Chapter Three: Damask
Disclaimer: all is JK’s, except for the concept which belongs to Murray Bail.
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’
Rumours of that untouchable beauty’s latest step in making herself completely unattainable spread through the corridors like wildfire, as rumours often do. The catch that came with beginning this period of ‘quest-ing’ was that Rose was no longer oblivious to the hallway snickers and snide remarks, nor was she oblivious to the compliments or longing glances.
Such was the price of awareness.
Most of her prospective suitors came from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, although there was also the healthy helping of hopeful hufflepuffs. There were young ones, voices barely broken, there were those that were older, confident swaggers and smiles matching their low self esteem. There was even a few Slytherins, cynical but curious, who poked their heads around the door of the great hall to catch a glimpse at the prize they were seeking.
Audrey and Saskia filtered the suitors. Some didn’t get even a look at the lunch table. Men and boys were there for sexual curiosity, casual plunderers who fancied their chances, after all they could name the Damask, most men can (after all, it’s what you give a lady you’re trying to impress, the rich pink and artificial smell guaranteed to charm), and hey, they could quote that line from Shakespeare ‘a rose by any other name would smell bloody good.’ What they didn’t know that charm and cockiness would get them nothing when dealing with this particular Rose. They received a shock when actually in front of her, rendered speechless by her face, and by the pages of printed photos of Roses, gently swaying in the breeze in front of them.
One boy got walked into the Quadrangle, saw Rose sitting there with the book and turned around and went straight back to the dormitory. Some of the more calculating ones took out books from the library, swotting up on the vast subject with their noses deep in botanical livres. One particularly resourceful hufflepuff even approached his head of house Professor Sprout, who told him in no uncertain terms that she did not, nor did she feel the need to, know every single species of Rose. Though secretly she thought this Gryffindor girl rather clever for devising her little test.
Take Laevigata, for example. Is there anyone on the planet who is not baffled by Laevigata, the hardness of the petals, contrasted against the softness of colour. It is almost disobedient in its nature, willing us to be confused. Still, many find it beautiful in its oddness. The impulse for most is always to pluck one from the ground and feel the petals, stroke them like a cat. That was because the petals looked so soft, then to the touch they were much harder, and suddenly the impulse to stroke them is forgotten.
The resident herbology nut from Ravenclaw was the front runner favourite to win Rose’s hand so early in the game, precisely because he possessed the double qualification of education and affinity for plants. His name was Jasper Gan, and Rose raised her eyebrows at that. She had never thought that a man called Jasper would be the one she would end up dating.
By lunchtime on Saturday he had named 87 species, and showed no sign of stopping. Saskia and Audrey, hovering around Rose’s shoulders as she flipped the pages of the book, seemed impressed. Rose liked him, she thought he was calm and collected, intelligent, and possessing a nice pair of misty grey eyes. But there was no spark of feeling, no intensity of fire burning within her when she looked at him.
Suddenly Jasper came up against a picture of a Laevigata, pale peach in colour, and was flat silent.
‘Take your time,’ Rose said, clearing her throat. ‘No point going like a rat up a drainpipe.’
Saskia and Audrey shared a look. Rose always used the most banal of impressions. It was one of the most interesting things about her, she seemed so delicate, her features as if they had been carved out of marble, and then her mouth would say such odd things.
The boy from Ravenclaw started sweating, remembering the first time he had seen Rose, glimpsed her through the glass of the greenhouses and thought she was exquisite. He was on the point of uttering Laevigata when he shook his head, and turned his face away.
‘That’s too bad.’ Rose said consolingly, her smile comforting but wide. ‘That’s a shame. I had you down as a real chance.’
* * * * *
Before each boy would begin they would be invited to sit, whether it be at a desk in an empty classroom, or on a bench in the great hall, or on one of the sandstone balustrades in the Quadrangle. Rose would then sit back and examine them. In a real sense the test began then and there. While they sat and talked about themselves they would be confronted with a full on view of the prize herself, more speckled, certainly more beautiful than they remembered or had ever imagined. When she turned they imagined the shadow of cleavage, or the slight whisper of a bare ankle. To such devices have we descended, indeed.
From the day she decided on the test she hardly knew what to say to the suitors. She understood it was necessary, and that it would ensure her peace of mind for her remaining Hogwarts days, but there was a sense that she was throwing herself away, and that was frightening to her.
Audrey and Saskia tutted. ‘Only a man with golden hair, bright eyes and a keen mind would be able to name all those flowers. Don’t you worry, you’re not going to get a dud.’ They would cajole her. But it wasn’t getting a dud that Rose was worrying about, it was getting someone at all, what if she didn’t like them? And then she had to go out with them, and pretend to like them…
And then if she broke up with them would they feel cheated out of their prize? Would they be angry and annoyed? Or would they understand that in a real relationship you have to feel.
The resident class clown, a Mr Aidan Finnegan made a show of relaxation, stretching out his legs and cracking jokes, making Saskia and Audrey titter with laughter. But then he couldn’t even name the first flower he saw, the Damask, which is as common as rain. Rose, who hadn’t laughed at any of his jokes laughed then, throwing back her head and showing her teeth. Aidan smiled at her, and said that this was prize enough for him.
Many who managed to pass the 20 mark would then fall by the wayside when faced with the common garden variety Moss Rose. Others would fail to spot that the tall, gangly thing with blushing petals was actually a rare breed of Floribunda, and not an Alba at all (although they shared the same intensity of colour).
Of course there were those who tried to bluff, or laugh, trying to devise some sort of delaying tactic. Such ruses had worked for them before in the past, when trying to get out of not handing in an essay, or standing a girl up on the first date.
Others offered money. Why not? They were rich, and the old stigma of the Weasley family was still alive and thriving in modern day Hogwarts. ‘Isn’t there some other way we could arrange this, I mean, what I know about Roses could fit on the head of a pin, but I do know I’d be a good man for you. I’m wealthy, my blood is pure and…’
It was then that Rose would cock her head to the side, smile bitterly and show them how to leave. She would not stand for that kind of pureblood nonsense. Her mother was a muggle-born after all, and none the sillier for it. In fact she often thought that her father was a lot sillier than her mother, and he was as pure as they come.
One Gyffindor claimed a photographic memory, so unsurprisingly the first Rose that he had never seen before stumped him. Another shy gryffindor was silent throughout the whole thing, writing down the names of the roses he knew on slips of parchment, and pushing them towards Rose bashfully. It almost broke her heart to tell him that he had got one wrong, but she kissed him gently on the cheek, and he left the great hall insanely happy.
The trouble was the degree of difficulty activated one of the laws of curiosity – as each man stepped forward and failed, and the flood of suitors tricked to a little stream the unattainability of Rose increased her desirability.
Most of them came with a new shirt on, some wore ties, others had hair cuts. Seeing the way they had dolled themselves up made Rose shift into sadness, the flutter of a white bird in a cage. Some of them just came as they were, smelling slightly of wet socks and mouldy cheese. A procession, all shapes and sizes.
Rose didn’t really like the look of any of them.
* * * * *
It was winter. The ground was thick with white snow, powdery and soft like feathers. The air swilled with the flakes, or shimmered with the promise of a sunny day. Rose liked to throw open the windows of her dormitory and stick her head out the wooden frame, feel her nose grow red with cold and grin happily until Saskia or Audrey threw a pillow at her and told her to ‘get her pretty little behind back inside’.
One wintery day when Rose, Saskia and Audrey were lounging in front of the fire in the great hall, admiring the Christmas Tree and making up stories about the pudgy little fairy atop the highest branch, a Ravenclaw burst through the air, striding up the long hall to present himself. He was half Italian. He had dark, dark, chestnut hair that fell thick and curly around his face that he liked to tug at when he was thinking. Rose thought it an odd quick.
‘By Merlin he knows his roses, though.’ She said to Saskia with respect. It was the second afternoon and he had already reached the halfway stage.
Rose tried to stop it from happening, but she started to wonder what it would be like going out with this guy. And she felt strange thinking that this man knew so much about Roses when there were hardly any at all in Italy. Spinossima indeed was a native, and grew positively wild on the coast of Naples, but there were very little other species of Rose that one could find naturally in Italy. They needed a bit of a cooler climate.
Audrey told her not to worry, and Audrey was quite right. On the third day he tripped on one of the odourless kinds, a scraggly looking R. moschata with petals that drooped.
* * * * *
The suitors soon became reduced to those with a professional knowledge of the subject. The idea that a beautiful girl could be won by naming all the different types of Roses was an alluring one, but soon it became the difficulty of the test rather than the greatness of the prize that was the attraction. As boys, and girls, sent letters home to their parents and their parents discussed it in the corridors of the Ministry, gossiping about the Weasley girl and her wild ideas.
They all seemed more surprised that she had turned out beautiful rather than the fact that she had devised this test.
As the weeks melted away with the snow Rose began to get worried. I mean, really, what man would be able to name all the different types of Roses? Her father could, she knew, but that was because she was his Rose, and he wanted to know about her. But the large quantity of English and Latin names would occupy vast parts of a person when they really should be occupied with other things.
Watching the boys who tried Rose was unable to picture such an all-knowing person, let alone whether anything about him would interest her. Or whether anything about her would interest him.