“Candyfloss Days” by JunoMagic
Above the quiet dock in midnight,
Tangled in the tall mast’s corded height,
Hangs the moon. What seemed so far away
Is but a child’s balloon, forgotten after play.
â€” T. E. Hulme
When Hermione first mentioned the Mill Fair, Severus affected a look of haughty disdain and proceeded to ignore her with the aloofness of a scornful Kneazle. Such preposterous pastimes (including, but not limited to, Yule, Halloween and Valentine balls, Easter extravaganzas, Leaving Feasts, Ministry banquets, stag parties and wedding receptions) were beneath him and his dignity, thank you very much. Especially if he could not use his wand to unleash the full extent of his contempt on unsuspecting rose bushes or hapless cupids.
It was bad enough that Spinner’s End was a successful project of sustainable urban development, recultivation and revitalisation nowadays and that it had won the ‘Greenest Corner of the City’ award five years running. There was truly no need to add insult to injury and participate in a Mill Fair based on a multi-cultural concept of ethnic (snort!), environmental (snerk!), and historical (ha!) awareness.
He wouldn’t encourage such nonsense if he were paid for it.
Of course that was before his daughter had glimpsed the nostalgic carousel and before Rose had expressed a keen interest in riding the little white elephant that was â€“ in her opinion â€“ leading the parade of wooden animals as they twirled in endless circles of cream and gold, red and blue.
Sunday after lunch Hermione did her best not to show how much less than surprised she was when Severus imperiously announced that a walk would aid the digestive process and was therefore beneficial and A Good Thing. Hermione bit her tongue and quickly got out Rosie’s new jeans jacket and her own purple Aran cardigan. Five minutes later they were outside and on their way to the party field on the banks of the river.
Rosie skipped ahead while Severus solemnly billowed at Hermione’s side, resplendent in a black summer trench coat.
Of course they ran right into Violet’s arms â€“ in every sense of the meaning. Hermione was hugged. Her horrified husband received noisy kisses on both cheeks (twice). Rosie was whirled around in an exuberant circle and plied with candyfloss.
A few minutes later a stunned Severus was riding on the back of a yellow lion, while his daughter shrieked gleefully on the white elephant in front of him. Violet herself perched precariously on the back of the blue-maned unicorn.
Only Hermione was excused from the silly, breathless game â€“ and only because she had a somewhat valid excuse, huge as she was, mere weeks from giving birth for the second time. But she waved enthusiastically at family and friend, and took pictures with their Muggle and magical cameras. After ten years of being married to a consummate Slytherin, even a Gryffindor such as herself recognised perfect material for blackmail when it was offered her on a silver platter.
After saying goodbye to Violet, Hermione dragged her dazed husband and jubilant daughter off to the sweets section of the stalls, so she could satisfy her craving for strawberries and chocolate in one go and on a thin wooden stick. Chocolate kisses left both Rosie and her father so sticky that cleaning Charms had to be applied surreptitiously.
That was probably the reason why they missed a very visible Violet as they passed The Chimney on their way back.
Violet waved enthusiastically, gesturing to them to come over. Severus groaned.
“Not again,” he muttered.
Hermione rudely elbowed him in the side. “Severus, stop it. She’s nice. And besides, this may very well be the last time we get out before this little one here appears on the stage.” She caressed her bulging stomach. “I want to enjoy this afternoon.”
“Hmpf,” was the only reply she got, but since her husband stayed at her side, she decided to file that as a victory. Gryffindor 3, Slytherin 0. Not bad for an afternoon. (He’d definitely lost coolness points on the carousel and smudged up with a chocolate moustache.) Of course as a Gryffindor she might have gained points on the merry-go-round. Next year, perhaps.
Then they reached Violet, and Hermione had to stop tallying up her imaginary house points. For once Violet was not alone; next to her stood a man who was as thin and bony as she was soft and voluptuous. He had hair of that non-descript pale brown shade that looked almost like muddy blond in the right light, and a stony stare. The corners of his mouth drooped in a permanent scowl.
Violet beamed. “Hermione, Severus â€“ I want you to meet someone. This is James Nettlecraft. He’s a chemistry teacher at the grammar school.”
“My condolences,” Severus said.
Nettlecraft snorted and grinned, revealing long yellow teeth that were even more crooked than Severus’. “A fellow sufferer?”
“Indeed,” Severus replied dryly. “I teach at a public school in Scotland.” They shook hands. “And unfortunately we have to go back north in a week.”
Nettlecraft affected an expression of woe that belied his stern demeanour. “If that’s not a reason for a drink, I don’t know what is. What can I get you?”
Hermione laughed. Severus scowled. Ten minutes later all five (well, five and a half, Hermione thought as she tried in vain to find a comfortable position in her chair) of them had something to drink, and the men were discussing educational reforms.
When they finally said good night, Rose was fast asleep on Severus’ arms and Hermione felt as if her back was broken. But she didn’t rue a minute. It had been a long time, since they had had so much fun out and about.
Smiling she turned to her husband. “I hope she’s not getting too heavy,” she whispered.
Severus shook his head and smirked. “Light as a feather,” he reassured her, and she knew that he’d cast a voiceless, wandless Corpus Leviosum on their sleeping child. He glanced at her stomach. “I only regret that I cannot lighten your burden as easily.”
“Oh, hush, dear,” Hermione murmured. “It’s a most precious burden. A happy one.”
Against the darkening summer sky, his eyes appeared as black as obsidian, but gentle, warm. He still didn’t smile often, her stern potions master, so she treasured his rare smiles all the more.
“Oh, look!” Hermione pointed. “How pretty!” At the entrance of the Old Mill shopping centre a grizzled old man was selling helium filled balloons. She identified bears, dolphins and yellow smiley faces. Against the clear indigo blue of the summer sky, they looked almost alive.
Severus stopped and stared at the man. Then he shook his head irritably. “It can’t be,” he muttered. “That’s impossible. He’d have to be ninety or older!”
“Do you know the man?” Curious, Hermione peered up at her husband’s face.
Severus frowned, and there was that peculiar expression in his eyes that he sometimes got when Rose asked about what the world was like when her daddy was a little boy. Pain and â€¦ something else â€¦
“Yes. No. I don’t know!” He scowled at her and shifted Rose in his arms. The little girl snuffled in her sleep, but didn’t wake. “I â€“ well, when I was a little boy â€“ there was a street vendor that used to come round to the factory at noon, selling sandwiches and the like. On Saturdays and Wednesdays he also sold fish and this and that to the wives of the workers. And, well, for the children he had hard-boiled sweets and those flying balloons.”
An almost embarrassed wistfulness softened his voice.
“You never got one?” Hermione guessed.
Severus shook his head. “My father didn’t condone such foolishness.” He hesitated. “And besides, there simply wasn’t enough money.”
Hermione thought of her own childhood. As the only child of two medical professionals, it didn’t matter if she desired a new Barbie doll or a chemistry set for children with a real microscope. Both objects were well within the scope of what she could put on her wish-lists for her birthday or for Christmas. And she couldn’t remember that she was ever disappointed â€¦
She straightened her shoulders.
“Wait here,” she ordered.
Before he could open his mouth, she turned on her heel and walked briskly â€“ or rather, waddled with determination â€“ towards the old man and his balloons.
“Good evening, sir,” she said.
“And what a lovely evening it is,” the old man wheezed. “A balloon for the wee one?” he nodded in the direction of Severus, who was still cradling Rosie.
Hermione grinned. “Two, even,” she said. Then she reconsidered. “No,” she said. “Make that three.”
The old man chuckled. “Take your pick then, Missus.”
Hermione put her hands against the small of her aching back and tilted her head backwards, surveying the bouquet of balloons floating above her head. The full moon looked almost as if it, too, was nothing but a child’s balloon, and just a string away.
“Hmm â€¦” She squinted her eyes and scrutinised the available forms and figures. “Yes,” she decided finally. “I’ll have that cat, the smiling flower, and â€¦” She couldn’t help grinning broadly. “That green snake over there.”
She paid and made her way back to where her husband was waiting with their sleeping daughter in his arms. I must look a fright, she thought, with a belly as if I had swallowed one balloon, and three more left over for pudding.
Hermione couldn’t be sure in the dusk, but when she reached Severus, she was almost sure that he was blushing and trying to hide his face behind Rosie’s black curls.
Solemnly she extended her hand towards him, offering him the string of the balloon that looked like a green snake.
“Because you know â€“ I most certainly do condone such foolishness,” she whispered.
“That’s because you’re a foolish, foolish Gryffindor, woman,” he retorted. But he reached almost reverently for the string.
They crossed the street and walked to the narrow house at the end of the road, the three balloons bobbing along above their heads and throwing impossible shadows down at their feet in the moonlight.
When they fell asleep, two balloons â€“ a snake and a kitten â€“ floated in peaceful harmony at the ceiling of their bedroom. And Hermione was sure that what had started as nothing but an annoyance and a sacrifice on her husband’s part had turned into one of the sweetest days of their lives.