The Sugar Quill
Author: Manu (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Dangers of Reading  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

***

Irma Pince finished dusting a copy of A Guide to Medieval Sorcery and sighed irritably, placing it on its shelf with a gentleness that contradicted her bad mood.

No respect. The wretched students had no respect at all for the ancient, extremely valuable books Hogwarts possessed!

She appreciated it that more and more people seemed to be taking an interest in the library ever since Filch’s cat had been Petrified on Halloween, but would it hurt them to treat the books a little more carefully?

Many of the copies of Hogwarts: a History that were checked out every day came back in a deplorable state, and when she reprehended the students about the folded pages, they more often than not simply shrugged and replied, “How was I supposed to mark the part where I had stopped?” Argh. It was all she could do not to strangle the reckless little brats.

Irma had very good hearing, which was good in a way, because she could listen to people slamming the books from a reasonably long distance, but, on the other hand, it made it very hard for her to get a moment of silence, which she loved so very much.

Thankfully, it was still very early in the morning, and she had her library all to herself.

She was sitting at her desk, enjoying her daily thirty minutes of quietness, when Oliver Wood entered the library, making an awful lot of noise. She winced.

“Madam Pince,” he panted. “Do you still have a copy of Quidditch Through the Ages?”

“All checked out, Mr. Wood,” she replied, glancing up at him. His robes were very dishevelled, as though he had just woken up and put them on in a hurry. Which he probably had, if she knew him.

“Damn it, I knew I shouldn’t have lent my copy to Katie...” He ran a hand through his already sleep-tousled hair. “Do you happen to know if the Porskoff Ploy can be performed when--”

“You should probably ask Madam Hooch. And by the way, isn’t it a little too late to look that up? Isn’t the game in a few hours?”

“Three hours and fifty-two minutes,” said Oliver, looking panicked. “But ruddy Steven Capper only told me this morning that he had spied on— I mean -- er, never mind.”

“Right,” said Irma, unable to hide her amusement very well. “You know where the Quidditch section is, you can take a look there, if you want.”

“Thanks, Madam Pince!” said Oliver, running towards the shelves at once.

“Oh, but for Merlin’s sake, be careful!” she yelled after him, shaking her head.

The library started to fill with students a few minutes after he was gone. Irma winced once more, the students’ mindless chatter echoing in her head:

“- think the Hufflepuffs have a shot, their Beater -”

“- unless he dumped Stephanie first, but you know how he is, don’t you? Anna told me once-“

“- in the history of Hogsmeade. The 1856 Goblin Rebellion took place in... 1856, when-“

“Dear Madam Pince! Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

She looked up. Lockhart. With his abnormally big smile. Oh, great, her headache would probably come sooner today.

“I have no idea, Gilderoy, I haven’t been outside yet.”

“Neither have I, Irma, neither have I. But I do hope it’s a sunny day. My hair looks especially shiny and healthy under the sunlight.” He winked cheekily at her.

Irma smiled at him briefly. So good-looking... if only he could suffer a terrible accident with one of those vicious beasts he fought everyday and lose his ability to speak forever...

“Say, do you have a copy of Magical Me?”

“No, I’m afraid they are checked out.”

“Good... Very good. Still successful, I see.” He winked at her once more. “That was all, I must go now. I know you think me a hero, but, amazingly enough, I too need food, like all mortals!” He laughed at his own (incredibly lame) joke and left.

Oliver Wood returned a while later, five books or so in tow, slammed them on her desk (“Do not slam the books!”), and said, “I want to check these out.”

“Very well, Mr. Wood,” said Irma, handing him a quill. “Sign your name here. They are due back in a week. Please make sure you don’t read them in high heights, or anywhere close to water, dirt, fire, heavy wind, food, animals of any kind--”

 

“-- potions of any kind, pointy objects of any kind or anything that might damage their pages in any way,” Oliver recited and grinned, looking up at her from the parchment he was signing. “Yeah, I know. You say that every time.”

Irma lifted a finger warningly at him. “Well, Wood, I’m still traumatized by that time you rode your broomstick with that flying guideline and--”

“—dropped it from a 50-foot height, yeah, I know that too. But that was ages ago. I paid the fine and everything is all right in the world. Now excuse me, I have a game to plan.”

Irma gave him a severe look. “The books from this school’s library are not to be treated--”

“–with such disrespect. I’m sure they aren’t, Madam Pince. I’ll treat them like a Nimbus 2001, ok?” he said, putting the books into his bag with exaggerated (and admittedly mocking) tenderness.

She glowered. “I believe you might have the habit of taking your Nimbus 2001 to high heights.”

“Oh, if only I had a Nimbus 2001,” said Oliver wistfully, and, with that, he threw his bag over his shoulder, walked away until he reached the door-

- and ran right into the Weasley twins.

“Blimey, Oliver!” said one of them (she could never tell them apart).

Wood beamed at them. “Fred, George! Look, tell the team to be prepared, because we’ll have to practice a new line of attack a few minutes before the match.”

“What? What was wrong with the old one?” said a twin.

“So last minute, Oliver! Are you sure you aren’t sick or something?” said the other one.

“What happened to the greatly dedicated captain we all know and love?” said the first, putting a hand to his chest dramatically.

The other patted him on the shoulder in mock-comfort. “Don’t give up yet, mate! There’s still hope out there!”

Oliver frowned. “It’s a long story. Capper only told me at six in the morning today what the Hufflepuffs are going to... Look, I--“ he faltered, with a nervous glance at Irma’s direction. “I’ll explain it to you later, ok? Just show up there an hour earlier or so and stop asking questions, I’m still the captain!” He looked from one to the other and seemed to recompose himself. “Now, don’t take too long in here or you’ll miss breakfast. Don’t want to be hungry for the match, now do you?”

He patted both their backs and disappeared from view.

After Oliver was gone, the twins looked at each other and then at Irma, and smiled broadly.

“My lovely Madam Pince! You look breathtaking today in those dashing blue robes! Really, they bring out the stunningly divine colour of your undeniably dazzling eyes!” 

Irma shook her head slightly and decided not to mention that her eyes were brown. Only fourteen and already a danger to society, those two were.

“Fred!” said the twin on the left (whom Irma now knew was George). “The charming Ms. Pince always looks breathtaking! This superb lady has such an overwhelming air of... of knowledge around her! It only adds even more splendour to the already awe-inspiring features she possesses!”

“Oh, I’m deeply sorry! I cannot believe that for a moment I couldn’t fully appreciate the magnificent beauty that fills the entire room whenever this glorious being steps--”

Irma rolled her eyes. “I am not letting you into the Restricted Section.”

“Ouch! Can you hear that? It’s the sound of my shattered heart spreading all over the floor.”

“How could you, with your immense intelligence and sense of reason, ever think that our words were meant as anything other than the simple verbalization of our deep wonderment and admiration for the heavenly creature before our eyes?”

She glared at them. The twins looked at each other and shrugged resignedly.

“Oh well...” said Fred, searching his pockets. “Not even if we have...” He pulled a piece of parchment from his robes, shoved it in front of her and said triumphantly, “A note from McGonagall?”

Irma picked it up, feeling her eyes widen. It couldn’t be true. It was her worst nightmare coming to life. She looked from the twins’ smug faces to the parchment in her hand, her fingers shaking. If Fred and George Weasley were to ever have access to the Restricted Section, well, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to presume that the entire school would explode half an hour later.

She couldn’t believe that Minerva, of all people… Someone whom Irma had always held very highly as one of the most sensible... She shook her head and started reading the note fearfully.

Dear Madam Pince,

I require that you let these two handsome young men, Messrs. Fred and George Weasley, check out the absolutely harmless book titled The Most Disastrous Curses, Potions and General Magic Which You Should Never, Ever, Under Any Circumstances Perform and How to Perform Them All, which I believe is part of the Restricted Section of this school’s library. I appreciate your help.

               Sincerely,

                            Prof. Minerva McGonagall

PS: Oh, by the way, they need it for a very, very important research paper I sent them last week. I would be extremely sad if they were deprived of the knowledge.

Irma sighed in relief and handed the note back to him. “Professor McGonagall did not write this note.”

“Of course she did! Didn’t she, George?”

“Yup, Madam Pince, she did. I saw it with my own eyes!”

Irma held the urge to laugh at their faces. They had probably seen it with the same eyes that saw her as a heavenly creature.

“That’s not her handwriting, this book is certainly not ‘harmless’ – it wouldn’t be in the Restricted Section if it was -, and Professor McGonagall would never say that you two are handsome in a note,” she said, wondering why exactly she was explaining herself to these two.

“Do you think it’s fun to keep on breaking our hearts over and over again?” said George.

                           

“What? Don’t you think we are handsome?”

Irma glared at them again. They looked at each other and shrugged.

“OK, she didn’t. You’re right,” said Fred. “You’re always right. It’s beyond belief how you can have those astonishing good looks and still possess such a remarkable intellect, it’s extraordinarily-“

“Please stop talking,” she said flatly.

The twins frowned.

“You’re grouchy today,” said Fred.

“You shouldn’t scowl, sweet Pince. It clouds your exquisite eyes with an unnecessary-“

“Mr. Weasley...”

“All right, all right,” said George, raising his hands in mock-defeat. He caught his brother’s look. “Well, I tried.”

“It was worth the shot. ‘Exquisite’ is a great word, though, I can’t believe I haven’t thought of it.”

“Can’t be brilliant all the time, Fred...”

“Well, I’m sure there are some people who can, like Moony, Wormtail, Pad-“

“Ssshh, Fred!” said George Weasley, indicating Irma with his eyes. “Be careful!”

Fred nodded, and gave Irma a nervous smile. Irma pursed her lips. If only the students had any idea of how much she actually knew after all these years of listening to the students’ “mindless chatter” in the library...

“So, we’ll just take a look around,” said Fred, and he and his brother disappeared into the shelves before she could threaten to stick their tongues into boiling water if they damaged anything.

She listened to the students’ conversations a little bit before Ernie MacMillan approached her desk.

“Madam Pince? Here, just wanted to return this.” He handed her a copy of Hogwarts: a History.

Irma examined the book and grimaced. “Mr. MacMillan, there are folded pages.”

“Well, I needed to mark the pages,” he answered, with a bewildered look at her.

She felt her hands involuntarily closing into fists, and said, fighting to keep her voice steady, “Mr. MacMillan, please read the warning on the first page.”

Ernie opened the book and read aloud, “A warning: If you rip, tear, shred, bend, fold, deface, disfigure, smear, smudge, throw, drop, or in any other manner damage, mistreat, or show lack of respect towards this book, the consequences...” He gulped and trailed off.

The consequences will be as awful as it is within my power to make them,” finished Irma, taking the book from him. “This note is in all of the Hogwarts books. Do you know why that is, Mr. MacMillan?”

Ernie looked terrified. “Er... Probably because you don’t want us to rip, or... or smudge, or fold, or... or anything.”

“Yes, Mr. MacMillan, exactly,” said Irma slowly. “Have you even read the warning?”

“Well, I... you see, I... No.”

Irma smiled unpleasantly. “Oh, too bad. You really should have read it, because, you see, now I’ll have to-”

“Please don’t kill me!”

That was when a blond girl, who Irma recognized as Hannah Abbot, came up behind MacMillan and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Ernie?”

“Hannah! Hannah, hi!” said Ernie, turning around, and looking like he could have kissed his friend for “saving” him.

“Susan said you would be here. Why aren’t you down at breakfast?”

“I was just... returning this book,” he said, with a nervous smile in Irma’s direction. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, really. I was just telling Susan about your theory... You know? About Harry Potter being the heir of Slytherin and Petrifying Justin? She’s the only one who still doesn’t understand it, and I couldn’t explain it very well, you know, so I just... came up here, to... tell you to explain it to her, you know? I suppose I could wait until later, but I just wanted to... to come now.” She was very pink by the time she finished the sentence.

He smiled. “Oh. All right, I’ll go, I just have to-”

“You really should come down for breakfast now, Ernie. The game is an hour, and it’s against Gryffindor!”

“Oh, true. Madam Pince, can you just... kill me later?”

“I’ll just have a chat with Professor Sprout, MacMillan, you can go to breakfast with Miss Abbot now,” said Irma amusedly.

“Thanks, Madam Pince! Let’s go, Hannah.”

Irma followed them with her eyes until the door, where she caught a glimpse of bright red hair. She tensed, but then remembered that it couldn’t be any of the Weasley twins entering the library, because they were already inside. It was Percy Weasley, by far Irma’s favourite of them all. He was just so well behaved and well read! He seemed to be looking for something.

“Are you searching for something in particular, Mr. Weasley?”

He gave a start and turned to her. “No! No, I’m just – just looking around, but... but thank you, Madam Pince. And good morning.”

“Good morning to you too,” said Irma.

Percy walked a bit, until his gaze fell on Penelope Clearwater’s table.

Irma saw him smile slightly and look around before he approached the table. “Penny. Hi.”

Penelope looked up and smiled at him. “Percy.”

“What are you reading?”

She held up her book.

Prefects who Gained Power,” he read aloud.

“It’s very good, like you said. I just don’t see the need for it to be so detailed.”

 “I don’t know, I think it adds more to the story. To remind us that those who are powerful were also just teenagers once, like you and me,” said Percy. He looked around again and sat down across from her.

“Maybe,” said Penelope, and then asked softly, “You’re not really here to talk about what book I’m reading, are you?”

“Do you want me to be here to talk about what book you’re reading?” he asked back, voice equally low, eyebrow slightly raised.

She bit her lip and looked down. “I’m not sure.”

He put a hand under her chin and lifted her face so that her eyes met his (and forgot to look around before he did so, Irma noticed). “Look, Penny, I know it startled you when Ginny caught us, but it’s been a month, and I... well...” He scratched his head and muttered awkwardly, “I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Percy.” She smiled at him. “But the problem’s not your sister... She was just some kind of... of wake-up call. The thing is, we’re prefects. We can’t keep on sneaking around, it’s foolish to think we’ll be able to get away with it forever.”

“What do you mean? You want to end it?” he said, voice so low that Irma had to strain to hear it.

The staff would probably be shocked to know how many private talks Irma heard everyday, but she wasn’t too worried. She was sure Albus Dumbledore knew about it, he had insinuated it quite a few times. It seemed to amuse him. Of course, it was a known fact that one of the Headmaster’s favourite hobbies was witnessing conversations without being noticed; he didn’t need a cloak to become invisible. So it would be quite hypocritical of him to reprehend Irma for violation of privacy. If there was something Albus certainly wasn’t, it was hypocritical. A little crazy, yes. Hypocritical, never.

Before Penelope could answer, the Weasley twins’ voices could be heard:

“George, the game! It’s almost time for the game!”

“Oh, dear! Do you think we have time to eat something?”

Percy stood up from his chair so abruptly that it fell to the floor. He was in a state of shock for a moment, but then was able to stutter, “And- and don’t do that again, Miss Clearwater, or I’ll have to report you to Professor Flitwick... Even though you’re not in my house... And even though you’re also a prefect... Uh, well, just don’t do that again, ok?” He rubbed the badge on his chest, looking very red.

“Yes, Mr. Weasley, I promise I’ll behave,” said Penelope, looking as though she was trying very hard to control her laughter.

By that time, the twins had already reached them.

“Percy! What brings you here?”

“Who’s that?” said Fred, indicating Penelope. “Your girlfriend?”

Percy choked. He started coughing violently, as the twins looked at each other, a little startled. They obviously weren’t expecting such an extreme reaction from their brother.

“Blimey, I think we killed him!” said George.

“Is that bad?” said Fred, starting to hit Percy on the back.

“Well, Mum will be furious,” said George, joining Fred in trying to make Percy stop coughing.

With a worried look at Percy, who was starting to recover, Penelope stood up. “Er, I’m Penelope Clearwater, Ravenclaw prefect, nice to meet you two.”

Prefect?” said George, making a face of most-disgust.

“You don’t look like a prefect,” said Fred, with a tone of voice that suggested he was paying her an amazing compliment.

“Er, thanks... I think,” said Penelope, and then gave her badge a little flick. “But I am, so...”

Fred started scratching his arms. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m allergic to prefects.”

“We do have one at home...” said George, with a look at Percy. “But that’s only because Mum made us keep him.”

Percy glowered. “I thought you had to go to the game.”

“Oh, keep your hair on, we’re not trying to interrupt you and your girlfriend or anything,” said Fred.

“Well, actually, I’m not...” started Penelope slowly, watching Percy as though hoping he would stop her. He didn’t. Her face fell a little. Irma couldn’t see how Percy Weasley had managed to misinterpret Clearwater’s ‘We can’t keep on sneaking around’ so greatly. “I’m not his girlfriend. We don’t have anything. At all. We barely know each other.”

Percy was nodding while she talked, which only made her look even more disheartened. Irma shook her head.

“Right,” said Fred, breathing in a great fake-sigh of relief. “The world goes back to making sense. We have to go to the game now.”

They waved their goodbyes and headed for the door.

“Percy with a girlfriend...” said George, laughing, as they walked away. “The thought alone is already too amusing... As if!”

“Yeah, really, I don’t know what I was thin-- Ouch!”

They had just reached the door and run into Hermione Granger.

“Oh, sorry!” she said, panting. “I was just-- I need to—I’m sorry!”

“It’s ok,” said Fred.

“Yeah, people have been running into us a lot today,” said George.

“We have to go to the game,” said Fred.

“Yeah, make sure you can get out of here in time to watch it.”

“True, we wouldn’t want you to miss us kicking those Hufflepuffs’ a-- er, backsides.”

“I’ll try.” Hermione smiled, her breathing still uneven.

The twins waved goodbye and left. She bid good morning to Irma and ran towards the shelves as soon as they were gone, and Irma was sure she was muttering, “Snakes, snakes, snakes... but could a snake do that?” under her breath. Odd.

Penelope sat down at her table again, as Percy whispered to her, “Let’s talk later.”

“Ok,” she replied, not looking up from the book.

He left. For a few minutes the only sounds in the room were footsteps, the turning of pages and the occasional comment here and there, but then everyone started leaving for the game, and there was silence. Irma smiled gladly and watched Clearwater as she put the book aside and buried her face in her arms.

That was when she heard the sound of a page being ripped, and cringed. What a horrible sound. She looked to where it had come from, and her gaze fell on... Hermione Granger. Irma shook her head. Miss Granger would never mistreat a book. And she was the only one in the library besides Penelope Clearwater, whom Irma had been watching. She must have been imagining things.

Penelope then stood up, straightened herself and walked to Irma’s desk. “See you soon, Madam Pince.”

Irma smiled at her and said soothingly, “Don’t worry, he’s not going to want to keep it a secret forever, Miss Clearwater.”

Penelope’s mouth fell open. She started saying, “How--” but was interrupted by Hermione, who came up to Irma’s desk at that moment.

“Er- Sorry to interrupt, but do you happen to have a mirror on you?” she said to Penelope.

“Uh, yeah, I think I have one in here somewhere...” said Penelope with a weird look at her.

“Can you lend it to me?” asked Hermione quickly, but then seemed to realise something. “Oh, no, wait, are you Muggle-born, by any chance?”

“Yes, my parents are Muggles...”

“Oh, so you’ll probably need it too... Well, can I go to the pitch with you?”

“Er... ok,” said Penelope, looking completely lost. Irma had to admit that Miss Granger seemed to gone mad. Penelope waved goodbye. Bye, Madam Pince... I’ll have to have a chat with you later, huh?”

Irma nodded.

“See you, Madam Pince,” said Hermione, as she and Penelope walked away.

They had already crossed the door, but Irma could still hear Hermione saying, “What about the mirror?”

“Is it really this important?” replied Penelope.

“Yes, trust me, it’s very, very important... I’m Hermione Granger, by the way.”

“Oh, I’m Penelope Clearwater, Ravenclaw prefect,” said Penelope’s fading voice, and then Irma couldn’t hear their conversation anymore.

She sighed happily and started organizing the books the students had left lying around, thankful for the game and the quietness it provided her...

That was when she heard two ear-splitting screams.

//
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