A/N: Well, dear readers, we have reached the end of the Denial road. Again. I'm sad to be finishing, as I've enjoyed your reviews and messages more than I can say. Thank you for your readership, your enthusiasm, and your feedback. You are the reason I write.
I would like to renew my thanks to my original betas, Robisonrocket and Ladyinthecloak. They were completely awesome, and I learned much from them. To the moderators of the various sites and archives, I would also like to extend my thanks. They give of their time and expertise without expecting any reward. We wouldn't be reading without them.
I've had thoughts about turning Denial into an original story. I may yet do it. I have a few short SS/HG stories to upload, AND I've been bitten by a rather insistent plot bunny with an idea for a longer, chaptered SS/HG tale. So watch this space. If you add me as a favourite author/set me to alert, you will know if and when that happens.
So, here is the epilogue. As the wonderful amr mentioned in a review, the story really ended with the last chapter, but, as fanfiction readers, we cannot help but long for loose threads to be all tied up. I hope this epilogue will do just that, and I also thought it important to see our couple in happier times.
I hope you all enjoy the last instalment, which is dedicated to all of my readers. I would love to hear from you, and now that the editing is complete, I should have the time to respond to your reviews.
Thank you, each and every one of you, for making this such a good experience.
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,—
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet No. 130
TWO YEARS LATER
"Severus?" Hermione called.
She peered into the sitting room and then turned and squinted down the spiral staircase that led to the basement. The door to the laboratory was lying open.
"Severus?" she called again, frowning.
As she made her way into the kitchen, her frown eased into a smile as she spotted the black-robed figure in the back garden, a Levitated herb-basket by his side. Her smile widened when she saw him talking to the cat, his arms crossed and a scowl of annoyance lining his brow. The unfortunate cat had obviously attacked the floating basket yet again.
Severus had promised her a cat, and two weeks after they'd moved into their cottage, a sleek, black moggy had appeared at the kitchen window. The stubborn animal had refused to leave, and after a week of throwing him scraps from the kitchen window, they'd allowed him inside the house and had adopted him as their own. Not that they'd had much say in the matter: Kitty, as he had been appropriately named, might allow them to wallow in the illusion that they were his 'owners', but Hermione was only too well aware of who really called the shots.
She watched as Severus finished berating the cat and returned to his task of collecting his Potions ingredients. It was a crisp December morning, and she could see his breath on the air. She decided she'd make him a cup of tea and take it outside. The herb garden was climate controlled, but it was just one of those mornings that begged for a warm mug of tea in the hands.
She looked on, amused, as Kitty settled himself a few feet from Severus and turned his yellow gaze to the irresistible floating basket. They had quite a tempestuous relationship, Kitty and Severus, but Hermione knew that despite referring to their pet as a 'flea-bitten piece of filth' and 'the most infuriating feline to ever have walked the Earth', Severus was fond of his black cat.
As she busied herself with the tea, she felt that same rush of pleasure from her surroundings that she'd felt each day since they'd moved here over a year previously. It had taken six months for them to reach an agreement on where they should live: Severus had had some romantic notion about living in a cottage in the thick of a forest, but Hermione couldn't even have a picnic in a forest without being reminded of the terrible months she'd spent on the run with Harry and Ron.
She had imagined them living in a wide open space, airy and bright; she had even suggested the cliff top in the west of Ireland to which he had taken her the day he'd offered her a permanent contract, but every house she had found had been pronounced as 'too exposed'.
They had finally reached a compromise and had settled for a large cottage in the Lake District, which, while being surrounded by lush, fragrant gardens, was near a dense copse, where Severus was kept amused by a vast array of interesting fungi, and Kitty was kept busy by a nice selection of rodents. The basement had been transformed into a laboratory, and the cottage was more than large enough for what they hoped would eventually be a growing family.
Hermione spooned tealeaves into a clay pot and glanced at the calendar on the kitchen wall. There were two days to go until Christmas, which meant that it was exactly two years since they had lost their son.
The year before had been hard: she'd woken in tears and had spent most of the day red-eyed and despondent, aching for the child they'd lost. Severus had been awake before her, watching her, waiting for the misery to come and prepared to do his best to soothe it, and she had felt guilty for provoking the look in his eyes, for being the cause of the anguish and concern that had lined his face. She had spent that evening curled on his lap before the fire, the two of them staring into the flames for hours, lost in their own sorrow.
"Do you know," she had said with a sigh, "it's not even the fact that it's a year ago today. What makes it worse is that we ... we would have had a child this Christmas. A son ... he would have been four or five months old ..."
Severus had pressed his lips to her forehead. "I am ready to try again, Hermione. Whenever you decide that is what you want."
"But what if it doesn't work, Severus? What if I can't have children? What if we lose another one?"
"It's a possibility," he had concurred. "But nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and nothing worth doing is ever without risk. We will have a family. If we cannot conceive, we will adopt. You will hold your own baby in your arms, Hermione, and Moe will have her opportunity to knit and crochet to her heart's content."
Hermione had sat up a little straighter. "You'd really be willing to adopt a child?"
He had nodded. "Of course," he'd said. "If that is what it takes, of course."
"Soon," she'd whispered, kissing him on his over-large nose. "I'll be ready to try again soon."
And somehow, from that day, it had gotten better. She knew she would never forget the child they'd lost, but the grief had begun to fade, to be replaced by mere sadness, and soon after that she had found that she could think about the son that wasn't to be without it hurting her chest. And this morning, when she had woken, it had been the first thought in her head, but when she had opened her eyes to find Severus already awake and watching her, she had greeted him with a smile, because this year there was much to look forward to, and life had been kind.
She Summoned a pair of mugs from the cupboard and wondered what she would wear on Christmas day. She had plenty of robes that were suited to summer weddings, but Hogwarts was always draughty at this time of year, and a Christmas day wedding in the Great Hall would require something more substantial than the gauzy outfits she'd worn to previous weddings. The thought of what kind of robes Luna Lovegood might wear on her wedding day made her smile: something outlandish, no doubt, accessorized with a pair of radish earrings.
Neville had returned to his position in Hogwarts that September, his bride-to-be in tow. He had finally found Luna in Sumatra, after almost a year of searching, and a few months after that the Marriage Act had finally been abolished, allowing them to return to Britain without the fear of being subject to the law once more. Between his Hogwarts salary and the small fortune Luna had earned from publishing about her travels, they could afford for his parents to continue to be cared for in Devon, and Hermione had never told Neville the identity of his mysterious benefactor.
Hermione smiled as Moe entered the kitchen, humming to herself, knitting busily as she walked.
"Moe," Hermione said, chuckling, "I really don't think there's any room in the nursery for more booties."
The little house-elf smiled. "I is spending the morning making the wardrobe and the presses bigger, Mistress Hermione. There is being lots more room, now."
Hermione laughed and shook her head. "Should we invite Lance to dinner tonight, do you think?" she asked, gazing fondly at the elf. "We've to dine with my parents tomorrow; we'll be at the wedding feast on Christmas Day; and we'll be at the Potters' on Boxing Day. It might be the last chance we have to see him for a while."
Moe's eyes widened in delight. "I is asking him immediately," she gushed.
"Tell him we're having turkey and ham pie. Oh! And tell him he is not, under any circumstances, to wear that ridiculous hat with the enchanted badger on it. Poor Kitty nearly died of fright last time: he wouldn't come into the kitchen for a week."
Moe nodded and disappeared with a snap of her bony fingers.
Hermione hoped Lance would be able to make it. Two years had passed since she had lived in the same house as the old man, and she still missed him, despite the fact that he was a regular guest. He had provided some much needed entertainment for them in the months that had followed her miscarriage, and she would never forget his generosity when she and Severus had wed.
"You look radiant, Hermione," he had told her at the small reception that had followed their spring wedding. "It's good to see some colour back in your cheeks, lassie."
She had smiled. "You look rather radiant yourself, Lance," she'd said, eyeing his bright orange outfit.
"Now, to business," Lance had said, pulling her into a quiet corner. "I've deposited your share of what the house in Kensington Square was valued at in your Gringotts account."
"What? Lance! You know I said I didn't want the money ... I told you I was giving you the full deeds to the house regardless."
"Nonsense, nonsense! It's your money ... I have plenty," he'd insisted, waving his hands. "But I also wanted you to have this," he'd added, extracting a box from his pocket. "It belonged to my mother, and it passed to me on her death. It's the kind of thing a father would give to his daughter on her wedding day, and, well ... you've been like a daughter to me, Hermione Granger Snape."
Hermione had watched as he'd brushed the back of his hand across his suddenly tearful eyes. She had never before seen Lance moved to tears, and she had felt her own eyes fill. Inside the long, rectangular box there had been a delicate gold bracelet, which he had extracted and placed on her wrist.
"It goes rather well with your wedding band," he'd said, pleased.
"Thank you so much, Lance," she'd murmured, her voice choked. "I ... I don't know what to say, except … thank you."
"I have one more thing. Not a gift, exactly, as it is not truly mine to give, but it's something that will be of great benefit to you. I want you to take Moe with you, Hermione."
Hermione's jaw had dropped. "Lance! I couldn't possibly take Moe ..."
"Please," he'd said. "Do it for her, Hermione. She is a free elf; she is not mine to give, as such, but I've talked it over with her, and I know it's what she wants. She has always wanted a family to look after, babies to watch over. You will give her that, someday. She has too big a heart to spend the rest of her long life shackled to an old pansy like me."
"How could I possibly separate the pair of you?" Hermione had said. "You've been together for ninety years. I can't get in the way of that! She is dedicated to you, Lancelot!"
"Hermione, please. It's what we both want. I have no doubt that she will Apparate back to Kensington Square every bloody day of the week to check on me, in fact, I've spoken to her about this very plan, and that was her one condition."
Hermione had eventually conceded defeat, and she had not regretted it when Lance had summoned Moe, and the little old elf's face had lit up at the news that she was to look after Hermione and Severus.
As she poured milk into Severus's mug of tea, she caught his eye through the window and gave him a small wave, touched by the way he examined her expression with concern before turning back to his task, apparently satisfied that she was happy. She smiled at the sight of his permanent frown, remembering Christmas Day two years previously.
Severus had escorted her to her parents' house on Christmas Eve, when she had been discharged from St. Mungo's. He had tried to insist that he be there for her when she broke the news of their relationship and her subsequent miscarriage to them, but Hermione had been adamant that she needed to do it on her own, that they needed to get over the shock before they met with him.
She had put on a brave face, explaining her pallor by blaming it on a cold, and only crying over her loss in the privacy of her old bedroom. She had wanted to allow her parents to enjoy their Christmas Day, and they were expecting her godparents for dinner, so she had decided to hold her tongue until their guests had departed.
Later that evening, when the house had fallen quiet and the dinner dishes had all been cleared away, Hermione had taken a seat on the sofa in the sitting room, eyeing her parents apprehensively.
"Mum and Dad," she'd begun. "Would it be okay with you if I invited someone to dinner tomorrow?"
Her mother had looked up, surprised. "I don't see why not. A friend?"
Hermione had shaken her head. "A bit more than a friend. Severus."
Her parents had exchanged a glance. "Severus Snape? The chap who called here two nights ago?" her father had asked.
"The man with the permanent scowl?" her mother had added with a scowl of her own. She had eyed her daughter knowingly. "Is there something going on between you, Hermione?"
She had swallowed nervously. "He's asked me to marry him, and I've said yes."
Her father had looked as though he'd been hit by a Stunning Spell, while her mother's scowl had deepened. "We're talking about the man who is married to Cordelia Mill?"
"Was married to Cordelia Mill," Hermione had explained, her voice shaking. "They've divorced."
Her father had opened his mouth to speak, but had evidently thought the better of it.
"And you've been seeing him?" her mother had asked, her eyes wide.
"How long has this been going on?"
"Since July," Hermione had said.
Her mother had put down her brandy and had laced her fingers. "Since July? Since before you divorced Theodore?"
Hermione had nodded again. "Neither of us meant for it to happen, but it just did."
Her mother had turned to her father. "Well ... say something!"
Hermione's father had looked at her for a long moment, before asking, "Are you marrying him because of that Marriage Act, or because you love him?"
Her shoulders had sagged in gratitude. "Because I love him, and he loves me," she'd whispered, suddenly afraid she was going to cry.
"Well," her father had said, nervously eyeing her mother. "That's something, at least."
"There's something else," Hermione had said quickly, suddenly determined to say it before she lost her nerve. "I was pregnant, but I lost the baby. Only two days ago. That's why I'm not ... feeling too well ... I'm sorry ... I hate to tell you like this ..." She had buried her face in her hands, overcome by emotion.
She had sobbed into her hands, and within seconds, her father's arms had been around her heaving shoulders. Lost for words, he hadn't known what to say, except, "I'll make us all a nice cup of tea."
He had left her side, and when Hermione had lowered her hands, she'd found her mother kneeling before her on the carpet, her own face streaked with tears.
"Oh, Hermione," she'd whispered. "I'm so sorry, and you know I understand how you feel."
They had thrown their arms around one another and wept. Hermione had always known her mother had had three unsuccessful pregnancies before she had been born, but she still had not expected such empathy. She and her mother had not been on good terms since her return from France, but in the space of a few mere minutes, their differences had been forgotten.
She had sat in her mother's arms for hours while Jane Granger had told her about the babies she herself had lost. And it had given Hermione hope to know that life would go on, and that someday she, too, would be able to speak openly about her loss without being besieged by grief.
Later that night, she had Apparated to Diagon Alley, and she had lain awake all night in Severus's arms as they had begun, tentatively, to discuss what they hoped the future might bring. And shortly after dawn, he had told her about the ruby and diamond ring he had bought, and he had slipped it onto her finger, moving her to tears once more. Dinner with her parents that day had been understandably awkward, but over the months they had warmed to her husband, and now they got along as well as could be expected.
Hermione glanced out the window once more before she picked up the mug of tea and carried it to the kitchen door, giggling as she watched Severus turn to snarl at the cat.
She knew he worried about what kind of father he would make, and she knew he would be his own sternest critic when the time came, but she also knew that he would love his children with all his heart, and that, in the end, would make everything be just fine.
He was still impatient; he still snapped at her; he was still bad tempered and incommunicative. He was still, when all was said and done, the quintessential black character.
But she loved him more with every passing day.
Severus bestowed a small smile on Hermione when she emerged from the kitchen and handed him a mug of tea. He felt that same surge of happiness he had felt so often of late each time he laid eyes on her. Every time he looked at her, he could barely tear his gaze away from her growing stomach, the swell beneath her robes where she carried their unborn daughter.
There were only five more weeks to go until she was due to give birth, and he knew, for reasons he could not quite explain, that this baby would be radiant with health. He could almost feel his daughter's strength, her magic, each time he placed the palm of his hand on the swollen mass that was his wife's midriff.
"How are you feeling?" he asked as he took a sip from the steaming mug.
"Perfectly well, thank you," she said, smiling. "You don't have to ask every time you see me, you know."
"I'm afraid you will probably have to put up with that newly acquired habit for at least the next five weeks, and possibly for the rest of our lives."
Hermione giggled. "I've asked Lance over for dinner tonight."
Severus rolled his eyes. "We have five weeks left to ourselves before things change forever, and you seem determined to fill our evenings with half the wizarding world and a couple of Muggles to boot."
"It's Christmas ... That's the way it's meant to be. You can have me all to yourself again after a few more days."
"I shall hold you to that," he said, leaning forward to kiss her forehead. He frowned as he looked down. "Are you in your bare feet?"
"I have stockings on," she said.
"Good grief, woman. It's December. Into the house with you, now," he growled. "And I beg you to take that irritating, flea-bitten excuse for a cat with you before I transfigure him into a garden gnome: one of the garishly painted Muggle kind."
Hermione laughed. "Come on, Kitty," she said. "Let's leave poor Severus to himself."
He watched as Hermione made her way back to the door, her hand pressed to her lower back and the black cat following in her wake.
When she had opened her eyes that morning, he had been relieved to see her smile. They would always remember that this was the day they had lost their unborn son, but it was heartening to know that they had truly begun to recover from their loss. And perhaps they would yet have a son, if luck was on their side. Hermione was not yet thirty; they had many years left during which to try.
The months following that fateful night in St. Mungo's had been among the most difficult of his life. For such a long time he had felt, as if tangible, the weight of grief pressing on his chest, but what had hurt him more was the haunted look in Hermione's eyes. Stricken as he had been by the loss of their child, he knew he would never fully grasp what it was to have carried a baby only to have suffered a miscarriage. For months he had worried incessantly about her. Sometimes she had even cried in her sleep, and he had even found himself stirred to tears on those occasions.
But as the weeks and months had passed, she had slowly recovered, and she had begun to be able to talk about their loss and about her fears for the future. Her imagination had run riot on occasion, and she had believed there might be all sorts of dreadful reasons why she might never carry a baby to term. He had talked her through those worries time and time again, reassuring her that they were in no hurry, that she should take her time and wait until she felt strong and secure before they tried for another baby.
And one day, after she had returned from a visit to Harry and Ginny, she had taken a deep breath and told him that she was ready, that it was time. And luck had been with them: they had conceived almost immediately. On the day she had performed the spell to confirm her pregnancy they had sat side by side on the bed, their hands entwined.
They had stared in silence at the white circle as it had hovered in the air. He had expected to feel jubilant, ecstatic, but as he'd turned to face her, he had known they had both felt the same emotion: fear. Yes, they had been happy, but they had also felt numb with fear; fear that this pregnancy would end like the first. They had kept the secret to themselves for weeks before hesitantly sharing their news with family and friends, and each week that had passed without incident had seemed like a milestone. The terrible fear had eventually subsided, but he knew they would worry until the moment they finally held their daughter in their arms.
Severus sipped his tea and watched Hermione through the window as she pottered about the kitchen. A glint of silver caught his eye on the wall behind her, and he smiled at the memory of the gift she had given him the day before their wedding: He had once joked that she should frame the delicate silver hair clip that had precipitated their relationship, and so she had.
They had decided they would only tell Hermione's closest friends and her parents about her miscarriage, and on the day she had travelled to the Potters' house to share her story, he had looked up from his book as the fireplace had flared with green flames. He had wondered, for a moment, what had brought her back so early. It was not Hermione that had stepped out of the grate, however, but Harry Potter, dusting ash and Floo powder from his robes. Severus had found himself quite robbed of his cutting tongue.
"Hi," Harry had muttered. "I ... I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to say ... well ... congratulations on your engagement. And the girls are crying and stuff, so, you know ... I fancied a bit of fresh air."
Severus had raised an eyebrow. "I daresay there is rather a lot more fresh air to be had in Godric's Hollow than in Diagon Alley."
Harry had chuckled nervously. "Yes, good point. Can I sit down?"
"Of course," Severus had replied, indicating the armchair opposite his own and putting his book to one side. "Can I get you a drink? Or will mere fresh air suffice?"
Harry had grinned. "Fresh air will do fine, thank you."
"Might I ask what this is about? Have you come here to curse me, perhaps? Or to deliver a lecture on how I should leave your friend alone?"
"Neither," Harry had said, becoming serious. "I meant what I said: I came to congratulate you. It wasn't much of a surprise, to be honest: she's done little but talk about you for months. And then, when you called to our house looking for her last week, we did suspect something was going on. It's a good thing ... I think. She's been happier, these past few months. Well, I know she's unhappy at the moment ..."
Severus had dropped his gaze and looked towards the fireplace.
"I'm sorry to hear about the baby. Ron's wife lost twins last year, but they have a lovely little daughter now. I'm sure Hermione will be fine, after a while."
"I'm sure she will, in time," Severus had agreed quietly.
Harry's smile had suddenly returned. "She told us you weren't impressed by us using your name for our son."
Severus had scowled. "You might have asked my permission."
"Would you have granted it?"
"To be stuck in there with Albus and Potter? Never!"
"Then I'm very glad we didn't ask permission. I think his name suits him."
Severus had grunted. "Well, if some day we are lucky enough to have a son, don't expect us to return the compliment."
Harry had risen from his chair, smiling broadly, and had walked to the fireplace. "You know, I used to take your comments so personally, but now I realise you're actually quite witty. Funny, I suppose."
"Yes, funny." Harry had taken a fistful of Floo powder from the mantelpiece. "Before I go, I just wanted to say ... to ask ..." He'd hesitated.
"Yes, Mr Potter, I will look after her; I will be kind to her; and I will spend the rest of my life trying to make her happy. There is no need to ask."
Harry had flashed him a smile of relief. "Thank you, sir," he'd said before disappearing in a rush of green flames.
Although Severus was reluctant to admit it, Harry Potter didn't irritate him nearly as much as an adult as he had done in his youth. Having said that, he hated the fact that they seemed to feel the need to visit so often: his house was often far too full of Gryffindors these days for his taste.
He wondered into what house his daughter might one day be Sorted. He had imagined what their little girl might look like many times in his mind: he always envisaged her with her mother's errant mop of curls, her mother's smile. But, perhaps, she would have his black eyes. He hoped the poor child wouldn't have his unfortunate nose; she would never forgive him if she did.
He stooped down to pluck a few leaves from one of the pots, and his wedding band caught his eye. He had hated the wedding ring he'd had while married to Cordelia: it had been made of highly decorated platinum, and he had always thought it far too fussy. This ring, in contrast, was made of plain, unadorned gold, and he found it infinitely preferable; it symbolised something—it was not merely a decoration.
He and Hermione had exchanged rings in a short, intimate ceremony in Hermione's favourite chapel in the Sorbonne. In defiance of the Marriage Law, she had insisted they wed outside the country, and one day after her six month period of grace had ended. He had thought it rather pointless, but she'd seemed pleased by the idea, so he had agreed.
The gathering had been small: Hermione's parents and godparents; Lance and Moe; Padma and Dean; Harry and Ginny; Draco and Susan; Minerva McGonagall and Neville Longbottom. But Severus had been most touched when Theodore Nott had shown up some twenty minutes before the ceremony had begun.
Theo had looked apologetic. "I'm not here to cause trouble, Severus, don't worry. Hermione sent me an invitation, although she said she didn't expect me to turn up. I hadn't really planned on attending, but I changed my mind."
Severus had extended his hand. "You are welcome here, Theo. I'm just surprised to see you."
Theo had given him an uncertain smile. "Well, I knew Hermione would have her parents and friends here, and I know you have Lance and McGonagall, but I just thought, you know, since you don't have any family ... I was your stepson until recently, so I thought I'd come and show you a bit of support."
Severus had hardly known what to say. "Thank you, Theo. That was ... incredibly thoughtful of you. Thank you."
He had not seen, or heard from, his former stepson since, but he had appreciated the gesture, and he had felt the occasional pang of guilt that he had not made more of an effort to be involved in Theo's life during the early years of his marriage to Cordelia.
He hoped he would make up for his shortcomings with his own child. On numerous nights he had lain awake in bed, listening to Hermione's gentle breathing, wondering what sort of father he would make. He still felt ill at ease with her friends' children. He could see that Padma's twins were very beautiful; he could even see that Albus Severus Potter was unusually clever and observant. But what did one do with infants? He panicked every time one of the toddlers came near him, and only Hermione's expectant gaze prevented him from fleeing the room. He could only hope that he would react instinctively with his own child, and he was determined not to repeat the mistakes of his own inept parents.
But he knew, with complete certainty, that he already loved his daughter. He never tired of sitting with his arms around his wife, his hands on her bump; the detection of movement beneath her skin never ceased to thrill him.
He would not become his father, and the fact that he thought constantly about what it would be like to hold his little girl, and the fact that he grew increasingly impatient to meet her and get to know her, gave him hope that he would compensate for his own miserable childhood by giving his children the best life he possibly could.
He looked towards the kitchen window again, where he could see Hermione stirring something in a large pot on the stove.
She was still stubborn; she still drove him insane with her infernal humming; she still tickled his nose with her unruly mop of curls and kept him from sleep. She was still, when all was said and done, an insufferable know-it-all.
But he loved her more with every passing day.