Title: Exclusion

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, and I don't get paid for this story.

Pairings: Harry/Hermione (Gasp! Not a Drarry? I know; I'm shocked, too.)

Rating: T (For now. I might bump this up later.)

Warnings: Nothing so far. I will update this if warning-worthy things actually happen. I do doubt I'll write gore, though, so there's that.

Summary: Hermione's life with Harry is anything but harmonious, especially when the Ministry is convinced he is a murderer.

Author's Note: So...let's just say my muse is a very strange, demanding creature.

I was listening to Linkin Park's "Leave Out All the Rest" and somehow I got to thinking about Harry leaving Hermione due to being on the run, and then this fic happened. I had intended this to be a one-shot, but...yeah, this cannot be contained in one chapter.

I will make no promises about timely updates, but I do promise that I will finish the story.

This will be told solely from Hermione's POV. There will be flashbacks that will focus on her and Harry's relationship together, but the plot action will focus on the mystery surrounding the murder of Mr Random Ministry Official. I am trying to explore different ways of setting up scenes and challenging myself to write more complex plots than just "Oh they fell in love the end." We shall see how this turns out.

Note: This first chapter is just a prologue. It's not going to make much sense at present, and you must keep in mind that this story takes place years after Hogwarts, so of course Harry and Hermione are going to be different from how you remember them in canon; they've been through a lot since then. If you are confused right now, don't worry-I will be fleshing out this story's universe as we go along; this plot is not strictly linear.

Feedback is always welcome; I will even accept negative reviews as long as you justify it with actual constructive criticism. If you do have concrit, though, I hope you're prepared to deal with PM conversations with me about what I can do to improve. O:-)

Anyway, on with the story.


Prologue

"Mrs Potter!" the reporters called after her, even as she made her way to work.

She winced. Mrs Potter made her think of all the fanciful doodles Ginny had made in her notebooks back in Hogwarts. It had never been a name she wanted to attach to herself, which is why she kept her maiden name after marriage.

"My name is actually Ms Granger, and if any of you had bothered to do your research, you would already know that."

Before they could make any comment on that statement, she had already crammed herself into the telephone booth, slamming it shut and dialling the password.

Hermione was relieved to reach her office and push the door shut behind her. It made a satisfying click, announcing to the rest of the department that she was not to be bothered today.

She leaned against the door for a few moments, reminiscing on the days when she did not have this simple privilege of privacy.

Those first few years in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had been spent in a cubicle, where she endured the sound of scribbling quills, hushed small talk, and the occasional bouts of coughing whenever flu season arrived. Although she was a diligent worker and could power through no matter what happened around her, it was still stressful having to put in the active effort to ignore her surroundings, and she had snapped many a quill whenever Quidditch season rolled around and her co-workers would get into heated argument over scores and lost bets.

It had been such a relief to get promoted, and each subsequent promotion and her eventual transfer to the DMLE had brought with them better offices, better workspaces.

She stared at her current office, taking it in. The walls were lined with shelves that contained records of important historical cases, just in case she needed to quickly look up some precedent or find evidence to support a new measure she wanted to push through. There were neat stacks of paper on her desk and on the floor, with the desk stacks being the more urgent cases and the floor stacks being items that could wait, and she had carefully labelled each stack for easy access. The window, however, she had made sure to leave completely unblocked, for she enjoyed the artificial sunlight that streamed through, only adjusting occasionally when she was in more of a rainy mood.

Actually, she could use a bit of rain right now.

She moved over and tapped her wand three times in the centre of the glass, and the sunny scene shifted into a cloudier one, with light rain misting over the field outside. It was like viewing the world from behind a bridal veil. Pressing her cheek against the cool glass, she took a few calming breaths like her mum had taught her while she was still going through that yoga phase. This was her space. She had made it hers. No more intruders, only occasional guests when she allowed it.

Sighing, she moved away and went to her desk. There were some things she had to adjust now, though, her space ever-changing in tandem with her situation.

In the centre, nestled in between her In and Out boxes, was a picture of her and Harry. It was the sole ornament of her desk, since she worked best with a mostly-empty space in front of her, with all the stacks pushed to the side. The black frame for the picture was made of four trapezoidal pieces of wood, carefully polished and lacquered so that it shone gently in the light without needlessly distracting her. The picture itself was whimsical, with her and Harry chasing each other in a meadow, occasionally pausing to catch their breath. Sometimes, the Harry in the picture would spontaneously pounce on the Hermione in the picture, and they would fall into the grass together, laughing before sharing a tender kiss.

She had rolled her eyes when Harry suggested the idea of taking such an image, because honestly, they were full-grown adults, but the war had just ended and he wanted to commemorate a moment of silliness before they took on the responsibilities of adulthood.

Ron had urged her to go for it and had gladly taken the picture, if only to make up for the fact that he could not stay with Hermione in the long run. She had been very bitter about it at the time. After all those years fighting through her emotions for him and finally accepting them, it was painful to realise that it was all for naught. They had burned with passion for several months, but in the end, they had different goals and ambitions, and he had decided to go travelling to find himself, spend time away from everyone who had defined him. The picture was his parting gift, the first of many photographs he would take in his newfound life. He still occasionally wrote her and sent her a picture of his new locale, but that chapter was mostly over.

Time healed all wounds, the saying went, but it also inflicted new ones. Although this picture used to give her mixed feelings about her history with Ron and her future with Harry, now it only made her nostalgic for a time when their lives were simpler, where relationship drama was their only concern in the aftermath of the war.

She picked up the frame and tapped it with her wand, clearing away any dust. Then she opened the nearest drawer, tucked the frame in, and shut it, the sound of closure echoing through the room.

Sitting down, she contemplated the golden band on her left hand, wondering if she should remove it, too.

No. The picture was enough.

She turned to the nearest stack and started her work. As always, the Daily Prophet was on top of her pile of In papers. She already had a good idea as to what the front page headline was going to be, but she opened it regardless.

HARRY POTTER ON THE RUN

Former Hero Suspected of Murder

She did not read further for the moment, for it was all hogwash, anyway. Only an idiot would believe that Harry would murder some random undersecretary to the Minister—what benefit could he possibly gain from that? Harry was Head Auror and had a good chance of becoming Minister of Magic if he wanted, and he didn't even want it right now. There was no political profit to be made from the death of Harris, of all people, and Harry didn't even know the man's first name, so it couldn't have been personal.

As it was, however, Harry was the last person to be seen with the man due to the handing in of some paperwork, and no one knew what Harris did after that sighting. His body had only been discovered by the Minister about four hours later, slumped over his desk without any visible sign of injury. The Aurors had deemed the cause of death to be Avada Kedavra, and despite countless interviews with various people around the department, no one else had seen anyone visit him after Head Auror Potter had left his office.

Hermione suspected that there were political elements that were all too eager to place the blame on him; tensions had been growing since the moment he became Head Auror at the tender age of twenty-seven. In addition, Harry had been getting too influential for his own good, being very open with his views on blood-based discrimination. Hermione had also faced these tensions in her own line of work, but she was clever enough to fend off any attacks with her own preventative measures, and people knew better than to mess with her. Harry, however, lacked foresight sometimes, and this had always been cause for her concern.

She set the newspaper aside for later reading. As outlandish and unsubstantiated as the claims in the article were bound to be, it would be foolish to not keep an eye on the media treatment of the murder case, just in case the journalists unwittingly stumbled upon some clue that would help prove Harry's innocence.

Sighing, she rubbed her temples and closed her eyes, recalling their last moments together. As much as she tried to concentrate, it was hard to remain calm when her husband was missing.

"But this is ridiculous, Harry," she had said at the time, when he started packing his bags. "You know you're innocent. Running away would only exacerbate the situation!"

He sighed and flipped the suitcase shut before turning to look at her, the dark circles under his eyes looking more pronounced in the grey light of pre-dawn. "I am not running away, Hermione."

"Then you're hunting down the real culprit, all by yourself," she conjectured flatly.

"Bingo. I knew you'd catch on."

She grabbed his shoulder, infuriated by the subtle sarcasm in his tone. "Wouldn't it be better to just cooperate with the Auror Department and make use of all their resources?"

He reached up and wrapped his fingers around her wrist. "Have you seen how they've been acting ever since I became their prime suspect? They would sooner throw me in a jail cell than let me have access to any files."

"So you're just going to run blindly off on a wild goose chase?"

"No. I've got a few leads."

"Care to tell me what they are?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Hermione. You will be the first person they investigate once I'm gone, and I can't risk you revealing my whereabouts."

She wanted to open her mouth to shout that she would never betray him like that, but she remembered that Veritaserum cared nothing about loyalty, so she swallowed her frustration.

"And I suppose me going with you is out of the question."

"Obviously."

"Is there anything I can do while you're gone, then?"

He gently pulled her hand off his shoulder and guided her arm to wrap around his waist.

"Continue your work. I believe that you will succeed in your battle against structural discrimination against Muggleborns; you have already made so many gains in just five years at the DMLE. As for me, when people ask, just honestly tell them that you have no idea where I am. Maybe try to act upset at me for leaving."

"I don't think I'll have to act," she muttered, and he grinned sheepishly.

"In the meantime, just keep your eyes and ears open and gather what information you can. I know it'll be hard to get people to talk around you due to your connection with me, but people are bound to let their guards down at some point; maybe you can even get someone to help you."

"How will I even contact you, though, if I happen to get information that will help? Pigeons?"

He embraced her. "Yes. You've trained Eustace well, haven't you? I think he knows how to find me by now."

She scowled against his chest. "You're an idiot, you know that?"

"I know," he whispered into her hair.

"A brave, heroic idiot that I'm proud of, and who wouldn't even be in this situation if it weren't for all the jealous nitwits at the Ministry."

She didn't know how much of that he actually heard, given the fact that her voice was muffled, but he tightened his hold around her all the same.

"Take care, okay?"

She snorted and pulled back a bit so she could speak clearly. "I should be the one to tell you that, since you're on the run and all."

"Yeah, well, if I starve, at least I'll have an excuse. You, on the other hand, have free access to all the food you could possibly eat, right here in our comfortable home."

She leaned up and kissed him, not wanting to even think about him going hungry. He returned the kiss, tangling his fingers in her hair.

By the time he Disapparated with his suitcase, his hugs and kisses had helped her to shore up enough strength to last for the duration of this mission.

She brought herself back to the present, to the empty space in between her boxes and the stacks of paper awaiting her attention.

Removing her fingers from her temples, she picked up the next sheet of paper and continued her work.

When she had agreed to marry him, she had known that their life would be anything but peaceful; this was just par for the course.

She smiled grimly at the thought of the murderer who had framed Harry. He or she would definitely come to regret getting involved in their lives.

There was a knock on the door, interrupting her thoughts.

"Come in," she said calmly.

For now, life would continue as scheduled, but she was not going to let her guard down.

This was not over. Not by a long shot.