Disclaimer: I'm definitely not JK Rowling, so I do not own any recognizable character from the Harry Potter universe, nor am I making any money whatsoever from this little endeavor.

I've read more than a few fan fictions, and I'd like to say that the 8th year is fascinating to me. Two authors that stand out and inspired me are HollyThorn (check out her Founders WIP; you won't be sorry!) and AnneMOliver (her 8th year that I really enjoyed was A Familiar Place). I am trying very hard to make this story my own, but a similarity between all of these fictions is the use of a non-house affiliated 8th year group.

This is my first attempt at fan fiction. I'd really appreciate constructive feedback if you can find the time!


Chapter 1

As she approached the seemingly solid barrier to Platform 9¾, Hermione Granger paused to reconsider her decision to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After a year spent on the run, with her picture on Mrs. Weasley's clock forever pointed to "Mortal Peril," going back to school seemed almost - anti-climatic. She could do the spell work (obviously), and she could teach DADA better than Quirrell, Lockhart, and Umbridge combined. But, she wanted that degree. It was hard to explain to someone not as, well, academic, as her, but that diploma meant something to her. And since Professor, err, Headmistress McGonagall had made the decision to allow any seventh year the opportunity to re-take (or simply take) the year, Hermione would be damned if a silly thing like Harry and Ron not returning to keep her from it. But, it wasn't silly, was it? She may have been the brain of the Golden Trio (a stupid name, that), but Harry and Ron were the bravery and the loyalty. Without them, Hermione didn't know what she would have done. Well, to be honest, she knew what she would have done. She would have died, literally, any number of times over the course of her teen years. Between trolls, giant spiders, werewolves, one particularly sadistic teacher (here's looking at you, Delores), and a variety of other assorted dangers, it was really a bloody wonder any of Hogwarts students made it out alive.

Regardless, this year looked to be much calmer, what with no megalomaniac looking to destroy to the world and everything Hermione held dear. "Please, Merlin, be a calmer year," Hermione thought to herself.

"Oi, 'Mione - you need to get moving if you don't want to miss the train!" Ron's voice intruded into her ruminations.

"What? Oh, Ron! Harry! Why are you both here? Why aren't you with Ginny inside the platform?"

"You thought we would let you leave without at least coming to see you off, Hermione?" Harry sounded a bit surprised. "Come on, let's go," as they began the jog towards the barrier.

Moments later, the Hogwarts Express came into view. Beside the train were knots of students, talking and hugging friends and family to be left behind; it was all so blessedly normal. In that moment, Hermione realized that she was indeed doing the right thing. She was going home.

Meanwhile, at the Ministry of Magic, inside the newly installed Department of Magical Health and Internal Cooperation, number crunchers were coming to an unexpected and, indeed, unwelcome, but not surprising conclusion as they analyzed the freshly completed census data. The Second Wizarding War (2nd WW) had done what wars have done over the course of human history; it killed the many of the most healthy, the most likely to continue the species - 18-25 year olds, after all, are the ones who most often fall in battle. The 2nd WW's effect was exacerbated by the unfortunate racial ideology that preceded it. Purebloods, especially those members of the Sacred 28 who took that "honor" seriously, had made one of the first and most crucial mistakes of mankind. They had failed to learn from the past and they repeated those mistakes, much to their own detriment. The Malfoys, the Notts, the Parkinsons, and even those who fought on the side of the Light such as the Longbottoms and Shacklebolts were not very prolific families. Those families, over the course of the last 150 years or so, had also begun to produce higher numbers of non-magical offspring. The Weasleys, with their brood of 7 children, were the obvious exception to this rule, but they were family of blood-traitors. Oh, the irony, the justice, really. If those precious Pureblood families did not expand their families, then those families would cease to exist. And the 2nd WW? It decimated their ranks further. While the Crabbe family was not listed in the Sacred 28, they had lost their final heir in the Battle of Hogwarts. Yes, the Weasleys had lost a son, but they had a staggering 5 others to continue the family name and line.

But Purebloods did not suffer these casualties of war alone; hundreds of Half-Blood and Muggle-born witches and wizards suffered and died during the war. The toll from the final battle alone was simply staggering. So, armed with these numbers, the Chief Number Cruncher, one Silas Smith, bearded the new Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, in his office.

"What are you telling me, Mr. Smith? That Wizarding Britain is going to die?" Shacklebolt's normally deep voice sounded a bit high and desperate to his own ears.

"Minister, Sir, no. I am not telling you that Wizarding Britain will die. However, I am telling you that our numbers are dangerously low. If we have a hope to survive the next 100 years, then we must find a way to expand our population, and most Pureblood families are in dire need of an infusion of "fresh" blood. The unfortunate truth of biology is that no one is immune. While we wizards tend to keep to ourselves, Muggle history tells the story of the dangers of successive generations of interbreeding. Look at the Egyptian Pharaohs of old, and the royal houses of Europe. If these patterns continue, the Sacred 28 will become the Sacred 14, metaphorically speaking, of course."

"Is this unprecedented? Has this happened before?"

"According to our records - yes. Almost 1100 years ago. "

"Well - out with it - what did we do? How did we survive?"

"Sir, well, umm." Smith weighed his next words carefully and decided to plunge in feet first with what he knew would be an unpopular solution in the late 20th century. "In 900 CE, Wizarding Britain faced a similar situation. The then Minister of Magic and Wizengamot instituted a Marriage Law. It was the children of this Marriage Law who became the first students of Hogwarts School. And we all know the story of the Founders and the Houses. Of course, they did not address the need for Purebloods have children with more, umm, diverse, magical families, but the population numbers were quite low, so they took action."

"What? Why haven't I heard of this? I took History of Magic! I have a NEWT in it! Professor Binns never mentioned this! And he was ALIVE when I was there!"

"Sir, it was mentioned, but unfortunately, it is generally just a footnote, glossed over as a sign of the times. After all, arranged marriages still happen today, and they were commonplace as recently as 150 years ago. And, what was this Marriage Law, but a mass arrangement of marriages? I'm afraid that is not all."

"Not all? That isn't enough?"

"Well, as you know, old magic can be dangerous. And in 900 CE, magic was more powerful than even today, much less controlled."

Kingsley grunted in assent, spinning his hand as if to tell Smith to get to the point.

"The old law is still buried on the books, and it will automatically go into effect if we do not circumvent it. That is to say, once the population reaches a certain low mark, Merlin's Law will go into effect, and it is much harsher than what modern wizards would deem acceptable." Smith continued with his discussion of the eccentricities of an ancient law.

Kingsley, who had stood, indignant, sank back in his chair. "Give me everything you have. The Wizengamot needs to hear of this, immediately. Thank you for your help, Smith." Kingsley turned his chair around, looked out his enchanted window, and sighed. He had fought a war against prejudice and to make wizarding Britain free.

He did not get paid enough for this job.

Hermione boarded the train after a somewhat rowdy good-bye from the assembled Weasleys, plus Harry, of course. Mrs. Weasley was beside herself with pride as McGonagall had appointed Ginny as Head Girl. The Head Boy was a Hufflepuff with whom Hermione was only distantly acquainted. Hermione found herself with mixed feelings over this as she had always wanted to be Head Girl, but she understood that her situation, along with her classmates, was unique, and that in the interest of things returning to normal, perhaps it was best that particular dream went unfulfilled. The immediate consequence of Ginny's promotion was that Hermione found herself without her closest girl friend on the train - it seems Heads duties start before the term starts. So, she looked amongst the boarding students to find friends from her own year, and realized she was one of very few 8th years. Draco Malfoy was chatting with Blaise Zabini in a forward compartment, but no other Slytherins were to be found. In Gryffindor, only she, Neville, and Parvarti had elected to return. The remaining 8th years were a scattering of Ravenclaws: Michael Corner, Anthony Goldstein, Padma Patil, and Terry Boot, and one Hufflepuff, Hannah Abbott. Only ten. Hermione found an empty seat with the Patil twins and Hannah and so began her journey back to Scotland.

"Hermione! How are you? How was your summer? Where are Ron and Harry? Are you and Ron dating now?" Questions flew at Hermione from every direction.

Hermione laughed. "I'm good - so glad to be going back to Hogwarts. My summer - wow - that's a long story. I spent most of it in Australia, believe it or not. Harry and Ron decided not to come back - they decided to begin Auror training. And dating Ron? No. We have always been friends. I mean, we thought about it. But - no. Just friends."

Hermione had forgotten how much fun chatting and gossiping with the girls could be. A year in the woods with two boys was, well, a year in the woods with two teenage boys. And Hermione spent the summer in Australia with her parents, so she didn't even get the chance to really enjoy time with Ginny and Luna. Her parents decided to remain in Sydney - it seems the Australian weather was much to their liking. They forgave her for the memory charm, and they understood why she taken those steps. They didn't like it, but they understood it.

In the next compartment over, Draco and Blaise reviewed their summers. Draco's Death Eater trial was one of the first - almost immediately following the Battle of Hogwarts.

"What was it like, living with Muggles? That must have been horrible."

"Well, it wasn't the Manor, but it was better than Azkaban, Blaise." Draco had been sentenced to a year of probation, including spending the summer without magic among Muggles to teach him respect for them, a requirement to return to Hogwarts and to remain there for the holidays, and to stay out of trouble. Should he violate those terms, he would have been sent to Azkaban for 1 year. As much as it pained Draco to admit it, he owed those generous terms to Potter, of all people, as Harry had testified on his behalf at his trial. His mother did not fare as well. She was sentenced to one year in Azkaban and two years of house arrest, but she could receive visitors and have social events if she so chose. Her sentence, while much harsher than Draco's, was also mitigated by Harry's testimony. Lucius was sentenced to 10 years in Azkaban followed by probation for 25 years for his various crimes, and he counted himself lucky as could have been facing a life sentence. The Wizengamot took his guilty plea and late change of heart into account during sentencing. Lucius took complete responsibility for his actions as well as those of Draco and Narcissa. It was the most unselfish thing Lucius had done in all of Draco's life.

Blaise chuckled, "Yes, I imagine so. I spent the summer in Italy at the villa. It was nice - lots of vacationing young ladies to admire and make friends with." He grinned, his expression telling Draco exactly what kind of friends he meant. "Speaking of young ladies to admire - did you see Granger? She really grew up last year and over the summer."
A pained look flashed across Draco's face. "Yeah, she did." And he changed the subject just as quickly. "Who do you like for the Cup this year? I think France will take it. England just doesn't have the players."

Recognizing plea to change the subject when he heard one, Blaise snorted, "No, England definitely doesn't have the players, as the Dark Lord had half the team executed. Italy should take it this year. I hate to admit it, but the Americans have a decent team, though. They may make a run at it." And so, like men the world over, conversation turned to sports to pass the time.

That evening, Headmistress McGonagall gave the opening speech to her beloved re-opened school.

"Good evening students, and welcome back to Hogwarts. This year, I would like to especially welcome back our 8th year students - 10 students who chose to return to finish their formal education. They will be sitting their NEWTS with current 7th years, but you will all see them in your classes in some capacity. 8th years, please meet with me immediately following the Feast here at the staff table."

The 8th years glanced askance at one another. "What the fresh hell is all that about?" Blaise muttered to Draco, who frowned and shrugged. That question was repeated in various forms amongst all the 8th years.

McGonagall continued. "Please welcome Ginny Weasley of Gryffindor as our Head Girl and Michael Farmer of Hufflepuff as our Head Boy." Both Ginny and Michael stood briefly to be acknowledged. "And our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is William Weasley," Bill stood and nodded to the assembly. "And our new Transfiguration professor is Fleur Weasley. Please welcome the Professors Weasley. " Fleur mimicked Bill's actions. "I believe that is all of my announcements. Please, enjoy the feast."

After everyone had eaten, and the Great Hall emptied, the few remaining 8th years found themselves face to face with Professor McGonagall.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back. I am looking forward to a positive and successful school year, a year of healing. This year, you will not be rooming with your houses. As 8th years, your schedule is sufficiently different and you are older than your classmates, so during reconstruction this summer, we added a small wing for your use on the 3rd floor. You will share a common room that has a small kitchen with a cooling station for drinks and food. Hot meals will provided here in the Great Hall, as usual. And there will be a table for your use as 8th years. Each of you will have your own room with separate communal baths for males and females. Furthermore, your ties and scarves will not be house ties, but rather silver or gold - your choice. Your house patch will be the unified Hogwarts shield with which you are all familiar. You do not have a curfew, but should you make a disturbance in the halls after general curfew for students, you will face consequences. You will be allowed to visit Hogsmeade in your leisure time as you are all of legal age. Are there any questions thus far?"

The 8th years looked at her askance, several with their mouths slightly ajar. The changes were so simple, yet so overwhelming. For the possibly first time, Hermione was too shocked to formulate a question. Taking advantage of their momentary silence, McGonagall continued.

"No? Excellent. For your classes, you will choose between 5 and 7 subjects to sit for your NEWTS." Hermione looked scandalized. "No, Miss Granger, you will not be allowed to take 9 subjects." Her classmates chuckled briefly at Hermione's crestfallen face. "In discussions with your professors, we have decided that you each will have the opportunity to become teaching assistants for a professor. This will act as an internship, of sorts, and you can expect to teach one lesson a week and to help develop lesson plans for this assistantship. We will be taking your requests into account, and so please submit your requests to me by tomorrow evening before the evening meal. Tomorrow, your schedule is this." With a wave of her wand, 10 schedules floated to 10 shell-shocked students. The schedule included group meeting with all professors through out the day to help determine what the 8th year plan would be for each subject and to help students finalize their requests for their assistantships. Regular classes would begin on Tuesday, and they would receive their assistantship assignment that morning via Owl post.

"Now let me show you to your wing. The password for the month is Unitas. I'm quite sure I do not need to remind to keep it to yourselves."

Back in London, at the hastily called emergency meeting of the Wizengamot, an increasingly grim group shuffled papers, muttered curses towards blind prejudice and evil want-to-be dictators, and worked desperately towards a solution to the impending crisis.