NOT AGAIN

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot (well at least I think I own that…)

Summary: A slightly odd piece that shows that people's talents and what they choose to do with them sometimes have consequences you would never foresee. An AD/MM piece featuring SS and MW heavily as well.

-

Severus came down the stairs of Grimmauld Place just in time to see the front-door open and a soaking wet and thoroughly exhausted looking Minerva McGonagall slip in from the pre-dawn gloom outside. She offered him a flicker of a smile before they both headed quietly towards the kitchen, careful not to wake the dozing portrait hanging in the hallway. There was already a fire burning brightly in the hearth when they arrived and Molly Weasley was predictably bustling about.

"Ah, good you're back." She said quietly, as if she didn't want to disturb the peaceful atmosphere that permeated the house. "Morning Professor." She added looking toward him and he replied with a courteous nod of his head.

"Yes, but really you shouldn't have sent Arthur early. He deserved to get a good nights sleep."

"Oh he'll be fine." Molly dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. "In any case, I didn't tell him to do anything. Gave up doing that years ago." This brought a smile to the older woman's face.

"You're right. There is absolutely no point in trying to 'tell' husbands anything."

"I really couldn't comment." Severus said arching an eyebrow elegantly, glad at the light mood the conversation had taken on, he was after all something of an expert in what happened if you did something that Minerva genuinely objected to.

"Well, speaking of husbands, if you don't mind I'm going to head upstairs to bed."

"Course not, sure you don't want something to eat first? Tea?" Minerva shook her head.

"Thank you, but no." She said again and it was certainly clear to the Slytherin that at that moment she was all but incapable of thinking about anything other than sleep.

"Of course, well we'll see you later then. Sleep well." Molly added as the other woman's back retreated. The two of them sat in silence until they heard her footsteps begin her slow ascent up the stairs.

"She's not right yet." Molly said with a sigh, pouring tea from a pot she had put on when they had entered. "I can't believe he sent her on a night watch." The irritation was plain to see on her face. Severus had noted the slight limp that was again obvious in her walk, suggesting that spending 7 hours outside, whether in cat form or human, had left it's toll.

"Albus wouldn't have put her on watch if he didn't think she was up to it. But you're right…tonight was perhaps the worst night he could have picked." Yesterday the Order had gathered, most of the day had being spent in conference of one type or another and typically, though Minerva had not been central to any of the discussions, she had been here, there and everywhere. She had provided the relevant paper statistics, looked up the facts that they hadn't been sure of, she had done what she always had in essence. However, they had worked late and by the time she had finished sorting out all the paperwork, maps and the likes that they had left lying around in the library, it was already time for her to relieve Tonks from duty outside of Privet Drive. In all honesty none of them had noticed she had actually gone until Tonks had returned and in true gothic fashion the thunder and lightening had started only moments later. As far as Severus could tell it had rained all night.

"Well as long as she hasn't caught pneumonia…" The mother of seven (and the Order in general) said and he could tell it had taken all her self-control not to badger her former professor into a warm bath, warm drink and having her hair dried before she went to bed.

-

Severus had always been an early riser and as Molly seemed to feel it was her duty to be up before the majority of the household and the night watch returned, they had spent quite a few hours 'alone' so to speak. What had surprised the potions master most was that they really got on quite well. This was primarily out of mutual respect and a willingness to let each other get on with whatever it was that they were doing but it did result in a far more comfortable silence. It was this natural quiet they had slipped into after Minerva had left that allowed them to hear when only a few minutes later when someone began to descend the stairs above them. He had his characteristic scowl in place when the door opened, suspecting that it was likely to be with another one of the Weasley clan, however it wasn't a red head that peered around the door.

"Sorry Molly," Minerva began as she opened the door only enough to step halfway through. "But well… is there an empty bedroom tonight?" The request was made quietly and the slight hesitation distinctly unlike the Head of Gryffindor. Their confusion was obviously plain to see as she jumped to clarify. "Albus is sound asleep and well… sprawled across the bed. I didn't want to wake him up." Severus could only speak for himself but he didn't buy it for an instant, there was something else going on.

"I'm afraid, after yesterday, we've got a full house." The other woman said with regret.

"Oh, never mind. I'll just head back to the Castle." She said and was slipping out of the door before he began to speak.

"Like hell you will." He hadn't even thought about what he said but there it was and it did the trick because she turned around and paused long enough that Molly was marching across the kitchen and guiding her forcefully into a chair.

"You are in NO fit state to apparate anywhere." She said as she sat the other woman down. Severus shifted his chair a little so that he was facing his colleague. Molly continued talking as she poured out tea adding both milk and sugar while knowing without a doubt that Minerva took neither when given a choice. "We'll work something out, but first you're going to drink this and then I'm going to go run you a bath."

"You can have my room if you like." He offered casually, after all it made sense as he was up already anyway.

"Merlin knows the grief we'd get from Albus if we let you go and splinch yourself." Molly murmured, rolling her eyes. He couldn't help but be shocked though, by the response this engendered. A muffled sob escaped the most stoic woman he had ever met. She clamped one hand horizontally across her mouth and the diagonally on top if it as her shoulders heaved as if she were trying to block the flow of anguish from her body. He was close enough to have an arm around her without leaving his seat while Molly could do nothing but stare a little aghast from the other side of the table. Before he had a chance to get uncomfortable with his natural actions Minerva seemed to pull everything back together with a Herculean effort.

"Sor… sorry." She said with an apologetic smile. "Don't know what got into me." She said her breathing still hitching every now and again. He exchanged a look with Molly who was now moving around the table to crouch down beside the other woman.

"What on earth's the matter?" The redhead asked but Severus's mind was already a step ahead of that.

"It's nothing, really I'm just over re-acting." Her protestations were not convincing as the tears continued to pour down her face.

"Minerva." He said, the harsh undertone enough to make her look up and allowed him to catch her eye. As he did, he saw the remainder of the barriers that usually shrouded her eyes, crumble in ruins.

"Oh Merlin," She whispered. "I…I don't think I can go through this again Severus." She was almost pleading in her words as she wrung her hands and lowered her eyes. "I'm not strong enough…I'm sorry." Her tears were falling harder and faster now, her immense self-control hanging by a thread as she began to rock inside his renewed embrace. Molly looked to him a little confused but he quickly saw the anger flash across her face as the realisation dawned.

"Shhh." He comforted the woman in his arms holding her close and letting her feel his support. It was a good few minutes before she was calm enough that he thought there was some chance in her understanding him. "It's ok." He reiterated as she began to pull away and wiped fiercely at her eyes.

"I'm sorry – I know I'm being ridiculous."

"No you are not." Molly said firmly. "However you are exhausted, and it's never best to dwell on these things in that kind of a state." Having slipped into her mothering role she was soon in control of the situation. Minerva protested a little but wasn't coherent enough to mount any proper defence. Severus stood and bundled Minerva up with him while Molly headed up in front of them to 'start running a bath'. By the time they were at the bottom of the stairs Minerva was pulling herself away a little, seeming intent on the fact that she could get where-ever it was they were going under her own steam. She was withdrawn and the aura that Severus associated with the formidable witch seemed almost entirely drained. She was nervous; she seemed delicate almost, faltering every once in a while as they made their way towards to the quiet sound of running water up the stairs. Molly met them halfway down the hall on the third floor and took a guiding hold on her arm.

"You don't need to… I should…" She began again, trying to break free from their grip. "I should go. And you shouldn't say…" She seemed to have decided once again that the best plan of action was going to be denial.

"Shhhh, now." The other woman interrupted. "Or you'll wake Alistor and Remus up." She indicated to the only rooms, other than Severus own, that lead off the corridor. Severus suspected that the only reason that she seemed unable to hide her emotional turmoil entirely, but even as he turned to leave the woman to their own devices in the bathroom he could see the tears still slipping down her cheeks.

"Now, now, dear," He could hear Molly say as she carefully wiped her cheeks dry. "Let's get you warmed up."

-

He wasn't entirely sure what it was that he ought to be doing now. Returning to his room he stripped the bed and changed the sheets for a fresh set from the linen cupboard on the floor below before relighting the fire he had allowed to dwindle in the grate. Inspiration struck and he pulled out the smaller of the two trunks that sat beneath the bed, that contained a selection of potions, potion bases and other useful ingredients that he never liked to be away without. He pulled a couple of sprigs of dried catnip out from the bottom of the case and headed back towards the fire and carefully hung them just above the flames. The smell was not overpowering but he knew that the combination of the lavender he had seen Molly summoning from downstairs and the scent that would appeal to her feline form. He sat himself down on the stuffed chair by the fire and began to ponder on the events of this morning with more depth than he had had a chance to as of yet. Staring into the flames he began to ponder what it was he actually knew, what it was he suspected and where the truth was likely to lie. All he technically knew was that Minerva, having come home wet and exhausted had obviously found something in her bedroom, the bedroom she shared with Albus, that had upset her a great deal, even if she had tried to hide it. What he suspected went much, much further and was due primarily to what was usually termed 'past experience'. After his 'epiphany' he had learned many things that he had never expected to, he had expected to be sent to the Ministry or straight to Azkaban even but instead he had been taken into the Headmaster's confidence. He had been inducted into the secrets of the Order, offered a job and to top it off had been introduced to his wife. He hadn't been in much of a state to take it all in that night and hardly remembered most of what had happened now, but he did remember looking from his former Transfigurations professor to his knew employer and back again. Minerva had just smiled softly at him and ushered him away to the guest quarters and from what he could recall, all but put him to bed. It had been almost a year later, when coming back from a Death Eater meeting that his perfect image of the saviour of the wizarding world had been tainted. When he had seen the older wizard on the other side of the lake, he had assumed that the witch by his side had been McGonagall, until he realised that she was in France with Alistor Moody. He was ready to put the late night stroll/meeting down to Albus's eccentricity and was about to slink away, when they had begun to do things that Severus usually associated with a bed and a bedroom. He had learned a long time ago, never to take what he saw at face value but all the same, Albus was certainly doing things that no man who had a wife ought to be doing with someone other than his wife. By the time that Minerva had returned from their mission on the continent he had come to a decision and at the first opportunity he came across, he had spoken to her in private. It hadn't been an easy thing to tell but although she seemed a little taken aback she hadn't reacted as strongly as he had been half expecting. She had merely thanked him for telling her, asked that he keep what he had seen to himself and said that she would deal with it. He hadn't noticed any dramatic change in near of them but neither had he seen the Headmaster with the other woman again so he assumed everything had cleared up.

-

He was interrupted from his thoughts when Molly stuck her head around the door.

"Do you think that I could borrow a pair of pyjamas? For Minerva of course…"

"Of course." He answered, standing and making his way over to the chest where he kept a small assortment of clothes. It did dawn on him that the woman to whom he was donating his nightwear was one of the age's foremost transfiguration experts but decided not to comment on it. When she left he decided to make himself scarce for when the women returned together. He made his way down stairs and found the kettle boiling furiously on top of the Aga and lifted it clear of the hot plate. It wasn't long before Molly joined him again in a kind of surreal re-play of their scene earlier in the day.

"She's fast asleep." She said as she began to get breakfast ready for the hordes and masses that were likely to be descending on them soon.

"Good." He said quietly.

"I just…It's just…" She began falteringly then all of a sudden threw the tea towel she was using down onto the table. "Of all the…" She clamped down on her out burst. "The question is what we do now." She continued after a minute.

"I think that's quite simple enough – not an awful lot." He replied. "After all we know nothing for certain and everything we do know is still really not any of our business." He pointed out. He got the feeling that he would have received a reply if it weren't for the abrupt arrival of several of the Order members. Moody and most of the Weasley's were already seated and enjoying breakfast when Kingsley arrived in the doorway.

"Tonks appeared yet?" He asked scanning the room's occupants.

"Not yet." One of the twins replied.

"Hmmm, she wasn't in her room but maybe she's gone already." Just as he was finishing his sentence the woman in question appeared in the hallway behind him.

"Sorry – must have been in the bathroom when you knocked." She apologised with an impish grin before squeezing past and steeling a couple of the freshly buttered slices of toast from the stack Molly was just putting on the table. "Shall we get going then?" She asked her workmate. "See you all later!" She called before heading out, a slightly bemused Shaklebolt after her.

"Is Arthur up yet? He's on guard duty this morning isn't he?" Alistor asked checking the time.

"He's already there – he went out a little early considering what a horrible night it ad been. Minerva was soaked to the skin when she got back." Severus had geared himself up to cut off the matriarch if she had continued much further but she stopped of her own accord for which he was eternally grateful for. By the time the Headmaster himself appeared, most of the others had eaten and left or at least eaten and disappeared to occupy themselves with their own business. Severus who had settled himself with the muggle papers at the far end of the table and who was on his third cup of tea of the morning, could hardly miss the slight shift in atmosphere at his arrival.

"There's porridge left if you would like." Molly said neutrally.

"Thank you my dear. That would be most satisfactory but there's no need to bother yourself – I can manage." He said his usual eccentric manners firmly in evidence. "Would you care for tea?" He offered her having conjured a fresh pot. The Slytherin could see her patience and control slipping.

"Would you care to know where your wife is?" She snapped back most uncharacteristically. With a wave of his hand he shut the kitchen door quietly just in case there was anyone nearby. The older man looked a little surprised by this but quickly checked his watch.

"I had assumed that she was yet to return from Privet Drive." He said much more seriously. "That someone would have informed me if there was a problem." This was said with a hint of a bite.

"Actually Arthur went out early because he was worried about her – after all the weather's been so awful."

"In any case," Severus interrupted. "She's sleeping in my room."

"She didn't want to disturb you." Molly continued a harsh note in her voice. "But you might like to check on her at some point – she was totally exhausted and it was freezing last night." Having said her piece Molly put down her cup on the table and left the room. What he would have said had the silence lasted any longer Severus didn't know as a blaze in the fire indicated that someone was trying to contact the Order. Albus was needed at the Ministry.

-

It was an unusual day when Severus was free to spend time at the Order's HQ. It was more common that an appointment at the school or with his 'other circle of friends' would require him to leave but not today, today he was staying put. After all he himself was due to take the following night shift at Privet Drive. In any case, having been left alone in the kitchen he decided to take a wonder up to the library and see if he could find something more enthralling to read. Having been successful it was almost lunchtime when he surfaced from the novel in question. The sound of the room's door opening caught his attention and he was only mildly surprised to see it was Minerva who entered.

"Morning." He offered neutrally and received a shallow smile in response.

"I want… I need to apologise for last night."

"No. You don't." He replied in certainty.

"Well I feel the need to explain in any case." She continued, perching on the edge of the seat opposite him. She kept her head bowed, her hands clasped in her lap. "I suppose what I want to say first is that it isn't nearly so bad as it must have seemed last night, I was… well I was tired and I let things get to me which under normal circumstances I could deal with perfectly well." Though her words made sense to him, and he didn't disagree with what she was saying Severus couldn't help but think that this hardly equated as an adequate explanation for everything that had gone on.

"What you're usually capable of rationalising away or simply ignoring isn't really the issue though is it?" He asked searchingly.

"It is the only issue that you or I need concern ourselves with." She countered quickly, looking up for the first time. There was an expectant pause before she continued. "Albus is the most caring and compassionate man that I have ever known and either of us are ever likely to meet." The heartfelt belief with which she said this was palpable. "He… He has an incredible talent for seeing what it is that people need. What it is that they require to make them whole – to make them happy and what's best for them in the long run." She paused and he followed her gaze out of the window. She turned sharply though and surprised him by catching his eye and holding it. "And he'll do whatever it is he can to make that happen. I've seen how it tares him up to know that what someone needs is something he can't do anything to give them or to help them get." The passion and the pain seemed to meld in her eyes so that he could barely separate them.

"But…" He began, feeling that he should at least try to counter her. "Surely you can't just stand back while he…" She smiled at this, not a happy smile but a sorrowful one that pulled at his heart as much as her impassioned justifications had.

"He'll come back to me. He always does. And in any case, let's be practical Severus – if he didn't want to come back to me, what in this world could I do to steal him back from a woman almost 45 years my junior, who also happens to have the ability to turn herself into anything he desires at the bat of an eyelid?" He supposed if one looked at the situation logically she was entirely correct in her hypothetical question and he wondered how it was that someone as headstrong as Minerva managed to deal with a reality like that.

"I should go try and placate Molly." She said, standing up after a few moments.

"No." Severus replied rising quickly. "No, it's ok. I'll speak to her." She hesitated and he could read the uncertainty in her eyes. "At least let me come with you?" He added quietly, closing the distance between them and taking hold of her upper arms. "You can ask us not to act on what we know and have seen, but you can't honestly expect us to forget it." He was earnest in the conviction of what he said and despite everything; he could see a quiet relief in her eyes.

"Thank you." She barely breathed as she leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on his forehead. After all, hadn't it been this woman who had taught him that if you had to cope with something unpleasant but that couldn't be avoided it was much easier to do it with support than on your own.

A/N: I'm sure that this is unlikely to be popular but I'm strangely attached to it. In any case, please share you're opinions (in a polite fashion) and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it

Linds