"Be quiet or get out!"
Irma Pince did not need to raise her voice, it carried effortlessly above the heads of the students. She had started working in the library a month ago and she had never felt so happy and at ease anywhere in her life. Returning here had been a gift, and she looked at the tidy shelves and the well-kept books and the quietly working students with pride before to returning to the task at hand: maintaining the school's own school books. Hogwarts, especially the library, its silent core, was home.
Irma Pince was not a fanciful person. She did not pride herself on her imagination, though she could picture everything she read with ease. She just did not let her mind to linger the way others did. It did not do. Still, there were two things she allowed her mind to indulge in occasionally. The second was private.
The first was that she had always liked to imagine the library was an ocean, the rustle of pages like the surf, the only other sound paper on paper and a quiet background hissing noise. The cold of this unheatable place chilling her skin. Light only sluggishly filtered in through the thick glass panes, and the specks of dust might have well been suspended in water. The shelves were coastal reefs full of colourful, leather-bound, mysterious treasures. High above, far higher than she could reach without the help of ladders, books quietly sorted themselves back, fluttering shamefully back into their spaces on the shelves.
From her chair, she presided over her not quite subaquatic world with watchful eyes to make sure that everything was in its place. And for minutes at a time, this would usually be the case.
"How dare you, no food in the library!" she snapped, vanishing a Slytherin's smuggled sandwich with an angry flick of her wand. She watched her lower her head and return to her studies.
Of course, in this quiet, serene universe, the students represented sea urchins at best. Some of the Ravenclaw barnacles were already glued to their seats, working on her books. They did not represent much of a threat, however. Most of them. They were old enough, and they knew better than to disturb. And a practiced glare could easily stop a few of the first year krill in their tracks were about to shoot past her with annoying alacrity. They did slow down when faced with her glare, though, and the thudding of their steps became a mere patter on the cold marble floor, rising up high above the shelves, and subsiding only when they had plonked down at a table.
Satisfied, she settled back into her chair, the soft leather giving a warm creak; then, there was silence. For Irma, silence had a texture and a taste. It was the taste of the rare, far too sweet hot cocoa, warming both body and soul, hearkening back to days at her aunt's, innocent and calming. When Irma was small, her aunt had taken her into her house for a few months, after the Ministry people had called and taken Irma's parents to have a talk. She had once even gone to the seaside with her. Irma had collected a large shell and listened to it at her aunt's house, hot cocoa in her other hand, eyes wide. She had not wanted to leave, even after her aunt had explained that she would be safe at home now, with her grandfather looking after them.
Nowadays, the cocoa taste was laced with whiskey. It was a taste less innocent and yet welcome, burning her throat, numbing it slightly, and filled her with a warm glow where warmth was rare. It came from later experiences alone, evenings in her flat, when the street outside had calmed down and her noisy neighbours had finally gone to bed, too. She had always lived alone, keeping to herself.
Silence had the texture of a warm, comforting blanket, of the way it felt against her skin when the heaviness of sleep came after everybody in her room had become quiet, when she was alone in her bed, after it was over. Or behind the drapes of her bed in the dormitory. Hogwarts had always been more quiet than at her house, where pillows pulled over her ears would not blot out every noise.
Irma focused, irritably casting the memory aside. The cover in front of her had been badly scratched, and many of the pages were dog-eared and crinkled. She stroked it feelingly. Who did that to a defenseless book? Exasperated, she raised her wand to help, stroking across the smoothed-out page, watching it grow even smoother and become as new again. She set it aside and picked up the next one.
This day was going to be long, and she would have to meet… a colleague. The thought made her nervous. Professor McGonagall. She was so collected, impeccable, tight-lipped, clad in sensible clothes, hair well-kept, well-respected, confident.
Irma admired her. Wanted to be her.