Lichcraft & Larceny
Summary: Pureblood politics are rife with backstabbing and dirty dealings. Safer all round to stick with dungeon-delving: Just clobber monsters over the head, and nick their loot. Nice and simple, right? Of course, even though you don't care about politics, you may find that politics care very much about you. (AU, LiteralGrey!Harry)
WARNING: This story may contain traces of Dungeons & Dragons fauna and flora, Cthulhu Mythos sorcery, Discworld logic, and a style of geographical nomenclature which is occasionally based on random fistfuls of Scrabble tiles. Read at your own peril.
Hermione Gawainger glanced up from the thick, dusty tome she'd been perusing, when she noticed a strange noise, coming from the front of the building. She frowned, listening intently. Some sort of knocking sound, like metal striking wood? What could have...
"Oh!" She gasped, and lit up in a pleased smile, once realization struck. "Customers!"
Her excitement quickly washed away any lingering annoyance from having been interrupted in the middle of her work, as she rushed to the building's front entrance. While she jogged along, she did what she could to tug her bushy brown curls into some semblance of neatness. Once she gave up improving on her quasi-domesticated mane, she adjusted her clothing, checking it for dust or ink stains.
Her vermilion-and-gold striped tie, a relic of her studies at Gryffindor College, was reasonably straight and well-knotted. Over a not-too-crumpled white shirt, her dark robes, grey trousers and blazer bearing the Hogsford University coat of arms, all looked fairly presentable. Her outfit probably marked her as a stereotypical academic, but that was hardly a downside in her line of work.
Ducking and weaving past precariously balanced stacks of books, Hermione reached the door just as the unseen visitor knocked again. She hurried to open the locks, and then yanked the door open.
"Yes! Hello, and welcome," she gasped out, a little out of breath from her sudden and unexpected burst of activity. "How can I help you?"
"Um, that depends," said one of the two newcomers on her doorstep, who'd just let go of the door knocker. "Is this the local library? Or did we get the wrong address?"
Hermione paused to catch her breath, and took the opportunity to inspect the two customers. One of them, the one who'd spoken, was a young woman with short, spiky lemon yellow hair. She was roughly the same height as Hermione, and perhaps five or six years older than her - probably in her mid-twenties, or late twenties at most.
Beyond the woman's eye-catching (and eye-watering) hair, the most apt way to describe her appearance was "beautiful", or possibly "gorgeous". Privately, Hermione wondered if the stranger might have Veela ancestry.
Incongruously, the woman's clothes looked sturdy but worn and slightly tattered around the edges, except for her black leather gloves - they seemed to be in far better shape, and well looked after.
The other potential customer was almost a head shorter than either of the women, and definitely not human - his stony exterior and the folded wings on his back, the joints of which were jutting up over his shoulders, marked him as a gargoyle. Although, he was a rather unusual representative of his species - Hermione had, admittedly, never before encountered a real live gargoyle in person, but she had studied numerous written accounts of their culture, and based on what she'd read about gargoyles, they rarely bothered to wear as much clothing as this one did. She was fairly certain that they normally weren't this small, either - unless the visitor was a juvenile gargoyle, perhaps.
Turning back to address the lemonette who'd asked her a question, Hermione shook her head to clear it of her musings. "Yes, this is the Hogspuddle Library & Book-a-torium."
"Hang on," said the gargoyle, glancing up at his taller companion. "I thought you said that humans shake their head when they mean 'no', and nod when they mean 'yes', just like normal people? Or am I remembering that wrong?"
"Nope," said the lemon-blonde woman with a big grin on her face, while nodding profusely. "You're not wrong."
The short gargoyle shrugged, and rolled his eyes. "Well, I'm glad we got that cleared up." He turned back to Hermione. "Mind if we come inside, then?"
"We just need to do a quick bit of research, and then we'll be out of your hair," said the woman, still smiling widely enough to display all her perfect, white teeth.
Feeling a pang of self-consciousness, Hermione tried to discreetly smooth down her own hair, as she stepped aside and waved for the two strangers to step inside. "Please, take a seat. The, ah... Filing system is not operating at, uh... Entirely satisfactory levels, at the moment. It might be easier if you just told me what you need, and I'll track down the relevant materials for you."
As they stepped inside, the two customers both stared wide-eyed at the teetering piles of books, spread around them on every available flat service, and the half-empty bookshelves that lined every wall.
Whistling softly as she studied the sedate chaos around her, the lemonette poked gingerly at one of the piles. "No kidding! What happened here? Did you replace all the furniture in a hurry, and had to tip all the books out before you could start cramming them back on the new shelves?"
"Eh, no... Not quite..." Hermione broke off her hesitant explanation, when she saw that the gargoyle's tail was about to knock over a pile of books - even worse, it was threatening to topple in such a way that its collapse would likely trigger a domino effect, knocking over the adjacent stacks in a sizable book-slide.
With a panicked yelp, she leapt past him to save the books. She pressed herself up against the ominously leaning stack, struggling to stabilize it with both arms. After a few seconds of wobbling and swaying, the tall pile finally settled down.
Taking a step back from the pile with a relieved sigh, Hermione brushed herself off and straightened, summoning as much dignity as she could muster. "You see, the Hogspuddle Library didn't get new bookshelves... It got a new librarian."
Her proud smile was wiped off her face in a rather definite fashion, when the topmost book from the nearby stack decided to succumb to the temptations of gravity, and plummeted straight down - on top of her.
By now, the gargoyle was eyeing the surrounding stacks of books with something between wariness and outright fear. He'd wrapped his tail around his waist, kept his arms straight down his sides, and tucked his wings as close to his back as possible without giving himself three spines. Carefully, eyes darting from side to side as though he expected another paper ambush any minute, he reached one clawed foot forward. He picked up the fallen book with his dexterous toes. Balancing on one leg, he reached his clenched foot forward and proffered the book to Hermione. "Ah... I take it that you're the new librarian?"
Hermione rubbed at her sore scalp, hissing in pain when she prodded the lump on her head where the book had struck. When she noticed what the gargoyle was doing, she smiled at him awkwardly, and accepted the book from him. She studied the tome, then grimaced. "Typical," she muttered to herself. "Archombover Tuppence's History of Hairdressing, vol. III."
She plonked the book down on top of another, smaller pile, and smiled ruefully at the gargoyle. "Yes, that's right... Hermione Gawainger, Hogspuddle Village's head librarian - and only librarian. Nice to meet you."
The female customer ducked forward, grabbing Hermione's hand and shaking it vigorously. "Likewise! The name's Tonx, by the way... Just don't ask what it's short for, alright?"
The librarian's eyes widened when she realized that the lemonette's bright yellow hair had inexplicably changed to a pleasant sky-blue.
Tonx jabbed a thumb at the gargoyle, who was still nervously watching the towering stacks of books. "And this scaredy-cat over here is..."
Hermione gasped, when she caught a glimpse of the gargoyle's forehead. The black tangles of moss and lichen on top of his head - the gargoyle equivalent of hair - had grown long enough in front to reach his brow, but this close to him, Hermione could make out a scar on his forehead. It looked like someone had taken a chisel and chipped away at his face, carving out a jagged indentation in the rough shape of a lightning bolt.
Pointing a trembling finger at him, Hermione squeaked in surprise. "You're Harry Pottery, the Gargoyle-Who-Learned!"
The gargoyle - Harry - covered his face with both of his clawed hands, and groaned.
Tonx just started laughing.
With canon Potter-verse locations having names like 'Hogwarts' and 'Hogsmeade', it's moderately surprising that no fanfiction writer, AFAIK, has ever introduced another magical school with a pun name like 'Hogsford University'.