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The Central Library was located on the main street of Stoke Newington, a suburb in North-West London that Lily Evans had recently moved to after years of living in Peckham. Lily loved her local library. It was where she went to feel calm, alone and content.

She had been in Stoke Newington for around eight months and had discovered the library six months ago and since then, she had visited it once a week. She worked as a solicitor and it was often stressful and mainly filled with reading long, dryly written case law and legal texts. So, Lily cherished the two hours a week she set aside to read something beautiful and imaginative and fun.

She couldn't quite put her finger on what it was that made the Central library so special but it had several beautiful features that added greatly to its charms. The first thing that attracted her to it was the tall mahogany shelving and wooded panels that decorated the interior of the library. In one of her geekier moments, Lily had googled the building and it dated back to the 1920s, having managed to survive the war. The dark wood had been in fashion at the time and was also beautifully made and so had never been replaced. It ensconced the room in darkness that was punctuated only by the bright shafts of light that beamed in from the long windows that were placed on the front face of the building.

To add to the library's prettiness, it featured a few lengthy desks with reading lamps and hard-backed chairs along with a separate reading area with four old grandfather chairs that were perfectly comfortable, if not a little worse for wear.

The final, and best thing of all about Stoke Newington's Central Library, was that had not been redeveloped in any serious way since the 1950s. Lily credited the lack of investment in the library for the absence of a computer area, any form of plug for phone charging or wireless internet. Indeed the only computer in the library was the ramshackle one for staff that must have been there for at least 15 years. The conspicuous antiquity of the library seemed to put off patrons from visiting regularly – or at least when Lily was there – and whilst it caused her occasional concern that the Council might decide to close her library, most days Lily counted her blessings that she could read in peace without the sound of the modern world bursting in on top of her.

Unfortunately, whilst Lily loved her local library, it did not love her.

In fact, most library's did not like Lily. The Central Library was the third library in total that Lily had been banned from. During her undergraduate degree, Lily had been banned from her university's library for failing to return books. The same thing had happened during her year of study for her postgraduate degree at another university.

Lily had always been excellent at paying library fines – she just had a habit of becoming rather too attached to the books she took home. That, combined with a perpetual forgetfulness, made Lily probably the worst library user in London.

It had only taken her three months to be banned by her beloved Central. She hadn't returned The Mayor of Casterbridge. She hadn't meant to keep it – it was such a small book that, when she'd finished it, she'd placed it on her desk and covered it with all manner of post, newspapers and notebooks. By the time she had received her first warning notice, Lily had removed the book, along with all the other debris and tidied them away. She then received a second warning, after which she'd gone to the trouble of finding out what book it was she had kept overdue. At which point, she had of course forgotten where she had put it.

After she searched for a week, then came the fine notice. Lily paid it but still couldn't find the book.

Peter, the manager of the library, who was always on duty when Lily was in, did not take kindly to this explanation. Lily offered to replace the book – this too was apparently not what Peter wanted.

Peter had informed Lily of the strict policy at Central Library. Book thieves were banned. Lily had tried to explain the position to Peter. She gave him the legal definition of theft which included an intention to permanently deprive, but still, he was unmoved.

Never finding the book, Lily was summarily banned.

She had thought about protesting to the higher ups – whoever they were. But she didn't really want a fuss. She just wanted to sit in her library.

And so she had decided to accept Peter's ban, knowing that it only pertained to the ability to remove books from the library. There was no such ban on allowing her to sit in the library and read whilst she was there. Peter confirmed as much when she confronted him the Saturday after her ban came into force.

Lily had therefore begun allocating two hours every Saturday afternoon to sit in her library, read and replace the book when she was done.

She was 135 pages into Jane Eyre when she discovered the first bookmark.


 

"Welcome to Central Library, please read the available information before requesting assistance."

Peter's usual greeting, droned from behind the staff desk, caused Lily to roll her eyes as the library doors swung shut behind her. She was the only person who ever came into the place on a Saturday afternoon – particularly when the sun was beaming down outside, as it was now.

"Hi Peter," she called, making her way to the reading area to set down her bag.

Peter did not look up from the desk, deigning to give her a half-hearted wave instead.

The general manager of Lily's library puzzled her. He seemed to set great store by the rules and regulations of the library, kept it inordinately tidy (although she never saw him clean it), and insisted on a revolving book display advertising the library's collection to perspective readers. Despite all of this, Lily had never once observed Peter doing anything other than sit behind the staff desk, occasionally writing and more often scrolling through the library's antiquated single computer database.

Putting the oddities of Peter out of her head, Lily made her way towards the tall shelves in the middle of the room. Taking a second to let her eyes flit over the various authors housed in the outward facing shelf, Lily wandered around to the inside shelf and arrived at the location she knew to contain Jane Eyre, her latest choice.

Lily had read Jane Eyre before but generally found it to be a comfort in times of distress. After the whole debacle with Peter and the missing book, Lily had immediately reached for Charlotte Bronte's best known book.

She enjoyed the library's particularly copy of the book as well – it had aged just right. An old paperback with thick, discoloured pages that was obviously well-thumbed.

Making her way back to the reading area and her bag, Lily chose her preferred grandfather armchair and sank into it. Flicking through the pages, she opened at page 129, where she had finished last Saturday, and submerged herself in Jane's thoughts, looking forward to forgetting her own cares and concerns for a couple of hours.

As she continued to read and turn over the pages, Lily felt her own anxieties fade into the back of mind, all conscious thoughts thoroughly forgotten…until something fell into her lap.

Frowning at the disruption, Lily looked down at the thin piece of paper that had fallen out from between the book's pages. It was a strip of paper that had obviously been torn off a blank page and placed into the book as a place holder.

As she picked it up, Lily noticed that there was writing on one side of the paper – scrawled vertically down the page in black, messy ink:

This is my bookmark. Please do not remove it.

As she looked at the bookmark, Lily considered it's message. She didn't have an issue with bookmarks in general. However, usually someone put a bookmark in their own book. Putting a bookmark in a book that belonged to a library was not the usual approach. Nor was requesting that it not be removed.

Surely, if you wanted to read the book without losing your place, you would check the book out and bookmark it in the comfort of your own home?

Lily flicked to the front of the book to look at the library card. The book hadn't been checked out in over a year. Obviously, whoever the owner of the bookmark was, they had finished the book and forgotten their property.

With this thought she removed the bookmark and placed it in her bag. Peter wouldn't appreciate her leaving odd pieces of paper everywhere.


 

The next Saturday, Lily returned to her library, practically running from the bus stop to get there. Her week at work had been nothing short of hellish – filled with unhappy clients, angry emails and urgent deadlines - and the only thing that had kept her going was the thought that on Saturday, Central awaited her.

"Welcome to Central Library, please read the available information before requesting assistance."

As she heard Peter's bland tones echo around the room, Lily resisted the urge to advise him that she didn't need to request assistance, nor would she need to read the available information as she already knew where everything was.

The strangeness of Peter's greeting was only ever equalled by the hilarity of his constant goodbye:

"Thank you for coming. Please leave us a review on Yelp."

Going straight to the shelf to find Jane, Lily remembered a little guiltily that she had never left the library a review on Yelp, despite him saying it every time she left. Thinking that Peter had probably been asked to say that by his managers, Lily put the thought out of her head.

Grabbing the book, she strode purposefully to her chair, flicking open to the last page she had read as she walked.

She had made it halfway to the chair, when a white piece of paper fluttered to the floor.

Already knowing what it was before she looked at it, Lily bent down to the floor to retrieve it, half-struggling to believe what was happening. As she picked the paper up, she saw it's message:

This is my bookmark.  Please do not remove it.

Seeing the extra emphasis that the writer had placed on the last sentence caused Lily to balk a bit. Clearly they were not happy that she had removed their previous bookmark. And now, she'd done it again, as she had no idea what part of Jane Eyre the bookmark had come from.

As she considered what to do, Lily's eyes drifted to Peter – who apparently hadn't looked up the entire time she had been standing in front of him.

Stressed and overworked as she was, Lily decided there was only one way out: the coward's way. Replacing the bookmark at the start of the book, Lily strode back to the shelf and returned Jane Eyre to its original location.

There was too much stress associated with this particular book for her to read it today. She would find another book and finish Jane Eyre another time. At least she could remember the number of the page she last read – unlike some strange people.

Running her eye along the shelf, Lily's eye stalled upon Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. It wasn't a book she had read before however she had been meaning to and now was as good a time as any.

Please with her choice, she pulled the book out: it was a bit heavier than she had imagined – probably not the light reading she had been craving this afternoon – but, she had made her choice and she would stick with it. Nevertheless, intimidated by the book's size, Lily flipped it open to see how many pages it was.

She felt a jolt in her stomach as the book fell open to a premarked page and her eye was drawn immediately to the white strip of paper lining it.

She didn't need to look at it to know what it said.

"This is ridiculous," she muttered to herself, stashing the book under her arm, now determined to see how far this went. There was no way she had just coincidentally picked up the same book as the bookmark person. Either they had astonishingly similar tastes in literature or this person was a greedy reader.

The next book Lily grabbed was The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – her fingers sprinted across the pages, until she found it:

This is my bookmark. Please do not remove it.

The Woman in White went under her other arm. Next she grabbed Hard Times – a Dickens classic:

This is my bookmark. Please do not remove it.

Hard Times went on the floor. Lily found Jude the Obscure, the next Thomas Hardy on her list:

This is my bookmark. Please do not remove it.

Thomas joined Charles on the floor. She opened Anna Sewell's Black Beauty:

This is my bookmark. Please do not remove it.

Next came Eliot's Middlemarch:

This is my bookmark. Please do not remove it.

Now thoroughly confused and flustered and no longer in the mood to go bookmark hunting when the result was already obvious, Lily retrieved all of the books she had opened and marched back to the staff desk.

"Did you know someone is putting bookmarks in all the books?" She questioned Peter as soon as he came into her sight line.

Peter, in a remarkable if completely standard response, did not look up.

"Peter," she called again, thumping the books down onto the desk. "Bookmarks. Look," she demanded, gesturing to the white paper sticking out of each of the books.

Peter let out a long sigh. He closed the notebook he had been writing in and let his eyes drift slowly up to meet Lily's, not once glancing at the books.

"Bookmarks are not against library policy."

"Don't you think it's odd?" Lily pressed, not letting it go.

"Are the bookmarks presenting an issue for you?"

"No, but…"

"If the bookmarks are bothering you, you can lodge an official complaint."

"I don't want to lodge…"

"Please fill in the standardised complaint form in the box over there and post it to the Council…"

"Peter, I don't want to lodge a…"

"Do you require any other assistance?" Peter cut across, with an air of finality.

"Peter, I…"

"Please read the available information before requesting assistance."

"Never mind!" Lily ground out, finally giving up as she acknowledged that she was never going to have a normal conversation with this person. Clearly, he hadn't forgiven her for The Mayor of Casterbridge and never would.

Gathering up the books, Lily returned back to the shelves and replaced them.

All of them. She couldn't read today. What she desperately needed was to lie down in a dark room. Relishing the thought of her bedroom and closed curtains, Lily bolted towards the door, never more eager to get out of the library.

"Thank you for coming," Peter called after her dimly, "please leave us a review on Yelp."


 

It took a lot for Lily to return to the library the next weekend. After a good night's sleep and a reasonable Sunday, she was able to admit that perhaps she had overreacted by storming out the last time. But Peter had aggravated her and she wasn't in the mood to humour him given the week she had had. It also annoyed her that he still treated her with that detached, irritated manner. Had she been a bit less forgetful, she could've imagined them being cordial acquaintances.

Despite all this, Lily knew she would have to return to Central. It was her favourite place and what she looked forward to most of the week and neither Peter nor the bookmark maniac was going to change that.

"Welcome to Central Library, please read the available information before requesting assistance."

"Hi Peter," she responded as pleasantly as she could.

Again, she was given the obligatory wave but that wasn't going to annoy her today.

Deciding to re-do last week's attempt at reading, Lily went straight for the shelf where she knew Jane Eyre to be.

She had located the book and was seated in her favourite chair as she came upon the bookmark. Lily was expecting it this time so was happy to deliberately remember the page the bookmark was in just in case she misplaced it again. Her eyes studied the piece of paper for a moment and then, on a complete whim she turned it over.

Why don't you like my bookmark? E.B.

Lily re-read the writing several times before she properly processed it. She was positive that the writing on the back of the bookmark was new. It had not been there when the bookmark fell to the floor last weekend.

Was it addressed to her? Maybe the person wrote it because she had accidentally moved the bookmark twice now. And was the person named E.B.?

Lily considered this for a few more moments – she tried to think of why the person had put their initials instead of their name. It was also incredibly coincidental that the initials happened to match Emily Bronte – sister to the author of the book they were currently speaking through.

On another whim, and also because there was no way she could not check now, Lily stood and walked briskly back to the shelves of books. Quite quickly, she found the book she was looking for: Wuthering Heights.

Pulling it from its place, she flicked it open and was unsurprised when the bookmark appeared near the middle of the book. She turned it over:

Answer here:

Immediately, Lily felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction – almost as though she had solved a riddle. Even if the riddle was incredibly simple. The fact she didn't know she was playing allowed her a sense of accomplishment. Lily had always loved puzzles and had played them regularly as a child. As adult life took over, her regular play had subsided but the nostalgic rush she had felt at solving this puzzle reminded her that she should play more often.

It barely occurred to her that she wouldn't write an answer. She had played the game and now she was determined to continue. As she made her way back to her seat, she pondered all the way what she would write in response. Surely she should first apologise for removing the bookmark twice. And then she could confirm her only objection to the bookmarks afterwards.

Procuring a pen, Lily began to write in the small space provided:

Sorry for removing bookmark. Accident. Don't mind 1 bookmark – why all of them?

She then remembered that she would have to find another book to reference in order to allow her fellow player to respond.

Now running past Peter for the third time – she swore she saw his forehead crease just slightly but she could have imagined it - Lily looked for a book in the same row but far enough away that it didn't make it too easy for her fellow library goer.

For whatever reason, Tess of the d'Urbervilles appealed to Lily more than any of the rest of the books despite the bad luck she had previously had with Thomas Hardy books and the Central Library. As she flicked it open, she inwardly hoped she would find a bookmark; thankfully she did. So, she scribbled 'answer here' in the Thomas Hardy book and replaced it on the shelf.

She then wrote 'T.H.' at the end of her first message and replaced Wuthering Heights back in its original position.

After that Lily returned to Jane Eyre, or she tried to. In the back of her mind, the game was still continuing and she wondered whether or not, her opponent would continue to play.


 

For the majority of the week, Lily managed to push the library out of her thoughts. As usual, work kept her busy so she managed to divert her attention. But by Friday night, Lily was pleasantly ruminating on the possibility that there might be a message waiting for her in the middle of Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

When she arrived at the library on Saturday afternoon, Lily knew exactly where she was going.

Not even glancing at Peter as he advised her to read the available information, she strode to the shelf and pulled out the Thomas Hardy book she had been thinking about all week.

Lily couldn't contain the smile from spreading on her face as she looked down:

Why not? C.D.

Her opponent had left her a bit of a challenge. Of course she assumed C.D. was Charles Dickens but which book?

Lily made it through A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations before she found what she was looking for in The Pickwick Papers.

If you don't like my bookmarks, check this book out and you won't have to see it.

He had still left her space under his answer to respond even if it wasn't clearly marked. Pulling out the pen from the back of her jean pocket, Lily started to write, balancing on the edge of the shelf in front of her as she did.

How many bookmarks does one person need? V.W.

Eventually, Lily decided on Orlando for her book by Virginia Woolf and she predictably found the bookmark she was looking for. Pen poised, she started to write:

How many books are you reading?

She ignored the suggestion about taking the book out for obvious reasons. She wasn't going to have that argument with Peter again. Unless, her opponent was Peter.

The thought occurred briefly to Lily as she walked back across the library and she momentarily let her eyes drift towards the desk to find Peter peering dismally into his coffee cup.

No. Definitely not him.


 

Lily was lucky she was a patient person otherwise she would have been tearing her hair out for most of the week. Happily, she was beginning to enjoy the suspense of waiting to see what the response would be.

The answer to last week's queries in Orlando made her smile again:

All of them H.M.

Really, it wasn't so surprising that she was playing this game with a book nerd – after all, that was the reason she was enjoying it so much.

Lily looked at the initials. H.M was probably Herman Melville. As she looked for Moby Dick, Lily continued to consider who her opponent might be. No doubt, a library user who came in at a certain time each week like she did. What tickled her a little was the thought that this person might have also been banned from the library – otherwise why all the bookmarks? Knowing that she wasn't the only person who had incurred the wrath of Peter soothed her soul for some reason.

Finding her target, Lily sourced the bookmark right at the end of the book – eyes widening when she saw the message.

Hello book thief Lily Evans. L.T.

Clearly, she wasn't the only one who had been pondering identities. The fact that this person had determined who she was pointed only to one thing. Happily, she needed only to quiz Peter to confirm her suspicions.

"Peter," she began sweetly as she approached the desk, Moby Dick still under her arm, "out of curiosity, how many people have been banned from the library?"

Flicking over the page of his ledger, Peter ran his eyes down the contents.

"You alone hold that distinction," he replied dully.

"Thanks," she grinned, relishing the mildly annoyed expression that appeared on Peter's face now. Strolling back to the shelves, Lily found Tolstoy's Anna Karenina easily – she had read it earlier this year.

There was now only one option as to who this person was: if they knew who she was just because she could not have checked the book out, then her fellow player worked at this library and was aware of her banishment.

Locating the bookmark, Lily produced the pen she had stashed in her pocket for the purpose of responding.

Well worked out. How long have you worked at the library for? Hope I haven't offended by my book thieving. T.C.

She studied the message – hopefully that conveyed that she wasn't the only person who had given themselves away.

After she found Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote and did the necessary, Lily walked back to begin her reading properly.

As she passed Peter however, she found herself unable to move on without quizzing him a little more.

"Peter," she started, once more attempting to sound polite, "again, completely out of curiosity, how many people work here?"

Astonishing Lily, for the first time since she had met him, Peter looked up. As he rolled his eyes, it occurred to Lily that this might not have been the first time this game had been brought up with Peter.

"No one," he retorted pointedly, confusing Lily, "I am the only person who actually works here."

The polite response from Lily would've been to appear sympathetic but once again, she couldn't help the smile that started around her mouth.

"Oh," was all Lily could think to respond. "Well, you run a great library."

With a final withering look, Peter returned to his ledger.

Thankfully, this meant that Lily could return to the reading area and her thoughts of Central's mysterious employee who was reading all the books in the library.


 

Nicely deduced. I have worked here for two years. Certainly long enough to know of our infamous book thief. And, I am in no way offended. In fact, I have been fascinated by you since Peter told me about you. How big is your book thieving operation? J.D.S

Lily poured over this week's message before moving on to the next book, feeling her eyes narrow a little at the new message. Frustratingly there was very little that she could garner from it in relation to her opponent, other than that the person worked here on days other than Saturdays and didn't really mind her knowing it. But fascinated by her? Clearly, she had been the subject of some discussion. Still chewing this over in her mind, she moved to find J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

Out of curiosity, who does our infamous book thief look like? A.C.D.

Lily felt her mouth quirk up. What an odd question. She looked at the two bookmarks together. She had been referred to as 'infamous' twice. In a certain light, side by side, there was something flirtatious about the messages.

The impression Lily had gotten from speaking with him was that Peter was not impressed by their game playing. Perhaps that meant his colleague took the opposite view of her accidental thieving? At the very least, the person was amused by it.

And they wanted to know what she looked like. Or more particularly, who she looked like.

She didn't need to think it through for long – the answer was simple enough.

Writing L.M.M on the bookmark inside the Complete Sherlock Holmes, Lily then added:

I look like…

She then located Anne of Green Gables. But this time, instead of writing on the bookmark inside, Lily ripped a small piece of the page away from the rest. Casually, she made her way to the front desk and reached for the sellotape dispenser.

Her actions produced nothing other than the usual crease between Peter's eyebrows.

Returning to the shelf, she taped the piece of paper with her written on it right above the word Anne on the cover of the book.

It wasn't a perfect comparison: Lily's most unusual and most often remarked upon feature – her green eyes – were not shared by Anne. But, the general gist was there: the red hair, the freckles and pale skin.

Smiling, she opened the book again. Whoever they were, this person had been daring with their messages. Never one to back down from a challenge, she began to write.

Oh I could never admit the size of my regular heisting. But there isn't a library in London I haven't hit. Fascinated by me? Are book thieves your usual type?

P.s. Your turn - M.S.


 

"Welcome to Central Library, please read the available information before requesting assistance."

Lily's patience had not withstood the majority of Saturday morning. By the time it had reached 11am, she could suffer the expectation no longer and made her way to Central.

Not that Peter showed any indication that she had arrived outside her usual hours. His refrain came the same as it always did.

Practically throwing her bag down on the floor of the reading area, Lily walked quickly to find the copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein whose location she had memorised.

I look like

Lily frowned. There wasn't anything else written on the bookmark. There was however, a drawing of a long arrow pointing upwards towards the end of the bookmark.

She tried to follow the direction of the arrow but when she looked up it only pointed at the row of shelves which lined the inner wall of the library. Still frowning, Lily looked down at the bookmark again, trying to study it for any other information.

Perhaps the arrow was directing her to a book on that shelf?

Deciding that it couldn't hurt to go and look, Lily shuffled towards the wall. Thankfully, as she reached the shelves, she could see that there was a piece of paper taped to the middle shelf.

Up

As directed, Lily looked up.

She was now just looking at the ceiling which was completely blank. And she couldn't see any paper stuck on the ceiling.

Lily looked at the paper and tried again, this time, stepping back from the shelf a couple of steps.

Now that she had done this, she looked up. When she did, her eyes caught sight of the edge of a frame peeking out over the top of the shelf. Her stomach jumping with success, Lily took another few steps back and grinned as the full painting came into view.

Now that she looked on it, Lily could see that the painting was actually a portrait – not a feature of the library that she had ever noticed before.

The portrait featured a rather distinguished looking man – elderly in years with a shock of white hair, a moustache and a pair of very round glasses behind which she could discern kind eyes.

On the bottom of the frame was a piece of paper.

Him

For a few moments, Lily wondered if the person she was communicating with was the man in the frame. But then she remembered that the first bookmark had said the person looked like the subject of the painting.

Perhaps the one thing she could divine from the portrait was that she had been playing this game against a man.

It also made her laugh to think of this man clamouring onto the top of the shelf in order to affix the paper to the frame.

Now not really caring if she annoyed him, Lily walked purposefully to Peter's desk.

"Who is that portrait…"

"Please read the available information before requesting assistance," Peter inserted quickly, not looking up.

"Oh, come on, Peter! I just want to know who the…"

Now looking up, Peter retorted forcefully: "please read the available information before requesting assistance," he repeated, gesturing to the pamphlets beside his desk.

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, and thinking that perhaps glancing at the pamphlets might satisfy him, Lily begrudgingly grabbed one and opened it.

Halfway down the first page, under a section entitled 'History of Central Library' Lily's eyes widened to see the portrait on the wall reproduced beside the text.

Fleamont Potter

In 1988 when this library was facing closure, a generous donation from Mr Fleamont Potter kept our doors open. Mr Potter, a local businessman, provided the donation on behalf of his family who regularly use Central library and love it dearly. His portrait hangs above the natural sciences section as this section holds many of his favourite books. 

Lily couldn't help but smile at the text on the page.

Her good mood was ruined, however, the moment she looked up to see Peter smirking into his ledger.

"Do you require any assistance?" He asked lowly, very obviously enjoying himself.

"No, thank you," Lily admitted unhappily, still holding onto the pamphlet.

As she looked down again and ran her eye over the remaining text, Lily noticed a scribble at the bottom of the first page – although it was a little hard to make out due to the coloured paper it was written on.

J.J.

Taking the pamphlet with her and happily leaving behind the still smirking Peter, Lily went to find Ulysses by James Joyce . When she located it, the bookmark inside provided the next message:

My usual type is Times New Roman…

Lily couldn't help but laugh out loud at the ridiculous response before her eyes eagerly read the rest.

but for you, I'll make an exception. Anyone who comes here weekly, reads all the books and annoys Peter as much as you do is definitely my type.

Now sporting an involuntary blush, Lily felt her heart thump a little faster. Hopefully it wasn't too strange that she had progressed to openly flirting with this man through the medium of bookmarks. Ignoring that thought, Lily moved onto consider her next message. She briefly wondered if she should describe how lovely she found it that Fleamont Potter's son was now working in Central all these years later.

Deciding against it, Lily choose a simple but playful message:

I like your moustache.

And then:

An exception when you know so little about me? When I removed your bookmarks? J.K.


 

 

Lily returned to the library the next weekend, humming all the way on the bus as she travelled. It occurred to her as she came through the doors, that now, she looked forward to the missives she found in the library as much as she did reading.

There was nothing wrong with that in itself – they were still playing a game, and a very fun one at that.

As she wandered slowly to her usual chair, she wondered whether or not she should suggest meeting to her fellow player. She knew she wanted to meet him, whoever he was. Even if he turned out to be no more than a friend, he was still an avid reader and had now been occupying her time for a couple of months. She wanted to meet the person who seemed to be enjoying this game as much as she was.

Deciding that she would think about this later, Lily went to find On the Road, having stashed her last bookmark in Jack Kerouac's most famous novel. She quickly located the bookmark:

It's more important that you like the glasses.

As ever the message caused her to break out into a wide smile and she caught herself still ridiculously grinning at the same piece of paper a few moments later. She did like glasses. She liked that he wore glasses. It coincided with the picture of him she had in her head. She read the rest of the message:

I know lots about you book thief: I know you have an inclination for mischief, you look like Anne and you are a dedicated reader. I'm prepared to forgive you for the bookmarks if you'll answer another question… M.P.

Replacing the bookmark, Lily went to find Marcel Proust's epic, In Search of Lost Time. Deciding to go with the first volume, she heaved it from the shelf right beside the door where she found it easily situated just below the portrait of Fleamont Potter. Inside she found the next bookmark:

Tell me your favourite book, book thief Lily Evans. The one you'd risk total banishment from the library for.

For the first time since they had begun this game, Lily was unable to respond immediately.

She was intrigued and excited by his question but it was the most difficult one he'd asked yet. They had already moved through so many of the books she loved best and ones that she hadn't read yet but fully expected to love. What was more, at the time of playing, Lily was still working her way through the classic literature genre. She hadn't even moved onto the modern classics – any one of which might have been her favourite book.

'Total banishment from the library'. That assumed that all other books outside Central had been destroyed – what book would she choose above all other books to read it, and only it, again?

As she reflected on this question, without realising, Lily noticed that she had accidentally drifted towards the front desk. Peter, as usual, had not looked up.

"What's your favourite book, Peter?" She asked thoughtfully, leaning against the counter of the desk. "Surely, that isn't listed in the available information?"

With a brief grimace at her last remark, Peter sighed and looked up at her. He seemed to consider a few moments before resting his cheek against the palm of his hand.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," he replied eventually, amazing Lily that she received a response at all.

"Really?" She confirmed, noting that she loved this book herself and hadn't expected to share a taste in literature with Peter.

Peter nodded.

"Why?"

Again, he sighed and appeared to stop to consider for a few moments.

"It makes me laugh."

Lily couldn't help but smile at this. Never, in all the time she had known Peter, would she have expected him to give that answer.

"And that's enough to make it your favourite?" She pressed easily, watching him closely as she saw this new side of Peter that had never presented itself before.

Peter weighed this up for a second before shrugging, "I've read it five or six times because it makes me laugh. That's enough to make it my favourite."

Lily couldn't find fault with that argument. Deciding to take the most pleasant conversation she had ever got out of Peter and run, she began to move away.

"You may be interested to know that there has been an update to the available information," he called after her, stalling Lily in her tracks. She turned on her heel to see him holding out the leaflet to her.

Unable to ignore him after the conversation they had just had, Lily returned to the desk and took the leaflet, which he had handed her with the back page facing upwards. Underneath the official text, there was a message in handwriting that she did not recognise:

Library users are asked not to unduly distract staff during their work hours*

Lily's eyes then drifted downwards to where the second asterisk lay at the bottom of the page. The note beside it was in handwriting she knew very well:

*applies to all library users, except well-read redheads.

Lily felt the redness creep into her cheeks at the exact same time that an unstoppable smile appeared again. She looked up to find Peter watching her sardonically.

"Sorry," she half-whispered, awkwardly returning the leaflet to him. Out of the blue, Lily decided to bring Peter into their game a little more – obviously she wasn't the first person to do so and so didn't feel too guilty about it. "Peter…"

Peter looked up, watching her warily.

"…tell me something about him," she continued carefully, "…you don't have to break the game. But just, something."

Silence echoed around them whilst Peter considered her request.

"He strongly fought to convince me that you shouldn't be banned from the library," Peter said eventually.

"He did?"

Peter nodded, "yes. As our most regular library user, he wanted me to make an exception for you."

"But you wouldn't."

"No," Peter confirmed, "there are no exceptions. But he liked that you kept coming all the same," he said, before breaking off with a quick grimace, "and that's when I started getting questions."

"Questions? About me?" She asked, hating the pleased tone that had infiltrated her voice.

"Yes," he gritted out. "What you read, were you nice, what did you look like…"

Still fighting the compulsion of her own smugness, Lily bit her lip, "what did you tell him?"

Beginning to write as though obviously done with the questions, Peter spoke with his head facing downwards towards the desk, "I told him you had excellent taste in books, you seemed nice enough for someone who couldn't follow the rules and that you were definitely out of his league."

"Thanks, Peter," she replied, thinking she'd better return to the shelves before her face got any redder.

As she walked, Lily considered what Peter had just said. So they had discussed her before – before Lily had ever found the first bookmark. And he'd tried to stop Peter from banning her. That in itself was sweet – even if it didn't work.

When she had once more surrounded herself with the solitude of the books, Lily let herself return to the question at hand.

Her favourite book.

Lily knew what she thought the most beautifully written book was. She had also read this book more times than any other and, like Peter, it had produced an emotional response like no other when she had finished it. Each and every time that she finished The Great Gatsby, Lily felt an internal ache that lasted for hours afterwards.

There were few, if any other books, that had ever produced that response in her.

Lily located the well-used copy of the book on the shelf, finding the bookmark just about half way through. She pulled out her pen and began to write:

My favourite book. Until I have read them all.

She returned the book to its home and then added F.S.F to the bottom of the bookmark in In Search of Lost Time, afterwards replacing it on the shelf also.

She decided not to pose another question this time, deciding to wait and see what his verdict on her answer would be.

Now that she had done this, Lily retrieved the latest book she was reading – Dracula – and returned to the reading area where she stayed for the rest of the afternoon.


 

Lily thought of little else other than the library and The Great Gatsby in the next week. She even started re-reading the copy of the book that she kept at home, almost scared that it wouldn't live up to her memory of it.

Thankfully, the book was a wonderful as she remembered and she returned the next Saturday, more than eager to hear what her opponent thought of the book.

She smiled at Peter cheerfully as he welcomed her to the library with his usual refrain and, not even bothering to drop her bag in the reading area, she proceeded straight to the books.

Finding and opening The Great Gatsby, Lily felt a little jolt in her stomach when she found the bookmark to be exactly as she left it.

Frowning, Lily turned over the bookmark, looking to see if there was anything written there but she found only the usual request not to remove it.

For a few seconds, Lily was at somewhat of a loss as to what to do next. She eventually decided that she would go back to the previous book to see if there was any message there but, as with The Great Gatsby, Lily found In Search of Lost Time just as she had left it last Saturday.

At this point, Lily considered her options. Save for going back through all the books they had ever communicated through, there wasn't much she could do. The game was dependent on both of them continuing to play. Without a response, she could hardly keep going.

Thinking that perhaps he might have been sick for the week, Lily retrieved Dracula from the shelf and proceeded to read, knowing deep down that she shouldn't read too much into one week without messages. She'd probably have a new message next week.

However, there wasn't a new message the next Saturday.

Nor the Saturday after that. By the third week without any new messages, Lily couldn't deny that the lack of correspondence hadn't affected her mood.

She returned to the library but not with the bounce or vigour that she was accustomed to. As she entered the room, she was surprised to notice that Peter didn't immediately welcome her with the standard greeting.

He eventually spoke after a few seconds had passed but she could tell he was watching her closely. Unable to help herself, Lily approached him.

"Hi," she started, not really sure of where she was going with this.

"Hi," Peter echoed, his eyes now determinately fixed on the desk.

"This is going to sound weird," she continued, unsure if she actually wanted him to look up, "but…"

"I really can't talk about staff matters," Peter interrupted hesitantly, now looking up but not at her.

"This is a staff matter?" Lily clarified weakly.

"I think it probably is," he responded with an air of reluctance, twiddling his thumbs a bit. Peter's awkwardness was doing nothing to help Lily in her aim of finding out what had happened.

"Okay…" she said, now positive that something was wrong otherwise Peter wouldn't be acting so strangely, "…that's fine…I just," she tried, breaking off when Peter let out a long sigh, "I just want to know why it stopped."

She waited as long as she could bear for him to answer but when none was forthcoming – Peter instead choosing to study the walls – she gave up.

"That's alright," she went on, gathering herself together. "If you can, can you tell him it was fun?"

Still Peter gave no response other than a brief twitch of his jaw.

Deciding that she wasn't in the mood to be in the library today, Lily made her way towards the exit, allowing herself a weak smile when she heard Peter call after her quietly.

"Thank you for coming. Please leave us a review on Yelp."


 

It took all of Lily's self-assurance to force herself to return to Central the next Saturday. Her logical mind reminded her that she adored that library, that it was her safe haven in the storm that could sometimes be her life and that there was no reason whatsoever that she shouldn't go back.

There was no one to avoid. Yes, things may be awkward with Peter but it wasn't as though they had always had a brilliant friendship. And she didn't need to talk to him. All she needed was to get to the shelves, to the reading area, to her chair and then she could immerse herself in the lives of people far more interesting than her. She could forget all about the past months and go back to finding enjoyment and excitement purely in the stories the library contained.

Lily held onto that thought as she made her way through the double doors and into the library. Despite her efforts, her feet lead her straight to the shelves, clearly determined to avoid any forced pleasantries Peter might throw her way.

After retrieving her book and returning to the reading area, it occurred to Lily that Peter hadn't spoken at all upon her entrance. That was incredibly strange but she was determined to push past the oddness.

Her own curiosity got the better of her however and Lily found herself shooting surreptitious glances over her shoulder to see what the manager was doing. To her surprise, her green eyes met Peter's watery blue ones.

"We have a new book display this week," he said oddly, still not looking away from her as it occurred to Lily that this was the longest Peter had ever met her eyes for.

Not completely sure what Peter was talking about, Lily rose from her seat and moved towards the front desk.

"A new what?" She queried as she came closer to him, hoping that this was his attempt to break the awkwardness.

"Book display," Peter said again, but as she arrived at the desk she saw that he was holding a small white strip of paper in his hand.

"You wanted to know what happened," he continued lowly, as Lily stared at the paper, nearly desperate to know what it said.

With a maddening slowness, Peter reached out his hand to her and offered her the bookmark.

I saw you

It took Lily several moments before she spoke, before she was able to find the words for what she wanted to say.

"He was here?" She asked breathlessly, eyes flickering to Peter's, searching for an answer. "That's why he stopped? Because he saw me?" The questions tumbled out of her before she could stop them – her mind was humming with thoughts of why her appearance would stop him from playing. Of why it meant that he couldn't talk to her anymore. "Why didn't he say anything?"

"We have a new book display," Peter repeated once more, placing a careful emphasis on each word before gesturing to his right and the small table there that normally housed the book displays.

Turning to her left, Lily looked at books on the table.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike

Heart thumping mightily against her chest, she carefully reached out to pick up On Beauty. It felt thick and heavy with the weight of expectations in her hands.

The book opened easily and the bookmark appeared almost instantly.

Sorry for not speaking – the shock of seeing you turned me into a bumbling idiot, hiding behind our shelves.

Lily moved onto the second novel, hands now shaking with the effort of finding the page holder.

I needed a few weeks to think about how to tell you that I can't stop thinking about you. I think you might be the most perfect woman I've never met. So…

Following the eclipses, Lily grabbed the final book:

Want to meet?

Smiling magnificently now, Lily turned the page holder over in her hands.

Convince Peter to switch shifts.

She couldn't help but laugh out loud at the message, closing the book one more time to take in the title's message to her.

When she had finished appreciating it, she turned to Peter.

"I work Saturdays," he said as soon as she looked up, giving Lily the distinct impression that he had had this conversation before.

"You can't work another day for one week?" Lily asked him as nicely as she could, still holding onto the book.

"I work Saturdays," Peter repeated dryly.

"Please, Peter," she went on, moving closer to the desk, feeling her own eyes glisten with effort. "You couldn't just switch shifts once?"

Peter didn't respond but kept looking at his desk.

"Unless," Lily continued, another, more sinister thought creeping into her head, "unless, there's a reason we shouldn't meet? Is there a reason I shouldn't meet him, Peter?"

He finally looked up, observing her closely until a small smile appeared on his face.

"None at all," he replied. "The main reason you should meet being that I can finally stop hearing about how intimidatingly beautiful you are and both of you can stop running around with bookmarks like possessed fools."

Lily felt another jolt in her stomach as she felt her fingers flip through the pages of the book.

"So, you'll switch shifts?" She confirmed, continuing when Peter still looked uncertain, "I'll leave you a review on Yelp," she bargained, "a really good one."

Rolling his eyes, Peter sighed deeply, "I work Saturdays. But next Saturday I might need to leave a little early. I can ask my colleague to close up for me."

"Thanks," Lily breathed, struggling to stop her mind from running away with thoughts of next week.

"Make it the best review you've ever written," Peter warned jokingly, "with lots of references to the excellent general manager."


 

It was 4.50pm on a Saturday afternoon and Lily Evans was standing outside the doors of the Central Library in Stoke Newington, trying to convince herself to go in.

As she stood there, every so often she would hear the screech of trainers on the wooden floor, the rustle of books and she could see the flicker of shadows and light as feet moved past the door.

Eventually, after a few minutes, the library fell completely silent on the other side of the door. With a deep breath, Lily decided to enter, knowing that whoever she found inside the library, she would not regret entering.

As she pushed the door open, Lily broke out in a sweat, eyes searching to see a person sitting behind the desk.

But as her eyes adjusted to the light, Lily found that the space was completely empty – not a person in sight.

"We're closing soon but I'll be with you in two seconds!"

The voice that echoed from behind the shelves caused Lily to jump. But then she smiled – his voice sounded excited, a little frantic but more importantly, kind. He obviously hadn't worked out it was her.

Not wanting to wait any longer, she moved to where she thought the voice had come from – the first shelf. The shelf that housed Jane Eyre, where she had found the first bookmark.

Lily rounded the corner at the bottom of the row – her heart thumping as she finally saw him. He was standing at the opposite end of the row with his back to her, dressed in a red t-shirt and jeans. He was tall and thin but wiry with tanned skin and tufts of black hair that curled and swept around his neck and ears.

Slowly and steadily, Lily walked up the aisle, watching as his neck bowed over his hands, seemingly concentrating intensely on something.

Her breathing echoed around her as she moved towards him, still unsure what she was going to say. Still unsure what she wanted to say.

Hello?

You like books, I like books, want to get a coffee sometime?

She was quickly disengaged from these thoughts when her own pumps scuffed softly against the floor and they both jumped.

All too quickly, he turned around and finally, he saw her.

Her green eyes met deep hazel ones, and she struggled to take in all the handsomeness that flooded her view: his angular jaw, dimpled cheeks and the soft, semi-crooked smile that was now beginning to show on his face.

In all her life, Lily had never been looked at the way he was looking at her now.

As though compelled by his smile, she continued towards him, barely noticing the book he held in his hands, as he stood rooted to the spot.

His smile grew wider, his eyes more intense as she walked and she blushed to feel his gaze wandering over her whole self.

And then she was before him, their bodies separated only by the book. And she could hear his own deep breathes now echoing around them, in tandem with her own.

With the smallest of movements, he passed her the book that she now saw to be Jane Eyre.

Lily opened their first book to find his bookmark. Her eyes drifted downwards, away from his smile and his gaze to see what he had written. Simple and pure and a message with the one thing she really wanted to see.

Hello book thief Lily Evans. I'm James Potter. Go out with me sometime?