There was nothing quite so nice as a totally quiet library, Madam Pince thought fondly.
She glared at all the students. Too bad they had to be here.
The Weasley twins came in, talking loudly. She shot them a lethal glance, and they went quiet. But the next moment, they began speaking in exaggerated whispers, tiptoeing with extreme care across the floor to the business section.
She sighed. Sometimes you just had to endure, and clear up the debris afterward. All the same, she made a point of rustling by the business section to let them know she had her eye on them. They gave her enormous, innocent grins.
Back at the desk, there was a stack of books, waiting to be charmed and categorized before she let them loose on the shelves. She settled to it, murmuring welcomes to her new charges.
A student came up. "Madam Pince?"
She glanced up. "Yes?"
"I can't find The Invisible Book of Invisibility."
"Did you check the card catalogue?"
"Yes, it says it's on the shelf. But I couldn't find it. I think the card catalogue is wrong."
Madam Pince frowned. Her card catalogue was never wrong. Each card was enchanted to change colors depending on whether the book it corresponded to was checked out, taken off the shelf but still in the library, or on the shelf. She regularly double-checked the enchantments herself.
She said, "You didn't see The Invisible Book of Invisibility on the shelf."
"No," the girl said.
"You didn't . . . see the book."
"Which is, in fact, invisible."
There was a moment of silence. The student's lips moved. Then she said, "Oh."
As she slunk back toward the Invisibility section, Madam Pince returned to her books. Really, she thought irritably, what were they teaching students these days?
There was a brief, curtailed scream from the Restricted Section.
Madam Pince finished enchanting the new copy of Potions for Everyday Use to snap forcefully shut if opened when it was overdue, and set it aside. She didn't hurry on her way to the Restricted Section. There was nothing in there that would actually harm a student.
Well. Nothing that would kill them, anyway.
The Restricted Section appeared empty. She put her hands on her hips and looked around. "Out with it, now," she said. "Which one of you was it?"
A heavily chained grimoire shifted guiltily.
"I thought so." She took it down, opened it, and studied the picture in the frontspiece. She clicked her tongue. First years. They never believed her about the Restricted Section until they actually experienced it. Just this boy's bad luck he'd picked a canny old tome.
And a hungry one.
"Let him out," she said to it.
The covers wiggled protestingly in her hands.
"Out. He's no good for you anyway. All that fat will stain your parchment."
"Do you want to be weeded?"
The spine heaved up, and a small, plump Ravenclaw catapaulted from the pages, tumbling over and over before coming to a stop midway down the aisle. He lay for a moment, gasping like a landed fish. Then he rolled to his back and looked up at her.
She gazed down upon him. "Learned our lesson, did we?"
"Yes, ma'am," he wheezed.
"Feel a bit ill, do we?"
"If you vomit in here you shall never step foot in my library again." She jerked her head. "Out."
He blundered to his feet and wobbled off, bumping chairs and tables on his way out.
"And as for you," she said to the grimoire. "I fed you just this morning. If this keeps up, there'll be no room on the shelf for you. And you know what that means."
It hunched its covers.
Suitably cowed, the grimoire lay docile as she re-chained it.
When she returned to the desk, she found her least favorite member of the faculty behind it, reaching for a drawer.
"I do believe," Madam Pince said in a voice that dripped icicles, "that this is my desk."
Umbridge jumped, then tried to recover her poise by saying, "Irma. There you are. You know, dear, it's really not the best idea to leave the reference desk unmanned."
"I shall certainly take your opinion into consideration. Dolores dear."
The two women gave each other sweet smiles, the way women do when they want other women to know how much they hate them.
"I was wondering if you could help me," Umbridge cooed. "I have need of some information."
"This is a library," Madam Pince said. "I should say you've come to the right place."
Umbridge tittered, and Madam Pince felt her skin crawl. Interfering little slug. She really ought to be told that she was too old for Alice bands.
"That is, actually, the crux of the matter," the other woman said. "I'm sure you have records of which students have checked out which books. Past as well as present."
Madam Pince eyed her suspiciously. She had a good idea where this was going. "I do keep records," she acknowledged.
"Isn't that lovely!" Umbridge cried, as if nothing thrilled her more than that bit of predictable news. "Well, now, Irma, when can you move them to my office?"
Her back went as stiff as a poker. "I'm sorry?"
"I am the High Inquisitor," Umbridge said.
As if anyone could forget.
"I have need of those records, dear. And I'm sure it won't be the least bit of trouble to transfer them, will it?"
Madam Pince felt her mouth stretch into a smile that she just barely kept from being a grimace. "No," she said. "Not the least bit of trouble at all. Just one moment, please." She turned on her heel and strode toward her office, her heels tapping smartly on the stone floor. She shut the door behind her with a snap.
At the back of her office stood an enormous cabinet, black with age. It was an extraordinarily handsome piece, and it did indeed contain details of every single transaction made in the Hogwarts library by witches and wizards still living.
Umbridge was, as she said, the High Inquisitor. And in her . . . Inquisiting, she certainly could use those student records. Indeed, by Ministry decree, she had a perfect right to those records, and any other bit of information she decided she needed.
Madam Pince knew what she had to do. She didn't like it, but she knew it.
Moving briskly, she cleared the top of the cabinet of the various tricks of her trade. Extra stamps, leftover lengths of chain, and a few punch cards were moved to her bottom drawer. With a quick Wingardium Leviosa, she shifted a shelf unit full of new books to be enchanted over to the other side of the office, and then put a quick Shield Charm around it, just in case. She checked underneath the cabinet to make sure no books had been shoved under there. Not that she ever would herself, but you never knew, especially with some of these detention students.
Quite frankly, it was none of that irritating little toad Umbridge's business who read what.
She crossed her arms and stood before the blaze for several moments, watching it crackle. Her hair and eyebrows frizzled gently.
After a little while, she lifted her wand again. "Exstinguo!"
The flames went out at once, Coughing slightly, Madam Pince surveyed her work.
A burnt shell of a cabinet stood where Hogwarts librarians had kept records for a thousand years. It held its shape for just a moment before it collapsed in on itself, sending up a cloud of ash and smoke. There was a scorch mark up the wall and another on the ceiling five feet across. She would have to have Argus take care of that-dreadful little man, but he was a genius for getting mysterious substances off stone. Mere soot, even with the residue of the enchantments on that cupboard, should present no problem whatsoever.
She nodded to herself, thin-lipped and satisfied. The nerve of the woman, telling her what to do in her library.
She opened a window for ventilation, then went back out to the front, carefully shutting the door so none of the smoke would escape into the main library.
"My goodness, Irma!"
Madam Pince tried to paste an expression of regret on her face. "Dolores, I'm sorry, but the most dreadful accident has occurred. Someone-Peeves, I should think-has lit the records on fire." She spread her hands helplessly. "Some of the paper was very old. It's all gone up like an antique barn."
Umbridge's eyes snapped hard and black. "Oh, has it?"
"Yes. Terrible. I was able to keep the fire from spreading, but the records are completely destroyed. I'm so sorry."
"Can you recreate them?"
"Heavens, no, I've enough to do." She took up a feather duster and flicked a bit of dust away from the card catalogue.
"But my dear, however will you know if a book is overdue?"
Madam Pince smiled unpleasantly. "Oh, the students will know." She picked up a copy of The Monster Book of Monsters that had just been turned in, and undid the knots on the ropes holding it shut. The book trembled at her touch, and she patted it absently. Merlin alone knew what that little heathen had done to it. "Sorry I wasn't able to help you, Dolores."
Umbridge's lips went tight. "Of course, I understand," she said in a voice like poisonous treacle. "Completely out of your hands, my dear, completely. Do accept my sympathies." She gazed around the library. "All the same, I think I should have a look at your collection."
"As you like." She waved her feather duster in the direction of the stacks.
"Oh, not now. I simply don't have the time now. But you may have it ready for me at dawn tomorrow."
"Oh, I may, may I?"
"Yes, it should take the whole day."
"I see." Madam Pince smiled tightly at her. "Dawn it is, Dolores. I'm sure you have somewhere to be."
There was really nothing Umbridge could do after that but oil away, pausing only once to assign a student to detention for throwing a crumpled-up bit of parchment at the back of her head.
Madam Pince watched her go, her lips tight. Dawn indeed.
She turned and found the Weasley twins staring at her from the other side of her desk. "Did you want something?" she asked suspiciously.
But their faces were awed. "To grovel at your feet, ma'am," said the one on the left.
"That . . . was . . . amazing," said the other, shaking his red head.
"All this time."
"We never knew."
She dusted gently. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."
The first laid a finger alongside his nose. "We won't breathe a word, ma'am." And then he had the bare-faced audacity to wink at her.
"Can we-do something for you?" said the other.
"Alphabetizing your catalogue."
"Shaking down a few Slytherins for overdues."
"Polishing chains in the Restricted section."
She eyed them. "Can you do a Flame-Retardant Charm on inanimate objects?"
They blinked and looked at each other. "I reckon so," said the first one.
"Good. You can start with the A's." Madam Pince looked around her library, her eyes narrowed. She had been a librarian for many years, and she could read the writing on the wall. "I know where this is heading."
(A/N) Okay, I know Umbridge never burned any books. But she would have. Trust me.