It was a heady perfume of warm notes, matured mahogany and antiquated tomes that hung from the ceiling, clinging to the fibres of the walls in the vast room. It was the earthy smell of aged and dusted books, a scent which provided comfort to the learned, the learning.
Gas lit lamps supplied warm pockets of light in the cavernous room as whole other spaces were swallowed up by the inky blackness surrounding.
The only sound to be heard was a gentle fusion of quills scratching against parchment, the crisp turn of pages and the eventual chime of the old grandfather clock which stood proud near the entrance.
There were few people – barring the most inquisitive minded – fluttering among the towering shelves at that hour, and fewer still with each passing moment.
Tucked into one of the hidden corners of the expansive room was a girl whose legs curled under her as she sat in the chintz reading chair. Her face was obscured by a large tome, and all that was visible was a cloud of curled and silken strands of darkened honey which bounced whenever she moved her head.
A slender hand emerged from somewhere and pushed back some of the offending tresses, which had dared to bounce across her lash line. Sighing in exasperation, the girl set the enormous volume on her knees and cast her liquid dark eyes around the room, her teeth worrying her lower lip.
There was hardly a soul around to distract her. Was he there tonight?
Her gaze swept to the very centre of the room. Seated at one of the many study desks located there was a tall boy with an unusually pale complexion. He rather stood out in the darkness, not unlike one of the glowing fairies which lit up the Hogwarts Christmas trees.
It would hardly matter anyway as he always sat in the same spot. She had come to think of it as his desk and, she supposed, so had he.
She observed silently from her partially hidden alcove, rather like a sponge, she soaked him in.
The boy was scribbling furiously and, despite the flurry of his hand as it moved across the parchment, he still managed to appear as composed as he ever had. She watched as he suddenly dropped his quill and stretched his arms up high over his head.
She watched as a few stray platinum strands fell across his brow. He looked aristocratic from this angle, and every other, if she were being truly honest. He fascinated her.
So she watched.
For an interminable amount of time, allowing the inky darkness to creep up around her.
Then, as the chime of the clock sounded once more she broke her steady gaze, picked up her effects and vacated her seat. She wove her way through the shelves, navigating a path to the front desk. She nodded in salutation to the eccentric old woman perched there.
And then she left through the vast wooden door.
And he watched.
The wildly tressed girl was seated somewhere else on this occasion: at one of the many study desks in the main room. She had been working on her essay for Potions.
He was there again that evening, as he had been most nights. She had arrived before him, chosen a desk and had dutifully not lifted her gaze from the parchment for even a moment that evening.
Yet she knew.
The atmosphere in the room had shifted upon his entrance, almost as though his presence had set off a current amongst the air particles so that they crackled with anticipation.
His desk was very close to hers and she desperately hoped he did not think it had been deliberate. Just as she hoped that it wasn’t.
She could hear the gentle scratch of his quill as it danced across his page. He was deep in concentration, she could tell because of the deliberate nature of his strokes.
She wondered what he was writing.
He wondered what she was thinking.
His face looked thinner, paler now. He was all sharp angles and his skin, translucent. He was tired, weary. She knew this because she had seen him up close on a few occasions when she had arrived after him and had walked slowly past his desk.
The girl often wondered why he still used that desk, his desk. He no longer wiled away the hours with his persistent scribbling – about what, she could not fathom. Even she did not have that much homework. She came to this place for solitude. Why did he? She knew for a fact that he had not been handing in all of his homework anyway – at least not for Transfiguration. Her Head of House had let that titbit slip.
She supposed it did not matter now; in any case, he had stopped writing altogether.
Now he would come to the library and read. Sometimes he would just stare at a point on the desk. Other times he would stare vacantly ahead, or at his hands.
Or at her.
The only reason she had known this was because, she supposed, it was directly proportional to the amount of time she spent staring at him.
From a distance it was hard to discern the particular shade of ashy grey in his gaze from blue or black. But she remembered – from where or when, she was not sure.
His eyes were one among many details that her brain had, without conscious thought, absorbed and catalogued.
The inquisitive girl was still deep within her thoughts when she felt his heavy gaze upon her.
She wondered why he was staring.
He wondered what she saw.
He smelled of old books, of wealth and of spoils. She knew this because when she ventured down one of the aisles to retrieve a particular tome, she stumbled upon him – quite unintentionally.
He looked up, rather startled. She noted a certain vulnerability in his usually hostile gaze before he registered her presence and shuttered that particular window. He turned back to peruse his shelf and, within a minute or two, she did the same. They did not speak, and the heavy silence buzzed in her ears. Anticipation licked her exposed skin.
Anticipation of what, she was not sure.
To any passing student the scene would have appeared innocuous. It was not.
It was laden with tension and awareness and she felt sure that it was not all in her head. Though perhaps it was, she mused. Perhaps he was the same as he had ever been.
Arrogant and cold and cruel.
She felt her breath seize in her chest as she willed it not to be so. The sheer weight of her thoughts, thoughts of him, seared her to her core. Feeling as though she might collapse from the strain of standing there, of standing still, she pulled her hands away from the book.
And she fled.
Looking down at the place she had stood, he sighed.
Many weeks and many nights had passed and his presence was not felt in the open spaces and dark corners of her asylum. For reasons unknown to her she chose, on this particular night, to sit in the centre of the room at one of the desks. His desk.
She furtively glanced around, as though expecting someone to jump out and indicate her treachery, to call for a burning at the stake.
No such call came.
So she quietly took a seat and breathed in her surroundings. It was as though that distinct cologne, so indicative of him, was still hanging in the air around the desk.
She knew it wasn’t though. She knew it was her memory.
She glanced down at the desk and gingerly smoothed her hands over the expanse of mahogany wood, tracing the delicate whorls with the tips of her fingers.
Her thumb dipped in and out of the indentations, and she shivered as though the sensations were felt on her own skin. Her eyes soaked in every scratch, marks of his frustration.
Pressing her palms flat against the desk, she imagined its warmth, like the fleeting beat of heart.
Thoroughly confused and utterly exhausted, she pressed her cool cheek to the wood.
And once more she breathed it all in.
And, from his hidden alcove, he watched.
The air was tense, as was she.
This night held strange possibilities and she did not like them at all. An eeriness had descended over the castle when they left: her dear friend and his mentor. The girl sighed anxiously, hoping for their speedy return. She did not think she could handle the strain of worrying over them.
The other students did not seem quite so aware of the darkness which had begun to swallow the castle. Or perhaps, she thought, they could not hope to be. Perhaps it was just her fear. Her fear alone, which threatened to swallow her whole.
Restless as she was, she flittered about the room, running a finger along the spines of books – craving the usual clarity and peace they provided. She found none.
Instead she felt a sudden outbreak of tingles, a wrack of trembles which skittered down her spine. Breathing deeply she hesitated as she turned around.
He stood there, inches away, as she had known he would be.
She was surprised by his appearance. His visage lacked its usual vibrancy and the skin under his eyes was wafer thin and slightly puffy, indicative of sleepless nights. He was an ethereal presence, a shade of his former self.
His eyes, which she had never seen this close up, held a certain urgency in their expression. They seared her.
He stood so close that she could feel the fan of his breath tickling her nose. It was a reminder of the reality of him. He was living and breathing, not merely a presence in her subconscious as his absence had almost allowed her to believe.
She opened her mouth to say something, anything to fill the silence. However, he pressed a long and slim finger to the pillow of her mouth, effectively stopping her. She glanced up and realised he had not intended to touch her. He looked torn.
She unconsciously pressed her lips more firmly against the finger. He breathed out in a rush and glared hard at her. Anger, tension and confusion emanated from his stiff figure. Then, with a sudden and unexpected groan – the only sound she had heard pass his lips in almost a year – he removed the finger and replaced it with his mouth. It was cool, firm and yet pliant.
She made no move at first, and with a sort of desperation he tugged at her lower lip with a flash of even white teeth.
At the same time he pressed his body against hers, the sheer solidity of his form overwhelming her. His hands dragged over her arms and upwards to hold her neck and her face before they plunged into the depths of her curled hair.
His grip tightened as she opened her mouth to him. Acquiescent.
She whimpered slightly as the tip of his tongue moved into un-chartered territory. Furious and reverent. Urgent and unsure. As her palms pressed against the unyielding wall of his chest, she felt the erratic beating of his heart. He was so terribly real.
It shattered her.
He wrenched away, leaving a small gap between them as they both gasped for breath, for oxygen and for the lucidity it would undoubtedly bring.
After a moment stretched the space between them, he grasped her hand and pressed a crumpled piece of parchment into the centre of her palm. He gazed at her expectantly and, realising his meaning, she opened it with trembling fingers.
The care-worn parchment was laced with ink, curled to form four simple words, the profundity of which stopped the thumping rhythm of her heart.
They come tonight. Run.
Her eyes cut to his and in that pause she found her long sought for clarity. She understood. Perfectly.
He gave her a final hard look and tilted his head toward the main entrance to her sanctuary.
They spoke no words. No words were needed.