Chapter 7 : Centiflora
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Disclaimer: the plot belongs to murray bail and the canon belongs to JK.
That day in the library extended into early dusk, with Scorpius’ hushed voice never ceasing to weave the threads of tales through the air. Rose liked the sound of his voice, kind of rough, but he would form words like seeds from apricots, spitting them out into the air. She would close her eyes and feel the pictures form inside her head. Or she would look at him, surveying him like an engineer.
‘The next one is a sad one.’ He said, after he was done with a story about a cow and its diet of dandelions. Rose narrowed her eyes. Was he making it up?
‘In one of the outrageously common cul-de-sacs just outside Leeds lived a retired member of the ministry and his wife. For the last seventeen years all they had to say to each other had been through their dog.’
‘Will the stupid girl get off her backside and make us a cup of tea?’ He would say to the dog.
‘He can do it himself, the fat cow, considering I’ve been serving him these past years.’ She would say back.’
Rose laughed. He raised his eyebrows. ‘This is an unhappy story, remember.’
‘During his time at the Ministry he had climbed the levels, promotion by promotion, until he was responsible for all the vehicular items in England. It had been a difficult, but rewarding job that gave him some measure of satisfaction. After all, he got to personally test each new broomstick, carpet or other vehicle before it could go on the market.
However as he rose professionally he sunk personally.
‘I left some toast on the table for him, I hope it goes cold.’
‘Why doesn’t she get dressed in the morning? Have a look at herself in the mirror. I know I would be shocked.’
Each seemed to spend all their lives waiting for the other to die, and while doing this trying to win over the dog and make the dog love them more. It was a slow moving little beagle, who each would talk to and through when addressing each other. As the dog got older and older both husband and wife wondered how they would communicate once it had gone.
The woman died first. Her husband, busy with work and preoccupied with arranging his chocolate frog cards, hadn’t even noticed until the dog started barking sadly. She had fallen off her bed.
Now there was only the dog and the husband left, and the house felt more than half empty. Every Wednesday and Sunday man and dog would go to her grave, where he complained to her about the dog, how slow he was, how he had fleas, how he never did anything, how it was so messy and ate too much, how it didn’t respond when he called him…
And then, a mere months later, the worst thing happened. The man woke in the morning to find that the dog, too, had died.
It was an unhappy story. Rose felt saddened after hearing it, but at the same time wanted to ask Scorpius if he liked dogs. She had been quiet for so long while he told his story that now she had so many questions. She opened her mouth to ask one, but he had already moved on, in a whole different aisle of the library. She rounded the corner quickly and saw him sitting, tapping the leather spine of a book.
A shoemaker lived in notting hill, and every evening goes to the grave of his wife, often forgetting to take off the battered leather apron he dons in the workship. When there he tells her the news of the day, and then asks her advice.
‘Mrs Hudson’s gone and ruined her sole again. She should really lose weight, otherwise the problem will keep coming back and back. I forgot to stock up on belladonna and now I don’t have enough pepper up potion anymore. Should I get some from the store? Store bought potions can be risky though. We’re running out of shoe laces again. There’s a beautiful new charms store opened on diagon alley. Just beautiful. And the youngest Elderidge girls works there too, you know, the one who used to run off with that good for nothing Black boy. Well, he came a cropper on that motorbike of his, and tore his leather jacket.’
Glancing up, Rose wondered how Scorpius would look in a leather jacket.
‘they say it’s going to rain tomorrow. That’ll do horrors to all those new heels I’ve made for the dancing troupe from france. Reinforced steel arches they wanted! As if they could walk, let alone dance, in those. But then, I do what I’m told. Don’t I, dear?’
He also wanted to know what to do with all his wife’s shoes. They lay, wrinkled and musty, at the back of the wardrobe, gathering dust and god knows what. What should he do with them, lined up so neatly and perfectly?
This story rolled off his tongue, and Rose thought it was sadder even than the one he told before. Long companionship, she thought, had its positives and strengths. But then, oh! The weaknesses seemed to much to bear. What would she do with the shoes of her loved one long after he had died? Would she visit his grave every week? Would she tell him about her life? And would he care?
Scorpius could sense that she was upset.
‘There was a man called Been, Peter Been. And whenever someone enquired ‘Been all right?’ he immediately assumed that people thought he was down in the weather. Even when someone said ‘has-been’, it made him sad, thinking of all that stagnated potential and wasted ability. So and so has been today, dear, his wife would say. And he would jump, wondering why she was referring to him by his last name.’
Scorpius looked down at Rose.
‘Ah-ha! She smiles.’
And she was.
As they went from aisle to aisle, shelf to shelf, the roses blooming just beyond arched windows, he told other stories, and Rose let them slowly circle her and enter her as if they had been there since the dawn of time. His voice vibrated with a heat that soon became familiar. She liked the sound of his voice. In the heat of the library, which was somehow worse than any other kind of heat because it smelt like old, musty parchment, Rose suddenly wanted to close her eyes. Instead she surveyed him, her eyes squinting slightly with the effort.
By the time she got back to the Gryffindor common room, dodging questions from Audrey and Saskia, she collapsed onto her bed, breathless and content. He had told her six, or was it seven, stories that day.
Yes, yes, that’s it… in Paris, in Diagon Alley, in a little hovel near Surrey… many a story begins and ends with this most pleasing of words, ‘yes’, more pleasing to the ear, if not to the mind’s eye than even ‘Rose’.
It was the oddest thing, as a teenager returning to the family home her father always noticed the subtle shift in people’s behaviour and relations with him. He became the possessor of not only a beautiful wife, house and job, but also a beautiful daughter. And she certainly was beautiful, the simple farmers who lived ignorant of their neighbour’s magical abilities could see that each time she returned home she was even more beautiful than when she had left: a speckled little bird that exceeded the beauty of any other one in the pen. Even the more travelled of men, the ones who had been to Leeds, or even heaven forbid, Glasgow, could not recall a girl, nay woman, who surpassed her.
Ron was proud of her, but when it came to her looks it was a fleeting kind of pride. His thoughts often ran to the garden, the flowers, the trees, the trees. His wife. His job. But the garden was something he thought of often. It had taken him a long time to accept the vibrant green strength of the land. He had never thought that he would be the type of person to garden, he used to sneer at his own father for the patch of dahlias he so lovingly maintained in a quiet corner of The Burrow. But a deep-set affection for the land had crept into his body, as it were, and settled there. Sometimes he would forget about it, but he had only to breathe in the air in spring, wet with promise and blooming with life, to feel it all over again.
Whenever Rose was home she thought of school, of her earnest and loyal friends, of the many twists and turns that made up Hogwarts life, of food and fun and magic. She loved being home, but often while there she would picture herself back at Hogwarts among the magic of youthful exuberance, something that even real magic cannot match.
Finley slid a brown paper bag across the table towards Rose, smiling shyly a little. Rose raised an eyebrow.
‘It’s my birthday.’ He said, by way of explanation. ‘I’m feeling generous.’
Rose laughed. ‘You’re not supposed to give gifts on your birthday.’
‘Don’t worry so much about not supposed to…’ Finley suggested, inclining his head towards the package. ‘Open it.’
Rose tipped the bag upside down and let the book fall into her outstretched hands. It was a thick book, simply and, in some quietly elegant way titled Garden people.Rose flicked through it, enjoying the pictures of people glamorous 1950s housewives blending into their topiaries with floral skirts, of a woman gardening in a floor length gown and pearls, of a little boy digging up a carrot. Of bushes and bushes of roses.
There is something about gardens that is so perfect, which is why it is so unbelievable that superimposed onto every garden is art. For is nature not the artist’s favourite subject? Though this seems fruitless considering that art is, by necessity, imperfect. Nature, and gardens, and roses, are perfect, casually so, perfection in a single knobbled branch, so to speak. To try to repeat and copy this into art will always be a doomed effort, although the power of art ultimately lies in our recognition of the attempt to recreate.
The artists gives us the intensely human understanding of nature, we see a thoroughly animalistic, concrete, tangible rose, and not the one that is so bizarre and enchanting in real life. We can touch a real rose, but we can never quite understand it. We can not touch a painting of a rose, but it is much easier to comprehend than the real thing. It’s something in the way an artist copies… Rose never quite knew how to phrase it.
Flicking through that garden book she realised that roses were always crying out for conversion into human terms. Many people only understand them in terms of their relation to the human, why a person would give a rose, why someone would receive it, what the roses meant to different people, how hard they were to grow and maintain. Wild roses are often the least liked among all the rose variations, purely and simply because they contained no human dimension. You could not explain them away based on a simple colour-meaning analysis like many garden roses.
Perhaps it was the same with this wild Rose.
‘Thankyou, Finley.’ Rose said, and meaning it. ‘This book is lovely.’
‘I thought you might like it,’ he said. ‘It reminds me of you, in some ways’
They sat there, Rose unable to show him any more images. The book sat between them, the unexpected gift subduing them both. It stood as a reminder that the contest was coming to an end.
Rose was running late to class, she had overslept and was trying to get to Astronomy when suddenly the stair cases changed and she was left on the opposite side of the 5th floor when she wanted the 7th. She slumped down against the wall, sighing deeply, and feeling exhausted. Work and school and this stupid, bloody quest were wearing her out completely. She kicked off her shoes, impractical little kitten heels that she thought were stylish, but she realised now actually just reinforced the image she was trying to avoid: vulnerability. They drew attention to her ankles, and they were tight around her toes. They now sat by her side as she rested her head against the sandstone, letting its cool wisdom calm her down.
Then she saw him.
‘You’ve been watching,’ she said, half angry. Without knowing why she gathered her shoes to her breast. ‘Well, haven’t you?’
‘Put them on again.’ He said, frowning at the shoes.
She didn’t want to. It would leave her exposed in front of him, bending down to fasten the straps, needed to steady herself against something. He would reach out, at least he would with his eyes. She wondered why he was there, and not in class.
He was nothing like any man she had met. He always seemed to find her at the oddest of times.
He must have been watching her. Following her.
‘Not necessarily,’ He said.
Rose started. ‘Are you alright?’ she asked, for he looked pale.
‘I’ve a suggestion.’ He said, ‘take the weight off your feet.’
Rose blinked, and without quite realising why she was doing it, slowly sat down on the window ledge, her feet not quite reaching the ground. Before she realised it he had sat down at her feet, and suddenly, even though she was higher than him, she felt defenceless and hopelessly exposed. She crossed her ankles, and looked away, knowing that he was looking at her.
‘Ah she’s sitting down. That’s good.’ Scorpius said, almost to himself.
Rose wondered when it would begin.
‘At least put your shoes down, or give them to me. In Lebanon, on the fringe of the desert there is a place called Valley-of-warlocks where, it is said, lived three men who practised miracles.’
‘Not just any kind of miracles, mind, these were special. One man could cure things like back pain and migraines, another, they said, could raise a dead person to life, and the third one, the most important, had given children many times to barren women. This man had the most visits out of the three.’
‘Deserts,’ he said, as if he had spent a lot of time wandering among them, ‘are places of such earthly cleanliness. They produce clarity in a person, you know.’
Rose wondered how far he had travelled. Suddenly she was aware of how little she had seen, how sheltered her life was. There never seemed much more than the Burrow to her, no life outside the white picket fences of her rambling home. If he had travelled to faraway places Rose believed she would like him more. The way he behaved, what he said and how he said it, it all interested her.
And yet she was uncertain. He was both near and far, distant even when his breath tickled the tips of her feet. He assumed that she would be interested in her stories, and so he told them without asking. Several times Rose glanced at him, hoping to catch him out, but he was looking away.
‘A woman made the long journey across the desert to visit the man, because more than anything else in this world she wanted a child. But she was poor, and had been unable to have one so far. She had walked barefoot the way to save leather. On her return, within a year, she had a son.’
‘But then as she made the long journey barefoot back to the man, carrying her baby for him to baptise, the child died. In the desert she became aware of his cold limbs.’
Rose was shocked. In the silence between them she was assaulted by the image of a single, shawled figure shuffling across the sandy floor, distraught and alone. She turned to him, stunned at the abruptness of this story, the complete hopelessness. He was leaning back with both elbows on the ground and knees raised, gazing up at the ceiling.
‘Where did you hear that?’
‘I don’t know. It’s a desert story, I’m sure there are many like it.’
‘Why tell it to me?’
‘Would you like another?’
Rose shook her head. ‘Why are you telling me these stories?’
Scorpius looked at her. ‘You’re late.’ He said, pointing his fingers upwards.
The bell rang.
A/N; another incredibly long wait... i'm a bad person! i hope you enjoy this chapter... i know it seems like nothing is happening, but actually finley is almost done with the quest, and rose and scorpius are still spending all this time together. whats going to happen? haha. thanks for reading!