Author's Note:

I am no more a fan of long Author's Notes than you are, dear Reader, but I feel strongly that this one is necessary. This story is Alternate Universe (A/U), but in a fairly unusual way. We follow canon right up until the end of Book 5, with one caveat: Before engaging Dumbledore in battle, the Dark Lord frees his minions from captivity. They do not go to Azkaban, Fudge does not admit to the return of Lord Voldemort, and open warfare does not ensue. Fudge remains the Minister for Magic, the Malfoys continue to buy influence within the Ministry, and through these machinations, the Death Eaters engage in a completely undercover battle for power in the magical world with the Order of the Phoenix. There are no Horcruxes, Dumbledore does not die, Lupin and Tonks do not rush to marry, and the people who died at the end of Book 7 remain alive. The war ends after one battle that takes place at Hogwarts but does not involve every magical person in the UK with the courage to fight. Only the Order and the DA are aware of the conflict, and only they fight for the Light.

I encourage you, every time you're confused by something in this story that brings on cognitive dissonance, please return to this Author's Note to clear your mind.

A second very important point is for you to carefully note the date headings on the various sections. This story follows more than one timeline, and the date headings are there to guide your way through the story.

This story is complete. It will be posted, one chapter per week, over the next several months. It was alpha read by sshg316 and DeeMichelle; it was Brit-picked by Magically and meticulously beta read by Lariope. I owe these ladies a debt of gratitude beyond words.

Lastly, dear Reader, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for embarking on this adventure with me.

Transcendent Quality of Remembrance

Chapter 1

From the start
We swore that we'd never involve the heart

Show Me - by Default

25 December, 1997

Ten o'clock on Christmas night, and Harry Potter lounged in the Gryffindor common room with his two best friends. It had been a quiet Christmas holiday thus far for them, because they had remained at school over the break at the suggestion of Headmaster Dumbledore, but very few other students had made the same choice.

Hermione curled up on the sofa before the fire with Harry's gift in her hands—a book called Transcendent Quality of Remembrance by Professor Moneta Muninn. Unlike Ron, who gave gifts based upon his lack of imagination (the same 'interesting' perfume he gave her every year? Really?), Harry actually asked Hermione what she wanted for Christmas and provided something from her short list. She had particularly wanted this book because its author was the head of a project at a wizarding university, where the phenomenon of memory was under research. Hermione was fascinated by the subject—particularly since her two best friends had narrowly escaped having their memories wiped like a chalky blackboard by Gilderoy Lockhart when they were twelve years old.

Harry and Ron sat at a table nearby, playing a particularly violent game of wizard chess and gorging themselves on Mrs Weasley's homemade fudge from their Christmas packages. Hermione thought the behaviour of the chess pieces was barbaric, but it gave her a feeling of comfort to hear her friends' voices.

That was how Professor Dumbledore found them when he came, quite unexpectedly, through the portrait hole and into the common room. It was an unprecedented act. The only teacher who ever entered Gryffindor Tower was their Head of House, Professor McGonagall.

Harry saw Dumbledore first. 'Headmaster!' he said, standing and going towards the old wizard, with Ron at his heels. 'Did you need us?'

'Good evening, Harry,' Dumbledore replied. 'Yes, I have news to share with all of you—it will be particularly of interest to Miss Granger.'

Hermione abandoned her book and moved to join the three wizards in the middle of the room, a feeling of dread forming like an icy rock in her tummy. She had a very bad feeling about this. There had been some particularly ominous articles in the Daily Prophet over the last couple of weeks.

It was Ron who asked the question in Hermione's mind. 'Why is it of interest to Hermione and not Harry or me?'

The headmaster's usually twinkling blue eyes were quite grave as he looked at them over his half-moon spectacles and answered. 'Because the Wizengamot met in a special, secret session today and passed a new decree. Only students of wizarding blood will be permitted to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Muggle-born students will be notified not to return to school for the winter term.'

Immediately, Harry and Ron each put an arm protectively around Hermione, but although she appreciated the gesture, she was far too angry to be in need to emotional support.

'But Harry needs me, Headmaster!' she cried. 'There's got to be some way I can stay here, with him. We have plans to make!'

The headmaster took Hermione's arm and led her to the sofa where she had left her book, and the two of them sat down. 'I have an idea about that, Hermione, if you'd care to hear it,' Dumbledore said.

2 January, 1998

The pounding upon the dungeon door was loud enough to startle Severus Snape into faltering in his anti-clockwise stirs of the potion in the cauldron, but the disturbance was marked by nothing more than the curl of his upper lip, lifted in a contemptuous sneer; doggedly, he continued stirring, counting as he went. After the Christmas holiday break, the student population was always rife with head colds, and a fresh batch of Pepper-Up was needed in the infirmary. The Potions master toiled over his cauldron, robes discarded, cuffs of his white lawn shirt rolled up his forearms, a heavy apron protecting his clothing from the ingredients.

He never once glanced at the disfiguring mark on his left arm.

Septima Vector, seated upon a high stool at the work table across from him, marking papers, turned a startled look on Snape, but she wisely waited for her colleague to set down his crystal stirring rod before speaking.

'What the hell, Severus?' she inquired, gesturing behind her at the workroom's heavy wooden door.

'Who in the blue blazes is it?' Severus snarled, striding across the floor to fling the door open.

To his surprise, the headmaster stood without, his deputy headmistress at his side. Minerva McGonagall was anxiously casting glances over her shoulder.

'Good evening, Severus,' Albus Dumbledore said, his impulse to courtesy apparently unimpaired by the urgency Professor McGonagall betrayed with every movement of her swivelling head. If she had been in her Animagus form, Severus thought, her tail would have been twitching.

'What is it?' Severus demanded, senses heightened. 'What's happened?'

'Do hurry, Albus,' McGonagall implored. 'There's no time!'

Severus stepped to one side, motioning them to enter. Vector came forward, halting at Severus' side.

'Good evening, Professor,' Dumbledore said to her, inclining his upper body in an infinitesimal bow.

Vector nodded her head in response, even as McGonagall emitted an agonized moan. 'Albus!'

The old man turned to Severus, his blue eyes bright, an almost manic light in them. 'The Ministry has come to replace me,' he said chattily.

'They're at the gates!' McGonagall interposed, her tone little short of hysteria. 'Albus, you must away!'

'What is their reason?' Severus asked tersely. The Dark Lord, through the machinations and seemingly unlimited financial resources of the Malfoys, had shot the tendrils of his influence all through the fabric of the Ministry now. Cornelius Fudge, not the sharpest knife in the block, had proven himself to be quite susceptible to the twin influences of clandestine gold and insincere flattery.

'Gross incompetence,' the headmaster replied disdainfully. 'The file they've accumulated is large—and largely full of lies—but proving it false will take time. Meanwhile, they want me out of the castle. Voldemort seems to believe I will be less of a hindrance to him outside these walls.'

Severus flinched at the Voldemort, knowing the ugly Mark upon his arm informed his Master each time the name was spoken aloud in the presence of a Death Eater. Still, Riddle believed the Potions master to be his man at Hogwarts; he would not suspect Severus of perfidy. 'With whom do they replace you?' he asked.

For the first time, the old man looked thoroughly disgusted. 'Umbridge,' he spat, as if uttering the foulest of curse words.

Severus swore, and his three colleagues nodded as one person. Everyone at Hogwarts despised the toad-like Dolores. 'But whose man is she?' he wondered aloud. 'Fudge's or the Dark Lord's?'

McGonagall sniffed angrily. 'What does it matter?' she said stridently, her Scots burr more pronounced in her extremity. 'The witch is a sadistic tyrant. Either way, she will make our lives miserable, and it will be very hard to protect the students.'

Vector addressed herself to the headmaster. 'How can we help, sir?'

Dumbledore did not react to the question; his attention was focused on Severus like a magical laser beam. 'The matter we discussed before, Severus—can I count on you?'

Severus was jerked from his roiling thoughts as rudely as if some gigantic being had snatched him up like a child from a sandbox.

'Surely that is of little importance!' he blurted.

The old man placed a hand upon Severus' left forearm, just below the partially turned-back cuffs, his spindly, clever fingers brushing against the Dark Mark. 'Nothing is more important,' Dumbledore replied, his voice firm and as always, irresistibly compelling. 'You must protect Harry and keep all his resources at hand—at any moment, we may be at all-out war, and the boy must be prepared. Hermione Granger is integral to his success, Severus. You know this, whether you wish to admit it or not.'

Severus saw the deadly snare and felt as helpless to evade it as the simplest of forest creatures. 'But Lupin is a better choice,' he argued, hearing the shrill edge to his voice and hating it. 'She likes him—trusts him!'

'Lupin would have to give up his mission amongst the werewolves, and we need their support on our side if this should come to fighting.' These words were spoken as if they were an oft-repeated refrain. 'Besides, the man is in love with Nymphadora Tonks, Severus—why should he be required to sacrifice his life's happiness?'

Severus jerked away from his mentor, furious, his tone growing more violently strident with each new affront. 'What about me?' he demanded angrily. 'What about my life's happiness, you old bastard?'

Dumbledore watched him with cold, commanding certainty. 'Only you can answer that question, of course—but what of your pledge to me?'

Black eyes locked with blue, and Severus threw up his Occlumency shields with frantic speed. His lips peeled back from unattractive teeth as he battled to keep the old man out of his mind, until at last he yielded, as he always did, in the end.

Being a wizard of honour was a constant, waking nightmare.

After a moment, the headmaster withdrew from Severus' mind, his shrewd eyes knowing. 'You see, Severus?'

Argus Filch rushed into the workroom, Mrs Norris clutched protectively in his scrawny arms, where she purred, unperturbed by human drama.

'Headmaster!' the caretaker wheezed. 'They're in the Entrance Hall, asking for you!'

Dumbledore took Severus' hand in both of his own, his steady gaze never wavering. 'Thank you, dear boy.'

Severus pulled away from him. 'Piss off,' he advised nastily, 'or you'll be breakfasting in Azkaban.'

Solemnity was swiftly replaced by inappropriate glee, and Dumbledore's eyes began to twinkle again. 'Right you are!' he agreed, reaching for the ceiling with one bony old hand.

Fawkes appeared from nowhere, his brilliant scarlet plumage jarringly beautiful in the cold, dreary dungeon workroom. The phoenix sang one piercing note, which fell like a wash of calm and serenity upon its auditors, and then the old wizard and his familiar disappeared in a showy flash of golden light.

2 July, 1998

Hermione laid her rucksack on the floor and stared around the room assigned to her. It was at the very top of the house—an attic that had been converted to a bedroom—and quite small, with oddly slanting ceilings. Ignoring the pieces of furniture, she studied the old-fashioned wallpaper and framed still life paintings. There were windows on opposite walls that faced each other; one looked out on the front garden and beyond to a broad stream; the other looked out into the forest in which the house was situated, from which its name was derived: Forest Haven. The view was quite lovely, really, and already she wanted to explore along the brook, where wildflowers grew in profusion.

But she wasn't here to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Footsteps thundered on the staircase, and Harry and Ron erupted into the room behind her. 'This is loads better than our room!' Ron complained. 'We're like sardines in a can … and sharing with Percy and the twins.'

Hermione turned a tight-lipped glare on Ron, forcing herself to count to ten. She'd grown good at it in the last several months, learning to hold her peace and think before blurting out whatever was on the tip of her tongue. Harry, recognising the signs, elbowed Ron sharply in the ribs.

Ron flushed. 'Not that you aren't sharing too,' he muttered.

Harry gave her a rueful grin and changed the subject. 'Remus reckons we're far enough from the nearest cottage that we can play Quidditch, as long as we don't use our wands.'

Hermione went to the neatly made double bed and dumped her bag on the cheerful yellow counterpane. 'Well, that should make Ginny happy,' she said using the new, expressionless voice she'd been perfecting. 'She was afraid you lot would be terribly bored here.'

Ron shrugged. 'What's the difference between being here and being at home? Mum will cook, Fred and George will drive her nuts, and Dad will sleep in his chair and pretend to referee.'

'Well, for one thing, the Burrow isn't Secret Kept,' Hermione said, 'and for another thing, you don't have quite as many people staying there as we do here.'

Honestly, why couldn't Ron just keep his mouth shut? She didn't want to thrash it all out again. Even though it had been over two months since the end of the war, here they were, in hiding again. Headmaster Dumbledore had called them to an emergency meeting of the Order of the Phoenix and told them there was a 'creditable threat' against all the Order members. Dumbledore had an excellent lead on the perpetrators, and the he would be working closely with Magical Law Enforcement. Already in the midst of packing up to leave school for the last time, the trio had grabbed a knapsack of necessities and moved straight from Hogwarts to this place. To Hermione, it meant only that she would be closed up in a house full to the bursting point with too many people, and that her other plans were to be … delayed.

She wasn't sure how she felt about that.

'What's the good of finally finishing seventh year only to wind up here? Harry and I were going to London. We were going to have almost two months to be on the prowl before Auror training begins in September.' Looking miserable, Ron flopped down on the bed beside the pile of clothes Hermione was unpacking. 'I reckoned we'd be in the Leaky Cauldron by now, drinking Firewhisky and eyeing up the ladies.'

A fatuous expression crossed his freckled face, and Hermione felt a reluctant tug of affection. She still loved Ron and Harry—they were her dearest friends, and no one else could ever understand all they'd been through together—but she'd had to harden her heart of late. She couldn't spend as much time worrying about (and helping) them. She had important issues of her own that needed sorting out.

Harry came close and leant upon the old-fashioned brass bedstead. 'Look on it like a holiday,' he suggested to Ron. 'You've gone on holiday with your mates. This is loads better than being at Hogwarts. Sna—erm, teachers aren't giving us homework, we're not studying for NEWTs—we're recovering from all that.' He grinned. 'We can sleep late, eat your mum's cooking, play Exploding Snap and wizard chess and Quidditch—anything that doesn't require a wand.'

Ron poked at Hermione's neat stack of tee-shirts. 'Did you bring the Gobstones?' he asked her. 'The ones you got from—erm, well, the set you have is better than our old one.'

Hermione thrust her hand amongst the toiletries at the bottom of her rucksack and withdrew a soft velvet bag that clinked when she extended it to Ron. 'Here—now will you go away so I can unpack in peace?'

'I echo that sentiment,' a drawling voice said.

The three friends turned as one person, but Hermione supposed only her heart tripped into a faster rhythm at the sight of Professor Snape in the doorway. He wore dark trousers firmly belted at his narrow waist, topped by a black broadcloth shirt that emphasized the breadth of his shoulders, even if it did not give him the same imposing, physical air as his teaching robes did. His thin lips sneered, but Hermione saw that his eyes were watchful.

The professor moved into the room, crossing to the bed and depositing a plain dark valise beside Hermione's bag, in the spot Ron had just vacated.

'Do you mind?' he said with a sweep of his hand that moved the boys toward the stairs with a greater rapidity than any words of Hermione's had ever produced. 'I would like to be alone with my wife.'

Neither of the boys spoke before hurrying out of the room, but Hermione saw the expressions of disgust on their faces before they disappeared from sight. The bedroom door swung smartly closed behind them, the doorknob nearly gouging Ron in the seat of his jeans. She darted a glance at the professor, only to find him watching her with glittering black eyes.

'There,' he purred. 'What could be cosier?'