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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! :)
 

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