Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I own nothing…

Summary:"And what if I don't want to love him?" The Oracle shook her head at Hermione and her unnerving smile widened. "No, child. It's not about want… It's more a… a matter of need." How do you love someone because you have to? That, I guess, Hermione and Severus will have to find out on their own.

Pairing: HG/SS with some AD/MM moments later on.

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A Matter of Need

Chapter Thirty

She stood outside his classroom, nervous, nauseous and quite frankly, scared. It had been a long time since Hermione had seen Severus; too long. The summer holidays had passed and September had come and gone, and it was only now that she could bear to face him.

His lesson was in session, and she could hear his comments through the door. He didn't seem to be in a good mood, which, she mused, was nothing new, and despite what she wanted to believe, her appearance probably wouldn't make his mood improve.

From within there was a great bang, and Severus' voice was clearly heard above all the panic, shouting at the imbecile who caused the explosion to leave his classroom. Hermione didn't even think to move aside, and only registered the boy hurtling at her just in time. She pressed her back up against the wall as the poor lad ran away and up the stairs, her horrified gaze fixed on Severus.

She hadn't meant to make such an entrance back into his life, especially not such a public one. He merely stood looking at her, expression unreadable, as he traced a finger over his bottom lip.

A couple of the braver students had peered around the door, and were now staring at Hermione.

"Hey, everyone, free Weasley's Wizard Wheezeys goody bag for everyone that leaves now," Ginny's voice rang out, her method for privacy, though slightly absurd, was greatly appreciated. Her classmates didn't need telling twice and made a swift exit. Severus didn't even seem to have noticed, and Ginny hurried past him and to the door. "Good luck," she whispered at Hermione, and followed the rest of her class up the dungeon stairs.

"What are you doing here?"

"Don't," Hermione said, her voice clearly trembling. "Don't." She force herself to make the couple of steps to take her into the classroom, wiped her sweaty palms on her robes, and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Severus. I just needed time to myself. I'm… sorry." Her voice trailed off weakly, the words unconvincing even to her own ears.

"I believe the note that you left me told me as much, but thank you for clearing things up between us. Now kindly leave. You've already interrupted my class, now go whilst I prepare for my next one."

She wasn't prepared for the acerbic edge to his voice that took her back to being a little child, facing his wrath. She clenched her fists, determined not to fall back to that Hermione; she was a woman, now, and this was the man she loved.

"I asked Albus. He told me you hadn't got another class until tomorrow."

He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "interfering old bastard," and began to pile the parchments on his desk ready for leaving.

"You are not just running away from me!"

"No, because the brave Gryffindor that is Hermione Granger would never do such a thing?"

"I'm sorry, Severus. I never meant to hurt you. Never…"

"Intentions are nothing; it is the actions that define who we are and what we feel, Hermione," he said fiercely, standing up and crossing over to her. He towered above her, his dark gaze full of hurt and anger. "You ran away from your problems, and I know from experience that that never works. You also ran away from your friends, the people who love you… Now the pain that keeps you up at night has caught you, and you have to come running back home. Welcome back, Hermione. Now go."

"Do you not want to know where I've been, what these 'problems' are?" she cried. "People – my friends – have died, Severus, and I needed space to come to terms with that. I didn't mean to stay away for so long, but I went travelling for a while, spent some time on my own. I needed to take a break from the wizarding world, the world that seems to have brought nothing more than destruction."

"Then why didn't you tell me?" His voice, instead of being bitter and harsh, was raw and quiet. "Why didn't you tell me where you were going?"

"The truth?" she asked weakly, averting her eyes. "I couldn't bare to hurt you."

He laughed humourlessly. "Didn't want to hurt me? I woke up and found my bed empty and a note apologising for your disappearance. I thought you at least had a few shreds of common sense."

"So I made a mistake?" she yelled up at him. "I can't take it back, but I'm here now!"

"But now isn't when I needed you." He watched as her brow furrowed in confusion, and sighed. "You weren't the only one hurt in this war, Hermione. I lost people I was close to for years, people who I've shared more with than most people can ever dream of. I was like them, once, yet the people I face every day cursed and killed them and handed them over to the authorities without hesitation."

Hermione had no response, only to turn away and run a hand through her hair.

"You could have come after me…"

"I am not going to take the blame for this. It was your doing. Besides, since you were so desperate to leave me that you stole away in the middle of the night, I didn't think you would want that."

Hermione closed her eyes and swallowed.

"I love you, Severus."

"You knew that I loved you too. Otherwise we'd both be dead."

"I-" She swallowed and glanced away. "I don't know what I was thinking. I was confused and scared. I- Lying next to you when you were still unconscious… I couldn't help but wonder if I didn't love you as much as you loved me. I thought that if I loved you as much as you loved me, then you would have woken up. But… I love you, Severus," she repeated feebly.

Nothing; no reply.

"Would you like me to leave? If you would rather me not be here…"

"If you like," was his clipped reply.

"No. This is your option. Here I am, but if you would rather I leave and not come back, then say so."

"What would you rather do?"

"For God's sake, Severus," Hermione said, hoping with every fibre in her body that he would just say one little word. "What do you want?"

The silence was staggering, and Hermione bit her lip. Tears were falling freely now, but if he didn't want her… She felt as if her heart was breaking into infinite pieces, and all control over the situation and herself spiralled out of control and into nothingness.

Without a word, as she couldn't trust herself to speak, and with no glance back, she pulled her cloak closer around her and walked over to the door. Her mind screamed at him to say it, but he made no sound.

As she opened the door, she could feel him watching her, and with the bang as the door closed, she felt her world shatter.

Back in the classroom, Severus stared blankly at the door for a few moments. Trying to quash the sick feeling in his stomach and ignore the aching loss, he turned to pick up his papers for marking. When he reached his desk, he froze, overcome by the sense of self-loathing and pain.

Did he really want her to leave? No, not if the past months spent longing for her to come home were anything to go by. Could he forgive her for abandoning him in his time of need? He hoped that he could in time. He could understand her need to flee, even if he didn't agree with doing so; the war had been especially hard on her. Did he still love her?

Swearing under his breath and praying it wasn't too late, he quickly flung open the classroom door and went out into the corridor. No sign of her. His long legs soon took him up the stairs, and his eyes sought her out in the darkness.

A stifled sob echoed around the corridor, and he moved slowly towards the sound.

Hermione, sat in a little alcove, tensed. She knew who it was, but what he wanted…

"Stay."

One word had never meant so much to her, and she sucked in a shuddering breath as she heard it. Wiping away tears, she stood, smoothed out the front of her robes, mentally chided herself for wasting time and emerged from the dark and into Severus' view.

He looked as nervous as she had ever seen him, but as she approached him, it seemed to ebb away. With his thumb, he gently wiped away the tears that dampened her cheeks, then simply held her.

"I love you."

Severus brought her closer, and she snaked her arms around him. He tilted her head up and kissed her softly, restraining the passion and the need within him.

"I love you too, Hermione."

It wasn't long before she was pressed up against the dungeon wall, gasping for breath and panting his name as his hand and kisses roamed her body, claiming back what was rightfully his. His bites left visible signs of anger that spoke of hurt and fury, but his soothing kisses whispered acceptance and forgiveness. His powerful hands never broke contact, relearning every curve, repossessing every inch of her, until she was murmuring surrender and promising him her life eternal.

"Severus, let's… go somewhere – oh – more… private."

He never thought that one day he would be so easily bent to someone's will, yet all anger had dissipated in a frenzy, replaced only by desire and love. Yet, as he found himself taking her towards their quarters, he was glad that, just this one time, he was wrong.

- - -

The bed was empty.

Rage surged through Severus as he stared at the empty space beside him. With jerky movements as opposed to his normal self, he stalked through into the living room. She wasn't there either. Then, with nauseous realisation making a cool path down his insides, he saw a letter on the coffee table.

With some trepidation, he picked it up, and thumbed the edge of the parchment. After a moment of consideration, he scowled at his own cowardice, and opened it up.

I'm outside by the lake.

He dressed quickly, and was soon making his way to Hermione. His long strides meant it didn't take long to get outside, and he spotted her sat at the edge of the lake as he approached.

"Good morning."

Hermione smiled up at him as he reached her side. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see the sunrise." She patted the grass beside her, and added, "Sit."

He did so, and she leant against him, easily finding a mutually comfortable position. Severus curled his arms around her possessively, and followed her gaze to look to the east, where the tendrils of light were reaching out over the horizon as the sun rose for another day.

"How long have you been out here?"

She shrugged. "A while. I couldn't sleep."

"No?"

"My mind was in other places but I didn't want to wake you up."

He quirked an eyebrow at the suggestive note in her voice, and replied, "Other places? The gutter, by any chance?"

She laughed gently and shook her head. They descended back into silence until, after a while, Hermione turned to look at him, her teeth worrying at her bottom lip.

"What now, Severus?"

"We could have breakfast, if you wish, then-"

"I don't mean that, and you know it."

Severus sat for a moment in silence, and replied eventually, "What do you want to do? It is entirely up to you."

"No, no it's not." Hermione smiled. "We were in this together, and we still are."

"Well… Albus was considering hiring you for the Potions position after you become Potions mistress," Severus said.

Hermione took a moment to fully realise what he had said, then swivelled around to look up at him properly.

"Really? He… Really?"

"Yes. He makes a lot of presumptions, though. If you don't want to…"

"But you'd be out of the job."

"At last."

Hermione grinned. "Well, I was thinking about it, but I don't want to do all that yet, and just have a bit of fun first, travel, you know… normal things. But after that…" She raised an eyebrow. "And you'd be okay with that? What would you do?"

"Of course. Teaching was just an excuse, a façade. Perhaps now I may have time to actually research Potions as I first intended to, all those years ago." He looked at her with fondness in his gaze. "It shouldn't take you long to find a willing tutor. I'd imagine after they see your N.E.W.Ts results they will be clamouring to get you."

Hermione's expression turned suspicious, and she said slowly, "You know something. What?"

"Do you really think it takes so long for your exams to be marked? No, the Ministry just likes to watch to make sure we're all doing our job properly – interfering along the way."

"And…?" she prodded.

"Your marks are above average," he said vaguely. She actually did prod him in the stomach this time, and he added, "Don't worry, you have the top grade."

"And percentage?"

He came close to rolling his eyes as he bit out, "One hundred and twelve percent."

She leant back, her mouth forming a wide grin, but she said, "Well, I guess I may have lost a few points-"

"Hermione," Severus cut across sternly, "you did well."

She looked up at him, a wide smile on her face, though after a while it faded as she studied him. "We're going to be alright, aren't we?"

He gazed down at her in serious contemplation, then nodded once. "I think so. I certainly hope so. After- after all we've been through I do not want to lose you again."

"Good," Hermione said promptly, and with her bright smile back in place she twisted around again to lean against him. She relaxed into his hands as they traced faint patterns over her skin, a welcome feeling of contentment coming to settle within her.

After a while, she spoke, "It feels good. Making my own choices, I mean, deciding what I want to do."

"It's a privilege I've been looking forward to for some time," Severus replied darkly.

"Well, we can do what we want, now, choose for ourselves what we are going to do and when we are going to do it." She sighed lightly. "I've had enough of fate dictating my actions over the past year. At least now we're free to do as we please."

As the summer sun came up fully from over the horizon, blanketing the earth with its radiance and warmth, Hermione and Severus shared a tender kiss, as if to announce to the world the new start to their own lives.

Somewhere, far away, with a grim smile on her face, the Oracle laughed.

Fin

- - -

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone that's read this and to all those who have reviewed. Before everyone wants to hurt me, I'd just like to say that I never planned for a sequel to this story, I just liked the idea that nothing is ever as it seems, even after all they've been through. I debated deleting the last line, but ever since I thought of the idea for this story, that has always been the line I wanted to end on.

So I hope that you've enjoyed my little story, and thank you again to everyone for reading :)