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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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