In idle moments, Noah Sizemore daydreamt his reference desk was a dinghy bobbing in the stomach of a great Leviathan. Beams supporting the library’s cathedral ceiling were ribs, conditioned air shushed the beast’s snore and hushed conversations pulsed like blood. Massaging the unshaven prickle on his neck, Noah stared at the aisle bisecting reference stacks. Like lungs drawing oxygen it seemed to expand and contract.
Noah lay down the pencil idling between his fingers and plucked an elegant ink pen from the desk. Intricate carvings on its golden head rushed rapids of light as it moved. Forearms to desk, Noah strained for another breath of movement. Shelves and books held steady. Of course not, he thought. Not here. Noah stretched to recouple ink pen and base, shaking his head at the silliness which boredom bred.
It sounded like an enormous bag of potato chips burst open. Frantic voices gushed from nonfiction. Ink pen in fist and name badge squared (Noah Sizemore - Head Archivist), he stalked toward the din. Amidst the photography books he found two teen boys needling a man in a magenta bathrobe. Greasy hair pattered over pimpled foreheads and open books fluttered as they spit a blue streak. The man, however, seemed blissfully disconnected.
“P.J.? Dan? Is there a problem?” Noah’s voice played crumbly sweet like cinnamon toast, jolting electric surprise through the party. The boys jumped about face, chests heaving under acid green hockey sweaters. The bathrobe man smirked and plunged a hand into his robe.
“Wasn’t us this time, it was Captain Bathrobe.” said the teen with glistening black hair.
“Dude appeared out of nowhere and started harassing us!” chirped his lankier mate.
Noah rolled his eyes.”Is this true?” he asked, fixing his gaze to the smiling man. The man returned Noah’s stare, hand twitching over his heart. Noah shook his head.
“Okay, you two” he pointed the butt of his ink pen to each teen in turn, “get out and don’t come back until next month.”
The lankier teen spit disgust on the floor.
“We didn’t do anything this time. We’re just readin’!”
Noah swiped their books with moves so quick they seemed to fly. Both were open to photographs of reclining nudes.
“Somehow I don’t think your interests are academic,” Noah said, restraining a chuckle. “Besides, I know you’ve been tossing your cigarette butts near the Almanacs.”
The short teen glowered.
“You got no proof.”
“Don’t I?” Noah smiled. He flourished the butt of his ink pen at each teen’s chest, golden nib flashing. “If you return before the first of the month, you’ll be leaving in a squad car, got it?”
The shorter snorted, tossing greasy hair.
“How you gonna know if we show up? You ain’t here all the time.”
Noah leaned in close enough to taste salt and vinegar potato chips on the punk’s breath.
“Magic,” he smiled. “Now,” Noah straightened to full height and shooed the teens with a flick of his ink pen, “goodbye.”
Their faces twitching retorts, the teens swiveled and marched toward the exit. Muttered curses echoed behind them, diminishing to naught. It wasn’t until Noah was certain the teens had gone that his face turned to a scowl.
“Asdrubal Crowe,” Noah brandished the butt of his ink pen at the man, “you should have more sense than to apparate into a Muggle library.”
“First,” he said, rosy satisfaction blooming on his face, “call me ‘Asdrubal’ again and I’ll give you a tail. You know I can’t stand that name. And second, transfiguring your wand to a pen may fool the Muggles, but it’ll snow over the Sahara before you pull a fast one on me. You just used Accio spells, tracking curses and an expulsion hex on those Muggles.”
“Eh,” Noah shrugged, “they had it coming to them.” He turned and walked to his desk, Crowe following.
“I went to your office, mate, but they said you were up here.”
Noah was suddenly glad to be walking ahead. His face flushed to match Crowe’s robe. “Ahh...MaryAnn needed to run to the girl’s room - not feeling well. I volunteered to cover her shift on the Reference Desk.”
Noah heard his companion cluck. “By Merlin, are you still going on with her? An American Muggle - what does your poor mother think?”
“Mum’s quite keen on her, actually. MaryAnn’s a terrific cook.”
Crowe blew a raspberry.
“You know, most people are married or spawning little witches and wizards four years on.”
With a swift pivot Noah circled his desk and fell into its squeaky seat, willing the color to drain from his face.
“Did you jaunt across the pond to inquire after my love life? I thought you were teaching Defense Against Dark Arts.”
Crowe found something fascinating on the carpet. His voice, previously a song as round as his face, sputtered into broken mumbles.
“It seems... I... misrepresented...” He ran a hand over his thinning hair, “Now that You-Know-Who is gone, there are more out of work Aurors than you can shake a stick at…they hired one of Potter’s friends.”
Sadness like cold water rushing over Noah. His mouth stretched into a sympathetic frown.
“Well, they passed up on a first-class Auror, Crowe.” Noah stood from his desk, the arms of his chair reluctant to break embrace. “I’m due for a break, what’s say we go down to my office for a proper chat?”
Crowe gave a nod, wedging a smile on an otherwise cloudy face.
The air in Noah’s office was cooler, crisp in the lungs. A heavy desk anchored the far corner, cluttered with photocopies and books. Photographs, framed movie posters and gold-sealed documents peppered taupe walls. Noah ushered Crowe inside and after the door clicked shut, announced,
“Don’t worry, he’s cool.”
The photos, previously static, gave a collective sigh. One particularly rotund man, rosy with a glistening pate, hissed out a breath, stomach rubbing frame. “Couldn’t hold it much longer, son,” he muttered. The others kneaded necks stiff from statue poses and replaced secreted robes and hats. Noah walked to the desk and pulled a chair from behind it. Unlike the aluminum number he’d sat in upstairs, this one was plush red, well worn and inviting. Noah motioned and Crowe sank into the chair with a whoosh, feeling perfectly weightless.
“Have you charmed this chair, Noah? Quite comfortable.”
Noah swung a folding chair from the far corner. “Just something I came up with. My back’s gone rubbish in my dotage.”
With a small chuckle Noah sat opposite Crowe. Behind them a bookcase displayed a menagerie of dusty books. Some looked on the verge of oblivion, leaves magicked to spine. Regal unicorns, six inches from hind to horn, cantered to bookend the collection.
“So,” Noah slapped his thighs, cheeks bouncing a smile. “How’s the textbook business treating you? Discover any groundbreaking new causes for déjà vu?”
Crowe leaned back, swallowed by a cloud of chair. Feigned hurt sharpened his round face.
“Hey! That’s very important work, that.”
“Yes, it’s a better world now that we know to avoid performing memory charms on pachydermal Animagi lest they feel odd.”
“You know how hard it is to find elephant Animagi?” Crowe cried. “I wandered India for months chatting up elephants! We can’t all have the excitement of Librarianship.”
Noah sat up, finger wagging. “I’m an Archivist, not a Librarian. Much more dignified.”
They laughed, and like tying two ends of string together, the years apart dissolved. Crowe’s giggle filled the office to the brim with warm-cocoa cheer. To Noah, incognito among American Muggles, this fraternization was like pulling on a favorite sweater after a hot summer of disuse. Memories ebbed and flowed – trickling chuckles and rushing guffaws, until finally the last echoes bounced from the room. Crowe leaned from the plush chair, his face keen.
“All seriousness, though – déjà vu is what brought me.” Crowe plunged into his magenta robe and withdrew a scroll, rolled cigarette small. Muttering, he ran a finger over the seal and unfurled the parchment. A hush fell over the pictures, the absence of their murmur heavy. All eyes were drawn to the yellowed slip of paper between Crowe’s thumb and forefinger. With a nod, Crowe passed it across to Noah.
It was a page torn from a Potions primer, at first glance unremarkable. Noah pulled his eyes from the page and shot a questioning glance to Crowe.
“You want me to brush up on the transitive properties of Moonstone?” he asked.
Crowe, hands wringing against his lap, nodded for Noah to read further.
Noah returned to the page, this second scan revealing its secret. The bottom was dark with notes. Tight script slanted black waves over the margin. The scribble started mid-thought, its seed rooted to some vanished parchment.
“...disappeared and the most curious déjà vu permeated my body. What happened? Performed Prior Incantato. The shadow of four roaches - one large (the patriarch) and three smaller (the spawn) appeared from the wand. The patriarch began to fade from within. As it disappeared, each of the three children in turn vanished. The final (oldest) child disappeared, leaving the father on whom the spell was cast, until at last the father evaporated to nothing! It would seem, that in this case, Oblivion has succeeded. Would serve as fail-safe in case plans do not come to fruition, excepting that test on larger subjects (feline) failed. My notes are woefully incomplete on the matter, must get to The Library at first liberty.”
The note ended with a flourish, its final y meandering fanciful loops under the last line. Crowe’s face was bright red, his knees bouncing under his cloak.
“Aurors found it among a number of papers willed to the Hogwarts Library. LaPorta, you remember him from the old days... breath like the grave, great with memory charms? He knew déjà vu was right up my alley so he passed it to me.”
Noah tried to anchor his skepticism lest it rise to the surface and wash away Crowe’s bubbling excitement.
“I don’t follow,” Noah admitted.
“It’s the Oblivion Hex.” Crowe was beaming.
“Makes the Killing Curse look like a flatulence jinx. The Oblivion Hex wipes away all traces of the victim’s existence. Everything one does – the lives they touch, the deeds they do – The Oblivion Hex wipes it all away.”
“Wow,” Noah’s heart fluttered at the thought. “But how does this Oblivion Hex relate to me?” he asked, handing the parchment back.
Crowe precipitated from the cloud of red fabric and drizzled to and fro across the room. “I did some research on my own and found a Saharan Muggle legend about an Egyptian High Priest named Deximose with magic to undo history, but that’s as far as I got. You see, the note mentions ‘The Library.’” Crowe stopped to face Noah, hands punctuating each word, “ I need to get into… The. Ancient. Library. At. Alexandria.”
“Just requisition for research like every other wizard in the world,” Noah replied, his tone automatic flat.
“I did. They said I’m without any evidence worth investigating.”
“What makes you think,” Noah grumbled, certain Crowe had a rebuttal ready, “I can get you in?”
Crowe shot a hand into his robes and extracted a small vial of glimmering liquid. “I Tracked down Marson in International Magical Cooperation. Three drops of this and he told me all about you. He said you helped build the Muggle library that sits atop the Ancient Library, that you know all the secret passages.”
Noah turned his face to the ceiling as photos tutted disapproval. “I can’t believe you potioned a ministry official,” he groaned.
“It’ll be just like old times!” Crowe pled. “Real Aurors hunting dark magic! We’re not parchment pushers, Noah! All our training has gone to waste since You-Know-Who fell!”
Noah saw hope flickering in Crowe’s eyes, a light he hadn’t seen since their Auror apprenticeship ended years ago. Even though logic told him to keep his face straight, Noah felt a smile warm him.
“I lost count of the Unreadable Curses I’ve lifted from Anna Karenina. Some Wizard had it out for Tolstoy. Dreadful boring work.”
Crowe leapt forward and clapped his friend on the shoulder, a sly grin twitching on his face.
“Then it’s time we had a little adventure, yes?”
Hot cocoa cheer flooded Noah’s chest.