You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


Masterpiece by redherring

Format: Novella
Chapters: 8
Word Count: 16,932
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: Drama, Romance
Characters: OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 04/06/2011
Last Chapter: 01/19/2012
Last Updated: 05/28/2012

Summary:
Stunning banner by amoretti. at TDA!



 Henri Delacour is just another struggling artist fresh from a messy breakup when he meets Apolline Lefèvre, rich, charming, and above all, beautiful, who wants her portrait done. He knows it will be the highlight of his career; he doesn't expect it to end in so much more...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
but the eyes only see what they're shown


Chapter 1: the artist
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A/N: Just a short note before you begin - hopefully this should be/should become clear, but Henri is Fleur Delacour's father. He's mentioned in DH but never named, only referred to as 'Monsieur Delacour', so I have taken the liberty of calling him Henri. Thanks for checking this out and I hope you enjoy! 





the artist
(the artist is the creator of beautiful things)


The words don’t flow like the paint does. He can’t make the quill glide across the parchment as the brush skates across the canvas. In his hand the two instruments are chalk and cheese, black and white, light and dark.

The quill won’t work for him, but that’s no reason to stop trying.

Visually, the work is magnificent. The curving script in the midnight ink is a pleasure to behold, and the illustrations that cover the sides are each a miniature masterpiece. A picture is worth a thousand words.

But if one reads on – and to do so would be ill-advised – there are no such wonders to behold, merely words sitting uncomfortably on the page, badly constructed sentences and awkward phrases. Whenever something goes wrong – which is often – he reverts to his old art form, taking a moment to scribble on a corner of the parchment and taking comfort in the one skill he does possess.

But the fact remains that the drawings are doodles of frustration, sketches of annoyance, spawned in anger and incompetence. They don’t belong on the page. They are an outlet for the emotions that words will not let him express. They are symbols of his failure.

Failure does not sit well with him. He is unaccustomed to it, unaccustomed to mediocrity, dissatisfied with anything other than perfection. Whenever he writes, the result is a mess. The result is failure, and he hates it.

Failure is not a result, in his mind. It is a bump in the road, an obstacle blocking his way. He has to move past it, that is all. When he has cleared this hurdle, success will be achievable.

When that time comes, he will achieve it, because anything less than perfection is no result at all.

“Henri?”

The voice comes to him from outside, from below – the man is standing in the street. It’s Robert, of course. It’s always Robert.

“Henri? For heaven’s sake, I know you’re up there.”

A distraction is the last thing he needs right now. Perhaps, if ignored, it will simply go away.

“Just let me in, will you?”

No. I’m busy. Go and bother somebody else.

“It’s bloody cold out here, you know.”

It’s winter, Robert. It’s snowing.

“Henri!”

He returns his focus to the page before him, taking a deep breath and willing inspiration to come to him, an idea to swoop in through the window and latch itself upon him. He stares at the quill in his hand for a moment as though hoping for its assistance.

“This isn’t funny, you know!”

It isn’t meant to be, Rob.

“I’ve got something to tell you!”

He glances again at the elegant quill; the nib poised in anticipation, the feather quivering expectantly. It would have done better to remain on the bird.

He sighs, stands up and heads for the window. He opens it, flakes of swirling snow settling in his hair, and calls down, “Is it something I want to hear?”

Squinting against the falling snow, Robert grins up at him. “Trust me, you definitely want to hear it.”

Henri closes the window and crosses the room to the flight of spiral stairs at the opposite end, hurries down them and, after fumbling in his pocket for the keys, lets an extremely cold Robert inside.

“Seriously, you need a decent doorbell. I’d been knocking for a good five minutes before I resorted to shouting. Got some funny looks for it, I can tell you.”

“I wonder why,” Henri replies with a smile. “You have an amazing pair of lungs on you, I must say. Double glazing, a snowstorm… your voice can penetrate them all.”

“Why thank you. I always like to impress.” Shivering a little, he pulls out his wand and dries himself from head to toe. Henri draws his own and courteously lights a fire in the empty grate.

“So, what have you got to tell me then?”

“Got anything to drink?” Robert asks instead, sitting down uninvited in the chair behind Henri’s desk and spinning around contentedly. “God, I love this! All chairs should spin. Muggles come up with the best ideas.”

“You hate Muggles,” Henri reminds him.

“I would hate to be a Muggle – not the same thing. And their stuff sometimes confuses me. But the idea of a chair that spins round is genius.”

“They’re very common in the Muggle world. I’ll get you one for Christmas, if you like. But what is it you want to tell me?”

“How about that drink first?”

“There’s nothing to drink but water from the tap. I don’t keep alcohol in the office. It would hardly be professional, would it?”

“Depends on the office.” Robert leans back in the chair. “That one’s good,” he says, surveying the room and the paintings that hang on every inch of wall.

“Thanks.” Henri watches him, wary, self-conscious, torn between wanting his opinion and being afraid of what he might say. If painting were just a hobby then perhaps he could take criticism – as his livelihood it is his everything. He remembers when he and Robert were boys and Robert would tease him (“Drawing’s for girls, Henri, what do you want to do that for?”) He isn’t much better about it now (“When are you going to get a proper job, little brother?”)

“Not sure about that one, though.” Robert cocks his head to the side. “No offence, but what’s it meant to be?”

Henri sighs. “A fountain. My first and last attempt at impressionism.”

“Don’t be so negative. I’m not saying I don’t like it, I’m just saying it’s hard to see what it is. It’s a really nice painting, actually.”

“Thanks, Rob.”

“That one’s a bit depressing, though.”  He’s looking towards Man Alone, Henri sees. Yes, he thinks, yes it is depressing. It’s a painting about loss.  

“Good,” Robert adds hurriedly, “but… yeah, a bit grim.”

“That was the first one in here that I did. In the post-breakup period.”

Robert nods, understanding now. “I thought there was a theme going on here. So, the really gloomy ones are when she first left you and you were really, really moody all the time…”

“I had a right to be, don’t you think? But yes, I suppose so.”

“… and the slightly random but more cheerful ones like the fountain are more recent…”

“Yes.”

“Good to know you’re feeling better, then. And as for that really scary one –”

“Which one?”

“The one with the banshee.”

“The banshee?”

“The screaming woman with her hair everywhere.”

“Ah yes, that one.” Henri regards the picture with his lip slightly curled, the mixed emotions of pride and distaste battling within him.

“How were you feeling then?”

“Like I wanted nothing more than to wake up and find Jacqueline’s decapitated head hanging on the wall in front of me,” he answers honestly, twisting a paintbrush in his long, pale fingers.

Robert looks as though he isn’t sure whether to laugh or consider this a serious cause for concern. “Fair enough,” he says eventually, and promptly changes the subject. “Well, soon you’ll be able to add something a bit more cheerful to your walls.”

“Pardon?”

“Not to mention someone slightly better looking than our banshee friend over there.”

“Explain, Robert.”

He grins. “I’ve got you a client,” he says. “If you want her. And trust me,” he continues, grinning still more broadly, “you do want her, Henri.”

“I always want clients,” is the reply, and with his first genuine smile of the day, Henri thanks him.

“Don’t mention it. What are brothers for?” Robert becomes sombre for a moment, an unusual sight. “Are you... managing, Henri?”

“I –” Henri is irritated by the question, embarrassed. “I’m very grateful that you’ve got me a client, and I – I appreciate it, Robert, I really do, but I don’t need charity, if that’s what you mean.”

Robert glances around at the pictures again. “Are they selling?”

“Yes. Sometimes. I sold one yesterday, as a matter of fact. I’ve got a couple of portraits on commission as well, a couple of vain Muggle girls.”

“Good. That’s good. Sorry.” Now Robert is the one embarrassed, awkward. “I wouldn’t want you to think I don’t support you in this. You’re an amazing painter, Henri. I know you’ll make this work. I just want to make sure you’re ok, in the meantime.”

“I am. Thank you.” He isn't, of course, but he isn’t going to admit this, not to Robert, not to anyone.

There is an excruciating pause. There’s a good reason brothers should not have heart-to-hearts.

“The client?” Henri says, when the silence becomes too painful.

“Oh yeah.” Robert’s face lights up again. “Seriously,” he says, lowering his voice and fixing Henri with the least serious expression he has ever seen, “you really owe me one.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just wait till she comes, then you’ll see what I mean.”

Henri frowns, with dawning comprehension and more than a little suspicion. “I’m not painting another one of your girlfriends, if that’s what you’re after,” he says firmly. “Not after last time.”

“Girlfriend?” A snort. “If only.”

“Then who is she?”

“Just a friend of a friend. I barely know her. But mark my word, she will make the most beautiful painting you have ever done. I can promise you that.”

Much as Henri wants to believe this, he can’t help but doubt it. Robert has no appreciation for beauty, not true beauty at any rate. Robert sees beauty in every shop and street corner; to him it is not a rare diamond but a common find.

Henri knows true beauty. He understands that there is more to it than an alluring female figure – it is the brilliance of art in all its forms, of literature and music and nature. Beauty is a poem that brings tears to the eyes, an exquisite bar of an unremarkable song; it is the crystal frost clinging to the gossamer strands of a spider web on a winter’s morning.

Henri knows that Robert does not understand this and never will, and it saddens him. But he voices none of it. It is too hard to put into words and, after all, for him the beauty of language is one still to be explored, the quill an instrument yet to be mastered.

So he says instead, “You’d better tell me her name, then,” and keeps his thoughts to himself.

“Apolline,” Robert says happily, unaware of the unspoken thoughts circling the room with their flapping wings. “Apolline Lefèvre.” Another grin. “Honestly, just wait till you see her. She is amazing.”





A/N: Thanks for reading! I've had this stored on my computer for a while now and have been unsure about posting it, but I saw a beauuutiful banner over at TDA which prompted me to put it up here. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it and I'd love a review if you've got time :)

Disclaimer: It's all JKR's, obviously. Well, most of it. Also, the chapter titles and summaries will all come from/be inspired by the preface of Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', for reasons which I am sure will become clear ;)
 


Chapter 2: the art
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A/N: It's probably worth mentioning at this point that I know abolsutley nothing about art. Zilch. Nada. My artistic ability is limited to drawing stick people and my knowledge about it to going "oh, well that's pretty..." when being dragged round art galleries. So everything in this chapter is probably wrong, but hey, it's fanfiction, it isn't meant to be taken too seriously :D Hope you enjoy!




the art
(all art is at once surface and symbol)


Even Henri is speechless when she first walks in.

The snow of the night before is still on the ground and she’s shivering despite the cloak around her, pale cheeks glowing from a bitter wind that should have made them burn red with cold. Electric lights illuminate the room but her hair seems to shimmer even without their help, gleaming and golden under the hood of her cloak. He catches a glimpse of high cheekbones, cerulean eyes and blushing lips before he realises he’s staring.

He thinks she’s wonderful.

He quickly tears his eyes away and returns his gaze to the newspaper in front of him – a sight much less appealing but far more appropriate. He pretends not to have seen her, and glancing up again sees that she is fussing about with her cloak, which has snagged in the doorframe, and so is unlikely to have noticed his momentary lapse. Only when a musical “Good morning” reaches his ears does he emerge from behind his paper-and-ink barrier, releasing himself from the comforting embrace of the written word to accept unconditionally whatever unknown adventures this remarkable creature will offer him.

He sets the paper down on the desk. “And to you,” he replies. He stands up politely, and she towers over him, slim and slight, statuesque.

He feels like a fool, but with his eyes now on her again he can’t quite bring himself to take them away. She is incredible, mesmerising. Tantalising. Perfection is standing in his office and he is acutely, painfully, aware of it.

“Henri Delacour?” she asks, pulling her cloak a little more tightly around her.

With someone else, he might have pointed out the sign on the street outside or the plaque on his desk. With her, he conjures his most charming smile and answers, “The very same.”

She smiles in return, looking a little more relaxed at his friendliness. It occurs to him that a smile does not enhance her beauty as it does with so many.

“Please take a seat,” he says, and she does. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“I’d like you to paint me,” she says, and grins. “Oddly enough.”

“It would be my pleasure.” He spins around a little to reach for his files, in the same manner that had so amused Robert the day before. It is then that it occurs to him.

He spins back around to face her. “You must be Apolline.”

“I am.”

“Robert told me about you.”

“And he told me about you. He said you were the best.”

He inclines his head. “Robert’s a good brother, always suitably complimentary.”

“I don’t see many portraits here, though,” she says, and pointedly glances around. He follows the path of her gaze to the frames on the walls. The idyllic and idealistic country scenes he is so fond of, the droplets of water cascading from a common source in his impressionist fountain, the woman drowning in the depths of Hell and Despair, whom Robert had rather aptly described as a banshee. She looks a little like Jacqueline, he supposes.

“Recently the majority of my customers have been Muggles,” he explains, “and they don’t seem so interested in portraits.”

“You paint for Muggles?”

“I prefer them, frankly, when it comes to business.”

She’s looking at him strangely, and he studies her as comprehension dawns. It all fits, she’ll be thinking, it all makes sense now – the unassuming office on the Muggle street, the blatantly Muggle decorations right down to the chair he’s sitting in, and the fact that not one of the pictures surrounding them is moving.

“I hope that hasn’t put you off,” he says, feigning concern. “I am more than capable of producing wizarding portraits, I assure you, and have a number of examples in storage if you would care to –”

“I would, if you don’t mind. But later. I’m willing to believe you. Well, actually I’m willing to believe Robert. He spoke very highly of you, and he seems to be a man of his word.”

Henri knows that Robert is, in general, anything but. He wonders if Robert’s connection to this woman is more than he had claimed. He says, “In that case, there are a few forms for you to sign, and appointments to be arranged, and the – ah – first payment to be made.”

“The first?” She accepts the sheets of parchment he hands her and picks up the quill on his desk.

“Half now, half when the picture is finished.”

She scans the document, signing once, twice, three times. When she reaches the end, she raises an eyebrow. “You’re expensive.”

“I’m good.”

“You’d better be much more than good if this is what I’m paying,” she says, and hands the forms back to him. He wonders why, if she doubts him so, she is so eager to press on with the proceedings.

They then both pull out their diaries and make two appointments for the current week and one per week for the rest of the month. He had hoped for more – he likes to take time over things and is a firm believer than perfection cannot be rushed – but she tells him she’s busy, very busy, and that is the end of that. He then gives her a portfolio of his past portraits to take away with her, instructing her to choose a preferred pose.

All business done, he politely shows her out, reapplying the charm he had forgone after her condescension about his Muggle clients and lack of appreciation for the art on his walls. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then, Miss Lefèvre,” he says, smiling and holding the door open for her. Despite everything, he can’t wait for it to come. He is itching to get brush to canvas and have the chance to attempt his greatest challenge to date.

She returns the smile, though it seems a little more forced. “I look forward to it,” she says, and he can’t help but hope she is telling the truth.


*


When she comes she is late, but he can forgive her for that. He is just glad she came at all. In those twenty minutes that she left him waiting he had assumed the worst: that she wasn’t coming, that she had changed her mind and gone to someone else, that some inferior artist would have the chance that is rightly his.

But she is here – she’s harassed and irritable but she’s here – and so he leads her upstairs to his studio, and asks what she wants the painting to be. She has a clear vision in her head – they always do – and even though he disagrees with almost all her choices, he will abide by them. She should be standing, not sitting, with a blank background instead of the window behind her, but he will do as she says and can only hope she is pleased with the result.

So she sits down and he does too, perched on the old wooden stool that was his father’s and twiddling a piece of charcoal between his fingers.

For the first time that he can remember, the instrument is awkward in his hand. The excitement of yesterday is over, the relief he felt mere moments ago vanished completely.

How can he possibly draw her?

This will be the end of him, he is sure of it. This will be a failure of epic proportions and he will be ruined. It can be nothing but a failure, for no matter how hard he tries or how long he slaves, the picture will never amount to anything.

She is impossible to paint; it is as simple as that. He can’t capture that beauty with a paintbrush, can’t possibly replicate that perfection onto canvas.

The picture, in short, cannot possibly outdo the real life masterpiece.

This he knows and it terrifies him, because what is art if not an illusion too perfect to capture in reality? If reality outshines the illusion, then what beauty is there in art?

But he must try. She is sitting and waiting and she has paid, and so try he does.


*


As with anything one puts effort into, a result eventually starts to come about, though whether this particular result is a cause for pride or despair Henri cannot quite decide. At times he thinks this is the best thing he has ever done, as by all rights it should be. At others he curses her for ever having come and himself for agreeing to take on such an impossible task, marvelling at her beauty and lamenting his lack of talent in concurrency.

But whether it is destined to be a success or a failure, slowly the picture takes shape, developing from a charcoal sketch to something resembling her watercolour reflection. He won’t allow her to see it, though. He lets no one see it, in fact, no one but himself, as though another set of eyes upon it would bleach the paint and shatter the canvas and destroy the masterpiece he is creating.

She has complained about this on more than one occasion – on a regular basis, in fact – but he will not be swayed. Nor will she ever give up, however. Among her many vices and virtues, persistence is certainly a prominent quality.

She can talk about nothing for hours, and does so regularly with enthusiasm and flair. She irritates him and he bores her; she has never said so but the drama and frequency with which she rolls her eyes speaks volumes. She fidgets constantly, which irritates him still more.

“I’m sorry, but you really must keep still,” he has told her more than once.

“I know, sorry,” she’ll say without remorse. “I’m trying.” Often she’ll sigh dramatically, flicking her golden hair and examining her fingernails with an expression of great offence.

“Could you put your hair back where it was? It was just right before.”

“Sorry. But can’t you at least talk to me or something?”

“I prefer to work in silence. Your hair, please?”

“Sorry. It is a bit boring, though. How do your other subjects manage?”

In truth he has few other clients now, though he doesn’t tell her this. His time now is spent almost exclusively on her, whether she is present or not. His days and nights alike are consumed by thoughts of her; visions of her now have a permanent place in his head. Is it right? he wonders constantly, perched on the stool in his studio, brush in one hand and paint palette in the other. Are her eyes quite like that? he’ll think, then redo them because he is convinced they aren’t.

When she arrives the next morning he’ll realise that neither was correct, that the first were the wrong shape and the second the wrong shade, and he will start again.

And even when he can tear himself from her image on the canvas she is still there in the back of his mind, in the space that is now reserved for her. He thinks of her often, replays in his thoughts the moment when true beauty first walked into his office, into his life. It still seems unreal to him sometimes, and it remains a moment of bittersweet ecstasy for him. She is so perfect and so flawed, and the flaws are agony to him. The surface is divine and her initial air of grace, charm and mystery is utterly enticing, but he has made the mistake of brushing the surface and trying to delve deeper, and he has paid for it dearly.

Does true beauty exist? she has forced him to wonder. When she first walked through his door she had seemed the embodiment of beauty, but to know her a little better is to know much more of her imperfection. She is a woman – no, little more than a girl in all honesty, a wittering, immature girl blessed with an impossible beauty that is marred by petty aspects of personality.

To err is human, he thinks. Is humanity itself an imperfection? Can humanity, in all its flawed wonder, ever produce something truly and utterly perfect?





Chapter 3: the aim
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A/N: By my (fairly terrible) standards, this is being updated amazingly fast! Here's chapter three, and I hope you enjoy :)





the aim
(to reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim)


“Another one?” she complains. “How long will this take, Delacour?”

She always addresses him by his last name and it grates with him every time, as though he is not worthy of being on first name terms with her. He never calls her anything, to her face at least, unsure of where he stands with her. With another it wouldn’t bother him, but always he is afraid of offending her, of scaring her away. He must finish this painting – she must let him finish it – and so he will humour her and flatter her and bend over backwards to make her happy.

Always, Apolline must be different.

But on this he cannot compromise. “It will take as long as it takes,” he tells her firmly. “And so yes, we need another session. I’m not charging you extra for it,” he points out. “And it’s only ninety minutes of your time a week.”

“You kept me two and a half hours last week.”

He struggles to understand why it is such a chore to her; all she is required to do it sit there and try not to fidget. He is the one tormented by doubts and fears for the outcome, not to mention her never ending questions and comments and ceaseless chit-chat.

He wishes he could say he relishes her company, but in truth the asininity of it is almost more than he can bear. They could talk of music, literature, art, theatre, politics – they have an entire fascinating world at their disposal and a beautiful language with which to express and explore it. Yet she can speak of nothing but the clothes in shop windows (though not fashion, which he can accept as a form of art), the parties she has been to (though not society, which he can see as a debatable subject), the activities that amuse her (though not the developments of culture or science or anything worth listening to) and the intricacies of her own life, which is not nearly as interesting as she seems to find it.

But always he apologises for keeping her too long, apologises for anything she wishes him to, for any perceived slight or injustice, and so, appeased, she will bend to his will in return. She moans and she scorns and she threatens to abandon the project, but he knows it is mere talk. He knows that, for some reason he can’t quite define, she wants the painting finished just as much as he does.


*


He has little time for writing now, and he finds he does not miss it as he hoped he would. He wants writing to be his calling, his passion, his one true art form, and cannot yet accept that it will ever be anything but.

In a rare moment away from Apolline – from both chattering girl and her ever-serene ink and water counterpart – he decides on a whim to take up the quill again. After writing a short letter to Robert, whom he has been neglecting these past few weeks, he battles with himself to produce a short piece of prose – a side long, no more. He reads it once upon completion and then stores it away in his desk drawer to become forgotten and dusty and to be rediscovered in a few months time.

His timing is excellent: just at that moment there is a ring from his recently fixed doorbell. He stands, crosses the room and hurriedly descends the stairs. Impatient, the visitor rings again.

“All right, all right, I’m coming,” he mutters. “Patience, Robert.”

He opens the door only to have a bulky parcel thrust into his arms.

“Our present to Mum,” Robert informs him, stepping neatly past Henri as he struggles with the massive offering.

Their mother’s birthday. He had completely forgotten.

“Oh, of course. Sorry. How much was it? I’ve got some cash upstairs, I’ll reimburse you now.”

“Nah, it’s all right. Just pay me whenever.”

Henri sets the present down on the floor. “Did you carry that all the way here? It weighs a ton. And what is it, anyway?”

“A ridiculously ornate owl cage. I felt like a right twit buying it.” Robert shrugs. “But it’s what she wants. And yes, I did carry it, and I walked all the way from my place as well. Of course, I wouldn’t have had to if someone was a decent brother and let me floo here like a normal person.”

“Rob, you know how many Muggles clients I have. I couldn’t risk it.”

“I know, I know, I’m just joking.”

“Not renewed your Apparition license yet?”

“Nope. I’ll get round to it eventually.”

“I’m sorry you had to carry that all the way here, though. And thank you for buying it, as well.” And for knowing he would forget, too. Henri often forgets things: birthdays, anniversaries, dinner dates, you name it. He always writes things down – or at least, he always means to – but then, as is the way with these things, the note always seems to misplace itself.

“My pleasure, and it’s not that far. Or that heavy, either.”

“Seemed heavy enough to me. Then again, I haven’t picked up anything much heavier than a paintbrush in quite a while.”

Robert employs that grin of his. “A bit absorbed with Apolline, are we?”

Henri returns the grin, though his is less natural, less familiar. “Maybe.”

“Explains why you’ve been ignoring me.”

“I haven’t been doing anything of the kind,” he protests, though he has. “I’ve written you a letter just this minute.”

“It’s fine, I understand. I’m hardly much competition for Apolline, am I?” His grin broadens. “So? Am I the best or what?”

“You are,” Henri admits. “She’s…”

“Indescribable?”

“Pretty much.”

“How’s the picture?”

He hesitates. “Difficult. She’s a terrible sitter – no patience whatsoever. And –”

“And?”

“And… she doesn’t seem to like me much.” He can’t quite bring himself to tell Robert the other reason she is so difficult, can’t voice the very real possibility of his failure. “But apart from that everything is going fine,” he says blandly.

“Can I see it?” Robert asks, starting to walk towards the stairs and the studio that lies at the top of them.

“No!”

The word is shouted involuntarily, snapped without intention to offend. Robert does look offended, not to mention alarmed, but stops at once.

“Sorry,” Henri retracts, embarrassed. “Slight overreaction. It’s just that I don’t want anyone to see it. I’m rather… protective of it.”

Still looking rather alarmed, Robert moves away from the staircase slowly, almost cautiously, and sits himself down on Henri’s desk. Henri leans back against the wall, wondering why he acts this way even in front of his own brother.

“Thank you for getting her for me,” he says to break the silence, and because he isn’t sure he has ever said it before, at least not properly, not when he actually meant it. “I’m very grateful, really.”

“No problem. She’s taking up a lot of your time, I suppose.”

“Yes, quite a lot. She’s… challenging, to say the least.”

“Good. You need something like this. After Jacqueline left, you kind of…”

He trails away. He’s said too much, as always, though for once he realises it.

Henri stares at him. Apolline has been taking up his time, it is true, but he has been so caught up in her and in the painting that he has hardly had a thought to spare for Jacqueline over the last few weeks. Nor, more importantly, has he had any time for his brother, despite the fact that he owes it all to Robert. And not once had it occurred to him that Robert might have had an ulterior motive – he is hardly the clandestine sort, or, for that matter, the sort to appreciate the pain of a broken heart. But here, on both counts, Henri has been proven wrong.

“Well, you’ve certainly succeeded,” he says, attempting to dissolve the awkward moment.

“What?”

“If you wanted Apolline’s painting to be a distraction, it certainly is. She’s – she’s so – hard,” he forces out. “Sometimes I’m scared I won’t finish it, just – just because it can’t be good enough – because I can’t paint her –”

He stops himself before he goes too far. Robert doesn’t want to hear this, and nor does he want him to hear it.

“Of course she’s hard,” Robert says simply. “She would hardly be much of a challenge – or a distraction – if she wasn’t. But you do like her, don’t you? I mean, she’s better looking than anyone you’ve ever met or will ever meet.”

“That’s a heck of an understatement. But that’s what makes her so – so impossible.”

“Nothing’s impossible.”

She is.”

Robert pauses. “I know I don’t know anything about art, but – now don’t laugh – but does her appearance matter that much?”

“Well, yes…”

“No, don’t give me that. What I mean is… Well, didn’t Aristotle say something like ‘Art’s aim is not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance’?”

“I didn’t know he’d said anything of the sort,” Henri admits.

“Philistine.”

“Pardon me for my lack of interest in the Romans.”

“He was Greek, actually.”

Henri gives a perfunctory nod of acceptance but does not reply. They are so different, sometimes, he and Robert.

“So you could just make the painting whatever you want, couldn’t you?” Robert ventures. “The painting is about you more than about her, about what you perceive, about what you see in her...”

The problem with Robert is that he is extremely intelligent, so intelligent that he can afford to appear otherwise when it suits him, something Henri has often envied. This often leads him to assuming an expert’s opinion on every matter, however, and he can never quite see when he is wrong. He is wrong here, undoubtedly he is. Henri nods again but says nothing.

“Anyway” – Robert sighs and stands up – “I’d better be off. You are coming to Mum’s birthday dinner next Sunday, right?”

“Of course.” I am now you’ve reminded me.

“Well, I’ll see you on Sunday then. Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.” He walks with him to the door. “It was nice to see you, Rob. And sorry for moaning at you. We always seem to end up talking about me and my life.”

“That’s because your life is much more complicated than mine.”

It isn’t really; Henri knows this but won’t admit it. He just likes to begrudge his lot much more than Robert does.


*


“Are you married?”

“No. I’m a bit young for that just yet.”

“Got a girlfriend?”

“Not anymore.”

“Are you gay?”

“No.” He doesn’t have the energy to take offence. “You’re getting a bit personal here, aren’t you?”

Apolline shrugs. “I’d just like to know more about you.”

He considers asking why, but knows he will find out regardless.

“I’ve been asking around,” she explains, as predicted, “and it actually turns out that a lot of people know you. We’ve got quite a few mutual acquaintances.”

He nods vaguely, concentrating on the palette. No paint in the world could ever capture the glorious shine of her hair, no matter how many different shades he mixes.

“So I can’t work out why I’ve never met you before,” she continues. “I should have seen you at a party or a dinner or a school reunion or something.”

And yet they have remained unacquainted until now. He wonders if they had ever crossed paths at Beauxbatons. Surely he would have remembered her? Surely, having glanced at her even once, a man would not be capable of letting her slip from his thoughts, capable of nothing but allowing her image to remain imprinted forever on his mind?

“Paris’s wizarding community isn’t that big, and I go out rather a lot, so surely I would have seen you somewhere,” she says. “It only makes sense.”

Little that she says makes sense to him, if he is honest. She speaks with such confidence that at times it is hard to doubt her, voices her opinions with such assertion that one could easily mistake them for fact, but in his mind they will remain forever the ill-advised boastings of a girl who knows too little.

“So,” she says, slightly louder now, apparently having realised her audience is not as gripped as he should be, “I came to the conclusion that you must hardly ever go out. That you’re some sort of hermit.”

He looks up at her fleetingly and sees that she is smirking. She spends a lot of her time smirking at him, he has noticed.

He attempts a joke to show he isn’t taking her bait. “I prefer to hide behind my paintings,” he says. “I find life safer that way.”

She does chuckle, though he can’t quite be sure whether she is laughing with him or at him.

He lets her go early. He isn’t getting anywhere with the painting and there is no use in wasting his time. Hers, on the other hand, would probably be better spent here, for at least under his supervision she is occupied in something truly worthwhile instead of squandering the precious seconds of her life in the trite activities she seems to enjoy.

Once she has left in a flurry of farewells and swinging shopping bags, he sits staring at the canvas and her serene image, so different from her real life counterpart. What if he were to follow Aristotle’s wise words? he wonders. If he were to focus on only her inner significance, what would his masterpiece be like then?




The aim of Art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance; for this, not the external manner and detail, constitutes true reality -- Aristotle



Chapter 4: the desire
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the desire
(no artist desires to prove anything)


“Do you like painting me?” Apolline asks.

Henri tells her that he does, that she’s brilliant, because it is the short answer and one that he thinks might shut her up. He hopes it doesn’t come across as too sarcastic.

“And do you like me?” she asks.

“Yes,” he tells her. “Keep your hands still, will you?”

“Sorry.”

She has been fidgeting all morning, and he supposes she is sick of being stuck up here with him, eager instead to be outside. It is one of those rare days of winter sunshine, cold but bright. It lifted his spirits simply to see it when he drew the curtains that morning after a night of sleepless frustration. He feels optimistic today, confident that progress will be achieved. The picture will be done soon; it is nearly there, nearly finished, just not quite perfect.

“Do you think I’m attractive?” she asks now, her words unusually stilted.

“I think you’re beautiful,” he answers impatiently, because he does and because she is. His optimism is waning slightly now; he hopes she will not kill it completely. Despite his uncharacteristic cheer she has been nowhere near as merry, as though only one of them at a time can hold any positivity, and it bothers him even more than the unnecessary exuberance does. He would almost welcome the chattiness that so irks him; he finds it unnerving to see her so unusually subdued.

He is more unnerved still when she speaks again.

“If I told you to kiss me,” she says, “would you?”

He hates it when she is like this. She asks questions others would deem inappropriate, make remarks no one else would dare to, takes liberties she should not. She is so accustomed to getting her own way that she sees no fault in it.

“I don’t believe you’re paying me for that,” he quips.

She presses on. “What about if I asked you to?”

“Are you all right?” he asks awkwardly. “You seem a little…er… Are you all right?”

“Yes,” she snaps, and then bursts into tears.

Henri almost drops the paintbrush in his panic. He isn’t very good with women, least of all ones who are crying their eyes out. After a moment of standing and staring as she continues to weep and wail, he conjures up a handkerchief with his wand and, reluctantly crossing the room to where she sits, gives it to her.

“I’m fine,” she says. “Honestly, just keep painting. I’ll be all right in a minute.”

He goes back and sits on his stool, glad to put the space between them. He can hardly continue to paint when she is in such a state, however, and so simply sits there staring at her, which is more awkward still.

Eventually he asks, “Would you like to talk about it?” and hopes desperately that she will not.

“It’s André,” she says, sniffling and gulping harder than ever. “After three months he just – he went and dumped me just like that – and now I – I just can’t believe it, I mean –” She looks up at him with wet eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “Who dumps someone this close to Christmas?”

If he is completely honest, he has little sympathy for her. She sounds like an overemotional teenager, and he is sure that soon she will be over this André and on top of someone else. Among her many dull subject choices she has often spoken to him about this most recent boyfriend, and from what Henri has heard, she will probably be better off without him.

“Oh,” he says. “I’m sorry. Would you like a drink?”

She looks up at that, removing the handkerchief from her face. “What?”

“Coffee, tea, fruit juice, water, wine…” His mother always offers people refreshments when they’re upset. It seems to work for her.

“All right,” she says shakily, hiccupping and looking bemused. “I’ll have some wine.”

He jumps off the stool and hurries out of the studio and takes the first door to his left, into the smaller cluster of rooms that are his home, not his office. He rarely drinks at home, saving such pleasures for social occasions, and can only forage a single bottle of wine. He hopes she won’t mind red. You’re a rubbish Frenchman, you know, his old Hogwarts pen-pal had said to him once.

He pours her half a glass, thinking it best not to give her any more than that, and returns to the studio where she is still sitting and crying.

“Thank you,” she says and gulps it down. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to –”

“It’s all right,” he says, even though it isn’t and he has rarely been more uncomfortable in his life.

This feeling intensifies significantly when she grabs him by the front of his robes, pulls him to her and kisses him.

“What?” he splutters, leaping away from her, stumbling backwards. “What – what the hell are you –?”

She has spilled the wine all down his front, and then proceeds to taint his newly polished floor when she drops the glass, reaching for her bag. ”I’m sorry,” he expects her to say, but she just chirps “Same time tomorrow, then,” and runs off without another word.


*


It was a good kiss, he thinks. A very good kiss. She is a very good kisser. He hasn’t kissed anyone in a while, no one since Jacqueline, and that was five months ago now.

He thinks of her less and less these days, he realises. That should be a good thing, but instead he feels strangely guilty. It is as though he has replaced her with Apolline – it is now she who consumes his time and his thoughts, albeit for a different reason.

Does Jacqueline ever think about him, he wonders? Probably not. He feels embarrassed as he looks around the house more closely, realising how hard he fought to keep her with him though she was long gone. Some of her letters are still in his drawer; he reads them then throws them on the fire. Still stacked on the kitchen table are sketches of her face, some of her figure, one of her silhouette. He made her nose too small in that one, he sees, looking now with objective eyes. Downstairs in his gallery he observes the pictures she inspired in him once he was on his own again, the clashing blacks and reds of anger, the innocent fields of confusion, the banshee-like creature drowning in the depths of Hell and Despair.

He sells the banshee that afternoon. A man comes in, a Muggle, and takes a fancy to it. Perhaps it reminds him of someone. Henri pours him wine and discusses the weather and sells it for more than he had hoped. He is glad to see the back of it.

He thinks of the conversation with Robert that seems so long ago but was only the previous week, when Robert confessed that he had found Apolline for the sole purpose of her being a distraction. A distraction she certainly is, perhaps too much of one. He can think of little else. In that sense she is Jacqueline all over again, though she evokes different thoughts and feelings, stirs different desires.

He scours the house again for reminders of Jacqueline. Once certain that only the sketches remain, he throws those too on the fire and watches them burn. They weren’t much good anyway.

There, he thinks. I’ve finally proved I’m over you, Jacquie. What would you say to that?


*


When Apolline returns later that day, she apologises at last. She tells him that she’s mortified about what happened, that she didn’t mean to do it, that she doesn’t know what she was thinking. She assures him that it meant absolutely nothing and she hopes they can forget all about it. He agrees, though still feels awkward, and sits down to paint.

She is more willing to talk to him now – to him rather than at him, in a real conversation rather than simply throwing her words at a grudging and unreceptive audience. He appreciates the gesture, no matter how much his inner cynic snipes that she is just feeling guilty and she’ll be back to normal soon enough. After a while she even tries to talk to him about art, though it is clear she knows nothing about it.

“So do you paint full time?” she asks.

“Yes. When I first left school it was still just a hobby, and then gradually I managed to sell a few pieces and it all took off from there. Before that I was working three jobs just to pay the rent.” He decides not to disclose the part where, if he hadn't been left this house mortgage-free after his uncle died, he would still be working them now.

She is nodding vaguely, perhaps regretting the attempt to talk about his life rather than her own. “Right. And why do you paint so much for Muggles?” She glances around at the unmoving pictures on his walls that are such an alien concept for her.

“I like Muggles. They pay better.”

She laughs. “You’re so boring and mercenary. I thought that the first time I saw you. You expect artists to be more eccentric, flamboyant, more of a free spirit. Definitely not the kind of person who wears a three-piece suit to work.”

“Usually I wear robes. This is only because I have a Muggle client after you.”

“That’s not what I mean. You look like you work in a bank.”

“I apologise if my attire offends you,” he says a little crisply, his familiar irritation with her returning. “Perhaps a poncho would be more appropriate? Flares and a headband, hair down to my waist?”

That eyebrow of hers leaps skyward. One of these days it might just hit the ceiling. “It’s obvious you’re more used to dealing with Muggles,” she says. “Most respectable wizards nowadays wouldn’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

They fall into a frosty silence, which in all honesty he prefers. But deep down he knows it is his fault, he knows she is trying, and despite himself he feels a twinge of guilt.

“Wizarding portraits are harder to do,” he tries eventually, and her glazed-over eyes jerk back into focus. “People expect more from them. To be asked to paint someone when you know that one day that picture will be used as a way of communicating with them long after their death… that’s a lot of pressure.”

He thinks of the portrait of his father that hangs in his mother’s house. He painted it when he was eighteen, in the spring before he left school. His father had died in the summer.

“Yes,” she says. “I suppose so.”

“Muggles are different when it comes to art. They don’t see it that way. They rarely commission a painting; they usually just come in and look around the gallery to see what there is to buy. Most of them don’t even know much about art and so they just appreciate it for what it is – symbol, surface, nothing more. True art has no meaning; it exists simply for pleasure, to be pleasing to the eye.”

“That’s a very cynical way to look at it.”

“It’s what I believe.”

“Why?”

“Because…” He is suddenly embarrassed. He knows she isn’t going to understand what he means. But her blue eyes urge him on. “Because an ugly painting or drawing or sculpture is interesting – interesting but not beautiful. I – I believe art and beauty are one and the same.”

He glances up and sees she is sniggering. An eye for an eye, he supposes. He ruined her attempt at civil conversation, now she will spoil his.

“Let’s call it a day,” he says.






A/N: Ok, I'm slightly nervous about this chapter. Was it too much, too OTT? Remember, it is Apolline, and I did want to try and convey that she can be a bit of a brat/diva, and also her Veela temper. Any thoughts on that would be great though, if you'd like to share :) Thanks so much for reading!


Chapter 5: the fault
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the fault
(those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming)
(this is a fault)



He regrets that one day she will move. For now she sits there still and silent, her lips curved in a natural smile on her flawless face and her cerulean eyes staring at something far away, and he thinks she is perfect.

He will not change her. The spells are not hard to perform, not after all these years, but he will not cast them. Apolline will be furious, and she is the best client he has ever had and will ever get in his lifetime, but he will not give her what she wants.

He will not let his serene Apolline become her real life counterpart, chatting and shrieking and giggling at nothing. He will keep her silent, and she will be perfection.

“Is it hard to do?” real-life Apolline asks, as though reading his spinning thoughts.

“Pardon?”

“To make the picture… you know… move. To make it wizarding.”

Is that another jibe, he wonders? There are new Muggle paintings hanging downstairs in his gallery to replace the ones he sold. She commented as soon as she walked through the door. She seemed to like them, at the time. He was surprised she even noticed.

“No. Well, not anymore,” he says. “The spells are tricky to master, at first. Very easy to get wrong. And very awkward if you do get them wrong, as well.”

“What d’you mean?” She is playing with a strand of her shimmering hair, twisting it around her finger, staring at him intently.

“All sorts can happen. You might make a painting move but not speak, or vice versa. They might not be able to hear or see. They might be able to move their head but not their hands. That kind of thing.”

She looks amused, though he doesn’t find it funny. Perhaps she doesn’t see them as people in the way that he does. When something talks back to you it possesses a life of its own, and he is the one who bestows that life upon it. He is granted the power of creation, however limited, and it can be a heavy burden to bear.

“But they’re practically second nature to me now,” he says. “So there won’t be any mistakes with this, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I don’t know if I want you to animate it,” Apolline says softly. “I’ve never had a portrait done before. I’m not sure I like the idea of talking to a painting of myself.”

“That isn’t how it works. She’ll move – smile, blink, sleep, snore, and so on – but she won’t talk. She’ll only really come to life after you…”

“After I what?”

“After you die,” he says uncomfortably. He has told people this a hundred times before, but to imagine her death is to envisage something worse than that: it is the loss of something truly wonderful, something of true worth and beauty, something the world will be a little darker without.

“Oh,” she says, and a pressing silence follows.

At the end of the session, he makes her a promise, one he hopes he will be able to keep.

“It will be finished soon,” he tells her as she prepares to leave.

She laughs, but it is a nice laugh. She is much nicer to him now, he thinks, but the change is too sudden, too suspicious, for him to feel entirely at ease.

“You’ve been saying that since we started,” she says.

“I mean it now. Soon, I promise.”

“I believe you,” she says, and pecks him on the cheek before he can stop her, hurrying away into the street before he can speak a word.


*


Never mind her money or her custom, the painting is not hers. It can never belong to her because he has poured too much of himself into it, he sees that now. It is a creation of his time and effort, his skill and soul and obsession, and it is bound to him.

He will not let her take it.

He wonders what he will say to her. For good measure he decides to write it down, quickly drafting a short speech on a scrap of parchment. After reading it through he scrunches it up and throws it on the fire. He will have to try to be spontaneous; he will just have to explain to her honestly why she cannot have it. He will be remorseful. He will return her money. She will understand, and they will part on good terms.

If only. Even Henri cannot quite delude himself this time.

He puts the quill away into a drawer, and finds a sheet of parchment lying on the bed of it, thin and flat. A short piece of prose, only a side long. He remembers writing it and knows he should not read it; it will do nothing to improve his mood. But he can’t resist.

As he reads he remembers how Apolline had been on the day he had written it, how dull, how irritating, how frustrating she had been.

The painting is not hers, and nor is it her. The painting, though hideous imperfection, is more perfect than she will ever be. In no way does it reflect her; it encompasses all that he wants her to be.

He shoves the scroll back into the drawer, and suddenly wonders if he would ever be able to write about her. Would that medium reveal her true beauty any better than his painting will?

He almost laughs. In all the time he has spent thinking about her, of all the Apolline-inspired thoughts that have floated through his jumbled mind, for every original thought he has created he has enjoyed a hundred clichés.

She, for all her faults, is anything but a cliché.


*


It takes him until the next morning to realise how foolish he is being. This is business, nothing more. This is a commission just like any other, and he must feel no more than that. He almost laughs at his audacity. He can hardly believe he considered such a thing.

This is the last session, it must be. It has been months and the painting should have been long since completed, but still she arrives at his door weekly, still he sits on the old stool daily to agonise over the masterpiece that will never be ready.

Now she is here, it is all suddenly so much worse. He glances between her and the picture and sees difference after difference, flaw after flaw.

“So how are you today?” she asks.

He grinds his teeth, foot tapping on the floor in frustration. “I’m fine.”

“The weather’s nice, isn’t it?” she remarks, unable to accept, as always, the possibility of silence.

He chews on the end of the paintbrush, glancing continuously between the pair of them, staring, comparing, despairing. “Yes.”

She purses her lips at his lack of receptiveness. She tries again. “I was out shopping earlier –”

“I can’t do this!” he shouts, throwing down the brush.

Startled, she demands, “Can’t do –?”

“I can’t paint you. You’re too – too difficult.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sorry. I will return your deposit, of course.”

“You said it was nearly finished – you promised me –”

“It will never be finished, can’t you see that?” He is shouting again now. “I’m sorry. Really. But I think you should leave.”

To say she is astounded would be an understatement. But she makes no further attempt to protest, of which he is glad, and after another moment or two of sitting in stunned silence she gets up and leaves.







A/N: Ohhh the drama! I know it was a rather short chapter, but I tried to pad it out a couple of times and it just felt unnecessary and artificial. Was it too short, too rushed?

Plus, I'm pretty sure JKR never tells us specifically how portraits work (correct me if I'm wrong) so the whole "she won't come alive until after you die" thing is just the way I see it. Either way, I hope you enjoyed it! :)
 


Chapter 6: the critics
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: I really rather like this chapter, and so I'm especially worried about how it's going to come across. I think you'll either love it, or you'll just go "oh merlin, what was she thinking?!" I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best. Hope you enjoy :)




the critics
(when critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself)


Henri continues with the painting. How could he not? Sometimes he feels as though he lives for nothing else. She has gone but it has always been his everything.

He had once read of a theory that the artist’s intentions in their work are utterly irrelevant, because people will see in it only what they want to see, and so a person’s perception of the art is far more important than the art itself. But he wants this picture to be an expression of beauty and nothing more; he wants it to be beyond the interpretation and criticism that engulfs lesser works. For this will be a true masterpiece, of that he is determined. He remembers what he said to her once: True art has no meaning; it exists simply for pleasure, to be pleasing to the eye. She scorned him but that is what he believes, what he truly believes.

After four days of hermit-like solitude, Robert pays him a visit.

“Is it true?” he asks, eyes bright with interest, a teasing grin on his face. “About you and Apolline?”

Henri is taken aback by this. “She’s no longer a client, if that’s what you mean. And how on earth did you know?”

“I think the whole of Paris knows, Henri.”

What?”

“You’ve become something of a legend. Personally I think it was bloody daft of you, but I can’t really judge. Oh, don’t look so surprised – you can’t have a blazing row with Apolline Lefèvre and not expect people to hear about it. She’s related to the Minister, for God’s sake.”

“She is? And it wasn’t a blazing row, as such...”

“Of course she is. Honestly, you really do live under a rock, don’t you, in this little studio of yours. Which, I’ll bet, you haven’t left in weeks.”

“Not weeks –”

“Well certainly days. You missed Mum’s birthday.”

Oh Lord. “It was yesterday, wasn’t it?”

“It was. I made up an excuse for you when it was obvious you weren’t coming.”

“Sorry. I – I’ve been a bit of a mess.”

“Clearly. I see you’ve given in to your hermit tendencies, locking yourself away in that studio and forgetting to shave and shower.”

“I’ll go and see her this evening. I can’t believe I forgot...”

“I can. But you aren’t going to see her this evening – we’re going out.”

“We are?”

“A certain Jacqueline is having a Christmas party. She told me to invite you specifically.”

“Jacqueline? As in, my Jacqueline?”

“Yes. I suppose she’ll want you back now that you’re all interesting.”

“Or she wants to show off what a good job she’s done of moving on with her life.”

“She hasn’t, actually. That guy she left you for, Claude? They only lasted a month.”

Henri is very pleased to hear this. Claude Morel had bought a painting from him and stolen his girlfriend’s heart all in one day. “Really?”

“Yup. So, are you coming? I refuse to let you become a recluse.”

“Yes,” he says. “Yes, I think I might.”

*

Jaqueline’s parents are very rich, and though Henri doubts she personally has ever done a hard day’s work in her life, she has always had plenty of gold to throw around. And she certainly likes to show it, he thinks, as Robert rings the bell of the enormous Parisian townhouse.

“Seriously, why did you let this one go?” Robert asks him, whistling as he steps back from the door to admire the house in all its glory. “Sure, she was a cow and a psychopath, but a lot can be forgiven for a place like this.”

“Feel free to have a shot at her,” Henri says. He is in a determinedly good mood tonight. “See how long you manage, mansion or no mansion.”

A butler of all people answers the door.

“Delacour and Delacour,” Robert says. “We’re on the list.”

“Of course, sirs. Shall I take your cloaks?”

They exchange their heavy winter garments for a flute of champagne a passing waitress offers them. “Did she ever bring you here?” Robert asks as they walk the length of a corridor, all oak floorboards and portraits in gilded frames. Henri wants to stop and critique each one, but knows it is hardly the time.

“No,” he says. “She’s got an apartment closer to the centre. I think this might be her parents’ place.”

“You’re certainly rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous these days, aren’t you? Between good old Jacquie and a certain Miss Lefèvre...”

“Do we have to talk about Apolline, really?”

“Yes, I think we do.”

“What on earth for?”

“Because she’s currently staring daggers at you from across the room.”

Henri almost drops his glass. There she is, looking exquisite in dress robes of deep purple with at least five wizards fawning over her, apparently arguing over who should get her a drink. Apolline. “Oh my God.”

“I think you need more than God on your side,” Robert mutters. “Jacqueline at eleven o’clock.”

Henri swivels his head around just in time to see his ex-girlfriend, also looking stunning in a daring gold number, call “Henri, darling!” and glide across the room towards him.

“Jacqueline!” He tries to sound equally enthusiastic. “How very... nice... to see you.”

“Isn’t it? Oh, really, it’s been far too long! And all after that silly little misunderstanding –”

“In which you left me for another man.”

“It meant nothing, I assure you. But, Henri, I’ve been hearing some absolutely delicious rumours about you and that Lefèvre girl...”

And Henri has no choice but to allow himself to be dragged away, to relate the story of his dealings with Apolline countless times to countless friends of Jacqueline’s. They don’t like her, he soon discovers. He can see that they will turn his innocent truths into horrid rumours about her, and he feels he is betraying her even to be talking to them.

“I’m sorry,” he protests after a good hour of this. “I really must be going. I... need to find my brother.”

He fights his way through the crowd that has formed, intending to find Robert and apologise to him, and then leave. As he hurries away he hears someone say, “He’s an absolute treasure, Jacquie dear.” He quickens his pace and lengthens his stride and hopes that no one else will corner him.

“Nice girlfriend you’ve got there.”

He spins around to see Apolline staring at him, glass in hand.

“She’s even more posh than you are,” she says. “From that accent you’d think she was royalty.”

“What do you want?” He doesn’t mean to be rude, only defensive.

“A word, that’s all.”

“Really, I – I have to find –”

“If you’re talking about Robert, he left five minutes ago with Jeanne Dubois. I really don’t think he’ll mind.” She takes his arm and, for the second time that evening, Henri finds himself being dragged away by a woman on a mission.

She takes him to a balcony – the house is large enough to warrant several of them – and closes the sliding doors behind them. He looks out into the night; it has been growing slowly darker for hours and now has reached that deep, impenetrable blackness of winter, the sheer canvas broken only by a smattering of pinprick stars.

“Yes, yes, it’s a very pretty night,” he hears her say irritably, and does her the courtesy of turning around.

She wastes no time. “I want my picture, Delacour,” she tells him fiercely. “I paid you to do something and I expect you to carry it through.”

“I returned your deposit.”

“I don’t want the money, I want the painting!”

“Well you can’t have it, I’m afraid.”

Her eyes narrow. “I could sue you, you know. For breach of contract.”

“If you had read the contract properly instead of just skimming through then you would know that I did nothing of the kind. I put an escape clause in there, just to be safe.”

“Typical you, always covering your back, just making sure you’re safe.”

“I don’t know what you’re implying, but –”

“Well then, why don’t I enlighten you? I know why you won’t give me the painting. You’re scared it isn’t good enough, you’re scared of failure.”

“That’s not –”

“And you’re scared of me, too. You find me intimidating. You think I’d be too much to handle.”

That last point is certainly true. “You’re wasting your time,” he says. “I am not going to give you the painting, no matter how much you attempt to insult me, and that’s all there is to it.”

There is a pause, a long one that dances between them as they stare and glare at each other across the balcony. He doesn’t know what to say but he doesn’t want to leave, and so he looks out into the night again. He has an urge for brush and canvas, a desire to capture this scene forever.

She steps up behind him, but he does not turn. She is so close he can smell the alcohol on her breath, make out just a hint of delicate perfume.

“Is that all it has ever been about?” she asks quietly. “That stupid painting?”

“That’s why you came, and why you left.”

“Come on, Henri. We can forget all this. I know there’s more. I want this.”

“I don’t.”

“I won’t believe that.” There is a laugh in her voice now, a self-conscious smirk. “And I won’t believe you don’t want me.”

That arrogance again, so infuriating.

He tries to say I’m not interested, only he is. He tries to tell her to leave, he tries to walk away himself, but it is so much easier, so much more right, to take her drink from her and kiss her with all the desire he has ever felt.

He should run while he can because she isn’t right and neither is he, she is too much to handle and he is not the man to attempt it, but he won’t and can’t because this is what he wants.

He has missed her.

In these four days, no longer, that they have been parted, he has yearned for her in a way he would never have thought possible. He has sat alone in the silence and wished for her wittering voice, her views and her comments that make no sense, her insults that grew into teases. He has wished for her to fidget as he struggled to paint, to storm out when things aren’t going her way, to kiss him just because she wants to. He has missed her.

“Come back with me,” he whispers as the moonlight drowns them both. “Come –”

Yes.”

They go to his flat and for once he isn’t embarrassed at how much she stands out, how beautiful she is against its squalid dullness, its mediocrity. He takes her upstairs, going left instead of right – she isn’t a client anymore, they will never have to visit his studio again – and she sits on the bed, waiting for him. She is incredible, bathed in the light shining through the open window, otherworldly in its sparkle.

“I love you,” she says.

“I...” He is lost for words. “I... Thank you.”



Chapter 7: the excuse
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the excuse
(the only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely)


She is still there in the morning; he had half wondered if he’d dreamed her. She’s lying curled up tight, wrapped in a sheet. She twitches her nose now and then like a snuffling rabbit, purrs gently like a cat as she breathes in, out, in, out. He watches her for a moment feeling stunned, happy. He cannot believe how lucky he is.

For one thing, this has all worked out. It is not a failure.

For another, he has Apolline. Apolline. Him and Apolline. Who would have thought it? He was so focused on her portrait, on creating that masterpiece, achieving the unobtainable, that he spent all those months looking past her, seeing only what was bad, seeing... something else. He can’t believe he couldn’t see that she was what mattered all along.

“Morning,” he murmurs, the moment he hears her stirring.

“Morning.” She throws her hair back from her face, smoothes it into place. A small smile plays about her rosy lips, a laugh smirking in her eyes. “Sleep well?”

“Very.”

He grins and so does she. They keep grinning and glancing here, there, everywhere, not keen to make eye contact.

“Ok,” she says. “This is awkward.”

“Little bit.”

They stare at each other for another minute, grins stretching wider, fading thinner. She starts to giggle.

“Oh, this is silly,” she says. “We were fine last night.”

“We were drunk last night.”

“You’re a very eloquent drunk.”

“You aren’t. Just a very forceful one.”

She laughs and it’s nice. She’s laughing with him, not at him. They’re laughing together. It’s nice.

“I’ve got to go to work,” he says.

“It’s seven thirty.”

“And I have a client in an hour.”

“If you’re an early morning person, this really isn’t going to work out,” she tells him seriously.

“I’m not. This client is, however, and you know I’ll do anything to keep a client happy.”

She recognises the tease and whacks him on the arm. That’s nice too. It isn’t awkward, he thinks, despite the giggling and the staring. Not too awkward anyway. For a relationship that for months has been strained and prickly, it should really be more so. He takes it as a good sign that it is not.

“I don’t appreciate being thrown out so unceremoniously,” she complains, dressing slowly, casually. He is quicker and more self-conscious and soon is heading to the kitchen to toast bread and make coffee.

“Sorry,” he calls behind him as he leaves. “You could stay, I suppose, but it might be a tiny bit uncomfortable.” He hears her laughing as he scrabbles around for clean mugs, wonders if it would be wrong to just scrape the mould off the bread. He’s mortified that his house is such a state and hopes she won’t follow him in.

She does. “Got any eggs?”

“No. I don’t seem to have much of anything, actually. Sorry.” He can feel himself blushing. He can’t believe how much things have changed, and how quickly. A week ago and he would have been cursing her silently.

“It’s all right. I’ll pick something up on the way.”

“On the way to where?”

“I’m meeting someone for drinks. A friend.” A devilish grin. “You looked jealous there,” she says cheerfully. “Don’t you dare deny it.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here,” he says, but he’s smiling too.

“Just because we only admitted what was going on last night, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening for weeks,” she says. “Weeks, months? I don’t know.”

He likes that she can be so open, so honest, in the way that he cannot. His reservations and insecurities did damage to what he had with Jacqueline, and he won’t let that happen again.

“Yes,” he says. “I suppose that’s true. But still,” he adds, trying to joke, “this friend had better be female.”

“It isn’t,” she says airily. “It’s Robert.”


*


She’s meeting Robert. Apolline and Robert. Why?

Robert had recommended her to him in the first place. She had seemed happy to trust Robert’s opinion unconditionally in the matter. Why?

Henri remembers his suspicions about them having some connection that Robert would not admit to. What if they were –

Henri doesn’t want to think about it.

If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing.

Henri is not religious, and is fairly sure that neither Robert nor Apolline has ever been married, certainly not to each other, but still, the point stands, and the idea is not a pleasant one. There is definitely a line there that should not be crossed. Henri shudders a little at the thought of it all. He will confront Apolline about it, he determines. Or perhaps Robert, who is less intimidating.

He is undeniably shaken, however, when he receives an owl from Robert just after he has finished with his client. I’m at Maggie’s. Brunch?

Clearly, Robert knows. Apolline has told him. Henri does not like the thought of that; he had hoped to break the news to Robert himself. Robert will not like it, he is sure of that. But why will he not like it? Henri muses. Because he wants her himself?

Henri attempts, without success, to shove all such thoughts from his mind as he heads to the little cafe down the road that Robert is so fond of. The wind is biting outside and he wishes he had thought to put on a cloak. He knows Robert, and Maggie too, will be amused by his Muggle suit.

He doesn’t really know why they keep going to Maggie’s. The name of the cafe is Le Rosbif, the humour being that Maggie, its proprietor, is as English as they come. Naturally the food is awful, but the prices are reasonable and Maggie so cheerful that neither Henri nor Robert has ever minded. Presumably Robert in particular finds other attributes in Maggie that compensate for her inadequacies in the kitchen, but that is beside the point.

Indeed, Robert is chatting with her when Henri enters, trying out his English and making an utter fool of himself. A rapturous Maggie is giggling and urging him on. Henri wonders why on earth he has been invited; to approach them would seem intrusive.

“Henry!” Maggie cries, catching sight of him. Her French is more than passable, but she always calls him this, knowing it annoys him. Similarly she pronounces ‘Robert’ with a crude English 't', though he claims he finds her accent charming. “Nice suit,” she comments.

“Hi Maggie.” He smiles a greeting and she returns it. Her smile is less bright for him, but he’s used to that.

“A pot of that fabulous English tea of yours, please, Maggie,” Robert grins, flicking her a shiny coin. “We’ll be in the corner. We’ve got a serious conversation to have, haven’t we, little brother?”

Henri is immediately on edge.

“We do?” he asks nonchalantly as they head over to Robert’s chosen table.

“Of course we do. I know about Apolline,” he says, sitting down.

Of course he does. He’s just had coffee with her, hasn’t he?

“I assume you left Jacqueline’s party together?” Robert says.

“Yes.”

“Did you shag her last night?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well did you?”

“That’s none of your business!” Henri blusters.

Robert should be smirking, laughing, and he does, but only for a moment. Then his face falls into seriousness, his mouth into a hard, straight line. He leans back in his chair, lighting a cigarette with his wand. Henri wrinkles his nose at the smoke.

“Just be careful, little brother,” Robert tells him.

“I’m not a teenager, Robert.”

“I’m serious. I don’t want this to be Jacqueline all over again.”

“Apolline is nothing, nothing like Jacqueline.”

“She is.” He says it with casual confidence. “She really is.”

“How would you know?” Is this it, his perfect opportunity to ask? He is scared of finding out. “You told me you barely knew her.”

“I don’t. I barely know her at all.” (Lies, Henri wonders?) “But I’ve heard an awful lot about her, and not all of it’s good.”

Henri almost laughs. Mere gossip? He had been expecting much worse. “You called me here to tell me that? So some people don’t like her. That’s a reason for me to avoid her like the plague, is it?”

“Don’t be like this, Henri. I’m just trying to look out for you, that’s all.”

“Well, thank you so much for your concern, but I think I can look after myself.”

He feels very angry all of a sudden. What business is it of Robert’s? If Robert wants Apolline, then he should have tried harder to get her. If he does not, and Henri is just being paranoid, then as far as romance is concerned, he should occupy himself with Maggie or Jeanne Dubois or whoever else there might be, and leave Henri to his own life.

“Please, Henri, can you just let me –”

No. He will not let him. Whatever it is that Robert has to say, he does not want to hear it.

“No, I don’t think so. Thank you for the thought, but I really must be going. Goodbye, Robert,” he says, a little more harshly than he intended. Robert doesn’t try to stop him, just shakes his head, sets his jaw.

He ignores Maggie’s words of concern as he leaves, brushing past her, slamming the door. He knows he’s being childish, dramatic, but Robert has no right to complain when he has nothing to say. He doesn’t even know her.

If there is one thing Henri is sure of, it is that he does know Apolline Lefèvre, the real her. He has seen her at her best, and her worst. She is not perfect; he certainly isn’t deluding himself about that. But he can cope with her failings, her faults. He can cope with them and he wants to, if that’s what is needed to be with her.

He makes his way quickly back up the road, flattening his hair against the wind, which has grown more ferocious in the mere minutes he was inside the cafe, and soon reaches his apartment. His eye is caught for a moment by the bronze plaque on the door, Henri Delacour, Portraits and Paintings, Enquire Within. He looks at it and he thinks of her painting, the picture that brought her here. Brought her to him.

He pushes the door open and, to his great surprise, is greeted by a significantly more pleasant sight than the one he was expecting – Apolline perched on his desk, wearing robes of periwinkle blue and a bright smile that only widens when she sees him.

“How did you get in here?” he asks, a little bemused, closing the door behind him.

She smiles. “Robert lent me his key. He said you wouldn’t be gone long.”

His heart sinks a little. “I see. Enjoy your, er, meeting with him, did you?”

She shrugs. “Yeah, it was good.” She slides down from the desk onto her feet, makes her way towards him. “Are you all right? You look a little –”

“No, really, I’m fine.”

Doubt flits into her expression. “Would you rather I hadn’t come here?”

“No, no, it’s fine – it’s great actually.” He seizes upon a thought that has suddenly entered his mind. Yes, he thinks. It is time. It has been far too long. “There – there’s something I’d like to show you,” he says. “If you don’t mind.”

She looks intrigued, and reassured, and allows him to lead her upstairs, going left when they reach the little landing. Her face lightens a little as she recognises the doors to the kitchen, bathroom, his bedroom... But he leads her right to the end of the corridor, to the final door. He hesitates, fingers brushing the handle. Then he feels her breath on his neck, her hand on his arm, and he turns it.

It is the smallest room in his apartment, no more than a cupboard, in truth. The walls are plastered in shelving, any sign of wallpaper completely obscured by row upon row of sketchbooks, notepads, single sheets of parchment, paper, card, all stacked in tottering piles, snaking their way around the tiny room.

This room is his life in art. Everything he has ever painted, drawn, sketched – everything that is not to be sold. Everything that does not have to be displayed, to be brashly shown off to the world, that can still have meaning and power when hidden away in the darkness, just one of many, just another book on the pile.

He watches Apolline, trying to gauge what she’s thinking.

Two things catch her eye at once, as he expected them to. Firstly, the blank frame on the wall opposite them, nothing more than an empty armchair, its occupant absent. Then her eyes dart downwards and fix upon the large, rectangular something stood upright on the floor, directly beneath the empty frame. It rests with its back against the lower shelves, tauntingly covered up by a crisp white sheet, just begging to be unveiled.

She chooses to ignore the blank frame, for which he is glad. As for the other –

She takes a step towards it, pauses, turns around. “Is that –?”

“Yes. I’d like you to see it.”

She laughs. “Finally! You were very irritating about it, you know, always keeping it from me, promising it was nearly finished and then trying to tell me I couldn’t have it at all.”

“You can have it now, if you still want it. If you like it.”

He doesn’t know why he is so nervous. His hand hovers above the sheet, fingers caressing the thin, coarse material that protects something so beautiful, so flawed. He meets her eyes and she’s smiling, nodding. He pulls back the cover.

She stares, drinking it in. He doesn’t. He has seen it far too much, spent too many nights gazing upon it in frustration: it is imprinted on his brain. He doesn’t look at her either. He’s not sure that he can. He knows that it isn’t what she wanted. He remembers their very first session, him asking her what she wanted, her describing a picture that he was never going to paint. She wanted to be sitting, he recalls; he has shown her standing. She wanted a window in the background; he has given her blank slate. She insisted on wearing silver robes, and he gave her blue, somewhere between the purity of ocean waves as they hit the shore and the brightness of a midday sky, the blue that matches her eyes.

“I know it’s all wrong,” he says quickly. He takes it as a bad sign that she hasn’t spoken. “But this... this is how I always saw you. This is how it’s meant to be.”

She still doesn’t speak, just walks from one side of it to the other, taking a step back, then one forward, then one back again, examining it from all angles.

“And it was never going to be perfect,” he says now, regretting more than ever his decision to show it to her. “I did try and tell you, though, that I just couldn’t do it, that you were too – too difficult. I’ve repaid your deposit, and I don’t expect you to give me anything for it now, don’t worry. I – I tried my best, that’s all I can do –”

“Henri,” she interrupts. “Stop.”

She turns away from the picture, back to him. She kisses him once and he wonders what it means. Is this a thank-you, or a consolation, or just something to do because she hates it so much that she doesn’t know what to say?

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“Henri,” she says again, “I think it’s beautiful.”

Even as relief sweeps through him, he registers that she’s staring at him too intently, too seriously for her. He tries a joke. “Of course you do, you’re the one in it.”

“Yes,” she says, confident, unabashed, “and you’re the one who did it.”

He isn't quite sure what to say to that.





A/N: Sorry, I know it's been a while. I'm terrible with updates. I'm a bit unsure about large parts of this chapter, so it'd be brilliant to hear any thoughts at all that you have on it :) Oh, and the "if a man shall take his brother's wife..." line is from Leviticus 20:21, in case you're wondering what all that was about. Thanks so much for reading!

Chapter 8: the elect
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the elect
(those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated)
(they are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty)


It’s strange, being with Apolline. Everyone seems to know about it; Robert informs him that the whole of Paris is talking about them. When Henri finally finds time to visit his mother to apologise for forgetting about her birthday, all she wants to talk about is “that Apolline Lefèvre – is it true Henri? – oh you should have told me – lovely family, they are – she’s related to the Minister, you know –”

On the one hand, he feels hugely uncomfortable at the idea of witches all over the city gossiping about him over their morning coffee. On the other, evenings spent curled up with Apolline by the fire more than make up for it.

She is very good with relationships, he has discovered. She glows every time she sees him, gushes when he presents her with a gift, uses her connections to get them tables at the very fanciest restaurants. She’ll pop by his apartment when she knows he is finished with a client, asking how it went, what they’re like, how the portrait is coming along. She’ll come just to see how he’s doing.

These days he has far more clients – he’s inundated with them, in fact – all because of her. She takes a strange sort of pride in this, he thinks, seems almost happier than he is when one of his paintings is praised, when rich little witches are desperate to get on his waiting list. It is as though she wants to say Yes, I discovered him, isn’t he good?

He isn’t so good at relationships, though this is no surprise to either of them. She giggles at his mistakes, pretends to find it endearing when he’s useless.

He can’t help but wonder, sometimes, just how long it will be until she realises she doesn’t want to pretend anymore.


*


“Where are we going tonight?” he asks with a smile, a slight tease in his voice, when she shows up at his studio, unannounced, at six o’clock in the evening. He made the mistake of giving her a key and now she turns up at all times of the day. He claims to find it annoying.

He stands up, pushing the stool to one side. She comes over, leaning in, but he dodges her kiss. “Give me a minute, I’m covered in paint.”

She doesn’t seem to mind that and kisses him anyway. He spots a white smudge on her shoulder, and doesn’t dare to imagine how much her robes cost.

“A couple of good charms will get it out,” she says, unconcerned. “Come on, let’s go.”

He doesn’t ask where. He stopped asking that a good few weeks ago. If there is some specific requirement – to be wearing dress robes, to brush up on his English, to bring a box of sherbet lemons with him – he will be told the bare minimum, but otherwise she has him walk in blind. She enjoys the mystery of it all.

He pulls on a cloak over his paint-splattered robes, and she drags him along with her dancing steps. It doesn’t take them long to step out of his territory and into hers. He should have known.

He still feels uncomfortable here, in her part of the city. The proud houses with their facades of golden stone reject him even now and it hurts, but still he finds beauty in their arrogance, their smugness pleasingly fragmented by the ornate spirals of iron balconies across their fronts, the drizzles of sweeping ivy high above, bouquets of flowers blooming on the ground below.

She can only survive in this world. His, the shabbier part of town, remains utterly alien to her. Too lower-class, and too Muggle. Her experience of it is limited entirely to his flat and studio, the square of doorstep where she would apparate in the old days when she was only a client. The bistros and restaurants she takes him to make him squirm with discomfort in his inexpensive dress robes, the price of the food makes his eyes water.

So for the time being, his discomfort remains. He should say no when she brings him here, but he never has. He finds more and more these days that he bends to her will without complaint. That is no crime, he thinks. Labyrinthine streets straighten for her to find her way; the night grants a glowing moon for her to dance by. The Seine itself, he thinks, would change its course at her request. The world bows to her smile and all is well.

“Come on, Henri,” she insists now, pulling at his arm.

He stumbles in her wake. “Where are we going?”

They aren’t going anywhere. They’re just running, walking, laughing. They trip through sparkling puddles; murky water clings to his ankles and sags his shoes. Her robes float around her, untainted. Hercules, Orion, Castor and Pollux, and whoever the heck else might be up there, peer down at them, bathing them in a glow that is too piercing, too pale.

Suddenly, with the drowsiness of a dream, he remembers last night. Last night and last night’s faux pas. Despite her sweetness and her love, she is as temperamental as ever. So easy to cross. Last night, a simple misstep on his part had ended the evening. Orion chastised him as he walked home alone, Castor and Pollux sneered. The streets had swung long and scathing, mocking him.

She had come to him that morning and apologised, and told him it wasn’t his fault, and waited for him to assure her it was and that he was sorry too. She had smiled sweetly and kissed him goodbye, and they had parted friends again, and that had been all that mattered.

Still, he remembers all this and he realises how often they have done this before. Her spontaneity is becoming predictable.

But this is tonight and tonight she is smiling and tugging his hand. Perhaps tomorrow will be different, perhaps it will be just another yesterday, but he mustn’t think about that.

“Where are we going?” he asks again.

“Don’t ask, just come.”

“This had better be worth it,” he teases.

“It is.”

When they arrive, he wonders why she has brought him to a park. He doesn’t ask. She will have her reasons, even if she won’t tell just yet. The choice interests him. Such grassy expanses seem so out of place in the built-up metropolitan and have always amused him. They should be monuments to nature’s beauty but too often are the home of chaos and disorder, dogs barking, children wailing, litter splashed across their dewy lawns, youths smoking in packs at each corner, clustered under their trees.

He guesses this is different, though. She must mutter a charm – a password? – for the gates to swing open. Twisted metal rails loom tall and imposing to keep people like him out.

“I’ve wanted to bring you here for a while,” she says.

“I don’t belong here.” It’s only half a joke. This seems to be bothering him more than usual this evening.

“You do. You’re with me.”

She flops, elegantly, onto the grass. It is damp with the spitting rain of previous hours and she drags him down so they can suffer it together.

“I love that just-rained smell,” she says. “It’s like the country, don’t you think?”

“I wouldn’t know. Not much of a country person.”

“I grew up there,” she says unexpectedly. “We had a big old house in the middle of nowhere. The closest village wasn’t for miles.”

“And you liked that?”

“Oh yes. It was wonderful.”

She looks very strange for a moment, far too serious for her. Rather wistful, regretful.

“What about you?” she asks. “What was your childhood like?”

He shrugs. “Just normal, I suppose. There’s not much to say, really.”

“Oh, come on, I want to hear anecdotes about you and Robert doing... whatever it is that you and Robert used to do. Getting up to all kinds of mischief, that sort of thing.”

He chuckles. “Robert, yes. As for me... I was never really that way inclined. But let’s get back to you,” he says quickly. “When did you move to Paris then, and why, if you loved the country so much?”

“Papa’s career. My Great-Uncle Alphonse became Minister, and he offered him a job.”

Politely restraining himself from cries of ‘Nepotism!’, Henri asks, “What’s your mother like? I don’t think you’ve ever really mentioned her.”

He can see at once that he has misspoken. That darkness crosses over her face, the same look that he knows he gets when someone asks about his father.

“I’m sorry,” he says hastily. “I shouldn’t have –”

“It’s fine. She and Papa separated when I was very young. I don’t see her all that much.”

He doesn’t really know what to say to that. “Oh.”

There is another look in her eyes now, one he does not like. “Am I allowed to ask about your father then?”

“No. No, you aren’t.”

“He died when you were eighteen?”

“Yes.”

“Did –?”

“I’d really rather not talk about it.”

If this was her, she would have stormed off by now, left him to walk home alone again. But this is him, and he is never the one to end it, not now. So after the awkward pause, he accepts the new conversation that is her way of apologising.

But it’s not quite the same. It never is. When eventually she gets up with a vague “I should be going...” he doesn’t make any attempt to argue.

She leads him out and another muttered spell locks the twisting gates behind her, another secret he cannot share.

“I’ll walk you home,” he offers.

“You don’t have to.”

He is not disheartened. Their bickering is hardly uncommon. They will both be over it by tomorrow.

She apparates away; his Muggle neighbours mean that he should not. The familiar route home feels alien on the journey back. The cloudless night is growing cold, feeling older. He wonders what there is left to do tomorrow, and the night after, and the night after that.

He reaches the little street that she is afraid to walk down with a strange sense of triumph, opens the door to the little house and the narrow world that she does not understand with a feeling of peace. Apolline is not Jacqueline all over again. He is not tied to her in that way. He can come home after an argument or a day gone wrong and know that it is not the end of the world.

She is not all there is. She is funny and kind, sweet and clever and beautiful and he loves her, but he knows her too. He knows they will always argue this way – from the days of him painting her picture and despairing of her imperfections, he has known.

On a strange whim, he goes to the studio where her portrait now hangs. He had offered to let her take it – had given the most important part of himself to her as a gift – and she had refused. “It belongs here,” she had said. “I do. Keep her, and remember that this is where I will always come back to.”

She does not belong here. The portrait makes all his other work seem mediocre; she herself is too rich, too proud, too great for this little building. She does not belong and she never will, but still he keeps her for his other clients to marvel over and to gawp at, so he can hear them say “Wow – is that her? – is she really that beautiful?” and he can reply “No. More.”





A/N: Wow, I didn't realise it had been so long since I updated this o.O My bad. It isn't even the most exciting chapter, I know, but there's definitely more drama to come in the next couple of chapters, which should hopefully be up more quickly than this was... Thanks for reading! :)

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