Author's Note: Hi everyone. This is an AU that popped into my head where the Golden Trio returns to Hogwarts for their eighth year and is unexpectedly re-sorted. While this is primarily an eighth-year fic, it is also a Dramione (with a few lemony bits sprinkled throughout) and features heavy focuses on alchemy. I did conduct many hours of research into classical alchemy, but there is also a fair bit I simply made up. Additionally, I took some liberties with Hogwarts castle itself, though I did consult HP Wikia whenever information was available.
Another thing you may want to know is that this fic is what you would call a 'slow burn' - no, really, prepare yourself for that. It's one of the main complaints I get about this story.
I hope you like it!
Hermione was not 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 NEWT completion, but Hermione could feel that 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 had 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 expression with fondness.
"Going to be an interesting year," Harry commented needlessly.
They all knew.
"I wonder how it'll be with McGonagall as Headmistress," Ginny mused absently. Her head was resting on Harry's shoulder possessively. Following the final battle, the two had come together with the intensity of lightning ripping through the night sky. Their fierce devotion to one another was sometimes difficult to witness. Hermione uncomfortably thought how different it had been from her and Ron…
Without the threat of Voldemort looming in the distance, it seemed she and Ron were no longer compelled to be glued at the hip. They had drifted apart slowly, like the tide going out. Despite that such a thing had been perfectly obvious to both of them, it had only been on the previous day, right before the start of term, that they agreed to remain friends only. There were no hard feelings, nothing lost. Hermione's relief was palpable, even now.
As the carriage came to a stop in front of the castle, she felt excitement begin 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. She took 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 and she felt tears well up in her eyes. She had worried she would 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 toward where some of the other students were still disembarking from the carriages. "Malfoy."
Their heads turned to where Ginny indicated and easily caught sight of a familiar head of platinum blond hair. Hands in his pockets, there was a definite hunch to Malfoy's shoulders. His fellow Slytherins, Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott, talked quietly by his side.
"Looks like Goyle decided not to come back this year," Ron remarked.
"Look – here's Neville and Luna!"
"Hey, Harry! Ron, Hermione, Ginny…" Neville greeted 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.
"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 they have steak and kidney pie, I couldn't care less," Ron groaned, clutching his stomach.
Laughing as they entered the familiar Great Hall, the five friends filed over to the Gryffindor table, while Luna made herself comfortable at the Ravenclaw one. They rekindled old friendships. Ron and Hermione were particularly popular, but everywhere Harry went, genuine applause erupted.
Once the hall was settled, the newly appointed Headmistress McGonagall got to her feet and stood at the center podium. 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 was colored with a smile that twitched at the corners of her lips. "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, while Professor Sinistra will be taking over as Head of Gryffindor in my stead."
Polite applause greeted this statement. Many of the younger students remained silent, looking grim rather than excited at the start of term. Hermione noticed many of them searching 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 could not really blame them. 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.
"Due to many factors," the Headmistress continued, "class schedules have not been prepared as of yet. This year, the school board has opted to expand the curriculum. Tomorrow morning, the heads from each House will meet with their students in their respective common rooms to review offered classes and the eligibility requirements."
Hermione sat up straighter, excitement coursing through her at the prospect of new classes being offered. Ginny elbowed her, shaking her head at the show of enthusiasm, but Hermione was unswayed.
"...In addition to the classes available previously, Xylomancy and Alchemy will be offered to NEWT level students."
Hermione quickly dismissed Xylomancy as glorified Divination, but Alchemy? Hogwarts, A History had indicated that alchemical studies had not been offered in nearly seventy years. She had never hoped to be able to study it in a school environment, assuming it would be up to her to pursue on her own time. She became so lost in the possibilities of what she could learn on the subject - even in a single year of a structured environment - that she almost missed what McGonagall decreed next.
"Another reason your schedules have not been finalized is due to the need to wait until after tonight's sorting ceremony. The staff and the board have agreed that, in light of recent events… it would be in Hogwarts' best interests to conduct a school-wide resorting."
The hall erupted with cries of alarm, which swiftly built into a true cacophony that could not be abated for several minutes.
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, resting on her thighs, tightened and her fingernails began to dig into her skin, but she did not 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 Black 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, some muttering curses while others 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-" he tried.
"What if we're separated?" she interrupted in a hiss.
Harry looked glum. "The hat gives you a choice. It did for me before…"
"I'm not sure that's going to work for everyone, Harry…"
"We're all Gryffindors, though," Ron reminded her obtusely, clearly convinced he would still be sleeping in Gryffindor Tower that night.
This is 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 seemed to go on forever, especially with the addition of the eighth years, of whom nearly three-quarters had returned to properly sit for their NEWTs.
"I am going to have a panic attack," Hermione admitted under her breath to Ginny, who squeezed her hand reassuringly.
"Don't," she advised sagely. "It'll be over soon."
Hermione noted the subdued Slytherins watching the proceedings with narrowed eyes. Malfoy was glaring at the floor, grinding his teeth. Pansy Parkinson was eyeing the Sorting Hat with open hostility.
"Oh no, oh no… oh no," Hermione muttered a little madly as she stumbled from the slowly dwindling line that stretched out of the Great 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 Sorting Hat covered her head. It did not quite slip over her eyes like it had when she was eleven however, and that was something.
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 a student – were fairly uncommon. Seven years ago, she had given the hat an extremely difficult time, privately arguing with it as it decided between placing her in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw.
It continued, "You do make a shining example of a Gryffindor… but I can also see you're exhausted of being the hero... and after the year you've just had, who can blame you? No matter. This time, it had better be… RAVENCLAW!"
As the hat announced its decision to the entire hall, Hermione released the deep breath she had been holding, 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 into blue-and-bronze and that somehow made it all seem quite permanent. Still, she felt she could probably thrive as a Ravenclaw… but she already missed her friends. There was no way they were all going to end up together if this was her fate.
There was a knot on the wooden table in front of her, where she would now be expected to take her meals; it was a distinctive one, worn-down and smooth with age, but long and stretched. Reaching her fingers out to touch it, she recalled that there had been no such distinctive marking on the Gryffindor table.
It took a few moments for her to look up, but when she did, she saw Ron, Harry, and Ginny giving all her the thumbs-up. She shot them a half-smile and felt a flicker of resolve. Really, of all the houses, Ravenclaw was not too bad.
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… in fact, she was sure she remembered Neville telling her he had argued with the Sorting Hat for over five minutes before being sent to Gryffindor. He had requested to be sorted into Hufflepuff, but the hat had won in the end.
Hermione's heart fluttered with yearning once more. She did not mind Ravenclaw, really, but she loved Gryffindor. There was a lion in her heart.
Looking up with interest, Hermione wondered where the hat would deign to place the former Death Eater. He was so very Slytherin, she could not imagine him being placed anywhere but there…
"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 the boy who had let Death Eaters into Hogwarts… the boy whose aunt had tortured her mere months ago while he had watched…
The Great Hall was utterly silent as Malfoy sauntered over to the Ravenclaw table, the green-and-silver of his uniform tie switching to blue-and-bronze. As he sunk onto the end of the long bench, he glowered at the wooden table, mouth twisted into a grimace.
Pansy burst into tears and slammed down into her seat at the Hufflepuff table, making a scene.
Hermione craned her neck to watch her best friend being re-sorted. The tables had become much fuller now that they were more than halfway through McGonagall's list.
Harry smiled at Ginny reassuringly, having appeared to accept in advance whatever decision the hat made. Hermione supposed that after facing Voldemort, the Sorting Hat could not possibly be too frightening…
Gasps and whispers resonated throughout the hall. Harry, alone, did not seem surprised by the hat's choice. He stood from the stool and made his way toward the Slytherin table as if it were the most normal thing in the world, taking a seat across from a relieved Susan Bones and an intrigued Michael Corner. Both students had been in Dumbledore's Army and had also been sorted into Slytherin; they had been a Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw respectively, before.
Hermione felt lightheaded. Everything seemed wrong. She was separated from Harry and – almost certainly – from Ron as well. She had completely lost her appetite.
Finally, the list was petering to the end…
"Weasley, Ginevra!" was called and Hermione looked up with hope. Ginny was quick-witted and talented. Perhaps…
Her heart sank, even as Ginny grinned broadly and rushed toward the Slytherin table with far too much glee for a Gryffindor to be exhibiting. She scrambled into a space beside Harry, who kissed her lightly on the cheek.
Hermione did not even get her hopes up.
"What?" Ron spluttered. It was almost comic, but Hermione could not laugh.
Hermione glanced sadly around the long Ravenclaw benches. There were very few faces 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.
Author's Note: Huge amounts of beta appreciation to iwasbotwp. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I also want to thank everyone who decided to leave a review, and everyone who may do so in the future. I simply adore reviews, they are like crack.