"I have to ask you something. Meet me in the Room of Requirements tonight at seven," Hermione said as she passed Harry in the corridor. She moved on, lost in the sea of students walking between classes. She was running out of time; she had nine weeks left, and then the jaws of the trap were going to be too tight for her to get out.

After her Ancient Runes class, she made her way to the dungeons where Professor Snape's office was; he might be teaching Defence, but he hadn't moved. She wondered if it was deliberate or because he still brewed for the Infirmary. She shoved the thought away; she needed her head to be clear. He was snarky and bitter, and he didn't like her. Well, that was OK if this went the way she thought it would, in two weeks that wouldn't matter.

She knocked, and at his command, she entered the classroom. "Good afternoon, Professor," she said politely. She stood silently in front of the desk, waiting to be acknowledged. It was a game she played. She refused to fidget or let her attention wander until he acknowledged her. She thought he knew what she was doing, and it had become some sort of silent competition between them. Or he just wasn't going to acknowledge any student until he was ready. She didn't know, and it was Professor Snape, so the chances were that if she were right, he'd deny it on principle.

"Miss Granger, is there a reason you have blessed me with your presence instead of your NEWT Herbology class?"

"You have a free period now, Professor, and I didn't wish to draw attention to my presence in your office after dinner."

"Ten points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger."

"Yes, sir," she replied. She'd expected at least detention. Oh well, now she had something to work towards. She was fairly sure that by the end of the meeting, he would be in a towering rage. He looked up from his marking and raised an eyebrow, her cue to start talking.

"I wish to speak to you in regards to a subject that requires some privacy, Professor."

"Indeed." His reply gave no indication of his thoughts. He did, however, flick his wand towards the door. "Very well, Miss Granger."

"I would like to inquire if you are aware of any contingency plans the Order may have in regards to the Marriage Law the Ministry has enacted, sir."

"You are asking me for confidential information regarding the Order, Miss Granger." He said, his eyes narrowing. It wasn't a question.

She straightened her back and looked at him, throwing caution to the wind. "Do you wish me to ask the headmaster, sir? Because honestly? After the offers of tea, sweets, and a comfy chair and the ten minutes of faffing around trying not to answer the question, he still won't tell me the truth. Oh, he'll tell me something, but we both know it will at best be polite fiction, a sugar coating of the truth. This is my life, Professor, and I know that in times such as we are, there is an argument for the greater good—" She sneered a bit; she hadn't meant to, but it slipped out anyway. "But I can't see how my marriage, subsequent rape, and torture at the hands of whichever Death Eater has been selected for me can serve in such a case."

"Miss Granger," he said, rubbing his eyes, taken aback by her bluntness.

"Don't lie to me!" She snapped, bit her lip, and followed up more softly with, "Please, sir, you don't like me. I'm a child, friends with Harry, and we aren't known for making your life easy, but you have never lied to me. Please, don't make this the first time."

He looked at her, maybe for the first time, trying to put everything aside except the girl in front of him and the situation she was in.

"I believe the headmaster thinks he has a plan." He stared at her. Hermione said nothing but twisted her hands together, waiting. "He—" Professor Snape broke off and stood. "Come, Miss Granger, follow me."

He turned away from his desk and stepped to the side, towards a doorway. He muttered a word she couldn't hear and opened the door. He stepped through, she followed him, and she was in his private office; this was part of his personal suite. She stumbled in the doorway, not sure if she wanted to know what he was going to say next. If it required him retreating to his private rooms to tell her she had a horrible, horrible feeling, it was going to be worse than she had imagined.

The room had a spacious desk with a comfortable chair, scrolls, books, and parchment piled neatly on it, but there were a lot of them. The walls were covered in bookcases except for the opening she had walked through and one next to it, and she assumed that that door led to the rest of his rooms.

She sat in the armchair he indicated, facing another over a coffee table next to a warm fire burning in the hearth in front of them; a comfortable-looking sofa faced the fireplace. He made a pot of tea while she looked around, not pretending to be subtle about it. She wouldn't have managed it, so why waste the effort? She sat on her hands to stop them from twitching towards the bookcases.

He held out a cup of tea to her, and she had to fumble a hand out from under her to take it. He smirked, though it lacked malice. He sat across from her, and she pulled her other hand out to grip the saucer with both hands.

She met his gaze and wanted to bolt. He looked sad? Apologetic? Her world was tilting; it had been knocked off course when the law had been announced. In the intervening weeks, she spent the time trying to work out what she could do, how she could move forward, and how she could balance the many plates that were her responsibility. Now she was sitting here in the private office of the professor that she would have said hated her the most with a cup of tea while he looked at her with a facial expression she could only describe as regretful.

"Miss Granger," he started. "The Dark Lord wishes to control you, thus weakening Mr. Potter's endeavours. You have surmised that much for yourself?"

"Yes, sir. Only, I've only received one offer," she said demurely. "I didn't know; that is, I wasn't sure if that was deliberate. I wondered if I was to be a pawn, if other offers were even being accepted, or if they were being filtered, as it were, at the Ministry." She watched his face for any sort of clue or indication that she was right.

"The Dark Lord has chosen Mr. Malfoy for you. He is aware of Mr. Potter's history with Mr. Malfoy and believes it would cause him distress. Unless Mr. Malfoy proves unworthy of the Dark Lord's favour or someone else displeases or pleases him, I do not see the situation changing. Your case is different; you will not go through the protocols the Ministry has in place for this law, although from the outside it will seem that you will. I believe the headmaster is looking to follow the Dark Lords plan."

She closed her eyes. "Am I expected to spy?"

"Do you think you could?"

She shook her head. "I'd probably wind up getting us all killed if I tried."

He accepted that without comment. A silence fell between them as she tried to formulate her next question. He seemed content to wait until she had, sipping and staring into his tea.

"Then what?" she asked.

"I don't know," he replied, shrugging slightly.

"But there are no Death Eaters in the Order."

"Really, Miss Granger? You can't think of one?" He drawled sardonically.

"Oh well, err, I suppose, I didn't believe that you considered yourself a Death Eater," she said. "Since you, um, left." The inflexion on that last word making it a question.

"I assure you, Miss Granger, I am a Death Eater. To be otherwise would render me somewhat useless to the headmaster's plans."

"But," she said, waving off his words. "The headmaster wants me to marry you?"

"I believe that will be the option presented to you, most likely at the final hour, to induce you."

His sneer was back; she couldn't really blame him, but it still stung a little. She thought of a rude word she didn't dare say out loud. However, she rather thought her professor knew anyway. Surface skimming legilimency or was it written all over her face? He smirked at her as if daring her to comment.

"Professor, sir, with all the greatest respect, you can't possibly want to marry me. I'm your student, and I am more than certain you think I'm the world's most annoying person."

"Miss Granger—" he started, but she talked over him. She might have wondered at her nerve, but frankly, her world was spinning out of control. She was desperately clinging on but felt like her grip was slipping.

"So he thinks that by doing nothing until it's too late, I'll accept what he's offering?" She stood and started to pace, ignoring her professor, who watched her through narrowed eyes. "That conniving son of a bit—,"

"Miss Granger!" he said loudly, bringing her back to herself. "As much as it would delight me to put you in detention for the next month for finishing that sentence, I believe that if that is all, you may find yourself elsewhere."

"Sorry, Professor," she said, stopping her pacing. "You don't actually want to marry me, though, do you? It would put you at horrendous personal risk for very little gain. I respect you, I really do, and you are an excellent teacher."

He snorted at that.

"Well, yes, there are limitations, but I can accept that in the grand scheme of things," Hermione said.

"Miss Granger," he said, putting his head in his hands, unprepared to deal with the idea she might respect him and see past his teaching methods. "The headmaster requires it of me and of you."

Hermione quieted at that, sat back down, and picked up her tea and nursed it, thinking.

Professor Snape returned to staring into the fire, waiting for her to form her questions, so she took the opportunity and looked at him. He had been understanding. He'd sneered, yes, but wasn't he in the same corner? Could she do this to him? Now that she knew the headmaster's plan, could she go through with it? Do nothing? Passively accept that the adults knew best? Could she rip her heart out and throw away her happiness? Her relationship? Professor Snape was not an easy man; she would spend her life frustrated by him. Well, maybe not. The life expectancy for double agents wasn't long, was it? So he'd agree, thinking he wouldn't last the war. Well, that seemed stupid, what if he did? He'd still be married to her. His life, which should be his to live out from under the shadow of war, would still be tied to hers. She sighed.

"Professor, thank you for being willing to put yourself in that situation for me. But you and I both deserve to live our lives, maybe not free, but as best we can. To do anything else would be a betrayal, don't you think? Thank you for your time. Goodbye, Professor." Hermione put her cup down, stood, turned, and walked from the room, gathering her composure around her like a shield. She had spent more time there than she had thought she would, but she had time to run to the owlery before dinner.

Severus Snape watched her abrupt exit from his room after her statement. She had, he thought, taken it very well. She had clearly been thinking rude things about the headmaster, but she respected him. Him the fearsome Potions Master? Thought he was a good teacher? He had deliberately made her lessons miserable, as was required. She was beyond classroom lessons. If she wasn't in school with Harry Potter or as the Dark Lord resurrected, he would have offered her advanced lessons. He did this for students with promise, accelerated their lessons, and enrolled them in the early NEWT track, allowing them to flourish outside of the restrictive classroom curriculum. Maybe once they were married, he could do so, he wouldn't be allowed to teach her, but privately? She'd thanked him. He hadn't expected that. He sighed. It was nearly dinner time, and he had marking to finish. He would deal with Miss Granger when forced to.