(no artist desires to prove anything)
(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?”
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.”
“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!
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