Eat This, You'll Feel Better
As the sun hovered on the western horizon, gracing the landscape with a golden glow, Albus slouched up behind the neat white stables. He'd spent many an hour brushing on the lime. Why didn't they have house elves like the Nipthwhists? He kicked a clod of dirt in an arc over the fence. The cursed animal at his heels snorted in derision, and he gave it a filthy look. Its black-slotted yellow eyes gleamed. He jerked at the rope around its neck, to no outward effect except for the ungulate scorn dripping from its rubbery lips.
"Baaa -- ha - ha -- haaa."
"Nip over and fetch Gaither McFestry's Golden Guernsey, lad. We're breeding Buttercup as soon as may be, and I hear his newest buck is a horny fellow." This was accompanied by a wink, which Albus ignored as one of those mysterious adult things he just didn't understand. "If you're right smart about bringing him back, you may visit Hogsmead with your brother."
So Pa had promised this morning. Such a treat that would be! . . . or so he'd thought. Ma and Da usually chose to leave him at home in the so-called care of his older brother Aberforth, whose pranking drove Albus to hide in the attics. Last time, caught out, he'd been turned into a footstool, and it'd been hours before Ma noticed the new furniture and changed him back.
Pa's words over breakfast had been a very long time ago, and his stomach growled. Gaither McFestry's goat was the source of his current bruised, battered, and hungry state; that it had made him miss the much-looked-for outing to Hogsmeade was the least of his woes.
He'd thought it a matter of thirty minutes' walk to the neighboring estate and an equal walk home with a goat on a rope. Instead, as soon as they were out of the farmer's sight, he'd been pulled off his feet on the end of that very rope, his slight body no match for the thirteen stone billy. He held on for dear life, not sure what would happen if he let go.
He'd been hauled hither and yon, too slight and small to hold the thing. He rubbed at the gouges on his legs from the headfirst trip through a bramble patch. Sledding the cold and stony creek bottom behind the crazed goat, trying to avoid flying cloven hooves, hadn't been any improvement.
Finally he'd been butted into a pond. He came up spitting tadpoles and shouting things Pa would strap him for. The four-legged demon spawn was nowhere to be seen, and if he didn't bring it back, he'd have the wrath of Pa and Mr. McFestry both down on his head. It was hours of trudging across plowed fields and through the woods before he found the hairy horror, and he still had mud squelching between his toes.
"Vampire's teeth! Aye, I'd curse you for real, if I only could," he muttered at the nasty thing. "Vile get of a flatulent Chimera." Just ten years old, he didn't know enough magic to curse anyone or anything, and he'd never regretted it more than this moment. When the summer turned, he'd be off to Hogwarts, and then they'd all see!
For now, he swiped at the mud-caked wool. When he grew up, he'd never wear a kilt again! Its scratchy stiffness was most aggravating to his manly portions, and he couldn't wait to get out of it. If he didn't get in the back door and up the stairs without Mater noticing, she'd tear a strip off him for turning up such a mess.
"Albus! You missed a fine trip to Hogsmeade." His older brother was lit in the late afternoon sunshine, leaning against the stable door, a book in his hands. That very sight was enough to make Albus stare. His older brother had been sent down from Hogwarts just this spring after failing his every fifth-year exam. Albus hadn't been sure, the way the family talked, that Aberforth could even read.
"What happened to you? You're all over dirt!" A closer look had Aberforth peering quizzically. "Been dragged backward through the bramble patch?"
"Nothing happened," he muttered grimly. "Nothing at all."
"Sure and there's a fine specimen," cried Aberforth, eyes lighting up when he noticed the goat. "Why don't you leave him here, and go get cleaned up?"
Such solicitousness was quite beyond Aberforth, that Albus knew. What could he be up to? Suspicious and stubborn, Albus was determined to finally carry out his task. "Pa said I had to pen him up with Buttercup."
"Pa's not home," replied the older boy, looking innocent. "They went to Laird Finley's. And I brought you chocolate frogs from Hogsmeade." Those were the magic words.
Aberforth tossed him two frogs from a bag and led the goat away, whistling as he walked.
The first frog was a bit squished; its hind legs could only jerk pathetically. Albus dispatched it in one bite, letting the warm glow of chocolate fill his empty belly. Suddenly, his miserable day looked much brighter. Popping the other frog into his mouth, he leaned over and picked up the book Aberforth had been holding.
" 'Gallivanting With Goats' by Lascivio Lockhart," he read out loud, although it was mangled through a mouth full of chocolate. The pages within included some very strange diagrams, but Albus shrugged. It was just another one of those mysteries. Perhaps Aberforth's goat-study would keep him too busy to tease and prank. And if he couldn't get back into Hogwarts, many wizards made a good living by breeding stock. There was no shame in animal husbandry.
Albus took the bag of frogs with him. He wasn't going to waste good chocolate.
Contact Kalena (at) mninter.net