The Sugar Quill
Author: ivy & Gracie (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Aberforth's Goat  Chapter: In Which Things are Settled to (Almost) Everyone's
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A/N: Thanks to the folks at the Pensieve thread “When it All Comes Screeching to a Halt,” who inspired us to stretch a little and finish up this story

A/N:  Thanks to the folks at the Pensieve thread “When it All Comes Screeching to a Halt,” who inspired us to stretch a little and finish up this story.  Andy33 is, as ever, the one who keeps us from sounding hopelessly American.  Which, of course, we are.

 

"What're you doin' here?"  Aberforth asked his brother testily.

 

"I think," replied Albus, "that the question at hand must be, what are you doing here?"

 

Abe slumped against the boulder.  "You know what I'm doing here.  The Ministry sent you after me, didn't they?"

 

"Yes, they did.  And I think you will find, in the end, that it is better that they should send me than that they should send someone else who might not be quite as sympathetic to you."  Aberforth stared stubbornly at the ground and after a moment Albus said more gently, "Come along now.  Let us do what we must do, as quickly and painlessly as possible."

 

"Ah, bugger it."  Aberforth pushed himself away from the boulder and headed for the edge of the clearing, back in the direction of Hogwarts.  He looked back, just once, at the goat and shook his head regretfully.  He was sure, that given a proper chance, he could have made a fine unicorn out of her.

 

*

 

He sat in his brother's office, in a plush, purple armchair, surrounded by high shelves of books, ill at ease with all the wisdom and knowledge they represented.  It wasn't right, he thought, for men to tax their brains with all this reading and learning.  It couldn't be healthy to be so smart.  A man was apt to get too wise for his own good, and what was that but just another form of foolishness?  

 

From his matching armchair, Albus finished pouring the tea.  "Milk, or lemon?"

 

"Er...you haven't got--"

 

"No,” said Albus, firmly but kindly.  “I haven't."  

 

He sighed.  It was going to be a long morning.  "Milk, then."

 

"Sugar?"

 

"Aye.  Better make it five or six."

 

Albus added six lumps of sugar and passed him the teacup.  Aberforth stirred it miserably, waiting for his brother to speak, for the axe to fall, and amputate everything he held most dear in life.  Albus said nothing however, and at last Aberforth looked up at him.

 

"Are they goin' to break my wand in two?"  It wasn't the question he wanted to ask, but he didn’t have the courage to put that one into words.

 

Albus frowned and stirred his own tea.  "I'm afraid it's quite likely.  If you had a better record, perhaps I'd say no, but this is not your first offence.  It's not even your first warning."

 

Aberforth stared at the floor, and tried to bring himself to ask the real question.  The one with the answer he was afraid to hear. "Me pub," he choked, at last.  "If I could o'ny have the Hog's Head back, I wouldn't give two figs about never doing magic n'more.  Hell, Albus, I never was much for spells and such anyway.  Bein' a barman is what I love best.  I think if I couldn't do that..."  His shoulders started to shake, and he was mortified but he couldn't stop himself.  The tears leaked out and he buried his face in his hands and sobbed like a woman.

 

When he had got himself under control, he groped in his back pocket for his handkerchief and blew his nose on a clean corner of it.  He mopped his eyes and drew a deep, shuddering breath, then looked shamefacedly at his brother.

 

Albus was looking out the window, stroking his beard thoughtfully.  "Perhaps..." he said slowly, as if to himself.  "Perhaps there is a way..."

 

Aberforth put his little finger into his ear and wiggled it vigourously.  He wasn't sure he had heard right.  "What's that you say?"

 

Albus looked at him.  "I said perhaps there is a way, a legal way, to get back your inn."  He pinned Aberforth with a severe look.  "But it would require a promise on your part.”

 

Aberforth shifted in his chair, not certain he liked the sound of that.  Still...

 

"If I could get the Hog's Head back for you," Albus was saying, "I would need your word of honour--er...let us say your promise--that you will never gamble again."

 

Aberforth peered at him suspiciously.  "How're you goin’ to get the pub back?"

 

"You must promise."

 

"What if it don't work?"

 

"Your word, Aberforth.  You will never gamble again."

 

"Oh...”  He shuffled his feet uncertainly.  Then, “Awright."

 

"Say it.  I promise never to gamble again."

 

He hesitated.  "Not even dice?"

 

"No dice.  No Quidditch pools.  Not even the toss of a coin."

 

He thought about it, but only for a moment.  It was his pub, after all, and without the Hog's Head, what would he do?  Who would he be?  "I promise, then."

 

"You promise what?”

 

He glared at Albus.  Sometimes, he really took being the older brother far too seriously.  "I promise never to gamble again," he muttered.  "If you can get the Hog's Head back for me.  And that's a big 'if.'  I lost it fair and square, y’know."

 

Albus stood up, and reached for his hat.

 

“Where’re you goin’?”

 

“I am going to find Mr. House, and settle up with him.”

 

“You’re goin’ to pay off that chiselin’ rat—”

 

“No, I am not going to pay him.  I am going to play him.”  Albus smiled, but there was something dangerous behind the smile, and Aberforth suddenly felt that, whatever his brother had up his sleeve, Mr. House was to be pitied if he though he could match wits with him.

 

“You’re not a gamblin’ man, Albus.”

 

“Ah, Aberforth, that is where you are wrong.  Don’t you know all men are gamblers at heart?  It is the nature of life, is it not, that we make our choices and live the lives we live without a certain knowledge that any of it will turn out as we hope or expect.  All we can really do is to play where the odds are best, and try to do the things we love.  Everything else, we must leave up to chance.”

 

“Ah…” He tried to wrap his mind around this, but it was too early in the morning, and he’d only had a cup of tea yet, after all.  “Well, anyhow,” he said.  “I hope the cards treat you right.”

 

Albus’ mouth quirked up.  “Did I say I was going to win back your inn with a game of cards?  Oh no.  No, I had something in mind along the line of…tenpins.  Do you suppose Mr. House likes tenpin bowling, Aberforth?”  And then he was gone, leaving Abe with his mouth hanging open. 

 

*

 

One week later

 

Aberforth was behind the bar at the Hog’s Head, holding court with half a dozen newspaper reporters, while he cleaned glasses and polished the counter.

 

“…And there, in the middle of the forest, the MLES shows up.  And they try to hit me with a Binding Spell, but I yells out, ‘You’ll never take me alive, copper!’ and I hit the ground, and I roll, but there was too many of them for me.  Ten of them jumped me at once and I couldn’t get away.”  He swiped at the bar with a flourish of his filthy rag.

 

“Mr. Dumbledore,” called out one of the reporters.  “The Ministry is charging you with—” he consulted a notepad in his hand, “—practicing inappropriate charms on a goat.  Can you explain just exactly what you did to the creature?”

 

“Aye, I can.” Aberforth beckoned them all to lean in, and the admiring group edged closer.  “Can you keep a secret?” he asked.  He waited a heartbeat, then burst out into spasms of beery-breathed laughter.  “Listen to me!  Askin’ the press if they can keep a secret!”  There were a few, uncertain chuckles from the reporters, and Aberforth wiped away tears of mirth before he went on.  “No, I guess I can’t expect ye to keep it a secret now, and I wouldn’t want to ask ye to.  Ye’ve got yer jobs to do after all, same’s I got mine.”  He paused to look, with pride, around the dingy room.

 

Another reporter gave a discreet cough.  “One of my sources reports that you attempted to transfigure a goat into a unicorn.  Is that correct?”

 

“Merlin’s dangly bits!” exclaimed Aberforth.  “Is that what they told you?  Nay, nay son.  I’ll tell ye the truth of it.  I didn’t just try to transfigure that goat…I did transfigure it.”

 

“Are you saying you were able to transfigure a common goat into a unicorn?” 

 

Oh, they were a marvellous audience!  He nodded gravely.  “That’s what I’m sayin’.”

 

“Mr. Dumbledore, were you aware, at the time, that you were engaging in illegal behaviour?”  This from a curly-haired witch from The Daily Prophet.

 

“Who, me?”  He put an innocent hand to his heart, then gave the witch a broad wink.

 

The reporters asked a few more questions before they cleared out.  When they had gone, Aberforth moved down to the end of the bar, where Hagrid had been sitting on a barstool, listening to the whole thing.  “How did I do?” he asked his friend.

 

Hagrid eyed him uncertainly.  “You think you shoulda talked to ’em, Abe?  It’ll be all over the papers tomorrow.”

 

“Aye,” he said happily.  “It will.”

 

“Can’t be good for your reputation, though, can it?”  said Hagrid.  “And what hurts yer reputation is bound to hurt business.”

 

“That’s where you’re wrong, Rube.”  He leaned on his elbows and surveyed the crowd in the bar.  In one corner, two hags sat companionably smoking clay pipes and drinking gillywaters over a game of cards.  At another table, a man in a hood discreetly pushed an envelope toward his companion, who in turn, pushed a small, clear vial his way.  He happened to know that, at that very moment, there was a clutch of Swedish Short-Snout eggs warming in the oven, waiting for the dealer who was to come and pick them up at midnight. 

 

He smiled.  “Oh, there’s some that might stay away, once they read about it in the papers, but there’s other’s who’ll come around because of it.”  The door opened just then, and someone with a large hat pulled down over his eyes sidled in and made directly for the back rooms.  “Aye,” Aberforth said happily.  “There’s other’s who’ll come.”

 

~Fin~

 

 

A/N:  “Merlin’s dangly bits” is the invention of Suburban House Elf.  Isn’t she clever?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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