Chapter 9 : Seamus
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It was, he thought, his favorite thing in the world, the grassy smell - until that particular festival night, in which Seamus, at the very tender age of three, discovered the glorious invention that was fireworks.
“Now, you’re to be sittin’ here and not running away from your mum,” his father was saying - it was the onset of the evening, and there was a massive stack of wooden logs in the middle of the town square, around which people were already gathered. Children a bit older than Seamus were running up and down, waving sparklers, many of them with black-painted faces and smudged hands, supposedly representing demons and devils of their own imagining. He watched them with interest.
“He’s fine, Johnny,” said Seamus’s mother happily, pulling him over to sit on her lap. He frowned and tried to wriggle away - she’d just blocked the best bit of the view. “You go on and find your mates, now, you’ve been itching to run to them ever since we arrived.”
“Margie, my dear -“ Mr. Finnigan started to say, smiling ruefully, but she cut him off with a shake of her head. He grinned more broadly now and clamped a hand on Seamus’s head briefly, kissed his wife chastely on the cheek, and hustled off into the fading daylight, one hand clamped over his tweed cap to keep it from blowing away.
“Where Daddy going?” Seamus asked, frowning, almost not waiting to hear the answer; another little boy had just run by, a sparkler clutched in each fist. He desperately wanted one. “Can have a sparker?” he asked instead, not waiting for the answer to his previous question.
Margie Finnigan frowned. “Dear boy, you are rather accident-prone,” she said, nonetheless lovingly. “No sparkler for you this year. Perhaps next year.” She plopped a kiss on his head, but it did nothing to appease the small boy; he wiped it off in a rather disgruntled fashion, and instead turned to yanking up handfuls of grass.
It was a rather nice alternative, but it wasn’t a sparkler. It didn’t look like such a bad thing, after all, even if he was - well, whatever his mother had called him. Something that made such pretty lights, and smelled so sharp and tangy (nothing like grass!) could not possibly hurt him.
From the side pocket in the dress she wore, Seamus saw his mother pull out a polished, carved stick, muttering something under her breath as she did so. He had seen this stick before, although whenever his mother caught him looking at it, she made sure to put it out of his reach quickly enough. It was a secret, she had told him, and must never be discussed with his father. Was that understood?
She poked the basket looped carefully over her arm with the stick, rummaged about in it, and lo and behold, her hand emerged clutching a cheese sandwich – one of his absolute favorite foods. “Careful, now,” she laughed, as her son began wolfing down the sandwich with characteristic gusto. “Best not to be getting a tummy ache.”
Seamus wondered now, licking the last bits of butter off the tips of his fingers (his sandwiches never lasted quite long enough), if that stick was a sparkler, and eyed it from the corner of his eye. Mrs. Finnigan caught him looking and put the stick quickly back in her pocket, miming zipping her lips with the thumb and index finger of her right hand. He nodded and yanked up another fistful of grass, feeling rather bored.
It wasn’t as if his having a sparkler was such a bad thing anyway, he thought grumpily. Three years old – actually, four in only a few months – was perfectly old enough to be handling such things, in his opinion. He might have started that small fire in the kitchen once, but that was an accident. And anyway, he was quite sure his mother had all but forgotten the incident.
He tossed up another handful of grass and glanced at his mother to see if she noticed, as she never much liked it when Seamus made messes. But Mrs. Finnigan had, unbeknownst to Seamus, received a visitor to her little spot of grass in the form of Abby O’Flannery, one of the Finnigans’ neighbors. She was holding the hand of her own little girl, Moira, and the two women were already deeply engrossed in conversation.
And, Seamus suddenly thought with a wicked sort of revelation, not paying any attention to him at all. Not even Moira was looking at him long enough to notice if he slipped away, and he desperately wanted a sparkler… As quietly as he could, he scooted around behind his mother, checked once more to see if she’d seen him (she was still yammering away), and took off full-tilt for the center of the square.
Being a rather small boy for his age, it was a curious thing for Seamus to be thrust, rather unexpectedly, into a throng of people: Legs dressed in slacks or protruding from beneath skirts was about all he could see, and it was quite easy for him to get quickly and hopelessly lost. He’d been heading for the statue of the bearded man in the center of the square – it was because of him, the boy faintly recalled, that his town held this festival at all – but wherever the statue was, he couldn’t see it anymore.
“Are you lost, son?” said a deep, kindly voice from somewhere above him. He craned his head back, squinting to see if he could recognize who the voice belonged to, but the man who had spoken was a complete stranger to him: All thick brown beard and ruddy red cheeks and dark eyes that looked nonetheless kind.
“No,” said Seamus plaintively, although this was sort of a lie. “I’m looking for sparkers.”
The man’s eyebrows, just as thick as his beard, creased a bit. “Did your mum say you could play with those, then? You look a bit wee, son –“
“I’m not your son,” Seamus said fiercely, crossing his arms over his chest to emphasize the point. For some reason, the strange man chuckled at this, as though he had just heard a rather amusing joke, but Seamus was quite serious. “And I’m not lost.” He put as much condescension and scorn into the words as possible, as he had heard some of the older boys do sometimes.
The man raised his eyebrows this time, but said nothing. He sauntered away, disappearing quite quickly into the crowd, and Seamus was almost instantly sad to see him go. They had been having such a good time! But now he was on the quest for a sparkler, and a sparkler he would find.
At that moment someone else passed him, and he saw that this time it was someone a bit nearer his own age – a girl, maybe six or seven, and carrying red and orange crepe streamers; they fluttered behind her as she ran. The ridges of her cheekbones were chalked black with soot.
“Where you get that?” he asked her, pointing to the streamers. She looked at them, as though surprised to find that they were there, and pointed back the way she had come with an indifferent little shrug of her shoulders. Seamus looked about him once more, hoping a bit that he might yet see the statue and get a bit of his bearings, but no such luck.
The air was getting closer and more smoky, filled with that sort of tangy smell that Seamus liked even better than sun-warmed grass, but he couldn’t even enjoy it now. He had wandered away with no idea where he was headed, and he didn’t even have a sparkler to show for it. A small knot of panic clenched in the bit of his stomach, and he moodily willed himself to get control. Getting all nervous and twitchy would help nobody at the moment.
He took several deep breaths, trying to fill his lungs with air as much as possible, and tugged on the skirt of a woman passing by. She looked down at him in a rather surprised manner. “Do you know where my mummy is?” he asked baldly.
“No, I don’t,” she said roughly, and pushed on. Seamus frowned – that was quite rude – and the cold clammy panic began to climb up a bit further in his ribs. He twisted the hem of his shirt anxiously in his hands and tried to crane his head about for his mother. She can’t have been left too far behind…
But there was so much noise and confusion, and everywhere people were yelling and laughing so loudly… Seamus felt tears well in his eyes, quite without meaning for them too, and tried desperately not to cry. He was almost four, and surely four-year-olds didn’t cry!
"I'm lost!" Seamus managed aloud, in a very frightened, timid sort of voice, but it was so quiet that he knew nobody could possibly have heard him. He couldn't even summon the courage to say it again, for fear of making it undeniably true. My mummy and daddy will never find me, and I'll have to live all on my very own, he thought desperately. And I'm not even allowed to use the knives to make myself cheese sandwiches.
Somehow, he half-wished that he'd never ventured off in search of a sparkler.
"Seamus? Is that you?"
Quite suddenly, with a wonderful, rushing feeling of relief, Seamus turned on the spot and found himself looking up into the rather incredulous face of his father.
"Daddy!" Seamus held out his arms, almost weak-kneed with happiness, and Johnny Finnigan lifted up his son with something close to incredulity. Seamus nuzzled his face into the crook of his father's neck, breathing in the smell of skin and soap and aftershave deeply.
"But what are you doing in the middle of the square?" his father asked him again, as he clearly didn't yet have a grasp on the entire situation.
The small boy knew that, in that moment between being asked a question and answering it, his face burned with embarrassment at such blatant disobedience on his part; he felt rather foolish for sneaking away now.
“Looking for sparkers,” he said in his best innocent little-boy voice, which always worked on his father like a charm. And, sure enough, Mr. Finnigan rolled his eyes and pushed his cap back a bit farther on his head, but made no more comments about the incident.
“Well, all right then. We’ll get you a sparkler, if you promise not to tell your mum.” Seamus’s father tipped him a broad wink, and there was something so absurd and yet so wonderfully natural in the gesture that the small boy giggled, snuggling deeper into his arms, feeling quite safe once again.
It was that night that Seamus’s fascination with all things fire and explosions was born, even superseding his love of the small of the grass that so frequented his native country. When Johnny Finnigan found his beard set alight by his son’s experiments, he was sorely sorry for having given into the boy’s desire for a sparkler. And when Seamus, a few months later, developed the oddly unnatural habit of having sparks shoot out his fingers, and Mrs. Finnigan had to confess to her less-than-Muggle bloodlines, well, Johnny was less surprised than he felt he perhaps ought to be.
A/N: It seems so natural for Seamus's chapter to have dealt, even minutely, with fire and explosions that I'm almost quite sad this didn't get written before now! He's so small and Irish, it's very impossible not to love him here, but I've got bias, I suppose. But really. He burned his dad's beard off! How endearing!
Just the epilogue to go, guys -- oh, wait, that just hit me. That is one more chapter. One more chapter is not a lot... Thanks so much for making this story, well, what it is. I suppose I'm starting my appreciation gushing in advance, but honestly, I'm thrilled at the responses. You guys truly are awesome!
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