A/N – I decided to put this up as a second chapter, primarily because I couldn't think of another title for it that wasn't so crass it made my want to gag. Anyway, it also occurred to me that you really do have to read the two in close succession if they are going to make sense.
After realising that my beta (hey maria *smile*) didn't understand some of the words I'd used in the last chapter I have included a short glossary below –
Harr – a mist, usually coming in from the sea but more generally from a body of water (ie a river).
Tow Path – a track that runs alongside the river/canal where horses would walk when they were towing the barges.
Right, I think that's us. Well here goes -
He almost missed her. He was standing there in the quiet of the dawn watching the road that he knew she would be walking down and even still, he had almost missed her. He had been looking for a young woman or perhaps even a girl. Instead what he saw was someone far too world-wise and weary for her twenty-one years. Having spent so long discussing the student who had matured far beyond her years with her other professors during her time at school, he hadn't thought that a change so dramatic was still possible; but that was, after all, a life-time ago. When she spoke his heart ached at the soft Scottish brogue hardened with constant suspicion, covert beneath feigned boredom. He had only just noticed her reaching for her wand and was impressed by her subtlety. Her whole demeanour though, reminded him of a cat about to pounce and he wondered, with another pang, when and how she had learned her lessons. He crossed the road partly out of curiosity, to see if she would recognise him, but us she lifted up both leg and skirts to access the top of her stocking and an obviously prized cigarette, he was shocked by the ease with which she flaunted her body. Reprimanding himself for his own stupidity, he realised that he of all people, should fail to be surprised by what this treasure of the wizarding world had become. It had haunted him night after night when sleep eluded him. He had seen her innocent beauty; he had seen it marred and mauled until he had woken, screaming, in his own bed. But he could see what he feared may have been lost lurking in the back of her eyes as she read every inch of his own. His hand connected with the 'putter-outer' by chance and this seemed to trip start a whole series of events. He easily transferred the flame and watched carefully as she leaned towards it. In the light he could see her skin almost translucent it was so pale, perhaps part of her allure, and sunken cheeks highlighting exquisitely patrician bone structure. She was hardly dressed for the weather and he took off his heavy travelling cloak without a second thought. It wasn't until after he had draped it over her shoulders that he even considered that she might misinterpret this action as his being offended by her clothing, or lack thereof. Luckily however, she took the gesture as it was intended. With her enquiry about her animagus transformation he struggled to decide whether to laugh or cry. He had been touched at her request, the only one she had made when she had agreed to help them. It seemed so innocent and yet so… so full of faith that she would ask only for the opportunity to learn to further her own talent should they both make it through what was to come. He had agreed without hesitation and had no intention of going back on his word now.
He hadn't been sure what it was he was going to do when he had left to come here last night, but now he knew he could no more send her back to 'work' than kill her there and then with his bare hands. When Alistor Moody had returned from his rendezvous he had been so obviously distressed by something that the older man had been compelled to sit him down and ask what had shaken him so. Though young, Moody was far more experienced than he ought to have been and certainly not easily upset by the sights and sounds of war. Within minutes, he had poured out the story of his trip, that he had had such a difficult time identifying the person he had been assigned to meet because not only did she fit in with her surroundings, but she had become part of them. She had not been sitting in a shady corner, but up at the bar surrounded by people she knew and who knew her. In any case what Albus told her was true; the information she had been siphoning off for them meant that the Order and government forces were both ready for what they hoped would be the last assault in the near future. He watched as she flicked ash from the end of her cigarette absentmindedly and noticed the shadow of regret that flickered across her face at the mention of what he assumed had been her home for some time now. He had no way of knowing what he was asking her to give up, by sweeping back into her life after so long to 'rescue' her. He knew nothing of what or even whom this young lady was and for an instant he was terrified that Athena would not be willing to let Minerva re-surface and take precedence once more. His relief was astounding when she stood straight, pulled her shoulders back and lifted her chin ever so slightly ending in the signature stance of the independent young woman who had caught his eye far earlier than perhaps she should have. He could not resist placing a guiding hand upon her back and as they walked side by side, it occurred to him that though many had doubted his wisdom and questioned his actions concerning this endeavour over the years, none had been as harsh as he himself. Asking her to go had torn at his heart, and his guilt at hearing her agree, as he had always known she would, had been far worse. But more horrible than both had been the constant ache and sense of loss that had almost consumed him during her absence. He had heard tell that feelings could either be the death of you in war, or strengthen you to almost inhumane proportions. He had carried on; he had done it for her. Worked all the hours he could and just kept on going and when it all came to an end, he would do whatever it took – all for her. When he spoke again it was from the heart, and he could only hope that she would see through the web he weaved for strength or none, he could not say what he really felt.
"I fear Miss McGonagall, that you may never know quite how much you were missed." – I love you.