Author's Note: Hi everyone. This is a new story that popped into my head for an AU where the Golden Trio returns to finish their last year at Hogwarts and are unexpectedly re-sorted. I will likely be updating this somewhat infrequently for awhile, as I want to finish my other fic, Star-Crossed, before paying lots of attention to this one. In the mean time, enjoy my ramblings if you choose. P.S. I love reviews. Hint, hint.

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Hermione wasn't sure what to expect from her eighth year as she, Harry, Ron, and Ginny trundled up the path to Hogwarts in one of the traditional carriages the school provided. She was overwhelmed with nostalgia as well as a very practical realization that this would be her last time being pulled up toward the castle in one of the spindly, thestral-drawn carriages with her best friends.

Harry and Ron had not wanted to come back to Hogwarts. The three of them had been offered jobs in the Auror office at the Ministry despite their lack of Hogwarts completion, but Hermione had a feeling her future lay outside of chasing dark wizards for the rest of her life. She craved more of the innocence of her childhood… not the horrible, dark and disappointing reality that had become her life when Voldemort had risen.

But he'd been gone for months now, never to return. Harry had defeated him in a battle that was sure to be spoken of for centuries. She cast a small smile at her friend, who returned the slight expression with fondness.

"Going to be an interesting year," Harry commented needlessly.

They all knew.

"I wonder how it will be with McGonagall as Headmistress," Ginny mused absently. Her head was resting on Harry's shoulder possessively.

The two had come together like the crashing of waves against rock following the final battle. It had been intense, their devotion to one another. It was sometimes difficult to witness. Hermione uncomfortably thought how different it had been with her and Ron.

Without the threat of Voldemort looming in the distance, it seemed that she and Ron were no longer compelled to be glued at the hip. They'd drifted apart slowly, like the tide going out. Finally, the previous day, before the start of term, they'd agreed to remain friends only. No hard feelings, nothing lost; Hermione was relieved.

The carriage came to a stop in front of the castle and Hermione felt excitement began to bubble up within her.

"D'you suppose it's all fixed up?" Ron wondered, goggling at the castle, which looked much the same as it always had.

"Guess we'll find out soon enough," Ginny answered him, taking Harry's hand in hers as the foursome walked up to the enormous front doors of the school with the other returning students.

"Look, there's Gryffindor Tower!" Hermione pointed, indicating the familiar structure protruding from the seventh floor in the distance. A warm light was glowing from the windows in welcome. She felt tears well up in her eyes; she had worried she'd never be back.

"I hope there's a good spread," Ron groaned, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He was unable to enjoy the sight of their beloved home as Hermione did, "I could eat the Sorting Hat I'm so hungry."

"Harry, look," Ginny said quietly, interrupting Ron's complaint. She nodded in the far direction where they'd come from the carriages. "Malfoy."

The familiar platinum blond was also trudging up toward the castle, accompanied by his fellow Slytherins, Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott. He had his head down and his hands in his pockets glumly and didn't look in the mood for an altercation the way he always used to at the start of term.

"I'm sure Malfoy's changed too, Gin," Harry said quickly, turning his attention away. "Look – here's Neville and Luna!"

"Hey Harry! Ron, Hermione, Ginny…" Neville said breathlessly, catching up to them.

"Hello everyone," said Luna airily. "I'm looking forward to a good Sorting. Aren't you?"

"Feels weird, doesn't it? Coming back?" Neville ruminated as he chewed on the inside of his cheek.

"Well we've got to finish our education somehow," Hermione replied, her calm voice not betraying the excitement she really felt. "They're not really counting last year for anyone."

"It'll be interesting to see how the different houses interact now that the War is over," Luna commented.

"As long as there's treacle tart, I couldn't care less," Ron groaned, clutching his stomach.

The six friends laughed as they entered the familiar Great Hall, filing over to the Gryffindor table, with the exception of Luna, who made herself comfortable at the Ravenclaw one. They rekindled old friendships. Ron and Hermione were particularly popular but everywhere Harry seemed to go, genuine applause briefly erupted.

Once the Hall was settled, the new Headmistress McGonagall got to her feet and stood at the podium the late Headmaster Dumbledore had always spoken from. With her reputation for being severe but fair, the Hall soon became quiet without McGonagall even murmuring a word.

"It is with unaffected pleasure that I welcome you all back to Hogwarts this year," she began, her usual stern expression on her lips but with a smile twitching at the corners. "You will find a great many changes in place. Professors Slughorn, Flitwick, and Sprout will continue as Heads of Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff houses respectively, and Professor Sinistra will be taking over as Head of Gryffindor House in my stead."

Polite applause greeted this statement. Many of the younger students remained silent and – Hermione noticed – were looking around the Great Hall as if they were taking in all possible means of escaping an imminent attacker. Considering the horrific events of the previous year, she couldn't really blame them. The younger students looked grim rather than excited at the start of term. The Slytherin table was all but silent, and those seated there kept their heads down.

It looked like it would be an interesting year, for sure.

"You will find most of your classes to be in their usual rooms, with a few changes. I beseech you to read your schedules carefully," the Headmistress continued. "Advanced Arithmancy will be offered for NEWT students who managed at least an E in their OWL grade. Additionally, Divination will be taught entirely by Professor Trelawney, who will also be offering Xylomancy for NEWT divination students. Selected NEWT students will also be notified of their eligibility to study Alchemy or Ghoul Studies, if they wish to."

Hermione sat up straighter in her seat as she drank in McGonagall's words. She wasn't aware of Hogwarts offering any of these new courses, and Hogwarts: A History had indicated that alchemal studies had ceased to be offered in the 1930s.

"Finally, the decision has been made and agreed upon by all the staff… given the history of last year and the prejudices that have run rampant with those events…" the Hall was hushed now and McGonagall's lips seemed to be pursed into an almost-grimace, "…that you will all be re-sorted by the Sorting Hat to promote inter-house unity."

Cries of alarm erupted throughout the Hall. A true cacophony was raised and couldn't be abated for several moments. Hermione glanced around at her friends, all of whom bore identical horrified expressions.

They were Gryffindor through and through!

"Attention!" McGonagall barked.

The Hall, while still alive with furious whispers like hissing snakes, mainly quieted and turned its attention back to the Headmistress with new looks of contempt. Hermione's hands, which had been resting on her thighs, tightened and her fingernails began to dig into her skin, but she didn't notice.

"If you will please all form a queue…"

This was far easier said than done, even without the first years, who were still battling their way across the Lake in rowboats with Hagrid. The second and third years seemed to accept their fate readily enough and stood with silent, watchful eyes to see what would happen to them. The fourth and fifth years grumbled and muttered curses and some openly wept at the idea of being separated from their friends.

Everyone in sixth year and above seemed mutinous. They'd had years to cultivate their personalities based around their Houses…

"Oh no, oh no, oh no," Hermione breathed nervously.

"Hermione, calm down," Harry admonished pleadingly.

"It's going to be forever to finish this," Ron complained, "we'll never get to eat!"

"Honestly, Ron," Hermione scolded waspishly, "all you ever think about is food!"

"Relax, Hermione…" Ron began.

"What if we're separated?" she hissed back to him.

Harry looked glum. "The Hat gives you a choice. It did for me…"

"I'm not sure that's going to work for everyone, Harry…"

"We're all Gryffindors though," Ron reminded her, convinced he would still be sleeping in Gryffindor Tower that night.

"Abbott, Hannah!"

This was going to take a long time, Hermione realized, as Hannah Abbott – a blonde Hufflepuff from their year struggled to exit the line of about three hundred students.

"GRYFFINDOR!" shouted the Sorting Hat.

The hat was plucked from Hannah's head and she stood awkwardly before the four empty tables before slowly making her way to the farthest one. There, she buried her face in her hands and slumped down on the bench. There were no existing Gryffindors to cheer her being placed there, and the silence seemed weirdly foreboding.

The ceremony took a long time, as there were several years worth of students to Sort, especially with the addition of the eighth years, three-quarters of whom had returned to properly sit for their NEWTs.

"Finnegan, Seamus!"

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

"I am going to have a panic attack," Hermione admitted under her breath to Ginny, who squeezed her hand reassuringly.

"Don't," the redhead advised sagely. "It'll be over soon."

But this was not entirely true. The Sorting took quite some time. Hermione noted the subdued Slytherins watching the proceedings with narrowed eyes. Malfoy seemed to be glaring at the floor, grinding his teeth. Pansy Parkinson was eyeing the Sorting Hat with open hostility.

"Granger, Hermione!"

"Oh no, oh no… oh no," Hermione muttered a little madly as she stumbled from the slowly shrinking line that stretched out of the Hall and into the corridor.

"You'll do great, 'Mione," Ron reassured her.

She sat down on the stool, feeling like a foolish first year all over again as the cloth of the hat covered her head. It didn't quite slip over her eyes like it had when she was eleven however, and that was something she supposed.

The Hat chuckled into her ear, "Ah, yes, Miss Granger. I remember you. You were quite the hatstall eight years ago."

Hermione remembered, too. Hatstalls – when the Hat took five minutes or longer to Sort someone – were fairly uncommon. The Hat had an extremely difficult time deciding between placing her in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw.

The Hat continued, "You do make a shining example of a Gryffindor, but I see you're quite exhausted of being the hero, and after the year you've had, who can blame you? No matter. This time, it had better be… RAVENCLAW!"

The Hat shouted this last word out to the Hall. Hermione breathed out a deep gust of air she didn't realize she'd been holding in, feeling relieved even as her heart simultaneously sank. She barely registered the half-hearted applause from the long benches of the Ravenclaw table as she went to sit there.

Her red-and-gold tie transfigured itself to blue-and-bronze and that somehow made it all seem quite permanent. Still, she felt she could probably thrive as a Ravenclaw… but she missed her friends already. She doubted Ron was going to also be sorted there, for example.

It took a few moments for her to look up, where she saw Ron, Harry and Ginny giving her the thumbs-up. She shot them a half-smile. Really, of all the other houses, Ravenclaw wasn't too bad. The Hat had seriously considered putting her there during her last Sorting, only deciding on Gryffindor at the last moment because of her confident and stubborn streak.

"Longbottom, Neville!"

"GRYFFINDOR!"

Hermione felt a surge of envy toward Neville, who grinned widely as he removed the Hat from his head and practically swaggered over to the Gryffindor table, brimming with confidence. Only a few people had so far been re-sorted back into their original Houses. Hermione wondered what made Neville so much more Gryffindor than her. If she remembered correctly, he had been a hatstall like herself. She remembered back to third year when Neville told her he'd argued with the Hat for over five minutes before being sent to Gryffindor. He'd requested to be Sorted into Hufflepuff, but the Hat had won in the end.

"Lovegood, Luna!"

"GRYFFINDOR!"

Hermione's heart surged with envy once more. She didn't mind Ravenclaw, really, but she loved Gryffindor. There was a lion in her heart.

"Malfoy, Draco!"

Hermione looked up with interest, wondering where the Hat would deign to place the former Death Eater. He was so very Slytherin, she couldn't imagine him being placed anywhere but there…

"RAVENCLAW!"

"No!" Ginny gasped audibly, her hand flying to cover her mouth in shock. Ron shot Hermione a fearful glance. Harry merely raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Hermione's gut wrenched as she realized she was going to be sharing a Common Room with Draco Malfoy… the boy who'd let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts… the boy whose aunt had tortured her mere months ago while he'd watched…

The Hall was utterly silent as Malfoy sauntered over to the Ravenclaw table. The green-and-silver of his uniform tie switched to blue-and-bronze. As he sunk onto the bench, he glowered at the wooden table, mouth twisted into a grimace.

"Parkinson, Pansy!"

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

Pansy burst into tears and slammed down into her seat at the Hufflepuff table, making quite a scene.

"Potter, Harry!"

Hermione craned her neck to watch her friend be Sorted. The tables were becoming much more full now.

Harry smiled at Ginny reassuringly, having accepted whatever his fate would be. Hermione supposed that after facing Voldemort, the Sorting Hat couldn't possibly be too frightening…

"SLYTHERIN!"

Gasps and whispers were heard from around the Great Hall. Harry alone didn't seem surprised by the Hat's choice.

He stood from the stool and made his way to the Slytherin table as if this was completely normal, taking a seat next to a relieved Susan Bones and Michael Corner, who had both been in Dumbledore's Army with Harry and had also been sorted into Slytherin. They had been a Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw respectively, before that night.

Hermione felt lightheaded. Everything seemed wrong. She was separated from Harry and – almost certainly – from Ron as well. She'd completely lost her appetite.

Finally, the list was dwindling to the end…

"Weasley, Ginevra!" was called and Hermione looked up with hope. Ginny was quick-witted and talented. Perhaps…

"SLYTHERIN!"

Her heart sank, even as Ginny grinned broadly and rushed to the Slytherin table with far too much glee than it was comfortable for a Gryffindor to be exhibiting. The redhead sank into a seat by Harry, who kissed her lightly on the cheek.

"Weasley, Ronald!"

Hermione didn't even get her hopes up.

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

"What?" Ron spluttered. It was almost comic, but Hermione couldn't laugh.

"Zabini, Blaise!"

"RAVENCLAW!"

Hermione glanced sadly around the long Ravenclaw benches. There were very few faces there she was familiar with except Malfoy and Zabini, who were sitting closely to one another and muttering in whispered voices as they glanced around the table.

For a split second, Hermione's eyes met Malfoy's and they shared a glance. There was no open hostility there, but there was certainly no kindness in those grey orbs either.

The lion began to pace restlessly in her heart.