A/N: This was written for a challenge on the ADMM boards in June 2007. The challenge required the fic be set at Grimmauld Place and include Molly Weasley, and obviously some ADMM.
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Minerva McGonagall hung her traveling cloak on the tree inside the door at 12 Grimmauld Place and walked towards the kitchen with a tired stride. She was glad to be inside, away from the grey and windy November day. She heard Moody, Tonks, Shacklebolt and the rest in the drawing room debating the implications of the latest intelligence on Voldemort while they waited for Albus to arrive.
Having just come from a tendentious Board of Governors meeting, where she had stood in for Albus who was off on some Order business, Minerva had had her fill of heated discussions for the moment. She wanted nothing more than a few minutes of quiet and a cup of tea. And then to, hopefully, see her husband.
Molly Weasley stood at the kitchen counter surrounded by piles of vegetables and jars of spices. She brandished a paring knife and was fiercely attacking a large mound of potatoes, peeling and quartering them and tossing them into a kettle all without the aid of any magic. Remus Lupin sat at the kitchen table, cradling a mug of tea in his hands. Minerva was glad the kitchen was otherwise empty. Remus and the Weasleys were the only Order members who knew of her and Albus' marriage, and so she could be totally herself around them. She reached towards the stack of empty cups on the sideboard to fix herself some tea.
"No, let me," Molly said, reaching in front of her. "Earl Grey? Darjeeling?"
"No, really, I can get it myself. You're busy enough there. Looks like you're trying to feed an army." Molly looked more careworn than Minerva had ever seen her before, with dark circles under her eyes betraying a deep tiredness. She also seemed to have lost weight.
"I'll get it, I said." Molly reached for the kettle and retrieved a tea pot from the drain rack next to the sink. There was a curtness in her voice which took Minerva by surprise.
"Earl Grey, then--thank you, Molly." Minerva stepped aside and Remus caught her eye with a quick lift of an eyebrow.
"Minerva, there's something in the library I've been meaning to ask you about. While your tea steeps perhaps we could examine it?"
"Certainly." The two walked together to the library and Lupin closed the door behind them.
"Whatever is the matter with Molly, Remus? She looks exhausted, and she almost snapped at me. And she's going at those potatoes like they belonged to You Know Who himself."
"I think she is exhausted. I suspect--no, I know--she hasn't been sleeping. I was already meaning to speak to you about this before tonight. I'm worried about her."
Minerva looked at him questioningly.
"A while back I came in on her while she was disposing of a boggart. It was Harry, dead on the floor. When she vanished it, it simply turned into Arthur. Also dead. And then Bill. Dead. And then each of the others, in turn."
Minerva exhaled sharply.
"That's when she told me that she hasn't been sleeping, that she has nightmares every night. She's terrified she'll lose them all to Voldemort, the way she lost her brothers last time."
Lupin continued, "I've tried to offer her what reassurance and comfort I can since then, but it doesn't seem to be worth much. Actually, few of us in the Order this time around have much in the way of family, do we? One big difference from the old gang. I don't think Molly believes anyone can understand how she feels. And she doesn't want to appear weak. So she's exhausted, and feeling defensive and insecure. As you just experienced. Arthur's on guard duty tonight, too, and that always makes her feel particularly isolated and vulnerable."
"Thank you for telling me this, Remus." Minerva was lost in thought as she considered Molly's situation, and reflected on Remus' probable reasons for telling her of it.
"I think I'll join the others in the drawing room for a bit. Your tea should be about ready now, though." Lupin left her to her thoughts.
Like the good teacher he was, Minerva reflected, he simply laid out the material in front of you and left it up to you to put the pieces together and respond as you saw fit. He reminded her of Albus that way.
She returned to the kitchen, where Molly turned to her.
"Minerva, how long 'til Albus arrives and the meeting can get started?"
"I wouldn't know. I haven't seen him or heard from him in five days. You know as much as I do."
"Oh. I see."
"Could I have a go at some of those veg with you? Normally I keep my mind distracted by marking essays, but I don't have any with me this evening."
"Umm, sure. Here." Molly handed Minerva a knife and pointed her to the carrots. She began to peel and slice them with a determination and energy that brought to mind an ill-tempered Severus Snape preparing potion ingredients.
"That good a day teaching, eh? You must have had Fred and George today."
Minerva smiled. "No, never fear. Actually I have come to rather enjoy those two this year, though I wouldn't want to let them know that. No, it was much worse. I've been at the Ministry in a Governors' meeting all afternoon, listening to Dolores Umbridge make her reports. By the way, I did see Arthur, briefly--I slipped downstairs as Tabby. He said to say 'hello,' and that he hopes to make it to the meeting tonight. They're going to have Daedlus relieve him--he won't mind missing the meeting.
"Anyway, with what people have been saying about, and to, Albus this year, it was probably better that I go instead of him, even leaving his travel out of it, but still . . .
"Five days without Albus, covering all his duties plus worrying about him--that's quite enough for one week, even before adding a Governors' meeting and that horrid woman. I feel utterly done-in. And now Albus is late, which is most unlike him." Minerva attacked the carrot currently in her hand with particular ferocity.
"I'd assumed that you always know what he's up to, Min. Even when the rest of us are left in the dark."
"Oh no. I know no more about his whereabouts when he's off on Order business than anyone else does. Sometimes less, I think. Not that I haven't asked, mind you. But all he'll ever say is that it would be too dangerous for me to know, but, not to worry. 'Entirely too dangerous to speak of', but then 'don't worry, Minerva.' Easy for him to say. He's not the one lying awake night after night imagining all the ways he could be in danger and hurt."
"For such smart men, I don't think they have a clue about some things, Molly. Do you?" Minerva had finished her carrots and with a flick of her hand levitated them into the large stew pot sitting on the stove.
"No, I don't. You know what Arthur gave me for my birthday last month? A Muggle book of propaganda posters from the last War. Posters meant to keep morale up on the home front. 'Victory begins at home.' Pictures of victory gardens and women earnestly collecting scrap metal and canning food and such. I smiled at him because I knew he meant well, but as soon as he left for work I put it in the bottom of the wardrobe and had quite the cry."
Minerva hesitantly placed her hand on her friend's shoulder. "All that you do for the Order here really is crucial, Molly and it is appreciated, especially by Albus and me. And your family, including Harry and Hermione, see you as their anchor. But I agree, watching them go off, and worrying about them, is much harder than keeping them fed and organized when they're home.
"At least now I know where Albus got his latest platitudes, though! Arthur must have shown him that book. I'd told him that if he used that Milton line about 'those also serve who only stand and wait' with me one more time, I was going to hex him into next week, and transfigure all his poetry books into dungbombs for good measure. So the last time he came home from one of his expeditions and I told him how much I'd been worried about him, and how useless I felt, and how glad I was he was back safely, he tried some of those slogans instead. I swear, in an instant I went from wanting to hold him in my arms, never letting go, to wanting to hex him and banish him to the couch permanently."
Molly chuckled. "He probably didn't know what hit him."
"No, he didn't. Though, I confess, eventually the holding-him-in-my-arms part won out over the banishment-to-the-couch part, and by morning I felt a lot better. But it took a while.
"I do know that running the School is hugely important, especially this year, and I appreciate his trust in me, but still. I don't think they understand what it's like, not being able to be more involved. It feels second-best, no matter how much I know in my head it's not. And the waiting, and the not knowing, and the worrying, especially the nights."
"Yes. You're right. Especially the nights. I've never told Arthur about the nightmares. I don't want him to worry about me--just for him to understand that it's maybe a bit harder than he thinks--a bit harder than planting some extra beans in a victory garden. It never occurred to me that you and Albus were having the same struggles. I'm sorry. But, that's actually comforting, somehow."
"Well. I think we loyal soldiers of the home front deserve a bit more than tea, impending Order meeting or no. Here..." Minerva conjured two tumblers and poured each of them a finger of firewhisky from a bottle on the sideboard. "To keeping the home fires burning."
Molly raised her glass and clinked it to Minerva's, while with her free hand she sent her potatoes flying into the pot, which was now beginning to scent the kitchen with savory aromas.
"Thank you for your help, Minerva. Two of us together really makes it easier, somehow."
"It does, doesn't it?"
Molly whispered a few incantations to tidy the kitchen and set out the plates. Then the two witches sat down at the table, sipping their whiskies together in companionable silence while the stew simmered behind them.
Shortly they heard the voices and footsteps of the rest of the Order descending the stairs. Albus had arrived, and he had brought Arthur with him.