Author's Note: With apologies to Jack Sparrow, for borrowing (without permission) one of his lines towards the end.
"Will you at least consider the other options?"
"What other options? We're going to end up buying him alcohol, no matter what." Katya flipped back to an earlier section in her Transfiguration textbook, then added another few words to the essay she was writing with her other hand. Her long, dark hair, knotted up in a tight braid, rustled against the open pages of her textbook like a snake as her attention moved back and forth between the book and her work. She didn't even look up as she added, "I don't even see why we're having this conversation."
It was Wednesday afternoon. The Hogwarts library was moderately full, mostly of upperclass students cramming in some last-minute work during a free period. Three of the Durmstrang students were ostensibly doing the same, and had staked out a place at a table by the far wall; in reality, however, the three of them had spent the last half-hour discussing the First Task, which had taken place just the day before. A few minutes ago, though, Bogdan had announced (with an unsettlingly mischievous note in his voice) that he had it on good authority that the coming Saturday, the 28th, was Professor Karkaroff's fifty-somethingth birthday. Naturally the question had arisen of what, if anything, the students as a whole should buy him. On the one hand, it would be unspeakably rude to not get him a small gift. On the other hand…well, it was Karkaroff. Katya had immediately settled on booze, plain and simple; Bogdan was pushing for "something creative."
"All I'm saying is that we should take this opportunity to think outside the box." Bogdan scratched his chin thoughtfully with the tip of his quill, leaving a spot of ink there. "Okay, how about this: Alyosha disappears."
"What do you mean?" Katya looked up.
"Alyosha just disappears for the weekend. Think about it: it's easy to set up, it doesn't cost anything, and it will probably make Karkaroff really happy."
"I'm sitting right here," Aleksei Poliakoff reminded Bogdan.
"It's a good plan, though, isn't it? You can stay down in the village somewhere."
"And have a detention every day for a month after that? I'll pass, thanks." Aleksei attempted to flatten the roll of parchment he was working on, but it just curled back up again. After a few tries, he gave up. "I'm with Katya. Let's all just pitch in a bit and get him a bottle of something."
Bogdan did not reply. He seemed lost in thought, staring off at some point on a nearby bookshelf and occasionally tapping his quill against his chin, adding more black specks to it.
"How about this," he said at last. "We pull a prank on the old goat. Nothing horrible," he added quickly, as Katya looked up sharply. "Just, you know, a little fun. As a joke."
"That…No." Katya put her quill down and stared at Bogdan in disbelief. "That is the worst idea possible. It completely defeats the purpose of buying him a birthday present."
"Oh, lighten up, Katinka."
She glared at Bogdan, but he now seemed so enthralled with his new idea that he didn't even react to her look.
"Bogdan…what are you planning?" she asked suspiciously. "I hope it's nothing illegal."
"What? No, of course not!" Bogdan, however, was still smiling to himself.
"Is it questionably legal?" Aleksei asked.
"Well…" Bogdan looked suddenly shifty. "It's not stealing, but it's borrowing, so I suppose that's a legal gray area…"
"Oh, come on! It'll be hilarious. All we'll need is a length of rope and somebody who knows how to break protection spells." Bogdan rubbed his inky chin. "Vanya's good at that, I'll ask him during Potions."
"Can we go back to your first plan?" asked Katya sarcastically. "At least that way only Alyosha gets a detention, not all of us."
"I'm not deaf…" said Aleksei, then added, "I'm still with Katya. There's no point in risking a prank."
"So says you, maybe," Bogdan retorted. "I'll ask some of the guys if they'd be game."
"And I," Katya said huffily, "will do the sensible thing." She closed her Transfiguration book abruptly and pulled a scrap of paper out of her bag.
"What are you doing?"
"Making a checklist." Katya was indeed listing out all of the students' names; they appeared one by one as her quill flew over the parchment. "I'll get everyone to donate a Galleon, and then someone can go buy Karkaroff something from the village. There's a wine shop down past The Three Broomsticks."
"Tanya and I were planning on going to Hogsmeade on Friday," Aleksei offered. "So…I guess we could do it…"
"All right, then."
Bogdan looked from Katya to Aleksei, then sighed in defeat and fished about in his bag, reemerging from under the table with a gold coin in his hand. Katya crossed his name off of the list and tucked the coin into her pocket.
"I'll give you all the money on Friday, Alyosha," she told Aleksei matter-of-factly. "Just do us all a favor."
"Whatever it is that you buy the old goat, don't tell him that you picked it out."
Yekaterina took a very businesslike approach to most matters, and thus had no qualms about going person to person among the Durmstrang students over the next day and explaining, in a slightly stern sort of way, the gift-buying plan. People who hesitated at first were soon convinced not only by the social necessity of the thing, but also by Katya's unsmiling gaze, and by nine o'clock on Thursday evening she had filled a small leather pouch with coins. There was now only one uncrossed name left on the list.
Katya headed towards the other end of the corridor that ran through the ship's belly until she reached the last cabin on the right. She had to knock three times, a little louder each time, before a muffled voice from within called, "Come in."
She waited for a second for the door to be opened, then gave up and swung it forward herself. Viktor Krum had not even gotten up—he was sitting cross-legged on his bunk, surrounded by open books and reams of parchment. He looked up at Katya quizzically as she strode forward and planted herself in front of him, quill and list of names in hand.
"Yes?" Krum asked, his thick brows furrowing.
"We're taking up a collection," she said briskly. "Saturday is Karkaroff's birthday. We're going to buy him some liquor."
Krum stared at her for a few moments, apparently seriously debating the worthiness of this proposal.
"It's his birthday," Katya repeated, with the air of someone giving bad news. Krum looked undecided for a moment longer, but could not resist this logic, and moodily threw open the top drawer of the nightstand beside him.
"A Galleon, if you've got it." Katya knew full well that Krum had plenty more than a Galleon, and when he rummaged blindly in his drawer she could hear the loud clink of large coins rattling over one another. Krum pulled out a Galleon and tossed it to her, which she caught one-handedly.
"Thanks." Katya crossed Krum's name off of her list, then crumpled it up. "I appreciate it." She hesitated, then added, "And good job with the dragon on Tuesday. You were brilliant."
The only response she got, as she left the cabin and closed the door behind her, was a noncommittal grunt.
Katya handed the small bag of exactly twelve Galleons to Aleksei on Friday morning at breakfast. Against Aleksei's will, it was then transferred to Tanya ("No offense, Alyosh, but what if you lose it?"), and he spent the rest of the day idly toying with increasingly ridiculous ideas for presents for the old goat, just to imagine his reaction. However, Aleksei always kept coming back to alcohol. It was the only thing that made sense.
Aleksei and Tanya set off for Hogsmeade directly after dinner, their reindeer fur cloaks fastened tightly over their red robes. The wind had gotten increasingly bitter during the month since they had arrived at Hogwarts, and now bit at their exposed faces as they trudged down the winding, snow-covered path to the village below, discussing an especially difficult exam that Professor McGonagall had set that morning. By the time they reached the village outskirts, their faces were as red as their robes, and at Aleksei's insistence they stopped in The Three Broomsticks for some warming butterbeer. The break gave them a chance to thoroughly commiserate about the exam, and by the time they left the pub the sun was already setting, a few early stars just visible in the cold sky.
They did their own shopping first. Aleksei bought a few more pots of ink and a bundle of parchment, then spent half an hour looking for a souvenir to send back home while Tanya ran her own errands. When they met again outside of the wine shop at the intersection of the main street and a smaller alleyway, a handful of the shops lining the main thoroughfare had already lit their outside lamps. The wine shop, however, looked almost completely dark inside.
"Is it open?" Tanya wondered, tucking her parcels tighter under her arm and gazing up at the wooden sign swinging directly above them. Her breath came in clouds. "Hopwood's Wine Emporium…"
"I hope they have something stronger than wine," was Aleksei's comment, as Tanya pushed open the door, causing a bell to ring.
It was only slightly warmer inside the shop than out on the street. Only two lamps burned on either side of the small counter running along the left wall of the cramped shop, and no one stood behind it. Aleksei and Tanya spent a few moments taking in the dusty, empty display bottles and sets of variously-sized wine glasses perched along the shelves that lined the walls.
"Excuse me?" Aleksei called, but there was nowhere to call to—the shop had no other doors besides the one they had come through off the street. Apparently Hopwood's Wine Emporium consisted of a single, empty, dimly-lit room.
"Maybe it's closed," Tanya mused, looking around. "I guess we'll have to get up early tomorrow morning and—"
Aleksei yelped and nearly fell over as several bangs shattered the silence. Another bang, and he really did fall over, hitting the shelf behind him; the impact knocked a set of decanters to the floor, where they shattered noisily against the wood. Tanya did not admonish him, however, because a human head had appeared out of the spot on the floor where Aleksei had been standing a moment ago.
"Aha! I thought I heard the bell," said the head delightedly. It belonged to a wiry old man with glasses so thick that his eyes couldn't be seen through them. "I was in the cellar, and someone was standing on the trapdoor. I am Hopwood, Haslam Hopwood, at your service."
"Good evening," said Tanya uncertainly. The man slid the large trapdoor all the way open and clambered out. He was very short and energetic, with a fringe of bristling gray hair around the large bald patch on his head.
"Um, I broke…" Aleksei began, but the man interrupted him.
"Not to worry, young man, not to worry!" he cried, still sounding delighted for some reason. "Merlin knows I've broken things up here a hundred times, oh goodness yes."
Aleksei muttered a hasty Reparo over the shards of glass sprinkled over his boots and began setting the reformed decanters back on the shelf as Tanya asked, "Are you open for—"
"Oh yes, certainly! Open for business as usual," Hopwood assured her. "I don't close up shop till late. Come on down to the cellar, I've just been taking inventory."
He disappeared down the trapdoor as quickly as he'd appeared, like a rabbit diving into its burrow. Aleksei and Tanya exchanged bewildered looks before Tanya put her parcels aside and clambered down the ladder after him, Aleksei following suit. Hopwood's voice echoed up from below as they descended.
"I've been taking inventory! Just got a new shipment from an acquaintance in California, some very interesting dry whites, very interesting." Hopwood took off his enormous glasses and polished them on his dark purple robes, then peered eagerly at his two customers, who were standing on either side of the ladder, overwhelmed by the size of the spacious cellar as compared to the tiny room above. Rows upon rows of shelves like bookcases stood before them, each filled with dark bottles resting quietly on their sides, little parchment tags dangling off of their necks. Hopwood flicked his wand, and the candlelight in the room increased.
"This…is a lot of wine," Aleksei noted, turning around and finding more shelves behind him.
"Oh yes," said Hopwood breezily, flitting between shelves and adjusting the layers of bottles. The motion made the dangling parchment tags flutter like moths. "I'm a bit of a collector, you see. Don't buy anything I'm not interested in myself, and I'm interested in everything. Now, what is it you're after, pray tell? A certain year, country, maker?"
"We're looking for a birthday present—" Tanya began.
"A gift!" Hopwood's demeanor became, if it was possible, even more excited. "An excellent choice, too, nothing conveys one's best wishes better than a fine bottle of spirits. And who is the recipient, hmm? A friend, colleague, a relative perhaps?"
"Well, he's a sailor," said Aleksei, trying to get a word in edgewise, "so probably he'll want—"
"—something a bit stronger than a regular table wine, yes?"
"Well then!" The little man rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Perhaps a dessert wine, then? Some vinho de Porto?" And then he was gone, darting back through the rows of shelves. Aleksei and Tanya followed. They caught up with him about six rows deep into the cellar, where he was rummaging delicately through some shorter, fatter bottles. "The Duoro valley rarely disappoints. Let's see what we have here…"
"Do you think Karkaroff will want some port?" Tanya muttered to Aleksei in Russian. Aleksei just shrugged and replied, "How would I know? I don't understand wine."
"—Casillas—" Hopwood was saying, flitting through the labels. "Rui Patricio—"
"We've got twelve Galleons," said Aleksei. "Is that enough to buy something, er, nice?"
"Certainly, young man!" Hopwood paused a moment to turn to his bewildered customers. "Not enough for any of the thirty-year tawnies, of course, but there are some very nice vintages within that price range, very nice. Is your sailor friend a man of refined taste?"
"Uh…Maybe?" Aleksei guessed. "He does like nice things…"
"Twelve Galleons." Hopwood rubbed his chin, studying the squat brown bottles keenly. "Well, well…what would be best…"
It was like watching a patient fisherman at work. Hopwood scrutinized the rows of bottles, then occasionally shot a hand into them and pulled a bottle out halfway, examined the tag, and reshelved it, like a fisherman throwing back an unsatisfactory catch. After a few tries, however, he hit upon a bottle that seemed to please him, and carefully extracted it from the shelf with a clatter of glass.
"This should do the trick," he announced. "The '71 Martins-Soares, an excellent vintage." He adjusted his glasses with his free hand. "Thirteen and a half Galleons, but I'll let it go for twelve if it's going to someone who will appreciate it."
"Great," said Aleksei at once. "We'll take it."
"Excellent!" Hopwood bounded back toward the ladder, and they heard him scrambling back up it almost immediately. Tanya looked askance at Aleksei.
"Well, you seem very sure of yourself."
"What?" Aleksei protested. "Come on, it's not like either of us know what to buy. Might as well trust him, right? And now we're done."
Tanya just shrugged.
Upstairs, Hopwood chatted away as he rang up their purchase, though neither Aleksei nor Tanya knew what to make of his continuing praise of the '71 Martins-Soares's "excellent nose." Once they'd paid, Hopwood made as if to snip off the parchment label, but Tanya stopped him just in time, grabbing a quill from the counter and scribbling something on the reverse side of the label. When they at last made it outside, Aleksei grabbed the bottle out of her bag and took at look at what she'd written.
"Happy birthday, Professor Karkaroff," he read aloud in the lamplight. "From your students." He nodded. "Yeah, that's good. Nice and safe. But shouldn't we have put that on a card, or something?"
"No," said Tanya sagely, as they headed up the darkening street. "I thought it was better to leave the price tag on."
It was completely dark by the time Aleksei and Tanya reached the Hogwarts grounds. The castle glowed softly on the hilltop to their right, throwing a golden radiance over the otherwise black landscape. The Durmstrang ship, too, glowed gently from within. When Aleksei and Tanya at last reached the gangplank, puffing a little from the weight of their purchases, they were surprised to find the deck deserted.
"Guess everyone's already at Hogwarts," said Tanya, momentarily setting her shopping down. "We'd better drop our stuff off and go, too, or else we'll miss all the fun."
"Right." Aleksei bounded down the ladder that led to the lower deck, but the moment he disappeared from view, a great crash ensued, followed by a flurry of swearing. Aleksei scrambled back onto the main deck moments later.
"Sorry, professor!" he called down. "I didn't see you coming up…"
"Evidently," came an answering growl. A few moments later, Karkaroff appeared, looking thoroughly disgruntled. Luckily the bottle of plum brandy he was carrying was still intact. He smoothed out his robes. "Detention, Poliakoff. You can spend the evening sweeping the cargo hold."
"But professor—" Aleksei looked helplessly at Tanya. "I, er, that is, we both—all the students—we bought you—"
"You want to give it to him now?" Tanya asked in alarm.
"Give me what?" Karkaroff snapped, looking suspiciously from Aleksei to Tanya. "What are you both babbling about?"
Tanya summoned her composure and reached into her shopping bag, pulling out the bottle of port.
"We were going to wait until tomorrow," (Tanya cast a glance at Aleksei, who was trying to look innocent), "but…Everyone pitched in to get you this, professor." She proffered the bottle. "For your birthday."
Karkaroff still looked suspicious as he took the bottle from Tanya and held it up so he could read the label in the light of the lamp behind him. He then looked at the well-wishes scribbled on the parchment tag dangling from the bottle's neck, made a sort of grimace, and then flipped the tag over. His eyebrows raised.
"Er…Happy birthday, professor," said Aleksei.
Karkaroff scrutinized the liquid inside the bottle as best as he could through the dark glass, as though expecting to see something floating in it, but eventually he seemed to decide that the gift was not a trap.
"Thank you," he said gruffly. Another look at the price tag, and he cleared his throat and added, a little pompously, "I appreciate the sentiment."
"Do I still have detention?" Aleksei asked hopefully.
"Of course." Karkaroff glanced again at the price tag on the bottle of port. "…Tomorrow."
Aleksei sighed quietly, and on a look from Tanya they both grabbed their shopping and headed down to their cabins. Karkaroff watched them go before turning his attention back to the bottle he'd been handed. He held it up to the light again, rereading the label.
It wasn't as though it were a complete surprise—but Karkaroff had definitely not expected the students to spend that much money on him. Certainly he rarely had the opportunity to spend that much money on himself. Nearly fourteen Galleons…But he'd already picked out something to drink with Severus tonight. He looked at the plum brandy in his other hand, comparing the two bottles. Which one to bring?
After a moment, Karkaroff simply strode down the gangplank and headed towards the castle. Really, why couldn't they have both? Tomorrow was his birthday…
The Slytherin common room was never a raucous place. Whether it was because the Slytherins themselves tended to not be the raucous sort, or because everyone knew well what their Head of House would do if someone got drunk and threw up on the rug, parties in the Slytherin dorm tended to involve simply sitting in high-backed chairs around the ornate fireplace, drinking and talking (in varying proportions). When Aleksei and Tanya were admitted to the dungeon room, they found Bogdan and a few others scattered about. Bogdan seemed to be regaling a group of seventh-years with some story, backed by Vanya and a few others; when Bogdan caught sight of Aleksei and Tanya, he waved them over and called out a greeting that was only slightly too loud.
"Alyosh! Tan! You finally made it!" he said, raising his butterbeer to them as they approached. "How did the shopping trip go?"
"Fine." Tanya conjured a chair and pulled it up to the fire. "The professor seemed to like what we bought, so that's a relief."
"Is he here?"
"Is Karkaroff up at the castle yet?"
"I think so—he headed off just before we did. Why?"
"Noooo reason," said Bogdan happily, draining his butterbeer and setting the bottle on a small table next to him. "Come on, guys, that's our cue."
"Wait, where are you going?" Aleksei asked, as Bogdan and two other Durmstrang students rose to their feet.
"Back to the ship," Bogdan replied. "Bedtime."
"But it's only 8:30!"
"I've had enough for one evening," said Bogdan airily. "Early to bed, early to rise, all of that."
But he seemed determined to explain nothing, and bid farewell to his Slytherin friends with much fanfare as Aleksei and Tanya watched skeptically.
"What's up with them?" asked a Slytherin girl. Tanya shook her head as she reached for a butterbeer.
"I don't know, and something tells me that I don't want to find out."
Karkaroff stumbled the last few feet down the gently sloping lakeshore and steadied himself for the journey up the gangplank, which took a little longer than usual. He and Severus had finished both bottles in the time it usually took them to drink just one, and halfway through the excellent port Karkaroff had even managed to cajole Snape into begrudgingly wishing him a happy birthday. Now Karkaroff hummed quietly to himself as he meandered back to his cabin, not even bothering to light the corridor lamps. The protection spell on his cabin door gave him some trouble, but at last he managed to get it open, and did not even lock it behind him as he kicked off his boots and stumbled towards his bed at the far end of the cabin. At one point he stopped, swaying slightly on the spot, and tried to focus on an apparition visible in the middle of the room thanks to the moonlight coming through a porthole. It wasn't real, surely…and he very much needed to lie down…
Karkaroff passed out the moment his head hit the pillow, and all intentions of brushing his teeth (or at least changing into his nightgown) vanished instantly. The thing in the room with him, however, did not.
Aleksei was hungry.
There had been food at the Slytherin's, but that was already hours ago, and he knew there was still a jar of pickles left in the galley icebox. Karkaroff did not like students to be up at night, and Aleksei had heard him arrive back on ship a quarter of an hour ago, but…pickles…
After another five minutes, Aleksei slipped out of bed, lit his wand, and cracked open the cabin door, peering cautiously out into the corridor. To his surprise, a lamp at the far end of it was lit. Momentarily forgetting his hunger, he approached the lamp and found a most unusual sight: Bogdan, Vanya, and Tomasz all crowded around the door to Professor Karkaroff's cabin. Bogdan and Vanya looked expectant; Tomasz actually had his ear pressed to the door.
"What's going on?" Aleksei asked quietly, extinguishing his wand. "Vanya, I thought you were still in our room…"
Bogdan and Vanya exchanged looks, and Tomasz, instead of replying to Aleksei, straightened up and announced in a whisper, "He's gotta be asleep. I can't hear him snoring, but that's the only explanation." He shook his head. "I'll be damned."
"What's going on?" Aleksei repeated.
"He fell asleep!" Bogdan sounded indignant. "I can't believe this. We go to all that trouble, and the old goat doesn't even notice there's another goat in there with him. I don't know what to do."
It took Aleksei a moment to realize what he had just heard.
"Wait—what? Another goat…?"
"We put a goat in his cabin two hours ago," Tomasz explained.
"But—where did you—"
"You know that bar down in the village, The Hog's Head? There's a paddock behind it…"
The magnitude of the situation was starting to hit Aleksei.
"You stole a goat?"
"Borrowed," Bogdan corrected. "Borrowed without permission. But with every intention of bringing it back."
"Though we were expecting Karkaroff to…you know, react," added Vanya. "I guess we'll just have to wait till morning."
Aleksei looked between the three of them as though they'd all gone mad.
"Have you gone mad?" he asked, just for clarification. "This—I can't—He's going to have a heart attack!"
"Shh!" hissed Tomasz, and pressed his ear to the door again. After a moment he said, "Nope, nothing…"
"All right, then," said Bogdan. "If this isn't going to work out, we might as well go to bed."
"What?" Aleksei balked. "You can't just—I mean—There's a goat in there!"
"Damn it, Bogdan, this is serious!" Aleksei felt genuinely panicky now. "What happens when he wakes up and finds out a goat pooped in his cabin, or ate his robes—"
But to Aleksei's horror, Bogdan and the others were dispersing, heading up the corridor towards their own cabins. Aleksei was left alone in the circle of yellow lamplight, staring in bewilderment at the door to Karkaroff's cabin.
Maybe it wasn't true. Maybe Bogdan and the others had been pulling his leg. Maybe…But no. The evidence all fit, and Aleksei knew Bogdan was just daring enough to do something this outrageous. But if Karkaroff woke up in the night and found a live goat in his cabin, everyone would have hell to pay. Well, everyone except Krum, anyway.
Aleksei stood frozen in the corridor, heedless of the gentle rocking of the ship. The enormity of the problem before him seemed overwhelming. What should he do? If he tried to fix the situation now, and Karkaroff woke up, then Aleksei alone would bear the full force of Karkaroff's fury. Not that that was anything new, but still. Should he wake someone else up and ask for help, or would more people just mean more noise?
Eventually, Aleksei came to a decision. Holding his wand in front of him as though to ward off danger, he tried the cabin door and found it unlocked, to his great surprise. Carefully, Aleksei cracked it open, praying it wouldn't squeak.
A sliver of warm yellow lamplight slipped into the cabin, illuminating a thin slice of the floor, a corner of Karkaroff's desk, and part of the wooden wall behind it. There was no sign of either goat. For one happy moment, Aleksei thought Bogdan really had been lying. Then he heard two noises at once: a soft sort of snore from over to the right, and the clip-clop of hooves on plank wood.
Aleksei's heartbeat sped up. Silently he cast a very weak Lumos, so that the tip of his wand glowed less bright than a candle, then he extinguished the corridor lamp behind him and slipped into the room with a foreboding feeling in his stomach. What little he could see of the floor around him was littered with what appeared to be the detritus of Karkaroff's desk. Bits of parchment, quills, and other debris lay scattered over the floorboards. Aleksei took a step forward and felt something crunch quietly beneath his boots; bending down, he saw a trail of dried tea leaves, and followed it with his wand until the light fell on exactly what he had hoped not to see: a large, fluffy white billy goat, standing next to Karkaroff's bunk and chewing thoughtfully on the remains of a satchel of tea. It blinked in the sudden wandlight, then flicked its ears and approached Aleksei, its stubby tail swishing.
"Silencio," Aleksei muttered. The goat stopped short when the spell hit its body, and shook its head; Aleksei flinched when Karkaroff snored lightly again. The goat couldn't bleat now, but its crunching and the sound of its hooves might be loud enough to wake Karkaroff regardless. Aleksei noticed a length of rope hanging from around the goat's neck and reached for it, but the goat turned aside abruptly and wandered away, out of the wandlight. Moments later, Aleksei heard a grating noise, and with horror turned his wand to the right and saw the goat sharpening its horns on the edge of Karkaroff's wardrobe.
Throwing himself forward, Aleksei got ahold of the rope around the goat's neck and tugged. First it tried to bleat it protest, and when it found itself unable to do so, it shook its head vigorously. Aleksei tugged again, harder this time, but it only made the goat headbutt him—not very hard, but it caught Aleksei by surprise enough that he fell onto his rear. His wand clattered to the ground and extinguished.
Aleksei swore very quietly, expecting to hear the goat start sharpening its horns again, but instead it trotted over to him and stuck its rather smelly muzzle in his face, inquisitively sniffing at his robes. It seemed to have finished off the satchel of tea, and rummaged around in Aleksei's hair in search of dessert as Aleksei groped blindly for his wand. Once Aleksei found it, he lit it again and stood up slowly. The goat opened its mouth again, but no sound came out.
Come on, Aleksei thought desperately, again taking hold of the rope and pulling on it. Come on, come with me…
But the goat refused to budge.
Aleksei clutched the rope in one hand and his wand in the other, cursing Bogdan with every fiber of his being. He couldn't put the goat to sleep, that would just make it harder to get back to Hogsmeade. And he didn't want to Transfigure it, either—it was someone's property, and Transfiguration was not his specialty in any case. Damn it, Bogdan was an idiot…
Aleksei felt a tug on the rope. The goat seemed to want to head back to the wardrobe.
Oh no you don't, he thought, and tugged in response. The goat shook its shaggy head again, frustrated. Aleksei pointed his wand at the rest of the cabin, searching for anything that might help him get the goat to move the tantalizingly few yards to the door. Behind him, Professor Karkaroff was still thoroughly asleep, but Aleksei didn't know how long that would last.
The goat bleated silently and nudged Aleksei's side, still hungry. Aleksei raised his wand and noticed a stack of parchment envelopes teetering on the edge of Karkaroff's desk.
"Accio," he whispered. The bundle of envelopes came soaring right at him, and he barely managed to catch them before they hit him in the face. The goat flicked its ears in interest as Aleksei handed it an envelope. It sniffed it once, then took a nibble, chewed it experimentally, then devoured the rest almost whole.
"Come on," Aleksei whispered, holding another envelope just out of reach. The goat stretched its neck out, then took a few steps forward, following Aleksei into the middle of the cabin. "That's it…"
Two more envelopes got the goat out of the door and into the corridor. Aleksei left the rest of them in a pile at the goat's feet and tied its rope to one of the unlit lamps along the wall, then carefully slipped back inside Karkaroff's cabin and surveyed the damage. It looked like the goat had pulled half of the things off of Karkaroff's desk and tasted them all. Aleksei realized with a sinking feeling that he wouldn't be able to clean the mess up properly without making a lot of noise, and after a moment, he simply levitated most of it as one big pile and dumped it onto Karkaroff's desk. It would have to do.
The goat was still munching on envelopes when Aleksei closed Karkaroff's cabin door, locked it, and put a muffling charm on it for good measure.
"Come on," he told the goat, which looked up from its meal and swished its tail in a friendly way. "Let's get you home. And don't headbutt me again."
Karkaroff was woken just after dawn by someone hammering on the porthole behind his desk. Groaning, he forced himself upright and tried his best to ignore the racket as he dragged himself to the bathroom. When he reemerged, he looked only slightly more awake (having splashed his face with cold water) and made his way to the porthole. A brown owl was pecking furiously at the glass, and the noise rang much too loudly in Karkaroff's skull; when he let it inside, it dropped a roll of parchment unceremoniously on his head before landing on his desk and fluffing its feathers indignantly, as though demanding an apology for having had to wait so long.
Blearily, Karkaroff unrolled the parchment scroll and scanned it. It did not contain birthday greetings. However, the sender's penmanship was so poor that it took Karkaroff several careful read-throughs to understand what it did contain, and even then he wasn't certain he had it correct.
The letter was from an establishment in Hogsmeade. It seemed that one of the students had stolen a goat the previous evening, for Merlin only knew what idiotic purpose, and had tried to sneakily return it some hours later, making all kinds of excuses when caught. The thief had apparently given his name as Bogdan Bogdanovich Bogdanov, but the physical description matched another student entirely…
Karkaroff fell into his desk chair, rather than sat (his body did not want to be conscious yet) and resolved to give that damned Poliakoff detention for the entire month of December. His desk seemed even messier than usual for some reason, but at last he found a quill and parchment and dashed off a formal-sounding apology. He had nearly tied it to the owl's leg before deciding that it might be better received if it looked as official as possible, and got his sealing wax out of the top drawer before rummaging about on his desktop. When a few seconds of shuffling through debris proved fruitless, he conducted a more thorough search, but still found nothing. Karkaroff's already unpleasant mood worsened considerably.
Damn it. Where the hell had all the envelopes gone?