkaban of scores of witches and wizards, the vast majority of whom were pure-bloods. The recent census of the magical population has revealed numbers to be at their lowest since 1374.
In response to this predicament, the Minister has announced the Marriage Act, whereby all those between the ages of seventeen and fifty who are currently single will be required to wed within six weeks. The decree is further complicated by the stipulation that pure-bloods are only permitted to marry half-bloods or Muggle-borns, while Muggle-borns are required to marry either half-bloods or pure-bloods. Half-bloods are unrestricted and may marry as they see fit. Inter-marriage among pure-blood families has been blamed for the increase in squib births, and has thus been outlawed. The Department of Births and Marriages has been extended to deal with these emergency measures. Witches and wizards who refuse to abide by the new law will have their wands confiscated and will effectively be expelled from wizarding society.
Hermione had passed the newspaper to Ginny with trembling fingers. She didn't want to get married; she wanted to go to college … to have a career. Further along the Gryffindor table, Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil had arrived and had squealed in excitement over their copy of the paper. Hermione had glanced up at the staff table to find Minerva McGonagall's gaze upon her. Harry and Ron had arrived a few minutes later and had found the whole thing amusing.
"Honestly, Hermione," Ron had said. "What's the problem? Most pure-bloods still have arranged marriages; this Act thing just means they can't marry each other anymore. What's the big deal? Me and you'll just have to get married a bit sooner … that's all."
Hermione had promptly choked on her toast. "Merlin's beard, Ron! Are you out of your mind? I'm only nineteen; you're only eighteen! I'm not getting married!"
Harry and Ginny had discreetly escaped from the Hall, leaving Ron and Hermione to their bickering. Ron had taken Hermione's refusal to marry him as a personal affront, and they'd argued for the remainder of the day. The ill-feeling between them had been exacerbated by Harry and Ginny, who'd seemed pleased about the whole situation. Harry had even transfigured a teaspoon into a makeshift engagement ring for Ginny. What had astonished Hermione most was the way in which everyone around her had so readily accepted the Marriage Act. The pure-bloods and half-bloods had taken it all in their stride; only Neville had been subdued.
Having endured Ron's sulking and Harry and Ginny's happiness for three full days, she'd decided she could take no more. On the Saturday night after the decree had been announced, she had packed her trunk in secret, and after much struggling had caged a reluctant Crookshanks. She'd lain awake for hours, staring at the red velvet drapes above her bed: she'd never felt particularly fond of them until then, when she was about to leave them for good.
At two o'clock in the morning she had placed a Silencing Charm on her vexed feline, and, levitating her trunk, she'd tip-toed down to the Gryffindor common room. She had just reached the bottom of the stairs when she had almost collided with another late-night prowler. Neville Longbottom had stood before her, Trevor the toad clutched in his left hand, his wand in his right, his trunk floating in the air behind him.
"Hermione!" he'd gasped. "What are you doing?"
"What am I doing? What are you doing?"
Neville had looked around before whispering, "I'm leaving. I'll explain on the way out. I want to go now, before I lose my nerve."
Hermione had nodded and followed him through the portrait hole. As soon as it had swung shut behind them, Neville had lit his wand and turned his pale face towards her.
"My Gran's going to kill me," he'd whispered. "She'll say it's my duty to marry and continue the bloodline, but I'm not being forced into marrying someone against my will. If I have to, I'll live like a Muggle."
Hermione had met his gaze through the wandlit gloom. "I feel the same. I want to go to university. There's no way I'm settling down at nineteen."
"But, I thought with you and Ron being together … you'd … I don't know. Come to some sort of agreement, I suppose."
"Yes, well, Ron thought so, too,' she'd said with a grunt. "He's been in a complete sulk since I've told him I'm not getting married. There's no way my parents would agree to me marrying at nineteen. I don't really understand why you're leaving, though, Neville. Most pure-bloods still marry by arrangement."
"There's only one witch I'd want to marry," he'd said, and even in the dull light she could the flush of his cheeks. "And I can't because she's a pure-blood."
Hermione had known immediately. She'd suspected the truth for months. "Luna. It's Luna, isn't it, Neville?"
Neville had nodded and continued through the corridor in silence, the only sound the echoing of their steps on the cold, stone floor. When they'd reached the front doors of the castle, they'd paused and looked around, savouring their last moment at Hogwarts. With an encouraging nod from Neville, Hermione had reached forward to tap her wand upon the heavy, iron bolt, but had frozen, mid-action, at the sound of a familiar cough. Their eyes wide with alarm, they'd turned to find Minerva McGonagall peering at them over her little spectacles, her arms folded across her chest.
"I understand precisely why you've chosen to leave, but I would beseech you both to remain for one more week," she'd said.
"Professor," Hermione had begun. "I've no intention of getting married. Certainly not now, and maybe … maybe never. I'll live as a Muggle if I have to. The Marriage Act is a violation of basic human rights, and I want nothing to do with it."
McGonagall had smiled. "Miss Granger, I would expect no less of you, but I ask two things of both you and Mr Longbottom: First, I'd like you to put yourself in the Ministry's position. Desperate times often call for desperate measures, no matter how rash they may appear. Second, I'll repeat my request that you stay for one more week. I've been in negotiations with Kingsley Shacklebolt over the past few hours, and you may find that the situation evolves to your advantage in the coming days. If it fails to do so, I'll not stop either of you from leaving a second time."
She and Neville had agreed and had returned to the Gryffindor common room, where they'd stayed awake through the night, discussing in whispers what might possibly change over the coming week. The suspense had not lasted long: the following Tuesday had brought a new development, the details of which had been splashed across the front page of the Daily Prophet.
MINISTRY OF MAGIC AMMENDS MARRIAGE ACT
The Ministry of Magic announced a major amendment to the new Marriage Act early this morning. Speaking to reporters at his London Office, Kingsley Shacklebolt revealed that there had been a veritable avalanche of objections from the concerned parents of scores of young witches and wizards around the country. Bearing the unmistakable scorch-marks of innumerable Howlers, the Minister wearily outlined the planned change to the new Act.
Witches and Wizards below the age of twenty-five years, who are enrolled in full-time education, will be exempt from the new law until such time as they cease to be students, or until they reach the age of twenty-five; whichever may come sooner. The announcement was greeted with great enthusiasm from the majority of parents and by Hogwarts Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall.
Hermione had glanced towards the staff table and had exchanged a small, conspiratorial smile with McGonagall. Her eyes had next sought out Neville, who had given her a big thumbs-up from the end of the Gryffindor table. She'd reread the newspaper article with a smile and a lighter heart: she'd always intended pursuing a degree after her NEWTs, and her ambitions would buy her more time.
But now, sitting in her parents' kitchen in the warmth of the July afternoon, she finally conceded that her time had run out. She could hide behind her studies no longer. The time had come to make her decision. With shaking hands, she picked up the scroll of parchment and broke the Ministry of Magic seal.
It was as she'd feared: she had been summoned to London.
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
- T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Severus Snape scowled as he sipped his tea. The light of the full moon streamed through the long windows of his study, painting his oaken desk with strips of bluish light. He picked up his quill, and his hand hovered above the ink-well for a moment before he finally tossed the quill to one side and laced his fingers, all thought of continuing his notes forgotten. He moved his gaze to the scroll that lay to his right. His work had been interrupted some five minutes earlier by an insistent tapping at the study window. With a flash of irritation he had recognised the brown owl as one of those used by the Ministry of Magic. He'd hoped to evade his responsibilities for just one more year.
Ignoring the scroll, he rose from his desk and crossed the room to a large cabinet, from which he extracted a crystal decanter and poured himself a generous Firewhisky. When he'd emptied the glass, he unbuttoned the neck of his black robes and massaged his aching neck. After pouring another measure of spirits, he crossed to the unlit fireplace above which hung a large, ornate mirror. He flicked his wand and two large candles on either side of the mantelpiece blazed with sudden light, casting a warm glow on his pale, pointed face. Gazing at his image in the mirror, he directed his scrutiny towards his neck and, pointing his wand at his throat, he whispered Finite Incantatum, lifting the charm that concealed his wounds.
Even after all these years the huge puncture wounds were an angry, livid red against his ashen skin. He'd been cured of the effects of the venom, but the lacerations themselves had never quite healed. Although the searing pain with which they had initially tortured him had subsided, his neck still throbbed with a dull ache. With a flick, he replaced the screening charm. Despite having wed over four years previously, he'd never permitted his wife to see the damage to his neck; she had no idea the lesions existed.
He crossed to the window and regarded the moonlit street below. The London square on which they lived was more than handsome; the small park at its centre was lush and well-manicured. His wife's family owned three properties on this square alone and numerous others around the city, and he always felt self-congratulatory when he surveyed the vista below the window of his study. There was no doubt that his marriage had been a lucrative manoeuvre on his part; he'd often wondered what his wife imagined she had gained in return.
He had been convalescent in Spinner's End when the Ministry had announced the Marriage Act. He'd been furious that his bachelorhood was to be forcefully ended at the not inconsiderable age of thirty-nine. Gripped by panic, he'd contemplated leaving the country rather than search for a wife and had been in the process of closing the sale of his family home when he had come across Cordelia.
A damp Wednesday afternoon had found him exploring Westminster Abbey. He'd been perusing the names of the interred at Poets' Corner when she had alerted him to her presence with a gentle hand upon his shoulder. She'd been widowed during the war and so was subject to the Marriage Act. Standing in front of the memorial to William Shakespeare, he'd returned her hesitant smile, and the way forward had seemed suddenly incontrovertible. They had wed within three weeks.
Cordelia's pure-blood lineage included two Hogwarts headmasters, wizarding scholars, poets and even a world-renowned philosopher. Most of them had been Sorted into Ravenclaw or Slytherin, and despite their preference for marrying other pure-bloods, they'd never subscribed to the service of the Dark Lord. They were more interested in the pursuits of the intellect than in world domination.
Cordelia's first husband, however, had been an exception, and although she'd tried to keep his loyalties concealed from her family, his eventual arrest for Death Eater activities had brought dishonour not just upon his wife and only son, but upon her entire family. She and her husband had remained estranged following his release from Azkaban, and his death at the Battle of Hogwarts had been welcomed by her family, although she and her son had mourned their loss.
Severus presumed her enthusiastic acceptance of his proposal had much to do with his notoriety as war-hero and Death Eater redeemed. She'd not been permitted, by the restrictions of the Marriage Act, to marry another pure-blood. Thus, his status as a half-blood and something of an academic in Potions circles had made him a desirable match. Cordelia was five years his senior and had been a Slytherin prefect when he'd first arrived at Hogwarts. She was not beautiful, but she was handsome, groomed and learned. All things considered, he thought he'd done rather well for himself.
Resuming his seat with a sigh, he picked up the scroll. He had managed to avoid the inhabitants of Hogwarts and the majority of his former pupils for the past four years, but time had run out. He could no longer avoid the duty requested of him by Kingsley Shacklebolt. With unwilling fingers he broke the Ministry of Magic seal.
It was as he'd feared: he had been summoned to the Ministry.