LESSONS

Disclaimer:  None of the characters, places or things you might recognise in the following belong to me.

            The room was warm.  Overly warm, thought Minerva McGonagall as she wound her way through the members of the Order towards the refreshment table at the other end of the Black's library.  She automatically reached for what Molly had told her discreetly on entrance, was fruit punch and took a long drink.  It didn't take her long to realise that there was something more than fruit juice in it though.  The familiar tang stood out a mile on her palate like an old friend.  Vodka she'd guess, and cheap stuff at that, almost entirely concealed by the pineapple.  A quick glance around and she saw the Weasley twins standing off in one corner trying to look as if they weren't watching her.  She should go over there and give them a piece of her mind.   Haul them up and point out that just because they were no longer her students did not mean that they could avoid her wrath or that of their mother.  She was certain that if she told Molly what it was that they had done, neither of them would be able to hear for a week.  But on the other hand…  She took another mouthful, glancing around the room over the rim of her glass.  It was likely that no one else would be able to taste it though and there was probably hardly any alcohol in it at all.  And after all, it wasn't as if there were any young children around, the twins weren't that irresponsible after all, but if only they knew what it was they had actually done.  Albus caught her eye and she flashed him a smile, guilt welling up inside her.  She took another mouthful of the sweet liquid to try and quench it.

"Evening Professor!"  The buoyant greeting made her jump a little.

"Nymphadora."  She greeted the young woman with an inclination of her head.

"Sticking with the fruit juice?  Sure I can't get you anything stronger?"  The young woman asked with a glint in her eye.  Minerva was somewhat relieved that there were still some people who didn't know every dark sordid secret of her past.

"No thank you.  I'm fine for now."  She responded filling her glass once again and, excusing herself, moved away.

"Gorgeous evening isn't it?"  Said Arthur as she approached him where he was standing conversing with Alistor next to the window.  "Shame we couldn't take the party outside."  She nodded her mouth full of punch again.

"Certainly.  How are you though?  I haven't had a chance to speak to you in a while – what's this I hear about you becoming grandparents?"  This had the effect she was looking for as his face lit up and he began to speak ten to the dozen about Charlie and his Romanian fiancé.  They chatted away quite contentedly on this topic and others before she felt someone appear at her elbow.

"Albus."  She greeted with a natural smile.

"Minerva dear, Arthur."  He said inclining his head.  "Your glasses are empty ,how about I get refills?"  He had taken them out of their hands before they had replied.  Arthur smiled and shrugged and she had little choice but to do the same.  She was nervous though; she made a conscious effort to keep her hands still but would have been much more comfortable if she had had something to hold.  A glass, she thought, preferably filled with decent whiskey. 

She jumped when Albus appeared back with their drinks and after taking her own glass, drank almost half of it straight off.  She could see the twins again, out of the corner of her eye giggling about something.  Looking around she realised that she seemed to be the only one drinking the punch in any case.  Albus had some ridiculously sweet concoction no-doubt and Arthur, brandy and lemonade, something she would have turned up her nose at unless she was truly desperate.  She had to stifle a laugh at that thought; there had been several occasions when she had drunk far worse than that.  It wasn't something she was proud of; there was a whole swath of her history that she would rather forget.  Forgetting.  That was what it had always been about, hadn't it.  She had discovered unnaturally early that if you drank enough you didn't have to remember.  At age 19 she couldn't conceive of ever having more to be ashamed of than she had then.  What could possibly be worse than realising that you had almost thrown your life away on some sneaky two-timing despicable Slytherin of a boyfriend?  Oh, she had known even then, that there was something unnatural about Tom Riddle, even if he had had her fooled.  In any case, Albus had turned up like a knight in shining armour, offered her a job and surreptitiously managed to guide her off the road to destruction before she had really realised what was going on.  She hadn't stopped drinking entirely then, but it had always been in moderation and its appeal had been muffled by the alternative of tea and biscuits and a reliable shoulder to cry on.  Even when she had discovered who Lord Voldemort was, when she managed to connect the boy who had broken her heart to the man who seemed intent on destroying everything she now held dear, she managed to resist for weeks.  But everyone had a breaking point and hers had been finding the hysterical six-month-old Neville Longbottom in the ruins of his family home.  Tom had told her at one point that he wanted her to have his children… just another lie she supposed.  That night she had emptied a bottle of fire whiskey.  The following morning she had promised never to touch the stuff again and she hadn't.  She'd gone out and stocked up on something a little more palatable.  She'd started out with good intentions, but a few drinks before bed regularly became more than a few drinks before bed, which became drinks with dinner and quite a few drinks before bed.  She didn't drink during the day when she was teaching but got to the point where she would ensure she was drunk enough the night before that when she woke up she would be drunk enough to face at least the start of the day.  She had never been a loud or abrasive drunk in any case and luckily for her students, she supposed, it was almost the end of term when the newly appointed Potions Master had found her passed out on the floor of her small living room.

She had felt so incredibly guilty.  She knew that they all had so many better things to worry about than an aging spinster who couldn't cope with life without a drink.  It was odd though, as she battled insomnia, eating more lemon drops than she thought possible just to have something else in her mouth, how she had made a habit of checking in on their new spy when he returned from his meetings.  In the same way that he had saved her pride by cleaning her up and putting her to bed after pouring some ghastly concoction down her throat before going to Dumbledore, she made sure that he was safe and relatively well before helping him to collapse into bed.  There was something about him that brought out the mother in her, and he became the reason she would stay sober through the night.  Oh, she realised that she had to do this for herself and she had, but she had done it for him too.  With no students around they had quite often been found hunched over a chess set or arguing voraciously over some text or another.  And thus their strong yet fundamentally unusual relationship had been formed.  Looking down at the bottom of her almost empty glass, once again she felt the guilt return.  She had put so much effort into stopping in the first place and she was going to give it all up over a rather immature prank.  She wanted to convince herself that she could drink the punch, enjoy the evening and wake up tomorrow and get on with her life, but she knew it wouldn't be like that.  Even now there was a part of her trying to recollect which of the greenhouses Rose Sprout was using for her distillery this year and working out the probability of her being able to make a trip to an off licence before they returned to the castle.

"Minerva?"  The use of her name brought her back to the present with a jolt, and she hoped that the Albus did not suspect something amiss because of her unnatural inattentiveness.

"Sorry Albus," She said, shaking her head a little in an attempt to clear it while silently revelling in that familiar fussiness that wrapped itself around her.   He smiled at her with that genuine sparkle in his eyes that none of them had seen much of lately, and she knew he suspected nothing.

"No problem, you were obviously in another world.  Just thought you might like to know that Severus has arrived."  She looked towards the door but a gentle hand on her elbow redirected her until she was looking over at the drinks table.  It seemed quite surreal as she watched the dark haired man pour himself a glass of punch and all but down it.  He had obviously been thirsty, she thought abstractly.  She also realised that there was no way on earth he wouldn't have noticed the hidden kick of the vodka having drunk it like that.  As he lowered his glass he looked around the room, his eyes narrowing as he hunted down his prey and two identical red heads disappeared through the door.  As his gaze continued to sweep the room the inevitable happened and he spotted her, his eyes darting almost imperceptibly down to the centimetre of punch that still sat in the bottom of her glass.  Placing his glass down he made his way slowly across the room until he was standing next to her. 

"Evening."  He greeted her, and she tried desperately to draw her gaze to a newly fascinating spot on the worn carpet.

"Hi."  She replied, her voice wavering on the single syllable.  Gently she felt someone remove the cup she was still holding, replacing it with a slightly calloused hand that squeezed hers gently.

"How about we take a walk?  There are just too many Weasley's here for me to relax."  His tone was casual, the insult no more than she found comforting.  She nodded not really trusting herself not to cry if she spoke, but she did look up and received the closest thing she had ever seen to a reassuring smile from him.  Squeezing her hand gently again he led her off to the side, pausing momentarily to whisper something in Molly's ear before heading out into the corridor and towards the front door.

"Wait a minute, will you."  She said before he pulled back the Yale lock and stepped outside.  With a quick flick of her wand she transfigured his robes into a short leather jacket and black jeans and her own into the regular bottle green two-piece she usually wore when 'going native' as Severus had a tendency to call it. 

            They walked for a while talking of everything and nothing, before ending up drinking coffee in a muggle restaurant.  They sat in armchairs by the big plate glass windows and talked about students and fellow members of the Order.  They talked about Umbridge and the Ministry, always keeping their voices quiet and their eyes peeled.  Eventually they returned to the school and ended up playing chess in front of the fire in Severus' rooms until she fell asleep curled up on his sofa.  As he draped a blanket carefully over her shoulders, Severus wondered if it would be worth going back to Grimmauld Place just to wake the Terrible Twins and give them the dressing down they deserved.  He suspected however that Molly would have had their hides by now, along with any other more senior members of the Order who had heard of what they had done.  It was how the Order operated; they all had weaknesses and weak moments, but after all, no one deserved them more than they.  Nine times out of ten it was Minerva they turned to, to be strong for them and set them back on an even kilter. He himself had been looking for someone to comfort or at the least distract him when he had found himself outside the Gryffindor Head's quarters at some ungodly hour of the morning the day the summer term ended all those years ago.  So perhaps they were more protective of her than most, or at least he was.  It had been a hard year for all of them and she certainly had been no exception, and it was at times like that when temptation was then placed right there under your nose, or in this case as good as thrust down her throat, that there was really no shame in falling over the hurdle.  But that was what the Order could offer its members - a helping hand to stand back up and the eagle eyes to spot someone who was falling by the wayside.  Not everyone knew everyone well enough to spot when things were off, and he suspected Minerva was probably the hardest of all to read, but he and Albus had a good grasp on her after all these years and weren't about to let her fall now, just as she would never fail to bring a truce between the two of them or a smile to his face when he was at his sourest.  He suspected that after the shouting had died down at headquarters tonight the Weasley boys, Tonks and possibly several of the other newer members would be taught a valuable lesson.

A/N:  I want to say straight off that if any of you object to this then I'm sorry, no offence was intended to anyone. Let me know what you think though, either way

Thanks to M for beta-ing and to you guys for reading

xLx