Disclaimer: I'm not JK Rowling - anything you recognise is hers, and not mine.
A/N: Written as a Christmas present for Kileaiya, who requested something about what exactly constitutes an improper charm on a goat.
Dumbledore rolled his eyes.
He'd been doing a lot of that in the past two days.
He leant across the table towards his brother, and let out a long sigh. Azkaban had never been his favourite place to spend an afternoon, and today was no exception. The walls of the visiting room dripped with fetid water and the corridors rang with distant howls that were all too disconcerting.
Dumbledore had grown accustomed to hearing news of former pupils being captured and thrown in here to rot, although the news never lost its sting entirely, but to be Flooed and informed that one's own brother had been arrested and charged with performing improper charms on a goat was an altogether different matter. "Now, if you'd be so kind as to go over it again," he said, slowly, "what exactly did you do to the goats?"
"Thought it'd be nice for them," Aberforth muttered, his eyes widening a little with indignation. "I mean 'ippogriffs can fly, and that Black bloke's got 'is flyin' motor-thingy-me-bob, so what's the difference?"
Dumbledore pinched the brow of nose wearily, although to be honest, he'd been quite relieved that the 'improper charm' had been something as relatively innocuous as a flying one, when he'd been expecting –
Well – something worse.
"Whilst I can see your point in principle," Dumbledore said, steepling his fingers on the table in front of him and bouncing them lightly on his chin, "Hippogriffs are natural flyers, requiring no charms to sprout wings or to be fitted with any kind of engine, and Sirius Black's motorbike is – well, highly illegal – but his own business."
"Typical," Aberforth said huffily. "Might've known you'd take their side."
Dumbledore sighed. Again. He'd been doing a lot of that recently, too.
"Thought it'd be nice for them," Aberforth muttered indignantly, his gangly frame hunched over in the chair, the manacles around his feet jangling.
"Nice for them?"
"See a bit of the world – I mean I feel bad for 'em," Aberforth said, "cooped up all the time. Thought it'd be an opportunity for them to – "
"Spread their hooves?" Dumbledore offered.
Aberforth glared, shoving his glasses back up his nose rather tetchily. Dumbledore smiled in faint apology. "Lots of people 'ave flying pets – dragons, and – "
"I'm not sure the Ministry condones the keeping of dragons any more than it condones the charming of goats," Dumbledore said pleasantly, but Aberforth continued, undeterred.
"There's a bloke down the pub reckons ee's got an occamy – much more dangerous than a bleedin' goat – and there's all those flyin' 'orses about these days. And you've got that bloody parrot – "
"Phoenix," Dumbledore corrected, his tone mild, and amused. Aberforth shrugged.
"But it's all right for you, innit?" he said. "You can 'ave a flyin' pet – "
"Fawkes does not require my assistance to fly – "
"You come up with crazy spells an' all they do to you is put you on a bleedin' Chocolate Frog card. I try it – try to mek somethin' of meself, and it's 'oh no – off to Azkaban with ya'. Favouritism, that's what it is."
"And I only did it for them."
Dumbledore glanced up at the ceiling, trying to suppress a wry smile. "A gesture I'm sure they appreciated," he said. "But where – pray tell – were you planning on having them fly? A small herd they may be, but I can't help thinking that even the inhabitants of Hogsmeade, accustomed as they are to strange sights in their vicinity, would have balked at the site of a couple of goats floating past their bedroom windows."
Aberforth muttered something that sounded a bit like the word 'Spain'.
"Pardon?" Dumbledore said, his eyebrows shooting up in expectant surprise.
"Spain," Aberforth said, crossing his arms defensively across his chest. Dumbledore found himself at a complete loss for words. "Thought they'd like it," Aberforth muttered. "Spend some time on the beach, paddle a bit. We'd have sent you a postcard."
"Ah – I see you meant to join them?"
"Couldn't let them go on their own, could I?" Aberforth said. "They can't speak Spanish."
Dumbledore pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing heavily. "You couldn't Apparate?"
"Makes me nauseous," Aberforth said, indicating his throat with a wave. "I get this bile thing – burns like bug– "
Dumbledore held up his hand to indicate that he'd heard enough, and, thankfully, Aberforth stopped. "And you have similar reasons for not Flooing, I presume?"
"Expensive, innit?" Aberforth said. "And with what's-his-face on the rampage, it's not like business 'as bin brisk."
"Ah, I see."
"Thought it'd come in handy, too, them being able to fly."
"Well in case anything 'appened – I could escape on 'em," Aberforth said. Dumbledore closed his eyes in a brief wince. Only his brother would think of something as ingenious, yet utterly stupid, as making an escape from Voldemort on the back of a flying goat.
They passed a minute or two in rather terse silence, and Dumbledore took out his pocket watch and checked the time. "I'm afraid visiting hours are nearly over, Aberforth," he said, and Aberforth nodded. "Your patrons send their best wishes."
"Tell 'em to 'elp themselves while I'm gone," Aberforth said.
"That's very generous."
"Not really," he returned. "Bunch of thieving bastards'll take it whether I say they can or not, but s'supposed to be Christmas, innit?"
Aberforth leant forward, uncrossing his arms and eyeing Dumbledore carefully. "You won't forget to feed the goats?" he said, his eyes alive with concern, although whether for the goats or for his return to his cell, Dumbledore couldn't tell. "Two packets of cheese and onion, three roast beef, one salt and vinegar."
"I made a note of their dietary requirements, should I have a lapse in memory."
Dumbledore slowly rose to leave, leaning heavily on the table as he stood, gathering his things and his wits. He was almost at the door when Aberforth spoke again. "You're not going to leave me here, are you, Albus? It's 'orrible – all those screams inside my 'ead – and I ain't done nothin' wrong – "
"No," Dumbledore said, offering his brother a brief smile over his shoulder. "I'm sure the Minister will see sense, and you'll be out in no time. In times like these everyone could do with a stiff drink. Your patrons need their publican back, after all."
Dumbledore Apparated directly to the Ministry, passing through the security checks with ease and making his way up to the Minister's plush office.
Asking for leniency for his brother wasn't a conversation he relished the prospect of having, but other than staging a full scale break-out – which would be a lot of time and effort – he couldn't think what else to do. He rapped lightly on the door, and waited for a reply.
As the door opened, and the Minister appeared, Dumbledore was surprised to see behind him a fire blazing merrily in the grate, and Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling. He hadn't expected anyone – let alone the man at the helm of the community – to be celebrating this year. "My apologies for intruding," he said, cordially, although he didn't feel any particular warmth for this Minister, as he hadn't the last, nor the one before him.
"Not at all, Dumbledore old chap," the Minister said brightly. "Was just having a mince pie, can I tempt you?"
"No, thank you," Dumbledore said, waving the proffered plate aside. "I have just been to Azkaban, and I'm afraid it's rather stolen my appetite."
The Minister's face took on a grim, fixed expression, and he swallowed, heavily. "I suppose that's why you're here," he said.
"Indeed," Dumbledore said.
"Now look here, Dumbledore," the Minister said. "I don't go giving out special favours willy-nilly, regardless of what you might have read in the newspaper."
Dumbledore smiled. "Then we should be able to dispatch this matter expediently," he said, "since I did not come here for, nor do I expect, special favours."
The Minister considered Dumbledore for a moment, and then motioned for him to sit, and Dumbledore sank down into the leather armchair on one side of the desk, regarding the Minister over the top of the stacks of papers, books, and inexpertly wrapped Christmas presents that littered the desk. "As I see it, it is simply a matter of precedent," Dumbledore said. "Last week you pardoned a man accused of killing two entire families of Muggles – "
"There was a lack of evidence – " the Minister started.
"Yes," Dumbledore said. "I can see how being found at the scene of the crime – "
"How did you know – "
" – with one's wand pointing directly at the sky as the Dark Mark flew forth could be – misconstrued, especially when one's father has deep pockets."
The Minister gaped. "I also heard a fascinating tale about innocent people being charged with petty crimes for speaking out against certain Ministry policies," Dumbledore said, and when the Minister opened his mouth to protest, he simply raised his hand for quiet, "which I'm sure was nothing more than a vicious rumour."
He added a cordial smile, and the Minister shifted in his seat. He swallowed, his eyes searching the room for assistance, even though they were steadfastly alone. Dumbledore eyed him evenly, unflinchingly, waiting.
"So, about your brother," the Minister said eventually, raising his eyebrows in hopeful question.
"I'm sure you'll agree," Dumbledore began, "that the charm he performed was simply a - lapse in judgement?"
"Lapse in judgement," the Minister repeated. "Hmmm."
"Apparently he meant to fly the beasts to Spain for a – I believe the Muggles call it – package holiday?"
"A – a – a package holiday?"
"Hmm," Dumbledore murmured. "Foolish, perhaps, but I hardly see it as having criminal intent. And he did have their wellbeing at heart."
"Well that may be, Dumbledore, but the publicity – "
"I can assure you, Minister, that any assistance you offer in the resolution of this matter will be much appreciated."
The Minister drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment in thought, and then hummed in agreement. "You'll vouch for him?"
"Of course," Dumbledore said. "He is, after all, my brother. And it is supposed to be the season of goodwill," he added, gesturing to the decorations that festooned the office.
The Minister swallowed. "I'll have the release papers drawn up," he said.
"Welcome home," Dumbledore said, gesturing to the inside of the Hog's Head. "The goats have missed you."
There was an appreciative bleat from the other side of the counter, and Aberforth smiled. " S'nice to be 'ome," he said. "Told you I 'adn't done nothin' wrong."
Aberforth crossed the room and disappeared behind the counter, patting his goats affectionately one by one and muttering to them about taking them somewhere nice one day, and that he'd make sure they had a nice Christmas anyway.
Dumbledore smiled faintly, and placed the empty, cracked Firewhiskey bottle he'd been carrying in his pocket on the counter, and at the clunk of glass on wood, Aberforth looked up.
"What's that?" Aberforth said.
"A portkey," Dumbledore said. "Should you ever have need of a quick escape, it is charmed to bring you – and the goats – to me, wherever I may be."
"Oh," Aberforth said. He swallowed heavily. "Ta."
He shuffled from foot to foot for a moment, and Dumbledore regarded him evenly, thinking that at least now, he wouldn't have to worry about breaking his brother out of Azkaban when he got caught trying the same charm on a bar stool.
"How d'you get on with 'em?" Aberforth said, nodding towards his small herd, one of whom was licking the underside of one of the beer taps. "When you were feedin' 'em while I was – away?"
"Regrettably I can't say we bonded," Dumbledore said, frowning at the goat happily licking beer from a tray underneath the taps and making a mental note to order something that came bottled if he ever came here for a drink. "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to foster a fondness for the species."
"Who don't like goats? Wonderful creatures," Aberforth muttered, bending down and tickling one of them affectionately under the chin. "You know, Albus," he said, peering at him through his dirty glasses, "I can't quite believe we're related."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Sometimes, Aberforth," he said, "I have quite the same thought."
Aberforth smiled – and it was such an unfamiliar gesture that for a moment Dumbledore was too taken aback to respond. "Merry Christmas," he said quietly.
"You too Albus," Aberforth said. "You too."