Each year his mother sold baking at the Christmas market. It was not because it was Christmas, she insisted sharply. That was for Muggles. It was simply because it was a chance to make money that came but once a year. Severus and his father accompanied her, laden with a pack and a large box and bags dragging painfully and heavily from their elbows. Severus feared he might collapse, his arms shaking, but he was proud he did not.
His mother had not the made the gingerbread men, plum puddings and fruit cakes of the other bakers. These would have meant Christmas. No, she brought pies, shortbread, scones and Welsh cakes, both fresh and frozen. And she brought tarts as well, though they were not mincemeat.
When they arrived she left Severus to guard the wares and lay them out the table while she and Tobias returned for another load. He was left with a stern and definite admonition not to touch anything else, nor to wander. There was a freezer in the room of the hall kitchen to which they carried the frozen goods.
The hall was wonderful. There were many booths decorated with boughs and bows, holly and tinsel, bells and reflective glass balls. There were aromas of treats, candles, soaps, pine, bay, rosemary, and lavender. One whole end held booths with sausages and pasties for hungry market-goers.
His mother would handle the money and speak to the customers. His father would go back and forth between the booth and the kitchen as various frozen goods were requested. Severus was told to stand out of the way if he couldn't help. This was before he had made a single error.
"May I look around?"
His father said 'Yes' before his mother said 'No.' But he again warned his son not to touch anything. "Anything, mind. Keep your hands right in your pockets."
At the other side of the hall, was the lavender booth, far away from the baking and the kitchen. Severus had his hands securely in the sagging, too-big coat. He stared at the offerings, then closed his eyes to take in its aroma.
"Are you looking for a rabbit, son? Perhaps a brown one?"
Severus opened his eyes, then frowned. "A rabbit?"
"I had a penny,
A bright new penny,
I took my penny
To the market square.
I wanted a rabbit,
A little brown rabbit,
And I looked for a rabbit
For I went to the stall where they sold sweet lavender
("Only a penny for a bunch of lavender!").
"Have you got a rabbit, 'cos I don't want lavender?"
But they hadn't got a rabbit, not anywhere there."
"I came because you have lavender," Severus answered.
"For your mum?" The woman was kind.
"No. Lavender is very useful, Ma'am."
She leaned forward, amused. "Tell me."
"Well, it is very good for relieving the mind of tension and fractiousness. It is an antiseptic for wounds and restoring a clean environment, and it is good for the hair, preventing dandruff. You can use it on burns and insect bites, and it aids in digestion. Oh, and it helps the gallbladder and liver. And it helps sore muscles, rheumatism and arthritis."
"Those are big words for such a little boy. Do you want lavender for your hospital, then?" She asked.
"I don't have a hospital. I'm six. I'm learning about potions. I've never seen any lavender before, but yours must be very good, because it smells so strongly and clearly." He had been reading about lavender just the day before.
"Would you like to look?"
Severus looked down, embarrassed. "I'm not supposed to touch anything." He also meant he had no money.
"Do you think you could write for me on a piece of paper? Can you write?"
"Of course." He knew he should not sound scornful. He craned his neck and stretched up on his toes, looking towards his mother's table but it was well out of view. He nodded. "Do you want me to write about lavender for you?"
The woman showed him the sprays, the sachets, sprigs, oils and lavender itself in small shimmery bags. "If you write about lavender, I can put the paper on my counter, and the customers will learn about it. Then perhaps they will want to buy more." Severus looked at her. "And then you will have done work for me and you will have earned a little bag for yourself."
This seemed reasonable. Severus nodded and wrote carefully with her black felt pen. He wrote his research out in a neat list and seriously passed her the paper. She passed him a green bag, aromatic and stuffed plumply full. He squeezed it a little he could hear the dried flowers crunching softly together. They smiled at one another and Severus' heart rose happily. He moved through the remainder of the market as if he were floating.
His father noticed e bag immediately when he at last returned to the stand at the end of the day. His mother was in the back, negotiating something with the Market Society. "Where did you get that? Have you nicked it? I told you not to touch anything." he was angry, and his fist bunched the back of Severus' coat.
"No. No, I..." His father was not going to listen to him, especially when he had spent the entire day trying to obey his mother, who hated her customers and seemed to hate them both. They needed the money.
The woman was behind him then. "He earned it. He's a good smart little boy. You should be proud of him." And she told Severus' father what he had done for her.
She gave another rhyme to Severus.
"Call up your men, dilly, dilly, set them to work
Some with a rake, dilly, dilly, some with a fork
Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green,
When you're a prince, dilly, dilly, I shall be queen."
Then she lay her hand against his black hair fondly. She had a thick knit sweater of many colours and smelled of her wares. Her hair was clean and she liked Severus.
She and Tobias looked at one another briefly, and his father released Severus' coat. He was indeed proud when he heard the story, and gave Severus three pasty tokens for their dinner.
When he returned Tobias showed his mother the lavender. She tightened her lips resentfully. "He shouldn't have let her give him anything except money. If he can help her, he can help us. He shouldn't be making money for strangers." But Severus heard 'Muggles' not 'strangers.' She wouldn't eat her pasty, she was so angry.
Severus tucked the lavender into his inner coat pocket despite her, glad and proud himself. It was his first potion ingredient; this had been his first Potions work. And they hadn't taken it away from him.