Summary: Five years after the final battle, the Ministry is finally starting to make sense of the wreck that is their records. They announce the need for all wizards to complete a census and registration, due to destroyed, missing, and incomplete birth and death records. But is there something darker lurking behind this simple explanation? [DH compliant, ignores epilogue, Dramione, language/lemons]
Chapter One: The Census
AN: My first HP fanfic. Hope you enjoy it! :D
It was days before he allowed himself to breathe easily. He stayed in place, hidden, as the life of the dark forest went on around him. It was as though this place alone had been left untouched, unchanged, despite what had happened here.
He stood and dusted off his heavy travelling cloak, his wand still clutched tightly in his right hand. He hadn't had occasion to use it since they had come for Snape's body, but old habits die hard, and he hadn't yet put it away. They had come close to him - much too close. He was sure, for a split instant, that the redhaired woman may have seen him. She definitely turned his way, her eyes narrowing suspiciously, her mouth opening slightly to call out to the others. His wand twitched in his hand.
But then her son - the blood traitor with the missing ear - had called out to her, and she shuffled quickly away.
Now, it was time to move. He crept from his hiding place, his ears perked and his eyes sharp despite his fatigue. He would be safe if he could make it to Hogsmeade. His identity had been carefully hidden through the war, so no one would suspect, if he could just make it away from this damning location.
A twig snapped sharply behind him, and he spun on his heel. Lucius Malfoy was leaning casually against an ancient oak, smirking at him. He looked as disheveled as he had through most of the war, but the old arrogance was back. The other supposed it was due to the death of his tormentor. For while their Lord was surely justified, he could be cruel. And Malfoy had unfortunately mistepped one too many times.
"Malfoy," he acknowledged, with a sharp nod, unsmiling. "I'm surprised they haven't rounded you up just yet."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" the blonde sneered. The other man stared back coldly. It was nothing to him if Malfoy went free or rotted away in Azkaban. He had no use for him. "No, I've just been to see Draco. Narcissa and I are going on holiday for awhile, and I wanted to say goodbye."
"Holiday," the man scoffed. "Fleeing, more like."
"Waiting, even more so," Malfoy retorted. "The Dark Lord will most likely be back, after all."
"I don't believe so," the man answered, shrugging and turning away, preparing to make his way back to the edge of the forest. "But hide all you like for now, Malfoy," he added as an afterthought, turning and smirking at the blonde man.
"I imagine there's a new wolf in amongst the flock," he concluded, and with that he left the small clearing, leaving his commrade behind.
(Five years later)
Hermione Granger stared out the window of her single bedroom flat, waiting impatiently on the owl that delivered her Daily Prophet. It would be there today, the announcement she had been waiting on. She wasn't upset; she had no right to begrudge him, after all. She was the one who had cut nearly all ties with the magical world, after all.
It had been too hard, living there after the war. She had shouldered near-celebrity status before the final battle, and had even shouldered being hunted for a year. But that was all nothing compared to life afterwards. She couldn't deal with the constant attention, people fawning all over her or, in the worst cases, lumping her in for the blame in the deaths of their loved ones. It was unavoidable, she supposed, when you were that deeply entangled in such a horrific event, but it still wasn't something she wished to shoulder.
She unclasped the window and let it swing open, stepping back to allow a small barn owl to soar into her kitchen. It landed on the counter, ruffled its feathers, and glared at her impatiently.
"I know, it's a bit of a journey out here," she soothed the creature, handing it a treat before untying the paper from its leg. It looked at her reproachfully before taking flight again. She shook her head. It was like even the animals of that world begrudged her for leaving it almost completely.
She didn't look at the front page, at first, flipping instead to the middle sections as she closed the window back before heading to the kitchen table and her tea. There it was. Ron Weasley was smiling up at her from the grainy black and white page, laughter painting his features, his arms wrapped tightly around a small brunette.
War Hero Ron Weasley to Wed Unknown
"Ronald Weasley, generally acknowledged as one of the great heroes of the wizarding world, announced his engagement last week. While his betrothed remains unknown, this reporter was able to secure the above photo from a confidential source. The same source confirms that the couple have set a date for late summer. This reporter is confident, however, that once the new census (see page 2) is complete, more information as to the mystery girl's identity will be available."
Hermione snorted. Confidential source indeed. Everyone knew that Lavender Brown was at the center of that. She studied the little brunette's face. She didn't know her, or even her face, from school. It was possible that she was a few years younger, she supposed, or that she had gone to Beauxbatons or one of the other academies. Ginny had confirmed that she was a witch when she had written Hermione earlier in the week.
She folded the paper back and started on the front page. Nothing jumped out at her. There was to be an overhaul and inspection of the Floo Network the coming week, and it would be out of service for the better part of a day, but then Hermione hadn't had Floo access for the better part of three years.
Page two, however, held an announcement she hadn't been expecting.
Ministry Fumbles Files
"Following in a long series of brilliant moves by the Ministry since the fall of You-Know-Who, officials announced yesterday that many records have been lost, mistakenly destroyed, or found to be incomplete due to the lackluster performance of officials during the war.
"Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, has extended his sincere apologies for any inconvenience this startling lack of organization on the part of the government we so rely on in our day-to-day lives may cause. He asks, however, that all wizarding citizens - including those who have relocated to the Muggle world - report to the offices of Napoleon Dekeyrel for registration on their scheduled days, decided by surname (see schedule below).
"Those in contact with witches and wizards residing in the Muggle world are urged to inform them of these measures and of their registration time. Any persons found in defiance of this order will be fined and face additional charges."
Charges? Hermione wrinkled her brow. That seemed a bit extreme for a simple matter of lost files. Actually, everything about this registration seemed a bit off. It reeked of the muggleborn registrations during the war.
Perhaps she should contact Harry. He had become an auror after school - he was bound to know something about this.
The thought had barely occured to her when there was a knock at her door. She looked toward the front door, which she had enchanted to be transparent from the inside, and saw none other than Harry himself.
He looked ragged, his hair even messier than normal, his robes disheveled. As she watched through the door, he shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, rolling his shoulders as though to work out a knot.
She scooted away from the table, allowing the legs of her chair to scrape loudly against the tile. She hesitated at the door. She had written to Harry occasionally, Ginny a bit more, but for the better part of the years since the war, she had been out of contact. She was suddenly very nervous about seeing him.
"Mione, let me in," Harry called warily, pinching the bridge of his nose under his glasses. Hermione took a steadying breath and opened the door slowly, standing to the side to let Harry in. "I assume you've gotten the Prophet today," he said as he made his way into the kitchen, nodding as the sight of the paper on the table confirmed his assumption.
"Yes. I thought it was a lovely picture. I don't recognize her, though-"
"What?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing a bit in confusion. "Oh hell, not that, Hermione. I mean the registration announcement."
"Oh," Hermione said, feeling a bit dim. Of course. That was what she had been thinking about contacting him about after all. But seeing him had automatically brought the engagement announcement to her mind.
"Although Ron does want to invite you to the formal engagement party," Harry added, pulling a rose-coloured envelope from the breast pocket of his robes and extending it to her. She nodded, taking it timidly. Nothing strange about that. They were friends, after all. Or at least, they weren't on poor terms. "He would have sent it by owl but when he heard I was coming to see you he asked me to just go ahead and take it with me."
Hermione stared at the pretty, looped writing spelling out her name on the envelope. Clearly not Ron's. His fiancee had addressed this. Hermione wondered vaguely what she must think of her, what she had heard, what she had bought into of the gossip, what the Weasleys and Harry had explained...
She pushed it from her mind. Too much, too suddenly.
"So what do you think of this?" Harry asked, nodding to the census announcement.
"It seems strange," Hermione conceded. "At the very least, it's the first time I've agreed with Rita Skeeter. It's a horrible blunder."
"Are you seeing anyone?" Harry asked abruptly. Hermione shook her head. "Listen, I can't get any of us around this thing. We have to show. But just take my word for it: keep your plans for marriage and children to yourself. At least for now."
"Why's that?" she asked, flags immediately going up in her mind.
"Just take my word on it for now," Harry insisted. She sighed. She should've known she would no longer be kept in the loop. There was a time when Harry would have told her even his wildest suspicions. Those times were apparently over.
"Also," Harry started again hestitantly, breaking her train of thought. "I know you've got a life set up for yourself here but for now, I think you should return to the wizarding world."
There was silence following this announcement, as the wheels in Hermione's head began to spin. That was it? Just like that, he expected her to return?
"I can't go back, Harry!" she exclaimed, annoyed at how whiney her voice suddenly sounded. "I don't have anything for me there, anymore."
"What do you have here?" Harry demanded, throwing his arms up in exhasperation. "A tiny apartment and a dead end job in a world where you have to hide who you are?"
"That's not fair, Harry, and you know it!"
"Listen," Harry started again, seeming to struggle to calm himself. "There was a time when you would've trusted me if I told you to jump into the pits of hell. Could you do that just one more time? Please?"
"Please, Hermione?" Harry insisted. Hermione bit her lip. "I promise I'll tell you everything once I know more, okay? But for now, we need you."
"Need me?" Hermione asked, wrinkling her brow before comprehension dawned on her. "Oh, Harry, no! He's not back-"
"No, of course not. But that doesn't mean there aren't other dangers out there, does it?" Harry asked. "You up to one more adventure, Hermione?"
AN: Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? I'd love to hear from you! :D