Dark gray clouds hung low in the sky, erasing every pink trace of dawn in sight. Maude trudged across the back quad of her university’s campus, clumps of wet dirt and grass clinging to her boots with every step. She looked forward to the rainy day ahead, it meant the old university library would be empty. No rogue students trying to enchant objects to fly or making out in the library’s love divination aisles. An act that was painfully cliche.
As she approached the building she couldn’t help but stop and take it all in. Maude had been attending Valmour University for the Magically Inclined for nearly three years but the sight of this old library never got old. It's dark maroon color and gothic design stood out amongst the newly modernized campus which in recent years had begun allowing non-magic users to attend. It was a relic of a time long since passed. A time before technology, where all there was to fill us with a sense of purpose was the pursuit of magic. Now there was both. All of that power, just sitting at the edge of our little finger tips.
The door creaked as she pushed it open. Almost immediately her chest filled with a sense of calm. That and dust, which perpetually clung to the air of the library’s entryway. Most of the mages who attended Valmour frequented this building when they needed to escape the mundane. The magnificent declining structure was the only one left of its sort. It was a kind of magic in and of itself. The walls were seeping with centuries worth of residue magic. It pumped through the foundations like blood through veins. It was the place to be if you wanted to cast intricate spells, mix potions so strong they'd turn a non-mage into a dragon (which happened once) or just fool around.
Maude reached the spiral staircase situated behind the Herbology section of the library. Her fingers traced the cold metal railing as she made her way up. At the top of the staircase was a small balcony just big enough to house her well loved hello kitty pillow and the rusty lantern she’d left behind when she first visited this place. She nestled into her little corner and pulled out a worn hardcover book from her bag.
The book was the fourth in a series of novels by the author W. E Rothschild, about a group of children at boarding school who find a secret passageway to an enchanted garden. She found the series on a quiet afternoon during spring break. While everyone else was roaming the white sand beaches of Mexico she was roaming around the library’s third floor looking for something to kill the time. She’d been obsessed with them ever since.
Maude was so enveloped in the story that she hadn’t heard the familiar creak of the library’s door. It had only occurred to her that something was off when she began coughing. She glanced up from her book to find the entire third floor of the library was engulfed in a white smoke. It hung thick in the library's rafters. She wasn’t sure if it was her vision, which had begun to cloud, or her imagination but it was almost as if she could read words in the smoke. It began to trickle down, slowly making its way onto the second floor. Before the smoke had a chance to swallow her whole she jumped up from the comfort of her reading nook, gathered her things, and sprinted down the spiral staircase.
To her surprise there was no smoke on the first level of the library, just a guy by one of the old mahogany tables struck frozen with panic as he gaped up at the impending smog.
“Hey you,” she snapped, marching toward him. He shifted his gaze, his big brown eyes wide, like a deer in headlights. “What did you do?”
“I don’t know,” He said, flailing his arms up in the air, “I just—I was just trying to enchant a few books and-”
“Stop.” She motioned for him to zip it. He was frantic and clearly inexperienced seeing as he managed to mess up a very simple binding spell. Maude looked up toward the rafters. Just as she’d suspected, words and letters were floating amongst the cloud of smoke. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Okay what was the name of that freaking spell she thought to herself. She had learned it her first year at Valmour. “Come on Maude, think,” she whispered to herself. Fidelma? No. Fiona? No.
“Fionnoula,” She shouted, “Fionnoula’s Folus.”
“Gesundheit,” the young man muttered, which earned him a stare that could scare the devil himself.
“Okay, we’re going to need something plain and black.” She turned, surveying her surroundings for just the right item to get them out of this predicament.
“I think I might have something that’ll work.” He tossed his book bag onto the table and began rummaging through it.
“Aha!” He exclaimed, pulling out a black pencil case from the bag.
“Okay, I’m going to need you to dump everything out and hold the pencil case open toward the smoke. Got it?”
“Got it.” He dumped the contents of his pencil case out onto the table and swiveled around quickly, nearly losing his balance. The entire second floor had now fallen victim to the smoke which seemed to have a mind of its own. Hands shaking, he held out the empty pencil case in front of him. Maude closed her eyes and with fierce concentration, began quietly reciting an incantation in Old Gaelic.
Within seconds the smoke rushed down toward the pencil case which served as a vacuum. Every last bit of it, suctioned in. If it wasn’t for the table supporting the young man, he would’ve been blown back by the mere force of it. When the smoke disappeared into the void of the pencil case he quickly zipped it up not wanting to run the risk of it getting out and wreaking havoc over the library again.
“I’d get a new pencil case if I was you.” Maude advised. The slight smirk playing at the sides of her lips gave him the impression that she wasn’t as upset as he’d originally thought.
“Oh,” she said, her face hardening again, “I’d also advise that you hone your magical abilities a bit more before you try to bind something that DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU.”
“Okay, okay.” He winced. Embarrassed and a little bit scared but mostly intrigued by this girl who looked like she wanted to rip his head off and very well could. They stood there awkwardly for just a moment too long.
Finally Maude sighed, “You kind of put a damper on my rainy day reading plans so I’m gonna go.” She picked her bag up swiftly from the chair it’d been resting on and began walking toward the door. The click of her boots echoed, pulsating off of the library’s stone walls.
“Try not to turn yourself into a frog,” she shouted. As she pushed the door open a strong gust of wind carried rain and leaves into the entryway. Maude stepped out braving the miserable weather without even a second thought.
“Wait,” called the young man behind her. In a frenzy, he gathered his belongings clumsily, losing a few pens in the process, and darted toward the door. He caught it just as it was closing, “Wait! You never told me your name.”
She stopped, her heels digging holes into the grass as she turned to face him. The large droplets of water had begun to shrink and shrivel her once straight hair into tiny dark brown ringlets.
“Nice to meet you Maude,” He said, extending a hand, “I’m Theo.”