Summary: An entirely different take on the genetics problem that is at the heart of the Marriage Law Challenge. Warning: this is not an MLC.

Disclaimer: I have shamelessly filched Snape and Hermione out of J.K. Rowling's toybox. I promise to dust them off when I'm done, and not to sell or rent them out to anybody. The Marriage Law Challenge was originally ChelleyBean's.

Further Disclaimer: This story is rated PG for a mild profanity and a reference to infanticide. This means there will be no sex, for those people attracted by the letters 'MLC' in the subject header. Sorry.

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The door of the Leaky Cauldron gaped wide, spilling light, fumes, noise, and Hermione Granger out onto the damp London cobblestones. She lay there for a few moments, trying vainly to damp the rising bubble of hilarity threatening to overwhelm her.

Well, you've earned it, thought Hermione to herself. She stretched out on the wet pavement, and succumbed to the laughing fit. The brightest witch of the decade, and look at me now...

She'd spent years in her youth trying desperately to prove she was the equal of any purebred witch. She'd surely done it now; she'd gained a triumph today to almost equal the triumph of vanquishing Lord Voldemort.

She wasn't behaving like herself tonight, that was certain. The straightlaced, singleminded academic Miss Granger of her Hogwarts days would have been appalled if she'd seen herself get tossed out of a wizard pub for table dancing. It was the relief that had done it, Hermione knew. The sudden release from crushing fear often made people do strange things. She supposed it was probably deceptive, but Hermione hadn't felt this light or happy since the day ten years ago when she'd met Harry's exhausted eyes over Voldemort's smoking corpse.

The sound of footfalls interrupted her laughter, and she looked up to see one of the last people in the world she wanted to witness her discomfiture.

'While it might be customary for teenage witches to spend a certain portion of their adolescent years being ejected from drinking establishments, Miss Granger, I confess this is the first time I have seen one prostrate with laughter instead of alcohol.' He prodded her now-sodden hem with the toe of his boot. 'If you are going to take up permanent residence upon the cobbles, will you please do so farther away from the entrance?'

She met his gaze as evenly as her now-fading giggle-fit permitted. 'Oh, I've had a drink or two, sir. But it's a good thing I'm mostly sober, or there's no chance I'd be able to unravel a sentence like that one. I'd ask you whether you always talk like that, but I had seven years in your classroom to learn that you do...and I've had ample opportunity since to find out that your writing is worse.'

She looked at him quizzically; what was her old Potions professor and occasional correspondent doing in Muggle London this late in the evening? The question was answered by the logo on the bag in his hand, thankfully before she'd embarrassed herself by asking. Severus Snape, it seemed, patronized the same bookstore she did.

Carefully hiding any trace of a smile, she looked him over. He was perfect, she decided. She had a triumph to celebrate, after all. And there was no point in a triumph if you couldn't gloat about it. And he might just be useful...

The trouble with a triumph of misdirection and prevention, she reflected, was that you couldn't tell anyone about it or you'd call attention to the very information you'd buried. She hadn't even told Harry and Ron. They'd been happy to gather all their friends and come down to the pub to celebrate without knowing why. She didn't figure it mattered. Well, I didn't, sober. Hermione grimaced, as a recent memory surfaced.

Professor Snape, though... He surely knew how to keep a secret. He wouldn't lose his head and shout her secret to the Friday night patronage of the Leaky Cauldron. And she thought he'd be sympathetic to her cause... one of the few Pureblood wizards she could say that about, actually.

They weren't exactly strangers, either, she thought, justifying her impulse. She'd sent him letters for years. After the war, his monosyllabic responses had eventually unbent into genuine correspondence. Though they'd rarely met in the last few years, she always looked forward to receiving the latest installment of one of their owled discussions.

And he was a- her eyes devoured him in the dim lighting of the street-lamps- very attractive man, now that the war was over. He might not have been handsome, but every move he made betrayed the sheer power of his presence. Every flash of his eyes betrayed the fire of his intellect, and that was far more compelling to Hermione than looks. And Slytherins were supposed to be master plotters, weren't they? He'd surely be impressed by her achievement, and if they wound up going back to her flat after... so much the better.

She got to her feet, and brushed off her clothing, in a motion carefully designed to highlight the fact that she was not, damn it, a teenage witch. Her robe was that of a successful businesswitch. It did show off her muggleborn origins as well as her figure, since it was cut in a rather cunning blend of Muggle and wizard fashion, but that was all to the good, as far as Hermione was concerned. Among other things, it meant she didn't have to transfigure her outfit whenever she decided to walk home from the Ministry, if she wore a coat instead of a cloak. And it took cleaning charms wonderfully, she thought, as she put her wand back in her coat pocket.

'Were you meeting someone here, sir? I'm not nearly done celebrating yet, and since I seem to have gotten kicked out of the party, it'll have to be at a Muggle establishment. Have a drink with me, Professor?'

He looked at her, down the length of his light-year-long nose, for a long moment. 'If you are celebrating, surely your pack of insufferable friends must be nearby?'

'Ha! Oh, they're still in there, roaring away. It was only me toasting the destruction of the wizarding world. Tom doesn't seem to like that sort of thing. Odd. And how was I supposed to know that dancing on the tables isn't done?' She considered that for a second, then shrugged at him.

'Toasting the... Miss Granger, what exactly is it you are celebrating?' asked the dark man, with a sudden look of arrested attention in his narrowing eyes.

"Why, what I said, of course. The complete and inevitable destruction of the Pureblood Wizarding Culture in Britain.'

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Severus Snape looked surprisingly comfortable in Muggle garb, ensconced at a dim corner table in an out-of-the-way coffee shop. They'd ended up at a late-night coffee shop and espresso bar instead of the pub she'd been aiming for; he'd taken one look at the loud, crowded, smoky doorway and pointed out in that incisive way of his how badly it suited conversation. She'd shrugged; he'd been right, and she wasn't too drunk to admit it.

She wasn't sure why she'd been so surprised to see him at his ease in the Muggle world. It had been ten years, after all, since he'd had to maintain his wartime persona. If his letters were any indication, he'd lost little in the way of vituperative sarcasm. He was still a brutal taskmaster in the classroom, by all reports. Yet, now he could openly indulge a vast curiosity, exchange long, insightful letters concerning obscure segments of Muggle science or culture with a Muggleborn witch, patronize a Muggle bookshop, and relax in a way Hermione would never have believed was possible.

Frankly, she'd been pleased that her lure had worked. But of course he hadn't been able to resist a line like the one she'd ended with, and then refused to explain until she got to sit down somewhere. She doubted that he'd allow her to stall him off any longer, though.

'Would you mind giving me a somewhat fuller explanation of your words earlier, Miss Granger?'

No, definitely not. Hermione suddenly wondered if this was a particularly intelligent idea. This was, after all, a very dangerous man. And she'd had long enough to be mostly sober, but she wasn't sure if she could match the power of his fierce intellect just at present. He'd been Voldemort's interrogator, after all. Well, she'd made the decision to unload the whole when she decided to gloat.

His full attention was no longer on their surroundings. It felt rather strange to be the sole focus of his regard, Hermione thought. She'd been used to a classroom full of distractions, to take the brunt of the effect. But, she'd not made it to the top of the magical research field in only seven years by being thin-skinned. And she wasn't a Gryffindor for nothing.

Begin at the beginning, Hermione. 'A few months ago, I had a rather interesting report cross my desk at the Ministry. You know I'm with the Ministry of Magical Research. I'm still a fairly junior researcher, so I wouldn't normally get a project like this, but I've done a study of Muggle genetics, which made me the best choice for it.'

He nodded acknowledgement of her explanation, and gestured for her to continue.

'Oh, thank you for the permission, sir,' laughing again.

'It was the five year birth report from the Association of Mediwizards, Mediwitches and Midwives. They'd noticed a trend that disturbed them, and highlighted it to the Ministerial representatives. It was sent down to Research for corroboration and investigation, and I ended up with it. I correlated it with the monthly reports from St Mungo's. I pulled the geneological records of the entirety of Wizarding Britain for the last three generations, and you know what I got?'

She'd asked the question rhetorically, but he'd obviously seen the direction she was going. Well, she had thrown out the word 'Pureblood' earlier, and this wasn't a man who missed details.

'You found, I expect, the correlation between Pureblood intermarriage and Squib children,' he replied softly, his voice conjuring up images of dark, mysterious things swimming through unidentifiable preservatives. 'It's been obvious for years, to anyone who cared to look.'

'Bingo,' she said. 'But do you know what the birthrate actually is? And it gets worse, you know. Squibs aren't the only problem. There's also an increased percentage of miscarriages, stillbirths, children born deformed or with genetic disorders...my numbers aren't as good regarding those, of course. Quite a lot of Pureblood families quietly ...dispose... of children with obvious defects, and it's hard to get reports of miscarriages. I expect that quite a few stillborn children weren't stillborn until the baby was examined. There's no proof now, of course. But I've found a few funny things in the records at St. Mungo's. I've found records of stillbirths on suspiciously new parchment, or with issue dates that don't quite match the dates recorded for the mother's labour. I've seen midwives' records of checkups on pregnant witches who somehow never produce children. I've interviewed midwives across the country. I can't get details, of course, but they all agree with my general hypothesis.

'And proof or not, there's no arguing with the birthrate. Three generations ago, Pureblood families had the same birthrate as anyone else. In the the last generation, sir, only two Pureblood couples in five produced children at all. One out of three children that were born are either Registered Squibs or did not live to attend Hogwarts. And I'll let your memory remind you how those children did academically.'

Crabbe, Goyle, Bulstrode, Flint, Maddox, Chesney... She thought that pinched expression probably meant that he'd just run through the same list, plus fifteen years.

'You've been complaining for years, Professor, about the increasing number of dunderheads in your classes. Isn't it nice to know that you were right?' She grinned at him again.

He returned her sunny look with a frown. 'It has become...unfashionable, in recent years, for wizards in certain circles to have children. Part of the reason your friends the Weasleys are so unpopular among Purebloods is because Arthur and Molly committed the social solecism of having more than one offspring.'

'It wasn't entirely fashion, Professor. For every Pureblood child in my generation, I have calculated or deduced the existence of five stillbirths or miscarriages.'

He looked past her, his eyes like midnight pools of black murky water. 'Draco Malfoy had two older sisters, I recall. One had twelve fingers, and didn't live past her first breath. And the other,' he looked down at the table, 'failed an early test for magic. Fatally.'

Hermione remembered Neville's story of being dropped from a high window by an uncle. She didn't want to imagine what the little Malfoy girl's fate might have been.

'I was godfather to both of them.'

Ulp. Hermione didn't quite know what to say to that, so let the remark stand in a pool of spreading silence for a few moments.

Softly, she continued. 'The trend is very clear. Nearly all of the Pureblood families remaining are inbred to the point of inviability. And Voldemort's war removed the greater part of two entire generations of witches and wizards before they could have children. Of the twenty-four Pureblood families in Britain fifty years ago, there are only eight remaining now, and two of those might not last another generation.'

Snape looked at her and she could almost see the wheels in his complexity of a clockwork mind click round. She sat back as he began to tick them off.

' Dumbledore is gone; neither Albus nor Aberforth had any heirs. Potter is no longer pure- young Mr Potter cannot return his family's status by marrying Ginny Weasley, should he eventually decide to do so. Malfoy is gone. Lestrange, Avery, Rosier, Crabbe, Goyle, Burke, gone. Rookwood and Crouch both perished. The Slytherin family died with Voldemort, and his was the last of the direct-line Founder families. Cedric Diggory was the only Pureblood Diggory child; his cousins are all mixed-blood. Ollivander's daughter married a Muggle. Molly Weasley is the last Prewett- that family will continue only if one of her sons marries and formally claims the Prewett name. And the most noble and ancient house of Black is no more. ' He sneered viciously as he said the last name. '

Hermione nodded, and he continued. 'Of the families remaining: Longbottom will continue. Though your friend Mr. Longbottom has married young Miss Lovegood, he has a number of cousins. '

'I wouldn't bet money on that family staying pure for another generation and producing any wizards worth the name, though,' Hermione put in. 'Neville may have developed into a powerful wizard- don't scoff, mister, you've had it amply demonstrated!' she said, as he drew breath for a quick retort, 'but his power very nearly didn't spark off at all- two more months and he'd have been a Squib all his life.'

Snape glared at her but said nothing; she deduced that he had indeed been about to say something rather disparaging about the hapless Mr. Longbottom. The memory of a curse-lit battlefield filled her mind, though, and she rather thought she saw the memory of Neville's courage echoed in the dour Potions Master's suddenly-somber eyes.

The militant feeling was gone from Hermione's voice as she continued. 'Bones, Parkinson, Nott, Fudge might all make it another generation or two. Lucretia Borgin may have outlived her uncle, and technically be still of childbearing age, but if she hasn't shown any interest in men before, why should she start now? Even Weasley is iffy; of the six surviving Weasleys of my generation, four are married or betrothed to mixed-bloods or Muggles. So the hopes of Pureblood Weasleys and Prewetts rest on both Fred and George a: deciding to marry, and b: marrying a Pureblood. '

'Doubtful', was Snape's judgement. 'Those two were the only seventh-years I've ever taught who snuck plans for experimental explosives into class rather than Playwizard cutouts.'

She tilted her head, a bit taken aback. 'I don't think I want to ask. But they haven't changed much. The last time I saw them, they were both neck-deep in a cloud of rather dubious coloured smoke, making 'swoosh, swoosh' noises. I didn't ask about that, either.'

Hermione was seized by a rising bubble of sheer glee as she remembered where they were on the list of eligible Purebloods. She smiled at him sunnily, and let loose her accusation. 'And you, sir, are the last Snape. Will you be providing your line with an heir anytime soon, do you think?'

Judging by the appalled look on his face, the answer was probably 'When hell freezes solid, and Satan calls out the souls of the damned to an ice-skating party with hot cider and maple mead.' But she distrusted the expression that slowly displaced his first reaction. Oh no.

Oh yes, his eyes said lasciviously. 'Why, Miss Granger, do you think you'd be interested?'

Hermione's mind stuttered to a halt as she contemplated the prospect of more Snapes. Toddler Snapes, even. Even- Oh Lord preserve me! - teenaged Snapes. Her mind skittered wildly away from the idea, and grasped firmly at the first distraction to hand.

'By the way, sir, I'd like to congratulate you on being a marked exception to the inbreeding rule. I did some research on your family as part of this study; by all rights, you shouldn't be nearly so powerful or intelligent.' She shifted in her seat, carefully not thinking of the surge of whatever that had been as she'd contemplated Snape's imaginary children.

'On the contrary, Miss Granger', he said, stretching the moment with a sip of coffee. 'While I am pureblooded, my mother's antecedents did not come from England. There is no Ministry as such in eastern Europe, and very little official genealogical tracking. Therefore, it was quite easy for my ancestors to suppress the fact that while my grandmother had no Muggle blood, she was quite definitely mixed. '

A great light began to dawn on Hermione. 'You mean...?'

'Yes, Miss Granger. I'm sure you've amused yourself for years making the comparison; it must be simply titillating to learn that there truly is vampire blood in my family. Though the more ...obvious... traits of the species thankfully have not been transmitted in the genes. But no, Miss Granger. I am not an exception. My genetics are simply less inbred than you thought.'

'Thank you for the explanation, sir', said Hermione, valiantly maintaining a straight face. Oooh, the possibilities...!

'Do continue with your explanation, Miss Granger'.

'Well, that's about it, isn't it? According to my projections, in two generations at the latest, there will be no Pureblood wizards left in Britain. Either they won't be Purebloods, or they won't be wizards.' She shrugged her dismissal of the subject.

'It's rather ironic, isn't it,' she said, ignoring the warning look in his eyes, 'that Voldemort was all about the superiority of the Pureblood culture, and instead I calculate he accelerated its end by two hundred years.

'And this-, this is your great, sweeping, victory,' he asked, 'that you were so jubilant about earlier this evening?'

'Well, no. ' She grinned. 'Not really. When I handed in my report, I ...hmmm. I rather de-emphasised the finality of the conclusion in my report. I left the questionable or unproven data out entirely, and cast a rather rosy spin on the rest of it. I suggested that the drop in the birthrate was entirely due to the late war, and would surely even out in the fullness of time.'

'You, Miss Granger? You, falsify a report?' he asked, his silky voice full of amusement. 'So much for Gryffindor honour.'

'It wasn't falsified!' she protested hotly. 'Nothing in it was untrue. The birthrate did drop due to the war, and it will resolve itself eventually. Just....not for the Purebloods.'

'And more to the point,' she continued determinedly, 'the report I turned in is what any other researcher would have come up with, lacking my background, and my tenacity. While I remain in the Department of Magical Research, that report will not be contradicted. And it is in the Minister's interests to accept the conclusion I offered.'

His eyes sharpened slightly. 'And so, today, the Minister will have made his ruling on it, am I right?'

She nodded.

'Let me guess. Cornelius Fudge was always one to take the easiest way out when at all possible. He has ruled that the subject is not worthwhile to pursue, and has issued a statement to the AMMM that the situation is under control, and everyone is not to worry.'

'Exactly'. Hermione nodded. 'An article to the effect of 'Rah, rah, and hail the mighty recovering population, in Fierce Despite of Past Setbacks!' will probably appear in the Prophet tomorrow. I think I'll cut it out and have it framed. It is my triumph, after all.'

'So, with manipulated inaction, you damn the Purebloods, and call it triumph. A fitting revenge for an ill-treated Muggleborn, I suppose.' He gazed at her with hooded eyes.

'What? I...' She bit back most of her reflexive protest, seeing the pain pooled behind the curtains of his lashes. She wouldn't have put it past him to have heard it anyway, though. Oh well. If he's reading my thoughts, he deserves what he gets.

One of the hardest lessons she'd had to learn in the last ten years had been diplomacy. She'd never have made it as far as she had in the Ministry if she'd still been the intensely focused witch she'd been in school, charging blindly forward without thinking of how her actions might affect other people. It wasn't natural to her, though. She had to stop and consciously consider the other side of an issue, or a conversation. Her first reaction would always be to save people, and never stop to ask whether they wanted to be saved.

She thought she understood why he'd lashed out. She had spent a great deal of time thinking about all sides of her decision, before turning in her report.

'It is already too late to save the pureblooded families as they are,' she continued gently. 'Even marriage to mixed-blood families is too close, now; the lines are too polluted with inbreeding for that to help. Yes, if Purebloods married full Muggles or Muggleborns, and did so for a few generations, the vigor would return to those families.

'Yet, what would the Minister do if he knew that? There is no moral action he can take, except passing the report on to the members of the remaining pure-blooded families. He's Pureblood himself, remember? He has a personal stake in seeing the Pureblood families continue at any cost.

'If I had told him that marriage to Muggleborns would save his family, what do you think he would have done?' she asked the ex-spy across from her.

'He would most likely have enacted a set of forced marriage laws,' was the Professor's reply.

'Exactly. At its least invasive, such a law would forbid Purebloods from intermarrying. It's more likely that it would force Purebloods to marry Muggleborns or Muggles. How would you feel about that, sir?' She fielded his glare defiantly. 'Well, I know how I'd feel if they passed a law forcing Muggleborns to marry Purebloods.'

She tried not to think of herself, bound unwilling to one of Cornelius Fudge's sons, or to Neville's bovine cousin, by those ancient, draconian, and restrictive marriage rites. Trapped into the sham of a marriage in which she would have no control over her fate, her possessions, her wand, or her body. Most modern Wizarding couples married by Muggle ceremonies of one sort or another and turned in documentation to the Ministry, but the oldest Pureblood families used a magical ceremony that dated back to the time when women were chattel. Like the ancient wizards' flocks of free-range animals, charmed to want to return to their owner, she could be magically bound to the thrice-widowed dodecagenarian Ollivander.

She shivered, as if a shadow had suddenly passed over the sun, or a ghost had sailed through her body, leaving a sudden chill in the warmth of the coffee shop.

'So, yes. I compromised my academic honour. I lied to my boss. I played God with the Minister of Magic. But I did it to save us all from a worse alternative. The end might not justify the means, but, frankly, at this point, I don't really care.'

'How ...admirable...a sentiment, Miss Granger.' His voice was lightly mocking. 'Can it be that Gryffindor honour is worth less than advertised? Oh, but I forget, Miss Granger. You've never been a shining specimen of integrity. Stooping to theft, and blackmail, and outright lies. Cheating with a time-turner. Tell me, did you mean Dolores Umbridge to survive her captivity in the Forest? And what about that little game of yours with the house elves in your final year?' He raised an eloquent eyebrow. 'Not to mention a sentence or two of outright perjury, in the trials afterwards.'

'You didn't seem to mind my perjuring myself at the time, Mr. Clean Conscience! You got off, didn't you? And I have never,' she glared at him, 'cheated on anything. With a time turner or otherwise.

'To be honest, I think 'Gryffindor honour' is a load of revisionist rot, comparable to the same prejudices and generalizations that state 'all Slytherins are evil'. And we know where that sort of thing leads, don't we? Gryffindors do what seems to be a good idea at the time, just like everybody else.'

She looked across the table toward the civilized remains of the gaunt spectre of her childhood, and caught his eye. 'I rather regret that I can't send warning to the Pureblood families now, without drawing more attention than I can justify.' Yes, she thought, he'd caught her meaning. Hah! Gryffindors can do subtle, Professor!

'But, really, isn't it the most appropriate fate anyone could have come up with? The very people who called me Mudblood as a girl are now backed into a corner, though they don't know it, of marriage to Mudbloods, or death.

'The Minister has no right to make the choice for them. If they'd rather die than pollute their bloodlines, by all means let them. Let them fade, if they want to so badly.' She grimaced. 'Maybe I am indulging in a little revenge.'

'You would not be the first to do so. ' He uncovered his shuttered gaze for a moment, and looked at her.

He held her eyes for a long moment, as if weighing something. Silently, she watched him stand, and, striding over to the till, pay for their coffee. He avoided her gaze and quickly left the coffee shop.

Hermione wondered for a long moment whether or not to follow. She thought he might have intended her to leave with him, though he'd made no sign. He'd never shown any talent for social interaction in all the time she'd known him, yet, in all their correspondence, he'd always signed off with a proper salutation. She didn't think he would just leave without some sort of farewell. And even if he had meant her to, did she truly want to follow him?

Another thought struck her, and she made her decision. He'd taken a blow tonight, after all. Hermione, you sentimental fool, you're turning into a Hufflepuff.

But when she looked for him in the darkness of the street outside, he was gone.

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He found her, of course. Just as she was turning the corner into the dim street where her flat was, he appeared next to her, materializing out of darkness.

'Turning in so soon, Miss Granger?'

God, that's startling. Even knowing why he's so good at melting into shadow doesn't help. 'Don't do that! You'll give me a heart attack!' She lowered the wand she'd reflexively drawn.

His voice, seeming a part of the velvet shadows, was not encouraging. 'You'll have to be more vigilant than that, Miss Granger. I could have killed you in twenty different ways, and you would have seen none of them approaching. And no one would ever know what had become of you. You are far from your comforting crowds now, Miss Granger.'

Oh God. She'd forgotten, she truly had. She'd been lulled into complaisance by his mild manner in the coffee shop, forgetting that they'd been in public. Of course he'd been acting. Of course he'd lulled her suspicions; he'd been using a persona designed to lull suspicions. Every sympathetic gesture, every attitude of patient attention, all had combined to make her forget that he was the last remaining Dark Wizard. The fact that he'd betrayed Voldemort was history, passing into legend. But he'd never pretended that he'd done it for any but his own reasons. And no one now alive could venture more than a guess as to what those reasons might have been.

On the other hand, she didn't think he'd gain anything from her death. He had no reason to kill her. Or rather, if annoyance was enough of a reason for him to kill, she rather thought he'd have stayed with Voldemort, and the world would be a very different place now. So his purpose in threatening her was probably just that: to remind her who she was dealing with. And that he'd have a price.

'Don't worry, Miss Granger. I don't intend to harm you. I merely wish to make a point very clear.' His voice was quiet but uncompromising.

'Do you know the origin of the word 'scapegoat', Miss Granger?

'Yes, it's based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word-,' she cut herself off at his contemptuous sneer.

'Disgorging the contents of the dictionary is no more attractive a habit now than it was in an eleven year-old child, Miss Granger.'

She glared unrepentantly at him. Why ask the question if you don't want an answer?

'I am not unaware of your motives in choosing me as a confidant, you know. If your purpose in confessing your sordid little tale of academic intrigue was to make yourself feel better by unloading your guilt, that I might carry it away, I will beg leave to disabuse you. I have no use for guilt, in myself or in anyone else. I will certainly not be an affirmation to your conscience.

'You made a request of me. Well- let us not call it a request, for it wasn't particularly polite. Neither was it a demand. What you made, Miss Granger, was an assumption; that, understanding your desire, of course I would acquiesce. ' He quirked an eyebrow.

'I will grant your request, Miss Granger. I will pass your information along to those families who might benefit from the knowledge, and I will conceal the source of it. And I will see that those in a position to misuse it remain ignorant.'

'But, I wish you to know, Miss Granger, that I very much resent being used. If you deal with me, you deal on my terms. If you choose to do otherwise, you will never have another opportunity.'

Oh, Hermione. You did assume, didn't you? She'd been so busy congratulating herself on her subtlety that she hadn't even noticed how rude she'd been. She hadn't asked, she'd just hinted, and taken it for granted that he'd agree.

'Thank you, sir. And, for what it's worth, I apologise. And I'm very grateful for whatever you choose to do. I won't forget it. '

He looked levelly at her. 'Indeed you will not. But I do this for my own reasons, as always. I have no more desire than you to see a future in which marriage is dictated by the Ministry. But I wonder if you quite realize the power you have just handed me.'

'I think I do, actually,' Hermione replied. 'But I'm gambling that your sense of justice will overcome any lingering annoyance at me. There's no purpose to you in destroying me, after all. And I trust you. Owing you a favour isn't such a bad thing.'

'You've just handed me a death sentence for my entire social class, and you trust me?' His expression revealed nothing of his thoughts.

She rolled her eyes. 'It's not going to make any difference in the long run, you know. So what if all the wizards in the next few generations have Muggle ancestry? It won't topple the Wizarding World. Too many Mixed-breeds are generations removed from Muggle influence, and have too much invested in the Wizarding culture. We might see a few changes, but it'll hardly be noteworthy. The necessity for separation from the Muggles hasn't changed. If wizards upgrade from quills to biros, or start using mobiles instead of the Floo, what will it really matter? Quidditch will go on forever.

'My hope is that the lingering prejudices between Purebloods and Muggleborns will fade away. But it probably won't happen, you know. There's too much fear on both sides, now. Most likely, there'll just be different families calling themselves Pure, a hundred years from now. ' She smiled. 'But every little bit helps'.

'You think that an evening of civilized conversation is an omen of world peace? How ...sentimental.' He sneered at her, the twist of his expressive mouth betraying his disdain for the concept.

'Well, that too,' said Hermione, grinning suddenly. 'I was actually thinking of the fact that, if I have my way, the next generation of children won't be born to parents who hate each other. Or them. But if you want to be sentimental, I've no objection.'

"Miss Granger...' he said warningly.

'Well, I thought you'd enjoyed yourself tonight. I certainly wouldn't mind another evening with you in a coffee shop. But if you're going to ask me out, you'll have to put your wand away.'

'I- Miss Granger, are you propositioning me?'

'Or take the other one out, of course.' She caught the answering glint in his dark eye at her rather un-subtle double-entendre. Well, he could hardly have missed her interest or attraction, she thought. And if he was going to feel threatened or put off by an aggressive approach by a confident witch, it was best they find that out immediately.

'You do remember that not ten minutes ago I had a wand to your head?'

'Well, I had just insulted you rather badly. But I do trust you. If I ever treat you like a house-elf, you're more than welcome to threaten me again. Or better still, dump a cake on my head.'

'Miss Granger, if you wish to play with fire, you will most assuredly get burned.'

She grinned, and took down the wards on her flat. 'Why, Professor, I thought you'd never ask.'

Author's Note: I have used the term 'Pureblood' in this story to mean 'no provable Muggle ancestors'. It is my theory that the vast majority of witches and wizards would fall under 'Mixed' blood; the Wizarding population is simply too small to avoid interbreeding with Muggles or Muggleborns. The 'Purebloods' would therefore be so proud in part because they are so few.

This is the end. I've left it open, for those who like smut to imagine some, and those who would prefer him to be left standing in the street as a precursor to months of cafe conversations in a slow romance to imagine that. Or even to imagine that they have another argument, he storms out, and they never meet again. In either case, others have written such scenarios, and done it as well or better than I could.

I'd like to thank Deeble for looking this over, and providing some very helpful advice, and the summary. I'd also like to thank Azazello for providing the impetus to finish this, even though there's no mention of Australia anywhere. grin

Anyway, I'd love feedback. Who doesn't? Flames will be taken to hockey arenas and trounced badly, though. evil grin Thanks, all!