Irma Pince has always known she's not pretty. Certainly not now, as a grown woman, but even as a child she was never told that she was pretty, never expected to hear it. Her mother told her that there were two types of girl, the beautiful ones and the smart ones, and that she was lucky to be the latter, because at least her brains would last her a lifetime, whereas good looks fade.
She retreated to the world of books, as smart girls do, and while the other girls in her year tried out hair straightening charms and potions to cure acne, she was busy immersing herself in the yellowed pages and worn leather bindings of the books in the library. She had a fondness for history, the tales of days gone by, and could spend hours imagining hiding during the Salem witch trials, or witnessing the goblin rebellion. Little wonder that she has ended up as a librarian, then, and even though she knows it's not the most glamorous or even exciting job out there, she loves it.
The students, though, have no respect nowadays. They come in and chat, or they're careless with the books, and it bothers her. She talks to Dumbledore about it but he tells her not to worry about it too much, not understanding.
There is exactly one student in the entire school at the moment who treats the books with the respect they deserve. Irma remembers the first time she saw her, six years ago, an eleven-year-old girl who looked too sensible and ordinary to be thought of as pretty spending most of her free time in the library. As the year went on, she began spending a little less time with the books, and Irma realised she must have made some friends. It wasn't natural for a girl of her age to spend so much time cooped up studying. And as she matured into a girl that could now, yes, be described as pretty, she spent more time with those two boys in her house, or that quiet redhead in the year below her, and less time in the library.
She still comes, though. Her visits are almost daily - never long, but frequent. She asks for a particular book, or returns one, or thanks Irma for recommending a book that helped her get a perfect score on a test. Irma smiles at her, which is odd because she makes a point of never being too friendly with the students, but Hermione Granger is different, and even though she's grown up to be a pretty girl, Irma can see that she's still smart, still understands the thrill of opening a book.
Her hands brush against Irma's as she hands back the latest book, and although Irma doesn't mean to, she shivers slightly. It's just the unexpected contact, she tells herself as she smiles at Hermione and tells her she appreciates the fact that she's returned the book on time.
Hermione looks surprised at the idea that anyone would even contemplate the late return of a book, but she says nothing, just smiles back. That's odd, too, because students don't smile at Irma Pince. They make faces at her when they think she's not looking, but they don't smile.
She's not used to this sort of thing at all. But she thinks she might like it. She enjoys her chats with Hermione about schoolwork and research, and the way the girl is always pushing her hair behind her ears as she talks, and the way her brown eyes are so expressive. They light up whenever she speaks about something she's passionate about, and Irma wonders if it's her eyes that make her pretty, because they really are quite beautiful.
She doesn't want to dwell on these thoughts too much, because she'll be reminded that she isn't pretty and never has been, and that Hermione Granger is an attractive and intelligent seventeen-year-old with more important things to think about than the old librarian at her school. But during moments like these, when the exchange of books, almost like an ancient ritual, the transfer of knowledge, is taking place, she finds herself wondering what if and maybe and there's more to life than what you read in books.