Title: A Very Special Edition - written for the hp_friendship fest on livejournal
Author: Alcina vom Steinsberg / Winterwitch
Prompt by Delphi/atdelphi: In Irma's opinion, the perfect school library would contain no students at all; she makes an exception when one checks out her favourite book.
Characters: Irma Pince, Severus Snape
Word Count: ~ 3400
Author's Notes: What a wonderful prompt to work with! Thank you for setting free my love for books and libraries, Delphi – I hope you have as much fun reading as I had writing it. My most sincere thanks go therealsnape who did an awesome beta job on very short notice, to tetleythesecond for considerable help with conceiving this piece, and to her and pale_moonlite for their patience and help and for hosting this wonderful fest!
September 1st, 1972
With a groan the large double doors of the Hogwarts library opened, illuminating the dim corridor by the bright sunshine from within A small, prim figure in immaculate robes stepped inside, head held high and bearing herself like a queen. Like every year, Madam Irma Pince reclaimed her domain: the library of Hogwarts, one of the finest magical libraries in the world.
It was a fact known only to the academically-minded that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry housed not only the school library, but mainly, and more importantly, was the home of the Bibliotheca Myrddiniana, the largest and most far-reaching research library and the most complete collection of everything that had ever been written about even the most obscure branch of magic. As famous in the magical world as the Bodleiana among Muggles, the Myrddiniana had only quite recently achieved the status of national library. There had been a centuries-long competition for that honour with the British Alchemical Library, until the alchemical branch of the British Library had had to give in to financial demands of its main – Muggle – collections and cede the honour to Hogwarts.
It had certainly been one of Albus Dumbledore's better ideas to give the house-elves at Hogwarts vast responsibilities in the management of the school and all its departments, and to assign a small army of them to her predecessor. When she took over the prestigious post of head librarian, Irma had as large a well-trained, meticulous and diligent staff at her disposal she could wish for, making her job a demanding one, but no more than she could manage.
The doors behind her fell close with an even louder groan. I must remind dear Argus of oiling these hinges,she thought and let her gaze wander about the school library before her. Even with the smallest part of the halls and rooms dedicated to the collections, it was still a splendid sight, with its tall, slim lead glass windows letting in the bright autumn sun, bringing the carefully polished surfaces of tables, shelves and countless tall bookcases to a blinding gleam.
Soon, the tables would be covered with students' books and scrolls, spattered by spilt ink, parchment scraps and whatnot. Not to mention other substances she chose not even to think about – not that any of these were ever allowed inside the library, of course. But they were students, after all; and Irma well matched her predecessor's ability to cast protective spells for books and scrolls. She smiled in reminiscence at her surprise to find that excellent Charms marks had been a requirement for her qualification. Not to mention the spells necessary for the daily repair and care for those books her student readers – student violators, more likely! - gave back with stained covers, torn pages, and broken spines. What did they do to her charges? How could they not realise that even the most humble textbook was a precious thing in itself, conveying so much the reader would otherwise remain clueless about? How could they not see the importance of these works, for their own education and advancement if they wanted to become powerful witches and wizards? How could they not know what a treasure knowledge was?
With a deep sigh, Irma went over to her desk, placed below the largest, central window with its stained-glass triptych depicting Merlin himself brewing, reading, and writing on a piece of parchment. Like every year, she had already done the necessary preparations for the coming school year during the first part of the summer break, which permitted her to spend the whole of August as she pleased, and only returning to her duties on the same day as the students. Since the students arrived in the evening, and it was rare for any of them finding their way into her realm during the first few days, this had never been a problem. She now only had to catch up with her post and hear the head library elf's report about everything going on in her absence.
Her desk was polished to a mirror shine as well, smelling faintly of lemon and beeswax, and arranged in her preferred way. A flat, long bowl holding several quills with differently-shaped tips as well as a Muggle fountain pen. Carefully aligned wells with ink in black, purple, green, and turquoise, flat boxes with the most needed forms, and a small vase holding a pink rosebud on the verge of blooming, courtesy of Callie, the head library elf.
A soft smile crept over Irma's stern face when she discovered a small, coloured rectangle leaning against the vase; a Muggle postcard. How considerate of Callie to put this where she would see it right away! The rosebud was Callie's welcome greeting and a visible sign of the good work relationship between the witch and the elf. I mustn't forget to give her my bouquiniste finding right away, Irma reminded herself, picking up the postcard showing Notre-Dame, the Seine, Pont Neuf and some of the famous green bouquinisteboxes along the river. Recognising the handwriting, her smile deepened in fond remembrance of the late evening stroll she and Augustine had taken on their last evening together, just where the picture was taken and where she had also found the book for Callie.
Ah, Augustine! She missed her already, despite the fact that her lover's intense personality wore her out after some weeks, and like every year, she was as glad to escape back to her peaceful library as she was to rejoin her chériein early summer. It had been a glorious time together; her other life, as she sometimes called it.
The first time Irma had met the vibrant Frenchwoman, she had completely fallen for the energetic, charming red-head with the beautiful eyes and the volatile temperament. Smaller even than herself and with as tight a bun as she wore, Augustine had bewitched her with her husky voice and the way she spoke - so fast even her compatriots sometimes couldn't follow her - and with her passion for everything she took an interest in. Be it some stray dog, a friend in need, the current feminist subject her close circle of the most fascinating women Irma had ever met was discussing, or the shy English librarian introduced into their circle by a common friend.
Irma seemed to be the opposite to Augustine in every way, and perhaps that was the reason their relationship worked so well. Or perhaps the fact that we only spend about a month a year together. More and we would be driving each other crazy,Irma thought ruefully. But she wasn't one to complain, since the arrangement suited her perfectly. Living and working at a boarding school made keeping a relationship difficult enough. And while her summer life with constant discussions and battles about all things feminist and lesbian was as exciting and important to her as the need for theatre, concerts, and museum visits, she didn't think she would be able to bear it for more than a few weeks in a row. Sometimes she felt only truly alive during her Parisian summer, but she knew that this just worked because she had the rest of the year to do what was equally important for her; tending to her books and collections and having all the time she needed for the world in her head.
How sweet of Augustine to welcome her back with this token of their shared time! Disguising it with a spell, she propped the card against her inkstands and set to sorting her post. Since Callie also dealt with most of that during her absence, the pile consisted mainly of personal missives. The last of those, a large, flat parcel, made her nearly cry out with joy. It contained a rare treat, a promise kept, and something she had been looking forward to ever since the Belgian Muggle had asked her for a service last year. She set it aside for the moment, saving it for after she would have finished all her official duties.
Irma looked up as the swift staccato of high-heeled boots announced the arrival of Professor McGonagall. From the opposite side, one of the library elves brought a tea tray, while the large door opened again, and thus the routine of the Hogwarts school year began again with a cherished tradition: tea with the teachers, sharing holiday stories and presenting the newest publications. She thought for a moment about sharing the Belgian treasure, but decided against it: she wanted it all for herself, at least for one precious evening, to enjoy every page and every wonderful drawing, before the others set eyes to it.
After the tea break, Irma went about her usual patrol through the collection halls, exchanging greetings with the odd scholar present even on this turbulent day, making sure everything was well in order and getting reports about the elves' work during her absence. Another start-of-term tradition was executed, a tea break with her elfish staff, this time with her as the invitee to their small-sized break room and to rare elfish delicacies. Callie's joy about her gift was shared by all, as was the delight about the new addition to the Elven Library Irma had found at the same bouquinistethe original to a Tolkien translation they already had in the main collection.
In the catalogue room, where the newest publications were on display, she gathered some copies for one of her special collections at the school library and took them back to her desk. With a fond smile, she perused the new acquisitions. A new novel by that fascinating German Muggle writer, with a very promising summary, another one of the lovely Finnish series about these cute little trolls, and even two new ones by dear Joan Aiken who, despite being a second-generation Squib, made such wonderful use of her magical heritage in her amazing books. Making her way to the farthest corner of the school library, she shelved the new books while rearranging others to accommodate for them.
This special collection had been her idea. It had gained Headmaster Dumbledore's immediate approval, although the other teachers had been reluctant at first. Introducing Muggle children's literature seemed superfluous, even uncalled-for to most, and it had taken some convincing to show them the merits of leisure reading of this kind.
Since it housed Muggle classic literature, Muggle encyclopaedias and reference books, the last section of the hall was usually the least-frequented, with only two or three students of each year finding their way there out of their own volition. That was not only due to the little interest of staff and students in Muggle culture and its printed manifestations, but, to Irma's firm belief, also because classic literature usually held little interest for the average student. Having a thorough education in her profession had included training in Muggle facilities as well, so she knew from experience that Muggle and magical children didn't differ in this regard. On the other hand, leisure reading was an important means not only for relaxation, but also for igniting ingenuity and creativity, and so Irma held the even firmer belief that every child needed to be introduced to the joys of reading.
Over time, Irma therefore had filled the shelves with all kind of children's literature for all ages and from different countries. Getting introduced to this treasure was reserved to those students behaving well and showing a general interest in learning, though – there needed to be at least some minimal requirements, after all. The Muggleborn of each year usually found them first, since they were mostly used to browsing shelves with reference books, and often recognised some of the authors and titles.
Irma had a sweet moment every time she explained to another surprised Muggleborn that, indeed, Enid Blyton had attended Hogwarts and autographed a complete first edition of all of her books to the School, though these wouldn't ever be handed out to grubby little student paws, thank you very much. She had an even sweeter time when some of the older students discovered the Hogwarts'-editions of the books which deviated a little from their Muggle counterparts, in that they had additional content. The relationship between Miss Peters and Mam'zelle Rougier at Malory Towers wasn't whitewashed. And, while everything stayed quite age-appropriate, the Adventure series didn't hide that Jack and Philip shared more than their love for animals, and that Dina wanted to share similar adventures with Lucy. Ah, it had been heaven when Miss Blyton had substituted in Muggle Studies during that wonderful final year of Irma's own time at Hogwarts!
Of course, these weren't the only leisure reading titles present, but several others required more enthusiasm by their readers. Irma had taken care to have all of them in their original language, thus necessitating a well-executed babelfish spell, which made them of interest only to students diligent in their Charm work. She let her fingers wander over the spines of the Finn's Moomin series which had got a new volume today, and already looked forward to Momo, now sitting peacefully besides Michael Ende's previous success Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver. Complaints about the age-appropriateness of these books had soon been appeased by the frequency with which these books were taken. After all, it was easier to try translation spells with not too advanced texts; and she knew well enough that these stories captured the attention even of older students and adults.
Two shelves above, placed besides the atlases for their size, were her personal favourites, the Belgian comic books of The Adventures of Tintin. These had been her first real contact with Muggle culture, ever since she spent her summers with her aunt Villette in her little flat in Paris or at the house of friends at the Belgian coast. There she had met Monsieur Remi himself, known to the larger public as Hergé, and delighted in his regular presents of autographed copies of each new volume about the young Muggle reporter and his dog Snowy. She inherited Monsieur Remi's friendship together with the little flat at Quartier Latin when her aunt died, though they didn't meet again until last year, when much to her surprise, he had asked her for a special tour around the magical locations in Great Britain, knowing about her heritage.
They became even better friends during this trip, and afterwards he confessed that a teenage love for a British Muggleborn wizard, and his subsequent visit to Hogwarts, had inspired him to the volume L'île noire, the Black Island. He also revealed his plan for a last volume about the magical world, which wouldn't be released in the Muggle world. Unfortunately, he didn't find a publisher for Tintin au Chemin de Traverse, Tintin at Diagon Alley; very likely because Monsieur Remi had overestimated the tolerance level of the magical community. Irma had to concede that despite the relatively open attitude to same-sex relationships in the magical community, openly showing the relationship between a young man and his grumpy, much older lover was perhaps still too much, particularly since it was done in pictures. Nothing explicit, of course, but it seemed to be much more problematic to see a gay couple holding hands or kissing in a comic book, than to know that the Headmaster of Hogwarts spent his holidays with a much younger lover.
Irma sighed. Wishful thinking still that the world might have changed in that regard... she had managed to include titles like The Well of Loneliness or Beebo Brinker into her literature section, as well as Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe; and whenever these titles were taken, she tried to observe the students in question more closely and sometimes could get in a helpful conversation, place other books in their way, or at least give a hint to an older student who might be of help.
But at least as far as Tintin in Diagon Alleywas concerned, things were looking good – extremely good, actually. One of the very few hand-drawn and -coloured copies was inside the parcel she had received this morning, with a dedication that had made her blush like a bashful maiden. She would make a magical copy of the volume for the school library, without the dedication, of course. And she knew exactly the student who would share her joy of this new and special volume.
As if by command, the door opened and the very student stepped inside. Now in his second year, he hadn't changed much since she first saw him, and it didn't surprise her in the least that he came to the library right after the carriage had deposited him in the courtyard. Less chance to get riled up by the usual bunch... She knew well enough that the library had been his sanctuary right from his first week at Hogwarts.
While he was still scrawny and desperately thin, he had grown considerably. It made his wrists and legs stick out even more from his threadbare robes. She bit her lip as he approached, noticing a slight limp that gave his shabby appearance a saddening touch. Irma knew she would discover countless bruises in various states of fading all over his body, were she to finitethe skilful glamour he had already been able to cast at the beginning of his first year.
If she dropped a hint, perhaps Minerva could stage something to get him to the infirmary and have Poppy deal with the consequences of his father's care over the summer break. What a shame Horace couldn't be relied upon in matters like these! But Eileen's boy didn't have anything to secure him the protection of his own Head of House, and said Head of House was also quite proficient in closing his eyes to the less agreeable of his duties, such as looking after the disadvantaged of his lot. To be honest, the boy didn't have anything to secure him the protection of anybody, Irma thought sadly. Even that Muggleborn girl claiming to be his friend only did so when it was to her advantage, but never when he really needed a friend, or help.
"Welcome back to Hogwarts, Mr. Snape", she greeted him with a warm smile. "Are you looking for study material already?"
A shy smile lightened his serious expression.
"Good evening, Madam Pince. I just wanted to borrow some leisure reading."
"Go ahead, then, you know where everything is. Why don't you look into the Barney Mysteries by Miss Blyton? I think you haven't had them yet. There is also the newest adventure of Tintin, The Crab with the Golden Claws. It came in just after you left for the summer."
"Thank you, Madam Pince," he answered politely. "I don't know whether I remember the translating spell well enough for the French, though."
"Well, come to me on Saturday, then, and we'll see how it goes."
And I'll give you the very latest Tintin as well, she thought. You might even be particularly interested in the new relationship development shown.
The earnest boy certainly merited a treat. His manners were impeccable, at least when he was dealing with people he respected, and he had won her favours right from the start not only by the wondrous awe he had shown for the Library and by his obvious love for books, but also by the care and respect he had exerted in dealing with her printed charges, despite his unkempt appearance and the issues he seemed to have with literally every other student. It wasn't easy to be an outsider, as she knew from experience. It wasn't easy to come from an unusual family background, to look differently, or simply to love things your peers found stupid, like books. And if Mr. Snape's avid interest in Miss Blyton's Adventure Series, as well as in similar books, was anything to go by, he shared another aspect of 'being different' with her.
Half an hour later, she found him engrossed in The Rockingdown Mystery.
"Time for dinner, Mr. Snape. Shall we go down together?"
A/N: I've always been convinced that there also must be a magical branch to the British Library, if not even a whole national magical library in itself. So the Bibliotheca Myrddiniana was born. I've always been fascinated with the name of the Oxfordian Bodleiana, and decided that since its collections very likely start with Merlin's own scrolls, the Welsh origin of his Name, Myrddin, would be very fitting as a name giver.
Irma's Augustine is heavily inspired by the movie character of the same name of François Ozon's 8 femmes (8 Women), played by the wonderful Isabelle Huppert. In the following blooper clip a little impression of what Irma's Augustine is like can be glimpsed, right at the beginning, and at 3.38min: (take out the * of the address)
I've taken countless liberties with publishing dates of the children's books and the
biographic details of the authors I mention – particularly the latter were all made up. The special editions and additions to known children's books were – sadly – also all made up.
The newly published books I tried to place approximately around the year of the story.
The German Muggle is Michael Ende with Momo, the Finn trolls are Tove Jansson's Moomins, with one of the latest volumes, Sent i november. I haven't read Joan Aiken's books published around 1972, but several others to go by. I choose books who I know to be read, re-read and loved by older youths and adults as well, despite being written for a younger age group, in the hope that they also appeal to the Hogwarts student body.